Thursday, June 30, 2016

Anniversary of the Somme

Tomorrow, July 1, is the hundredth anniversary of the first day of the battle of the Somme, the costliest (i.e., in terms of casualties) day in the history of the British army.

Monday, June 27, 2016

An ill-timed sentiment

In a post at Duck of Minerva, J. Stacey writes: that the UK is packing up and politically retreating back across the Channel, the admiration Americans hold for Britain will also falter as the openness and tolerance of our British cousins will increasingly be called into question.
This is an ill-phrased and possibly ill-timed remark, it seems to me.  I would have voted Remain, but I don't think "packing up" and "retreating" really capture what's going on here -- at best, it's a partial description.  

Moreover, I don't see sentiment about Britain in the U.S. being affected that much.  Americans who were anglophiles before Brexit will still be anglophiles.  British history and 'high' culture, e.g. literature (by which I mean to include the history/culture of the UK's constituent parts), are, to a large extent, what American anglophiles admire, and I wouldn't anticipate that feeling changing drastically, if at all.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Headlines of the day

Should say something about Brexit but I think it's all being said elsewhere, so I'm not going to bother.  Except to say that HRC should nip in the bud Trump's "I love Britain, we're going to be closer under my admin" thing before it becomes one of his standard talking points.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Quote of the day

George Eliot, Middlemarch, ch. LXI:

"There is no general doctrine which is not capable of eating out our morality if unchecked by the deep-seated habit of direct fellow-feeling with individual fellow-men."

Friday, June 17, 2016

Soft landing: July 31

This blog has been running for more than eight years -- the first post went up on May 23, 2008 -- and I believe the time has arrived to wind it up or, to use a cliché, bring it in for a soft landing.   For one thing, my impulse to blog has weakened and I'm increasingly busy with  other things.  Second, the readership has shrunk from small to minuscule.

There may or may not be a little more posting in June or July -- I'm not sure.  The last day of active operation for Howl at Pluto will be July 31, 2016.  I'll leave the site up but I don't plan to post anything after that.  My thanks to those who have read and commented here over the years, as well as to those who wrote guest posts -- HC and Peter T.

ETA: And I should acknowledge and thank Hank F_M_ as the most faithful reader from the blog's very beginning to now, even though he and I often disagree on politics and other matters.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Obama on the phrase 'radical Islam' and why he doesn't use it

Good statement on that: here (latter portion, starting at around 14 minutes in).

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Fraser, Harris, and the memory holes of contemporary history

The prose in this piece is sufficiently smooth that one might almost be carried away by its perhaps slightly-too-clever argument that "limousine liberalism" -- to blame for many current woes -- is finally meeting its comeuppance.  The piece's message is that the real villain is not liberalism, limousine or otherwise, but the capitalism that it has served.  Consider this passage:
Brave and audacious as they were, rarely had the rebel movements of the fabled sixties or those that followed explicitly challenged the underlying distribution of property and power in American society. And yet if liberalism had proved compatible enough with liberty, equality, and democracy, capitalism was another matter.
A case could be made that some of the sixties movements did challenge "the underlying distribution of property and power in American society."  But since Fraser in this piece never bothers to define capitalism, he is free to argue, or at least to imply, that the only movements in recent years that have challenged "the underlying distribution of property and power in American society" have done so under an anti-capitalist banner.

The implication is, at best, dubious.  In 1976, Sen. Fred Harris ran for the Democratic presidential nomination on the message that what was needed was "a fairer distribution of wealth and income and power."  Harris framed that message in terms of left-populism rather than (explicit) anti-capitalism.  Bernie Sanders has framed a similar message against the backdrop of a stated commitment to democratic socialism.  But that commitment has been mainly a matter of ideological self-labeling rather than program, since, as Fraser himself notes, Sanders's proposals have been mostly a left-tinged version of the New Deal, not anything notably more radical.

Btw, this is not to deny that Sanders is a socialist: within certain wide limits, a socialist is anyone who calls himself or herself that, and Sanders, who joined the Young People's Socialist League as a student, has long embraced the label.  But Fraser the historian, in ignoring Fred Harris and his left-populist presidential campaign -- one that occurred after the New Left had burned itself out and when 'limousine liberals' for their part were somewhat in retreat -- can reasonably be faulted for having fallen into one of the memory holes of recent history.         

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Peasants and patriotism

It is sometimes useful to distinguish nationalism from patriotism.  Nationalism often carries overtones of aggression, exclusivity, and/or xenophobia that patriotism doesn't.  A 1971 article by Jacques Godechot embodies the distinction in its title: "Nation, patrie, nationalisme et patriotisme en France au XVIIIe siècle."  

Godechot is cited by Rogers Brubaker in Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany (1992) for the argument that French nationalism, as opposed to patriotism, emerged only in 1792 with the revolutionary wars.  Before that, "nationalism existed neither as a 'blind and exclusive preference for all that belongs to the nation' nor as a 'demand in favor of subject nationalities.'" [1]  According to Godechot, "it is...absurd to speak of French nationalism during the first years of the Revolution; patriotism is an entirely different thing." [2]

Patriotism was certainly in evidence long before the Revolution.  I've lately been dipping into Jay Smith's 2011 book on 'the beast of the Gévaudan,' a notorious predatory animal (or animals) that ravaged a remote part of south-central France in the mid-1760s.[3]  In two separate episodes, two people -- a shepherd boy and a middle-aged woman -- stood up to the beast when it attacked rather than running away, thereby becoming not only local but national heroes.  The king, Louis XV, rewarded them monetarily, and the boy, theretofore illiterate, was given an education at state expense and went on to a successful military career (abbreviated prematurely by his death in 1785). 

Smith writes:
Their feats [i.e., the feats of the boy and the woman] were folded into a potent cultural initiative evident in many corners of French public life in the 1760s.  In the wake of a disheartening war [i.e., the Seven Years' War], many writers -- government propagandists, historians, educators, moralists, journalists, novelists, and pamphleteers -- worked to boost national morale and encourage new sentiments of national pride.  Their project grew out of the hardening conviction that even "subaltern heroes," or persons of inferior status, could rise to the level of patriotic paragon, and it reflected the belief that a French identity based on proud sentiments of honor should inspire "patriotic enthusiasm" throughout the "mass of the nation." [4]       


1. Brubaker, Citizenship and Nationhood, p.8, quoting Godechot, "Nation, patrie..." in Annales historiques de la Révolution française v. 206 (1971).

2. Godechot, "Nation, patrie...", p.498, as quoted in Brubaker, Citizenship and Nationhood, p.193 n.28. 

3. Jay M. Smith, Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast (2011).

4. Ibid., p.160 (endnote omitted).