Bizarro World Thucydides

by Henry on September 27, 2006

“Sandy Levinson”: quotes from Thucydides.

“To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defence . . . and indeed most people are more ready to call villainy cleverness than simple-mindedness honesty. They are proud of the first quality and ashamed of the second.” Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War III, 82, trans. Rex Warner, The Penguin Classics, pp. 209-210.

One of the most deeply weird features of modern political discourse is how some conservative supporters of the Iraq war and associated numbskulls such as “Dan Simmons”: cite Thucydides in support of their claims that we’re engaged in an epochal clash of civilizations where moderation amounts to appeasement of an enemy that will enslave us all if we don’t decimate em. I imagine that the appalling Victor Davis Hanson is to blame for most of this. I simply don’t see how one can read Thucydides without coming away with some quite emphatic lessons about the long term costs of imperial arrogance towards one’s political allies, how unnecessary military adventures turn into disasters, und so weiter. Not to mention Thucydides’ depiction of the dangers of cheap jingoism and pro-war demagoguery at home (it would be unfair to describe Glenn Reynolds and company as tinpot Kleons, if only because Kleon actually went out to fight the war that he had touted for).

O Bérubé, O Judge, O Mom and Dad

by Scott McLemee on September 27, 2006

I interviewed Michael Bérubé by phone over the weekend for a podcast now available from Inside Higher Ed. As you might expect, Bérubé is well-spoken. Alas, the gremlins were just as efficient in doing their work, for there is a certain amount of hiss from the phone line. Here’s hoping some people will try to listen past it. My colleague Elia Powers made heroic efforts to remove the noise. I’m told that this made Bérubé sound like a robot. Which, come to think of it, might have been pretty cool: A case can be made for doing all interviews with a Vocoder, à la Laurie Anderson.

As it is, though, we did get in a little bit of “Long Black Veil” as covered in 1985 by Baby Opaque, with Bérubé on drums and Ian MacKaye (in transit between Minor Threat and Fugazi) on vocals. For the full recording, go here.

Word is that suspects are being rounded up for an online symposium on What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? later in the semester. It’s understandable that the book should get the lion’s share of attention. It’s from a trade press. But the other one, Rhetorical Occasions, from the University of North Carolina Press, will be a lot more interesting to many CT readers.

You would be able to see why, had the good folks at UNCP provided the table of contents, instead of this.

The other day, a sociologist I know slightly asked me (and another political philosopher) whether there were any important recent books in political philosophy he should read. We were stumped, and eventually suggested that he read Annette Lareau’s _Unequal Childhoods_ … which is a work in sociology (and not that recent any more). I’ve just used the books “power search” feature to look for books in political philosophy published in 2005 and 2005. There are some interesting collections of papers here and there – both on topics and collecting someone’s previously published papers – and there are some goodish introductory books, but there was nothing listed (not a single book) of which it could truly be said that a political philosopher who had not read that book (within a reasonable time) would have neglected to do something that they should have done.

I have a short list of books that nearly made it (none of which I’ve read). The “nearly” books are Matthew Clayton’s _Justice and Legitimacy in Upbringing_ (which I’ve bought but not started), Brian Barry’s _Why Social Justice Matters_, Martha Nussbaum’s _Frontiers of Justice_ and David Schmidtz’s _Elements of Justice_. I’m sure it would be a good thing to read any of those four, but _essential_? I don’t think so. Can commenters make a case for some book published since the beginning of 2005.