1. What does it mean to be a modern American today?

    Just how different is American from other cultural identities? We thought of ourselves as the specially modern nation, spreading the revolutionary gospel of freedom from traditional restrictions. Some condemn American exceptionalism, while others celebrate it. Don't take sides too quickly; there are deep issues here.

    What does it mean to be an American? Are we the people of freedom? The first and final truly modern individuals?

    What does it mean to be modern and how is that different from being traditional? Are we really that different from our ancestors? Should we update the Enlightenment?

    The readings that follow here expand on some themes in David Kolb's lectures at OLLI UO in January and February 2019.

  2. Freedom and Modernity

    Modernity means freedom, we say, and circulation let loose: commodities, technology, choices, the autonomous individual. In contrast to our free exchange, we imagine old traditional societies as regulated exchange along a network of posts defined by fixed roles. In those societies identities and roles were experienced as naturally given. They were not experienced as constituted (and questioned) by the circulation among them, nor as exchangeable or substitutable one for another
  3. Max Weber and Modernity

    Weber's theory is itself typically modern. He postulates that the creator of all meaning is the individual self. The self's beliefs and attitudes unify experience and create values. The social world with its meanings and roles is the result of shared construction of meaning by individuals.

    Of course individuals are constrained by natural phenomena and are influenced by inherited constructions. Furthermore, meaning creations do not always have the results intended, and they often have quite unexpected side effects. Still, Weber says that the basis of meaning and social possibility is the individual. "The transcendental presupposition of every cultural science lies . . . in the fact that we are cultural beings, endowed with the capacity and the will to take a deliberate attitude towards the world and to lend it significance" (Roth and Schluchter 1979, 73n).

    The Kantian echo is deliberate in this quote, but in opposition to Kant the making of meaning has become an act of deliberate choice on the part of the individual. Given this presupposition, which has been called "methodological individualism," it follows that the modern view that explicitly recognizes the individual's beliefs and attitudes as the basis of social constructions is closer to the truth about human selfhood than was the traditional belief that there was some pattern in the nature of things that society and individuals should follow.

    In Weber's eyes, modernity is an explicit recognition of what the self and society have been all along. Modern identity is not just another in a sequence of historic constructions; it is the unveiling of what has been at the root of those constructions.

  4. Modernization? Development?

    An ambiguity runs through our attitudes toward the process of change affecting other societies. Sometimes we call that process "development," which suggests that the other nations have within them something as yet undeveloped, something that will grow into its fullness and become a modern version of their particular traditions.

    Sometimes we call that process "modernization," which suggests a change from a traditional society to something else, a de-traditionalized society full of modern individuals rather than people who define themselves primarily by some traditional identity.

    Sometimes "they" call that process "Westernization," which suggests that a foreign set of "values is being imposed on a traditional society.

  5. From Robert Kagan (in the Washington Post)

    Justifying all this sympathy for the dictator have been variations on what used to be called modernization theory. Developing societies, the argument ran, had to move through an authoritarian stage before they could become democracies, for both economic and political reasons. Only authoritarian governments could be trusted to make the right economic decisions, unhampered by popular pressures for inflationary and deficit-raising spending.

    Moreover, non-Western societies allegedly lacked many of the basic elements necessary to sustain democracy - the rule of law, stable political institutions, a middle class, a vibrant civil society. Pressing democracy on them prematurely would produce illiberal democracy and radicalism. The role of the reforming autocrat was to prepare these societies for the eventual transition to democracy by establishing the foundations for liberalism.

    During the 1960s, the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argued that what modernizing societies need is order, not liberty. During the late 1970s, Jeanne Kirkpatrick used this argument to defend supporting friendly right-wing dictatorships - on the theory they would eventually blossom into democracies if the United States supported them against their opponents, but would give way to radical, communist governments if the United States withdrew support.

    As a purely factual matter, it turned out that dictatorships do not do a better job of producing economic growth. And economic growth has not proved the secret to democracy. We are now a quarter-century into expectations that Chinese economic growth, which has created a substantial middle class, would inevitably lead to greater political openness. Yet the trend has been in the opposite direction, as Chinese ruler Xi Jinping centralizes all power to himself and the government experiments with ever more thorough methods of political and social control.

    Yet we do, and for a variety of reasons. Some are simply racist. Much like the racial imperialists during the 19th century, we just assume that some people aren't ready for democracy, or that their religious or historical traditions did not prepare them for democracy. Another reason springs from dissatisfaction with the messiness of our own democracy. There is a certain palpable yearning for the strongman who can cut through all the political nonsense and just get things done - a yearning that our current president plays to very effectively.

    Then there is our fear of what democracy elsewhere might produce. During the Cold War, it was demands for greater economic and social justice, and possibly at the expense of U.S. investments; today, it is demands for a society and a polity more in consonance with Islamic teaching. We fear what people allowed to make their own choices might choose, so we prefer revolution from above.

  6. Critiques of our Self-Image as Americans: Suzy Hansen Discovers Her Presuppositions

    from: Hansen, Suzy. Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World (pp. 25-27). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

    An experience I had in 2012 when I met an Iraqi man. Over the course of our conversation I asked him what Iraq was like in the 1980s and 1990s, when he was growing up. He smiled. "I am always amazed when Americans ask me this," he said. "How is it that you know nothing about us when you had so much to do with what became of our lives?" The historian Jackson Lears wrote that Americans of the early twentieth century displayed a "dependence on empire for their prosperity, for their racial, social, and even moral identity as a people, and for the power that undergirded their dreams of personal and national regeneration.” If the decline of the American empire may require, as Baldwin suggests, a radical revision of the individual identity, perhaps Americans have to more deeply understand what that imperial identity was in the first place. If America was an empire, was there even a difference between "home" and "abroad"? Was it not all the same kingdom? Were we not locked in the same intimate relationship? Was not their pain very much ours? Might this relationship even be one, as Baldwin said, of love? This book is by no means a comprehensive exploration of this subject, nor of all the countries I write about. Many historians and scholars and novelists - many more of them non-American - have chronicled the story of the American empire in far more expansive books. What follows are merely my reflections on going abroad in the twenty-first century and my attempts to see foreign countries clearly - ultimately, to see my own. Even though I use mostly foreigners' voices and writings in this book, I never asked them, essentially, "Why do you hate us?" They have been answering that question in complex and passionate ways for decades. The onus, I felt, was on me to catch up. If I didn't, I would never be able to make sense of letters like this one publicly posted on Facebook on the anniversary of the Iraq War in 2013, by the Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, who, as of this writing, is still inside an Egyptian jail:

    To My American Friends: Ten years later and I still can't find the words to explain my anger to you, we talk about it a lot in Arabic, it is forever part of our context, the horror, the madness, the futility of it all, in fact it has become such a part of who we are that we need an anniversary to realize how epic in proportion it was. Ten years on and it still seems possible for you to debate and talk about it in polite or boring language. I'll never understand you and you'll never understand me. I know all of you (my friends) tried to stop it, I know millions more tried, I understand it wasn't done in your interests, you are not the state, you are not the war, you are not the corporations. But still I'm angry at each and every one of you, maybe it's irrational, maybe you as individuals hold no responsibility, maybe it's a reaction to all the cheesy manufactured soul searching forced down our throats in which the horror of it all is stripped down to the suffering of American soldiers and American families, soldiers who died, soldiers who lost a limb, soldiers who were shocked at what they were capable of, soldiers who waited until they practiced the killing and torture themselves to realize that something was wrong. Murderers and pillagers who think the world owes them an apology, heroes even in the eyes of many of the millions who tried to stop the war. Maybe I include you, my friends, in my anger because you care, for what is the point of being angry at those who already made a commitment not to be human? The scary part is I'm many steps removed from the war and its atrocities, I wonder at the anger felt by Iraqis who had to live every day of it? Until recently I wasn't just steps removed, I was an accomplice just like you, the battleships moving through the Suez Canal were enough to push us to revolution in just ten years. Ask any activist who experienced the 2003 antiwar protests in Tahrir and they'll tell you it started then, for you see we couldn't live with the thought that Iraqis would look at us with anger in their hearts. Our incomplete and much-abused revolutions are our gift to you, join it and revolt now, for nothing short of revolution will ever redeem you.
    "I'll never understand you and you'll never understand me." Was that true? If we Americans admired the Egyptians for their revolutionary spirit from afar, if so many of us envied their passion and their commitment to a cause, then I wonder why we did not feel connected to Egyptians when clearly, in some way, they, like the rest of the world, felt inherently, inextricably, passionately connected to us. That day I visited the Turkish coal miners, asking over and over those same American questions - "What happened here?" "How did this happen?” "What went wrong?” "How did your country fail to protect you?" - Ahmet, the survivor, interrupted me. A hush fell over the room, not because they thought him rude but because they all viewed me the same way: as a curiosity. "But, ma'am, I have a question for you," he said. "Why didn't you come before the fire? Why didn't you think of us before?"

    ...It is common to say Watergate shattered American innocence, that Vietnam shattered American innocence, that September 11 shattered American innocence, that Trump shattered American innocence. But this was all wishful thinking. American innocence never dies. That pain in my heart is my innocence. The only difference is that now I know it. If there was anything fully shattered during my years abroad, it was faith in my own objectivity, as a journalist or as a human being (p. 246).

  7. Pankaj Mishra Critiques Western Presuppositions about "Development"

    from Pankaj Mishra, "Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar and the waiting room of history" (The Guardian, February 28, 2015)

    There is another, even steeper, hurdle to understanding Ataturk's drastic cultural revolution: the basic assumption, shared by many western readers, that societies must modernise and become more secular and rational, relegating their premodern past to museums or, in the case of religion, to private life. The idea that modernisation makes for enhanced national power and rapid progress and helps everyone achieve greater happiness has its origins in the astonishing political, economic and military successes of western Europe in the 19th century. It was subsequently adopted in tradition-minded societies by powerful men ranging from autocrats such as Ataturk and Mao Zedong to the more democratically inclined, if paternalistic, Jawaharlal Nehru.

    ...They felt oppressed and humiliated by the power of the industrialised west and urgently sought to match it. It did not matter that their countries lacked the human material- self-motivated and rationally self-interested individuals-apparently necessary for the pursuit of national wealth and power. A robust bureaucratic state and a suitably enlightened ruling elite could forge citizens out of a scattered mass of peasants and merchants, and endow them with a sense of national identity.

    But there was a tragic mismatch between the intentions of these hasty modernisers and the long historical experience of the societies they wanted to remake. No major Asian or African tradition had accommodated the notion that human beings could shape a meaningful narrative of evolution, or that the social order contained the general laws discovered by modern science in the natural world, which, once identified, could be used to bring about ever-greater improvements – the potent and peculiarly European prejudice that gave conviction to such words as progress and history (as much ideological buzzwords of the 19th century as democracy and globalisation are of the present moment). Time, in fact, was rarely conceptualised as a linear progression in Asian and African cultures. Nevertheless, scientific and technological innovations, as well as the great triumphs of western imperialism, persuaded many Asians that they too could manipulate their natural and social environment to their advantage.

    As was seen in Iran under Reza Pahlavi, as well as in Mao Zedong's China, these single-minded authoritarian figures, who saw themselves as bending history to their will, inflicted immense violence and suffering on their societies. The outcome was always ambiguous (as is now clear in Turkey's own turn to a moderate Islamism after decades of a secular dictatorship and the recent embrace by Chinese communists of a worldview they previously scorned: Confucianism). For, as Dostoyevsky warned: "No nation on Earth, no society with a certain measure of stability, has been developed to order, on the lines of a programme imported from abroad.”

    from Pankaj Mishra: "After the Paris attacks: It's time for a new Enlightenment" (THe Guardian, January 20, 2015)

    the identity of the secular modern, which was built upon exclusivist notions of secularism, liberty, solidarity, and democracy in sovereign nation-states, has unravelled, and requires a broader definition. A new common space has to be renegotiated. militarily and culturally interventionist, business-friendly but otherwise minimalist state peddling an ideology of economic growth won't do. Such nullity might even play into the hands of fanatics who want to destroy the most valuable legacy of the Enlightenment: the detachment of the theocratic from the political.

    We may have to retrieve the Enlightenment, as much as religion, from its fundamentalists. If Enlightenment is "man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity", then this "task", and "obligation" as Kant defined it, is never fulfilled; it has to be continually renewed by every generation in ever-changing social and political conditions. The advocacy of more violence and wars in the face of recurrent failure meets the definition of fanaticism rather than reason. The task for those who cherish freedom is to reimagine it – through an ethos of criticism combined with compassion and ceaseless self-awareness – in our own irreversibly mixed and highly unequal societies and the larger interdependent world. Only then can we capably defend freedom from its true enemies.

    from Pankaj Mishra, "The Western Model is Broken" (The Guardian, October 14, 2014)

    The enabling conditions of Europe's 19th-century success – small, relatively homogenous populations, or the ability to send surplus populations abroad as soldiers, merchants and missionaries – were missing in the large and populous countries of Asia and Africa. Furthermore, imperialism had deprived them, as Basil Davidson argued in The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State, of the resources to pursue western-style economic development; it had also imposed ruinous ideologies and institutions upon societies that had developed, over centuries, their own viable political units and social structures.

  8. Modern vs. Traditional identities

    Peter Berger's characterization of the modern age: "The conception of the naked self, beyond institutions and roles, as the of human being, is the very heart of modernity" (Berger, Berger, and Kellner 1974, 213). Berger discusses how the concept of self has changed by replacement of the notion of the honor appropriate to a person's office or status with the notion of an equal human dignity shared by all persons.

    The concept of honor implies that identity is essentially, or at least importantly, linked to institutional roles. The modern concept of dignity, by contrast, implies that identity is essentially independent of institutional roles. . . . In a world of honor the individual is the social symbols emblazoned on his escutcheon. The true self of the knight is revealed as he rides out to do battle in the full regalia of his role; by comparison, the naked man in bed with a woman represents a lesser reality of the self. In a world of dignity, in the modern sense, the social symbolism governing the interaction of men is a disguise. The escutcheons hide the true self. It is precisely the naked man, and even more specifically the naked man expressing his sexuality, who represents himself more truthfully. Consequently, the understanding of self-discovery and self-mystification is reversed as between these two worlds. In a world of honor the individual discovers his true identity in his roles, and to turn away from the roles is to turn away from himself--in "false consciousness," one is tempted to add. In a world of dignity, the individual can only discover his true identity by emancipating himself from his socially imposed roles--the latter are only masks, entangling him in illusion, "alienation," and "bad faith." It follows that the two worlds have a different relation to history. It is through the performance of institutional roles that the individual participates in history, not only the history of the particular institution but that of his society as a whole. It is precisely for this reason that modern consciousness, in its conception of the self, tends toward a curious ahistoricity. In a world of honor, identity is firmly linked to the past through the reiterated performance of prototypical acts. In a world of dignity, history is the succession of mystifications from which the individual must free himself to attain "authenticity." (Berger, Berger, and Kellner 1974, 90-91)

  9. The German Romantics

    New kinds of selves at new kinds of distances from society. Here is a link to a 6 page survey essay of authors and themes in German Romanticism.

  10. Some quotations from Novalis

  11. As On A Holiday

    a poem by Friedrich Hoelderlin about the role of the poet in a god-forsaken world

    As on a holiday, when a farmer
    Goes out to look at his fields, in the morning,
    After cool lightning has fallen through the hot night,
    And thunder still echoes in the distance,
    And the stream returns to its banks,
    And the earth becomes green and fresh,
    And drops of joyful rain from heaven rest
    Upon the vines, and the trees in the grove
    Stand shining in the quiet sun -
    Thus poets stand in favorable weather:
    Those whom no master, but rather Nature,
    Mighty and beautiful in its divinity, wonderfully
    And universally present, educates with gentle embrace.
    And when Nature appears to sleep at some seasons,
    Either in the sky or among plants or nations,
    So the aspect of poets is also mournful.
    They seem to be alone, but their foreknowledge continues.
    For Nature itself is prescient, as it rests.
    Now it is day! I waited to see it come,
    And what I saw - my words bespeak holiness!
    For Nature, who is older than time,
    Standing above the gods of the Occident and Orient,
    Has awakened to the sounds of arms.
    All-creating Nature feels the enthusiasm anew,
    From Aether down to the abyss,
    As when she was born of holy Chaos,
    According to the established law.
    And as fire shines in a man's eye
    When he plans something great,
    So a fire is kindled again in the minds
    Of poets, by the signs and deeds of the world.
    What happened before, scarcely sensed,
    Becomes apparent now for the first time.
    And those who plowed our fields
    In the form of smiling laborers
    Are now recognized as the all-living
    Forces of the gods.
    Would you question them? Their spirit moves in song,
    Grown from the sun of day and the warm earth,
    And from storms, those of the air, and others
    Originating farther within the depths of time,
    More perceptible and meaningful to us,
    Drifting between heaven and earth, and among nations.
    They are thoughts of the common spirit,
    Quietly ending in the mind of the poet,
    Which, long familiar with the infinite,
    Is struck quickly, and shakes with the memory.
    Set on fire by the holy radiance,
    It creates a song - the fruit born of love,
    The work of gods and man,
    Bearing witness to both.
    Thus lightning fell on Semele's house,
    As poets relate, since she wanted to see
    A god in person. Struck by the god,
    She gave birth to holy Bacchus,
    The fruit of the storm.
    Thus the sons of earth now drink in
    The fire of heaven without danger.
    And it is our duty, poets, to stand
    Bare-headed under the storms of God,
    Grasping with our own hand
    The Father's beam itself,
    And to offer the gift of heaven,
    Wrapped in song, to the people.
    If our hearts are pure, like children,
    And our hands are guiltless,
    The Father's pure radiance won't sear;
    And the deeply shaken heart, sharing
    The suffering of the stronger god,
    Will endure the raging storms when he approaches.
    But alas, if from - - - - - - - - -
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    And if I now say - - - - -
    I had come to see the gods,
    They themselves cast me down to the living,
    Me, the false priest, down to darkness,
    That I sing a song of warning to those able to learn.
    There - - -

  12. Some notes on the novelist Jean Paul

    (Jean Paul Richter, 1883-1825) was known for his romantic irony and humor. (DK: I have not read Jean Paul, but from what I read about him, and Hegel's ambivalence about him, his writings appear similar to some artistic movements today, indicating that the kind of empty ironic subjectivity Hegel finds in Jean Paul is still with us.)

    (from Britannica.com) : Jean Paul's novels are peculiar combinations of sentiment, irony, and humour expressed in a highly subjective and involuted prose style that is marked by rapid transitions of mood. His books are formless, lacking in action, and studded with whimsical digressions, but to some extent they are redeemed by the author's profuse imagination and equal capacity for realistic detail and dreamlike fantasy. One favourite theme is the tragicomic clash between the soul's infinite aspirations and the trivial restrictions of everyday life. Jean Paul greatly influenced his contemporaries by his simple piety, humanity and warmth, his religious attitude toward nature, and his beguiling mixture of sentimentality, fantasy, and humour.

    (from Wikipedia) : Jean Paul occupies an unusual position in German literature and has always divided the literary public. Some hold him in highest veneration while others treat his work with indifference. He took the Romantic formlessness of the novel to extremes: Schlegel called his novels soliloquies, in which he makes his readers take part (in this respect going even further than Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy). Jean Paul habitually played with a multitude of droll and bizarre ideas: his work is characterized by wild metaphors as well as by digressive and partly labyrinthine plots. He mixed contemplation with literary theory: alongside spirited irony the reader finds bitter satire and mild humour; next to soberly realistic passages there are romanticized and often ironically-curtailed idylls, social commentary and political statements. The quick changes of mood attracted the composer Schumann whose Papillons was inspired by Jean Paul.

    His novels were especially admired by women. This was due to the empathy with which Jean Paul created the female characters in his works: never before in German literature were women represented with such psychological depth. At the same time however, his work contains misogynistic quips. Jean Paul's character may have been as diverse and as confusing as many of his novels: he was said to be very sociable and witty, while at the same time extremely sentimental: having an almost childlike nature, quickly moved to tears. It is obvious from his works that his interests encompassed not only literature but also astronomy and other sciences.

    It is no surprise that the relationship of so capricious an author with the Weimar classicists Goethe and Schiller always remained ambivalent: Schiller once remarked that Jean Paul was as alien to him as someone who fell from the moon, and that he might have been worthy of admiration "if he had made as good use of his riches as other men made of their poverty." Herder and Wieland on the other hand fully appreciated his work and supported him. Although he always kept his distance from the classicists, who wanted to "absolutize" art, and although his theoretical approach (most notably in his Introduction to Aesthetics) was considerably influenced by Romanticism, it would be misleading to call him a Romantic without qualification. Here too he kept his distance: with all his subjectivism he didn't absolutize the subject of the author as the Romantics often did. Jean Paul had what had become rare amidst classical severity and romantic irony: humour. He also was one of the first who approached humour from a theoretical standpoint.

    He thought that both the Enlightenment and metaphysics had failed, though they still held importance for his worldview. He arrived at a philosophy without illusions, and a state of humorous resignation. Correspondingly he was one of the first defenders of Schopenhauer's philosophy. He didn't try to indoctrinate but to portray human happiness, even (and especially) in an increasingly alienated environment - the rococo castles and bleak villages of Upper Franconia.

    (from Hegel's lectures on the philosophy of art) : In the case of the French, the humorous in general meets with little success, in our (German) case with more, and we are more tolerant of aberrations. So with us Jean Paul, e.g., is a favourite humourist, and yet he is astonishing, beyond everyone else, precisely in the baroque mustering of things objectively furthest removed from one another and in the most confused disorderly jumbling of topics related only in his own subjective imagina tion. The story, the subject-matter and course of events in his novels, is what is of the least interest. The main thing remains the hither and thither course of the humour which uses every topic only to emphasize the subjective wit of the author....now it is the mere subjective activity of the poet which commands material and meaning alike and strings them together in an order alien to them. But such a string of notions soon wearies us, especially if we are expected to acclimatize ourselves and our ideas to the often scarcely guessable combinations which have casually floated before the poet's mind. Especially in the case of Jean Paul one metaphor, one witticism, one joke, one simile, kills the other; we see nothing develop, everything just explodes. But what is to be resolved in a denouement must previously have been unfolded in a plot and prepared in advance. On the other side, if the artist himself is devoid of the core and support of a mind filled with genuine objectivity, humour readily slips into what is namby-pamby and sentimental, and of this too Jean Paul provides an example.

  13. Some remarks by Heinrich Heine (quoted in his Wikipedia article) about the future, relevant to Europe today:

    In October 1843, Heine's distant relative and German revolutionary, Karl Marx, and his wife Jenny von Westphalen arrived in Paris after the Prussian government had suppressed Marx's radical newspaper. The Marx family settled in Rue Vaneau. Marx was an admirer of Heine and his early writings show Heine's influence. In December Heine met the Marxes and got on well with them. He published several poems, including Die schlesischen Weber, in Marx's new journal Vorwaerts ("Forwards"). Ultimately Heine's ideas of revolution through sensual emancipation and Marx's scientific socialism were incompatible, but both writers shared the same negativity and lack of faith in the bourgeoisie.

    In the isolation he felt after the Boerne debacle, Marx's friendship came as a relief to Heine, since he did not really like the other radicals. On the other hand, he did not share Marx's faith in the industrial proletariat and remained on the fringes of socialist circles. The Prussian government, angry at the publication of Vorwaerts, put pressure on France to deal with its authors and in January 1845 Marx was deported to Belgium. Heine could not be expelled from the country because he had the right of residence in France, having been born under French occupation. Thereafter Heine and Marx maintained a sporadic correspondence, but in time their admiration for one another faded. Heine always had mixed feelings about communism. He believed its radicalism and materialism would destroy much of the European culture that he loved and admired.

    In the French edition of "Lutetia" Heine wrote, one year before he died:

    "This confession, that the future belongs to the Communists, I made with an undertone of the greatest fear and sorrow and, oh!, this undertone by no means is a mask! Indeed, with fear and terror I imagine the time, when those dark iconoclasts come to power: with their raw fists they will batter all marble images of my beloved world of art, they will ruin all those fantastic anecdotes that the poets loved so much, they will chop down my Laurel forests and plant potatoes and, oh!, the herbs chandler will use my Book of Songs to make bags for coffee and snuff for the old women of the future – oh!, I can foresee all this and I feel deeply sorry thinking of this decline threatening my poetry and the old world order - And yet, I freely confess, the same thoughts have a magical appeal upon my soul which I cannot resist .... In my chest there are two voices in their favour which cannot be silenced .... because the first one is that of logic ... and as I cannot object to the premise "that all people have the right to eat", I must defer to all the conclusions....The second of the two compelling voices, of which I am talking, is even more powerful than the first, because it is the voice of hatred, the hatred I dedicate to this common enemy that constitutes the most distinctive contrast to communism and that will oppose the angry giant already at the first instance - I am talking about the party of the so-called advocates of nationality in Germany, about those false patriots whose love for the fatherland only exists in the shape of imbecile distaste of foreign countries and neighbouring peoples and who daily pour their bile especially on France".

  14. Paul Ricoeur

    From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: For Ricoeur, the basic disproportion that characterizes human existence as located between the finite, perspectival nature of experience and the infinite, rational dimensions of taking up that experience in perception, practice, and feeling, leading to the concept of fallibility. This disproportion shows up in every aspect of human existence, from perceiving to feeling to thinking. It is evident in the human quest for possessions, power, and prestige. By reason of this disproportion, we are never wholly at one with ourselves and hence we can go wrong. We are fallible, yet evil, the misuse of our freedom, is neither original nor necessary, only always possible.

    These reflections reinforced Ricoeur's conviction that what humans say and do presupposes both a finite freedom that allows us to intervene in natural processes and a dependence on these same processes for the efficacy of such actions. What we say and do would be meaningless if it did not fit into some antecedent structure or pattern established by natural processes, on the one hand, and into what we say about such doings which intervene in those processes, on the other. Our words and deeds are intended to express the meaning of what exists, if only because they give meaning to things as they now stand. In this sense, our words and deeds get their significance from being responses to contexts not wholly of our own making. What we say and do in such contexts can also aim beyond things as they now stand and sometimes does give expression to new meanings and values, as well as to unintended and as yet unrealized possibilities. In a word, our exercising of our finite freedom has worth and efficacy only by reason of our embodiment in a natural and cultural setting that is largely not of our own making, but this is a world that we seek to appropriate through our words and deeds - and our use of a productive imagination.

    Contrary to Sartre's claim that there is radical difference between consciousness (or the for-itself) and materiality (or the in-itself), a difference that pits the freedom of the for-itself against the sheer facticity of the in-itself, Ricoeur argues that the voluntary and involuntary dimensions of human existence are complementary. There is no seamless harmony between these dimensions of what is finally only a finite freedom.

    Human beings have to struggle with the tension between them and ultimately to consent to their embodied lives and the world as something they do not fully create. It is the always fragile resolution of this conflict that ultimately makes human freedom genuinely human, and that gives us our distinctive identities both as individuals and as members of larger historical communities and ultimately of humanity.

    Along the way Ricoeur also introduces a key distinction between two kinds of identity in relation to selfhood. Idem identity is the identity of something that is always the same which never changes, ipse identity is sameness across and through change. Self-identity involves both dimensions: I am and am not the person I was ten years ago. It is the existence of ipse identity that indicates that a self is better thought of in terms of the question "who?" than in terms of the question "what" is a self.

  15. Two essays on internal distances in modern vs traditional identities

    from a book of essays by David Kolb
    Life in a Balloon
    Haughty and Humble Ironies
  16. Manufacturing Achilles: a worry

    We talk a lot about improving the details and possibilities of our physical embodiment. We talk with trainers, PTs, doctors.

    We talk also about forming our values and roles. Bringing up children we debate about their education, choosing kinds of experiences that might form their values, etc. So we are already doing self-reflective planning and modification of “given” identities.

    In the future we will have techniques of gene modification, so we might decide what level of intelligence and what kind of skills children should have, and we likely will have drugs and other tools to modify children and adults physically and mentally.

    There could be temptations to manufacture Achilles. To produce skilled single-ply identities. Soldiers, security guards, craftspeople, totally dedicated and loyal. Brave New World.

    But that we feel that temptation means that inner distances and complex relations to our roles and identities are already functioning, and we might presume that no BNW scenario will be able to keep them away. (For another science fiction example, see Cyteen, by C.J.Cherryh).

  17. A Pure Market State as one kind of Modernist Ideal

    To thoroughly clean out the lumber room of history a thoroughly modern society must not later become another antique to be stored away. It must be a society that stays fresh, self-renewing, "modern" in the strongest sense of that word (which stems from a Latin word for today). It needs to be more than a change from one old regime to another. Like a bolt of lightning, it should divide history.

    The strongest claim would be that the new society has found the true essential form of social life, which can now be implemented in its purity free from historical incrustations.

    This modernist dream appears from the Enlightenment through Nietzsche and Max Weber and on to today's proponents of the free economic rationality of the market. A market society of free individuals is not structured around any set of historical privileges or substantive values. Individuals are to be rational economic actors. Whether consumers or entrepreneurs, and preferably both at once, these autonomous individuals choose among possibilities guided by individual preferences within an overall market of needs andresources. Each person pursues their own welfare. No one exercises concern for the collective; the invisible hand will take care of what is common.

    This view provides an unusually austere version of the modernist dream. It is by no means the only version of that dream in America: both John Wayne and John Dewey would reject it. But lately this version has become very influential, often under the not too positive label "neoliberalism".

    This would be a global market society where everyone's deep identity is as a rational maximizer of individual economic welfare, with a minimal state to guarantee the market, so that substantive national and group identities become matters for personal choice.

  18. Is Weber's formally rational individual a capitalist?

    You could think of Weber's modern individual as pure Homo economicus -- an individual with certain given qualities preferences values who then calculates how to realize those goals and values most efficiently in a negotiation with others. That sounds like the ideal of a market society.

    But No. Capitalism is not identical with market society - it is one set of historical property arrangements for market and society. And, given the different resources and power relations it creates; it does not make everyone equally free in the market.

    Capitalism versus socialism, if you want, but "socialism" is not just the inverse of capitalism. Inverted capitalism might be state capitalism, just one owner and decider. Socialist thinkers grapple with creating a theory of “democratic socialism” – and that hides huge issues of power sharing, expertise, cooperation and integration. How does the demos decide?

  19. Critiques of standard economic models, from "behavioral economists"

  20. An argument, adapted from Wittgenstein, against the possibility of purely formal free individuals or institutions

    Discussing the nature of mathematical proof, Wittgenstein shows diagrams of simple machines. Consider a diagram of a seesaw: a lever with a weight on the far end and supported on a raised pivot in the middle. It's "obvious" that if you push down on the lever the weight will rise.

    But is it so obvious? Perhaps the weight is too heavy and the lever breaks. Or the support in the middle collapses. Or the lever bends, or ties itself in knots, or the weight evaporates, or the lever liquifies. It all depends on what the materials and the laws of nature happen to be. Wittgenstein comments:

    When I see the picture of the mechanism in motion; that can tell me how a part actually will move. Though if the picture represented a mechanism whose parts were composed of very soft material (dough, say), and hence bent about in various ways in the picture then the picture would perhaps again not help in making a prediction.

    Now, replace the diagram of a machine with an outline of the steps for making a decision according to a rule of formal pure economic rationality, or a mathematical model of decision processes and their results. Or the procedure for the calculation of stakes in a game, or the formula for operating a bicameral legislature. Taken as defining the process, the steps in the diagram or outline are sure and clear. But as a description of an actual existing process, what will happen depends on the contingent qualities of the parts.

    Taken as defining a process, an outline or a diagram shows a physical machine with infinitely strong levers and gears that have no way of breaking, and the steps of a decision process show actors being acting in clear absolutely precise ways. But describing a real instance of the process the gears may melt, and the humans who will realize the procedures will be French or German or belong to some tribe in the Borneo. They will have their own culture and attitudes, language, and values.

    The notion of a purely rational economic actor is an idealized machine. My point is not that the purely rational machine may have contingent data to process, but that the actual workings of the machine will be realized through contingent embodiments which open and close off possibilities.

  21. An argument, adapted from Hegel, that Modern selves and institutions cannot exist as naked instantiations of their formal descriptions.

    Nature, for Hegel, is all outside. Forms and processes and laws that may be described in conceptual purity become real only when embodied in space and time, where their primary connections are external: one space next to another, one minute succeeding another. In nature, things are not just outside the mind; they have outsides. They have relations and vulnerabilities that are not included in any pure description of what it means to be a tiger, or a piece of granite, or even a local biosphere. There is always an outside, always the contingent other, the unexpected disease, the new competitor, the moving continent, the asteroid from the heavens. To be real outside in an external world is more than to follow a formula that specifies a limited number of internal and external variables. Thousands of extinct species testify that adaptation to a stable environment is not enough.

    Most importantly, to fit into that outside world, a natural thing's essential structures need to be fleshed out with huge amounts of added contingent detail. The rock I use as a paperweight is not just heavy, but heavy with a particular weight and balance point, with a particular color and shape, location and texture. It could not exist without those contingent qualities.

    To be an animal, an organism has to possess essential systems that enable it to move about, obtain nutrition, reproduce, and so on. But an animal cannot just be “mobile.” The notion of mobility does not say whether the animal creeps or crawls or flies, whether it has legs or wings or fins or treads, how many appendages, their function, number, color, size, etc. Its bones will have a certain strength. Its feet will be just so big and fitted with particular styles of claws or toes or pads. For the animal to move, all those contingent details need to be realized.

    To be mobile is to be mobile in a particular way that gives the animal a purchase in the world, enabling motion of a specific kind in a specific environment. It's not that a tiger is mobile and has legs. It is mobile through having legs, just as it is colored through having stripes. Embodiment brings a particular substantive identity that both opens and limits possibilities.

    This includes a repertory of defined skills, instincts, reactions, and sensitivities that fit it into its environment. The animal, its bodily features, its skills and instincts, and its environment (Umwelt) stand together in what Hegel calls an immediate unity.

    A self never exists as an indeterminate possibility; it is always being determined in some way in some concrete social setting. There is no actual moment where the self knows itself as a cloud of free potentiality.

    Just as spiders and fish share common systems but realize them in contingently different embodiments, scales, furry legs, number of eyes, and so on, so any modern state will have distinctive geographical, historical and emotional qualities that will contingently enable (and limit) its institutions. So each modern nation will "do" bureaucracy, voting, bicameral legislatures, and even "the market" in its own way.

    Economic rationality and politics are realized in the outside world in and through contingent qualities that enable and limit them. So much detail has to be filled in for the pure process to become real. There is geography, history, background, habits built up over long periods of time, fundamental moods and styles of acting, typical patterns of thought and valuation. For Hegel these might be French or German or Catholic or Protestant or Chinese or Indian and so on.

    The immediate given unity of the self and its social world appears in linked networks of practices, moods, habits, valuations, spreading in all directions, influencing every act performed within them. It is not just the people have different preferences, but that their style of having preferences, their ways of dealing with preferences and making decisions all become real within immense amounts of added detail and ongoing practical orientations and horizons.

    This argument applies to the recent reliance on mathematical economic models. It is not an aberrant result of evolution that we cannot act as those models say we should. No one can, because the models cannot be implemented in their purity. The necessary contingencies of embodiment are not simply decoration; they shape the horizon of real possibilities.

  22. The essay on Hegel and Wittgenstein from which the preceding arguments were taken.

    Here is the whole "Tiger Stripes"discussion of Hegel's critique of empty freedom and market societies.

  23. Three relevant essays from recent periodicals

  24. Two books on regional identities in the USA

  25. An essay questioning American Individualism

    I wrote American Individualism: Does It Exist? in 1984 for a Japanese audience. It describes and critiques the idea that American individuals are purely formal and free. If I were writing it now I would no longer say that the separation of private from public is the key to modern American individualism, because that suggests a self doubled but with each side still simply inhabited without inner distance. I would now talk about the two level self-in-motion and the complex relation that results among individual selves and with the body politic.

  26. Three versions of the lyrics for America the Beautiful

  27. An odd newspaper piece by Hegel

    In a snarky op-ed, Hegel argues that it is the common person rather than the philosopher who thinks in big vague abstractions.

  28. An article by Jill Lepore on nationalism and national histories, looking at the differing ways an American identity has been cobbled together

  29. An article from the NYT about "peacebuilders," conflict resolution experts sharing their skills.

  30. Some paragraphs from the beginning and end of Max Weber's Politics as a Vocation, arguing against clean hands and moral sainthood in politics.

    Ultimately, one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force.

    Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Note that 'territory' is one of the characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the 'right' to use violence. Hence, 'politics' for us means striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state.

    The decisive means for politics is violence.......No ethics in the world can dodge the fact that in numerous instances the attainment of 'good' ends is bound to the fact that one must be willing to pay the price of using morally dubious means or at least dangerous ones--and facing the possibility or even the probability of evil ramifications. From no ethics in the world can it be concluded when and to what extent the ethically good purpose 'justifies' the ethically dangerous means and ramifications.

    The early Christians knew full well the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true. Anyone who fails to see this is, indeed, a political infant.

    Whosoever contracts with violent means for whatever ends--and every politician does--is exposed to its specific consequences. This holds especially for the crusader, religious and revolutionary alike. Let us onfidently take the present as an example. He who wants to establish absolute justice on earth by force requires a following, a human 'machine.' Everything that is striven for through political action operating with violent means and following an ethic of responsibility endangers the 'salvation of the soul.' If, however, one chases after the ultimate good in a war of beliefs,following a pure ethic of absolute ends, then the goals may be damaged and discredited for generations, because responsibility for consequences is lacking, and two diabolic forces which enter the play remainunknown to the actor. These are inexorable and produce consequences for his action and even for his innerself, to which he must helplessly submit, unless he perceives them. THIS lecture, which I give at your request, will necessarily disappoint you in a number of ways. You will naturally expect me to take a position on actual problems of the day. But that will be the case only in a purely formal way and toward the end, when I shall raise certain questions concerning the significance of political action in the whole way of life.

    Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth --that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say 'In spite of all!' has the calling for politics.

  31. The long history of identity politics in America.

  32. "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold (1868)

    The sea is calm tonight.
    The tide is full, the moon lies fair
    Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
    Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
    Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
    Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
    Only, from the long line of spray
    Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
    Listen! you hear the grating roar
    Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
    At their return, up the high strand,
    Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
    With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
    The eternal note of sadness in.

    Sophocles long ago
    Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
    Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
    Of human misery; we
    Find also in the sound a thought,
    Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

    The Sea of Faith
    Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
    Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
    But now I only hear
    Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
    Retreating, to the breath
    Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
    And naked shingles of the world.

    Ah, love, let us be true
    To one another! for the world, which seems
    To lie before us like a land of dreams,
    So various, so beautiful, so new,
    Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night.