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.