Were miracles wrought every day, the laws of nature would no longer be laws: and were every one to act for the public, and neglect himself, the statesman would be bewildered….
…were a people to become quite disinterested: there would be no possibility of governing them. Every one might consider the interest of his country in a different light, and many might join in the ruin of it, by endeavoring to promote its advantage.
The opinion that the price of commodities depends solely on the proportion of supply to demand, or demand to supply, has become almost an axiom in political economy, and has been the source of much error in that science.
But the economical advantages of commerce are surpassed in importance by those of its effects which are intellectual and moral. It is hardly possible to overrate the value, in the present low state of human improvement, of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. Commerce is now what war once was, the principal source of this contact.
"He campaigned in that highly profitable grey area of ‘the extreme left of the extreme right,’ a magnificent springboard that was later to allow him to perform some admirable and much-admired acrobatics."
"Experience, however, shews, that the fancied or real insecurity of capital, when not under the immediate control of its owner, together with the natural disinclination which every man has to quit the country of his birth and connexions, and intrust himself with all his habits fixed, to a strange government and new laws, check the emigration of capital. These feelings, which I should be sorry to see weakened, induce most men of property to be satisfied with a low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations."
"What was also clear was that many leaders of German business thrived in this authoritarian atmosphere [of the Third Reich]. In the sphere of their own firms they were now the undisputed leaders, empowered as such by the national labour law of 1934. Owners and managers alike bought enthusiastically into the rhetoric of Fuehrertum. It meshed all neatly with the concept of Unternehmertum (entrepreneurial leadership) that had become increasingly fashionable in business circles, as an ideological counterpoint to the interventionist tendencies of trade unions and the Weimar welfare state.”
To write it you have to whip yourself up tight and unwind for four pages; then depression for a month, then whip yourself up and unwind. Repeat. Repeat. And all this makes it sound as if it might really be good, but really you know it isn’t so good. A lot of it is a lot of crap.
Piketty fears the stasis and sluggishness of the rentier, but what might appear to be static blocks of wealth have done a great deal to boost dynamic productivity….Consider Piketty’s native France, where the scores of artists who relied on bequests or family support to further their careers included painters such as Corot, Delacroix, Courbet….among others.
Corey Robin on Tyler Cowen:
Cowen fears the stasis and sluggishness of Bolshevism but what might appear to be state tyranny or inefficient state subsidies have done a great deal to boost cultural production….Consider the Soviet Union, where the scores of artistic figures who relied on and benefited from state patronage include Rodchenko, Mayakovsky, Lissitzky, and Gorky, and where the scores of artistic figures who were inspired by state repression include Mandelstam, Akhmatova, and Pasternak, among others.
"Schmitt…defended the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935…These laws prohibiting German citizens from marrying non-Aryans, according to Schmitt, were not intended as a first step in transforming the world. Unlike the Bolsheviks, he went on, Germans were not presuming to legislate for mankind."
"The object of the [14th] amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either…Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation….If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane."
Reason: It’s odd that Malcolm X isn’t a conservative hero, isn’t it? He was very good on self-help.
Thomas: Yes, but he had some very strong things to say about whites. I’ve been very partial to Malcolm X, particularly his self-help teachings. I have virtually all of the recorded speeches of Malcolm X.
Reason: Then you still see him as hero.
Thomas: Let’s say I’m a little bit more discriminating in what I accept and what I reject. There is too much sometimes of the anti-white rhetoric. There is a lot of good in what he says, and I go through it for the good.
An acquaintance of mine (least of all men a political zealot) had christened a vessel which he had just built — THE LIBERTY; and was seriously admonished by his aristocratic friends to change it for some other name. What? replied the owner very innocently — should I call THE FREEDOM? That (it was replied) would be far better, as people might then think only of Freedom of Trade; whereas LIBERTY had a jacobinical sound with it!
Sweeping generalities, in which this book necessarily abounds, may hold a certain amount of truth but often obscure the deeper issues. It is superficial to blame the “culture” and its handmaidens, the women’s magazines, as she does. What is to stop a woman who is interested in national and international affairs from reading magazines that deal with those subjects? To paraphrase a famous line, “The fault, dear Mrs. Friedan, is not in our culture, but in ourselves.”
I think housework is far more tiring and frightening than hunting is, no comparison, and yet after hunting we had eggs for tea and were made to rest for hours, but after housework people expect one to go on just as if nothing special had happened.
Even a man who shows that he can do the work of four, and who consequently demands the wages of four, will still be an enemy of society…We should curb a man of this type and drive him out as if he had the plague.
H/t Elizabeth Anderson, “Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice and the Origins of Social Insurance,” in Eric Schliesser, ed., Ten Neglected Classics of Philosophy (Oxford UP, forthcoming).
Donald Rumsfeld: “We have a choice—either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable; or to change the way that they live, and we chose the latter.” (September 18, 2001 Pentagon briefing) (h/t Marilyn Young)
Note to all writers/academics/journalists: Next time you set out to write about violence, terror, genocide, or some other bit of social nastiness, please check out Yehuda Bauer’s essay “Is the Holocaust explicable?” in Rethinking the Holocaust first. It provides some useful rules of the road, and will you save you—and us—from a lot of embarrassing and over-heated prose.
Or at least one of the several reasons they shouldn’t be supporting Tax Day. As I argued a few years back in the London Review of Books:
Liberals often have a difficult time making sense of these [anti-tax] movements – don’t taxes support good things? – because they don’t see how little the American state directly provides to its citizens, relative to their economic circumstances. Since the early 1970s, with a few brief exceptions, workers’ wages have stagnated. What has the state offered in response? Public transport is virtually non-existent. Even with Obama’s reforms, the state does not provide healthcare or insurance to most people. Outside wealthy communities, state schools often fail to deliver a real education. In such circumstances, is it any wonder ordinary citizens want their taxes cut? That at least is change they can believe in.
And here Democrats like Obama and his defenders, who bemoan the stranglehold of the Tea Party on American politics, have only themselves to blame.
What had astonished me were the corners he cut in representing the arguments he wanted to refute, which I couldn’t match with anything he stood for as a historian. This was a generic mistake on my part. I didn’t understand the rules of polemic. This is a literary form whose history has yet to be written….Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative license. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.
I ever held a scanty and penurious justice to partake of the nature of a wrong. I held it to be, in its consequences, the worst economy in the world. In saving money, I soon can count up all the good I do; but when, by a cold penury, I blast the abilities of a nation, and stunt the growth of its active energies, the ill I may do is beyond all calculation….
Mere parsimony is not economy. It is separable in theory from it; and in fact it may, or it may not, be a part of economy, according to circumstances. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy. If parsimony were to be considered as one of the kinds of that virtue, there is however another and a higher economy. Economy is a distributive virtue, and consists not in saving, but in selection. Parsimony requires no providence, no sagacity, no powers of combination, no comparison, no judgment. Mere instinct, and that not an instinct of the noblest kind, may produce this false economy in perfection. The other economy has larger views.
For the same reason, we may leave out of consideration those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage. The early difficulties in the way of spontaneous progress are so great, that there is seldom any choice of means for overcoming them…Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne.
Perhaps in trying to evaluate the astonishing rule of Hugo Chávez the question to ask is this: whether the people he leaves behind regressed into a kind of childhood faith and dependency under his spell and what the price of such regression might be. Perhaps this is the state brought forth by those rulers we call caudillos—willful chieftans who rule by force of personality—of which Hugo Chávez Frías may have been the greatest of all. “There is no chavismo without Chavez,” he proclaimed repeatedly. Who now will dry Venezuela’s tears?
Last fall, Gary Orfield and his colleagues at UCLA documented how school segregation has been increasing dramatically among blacks and Latinos. Just the other day, Jamelle Bouie reported that the wealth gap between blacks and whites is one of the largest we’ve ever seen. And now comes Thomas Edsall to tell us that racism — understood as individual prejudice — is on the decline. All of which supports a critical point Freddie DeBoer made yesterday about the limits of racial discourse and racial politics in this country.
The structural economic conditions of our country have created a white-black wealth gap. Every American could be in possession of pure hearts and pure thoughts and that wouldn’t change. This is why I have so little use for the ritualistic purity displays like those we witness for the past few days. They aren’t just unable to contribute to positive change; they suck all of the energy and the attention into those issues which are least material and thus least useful.
However important the independent owner of property may be for the economic order of a free society, his importance is perhaps even greater in the fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs. (p. 193)
Steven Spielberg is sending free copies of his historical drama “Lincoln” to schools across the country so students can learn about President Abraham Lincoln.
DVDs will be distributed to every public and private middle and high school in the country as part of an educational outreach campaign called “Stand Tall: Live Like Lincoln,” which urges youngsters to follow in the 16th president’s example. A statement from Spielberg reads, “As more and more people began to see the film, we received letters from teachers asking if it could be available in their classrooms. We realized that the educational value that ‘Lincoln’ could have was not only for the adult audiences — who have studied his life in history books — but for the young students in the classroom as well.”
There is the dream and the will to found a private kingdom, usually, though not necessarily, also a dynasty. The modern world really does not know any such position, but what may be attained by industrial and commercial success is still the nearest approach to medieval lordship possible to modern man. (93)
Stanley Jevons on the Ding an sich that is the human heart: “Far be it from me to say that we ever shall have the means of measuring directly the feelings of the human heart. A unit of pleasure or of pain is difficult even to conceive….We can no more know or measure gravity in its own nature than we can measure a feeling.” No surprise then that, for Jevons, “every mind is thus inscrutable to every other mind.” Every mind, after all, is in some measure inscrutable to itself. Of such sexy stuff is the theory of marginal utility made.
“To be able,” wrote the late Christopher Hitchens, “to bray that ‘as a liberal, I say bomb the shit out of them,’ is to have achieved that eye-catching, versatile marketability that is so beloved of editors and talk-show hosts. As a life-long socialist, I say don’t let’s bomb the shit out of them. See what I mean? It lacks the sex appeal, somehow. Predictable as hell.” That was in 1985.
"The study of economics does not seem to require any specialised gifts of an unusually high order. Is it not, intellectually regarded, a very easy subject compared with the higher branches of philosophy and pure science? Yet good, or even competent, economists are the rarest of birds. An easy subject, at which very few excel! The paradox finds its explanation, perhaps, in that the master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts. He must reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine talents not often found together. He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher—in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must lie entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near the earth as a politician.”
—John Maynard Keynes, “Alfred Marshall,” in Essays in Biography (New York: Norton, 1963), pp. 140-141.
I completely understand why some would want the state to pardon Aaron Swartz. But something about that move — and the wording of this petition — doesn’t sit right. It grants the state too much: not just the power to pardon Swartz but, effectively, the power to pardon itself. As my friend Michael Pollak pointed out to me, “Under our laws, Swartz was still innocent. Therein lies the crime of what the state did to him. This would remove it.” I want the death of Swartz, and the prosecution that helped produce it, to hang around the neck of the state for a very long time. If the state wishes to remove it, let it start by curbing its prosecutorial zeal, of which Swartz was sadly only one victim.
So this exchange really did happen, once upon a time (i.e., 1986).
There are very few works by contemporary American writers that treat the subject which, for the rest of us, is the paramount subject about America: how America behaves in the rest of the world. I would like to ask both the Americans and the non-Americans why it is that American writers have, so to speak, abdicated this task?
We don’t have any tasks. We just have inspirations. Tasks are for people who work in offices.
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Nietzsche and Neoliberalism: When commercial transactions become acts of great noblesse
At the heart of my next book project is the argument that neoliberalism is the reinvention of aristocratic politics for a capitalist age, that the political theory of the free market is an effort to create what Nietzsche called “great politics” in the realm of the economy.
Nietzsche, of course, had nothing but contempt for capitalism (and economics more generally) — in part because he saw it as destroying whatever possibility there might be for aristocratic great politics.
Yet re-reading The Gay Science on the train this morning, I found this passage, which somehow I missed on my first go-around:
Trade and nobility.—Buying and selling have become common, like the art of reading and writing. Everybody has practiced it even if he is no tradesman, and gets more practice everyday — just as formerly, when men were more savage, everybody was a hunter and practiced that art day after day. Then hunting was common; but eventually it became a privilege of the powerful and noble; it lost its everyday character and its commonness because it ceased to be necessary; it became a matter of moods and luxury. The same might happen some day to buying and selling.
One can imagine social conditions in which there is no buying and selling and in which this art gradually ceases to be necessary. Perhaps some individuals who are less subject to the laws of the general condition will then permit themselves to buy and sell as a luxury of sentiment. At that point trade would acquire nobility, and the nobility might then enjoy trading as much as they have hitherto enjoyed war and politics… (§ 31, pp. 102-103)
It’s just a moment’s notice, and it doesn’t begin to describe our contemporary reality (where more and more, rather than fewer, realms of social life are becoming subject to the economy). Even so, it provides a glimpse of a possibility that Nietzsche seems to have dimly envisioned — when commercial transactions become acts of great noblesse — and that gets at the heart of the political theory of the free market.
I have a dream that one day this internet will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all trolls are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on some forgotten website the trollish sons of trolls and the trollish sons of other trolls will be able to sit down together at a table of trollhood. I have a dream that one day even that forgotten website for trolls will be transformed into an oasis of forgotten trolls. I have a dream that my one child will one day live in a world where she will not be subjected to the trollery of trolls but will instead subject the trolls to their trollery. I have a dream today.
I’ve never been much of an Emerson fan — on the two occasions that I taught him, we didn’t really click — but this line from his essay “History" comes pretty close to perfectly expressing my approach to politics:
All public facts are to be individualized, all private facts are to be generalized.
Despite the sad news it delivers, an obituary in the New York Times can often be an occasion for hilarity. To wit:
Prof. Nietzsche was one of the most prominent of modern German philosophers, and he is considered the apostle of extreme modern rationalism and one of the founders of the socialistic school. (New York Times, 8/26/1900, p. 7)
Looking for literary texts as counterpoint to political texts
When I teach modern political theory, as I will be this spring, I like to pair a theoretical text with a literary text. So we read Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth with Marx’s Capital, Vol 1. Or Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Or Machiavelli’s The Prince with Brecht’s Galileo. I even once taught Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle along with John Adams.
But I’d like to do something different. So looking for advice. The six theorists will probably remain the same: Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche. But texts are open, and literary texts are open too. Or even great historical texts like The Black Jacobinsor Grant’s Memoirsor Trotsky’s history of the Russian Revolution.