Two recent versions of the same argument. First, the “simplified 800 word version”:, from Roger Cohen.

To paraphrase Mauriac, I love France, but I don’t want there to be two of them, least of all if one is in the United States. … I think President Obama’s counter-revolution goes in the right direction. … Still, the $3.6 trillion Obama budget made me a little queasy. There is a touch of France in its “étatisme” — the state as all-embracing solution rather than problem — and there’s more than a touch of France in the bash-the-rich righteousness with which the new president cast his plans as “a threat to the status quo in Washington.” … You know possibility when you breathe it. For an immigrant, it lies in the ease of American identity and the boundlessness of American horizons after the narrower confines of European nationhood and the stifling attentions of the European nanny state, which has often made it more attractive not to work than to work. High French unemployment was never much of a mystery. Americans, at least in their imaginations, have always lived at the new frontier; French frontiers have not shifted much in centuries. Churn is the American way. … If America loses sight of these truths, it will cease to be itself.

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Time after time

by Michael Bérubé on March 11, 2009

Rev. of Sean Carroll, <i>From Eternity to Here:  The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time</i>.  Forthcoming from Dutton (Penguin), 2009.

Time just isn’t what it used to be.  And space has gotten to be a bit of a problem, as well.  When I was a lad, physicists told me that they had these things pretty well figured out: they had discovered material evidence of the Big Bang, they had adjusted their conception of the age and evolution of the universe accordingly, and, having recalculated the universe’s rate of expansion (after Hubble’s disastrous miscalculations threw the field into disarray), they were working on the problem of trying to figure out whether the whole thing would keep expanding forever or would eventually slow down and snap back in a Big Crunch.  The key, they said, lay in finding all the “missing mass” that would enable a Big Crunch to occur, because at the time it looked as if we only had two or three percent of the stuff it would take to bring it all back home.  When I asked them why a Big Crunch, and a cyclical universe, should be preferable to a universe that just keeps going and going, they told me that the idea of a cyclical eternity was more pleasing and comfortable than the idea of a one-off event; and when I asked them what came before the Big Bang, they patted my head and told me that because the Big Bang initiated all space and time, there was no such thing as “before the Big Bang.”

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Brian Barry is dead

by Harry on March 11, 2009

Via Leiter I see the very sad news that Brian Barry is dead. As anyone who knew him can tell you Brian was some sort of force of nature; irascible, funny, impatient, kind, clever and subtle, but sometimes obtuse and sledgehammering. A founder of analytical political philosophy, who became irritated by its unworldliness, and who moved, as far as I can tell, from the middle of the political spectrum gradually but relentlessly to the left, while the world determinedly moved the other way. And he was verbose. Polity got me to read an early version of Why Social Justice Matters, telling me that it was commissioned to be 30,000 words long…… (by the way, that manuscript was the first time I saw Unequal Childhoods cited, which means he must have read it, and written about it, within days of its publication — so much for his early advice to me that “in this life you either read, or you write, you can’t do both”).

The last time I saw him was on a flying visit to Swift, when he and Anni dropped in, almost (but not quite) without warning, for a drink. It was an unexpected pleasure to see them, and Brian dominated the conversation, as he sometimes did. He’d recently been in the States and had visited his ex-wife, to see her for the last time. She had joined a religious community, which was not quite Trappist, but committed to speaking only when necessary. Both Adam and I had to suppress a giggle that someone who must once have been surrounded by words should go to such lengths to turn her back on them.

Many readers will only know him for his public performances, which were often witty, but also usually pugnacious and sometimes ill-tempered. Even I, who knew him not well, but well enough, and was on the receiving end of a great deal of kindness and support from him, found the following story, which I can’t attribute for an obvious reason, surprising. At a post-lecture party, a female graduate student (from whom I heard this) found herself in a corner with a male professor who started making very unwelcome advances that were not obvious from a distance. Brian, from across a crowded room, noticed, and quietly made his way to them, and subtly engaged said professor in conversation. He never spoke to her about the incident, which she interpreted not as him feeling uncomfortable, but as his being sensitive to the fact that she didn’t want to discuss it.

Brian told me once that he planned to stop writing at 70, and I think he more or less kept to that. So it is although a sad loss for philosophy, we probably haven’t lost writings we’d otherwise have seen. But it is a terribly sad loss for Anni, and for his many friends all over the world. And for that matter, for the world that moved right while he moved left. (Text edited in response to kidbitzer’s comment).

(UPDATES — at djw’s request, here’s the link to our post on WSJM, by Tom, not me! See also djw’s posting of a delicious, and unfortunately but typically prescient, passage from Brian’s review of Anarchy, State and Utopia). Further Update: please keep commenting. In a few days I’ll post again with links to the current thread, and to as many of the nice memories gradually emerging on the web as I can manage, and will tell Anni to have a look, because I know that she will be very pleased to see what so many people are saying. In the meantime here are Stuart White’s comments at Next Left).