Category Archives: Ideas

Richard Rorty would create a social democracy, one that is, classless, casteless, and egalitarian.

And hence the confrontation with Donald Trump whose preferred society is authoritarian where class, caste, and inégalité rule.

Our tragedy: Richard Rorty’s books are no longer read while Donald Trump with no books or ideas to his name has millions of supporters hanging on his every word at the rallies.

Rorty: “My candidate for the most distinctive and praiseworthy human capacity is the ability to trust and to cooperate with other people, and in particular to work together so as to improve the future.

Under favourable circumstances, our use of this capacity culminates in utopian political projects such as Plato’s ideal state, Christian attempts to realize the kingdom of God here on earth, and Marx’s vision of the victory of the proletariat. At best these and other such projects aim at improving our institutions in such a way that our descendants will be still better able to trust and cooperate, will be more decent people than we ourselves have managed to be. At worst they are what they are.

In our century, the most plausible project of this sort has been the one to which Dewey devoted his political efforts: the creation of a social democracy; that is, a classless, casteless, egalitarian society.

William James and John Dewey gave us advice on how, by getting rid of the old dualisms, –appearance–reality, matter–mind, made–found, sensible–intellectual, etc., (what Dewey called ‘a brood and nest of dualisms’) we can make this humanitarian project central to our emotional, intellectual and political lives.

SO WOULDN’T I if in a better world I could, say create something whose founding would begin not with a Constitution in constant need of interpretation but perhaps with the words of Paul, in constant need of repetition, in his Epistle no. 4 to the Phillippians:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

By the way didn’t Paul try and fail to create such a world? And there are those who are still trying.

Why should there not be a patient confidence…

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with his eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.
(From The First Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861)

Is that what differentiated Lincoln from his fellows, a patient confidence even in the worst of times, that things would get better? How many of us now have the “patient confidence” of which President Lincoln speaks? I don’t. Donald Trump and his army of toadies are threatening to destroy our democracy, and my confidence in the process. There are even those on both sides of the aisle (if one can even mention “both sides”) in our Capitol having only just survived a murderous insurrection.

Here’s what a very few of very many are saying:
Paul Krugman
The point is that neither megalomania at the top nor rage at the bottom explains why American democracy is hanging by a thread. Cowardice, not craziness, is the reason government by the people may soon perish from the earth.

The Keough School of Global Affairs,
President Donald Trump’s repeated refusal to guarantee a peaceful power transfer have created a climate of uncertainty about the election and its aftermath, with worrisome implications for the long-term health of American democracy.

Anne Berg in Penn Today: I think American democracy is already under siege. In my view, the developments that we’ve seen over the last several years, and particularly over the course of this year, represent a full-on descent into what you could call quiet authoritarianism.

And in the words of Marianne Williamson:
Our democracy is under assault by combined forces of corporatism and autocracy. This organized, well-funded assault seeks the destruction of our bedrock democratic foundations in order to secure its own economic primacy.
To serve its purposes, it aims to: 
1) influence elections at local, state and federal levels using the unlimited financial power to do so granted by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision;
2) place corporatist judges on all levels of the judiciary; and
3) attack voting rights through such means as the 2013 Supreme Court chipping away of the Voting Rights Act

Justice Louis Brandeis“We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

The Hill: Over the past four years, Americans have been told repeatedly that our democracy is at risk.  Many factors are said to be at play. Voter ID requirements, limits on absentee voting, registration in advance of election day, polling place arrangements, opposition to statehood for the District of Columbia, along with concerns about voting by mail are said to constitute voter suppression.
But if these indictments do not persuade, there was the reality of Donald Trump’s 2016 election. Even had he not been the second president since 2000 to be inaugurated after losing the popular vote, Trump in the White House had to be proof certain that our democracy is at risk.

The New York Times: “The Republican Party is Attacking Democracy.”

Thomas Friedman’s column was headlined: “Only Truth Can Save Our Democracy.” It seems Republican successes in the House, Senate and state legislatures have got to mean that our democracy remains at risk.

Eddie S.Glaude Jr. at Princeton:” We’re on a knife’s edge,, The Republic is in serious jeopardy.”

Conclusion: In today’s United States there is little left of Abraham Lincoln’s “patient confidence.”

It was not idealism that drove him, or big ideas, … It was this: “Warto być przyzwoitym”—or “Just try to be decent.” Whether you were decent—that’s what will be remembered.

Why have Republican leaders abandoned their principles (decency) in support of an immoral and dangerous president?
By Anne Applebaum
July/August 2020 Issue, The Atlantic

“Just try to be decent”

On On a cold March afternoon in 1949, Wolfgang Leonhard slipped out of the East German Communist Party Secretariat, hurried home, packed what few warm clothes he could fit into a small briefcase, and then walked to a telephone box to call his mother. “My article will be finished this evening,” he told her. That was the code they had agreed on in advance. It meant that he was escaping the country, at great risk to his life.

Though only 28 years old at the time, Leonhard stood at the pinnacle of the new East German elite. The son of German Communists, he had been educated in the Soviet Union, trained in special schools during the war, and brought back to Berlin from Moscow in May 1945, on the same airplane that carried Walter Ulbricht, the leader of what would soon become the East German Communist Party. Leonhard was put on a team charged with re‑creating Berlin’s city government.
He had one central task: to ensure that any local leaders who emerged from the postwar chaos were assigned deputies loyal to the party. “It’s got to look democratic,” Ulbricht told him, “but we must have everything in our control.”
Leonhard had lived through a great deal by that time. While he was still a teenager in Moscow, his mother had been arrested as an “enemy of the people” and sent to Vorkuta, a labor camp in the far north. He had witnessed the terrible poverty and inequality of the Soviet Union, he had despaired of the Soviet alliance with Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1941, and he knew about the Red Army’s mass rapes of women following the occupation. Yet he and his ideologically committed friends “instinctively recoiled from the thought” that any of these events were “in diametrical opposition to our Socialist ideals.” Steadfastly, he clung to the belief system he had grown up with.
Anne Applebaum: Resist the urge to simplify the story
The turning point, when it came, was trivial. While walking down the hall of the Central Committee building, he was stopped by a “pleasant-looking middle-aged man,” a comrade recently arrived from the West, who asked where to find the dining room. Leonhard told him that the answer depended on what sort of meal ticket he had—different ranks of officials had access to different dining rooms. The comrade was astonished: “But … aren’t they all members of the Party?”
Leonhard walked away and entered his own, top-category dining room, where white cloths covered the tables and high-ranking functionaries received three-course meals. He felt ashamed. “Curious, I thought, that this had never struck me before!” That was when he began to have the doubts that inexorably led him to plot his escape.
At exactly that same moment, in exactly the same city, another high-ranking East German was coming to precisely the opposite set of conclusions. Markus Wolf was also the son of a prominent German Communist family. He also spent his childhood in the Soviet Union, attending the same elite schools for children of foreign Communists as Leonhard did, as well as the same wartime training camp; the two had shared a bedroom there, solemnly calling each other by their aliases—these were the rules of deep conspiracy—although they knew each other’s real names perfectly well. Wolf also witnessed the mass arrests, the purges, and the poverty of the Soviet Union—and he also kept faith with the cause. He arrived in Berlin just a few days after Leonhard, on another plane full of trusted comrades, and immediately began hosting a program on the new Soviet-backed radio station. For many months he ran the popular You Ask, We Answer. He gave on-air answers to listeners’ letters, often concluding with some form of “These difficulties are being overcome with the help of the Red Army.”
Read: James Mattis denounces President Trump, describes him as a threat to the constitution
In August 1947, the two men met up at Wolf’s “luxurious five-roomed apartment,” not far from what was then the headquarters of the radio station. They drove out to Wolf’s house, “a fine villa in the neighborhood of Lake Glienicke.” They took a walk around the lake, and Wolf warned Leonhard that changes were coming. He told him to give up hoping that German Communism would be allowed to develop differently from the Soviet version: That idea, long the goal of many German party members, was about to be dropped. When Leonhard argued that this could not be true—he was personally in charge of ideology, and no one had told him anything about a change in direction—Wolf laughed at him. “There are higher authorities than your Central Secretariat,” he said. Wolf made clear that he had better contacts, more important friends. At the age of 24, he was an insider. And Leonhard understood, finally, that he was a functionary in an occupied country where the Soviet Communist Party, not the German Communist Party, had the last word.
Famously, or perhaps infamously, Markus Wolf’s career continued to flourish after that. Not only did he stay in East Germany, he rose through the ranks of its nomenklatura to become the country’s top spy. He was the second-ranked official at the Ministry of State Security, better known as the Stasi; he was often described as the model for the Karla character in John le Carré ’s spy novels. In the course of his career, his Directorate for Reconnaissance recruited agents in the offices of the West German chancellor and just about every other department of the government, as well as at NATO.
Both men could see the gap between propaganda and reality. Yet one remained an enthusiastic collaborator while the other could not bear the betrayal of his ideals. Why?
Leonhard, meanwhile, became a prominent critic of the regime. He wrote and lectured in West Berlin, at Oxford, at Columbia. Eventually he wound up at Yale, where his lecture course left an impression on several generations of students. Among them was a future U.S. president, George W. Bush, who described Leonhard’s course as “an introduction to the struggle between tyranny and freedom.” When I was at Yale in the 1980s, Leonhard’s course on Soviet history was the most popular on campus.
Separately, each man’s story makes sense. But when examined together, they require some deeper explanation. Until March 1949, Leonhard’s and Wolf’s biographies were strikingly similar. Both grew up inside the Soviet system. Both were educated in Communist ideology, and both had the same values. Both knew that the party was undermining those values. Both knew that the system, allegedly built to promote equality, was deeply unequal, profoundly unfair, and very cruel. Like their counterparts in so many other times and places, both men could plainly see the gap between propaganda and reality. Yet one remained an enthusiastic collaborator, while the other could not bear the betrayal of his ideals. Why?
In English, the word collaborator has a double meaning. A colleague can be described as a collaborator in a neutral or positive sense. But the other definition of collaborator, relevant here, is different: someone who works with the enemy, with the occupying power, with the dictatorial regime. In this negative sense, collaborator is closely related to another set of words: collusion, complicity, connivance. This negative meaning gained currency during the Second World War, when it was widely used to describe Europeans who cooperated with Nazi occupiers. At base, the ugly meaning of collaborator carries an implication of treason: betrayal of one’s nation, of one’s ideology, of one’s morality, of one’s values.

Continue reading It was not idealism that drove him, or big ideas, … It was this: “Warto być przyzwoitym”—or “Just try to be decent.” Whether you were decent—that’s what will be remembered.

Us vs them morality

Edmund Husserl (1859, Prostějov, Czechia, 1938, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany)

Husserl speaks of —

“The cultural vacuousness surrounding Hitler that gave great power to braggarts like Eichmann who, much like our own Donald Trump, also coveted media coverage, had no interest in truth, and immediately polarized as they arose, complex situations ones like our own immigration, the ravages of Covid-19, global warming et al. by casting them most often as issues of “us” versus “them”, that is these were our fake issues, not his. The Us were of course Trump’s “Patriots, ” in fact the spineless Republicans, and we were the “them,”for the moment anyway the Democrats. Nothing could be done to stop Trump from polarizing us in this manner. How could this possibly have happened? That morality, moral behavior, had become nothing more than the constant battle between “us,” that is Trump and friends, and “them,” now the left leaning Socialists and Communists as he calls us.

Again, Cry the Beloved country.

Voting Rights? Is that what democracyis all about?

There will be no end of it.

John Adams

The same reasoning which will induce you to admit all men who have no property, to vote, with those who have, . . . will prove that you ought to admit women and children; for, generally speaking, women and children have as good judgments, and as independent minds, as those men who are wholly destitute of property; these last being to all intents and purposes as much dependent upon others, who will please to feed, clothe, and employ them, as women are upon their husbands, or children on their parents. . . .

it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; …

there will be no end of it.
New claims will arise; women will demand the vote; lads from twelve to twenty-one will think their rights not enough attended to; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level. Depend upon it, Sir,


The Banality of Democratic Collapse

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman

May 24, 2021

America’s democratic experiment may well be nearing its end. That’s not hyperbole; it’s obvious to anyone following the political scene. Republicans might take power legitimately; they might win through pervasive voter suppression; G.O.P. legislators might simply refuse to certify Democratic electoral votes and declare Donald Trump or his political heir the winner. However it plays out, the G.O.P. will try to ensure a permanent lock on power and do all it can to suppress dissent.

But how did we get here? We read every day about the rage of the Republican base, which overwhelmingly believes, based on nothing, that the 2020 election was stolen, and extremists in Congress, who insist that being required to wear a face mask is the equivalent of the Holocaust.

I’d argue, however, that focusing on the insanity can hinder our understanding of how all of this became possible. Conspiracy theorizing is hardly a new thing in our national life; Richard Hofstadter wrote “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” back in 1964. White rage has been a powerful force at least since the civil rights movement.

What’s different this time is the acquiescence of Republican elites. The Big Lie about the election didn’t well up from the grass roots — it was promoted from above, initially by Trump himself, but what’s crucial is that almost no prominent Republican politicians have been willing to contradict his claims and many have rushed to back them up.

Or to put it another way, the fundamental problem lies less with the crazies than with the careerists; not with the madness of Marjorie Taylor Greene, but with the spinelessness of Kevin McCarthy.

And this spinelessness has deep institutional roots.

Political scientists have long noted that our two major political parties are very different in their underlying structures. The Democrats are a coalition of interest groups — labor unions, environmentalists, L.G.B.T.Q. activists and more. The Republican Party is the vehicle of a cohesive, monolithic movement. This is often described as an ideological movement, although given the twists and turns of recent years — the sudden embrace of protectionism, the attacks on “woke” corporations — the ideology of movement conservatism seems less obvious than its will to power.

In any case, for a long time conservative cohesiveness made life relatively easy for Republican politicians and officials. Professional Democrats had to negotiate their way among sometimes competing demands from various constituencies. All Republicans had to do was follow the party line. Loyalty would be rewarded with safe seats, and should a Republican in good standing somehow happen to lose an election, support from billionaires meant that there was a safety net — “wing nut welfare” — in the form of chairs at lavishly funded right-wing think tanks, gigs at Fox News and so on.

Of course, the easy life of a professional Republican wasn’t appealing to everyone. The G.O.P. has long been an uncomfortable place for people with genuine policy expertise and real external reputations, who might find themselves expected to endorse claims they knew to be false.

The field I know best, economics, contains (or used to contain) quite a few Republicans with solid academic reputations. Like just about every academic discipline, the field leans Democratic, but much less so than other social sciences and even the hard sciences. But the G.O.P. has consistently preferred to get its advice from politically reliable cranks.

The contrast with the Biden team, by the way, is extraordinary. At this point it’s almost hard to find a genuine expert on tax policy, labor markets, etc. — an expert with an independent reputation who expects to return to a nonpolitical career in a couple of years — who hasn’t joined the administration.

Matters may be even worse for politicians who actually care about policy, still have principles and have personal constituencies separate from their party affiliation. There’s no room in today’s G.O.P. for the equivalent of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, unless you count the extremely sui generis Mitt Romney.

And the predominance of craven careerists is what made the Republican Party so vulnerable to authoritarian takeover.

Surely a great majority of Republicans in Congress know that the election wasn’t stolen. Very few really believe that the storming of the Capitol was a false-flag antifa operation or simply a crowd of harmless tourists. But decades as a monolithic, top-down enterprise have filled the G.O.P. with people who will follow the party line wherever it goes.

So if Trump or a Trump-like figure declares that we have always been at war with East Asia, well, his party will say that we’ve always been at war with East Asia. If he says he won a presidential election in a landslide, never mind the facts, they’ll say he won the election in a landslide.

The point is that neither megalomania at the top nor rage at the bottom explains why American democracy is hanging by a thread. Cowardice, not craziness, is the reason government by the people may soon perish from the earth.

Democracy, what have we done? Have we lost you?

[This is a work in progress! My wife wants supper and like Kim she can’t be appeased.]

If the states with Republican governors and Republican legislatures decide on their own what votes will be counted do we still have a democracy?What makes any country a democracy? Isn’t it that the people of a democracy will decide for themselves who among them will rule over them? From that point of view which governments among the 193 sovereign states of the United Nations are true democracies? How many are there? To be counted on the fingers of one hand, two??

This of course is what people are thinking and writing about. Particularly frightening is Paull Krugman’s conclusion at the end of a recent op ed piece in the Times: The point is that neither megalomania at the top nor rage at the bottom explains why American democracy is hanging by a thread. Cowardice, not craziness, is the reason government by the people may soon perish from the earth.
Then today, also from a op ed piece in the Times:

The flaw in Mr. Moon’s attempts at engagement is that Mr. Kim is unappeasable. His revisionist regime accepts only propositions aimed at weakening the enemy state in the South and breaking its ties with its American protector.

Is this what they have tin common, sharing being unappeasable? Poutin, Kim, Trump, Erdoğan et al/ Here I mention only four but of the leaders of the 193 sovereign states, tyrants, despots and the rest, probably for the most part are unappeasable. How about husbands and wives? Mostly unappeasable?

Is the world divided between those who are appeasable and those who are not? Are you thinking of getting married, try to answer that question for yourself and for your loved one before going any further.I It probably won’t help, just as it never helped Donald Trump when he pushed ahead with Kim with love notes, not realizing that Kim would never be appeased, no more than Trump himself during his mad dash to spend his father’s billions while accumulating billions of his own, only to lose his father’s billions and never acquiring his own, to not be appeased…..

Will be back a bit later…