Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The occupation comes to this

In his thought about putting oneself in an original position, John Rawls mirrored ordinary and sound moral judgment – “put yourself in someone else's shoes.” It was the judgment routinely of Christians against American slavery: "imagine that your daughter went to fetch some water from the stream and she was kidnapped and sold into slavery all the days of her life,” said three Western Massachusetts farmers in 1787, participants in the Shays rebellion and opposing this central aspect of the new Constitution. One had the pseudonym: Consider Arms.

Let us imagine that a declined US was occupied at the end of the 21st century by a new great power: Saudi China. See here. In Georgia and South Carolina, the ignorant and arrogant troops of the invaders, having been occupying the country for 10 years, dumped and burned Bibles in the trash heap of a large base. Some American workers, sympathetic to Christianity or just knowing that it was a holy book for others, leaped into the flames and retrieved 8 of them. Some Christians were burned doing it…

It would not be too much for the President of Saudi China to apologize for this crime against freedom of religion, even though fanatics running for the “Republicans” (Party of the Islamic Republic) demanded that he not. Have mobs in other countries not trashed the Koran, the “Republicans” said, and what officials there have condemned it? Yet in the then United States, some whiff of freedom of conscience survived the early 21st century authoritarianism (led by President Santorum or Romney) and no Korans had been damaged or scorned in Occupied America.

It is not too hard to imagine a great revolt in America from below. Nor to imagine some subaltern American officer at a Saudi Chinese base – that occupation features many, including a grand structure in Washington exceeding the previous largest embassy compound in the world (the onetime American Embassy in Baghdad), getting into a screaming match with bigoted Saudi Chinese officers who had scorned their infidel Christianity, and in a fit of mutual rage, shooting two of them.

I was driving my 16 year old to the bus yesterday listening to this report from John Wendell from Kabul on DemocracyNow here. Wendell works for a private “subcontractor” for USAID and reports from there. Some American aid workers and soldiers call for bombing Afghanistan into the dust...

In 30 years of occupation and depredations in Afghanistan, from supporting the Mujahadeen against the Soviets and funding and training Osama Bin Laden to launching an invasion after September 11th, the United States of America has pretty well done that…

No racism...

We were talking of what would happen here in the event of a comparable attack. “I wouldn’t join it [the resistance],” my son said drily, “but someone might…”

Qur’an-burning Protests Spread, Santorum calls Obama Weak for Apologizing
Posted on 02/27/2012 by Juan Cole
Informed Consent

The protests in Afghanistan over the burning of old copies of the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book, by the US military at Bagram Base in Afghanistan, continued this weekend, with new violence.

This volatile situation, in which US troops are being wounded or killed, explains Presidnt Obama’s apology for the mishandling of the Qur’an. In contrast, Newt Gingrich and now Rick Santorum have slammed Obama for apologizing. Santorum called the gesture weak. (This stance is sheer hypocrisy from someone who has complained that Obama is ‘waging war on religion’ !)

On Sunday, Afghans threw grenades onto a US forward operating base in Kunduz Province in the north of the country, at Imam Sahib, wounding 7 special operations troops. Others attacked the police station in the town.

On Sunday in Jalalabad, protesters attacked the airport, leaving several people dead and many wounded.

The Taliban have announced that the attacks are retaliation for the mishandling of the Qur’an.

Some 30 Afghans have died in demonstrations in recent days.

Two US military advisers to the Ministry of the Interior were shot dead on Saturday by an Afghan security man. It turns out, according to recovered security tapes, that they were watching footage of the protests and cursing out the protesters, then speaking badly of the Qur’an. The Afghan argued with them that they should be more respectful, and when the argument escalated, he drew on them and shot them both dead.

If this story is true, it distills the arrogance and bigotry of some US personnel in Afghanistan (they are in someone else’s country). They didn’t deserve to meet that end, but cursing the Qur’an in a Muslim country in front of a local Muslim is about the most foolhardy act I can imagine. The strong evangelical element in some parts of the US military makes it particularly unsuited to more or less running a largely illiterate Muslim nation that is deeply religious. Evangelicals are the American group that has the highest disapproval of Islam.

Not only has the controversy roiled US and NATO relations with Afghanistan, it has implications farther afield.

Iranian preachers and Revolutionary Guards have been condemning the US vehemently over the burning. The US and Iran are competing for the affection of countries in the Muslim world, and the US military just lost much of its credibility there.

In Pakistan, small anti-US demonstrations have been held. But Urdu newspapers throughout the region are largely negative toward the US. resenting drone strikes.

Newpaper editorials from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia are condemning the US.

Even in Iraq, from which US troops just withdrew in December, the major religious parties, even ones that had been friendly to Washington during the US presence there, took potshots at the US. (see below).

The USG Open Source Center also translated these passages from Iraqi religious parties, both Sunni and Shiite, slamming the US:

Iraqi Scholars, Leaders Condemn Koran Burning in Afghanistan, Reject US Apology

Iraq — OSC Summary

Friday, February 24, 2012

Iraqi websites between 22 February and 24 February were observed to post the following reports in response to 21 February reports of burning the Koran in the Bagram military base in Afghanistan.

On 24 February, Al-Sumariyah News cited a statement by the Kurdistan Region Presidency as saying: “We at the Kurdistan Region Presidency strongly condemn the burning of the holy Koran by US soldiers.” The statement added that “we hope that the officials at the Bagram military base will hold thorough investigations with those who carried out this disgraceful act and will not allow their irresponsible act to become a reason for sabotaging and threatening the situation in the Islamic world.” (Beirut Al-Sumariyah News in Arabic – Iraqi news website affiliated with Al-Sumariyah Television, a privately owned, primarily entertainment Iraqi satellite television, providing balanced coverage political issues in Iraq…)

On 24 February, the [Sunni, radical] Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) issued a statement that condemned the burning of the Koran by US soldiers, while noting “this was not surprising since they did the same in Iraq and they burned copies of the Koran more than once and intentionally abused it.” AMS refused to accept the apology by the US President that was delivered by the White House spokesman and the apology by US defense secretary, viewing them as “unacceptable” and “as one of their usual ways to calm rebels,” adding that they “do not reflect a real regret for abusing Islamic sanctities.”

In its statement, AMS also recalled the “crime of a US pastor who called on global media outlets to watch him while burning the holy Koran.” AMS expressed its appreciation for the reactions of Muslims who did not abuse the Bible in a similar way, stressing that their behavior reflects “the huge difference between them and the Americans in terms of respecting religions and accepting others.” (Baghdad The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq in Arabic — Official website of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq…)

On 24 February, Diya al-Shawki, imam and preacher of [the Shiite, radical Sadrist] Al-Kufah Mosque, condemned “the blatant attack on the holy Koran and burning it by the unbelievers who are represented by the US occupation forces in one of their ill-omened bases in Afghanistan,” calling on “all religious authorities, Islamic institutes, and all Muslims to take a firm stance against those who attack Islamic sanctities.” ( Al-Najaf Higher Media Commission of Martyr Sayyid Al-Sadr’s Office in Arabic — Website associated with the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr…)

On 23 February, the Independent Press Agency cited a statement by Iraq’s Scholars Group that denounce]s the burning of the Koran by US soldiers, saying that “this act is a disregard to Muslims’ emotions in the world and it is a plot that aims to attack Muslim sanctities.” The statement also called for holding a “Friday of rage” in support of the Koran, while calling on all “Muslim scholars to take a firm and united stance” against this incident. (London Independent Press Agency in Arabic – Independent news agency, providing extensive coverage of political, security, and economic issues in Iraq…)
On 22 February, Ammar al-Hakim, chairman of the [moderate Shiite] Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council, condemned the burning of the Koran in the weekly cultural forum, describing this behavior as “wrong and disgraceful,” and noting that targeting the Koran in such a way is “disrespectful to others’ faith.” He also called for “putting an end to such practices,” emphasizing that “this step requests so much work on the cultural level so that hatred would disappear among nations.” (Al-Najaf Presidency of the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council in Arabic — Website of the Shiite group, the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council …)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Poem: occupied Atlant a

in the military trash dumps


inthemil it ary

b les



burningtheirhand s




faceslick d


sear i n g

a manshoots

militar y trash dump s


burn ing


Sunday, February 26, 2012

A defense of Guthrie’s last two verses: a letter from Robert Shetterly

I am grateful to Tink for the pointed criticism and lively discussion about Woody Guthrie's "This land is your land, this land is my land" in which I will post soon on further letters from him and Ward Churchill. See here and here. Robert Shetterly wrote a good letter in defense of Guthrie’s words, nonetheless, noting the aptness of the criticism.

"Dear Alan,

I think both you & Tink miss the point of Guthrie's song. What he was getting at was the message of the last two verses where he questions his own premise: One bright sunny morning/ In the shadow of the steeple/ By the relief office I saw my people./ As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering IF/ this land was made for you & me. The IF was the whole point.

That IF does not in any way soften the blow to native people, but it does show that Guthrie's sentiment was not glorification of a land that was not his. He was more interested in the hypocrisies of democratic propaganda & the distribution of wealth.

In the final verse he questions the rights of private property --- not too far from there to native rights.

All the best,
Robert Shetterly"

(Robert Shetterly was in the Harvard strike of 1969, and is an anti-war and anti-racist activist and a painter).

"Dear Robert,

You rightly emphasize the anti-capitalist character of the last two verses, and in a certain way, “not too far,” their link to the once commonly held and now stolen property of indigenous Americans. When I use the word democratic, I differ from how Tink uses it. He says democratic capitalist – what is basically an oxymoron. I mean radical democrat and to refer to a radical democracy whose force is from below, not to an oligarchy with parliamentary forms – as I characterize it in an Aristotelian idiom, in Democratic Individuality or Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? – or a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie as Marx or Lenin might put it. Even parliamentary democracy is a good today (and in the past) in that one can sometimes, rarely, vote for an oligarchic candidate like FDR who does, if there are strikes and movements from below, sometimes concede. The New Deal mandated unemployment insurance (fought for by councils of employed and unemployed workers led by Communists), social security, industrial unions, and the like. Even Obama is not bad compared to the increasingly crazed alternatives (no contraception?!, 0% tax on the wealthy, aggression against Iran, no public schools, no unions, etc.).

That Guthrie sympathizes with radical change also does not take the sting, for the most oppressed, out of the line about “your land and my land” excluding the indigenous (it does seem in this respect like a “settler proletariat” or a more extended but “settler democracy.”), though the question, as you rightly say, could point further. The basic issue is whether that is an inadvertently racist error with serious public consequences (as in the movement Guthrie was part of – one much better on fighting racism toward blacks and Chicanoes and making that a central issue…) and the aim should be to correct the harms, make a new movement decently and consistently anti-racist and democratize it, or whether the error is, for the song and a movement, uncorrectable.

OccupyDenver has, to a considerable extent, come to support the efforts against the Keystone XL (and Northern Gateway Pipelines) of AIM – see here, here and here; this is a very positive thing, morally and politically speaking, and one that might be generalized in Occupy…Any democratic movement which strives (from any position among the oppressed) to break down divisions will do so slowly and with sometimes painful effort. Young blacks and Chicanos caught up in the prison-industrial complex or with the army, also need to be engaged with and, hopefully, many of them will ultimately (the sooner, the better) take the lead in any serious democratic movement (some already do). But Occupy has a long way to go on this matter.

Still, a large democratic movement from below which discusses and makes it a point to allow and listen to many voices (“mic check”) terrifies the elite. One recent teach in of Occupy at the University of Denver spent quite a lot of time with sentiments, common in the corporate press, once it could no longer ignore Occupy, that Occupy doesn’t have “demands.” Occupy shifted the public atmosphere in the country to the very inequality that is central to the rapaciousness of the 1% that control the two parties (Gore Vidal once quipped aptly that America is the only one party system with two right-wings…). Even Obama, a comparatively decent fellow who aspired to be and is the head of the Empire and drifted very far away from what made his candidacy attractive to many, has now taken up, very modestly, the views of Occupy…

Romney is an odious cipher for many reasons, but that he is but the creature of his money – and uses it “charitably” as a bigot against gays and lesbians (the Mormon church’s support of Proposition 8) is as clear as his imperial willingness (totally self-destructive for humanity and even the American elite) to aggress against Iran and support the crushing of the Palestinians.

So life is with Occupy and the indigenous and environmental movements against the Pipelines and with the Boycott and Divestment movement and Jewish Voice for Peace against the oppression of Palestinians and with those who demonstrate against aggression in Iran - all those who hear the spirit of Guthrie’s words, including the ones about the unity of Americans and mexicanos (the deportees) against the one per cent. (Guthrie has many songs; Dan Nicolai gave me a cd of Guthrie's powerful songs about the elite execution - murder - of Sacco and Vanzetti, the Italian-American artisan anarchists in Boston, a great cause of the 1920s).

The long democratic discussions of Occupy need to move toward a common understanding and action on these matters. For another aspect of the needed campaign among another people whose land was stolen, see my comments on the barbaric elite in Arizona here and a recent letter by Rodolfo Acuna below. We need to fight to save education and comparatively public schooling, the stairway out of poverty that Acuna names, and also how to build a serious democratic movement from below (to lift all up together, to leave no one behind). At the moment, it is really, as Phil Ochs put it, “Arizona [I am speaking of the authoritarian imperial racists who run it], find yourself another country to be part of.”

All the best,

words and music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me


I've roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me


The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me


As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!


In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Chorus (2x)

©1956 (renewed 1984), 1958 (renewed 1986) and 1970 TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc.

Thursday, February 23, 2012 9:53 AM
The End of the Stairway
The Abandonment of the Barrio
Rodolfo F. Acuña

Throughout the history of Mexican Americans, education has been considered the stairway to the middle-class. Education meant security and basics such as health insurance. This heaven meant better jobs and a small house or two for old age.

As with the European immigrant, the stairway was built in stages. Those with limited education could often get union jobs. After a generation or two in factories, Mexican Americans accumulated sufficient capital to keep their children in school, and a few sent them to college.

To build the stairway, workers and their families fought for compulsory education, they petitioned school boards, and led walkouts protesting de jure and de facto school segregation.

Mutalistas, el Congreso Mexicanista, Alianza Hispano-Americano, La Liga Protectora Latina, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), led campaigns for better schools. George I. Sánchez was a giant in advocating for this stairway.

However, it was not the 1960s that Chicano youth forced major breakthroughs. The Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) walkouts, the East LA School Walkouts, and small walkouts throughout the southwest and elsewhere had similar themes -- better education, more college prep classes, more Mexican American teachers, and the teaching of Mexican American Studies.

As a result Mexican Americans went to college in greater numbers. In 1968 there were about 100 Latino PhDs – a decade later they were an identifiable mass. In the intervening years at Cal State Northridge the Latino student population exploded from about 50 in 1969 to some 11,000 today.

Despite the gains the Latino dropout rate remains at about 60 percent; most barrio schools still offer a limited number of college prep classes. A larger portion of Latino students are being recruited and admitted from parochial, magnet and schools on the fringes of the barrio. Few males are enrolling. In some universities the ratio of Latino female/male is 65/35.

Like the nation’s roads, the Mexican American stairway to the middle-class heaven has fallen into disrepair. There are potholes everywhere. Outreach and special programs have become expendable and are under attack. The excuse is the budget.

Many Latino students could only afford college through financial assistance. However, early on financial aid was diluted by expanding the eligibility for assistance while shrinking funding.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the rising tuition. Without financial aid and loans, the bridge is beginning to tumble. At the California State Universities tuition will rise to $10,000 a year, which will put education out of the reach of students from barrio schools.

Putting this in perspective, I paid about $10 a year at Los Angeles State in the late 1950s; in 1969 fees amounted to about $50 a semester.

American corporations simply refuse to pay for the cost of social production. The baby boom generation that benefited from free education, the GI Bill, low interest housing, low gas and food prices, selfishly do not want to pay for the education of the young.

Mexico graduates more engineering students than the United States. Among sixteen 16 First World nations, the United State ranks number 13th in affordability.

At the beginning of the last century, Mexican workers were excluded from unions and relied on self-help organizations. This became more difficult as the nation became highly urbanized.

The Americans consider themselves a generous people, and certain Americans are. However, this generosity does not extend to the poor. A few will give to the homeless on Christmas and feel somewhat less guilty, as long as it does not interfere with their Christmas meal. They give through organizations that qualify them for tax exemptions.

Historically Latinos have had a small middle-class. They are generous to family members. However, there is not a tradition of contributing to philanthropic organizations. Selected immigrant groups send money back to their communities, such as the Clubes Unidos Zacatecanos that remit billions of dollars annually to Zacatecas.

Latinos usually give through their churches. But, philanthropy is seen as foreign to most Latinos, especially Mexican Americans. They are concentrated in the working class. At the turn of this century, 25.8 percent of Mexican-born immigrants lived in poverty, over double the rate for natives.

According to one report, “[c]urrently, 53 percent of Latino households make charitable contributions to charities as opposed to 72 percent of all U.S. households.” It could be argued that comparisons are not fair. Poverty plays a role, as does the tax code where the middle-class get write offs. The reason Mexicans give for not contributing more is that they are not asked.

Let’s face it; we all owe our careers to the stairway. Without that stairway we would not have a middle-class to broker our gains in population into political and economic power. National Latino and Hispanic organizations cater to the middle class.

Keeping the stairway somewhat operable will be the greatest challenge for Latinos. Let us not be naïve and believe that everything will return to as it was in 1970 or 80. Tuition will continue to spiral. In California, fifty percent of the professors’ salaries and operational costs are derived from student tuition.

Surely administrators are to blame for the inflation with university presidents earning in excess of $300,000 annually with perks. The bureaucracies in the university makes navigating them near impossible, and professor salaries at the top are near $100,000 annually and more.

I will not argue that professor salaries are not justified, just that they are part of the problem. I ask myself, would most teacher unions oppose plans to begin alternative institutions that did not include teacher contracts?

After long deliberation I have come to the conclusion that whether teacher unions or others like it or not, we have to find our own solutions. The maintenance of the stairway should be our first priority.

Presently Latino education is not very high on the priority list of progressives in this country. Perhaps they have seen too many movies on the Alamo.

I am under attack for a statement that I made in the early 1990s when educational access was again being limited. I said that we would not allow ourselves to be pushed into the intellectual ovens of ignorance and lack of opportunity. Education is a basic right, and we who are active with youth know the consequences of not being able to read.

The stairway represents the only hope for many.

In the near future we will be making a call for Latinos and others to come to a meeting to explore the possibility of starting a non-profit university that would keep the costs under $1,000 a year.

It is criminal how many for profit schools have sprung up in the past decade. Full-time students at for-profit schools paid an average of $30,900 annually in the 2007-2008 academic year. This was almost double the $15,600 average paid at public universities. The average cost of attending a private nonprofit college was $26,600.

If the government can allow such outlandish costs to be handed down to students then it can sanction real non-profit universities. The truth be told, universities and colleges have become as predatory as the loan sharks and Wall Street.

We will outline a plan which we will telecast throughout the nation in an effort to get retired teachers and professors to put together a non-profit institution. This is imperative because public education today is being privatized. Even at the California State Universities which were once called the “people’s college” there are for profit entities where students can get an alternative education – at a cost.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Poem:Thres h holdofold

She could no longer climb

whojumpedthefull heightofthe


spring y



couldnotclam be r

frontfeetsplay i ng


couldnothea r




al pha


Andaluciancrow d


could not

backlick e d



lick ed

ascen d

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A moral basis of politics: Deirdre McCloskey and my interview on Justice Radio

Kristine Kubat, who works with the Justice Party and Justice Radio, did an interview with me on “liberating conservatism.” For the interview, listen here. She had been attracted to my claim that genuine conservatives – those who affirm habeas corpus, bar torture, and often criticize imperial wars, like Edmund Burke and Michael Oakeshott – differ from imperial and racist authoritarians. The latter are today routinely misidentified as “conservative” in American politics. As a conservative might insist, governments are enormously powerful compared to individuals, and frequently rip "subjects" apart. Thus, conservatives defend the essence of a system of law, considered as an ideal - see Phillip Soper, The Idea of Law - and name the element of decency in Anglo-American law as opposed to tyranny or dictatorship.

In addition, if we ask the core question of ethics: what is a decent life for human beings?, the answer includes a rule of law and a protection of basic equal rights for each individual (a breaking down of all racist, gender and class barriers to recognition as a person or the undergirding of a system of mutual regard for persons whatever their larger conscientious or, in John Rawls's phrase, comprehensive differences). One may compare living in the Weimar Republic and Hitler's Germany or in the segregated South and the post-Civil Rights Act South - both for the most oppressed and most people. The worst regimes massively violate, in Aristotle's idiom, a common good (see Democratic Individuality, ch. 1). In contrast, meta-ethical relativism, ranging from ostensibly value-free social science to postmodernism, has no answer to these examples and cannot itself provide a coherent, that is non-self-refuting explanation of what ethics is.*

Thus, all decent, well-stated or reasonable political positions pass through an answer to this basic question about the rule of law. They clash, however, empirically and/or in social theory on what makes this possible. (technically, they combine core moral standards with clashing empirical/social theoretical claims, to reach larger, clashing moral and poltiical positions - see Democratic Individuality). A judgment for the rule of law, in the words of Democratic Individuality, has moral objectivity or is true; it is the impartial or nonpartisan basis for fierce public debates. For if these complex positions pass too far empirically from these nonpartisan, underlying judgments, for example, because of pseudo-biological theories which affirm racism like Murray and Herrnstein's The Bell Curve or sociobiology, they become, in practice, immoral and sometimes evil (Hitler, eugenic laws in the United States for forced sterilization of the feeble-minded, anti-miscegenation laws and the like).

Reasonable political dialogue among complex public positions relies on this understanding of law; about the rule of law, for instance, condemning torture, conservatives (and liberals and radicals) have often taken a leading role. Often even civil disobedience - and sometimes violent resistance as in the American revolution - highlight the abuse of law, the betrayal of the rule of law or minimal fair treatment. Such resistance upholds the idea of law against a lawless and oppressive regime.

In the interview, Kristine raised many insightful questions and thoughts – even having the brilliant line that Rocky Anderson, former mayor of Salt Lake City and the Justice Party candidate for President – is “Ron Paul without the crazy…” Unfortunately, the connection is briefly lost, but I think the discussion is worth hearing out. The issue is really how to think about politics, morally speaking, and the way in which great moral issues often determine what we think of as great leadership, often from below – see my post on Xu Beihong, the artist of the Chines revolution here or Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement from below here and here or Churchill in the fight against the Nazis.

Another aspect of the core moral unity of conservatives and liberals or radicals, illustrated in Anti-War.Com, is the resistance to imperial crusades or aggressions (senseless murders at great cost, nothing like self-defense individually or as a country). Comehome USA has published a collection of writings across a broad political spectrum motivated by a fundamental moral insight into the wrongs of aggression and colonial (or neocolonial) dominion. The moral judgments here are not difficult or controversial. Aggression – mass murder – is wrong because murder is wrong (the counterargument, often a racist one, suggests some lives are not really human…). The book includes an historical aspect (that Lincoln and Thoreau opposed the aggression against Mexico in 1846-48, that the Anti-imperialist League opposed the aggression and genocide in the Philippines in 1898, that “isolationism” had in it a justifiable element of resisting racist occupations for instance in Central and Latin America - cf. General Smedley Butler - while “interventionism,” justified by American efforts against Hitler, has often been an excuse for atrocities. Now some isolationists were "small town" bigots, and racism is a potentially explosive issue undermining this common opposition to (what are, in fact, racist) crusades. But during the Cold War and today, interventionism is a reflection or and urging on of the militarism which now possesses America (the some 1280 military bases abroad; the huge privatized armies; in yesterday's news, the bragging that only the US has the bunker busters to conduct effectively aggression against Iran; increasing use of drones against countries with which "the US is not at war"; and the like.

Standard histories of the Cold War celebrate interventionists without argument - even though what was true about Nazism was not otherwise true and expansion became, against the Soviets, a key for America to dominate much of the globe (recall, for instance, Clinton's apology for the mass murders in Latin and Central America by regimes sustained and armed by the United States government). See Paul Buhle, Bill Kauffman, George O'Neill, Jr. and Kevin Zeese, eds, ComehomeAmerica.US as well as here for the website.

The next day, Deirdre McCloskey, a lively libertarian economist, came to speak at my school. As she is a former Marxist and still an anti-racist as well as a libertarian, her views are much more quirky and interesting than most – she often sees morally cross-cutting points - and rather strikingly, an improvement, in some major respects, on Ron Paul.

Deirdre makes the local or proximate point that nobody who claims to be able to figure the complexities of a market economy can make herself rich ("If you are so smart, how come you are not rich" is the title of her new book). Climatologists can predict the weather two weeks out; speculators on Wall Street, and economists, as we saw in the financial collapse, have little clue.

Her thinking, however, also rests on a misguided paradigm in which values are mere preferences (see here, here, and here on the errors in the epistemological concept of value freedom). That paradigm denies, without argument, morally significant cases and thus, skews any account. For instance, McClintock criticized Obama for trying to further a green economy as opposed to relying on the destructiveness of oil. And she attacked the minimum wage (emulators of Ron Paul seek out becoming unreconstructed Scrooges in domestic politics, a really unlovely and for a former radical, sad thing). The reasoning for this has a classical conservative form – supposedly, the consequences of seemingly decent policies will be worse for those who are supposed to be helped (cf. Albert Hirschman’s shrewd observations on the form and weaknesses in conservative rhetoric). In opposing a minimum wage, conservatives depict themselves as really concerned with the poor, more so than “liberals": more will get jobs. (Note again the underlying objectivity of the moral judgment that it is good people find work and be fed). Without organizing from below, a social floor or legal minimum and government action to preserve it, there is no limit to which the market will not push degradation (consider Bayer Aspirin at the concentration camps, slavery and the like).** Were conservatives to give their wealth to the poor or to radical causes, perhaps such words would sound, despite a social science veneer, less tinny…

I asked a question distinguishing genuine moral issues (a substratum or core underlying feature of intelligent social science or at least sound argument) from the mistaken rhetoric that everything is a preference. Starting with the struggle for abolition of slavery at the time of the American Revolution, the abolitionist movement internationally and the Civil War and civil rights, wasn’t it struggle from below and some legal acts that made some difference in decency over centuries here?

McCloskey ignored the point about democratic struggles from below except by implication, but spoke forcefully for the Civil Rights Act. In addition, she criticized herself for cowardice for not going on freedom rides to South Carolina (I said briefly she was being too hard on herself – but having been to Chestertown, Maryland on a freedom ride, and learned of police-led mob violence the week before, attacking a picket line in front of Woolworth’s, I didn’t go on Freedom Summer in the deep South as Andrew Goodman, my childhood friend, fighting for equality, did. He and James Cheney and Michael Schwerner were murdered by a mob led by the sheriff in Philadelphia Mississippi, see here and here ). The spirit of Deirdre’s self-criticism I agree with.

In addition, Deirdre’s point – that laws are necessary to undergird freedom – is right against Ron and Rand Paul, whose view that civil rights legislation is “government interference” is bizarrely racist. Deirdre's thought is just an extension of a well stated libertarian argument that the laws of civil society permit each person to seek her good as she sees fit, and change her mind about it, so long as she does not harm others. See Michael Oakeshott, On Human Conduct, essay 3 on civil association or civitas). American slavery and segregation is plainly inconsistent with this. That argument against racism is true (there are no putative human differences which could undergird such treatment) and a core moral standard– in this respect, nonpartisan – of liberalism and radicalism as well.

Deirdre also said, liking Ron Paul, that it was very important to reelect Obama, precisely to defeat the racists (meaning the Tea Party, and the Republicans who paint this centrist or moderate within mainstream - corporate - American politics as “other,” “European” in Romney’s bizarre fantasy, lacking a birth certificate in the wonder-world of his new supporter Trump, and the like). The first black President deserves, she said, again, in some difficult or complex sense, a second term. One sense of “deserves” here – it is very important for America, the land which overcame slavery and segregation, including the murder of Martin Luther King 40 years before Barack was elected, to elect him to a second term rather than sink back into anti-democratic and racist baseness. This is Mitt Romney striving to be the “white candidate” as Gingrich and Santorum and in the wings, Palin also exemplify…. And here Ron Raul's history of racism means that he cannot exempt itself, even though he is better than the Obama administration on decriminalizing marijuana and on the prison system, from this company.*** See here and here.

In arguing that a green economy given the threat of climate change is not a “preference,” I mentioned a decent thing the American military does. As Obama had said in the State of the Union and my 16 year old son had heard at a Bioneers conference in San Francisco last fall from Amory Lovens (he invents for the Pentagon and has an institute in Aspen), the government is fostering green energy even while Obama also shifts, in a foul political wind, back and forth between “clean coal,” an oxymoron, and nuclear, at least until Fukushima – see the Japanese demonstrations reported below. But Deirdre then outflanked me entirely on behalf of intelligence, and decency (amusingly, also to the left) . “If you really want to go green," she said, "cancel military spending and bases abroad.” This bit of ju-jitsu – a brilliant response in a debate – rests entirely on the moral force of what she was saying (moral objectivity or moral realism in the idiom of my Democratic Individuality). And in this context, she rightly praised Ron Paul, whose views about drones and mine are exactly the same: consider such missiles being fired by a late 21st century Saudi-China into Montana, Idaho and Texas: how would we feel about the powers that did and a collobarative government that enabled it? See here. It was striking that as an anti-racist as well as an anti-imperialist, despite opposing the minimum wage (none of us escape foolishness entirely), she weighed up likely electoral politics and came down for Obama (she means if Ron Paul has a third party candidacy as well).

In contrast, my emphasis is on Occupy and what has made Obama be Obama (a President turning again into a decent candidate). It is the international movement from below, starting with Arab Spring, which is generating comparatively hopeful possibilities and which might make of lesser evils something better (in pushing for green energy and trying to reverse the settlements in the Occupied Territories and deescalate American aggressions, Obama had – perhaps still has – the possibility of dong something better, parallel to FDR – rather than being a lesser evil. Yet in confirming and honing the police state and aggression by drone, he also extends evil and is no lesser…FDR, too, relied on the racist South in the Democratic Party, refused to sign anti-lynching legislation in 1938, and was formally "neutral" about the Civil War in Spain but actually harassed participants in the Abraham Lincoln brigade, who were eventually dubbed, by the House Un-american Activities Committee "premature anti-fascists," while turning a blind eye to General Motors's and Ford's provision of tanks to Hitler and Franco). Occupy needs to go much further, here and internationally.

Deirdre said nothing about Occupy (this paralleled the point about anti-racist movements from below with which I began, though she did identify with the civil rights movement and it would be interesting to discuss this further…).

In addition, against the current elite emphasis on “skills” teaching and narrow job training, McClintock also holds out for the value of teaching (seeking the truth). Seemingly ironically for a libertarian, She has joined the union at the University of Illinois precisely because only collective action will fight for the moral good of such truth-seeking against what can fairly be named the emptiness of rich trustees and the Scott Walkers/Mitch Daniels/Koch brothers of this world…(Brian Leiter has a category on his blog called “the less they know, the less they know it” and that caption certainly illustrates this contrast).

Interestingly, Deirdre’s own political stands are often guided by seeing deeply what is right (that the arguments for slavery are all false, or that what a university is is not something determined simply by a market, and if reduced to an ideology of “free” markets, becomes odious). Hence, this libertarian is also a union member…

As an economic historian, Deirdre’s teaching is informed by knowing something about history and the thought that each of us has to learn the skill of finding out what is true about important issues in life – at least how not to get taken in, as in her new book. What follows from this is that some important things one learns are morally true – for instance, there has never been a mass movement among former slaves to reestablish the “happiness” of the plantation – see a former slave’s comments here (h/t Hazem Salem) - even if such insights sometimes differ sharply from what is thought in powerful circles around here. See also my Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence (University of Chicago press, publication date: March 19, 2012). She conceives this as a genuine usefulness to students of experienced scholars in mapping out what people need to study, as compared to novices and the ignorant.

This is true, but I am more an anarchist or thoroughgoing libertarian in this respect than she is. The role of a teacher is, I think, to suggest a curriculum in the light of who each student is, to get each to pursue her own path. As one example, in a larger seminar, say 20, it is to invite each student to connect with the subject matter in her own way, finding something to engage with in it, and potentially have a conversation, if people raise questions or alternate topics, about how to order the course, or the topics to pursue in depth, and more rarely, an agreement about a new ordering of the course*****. The broad conception is part of what I mean by Democratic Individuality in my book of that title.

A teacher, as at the Open School where my youngest son goes, is a kind of advisor or mentor in this process, a course (or a course of study) a conversation in which each may learn form others. As my posts on Plato indicate – see, for instance, here - I learn a lot from energized students finding their own way into the material (and of course, interlocutors on this blog, for instance Peter Minowitz who recommended Eva Brann’s The Music of the Republic which helped me see that “going down” for Plato, not just for Socrates, was to resist tyranny. See here, here, and here.).

Having been a Marxist and anti-racist, Deirdre puts some insights of libertarianism in a wonderfully sharp way. Radicals, she says, recognize the dangers of the state and the police. They shouldn’t look to the state to do good things.

She draws, however, at least for the sake of presentation, the false conclusion that corporations and banks are better than the state. They often aren’t. As she says, they often use the state (as in the case of the would-be hand-puppet Scott Walker who gave an interview to a false Charles Koch which was widely publicized on the web during Madison, and who now is receiving the largesse of the Koch brothers to fight a mass movement for recall). Deirdre's defense of the Civil Rights Act shows that she, starting from moral insight and reasoning about how to offer an argument, has thought her position through in a way that the Pauls and many of their followers, let alone standard anti-unionists like the Koch brothers and Scott Paul, Mitch Daniels, Rick Snyder John Kasich and the like, have not.

McCloskey is also an amusing and sometimes powerful speaker – willing to take things on in a way which challenges, not just supports current "free" market ideology (i.e., the claim that an “unfettered” market in slavery or child labor or zyklon B promotes “freedom”) – is unusual and admirable, a breath of fresh air in an academia where participants often, of their own accord, take the edge off things, and is much less, intellectually, interesting.

Published on Saturday, February 11, 2012 by Common Dreams
Thousands March Against Nuclear Power in Japan

- Common Dreams staff
Thousands of people are demonstrating today in Japan against nuclear power.

The Associated Press reports that people are worried about the restarting of reactors that had stopped since the Fukushima disaster.

Agence France-Presse reports on the protesters:

Kenzaburo Oe, the 1994 Nobel prize winner for literature, told a central rally at Yoyogi Park, "Radioactive waste from nuclear power plants will be borne by generations to come."

"This must not be condoned by human beings. It is against ethics," the 77-year-old novelist said.

Japanese actor Taro Yamamoto, who has allegedly lost acting opportunities for his anti-nuclear advocacy, told the rally: "Our country will cease to exist if there is another big earthquake."

"To prevent our country from ceasing to exist, we shall not allow nuclear plants to be reactivated."

* * *

The Japan Times adds that a group of anti-nuclear activists has been pushing for a referendum to abolish nuclear reactors in Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s service area:

The group started collecting signatures from Tokyo residents Dec. 10 to hold a vote on abolishing nuclear reactors in Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s service area.

The campaign ended Thursday, and the group announced it had collected about 250,000 signatures — more than enough to ask the governor to submit an ordinance to the metropolitan assembly for a plebiscite on nuclear energy.

But a majority of assembly members must vote in favor of the proposal in order for a referendum to be held, and Nakamura said the group plans to lobby each one individually.

"I think that assembly members can't make entirely independent decisions because they have to vote in line with the policies of their political parties. So we must press each member to find out their own opinion, and lobbying them will be crucial," she said.

Her group plans to submit the signatures to the electoral council in each municipality in Tokyo for verification, and if the number of valid signatures exceeds the legally required minimum, the group will ask Ishihara to submit an referendum ordinance to the metropolitan assembly.

"A plebiscite is a way for all citizens to express their opinions on an equal footing, regardless of their beliefs. . . . I believe that's very important," Nakamura said.

The group has also been collecting signatures in the city of Osaka to hold a referendum on atomic energy in Kansai Electric Power Co.'s service area, and says it now has enough to ask Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto to submit a plebiscite ordinance to the municipal assembly Monday.

* * *

Brendan Barrett writes in Al Jazeera that public support for renewable energy in Japan is strong:

The type of Japan that emerges from the rubble of Fukushima will also depend on the energy policies embraced by Japan's leaders. Prior to the events of March 11, Japan had plans to construct nine new nuclear power plants by 2020 and at least 14 by 2030. Nuclear power supplies about 25 per cent of Japan's energy, with renewables accounting for around ten per cent. But after the disaster, Prime Minister Naoto Kan advocated phasing out nuclear energy, with an aggressive push for renewables. A poll in June 2011 by the Asahi newspaper found that 74 per cent of the public was in favour of abolishing nuclear power after a phase-out period.

But amid growing criticism of his handling of the crisis - and questions over his new energy strategy - Kan resigned in August.

The building of new nuclear power plants remains on hold, but Kan's successor, Yoshihiko Noda, has backed away from a rapid shift away from nuclear power. Vested interests, including the ten regional electricity providers and the companies that design the plants - Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi - continue to advocate for nuclear power. Officials in the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry have consistently argued that "nuclear power is essential" because "renewable energy alone isn't sufficient".

Yet public support remains strong for renewable energy. Transforming Japan's energy policy is an uphill, but not unwinnable battle, leading advocates insist. The Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, set up by the prominent business leader, Masayoshi Son, argues that Japan can have 60 per cent renewable energy by 2030. Tetsunari Iida, executive director at the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, has called for a 100 per cent shift to renewables by the middle of the century. Iida argues in a recent paper that Japan is experiencing its third historic reset with the Tohoku-Kanto triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident - the first reset was the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and the second was the end of World War II.

*This idea is ambiguous. The serious justification of it is to avoid bias. But to avoid bias is a derivative principle from the goal or moral value of seeking the truth. And to be value-neutral about truth, as say “objective” American newspaper reporting affects to be, is to tolerate error, ideology and even, to have no principled or intelligent objection to plagiarism. Put that way, the notion of value-freedom is incoherent or self-refuting – there is no more reason to think that the doctrine itself is true than that it is a lie…

**Marx makes a parallel point about the length of the working day and child labor in ch. 10 of Capital, volume 1.

***A large part of those incarcerated , black, Chicano and poor white, have been arrested for “possession” of marijuana. In the expansion of the American prison/industrial complex from 300,000 incarcerated to 2.3 million - 25% of the world's prisoners - drug offenses have accounted for most of the change (and possession of marijuana 4/5...See Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow). The Obama administration has recently been enforcing laws against marijuana more sharply and Andrew Sullivan has rightly called for protest among Obama supporters – he is one – and others against this.

****All markets are governed by laws. A sweeping attack on government for “interfering” in markets is an incoherent version of the plausible thought that not all laws are harmful but that some are. That, of course, is sometimes true (segregation laws for example). Properly reformulated, such a claim might say that any goods that come from the “free” market are derivative from laws which preserve individual freedom. “Minimum” government is not the absence of government.

*****In a class on Contemporary Political Thought, Hazem Salem once suggested that I should simply teach them Being and Time which was complicated and which he and other students would not learn to understand in other classes. The seminar agreed on this. Since I hadn’t read Being and Time carefully since I was a junior in college, I had to do a lot of serious study quickly (something of a diversion from what I had been planning to do). But I discovered that Being toward death (Sein zum Tode) was already – when "authentic" and expressing the "destiny" (Schicksal) of one’s generation – dying for the fatherland. Hazem read deeply and further in the book than I and discovered the section on historicity as the center of Heidegger’s Nazism in that book. I have since fully unpacked that argument as an argument for fascism, and very likely, Nazism (his wife Elfride agitated for the Nazis from the early 1920s - see Emmanuel Faye, Heidegger: the Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy and here - since the Weimar Republic fired professors who proclaimed for Nazism – here is one thing Strauss really meant, given his own politics and his influence on Schmitt, his reverence for Heidegger – by Persecution and the Art of Writing. When students are really excited to do something, I often learn a lot from them. A good seminar or class is thus a common enterprise in seeking the truth in which a teacher plays an important role as counselor or advisor about the materials, given the students’ concerns.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The question about justice and the threshhold of mortality

What Plato expected his long-term students to attend to was the understructure of or action in the Republic and the light it casts on the overt discussion. See "Four ways through the Republic’s woods" here. For instance, book 1 ends with Socrates’s suggesting that he had been distracted by particular answers to the question what is Previewjustice, that he had hungrily, rapidly engaged with each, but had articulated no satisfactory definition.

“Then consider your entertainment complete, Socrates, on this feast day of Bendis.” (Thrasymachus)

“You are the one who provided the feast, Thrasymachus, after you ceased to be angry with me and began to speak gently. Nevertheless - and through no fault of yours – I have not dined well. It strikes me that I have been like a glutton, snatching at one dish after another and eating in such haste that I had no time to savor the food. I am afraid this is the way I have gone about our inquiry. We had not finished defining justice when I was off to examine whether it was the same as wisdom and virtue or ignorance and vice. Then I was unable to resist pursuing another line of inquiry into the comparative profitability of justice and injustice. So I must confess that the outcome of the discussion is that I know nothing. After all, if justice still remains undefined, I can hardly know whether it is in fact a virtue or a vice. Nor can I know whether the just man is in fact happy or miserable.” (354a-b)

On one level, this is a signal to students that they must rethink the previous arguments, ask what they have learned about justice (why the previous definitions, actually articulating the injustice of what is, are wrong) and yet notice that they have not yet achieved a definition or vision of justice. Thus, Socrates says that he knows nothing…

But on another level, the action of book 1 reveals that Socrates’s very posing of the question of justice escapes the trammels of democratic or pseudo-democratic religiosity and injustice. That action reveals the seriousness of Socrates’s quest for justice as well as motivating the satire which is involved in the city in speech, the city of the guardians, an armed or soldier's ideal city, Glaucon’s city. See here.

For instance, I suggested in "The Republic’s amusing answer to the Athenian charges: clean up the gods!" here, that the entire discussion of censorship of poetry is a send-up of the Athenian charge of blasphemy against Socrates. Plato is seeking to show how constricted and bizarre the interpretation of Greek culture would have to be – cutting away much of Homer – for one never to have had a dark thought about the gods and the underworld, of the nearing of mortality, and thus, never, in this respect, to “corrupt the youth.” I have also suggested that the initial scene, one of the arrest of Socrates by Polemarchus’s slave and the "many," in Polemarchus's words, threatening to beat him up as he tries to ascend again to Athens from the Pireaus, prefigures the trial. In that context, one should emphasize that Glaucon alone speaks for the two of them and agrees to stay. Socrates has come down from Athens with Glaucon, and stays because of an unstated concern for/connection to him.

“Well, you are going to have to choose between staying here peacefully and fighting us if you try to get away.” [Polemarchus]

“How about a third choice in which we persuade you that you ought to let us go?” [a foreshadowing of Socrates’s speech at the trial]

“But could you persuade us if we don’t listen?”

“Obviously not,” said Glaucon. (327e)

And after Adeimantus and Polemarchus urge them to stay for the torch race, Glaucon says:

“It looks like we had better change our minds, Socrates.”

“Well, if you say so, Glaucon, I suppose we must.” (328b)

On one level, this is perhaps homoerotic interest or affection on Socrates’s part. Yet one should note that unlike Meno, the Republic does not present Glaucon, whose name means shining like the gray sheen of the sea, as a beautiful boy. Unlike Meno, Glaucon does not coquet with Socrates. On a deeper level, however, Socrates is concerned to prevent Glaucon, Plato’s brother, son of Ariston whose name means the best, and a military leader/hero in the battle of Megara, from becoming a tyrant. Socrates “goes down” to the democracy in the Piraeus to save the democracy from tyranny. Kateben – Went down - is the first word of the Republic. See here, here and here.

That is the main action of the dialogue. Further, Socrates’s initial descent with Glaucon, and staying with him through the arrest and dialogue (“trial”) is to head off tyranny. Thus, the point of going down is already adumbrated in the initial pages of the first book.

I also have emphasized that the initial procession – pompe (the English phrase "pomp and circumstance" derives from it) - of Thracians and Athenians for Bendis, the Thracian moon-goddess, in the Pireaus, shows how the Athenian democrats were hungering after other gods. It was a novel celebration, a Bendideia mirroring, in form if not extent, the great celebrations, the yearly Panathenaia and the quadrennial great Panathenaia. But for the democrats then to try Socrates for disbelieving in the Athenian gods is, Plato’s action suggests, remarkably ironic. The fact of these processions themselves hints that the trial and condemnation of Socrates are unjust. And they give a particular aspect to this injustice: that Socrates, in fact, goes down and stays, as the whole course of the dialogue reveals, to prevent Glaucon from becoming a tyrant rather than to realize philosopher tyranny. For the city in speech is, once again, the city of guardians, a military city, Glaucon's city, a satire in large part, and not the city of philosophy. See here. Call this a first anti-Strauss or anti-Heidegger thesis on the meaning of being a philosopher king, a dissident protector and perhaps improver (making a space for toleration of philosophy and dissidence) of what is good in democracy and not a (counselor to a) tyrant. See here and here.

But the Republic also awakens the question about the arrest and trial, and thus about Athenian democracy: what is justice?* It is hardly simply a matter of law. Socrates breaks an unjust law by questioning, and accepts the punishment - death – thus modeling what would later be called civil disobedience. It thus worth taking in the exact setting in which the question: what is justice? is posed by Socrates. Here, he is not carried along – acquiescing by silence in or somewhat regretfully echoing, Glaucon’s assents. For Socrates does not bow to force – the Athenians can kill him or beat him but he won’t be silent. His silence here is because he wants to talk with Glaucon. But with Cephalus, Socrates allows no pretence that he is a court jester, present to entertain a dying old man. Cephalus is self-concerned, blind to Socrates and dead to philosophy except as a matter of obtuse use for his own purposes; he is no longer strong enough to climb to Athens. Instead, Socrates speaks directly and changes what the conversation is about. He asks the question which propels the dialogue as a new kind of Platonic apology – not the same as the one offered at his trial, in the action of the dialogue, a convincing of Glaucon not to become a tyrant and thus, a preservation of democracy - for Socrates.

Thus, Cephalus gives a flowery speech, invoking Pindar on hope. about how an old man will have “dark forebodings” about death, but be spared by virtue (arête) and particularly wealth (it is on this point that Socrates’s questioning – aren’t you just trying to buy favor from the gods? – will drive Cephalus out):

“This is the reward of virtue, and the chief value of wealth which is to strengthen virtue – if not in every man, then in the good man. Money makes it easier for a man to shun cheating and fraud. Money enables him to pay his debts, so that he need not fear the next world because of what he owes to gods or men in this one…” (330d-331b)

Socrates responds with ironic, seeming praise:

“You have nobly praised both honesty and honor as essential virtues in the good man. But are these the same as justice itself?” ( 331b-c)

This is the line on which the dialogue shifts, assumes its powerful character. It is the torch which the riders - the interlocutors - will pass from hand to hand.

“To tell the truth and pay one’s debts – are these invariably equivalent to just behavior?”

Cephalus, as I have emphasized previously, is a metic (an immigrant, not a citizen) and an arms trader. He had accrued enough money to fund the democratic movement, at least through his son Polemarchus who became a leader of the democrats- the name Polemarchus means war leader - and is initially depicted as a fairly dimwitted although naively interested in hearing Socrates – bully.**

Cephalus means the brain or head (the English terms cephalic index or encephalitis come from this root). When Socrates disturbs him with a question, he passes the argument on to his son, his descendant and heir, just as the horse riders at the night festival on the feast-day of Bendis, pass a torch (328a). As my friend Gregory Nagy indicates, studying Plato (Hipparkhus, Timaeus and Critias), in the Panathenaia, the great celebration in Athens, rhapsodoi (rhapsodes) engaged in “relays” in contests singing the Iliad and the Odyssey all the way through (Gregory Nagy, Plato’s Rhapsody and Homer’s Music: the Poetics of the Panathenaic Festival in Classical Athens, ch. 1-2). Stunningly erudite about Indo-European languages, Nagy's writings reveal the dark anthropologicsl roots of the relation of divinities and heroes among the Achaeans, the fatedness or going down of the heroes. It is a little like looking into the mirror in Homer or Aesop of a very powerful, but less redemptive, Joseph Campbell...). So this torch race on horses in a special procession about Bendis - the Bendideia, a new holiday - mirroring in this way too the central ceremony of Athens, the Panathenaia.

More deeply, the metaphor of the torch race adumbrates philosophy in the Republic – views of (in)justice are passed from hand to hand, with increasing sophistication in the formulation of injustice – but the common processions adumbrate poetry – a parallel succession of singers as well. It is a contest (athla), the results or new arguments increasingly sophisticated, each striving for the lead. That vying in Plato underlines the contingency of philosophy. One formulates arguments for a day in a specific context – with particular interlocutors – but there may be a more sophisticated challenge, a better argument or with the rhapsodes, song – to be given or sung and thus, answered. Philosophy is a lifelong quest, as the story of Socrates or by analogy, perhaps all the singers who composed or varied "Homer" before the fires of the night, the villagers circling, illustrate. Philosophy is not simply an accomplishment (or set of accomplishments) but as it were, a series of way stations in a continuing ascent (and/or decline into death...). As in the Phaedo, sing or philosophize (there are the numbers Pythagoreans, find and the ideas, particularly of justice - see here) while it is light.

Socrates knows some things, for instance that his trial and death are unjust and thus, to pose the question of justice. Yet I know, says Socrates, that I know nothing…

In this metaphor of the contest – the relay – the relation or parallel of philosophy and Homer (poetry) is underlined. The torch of visions of (in)justice passes in the circle at Cephalus’s house from Cephalus to Polemarchus to Thrasymachus to Glaucon and Adeimantus. The golden ring of Gyges (the ring of power as Tolkien calls it) calls powerfully from the dark. See here. Here is, politically speaking, the cave, here is, for Socrates and all others, the issue of justice.

With the dying speaker, Cephalus, Plato again points, ironically, to the shadows of (pseudo-)Athenian religiosity. Cephalus is one of those successful immigrants who believes the religion of his new fatherland more fervently than its citizens who are off chasing after Bendis. It is, of course, also “the religion” for which the Athenians will force Socrates to drink the hemlock.

While others stray to a foreign, Thracian goddess, however, Cephalus, dying, makes sacrifices to the city's gods lavishly and piously. His money did not and could not get him admitted to the aristocracy - mere piety and wealth were not enough for that...Cephalus does not live near Ariston and the others up in Athens. His trade buys him only a high house down in the Piraeus. Though he fits out and provisions the conquering fleets, he is but a would-be Athenian, not one “of the best.” As his relation as an arms dealer is to actual warriors like Glaucon and Adeimantus, so his zealous, would-be Athenian religiosity is to Athenian religion - actually, chasing the new - as practiced by the democrats in the Piraeus. In this scene or action, there is something compromised about the very fealty to the gods of Athens which will be used, unjustly, to bring Socrates to his death.***

Plato's subtle contrast of artificial religiosities here, the democratic procession for Bendis and the metic’s zealous sacrifices, underlines the charge against Socrates of disbelieving the gods of Athens. The charge thus also motivates the dialogue, and thus Plato's send-up: what it would take, through the censorship of poetry, really, to clean up the gods?

Cephalus is on “the threshold of old age” the first phrase from Homer that appears in the Republic, without Homer’s name and without criticism. For Socrates asks Cephalus how the future looks to him being on that “threshold,” meaning near death. But in Homer, the phrase has none of the seeming serenity of Cephalus. All the good of life, in the city and in the family, has been stripped abruptly from the formerly powerful speaker Priam, King of Troy, now a grieving old man. For Priam has seen Achilles (who also goes down to die) avenge his lover Patroklus, who had been slain wearing Achilles’s armor - as Patroklus held up the Trojans who looked to burn the Acheaen ships - by Priam’s son Hector. By killing Hector and dragging his body after his chariot around the city.*** Achilles is, for a shining moment in war (there is also some real degradation or madness here), the most possessed of bie (might).

Hektor had been the great defender of Troy and of Priam, his father and king. The death of Hektor brings near both the death of the city of Troy and, also, of Achilles (this is the marvelous insight into Homer of Simone Weil in "The Iliad or the poem of force"; Homer has empathy for the fighters on both sides, does not in any obvious way take a side in the war…Her writing learns from this experience of mortality, catching up unexpectedly, as if from the underworld, with each proud, glory (kleos)-seeking warrior even in his moment of triumph, that humanity needs to put war behind us).

Priam says to Achilles in a speech which touches him, recalls to Achilles the grieving of his own father, Peleus: “now am I past the threshold of deadly old age.” (h/t Jim Cole) This song is worth taking in, allows each of them to win the race of raw tears and finally, some understanding:

"But Priam prayed his heart out to Achilles:
'Remember your own father, great godlike Achilles- 570
as old as I am, past the threshold of deadly old age!
No doubt the countrymen round about him plague him now,
with no one there to defend him, beat away disaster.
No one-but at least he hears you're still alive
and his old heart rejoices, hopes rising, day by day,
to see his beloved son come sailing home from Troy.
But l-dear god, my life so cursed by fate ...
I fathered hero sons in the wide realm of Troy
and now not a single one is left, I tell you.
Fifty sons I had when the sons of Achaea came, 580
nineteen born to me from a single mother's womb
and the rest by other women in the palace. Many,
most of them violent Ares cut the knees from under.
But one, one was left me, to guard my walls, my people the
one you killed the other day, defending his fatherland,
my Hector! It's all for him I've come to the ships now,
to win him back from you-I bring a priceless ransom.
Revere the gods, Achilles! Pity me in my own right,
remember your own father! I deserve more pity ...

I have endured what no one on earth has ever done before- 590
I put to my lips the hands of the man who killed my son.'

Those words stirred within Achilles a deep desire
to grieve for his own father. Taking the old man's hand
he gently moved him back. And overpowered by memory
both men gave way to grief. Priam wept freely
for man-killing Hector, throbbing, crouching
before Achilles' feet as Achilles wept himself,
now for his father, now for Patroclus once again,
and their sobbing rose and fell throughout the house.
Then, when brilliant Achilles had had his fill of tears 600
and the longing for it had left his mind and body,
he rose from his seat, raised the old man by the hand
and filled with pity now for his gray head and gray beard,
he spoke out winging words, flying straight to the heart:

'Poor man, how much you've borne-pain to break the spirit!
What daring brought you down to the ships, all alone,
to face the glance of the man who killed your sons,
so many fine brave boys? You have a heart of iron.
Come, please, sit down on this chair here ...
Let us put our griefs to rest in our own hearts, 610
rake them up no more, raw as we are with mourning.
What good's to be won from tears that chilI the spirit?
So the immortals spun our lives that we, we wretched men
live on to bear such torments--the gods live free of sorrows.
There are two great jars that stand on the floor of Zeus's halls
and hold his gifts, our miseries one, the other blessings.
When Zeus who loves the lightning mixes gifts for a man,
now he meets with misfortune, now good times in turn.
When Zeus dispenses gifts from the jar of sorrows only,
he makes a man an outcast - brutal, ravenous hunger 620
drives him down the face of the shining earth,
stalking far and wide, cursed by gods and men.
So with my father, Peleus. What glittering gifts
the gods rained down from the day that he was born!
He excelled all men in wealth and pride of place,
he lorded the Myrmidons, and mortal that he was,
they gave the man an immortal goddess for a wife.
Yes, but even on him the Father piled hardships,
no powerful race of princes born in his royal halls,
only a single son he fathered, doomed at birth, 630
cut off in the spring of life and
I. I give the man no care as he grows old
since here I sit in Troy. far from my fatherland,
a grief to you, a grief to all your children ...
And you too, old man, we hear you prospered once:
as far as Lesbos, Macar's kingdom, bounds to seaward,
Phrygia east and upland, the Hellespont vast and north that
entire realm, they say, you lorded over once,
you excelled all men, old king, in sons and wealth.
But then the gods of heaven brought this agony on you- 640
ceaseless battles round your walls, your armies slaughtered.
You must bear up now. Enough of endless tears,
the pain that breaks the spirit.
Grief for your son will do no good at all.
You will never bring him back to life sooner.
You must suffer something worse.'" (The Iliad, book 24, Fagles translation)

Like Homer in this question asked by Socrates, Achilles is not mentioned by name in the Republic. Yet his words about the meanest lord on earth and the underworld figure in book 3 and 7. In contrast, his competitor for the "best of the Achaeans," Odysseus figures by name. One might think, mistakenly, that Plato just meditates on one figure in the poem. In fact, this scene where Achilles responds humanly and compassionately to Priam, gives him the body of Hektor, though but adumbrated in the phrase "threshhold of old age" in book 1, is central in the Republic.

Mirroring Cephalus's definition, Achilles tells the truth and pays debts of honor. But here his compassion for Priam transforms love for Patroklos and vengeance. Here Priam kisses the fell hands that slew Hektor and Achilles recalls his own suffering father, who will not see again his son...Here is a sense of justice (and common humanity) which goes beyond and shatters Cephalus's vision (or his definition of justice as named by Socrates).

Socrates, as we know and is adumbrated in the first pages of the Republic, is also on that threshold, will drink the hemlock. It is the mortality of someone who has lived his own life and fought as a soldier. Socrates has not enacted the role and death of the warrior or hero, but heroically created the role and death of the questioner. For a philosopher, as a public figure under threat, there was no script until Socrates enacted it****...Here the issue of justice - of going beyond the arbitrariness of the gods (Apollo arbitrarily hates and eventually kills Achilles, but death is also, in this respect, unexplainable, contingent, arbitrary for most of us) - comes to the fore, For the story of Socrates - who raises the question of justice and stands against injustice - shines long after his death.

This first allusion to Homer’s poetry, by Socrates, is thus a very serious warning, one not to be indicted or censored, to students both about reading the idle references by Cephalus to Pindar and Sophocles with some care, and to distrust the proposed censorship of poetry in book 3 and 10. For if one does know the context in Homer, it appears that this allusion is a powerful motivation to flee war and fear the cycle of death for individuals and cities. It would thus seem to be a prime candidate for the censorship at the beginning of book 3. But no word of censorship refers to the image from Homer in book 1. See here. In a kind of parallel to Socrates, Achilles goes down to avenge his lover Patroklus, sacrificing his immortality for vengeance, and also, to do, in a hero's or warrior ethic, what is right. It is not clear that one could take away this going down from Homer and understand the similarity - going down to a considered or accepted death - and difference - to save philosophy or questioning in Athens and to save dissidence which is vital to the decency and intelligence of democracy, as distinct from Achilles' avenging his friend and the broader spiritual significance of his name and sacrifice - which enables the complex music of the Republic to respond to Homer as a counterpoint.***** No Homer about death, no Republic...

In addition, the very metaphors supposedly to be excised in book 3 – for instance, Achilles’ statement: better to be a slave to the meanest lord on earth than king of all the dead – glitteringly reoccur in book 7 to gesture at the hold of the light on the philosopher, the lack of desire, once ascended, to return to the cave. See here. So the argument for putative censorship is sandwiched between uses of poetry which are in the texture of the Republic. (See Nagy, Plato's Rhapsodies and Homer's Music, ch. 3).

And of course the Republic ends with Odysseus who finds the life of a private man. This is both a recapturing of Homer about how Odysseus frees himself from war and strategem, and also a satire of Odysseus as the clever and deceptive warrior who escapes to come home (in book 1, Socrates suggests that Odysseus’s grandfather, Autolycus, is a model of 'theft and perjury" linked to tyranny – lines 334a-b and 336a - and adumbrating the ring of Gyges in book 2. See here). As Nagy points out, the Iliad pits force (bie) of Achilles and the metis (strategems) of Odysseus. The strategems are better in war or for injustice than mere force (as American over-weaponization proves in Vietnam and Iraq, and now possibly Iran - see here). And yet, Achilles is straight (is what he seems to be and finally taking mercy on Priam, giving up to him Hektor's body, dies for it). And Odysseus is unstraight, and has the long journey home to burn out the terrors of war - Odysseus is the first exemplar of "shell shock" or post-traumatic stress disorder (the last is awful, dead jargon compared to the Iliad! - see Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America (h/t Matt Morgan). But Achilles finds Odysseus who is a tricky diplomat, who never says what is in his mind, infuriating, hateful, inimical (ekhthros). (Nagy, Best of the Achaeans, p. 52). In contrast, Achilles goes down (forfeits his own life) to do a kind of justice and reaches his understanding, grieving, with Priam.****** In a parallel and deeper answer to the question what is justice and with acceptance, without abandoning himself to grieving ("it is better to suffer injustice than ever to do it"), so does Socrates in the Apology and the Republic.

Plato, too, uses metis in his writing, as Strauss discerns. And in that respect, Plato's writing draws metaphorically on Odysseus and opens a path to the ring of Gyges (an appearance of decency on the outside, an inner philosophical-tyranny). But Strauss's view of Plato's artifice as protecting the tyrannical - in his case, a projected pure national socialist, not just German or carried out by Hitler - "philosophy" is mistaken. He reads Plato without the idea of justice (as merely tearing it down), without the vision against tyranny. He thus sees in the mirror of Plato only himself, Nietzsche and Heidegger...(see Altman, The German Stranger, ch. 6). On the contrary, as I have suggested, Plato hoped to engage aristocratic students in thinking about their initial zeal for tyranny, and as in the case of Glaucon, to head it off. Socrates and Plato encouraged philosophical democrats like Polemarchus, Chaerophon and Demosthenes. The latter went down to die for the democracy and against tyranny.

About Plato's strategy of argument, one might note, it is a danger of a little questioning (taking over and making grandiose one's initial political predisposition) to become a philosophical tyrant. Critias exemplifies this (and Socrates's ironic response to Critias's love for Euthydemus - perhaps Xenophon himself - and banning of philosophy, as revealed in Xenophon's Memorabilia, stands out against this. Xenophon suggests that the engagement of Critias and Alcibiades as young men with Socrates held them up from becoming mere tyrants. But of course, there remains the more subtle issue of Plato and Dionysius in Syracuse and the question of whether the regimes are to be a cycle - in which some kind of tyrant turns into a philosopher-king in the Republic, Xenophon's Simonides and Hiero in the Hiero. Xenophon hopes for a kind of common good through the wise poet Simonides counseling a beneficial tyrant; Plato and his student Dion hope for laws. Note that Plato differs markedly from Xenophon here as also in the account of Socrates's actual interest in philosophy, the ascent...

If one elides the soaring of philosophy - the idea of justice and the example of Socrates as a proto-civil disobedient as Strauss does, then a certain philosophical or scholarly sheen may become part of a deception and perhaps self-deception of a would-be (counselor to a) philosophical-tyrant. Even Heidegger, an inventive philosopher with poetic power and fascinated by the Republic and Plato, is a pseudo-Platonist without the ideas, notably the idea of justice...(see here on Heidegger's "Platonic" National Socialism).

Consider Socrates’s and the democrats's choice for going down to die to fight tyranny as a second Platonic or anti-Straussian and anti-Heideggerian thesis.

As happens with all earlier stories in Plato, Plato’s invocation of Odysseus’s choice in the other world goes beyond and transforms Odysseus’s fate in Homer. Allan Bloom misreads this passage in the Myth of Er (book 10) to suggest that Odysseus in life finally achieves wisdom and is Plato’s analogy in the underworld to Socrates and philosophy (see his interpretative essay to his translation of the Republic). He pits the wisdom of Socrates, a fully developed questioning, against the recovering warrior - the (spirit of) Odysseus - achieving the wisdom of a private man. But this is doubtful. Odysseus recovers from the cave of war through vast journeyings. He does not go down, but finds, at long last, a way out. He is clever and deceptive; though ironic, Socrates is amazingly straight…

And Socrates does not, in the Republic's exoteric image, hide in a dust storm behind a wall, does not emulate Odysseus. He does not, in Strauss's discovery, go to advise a potentially philosophical tyrant (a hinted-at message that the overt argument and action about Glaucon of the Republic refutes). Philosophical rule must at least give laws as in Plato's and Dion's hopes for Syracuse in the Seventh Letter, and in the image of Socrates must fight for a decent democracy (Socrates in the Apology) or for a democracy against tyranny (in the Republic). That is the point of philosopher-kingship or leadership from below from the small city of philosophers in contrast to Glaucon's city and philosopher-tyranny (a rule without laws, an imagined expulsion of everyone in the city over 10 - by whom?, a censorship of poetry and the odd breeding arrangements centered on leading warriors i.e. Glaucon...).

Strauss also sees Odysseus and the more elaborate Athenian stranger - he who does not drink the hemlock, who escapes Athens and tricks, with religion, his interlocutors to accept laws (the legislator as disbelieving believer as Altman also emphasizes – see The German Stranger, ch. 9) - as models. But he does not mean to overcome war. His aim, as with Schmitt (Remarks on the The Concept of the Political) and in support of the Nazis in 1933-34, was to encourage it, and he urges war to both Charles Percy - see his fierce memoranda to Percy urging taking out Cuba as a way to intimidate the Soviet Union after the Cuban missile crisis had nearly provoked nuclear war and in the dark conclusion to his "Restatement" in On Tyranny, inviting such war and destruction as an antidote to the "last men," a return to the human "spring" of the stone age here. His followers, the Straussian life of the fantasist and robotic neo-cons among Republicans (and neo-neo-cons among Democrats), are imperial authoritarians and seek conquest in the Middle East (whether Strauss would have supported the war in Iraq, a foolish attempt to remake the Middle East at gunpoint, is questionable. See here). Like many of those who worshipped Strauss as well as a reactionary but one who did not embrace fascism by name, Bloom has barely a clue of what Strauss thought.*******

Consider the parallel with Achilles and Socrates’s philosophical and personal choice about going down to die as a third Platonic or anti-Straussian and anti-Heideggerian thesis.

In this context, we might return to Cephalus. Also revealing artifice and artificiality, Cephalus, the metic, uses his money - gotten by profiting in a war in which he is no hero, has not gone down, has not sacrificed himself - to pay off the gods for his fear about mortality:

“I hadn’t seen [Cephalus] for a long time, and he seemed to me to have aged greatly. He sat on a cushioned chair and was wearing garlands, for he had been offering sacrifices in the courtyard. “ (328c)

This is the point of Socrates’s question which drives Cephalus out. On one level, their conversation is not philosophical. Philosophy starts with Polemarchus who is shown to take seriously and think about the arguments, to become a student. See here.

But in another way, the action of book 1 already tucks in a serious answer to the question of justice. Cephalus symbolizes the power of the democracy, its war-making piety, its immigrant letter-of-the-law devotion (Socrates is always shown as at least externally pious as in the Bendideia, “after we had made our devotions” to the goddess...(327a-b)********

Now Socrates’s piety is taken as merely external or exoteric by Strauss, but it is more complex or multifaceted than this (his daimon communicates with him about what he can, with divine or inner sanction, do; hence writing the poems, from Aesop’s stories in the Phaedo).*********

Strauss thinks that Socrates’ paying his debt to the city by going to his death is intended only to bring Athenian democracy into disrepute over the ages. Apology, 38c. But this is no thought on which any sane person would happily go to his death – see, in contrast, Strauss’s own rather beautiful letters in dying with Scholem in Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften, 3). Socrates has, as I have suggested, a different or intrinsic relation to the laws and one in which the piety is also real and ironic – see here).

Socrates proceeds justly in a democracy, asks questions, encourages virtue, tries to stem democratic tides which are murderous (“wills of all” in Rousseau’s elegant later phrase).

Thus, in the midst of two visions of Socrates’s persecution, the first the procession of democrats worshipping Bendis, moved often by fashion or the glimpse of fashion, the second the pious metic trying to purchase the favor of the Athenian gods, we have the arrest of Socrates and his being brought before those he is asked to entertain. To Cephalus, he is expected to jest, to the Athenians in the Apology, to grovel and beg for mercy. He does neither. In reality, the Athenians will put him to death for asking questions (and people like Cephalus, stung by his refusal to play the jester, by his pointed questions, will vote to convict him. Apology, 20e-24b). And the image will be set of a philosopher's courage, of a democracy wise enough not to persecute and murder those who question (what will at the time be glimpsed, in Socrates's speech, as a regime that could take four days for a trial instead of one; what will, some twenty one hundred years later, emerge as the equal basic rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of speech).

The two visions of persecution each have an implicit idea of justice – one embodied in the laws of Athens which they will tyrannically apply against Socrates. Their so-called justice is injustice. It is thus the question of justice which they bring to the fore, what Socrates sharply articulates in the context of injustice.

For the conviction of Socrates for asking questions strikes not only at philosophy but at the heart of democracy: democratic dissent. Socrates raises the profound question: what is justice? He does so in going down to the Pireaeus with Glaucon to convince him against tyranny even were he to possess the ring of Gyges…

The subsequent discussion in book 1, in which Polemarchus learns to do philosophy, takes some first steps on the quest, provides a signal to students about which way to go. But the setting of book 1 also provides students with a reminder – as forceful as could be – of the injustice of the trial and murder of Socrates as the context for the dialogue.

Socrates, of course, does not find the idea of justice at the end of book 1. But just considering this action, he highlights injustice and raises the question about justice in a startling, memorable and ultimately politically productive way.

*Hanna Pitkin has some interesting insights into Socrates' question in Wittgenstein and Justice.

**“Do you see how many of us there are?“ Polemarchus threatens (327c). And then after Adeimantus has been silenced by Socrates's irony, Polemarchus leaps in to urge him: "Don't refuse us. Do stay." (328 a-b)

***The first character in the myth of Er in book 10, one good by habit in a previous life, hastily grabs up the life of a tyrant. He then notices that it is fated to him to eat his own children, wails, and blames the weavers for his choice. One is meant to recall Cephalus here.

****Antigone's resistance to Creon's orders, in Sophocles's Antigone, also sets an example of standing up for decency.

*****In ch. 5 of Best of the Acheaens, Nagy does an etymology of the name of Achilles which includes akhos - grief - and laos - the warrior group, and means grief of the warriors (the grief which came to the Achaeans when Achilles's menis - anger - took him out of battle and he sulked while Hektor slayed heroes, burned the ships; the grief the Trojans suffered when Achilles slew Hektor, and, in turn, the Achaeans when Apollo, in the form of Paris, slew Achilles...).

******For a powerful discussion of grief or pain and its relation to warrior and godly anger (menis), see Nagy, Best of the Achaeans, ch. 4-5.

*******In a letter I found in the Strauss papers in Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, Bloom characterizes Strauss as a wise rabbi, wants to draw near him to imbibe some of his wisdom. There is less argument or thought in Bloom, who is a good translator and a gossip, than perhaps any other Straussian.

********That he makes his devotions to the goddess shows that he is pious and also that he does not exclusively believe in the gods of Athens. In this, he follows the Athenian democrats and their procession to Bendis as well as the plaque to the unknown god on the Acropolis. Athens was, as I figured out when I saw this plaque three years ago, vastly more tolerant than the trial, 5 years after its defeat in the Peloponnesian War, would indicate, and that many Anglo-American scholars, for example, Bloom, have taken it to be.

*********His last words are for Crito to sacrifice a rooster to Asclepius the god of health and medicine. Here he is pious in the sacrifice and yet at the last, memorably ironic – offering his payment to the god of health passing over into death. And yet the paying of debts to the gods with Socrates is not only ironic…