Saturday, June 27, 2015

Violence in the political sphere is not going to disappear

My first reread of Bertrand Russell’s history of philosophy in nearly 30 years. The refreshing thing about Russell, whatever his faults, is that he is so damn clear. A publisher once remarked that Russell still sells big even now, and it’s actually not hard to see why. Posted by doctorzamalek

A parallel biography of Giordano Bruno and Francisco Suárez.

Both were born in 1548, but they could hardly have led different lives, even though both started out in the priesthood. Bruno’s professional existence was picaresque: beginning with murder accusations in Italy, and extending through humiliation by Calvinists in Geneva and Aristotelians in Paris, the provocation of his hosts in England (where Bruno did his best work), and ultimately arrest and execution after years in a dungeon. He was a literary genius of not much lesser magnitude than Plato or Nietzsche, and heralded a modern philosophy that he was not quite centered enough to piece together in his own mind.

Suárez was initially rejected by the Jesuits for being insufficiently bright, but stayed with the Church and was eventually the hero of the (philosophically underrated) neo-Scholastic resurgence in Spain and Portugal. His multi-volume Metaphysical Disputations was read like adventure novels by the young Leibniz, and thus passed into the heart of modern philosophy along a different path. Presumably he approved of the burning of Bruno in 1600 if he ever heard of it.

Yet there is also a powerful philosophical connection between them on questions of matter and form, and this could be made just as interesting as the striking contrast in the lives and fates of these two children of 1548. Posted by doctorzamalek

For anyone who reads German, the article has now been posted HERE.

As has already been widely discussed in the blogosphere, Günter Figal will not be replaced when he shortly retires from his historically important Freiburg chair.

Admittedly, the story of Heidegger’s politics only gets uglier over time. Some say that we knew it all along, but not really: in the recently published Black Notebooks Heidegger reaches previously unfamiliar lows.


(a) the Freiburg chair was Husserl’s before it was Heidegger’s, and would be historically important through its link with Husserl alone.

(b) Heidegger cannot be airbrushed out of the history of philosophy, and if there is any university chair in the world well-positioned to address the problem posed by this crucial but strangely repellant figure, it is the old Husserl/Heidegger chair in Freiburg.
Posted by doctorzamalek

Eric Schliesser in Amsterdam (who is a leading expert on Adam Smith, among other things) offers THIS POST in response to my Sonic Acts interview in Amsterdam, which touched on politics a bit. Schliesser seems to agree with me on a number of issues, and also adds Frank Knight and J.M. Keynes to the disussion (two figures I never mentioned in Bruno Latour: Reassembling the Political).

Schliesser makes at least two possibly useful criticisms of my position. First, he thinks I am wrong to associate public caution with Socratic ignorance; let me think about that one for awhile. Second, he seems to wonder whether it’s true (as I tacitly claim) that academic groupthink is a bigger danger than bad politics of the Rightist variety. I think that depends on the sphere in which one is operating. On specific political issues (the environment, workers’ rights, women’s rights, gay rights, the Egyptian Revolution in its early stages) I often feel drawn to the Left position. The big exception for me is that I’ve never been impressed by the often knee-jerk reactions against the use of violence: e.g., depicting police as primarily and essentially a force of oppression, or reflexive anti-Americanism. It’s easy to take the moral high ground against racist cops or the U.S. military, but I’m more interested in hearing people talk about how they would like to see violence employed. Violence in the political sphere is not going to disappear, and even if the hard Left gets its way, that violence will not consist exclusively in expropriating ill-gotten wealth from Wall Street. You’ll still need to deal with violent criminals, and you’ll still need to deal with genuinely unresolvable violent international conflicts. These sorts of factors are too often missing from Left programs in politics. You have to keep yourself honest in discussing the proper use of force in human affairs, and not just denounce the strongest forces each time they act. That’s just another way of passing on the hard issues of politics by installing oneself on the throne of superior morality.

An anecdote: some of the most thoughtful political thinkers I’ve met in my life have been high-level military officers– in Egypt, in Turkey, and in the United States. Now, it would be easy to denounce that entire profession as a bunch of unhinged aggressors and war-mongers. Yet it has been remarkable to me how un-ideological these officers have been: how in tune they tend to be with reality, and how able to cut through media hysteria and sort true threats from illusory ones. I listened as a right-wing American officer disgustedly dissected the failings of the Bush Administration for which he worked, and from which he eventually resigned. I heard a Turkish officer prudently weigh the various threats along Turkey’s borders in a manner that, while completely convincing, bore no resemblance at all to any account of the region that you’ll find anywhere in the mainstream or even non-mainstream media, but which was based in factual assessments. I even listened in astonishment as an Egyptian general, one of the architects of the surprise 1973 Suez Canal crossing, offered grudging respect to none other than Ariel Sharon: “He defended his people, just as I would defend Egypt.”

What I admire about the military profession as a whole is the way it is constrained by realities instead of by moralisms, including moralisms dressed up as science. Disclaimer: it is not my claim that morality is irrelevant to politics, as some hardcore political realists tend to think. This is why I have critiqued the excessive Hobbesianism of the early Latour. But since the confusion of politics with morality is the bigger excess in academia than right-wing notions, it is just as important to counter Left ideologies in academia as it is to cheer for resistance in the public sphere. This can change as circumstances change. Posted by doctorzamalek

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