Mark Greif has written a long, lovely meditation on the heyday of public intellectuals and their audience in mid 20th century America. That period, in his view, was best epitomised by the Partisan Review.
My sense of the true writing of the “public intellectuals” of the Partisan Review era is that it was always addressed just slightly over the head of an imagined public—at a height where they must reach up to grasp it. But the writing seemed, also, always just slightly above the Partisan Review writers themselves. They, the intellectuals, had stretched themselves to attention, gone up on tiptoe, balancing, to become worthy of the more thoughtful, more electric tenor of intellect they wanted to join. They, too, were of “the public,” but a public that wanted to be better, and higher. They distinguished themselves from it momentarily, by pursuing difficulty, in a challenge to the public and themselves—thus becoming equals who could earn the right to address this public.
It was born of unique influences: a world emerging from unutterable darkness and eager for the light; a prodigious influx of the finest European intellects before and during the war; and, a widespread sense that bettering oneself was not only desirable, but possible. We can hardly wish for such a confluence to reoccur; no period of intellectual excellence could justify the cost. Nevertheless, Continue reading
The American Conservative, a publication I usually quite like, has been vocal in its reaction to the Paris shootings with four posts so far by one author, all beating the same drum. I ended up posting a comment on the latest thread.
It starts with a quote from Rod Dreher’s fourth piece (which also encapsulates his argument):
“But when some within that civilization punish blasphemy with violence and murder, then, says Ross, we all had better defend that blasphemy to protect our own right to speak and to worship as our consciences dictate.”
I then continue as follows:
Rousing stuff, but a false syllogism. It’s conflating two separate issues. Worse, doing so is probably reacting exactly as these bastards hope we will.
Instead, why not staunchly defend the legal right to freedom of speech while deploring those who choose to use it in a juvenile, destructive fashion? Equally, unequivocally condemn any use of violence while holding onto enough heart to grasp the anquish such sophomoric “journalism” triggers for many ordinary Muslims.
What you seem to be missing is that this atrocity was probably intended to foment division. Doesn’t the rather doctrinaire, self-righteous response you’ve repeatedly indulged in so far play directly into their hands?
Cui bono? Worth asking before letting rip.
How did this happen? To blame a particular president, a particular administration, or a particular agency simply will not do. The abuses described in the report prepared by the Senate Committee on Intelligence did not come out of nowhere. Rather than new, they merely represent variations on an existing theme.
Since at least 1940, when serious preparations for entry into World War II began, the United States has been more or less continually engaged in actual war or in semi-war, intensively girding itself for the next active engagement, assumed to lie just around the corner. The imperatives of national security, always said to be in peril, have taken precedence over all other considerations. In effect, war and the preparation for war have become perpetual. [ . . . ]
One consequence of our engagement in permanent war has been to induce massive distortions, affecting [the] apparatus of government, the nation, and the relationship between the two. The size, scope, and prerogatives accorded to the so-called intelligence community — along with the abuses detailed in the Senate report — provide only one example of the result. But so too is the popular deference accorded to those who claim to know exactly what national security requires, even as they evade responsibility for the last disaster to which expert advice gave rise.
via Torture report highlights consequences of permanent war – Opinion – The Boston Globe
(h/t FB Ali)
The notion of universality that I associate with cosmopolitan humanism contains no implication that persons, peoples, and civilizations should conform to a single model of life or that universality can be imposed by means of political engineering. It may be helpful to contrast genuine universality with a type of universalism that today is particularly common and influential in the United States. I am referring to an ideologically intense variant of the Enlightenment mindset that assumes a single political system is desirable and even mandatory for all societies and should be everywhere installed, through military means if necessary. I have called this ideology the new Jacobinism. The French Jacobins summarized their putatively universal principles in the slogan “freedom, equality, and brotherhood.” They saw France as the redeemer of nations. The new Jacobins speak of “freedom” and “democracy,” and they have anointed the United States.
Claes G. Ryn argues for a very different universality, one that welcomes the endlessly diverse particulars of people and place and is ready to acknowledge and celebrate virtue wherever it may be found. Continue reading
In a recent interview, Karen Armstrong was asked: “So, when we in the West talk about religion as the cause of this violence, how much are we letting ourselves off the hook, and using religion as a way to ignore our role in the roots of this violence?”
We’re in danger of making a scapegoat of things, and not looking at our own part in this. When we look at these states and say, “Why can’t they get their act together? Why can’t they see that secularism is the better way? Why are they so in thrall to this benighted religion of theirs? What savages they are,” and so on, we’ve forgotten to see our implication in their histories.
We came to modernity under our own steam. It was our creation. It had two characteristics. One of these was independence — your Declaration of Independence is a typical modernizing document. And you have thinkers and scientists demanding free thought and independent thinking. This was essential to our modernity. But in the Middle East, in the colonized countries, modernity was a colonial subjection, not independence.
Without a sense of independence and a driving force for innovation, however many skyscrapers and fighter jets you may possess, and computers and technological gadgets, without these qualities you don’t really have the modern spirit. That modern spirit is almost impossible to acquire in countries where modernity has been imposed from outside.
Instead, modernity is seen as a threat, a further humiliation. Continue reading
The corner into which Israel is painting itself has shrunk again.
On October 3rd, Sweden announced that it intended to recognise Palestine. On the 13th, Britain’s lower house voted 274-12 to do the same thing. Although only about half of British MPs turned up, and the motion itself is non-binding, the symbolism is stark.
If you need proof of just how friendless Israel’s hard-Right government has become, consider the statements last night from MPs who would normally count themselves the country’s natural allies. Arch-Tories such as Nicholas Soames (whose grandfather Winston Churchill is Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political hero) spoke eloquently in favour of Palestinian statehood. And Richard Ottoway, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said that despite having been “a friend of Israel long before I became a Tory”, its recent policies had “outraged me more than anything else in my political life”, concluding: “If Israel is losing the support of people like me, it is losing a lot of people.”
No one stood up to express support for Israel’s more controversial policies such as the recent war on Gaza or its settlements. And taboos crumbled. Continue reading
The essence of the successes enjoyed by the Islamic State to date centres not on any wide-spread embrace of their radical vision, but rather the fact that their movement gives voice to a dream that has long been dampened by the forces of the West and their autocratic regional allies. The Obama administration has stated that the recent strikes against Syria are but the beginning of a more comprehensive campaign to defeat the Islamic State. But bombs and missiles, while adept at blowing up concrete and creating martyrs, have never been successful when it comes to eradicating ideas…
Void of any competing ideology, it is hard to see how this new war on the Islamic State will ever succeed in supplanting the visionary dream of a Sunni Arab Caliphate that resides in the hearts and minds of so many Sunni Arabs living in Syria and Iraq today. On the contrary, it is likely that this campaign will succeed only in fanning the flames of the radical Sunni fringe, empowering them in a way nothing else could.”
That’s Scott Ritter, quoted by Alisdair Crooke in this sobering piece.
Crooke believes the west’s perceptions of the Middle East have been skewed for generations.
No, it [this latess crisis] is not an “intelligence failure.” It is far worse. It is a cognitive and intellectual failure of the system itself. In fact, the signs of this impending “madness” have been out there — “hiding” in the open, as it were — for the last 25 years. You did not need “secret intelligence” to tell us where we were heading; you just needed cognitive openness: the ability to “read” the direction that events were taking.
The current dystopian nightmare is, as he sees it, the logical endpoint of a catastrophic series of events and decisions over the last century. Every Arab attempt to work out a modus vivendi with modernity has failed, Continue reading