Wednesday, February 27, 2013

No sense of occasion

Like most cities of some size, Washington, D.C. (or the District of Columbia, to use the more formal name currently favored, I gather, by various local officials) has a 'classical' radio station. To say that its programming is timid and unimaginative would be an understatement. It shuns most twentieth-century music like the plague and -- oddly, perhaps, for a station located in the country's capital -- it slights American composers. (In years of listening I have yet to hear so much as a single note by one of the great American composers, Charles Ives.)

However, one might have thought that even this radio station would have bestirred itself this evening to play a Van Cliburn recording or two. But no, as far as I could tell it was business as usual. (Luckily, I have the CD of Cliburn's 1958 performance in Carnegie Hall of the Tchaikovsky with Kiril Kondrashin, who was the conductor at the Moscow competition, and the RCA Symphony Orchestra.)

P.s. Actually I think the recording I just mentioned was done in a studio. (Doesn't especially matter.)

Van Cliburn

A long-ish, interesting, somewhat blunt, i.e. not especially charitable obituary by Tim Page.

Quote of the day

Prompted by this (h/t), a quotation from Marshall Sahlins's Islands of History, p.153, explaining why the distinction between "structure" and "event" is, in his view, "pernicious":
[A]ll structure or system is, phenomenally, evenemential. As a set of meaningful relations between categories, the cultural order is only virtual. It exists in potentia merely. So the meaning of any specific cultural form is all its possible uses in the community as a whole. But this meaning is realized, in presentia, only as events of speech and action.... The converse proposition, that all events are culturally systematic, is more significant.... "Events are not just there and happen," as Max Weber said, "but they have a meaning and happen because of that meaning." Or in other words, an event is not just a happening in the world; it is a relation between a certain happening and a given symbolic system.... The event is a happening interpreted -- and interpretations vary.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The nearly lost art of accidental browsing

With apologies to the title of a recent PTJ post.

In the last several weeks I've run across, more or less accidentally, a couple of books that looked interesting, at least one of which seems worth mentioning here: W.O.Walker III, National Security and Core Values in American History (2009).  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When a man shoots a woman, is that a case of violence against women?

Update: In view of the comments, I acknowledge that this post was not very well-considered. I'm leaving it up because my policy/approach is to delete things only rarely (though I have done it on occasion). In blogging I find there's a line one walks between off-the-cuff reactions and considered reflections; generally I prefer the latter but I have sometimes posted the former as well. In general -- though, again, I have occasionally broken this rule -- I try not to venture with confident-seeming pronouncements into terrain where I don't have enough facts or knowledge to warrant that.          

The answer to the question posed by this post's title is, I venture to suggest: maybe, but not necessarily and not always.

The occasion for the question is the NewsHour report I just heard on the Oscar Pistorius case, in which the South African journalist being interviewed said that some groups in the country are using the case to highlight the problem of violence against women. Granting that violence against women is a problem in many places, South Africa no doubt included, one might nonetheless ask whether a man shooting a woman, who was his girlfriend but who he claims he thought was an intruder, is a good vehicle for making a point about violence against women.

This is not, it seems to me, much like, for instance, the horrible, brutal recent gang rape in India of a young woman who then died of her injuries. That was a crime of violence and a clear instance of violence against women. In the Pistorius case, all that appears to be known is that a famous athlete shot his girlfriend and claims it was an accident, while the prosecution is pursuing a charge of premeditated murder. Was it the result of an argument? A crime of passion, to use an old-fashioned phrase? A mistake? It's not clear, judging from the report I just heard. In these circumstances, to jump to the conclusion that this is an instance of the category 'violence against women' seems somewhat unwarranted. Unless, of course, you think that every crime in which the victim is a woman constitutes an instance of 'violence against women,' in which case 'violence against women' stops designating an identifiable type of gender subordination and becomes simply a descriptive (and perhaps not very helpful) phrase.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Time for a move?

Further to the previous post:

I suppose the least complicated, quickest thing to do would be to start a WordPress site with the same name and call it a continuation of this blog. I would leave this site up with a note directing readers to the new site. Eventually, I suppose, Blogger would shut this site down for inactivity but that probably would not happen for a while.

Just thinking aloud about this for the moment. Inertia etc. may mean this will remain idle musing. Reactions?

Technical note

The 'recent comments' app/list/whatever on the front page isn't loading properly, at least not for me. This has occasionally happened before; probably temporary. I should perhaps move this blog to another platform but I can't be bothered to fuss with that, certainly not right now.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Noted in passing

-- Since I've mentioned Machiavelli recently here and republicanism here, I was interested to learn, via X. Marquez's 'pinboard,' of this recent article.

-- Also, in the better-linked-late-than-never dept., C. Brooke on the 18th-century 'perpetual peace' debates.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Note: light posting

Readers should expect posting to be light here for a while because, as I mentioned, I'm busy with other things. I do have a couple of longish posts in either the planning or half-written stage but they won't be ready for some time. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

State of the Union

A pretty good speech, I thought, although the foreign policy section was somewhat perfunctory. (I may have a bit more to say later on after I've read the text, though probably not for several days, as I have a busy rest of the week.)
Unrelated note: If you are interested in Marx and don't already know about the series of posts R.P. Wolff is currently doing, you probably should. Unfortunately, time and other constraints mean that I haven't been able to read these posts properly. (And even if I did, I'm not sure to what extent I would follow them, my one prolonged, serious encounter with Capital having occurred when I was a 19-year-old in '76-'77. Which, yes, is a while ago.)

Monday, February 11, 2013


-- Annals of sting operations: a 21-year-old Bangladeshi pled guilty to trying to blow up the Federal Res. Bank of NY with a fake bomb supplied by an undercover agent. Assuming he entered the country with an intent to do something criminal, as the government alleges, I still doubt it makes sense to put him in prison for 30 years. According to the NYT, this case is the work of "the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes F.B.I. agents and members of the Police Department." (Note btw that he was dissuaded from returning to Bangladesh before the operation's completion.)

-- Pakistan's government is planning a $30 million amusement park in Abbottabad, according to a news report cited by FP's AfPak Brief recently.

-- Big Oil fights transparency: From the current issue of OxfamCloseup, I see that the American Petroleum Inst. is suing the SEC over its rules on disclosure of payments to governments. For more on the regulations, see e.g. here. Also here.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The mentality of...what?

A group called Republican Women of Clifton (Va.) has rented a room in a public school (after school hours) to hear a speaker who will address:
the treatment of women in Islamic society and how the Hijab is a catalyst for Islamism because it leads to the mentality of passive terrorism and silent support for Sharia Law in Western societies.
This is incoherent nonsense. The "mentality of passive terrorism" is  a meaningless phrase because terrorism, by definition, is not passive. If they mean something like "tacit support for terrorism," it's rubbish to suggest that wearing a headscarf has anything to do with that. This is part of the right-wing scare campaign which claims that there is a Secret Plot to impose sharia law in the U.S. It's idiocy and prejudice, period.  

References for reason-of-state post

These references go with this post (most but not all were cited in the post).

D.A. Bell, "Poker Lessons from Richelieu," Foreign Affairs (March/April 2012) [link]

R. Bireley, The Counter-Reformation Prince (1990)

R. Briggs, Early Modern France (2nd ed. 1998)

J. Donnelly, "Twentieth-Century Realism," in T. Nardin and D. Mapel, eds., Traditions of International Ethics (1992)

M. Doyle, Ways of War and Peace (1997)

M. Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-1978 (2007), ed. M. Senellart, tr. G. Burchell

A. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests (1977)

S. Hoffmann, Duties Beyond Borders (1981)

R. Jackson, The Global Covenant (2000)

D.L. Jensen, ed., Machiavelli: Cynic, Patriot, or Political Scientist? (1960)

N. Machiavelli, The Prince (1532), tr. H. Mansfield (2nd ed. 1998)

F. Meinecke, Machiavellism, tr. D. Scott (1957)

C. Nederman, "Niccolò Machiavelli," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2009 Edition), ed. E. Zalta [link]

A. Wolfers, "Statesmanship and Moral Choice" (1949), reprinted in Discord and Collaboration (1962)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Comment on Butler

I left a comment at Crooked Timber on Judith Butler's remarks at the "boycott divest sanction" (BDS) event held at Brooklyn College (the text of her remarks is here). For background, see the recent posts on this at CT.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Intervention," or what's in a word?

David Kaib thinks the word "intervention" obscures reality: it covers a range of activities, and at one end of the spectrum slides into warmaking. Since, given my age, I recall numerous contemporaneous references to "intervention" with respect to, e.g., Vietnam and Central America (the latter under Reagan) -- two rather different sorts of "intervention" -- I automatically do a sort of mental unpacking whenever I hear the word. But I suppose, in public debates, the word might have the effect Kaib suggests. (Note, however, that there were no or few references to the U.S. "intervention" in Iraq. When it's a clear-cut case of invasion, the word becomes hard to use with a straight face.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Reason of state and the ethics of statecraft

When was the last time a politician used the phrase "reason of state"? I'm not sure, but it must be quite a while. Phrases such as "the national interest" displaced "reason of state" in leaders' vocabularies long ago. But a brief historical look at reason of state may be interesting, at least (if you'll pardon the tautology) to those who are interested in this sort of thing.

The statesman most associated with the notion of raison d'état is Richelieu, who sided with Protestant princes/polities in the Thirty Years War, breaking the link between religion and foreign policy. Richelieu's main concern was to counter the Habsburgs, though not necessarily to defeat them: according to one historian, "French policy aimed to restore a balance in Germany, not to bring about a Protestant triumph" (R. Briggs, Early Modern France, 2d ed. 1998, pp.102-103). At any rate, as David Bell wrote last year in reviewing a recent biography of Richelieu, the Cardinal "was hardly the first European statesman to place national interest above moral or religious imperatives...."  No doubt that's true, but by now Richelieu's name is so firmly linked with reason of state that the connection is probably unshakeable.

While Richelieu is the politician most associated with reason of state, the writer most associated with the notion is Machiavelli, even though he never used the phrase. As Michel Foucault observed in one of his 1978 lectures at the Collège de France, the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century debates about reason of state were "conducted through" Machiavelli; the invocation of his name became, to some extent, a signaling device. In the debates of the time, opponents of Richelieu used the accusation of Machiavellism to signal that the lodestar of policy was the ruler's (in this case Louis XIII's) "whims or interests," not -- what reason of state more properly should have denoted -- an "autonomous and specific art of government," as Foucault put it. Writers more favorable to raison d'état were divided, some distancing themselves from the charge of Machiavellism, others praising the author of The Prince (see Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, trans. G. Burchell, pp.243, 245).

Controversies and polemics invoking Machiavelli began not long after the posthumous publication of The Prince in 1532, five years after his death. In 1559 the Church put all of Machiavelli's books on the Index of condemned works. Before that the English cardinal Reginald Pole had concluded that The Prince was devilish; Pole "issued a warning against Machiavelli" in his Apology for Emperor Charles V, which was "written in the late 1530s but not published for over two centuries" (R. Bireley,The Counter-Reformation Prince, 1990, p.15).

Some Protestant writers also fiercely criticized Machiavelli. A key event in this connection was the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (August 1572) in which several thousand Protestants were killed in Paris (and more in the following days in other parts of France). Many Protestants blamed Catherine de Medici, an Italian and a Catholic and the French king Charles lX's mother, for the massacre, though she intended not a mass killing but "the elimination of a relatively small group" of Protestant leaders (Briggs, Early Modern France, pp.21-22). However, Catherine's intentions were probably unclear to everyone outside her inner circle.

The Huguenot lawyer and writer Innocent Gentillet penned a Contre-Machiavel or Discourse against Machiavelli (the full title is longer; it was written in Latin in 1571 [thus actually before the St. Bartholomew Massacre], then published in French in 1576 and in English in 1602 [or 1608, depending on which catalog entry one goes with]). Gentillet linked Catherine de Medici to "Italian statecraft" as allegedly exemplified by Machiavelli. Gentillet's book, as Robert Bireley notes, "was the first attempt at a systematic refutation of Machiavelli and was to have a far-reaching influence on Catholic as well as Protestant authors."  Interestingly, Gentillet referred to The Prince as the "Koran of the courtiers" (Bireley, Counter-Reformation Prince, p.17). 

As mentioned above, Machiavelli did have defenders. There was an attempt or two to argue that his views were compatible with the Bible (see Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, p.245), and today at least a couple of scholars argue that Machiavelli was not hostile to Christianity (see C. Nederman's entry on Machiavelli in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, here [with a good bibliography]). A considered view is that "Machiavelli's whole work is based on the contrast between ordinary Christian ethics and the ethics of statecraft...not an 'immoral' code of behavior, except by Christian standards, but a different code of morality, which wills the means to the noble end of civic survival" (S. Hoffmann, Duties Beyond Borders (1981), p.23). And "[r]ather than an abstract sovereign institution, the state, for Machiavelli, was nothing less -- or more -- than the government, the prince himself at home and abroad" (M. Doyle, Ways of War and Peace (1997), p.97).

One might argue that the notion of raison d'état lives on, albeit in sometimes very attenuated form, in two ways: first, through the mushy idea of the national interest; second, through the view, famously stated by Weber in "Politics as a Vocation," that politicians must always weigh the likely consequences of their actions rather than just acting in accord with a principle regardless of likely results -- though in this second case the connection to reason of state is debatable.

Following the Weberian line, various writers have argued that the ethics of statecraft is "situational." As Robert Jackson puts it (in The Global Covenant (2000), pp.135-36), "scholars of international ethics should...lay open the conduct of statespeople to appropriate moral standards" but also should take into account the circumstances in which that conduct occurs. Stated in this general way, the position leaves open the questions of which moral standards apply in a given case and which circumstances are the more or less relevant ones. But those questions are probably best debated and answered in the context of specific decisions. (Note: I don't entirely agree with R. Jackson that the ethics of statecraft is "conservative more than progressive" (ibid., p.139) but won't pursue this here.)

P.s. A post on this subject shouldn't neglect to mention Friedrich Meinecke's 1924 book The Idea of Reason of State in Modern History (later translated into English under the title Machiavellism).

Added later: The chronology in this post, I've sort of belatedly realized, goes in reverse: it starts with the 17th cent. (Thirty Years' War), then goes back to the 16th cent. (French Wars of Religion). That's probably not the best way to have organized it, but you know, you get what you pay for here... ;)  

Monday, February 4, 2013

That McCain-Hagel exchange

I caught a snippet of the questioning of Sec. Def.-designate Chuck Hagel by Sen. John McCain the other day. McCain wanted to know whether Hagel still would have opposed the 'surge' in Iraq if he had to do it over again. Hagel responded that he would let history write the verdict on the surge (that's a paraphrase, not a verbatim quote).

McCain replied that history had already written its verdict on the surge. My inclination is to think that's mostly b.s. It'll be a long time before the historical judgment on it is rendered. Yes, the surge reversed the U.S.'s (and the Iraqi government's) fortunes in Iraq in the short run, but in aid of what eventual outcome for Iraq? That very much, as of this writing, remains to be seen.

P.s. McCain has long believed that Americans are privileged 'makers' of history.

A billion dollars spread over 10 countries doesn't go that far

So there was an attack not too long ago on a natural gas facility in Algeria. The attackers took hostages. The Algerian military staged an op to free them. People died (militants, hostages, Algerian soldiers), though the majority (if I recall aright) of hostages were freed alive. The mastermind behind the attacks was a jihadist named Mokhtar Belmokhtar. 

And now the handwringing and the fault-finding have begun. A WaPo piece notes that
In 2005, the U.S. government started the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership — the innovative, $1 billion collection of programs designed to prevent the spread of radicalism. It delivered humanitarian aid and security assistance to 10 countries in North and West Africa, drawing on the combined resources of the military, the State Department and the Agency for International Development.
The partnership was dogged by problems from the outset, however, as U.S. agencies squabbled internally and struggled to understand an unfamiliar cultural and political terrain.
You know what might have been another problem? A billion dollars sounds like a lot of money, but spread it over 8 years and 10 countries and it might not go that far.

(In the extremely unlikely event that this post is read by someone who  knows something about this program -- which I, of course, do not -- please feel free to leave a comment. Of course, other comments are, as per usual, also welcome.)