The Ends of Liberalism

Brooks on Recent Books Touching on Liberalism:

Francis Fukuyama wrote “Liberalism and Its Discontents” in American Purpose, which is the best single primer to the long-running debate about the liberal order.

“Classical liberalism can best be understood as an institutional solution to the problem of governing over diversity,” Fukuyama writes. It does this by “deliberately not specifying higher goals of human life.” It leaves people free to decide their own values, their own form of worship. Liberalism is thus perpetually unsatisfying to those trying to build a perfectly just or virtuous society because it is neutral about many ultimate concerns. There’s a void that often gets filled with consumerism.”


2PR or Not-To-P [GL]:

The contradiction between domestic- and foreign-focused becomes clearer when one recognizes that liberals do not apply the same ultimate-judgment-free standard outside of their own societies. The right to protect, that is to invade other countries (R2P), is in fact based on deliberately specifying higher goals and values, e.g. that democracy as practiced in the “West” is inherently superior to other forms of governance.


Postliberal Epistemology

Tara Isabella Burton takes the argument one level deeper in her essay “Postliberal Epistemology” in Comment. Liberalism, she argues, was based on a view of the human person now being rejected on left and right. A person, Enlightenment liberalism holds, is essentially rational and disembodied. If people use reason properly, they will come to the same logical results.

For more and more millennials, in particular, she argues, this view is insufficient: “In rendering human rationality disembodied, it also renders human beings interchangeable, reproducible, not incarnations but instantiations of a vague generic.”

Continuing Correspondance: Charlie Pride, “Omar” and Thomas Jefferson

Continuing correspondance ….


Charlie Pride. Now that’s name I haven’t heard for a while. Thx for the link.  San Antone is indeed the name of the place. My Granny, an inveterate racist, was born there.

You are absolutely right that a hypothetical mauvaise foi / victimization CRT (critical race theory) argument about Cobden fans of Pride would be silly.

The problem with the woke CRT approach is that its audience is only a narrow subsection of white society: those who already feel guilty. The ones who do not are and will be impervious to it. And those whites who have already thought or felt their way through the indeniable racism of the wider society will eventually dismiss the woke elect as self-righteous and, well, as silly. Which attitude is already beginning to spread. Shit, even AOC is giving cooking lessons.

I did watch the latest Glenn Show and noticed John’s new posture, which I doubt he’ll pursue for long. Empathy is one of his prime characteristics but I share your discomfort with his line of thought. Not so much because of whatever he or Glenn might say about “Omar”, a Straw Man if ever there was one, but also about Jefferson, who was also serving on this occasion as a kind of Straw Man. Telling about relatively conventional and pious-thinking Glenn was his remark about Sally Hemmings and her/their children.

How could he, TJ, have done that to his children? I think Glenn meant not only “made” them but then thought of them as chattel. But that’s what children were in general. Forget the “Enlightenment”, which is an intellectual construct for the … pious white privileged.

First of all, such a remark depends upon a culturally specific position, a contemporary one. Let’s leave race aside for a sec. We are talking about a man, TJ, whose behaviour was shaped two and a half centuries ago, one whom we, that is Glenn, is judging on the basis of some Xtianized view of the nuclear family, dare I say on some US 50s vision of family life, more white Leave It To Beaver than deep Black family values but still …

Moreover, anyone with a shred of self-knowledge will have to own up to the subterranean appeal of fucking a slave, and the forms of desire and, yes, love that might engender. The Latin poets, in particular Propertius, were elegant on the delights of owning or even being a slave in sex/love. Is it too much to ask that Glenn in particular be aware of the 1000 varieties of love outside the local culture of his life span?

(Let me mention in passing that one recent local UCI quandry is what to do with the “rapes” in Ovid in a survey course. The jerk-knee response is to cancel him from the curriculum, but some folks think trigger warnings will do. No further comment.)

What really gets me is how narrow a view of human nature these folks, both woke and anti-woke, have. For the record, I don’t think the right, alt or not, is any better.

Glad you are able to connect with the SB students. I bet more of them than the local Francos would entertain the joys of love in/as bondage. Though some of the Africans, north or not, might have a glimmer, though they know the rules here and would not own up to it.

On the implied contrast between European and N American educational standards, I recently provided some notes to a grad student at Aix, whose is writing on a Haitian novelist whom I met and glancingly wrote on.

Sure, it’s about “third world lit” and hence about race in some sense or another, but I was struck by the thorough, detailed and probingly professional nature of her questions, totally diff from what serves as critical thinking on this side of the pond.

I’m currently reading Lucretius in Alicia Stallings’ rhyming translation, which led me back to Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve, which turns around a 15th c. Italian humanist’s tracking down of the single extant mss of De rerum natura. Prob affected my ref to Propertius above and shaped my thinking on this morning ‘s rather pessimistic but intentionally provocative tweet.

Bravo for wine deliveries. I get one a month from Kermit Lynch nd occasionally from another shop I know of in Berkeley.

It’s finally early winter, quince season, but instead of making the standard Persian beef-quince stew, tomorrow I’m gonna whomp up a cinnamon- and tumeric-laced Moroccan tagine of chicken, caramelized quince and toasted walnuts, with copious garlic and harissa.



Epicurus, Lucretius et al

Epicurus: “The most terrible evil, death, is nothing for us, since when we exist, death does not exist, and when death exists, we do not exist.” <

Epicurus’s principle: lathe biōsas, or ‘live hidden’ (: λάθε βιώσας Láthe biṓsas), often by staying close to home, to avoid all complex desires, and spend a lot of time with close friends. As Epicurus said “Of all the means to insure happiness throughout the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.”

There is indeed a touch of Epicurean philosophy in the new California lock-down, λάθε βιώσας (Láthe biṓsas, live hidden). Stay close to home. Avoid complex desires, Spend a lot of time with close friend (properly masked, distanced and manually hygienic).

More often, on the contrary, it is Religion breeds Wickedness and that has given rise to wrongful deeds, L 83

So potent was Religion in persuading to do wrong: Line 101 is one of the most famous lines in the poem: tantum religio potuit suadere malorum. Voltaire believed it would last as long as the world. (See also Introduction, p. xi.)

Bernhard Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 151.

Quoted in David Ganz, “Lucretius in the Carolingian Age: The Leiden Manuscripts and Their Carolingian Readers,” in Claudine A. Chavannes-Mazel and Margaret M. Smith, eds., Medieval Manuscripts of the Latin Classics: Production and Use, Proceedings of the Seminar in the History of the Book to 1500, Leiden, 1993 (Los Altos Hills, CA: Anderson-Lovelace, 1996), 99.

The words of Ovid, words that were enough to send any book hunter scurrying through the catalogs of monastic libraries: “The verses of sublime Lucretius are destined to perish only when a single day will consign the world to destruction.”

After the destruction of the Alexandrian Library, the poet Palladas wrote:

Is it not true that we are dead,
        and living only in appearance,
We Hellenes, fallen on disaster,
Likening life to a dream,
since we remain alive while
Our way of life is dead and gone?

  • Greek Anthology, p 172

Greek Anthology, trans. W. R. Paton, Loeb Classical Library, 84 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1917).

Machiavelli would exploit to shocking effect in the next century in constructing a disenchanted analysis of the political uses of all religious faith — is never quite made, and Poggio’s work merely ends with a fantasy of stripping the hypocrites of their protective cloaks. Loc 2202

But, as he did so, he might have uttered the words that Freud reputedly spoke to Jung, as they sailed into New York Harbor to receive the accolades of their American admirers: “Don’t they know we are bringing them the plague?” Loc 2668

Catherine Wilson: Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008). See also W. R. Johnson, Lucretius and the Modern World (London: Duckworth, 2000); Dane R. Gordon and David B. Suits, Epicurus: His Continuing Influence and Contemporary Relevance (Rochester, NY: RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2003); and Stuart Gillespie and Donald Mackenzie, “Lucretius and the Moderns,” in The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius, ed. Stuart Gillespie and Philip Hardie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 306–24. Fn 185

“Sight did not exist before the birth of the eyes, nor speech before the creation of the tongue.” (4.836–37) These organs were not created in order to fulfill a purposed end; their usefulness gradually enabled the creatures in whom they emerged to survive and to reproduce their kind. Loc 2775

The soul: at the moment of death, it dissolves “like the case of a wine whose bouquet has evaporated, or of a perfume whose exquisite scent has dispersed into the air.” (3.221–2) Loc 2817

Religions are invariably cruel. Religions always promise hope and love, but their deep, underlying structure is cruelty. This is why they are drawn to fantasies of retribution and why they inevitably stir up anxiety among their adherents. The quintessential emblem of religion—and the clearest manifestation of the perversity that lies at its core—is the sacrifice of a child by a parent. Loc ? Fn 52

The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion. The principal enemies of human happiness are inordinate desire—the fantasy of attaining something that exceeds what the finite mortal world allows—and gnawing fear. Even the dreaded plague, in Lucretius’ account—and his work ends with a graphic account of a catastrophic plague epidemic in Athens—is most horrible not only for the suffering and death … that it brings but also and still more for the “perturbation and panic” that it triggers. 52%

Even in the hour of possession the passion of the lovers fluctuates and wanders in uncertainty: they cannot decide what to enjoy first with their eyes and hands. They tightly squeeze the object of their desire and cause bodily pain, often driving their teeth into one another’s lips and crushing mouth against mouth. (4.1076–81) 

The point of this passage—part of what W. B. Yeats called “the finest description of sexual intercourse ever written”—is not to urge a more decorous, tepid form of lovemaking. It is to take note of the element of unsated appetite that haunts even the fulfillment of desire. The insatiability of sexual appetite is, in Lucretius’ view, one of Venus’ cunning strategies; it helps to account for the fact that, after brief interludes, the same acts of love are performed again and again.

John Dryden brilliantly captured Lucretius’ remarkable vision: . . . 

  awhen the youthful pair more closely join, 

When hands in hands they lock, and thighs in thighs they twine; Just in the raging foam of full desire, 

When both press on, both murmur, both expire, 

They grip, they squeeze, their humid tongues they dart, 

As each would force their way to th’others heart. 

In vain; they only cruise about the coast. 

For bodies cannot pierce, nor be in bodies lost, 

As sure they strive to be, when both engage 

In that tumultuous momentary rage. 

So tangled in the nets of love they lie, 

Till man dissolves in that excess of joy. (4.1105–14)

Cf Stallings’

Even at the very moment of having, the raging tide 

Of desire tosses lovers this way and that. They can’t decide 

What to enjoy first with hand or eye – so closely pressing 

What they long for, that they hurt the flesh by their possessing, [1080] Often sinking teeth in lips, and crushing as they kiss, 

Since what the lovers feel is not some pure and simple bliss – Rather, there are stings that lurk beneath it, pains that shoot, Goading them to hurt the thing that’s made madness take root, Whatever it may be.

Delight of humankind and gods above, 

Parent of Rome, propitious Queen of Love, 

Whose vital power, air, earth, and sea supplies, 

And breeds whate’er is born beneath the rolling skies; 

For every kind, by thy prolific might, 

Springs and beholds the regions of the light:

Thee, Goddess, thee, the clouds and tempests fear, 

And at thy pleasing presence disappear; 

For thee the land in fragrant flowers is dressed, 

For thee the ocean smiles and smooths her wavy breast, 

And heaven itself with more serene and purer light is blessed.  (1.1–9)

Notes on Stallings’ Bratrachomyomachia

Depictions of a battle with mice and cats adorn ancient Egyptian papyruses from as far back as the 14th century B.C. Loc 43

This ancient story of the frog and the mouse was widely known in the East. (The 13th-century Persian poet Rumi has a charming version of it.) Loc 85

the widely-translated anonymous 9th-century Irish poem “Pangur Ban,” about a scholar and his cat—as the cat pursues the library’s mice, so the scholar pursues difficult questions.Loc 158

Racism Easily Mutates into its Converse

Racism is an invidious virus which finds hosts among all classes, castes, genders and even races, including the one-drop fictions of race in the US.. 

Easily mutates into its opposite: Take the black #anti-racism created by white racism….

Lasch-Quinn, Elisabeth (1999). “How to Behave Sensitively: Prescriptions for Interracial Conduct from the 1960s to the 1990s”. Journal of Social History. 33 (2): 409. doi:10.1353/jsh.1999.0064

Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers – Wikipedia