Monday, September 28, 2015

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 11, "Hazards of Transition"

Neustadt starts this further reconsideration with the question, "is the presidency possible?" -- and then looks at some different ways this question could be understood.

Physically. He thinks the demands and the stream of duties are taxing, but in some ways better controlled than in earlier decades.

Morally and emotionally. He thinks the responsibilities of nuclear force with heavily on presidents, but no more so than has been the case for several decades.

Intellectually. He thinks the policy environment has recently grown more confusing, with disagreements even between experts, but that this is not at an unprecedented level -- not as pronounced as the 1930s, for example.

Operationally. This seems to be Neustadt's main doubt about the continued feasibility of the presidency, and the subject of the balance of the chapter.

Neustadt describes two competing standards for the operational success of the presidency. The first, which he dubs the Truman standard, is a minimal one: "Can a President keep the presidency going, turn out the work that keeps the government going, and hand both on, reasonably intact, to his successor" (210)

He notes that political and professional professionals judged President Carter according to the selectively recalled specialized talents of presidents of the preceding decades -- Kennedy for television, Johnson for dealing with Congress, Nixon for strategy, for example.

While Neustadt admits that the first standard is too low, he finds the second unrealistically demanding.

Several trends, loosely grouped under the concept of "atomization," have made governing more difficult for presidents.

1. Congress is less cohesive. Parties and leaders are weaker. Subcommittees have proliferated. Members have grown more apprehensive about and sensitive to home constituencies.

2. Administrations are also less cohesive. There is a larger number of appointees and a greatly expanded range of programs and responsibilities.

3. Interest groups have proliferated and become more institutionalized.

4. The professional class of political staffers -- employed in Congress, the administration, or interest groups -- has greatly expanded and networks formed by people in this class have become a significant factor in forming coalitions around issues.

Neustadt notes that, in theory, the President's standing and relative power could be enhanced by the dissolution of political institutions. But it did not work that way for Jimmy Carter. He gives four reasons for this.

1. The scope of his legislative program (although, really, the issue seems to be that the strategically well-positioned Senator Long of Louisiana opposed so many elements of his program).

2. His dependence on actors outside American government -- that is, either in the pirate sector or abroad -- to execute key elements of his agenda (fighting inflection, securing international agreements).

3. His relative obscurity.

4. Mistakes due being a new President -- the "hazards of transition."

Neustadt thinks it is likely that "atomization" increases the hazards of transition, but that these hazards could still be decreased by greater care and awareness.

Neustadt implicitly focuses on the hazards of transitions that occur when an election changes the party of the administration.

Two senses of transition:

1. Narrow. From election to inauguration.
2. Broad. Better part of the first two years in office.

Transition in the narrow sense is extremely compressed in duration -- about 11 weeks as a result of FDR's reform -- and many hazards follow from that. In this short time, the President-elect must make staff and cabinet appointments, sketch out a legislative program, establish a point of view on the outgoing administration's budget and its foreign and defense initiatives, and plan for the public presentation of the new administration.

Problems with Carter's pre-inaugural transition:

1. Conflicts between his dedicated transition planning staff (which he formed before the election) and his campaign staff delayed decisions.

2. Lack of outgoing Ford administration hampered planning.

3. Large size of post-transition staff led to more conflicts and delay and also favored increased size and prominence of permanent presidential staff in order to satisfy conflicting interests within the transition staff.

4. Inordinate time was devoted to selecting cabinet chiefs, given that governing through the cabinet would be incompatible with a large presidential staff.

5. Carter remained i Plains, which was too remote to keep on top of the transition and also annoying to the press.

It would have been better to have kept pre-election planning informal, to have used a smaller transition staff which consulted with OMB careerists and to have delegated work of filling cabinet appointments to them, to have personally connected with experienced Washington hands, and to have stayed someplace with closer contacts with Washington (or to have travelled there frequently).  These are all things that the Kennedy transition did serendipitously.

Neustadt thinks that the hazards of broader transition actually loom larger.  These entangled Kennedy, for example, even though he managed narrow transition well.

Neustadt organizes his account of the hazards of broad transitions through linked pairs of characteristics of new administrations: ignorance/innocence and hopefulness/arrogance.

Illustrative example from Kennedy administrations: the Bay of Pigs incident. Kennedy's staff was new to Washington and to each other. They were not aware of compartmentalization within the CIA that limited critical review of the invasion plan. They did not understand that the informal way that the Joint Chiefs were consulted had a similar effect by preventing them from consulting their planning staff. They allowed themselves to be pushed by deadlines that were apparent more than real. They placed excessive trust in the chief CIA planner, Richard Bissell, because of previous (college-era)connections when their roles needed to be more adversarial. They were not aware of the background of arguments in the previous administration that led to the plan, either. All of this ignorance was exacerbated by a hopefulness due to the team being self-consciously smart and accomplished, and thus supremely confident of their ability to accomplish things.

Example from the Carter administration: the Bert Lance controversy. Lance was a Georgia banker who Carter wanted as budget director. A setback at his bank left Lance facing a catastrophic loss if he divested his stock promptly, as required. He had also been under investigation before his appointment. But he was well-regarded and considered vital by Carter's staff. They decided to risk asking the Senate committee (Neustadt neglects to mention which one, but it was apparently the Government Affairs committee) for a time extension for the divestment, which was initially approved. This set off a series of attacks by the press and renewed investigations by the Comptroller of the Currency. Among other things, this exposed Lance's habitual use of bank overdrafts and use of bank deposits as collateral for his own debt. After a damaging summer of controversy for the Carter administration, he resigned.

Carter's team was ignorant about several key factors in the Washington scene. They did not understand that the press had been invigorated by Watergate and that government agencies had been set on edge by it. The former would be eager to pursue a new scandal, and the latter would be wary of appearing to cover up wrongdoing. They also did not see that the focus on Lance would be higher in a summer otherwise devoid of news. Furthermore, they did not know that the staff of Senator Ribicoff, the committee chair, could not be counted on for thoroughness, so that initial approval by the committee was not a guarantee of success. They were further hampered by a hopefulness based on the assumption that they were not of the Washington crowd, and thus not prone to its corrupt ways.

Neustadt's counsel is for new presidents to delay any action that is unusual or novel, because that is where there ignorance and arrogance are most likely to see them exposed. He also suggests that more realistic expectations of new administrations from the press and the public might ease the transition process. Confession and avoidance is a technique that could also be used by presidents to recover from mistakes during transitions, but it requires a high degree of trust from the public.

Neustadt notes that television, along with the growth of professional Washington, is a factor that has increased in importance since he wrote the first edition of this book in 1960. Other than JFK, the presidents during that time have not been skilled at using the medium. He thinks that television may be a more difficult medium for presidents to sue in order to mobilize the public, not least because of the competing distractions it provides.It is generally only useful to presidents in the course of compelling events. It also works best if the president is a familiar and trusted figure (both rare in an era of frequent presidential transitions and public mistrust).

Television has also reduced the autonomy of professional reputation and public prestige as factors in a president's power. Television increasingly transmits professional Washington's assessment of a president to the public at large. There is also the prospect that a president who is known to be effective at communicating to the public through television will gain an enhanced professional reputation.

Opportunities for a president to create consensus are limited by by the atomization of politics, but Neustadt thinks they still exist. He thinks that a president may be able to create consensus in response to certain crisis situations -- particularly terrorism, energy shortages, and urgent, catastrophic  environmental problems. Because the solutions to these are largely technical, however, it would not be enough for presidential action just to rally public support. Neustadt also sees increasing scope for "consensus without crisis" due to the shared professional outlook in Washington creating common ground on some issues. This can work as long as the public acquiesces, but that is harder to count on in an era where inflection is creating widespread discontent.

A president who is talented in using television is also prone to be less thoroughly prepared for the difficulties of administration. This kind of president should be especially careful at the outset of his term.

Neustadt concludes with a reflection that the United States increasingly has a professional political establishment like what already exists elsewhere, but without the clear career paths that exist in such establishments in UK and France. Balancing and working with this establishment is a growing challenge for the presidency. He holds out some hope that this might be bridged by a growing number of individuals who have followed a hybrid administrative-electoral career path.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "Discourse on the Sciences and Arts" in The First and Second Dicourses, Masters, ed.

Tensions and paradoxes everywhere.

Rousseau characterizes learning and eloquence as vices which hide true feelings and meanings, but his essay is stylized and erudite.  He introduces the essay with an artful and polite appeal to his judges in the Academy.  He relies on historical examples to make his case which have only been preserved by dint of learning.

The essay itself has an air of deliberate exaggeration.  Rousseau's approach, as he suggests in his introductory appeal to the judges, is that of an advocate whose judges are themselves the opposing party in the case. (34) In keeping with this proviso, Rousseau is not even-handed.  The historical examples often seem bent to his purpose.  He makes out the Macedonian conquerors of Persia, for instance, to be rustic farmers rather than subjects of an already significant empire. At times, his examples are also inconsistent.  We often see Rousseau using success at war and military conquest as a standard by which to measure the health of societies (which itself is strange, since war is a bane to humankind), yet the primitive American Indian tribes he holds out as a supreme example of virtue have themselves been subdued by supposedly corrupted Europeans.  There is a hint of Jonathan Swift about it all.
There are two abrupt turns in the tone of the essay.  The first comes when, in the midst of an opening encomium to the advancement of learning, Rousseau.drops the hammer on the arts and sciences:

While government and laws provide for the safety and well-being of assembled men, the sciences, letters, and arts, less despotic and perhaps more powerful, spread garlands of flowers over the iron chains with which men are burdened, stifle in them that sense of original liberty for which they seemed to have been born, make them love their slavery, and turn them into what is called civilized peoples. (36)

The second comes when Rousseau jumps directly from bemoaning the miseries brought by the development of learning to his closing passage praising the creation of academies and suggesting truly learned men should have a place in government.

Besides the bookend passages, there is a delicate balance and symmetry between the two parts of the essay.  In the first part, Rousseau's main target is the arts, with his ire aimed especially at philosophers, poets, and orators. This is balanced by a greater focus on criticizing the sciences and scientists in the second part.  At the center of each part, Rousseau produces a series of historical examples to show how states are damaged by the development of arts and sciences.

After the turn towards a critical view of culture, Rousseau takes up three themes in succession in the remainder of the first part of the essay. First, he contends that cultivated manners conceal dishonesty and wrongdoing under a pleasant facade. Next, he cites historical examples of more highly civilized peoples whose states had collapsed or been conquered by more primitive ones (Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, China) or backward peoples who had been praised for their simple virtues.  Finally, he claims the authority of Socrates and Cato for his case, taking them as critics of sophisticated culture on the grounds that it undermined traditional virtues.

Rousseau develops his indictment the sciences in the second part by starting from their most direct and immediate flaws and building to the more complex and remote issues. He begins with a sort of genealogy of the sciences: vices have provided the motive for founding and pursuing sciences, and the objects of their studies can also be vices. On top of this, he portrays science as a kind of useless idleness that we could do just s well without  From arguing that science is bad in itself, Rousseau progresses to arraigning it for its bad effects.  After briefly noting that science destroys faith and the belief in simple verities which form the basis for virtuous conduct, Rousseau turns to the main theme of the second part: an attack on luxury.  The arts and sciences produce luxuries, but the pursuit of luxuries, he insists in one of his most expansive passages, destroys virtuous conduct -- it makes us lose sight of man as a citizen and a human being, and not just a factor of production and consumption.

I know that our philosophy, always rich in peculiar maxims, holds contrary to the experience of all centuries that luxury produces the splendor of States; but having forgot the necessity for sumptuary laws, will our philosophy still dare deny that good morals are essential to the stability of empires, and that luxury is diametrically opposed to good morals?  Granted that luxury is a sure sign of wealth; that it even serves, if you like, to increase wealth.  What conclusion must be drawn from the paradox so worthy of our time; and what will become of virtue when one must get rich at any price? Ancient politicians incessantly talked about morals and virtue, those of our time talk only about business and money.  One will tell you that in a given country a man is worth the price he would fetch in Algiers; another, following this calculation, will discover some countries where a man is worth nothing and others where he is worth less than nothing.  They evaluate men like herds of cattle.  According to them a man is worth no more to the State than the value of his domestic consumption. (50-51)

Following up this philippic, Rousseau excavates history for examples of sophisticated civilizations overthrown or defeated by simple peoples.  He  takes a curious detour to argue that luxury, by elevating fashion, and thus the opinion of youth and women, corrupts taste and turns artists away from creating great works.  Perhaps this misogyny isn't really a note in a different key than his focus on military, and thus presumably manly, virtues.  For he turns right back to that topic, contending that luxury makes men soft and unfit for war, again with a slew of examples from history.  He contends next that knowledge of the arts and sciences corrupts the education of youth, by making education about useless and frivolous intellectual adornment rather than training in virtues.  Finally, just before his abrupt turn towards praising the academies, Rousseau argues that the inequalities introduced by distinction in arts and sciences undermine virtue.
The wise man does not chase after riches, but he is not insensitive to glory, and when he sees it so poorly distributed, his virtue, which a little emulation would have animated and made useful to society, languishes and dies out in misery and oblivion. In the long run, this is what must everywhere be the result of the preference given to pleasing talents rather than useful ones, and what experience since the revival of the sciences and arts has only too well confirmed. We have physicists, geometers, chemists, astronomers, poets, musicians, painters; we no longer have citizens; or if a few of them are left, dispersed in our abandoned countryside, they perish there indigent and despised. (58-59)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Immanuel Kant, "What is Enlightenment?" in Kant's Political Writings, Hans Reiss, ed.

Enlightenment defined:
Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.  Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without guidance of another.   This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another.  The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! (54)

Kant holds that only a few individuals will be able to overcome the obstacles to their own enlightenment by themselves.  An entire public can become enlightened, however, if they are free to discuss their views, because then the self-enlightened few "will disseminate the spirit of rational respect for personal value and the duty of all men to think for themselves." (55)  (It is notable that Kant thinks of this as a duty, and not just a right.)   However, in the circumstances of open public discussion, opinion leaders who are not themselves enlightened can also gain influence.  From this, Kant concludes the public can only be enlightened slowly, and that revolution may overthrow autocratic government, but only at the cost of compelling adherence to a new set of dogmas.

I think an implied premise is that it takes time for rational criticism, rather than prejudice, to win the public struggle of ideas.  Revolution, however, cuts debate short before it reaches its natural equilibrium of enlightenment.

The bulk of the remainder of the essay if given over to distinguishing what Kant calls the public  and private uses of reason.  By the private use of reason he means what people say while working in an official capacity -- as a judge, a bureaucrat, a military officer, or (and I can imagine this was very important in Kant's Prussia) a minister of the established church.  By public use of reason he means what people say to a general public outside of any official capacity.  He argues that a ruler should expect people to act accordance with state policy with respect to the private use of reason.  But he appeals to rulers to allow free debate outside of official capacities -- free public use of reason.  He captures this distinction (more than once) with the slogan "Argue as much as you like and about whatever you like, but obey!" (55, 59).

There are a couple of wrinkles to this.  Kant urges rulers to allow congregations to adjust their doctrines to the development of their adherents understanding if the existing doctrines are found wanting after public debate.  Kant also holds that a public official who not only disagrees with their orders, but finds them absolutely contrary to reason, has the option to resign.

Kant concludes with a paragraph charting a relationship between intellectual and civil freedom.  By intellectual freedom I take it that he means the freedom of public discussion, and by civil freedom I take it that he means the freedom to actually participate in the process of making laws and governing.  Kant argues that intellectual freedom should come before civil freedom.  He says that permitting civil freedom too early may even endanger intellectual freedom.  However, intellectual freedom gradually prepares the public for widespread civil freedom.

How does intellectual freedom supposed to prepare the public for civic participation?  I don't think it is simply that people know more.  Enlightenment, for Kant, is not primarily a matter of knowing more.  To put it in terms of virtues, which is a language Kant eschews here, enlightenment is about developing the temperament and character needed to judge claims fairly.  It is by developing this temperament and character that intellectual freedom makes people ready for civil freedom.

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 17 and 18, "'My Mission Is to Pacify Ireland'" and "A Commanding Prime Minister"

Gladstone recovered his balance in the opposition against Disraeli's minority Conservative government by late 1867 .  His foothold was Ireland.  Although he had never visited Ireland (and was not unusual in that respect among British politicians), its predicament had vexed him for many years.  This vexation issued primarily from his concern that the Irish situation damaged Britain's reputation abroad.  Gladstone considered himself very much a man of Europe, and it pained him when foreign leaders pointed out this illiberality in British policy (especially when he was calling them out for some transgression).  At the same time Gladstone was suspicious of Ireland as a potential drain on the Treasury.  So he was in need of a means of addressing the injustices of British rule in Ireland which didn't require spending money.  The disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Ireland fit his need.

In December, 1867, he delivered a speech at Southport declaring the urgency of addressing Irish church and land reform. Although its endorsement of disestablishing the Anglican Church in Ireland completely reversed Glasdstone's views on church and state from early in his parliamentary career, this was not, Jenkins argues, a sudden change.  Over the succeeding three decades, he had grown wary of the corrupting effects of political interference in church affairs.  He had needed to be circumspect in his public opinions, however, as a representative of the parson-heavy electorate of Oxford University.  Once he had changed to his Lancashire constituency in 1865, he was freed from this constraint.

Shortly after the Stockport speech, Lord Russell retired, thus elevating Gladstone to leader of the opposition.

In the Spring of 1868, Gladstone introduced three resolutions on Irish reform.  They carried either by handsome majorities or unopposed; Ireland was an issue which united rather than split (like electoral reform) the Liberal majority.  He followed this up with a bill to end new appointments to Irish benefices, which carried easily in the Commons though it was later rejected by the Lords.  Disraeli was forced to face the reality that his party was unable to govern. Being in no hurry to dissolve parliament just two months into his premiership, however, he announced the dissolution but delayed it for half a year on the basis that a new election should only be contested after the previous year's Reform Act had been implemented.

Gladstone conducted a vigorous campaign for his Lancashire seat, marked by some of his most noted campaign oratory.  Jenkins reprises, with humor, one of his effective riffs:

[H]e responded to the accusation that his Irish proposals would destroy the constitution by mockingly recalling that he had already known it wholly ruined  and destroyed seven times, starting in 1828 with the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts and ending (for the moment) with the Russell government's attempt at suffrage reform.  Understandably in the circumstances, he omitted to mention that he had himself been violently opposed to the first three of the seven measures. (287)
In the event, Gladstone led the Liberals to a smashing 112 seat majority while embarrassingly coming up short in his own constituency, which turned out to be singularly resistant to the merits of Irish reform.  This was not too inconvenient for Gladstone, who had already won election from the London seat of Greenwich a week earlier.

Gladstone spent the winter recess putting together his cabinet and preparing the Irish reform legislation.  He also propitiated the queen, who had objections on matters of personnel (she didn't want Clarendon as foreign minister) and policy (Ireland) -- successfully on the former, but, characteristically, less fully than he thought on the latter.

Gladstone's Irish reform bill passed by crushing majorities of over a hundred on each of its readings in the Commons, and even passed the Lords comfortably on second reading.  The decisiveness of the votes reflected in part the increasing clarity of the division in British politics after the muddled and fluid mid-century period. But it was also a testament to Gladstone.  Throughout, Gladstone's powerful oratory, mastery of detail, skillful management of debate, and not least his attentive wooing of allies (starting with his full and careful consultation with his cabinet) and opponents (including the bishops), steered the bill to success.  The bill was threatened when the Lords backtracked on disendowment (though not disestablishment).  In the end, however, the Lords and the church hierarchy were cognizant (or made so) of the dangers entailed by standing athwart a bill so overwhelmingly supported by the Commons, and in the end Gladstone only had to accept some small concessions to win approval.

In the rest of the chapter, Jenkins surveys Gladstone's passion for rearranging his books, his delight in dispensing patronage (especially church appointments, but also grants of nobility), and his infatuation with Laura Thistlethwayte.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 15 and 16, "The People's William" and "Disraeli's Foil"

In the early 1860s, all the remaining Peelite luminaries other than Gladstone perished, leaving him with no political home but Liberalism.  Prince Albert also passed away in 1861, and with the removal of his influence Gladstone's relationship with Queen Victoria began to cool.

Through the first half of the decade, Gladstone's economizing budgets put him at odds with Palmerston's pressure for more spending.  Despite this, Gladstone maintained a respectful, if tense, partnership with his prime minister.  In the meantime, Gladstone's skill and command in managing the yearly budgets raised his political stature yet higher.

In 1862 he undertook a new round of political speeches in the north of England.  First, in April, he gave a round of speeches in Manchester.  In October, he did the same at Newcastle and other towns in the Northeast.  On the latter tour, his reception had the air of a festival, with huge water-parades in his honor.  The great success of this tour (despite making a serious gaffe in asserting that the American Confederacy was well on its way to securing its status a nation) secured his position as the foremost popular politician in England.  This was so despite the fact that he lacked any true popular cause other than his campaign to remove paper duties. Jenkins sees his success as a consequence of Gladstone being taken as an advocate for the morally serious, industrial, and industrious North against the decadence of London and the South.

Gladstone attempted to tax charitable bequests in his 1863 budget, with some claim to fairness (charitable contributions by the living were not exempt from taxation).  Despite making his case with skill and vigor, he only managed to annoy the defenders of charities before withdrawing the measure.  Also that year he was partially reconciled with two Catholic converts, his sister Helen and Henry Manning.

In the 1864 debate over extending the franchise, he unexpectedly endorsed the position that, in principle, there should be no property qualification at all (though he softened this in practice by opposing any rapid alteration in the electorate).  This put him on the wrong side of Palmerston, who had no desire for more democracy.  He further aggravated Palmerston by pushing for a scheme to nationalize railway networks and for further defense cuts (despite the fact that current outlays were both modest and diminishing).  He had no real support for either measure, even in the cabinet, but he continued to make himself and his colleagues miserable by fighting over military spending in the 1865 budget estimates.

Gladstone was evicted from his Oxford seat in the 1865 polls.  He was done in by an electorate that included, for the first time, a large proportion of conservative rural parsons who were able to vote by mail.  He unconvincingly secured an alternative seat in Lancashire by finishing third in a three-seat constituency.  This effectively liberated Gladstone from the constraints that the Oxford seat had put on his growing liberalism.

Before Parliament sat again, Palmerston passed away and Russell became the new prime minister.

Jenkins breaks off from the narrative at this point for a lengthy aside describing the daily and yearly timetable mid-century parliamentary life, with illustrations from Gladstone's meticulous diary. Parliament usually sat for only about half the year, from roughly February until August.  While they were in session, the schedule was heavy by modern standards.  Parliament generally met Monday through Friday and occasionally on Saturday, too. They would typically begin the day at 4 in the afternoon and continue until well after midnight.  In addition, under Palmerston cabinet meetings were regularly held on Saturday afternoons. Late breakfasts were the main social occasion among the members.  Saturday to Monday train excursions to country houses in the Southeast were also a regular feature.

The Russell government fell in less than a year due to resistance to a new reform bill.  Many Liberal members had been elected as supporters of Palmerston, who didn't favor any extension of the franchise.  This faction (the Adullamites), led by Robert Lowe in particular, joined with the Conservative minority led by Disraeli to make the Russell government's position in the Commons, where it was led by Gladstone, untenable  Rather than dissolve parliament and call new elections which might have produced a more unified liberal majority, however, the Russell cabinet decided to resign in favor of a minority Conservative government led by Derby.

In the course of this rearguard battle, Gladstone unleashed some memorable oratory -- remarkable enough, in any case, for Jenkins to quote two substantial extracts.  I think the second would still stand up well in a speech against reactionary politics today

Perhaps the great division of tonight is not the last that must take place in the struggle.  At some point of the contest you may possibly succeed.  You may drive us from our seats.  You may bury the bill that we have introduced, but we will write upon its gravestone for an epitaph this line, with certain confidence in its fulfillment -
Exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor 
You cannot fight against the future.  Time is on our side.  The great social forces which move onwards in their might and majesty, and which the tumult of our debates does not for a moment impede or disturb -- those great social forces are against you; they are marshalled on our side; and the banner which we now carry in this fight, though perhaps at some moment it may droop over our sinking heads, yet it soon again will float in the eye of heaven, and it will be borne by the firm hands of the united people of the three kingdoms, perhaps not to an easy, but to a certain and to a not distant victory.

From the beginning, Disraeli was the animating genius of the Derby government.  He recognized the precarious predicament of minority government and, grasping the nettle, proceeded to unsettle the Gladstone-led opposition by pushing the reform cause himself.  Derby, who had become convinced by public demonstrations of the strength of popular support for reform, also lent his support.  At first, the government planned to charter a Royal Commission to study reform on the basis of a scheme of suffrage for all (male) heads of household balanced by a number of plural "fancy" franchises for those who met more than one eligibility test.  This seemed to outflank the liberals on the left (by proposing unrestricted household suffrage) while removing the political danger to the Conservatives (with plural franchises). 

In the event, the government abandoned this course in February and proposed the hastily considered "Ten-Minutes Bill" that only set a somewhat lower limit for householder qualification for the franchise.  (It would have been useful for Jenkins to make clear what the householder qualification measured -- was it the tax paid, the value of the property, or the imputed yearly rent? I think it is the last, but I'm not sure.)  A month later Disraeli had changed course yet again with a new bill which offered household franchise combined with plural votes for those with multiple qualifications.

In the subsequent debates, Disraeli basically showed himself willing to accept any amendment as long as it was not proposed by Gladstone.  The key goal for Disraeli was not so much any particular shape of legislation, but tactical victory over his rival. On two occasions, attempts by Gladstone to make compound ratepayers (householders who paid their taxes through their landlords) eligible for the franchise at the same level as direct taxpayers went down to defeat.  But Disraeli accepted without deliberation an amendment that abolished the practice of compounding, so that rates had to be paid directly, which had much the same effect, nearly doubling the number of householders made eligible for the vote.  In the end, Disraeli's reform bill enfranchised around one million new voters -- some 600,000 more than the Russell proposal he had opposed as too radical. Gladstone was, without doubt, discomfited by these maneuvers, but he managed to endure the humiliations and bide his time.

In February, 1868, Derby retired due to illness and Disraeli became prime minister.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

White Teeth impressed me above all for its marriage of the realistic and fantastic.

From early on, we get a heavy dose of the fantastic: Darcus Bowden's perfect recumbency, Samad and Alsana Iqbal's epic wrestling bouts, Horst Ibelgaufts' epistolary clairvoyance, the metronomic consistency of Archie Jones' cycling.

I am also inclined to look at the just so story of Archie and Samad's wartime service together in this light.

The realism comes especially in dialogue -- notably Situations With People Saying Awkward Things, which Smith really sinks her teeth into.  Among these, the scenes with Poppy Burt-Jones and the Chalfens particularly stood out.

Smith has a sense for telling and memorable metaphor, whether homely or erudite.  Archie's first encounter with Clara is a true display of metaphoric virtuosity

And not only was she the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, she was also the most comforting woman he had ever met.  Her beauty was not a sharp, cold commodity. She smelled musty, womanly, like a bundle of your favorite clothes.  Though she was disorganized physically -- legs and arms speaking a slightly different dialect from her central nervous system -- even her gangly demeanor seemed to Archie exceptionally elegant.  She wore her sexuality with an older woman's ease, and not (as with most of the girls Archie had run with in the past) like an awkward purse, never knowing how to hold it, where to hang it, or when to just put it down. (20)

Putting "exceptionally elegant" at the end of that penultimate sentence took me aback at first, but now I feel that it is just right -- it gives the the sentence a smooth and languid feel that "seemed exceptionally elegant to Archie" would not.

This metaphor, describing how Irie dug into the documentary fragments of her family history, also struck home for me.
She laid claim to the past -- her version of the past --  aggressively, as if retrieving misdirected mail. (331)

Another thing that stands out is Smith's cleverness and creativity with language -- I'm thinking of Niece of Shame, or gently mocking acronyms like KEVIN and FATE -- and the sense of joy in invention that I get while reading her.

Even though the novel starts out with Archie and Clara, and devotes much attention to their story, Samad and Irie are its real emotional center. The exemplify the spirit of frustrated striving, which is subdued in Clara (who rather gets lost in the plot) and absent altogether in Archie.

Magid and Millat Iqbal's diverging paths are a clever, implied riposte to Marcus Chalfen's deterministic project, as is Archie's willed randomness -- and yet ... Archie isn't comfortable allowing a flip of the coin to be decisive when it really counts, and there is a kind of common ground in the opposed ideological fervor of Magid and Millat (though Magid really sees people, their individual wants and problems and feelings, in a way that Millat doesn't)

Although at the most obvious level the novel is about immigrants struggling to find a place in England -- or about blowing up the whole idea of a sense of place that keeps them from fitting in -- the way that women are an afterthought to the plans of men, and fight to assert themselves, is just as important a theme.  It is shared even by as unlikely a figure as Hortense Bowden, who aspires to a bigger role with the Jehovah's Witnesses.

While we were discussing this novel, LTG made this acute observation : Zadie Smith's novels are about encounters between people, about connections, most of which are missed connections

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 10, "Reappraising Power"

In this chapter, written in 1976 (16 years after the original publication of his book), Neustadt reconsiders his account of presidential power in light of the record of more recent presidents. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he declines to reconsider his account much, because he thinks that he got it right the first time. Nevertheless, he lists six areas in which he would at least change his emphasis.

First is the way that  two previously unremarked factors -- perceived legitimacy and the loyalty of subordinates and followers -- can affect the president's ability to exercise power.  A loss of legitimacy harms a president by making the the officials he works with more like the public at large.  Instead of basing their willingness to work with him largely on his professional reputation and only secondarily on his public prestige (and then only among that part of the public that makes up their own constituency), they become directly and immediately influenced by the loss of prestige. Neustadt explains that the loss of prestige that creates a crisis of legitimacy comes about because of a presidential credibility gap -- a clear disparity between his words and his actions, or the results of his actions. Nor is this enough -- Truman, for instance, suffered from a credibility gap, but not from a loss of legitimacy.  In order for a credibility gap to yield a perception of illegitimacy, the president must be seen, like Nixon, to have created the gap by deliberate acts of deception.  But then, Neustadt notes, Johnson, too, had a credibility gap created by his own deceit about Vietnam without this leading to a crisis of legitimacy.  Neustadt doesn't provide an answer to that puzzle.

Neustadt notes that he had been criticized for not taking sufficient account of the loyalty of subordinates as a factor extending presidential power.  He responds that this loyalty doesn't matter, because nothing important can be accomplished without the cooperation of  other powerful figures with competing interests and constituencies.  Indeed, he implausibly insists that the loyalty of subordinates can only result in a check on presidential power due to the bad publicity from zealous overreaching!  In the first place, this overlooks that loyal subordinates may have positions -- like secretary of a cabinet department -- which otherwise would be occupied by individuals who would need to be persuaded to cooperate with presidential initiatives, since they would tend to take the views of the particular constituency that they served.  Moreover, since a president and the core of his staff can only focus on a few issues at a time, a multitude of loyal subordinates permits the president's agenda to be pressed forward on a broader front, even if the gains are incremental.  This should have been clear even in Nixon's time, but it has become especially conspicuous in the ideologically focused Republican administrations from Reagan onward.

Second are eight institutional changes in the presidency.  For the most part, the institutions in question were not formal, legal requirements, but customary practices.  Briefly, presidents since Eisenhower had found it ever less necessary do a number of things that were once expected, but they have been constricted by a few new formal. legal restrictions on their actions.  First, presidents were no longer expected to meet other leaders, like cabinet officials and Congresspeople, at their request.  Second, they were not expected to make themselves available for press conferences regularly and frequently. (This reflects the declining influence of the print media vis-a-vis broadcast media, since the press conference really served the need of writers who needed copy).  Third, presidents didn't need to consult as much with cabinet secretaries, since recent White Houses had built up their own policy-making apparatus independent of the departments headed by those officials.  Fourth, presidential consultation with his party's Congressional leaders was no longer as exigent, since  the party caucuses in Congress were far more fractured and the leaders had less authority than they did in the past.  Fifth, presidents had increasingly been able to dispense with the custom of consulting luminaries from both parties in times of crisis. On the other hand, presidential discretion had been limited by laws requiring Congressional approval for budget impoundments and engaging military forces in hostilities.  In both cases, however, the effect was to return the balance to where it was before presidential assertions of new powers. In addition, changes in election law had forced presidents seeking re-election to make an earlier commitment to a run.  On balance, these institutional changes had tilted power further in favor of the presidency. so that other power-wielders were even less the true peers of the president.

Third, and in contrast, the policy environment had changed in ways that increased a president's burdens.  First, the greatly increased scope of government had created a new set of powerful and largely independent agency chiefs.  At the same time, economic stagnation and increasing natural resource constraints had made the performance of private economic actors even more vital to the president's purposes, and established or reinforced the position of corporate executives and labor union leaders as sharers in power who needed to be succored.  Finally, the existence not just of nuclear weapons, but of a rival with second-strike capability, had put uniquely irreversible decisions in the president's hands, while robbing him of any peers with whom he could really share this burden (except, perhaps, for his adversary at the head of the Soviet Union).  At the same time, the proliferation of nuclear weapons to minor powers had made managing the relationship with the Soviet leadership more prone to accidents and unplanned escalation.

Fourth, the negative examples of Johnson and Nixon, in particular, make Neustadt try to specify with more exactness the role of confidence in successful exercise of presidential power.  Both of these presidents retreated to self-indulgent isolation, which in the end dulled their sense for making effective use of power.  In his original account, Neustadt had described confidence as the result of a combination of experience and temperament.  Neustadt ponders whether Johnson and Nixon had the right amount and quality of experience, but Nixon's experience seemed at least adequate, and Johnson's nothing short of extraordinary.  He leaves off with a diffident suggestion of importance of being a winner for confidence.  With respect to temperament, the crucial issue Neustadt highlights is dealing with frustration in the accomplishment of their aims.  Johnson and Nixon both depended for their confidence on accomplishing a somewhat outsized set of ambitions in office (domestically for Johnson and in foreign policy for Nixon).  At the same time, both were prickly and unable to make light of themselves.  As a result of this combination, they were both particularly poor at dealing with frustration.  Neustadt never explicitly makes the connection between this inability to deal with frustration and the retreat to an imperial presidency, but in any case I think it is at least plausible.

Fifth, Johnson and Nixon's misadventures inspire Neustadt to amend his advice about how a president can use his assessment of his own stakes of power to make judgments about the soundness of policy.  He finds that Johnson and Nixon had missed the risks to their power issuing from the deceptive Vietnam War buildup and Watergate, respectively, but not because they failed to consider how their power would be affected.  Johnson rejected the alternative policies of disengagement or openly and fully declared engagement because he thought that they posed greater immediate risks for him.  Disengagement could damage both his professional reputation and public prestige if Vietnam were 'lost' to Communists.  On the other hand, open and formal approval of a large buildup could create restraints on his ability to pull back later if he wanted, and would also give Congress an excuse to cut back the Great Society programs he was eager to start.  The risk that his intervention would fail to turn the war around in a few years, and that its scope would disrupt the economy and distract his government from implementing new social programs, seemed relatively remote in comparison.  For Nixon, the temporary setbacks to his power from leaks weighed large, while the longer-term risks to his standing and prestige from domestic spying -- and covering it up -- failed to register. To rectify such shortcomings , Neustadt recommends that presidents should also, at least sometimes, make the do-ability of a policy -- what it would take to implement it -- as a source of clues for political risk.  This kind of backward mapping of goals to means would, in Neustadt's opinion, have immediately made clear to Nixon the folly of the anti-leak agenda which eventually led him into Watergate.  Backward mapping would also have shown Johnson the inadequacy of the escalation he was about to embark on as a means of achieving the ambition of a divided, peaceful, prosperous Vietnam.

Sixth, Neustadt concedes that he had neglected to pay sufficient attention to how presidents use their White House staffs. Here he sees a difference between Democratic and Republican presidents.  Democratic presidents, with the partial exception of Johnson, had looked at White House staff as responsible for looking after their own political interests, and to a lesser degree their partisan interests.  They strictly divided this personal staff from institutional staff of executive agencies and kept it relatively small.  They did not seek to make the White House staff into an administrative layer overseeing the government.  Instead, they kept executive agencies like the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, and the National Security Council functionally separate so that they could maintain a role as independent sources of advice.  Rather than managing the government, these White House staffs managed the choices that their presidents had to deal with.

The way that Democratic presidents assigned duties also ensured that their staff got the broadest possible overview of their president's interests, opportunities, and risks. They tended to divide duties by the type of work -- e.g.,  press relations, speechwriting, drafting legislation, being a liaison with Congress -- rather than by program or subject matter.  This meant that the president had many possible sources of advice on any issue, and that his advisers all had a broad outlook on the challenges facing him.  In essence, it seems to me  that this arrangement tended to rectify the presidential predicament identified by Neustadt in earlier chapters -- that a president has no advisers with his own breadth of responsibilities and constituencies.  They were uniquely prepared to both frame his choices according to his personal perspective, but also to bring other perspectives to bear.

Republican presidents did not really distinguish between personal and institutional staff. They tended to see their task as an executive administering a unified organization, and the White House staff as in effect a top level of management of the entire government.  This was what even Democratic administrations had claimed was needed in plans for administrative reform, however different they were from this in practice. 

Neustadt does find it a hindrance that the function of White House staff was re-invented with each change of partisan control of the White House.  However, he sees the trend in the use of White House staff moving away from the Democratic model he clearly favors, and towards a larger staff viewed more as super-administrators than broadly involved, functional helpers.

Finally, Neustadt reflects upon the fact that the presidents have unprecedented responsibility, although under increased constraints, while finding ever-greater difficulty finding true colleagues among members of Congress with whom to share this responsibility.  Presidents face this difficulty finding partners because of the increasing frequency of divided government (so that the leaders of Congress are adversaries rather than colleagues) and because of the weakened position of leaders in an increasingly fragmented Congress.
He considers the prospects for restoring the balance between what is asked of the presidency and what it can provide in these circumstances.

Constitutional change to increase the president's power would be one way to align power and responsibility again, but it could only pass under circumstances of such urgency that the reform would be redundant. A presidency which strategically withdrew from some of the responsibilities of presidential clerkship -- letting cabinet offices and other officials bear the burden -- would also restore the balance of power and aims, but Neustadt doesn't believe that such an approach would be sustainable -- the demands for presidential intervention would be too insistent in the end.  Another solution would be a president empowered by a charismatic personality able to mobilize direct personal support through television. Finally, an increase in party unity could give the president more useful partners.  This could come about either because of institutional reforms like a Congressional budget process giving greater authority to leadership, or because the growing nationalization of political issues will create a more unified party.  If party nominations nationally are determined to a greater degree by the same national issues, then the president will have greater scope to intervene in order to makes sure his allies are nominated.  Neustadt concludes that the most likely and workable solution will be a combination of a charismatic president with increasingly nationalized party politics.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

C.L.R. James, Beyond a Boundary: Chapter 4, "The Light and the Dark"

 After presenting his cricketing resume without false modesty or bravado, the opening paragraphs lay out a predicament: the young James had to decide which club he would play first-class cricket for.  What follows is a sharp sketch of how colonial Trinidad's divisions of class and color mapped onto its cricket establishment.  Each club had its place and significance in the island's social divisions.  James' choice came down to the two middle-class black clubs -- Shannon, whose status was tied to the professional achievement and aspiration of its members, and Maple, whose status was wrapped up in lighter skin-color and established position.  The decision was particularly pointed because, though Maple's captain sought him, James personally was dark.  He recognized his choice had political significance, but ultimately decided on narrowly personal grounds -- a number of his friends were with Maple, and so he joined them, too.

Despite the quasi-political tension and the fierce competitiveness it produced, the atmosphere in club matches was collegial and even chatty.  James reprises a number of  in-match conversations.  Among these, an exchange with Constantine, the eminence grise of Shannon cricket, captures the friendly tone recollected by James pretty well.

Constantine, a privileged person, especially with me, between overs would discuss my play freely.  'You played back to that one?'  'What should I have done?'  'Jumped at it, of course.  That's the second time Ben has been on since you were in.'  'Suits you.' (62)

Its place as the representative of the the rising black middle-class inspired Shannon.  They played with singular intensity and self-discipline. They had by far the best line-up of bowlers, and were relentless in the field. 

Constantine told me one day, in the only reference he ever made to it: 'If you had joined us we would have made you play cricket.'  He meant as an international player. The remark was a tribute to Shannon, not to me.  Years afterwards, in a quite insignificant friendly match in Lancashire, I was standing at short leg when some batsman played an uppish stroke in my direction.  Not one county cricketer in three could possibly have got to it, and in any case friendly is friendly.  So I thought, until I heard a savage shout from Constantine who had bowled the ball.  'Get to it!'  I recognized the note.  It was one Shannon player calling to another.  (63)
Constantine and those in his camp saw Shannon as a model for West Indian cricket. They wanted West Indies to have a black captain who could make use of the striving spirit of Shannon to create a winning side.  To this, young James had countered with the view that the captain should be the best man, whether back or white, as if, in the context of the West Indies, the captain's race would have had no effect on the style and cohesion of the squad.

At this point, James calls out critics who think that race has no place in cricket.  He divides these into (1) those who have benefited from the privileges of being light-skinned, but now want the book closed on that chapter as if had never been written, and (2) those who sympathize with discussing race and cricket, but merely as an exorcism of personal traumas so that they can then be forgotten.

James insists that his experience of cricket was no trauma, and meanders into a series of wistful memories about the cricketing scene in Trinidad.  The hunger for play that produced so many spontaneous matches.  The accessibility of  international players, both to play against and to talk cricket with.  The way that cricket bound together people who were otherwise strangers.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

C.L.R. James, Beyond a Boundary: Chapter 3, "Old School-tie"

James recollects the Puritan ethic that imbued his West Indian upbringing with special reference to the virtues of restraint and loyalty. He identifies this ethic as an English import. He illustrates his experience of restraint largely through describing his youthful reading of Thackeray's novels, and particularly the pervasiveness of the internal, emotional inhibition found in them.  For the experience of loyalty, he turns to his experience of schoolboy games, and the fierce attachment to one's team that they instilled.  He describes how different he found the American attitudes he encountered decades later.  He found the American collegiate basketball cheating scandal -- and the lax attitude of his American colleagues to the betrayal of school and team it involved -- incomprehensible.

Through sport in particular, James sees the code as having shaped the inner, moral life of West Indian society.  He does not claim it had no competition, though.  He notes Spanish and French influences that competed with it -- although, curiously, not African or Indian ones.

Though the code came from Britain, his exposure to it did not make him a pro-British partisan -- far from it, for as a schoolboy he even searched history books for their losses and committed those to memory.

A few striking passages:

49: "I was an actor on a stage in which the parts were set in advance.  I not only took it to an extreme, I seemed to have been made by nature for nothing else.  There were others around me who did not go as far and as completely as I did.  There was another cultural current in the island, French and Spanish, which shaped other characters.  I have heard from acute observers that in Barbados, an island which has known no other strain but the British, the code was unadulterated and even more severe."

50: "What interests me, and is, I think, of general interest, is that as far back as I can trace my consciousness the original found itself and came to maturity within a system that was the result of centuries of development in another land, was transplanted as a hot-house flower is transplanted and bore some strange fruit."

54 (the concluding lines of the chapter): "But that there were people of my own way of thinking in the important things of my life who were utterly indifferent as to whether the boys in their old school or any other school sold games for money or not, that had never crossed my provincial mind.  Where, I asked myself, would they want to send their own children to school?  Where indeed? Not only they had to answer it.  I too had to give some answer."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 9, "Appraising a President"

In this first supplementary chapter added to the original text, Neustadt tries to assess Kennedy's mastery of presidential power.  He argues that there is a special difficulty in making judgments about Kennedy's term.  He concludes from the record of other modern presidents that it takes a year and a half for a new president to come to grips with his predicament, and that the decisions one makes during this learning period may not be telling indicators of a presidency as a whole.  Kennedy only had about a year more than that initial eighteen-month tutelary period as president, however.

Neustadt concludes that the third, fifth, and sixth years are actually the most reliable guide to a president's approach and priorities, because running for re-election and the lame-duck period at the end also distort the picture.  It strikes me how this much this runs against the grain of the conventional view that the first 100 days of a presidency are decisive, largely because that it is when it is easiest to pass new legislation. I don't think that the conventional view is wrong, except with respect to timing -- 100 days is an arbitrary and indeed too short a period for significant legislation. Nor do I think it conflicts with Neustadt's analysis.  But I think that, put together, these insights bring out the key tension of the modern presidency: a president's greatest potential power coincides with the period when a new president is still learning how to exercise that power and, to some extent, deciding what to exercise that power for.

Neustadt identifies four core commitments undertaken by Kennedy as president: avoiding a blunder into nuclear war, promoting civil rights, overcoming ideological obstacles to rational economic management, and combating poverty.  He concedes that there isn't much of a case for including the last of these.  The evidence for the second is also less clear than even Neustadt admits: while he notes that Kennedy made no real progress on new legislation, he overlooks the more serious issue of Kennedy's persistence in appointing pro-segregation Southern judges.  Moreover, Neustadt dubiously claims Kennedy was not deeply committed to pursuing conflict in Vietnam, which is hard to square with his approval of the 1963 coup to overthrow Diem.

Neustadt finds that Kennedy developed a keen sense for exercising the executive power of decision effectively.  After his early blunder with the Bays of Pigs invasion, he learned to reach down deep for information to understand his options, to keep his options open as much as possible, and to follow up on the implementation of his decisions very closely -- micromanaging, we would call it. He also had an unusually fine sense for the predicament of fellow world leaders and their motivations.

Neustadt argues that Kennedy never had a comparable feel for how to make use of his influence to pass legislation.  He did not enjoy cultivating relationships with members of Congress that were necessary for legislative success.  Given the intractability of Congressional opposition to his legislative agenda, however, particularly on civil rights, Neustadt doubts that Kennedy could have done much better even if his feel for influence in this arena had been better.  On the other hand, he related well to the broader public and created a strong sense of attachment, even though he was wary of emotional appeals.

According to Neustadt, Kennedy was well served by remaining calm, collected and engaged under the pressure of events. Neustadt is sure that some of this confident disposition can be attributed to Kennedy's service as a junior officer in the Second World War.  He diffidently points to Kennedy's success in achieving electoral victories previously thought improbable (winning senatorial and presidential elections at an early age and, in the latter case, as a Catholic) and his brushes with mortality as other possible factors informing Kennedy's attitude.

Regarding Kennedy's legacy, Neustadt notes that, in the first place, he left a Vice-President who was unusually well-prepared to take over.  He left a generally more flexible defense and foreign policy, but also a deepening engagement in Vietnam with which Johnson partially squandered that flexibility.  He left a simmering controversy over civil rights which Johnson was able to make good use of in order to push through landmark celebration.  ( I can't see how Kennedy deserves any credit for this, since the controversy was generated by forces outside his administration.)  Finally, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, he left the example of successfully navigating a nuclear confrontation.  Neustadt does register the dissenting view that Kennedy took an unnecessary risk in the first place by bringing us to the brink of nuclear war with this confrontation.  I would add that Kennedy's failure to fully disclose the compromise that made a peaceful conclusion of the crisis possible also had a lasting effect, by setting an unrealistic standard for apparent presidential firmness in future Cold War confrontations.

Neustadt concludes his analysis by commenting on how the prospect of mutual nuclear annihilation has changed the exercise of presidential power.  In the first place, to an even greater extent than was true before, the president has no peers with comparable responsibility.   The exigencies of potential nuclear conflict focus more importance on decisions the president alone can make.  Furthermore, consciousness that even small conflicts can build dangerous momentum toward a war with irreparable consequences means that a president will feel compelled to monitor the conduct of military and security operations much more closely than had been true before.  Micromanagement, so to speak, has become an occupational necessity.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 13 and 14, "The Hostile Partnership with Palmerston" and "God's Vicar in the Treasury"

Derby's Conservative government fell and Parliament was dissolved in the wake of Disraeli's failed attempt at a second reform bill in 1859.  The Conservatives gained seats in the subsequent election, but their opponents gained cohesion: the Liberal party in its modern form was organized.  The new party unified Whigs, Radicals, and Peelites, but it did not, at first, include Gladstone.  He had voted in the minority for both the Reform Bill (though he, along with Palmerston, opposed extending the franchise) and for the failed Conservative attempt to form a government after the election.  Yet the Liberals were eager to have him, because his oratorical talents made him too dangerous in the opposition.  Gladstone, for his part, found common ground with Palmerston over the desirability of Italian independence from Austria, and agreed to become Chancellor of the Exchequer.  It was a partnership that worked well, according to Jenkins, partly because Palmerston and Russell were so old (so that Gladstone's ambition for leadership would not be held back for too long), and partly because Palmerston was enough Gladstone's equal to provide a stabilizing counterbalance.

Gladstone's first budget after returning to the chancellorship passed with ease in 1859, despite a near doubling of the rate of income tax.  There was more of a struggle over the 1860 budget.  In the first place, this came from Palmerston's (and Herbert's) desire to expand military spending, especially for coastal fortifications.  Gladstone resisted, and was not above stalling the armament plans by remaining absent from cabinet meetings when he looked likely to lose the argument.  A treaty with France to cut customs duties -- worked out in collaboration with the radical Richard Cobden -- caused further opposition from affected interests.  This treaty was made part of an overall effort to eliminate duties on nine-tenths of the items still subject to it.  The biggest ruckus was actually caused by the repeal of paper duties.  This was passed by the Commons, but rejected by the Lords -- with Palmerston's encouragement.  The small additional increase in the income tax caused little controversy, however.

Due to the paper duty dispute and other issues on which Palmerston and the party leadership abandoned him, Gladstone came close to resigning.  But, crucially for his career, he didn't.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 11 and 12, "Health and Wealth" and "A Short Odyssey for a British Ulysses"

Gladstone was out of office for most of the 1850s, so his genuinely political activity was pretty scant. This gives Jenkins the opportunity to notice that Gladstone got sick rather a lot. He also fills us in on Gladstone's quixotic scholarly effort to cleanse Homer of paganism, and his book and china collecting.

During a visit to Liverpool in 1853, Gladstone made his first essay into political oratory before large public audiences -- an activity that other leading figures viewed with disfavor. His mostly irenic speeches about the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War -- their advocacy for Turkish cause so hedged with reservations that any impetus for intervention was stopped short -- were well received in a locale where peaceful trade was favored over martial fervor.

Gladstone's March, 1857 parliamentary speech denouncing Palmerston's aggression towards China helped bring down the government. Ironically, this ended up helping Palmerston, since many of advocates for a more pacific foreign policy were defeated in the subsequent elections.

I found it peculiar that the crisis in India in 1857 didn't even merit a mention. Perhaps this simply reflects how remote the concerns of India were to British government at the time, even in extreme circumstances.  If so, it would have been more illuminating if Jenkins had made that point explicitly.

That same year, Gladstone's characteristically priggish opposition to Palmerston's divorce liberalization bill failed to carry the day -- the last of his moralistic crusades.

Early in 1858, Gladstone helped bring down another Liberal Palmerston government with a speech opposing the Conspiracy to Murder Bill (a sort of anti-terrorist measure the government had pushed in order to placate the French in the wake of an attempted assassination of Napoleon III).  But Gladstone and his fellow Peelites proved too precious to serve in the succeeding Conservative Derby government, either.  Somewhat at loose ends (apart from his new avocation of felling trees), Gladstone accepted an appointment as Extraordinary Commissioner to the Ionian Islands in the middle of 1858.  During his half-year there, he obstinately insisted on addressing the (Greek) islanders in Italian, recommended a soon-superseded policy of delaying union with Greece. clashed with and pushed out the already serving High Commissioner, and then quickly removed himself from the office of High Commissioner when he discovered that it conflicted with holding a seat in Parliament.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 10, "Geometric Symbolism and Metaphorics"

Blumenberg begins by explaining the contrast he wants to draw between symbolism and metaphorics with reference to Fontenelle's critique of geocentrism at the end of the previous chapter. Fontenelle portrays geocentrism's function not as giving an orientating response to a conceptually unanswerable fundamental question (which would make it an absolute metaphor) but as projecting an image of unequal social conventions into the natural world and thus providing an after the fact justification for them. A symbol merely identifies a relationship; it's content has no significance.

Blumenberg spends most of the chapter examining how the circle and the sphere have been used in the history of cosmological metaphorics. The spherical form of the cosmos in Plato assures that it is complete and bounded, in contrast to the threateningly infinite cosmos of Democritus. The model of the cosmos as a stationary, spinning sphere also imitated the combined activity and rest attributed to the divine. This marks a beginning of transfer of attributes of perfection from the Ideas to the cosmos. Aristotle extends this thought to its limit, giving comprehensive scope to the propagation of the ideal of circular motion to nature. The Stoics take this idea even further, attributing even the inner cohesion of objects to a kind of circulation within them. In distinction from Aristotle, however, for the Stoics it is centripetal rather than circular motion which is natural: circular motion results from the displacement of of something from the center due to the natural centripetal movement of some other thing.

Plato requires circular movement for heavenly bodies because he holds that it is most perfectly rational (and hence, the best imitation of the ideal). For Aristotle circular motion is the result of the eros of the first sphere for the unmoved mover. Plotinus synthesizes these accounts, describing circular motion as a physical imitation of the theoretical activity of the unmoved mover ("thought thinking itself"). This circular motion is composite for Plotinus, however. The natural motion of the cosmic body is a straight line; the cosmic soul, in attempting to draw the cosmic body to itself, adds a second component to the motion that results in circular motion. The circular motion that the soul induces in the cosmic body is a metaphor both for the soul's desire for the Mind and for the impossibility of ever consummating it.

122-123: "One cannot talk of 'symbolism' here: the symbol stands in the service of knowledge and must therefore be fixed and static, whereas here we can already detect the highly complex movement that must be represented, indeed 'accomplished', in the geometric expression. Metaphor is capable of movement and can represent movement; there can be no more impressive confirmation of this than Cusansus's self-transcending 'explosive metaphorics', which operates with geometric figures even as it transforms them."

Negative theology does not seek to transmit a body of knowledge, but to train one's intuition in a spiritual process. Cusanus's doubling of circles and spheres is such a process; it begins with steps which are easy to apprehend, but which continue indefinitely is overwhelming. "The aim is to make transcendence something that can be 'experienced' as the limit of theoretical apprehension ..." (123)

Blumenberg does not classify Cusanus's mathematical explosive metaphorics as an absolute metaphor, because it is seen as a positive means to knowledge, not as a means of filling in a vacuum of orientation at the base of thought. But it is similar to absolute metaphors in that its function is pragmatic: it seeks to create a mystical attitude.

Kepler took the traditional metaphorical superiority of the structural center seriously, although the sun rather than the earth now occupied that position for him, and he took equally seriously the metaphorical superiority of circular orbits. This metaphorical realism was a step back from the metaphorical idealization of Copernicus (whose saw man's centrality consisting in his rationality), to say nothing of the acentric universe of Bruno. Nonetheless, this lapse was a key to his systematic accomplishment. In the first place, it allowed him to conceive of a force from the the sun as the source of planetary movement. Furthermore, once the orbits were seen as the result of a solar force, it was possible for him to examine them not as a static idea but as the result of a process, and thus to abandon the ideal assumption of a circular path.

Newton's conception of planetary paths as the result of a composition of different forces itself became a metaphor beyond the realms of astronomy and physics. Montesquieu, Mandeville, and Kant all examine society and history as the result of the composition of actions of individuals or social institutions.

Blumenberg notes that the emergence of modernity can be comprehended in part as and abandonment of circle metaphorics -- and so it is unsurprising that that those, like Nietzsche, who are disenchanted with modernity and seek to overturn it also seek to revive such metaphors.

Reading this, I have been able to see, really for the first time, a sense in which Nietzsche is an authentically anti-modern thinker.  I had seen unmasking as the essential move of Nietzschean philosophy, which seemed to make it characteristically modern.  Blumenberg's exposition of Nietzsche's metaphorical commitments has complicated my view -- and made me think that Heidegger was not so wrong to see him as the last of the metaphysicians, after all.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 9, "Metaphorized Cosmology"

Copernicus's geocentric model provoked a reassessment of metaphors relating to man's stature. While for some, like Goethe, the implication was a vindication of man's dignity as a being able to think freely, most, like Nietzsche, have seen it (although not necessarily with the same glee) as displacing man from a privileged position in the cosmos.

Copernicus conceived of his work as preserving the rationality of the universe and of man's place as a being uniquely able to grasp it. But the reception of the theory was not so straightforward. Even those who thought the theory validated man's value as a rational agent started from the premise that it displaced man from a teleologically favored location: they saw man's dignity shown by his ability to stand for himself without teleology. The anti-Copernican reaction also began from a metaphorized assessment of his theory as challenge to man's privileged position in the universe. Geocentrism only became Christian dogma under the pressure of the implicit metaphorical challenge of Copernicanism to Christian teleology.

For Aristotle, the attribution of a central location to the earth did not signify elevated status, but the opposite: the most dignified positions were the outermost spheres of the world-system. Man was neither the highest being nor the end served by the whole. Anthropological teleology was limited to the sublunary sphere, and even then it did not really set man apart; it amounted to the consideration that nothing was created without a purpose, but no more than that.

In Stoic cosmology, on the other hand, the earth's position at the center of the cosmos did signify a priority in rank. For the Stoics, the cosmos was not a static assembly of distinct strata, it was homogeneous in composition and movement, with all things seeking to move toward the center. Man's existence at the central point of the cosmos, the earth, supports a thoroughgoing anthropocentric teleology, where the purpose of the universe is to serve man's needs. Man is also distinguished in Stoic thought (taking a theme picked up from Plato's Timaeus) as the agent who can contemplate the beauty of the heavens, so everything is referred to man in an aesthetic as well as a cosmological sense.

Medieval cosmology used an Aristotlelean model of the cosmos, but integrated into it the contradictory Stoic material of high esteem for the centrally located earth and for man, especially in his role of contemplator (now understood to have God as his object). Copernicus sought to salvage man's (teleologically destined) position as contemplator while sacrificing the cosmological geocentrism which, in any case, only metaphorically endowed him with dignity; but the metaphorical debasement proved to be more compelling than the attempted theoretical elevation.

107: "Metaphorical realism is a factor of first importance in the formation of historical life. No paradigm is better suited to demonstrating this than the one discussed here. Subtle idealizations, such as those undertaken by Copernicus on the model of teleological anthropocentrism, fail to take hold and revert to their metaphorical quality. The replacement of the central position by a central function proved unable to establish itself as a legitimate 'transition', even if it was wrested as an 'achievement' from man's metaphorical eccentricity ..."

Galileo sought to raise the earth's rank within the medieval system of metaphorical valuation by showing it was really another star -- stellarization. Understanding this helps explain his preoccupation with finding evidence for the earth's movement and luminosity -- two features which would mark it as a star.

Cusanus had also attempted to establish the earth as a star among other stars, but in order to neutralize its value cosmologically rather than elevate it. This neutralization then opened the way for him to establish the earth's dignity as a consequence of the unique trait of bearing human beings.

Galileo's dogmatic retention of elements of Aristotelean cosmology -- such as the perfectly circular orbits of the heavenly bodies -- derive from his interest in preserving the system's attributes of stellar perfection while he elevates the earth to that status. The Aristotelean dicta that he rejects -- like the inferior status of what moves compared to the unmoved -- are those that would challenge the dignity of the stars, among which he would place the earth.

Fontenelle, as a representative of the Enlightenment's reception of Copernicus , sees the overturned cosmological geocentrism as a projection of the spirit of anthrpocentric teleology which is embedded in human nature. It is of a kind with all claims of priority or status by privileged individuals within human society --and similarly without merit.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 8, "Terminologization of a Metaphor: From 'Versimilitude' to Probability'"

Blumenberg now considers the phenomenon of transition from a metaphor to a concept. He focuses on a transition where both the original metaphor and the succeeding concept use the same German word, Wahrscheinlichkeit. The literal meaning of the word (which is incorporated in the old metaphorical usage) is the resemblance of truth. In modern usage it has come to mean probability.

Plato's eikos -- likelihood or what looks like being true -- from the Phaedrus and Timaeus -- taken up by 'truthlikeness' in Aristotle's Rhetoric -- translated as verisimile by Cicero. A reliance on such a concept in a Platonic tradition isn't as odd as it first appears, which is to say that the distance from Platonism to Skepticism isn't that great. The heightened demands for truth to be transcendent in the later Plato makes it ever more difficult to come to grips with it, to the point where in the Timaeus Plato admits eikos as a sufficient guide. In the Critias, Plato contrasts the certainty and exactness which characterizes our everyday activities with the faintness of our knowledge of the transcendent. (82-83)

In Academic Skepticism, the probable is held up specifically as a guide in practical human concerns, without being seen as evidence of theoretical truth. Cicero associates the probable with verisimilitude, the appearance of truth, but the actual closeness to truth implied is only given weight pragmatically. (83-84)

In Epicureanism, by contrast, the appearance of truth is granted to all manner of theoretical explanations of celestial phenomena, but this serves only to neutralize the claims of all the contending theories, thus securing man's peace of mind. (84)

For Lactantius, verisimile is seen only negatively, as the false appearance of truth which misleads men. In this, he is reclaiming the Stoic view of probability that Cicero had left aside -- that what is merely probable should not be assented to, and that instead judgment should be suspended. (85-86)

Augustine revives the metaphorical content of verisimile in arguing against the Academic tradition. He contends that it is impossible to make sense of verisimile without first having possession of the truth itself -- for how can one know if something resembles the truth without knowing the truth it refers to? (86-87)

Late medieval theology again severs the true from what seems to be true. With the growing theological insistence on the transcendent nature of truth, a new skeptical tendency affirmed faith even while conceding its apparent absurdity. In so doing, it reversed the Platonic assessment (from the Critias) of the relationship between knowledge of the divine and worldly -- now knowledge of the divine is held to be certain while knowledge of nature is held to be merely probable. This separation of faith and the appearance of truth provided autonomous space for speculation about the probable -- at least up to a point. Thus, the Church's response to Copernican and Galilean doctrines depended on its willingness (ultimately rejected) to tolerate probable claims which conflicted with revealed truth. (88-89)

Blumenberg links the development of mathematical probability with a desire to give an account for the world without reference to teleology or theology. Chance could only provide a rational alternative to these forbidden premises if it could be made predictable and quantifiable -- a labor taken up first and foremost by Pascal. Blumenberg notes that Leibniz endorsed the study of probability as a legitimate science, but cast doubt on its usefulness for addressing religious questions. Here, Blumenberg detects a residue of the metaphorical meaning of verisimilitude, for Leibniz's objection is that religious mysteries have the appearance of being false even when they are true, so an argument from probability cannot successfully confirm their truth. (where the seeming false captures the metaphorical content of the term) (89-91)

Mendelssohn adopts the Wolffian notion of probability as incomplete truth (I think the significance of this is that it puts probability on a continuum with truth), and he holds that probability applies to judgments about the past as well as the future. He objects to the idea that there are some probabilities about which it is impossible even for God to have knowledge that goes further than the probability (which some saw as a requirement of free will). (92-94)

Mendelssohn's defence of Copernican theory represents a benchmark in the transition from metaphorical to logical verisimilitude. His argument on behalf of Copernicanism is probabilistic: it reduces the number of independent factors needed to explain the movements of the heavenly bodies, and thus the reliance on an apparent coincidence of separate causes; reducing the number of required coincidences makes the explanation more probable. (94-95)

Maupertuis and Diderot object to the consequence of seeing probability as an incomplete truth. Truth cannot be established from probability -- in particular, for Maupertuis, the existence of a designer for the solar system cannot be deduced from the improbability of a close coincidence between the plane of the planetary orbits. With Diderot, the point is amplified by bringing together probability with a new metaphysical background assumption of infinite time. Given infinite time, the universe has unlimited chances for anything to occur, so no outcome is truly improbable. The explanatory function of a divine creator is thus replaced by chance. but since the creator had already become arbitrary and capricious in the development of Christian theology, this was a gain rather than a loss for a feeling of security about the world. Chance at least has its own laws. (95-97)

Blumenberg briefly considers how the the term verisimilitude had been transferred from classical to modern aesthetics. Classical aesthetics based on mimesis put a higher value on verisimilitude than truth in art. It was more important for a work of art to resemble an unrealized ideal rather than faithfully portray an existing object. Lessing (the modern example to whom Blumenberg restricts himself) also puts higher value on verisimilitude than faithful representation of reality in art. He conceives of verisimilitude in art as an ability to appeal to our inner sense of probability, to persuade us of its reality. (97-98)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 7, "Myth and Metaphorics"

77: "[M]etaphorology -- as a subbranch of conceptual history, and like the latter itself considered as a whole -- must always be an auxiliary discipline to philosophy as it seeks to understand itself from its history and to bring that history into living presence. Our typology of metaphor histories must accordingly endeavor to distinguish and work through particular aspects ... of philosophy's historical self-understanding. In the process, it is above all the transitions that will allow the specificity of each metaphor and its expressive forms to appear in sharper focus."

Blumenberg explores the transition from myth to metaphorics in Plato and his followers. Myth in Plato, like absolute metaphors, is not simply a preliminary and inadequate form of reason: it circumscribes and provides answers to those aporias which resist reduction to reason but are necessary to deal with in order for the argument to proceed.

78: "In myth, too, questions are kept alive that refuse to yield to theoretical answers without thereby becoming obsolete. The difference between myth and 'absolute metaphor' would here be a purely genetic one: myth bears the sanction of its primordial, unfathomable origin, its divine or inspirative ordination, whereas metaphor can present itself as a figment of the imagination, needing only to disclose a possibility of understanding in order for it to establish its credentials."

The myth of final judgment in the Gorgias functions as a postulate which the philosopher is compelled to assent to in order to risk his life on behalf of truth. It is turned to when the hopes of proving that justice will ultimately be done are exhausted.

The myth of the cave from the Republic draws on a background tradition of cave mythology. Its fundamental image is a movement from darkness to light. There are already intimations of this theme in the Prometheus myth of the Protagoras and the cosmological myth of the Phaedo. Blumenberg sees more to the use of this myth by Plato and his successors, however, than anchoring the fundamental narrative of the self-liberation of human reason. Plato's elaboration of the myth allows him to use it as a model which explains, for example, how the Sophist is possible.

According to Blumenberg, the myth of the cave has become an absolute metaphor with the Neoplatonists, Gnostics, and Church fathers. Porphyry (the stand-in Neoplatonist here) -- the cosmos as a cave separated from a transcendent reality which is not reachable by learning alone. Gnostics and church fathers -- salvation irrupting into existence like light into a cave.

Plato's myth of the demiurge in the Timaeus amounts to a constructive model explaining how the world is generated given certain premises. Blumenberg likens it to Descartes' hypothetical cosmogonic model in the Principles. The Church fathers claimed this myth derived from Genesis. This created a problem of assimilating the different consequences of the metaphor of creation by hand in the myth of the demiurge (which is fundamentally constructive and attempts to explain everything) and creation by mouth, which is to say by command, in Genesis (which seeks submission and attempts to explain nothing).

background metaphor - metaphor that implicitly anchors use of terminology
absolute metaphor - metaphor that provides a way of bracketing or provisionally answering otherwise unresolvable questions

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 6, "Organic and Mechanical Background Metaphorics"

Background metaphorics - background of images that makes it possible to reconstruct and understand seemingly non-metaphorical (and even purely theoretical) statements.

The language of imaginative horizons here is reminiscent of Heidegger and Gadamer.

62-63: "Metaphorics can also be in play where exclusively terminological propositions appear, but where these cannot be understood in their higher-order semantic unity without taking into account the guiding idea from which they are induced and 'read off'. Statements referring to data of observation presuppose that what is intended can, in each case, be brought to mind only within the parameters of a descriptive typology: the reports that will one day be transmitted to us by the first voyagers to the moon may well require us to engage in a more thorough study of American or Russian geography if we are to grasp the selective typicality of these reports, corresponding to the eyewitnesses' (anticipated) background. Faced with an artificial structure of speculative statements, the interpretation will only 'dawn' on us once we have succeeded in entering into the author's imaginative horizon and reconstructing his 'translation'. What preserves genuine thinkers from the crabbed scholasticism of their imitators and successors is that they keep their 'systems' in vital orientation, whereas academic routine uproots concepts and suspends them in idiosyncratic atomism. In undertaking an interpretive reconstruction, we will succeed in reviving such translations, which we propose to call 'background metaphorics', only within the parameters of a certain typology, and this is most likely to occur where a prior decision between opposed types of metaphors -- between organic and mechanical guiding ideas, for example -- has been made. It is not just language that thinks ahead of us and 'backs us up', as it were, in our view of the world; we are determined even more compellingly by the supply of images available for selection and the images we select, which 'channel' what can offer itself for experience in the first place."

Blumenberg argues that the contrast between mechanical and organic metaphors is itself not fixed, but emerges in the post-classical world. The classical machina has a broader meaning than the modern machine, referring to all sorts of contrivances and tricks. Lucretius' machina mundi does not yet have the connotation of automatism that would come with later clockwork metaphors, it merely contrasts the world as contrived or artful in contrast to the Stoic metaphysics of providence. The distinctive use of machine as a concept opposed organism arrives with the French Enlightenment. Blumenberg thinks that this emergence is more than coincidental, given how it serves the materialistic program of Enlightenment thought. (63-64)

For Plato, the universe was both constructed and living. It had to be conceived of as alive because it was understood to move itself, and ability to move oneself was the criterion of life. Mechanical models, like Archimedes' sphere, were seen by classical authors like as inferior imitations which merely demonstrated the rationality which must exist to a superior degree in the original. In Lactantius we see a Christian recasting of the interpretive function of Archimedes sphere: now it shows that the universe can be in motion after an initial impetus without requiring any animation. There is a clear theological interest behind this: reducing the world to a mere mechanism leaves God alone in transcendence. (64-66)

Nicolaus of Cusa characteristically saw Archimedes' model as a projection of the human mind, an invention created in place of divine creativity rather than an imitation of the universe. While an Aristotelian view of technology as mimetic lent itself to organic metaphors, Cusanus' opens a way to distinctively mechanical metaphors. (67)

Descartes abjures the project of understanding what the world or organisms are in themselves. Instead, he proposes to understand them externally, by transferring our knowledge of mechanical devices as hypothetical stand-ins. Having made the metaphorical substitution of machine for world or organism, however, Descartes is also able to substitute a pragmatic view of the aims of inquiry for a theoretical one: since there is a surplus of possible mechanical constructions which could be made to stand in for any natural entity, the choice between them is made on the ground of what works best (and if the model works better than its natural counterpart, then it a truer example of the original function than what is in nature). (68-70)

Blumenberg contrasts the book of nature and clockwork universe metaphors. The output of the clock -- the actual display of time -- is not significant in the use of the metaphor; what matters is its predictable functioning. For the book of nature, on the other hand, the informative content is critical; what is significant in the metaphor is that there is a message that could be communicated. (71)

The clockwork metaphor emphasizes God's initial creative act at the expense of God's continuing involvement in the world. (71-72)

With the book of nature, man remains external to the metaphor, as the intended reader. Human beings are among the things brought under the clock metaphor, however, in the works of Voltaire and Vauvenargues. The French moralists typically indentified the passions with the internal working of the clock, and reason as the display (in a way that hoped to gain assent and accomplish their aims) of those hidden instincts and passions. (72-73)

In The Crisis of the European Sciences, Husserl metaphorizes the scientific enterprise itself as a mechanism, and metaphorizes the implicit goal of the enterprise as an ideal textbook which puts together all of its achievements in a coherent whole. (75-76)