“Compassion or Toleration? Two Approaches to Pluralism”


October 198, 2018

“Compassion or Toleration? Two Approaches to Pluralism”

On October 4th, 2018, Karen Armstrong, writer and religious historian, delivered the sixth Annual Pluralism Lecture titled “Compassion or Toleration? Two Approaches to Pluralism”.

Please to listen to Karen’s lecture and reflect. Egoism is our problem. God is always Great.  –Din Merican

 

Foreign Policy: Francis Fukuyama Postpones the End of History


September 3, 2018

Foreign Policy: Francis Fukuyama Postpones the End of History

Image result for francis fukuyama

The political scientist argues that the desire of identity groups for recognition is a key threat to liberalism.

In February, 1989, Francis Fukuyama gave a talk on international relations at the University of Chicago. Fukuyama was thirty-six years old, and on his way from a job at the RAND Corporation, in Santa Monica, where he had worked as an expert on Soviet foreign policy, to a post as the deputy director of policy planning at the State Department, in Washington.

It was a good moment for talking about international relations, and a good moment for Soviet experts especially, because, two months earlier, on December 7, 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev had announced, in a speech at the United Nations, that the Soviet Union would no longer intervene in the affairs of its Eastern European satellite states. Those nations could now become democratic. It was the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

At RAND, Fukuyama had produced focussed analyses of Soviet policy. In Chicago, he permitted himself to think big. His talk came to the attention of Owen Harries, an editor at a Washington journal called The National Interest, and Harries offered to publish it. The article was titled “The End of History?” It came out in the summer of 1989, and it turned the foreign-policy world on its ear.

Fukuyama’s argument was that, with the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union, the last ideological alternative to liberalism had been eliminated. Fascism had been killed off in the Second World War, and now Communism was imploding. In states, like China, that called themselves Communist, political and economic reforms were heading in the direction of a liberal order.

So, if you imagined history as the process by which liberal institutions—representative government, free markets, and consumerist culture—become universal, it might be possible to say that history had reached its goal. Stuff would still happen, obviously, and smaller states could be expected to experience ethnic and religious tensions and become home to illiberal ideas. But “it matters very little what strange thoughts occur to people in Albania or Burkina Faso,” Fukuyama explained, “for we are interested in what one could in some sense call the common ideological heritage of mankind.”

Hegel, Fukuyama said, had written of a moment when a perfectly rational form of society and the state would become victorious. Now, with Communism vanquished and the major powers converging on a single political and economic model, Hegel’s prediction had finally been fulfilled. There would be a “Common Marketization” of international relations and the world would achieve homeostasis.

Even among little magazines, The National Interest was little. Launched in 1985 by Irving Kristol, the leading figure in neoconservatism, it had by 1989 a circulation of six thousand. Fukuyama himself was virtually unknown outside the world of professional Sovietologists, people not given to eschatological reflection. But the “end of history” claim was picked up in the mainstream press, Fukuyama was profiled by James Atlas in the New York Times Magazine, and his article was debated in Britain and in France and translated into many languages, from Japanese to Icelandic. Some of the responses to “The End of History?” were dismissive; almost all of them were skeptical. But somehow the phrase found its way into post-Cold War thought, and it stuck.

One of the reasons for the stickiness was that Fukuyama was lucky. He got out about six months ahead of the curve—his article appearing before the Velvet Revolution, in Czechoslovakia, and before the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, in November, 1989. Fukuyama was betting on present trends continuing, always a high-risk gamble in the international-relations business.

Any number of things might have happened for Gorbachev’s promise not to cash out: political resistance within the Soviet Union, the refusal of the Eastern European puppet regimes to cede power, the United States misplaying its hand. But events in Europe unfolded more or less according to Fukuyama’s prediction, and, on December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union voted itself out of existence. The Cold War really was over.

Events in Asia were not so obliging. Fukuyama missed completely the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in China. There is no mention of the massacre in Tiananmen Square in “The End of History?,” presumably because the piece was in production when it happened, in June, 1989. This does not seem to have made a difference to the article’s reception, however. Almost none of the initial responses to the piece mentioned Tiananmen, either—even though many people already believed that China, not Russia, was the power that liberal democracies would have to reckon with in the future. “The End of History?” was a little Eurocentric.

There was also a seductive twist to Fukuyama’s argument. At the end of the article, he suggested that life after history might be sad. When all political efforts were committed to “the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands” (sounds good to me), we might feel nostalgia for the “courage, imagination, and idealism” that animated the old struggles for liberalism and democracy. This speculative flourish recalled the famous question that John Stuart Mill said he asked himself as a young man: If all the political and social reforms you believe in came to pass, would it make you a happier human being? That is always an interesting question.

Another reason that Fukuyama’s article got noticed may have had to do with his new job title. The office of policy planning at State had been created in 1947 by George Kennan, who was its first chief. In July of that year, Kennan published the so-called X article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” in Foreign Affairs. It appeared anonymously—signed with an “X”—but once the press learned his identity the article was received as an official statement of American Cold War policy.

“The Sources of Soviet Conduct” defined the containment doctrine, according to which the aim of American policy was to keep the Soviet Union inside its box. The United States did not need to intervene in Soviet affairs, Kennan believed, because Communism was bound to collapse from its own inefficiency. Four decades later, when “The End of History?” appeared, that is exactly what seemed to be happening. That April, Kennan, then eighty-five, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to declare that the Cold War was over. He received a standing ovation. Fukuyama’s article could thus be seen as a bookend to Kennan’s.

It was not the bookend Kennan would have written. Containment is a realist doctrine. Realists think that a nation’s foreign policy should be guided by dispassionate consideration of its own interests, not by moral principles, or by a belief that nations share a “harmony of interests.” To Kennan, it was of no concern to the United States what the Soviets did inside their own box. The only thing that mattered was that Communism not be allowed to expand.

The National Interest, as the name proclaims, is a realist foreign-policy journal. But Fukuyama’s premise was that nations do share a harmony of interests, and that their convergence on liberal political and economic models was mutually beneficial. Realism imagines nations to be in perpetual competition with one another; Fukuyama was saying that this was no longer going to be the case. He offered Cold War realists a kind of valediction: their mission, though philosophically misconceived, had been accomplished. Now they were out of a job. “Frank thought that what was happening spelled the end of the Realpolitik world,” Harries later said. It must have tickled him to have published Fukuyama’s article.

Twenty-nine years later, it seems that the realists haven’t gone anywhere, and that history has a few more tricks up its sleeve. It turns out that liberal democracy and free trade may actually be rather fragile achievements. (Consumerism appears safe for now.) There is something out there that doesn’t like liberalism, and is making trouble for the survival of its institutions.

 

Fukuyama thinks he knows what that something is, and his answer is summed up in the title of his new book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The demand for recognition, Fukuyama says, is the “master concept” that explains all the contemporary dissatisfactions with the global liberal order: Vladimir Putin, Osama bin Laden, Xi Jinping, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, gay marriage, ISIS, Brexit, resurgent European nationalisms, anti-immigration political movements, campus identity politics, and the election of Donald Trump. It also explains the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, Chinese Communism, the civil-rights movement, the women’s movement, multiculturalism, and the thought of Luther, Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, Freud, and Simone de Beauvoir. Oh, and the whole business begins with Plato’s Republic. Fukuyama covers all of this in less than two hundred pages. How does he do it?

Not well. Some of the problem comes from misunderstanding figures like Beauvoir and Freud; some comes from reducing the work of complex writers like Rousseau and Nietzsche to a single philosophical bullet point. A lot comes from the astonishingly blasé assumption—which was also the astonishingly blasé assumption of “The End of History?”—that Western thought is universal thought. But the whole project, trying to fit Vladimir Putin into the same analytic paradigm as Black Lives Matter and tracing them both back to Martin Luther, is far-fetched. It’s a case of Great Booksism: history as a chain of paper dolls cut out of books that only a tiny fraction of human beings have even heard of. Fukuyama is a smart man, but no one could have made this argument work.

Why is the desire for recognition—or identity politics, as Fukuyama also calls it—a threat to liberalism? Because it cannot be satisfied by economic or procedural reforms. Having the same amount of wealth as everyone else or the same opportunity to acquire it is not a substitute for respect. Fukuyama thinks that political movements that appear to be about legal and economic equality—gay marriage, for example, or #MeToo—are really about recognition and respect. Women who are sexually harassed in the workplace feel that their dignity has been violated, that they are being treated as less than fully human.

Fukuyama gives this desire for recognition a Greek name, taken from Plato’s Republic: thymos. He says that thymos is “a universal aspect of human nature that has always existed.” In the Republic, thymos is distinct from the two other parts of the soul that Socrates names: reason and appetite. Appetites we share with animals; reason is what makes us human. Thymos is in between.

The term has been defined in various ways. “Passion” is one translation; “spirit,” as in “spiritedness,” is another. Fukuyama defines thymos as “the seat of judgments of worth.” This seems a semantic overreach. In the Republic, Socrates associates thymos with children and dogs, beings whose reactions need to be controlled by reason. The term is generally taken to refer to our instinctive response when we feel we’re being disrespected. We bristle. We swell with amour propre. We honk the horn. We overreact.

Plato had Socrates divide the psyche into three parts in order to assign roles to the citizens of his imaginary republic. Appetite is the principal attribute of the plebes, passion of the warriors, and reason of the philosopher kings. The Republic is philosophy; it is not cognitive science. Yet Fukuyama adopts Plato’s heuristic and biologizes it. “Today we know that feelings of pride and self-esteem are related to levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain,” he says, and points to studies done with chimps (which Socrates would have counted as animals, but never mind).

But so what? Lots of feelings are related to changes in serotonin levels. In fact, every feeling we experience—lust, anger, depression, exasperation—has a corollary in brain chemistry. That’s how consciousness works. To say, as Fukuyama does, that “the desire for status—megalothymia—is rooted in human biology” is the academic equivalent of palmistry. You’re just making it up.

Fukuyama resorts to this tactic because he wants to do with the desire for recognition what he did with liberalism in “The End of History?” He wants to universalize it. This allows him to argue, for example, that the feelings that led to the rise of Vladimir Putin are exactly the same (albeit “on a larger scale”) as the feelings of a woman who complains that her potential is limited by gender discrimination. The woman can’t help it. She needs the serotonin, just like the Russians.

Hegel thought that the end of history would arrive when humans achieved perfect self-knowledge and self-mastery, when life was rational and transparent. Rationality and transparency are the values of classical liberalism. Rationality and transparency are supposed to be what make free markets and democratic elections work. People understand how the system functions, and that allows them to make rational choices.

The trouble with thymos is that it is not rational. People not only sacrifice worldly goods for recognition; they die for recognition. The choice to die is not rational. “Human psychology is much more complex than the rather simpleminded economic model suggests,” Fukuyama concludes.

“Sorry I’m late. I got caught up at home being happy.”

But how was that model of the rational economic actor ever plausible? It’s not just that human beings are neurotic; it’s that, on the list of things human beings are neurotic about, money is close to the top. People hoard money; they squander it; they marry for it; they kill for it. Don’t economists ever read novels? Practically every realist novel, from Austen and Balzac to James and Wharton, is about people behaving badly around money. Free markets didn’t change that. They arguably made people even crazier.

And as with money so with most of life. The notion that we have some mental faculty called “reason” that functions independently of our needs, desires, anxieties, and superstitions is, well, Platonic. Right now, you are trying to decide whether to finish this piece or turn to the cartoon-caption contest. Which mental faculty are you using to make this decision? Which is responsible for your opinion of Donald Trump? How can you tell?

“Identity” can be read as a corrective to the position that Fukuyama staked out in “The End of History?” Universal liberalism isn’t impeded by ideology, like fascism or communism, but by passion. Liberalism remains the ideal political and economic system, but it needs to find ways to accommodate and neutralize this pesky desire for recognition. What is odd about Fukuyama’s dilemma is that, in the philosophical source for his original theory about the end of history, recognition was not a problem. Recognition was, in fact, the means to get there.

That source was not Hegel. As Fukuyama stated explicitly in “The End of History?,” he was adopting an interpretation of Hegel made in the nineteen-thirties by a semi-obscure intellectual adventurer named Alexandre Kojève. How, fifty years later, Kojève’s ideas got into the pages of a Washington policy journal is an unusual story of intellectual musical chairs.

Kojève was born in 1902 into a well-off Moscow family, and he was raised in a cultivated atmosphere. The painter Wassily Kandinsky was an uncle. Kojève was a prodigious intellect; by the time he was eighteen, he was fluent in Russian, German, French, and English, and read Latin. Later, he learned Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan in order to study Buddhism. In 1918, he went to prison for some sort of black-market transaction. After he got out, he and a friend managed to cross the closed Soviet border into Poland, where they were briefly jailed on suspicion of espionage. With the pointed encouragement of Polish authorities, Kojève left for Germany. He studied philosophy with Karl Jaspers at Heidelberg and lived as a bon vivant in Weimar Berlin. In 1926, he moved to Paris, where he continued to live the high life while writing a dissertation that dealt with quantum physics.

Kojève had invested his inheritance in the French company that made La Vache Qui Rit cheese, but he lost everything in the stock-market crash. In 1933, in need of income, he accepted a friend’s offer to take over a seminar on Hegel at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. He ended up running the course for six years.

People who were around Kojève seem to have regarded him as a kind of magician. In the Hegel seminar, he taught just one text, “The Phenomenology of Spirit,” first published in 1807. He would read a passage aloud in German (the book had not been translated into French) and then, extemporaneously and in perfect French (with an enchanting Slavic accent), provide his own commentary. People found him eloquent, brilliant, mesmerizing. Enrollment was small, around twenty, but a number of future intellectual luminaries, like Hannah Arendt and Jacques Lacan, either took the class or sat in on it.

For Kojève, the key concept in Hegel’s “Phenomenology” was recognition. Human beings want the recognition of other human beings in order to become self-conscious—to know themselves as autonomous individuals. As Kojève put it, humans desire, and what they desire is either something that other humans desire or the desire of other humans. “Human history,” he said, “is the history of desired desires.” What makes this complicated is that in the struggle for recognition there are winners and losers. The terms Hegel used for these can be translated as lords and servants, but also as masters and slaves, which are the terms Kojève used. The master wins the recognition of the slave, but his satisfaction is empty, since he does not recognize the slave as human in turn. The slave, lacking recognition from the master, must seek it in some other way.

Kojève thought that the other way was through labor. The slave achieves his sense of self by work that transforms the natural world into a human world. But the slave is driven to labor in the first place because of the master’s refusal to recognize him. This “master-slave dialectic” is the motor of human history, and human history comes to an end when there are no more masters or slaves, and all are recognized equally.

This is the idea that Marx had adopted to describe history as the history of class struggle. That struggle also has winners and losers, and its penultimate phase was the struggle between property owners (the bourgeoisie) and workers (the proletariat). The struggle would come to an end with the overthrow of capitalism and the arrival of a classless society—communism. Kojève called himself, mischievously or not, a Communist, and people listening to him in the nineteen-thirties would have understood this to be the subtext of his commentary. Equality of recognition was history’s goal, whether that meant Communist equality or liberal equality. People would stop killing one another in the name of dignity and self-respect, and life would probably be boring.

After the war, Kojève’s lectures were published as “Introduction to the Reading of Hegel,” a book that went through many printings in France. By then, he had stopped teaching and had become an official in the French Ministry of Economic Affairs, where he played an influential behind-the-scenes role in establishing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the European Union—in other words, Common Marketization. He liked to say that he was presiding over the end of history.

In 1953, Allan Bloom, then a graduate student at the University of Chicago, met Kojève in Paris, at his office in the ministry. (The connection was presumably made through the émigré political theorist Leo Strauss, who was teaching at Chicago and who carried on a long correspondence with Kojève.) “I was seduced,” Bloom later said. He began studying with Kojève, and their meetings continued until Kojève’s death, in 1968. In 1969, Bloom arranged for the publication of the first English translation of the Hegel lectures and contributed an introduction. He was then a professor at Cornell.

Fukuyama entered Cornell as a freshman in 1970. He lived in Telluride House, a selective academic society for students and faculty, where Bloom was a resident. Fukuyama enrolled in Bloom’s freshman course on Greek philosophy, and, according to Atlas, he and Bloom “shared meals and talked philosophy until all hours.”

As it happened, that was Bloom’s last year at Cornell. He resigned in disgust at the way the administration had handled the occupation of a university building by armed students from the Afro-American Society. Fukuyama graduated in 1974 with a degree in classics. Following an excursus into the world of poststructuralist theory at Yale and in Paris, he switched his field to political science and received his Ph.D. from Harvard’s government department. He graduated in 1979, and went to RAND.

By then, Bloom was back at the University of Chicago, as a professor in the Committee on Social Thought. In 1982, he published an article on the condition of higher education in William F. Buckley’s National Review. He did not think the condition was good. Encouraged by his friend Saul Bellow, he decided to turn the article into a book. “The Closing of the American Mind,” which Simon & Schuster brought out in February, 1987, launched a campaign of criticism of American higher education that has taken little time off since.

“The Closing of the American Mind” is a Great Booksist attempt to account for the rise of cultural relativism, which Bloom thought was the bane of American higher education. Almost no one at Simon & Schuster had great hopes for sales. There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that when the editor who signed the book, Erwin Glikes, left the firm to run the Free Press he was invited to take Bloom’s book, not yet published, with him, and he declined.

If so, he missed out on one of the publishing phenomena of the decade. After a slow start, “The Closing of the American Mind” went to No. 1 on the Times best-seller list and stayed there for two and a half months. By March, 1988, it had sold a million hardcover copies in the United States alone. It made Bloom a rich man.

It was Bloom, along with another professor at Chicago, Nathan Tarcov, who invited Fukuyama to give his February, 1989, talk on international relations. If Fukuyama had not already been thinking about it, it is easy to imagine him deciding that, under the circumstances, it might be interesting to say something Kojèvean.

When “The End of History?” ran in The National Interest that summer, Bloom had become a star in the neoconservative firmament, and his was the first of six responses that the magazine printed to accompany the article. Bloom called it “bold and brilliant.” Possibly seeing the way the wind was blowing, Glikes offered Fukuyama six hundred thousand dollars to turn his article into a book. “The End of History and the Last Man” was published by the Free Press in 1992.

The book was a best-seller, but not a huge one, maybe because the excitement about the end of the Cold War had cooled. Fukuyama had taken his time writing it. “The End of History and the Last Man” is not a journal article on steroids. It is a thoughtful examination of the questions raised by the piece in The National Interest, and one of those questions is the problem of thymos, which occupies much of the book. A lot of “Identity” is a recap of what Fukuyama had already said there.

The importance of recognition has been emphasized by writers other than Kojève. The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, for example, whose book “The Sources of the Self,” published in 1989, the same year as “The End of History?,” argued that the modern idea of the self involved a cultural shift from the concept of honor, which is something for the few, to dignity, which is aspired to by all. In 1992, in the essay “The Politics of Recognition,” Taylor analyzed the advent of multiculturalism in terms similar to the ones Fukuyama uses in “Identity.” (Taylor, too, is a Hegel expert.)

Fukuyama acknowledges that identity politics has done some good, and he says that people on the right exaggerate the prevalence of political correctness and the effects of affirmative action. He also thinks that people on the left have become obsessed with cultural and identitarian politics, and have abandoned social policy. But he has surprisingly few policy suggestions himself.

He has no interest in the solution that liberals typically adopt to accommodate diversity: pluralism and multiculturalism. Taylor, for example, has championed the right of the Québécois to pass laws preserving a French-language culture in their province. Fukuyama concedes that people need a sense of national identity, whether ethnic or creedal, but otherwise he remains an assimilationist and a universalist. He wants to iron out differences, not protect them. He suggests measures like a mandatory national-service requirement and a more meaningful path to citizenship for immigrants.

It’s unfortunate that Fukuyama has hung his authorial hat on meta-historical claims. In other books—notably “The Great Disruption” (1999) and a two-volume world history, “The Origins of Political Order” (2011) and “Political Order and Political Decay” (2014)—he distinguishes civilizational differences and uses empirical data to explain social trends. But thymos is too clumsy an instrument to be much help in understanding contemporary politics.

Wouldn’t it be important to distinguish people who ultimately don’t want differences to matter, like the people involved in #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, from people who ultimately do want them to matter, like ISIS militants, Brexit voters, or separatist nationalists? And what about people who are neither Mexican nor immigrants and who feel indignation at the treatment of Mexican immigrants? Black Americans risked their lives for civil rights, but so did white Americans. How would Socrates classify that behavior? Borrowed thymos?

It might also be good to replace the linear “if present trends continue” conception of history as a steady progression toward some stable state with the dialectical conception of history that Hegel and Kojève in fact used. Present trends don’t continue. They produce backlashes and reshufflings of the social deck. The identities that people embrace today are the identities their children will want to escape from tomorrow. History is somersaults all the way to the end. That’s why it’s so hard to write, and so hard to predict. Unless you’re lucky. ♦

 

This article appears in the print edition of the September 3, 2018, issue, with the headline “What Identity Demands.”

  • Louis Menand, a staff writer since 2001, was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2016.

On Leaders, Citizens, and Philippine Politics through Machiavelli’s eyes


August 29, 2018

Through Machiavelli’s eyes: on Leaders, Citizens, and Philippine Politics

by Anthony Lawrence Borja*

http://www.newmandala.org/machiavellis-eyes-leaders-citizens-philippine-politics/

*Anthony Lawrence Borja is a PhD candidate in the Public Administration program of Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He took his BA and MA in Political Science from De La Salle University where he also worked as a lecturer in the Political Science Department from 2010-2016. The author may be reached at BorjaALA@gmail.com

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As an undergraduate student more than a decade ago, I chose Machiavelli’s The Prince for my term paper in my introductory course for political science. It caught my curiosity because the author’s name was tied to deception and malevolence. Also, it’s shorter than Plato’s Republic. Through that exercise I realised that while Plato’s work is like a cool summer breeze that promised power through knowledge and reason, The Prince dragged readers back to the muddy complexities of reality.

It was more like a bucket of cold water thrown at readers than an eye opener. As a dissection of the familiar it can enable readers to analyse the underbelly of public life. More than a mere exposé, it equipped readers to focus on the movements, complexities, and art behind the struggle for power. Moreover, it released political ethics from the restraints of religious morality.

Whoever becomes patron of a city accustomed to living free and does not destroy it, should expect to be destroyed by it; for it always has as a refuge in rebellion the name of liberty and its own ancient orders which are never forgotten either through length of time or because of benefits received.”

(Machiavelli, Chapter 5, The Prince)

To allow Machiavelli to react to the centrality of leadership in Philippine politics (the Pangulo regime in Agpalo’s terms) I decided to translate The Prince into Filipino.

This endeavour is like reverse engineering. It required a credible understanding of the original in terms of its impact on political theory, and in relation to the author’s other works. Therefore, I utilised the following guideposts.

First, The Prince, originally untitled, earned Machiavelli a place in both the pantheon of political thinkers and the Papal list of banned works. This work’s value was due to the simplicity of its style and the profundity of ideas. The mindless usage of the clichéd yet often misunderstood quotations from The Prince remains an injustice.

Second, it’s neither a work of amorality nor sheer immorality. Instead, it is an application of humanist principles in politics. The Prince allowed readers to wear the shoes of a prince since it was originally meant to be read by one; shoes that Machiavelli weaved out of his understanding of reality and history, and his reassertion of Roman virtù against Christian virtue. It also raised the ideal of national unity for a fragmented Italian peninsula.

Third, the Prince is intertwined with the state. The former takes a public form while the latter becomes partially personal. In other words, as was argued by Mansfield, the state for Machiavelli is something acquired, shaped, and personalised. Lastly, underlying The Prince is a warning for leaders not to underestimate the masses. They must be considered as a fickle entity with the power to make or break a prince.

Guided by this reading, I laboured to produce an indirect and meaning-based translation from three English versions.

I consulted the original text for crucial passages and concepts. Glossing over the drudgery of wrestling with several drafts, the entire process sandwiched me between two worlds of understanding power.

Building a bridge between contemporary Philippine politics and Renaissance Italy was pleasurably difficult.

The entire process gravitated around three contentious concepts, namely, virtù, fortuna, and stato. The first two can only be understood in relation with each other. In an earlier work I illustrated that while fortuna embodies reality with all its movements and surprises, virtù is the capacity to adapt to, and survive or even thrive under the former. It is not only about knowing how and when to act. It is also about the will and courage—the proverbial cojones—to control a situation and vie for power. Hence, a leader with virtù can lift fortuna’s veil and penetrate her.

If that sounded remotely sexual, then it showed an interesting dimension that I tackled in translating virtù. Specifically, virtù has two intertwined dimensions, namely, excellence and “manliness.” I emphasised the former to highlight its public administrative dimension, as well as Machiavelli’s attachment to Greek philosophy and its notion of arête (excellence). Linguistic nuances entailed certain costs like the loss of certain contextual meaning during transfer. Such costs were balanced out and paid for to ensure a coherent flow.

I faced a similar dilemma with the concept of stato. It can be translated easily into state, but this would invoke a modern meaning that Machiavelli did not share. Furthermore, estado is a foreign term. Rooted in a colonial past, it is estranged from everyday political discussions among ordinary Filipinos.

Hence, I chose the word bayan because it is endemic, colloquial, and a bridge to pre-Hispanic socio-political organisation. Furthermore, bayan refers to communities larger than a village (barangay), specifically a town and an entire country. It can also refer to the public itself, serving as the rootword for taong-bayan (the people), mamamayan (citizen), and pamayanan (community or polity). Hence, it allowed me to convey a leader’s practical integration into, and interdependence with the community. These factors ensure a direct appeal to the political psyche of ordinary readers; a condition exposed to the realities of clientelism and strongman politics in the Philippines.

At this point we must ask: who is a Machiavellian leader? He is someone who knows that one’s position is based upon the security and welfare of one’s state. In other words, a leader is the state so long as one takes care of it as if it was one’s own body.

If this is so, did the Philippines ever have one? Was it Marcos who, though serving as the prototype of a Philippine Machiavellian, pales in comparison to his contemporaries like Pinochet, Gaddafi, and Park? Was it Arroyo who survived despite her shaky legitimacy? Was it Estrada, Binay and the myriad of local populists who appealed to the welfare of the people? Or is it Duterte who is incapable of following Machiavelli’s principle for purging; that is, getting rid of the right ones so that the persecution can end quickly.

In addressing these questions, let me remind the reader that Machiavelli never used the word politics to refer to the activities he exposed. His attachment to Aristotle placed politics beyond mere power play. Moreover, his prince is an ideal type; a nameless composite of different leaders who tried to be great. Contrary to an embodiment of ruthless cynicism, Machiavelli conveyed ideals on leadership and civic life. This moves the question from who is to who should be a Machiavellian.

Machiavelli expected citizens to have the virtù of the prince. This notion is derived on one hand, from his revival of Roman civic ethics in the Discourses on Livy. On the other, by extending Gramsci’s application of Machiavelli’s framework on the socialist vanguard. If journalists and scholars can stop offending a great thinker by utilising a misreading enshrined in the dictionary, then we can refer to The Prince in establishing Philippine political ethics beyond civic complacency and political moralising.

Machiavelli’s resonance is not only with the issue of leadership. It is also a matter of citizenship. Should citizens see themselves as the state and be ruthless, crafty, and courageous in the acquisition and defence of their liberty? What is the implication of this paradigm on the liberal citizen whose actions are restrained by law? Through his eyes we can raise dangerous yet invaluable questions on power and civic life.

Nicolas Machiavelli: Ang Prinsipe was published in 2014 by De La Salle University Publishing House.

 

New York Times Book Review: What is Identity?


August 28, 2018

New York Times Book Review: What’s Identity?

IDENTITY
The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment
By Francis Fukuyama
218 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $26.

THE LIES THAT BIND
Rethinking Identity: Creed, Country, Color, Class, Culture
By Kwame Anthony Appiah
256 pp. Liveright Publishing. $27.95.

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A Japanese-American political scientist and a Ghanaian-British-American philosopher (picture above) walk into a bar where a brawl over identity is underway. “Stop fighting!” the philosopher cries. “The identities you’re fighting for are lies.” The political scientist steps forward. “They’re not lies,” he says. “They’re just the wrong identities to be fighting for!”

The scholars succeed in ending the conflict, because the brawlers leave for a less contentious bar.

The political scientist in my meh joke is Francis Fukuyama, who famously declared “the end of history,” and then, when history continued, said it depends on what the meaning of the word “end” is. The philosopher is Kwame Anthony Appiah, a cosmopolitan by background and choice who argues that we are all citizens of the world. The bar, sadly, is our brawling country — and others like it.

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Here are a couple of sage Ph.D.s seeing if they might intervene in the identity wars now plaguing so many nations. Both books belong to one of today’s most important genres: the Not-About-Trump-But-Also-Sort-Of-About-Trump, or N.A.T.B.A.S.O.A.T., book. There is a hunger to understand this moment, but from a remove.

And both books help explain so much more than Trump. #MeToo. White nationalism. Hindu nationalism. Black Lives Matter. Campus debates about privilege and appropriation. Syria. Islamism. The spread of populism and retreat of democracy worldwide. The rise of the far right in Europe. The rise of the far left in the United States. All these phenomena throb with questions of identity, of “Who am I?” and “To what do I belong?” Appiah and Fukuyama seek out answers.

Appiah believes we’re in wars of identity because we keep making the same mistake: exaggerating our differences with others and our similarities with our own kind. We think of ourselves as part of monolithic tribes up against other tribes, whereas we each contain multitudes. Fukuyama, less a cosmopolitan and more a nation-state guy, has greater sympathy for people clinging to differences. He thinks it a natural response to our age — but also seems to believe that if we don’t find a way to subsume narrow identities into national ones, we’re all going to die.

Appiah begins “The Lies That Bind” by observing that he, a man of ambiguous identity, is constantly asked, “What are you?” His book is an exploration of why people feel a need to pin identities down — to essentialize — and how to escape the pinning.

Appiah’s project is to point out our most common errors in thinking about five types of identity, all conveniently beginning with the letter “c”: creed, country, color, class and culture. (This gimmick lends proof to his cosmopolitan idea: A British-born philosopher can also be an American salesman.)

Among the errors we make: On “c” No. 1, creed, we tend to think of religions as “sets of immutable beliefs” instead of as “mutable practices and communities.” We make religion a noun when it should really be a verb, which gives rise to fundamentalism. When religion is “revealed as an activity, not a thing,” it is easier to accept that “it’s the nature of activities to bring change.”

On country, we create “a forced choice between globalism and patriotism.” We prefer people with simple answers to the question “What are you?”; we disparage and deport those Appiah calls “the confessors of ambivalence.” We often forget that a modern, pluralist, liberal democracy like America is “not a fate but a project.”

On culture, he argues that we should “give up the very idea of Western civilization,” because the notion of a distinct Western essence — “individualistic and democratic and liberty-minded and tolerant and progressive and rational and scientific” — ignores basic facts about the West and everywhere else. But just as people on the left finish clapping at that, he decries the left’s complaints about “cultural appropriation,” because culture is too complex to have a clear chain of title and, he says, because “those who parse these transgressions in terms of ownership have accepted a commercial system that’s alien to the traditions they aim to protect.”

Appiah’s writing is often fresh, even beautiful: 19th-century scientists who tried to make the non-thing of race a thing were being “recruited to give content to color.” Fair warning, however: This book also traffics in a disconcerting amount of philosopher-speak — both the signposting tics of “I aim to persuade you that…” and substantive sentences like “Scholarly exegesis can also run athwart older ecclesiastic interpretations,” which risk turning away many who need this book.

If Appiah has a blind spot, it is in assuming that everyone can be as comfortably cosmopolitan as he. He quotes the Roman playwright Terence: “I am human, I think nothing human alien to me.” “Now there’s an identity that should bind us all,” he writes. But this vision is afflicted by the same misappraisal of others that Barack Obama’s father made when he returned to Kenya and dismissed its tribalisms as parochial and ended up a failure, according to Obama’s aunt. “If everyone is family, no one is family,” she told the future president. People like to belong to things small enough to feel.

Fukuyama is more sympathetic to that need in “Identity.” The assertion of particular identities, and the insistence that respect be paid to them, is a hallmark of our age. And it is, in his telling, not because people are bad at reasoning or narrow, but because of how discombobulating our age has been.

 

Globalization, the internet, automation, mass migration, the emergence of India and China, the financial crisis of 2008, the rise of women and their displacing of men in more service-oriented economies, the civil rights movement and the emancipation of other groups and the loss of status for white people — these are just some of what we have lived through of late. Yes, the world has gotten better for hundreds of millions. But Fukuyama reminds us that across much of the West, people have suffered dislocation and elites have captured the fruits.

Amid these changes, Fukuyama writes, identity politics has come to the fore, and it has become our common culture, no longer the province of a party or side. In American politics, for example, the left used to focus on economic equality, he argues, and the right on limited government. Today, the left concentrates on “promoting the interests of a wide variety of groups perceived as being marginalized,” whereas the right “is redefining itself as patriots who seek to protect traditional national identity, an identity that is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity or religion.”

Fukuyama suggests that we are living in an era in which the sense of being dismissed, rather than material interest, is the locomotive of human affairs. The rulers of Russia, Hungary and China are driven by past national humiliations. Osama bin Laden was driven by the treatment of Palestinians. Black Lives Matter has been driven by the fatal disrespect of the police. And a large swath of the American right, which claims to loathe identity politics, is driven by its own perception of being dissed.

Unlike many avuncular critics of identity politics, Fukuyama is sympathetic to the good such politics does — above all, making the privileged aware of their effect on marginalized groups. “Outsiders to those groups often fail to perceive the harm they are doing by their actions,” he writes.

Fukuyama does have his criticisms, however. He fears identity politics “has become a cheap substitute for serious thinking about how to reverse the 30-year trend in most liberal democracies toward greater socioeconomic inequality.” Fukuyama worries that the “woker” the left gets on identity issues, the weaker it gets on offering a critique of capitalism.

Unlike Appiah, Fukuyama doesn’t seem to think it’s possible or desirable for humans to see themselves as human before all else. He is a believer in the nation-state as a healthy unit of human affairs, and he spends the final part of his smart, crisp book exploring how countries can cultivate “integrative national identities” that are rooted in liberal and democratic values — identities large enough to be inclusive, but small enough to give people a real sense of agency over their society.

 

Fukuyama is more sympathetic to that need in “Identity.” The assertion of particular identities, and the insistence that respect be paid to them, is a hallmark of our age. And it is, in his telling, not because people are bad at reasoning or narrow, but because of how discombobulating our age has been.

Globalization, the internet, automation, mass migration, the emergence of India and China, the financial crisis of 2008, the rise of women and their displacing of men in more service-oriented economies, the civil rights movement and the emancipation of other groups and the loss of status for white people — these are just some of what we have lived through of late. Yes, the world has gotten better for hundreds of millions. But Fukuyama reminds us that across much of the West, people have suffered dislocation and elites have captured the fruits.

Amid these changes, Fukuyama writes, identity politics has come to the fore, and it has become our common culture, no longer the province of a party or side. In American politics, for example, the left used to focus on economic equality, he argues, and the right on limited government. Today, the left concentrates on “promoting the interests of a wide variety of groups perceived as being marginalized,” whereas the right “is redefining itself as patriots who seek to protect traditional national identity, an identity that is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity or religion.”

Fukuyama suggests that we are living in an era in which the sense of being dismissed, rather than material interest, is the locomotive of human affairs. The rulers of Russia, Hungary and China are driven by past national humiliations. Osama bin Laden was driven by the treatment of Palestinians. Black Lives Matter has been driven by the fatal disrespect of the police. And a large swath of the American right, which claims to loathe identity politics, is driven by its own perception of being dissed.

Unlike many avuncular critics of identity politics, Fukuyama is sympathetic to the good such politics does — above all, making the privileged aware of their effect on marginalized groups. “Outsiders to those groups often fail to perceive the harm they are doing by their actions,” he writes.

Fukuyama does have his criticisms, however. He fears identity politics “has become a cheap substitute for serious thinking about how to reverse the 30-year trend in most liberal democracies toward greater socioeconomic inequality.” Fukuyama worries that the “woker” the left gets on identity issues, the weaker it gets on offering a critique of capitalism.

Unlike Appiah, Fukuyama doesn’t seem to think it’s possible or desirable for humans to see themselves as human before all else. He is a believer in the nation-state as a healthy unit of human affairs, and he spends the final part of his smart, crisp book exploring how countries can cultivate “integrative national identities” that are rooted in liberal and democratic values — identities large enough to be inclusive, but small enough to give people a real sense of agency over their society.

 

A low-key shortcoming of Fukuyama’s book is that, like Appiah’s, it is a book about books about books. On the one hand, theorists gotta theorize. On the other, with an issue so fraught and a world so full of rage, each author could have made good use of a rental car and the Voice Memos app. For all their strengths, both books lack the earth and funk and complexity of dreaming, hurting human beings.

We need more thinkers as wise as Appiah and Fukuyama digging their fingers into the soil of our predicament. And we need more readers reading what they harvest.

Anand Giridharadas is the author of “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.”

 

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De Tocqueville and the French exception


August 14, 2018

Liberal thinkers

De Tocqueville and the French exception

The gloomiest of the great liberals worried that democracy might not be compatible with liberty

 Print edition | Schools brief

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HE IS the most unusual member of the liberal pantheon. Liberalism has usually been at its most vigorous among the Anglo-American middle classes. By contrast, Alexis de Tocqueville was a proud member of the French aristocracy.

Liberalism tends to be marinated in optimism to such an extent that it sometimes shades into naivety. Tocqueville believed that liberal optimism needs to be served with a side-order of pessimism. Far from being automatic, progress depends on wise government and sensible policy.

He also ranks among the greats. He wrote classic studies of two engines of the emerging liberal order: “Democracy in America” (1835-40) and “The Old Regime and the French Revolution” (1856). He also helped shape French liberalism, both as a political activist and as a thinker. He was a leading participant in the “Great Debate” of the 1820s between liberals and ultra-Royalists about the future direction of France.

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In 1849 he served briefly as foreign minister (he died a decade later). He broadened the liberal tradition by subjecting the bland pieties of the Anglo-American middle class to a certain aristocratic disdain; and he deepened it by pointing to the growing dangers of bureaucratic centralisation. Better than any other liberal, Tocqueville understood the importance of ensuring that the collective business of society is done as much as possible by the people themselves, through voluntary effort, rather than by the government.

Tocqueville’s liberalism was driven by two forces. The first was his fierce commitment to the sanctity of the individual. The purpose of politics was to protect people’s rights (particularly the right to free discussion) and to give them scope to develop their abilities to the full. The second was his unshakable belief that the future lay with “democracy”. By that he meant more than just parliamentary democracy with its principle of elections and wide suffrage. He meant a society based on equality.

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The old regime was predicated on the belief that society was divided into fixed classes. Some people are born to rule and others to serve. Rulers like Tocqueville’s family in Normandy inherited responsibilities as well as privileges. They were morally bound to look after “their people” and serve “their country”. Democratic society was based on the idea that all people were born equal. They came into the world as individuals rather than as aristocrats or peasants. Their greatest responsibility was to make the most of their abilities.

Terror and the state

Many members of Tocqueville’s class thought that democratisation was both an accident and a mistake—an accident because cleverer management of the old regime could have prevented the revolution in 1789, and a mistake because democracy destroyed everything they held most dear. Tocqueville thought that was nonsense—and pitied his fellow blue-bloods who wasted their lives in a doomed attempt to restore aristocratic privilege.

The great question at the heart of Tocqueville’s thought is the relationship between liberty and democracy. Tocqueville was certain that it was impossible to have liberty without democracy, but he worried that it was possible to have democracy without liberty. For example, democracy might transfer power from the old aristocracy to an all-powerful central state, thereby reducing individuals to helpless, isolated atoms. Or it might make a mockery of free discussion by manipulating everybody into bowing down before conventional wisdom.

Sir Larry Siedentop, an Oxford academic, points out that Tocqueville’s contribution was to identify a structural flaw in democratic societies. Liberals are so preoccupied by the “contract” between the individual on the one hand and the state on the other that they don’t make enough room for intermediate associations which acted as schools of local politics and buffers between the individual and the state. And, he was the first serious thinker to warn that liberalism could destroy itself.

Tocqueville worried that states might use the principle of equality to accumulate power and ride roughshod over local traditions and local communities. Such centralisation might have all sorts of malign consequences. It might reduce the variety of institutions by obliging them to follow a central script. It might reduce individuals to a position of defencelessness before the mighty state, either by forcing them to obey the state’s edicts or making them dependent on the state’s largesse. And it might kill off traditions of self-government. Thus one liberal principle—equal treatment—might end up destroying three rival principles: self-government, pluralism and freedom from coercion.

Tocqueville feared his own country might fall into the grip of just such an illiberal democracy, as it had in the Terror, under Maximilien Robespierre in 1793. The French revolutionaries had been so blinded by their commitment to liberty, equality and fraternity that they crushed dissenters and slaughtered aristocrats, including many members of Tocqueville’s family. His parents were spared, but his father’s hair turned white at 24 and his mother was reduced to a nervous wreck.

He was worried about more than just the bloodshed, which proved to be a passing frenzy. The power of the state also posed a more subtle threat. The monarchy had nurtured an over-mighty state, as French kings sucked power from aristocrats towards the central government. The revolution completed the job, abolishing local autonomy along with aristocratic power and reducing individual citizens to equal servitude beneath the “immense tutelary power” of the state.

By contrast, the United States represented democracy at its finest. Tocqueville’s ostensible reason for crossing the Atlantic, in 1831, was to study the American penal system, then seen as one of the most enlightened in the world. His real wish was to understand how America had combined democracy with liberty so successfully. He was impressed by the New England townships, with their robust local governments, but he was equally taken by the raw egalitarianism of the frontier.

Why did the children of the American revolution achieve what the children of the French revolution could not? The most obvious factor was the dispersal of power. The government in Washington was disciplined by checks and balances. Power was exercised at the lowest possible level—not just the states but also cities, townships and voluntary organisations that flourished in America even as they declined in France.

The second factor was what he called “manners”. Like most French liberals, Tocqueville was an Anglophile. He thought that America had inherited many of Britain’s best traditions, such as common law and a ruling class that was committed to running local institutions.

Of liberty and religion

America also had the invaluable advantage of freedom of religion. Tocqueville believed that a liberal society depended ultimately on Christian morality. Alone among the world’s religions, Christianity preached the equality of man and the infinite worth of the individual. But the ancien régime had robbed Christianity of its true spirit by turning it into an adjunct of the state. America’s decision to make religion a matter of free conscience created a vital alliance between the “spirit of religion” and the “spirit of liberty”. America was a society that “goes along by itself”, as Tocqueville put it, not just because it dispersed power but because it produced self-confident, energetic citizens, capable of organising themselves rather than looking to the government to solve their problems.

Sleeping on a volcano

He was not blind to the faults of American democracy. He puzzled over the fact that the world’s most liberal society practised slavery, though, like most liberals, he comforted himself with the thought that it was sure to wither. He worried about the cult of the common man. Americans were so appalled by the idea that one person’s opinion might be better than another’s that they embraced dolts and persecuted gifted heretics. He worried that individualism might shade into egotism. Shorn of bonds with wider society, Americans risked being confined within the solitude of their own hearts. The combination of egalitarianism and individualism might do for Americans what centralisation had done for France—dissolve their defences against governmental power and reduce them to sheep, content to be fed and watered by benevolent bureaucrats.

Tocqueville exercised a powerful influence on those who shared his fears. In his “Autobiography” John Stuart Mill thanked Tocqueville for sharpening his insight that government by the majority might hinder idiosyncratic intellectuals from influencing the debate. In 1867 Robert Lowe, a leading Liberal politician, argued for mass education on the Tocquevillian grounds that “we must educate our masters”. Other Liberal politicians argued against extending the franchise on the grounds that liberty could not survive a surfeit of democracy. In the 1950s and 1960s American intellectuals seized on Tocqueville’s insight that mass society might weaken liberty by narrowing society’s choices.

More recently intellectuals have worried about the rapid growth of the federal government, inaugurated by Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programme. Transferring power from local to the federal government; empowering unaccountable bureaucrats to pursue abstract goods such as “equality of representation” (even if it means riding roughshod over local institutions); and undermining the vitality of civil society tends, they fear, to destroy the building blocks of Tocqueville’s America. A recent conference, organised by the Tocqueville Society and held in the family’s Normandy manor house, dwelt on the various ways in which democracy is under assault from within, by speech codes, and from without, by the rise of authoritarian populism, under the general heading of “demo-pessimism”.

It is worth adding that the threat to liberty today does not stem just from big government. It also comes from big companies, particularly tech firms that trade in information, and from the nexus between the two. Gargantuan tech companies enjoy market shares unknown since the Gilded Age. They are intertwined with the government through lobbying and the revolving door that has government officials working for them when they leave office. By providing so much information “free” they are throttling media outfits that invest in gathering the news that informs citizens. By using algorithms based on previous preferences they provide people with information that suits their prejudices—right-wing rage for the right and left-wing rage for the left.

Today’s great rising power is the very opposite of the United States, the great rising power of Tocqueville’s time. China is an example not of democracy allied to liberty but of centralisation allied to authoritarianism. Its state and its pliant tech firms can control the flow of information to an extent never dreamed of. Increasingly, China embodies everything that Tocqueville warned against: power centralised in the hands of the state; citizens reduced to atoms; a collective willingness to sacrifice liberty for a comfortable life.

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Before the revolution in France in 1848, Tocqueville warned that the continent was “sleeping on a volcano…A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon.” Today democracy in America has taken a dangerous turn. Populists are advancing in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Authoritarians are consolidating power. The most pessimistic of great liberal thinkers may not have been pessimistic enough.

Read more on classical liberal values and thinkers at  Economist.com/openfuture

This article appeared in the Schools brief section of the print edition under the headline “The French exception”

The End of Ideology by Daniel Bell


July 8, 2018

The End of Ideology, by Daniel Bell

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-end-of-ideology-by-daniel-bell/

FOR nearly two decades now articles and reviews by Daniel Bell have been appearing in our better journals of ideas…

An American “Centrist”
The End of Ideology.
by Daniel Bell.
The Free Press. 416 pp. $7.50.

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For nearly two decades now articles and reviews by Daniel Bell have been appearing in our better journals of ideas and opinion. He has been so ubiquitous a figure, expressing himself on so many subjects, that readers must have occasionally wondered if there were more than one person writing under the name. Bell has in fact had several different careers: youthful radical journalist in the early 40’s, teacher of social science, labor editor of Fortune, globe-trotter for international committees of intellectuals. Now that he has returned to academic life as associate professor of sociology at Columbia, the publication of this collection of his more ambitious essays suggests an effort to indicate his intellectual resting places.

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Range, variety, and versatility are the talents with which Daniel Bell is commonly credited. Yet the grouping together of his essays in The End of Ideology reveals his intellectual concerns to be rather more consistent and narrowly focused than regular readers of his magazine pieces might have anticipated. Two main themes predominate. One is what used to be called “American exceptionalism”: the view that political and sociological concepts derived from the study of European societies seriously distort our vision if applied to the American scene. The other is the “end of ideology” of the title: the abating in our prosperous post-bourgeois era of the ideological conflicts between left and right which have for so long dominated Western politics. Marx and Dewey, especially as interpreted by Sidney Hook, to whom the book is dedicated, are Bell’s chief intellectual mentors in developing, exploring, and illustrating these themes in their bearing on a range of topics including the bureaucratization of American capitalism, the decline in the militancy of the labor movement, the inadequacies of Mills’s theory of an American “power elite,” the rapid swings of the intellectual Zeitgeist since the 30’s, and the continuing boredom and emptiness of industrial work and what might be done to alleviate it.

It is possible to discern a certain formal inconsistency between the two themes. If the end of ideology applies to the Western world as a whole and reflects the stability of mature, increasingly egalitarian industrial societies, then the American immunity from divisive ideological passions which Bell consistently emphasizes as the unique virtue of our political system is no longer exceptional. There is, in fact, a dialectic between European and American experience that Bell misses—the much advertised postwar “Americanization” of Europe and the belated American adoption of reforms long advocated and in some cases long instituted by European socialist parties both helped dampen the fervors of the 30’s, the decade whose epitaph Bell is writing once more in so many of these essays. In an often penetrating discussion of the “New Left” here and abroad—Dissent, the British “angries,” the post-Hungary defectors from Communism on the continent—Bell fails to note the paradox that American radicals denounce mass culture in accents echoing European elitist or “Establishment” values, while young British leftists manifest immense sympathy and curiosity about American culture and are envious of the fluidity of status and the absence of stuffy, gilded institutions like the monarchy on this side of the Atlantic. Each group seems to wish that its own country resembled more closely its image of the other.

Except for this discussion of contemporary radicalism abroad, a review of theories of Soviet society, and some reflections on the thought of the early Marx, the essays in The End of Ideology deal with American life. Bell is perhaps our most conscientious and reliable historian of the return from the 30’s, of the assimilation of once-radical intellectuals and trade unionists into a society which they succeeded in modifying without transforming. But by now we know this story so well in so many of its ramifications that several of these essays have inevitably lost the flavor of originality they had when they first appeared. One is struck, nevertheless, with how good the best of them are, a category in which I would place those dealing with the U.S. economy. Probing the point at which economic problems of wage determination, national mobilization policy, technological rationalization, and shifts in business leadership and the sources of investment funds become or touch on political conflicts, Bell refuses to be frightened by the formidable abstractions or the arrogant professionalism of the economists and determinedly locates what they have to say in its larger social and historical context.

I have more reservations about his treatment of political and cultural issues. Dwight Macdonald recently described Bell as a congenital centrist. If so, and Bell good-naturedly accepted the designation, we are here confronted with the spectacle of a centrist engaged in finding his own image reflected in the society around him, a society founded, he argues, on the politics of moderation and the culture of the middle class, yet strong and vital enough to blunt the critical assaults of both the cultural aristocrat and the Utopian radical. Bell is aware of the intensity with which many intellectuals “ache for the lost Arcadia” of the 30’s; he recognizes the widespread hunger for heroism, passion, a transfiguring cause. Nor is he lacking in sympathy for such an outlook, observing that the young intellectual unavoidably feels that “the middle way is for the middle-aged, not for him.” And he is careful to note that “a repudiation of ideology, to be meaningful, must mean not only a criticism of the Utopian order but of existing society as well.”

Yet there is an irritating cageyness about all this. For Bell will not finally concede the reality of anything out there in the world to justify rebellion and rejection. His tone becomes avuncular: ah yes, young intellectuals naturally want to be fired with romantic passions—that is a rite de passage of their vocation. But unhappily history is unable to accommodate them, for the Age of Ideology has ended and anyway we have learned that “the tendency to convert concrete issues into ideological problems, to invest them with moral color and high emotional charge, is to invite conflicts which can only damage a society.”

Now if one equates “ideology” with secular messianism few will want to deny the essential rightness of this judgment after all that has happened in this century. The trouble is that it is almost impossible to believe Bell’s claim that, for himself at least, it represents a bitter, hard-won wisdom, that in giving up the delights of ideology he is really surrendering something for which he has a strong appetite. His references to the pessimism, disenchantment, et al. of his “generation” (he is a great player of the generations game) therefore ring hollow, and he simply sounds smug when urging the young to renounce this evil fruit. It is all very well to affirm with Machiavelli that “men commit the error of not knowing when to limit their hopes” (this quotation heads the final and title chapter of The End of Ideology), but the reality and indestructibility of their hopes need to be insisted on with equal force. Especially if one sees history as tragic.

But these are essentially matters of sensibility and are perhaps of secondary importance in what is not, after all, a personal testament but a series of uncommonly knowledgeable political and sociological interpretations. I find, however, that on at least two occasions Bell’s centrism and “moderationism” lead him rather seriously astray on substantive questions.

In an essay which has already acquired justified celebrity as one of the very few available critiques of the fashionable notion of “mass society,” Bell ably traces the origin of the idea to European reactionary and aristocratic-elitist thought. He catches Jaspers, Ortega, and other mass theorists in a number of extreme and romantic overstatements before turning to a defense of American society against the charges of social atomization, cultural mediocrity, and compulsive conformism leveled by these thinkers and their epigoni. So the American habit of establishing and joining a multitude of voluntary associations serving all conceivable purposes is invoked to refute the view that we are a rootless, alienated mass, although the very disposition to create such “artificial” social groups might as readily be considered evidence for as against our rootlessness. And then we are told for the umpteenth time how many good books are sold and how many symphony orchestras flourish in the United States, as if these conceivable indications of the average cultural level were in any way relevant to the arguments of Ortega and T. S. Eliot which bear solely on the opportunities for high culture. While Bell, finally, is right to chide leftist critics of mass culture for ignoring the possible conflict between the claims of cultural excellence and social justice, he himself then suppresses the issue by descending to the sorriest level of apologetics in defense of American culture.

Bell argues that socialism failed as a movement in the United States because American socialists of all breeds never resolved the contradiction between ethical idealism and the requirements of effective political action. Perhaps by stressing this somewhat esoteric consideration he is simply trying to avoid another rundown of the usual causes cited to explain the failure of American socialism: the lack of a feudal past, the influx of immigrants, the high standard of living, and so on. But he manages seriously to distort and oversimplify the thought of Max Weber, from whom he borrows the notion of an inevitable tension between ethics and politics. In his famous essay “Politics as a Vocation,” Weber contrasted an “ethic of responsibility” with an “ethic of absolute ends.” By the former he meant the recognition that to make changes in the world one must take into account its imperfection and be prepared to use ethically questionable means, i.e. force, for all politics involves the use of force at some level. The proponent of absolute ends, on the other hand, refuses to separate means and ends: he may simply recommend exemplary conduct or he may argue that “from good comes only good, but from evil only evil follows.” Arthur Koestler’s dichotomy of the Yogi and the Commissar refers to the extreme versions of each ethic.

Bell quite illegitimately identifies the Communist, the fanatic, the totalitarian extremist with the ethic of absolute ends. In fact the Communist does not, like the saint, “live his end,” but is at the very opposite pole, completely dissociating means from ends, and ultimately, in his worship of the “organizational weapon” of the party, collapsing the latter into the former. Bell wants to reserve rational, expedient, “responsible” conduct for the politics of compromise and moderation which he favors, so he stands Weber’s distinction on its head and obscures the fundamental dilemma of means and ends in politics which Weber grasped more profoundly than anyone else, the dilemma, in Weber’s words, that “if one makes any concessions at all to the principle that the end justifies the means, it is not possible to bring an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility under one roof or to decree ethically which end should justify which means.” Koestler’s pseudo-tragic polarity is also a false one because though a man acts by following an ethic of responsibility somewhere, unless he is a totalitarian, “he reaches the point where he says: ‘Here I stand; I can do no other.’ ”

Perhaps it is a measure of the ultimate limitations of centrism as a political philosophy that it so obscures the central, utterly irresolvable dilemma of politics. But this is not to deny the illumination it casts on particular issues and these essays amply attest to that.