Monday, June 28, 2010

Mirrors: how Strauss "became" Heidegger in America, part 2

I really believe that the perfect political order, as Plato and Aristotle have sketched it, is the perfect political order…Details can be disputed, although I myself might actually agree with everything that Plato and Aristotle demand (but that I tell only you). - Strauss to Loewith, August 15, 1946*

…I remark that the sole political act of consequence that Strauss brought himself to launch was to found a school, which the offer of a professorship in political philosophy at the University of Chicago in 1949 provided him the opportunity to do…He took the opportunity – following Plato’s and Aristotle’s example – to foster the politically gifted and the gentlemen among his students. – Heinrich Meier, 2005**

See Mirrors, part 1 here, and related posts here and here.

In The Essence of Truth, Heidegger speaks of a notion of power or empowerment (dunamis) in the Sophist as above the ideas. But Plato leaves this in a distant state, one which again is to be approached only mystically (what is beyond even the sunlike idea of the good in the noetic) or brought into view perhaps by an unseen and to be hinted at in other dialogues or by initiation into the school, "stepwise" questioning.

"And just where the later Plato went furthest in his interrogation of being and truth in the Sophist dialogue, the essence of being is found in dunamis, in empowerment, and nothing else (247 d-e). It was left to Plato's contemporary interpreters to 'prove' (in the way they do prove) that Plato was not serious about the dunamis character of being."***

Once again, Heidegger marks off his argument, hinting Platonically, from what academic interpreters say. He gestures at substance and then, abruptly, departs:

"The good is the empowerment, the dunamis, the establishment of being and unhiddenness in their essence. In other words, what is at stake in the interrogation of being and unhiddenness is empowerment to this essence. What this empowerment is and how it occurs has not been answered to the present day; indeed, the question is no longer even asked in the original Platonic sense. In the meantime, it has become almost a triviality that omne ens is a bonum [every entity is a good]. For whoever asks in a philosophical manner, Plato says more than enough."

This is another bit of Platonic or Heideggerian exoterica or hinting. In the Sophist, too, Plato is not referring to the highest power. But he is underlining the secret of legislation, of the guardians as liberators. Consider Strauss's remarkable letter to Jacob Klein, October 20, 1938: "Nomoi [Laws]: a book about laws with the antidote [Gegengift] to Nomoi." It is this sort of meaning to which Strauss directly if somewhat delphically refers, The philosopher-tyrant decides the particular case, is willing to defy tradition or law, rules lawlessly. That is the point for a philosophical reading, or more exactly, a questioning as to meaning - exactly what Strauss would refer to in Persecution and the Art of Writing - of Heidegger's account of the cave.

As I have noted here, the Republic is the greatest argument ever offered against tyranny. Plato's esoteric pointing to a certain kind of tyrant who becomes a philosopher-king is refuted by the surface argument. As argument, the Republic is ironically self-refuting; it provides excellent reasons to believe that its hidden politics is destructive.

In contrast, Heidegger did not argue against tyranny (he is concerned to replace the politics of the everyday, of the newspaper, of the last men). Heidegger became enamoured of Hitler, pointed to "the inner truth and greatness of national socialism" through his reading of Plato, and became a monster, a supporter of genocide (he personally acted against his own Jewish or "overly Americanized" students as Rector-Fuehrer of Freiburg, and in 1941, removed Husserl's name from the dedication of Being and Time).

But as interpreter and shaper, in this respect, of Strauss and to a lesser extent Klein, Heidegger is right about Plato:

"For someone who wants only to establish what is good in common usage, Plato says far too little, indeed nothing at all. If one takes this merely in this latter way, nothing can be done with it. This clarification of the idea of the good says something only for philosophical questioning." (par. 14, p. 80).

Only those who study Plato and think further for themselves - engage in cryptography about the hidden message - will understand legislation. In this case, an understanding of the good will suddenly light up in their souls and never go out. The same thing is implied about philosophers, though never said as such, in the Laws (I have written about this in "Politics and the God" and will post on this when it is close to publication). It is this process - the keys in different Platonic texts about which questions to ask, how answers might be found - which Heidegger also means to indicate. For what the Seventh Letter gestures at is not the idea of the good or empowerment, but the secret of philosopher-tyranny, of ruling by judgment in the situation rather than by laws (an insane idea in a small polis, let alone today in a modern nation of 300 million).

Further, Heidegger rightly connects the idea of the good (to agathon) and the Seventh Letter even though it is not mentioned there. For liberating the cave by philosopher-tyranny is a central goal of philosophers, as Plato indicates in Syracuse and Heidegger realizes fully in his practice of Nazism and lingering dreams of its "inner truth and greatness":

"We misunderstand Plato's idea of the good if we try to obtain a better idea of it by busily searching through his other dialogues for passages where he uses the word agathon or if we believe that later in Plato's career, because he no longer uses the word, he must have given up the idea. He would have had to give up idea of philosophy! On the contrary, wherever being and truth are interrogated, so is the good. Thus although the word does not occur in the Seventh Letter (a work of Plato's old age), nothing else but this is intended. For here he says (342a-b) that the genuinely knowable, i.e. that which is to the highest degree question-able, is to alethos on, that which constitutes being and unhiddenness as such. Here Plato emphasizes (cf. 344b), with remarkable severity and firmness, that this cannot be thought out and conceived at one stroke, but only by proceeding through what is proximately question-able, through definite individual levels of science, does the questioner and only the questioner (not some random dreamer) come to what is primary and ultimate. Everything proximally question-able is to poion (something done ), but the primary and ultimate is to ti (the what). (343b)." (par 14, p. 80)

The passage at 342a is the one about how Plato will never write about legislation. Here again, Plato sharpens the warning about imitative tyrants and the dangers of philosophy in a way that Heidegger and Strauss would have done well to heed. Instead, as devotee of Hitler, Heidegger committed crimes against his students and humanity; Strauss launched farcical neo-con tyranny - "commander in chief power" - and imperialism. In Plato's words:

"Of this much I am certain, that the best statement of these ideas in writing or in speech [note: he does not promise to share some elements of it with his students, even "in speech"] would be my own statements. And further, if they be badly stated in writing, it is I who would be the person most deeply pained. And if I had thought that these subjects should be stated in writing or in speech to the public, what nobler action could I have performed in my life than that of writing what is of great benefit to mankind and bringing forth to all men the nature of reality? But were I to undertake this task, it would not prove, I think, a good thing for men, save for some few who are able to discover the truth for themselves with but little instruction [again, judging by Heidegger and Strauss I would not bet on the "few"; perhaps Plato was thinking of Aristotle or prefiguring Al-Farabi or Maimonides...], for as to the rest, some it would unseasonably fill with a mistaken contempt and others with an overweening and empty expectation as though they had learned some sublime mysteries."

Heidegger alludes to the next passage as well in which Plato speaks of a circle in geometry and five levels of comprehension, the last of ideas, and then analogizes this to the idea of the good (difficult if we listen to Socrates to feel confident we understand this idea). The name, say "circle," is the first level; the "definition" or second level is "that which is everywhere equidistant from the center." The third is the object "which is in course of being portrayed and obliterated, or beng shaped with a lathe and falling into decay. But none of these affectations is suffered by the circle itself whereto all these others are related inasmuch as it is distinct therefrom." (342c). The fourth is "knowledge, intelligence, and true opinion concerning the object. And of these four, intelligence approaches most nearly in kinship and similarity to the fifth." (cf. Republic, 490a). Here again he warns of the weaknesses of language and writing of which the grand statement is Socrates's in the Phaedrus:

"Moreover these four attempts to express the quality of the object no less than its real essence [fail] according to the weakness inherent in language; and for this reason no man of intelligence will ever venture to commit to it the concepts of his reason especially when it is inalterable - as is the case with what is formulated in writing." (343a)

In alluding to the idea of the good, this is the passage to which Heidegger refers. It is thus not entirely a feint (or exoteric in Strauss's idiom). What Plato says is that the first four levels are confusing. Only when one has reached the fourth and fifth level, the Seventh Letter suggests, will one see clearly. But then as in the Republic, one will be thought by those in the darkened cave not to see well.

"Every one of these circles which are drawn in geometric exercises or are turned by the lathe are full of what is opposite to the fifth since it is in contact with the straight everywhere; whereas the circle itself, we affirm, contains within itself no share greater or less of the opposite nature. And none of these objects, we affirm, has any fixed name nor is there anything to prevent forms that are now called 'round' from being called 'straight' or 'straight' 'round'; and men will find the names no more firmly fixed when they have shifted them and apply them in an opposite sense..."

To take in the political force of these thoughts, consider Thucydides' account of the murderous shifting of language at Corcyra: wanton killing is called moderate, the most impulsive person "deliberate" and the thoughtful leader a coward, and the like. Unlike Hobbes who bases himself incoherently on Thucydides (meanings can only be stabilized by a ruler, a leviathan, but, of course, the commands of a leader cannot force an individual to go to her violent death...), Plato intelligently suggests that ideas retain their substance (what is also implied in Thucydides's account).

Plato continues: "And so with each of the four, their inaccuracy is an endless topic;...but the main point is this, that while there are two separate things, the real essence and the quality, and the soul seeks to know not the quality but the essence, each of the Four proffers to the soul either in word or in concrete form that which is not sought; and by thus causing each object which is described or exhibited to be subject of easy refutation by the senses, it fills practically all manner of men with perplexity or uncertainty...But in all cases where we compel a man to give the Fifth as his answer and to explain it, anyone who is willing and able to upset the argument gains the day, and makes the person who is expounding his view by speech or writing or answers appear to most of his hearers to be wholly ignorant of the subjects on which he attempts to write or speak; for they are ignorant sometimes that it is not the soul of the writer or speaker that is being indicted but the nature of each of the Four which is essentially defective." (343c-e)

Here in Plato's Seventh Letter, Heidegger suggests, is the ridicule of the cave that confronts the philosopher and may put him to death. Plato tells us that the envy of sophists and others of philosophers is a danger (that killing or exile often comes by envy as in the case of Dionysius, who writes of but does not practice philosophy, against Dion, Plato's best student):

"It is by means of examining each of these objects, comparing one with another, names and definitions, visions and sense-perceptions - proving them by kindly proofs and employing questions and answers that are void of envy - it is by such means that there bursts out the light of intelligence and reason regarding each object in the mind of him who uses every effort of which mankind is capable."

"And this is the reason why every serious man in dealing with really serious subjects carefully avoids writing lest thereby he may cast them as prey to the envy and stupidity of the public." (344b-c)

Here again, Plato warns that he will not write on "serious subjects" and that could license Heidegger's thought (the good is a serious subject as is empowerment); yet mystery aside, one might doubt that this is much more, straightforwardly speaking, than the need for philosopher-tyranny.

The mirror of the Republic in the five stages of the Seventh Letter is, as Heidegger suggests, exact; it is just the meaning of the fifth level that is delphic or never spelled out. At most, Plato suggests that the idea of a circle has no element of straightness whereas any attempt to draw a circle is likely to be defective. What Plato says, however, is that this is a matter of souls, and able to be expressed only by those that are in fine condition:

"But it is the methodical study of all these stages, passing in turn from one to another, up and down which with difficulty implants knowledge when the man himself is, like his object, in fine condition; but if his nature is bad, and the nature of most men in respect of learning or what is termed 'morals' is either naturally bad or else corrupted, not even Lynceus himself could make such folk see." (343e-344)

An Argonaut known for his keenness of sight, Lynceus is here a magician-philosopher who might enable others to see. Beyond this point, one would have to travel oneself...

There is perhaps one indication in Alcibiades' drunken speech of yearning for Socrates in the Symposium of what the idea of the good and of human "divinity" might look like. It is the good - not that Alcibiades can do it, but he knows of it - to be always questioning, to be fashioning new arguments day after day. It is through continuing this process over many years that the sun of the intellectual universe comes, somehow not blindingly, into view.

"At any rate gentlemen if I were not in danger of seeming completely drunk, I'd state to you on oath how I have been affected by his words, how I'm still affected even now. For when I hear him, my heart leaps up much more than those affected by the music of the Corybants and tears flow at his words - and I see many another affected in the same way." (Symposium, 215d)

A participant in the mystery religions, Socrates hears the argument of the laws in the Crito overpoweringly (there is some other argument than the one that persuades Crito, however - see my "Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?" here). The reference to the Corybants is sharp: the power of argument itself is stronger or more beautiful even than the argument which persuades Socrates to go, heroically, to his death, founding civil disobedience. Still, this is less precise than the idea of a philosopher-tyrant at which Plato and Heidegger are hinting.

Heidegger's remarks about the Seventh Letter make his questioning of the ascent in the Republic even more sharply political than his remarks about the philosophers as guardians. They tell the esoteric or philosophic reader where to look further for answers. That is again the precise mirror of what I discovered Plato himself did with his students. Thus, he spread intimations of the philosopher tyrant across the Republic, the Laws, the Seventh Letter, the Statesman inter alia (see my "Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?" Constellations, March, 2009 here).

Plato prefigures eloquently in the Phaedrus Strauss's central discovery of surface/hidden writings in Persecution and the Art of Writing. Strauss is more explicit and detailed about discussing this in others, while leaving certain matters hinted at (see my "Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?"). Heidegger too enacts and thus prefigures the naming of this discovery even in 1930 and 1931-32. In Strauss's 1973 evening at St. John's with Jacob Klein shortly before Strauss died, they both recall the impact Heidegger made on them. It is interesting to follow the words. It was Klein, Strauss says, who showed Strauss the way back to the Greeks through Heidegger. Although already with a doctorate, Klein says, he lived, a solipsist, in his own head. But then he heard Heidegger's lectures on Aristotle's Metaphysics. For the first time, he felt that he understood someone else. It was this turn to the original, the questioning of each remark, each reference, each argument in its setting which reveals the often surprising meaning.

Strauss visited the Jewish existential philosopher Franz Rosenszweig who wrote the Star of Redemption in letters to his mother sent from the trenches of World War I. Strauss had previously admired Max Weber, also a Nietzschean and German imperialist, but a fierce fighter against anti-semitism (see Max Weber: a hero in fighting German anti-semitism here and Democratic Individuality, chs. 9-12), He told Rosenszweig that Heidegger made Weber look like an "orphan-child" (a Waisenkind).

In his posthumously published "An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism," Strauss hails Heidegger as the one "great thinker" of our time (perhaps there will be another one, he says, in Burma in 2200). He mocks his own thesis advisor, Ernst Cassirer, also a Jew:

"There was a famous discussion between Heidegger and Cassirer in Davos which revealed the lostness and emptiness of this famous representative of established academic philosophy to everyone who had eyes. Cassirer had been a pupil of Hermann Cohen, the founder of the neo-Kantian school. Cohen had elaborated a system of philosophy whose center was ethics. Cassirer had transformed Cohen's system into a new system of philosophy in which ethics had entirely disappeared. It had been silently dropped; he had not faced the problem. Heidegger did face the problem. He declared that ethics is impossible and his whole being was permeated by the awareness that this fact opens up an abyss." (Strauss in Thomas Pangle, ed., The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, pp. 27-28, 30).

Now there is no such fact. Any judgment that a non-murderous society is superior to one of mass murder is sufficient to rule it out. The fact that Cassirer (and Anglo-American philosophy) sometimes have trouble with ethics does not indicate a problem with ethics but with Cassirer. As William Altman has pointed out, there is a whole different level to this debate, hinted at but not spelled out in Strauss's discussion. Against the slaughter of a million soldiers on each side in World War I, the internationalist conference at Davos in 1928 meant to further peace between French and German intellectuals and, hopefully, peoples. Cassirer may have dropped ethics, but he stood for decency, Heidegger for a repeat (a Wiederholung) of World War I. Without naming them directly, Heidegger indicated that he stood with the Nazis. It was this stance in Strauss that repelled Hannah Arendt when he, a fellow Zionist and admirer of Heidegger, courted her. At Chicago, she said of him later, tartly but aptly, "He wanted to join a party that wouldn't have him because he was a Jew." See the clashing visions of Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt here. At Chicago, he growled, "there are no women philosophers," while she, a much more creative political philosopher, taught down the hall...See only a foolish reactionary would say: there are no woman philosophers here.

An important shading of difference between Plato and Heidegger and Heidegger and Strauss is visible in Being and Time and in Heidegger's 1933 Rectoral Address (Rektoratsrede) at Freiburg. Heidegger starts from each of us, Dasein, being there, being in the world. There is a kind of democracy in Heidegger's formulation which pits Heidegger's mass fascist movement, to some extent, against Plato's rule of the philosophers. It is also visible in Heidegger's presentation of the equality of Aryan teacher- and student-workers, soldiers and laborers in his Rectoral Address. This is a post-communist reaction, a politics fearful of "Jew-Bolsheviks," an engagement with all Germans or Aryans which does not exist - even as a whiff - within the elitist Plato. At most, Plato speaks of gulling ordinary people with religion. They are perhaps even to make wars. But Heidegger is for conquering the world, for Kristallnacht. Heidegger is a Nazi, Plato an authoritarian.

By inclination, partly as a "scholar," partly in propagating a sect to be in politics rather than a mass movement as Strauss says in the "Restatement" to On Tyranny, he is a Platonic authoritarian. But this is really a shading. For Heidegger was also a Platonist, and wanted, as a philosopher, others to obey Hitler as their authentic being, whereas he (and any other guardians he could muster) would go teach and shape Hitler, shape the rules. In fact, Heidegger worshipped Hitler, speaking to Loewith of Hitler's "delicate hands." See here. He was genocidal through and through. But in thought, Hitler would not rule Heidegger. Heidegger hoped to make Hitler "authentic." Heidegger supported the Nazis ferociously until they lost. He then hid himself (his false Kehre), like Strauss. Throughout, he held a Platonic vision of "the inner truth and greatness of national socialism."

Correspondingly, Strauss liked the national revolution, and writing from New York about teaching, after Kristallnacht, conceived himself as feinting to students with a false vision of Socrates and then overwhelming their defenses with his vision, just as the Panzers rolled into Poland! See here. So he was not opposed to a mass movement and the odd combination of the cynical Bill Kristol or Wolfowitz or Shulsky and the Evangelicals shooting up Iraq is just a potential application of book 4 of the Laws as understood by Strauss (See my "Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?").

Strauss presented himself in the United States as distant from Heidegger. He told Catharine Zuckert not to read Heidegger, a strange attitude for a philosopher toward a student, perhaps a challenge to see whether she would, as in a fairy-tale, go on the adventure (phone conversation, October 2006). This story is particularly amusing given Strauss raving about Heidegger as the sole great thinker of our time in "An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism." But with a "foot in the grave," as he said of Hobbes in a letter to Gershom Scholem, December 9, 1962, Strauss, too, became braver.****

Despite writing Postmodern Platos and drawing close to Heidegger, Catharine turned away, and pretty reactionary in politics herself, worships Strauss as a supposed constitutional democrat. See here. But the 1930 and 1943 versions of Heidegger's lectures on The Essence of Truth show something only hinted at by Strauss and Klein in 1973. Heidegger did not stop at Aristotle but went much further into the Greeks. If Strauss and Klein were excited by the first, could they fail to be enthusiastic about the subsequent readings? The center of Heidegger's journey was the cave-metaphor in Plato's Republic. His existentialism - his view that he and we, through questioning, could achieve a return to the originary or autochthonous, is exemplified by this reading of the Republic. Of course, the autochthonous is what grows out of the soil, the frightening Nazi slogan Blood and Soil, Blut und Boden ("Blubo" as Guenther Anders, a hidden Jewish student of Heidegger's, agitated to become a Nazi by Heidegger's wife Elfrida, sarcastically called it). This is precisely what Strauss affirmed about the soil, the rural life and the danger of its destruction, the danger "to the West" posed by liberalism and Marxism in this essay on "An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism." (see Pangle, ed., p. 42 and On Tyranny, p. 27).*****

Heidegger could not have been more foolish and wrong, as an archaeologist, for the Greek soil was full of snakes and the heritage of snake-goddesses like Athena, not Heidegger's pretend "manliness." Nonetheless as a fascist, he sought to transform the polis from democracy into the rule of the depraved single man. See here, here, here, and here.

Strauss imitates Heidegger's style of questioning texts. Strauss's central hidden argument is on Plato urging the rule of the philosopher-tyrant. See my "Do philosophers counsel tyrants?" here. In this, he follows Carl Schmitt. "he is sovereign who makes the decision in the state of the exception" is the opening line of Schmitt's 1922 Political Theology; this kind of authoritarianism is also the central thought in Strauss's "principles of the Right - fascist, authoritarian, imperial" in his letter to Loewith, May 19, 1933. This thought was conveyed in American politics by his student Robert Goldwin, emphasizing Locke on "prerogrative" as special assistant to President Gerald Ford and Vice President Richard Cheney, and by Herbert Storing's idea of "executive power," carried by Gary Schmitt to Michael Malbin, author of the House Minority Report on Iran-Contra, written at the behest of Congressman Richard Cheney. See here. This Schmittian lineage has contributed to forging the anti-Constitution, anti-separation of powers, "commander in chief" power of the Bush administation in a "state of emergency" which Obama has, sadly and corruptly (as a constitutional lawyer and a decent man), largely retained. See here and here.

Now the stick has been bent far to the Right by Cheney. Whether the rule of law is again possible here (in the very limited form that it exhibits at its best) is a question. In other words, disregarding the crimes of the Bush era makes Obama a bipartisan accomplice in torture, in Jack Balkin's phrase. Bush felt so confident that he announced proudly three weeks ago that he "waterboarded" prisoners - a resurrected Torquemada. Not prosecuting Rove and his allies makes the corruption of the Justice Department, its use for partisan purposes - almost a definition of tyranny - the "law" of the land. Throwing away habeas corpus - the right of each prisoner to a day in court - has now become the "bipartisan" maxim of what Balkin rightly names the National Surveillance State. One should take in the extent that a certain Heideggerian-Schmittian vision, imported by Strauss, spread by his political students and long whispered of in neo-con circles, has now become American reality.

In "Do philosophers counsel tyrants?," I traced how Strauss hints in various writings about how a tyrant of a certain kind becomes a philosopher-tyrant and rules without laws in Plato and Al-Farabi. But what I am suggesting now that is novel, on the basis of The Essence of Truth: on the cave-metaphor and the Theaetetus, is that he imports straight-up Heidegger's existentialism (ingredient to these lectures) and national socialism. Strauss would not have seen the 1943 version, "I paid no attention to him for twenty years," Strauss announced, meaning perhaps that he took in Heidegger's 1953 Introduction to Metaphysics which refers to a purified "inner truth and greatness of national socialism" compared to Hitler's (losing) realization. But Strauss was still in Germany between 1930-32. As a Heideggerian, he would at least have heard from fellow Heidegger students, perhaps even Hannah Arendt whom he courted, the lineaments of Heidegger's fascist intpretation of the cave-metaphor. That interpretation was national socialist, and revealed its "inner truth and greatness" as Platonic. Even during World War II, Strauss makes the same distinction between true nihilism and the vulgar nihilist Hitler (See here). He affectingly shows how a true nihilist might admire Churchill rather than the "insane tyrant." Again, listen to the phrase: what if the tyrant had not been "insane"? Strauss does not strike so many vehement emotional chords. As Will Altman stresses, this is an important one.

Werner Dannhauser, Strauss's student, asked me tipsily one evening at Cornell long ago: "What's wrong with national socialism except the anti-semitism?" It was a rhetorical question. Strauss's rapturous embrace of Heidegger coupled with Heidegger's questioning of the cave-metaphor and the notion of the philosopher as a liberator-guardian suggests its plain truth. Heidegger's lectures reveal what is most hidden in Strauss; his Nazism comes, via Heidegger, from Plato, and is the center of his thinking and nefarious influence in American politics.

What Heidegger offers in these lectures is a shining example of a Platonic reading of the Republic. He sees the hidden meanings and connects the Seventh Letter, the Sophist, and the Theaetetus to fascism. But Strauss's central supposed transformation, leaving Germany and his 1933 authoritarianism and coming to America, "becoming Strauss" in Heinrich Meier and Catharine Zuckert's widely echoed idiom, is to go to the Greeks. That supposedly distances him from Heidegger. But amusingly in America, as the 1943 lectures on The Essence of Truth show, Strauss simply followed the hidden Heidegger, the Nazi who merged his existentialism inextricably with Plato. See here. Meier is a European reactionary in the lineage of Carl Schmitt (and Strauss) and knows that this presentation about "becoming Strauss" is surface or exoteric - politically, there was no such change. Read his seminal article on "How Strauss became Strauss" in Svetozar Minkov, ed., Enlightening Revolutions, in which the passage at pp. 366-67 is erudite and very funny in its omission of the unbroken thread of Strauss's authoritarianism/true nihilism (I may reproduce it and comment on it). The Zuckerts strive "manfully" to defend the thesis that there was an epistomological break between Strauss's interest in the classics and his fascism.

As these lectures of Heidegger on the Republic show, however, there was no such break nor even any originality (except for details) in Strauss's interpretation of the Republic. Heidegger is the master thinker, the “great” philosopher, in whose orbit Strauss circled. Heidegger was a Nazi. Following his encounter with Heidegger, Strauss wanted to join the Nazi party but couldn’t. See here and here. Still he remained sympathetic to the “inner truth and greatness of national socialism” (true nihilism in Strauss’s phrase), despite the anti-semitism, until the Second World War and, minus the anti-semitism, for the rest of his life. See here. What Heidegger does in these lectures is the articulated version of what Strauss alludes to. Following Plato’s instruction to his students, Heidegger practices hidden writing. As Strauss rightly said, his own primary contribution is to spell out, comparatively explicitly, “the art of writing.” Otherwise, he is, as Strauss says in “An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism,” an imitator, an under-laborer…

Strauss is, however, also a brilliant interpreter of many Platonic dialogues and sees them in their complexity and interplay (he is also mistaken about Socrates and offers nothing to compare as an elucidation with The Essence of Truth). In the City and Man, he suggests that the city in speech (what Plato’s Socrates articulates in opposition to the cave) is a comedy about women. Plato’s story of men and women wrestling together naked is an adolescent satire of the older, women-led, egalitarian Cretan ritual of women and men, grabbing a bull by the horns and vaulting over his back – see here - but not simply. Socrates and Plato meant to advocate also the role of women philosophers (Diotima) or guardians. Further, Strauss says rightly in The City and Man, Plato meant the philosopher-king (tyrant) seriously.

In contrast to Heidegger and Strauss, Allan Bloom’s interpretation of the Republic as an addendum to his translation – that the city in speech is a comedy meant to deter student radicals from thinking they could institute justice and hence avoid fascism and communism - is surface silliness and/or anachronism (I imagine the latter; Bloom who was terribly repressed about his homosexuality and who he was, gave up his individuality, shaped himself in the “mask” – or wisdom – of Strauss, and in offering this interpretation bursts forth in contrast to “Mr. Strauss” – see here).

Heidegger has brilliant insights, and does show in contrast, what thinking about an ancient text, digging, by questioning, for meanings is. Neither Heidegger nor Strauss (let alone Bloom) reaches the originary or autochthonous state of the Greek arguments. But in Nietzsche’s prescient idiom that the scholars did up the bones that they themselves have buried, Bloom, despite providing an admirable translation, puts his bones on the surface for other gossips to nibble, Heidegger buries his at the bottom of Moria (one has to know a bit to unearth them…).

Plato wrote the Apology and Crito about Socrates and perhaps, more true to Socrates (as opposed to a Socrates Plato recreated as a wouldbe philosopher-tyrant and hierarch after Socrates’s death), shows him assenting to an extreme punishment – an unjust death – rather than deny questioning or go silent. Socrates, Gandhi said, was the first satyagrahi. Writing on the back of a New York Times in a jail cell in Birmingham, Martin Luther King Jr. invoked Socrates three times (see the cell here and my Do philosophers counsel tyrants?). Heidegger’s reading of the cave metaphor is informed by Heidegger’s philosophical and political bent. But is his account true even of Plato?

Heidegger focuses on the word aletheia. He translates this as Unverborgenheit, roughly unconcealedness or revealedness. He says rightly that each translation is informed by the philosophy of the translator, but adds that each listener should be able to reenact Plato's and Heidegger’s own questioning (Strauss co-enacts it, but of course one might also learn from but be critical of it):

“For the immediate purpose of these lectures it is therefore not necessary for you to have an autonomous command of the Greek text. In fact, you should also be able to co-enact the questioning itself without the text. It will be beneficial if you have a Greek text or translation beside you. A translation is enough preferably Schleiermacher’s (easily obtainable from Reclam) which has not been substantively improved upon and remains the most beautiful.”

He then indicates the secret of any translation (why the original in philosophy or particularly poetry escapes translation, cannot be rendered except as an indication – a kind of broken mirror – in another tongue):

“To be sure the original text is basic for one’s own work on the dialogue, and that means simultaneously one’s own translation. For a translation is only the end result of an interpretation which has actually been carried through: the text is set over into an autonomous questioning understanding. While I do not advocate working with translations, I must also warn against thinking that command of the Greek language by itself guarantees an understanding of Plato or Aristotle. That would be just as foolish as thinking that because we understand German we already understand Kant or Hegel which is certainly not the case.” (par 17, p. 94)

The word aletheia provides an obvious and strange example of Heidegger’s philosophical translation. The root of aletheia is lethe, the river of forgetfulness in Hades (h/t Matt Morgan). When souls are reborn, having chosen a guiding spirit in Plato’s Myth of Er (Republic, book 10), they pass through Lethe and forget (Lethe is lethal only to memory). Similarly, at the conclusion of the Meno, Socrates defends questioning or searching for the truth (aletheia) to Meno by questioning any slave whom Meno might select, which enabled the slave, coming to see an initial error, to prove one of the most advanced theorems of Euclidean geometry. The idea must have been in him, Socrates says, from eternity – both when he was in human and nonhuman form (this thought is perhaps metaphorical or surface).

But the idea here is that those who fashion arguments every day, who ask questions, who do not accept the common starting points which are contradictory, unclear or untrue, can, through striving, get somewhere. Where they get is to abate the river of Lethe, of forgetfulness; what they achieve, either in the questioning or in the rare (though less rare in geometry) arriving at a truth is, he says, a receding of lethe. So aletheia is obviously, for Plato and Socrates, not forgetting (the particle a conjoined to a noun indicates the noun’s opposite in Greek). It is often, less literally, translated reminiscence or recollection. Deconcealing or revealedness is a striking way of rendering our thrownness and lostness among the beings (our falling into “the one,” our concealedness including from who we are or what human potential might be). It is Heidegger’s philosophy. It does capture the cave. It is nonetheless both less exact and somewhat anachronistic or at least misleading.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a fascist, it places emphasis on what reveals itself in contrast to Plato and Socrates who stress the process of questioning by the individual who seeks. Philosophizing in Socrates is linked to individuality (even though this is not his word). With some help, even slaves can do it. This is radical egalitarianism which Plato shared this far – there are no slaves in the hierarchy of the city in speech (there are little bald-headed workers in bronze – like Socrates, the former artisan? one might respond sarcastically – who bathe themselves, marry philosophy and beget sophisms). Heidegger is the mortal enemy politically of equality and of course, the civil disobedience which Gandhi and King rightly saw in Socrates. He gestures at a pseudo-equality for Germans in the Freiburg Rectoral Address – we are all workers at the university he suggests once again, all with a common “national-social” purpose. But of course, this is also philosophical Platonism or elitism – only the few can philosophize and out of their ‘freely inquiring thinking’ set all the rules for the others…The few generate Nazism for the many; it is no accident that Heidegger stooped to Hitler (adored his “delicate hands”), and made himself an accomplice to genocide. Plato, of course, did nothing like this.

Plato, an anti-democrat, was shocked by the death of Socrates. In the Timaeus, he tried to initiate, among his students, the long run subversion of Athens to a regime ruled by philosopher-guardians (or perhaps by a philosopher guardian; Heidegger may imagine more philosophers than are likely among rulers – compare the nocturnal council and books 10-12 of the Laws). Two of his students joined him - half of the main Nazi philosophers - in looking to be philosophical advisors to the tyrant. Plato's long-term subversion of Athens parallels what Strauss did in setting in motion his sect united around anti-constitutional, anti-balance of powers, “executive” or “commander in chief power.” If Plato’s was tragedy and Heidegger’s limitless evil (about genocide, one has, as Michael Walzer says in Just and Unjust Wars, only to point), Strauss’s small band of influential political followers who combine authoritarianism with a crazed American vision of remaking the world through war (one that Strauss might have disagreed with in the case of Iraq – see John Mearsheimer on the German formation of Leo Strauss here and here) are like some Mel Brooks satire of Platonism. Bill Kristol is a tired political hack without philosophical enthusiasm – the mask of Leo Strauss is just held up in front of whatever bit of American or Israeli reaction or zealous purging of others he currently has hopes in. The political Straussians are not bad copies. They are aplaton – devoid of Plato.

Plato wrote 2400 years ago. The democracy that had just emerged was slave-holding, imperial and a prison-house for women (contrasted with the older, comparatively egalitarian, non-militarist civilizations of Crete and the other islands, see here). Plato’s views were reactionary but motivated by the extreme bloody-mindedness of aristocrats and democrats, as shown by Thucydides in Corcyra and at Melos and mirrored by Thrasymachus in book 1 of the Republic, inter alia. The ideal regime, the lean dog, brought into existence by the philosopher-tyrant, would be less murderous internally, Plato thought, and not destroy itself quickly through expansion (every regime dies for the Greeks, but Athenian democracy was a specially short-lived “glory,” as Keats later invoked it). In an even less reactionary vein, Farabi and Ibn-Rushd wrote among the Arabs in the 12th century. There, the form of rule was an Islamic despotism, though a despotism that practiced toleration of “other peoples of the book.” It is startling that the great Arab Platonists, Farabi and Ibn-Rushd – the latter who takes up the partial but very significant anti-sexism of the city in speech and Diotima in the Symposium and says that Cordobans are impoverished because they treat women as “vegetables” rather than allowing them full participation in all aspects of society – do not speak about toleration, Innovating on the basis of Plato was something they did; thinking beyond Plato about new and striking evidence concerning the goodness of a regime was not among their accomplishments. As not only Heidegger and Strauss prove, thinking Plato is a dangerous thing…

Plainly, however, a philosopher-tyrant, a tyrant interested in wisdom and just being decent, would be far better than most caliphs. In that context, it is not clear that Platonism is reactionary. In Europe, followers of Plato, most often, were hunted and murdered by the Medicis and the Catholic church (Neoplatonism is a code in the design of famous European gardens, like Versailles, among other places). The tradition lingered, but as a dissident one. In this regard, Platonism was decent or at least a better alternative, sometimes, to more murderous tyrannies.

In the twentieth century, however, Plato’s ideas were mainlined by fascists and particularly pro-Nazis. The philosophical idiom of national socialism even in Heidegger and Strauss comes much more sharply from Plato than from Nietzsche (though in “An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism,” Strauss spins on the 
wonder” of the twentieth century as that of world wars leading to the racist domination of a Europe – he unthinkingly adores it – ruled by “the invisible philosophers of the future.” And on Nietzsche’s part, he burbles, this is the grandest vision of philosophers ever. This is, of course, a late side of Nietzsche, though an ordinary enthusiast would be inclined to point to other matters, say his psychological insights rather than this racist drivel. But as the Essence of Truth shows, Plato was at the center of Heidegger’s conception of true national socialism. Heidegger was the great philosopher of national socialism and of “our time,” that destitution or “the night of the world” as Strauss put it, Strauss but a shadowy planet in a far-flung orbit. I had offered Schmitt as the source of Strauss’s political recommendations here, here, and here, and had thought Strauss was an original scholar about the Greeks. The ideas and the method were, however, luminously, Heidegger’s. Strauss was a great and determined scholar. His Persecution and the Art of Writing names things which Heidegger did not, and is a deep contribution to the historiography of Plato and Platonists – including Heidegger (I did not realize that Heidegger did esoteric writing or was a Platonist until I read the Essence of Truth – recall his references to The Seventh Letter above).

But as a scholar also, he is deeply in the shadow of Heidegger, the great tree as it were and he but underbrush. He was also, however, a great teacher and many of his students took his serious but Delphic questioning of texts somewhat on the surface, and went with them in quite different philosophical/political directions (George Anadtaplo, Charles Butterworth and Roger Masters, inter alia). He was not a flamboyant teacher but someone who got people – and this is like Heidegger but perhaps with more purity, less simply mesmerizing – to look at texts (get beneath the skin of them in George Kateb’s phrase) in a different way.

Politically, however, Strauss’s sect may prove much more influential than Heidegger’s Nazism. All of this is largely a result of circumstances; Strauss unwisely did things which even now, with regard to Iraq, betray his intention, produce not even reactionary politics in his view, but destruction. Of course, he also entertained nuclear annihilation as a supposed return to the human “spring,” an antidote to the “last men.” See here. So he is more sublimely ridiculous about this than his followers about the aggression in Iraq. For his and his followers’ effect is to transform America into a National Security State, Israel into a fascism for Jews as well as Plaestinians, and provoke, as much as they can (Wolfowitz and Kristol are like the fellow waving his cowboy hat and going down with the bomb in “Dr. Strangelove”), Armageddon. In the myth of Plato’s Laws, the philosophers or strangers are supposed to rule over the mass of believers. But the Christian Zionists may see "the rapture” more clearly, as a fantasy, than belligerent Straussians see anything beyond the present (Strauss sees a human “spring,” a return to the stone age, but few of his political students or “gentlemen” have quite – angling for status and “democracy” and markets – taken in this goal).

The bipartisan policies of the Democrats in preserving the police/war state go along with this (the policies of the neo-neo cons as a very intelligent diplomat recently described them). It will take the greatest and most inventive efforts from below to halt these developments, to make these mirrors more happily of only philosophical or antiquarian interest.

*Strauss, “Correspondance Concerning Modernity,” trans. Susanne Klein and George Elliot Tucker, Independent Journal of Philosophy, 4 (1983), 107-08. Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften, 3:662-63.
**Meier, “Preface to the American Edition,” Leo Strauss and the Theological-Political Problem, p. xviii.
***The Stranger from Elea: “I suggest that everything which possesses any power of any kind, either to produce a change in anything of any nature or to be affected even in the least degree by the slightest cause, though it be only on one occasion, has real existence. For I set up as a definition which defines being, that it is nothing else than power (dunamis).” Sophist, 247e.
****"When studying Hobbes, I observed that what he said and did not say was a function of the heeresy laws obtaining at the time of publication of his various works. But then I saw that in one of his works published at a time of considerable restriction he was more outspoken than ever before. I was baffled until I noted that this book was published when he was already very old, with one foot in the grave, and I learned that this condition is conducive to courage. As for me I have had my first two heart attacks. Ergo." Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften, 3:748.
*****As Strauss put in in "An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism," Heidegger "called it the 'night of the world.' It means indeed as Marx had predicted, the victory of an ever more completely urbanized, ever more comlete technological West over the rest of the planet - complete leveling and uniformity regardless of whether it is brought about by iron compulsion or by soapy advertisement of the output of mass production." Again, one need not draw fascist conclusions from the grain of truth in this insight. Today's revulsion against fast food and the growing movement for local and organic agriculture is a more human possibility.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Teaching Heidegger in Athens

Heidegger has a fine sense of aesthetics (see "Wozu Dichter?"- What are poets for?), but his politics were overtly, crushingly, genocidally fascist. Since the standard justification for Heidegger’s Nazism is that he was a philosopher in the clouds (Aristophanes’ comedy lasts even to this day), became a “tool of Nazi ideology” and returned to the clouds – see here – this post will offer two comments which underline his thoroughgoing politics.

In The Essence of Truth: on Plato's cave-metaphor and the Theaetetus (1943 – see here), Heidegger emphasizes a conception of Greek association or the polis to oppose actual Athenian democracy (what one ordianarily today thinks of as a polis). Heidegger rightly identifies the common mistranslation of polis as state (it referred in Athens to the association of citizens, those who rowed and fought and assembled to discuss political issues rather than a modern kind of state, an armed forces and bureaucracy separated from the people), but only to make a bizarre feint. It is an anti-democratic association, the rule of one (technically, a despotism) to which he refers:

“We must now see if what has been said can be verified from Plato’s own presentation. With this intention we turn to the final section of book VI of the Republic. In regard to the ‘state’ (as we somewhat inappropriately translate polis) and its inner possibility, Plato maintains as his first principle that the authentic guardians of human association in the unity of the polis must be those who philosophize. He does not mean that philosophy professors are to become chancellors of the state, but that philosophers are to become phylaches, guardians. Control and organization of the state is to be undertaken by philosophers, who set standards and rules in accordance with their widest and deepest, freely inquiring knowledge, thus determining the general course society should follow.(paragraph 13, p. 73). (h/t Tracy Strong)

He also uses the term polis to indicate an originary or authochthonos conception of association, one extending before and pitted against the democracy.

In this, he emulates Plato in the Timaeus. There, Critias tells of an ancient powerful Athens, now forgotten as is Atlantis, ruled, "as Socrates told us yesterday" by philosopher-guardians. This story was told by a wise Egyptian to Critias’s grandfather – a tale handed down many times till the report by Critias, head of the Tyranny of the Thirty and Plato’s cousin. Critias here pretty likely speaks for Plato. That forgotten Athenian regime, as lost as Atlantis, and not the democracy, is the Athens Plato subtly recommends to his students to restore. See here. Similarly, in book 1 of the Laws, an Athenian stranger, representing an advanced culture, speaks with a Cretan who will give laws to a new colony and a Spartan about political practices. In contrast to Cretan and Spartan steeling youth against pain (an attempt to provide a fear-drug, a phobon pharmakon), he commends Athenian drinking parties as a pleasure-test. Who keeps his head can be trusted. But he never mentions Athenian democracy.

In par 13, Heidegger emphasizes the rule of such a leader with a coterie of philosopher-guardians who determine all the rules of society. This is a grim picture of a supposedly desirable “polis.” But Heidegger is not untrue to the word. At the new Acropolis Museum, there are friezes from the temples which preceded the Parthenon. At the beginning of the second floor, I stopped, with my students, to discuss one.

It is of two huge lions rending a fallen bull. They are startling. The scene is of a certain political reality. The stronger, as in Thrasymachus and the Athenian ambassadors at Melos in Thucydides, rend the weaker (if not for a prince, the Upanishads also say, the rich will roast the poor like fish on a spit). This is" nothing but the rule of the stronger" (Thrasymachus). At the side of the frieze, Heracles battles a three headed sea-snake. Heracles, the archaelogist Vassilis Chrysikoupoulos told me (see here and here), has the face of the tyrant Peisistratus trying to control the three social classes in Athens (h/t Jonilda Dhamo): force directed, in contrast, at a common good. Governing off and on from 465 to 425, Aristotle named Peisastraus one who ruled “temperately” within the older framework, more like a constitutional king than a tyrant (Constitution of Athens, part. 16). The third figure on the frieze is three smiling guiding spirits with the intertwined tails of a snake rising out of the earth. They hold (no longer visible) symbols of water, fire and air, the four elements, or nature.

What Heidegger (and Plato) set out to do – characteristic of twentieth centry fascism and, in America, a growing tyranny or executive power at the expense of law sharpened by Bush-Cheney – is to overthrow the democracy of the polis, the great development of human freedom. They also ignore any common good, and, in imagination, restore and accentuate the predatory rule of the one. A leader - a Fuehrer or Duce - expands power by rending his enemies.

Now Hegel wisely said that in the Greek polis as opposed to earlier despotisms, some are free. By this he meant that ordinary people get to decide, through deliberation and sometimes badly, on the great questions of peace and war and the distribution of wealth. Those decisions contrast with a putatively divinely inspired authoritarianism. Thus. the democracy contrasts with Plato’s rule of a tyrant advised by a wise man as in book 4 of the Laws (see my Do Philosophers counsel tyrants? here). Hegel sees the extension of freedom, through the unfolding of Christianity, the French Revolution, and the like, to all. More deeply, at the outset of the Philosophy of Right, he traces three moments of the free will (the will of each of us). One may be sunken in political circumstance, i.e. a slave who does not realize she is fully human; one may negate the particular realization abstractly (for instance, revolt imagining the overthrow of the old but without a solution, or take up a distant Christianity - "pie in the sky when you die"), or in the third moment, envision institutions in which one’s own freedom will be consistent with the freedom of everyone else. There is nothing more radical or genuinely freeing than this capacity, the third moment of the will, in each of us. Like Rawls' original position, but not as something different from our ordinary capacities, we can always move beyond the oppressions of seemingly promising regimes or figures. For Hegel, these three moments are available to each of us, through introspection. In this, Hegel’s argument in the Philosophy of Right resembles that of Hobbes, but extends Hobbes to genuine freedom rather than the latter's favored external servility.

The twentieth century witnesses the sharp extension of freedom (for instance, anti-colonialism, civil rights, the women's movement, the gay and lesbian movement, and communist revolution are all attempts, however uneven, to realize a regime of equal freedom). Heidegger is the enemy of this. The development in Heidegger (or Plato) moves backward to an intensified or aggravated rule of the stronger – the rule of one man - from democracy.

The rending in the marble is clear enough. The lions eat the bull. The elite, philosophically inspired by Plato or Heidegger, eats the masses (throws them away in death in war, uses them to sustain itself), though with external talk of philosophical or religious wisdom. Plato, of course, sought to create "lean dogs" - those who would hunt sometimes with the large dogs like Persia, but could also stand aside and would not be worth plundering. Heidegger's madness, though Platonic, is on a far grander scale.

For the masses, appealing to a God as Plato says in book 4 of the Laws is, for a legislator, wisdom. Heidegger’s talk in his "Rektoratsrede" (Rectoral Address) at Freiburg in 1933 about student-workers, soldiers and workers in a common German nation is rapacious. Heidegger envisions the conquest of everyone else by the German “Dasein” and within the German Dasein, everyone obeying, and being sacrificed to the whim of Hitler. Dasein is commonly misinterpreted as an existential condition of an individual (potentially someone who may achieve individuality). One doesn't quite want to take Heidegger in. But Heidegger himself thinks of Dasein as something with historicity, the German people, for whom an individual only has authentic existence in submitting himself. If one wants a seeming image of this process, the reversal of the democratic polis, the lions rending the bull (or in a frieze to the right and behind as one faces this image, another huge lion rends a bull) incarnates it.* But this image is a false, reductionist one. This triumph of fascism is not a natural process, like lions feeding. It is, instead, a social distortion, "nothing but the rule of the stronger," a murderous realization of the darkest human possibilities.

Tracy Strong sent me a useful letter on my first post on Plato, Heidegger, and Strauss called Mirrors here about Heidegger’s worship of Hitler’s beautiful hands. He points out that philosophically, Heidegger had a thing about the hands of Dasein in the world. The world is before the hand – vorhandene (later the nature that might be preserved in the return to the soil and the “planetary confrontation with technology,” an important idea) – and as tools, shaped to the hand (zuhandene). This second point would later be the starting point for his critical analysis of the “standing reserve,” the technology unleashed by liberalism and Marxism which falls into “the one” and leads to the “last men” (Nietzsche). But of course, it is hard, to make the standard harms of technology, beat the technology of the death camps which Heidegger cultivated and then refused to denounce.

Consider this artificial rending. The realm of the “last men,” one which preserves the lives of millions of people and gives each a chance to pursue her wellbeing, looks pretty good by way of contrast. The genocidal elitism in Heidegger’s politics deserves to be seen and attacked; it has little justification - only if one despises other peoples and even lesser people (including the German soldiers sacrificing themselves for the Fatherland, as Heidegger consciously reveres them) and is accompanied by a hypnotic reverence for the Fuehrer – something comic from the outside, though hardly during World War II – which is worth taking in. There, an ugly worship of “the right man” – the title of David Frum’s book on Bush – extends into obsessing even on Hitler's hands. Tracy provides a picture here circulated by the Nazis. In 1936, Heidegger met his student and teaching assistant Karl Loewith in Rome. Loewith was a reactionary Jew who, however, knew the score about both Hitler and Heidegger (see Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften, 3:625). Loewith is, for instance, admirably critical of Being and Time compared to Strauss who bowed down before the one “great thinker of our time” * (see L My Life in German before and after 1933, Strauss, "An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism" in Pangle, ed., Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism). Heidegger told him that he admired Hitler's “delicate hands.” If the rending of the world in World War II, and the genocides against Jews, Slavs, Roma, gays and lesbians, and others can be forgotten or avoided by some aesthetic focus, then one might be able to feel one’s way into what Heidegger’s remark to Loewith means. It is easy to prefer the surviving lion’s claw in the body of the prone bull at the new Acropolis Museum. The lion is, after all, just a lion…

Here is Tracy’s note:

"On Hitler's hands: the Loewith quote is of course appalling. I have always wondered what that was MH's response or justification. MH had a thing about hands (Zuhandenheit; Vorhandenheit; etc...) There was, I have found out, a widely distributed picture of Hitler's hands, viz. the attachment. See here."

*The bull may also have some association with the older,matriarchal culture of the Cycladic islands.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Poem: Metamorphoses


Sir Arthur

Imperial KingEvans



guidesspeakhistales in French and German, Greek and English

money is exchanged

a poly gl o t


of Euros

builds Venetian terraces

at Knossos

over old snakes,

old frescoes

the grace of life, coiling, lily-girl

to keep the dead away

snakes coiling

a thousand rooms haunted by Minotaur,


delicacy and poison

On Knossus, see here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Israel, America and the crime of aggression

As Talat Hussain’s report as an eye-witness on the Mavi Marmara from the Express-Tribune (Pakistan) reveals, Israeli snipers murdered or wounded journalists. See here for a previous report on Talat’s experience. Comparable to American torture, there is no “pr” response to this atrocity. Israel holds the occupied territories illegally. It starves Gazans. It attacked the relief ship in international waters. It murdered 9 people. It held the 600 arrested long enough so it could get out the first stories. It confiscated remaining cameras and film, a practice necessary only because unedited film would reveal that Israel was at fault. All the gunshots, ranting and abuse in the world (of Richard Goldstone, for example) will not alter these facts.

The outrage at Israel is massive. Even the corrupt Egypt dictatorship is now letting food supplies into Gaza. The European community has finally said that the blockade and starvation of Gaza are unacceptable. Yesterday, the New York Times reported, Netanyahu loosened restriction on food entering Gaza by land.

The Bush-Cheney period in the United States attempted to impose on the world the policies Israel has pursued in the Middle East. Aggression (see the third column) below, and torture – an intensified hatred for international law – along with an even more extreme and malevolent form of lying than is usual in politics became the American way. Thus, Bush appointed the crude John Bolton as ambassador to the UN – a man who called for blowing the top ten stories off it. This neo-con administration stood for the unilateral “right of the stronger.” They despised and disparaged others. American policy embodied everything American politicians claim to detest in others.

Where Israel pursues murderous and counterproductive policies out of or perhaps playing on fear and paranoia (Jews have been the great object of genocide in tsarist Russia and Nazi Germany, though not among Arabs), the United States, though acting with cowardice and illegality, was then the mightiest nation on earth. It is no longer. Once again, these policies are both despicable and counterproductive.

It is the decent opinion of mankind, as the American founders used to put it, that the murders on the Mavi Marmara defy. It is the decent opinion of humankind which Bush-Cheney and also, to some extent, despite some moves in a contrary direction (the Cairo speech, for example, or some effort to stop settlements), Obama works against.

In Kampala, an International Criminal Court commission has finally added aggression as a war crime to prosecute. That crime will now join torture as the centerpiece of (hopefully, over time) enforceable international law. Of course, the enforcement will only come because of mass protest from below, from democratic internationalism, or in the current phrase international civil society (all terms for that “decent opinion of mankind” when it leads to political action). The cause of the Palestinians is today’s cause of the South Africans victimized by apartheid; the hope for a decent resolution for Palestinians and ordinary Israelis focuses on this international struggle, in which the sailing of the relief ship, an act of death-defying courage, is a chapter. Not all such movements succeed (Tibet in China or the case of the democratic movement in Myanmar are both so far counterexamples). But there is now a powerful international movement for justice.*

The United States government signed and even sponsored the UN charter, making aggression a crime. By American law, for instance, by the Supremacy Clause - Article 6, section 2 - of the Constitution, treaties signed by the government are the highest law of the land. Thus, by international and American legal standards, the second invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and Britain was a plain act of aggression. But the law is not enforceable except formally in American courts which are, in this respect, mere tools of power.

Thus, the new International Criminal Court Treaty – intended to make aggression a prosecutable crime - will become effective among signers only in 7 years. The US attended the Kampala meetings, but being an aggressor, argued against the agreement. Unlike American Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who led the prosecutions of Tokyo and German war criminals – they were executed for the crime of aggression - the US government now claims not to know what aggression is (see Article 2, section 4 of the United Nations charter, then fought for by the United States).

Still, this adoption is a long positive step in the effort to restore international law. The Bush-Cheney war criminals will not be indicted for their aggression against Iraq which cost over a million, innocent Iraqi lives and wasted many American lives as well. Paul Wolfowitz, “an important statesman,” now at the American Enterprise Institute (a refuge for political Straussians) was interviewed by Fareed Zakaria on CNN on June 13. Both live in another dimension, still occupied by much of the bipartisan elite, in which American aggressions are a good thing (even “just,” Obama seemed to say, beginning to caricature what he might have represented, at Stockholm). But everyone knows that an unprovoked attack of one state upon the people of another - roughly, political mass murder - is a crime.

The bipartisan American elite lives on a planet Cheney far removed from decency. It does not hunt Al-Qaida effectively and squanders the international respect, sympathy and even solidarity that would enforce isolation and dismantling of terrorism against civilians. Still this act, and every step taken from below against American aggressions, may move the world toward peace, the rule of law, serious opposition to terrorism and cooperation, for instance, about global warming. That there is not so much time left to do this, and that the US war complex is a great obstacle is visible in the sad fact that the Obama administration – whose leader campaigned against “the dumb” Iraq war (he did not speak about the crime of it) – cannot even sign an International Criminal Court legal understanding against aggression.

No Israeli or American leader, I imagine, will take up the courageous challenge of Ken O’Keefe (see the second post below). O’Keefe is elitist and quite reactionary about other forms of protest, notably, the international revolt against the Iraq war, as Chomsky said, the second greatest power in the world at that point, one that millions of ordinary people participated in across borders, one which isolated the American aggression and made possible O’Keefe’s own action as a real attempt to stop the war. Everyone needs to do what she is ready and able to do against war. O’Keefe himself was not always so ready to do so. He once served as an officer in the American military, something that many honorable people do, but was then part of a repressive Empire. Yet he has, because of a strong sense of honor and decency, stood out against this.

O’Keefe has a deep understanding of nonviolence. Nothing he did in disarming the two murderers of his colleagues on the boat counts as violence (they lived to see another day). See here. But they had done murder and were there, weapons in hand, to do more. Even if he had injured or killed them, it would have counted, as Gandhi himself underlines, as self-defense.

O’Keefe is right that many joining him in his act of courage in Iraq, might – though once again as a result of the great international movement which spotlighted the aggression - have prevented it. Still, Bush-Cheney might well have suppressed or murdered say a thousand Europeans and Americans, and the mainstream American press, as with even the Mavi Marmara, might have loosely covered these crimes or not at all until the aggression was well under way…

The commercial media rightly cluck over North Korean sinking a South Korean ship. See Greenwald here. But even under Obama, America remains far more dangerous and war-like than any other power on earth. Here are mirrors – the standard of aggression – in which we might take in what America and Israel look like.

Murders on the Mediterranean
By Syed Talat Hussain

June 13, 2010

The writer is executive director news and current affairs at Aaj TV (

The website gives a vivid, and by far the most authentic, video account of Israel’s attack on the main ship of the freedom flotilla carrying over 600 passengers including an eight-month-old baby.

The video is one of the many that are likely to come out in the weeks ahead captured by those who witnessed recent history’s most audacious insult to efforts to highlight the plight of 1.5 million Palestinians stranded in the Gaza Strip. It shows bullets being fired from the boats carrying Israeli commandos as they make a vain attempt to climb up the Mavi Marmara. It depicts passengers, including foreigners and an Arab member of Knesset, (the Israeli parliament), wade through staircases and corridors filled with the injured. As doctors make desperate efforts to revive those shot in the head or in the chest from close range, blood-splattered walls furnish cold testimony to the methods the Israelis used to take control of the ship: anyone who stood in the way to taking over the control room – which they eventually did in a little over an hour – had to be eliminated.

The video is filmed by a journalist who left banking for the electronic media and presently works in New York. For a brief period when we were prison mates he told me about the effort he had to make to preserve the video: at least a one hour video of the attack was transferred on to a chip measuring half an inch, safely tucked in a special slot in his underwear. He took a grave risk: the Israelis would have strung him upside down if they had found what he was up to. They had strip-searched all of us to ensure that we did not carry any pictures on us. He told me how he wanted to come on this journey because that was good for his budding career but as he saw the devastation caused by Israeli actions, his motive changed from a mere professional concern to angry defiance against Israeli impunity.

Others were not so lucky with their efforts to slip out of the ship, vital evidence of Israeli’s criminal conduct on international waters. Among the injured there were two Indonesians, both camera men, one shot near the collar bone and another in the arm he was holding the camera with. I had spent nearly 10 days with them starting from our journey in Istanbul. The Malaysians and the Indonesian combined had a large contingent, over a dozen, which included a female reporter as well. Deeply religious and belonging to the Tablighee side of Islam, some of them, including the one who got shot in the arm, would spend long hours praying and reciting the Quran. Not exactly active in his pursuit of news on the ship, he was standing in the corner filming the attack as it unfolded when he was knocked out by a sniper. On the upper deck, as mayhem spread I saw two men fall to bullets — the sound of which is amply recorded in the democracynow video. I had been in these situations before. I had enough experience to know that these were all sniper shots. No random bullet pierces the forehead’s center or rips through the heart. If there was any doubt about how these passengers had been killed it was removed when a cameraman who was leaning against me as we both attempted to record the events fell back on me with a bullet wound in his arm. Israelis knew who they had to kill to keep the lid on their beastly actions: the journalists topped the list.

Fortunately, the Israeli system is not foolproof and there is enough evidence floating around to pinpoint responsibility. At any rate each individual who was on the ship is an eyewitness who can blow away the pack of lies Israel, its global backers and a patently one-sided western media are churning out. For a change truth is holding the field of public opinion long misled by propaganda.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 14th, 2010.

From Reflections by a Former US Marine on the Mavi Marmara On Cowardice and Violence By KEN O'KEEFE Istanbul

In 2002 I initiated the TJP Human Shield Action to Iraq because I knew that the invasion of Iraq had been planned well in advance, that it was part of a ‘Global Spectrum Dominance’ agenda as laid out by the Project For A New American Century. I knew that protests had no chance of stopping the invasion, and that largely these protests were just a way of making us feel better about the coming mass murder; by being able to say “I protested against it.” With that understanding I argued that the only viable way to stop the invasion was to conduct a mass migration to Iraq. A migration in which people from around the world, especially western citizens, would position themselves at sites in Iraq that are supposed to be protected by international law, but which are routinely bombed when it is only Iraqi, Palestinian, generally non-white, western lives who will be killed. I felt 10,000 such people could stop the invasion, or at the very least, expose the invasion for what it was from the start, an act of international aggression, a war crime and a crime against humanity.

I have for many years understood that we, people of conscience, are the true holders of power in this world. Frustratingly however we have largely relinquished that power and failed to reach our full potential. Our potential to create a better world, a just world. Nonetheless I have conspired with others of like mind to reveal and exercise our true power. When our two double decker busses travelled from London to Baghdad through Turkey, it was ever clear that the people of Turkey also could sense the power of this act, and they were the biggest participants in it. In the end we did not get the numbers required to stop the war, with at least one million Iraqi’s dead as a result, but I remain convinced that it was within our power to prevent the invasion. A massive opportunity lost as far as I am concerned. In 2007 I joined the Free Gaza Movement with its plan to challenge the blockade of Gaza by travelling to Gaza by sea. From the moment I heard of the plan I knew it could succeed and ultimately I served as a captain on the first attempt. The Israeli government said throughout our preparation that we were no better than pirates and they would treat us as such. They made clear we would not reach Gaza. And still I knew we could succeed. And we did. Two boats with 46 passengers from various countries managed to sail into Gaza on August 23, 2010; this was the first time this had been done in 41 years. The truth is the blockade of Gaza is far more than three years old, and yet we, a small group of conscientious people defied the Israeli machine and celebrated with tens of thousands of Gazans when we arrived that day. We proved that it could be done. We proved that an intelligent plan, with skilled manipulation of the media, could render the full might of the Israeli Navy useless. And I knew then that this was only the tip of the iceberg. So participating in the Freedom Flotilla is like a family reunion to me. It is my long lost family whose conscience is their guide, who have shed the fear, who act with humanity.

But I was especially proud to join IHH and the Turkish elements of the flotilla. I deeply admire the strength and character of the Turkish people, despite your history having stains of injustice, like every nation, you are today from citizen to Prime Minister among the leaders in the cause of humanity and justice. I remember being asked during the TJP Human Shield Action to Iraq if I was a pacifist, I responded with a quote from Gandhi by saying I am not a passive anything. To the contrary I believe in action, and I also believe in self-defence, 100 per cent, without reservation. I would be incapable of standing by while a tyrant murders my family, and the attack on the Mavi Marmara was like an attack on my Palestinian family. I am proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with those who refused to let a rogue Israeli military exert their will without a fight. And yes, we fought. When I was asked, in the event of an Israeli attack on the Mavi_Marmara, would I use the camera, or would I defend the ship? I enthusiastically committed to defence of the ship. Although I am also a huge supporter of non-violence, in fact I believe non-violence must always be the first option. Nonetheless I joined the defence of the Mavi Mamara understanding that violence could be used against us and that we may very well be compelled to use violence in self defence. I said this straight to Israeli agents, probably of Mossad or Shin Bet, and I say it again now, on the morning of the attack I was directly involved in the disarming of two Israeli Commandos. This was a forcible, non-negotiable, separation of weapons from commandos who had already murdered two brothers that I had seen that day. One brother with a bullet entering dead center in his forehead, in what appeared to be an execution. I knew the commandos were murdering when I removed a 9mm pistol from one of them. I had that gun in my hands and as an ex-US Marine with training in the use of guns it was completely within my power to use that gun on the commando who may have been the murderer of one of my brothers. But that is not what I, nor any other defender of the ship did. I took that weapon away, removed the bullets, proper lead bullets, separated them from the weapon and hid the gun. I did this in the hopes that we would repel the attack and submit this weapon as evidence in a criminal trial against Israeli authorities for mass murder. I also helped to physically separate one commando from his assault rifle, which another brother apparently threw into the sea.

I and hundreds of others know the truth that makes a mockery of the brave and moral Israeli military. We had in our full possession, three completely disarmed and helpless commandos. These boys were at our mercy, they were out of reach of their fellow murderers, inside the ship and surrounded by 100 or more men. I looked into the eyes of all three of these boys and I can tell you they had the fear of God in them. They looked at us as if we were them, and I have no doubt they did not believe there was any way they would survive that_day. They looked like frightened children in the face of an abusive father. But they did not face an enemy as ruthless as they. Instead the woman provided basic first aid, and ultimately they were released, battered and bruised for sure, but alive. Able to live another day. Able to feel the sun over head and the embrace of loved ones. Unlike those they murdered. Despite mourning the loss of our brothers, feeling rage towards these boys, we let them go. The Israeli prostitutes of propaganda can spew all of their disgusting bile all they wish, the commandos are the murderers, we are the defenders, and yet we fought. We fought not just for our lives, not just for our cargo, not just for the people of Palestine, we fought in the name of justice and humanity. We were right to do so, in every way.

While in Israeli custody I, along with everyone else was subjected to endless abuse and flagrant acts of disrespect. Women and elderly were physically and mentally assaulted. Access to food and water and_toilets was denied. Dogs were used against us, we ourselves were treated like dogs. We were exposed to direct sun in stress positions while hand cuffed to the point of losing circulation of blood in our hands. We were lied to incessantly, in fact I am awed at the routineness and comfort in their ability to lie, it is remarkable_ eally. We were abused in just about every way imaginable and I myself was beaten and choked to the point of blacking out… and I was_beaten again while in my cell. In all this what I saw more than anything else were cowards… and yet I also see my brothers. Because no matter how vile and wrong the Israeli agents and government are, they are still my brothers and sisters and for now I only have pity for them. Because they are relinquishing the most precious thing a human being has, their humanity. In conclusion; I would like to challenge every endorser of Gandhi, every person who thinks they understand him, who acknowledges him as one of the great souls of our time (which is just about every western leader), I challenge you in the form of a question. Please explain how we, the defenders of the Mavi Mamara, are not the modern example of Gandhi’s essence? But first read the words of Gandhi himself. I do believe that, where there is only a choice_between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.... I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour. – Gandhi And lastly I have one more challenge. I challenge any critic of merit, publicly, to debate me on a large stage over our actions that day. I would especially love to debate with any Israeli leader who accuses us of wrongdoing, it would be my tremendous pleasure to face off with you. All I saw in Israel was cowards with guns, so I am ripe to see you in a new context. I want to debate with you on the largest stage possible. Take that as an open challenge and let us see just how brave Israeli leaders are. Ken O'Keefe is a former US Marine and Gulf War veteran.

Published on Tuesday, June 15, 2010 by LegalTimes
ICC Adds Aggression to List of Crimes Despite US Opposition

by Jenna Greene

KAMPALA - In a move that international lawyers describe as "a giant leap," members of the International Criminal Court agreed to add aggression to the court's short list of prosecutable crimes.

At least seven years too late for these two [American wars], but the ICC has approved new language to make 'wars of aggression' a prosecutable offense by adopting a new resolution. Under the administration of President George W. Bush, the United States had virtually no involvement with the ICC. The United States opposed the resolution, but as a non-member of the eight-year old court, had no ability to block the adoption.

Still, it was notable that the United States even showed up for the debate.

State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh and Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp led a sizeable U.S. delegation to a two week meeting in Kampala, Uganda. It ended early in the morning on Saturday with the consensus adoption of the definition of aggression and mechanisms for triggering an investigation.

The resolution will not go into effect until at least 2017, and the court has no jurisdiction to bring aggression chares against nationals from non-ICC member countries, which include the U.S., Russia and China. Even member countries have a way to opt-out.

The ICC is intended as a court of last resort to punish crimes that shock the conscience – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and now aggression – when there is no ability to do so at the national level.

Under the administration of President George W. Bush, the United States had virtually no involvement with the ICC. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the Rome statute that created the court, but never brought the treaty to the Senate for a vote. In 2002, the Bush Administration sent a document “unsigning” Clinton’s acceptance. One hundred and eleven nations are ICC members.

The U.S. has been concerned that the court could attempt to prosecute American military members deployed overseas, even those on peacekeeping missions to stop war crimes.

To date, the ICC has brought only a handful of cases over incidents in the Central African Republic, Dafur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern Uganda and Kenya, and has yet to complete a trial.

The ICC delegates defined aggression as a “crime committed by a political or military leader which, by its character, gravity and scale constituted a manifest violation of the Charter.”

The United Nations Security Council will have the main responsibility for determining if an act of aggression has occurred.

To Rapp, who previously served as Chief of Prosecutions at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, the definition of aggression is “exceptionally vague.”

It’s “not a war of aggression, like we prosecuted at Nuremberg, but a crime of aggression that could make any sort of border conflict into a case that would cause the indictment of chiefs of state,” he said in a video blog from Kampala posted on the International Justice Central website. “We want to make sure the institution grows responsibility and does not become politically motivated.”

In a transcript of a June 2 press briefing from the meeting, Koh compared the court to a “wobbly bicycle that’s just starting to get its legs and roll forward, and the question is whether to add a crime of aggression at this moment might put too much weight on it and transform the nature of its mandate.”

But David Scheffer, who was U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues from 1997 to 2001, wrote in a blog from Kampala for the American Society of International Law that “The historical significance of these developments cannot be understated.”

He continued, “This is truly one giant leap. Perhaps, just perhaps, the action in Kampala will finally lock in a credible means to holding powerful individuals, those who intentionally launch massive acts of aggression, accountable for their actions and to instilling, over the years, greater deterrence to the aggressive instincts of insecure leaders.”
© 2010 LegalTimes

*see the articles by Richard Falk and Tom Farer in the Korbel School's Journal of Global Governance here.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

the 2012 Olympics and the return of the "Elgin" marbles

As my last posts have emphasized here, here, and here, the new Acropolis Museum is a stunning place to view the revolutions in Greek culture. There, a trading, egalitarian, women-led civilization flourished in the Cycladic islands of the Minoan age, and extended its influence even into Athens. The Athena of snakes on a 525 BC frieze on the Acropolis should be posed, side by side, with the elegant marbles of 432.

It is not hard to do the right thing. The Museum of Modern Art in New York had Picasso’s great anti-War painting “Guernika” throughout the period of fascist rule in Spain. The Museum would not return it to Franco. But they returned it to the democracy and it resides in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.

Lord Elgin exemplifies the British empire. See here. It ruled through force. It acquired through theft. It crushed the lives of people across the planet. It exemplifies, in a barbarous way, the rule of the stronger. The remainders of it need to fade into the history of human rapaciousness, including its role – “Bush’s poodle” - in American aggressions, occupations, and torture.

As Evaggelos Vallianatos points out below, the British now, in their diminished and more egalitarian state, are to host the 2012 Olympics (h/t Doug Vaughan). They strove mightily to get these profitable games which originated in Greece. They seek to present the spirit of Olympic solidarity – a spirit of cosmopolitanism, one that opposes tyranny and prejudice. It is a certainly a time where that spirit is desperately needed about climate change, the poisoning of the oceans and war, for example. It is a time when the British theft of the marbles and their deathly grip on them stands out before the world, when every conversation about the Olympics could turn to the theft, when British pride might find itself everywhere fallen until the Museum makes the decent decision. It is time for English citizens, too, to speak: let the British Museum become British…Let everyone raise her voice to return the marbles to their rightful place.

Is the Parthenon Sculpture a Permanent Hostage at the British Museum? by: Evaggelos Vallianatos t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed_27 May 2010_

On March 8, 2010, Dyfri Williams, Research Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum, delivered a lecture on "The Parthenon Sculptures" at the University of Southern California. Williams justified the holding by the British Museum of the plundered Parthenon treasures. I found the reasons why the British government refuses to return the Parthenon "marbles" to Greece unacceptable - and not a little insulting. But before I focus on the continuing cultural imperialism of the United Kingdom, some background throws light on more than the British rape of the Parthenon. The Athenians erected the Parthenon in 447-432 BCE for two reasons: honoring their patron goddess, Athena Parthenos, the virgin daughter of Zeus, and thanking the gods, particularly Athena, for their victory over the Persians. For the first millennium of its life, the Parthenon was the shining light of Hellenic culture: a religious, democratic, architectural, and artistic jewel unsurpassed in beauty and craft. Ploutarchos, a priest of Apollon and a prolific writer who lived about five centuries after the founding of the Parthenon, said the Parthenon, untouched by time, was created for all time. The Parthenon, however, did not exist in isolation. The temple did well only when the Greeks were masters of their country, a political reality that had changed dramatically by the time when Ploutarchos was admiring the grandeur of the temple of Athena. The Romans incorporated Greece into their empire in 146 BCE. The Romans, like later "protectors" of Greece, loved and hated the Greeks. But the Roman crisis in Greece became acute in the fourth century when the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity state religion, overthrowing the millennial polytheism of the Greeks and Romans. Christianity immediately marched into Greece and declared war against the many gods of the Greeks, including Athena honored in the Parthenon. In 484, the Christian Emperor Zeno inflicted the first major blow against the Parthenon. He pillaged the chryselephantine statue of Athena created by Pheidias. In the sixth century, the Christians demonstrated their hatred for the Greeks with their conversion of the temple of Athena to a church. They also caused irreparable damage to the building and its sculpture. The sculpture of the Parthenon, with dozens of statues of gods, men, and animals, was a pictorial history of Athens, a proud message of Greek origins and a celebration of freedom. The Christians, like other barbarians that attacked the Parthenon, nearly obliterated Greek history and wrote their own. They hacked Parthenon statues to pieces. They defaced, mutilated, and smashed metopes. They punched windows through the frieze. When the Turks captured Greece in 1453, they also added sacrilege and destruction to the Parthenon, which they made into a mosque. In 1673, the Venetians bombarded the Parthenon, wrecking the building. The next attack against the Parthenon came in early 1800s, also from the Europeans, especially Lord Elgin, who served as the British ambassador to the Turks. Elgin and his agents bribed the Turks to give them a free hand with the surviving sculpture of the Parthenon. The agents of Elgin sawed off just about every sculpture in the metopes and frieze, smashing in the process plenty of statues and damaging the Parthenon even more. They took intact slabs of metopes and frieze, including a caryatid from the Erechtheion, to England where they are now in the British Museum. In 1801 and 1805, Edward Dodwell, a traveler who witnessed the agents of Elgin in action, said they left the Parthenon in "a state of shattered desolation." Lord Byron also denounced Elgin's plunder of the Parthenon, calling Elgin a spoiler who rivaled the Goths and the Turks. The looting and destruction of the Parthenon by Elgin sparked a more widespread stealing of Greek culture. During the Greek Revolution in the 1820s, general John Makrygiannes stopped a couple of Greek soldiers from selling ancient artifacts to foreigners. He told them, "We went to war for these antiquities." In the twentieth century, the Greek government started asking the British to return the sculpture Elgin had pillaged from the Parthenon. Melina Merkouri, Greek Minister of Culture in the 1980s and early 1990s, was right saying the Parthenon sculpture was "the soul of Greece." This language offended the British, who disputed Greek cultural continuity and resented Greek nationalism. The British remembered the Greeks of the Ionian Islands and Cyprus, who revolted against their oppressive colonial rule. In the case of Cyprus, the British encouraged the Turks to nullify Cypriot independence. The Turks obliged and, in 1974, invaded Cyprus. The British quote a Turkish order giving Elgin "legal" ground for his cultural atrocity, the violent removal and destruction of Parthenon sculpture. They conveniently ignore that the Turks had no more legal standing in Greece than the Nazis enjoyed in occupied Europe. Second, British officials pretend that the Parthenon sculpture in their possession receives great care, which Greece, they claim, cannot give. This is false. During 1937 - 1938, the caretakers at the British Museum inflicted irreparable damage to the Parthenon sculpture. They scrubbed the statues with chemicals to make them "more white." And rather than revealing what happened, the British Museum covered up the truth for decades. William St. Clair, British author of "Lord Elgin and the Marbles," concluded that the "stewardship" of the Parthenon sculpture by the British Museum for more than half a century was "a cynical sham," which forfeited "the British claim to a trusteeship." In 2009, during the dedication of the Akropolis Museum, which the Greeks built to house the Parthenon treasures, the Greek Minister of Culture Antonis Samaras spoke about the "hostage" of the Parthenon sculpture at the British Museum. Returning the Elgin marbles to the Akropolis Museum would be the right thing to do. It would be the only path to reconciliation between the British and the Greek people. Reuniting the sculptures of the Parthenon would also be an act of respect for the integrity of the Greek culture, which, like other Europeans and Americans, the British have used successfully for building their own civilization. At a time of tension, violence, and extreme financial hardship for Greece, the repatriation of the Parthenon sculpture in the British Museum would be an act of Renaissance humanism that may sow seeds of peace and philhellenism in the Mediterranean and the world. Such an act of British generosity would also uplift the spirit of Greece. In addition, in 2012, the Olympics, as Greek as the Parthenon, will be celebrated in London. What an opportune time for the United Kingdom to return the Parthenon treasures to their Greek home, and show the world its appreciation for all it has benefited from Hellenic culture.