Saturday, September 29, 2012

Plato and the consensus-police

“Dhanajay” (Jagannathan) has provided a lively commentary on my last post here, and along with Blinn Combs, tries to defend the scholarly honor of Heidegger – that he understands the guardians not just as auxiliaries or warrior-athletes but most as philosophers – and, in effect, trash the political honor of Plato and perhaps even Socrates who seem, on this view, endorsers of proto-Nazi regimes of the “wise.” Dhanajay’s comments are here along with Blinn Combs’ and some of my responses. The tone of his comments is aggressive and demeaning, so I thought I would reprint my final comment and the whole sequence below.


I am very glad to see that you are no longer speaking in the voice of the “philosophy”- police (Blinn, too, often does this). The ambition to state what one takes to be the consensus view – with some cleverness and learning – does not lead to anything of much interest (and is hardly Socratic…).

Hilary is my old friend (politically as well as philosophically), and I and many others have learned a great deal from his work (see Democratic Individuality, chs. 1 and 4, for example). He has given me advice on what I write about Plato and Socrates, but is not a specialist in these areas though, of course, he knows Greek and has powerful insights. I cited him for one of these. Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism as what the guardians do is shockingly bad scholarship, Uwe Meisner thought and Hilary thinks. So do I. And that a vague sentence appealing to a text of Plato is the substance of his Nazism (“the original truth and greatness of National Socialism”) is horrifying and amusing.

To annex this to good Plato scholarship - and allude to Plato in this way aside from those who grew up with Nazism as Heidegger and Strauss did - is a mistake. For instance, nothing in Greek cities, including the supposed city in speech, has much resonance – some quasi-Spartan eugenics aside – with racist mass murder…

The Nazis circa 1943, and Heidegger as a then party-member, are not a poor approximation of Plato's city in speech (i.e. as "true national socialism").

Perhaps one wants to say of Heidegger with Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon, disarming Wilmer with his big heaters (guns) - "the cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter."

I mention the Meno in my essay(s) where Socrates questions a slave who un-forgets (roughly, Heidegger’s translation of aletheia) a theorem of Greek geometry. That doesn’t fit well with your view since the weak can learn as much as “the strong” through questioning. Nor does the surface conclusion of the Meno – that virtue, not being knowledge, can’t be taught - help your claims. For if this is right, the one navigator can’t be the one philosopher-ruler, pace your assertion (since knowledge has nothing to do with virtuous ruling), and if the claim is not fully right (i.e. Tiresias who is blind and yet can see the future and still can see even in Hades, and Socrates), one might want to be a bit less precipitous about feeling strong, philosophically speaking. In fact, that seems to be Socrates’s target in the Apology, that many, including sophists like Thrasymachus, think they know and do not…

For in the Apology which you cite on behalf of your view, Socrates says he is wise only in this: that he knows that he does not know (in a non-self-refuting way, that he knows examples of justice, but not the idea of justice, let alone what a just society looks like). This thought contradicts the city in speech (and your summary of the official views) point-blank. Since Plato was careful about argument – see book 1 of the Republic where Polemarchus, initially a democratic bully, begins to learn about reasoning and thus becomes a philosophical youth (as reported in the Phaedrus) – I would be careful about announcing that “the philosopher-king” in your sense is what Socrates is recommending in his defense at his trial (or in Plato’s rendition/thinking about the speech).

What Socrates appears to be defending is the importance of asking questions even at the cost of his life – and thus, trying to make or maintain a space for philosophy and also political dissent in a democracy (see his remarks about sentencing). If so, philosopher-kingship (in a small circle in this city of cities) would be about, sometimes, when it counts, taking leadership for what is good even at great sacrifice. So Gandhi in his translation of the Apology and King seem to me to have it right at least about Socrates – and the standard academic consensus and your version of it, earlier and now, seems to me mistaken.

Today, one reads Socrates "knowing" how a philosopher must be read, as those who have taught one, read him, often not devoting too much time, and not attending to what Plato thought about how his dialogues should be read or the order in which a student might want to read them or what a dialogue is or what Plato tried to teach his students in the Academy and long into the future. But in fact, the hidden writer of the dialogue often makes fun of or questions the “discussion leader” as you call them (Shakespeare is not Hamlet, Romeo or Juliet...) And Socrates, of course, didn’t write…(except for some poems alluded to in the Phaedo).

I appreciate the citations you (and Blinn) bring up. But far from solving the problem of what the Republic means about a philosopher king, they scratch the surface. Just who becomes, for instance, a philosopher-king? The Republic doesn’t say (it does hint this in the decline of regimes which do not complete a circle – kuklos - as I noted in the post, but you won’t allow this since that is precisely a hidden or not surface reading). And of course, you would never get to the further issue: should we take the powerful psychological and moral arguments against tyranny in the Republic more seriously as I do or the largely un-argued hidden pointing (Strauss, Heidegger)?

The Athenian Stranger in book 4 of the Laws shocks Klinias by suggesting a tyrant who can change things rapidly for good or ill (I think the line numbers are roughly 708-711 but am traveling now and don't have the book). Note that Socrates never recommends changing things for ill. One is meant to note that, inter alia, the Stranger is a Socrates who did not take the hemlock (See William Altman’s revelatory essay on “A Tale of Two Drinking-Parties,” those in the Phaedo and in book 1 of the Laws).

The consensus view is often not to read the Laws very much - and one might notice that, in contrast, Strauss pivots his interpretation of Plato on the Athenian Stranger (see his last book in 1973, The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws).

Xenophon in Hiero shows the poet Simonides, a wise man (note Polemarchus’ reliance on him taking over from his father in book 1 of the Republic and Socrates’s argument against this view), shaping the unhappy tyrant Hiero up to serve a common good. Strauss routinely refers to a tyrant who listens to a reasonable man being the best ruler, much better than elected ones (see On Tyranny, p. 27). So it is easy to read Plato – not Socrates – as saying this, and to then infer that Xenophon and Plato have the single view of their teacher. And then the Seventh Letter seems to fall into line as well. So then Heidegger would have the right view (and of course, Nazism might seem a variant…).

But there is no evidence that the historical Socrates held such a view, for instance in the Apology (so it makes a difference, for instance, that your brief invocation of the work is so far off). It could be that Gandhi and King are right about Socrates – prefiguring civil disobedience – and Plato is wrong, i.e. really often differs with or makes fun of Socrates.

But Plato seems to have a lot of affection for/admiration of Socrates and to have learned from his questioning and his example (Plato retreated from the market place to an invisible Academy because he did not want to meet the same fate). That he thought democracies often wrong – in Rousseau’s later terms, wills of all – and that ignorance which loudly asserts knowledge is bad, does not mean that he thought badly of Athens as a democracy sometimes tolerant of philosophy. Instead, he, like Socrates, wanted to make it more tolerant of philosophy. The latter view would make Plato (along with Socrates) someone who works, guided by a glimmer of the shining idea of justice, within the present, once again, a leader standing up occasionally, when needed, for the right, but not seeking to impose philosophical rule.

It would also suggest that Plato differed from Xenophon who didn’t like democracy much and plainly thought of advising tyrants i.e. Hiero, to become reasonable. It could even be that as a student of Socrates, Plato was writing a send-up of this idea in the Republic (in the Seventh Letter - I am aware of the controversy about it, but take it as genuine - Plato would experiment with advising Dionysius the younger and more hiddenly, his own student Dion, in Syracuse’s circumstances, and discover how difficult it was, stating that he, who knew most about legislation, would never write a book about laws...).

Socrates is charged by the Athenian “democrats” with defaming the gods. Imagine what it would take to clean up the gods in Athens, Plato’s Socrates seems to be saying in the Republic - complete censorship of myths as well as Homer. Imagine how we will produce guardians (even philosopher-guardians) – a little mathematics and all the same acts, all the same sentiments, all the believing in noble lies. Why that was just how Socrates developed, wasn’t it?

But of course, Plato’s Socrates’s account in the Republic about how philosophers develop suggests how easily they are corrupted in most societies, how close they may be to tyrants (tyrants are those who rule badly, without laws). And Socrates speaks in the Apology of his daimon which makes him avoid hubris/pride/seeking to be a god or have more than human status, and ask questions (his ignorance again). His daimon warns him when his questioning or argument is going astray, something one can learn from the Phaedrus where he initially mocks the god Eros, and the Symposium where he shows in the voice of Diotima that Eros is not a god, the child of Poros and Penia (resource and poverty), always swelling, as it were, with passion (or argument) and falling short, waxing and waning, and is like…Socrates.

But it is a Socrates or a philosopher who is seeking, who is not arrogant (Oh, I forgot, both these dialogues are on your proscribed list along with many others…).

Of course, the Phaedrus and Symposium show that Socrates does blaspheme a god, i.e. Eros. But Plato perhaps wishes to affirm Socrates’s questioning – to show that he does not go along with the consensus (even among the philosophers of Athens, so to speak), but certainly not to agree with their putting him to death for it (sneering at democracy is really for Straussians, though I should note, that the attitudes displayed here are not on balance better than those of the more sect-like acolytes of Leo).

One major implication of the Apology and the Crito is that the laws, in Athens, to become better, i.e. more just, need to be reformed (even the “laws” whom Socrates invokes speaking to Crito seek to distinguish themselves from the unjust sentence of men…). One would think that the law against disbelief in the Athenian gods as well as the law confining capital trial to a single day might be candidates.

So I take Plato to be mocking Xenophon (at least the Hiero). I don’t know if there is much chronology on this (see for example Gabriel Danzig's interesting but speculative article on "IntraSocratic Polemics" on the relation of the two Symposiums here) but Plato would have known of and probably heard and argued with Xenophon a bit, given their common teacher. And perhaps Aristotle disagrees here also with Plato, his teacher, in book 5 of the Politics where he seeks to promote wise tyranny, invoking Xenophon's Hiero at length, and in life, where Aristotle sided with Alexander against Athens and against Plato’s other student, Demosthenes who died as a defender of Athens at Alexander's order...

A note of 503b itself which speaks of philosophers becoming the most precise guardians and thus seeming to override or at least qualify the notion of auxiliaries as soldiers. Socrates here speaks daringly, but elliptically. It turns out that few (oligoi) have the temperaments to do this (very hard to find the relevant traits together).(503d) Glaucon, for example, is impulsive (hungry: where are the relishes?" he says earlier) and a potential tyrant. Steady, he is not. Philosophical, he is not.

Socrates speaks shortly thereafter of how the goal of the many is pleasure, though of others, knowledge (of some sort). (505b, c) This launches the discussion alluding to the idea of the good (ton agathon idea), something described only by metaphor (the sun in the noetic universe more grand than the visible sun in the physical universe; 508c).

But are there enough potential guardians who are philosophers, one might wonder? And who, even in this circle of discussants with Socrates, are candidates?

Given the presence of Socrates and with no attention to irony, a shadowy philosopher-king is imaginable. But a number of philosopher-guardians?

The text is also peppered with warnings about reading with caution, how little Socrates is revealing, perhaps can reveal, to the interlocutors at least in one session.

But when Socrates reaches toward the idea of the good, Glaucon gasps at an immense beauty and then, revealing himself, stammers of the good: surely you can't mean pleasure. (509a)

This reveals again Glaucon's impetuous striving, as a military figure, tempted by injustice (his resonant story of the ring of Gyges) toward tyranny; the guardians - down to: the biggest hero gets the most girls - are an echo of this, not of philosophy. The discussion with Socrates pacifies Glaucon, makes him listen, persuades him not to become a tyrant. He was Plato's brother and otherwise, unknown to history. So the element of philosophy - Socrates - in the dialogue with Glaucon may actually have done this, persuaded and thus saved him. But unlike Polemarchus, he does not appear in another dialogue.

Glaucon is no philosopher, the city in speech is not a philosophical city, and the dialogue is not - in any straightforward way - a "teaching" about how to order a good city (the qualifications on what the city in speech is, for instance, that it is discerning a kind of order in a city to find the order in a soul, no more, is already a warning to an attentive reader that all is not as it seems. The standard reading of the sentence is a sleepy reading, and Heidegger is sometimes better than this...).

Hush, says Socrates. No, pleasure is not the good...

I appreciate your and Blinn’s scholarship (and thanks for the work on the Protagoras). And Heidegger liked to think of himself (he apparently served as a medic and not at the front lines in World War I) and his students as soldiers, i.e. philosopher/guardians in your terms. The military service is of no philosophical or for that matter, political merit; Heidegger grew up as a reactionary and saw things as one; his philosophy and/or poetry is a metaphorical overlay on baseness. Alternately, he puffed himself up and harmed others at Freiburg and would happily have killed, though, remaining a Nazi party member on the home front, he mostly was still lucky enough to/managed to avoid this...

But as for your raising of eyebrows – including, appeal to particular and thus isolated sentences (in contrast, Heidegger's is deliberately a fleeting mention) and current scholarly consensus about what parts of texts are important - i.e. how particular sentences must be read - and which texts are important in your and his comments and the continuing undertone of scorn in yours, there are only the words of the sentence, i.e. no further argument or interpretation in context. In terms of writing as scholars - the appeal to consensus substituting for reading and thinking deeply, in effect a form of self-censorship - your effort is self-defeating.


The other comments on the previous post, including Dhanajay's and Blinn's and my earlier responses are below:

Matt said...

This is a nice and useful essay, though this bit:

"One imagines from the title that Strauss will discuss Tycho Brahe and Kepler – burned at the stake – and Galileo, threatened and forced to recant as well as the followers of Darwin..."

Seems to imply that Brahe or Kepler (or both) were burned at the stake. The cause of Brahe's death is disputed, (I guess that slow mercury poisoning is now a common idea, though a kidney infection was long thought to be the reason) and Kepler also died of illness. Kepler had some problems later in life, but they were as much or more political than religious. Neither, as far as I can tell, faced very serious persecution for their beliefs. Perhaps you meant Giordano Bruno? Anyway, it's a small point that's not central to the interesting essay, but it jumped out at me.

September 23, 2012 12:30 PM

September 23, 2012 12:53 PM

Dhananjay said...

I know nothing about Heidegger, so on that matter I shall fall silent. But this essay itself contains sloppy mistakes and esoteric interpretation.

First on this offhand remark: "Contra Aristotle's later argument for "natural" slavery (even Aristotle notes in book 1 of the Politics that nature makes many mistakes...), the Meno shows that humans are equal in having the capacity to question and learn, to find (some of) the truth."

It is customary for philosophers to bash Aristotle for his defense of both slavery and sexism in Politics I, but it behooves us to get the details right. The former prejudice is at least given some argument, and to Aristotle's credit, the argument for natural slavery is explicitly set against the custom of slavery as practiced in his time. All consistent with the wonderful demonstration with the slave-boy in the Meno. Indeed, by Aristotle's lights, we have no reason to suppose that de jure slaves, prisoners of war and their children, are natural slaves. The question who is a natural slave turns on the possession of autonomous reason, and since we too judge some people incompetent to live their lives independently due to mental deficits, the difference between us and Aristotle is certainly smaller than we'd like to think. He may of course have made bad empirical estimates of how common this state was, and his later remarks in Politics VII about the necessity of slaves even in the ideal city are troubling. The worst part of this offhand dismissal of Aristotle is that the claim about nature making mistakes is part of the argument against slavery as practiced in Greece in his time - it is meant to challenge the common assumption that from slavish parents come slavish children.


I follow little of the jagged discussion of "Heidegger's philosopher-king". The standard reading of the Republic in 'analytic' Anglo-American circles is the one that seems to be attributed here to Heidegger. It is also, contra Professors Gilbert and Putnam, the plain surface meaning of the text of the Republic. (On these points, see my second comment below.) Professor Gilbert does not give us either of the two most important texts relevant to this question from the Republic, but instead quotes rather arbitrarily from the Phaedrus and other dialogues, and makes interpretive assertions at least if not more controversial than that in the quoted passage of Heidegger. (Is it not standard scholarly practice to put such a quotation at the head of the essay, to allow readers to form their own opinion?) According to Professor Gilbert, "the proposal for a philosopher-king is largely a satire". This is not exactly the consensus position amongst Plato scholars. Nor is the claim that the Athenian Stranger of the Laws is an anti-Socrates likely to win widespread approval.

~Dhananjay Jagannathan

September 23, 2012 9:55 PM

Dhananjay said...

Here are those two quotations from the Republic (my translation).

(1) Rep. III, 414b1-6: "Isn't it then most truly correct to call these [the rulers] guardians (phylakas) in the fullest sense, against both the will of external enemies and the ability of dear ones at home to do wrong, and to call those young men whom we just now labelled guardians instead assistants [or 'auxiliaries', epikourous] and defenders of the decrees of the rulers."

(2) Rep. V, 473c11-d6: "Unless either philosophers come to take up rule in cities or those who are now called kings and lords come to take up philosophy genuinely and capably, that is, until political power and philosophy unite, while the many kinds of people who now go their way in one or the other occupation are forcibly kept from it, cities will obtain no relief from misfortune, Glaucon, nor in my view will humankind." (Cf. also the whole discussion at the beginning of Book VI of why the true philosopher is fit to rule.)

It seems perfectly reasonable to identify the philosopher-rulers with the (true) guardians, that is, the guardians of the laws and not merely the military class, who are only helper-guardians in the sense that they defend the decrees of the rulers, who themselves are tasked with preserving the constitution and especially the education system of kallipolis. What is described as a "shocking slip", then, seems to be little more than a reference to Republic 414b1-6.

There are of course intriguing differences in the views put forward in the Republic (main discussion leader: Socrates), the Statesman (the Eleatic Stranger), and the Laws (the Athenian Stranger), especially about the importance of the rule of law and its relation to embodied political expertise. But there are important continuities which also vindicate reading the views developed by the main discussion leader in each of these dialogues as harmonious with the behaviour and doctrine of the Socrates Plato depicts in the aporetic dialogues such as the Protagoras. (Note that I make no assumptions about the development or chronology of Plato's views.) These continuities include the ideas that knowledge is powerful and ignorance weak, that the true statesman or king would have technical knowledge, that no such people exist in cities as we know them, and that we must find a way to live as best we can without such knowledge while holding out hope that it comes our way. These ideas can be found in various forms in the Apology, the Crito, the Gorgias, the Protagoras, the Republic, the Statesman, and the Laws, i.e., all the importantly political works of Plato. Seeing this as the core of Plato's political vision does not require esoteric reading, either as Strauss or Heidegger practice it or as Professor Gilbert does.

~Dhananjay Jagannathan
September 23, 2012 9:56 PM

Blinn Combs said...

Hi Alan,

I'm having a very difficult time identifying precisely what you take the alluded slip to be. Is it the identification of philosophers and guardians? (One would hope not, given the strength and quantity of quotes of the type Dhananjay provides; 473c-d is usually taken as the central claim of the entire work).

Is it something else? I noticed that you have two different transcriptions of the Greek for "guardian." Putnam's "philakes" is a fairly gross error of transcription, but as such errors go, and especially considering that he's working from an English translation of Heidegger's work, it would be difficult to attribute it to Heidegger himself.

What am I missing?

September 24, 2012 4:44 AM

Alan Gilbert said...


I wasn't writing an essay on aristotle. But you are right that Aristotle is very critical of existing practices of bondage as I argue in detail in Democratic Individuality ch. 1. By the way, one of the three best cities in book 2 is Carthage, a barbarian city, so the common idea that Greeks may enslave barbarians conquered in war is placed in question.

September 24, 2012 7:56 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

On your second note, I am sure consensus among contemporary students of philosophy is often a good thing. But it is not yet an argument. And since you know nothing of Heidegger, you say, you obviously have a firm basis to comment (he worked on the Greeks for some 20 years, and his work is serious).

September 24, 2012 7:59 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

I cite a lot of posts, almost a book's worth, on these matters on my blog. You are under no obligation to pay any attention to them before commenting, but I note that your comment is not based on reading them and on an average rejection of deviation from a current scholarly norm.

On the substance, you are right that philosophers emerge seemingly from guardians though one might want to consider whether the education of a guardian to feel always the same emotions as others, have the same thoughts, even with preparation in mathematics, amounts to a likely philosophical education (it is not Socrates's story of his own, or of the role that an inner voice or guiding spirit, a daimon, plays in it.

But I mention here and in the citations the discussion with Polemarchos on friends and enemies and how Socrates overcomes this. And I then mention that Socrates at the beginning of book 2 suggests that philosophers are like dogs (or guardians) who know friends and don't bark, and bare their teeth at those they do not know. I detect some skepticism in Adeimantus's responses. But in any case, Plato, I think, means us to see that this argument is doubtful, based on book 1. The standard reading you refer to is I think that a philosopher-king rules over the guardians (since the guardians are full of misconceptions or myths like the one of the metals. The guardians are not yet philosophers...I explore the possibility that the guardians are an ideal version (or god) for Glaucon, Socrates's companion and the main interlocutor. And perhaps this is responsible for some of the satirical tone in much of the argument. My apologies that I did not meet your standards of scholarly rigor, and that Heidegger's unusual affirmation of a Platonic Nazism (I think again pseudo-Platonic), though you have not read him, does.

September 24, 2012 8:09 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

Sorry for typos. The last sentence should speak of Heidegger's unusual affirmation of a Platonic Nazsim - it is the one time that he does this, and until I studied Essence of Truth and some of the background in Heidegger, I had no idea that "the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism" was Platonic...

September 24, 2012 8:12 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

For any one who would like to follow this up, you can hit on the links in the blog, marked here, to access the relevant posts.

September 24, 2012 8:15 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

Oh, one other matter. Heidegger thought that the philosophers should set the rules for the leader, meaning Hitler. Was Hitler, the man of "beautiful hands," as Heidegger called him, plausibly a philosopher? And in what way does the stand-aside ruler of Heidegger's citation manage to be a philosopher? And what kinds of philosopher (examine Heidegger's own activity as a Nazi, in speeches, writings, and for a short cut in Faye's recent account?) serve Hitler? Perhaps this is all some reason to reconsider Heidegger's philosophy and, as he saw it, straightforward activism. But it is not Plato.

September 24, 2012 8:27 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

Matt, thank you. Good point (I was trying to clarify the difficulties in so-called exoteric writing in Heidegger and Strauss, and did not check this point.

September 24, 2012 8:32 AM

Dhananjay said...

I'll note that my comments were confined to Aristotelian and Platonic exegesis, things I do know a little about. The reason I mentioned briefly the present state of Plato scholarship was for readers who may not be familiar with it, partly because you seem to appeal to Professor Putnam's authority. In any event, it was not an argument ex consensu omnium. The theme of your essay is that Heidegger, normally a sensitive reader of Plato, here makes an extraordinary slip, intentionally, in service of his Nazi political views. If the putative slip is what I think it is - the identification of the philosopher-rulers as phylakes (φύλακες) - then it is no slip at all, but rather usage of Socrates' own preferred terminology, given Rep. III, 414b. If it is in service of Nazism, then it is using Plato in service of Nazism, whether fairly or unfairly to Plato's own broader political views. The usual non-esoteric reading of Plato's political philosophy reveals a hostility both to the mob rule that killed his teacher and to democracy in general, and seemingly mixed feelings about the value of the rule of law over the rule of even wise individuals, much as we find in the later chapters of Aristotle, Politics III. But in any case, these are matters of continued scholarly controversy, and maintaining that Heidegger is a shoddy classicist on the basis of the quotation you target is unsupportable. That is all I meant (and mean) to say.

~Dhananjay Jagannathan

September 24, 2012 10:37 AM

David said...

Hi Alan,

Thanks for the entry. One question: I'm a bit confused as to why, in discussing the origin of Strauss' esoteric reading of Plato and other ancient philosophers, you do not even mention his deep interest in medieval jewish philosophy, but focus instead on his interaction with Heidegger. No doubt Heidegger was influential for Strauss, but if you read, for instance, Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, which if I remember correctly Strauss discusses in the first chapter of Persecution and the Art of Writing, Maimonides just says that he has composed his work at a number of different levels for different sorts of readers. Why not think, then, given Strauss' extensive background in Medieval Jewish philosophy, that his esoteric reading of ancient philosophy stems primarily from his (in my view, quite reasonable) method of reading medieval jewish philosophy and not from his interaction with Heidegger?

September 24, 2012 8:05 PM

Blinn Combs said...

Just one quick point. Quite apart from the purposes to which Heidegger is putting his analysis of the Republic, he appears in the gloss only to be providing a synopsis of "the final section of book VI of the Republic." And by way of introducing that material, he simply reports the conclusion reached in the long preceding section: That "those who are to be established as guardians in the strictest sense must be philosophers" (Translating τοὺς ἀκριβεστάτους φύλακας φιλοσόφους δεῖ καθιστάναι. [503a]) And in fact, Heidegger's gloss is an almost verbatim restatement of this bit of text, allowing for his usual habit of over-translation: "the authentic guardians of human association in the unity of the polis must be those who philosophize." And read in the context of the surrounding paragraphs of this section of Book VI, which detail first the possibility of the ideal state, and then review the character traits of the rulers, Heidegger's remarks are just an apt--and by his standards, remarkably lucid--description of Socrates' procedure.

So it's very difficult to see how this could plausibly be taken to be "an incredible blunder" especially by a classicist.

September 25, 2012 12:45 PM

Blinn Combs said...

Correction: the quotation is from 6.503b, toward the middle. I'm currently without my OCT, so I'm uncertain of the precise line numbers.

September 25, 2012 2:44 PM

Alan Gilbert said...


You are right that Strauss also learned this from Maimonides. But I would pay attention to Strauss's descriptions of his encounters with Heidegger, who made Weber whom he had encountered look like an "orphan child" and of whom he said posthumously - and one writes more honestly he says "one foot in the grave" (a comment on a passage he found puzzlingly direct in the late Hobbes) - that he was the "one great thinker of our era" (maybe there will be another, in 2200, I seem to recall, in Malaysia...). The essay "Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism" is worth pursuing with great care in the context of Strauss's writings in the 1920s. In addition to my posts on it (linked in the essay), see William Altman, The German Stranger.

September 26, 2012 7:29 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

About the ancients (he had heard Heidegger analyzing Aristotle's Metaphysics at first), Heidegger was a primary, perhaps the primary guide.

But Strauss disguised his relationship to Heidegger in America - told admiring students like Catherine Zuckert not to read him (hardly philosophical or Socratic advice...). So the reference to Maimonides may be what he means to tell us about how he got into this, or it may be a feint (exoteric) to put off sleepy readers. Since Strauss is not good at argument (he is, however, a very serious scholar), his discussions and extreme care about writing (one must read him literally and not bring a bevy of obvious allusions - i.e. a German Jew in America can't, just can't admire Hitler...), it is probably true that much of what he says dissolves under examination. Dissolves: is self-contradictory or once one knows the politics, uninteresting except as a statement of preference, not as political philosophy or worked out argument.

September 26, 2012 6:36 PM

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Forum on the election for the Unitarian Church in Boulder October 28, 2012

Henry Kroll, the Unitarian Universalist Minister in Boulder, sent around this announcement for a forum on the Sunday a week and a half before the election:

"UUCB Forum: Dr. Alan Gilbert

UUCB Public Forum sponsored by the Forum Planning Committee of the UUCB Social Justice Council is scheduled for Sunday October 28.! Doors Open at 6:30.! Admission Free and

Open to All. Program starts at 7:00 PM.

Speaker:! Dr. Alan Gilbert, Professor Korbel Graduate School of International Studies

Topic:!! With the US Presidential Campaigns well underway, Dr. Gilbert will help us better understand the international settings and the fundamental alternatives and visions under girding the coming national election. [For better or worse, one of Gilbert's students at DU (Univ. of Denver) was Ms. Condelezza Rice - long before she became US Secretary of State.] Professor Gilbert is an engaged anti-war and anti-racist activist who writes extensively on how to best make the promise of democracy real for ordinary Americans and others around the world.

His books include: Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, Democratic Individuality, and just out - Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation In the War of Independence.

UUCB Forum Planning Chair Henry Kroll says "Don't miss this insightful evening!"

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sacred Water Protection Teach Ins at Pine Ridge September 26 and 27

Alex White Plume sent me the following announcement of teach ins at Pine Ridge September 26 and 27 to bar the destruction of waters and lands of the Trans-Canada XL pipeline. I went to one at University of Colorado at Denver last fall at which Warner Naziel and Freda Hudson, two members of the Wet'suwet'en tribe in British Columbia, spoke eloquently about the destruction wrought by tar sands production. See here.

Some 1,500 people were arrested doing civil disobedience in front of the White House against the XL pipeline. One of these was James Hansen, the leading government climatologist, forcibly silenced on behalf of oil company appointees in the Bush administration. He said that,with tar sands production, “game over for the climate.” This was a considerable effort of witness though it did not shut down Washington or disrupt government business (a mass nonviolent movement must aim to do these things, talk about how to advance and diversify tactics, surprise or shock the elite, keep them off-balance, force them to concede through mass non-cooperation – h/t Erica Chenoweth).

Still unlike Hillary Clinton’s State Department which wrote a dishonest survey of the pipeline's effects, not considering the impact on climate change, Obama did not approve it. See here and here. But he did the right thing only under further pressure. Tom Poor Bear, an elder of the Lakota, came to a demonstration at the University of Colorado of Denver and confronted Obama during a speech there. See here. This is striking, nonviolent action.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, Tom Osborne, the great football coach and now athletic manager, put up a sign for Transcanada and the XL pipeline at a football game. Half the crowd booed. He took down the sign.

The crowd was made up of white farmers, their children and relatives, and others who were worried about the poisoning of the Ogalalla Aquifer. Those who support indefinite exploitation of the worst gas resources – “natural” gas and “clean coal” in Barack’s misleading words – have not taken in the issue of climate change and militarism which are pretty rapidly – within imagining from here – within this century likely to make the earth uninhabitable for a large percentage of human beings. 7 billion people in 2100 - little chance without big changes.

Civil disobedience, including by local landowners, continues this past week against the renewed extension of part of the pipeline in Texas. See here. In their words,

"We don’t make the decision lightly. The fact is, other tactics – lobbying, petitioning, and packing public hearings – have failed to halt the pipeline. State authorities have bent to every TransCanada desire, and they show no signs of stopping now." See here.

The voices of the Lakota are wiser than those surrounding Obama, or paid for by TransCanada. They speak with indigenous people in Canada, with climate scientists, with environmentalist civil disobedients, with farmers in Nebraska and Texas. If we are so lucky as to have Obama for 4 more years (Romney will destroy the planet through war on Iran and being the oil companies), we will need mass civil disobedience against this project in the new year.

The Sacred Water Protection Teach Ins are well worth attending, heeding…


“Sacred Water Protection Teach Ins” by Debra White Plume, Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way)

The precious drinking water supply of the Oglala Lakota people will be overlapped more than a few times if TransCanada gets its way and the US State Department approves its second attempt to get a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline will enter this big land in Montana, come south and skirt the Cheyenne River, Pine Ridge, Lower Brule, and Rosebud Reservations before it enters Nebraska.

Recently, TransCanada revealed its “new” route through the sandhills of Nebraska, keeping their budget in mind, they diverted a total of 20 miles. There is sandhills land on the Pine Ridge in the LaCreek District. The KXL pipeline will be buried into the Ogllala Aquifer, in numerous places when one digs a few feet down, water rises.

Our Lakota people, and people all over South Dakota, depend on the Rural Water Pipeline, or Lyman Jones as it is called off-reservation. It crosses the Lyman Jones in 43 places. It crosses our water pipeline to the Pine Ridge at least twice.

The KXL will carry dirty crude tarsands oil from the mines near the Ft McMurray area of Alberta, Canada. Much of the pristine Boreal Forest has been totally decimated, strip mined to bare dirt, to get at the tarsands oil deep in Mother Earth. The oil miners use 3 to 4 barrels of drinking water to produce one barrel of oil, and stores billions of gallons of waste water in huge waste water ponds. It is a secret what chemicals they use to dilute the heavy crude! However, a VietNam Veteran knew that some of the chemicals are the same as what was used in Agent Orange, revealed in a meeting with the US State Dept I attended last spring in Washington, DC. That VietNam Veteran is from here on the Pine Ridge. Maybe he will come and speak out!

Owe Aku is hosting a series of “Sacred Water Protection Teach Ins” across Lakota Territory, the first will be held at our own famous Billy Mills Hall in Pine Ridge Village on September 26, 2012 and at Kyle on September 27, 2012 at the Church Hall, both begin at 1pm. On both dates, there will be guest speakers and a lot of handouts to share FACTS on the tarsands oil mine, the KXL oil pipeline, and the historical and cultural Lakota land sites that TransCanada plans to cross. Tribal officials will be speak on these significant landsites, allied organizations who also work to protect drinking water and Mother Earth will be speaking, and we will have slideshows to share images from the tarsands oil mine and other water destruction mining and mining-related activities.

We will have handouts that describe how each Tribal Government plans to protect their Homelands, and we want to generate a discussion on how we can all work together to protect our sacred water, Mother Earth, and coming generations. We will share images of how people in Texas are protecting their ranches, farms and neighborhoods from TransCanada’s KXL oil pipeline, and from heavy haul trucks carrying equipment across our Homelands, as well the river hauls in BC Canada.

Info will be available regarding the impacts of oil mining using the hydrofracturing (fracking) method, a technique that is being banned around the world, yet is being practiced all over this big land. There is recent discussion on the Pine Ridge regarding fracking near our northern border and on the Reservation as well. Several tribal candidates are already discussing how the Oglala Sioux Tribe must prepare for oil ‘fracking’. We want to give folks an opportunity to voice their opinion on this crucial topic.

An update on the uranium case against Cameco, Inc. In Situ Leach uranium mine in Crawford Nebraska, as well Cameco’s plans for three new uranium mines will be discussed.

There will be time for Traditional Headsmen to speak regarding these mining issues and to lead the discussion on a statement from all those in attendance regarding the protection of our sacred water, Mother Earth and coming generations, after all, we protect this sacred water for them, it is their water. Mni wicozani, through water there is life.

Oglala musicians Scatter Their Own will share their awesome indigenous music, and a drum group will share their songs. A feed will follow, and there will be beverages and snacks all afternoon. The “Sacred Water Protection Teach In” is open to all people, everyone is encouraged to attend, learn what you can, share what you know, be part of the statement made on these dates! Bring your friends, relatives and neighbors.

For more info call Vic Camp at 605-407-7808 and Alex White Plume at 605-455-2155, or look up the “Sacred Water Protection Teach In” event page on Facebook.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hilary Putnam on Heidegger's slipshod scholarship

As I pointed out here, Heidegger’s pseudo-Platonic affection for Nazism is stunning. Heidegger was a deep student of the ancients and his way of discussing the texts, as Hannah Arendt recounts for his 80th birthday, saying more deeply what Leo Strauss also said - that Heidegger's way of thinking reveals each text in a novel way and that it would come to dominate Europe - was striking. There was suddenly, in her words, a new, "secret king in philosophy." Heidegger would study each word, each phrase, each allusion, and often build up a novel interpretation of the text.

In addition, Heidegger's reading of Plato is often careful and novel. Moreover, he was himself a brilliant philosopher, one who started a whole new and often more plausible way of thinking about being in the world, being with others, which removed much of the strangeness of Cartesianism (for Descartes, I am a thinking thing. But then, how do I know there is a world? how do I know that there are others, i.e solipsism?). Heidegger often shapes subsequent philosophy, for instance, in not pitting man against nature, deep ecology (see Michael Zimmerman, Heidegger's Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, Art).

And yet, Heidegger sometimes makes inferences that are wrong or fit only with his own predilections which are not Plato's. And as Hilary Putnam and Uwe Meisner, a philosopher and classicist at Augsburg, rightly note below, sometimes, at the core, these inferences are repulsively shoddy.

In such cases, Heidegger felt free to represent what he imagined to be hidden meanings in Plato (as did Strauss who was blown away by Heidegger), often by making them up. A search for new understandings of and sometimes for hidden or esoteric writing invites close readings. But a subtle understanding of the surface and an unearthing of seeming contradictions and hidden paths along with an assessment of them are something different. One can reveal the texts in the first way, but in looking for esoteric meanings, sometimes find startlingly wrong ones or infer that the meaning one thinks one has found is, in fact, there, pretty much without argument. And Heidegger's amazing 1943 assertion that the guardians are all philosophers who set, in their "freely thinking inquiry," all the rules for everyone else who will just repeat the same things and supposedly, even have the same passions, is a paradigm case of this error. Recall: Heidegger aspired to do this for Adolf Hitler...

One might even see seeking to ventriloquize a tyrant on Heidegger's (and Strauss's, and perhaps even earlier Aristotle's part) as a kind of wish-fulfilment, a wrong turn pursued to its most reckless and, in Heidegger's case, evil and catastrophic conclusion. Heidegger is at core not a philosopher, but a monster, restricted only by his limited career as a Nazi official - he picked out "untrustworthy" i.e. decent students to denounce to the Gestapo during his time as Rector at Freiburg.

And yet, the subtlety of Plato's dialogues seems to invite this. As Socrates says in the Phaedrus,

“Socrates: Writing Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and it is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence , but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak and to whom not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled, it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.

…in my opinion, serious discourse about them [justice and similar subjects] is far nobler when one employs the dialectic method and plants and sows in a fitting soul intelligent words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, which are not fruitless but yield seed from which there springing up in other minds other words capable of continuing the process for ever and which make their possessor happy, to the furthest possible limit of human happiness.” Plato, Phaedrus, 275d-277a

Heidegger had read Plato to pioneer, in recent times, thinking deeply about what a dialogue is (and his follower Strauss is often quite insightful on this). For a dialogue is not a treatise. That one knows what Socrates or the Athenian stranger or the Eleatic stranger says is not yet to discern what Plato thinks. And there are a series of interrelated dialogues in which the meanings are often elusive. For instance, in the Meno, Socrates coquets with the beautiful young man who inveigles him into discussing whether virtue can be taught rather than his original question: what is virtue? And they reach the provisional conclusion that it cannot be taught. Yet at the end, Socrates's invoking of Homer's image in Hades of Tiresias Theban, the blind prophet in the daylight world, who alone among the dead can see, "the rest are flitting shadows," is, of course, a parallel to Socrates in the cave of Athens.

But in the Republic, Socrates teaches Glaucon not to become a tyrant (he does not teach him to become a philosopher for which Glaucon has little inclination, though some interest; in the Republic, becoming a "philosophical youth" is reserved for the leader of the democrats, the bully Polemarchus, who actually begins to think about arguments - see my "Polemarchos as a symbol of the Republic's theme: a philosophical warrior for democracy against tyranny" here). In the action as well as the argument of the Republic, Socrates teaches Glaucon virtue and thus contradicts the most obvious, seeming conclusion of the Meno.

In fact, the Meno may be a lesson for Plato's students, present and future, in how to argue, how to think philosophically. It may also be important for a seeming sub-theme, the conversation with a slave who is able, stirred by questioning, to make a mistake, reconsider and ultimately prove an advanced theorem of Greek geometry. Contra Aristotle's later argument for "natural" slavery (even Aristotle notes in book 1 of the Politics that nature makes many mistakes...), the Meno shows that humans are equal in having the capacity to question and learn, to find (some of) the truth.

And of course, the Meno is relevant to Socrates's trial and death (Meno's host Anytus is one of Socrates's accusers and makes a brief and belligerent appearance). For to preserve questioning is to preserve the possibility of equality and decency which underlies a common good-sustaining democracy as opposed to the fallen democracy - defeated in the Peloponnesian war and at a low in 399 B.C. - which, after tolerating Socrates for 70 years, murdered its wise man.

Dialogues are not what they appear on the surface...

Now, Heidegger's philosopher-king - actually, a tyrant who rules purportedly wisely but without laws - is shaped by the invisible philosopher-guardians (Nietzsche's invisible philosophers of the future, embroiders Strauss in his posthumously published "Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism" in another striking anachronism*). And one might be inclined, mistakenly to shun Heidegger for Nazism and this kind of shoddy "scholarship." For Heidegger is often a powerful reader of others as well as an innovative philosopher in his own right.

Still, in the Republic, what the character "Socrates" imagines is the rule of guardians who are military men, soldier-athletes, and not philosophers. In fact, the whole point of the Republic is that the city in speech is Glaucon's fantasy, a military leader who is hungry for "relishes," a potential tyrant himself. The kallipolis (kalos polis) or beautiful city is what Glaucon would see as a good regime, a regime or god shaped to the psyche of the individual, in contrast to a regime of philosophers. Plato also makes this insight - one gets it from reading the Republic closely - explicit about the psychology of love and divinity in the Phaedrus:

"Now he who is a follower of Zeus, when seized by love, can bear a heavier burden of the winged god [Eros], but those who are servants of Ares and followed in his train, when they have been seized by Love and think they have been wronged in any way by the beloved, become murderous and are ready to sacrifice themselves and the beloved." (252c)

The image and potential of Glaucon, the warrior and his city, is clear here, the role of a philosopher-king as it were, or psyche in his soul, simply to restrain him. And in the chariot metaphor of the Phaedrus, the black horse of Glaucon's hungers would pull that psyche or charioteer far down, not rise up to see the truth or perhaps go on the journey Socrates conjures in images of the philosopher (248a-249c).

Socrates continues here:

"And so it is with the follower of each of the other gods [the gods are mirrors of the way the desires or appetites are structured in each individual] he lives in so far as he is able honoring and imitating that god, so long as he is uncorrupted, and is living his first life on earth [the metaphor of reincarnation of souls in earthly lifetimes and in spiritual journeys "of a thousand years" is vivid in Plato and the east), and in that way he conducts himself toward his beloved and toward all others. Now each one chooses his believe from the ranks of the beautiful according to his character and he fashions him and adorns him like a statue as though he were his god to honor and worship him." (252c-d)

The Republic shows Plato's or Socrates's implied city to be at least importantly Pythagorean (i.e. the followers of Pythagoras formed communities uninterested in a militarism). See "If the city of guardians is Glaucon's, what city is Socrates's here?"

And for all the exoteric (surface) handwaving of Strauss and his followers about the importance of "reading the text," Heidegger, the "one great thinker of our era" in Strauss's words, is perfectly happy to blow off Plato when it serves his Nazism. It takes mere reading to understand that this is mistaken and repulsive in a more than just scholarly way, as Hilary implies.

Now, Leo Strauss's Persecution and the Art of Writing, an approach which names something important about Heidegger's own writings as we will see, can be, as I noted in describing Heidegger as Strauss's mentor in the classics, an invitation to read subtly and well. Writers often have thoughts which they want to reveal only to some readers.

But Strauss's notion can also serve as a license to pervert what a philosopher thinks - pretty arbitrarily as Heidegger does about the philosophers as guardians - and provide no argument for it. The yearning that all the classic philosophers had a single hidden meaning which Leo Strauss has discovered - an invitation to the authoritarian rule of the best man - is not yet an argument for such rule. For instance, the assertion that the best man is smarter than everybody else and therefore, like a sea-captain, should rule does not yet say anything about what politics is. In fact, this is really a form of antipathy to politics.

But Socrates, in the Apology, reveals a leadership in the democracy (for a democracy which preserves questioning, a common good-sustaining democracy) which is more strongly that of a good captain and attracts a following (a shift of only 30 votes would have changed the decision). Strauss ignores this.

Strauss is, as I have often said, a cryptographer, a would-be decoder of hidden meanings, and not a philosopher.

And as Hilary's comment underlines, even sometimes more philosophical cryptographers just blow it.

So, one needs argument to show that the hidden meaning is, in fact, what the writer was directing us towards. The Republic provides the greatest indictment of tyranny, in terms of public consequences and even psychologically about the tyrant, so far written. And yet, it is easy to discern a hidden meaning in "Socrates's" story of regimes which decline from philosopher-king to tyrant. For as Aristotle says in book 5 of the Politics, it would be perfect and a circle (kuklos) if a tyrant of a certain kind became a philosopher king. As one of Plato's best students, his announcement of this "criticism" suggests that Plato was advancing a message of that sort (and Aristotle himself not only recommends the rule of the "outstanding man" - who would pretend, he says, to rule over Zeus? - but himself advised Alexander).

"Socrates," helpfully for the careful reader, adds that extremes are nearest to each other - tyrant to philosopher-king - and out of something moderate and self-satisfied (some kings), nothing great will ever come.

But the surface arguments of the Republic contradict this hidden pointing. See here, here and here. And Plato was loyal to Socrates who "went down" to fight against the censorship of questioning and philosophy within the Athenian democracy and died for it. Socrates was a founder, as Gandhi and King later insist, of civil disobedience. See here, here, here, and here. Heidegger and Strauss, European reactionaries, have no imagining about, let alone insight into this form of resisting tyrannies, either of majorities (defective democracies) or the more ordinary form.

Plato's other student Demosthenes, who had written Phillipics against Philip of Macedon, Alexander's father, was murdered by Alexander. Although Aristotle sees and signals a hidden meaning in the Republic in book 5 of the Politics and goes on to discuss a supposedly common good-oriented tyranny, pretty much borrowing from the advice of Siominides to the tyrant in Xenophon's Hiero (Strauss wrote on this pro-tyrannical work in his first book in America, On Tyranny), there is little evidence that Plato was arguing for this meaning as opposed to challenging his students to think about it and, hopefully, reject it.

I initially was saddened - but persuaded by - the discovery of Aristotle's pro-tyrannical account of the Republic in book 5. It seemed evidence for what Plato encouraged his students to think. But about four years ago, I saw that Strauss's wooden and non-philoosphical way of looking for hidden meanings - find the hidden meaning and you have the answer in a writer without any reasoning about it - was false.

Interestingly, Heidegger pioneered this kind of cryptography in the 1920s and early '30s (Strauss adapted it in America after World War II). In his 1943 Essence of Truth, Heidegger's own vision of Nazism turns to be just a misreading of Plato according to Heidegger's political desires to further Heidegger's ambition to become Hitler's "brain." Heidegger here projects his own Nazism onto Plato.

Meanwhile, the Socrates who defended questioning and not authoritarian rule by philosophers, the Socrates who was wise only in that he did not know about the ideas (he knew instances of justice but not the idea of justice...) and unlike others, did not pretend to himself or others that he knew, the Socrates who never advocated and could not consistently have advocated the rule of a philosopher and went to his death to affirm the need for philosophical and political questioning in a democracy, the Socrates who pioneered what we call civil disobedience, that Socrates is nowhere to be found in Heidegger or Strauss. See here, here, here, and here.

I have previously broken the story of Heidegger and Plato, quite an amazing one for most Anglo-American Heidegger scholars who see Being and Time as a novel philosophical work, focused on the tradition from Descartes to Husserl, which does not touch upon the ancients (h/t Tracy Strong). Think of Robert Solomon's interesting discussions of Heidegger and existentialism; there is no whiff of Heidegger's extraordinary classicism...

But Heidegger's belief is that we have “fallen” into the “one” (das Man) and that the only way to become genuine is to recognize our personal mortality – Sein sum Tode, being towards death – and sacrifice ourselves for the Fatherland. This cave of the "one" is exactly what one must turn from to become a philosopher in the Republic or, perhaps, to become an authentic soldier who will die in battle - realize one' generational destiny, one's historicity - in a repeat of World War I for Heidegger. The structure of Being and Time thus mirrors that of "the cave metaphor," as Heidegger subtitles his 1943 Essence of Truth. And yet as Hilary and Uwe Meisner note, it also plainly perverts it. For Plato was not about encouraging every citizen of the polis to become "authentic" by serving the Fatherland in battle.

In the chapter on historicity, I show in detail here and here, Heidegger affirms a pro-Nazi point of view about the destiny of his generation: a repeat of World War I. See also here.

But is this really comparable to Socrates's sticking to his post in Athens by soldiering for the democracy, and then defending questioning against an Athenian proto-McCarthyism (a phony democracy or what Rousseau would call a will of all) or proto-Hitlerism? Is this Socrates's fighting, with his life, for a democracy which includes questioning (philosophy and dissent from injustices to which a mob may often be moved, a common good-sustaining democracy). The latter is what Rousseau would call a general will or a will to equality, i.e. the equal freedom of citizens, and founds modern democratic theory.

The movement or structure in Heidegger's existentialism broadly parallels the movement of philosophy out of the cave, but the Nazism Heidegger recommends grotesquely parodies the life and politics of Socrates.

Heidegger's Nazi vision is, in fact, made up out of whole cloth allegedly from Plato and needs a mesmerized group of followers which cannot, like a child, point and say: He [the Emperor] isn't wearing any clothes!

This is the pride as well as the viciousness of what Heidegger fought for politically with all his being. No wonder that Hilary and Uwe Meisner are appalled at the rotten "scholarship" of Heidegger's crucial remark on Nazism.

In Persecution and the Art of Writing, Leo Strauss explicitly draws a line between what is said for superficial readers and what is offered to careful ones. But the book itself is a feint. One imagines from the title that Strauss will discuss Tycho Brahe and Kepler – burned at the stake – and Galileo, threatened and forced to recant as well as the followers of Darwin - the Scopes trial - for their pursuit of science. One imagines Tom Jefferson, Tom Paine and Marx, inter alia. But this common expectation of the reader about the word "persecution" is surface. Strauss mentions and means none of these familiar cases of crimes against thinking.

Rather, Strauss fears only persecution by the democracy of the extreme right – those among philosophers who seek to counsel tyrants and make them supposedly wise.

In fact, Being and Time, published 21 years earlier, also illustrates Strauss's point and makes roughly similar moves. In the late 1920s, Heidegger sought Husserl’s chair at the University of Freiburg. The senior professors might not have given it to an outspoken Nazi sympathizer. And, more importantly, the Weimar government fired professors who announced themselves as Nazis.

So Heidegger starts the book with his search for a mystical Being as opposed to the existing beings in the world. But this, too, is a feint. Heidegger switches abruptly to Dasein – the being for whom the question of Being comes into question - and spends the rest of the book on this.

Now Dasein (Being there) is and is not what we think of as an individual. He is a local farmer, rooted in the soil and engaged, without reflection, in tasks. But also, German Dasein may eat French Dasein (the French language, Heidegger tells us, is no good for thinking...), Polish Dasein and Russian Dasein (the wheels came off this imagining in the Soviet Union).

After introducing Dasein, Heidegger talks, in a lengthy and often poetic and innovative philosophical account, about the authentic historicity of this being, understanding one's own thrownness and mortality - Being toward death - breaking free from "the one" (for most of us much of the time, death is everyone's else's) and then, by implication, joining the Nazis and fighting a now successful repeat of World War I. Read carefully, the section on historicity excludes other alternatives (see the posts on this linked to above).

Of course, his students and not Heidegger went to their deaths. In his 25th high school reunion speech at Konstanz, Heidegger mystically invokes the graves and markers of those who had fallen in World War I while he had avoided frontline service as a medic. See here. Even beyond the Nazism, Heidegger's politics reeks of bad faith.

But one has to read with care the passage on historicity, far into a long book, to get this point. The Nazism is but adumbrated, steadily, in a lengthy book, for the careful reader, and a sleepy one might miss it. And so, among often reactionary academics in Germany, Heidegger got his promotion...

Heidegger's pseudo-Platonic “pure national socialism,” the one he adhered to long after Hilter lost and even in his posthumous interview with Der Spiegel in which he says democracy is too weak a regime to deal with "the problem of planetary technology," is that in which philosophers serve as guardians and through their "freely thinking inquiry" set all the rules for the society.

But a careful reading of the Republic reveals a very different meaning. For instance, the argument in book 2 that philosopohers are like dogs in barking at enemies and wagging their tails at friends is Socrates’s worst argument – as I underline here - and made so that the careful reader will be suspicious of the seriousness of the subsequent construction, again for Glaucon's sake, of the "city in speech." For in book 1 of the Republic, Socrates had just defeated the argument of Polemarchus - that justice is benefiting friends and harming enemies - with the points that one often mistakes friends and enemies and in any case, that the just man does not seek to harm others. So as his interlocutor Adeimantus would have remembered from the previous conversation and is quite taken aback by Socrates's assertion of, the argument that dogs are like philosophers, barking at strangers who might be friendly and rubbing up against even masters who beat them, is not meant to be taken seriously.

Perhaps Heidegger was a careful reading without a sense of humor. In any case, he missed something essential that if one reads the text carefully, one is meant to notice.

For Plato, the hazy philosopher king is not the same as – not close – to the guardians. In fact, the proposal for a philosopher-king is largely a satire - Plato takes the charges against Socrates and shows what it would take to clean up the gods, for example. See here, and here. But one can see how, given his prejudices, Heidegger might have grasped for philosopher-guardians.

One needs to be careful about getting too high on oneself. Heidegger was famous, mesmerizing (Arendt and Sartre and Strauss, inter alia, show as much; others like Loewith were less taken - see My life in Germany before and after 1933). Heidegger taught Plato with a deadly seriousness, founded or adapted a common view of the philosoher-tyrant among pro-Nazi philosophers, and missed badly on the Republic.

But just as scholarship on Plato's argument, Heidegger’s Nazi version, as Hilary says, is shocking. The line of argument pursued in reactionary Plato scholarship, which Strauss names and Heidegger practices, goes back to Al-Farabi. One focuses on deliberately "ambiguous, allusive, misleading, and obscure speech." And for Strauss, the "great men" never, ever make a mistake. No word, no setting in the text, no number fails to be calculated so the careful decoder will miss the point. And Heidegger is the "one great thinker of our era..."

If one practices ambiguous speech, the chance that about the most important things one will just say something stupid, viz. Heidegger about the phulaches (guardians), gets pretty high.

In 1943, Heidegger indicates his Nazism more clearly than elsewhere, and highlights its reactionary pseudo-Platonism. It is still vague - note the misleading title of the section "Seeing and the Seeable in the Yoke of the Light."

The sentence about the philosopher/guardians just pops out and then recedes. As political institutional development, it is nothing (Heidegger was, at most, a would-be high functionary among the Nazis like Schmitt, who lasted two years longer - until 1936; he was not a potential leader with a worked-out argument).

Though ceasing to be Rector of the University of Freiburg in 1934, Heidegger remained a Nazi throughout the War.

But continuing the pattern of hiddenness, Heidegger would trim all this material from post-War versions of the Essence of Truth. He had been banned from teaching in Germany for 5 years and was trying to conceal his politics, that is rehabilitate himself.

In the 1943 version of the Essence of Truth, Heidegger thinks Socrates is the best example of being toward death. That is a good point. But he entirely misses Socrates as a founder of civil disobereience within the democracy. Heidegger ignores Socrates’ questioning as a source of dissent in a common good-sustaining regime as well as a basis for philosophy.

Instead, he (and Strauss) impose the image of the philosopher-king from the Republic. They do not see Socrates in life as trying to reform the democracy, and translate him, instead, into their interpretation of Plato. Theirs is a pseudo-Plato, not the Plato who admired Socrates.

Plato defended Socrates for “going down” in the democracy to head off tyranny, including philosophical tyranny, i.e. that of Critias. Socrates's words and action in the Apology affirm a decent, or common good-oriented democracy, one which protects questioning. So Heidegger is a weak scholar of the Apology and Republic, and is fundamentally mistaken about both Plato and Socrates.

One danger of exoteric writing (writing which misleads superficial readers) is that it invites a deliberate carelessness in expression and in the reading. In fact, it is precisely because Heidegger pioneered a new form of reading and writing, often careful and creative, that he mesmerized himself, gave himself permission to refashion Plato as a Nazi.

But that Heidegger has a vision of Nazism in which the philosophers lead the slaughters and redesign a heavily controlled society, one of a eugenic idiom, for the masses of people who are gulled is appalling. Heidegger's and Strauss's image of a philosopher advising a tyrant to mislead the people with religion (roughly the Athenian Stranger in the Laws who is the focus of Strauss's last book and for Plato, a Socrates who did not take the poison, a "Socrates" without integrity) resembles the neocons making war to conquer the world and are elected mainly by evangelicals who haven't a clue. These pseudo-philosophers - William Kristol or Paul Wolfowitz** or Abraham Shulsky, for example - are among the would-be guides of the clueless Bush or Romney.

And that is an even worse crime than the, nonetheless, awful shoddiness of Heidegger's interpretation.

Here is what Hilary wrote to Uwe Meisner:

"Dear Uwe,

The political significance of Heidegger's vom Wesen der Wahrheit was called to my attention by Alan Gilbert, an old friend (he was a Harvard undergraduate in the 60s), who is now a professor at the University of Denver. In his blog, Democratic Individuality, he wrote:

"In 1930 Martin Heidegger lectured for the first time on The Essence of Truth (Vom Wesen der Wahrheit) and in 1931-1932, on Plato’s Teaching concerning Truth (Platons Lehre von der Wahreit). In 1943, at the time of the battle of Stalingrad, he delivered an expanded version of these lectures as The Essence of Truth: Plato’s Cave-Metaphor and the Theaetetus (Vom Wesen der Wahrheit: zu Platons Hoehlengleichnis und Theaetet). In the latter, he suggests in paragraph 13 that the guardians must be the philosophers who through their 'freely thinking inquiry' shape every aspect of political and social life. This was Heidegger’s blueprint for a 'good' regime, the 'inner truth and greatness of national socialism' he espoused even in his 1953 Introduction to Metaphysics." I checked this for myself, and I found the slip I described to you. I have attached an image of the page from the English translation.

Hope we meet again. The dinner was great fun,


Here is the passage

"Seeing and the Seeable in the Yoke of the Light [given the surprising political content of the next sentences, this title is also a feint]

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)

Here is what Hilary wrote to me:

"Subject: Heidegger's slip

Dear Alan,

The slip (actually an incredible blunder for a classicist) in Heidegger's vom Wesen der Wahrheit is that he says the philosopher rulers are philakes,

I pointed this out to an acquaintance Uwe Meisner who is a philosophy professor at Augsburg, who was shocked. That is the message I just copied to you.

Une forte embrassade,

And here is what I responded:

"Dear Hilary,

Yes, it is a shocking slip and shows that Heidegger adapted to his own purposes many things. I think I remarked this in the original posts, but I will write more on this because it reveals how far Heidegger distorts Plato to unearth what Heidegger thinks of as the true meaning of Plato – he is right that there are complicated or hidden paths in Plato, but mostly wrong about what they are – and to take in how grotesque his Nazi misinterpretation of Plato is.

Une forte embrassade,


* Thomas Pangle, the editor of the essays, added the word Heideggerian to the title. He has a reverence for Strauss's texts; it is unusual for him to have done that. So perhaps the word separates a fascist or Nazi version of existentialism, pretty clear in the essay itself, from, say, Sartre's.

**Wolfowitz worked with Allan Bloom as an undergraduate, went to courses with Strauss as a graduate student, but was mainly influenced by the right-wing, former Trotskyite nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter. Much of Strauss's influence in political life came from Robert Goldwin, a "one man-think tank" who transformed the Republican Party as Donald Rumsfeld eulogized him at the American Enterprise Institute in 2010. The lines from Strauss to the importation of authoritarianism (commander in chief power, executive power) are bipartisan and manifold.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Slave Trade and Trans-Atlantic Slavery

The United Nations celebrates March 25 as an International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. It is one of many holidays about the slave trade – see Juneteenth marking the freeing of slaves in Texas here – which the United States as a whole does not mark.

Juneteenth is celebrated mainly by black people in Texas and Denver, inter alia, and even anti-racist whites in Texas and Denver sometimes do not know of it.*

Crispus Attucks day – March 5 - celebrated by pre-Civil War abolitionists, has now faded. See here.

The Lincoln Memorial, commemorating emancipation, is the one great public sign of the passage of this great evil, challenged but not defeated in the American founding. The holiday for Martin Luther King centers on segregation and Vietnam, but of course, the fight against bondage is also there. Nonetheless, like every thing else about this history which shapes America to this moment, there is much hidden, silent, forgotten...

Heraldo Munoz, my friend and former student, a longtime battler against Chilean fascism and American support of it, has served in the United Nations for many years. As head of the Security Council, he cast a deciding vote against Bush and Blair’s attempt to annex the UN to their criminal aggression in Iraq. See Bishop Tutu's recent statement refusing to appear with Blair here. Now assistant secretary general and in charge of UNDP (the United Nations Development Program) for Latin America and the Caribbean, Heraldo has long been a supporter of March 25th, the day of remembrance about the slave trade.

Heraldo sent me the song Samba Lando of his friends in Inti-Illimani. Among its lyrics are these:

“La gente dice qué pena 
que tenga la piel oscura 
como si fuera basura 
que se arroja al pavimento, 
no saben del descontento 
entre mi raza madura.

Hoy día alzamos la voz
 como una sola memoria. 
Desde Ayacucho hasta Angola, 
de Brasil a Mozambique
 ya no hay nadie que replique, 
somos una misma historia”

“People say it is such a shame
 that my skin is dark 
as if it was trash 
that throws itself on the asphalt,
 they don't know about the discontent 
between my ripe race.

Today, we raise our voices 
like a sole memory. 
From Ayacucho to Angola,
from Brazil to Mozambique
 no one challenges this anymore,
 we are one history."

Listen here.

In Black Patriots and Loyalists, I set the American Revolution in its rightful and much neglected context, the international revolt against bondage starting in Jamaica in 1750 and extended through 20 anti-slavery rebellions up to 1770. American sailors, black and white, some escaped to the comparative freedom of the seas, some seized or impressed by Royal “press-gangs,” identified with the slaves and brought word of abolition to London and Boston. The fight for freedom of blacks who escaped to the British or who were enlisted by the Americans, in exchange for freedom, in the First Rhode Island Regiment is of a piece with this international movement, and extends beyond American shores to the struggles for freedom and against economic oppression of black Loyalists in Canada and the founding of a radical democracy in Free Town in Sierra Leone, to Saint-Domingue where the slave revolt led by Toussaint L’Ouverture created Haiti, to Bolivar who proclaimed gradual emancipation along with independence in Venezuela, and to the Emancipation Proclamation and the recruitment by the North of 184,000 black soldiers in the American Civil War.

Many whites also fought for abolition. And those who did understood that there is no freedom for some without the freedom of all. As Pastor Martin Niemoller put it,

"First they came for the communists and the jews
And I did nothing

And then they came for the unionists,
And I did nothing...

And then they came for me
And there was no one left to protest.”

Listen again to Inti-Illimani:

"La gente dice qué pena 
que tenga la piel oscura 
como si fuera basura 
que se arroja al pavimento,
 no saben del descontento
 entre mi raza madura.

Hoy día alzamos la voz 
como una sola memoria. 
Desde Ayacucho hasta Angola,
 de Brasil a Mozambique
ya no hay nadie que replique,
 somos una misma historia."

The song is of international solidarity and revolution...

Black Patriots and Loyalists places the American Revolution in the setting of this great international uprising. (Here is the University of Chicago Facebook page about the book where it can be purchased for $21. Black Patriots and Loyalists is now in a second printing). It remedies the awful one-sidedness of considering the American Revolution for independence as a white revolution - see here - or an inspirer, as with R.R Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution, only of independence movements in Europe. For the crowds in the American Revolution were abolitionist, and many British soldiers and sailors had also been touched by these revolts, particularly black sailors.

The fight against bondage is not only the logical completion of the American Revolution as a revolution for freedom; it is at its heart.

The politics of black Liberation was not identity politics (that of the “forgotten fifth” in the title of Gary Nash’s nonetheless striking 2006 book); it was the politics of the Revolution which pro-slavery leaders like Madison and the Constitution – as opposed to gradual emancipation throughout the Northern states by 1804 – betrayed.

Americans should celebrate the UN day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade on March 25. Heraldo put me in touch with Crispin Gregoire, the United Nations ambassador from Dominica, and one of the proposers of the original day. Here are some of Crispin’s words about it:

“In my former role as Ambassador of Dominica to the UN, I worked closely with the Ambassador of Jamaica, H.E. Raymond Wolfe, in leading the Caribbean Community's sponsorship of the General Assembly resolution, 'Permanent Memorial to and Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.' As you are probably aware, this resolution calls for the annual commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery on 25 March.

During that week in March, there are a number of activities at the UN headquarters and at various UN Information Centres (UNICs) around the world..."

"American history has so many gaps when it comes to true representation of the contribution of the people of African descent."

The United States needs holidays commemorating the death of bondage. The country today jails 2.3 million people, many black, 25% of the world’s prisoners and has another 5.1 million on probation. The forgetfulness about blacks in the Revolution or the racism in the prevailing characterization of the Revolution - see here and here – is linked to a continuing oppression to this moment.

Next year I will look forward to celebrating March 25th. As the Inti-Illimani song Samba Lando underlines, the sense that this is an international movement is powerful. “Somos una misma historia,” the song ends. “We are one history.”

All of us in the Americas, all of us in Africa, become one with this great and powerful sentiment.

Samba Lando

Sobre el manto de la noche
 esta la luna chispeando.
 Así brilla fulgurando
 para establecer un fuero:
 "Libertad para los negros 
cadenas para el negrero"

Samba landó, samba landó
¿ Qué tienes tú que no tenga yo?

Mi padre siendo tan pobre
 dejo una herencia fastuosa:
 "para dejar de ser cosas
- dijo con ánimo entero-
 ponga atención, mi compadre,
 que vienen nuevos negreros".

La gente dice qué pena
 que tenga la piel oscura 
como si fuera basura
 que se arroja al pavimento, 
no saben del descontento 
entre mi raza madura.

Hoy día alzamos la voz
 como una sola memoria. 
Desde Ayacucho hasta Angola, 
de Brasil a Mozambique 
ya no hay nadie que replique,
 somos una misma historia

Samba Lando

Above the night's coat
 the moon is sparkling. 
It's shining thus, flaring, to establish a code:
"Freedom for the blacks 
Chains for the slave trader"

Samba landó, samba landó
 What do you have that I don't?

My father, being so poor, 
bequeathed a splendid inheritance:
 "To stop being things
 - he said with his whole mind - 
Pay attention, mate,
 for new slave traders come."

People say it is such a shame
 that my skin is dark
 as if it was trash
 that throws itself on the asphalt, 
they don't know about the discontent between my ripe race.

Today, we raise our voices
 like one memory.
 From Ayacucho to Angola,
 from Brazil to Mozambique, no one challenges anymore,
 we are one history.


*Juneteenth is the oldest celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that blacks were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to overcome slave-owner resistance.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Poem: Cycle

fire stuns the wakin g
b e e s


the comb s

a greensnake
its sm al l

on the nightwater




the tiger

Sunday, September 9, 2012

David Blight’s modest proposal, Frederick Douglass and why each of us should vote

Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence underlines the sharpness of the racism about the American Revolution still prevalent even among well-meaning history teachers and widely expressed in the commercial media. For black soldiers on the Patriot side as well as the Loyalist gave their lives at the battle of Yorktown; most of the corpses, reported Georg Daniel Flohr, a German private fighting for the Patriots, were “Mohren” (Moors, blacks). After this revelation which is underlined in my book, no one should speak of blacks as an adjunct, a few thousand Crispus Attucks's somehow incidental to the main event or a portion of Royal troops interesting from the point of view of identity politics but not central. Instead, blacks - and their and their white allies' struggles against bondage - were key soldiers of the Revolution, both in the fighting and in its consistency as a movement for human freedom.

The Democratic convention just concluded, a multiracial group, renominating Bsrack Obama to preserve and extend medical care to ordinary people, maintain social security, honor veterans, promote some public expenditure on common good sustaining projects (transportation, green energy) and not make too many wars (the danger of aggression against Iran continues). What it proposes to do is not enough. One needs a mass movement like Occupy to make these programs real and deeper.

Still, Barack's speech, Michelle’s, Bill Clinton’s and Joe Biden’s underlined forcefully the “Republican” obsequiousness to inequality. That party disguises and lies about the details of its program because it seeks to steal all this money from ordinary people and give it to the .0001%. There has rarely been an American election where the alternative is this stark. Call it an historic shift election with the "Republicans" avid to destroy what was decent in the New Deal.

Is Obama good? Well, mainly yes and importantly, no. He is a decent man who hopes, initially, to conduct policies which sustain the middle class (including but not necessarily the poor). And with the stimulus and medical care and the extension of civil rights for gays and lesbians and on other matters, he has done this.

But he is also the American President – the President of an Empire featuring militarism (the war complex and a more than trillion dollar a year expense, 1,280 military bases abroad - the chief competitor, the French, have 5 in former French colonial Africa- and the like). Obama has become an accomplice to torture, letting the elite war criminals go free while himself torturing Bradley Manning (he stopped after 9 months when protestors confronted him at a Democratic fund-raising party in San Francisco) and punishing Manning and other democrats who leaked true information about American government crimes. His administration has also fought habeas corpus for Guantanamo prisoners (see the New York Times editorial "A Court Denounces 'Executive Fiat' on the words of Royce Lamberth, a serious Judge of the Federal Distict Court yesterday here).

Last week Bishop Tutu spoke movingly of how he could not be at a conference with the war criminal Tony Blair. See here and Ray McGovern here. Yet Tutu's statement only condemned the criminal act of aggression in Iraq, not all the tortures and murders in custody (100 by Pentagon statistics) Bush committed and Blair/MI6 illegally and immorally watched/participated in/gained “information” from.

The case that Blair (and Bush – and all their high official colleagues) should be brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague is thus powerful, both as Tutu indicates, and even more strongly than Tutu indicates. Since America will not prosecute despite its obligation in the Convention against Torture (signed by President Reagan in 1986 and ratified by Congress in 1994; such treaties are, by Article 6 section 2 of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, the highest law of land), any other government can arrest these former officials if they go abroad.

Fascinatingly, Michael Kochin, a reactionary Israeli political theorist, a Straussian, who is also a partisan of Greater Israel and criminal acts against the Palestinians (he also undermines the security and integrity of jews), hails Bush and speaks of the “’Bush lied about Iraq’ lie.” But he cites no facts. On the contrary, the evidence is extremely good that Bush and for that matter, Colin Powell knew the testimony of Saddam’s son-in-law Hussain Kemal who had defected to the CIA and MI-6 that Saddam had destroyed the weapons of mass destruction he had been given by the United States (the son-in-law who had been in charge of Saddam’s weapons program, decided later to return to Iraq, and Saddam murdered him). See here. Bush and Powell used other parts of Hussein Kemal's testimony in speeches, while concealing the document that reveals their lie.

Or there are the Downing Street memos including the need to trick – “wrong-foot” – Saddam because he had missiles that might go longer than 150 km. - the Coalition's restriction from the first Gulf War - but not ones that would endanger "London in 45 minutes." The Downing Street memos reveal Blair’s claim not as hysteria - the implausible, alternate possibility - but as simply a calculated lie. Or consider, as exemplary among lying, Condi Rice's brazen “the smoking gun might be a mushroom cloud” in America. See here.

Kochin’s reactionary denial - an exercise in mere sound, without counter evidence - was rejected very forcefully by Dee Ann Davis (see this discussion on my Facebook page for September 2 here). But this canard itself echoes the unmooring of American politics in the emergence of a radical anti-conservative party, one geared to authoritarianism (the leader will make the laws after the show of buying the election; there are no checks and balances which “commander in chief” power need respect, and so forth), imperialist aggression (even to attack Russia as well as Iran), one out to smash the welfare state and drive even more people into poverty, one rooted in the denial of science – about climate change and about government spending as the way of overcoming a depression as opposed to the planned austerity for ordinary people which deepens it.*

In contrast, since the Magna Charta in 1218, conservatives believe in habeas corpus, the right of each prisoner to a day in court and not to be tortured as the foundation of a system of law. In addition, conservatives often oppose crusading imperial wars.

This party is thus misnamed "conservative" in the American commercial media but there is no longer anything conservative about the so-called Republican party. It is not the party of Lincoln and Douglass below, but of authoritarian imperialism and nothing but impoverishment for the 99%, bought by Sheldon Adelson, David and Charles Koch, and other billionaires...

DemocracyNow caught Romney subserviently shaking hands with Charles Koch at the Republican convention on the way to give his speech; CNN flashed away, just for that moment, to two cheering women, and then back to Romney...

Now the Republican program to hide these corrupt, tyrannical aims from the American people for the period of the election is: racism and foreign-baiting. The Mormon candidate who should oppose discriminations instead styles himself loudly an “American,“ he and his wife “born here,” to attack a black President. Romney never makes a speech without invoking his alleged standing for “America” (this representation is falsely made in the name of “free enterprise,” but is really for using the government and "laws" to funnel even more money to the .001%) as opposed to the other (the "un-American" "foreigner" who supposedly stirs up bad things as conjured in anti-radical ideology**).

Now to be the President of an Imperial power, the leading one in the world, is mainly to do bad things. That Obama has in the stimulus and health care done some very good things – sparked a recovery to some extent and a green economy and saved the auto industry and all the related jobs and guaranteed health coverage for each (at least, no disqualification for "preexisting conditions" and the like) is unusual. The unexpected possibility of Obama's Presidency was brought about by a political – two losing occupations – and economic collapse.

Still, many feel (I will write more about this) that a vote for Obama approves the corruption of the regime.

But this sentiment misreads the situation. As Chad Kautzer, a philosopher at the University of Colorado at Denver, put it at a forum to Occupy last week, if Romney is President, we will have to fight for a woman’s right to choose and to legalize abortion again. Chad would prefer not to go back, not to have to take up this fight - one's energy for public life is not unlimited - to the exclusion of others…

And we will have to fight over contraception…

If Romney is President, we will have to fight against the privatization of social security, the voucherization of medicare or slicing of it in a quarter over a lifetime, the inability of those 65 and older to pay for treatment, and the disappearance of Medicaid (devoted largely, as Clinton said, to sustaining the elderly in nursing homes).

In rural areas, the white elderly, notably middle class and upper class (some ordinary people, contra the commercial press about the "white working class," are smarter***), are moved by fear of what will happen to them. The image before them is of darker cities and a dark President and they are blinded by the deliberately vague assurances - the opposite of the truth - of Romney.

Obama is almost a conservative (he has not restored the rule of law, is not up to serious conservatives in this respect). He has attended to big business and dangerously prosecuted no one for the banking fraud. The relation between Romney's supporters' imaginings and what Obama actually proposes is inverse. For instance, Obama stands up for the extension and protection of medical coverage.

Stunningly, the fear which most motivates the bigotry of some older white people will be realized – medical care for those who are not ultra-rich will be sacrificed by “Republican” cutbacks – by the “white” “American” Romney…

No one likes Romney (Republicans kept looking for some less monied and wooden racist, but...; opinion polls reveal that even after his acceptance speech, alone among recent Presidential candidates, his unfavorables among the public exceeded his favorables). But still he shines, whitely...

Yesterday, I went to register voters in Morrison with Shalynda Lund whom I have just met. Shalynda is white, from Utah, formerly ran a flower shop, and stands up to abuse. Today she was on I-70, a highway near Denver, near Ken Caryl ranch (where rich people have suburban homes). She had an Obama sticker on the back of her car. A car dogged her from behind, pulled up beside her. A man held up a sign BOzo (with the O like an Obama symbol) in the window. She gave him the finger. He swerved around her car, blocking her, forcing off the highway.

This is an interesting case of road rage (and shows that being white if you like Obama is dangerous in today's America, that racism is used to attacks whites as well as - more ferociously - blacks). He sped off, but she got his license number and two people who observed it also called 911. The police arrested the man at his house, finding the BOzo sign...

I made it a point to put an Obama sticker on my car and recommend doing so to everyone.

If Romney is President, war will certainly be made on Iran, a much larger war in the Middle East will ensue, and the dangers of nuclear war (with Israel doing it) go up immensely. And probably Russia, too (the Cold War mind-warp that Obama spoke of…)

Re-electing Obama will hold back many of these things. And in any case, it will enable us to continue to fight against torture and for the reestablishment of the rule of law, and the ever-present threat of America or Israel launching aggression against Iran.

As Chad Kautzer said in his talk to Occupy, he would prefer to continue working on inequality in America – the initial theme of Occupy – and other pressing current causes, and not be forced to organize full-time against patriarchy. And we would also meet defeat, at least temporarily, on some of these other causes, notably Iran and, inside America, torture…

Now we have many things to work on, even with Obama, but a dark night would close over this country if – and it is quite possible with a billion dollars to burn in lies and the power of racism here – Romney is elected.

The crucial issue, as Chad also insisted, is that Occupy, antiwar activists and others have mass demonstrations against any attempt of Obama to cut social security as part of a grand “deal” with the Republicans post-election, and continue to fight from where we are, from ground already won, to secure decency and a common good. And that requires mainly building a movement from below but, also, voting.

Still, one might object to my argument, social movements are not necessarily strengthened and, in fact, often undercut by electoral politics. As we can see with Occupy, there are many small meetings (30-100) and demonstrations. In Denver, one such demonstration is taking place at Sports Authority which has a camp-out for a sale with the approval of the city. Yet the city violently cleared out the Occupy tents in front of the state capital – an exercise of freedom of speech - this past spring. Speech is thus for sale in America, and not even Democrats - Mayor Hancock and Governor Hickenlooper - defend this core of the Bill of Rights...

Occupy's action last fall named the 99% v. the 1% and changed, along with Arab spring and the indignados in Spain and many others, the way many view American and world politics forever, a huge accomplishment. But such mass movements are hard to sustain (for the time being, there isn’t anything as big and the commercial media is silent or, rarely, nasty. Many sympathetic to Occupy have been temporarily deterred.

The political activity of ordinary Americans is not something covered, let alone fostered in the New York Times, the Associated Press or the commercial media which are supposedly proponents of democracy as long as ordinary people don't act up.***

And this year, there is also electoral politics. Obama has taken up, to an extent, the ideas of occupy (brought back to himself by the mass demonstrations and public sentiment, which as I used to say, “made him be Obama” again). He is fighting for ordinary people (for American productivity, including a green economy, and jobs), for the extension of civil rights - gays and lesbians have just as much right to marry, for instance, as any other adults, for women legally being able to make their own choices and not to be the property of desiccated white men, not to wage more massive aggression against Iran, and the like.

But electoral politics still diverts strength markedly from Occupy and other movements. People tend to get involved in it and not use their time to participate in other activities. So developing Occupy and other mass movements of protest – anti-war movements, for example – is necessary.

But to argue for such activities to the exclusion even of casting a vote (which takes little time, comparatively) or talking with others about the election also – easily combinable with organizing movements from below - is mistaken. As Chad suggested, such activities either have to be immediately vital for large numbers of people or growing toward significant civil disobedience – against war with Iran, say - by early November. And for most of us right now and certainly about war by itself (I am organizing against war with Iran now), that just isn’t the case.

So in an historical crisis or possible shift dramatically for the worse election, nonvoting is not a sensible alternative. This idea contributes nothing to check great social and political harms, and the setbacks in terms of many issues which the elevation of Romney would secure.

But what about voting for a very good third party candidate? If voting for a third party or candidate – there is Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party - would help with these things, Chad suggested, that would make such a vote a good thing. I should note, however, many who are good in certain ways and sound good initially find it hard when they come to power. One quickly becomes enmeshed with the configuration of power, particularly militarism.

Further, Ralph Nader, particularly bitter, sounded off in the last election about Obama siding with the people or “being an Uncle Tom for the corporations.” Being Lebanese-American, he ought to have known better than to adopt so racist an expression, and although I admire many things he has done and some of his analysis, I have not been able to take him seriously since (the Public Interest Research Group - PIRG - chapters he organized did not, in the anti-war movement against Vietnam, take part in any actions on campus). They have not yet faced what being elected means. There is yet to be a leftist party elected under capitalism, socialist or communist, which has done much better than Obama, and after an initial burst of reforms, some have done worse (see Ralph Miliband, Parliamentary Socialism and The State in Capitalist Society).

In addition, there is the plausible on the surface but awful argument: “the worse the better.” It is true that conditions have to be awful for a revolution to occur. But that doesn’t mean that just any awful conditions will produce a revolt over a whole epoch. The Nazis were smashed in Europe by the Soviet Union, not by the heroic German underground which, in terms of action, was circumscribed and dealt with ruthlessly.

The Argentinian dictatorship, backed by Henry Kissinger and Nixon, had ordinary women whom they grabbed off the street as “leftists” mass raped, drugged and thrown from helicopters into the sea (the men and boys they tortured and shot). It took the Mothers of the Disappeared demonstrating on the Plazo de Mayo, 50 of them, to initiate the process of bringing the regime down (the patriarchs – what they did reveals what patriarchy is – could not bring themselves to just shoot the mothers. And that was 25 years later, the beginning of their downfall). It was no planned or foreseen demonstration, just like Occupy.

In most situations, you can’t just call a demonstration and be like Charlie Chaplin running down a street with a traffic flag in Modern Times and a crowd of workers coming out behind you. One can call for decent actions, but that will not bring down a terrible regime. Such regimes must exhibit a long pattern of injustice which cannot be altered by any other means, as Locke says in the Second Treatise, and the split in the elite must become paralyzing for it, before a revolutionary situation ensues (see Lenin Left wing communism: an Infantile Disorder; there is some unfortunate sneering in the sub-title, but the point Lenin makes about it is serious).

In America’s situation of an historic split in the elite and one side now going for an authoritarian police state and against any attempt at green manufacturing and reviving productivity in America as well as trying to smash unions and stealing the money devoted to making the country decent and helping the poor, the unemployed, the foreclosed, not to vote at all or to vote for a third party is a mistake.

When Franco defeated the Spanish republic (it was no socialist regime, and Stalin who supported it was a criminal toward the anarchists – see here), the Falange then organized the transfer through “nurses” telling the mothers that their babies had died of some 30,000 children from “leftist” mothers (certified medically subhuman by the psychologist Antonio Vallejo Nagera) to fascist households. See here.

In the killing fields, Franco, murdered 137,000 people buried in mass graves, including the poet of Granada and Spain, Federico Garcia Lorca. This has just been publically uncovered in the last year…See here and here.

It was 40 years until there was another election.

The view that in such situations one should only protest against mainstream oligarchic politics from below, i.e. vote with your feet vote in the street – a slogan which I organized around for many years, really until the first Clinton election - is a mistake. I have sometimes voted Green but Obama is a pretty good alternative as head of the Empire.

Now it would be good when there is a mass social movement like Occupy but stronger, one ready to challenge elite policies by mass action and fight for power, to challenge the elite directly (yet, even the Mothers of the Disappeared were not initially this). Otherwise, particularly in the mainly rigged two-party system, there is still a clear choice between the abyss – what the racist, imperial, othering party of war and vote suppression represents as opposed to the Democrats as a multiracial party of – often - decency, and Obama as surprisingly, a sometimes decent figure even at the high level of President of the Empire.

Torture needs to be fought and the rule of law restored. Obama has backtracked on this. Anger and revulsion at Obama’s torture of Bradley Manning or complicity with torturers who walk around without any legal hearing (in violation of the Convention against Torture) or Obama's contrasting crusade against democratic whistle-blowers or bellicosity toward Iran short of war or murder of American citizens by drones abroad without any legal or even public proceeding or the killing of many innocents by drones are all further horrors that need to be stopped. Voting for Obama, let alone idealizing him or believing the Democrats’ self-image, as many do (and is partly a psychological response to the necessity for getting out and doing the work of mobilizing ordinary people) is also a mistake.

It is a long way to go as Obama said three nights ago – and, ironically for his words, one not simply involved with reelecting this President. But he did say that the course of the country is up to “you,” that is each of us. A single member of the .0001% has made a contribution to Romney of $100 million (Sheldon Adelson, the bankroller of Netanyahu and Romney, the casino magnate who wants to buy aggression against Iran…). If we are to have a democracy much longer, we the people have to counter this.

Look again at the multiracial group at the convention in Charlotte and the white complacent if often holding their nose for Romney faces at the one in Tampa.

This choice is clear.

David Blight below, an historian of the Civil war at Yale, wrote a brilliant New York Times op-ed on Frederick Douglass, the former slave and great orator and politician for abolition in the 19th century. Douglass is a man who couldn’t vote if the Republican voter suppression laws carry forth.

To oppose such laws is not a partisan matter. The right to vote is a natural right. It is a right given “by their Creator” as an endowment to every human being, black as well as white, old as well as young, indigenous as well as wealthy and Mormon. People have died for this right in the American Revolution and the civil rights movement (see John Lewis’s interview with Amy Goodman here)

To get the grossness of voter suppression – or why this is a historical shift election - right, Blight (and the Times editorial page which is good on this issue unlike the Times “reporting” which is in the bag for the racist imperial party) conjures a version of the Jonathan Swift’s modest proposal. Perhaps the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson, the billionaires licensed by the Supreme “Court”*****, could simply pay out $711 to the poor and the elderly to buy the non-vote of each. It could be a little contribution to paying down debt-slavery for students…

$711 – what English abolitionists paid to free Frederick Douglass. The “Republicans” could pay the same amount as the freedom of Frederick Douglass cost – the Fred Douglass voucher - to buy the election instead of just stealing it. Why they could use the “free” market to do it. Can the restoration of bondage be far behind?

How about a “Republican” toast to sexual slavery?

The satire reveals the crime…


New York Times
Voter Suppression, Then and Now
Published: September 7, 2012

SUPPRESSING the black vote is a very old story in America, and it has never been just a Southern thing.

In 1840, and again in 1841, the former Frederick Bailey, now Frederick Douglass, walked a few blocks from his rented apartment on Ray Street in New Bedford, Mass., to the town hall, where he paid a local tax of $1.50 to register to vote. Born a slave on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1818, Douglass escaped in an epic journey on trains and ferry boats, first to New York City, and then to the whaling port of New Bedford in 1838.

By the mid-1840s, he had emerged as one of the greatest orators and writers in American history. But legally, Douglass began his public life by committing what today we would consider voter fraud, using an assumed name.

It was a necessary step: when he registered to vote under his new identity, “Douglass,” a name he took from Sir Walter Scott’s 1810 epic poem “Lady of the Lake,” this fugitive slave was effectively an illegal immigrant in Massachusetts. He was still the legal “property” of Thomas Auld, his owner in St. Michaels, Md., and susceptible, under the federal fugitive slave law, to capture and return to slavery at any time.
It was a risky move. If required, the only identification Douglass could give the registrar may have been his address in the town directory. He possessed two pieces of paper, which would only have endangered him more. One was a fraudulent “Seaman’s Protection Paper,” which he had borrowed in Baltimore from a retired free black sailor named Stanley, who was willing to support the young man’s escape.

The second was a brief three-line certification of his marriage to Anna Murray, his free black fiancée, who joined him in New York just after his escape. A black minister, James Pennington, himself a former fugitive slave, married them, but on the document he called them Mr. and Mrs. “Johnson.” Douglass was at least the fourth name Frederick had used to distract the authorities on his quest for freedom. He once remarked that a fugitive slave had to adopt various names to survive because “among honest men an honest man may well be content with one name ... but toward fugitives, Americans are not honest.”

Should this fugitive, who had committed the crime of stealing his own freedom and living under false identities, have been allowed to vote? Voting reforms in recent decades had broadened the franchise to include men who did not hold property but certainly not to anyone who was property.

Fortunately for Douglass, at the time Massachusetts was one of only five Northern states that allowed suffrage for “free” blacks (the others were Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island).

Blacks in many other states weren’t so lucky. Aside from Maine, every state that entered the Union after 1819 excluded them from voting. Four Northern states — New York, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin — had reaffirmed earlier black voter exclusion laws by the early 1850s. A few blacks actually voted in New York, but only if they could pass a stiff property qualification. The sheer depth of racism at the base of this story is remarkable, since in no Northern state at the time, except New Jersey, did blacks constitute more than 2 percent of the population.

We do not know when Douglass cast his first vote. It might have been in 1840, in the famous “log cabin and hard cider” campaign mounted by the Whig Party for its candidate, Gen. William Henry Harrison. If so, he likely supported the Liberty Party’s James G. Birney, who represented the first genuinely antislavery party, however small, in American history; it achieved some strength in the Bay State.

In 1848 he spoke at the national convention of the newly formed Freesoil Party, and after 1854, haltingly at first and later wholeheartedly, he joined and worked for the new antislavery coalition known as the Republican Party, which ran and elected Abraham Lincoln in 1860. To this day, that “Grand Old Party” still calls itself the “party of Lincoln” and still claims Frederick Douglass as one of its black founders.
And indeed Douglass saw himself as a founder of that party, but only many years after a group of English antislavery friends purchased his freedom in 1846 for £150 ($711 at the time in American dollars). Douglass was in the midst of a triumphal two-year speaking tour of Ireland, Scotland and England; when he returned to America in 1847, he moved to New York in possession of his official “manumission papers.” He was free and legal, eventually owned property and could vote. Valued and purchased as a commodity, he could now claim to be a citizen.

In Douglass’s greatest speech, the Fourth of July oration in 1852, he argued that often the only way to describe American hypocrisy about race was with “scorching irony,” “biting ridicule” and “withering sarcasm.” Today’s Republican Party seems deeply concerned with rooting out voter fraud of the kind Douglass practiced. So, with Douglass’s story as background, I have a modest proposal for it. In the 23 states where Republicans have either enacted voter-ID laws or shortened early voting hours in urban districts, and consistent with their current reigning ideology, they should adopt a simpler strategy of voter suppression.

To those potentially millions of young, elderly, brown and black registered voters who, despite no evidence of voter fraud, they now insist must obtain government ID, why not merely offer money? Pay them not to vote. Give each a check for $711 in honor of Frederick Douglass. Buy their “freedom,” and the election. Call it the “Frederick Douglass Voter Voucher.”

Give people a choice: take the money and just not vote, or travel miles without easy transportation to obtain a driver’s license they do not need. It’s their “liberty”; let them decide how best to use it. Perhaps they will forget their history as much as the Republican Party seems to wish the nation would.

Such an offer would be only a marginal expense for a “super PAC” — plus a bit more to cover the lawyers needed to prove it legal under federal election law — and no one would have to know who paid for this generous effort to stop fraud. Once and for all, the right can honestly declare what the Supreme Court has allowed it to practice: that voters are commodities, not citizens.

And, if the Republican Party wins the election in November, this plan will give it a splendid backdrop for next year’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of its great founder’s Emancipation Proclamation.

David W. Blight, a professor of history at Yale, is writing a biography of Frederick Douglass.

*Actually, as Krugman pointed out today on an ABC talk show, affirmed by Rand Paul, Romney is for military Keynsianism (spending more than what the military requests), just not for Keynsianism for a common good. He is, in this case, a hypocrite as well as a monster.

**Anti-radical ideology is the idea that all oppressed people, slaves, peasants, workers are happy, "singing' down on the plantation," until some outside agitator, some unAmerican,"foreign" person, speaking in a dogmatic and barely decipherable rhetoric misleads them. As the case of Angela Davis shows, even one such agitator on a faculty of 3,000 at UCLA had to be fired by the Regents. Note how little confidence in the truth or decency of their case against Davis and of the intelligence of other UCLA faculty members and UCLA students the Regents displayed. Democracy and freedom of speech and truth winning out in the end - not a chance for these ideologues. This ideology dates back to the Roman empire and its suppression on the slave uprising led by Spartacus. It is a widespread outlook, more dangerous, because unlike racism and sexism, it is not yet widely recognized or named.

For a more thorough account, see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, Democratic Individuality, ch. 12 and Michael Rogin, Ronald Reagan the Movie and other Studies in American Political Demonology.

***Recently, when my car broke down, the tow truck driver for a local garage was a big, middle aged, white mountain man, somewhat unkempt. He had been homeless, he told me, for the better part of a year. But his mother had run the observatory at DU; he had learned some geology; he had helped someone prospect for valuable minerals in California, which his partner had found, and the fellow, grateful, offered him his home in Colorado for a year. He was for Obama and expressed huge distaste for Romney.

He told me that he had been a custodian last year at a Jewish summer camp. He had some trouble being accepted - people judge by appearances and stereotypes quite often. A meeting at the camp had worried about bears. The head proposed putting barbed wire around the camp to nods.

"What do you think barbed wire around a camp for Jewish children," the custodian asked, "reminds people of?"

The camp avoided barbed wire...

****The tea party is something of an exception except that there was a lot of money – the Koch brothers and the like behind it…There are limited exceptions like Thom Hartmann on AM 760 in Denver or Democracy Now on public radio.

*****That court is an organization designed to and justified by upholding the basic equal rights of all Americans but in reality, a terrible enemy of those rights, putting a decent democracy, as in Citizens United, on life support.