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Sunday, December 22, 2002


What would Pilate do?

Well, LI learned, the other day, that we were not the first to spot the significance of Pilate in the controversy between Mill and Stephen -- a writer for the Economist, Ann Wroe, in her book on the figure of Pilate, alludes both to the controversy and to the colonial background:

"With this contemporary problem [of empire] in their minds, the Victorians turned again with some interest to the trial of Jesus. Had Pilate been justified in crucifying Christ, or not? On one side stood John Stuart Mill, the great liberal thinker, who naturally took the view that the trial itself was a travesty and Pilate's sentence an outrage against freedom of speech and freedom of religion. On the other side stood James FitzJames Stephen, the uncle of Virginia Woolf, who argued that Pilate's moral absolutes would have been different. If a ruler, he argued, was charged to keep the peace, that naturally became his first priority. He was not required to be tolerant of free speech or religion if that meant he would have a riot on his hands. Pilate's first concern was the glory of Rome; his second, the preserving of his own skin, and both depended absolutely on keeping the peace in Jerusalem."

Our notion is that there is much more to be squeezed out of the Pilate example, in this case, than Wroe gives us here; in a sense, the Trial of Jesus encompasses the whole paradox of Christian imperial governance in the age of democracy. However, we must (grudgingly) acknowledge Wroe's precedence (big of us, huh?).

Voltaire refers to Pilate in two crucial places: in his essay on Tolerance, and in his Philosophical Dictionary. The latter reference is in the entry on Truth. Pilate appears in the light of Voltaire's irony as a figure with whom the philosophea were all too familiar: the sympathizers within the state, the hangers-on of the enlightenment. The nobles, officials, churchmen who expressed, as is the way of the circles of the powerful under political tyranny, sympathy for dissent -- an enlightened view of official superstitions -- a discomfort with old institutions - and who, when the time came, would unhesitatingly betray their enlightened friends. Pilate, who, following an old convention, Voltaire obviously sees as a disenchanted old officer, is willing to surrender to establishment pressure rather than stand up against it. He knows the better thing, and does the worse. Truth, then, gets mixed up, from the very beginning, with resistance against the structure of falsehood. It is, in other words, politicized.

Voltaire's reading of Pilate comes from the famous passage in John 18:

Pilate said to him, "you are the king?"
Jesus responded, "you say that I am the king; it is for this that I was born and have come into the world -- to witness the truth; let every man who is of the truth listen to my voice." Pilate said to him, "what is the truth?" and having said this, he parted.

Voltaire's gloss on this passage is in the highest vein of his style -- sparse, dry, doublesided:

"Il est triste pour le genre humain que Pilate sort�t sans attendre la r�ponse; nous saurions ce que c�est que la v�rit�. Pilate �tait bien peu curieux."

It is as if Pilate and Jesus were actors in one of Perrault's folktales. But Voltaire soon drives home his liberal point. Conceding that the truth is to say that which is; and conceding that that which was, or will be, can only be said in terms of its probability, and never in terms of its certitude; then to kill a human being for speaking his mind is to kill him on what was, or on a probability; furthermore, it is to kill him without, oneself, knowing the truth, insofar as present certitude is surrounded by a gulf of doubt, is to commit an act of lese majeste with regard to the truth. Voltaire, of course, expresses these things with his usual astringent humor:

" Mais comme vous n�aurez jamais de certitude enti�re, vous ne pourrez vous flatter de conna�tre parfaitement la v�rit�.

Par cons�quent vous devez toujours pencher vers la cl�mence plus que vers la rigueur. S�il ne s�agit que de faits dont il n�ait r�sult� ni mort d�homme ni mutilation, il est �vident que vous ne devez faire mourir ni mutiler l�accus�. S�il n�est question que de paroles, il est encore plus �vident que vous ne devez point faire pendre un de vos semblables pour la mani�re dont il a remu� la langue; car toutes les paroles du monde n��tant que de l�air battu, � moins que ces paroles n�aient excit� au meurtre, il est ridicule de condamner un homme � mourir pour avoir battu l�air. Mettez dans une balance toutes les paroles oiseuses qu�on ait jamais dites, et dans l�autre balance le sang d�un homme, ce sang l�emportera. Or celui qu�on a traduit devant vous n��tant accus� que de quelques paroles que ses ennemis ont prises en un certain sens, tout ce que vous pourriez faire serait aussi de lui dire des paroles qu�il prendra dans le sens qu�il voudra; mais livrer un innocent au plus cruel et au plus ignominieux supplice pour des mots que ses ennemis ne comprennent pas, cela est trop barbare. Vous ne faites pas plus de cas de la vie d�un homme que de celle d�un l�zard, et trop de juges vous ressemblent."

("Since you will never possess the entire certainty of any state of affairs, you cannot flatter yourself to know, perfectly, the truth.

Consequently, you ought always to lean towards clemency, instead of rigor. If if it is only a question of facts which have not resulted in homicide or injury, it is evident that you should not, yourself, either kill or mutilate. If it is only a question of words, it is still more evident that you ought not to hang one of your kind for the manner in which he moved his tongue. For all the words in the world are only thrashings of the air, at least if they have not excited to murder, and it is ridiculous to condemn a man to death for thrashing the air. So, let's put into one side of the balance all the idle words one has ever spoken, and into the other side the blood of a man, and you will see that blood carries the point. Thus he who they have brought before you, being only accused of some words that his enemies have taken in a certain sense, all that you can do would be to have him say the words in the sense that he himself would have them taken; but to deliver an innocent to the most cruel and ignominious torture for words that his enemies doen't understand, that is too barbarous. Doing this, you are making no more of a case for the life of a man than the life of a lizard -- and too many judges are just like you."

Voltaire prefigures Mill's argument for liberty of opinion from the fallibility of all opinions. However, he's simply funnier than Mill.

Saturday, December 21, 2002



LI averted our eyes from the news during the past week in this space -- at least officially. Like a robotically connected citizen, outside of this space we did keep a beady-eyed watch over the march of history in the newspapers. One story that hasn't stirred us is the general strike in Venezuala.

Why haven't we been stirred? After all, what word, to a romantic leftist, conjures up more vivid images of liberty, equality and fraternity than the general strike? The favored tool of the working class -- and yes, Virginia, there is a working class -- usually engages our sympathies. This one, however, has engaged our ambiguities.

On the one hand, the picture is this: Hugo Chavez has all the appearances of that scourge of Latin American history, the military populist, of whom Peron is the great, dark exemplar. They arouse the contempt and fury of the propertied class, but one shouldn't infer, from that, that these military energumen are leftists. More often, they offer a corporatist answer to the civil and economic problems of the nation. It is a short range solution that, at the price of stifling liberty, pledges the nation to dependence on an elevated spoils system, usually centering around some exported raw material, or agricultural product. In the meantime, the despotic distribution of power creates a grass-roots motive for social violence. In Venezuala, where everything floats on oil and Chavez is enamored of his own charisma, all these elements are in place.

On the other hand, there's a certain rancid odor wafting above some of the groups opposing Chavez. An odor of the coup, the death-squad, and the sour snobbery of the elite. This snobbery is not a matter of who joins the club -- it is a matter of taking violent coercion as the chosen instrument of governance. It is a matter of freezing class divisions. It is a matter of under-educating, under-investing in, and actively repressing, the lower classes. We've seen this machinery in motion before.

The LA Times has been particularly hip to the turmoil in Venezuala, with a better archive of Venezuala news stories than are on offer at the NYT. The ambiguities of opposition are explored in yesterday's story, entitled Marxists, Management Unite to Oppose Chavez, with the explainatory graf:

"For more than two weeks of a national strike, the opposition has presented a solid front against Chavez, whom it accuses of conspiring to turn the United States' third-largest oil supplier into a communist redoubt like Cuba."

Today, they publish a profile of Raul Baduel, who "commands a fifth of Venezual's 45,000 troops." Baduel is Chavez' friend, and a mystic dabbler:

"The commander of Venezuela's most powerful military force sits behind a large dark wood desk surrounded by Virgin Mary statues and Buddhist prayer strips. The smell of patchouli fills the air. Gregorian chant music floats ethereally."

Gregorian chants, eh? Latin American military men do seem fatally inclined to mystagogic eccentricities. The Autumn of the Patriarch is the strict truth about this type of man.

The opposition, to judge by the rhetoric of one of its websites, seems, in part, mired in the ultra reactionary views that encouraged the death squads in El Salvador and the torture units in Argentina. Here's a graf from Vcrisis:

"Brazil's president Lula Da Silva, after giving the ministry of Economy and Finance to a pro capitalist-US educated businessman, has sent his top foreign policy adviser -- Marco Aurelio Garcia -- to Caracas to offer Brazil's help in solving the political crisis in Venezuela. However, Garcia said he will not meet with any opposition leaders because they are demanding that President Hugo Chavez resign. Da Silva is a co-founder with Cuban leader Fidel Castro of the Sao Paulo Forum, a hemispheric umbrella group for Latin American Marxist and socialist parties, former guerrilla organizations and active rebel groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Peru's Shining Path. Chavez has been a member of the Sao Paulo Forum since the mid-1990s."

The Houston Chronicle published an uncharacteristically thoughtful commentary on the Chavez situation Thursday.  Although the writer, Michael Marx McCarthy [a name that reeks of cognitive dissonance] counts Chavez out a little pre-maturely, his analysis of the post-Chavez landscape seems about right:

"Indeed, while the Chavez-led "Bolivarian revolution" might soon be dead, the president's impact on Venezuela has transcended the visceral association many lower-class supporters feel because of his mestizo skin color and anti-establishment rhetoric. It's important to recognize that the proverbial genie is out the bottle, and Venezuela's poor majority will demand that fundamental social issues be addressed.

During the two-day April coup, which was tacitly supported by the United States, the interim administration of business leader Pedro Carmona looked and acted like a 1950s Latin American civil-military junta, dissolving the National Assembly, throwing out the Supreme Court and unabashedly representing the elite. The opposition still wants the whole system revamped, from the name of the country -- "Bolivarian State of Venezuela" -- to the assembly and constitution. If the opposition again sacks the president, Chavez's supporters -- at least a third of the population, which in April took to the streets and brought their leader back to office -- will not hesitate to bear arms for the first president to offer them a legitimate stake in national politics."

Finally, for a left tilt to the news, Counter-Punch publishes Greg Wilpert's pro-Chavez journalism. However, do we detect a note of hesitancy in his writing? Instead of the usual cocktail of tabloid invective and lefty support, he seems to hesitate about characterizing Chavez' opposition as wholly reactionary. He does view the strike as ultimately a ploy of the management, but who is the managment of a state owned firm?

Thursday, December 19, 2002


What would Pilate do?

We've been losing readers by the handfuls as we've pursued the argument in James Fitzjames Stephen's Liberty, Equality, Fraternity this week. Or rather, as we have gnawed around the edges of it, like a man on a diet with a salt cracker. Our friend L.S. in NYC has recommended less lentamento -- our slow-motion conceptual strip-tease, he tells us, is gradually putting the patrons to sleep, who have come for some hot action and a little ideational pudenda.

Hey, what can we say? We are using this space to put together a possible essay. And so you will have to excuse, reader-patron, a certain air of sawdust, and fragments, and sketches.

To continue, then -- we are, we promise, going to get to the central paradox in Stephen's conservative imperialism -- that, in the name of the Christendom, Stephen is forced to advocate the government of a bunch of Pilates. And we see this same paradox in Stephen's conservative American heirs, transposed into the American idiom: for the proconsular dreams of such as Paul Wolfowitz, in which the American imperium irresistably spreads democracy, demands, as well, methods that are anything but democratic, and alliances that are anything but libertarian.

Well, that is getting peremptorily to the heart of the matter.
LI doesn't do that.

Rather, this post will be devoted to a brief note on a philosophical-literary genre.

Don't groan. Let's start with the relevance of this note to our Stephen problem. The figure of Pilate occurs, in Stephen's book, in response to John Stuart Mill's example of free thinking being put down -- viz, the condemnation of Christ. But what is an example in a philosophical argument? That is what we are concerned with tonight, comrades. This will be painless. Refreshments will be served at the end.

Okay. The philosophic situation is our name for a story that is adapted to a theory. Descarte's evil demon is one example. Socrates' death is another example, even though it is based on a real event. Like the stories in the Bible, philosophic situations have a peculiar persuasive status. In the Bible, according to Christian theology, every story instances some aspect of the divine presence -- and leads us to the more abstract question of the nature and purposes of the divine will. The philosophic situation, similarly, crystallizes the abstract conceptual issues posited by theory, but the movement in the philosophical situation is torn between the allegorical and the juridical impulse -- between the simple, concentrated display of conceptual forces, and the testing of hypotheses. This tension in the philosophical situation distinguishes it from its cousin, the counterfactual, which is solely defined by the exigencies of argument. The philosophical situation was still half under the rules of art, and could serve as satire, or even, ultimately, as pure fiction. The Enlightenment was the great age of the philosophic situation, from Molyneux's problem to Montesquieu's Persion Letters.

So, enough lit-crit maundering. Let's get to Pilate.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002


What would Pilate do?

LI was happy to receive a little email from our friend Alan this morning. He is resurrecting his own blog, Gadfly's Buzz. He also liked, actually liked, our continuing series of posts about James Fitzjames Stephen -- which seem, otherwise, to have decreased our readership significantly, at least according to that little inaccurate site meter thing we keep on this site.

Odd. We find Fitzjames Stephen to be a more and more fascinating figure. After reading his entry in the National Biography (a series started and edited by his brother, Leslie Stephen, who was -- as our readers already know -- Virginia Woolf's Dad, as well as the model for the polymathic dynamo in George Meredith's The Egoist), we realized that, by accident, we are ending the year by tying together many of the themes we've pursued on this site. We've written about Lord Macaulay (5/4/02) and Lord Bacon, wandering into Macaulay's essay about the Trial of Warren Hastings; we've written about Mike Davis' scarifying and much ignored book about the "Victorian holocaust" -- a book that gains its power by simply describing the famines of 1876 and 1877 in India. The description indicts the Raj, by the common consent of today's historians a beneficent entity, for its gross inhumanity(2/16/02) -- and to put a parenthesis in a parenthesis, as is our usual, maddening way of going about things, Davis' work reminds us, again, in this time of imperialist nostalgia, that the British empire is judged on a moral standard that makes heavy use of such omissions as would, transposed to 20th century Russia, clear Stalin of wrongdoing. Take the popular history of the Raj recently published by Lawrence James (Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India). Not only is there no entry in the index for famine (although it does sport a couple of photos of famine victims), but James devotes more space to Lord Curzon's management of state pageantry than to the famines that might have killed as many as two million people in the 1870s. Here is almost the entire substance of James' report on the latter, troubling affair:

"In 1876 and 1877 there had been two successive seasons of inadequate rainfall which had affected a swathe of country stretching from Mysore to Punjab, in which 58 million people faced chronic food shortages [editor's note -- this is euphemism as high art]. The government's efforts to cope with this disaster had failed, partly because of underfunding, partly because of the current laissez faire dogma which forbade interference with market mechanisms, and partly because there was not enough railroads to convey foodstuffs..." This is what is known as understated prose. The reader of James' 670 page tome might be forgiven for never exactly gathering that famine killed a couple of million Indians during the heyday of the British Raj. And, if the reader pauses during James brief, awkward walk through the years of rain shortfalls, he will be reassured that, after all, the faulty response can be laid to a doctrine, laissez faire -- an impalpable thing, to be found in economics dictionaries -- rather than in the human, all too inhuman, policies of the Viceroy, Lord Lytton, that were firmly supported by the Conservative government in England -- although not by the liberals under Gladstone, it should be said. James himself provides an image for the kind of history he is creating -- and the kind that is still created about this period. In the early1800s, James claims, colored prints of the Indian countryside started to appear in England, and became popular. But, as he notes, the prints customarily "omitted" the Indian multitudes that thronged in those landscapes. Well, so it was, and so it has been ever since. If, of course, James had emphasized such chronic food shortages -- the fault, of course, entirely of nature, and not at all of a pernicious and rapacious tax system, combined with a systemic neglect of the agricultural structure of the countryside that had been built up over two centuries, and that, by some miracle of nature James doesn't contemplate, had prevented chronic food shortages in the eighteenth century -- if James had emphasized famine, it might be harder to 'adjust the balance,"as James puts it, against the "Marxists" and left wingers who have slandered the Raj.
End of parenthesis...
We've also written about Governor Eyre of Jamaica and his brutal suppression of a black and mulatto uprising (9/09/020. The uprising has become the centerpiece of a revisionist history of the socialist impulse in 19th century England, undertaken by an economics professor at George Mason University, David Levy, in collaboration with Sandra Peart. All of these themes converge in the figure of James Fitzjames Stephen, strange as that might seem. When Stephen went to India in order to reform the law of evidence in the colony, he built on the regulatory structure created by Macaulay. Stephen was a particular friend of Lord Lytton, who went home in some disgrace -- a disgrace compounded of his response to the famine and his failures on the frontier. And, finally, Stephen was officially a part of the prosecutor's entourage in the Eyre affair.
We'll have more to say about the latter in the next post. And then, we promise, we will get to the much delayed Pilate problem.

Monday, December 16, 2002


Pilate (continued)

Niall Ferguson, the conservative historian, pens an article in the NYT Magazine this Sunday that nicely sums up the conventions of the moment among the trans-Atlantic belligerants. He goes back and forth with the parallel between the British Empire and the U.S -- too much of a historian to find analogies unembarrassing, but too much of a belligerant to fresist it:

"Let's look again at that parallel between the U.S. and the British Empire. Terrorism is a global phenomenon and so, necessarily, is the war against it. One consequence of 9/11 was to shatter forever the illusion that Americans could retreat to enjoy the fruits of their productivity behind a missile defense shield. For terrorism breeds in precisely the rogue states and strife-torn war zones that some Republicans before 9/11 thought we could walk away from. Intervention to impose the rule of law on such seedbeds of terror is far from an unrealistic project. That was precisely what the Victorians excelled at."

The rule of law (which was not, of course, any kind of motive for the expansion of the British Empire -- it is the kind of phrase much favored by those who have put a suitable generation or two between themselves and the pirates who seized the properties they now complacently fold into the law of contracts) was the kind of thing Fitzjames Stephen brooded on, no doubt in a Mr. Rochester way. Law, of course, gives you a rather grimmer idea of human action than economics or logic does -- the latter two being more Mill's specialties. The tone of Stephen's dissent from Mill in Liberty, Equality, Fraternity is shot through with a sense that human beings are essentially difficult. Especially if you meet them out there, doing the rounds in some godforsaken part of Southern India, rather than confine your encounters to the pleasanter purlieus of Chelsea.

Being a religious man -- or, rather, a man attached to the guarding of the Christian religion, and the preservation of all its old ferocities, regardless of his personal appraisal of the plausibility of Christian evidences -- Stephen attacks Mill's libertarianism on two fronts: one is that, frankly, Mill undervalues the role of coercion in human society, and hence would impose limits on the State's coercive power that would countermine the State's great role -- that of disciplining the mass. The other is that Mill's libertarianism is, ultimately, a hedonism contrary in all its parts to Christian doctrine. Even if one feels, reading Stephen's tract, that Stephen, post Cambridge, was that Victorian thing, an agnostic with Calvinist leanings, one also feels that Stephen believes -- as did Nietzsche, at times -- that the disbelief of the rulers in the established creed is no reason not to enforce belief in that creed, by all means necessary. This belief also shows up in one of the great nineteenth century texts -- the Grand Inquisitor section of The Brothers Karamazov. Stephen's intro graf certainly intones Dostoevskian themes:

"The object of this work is to examine the doctrines which are rather hinted at than expressed by the phrase "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity." This phrase has been the motto of more than one Republic. It is indeed something more than a motto. It is the creed of a religion, less definite than any one of the forms of Christianity, which are in part its rivals, in part its antagonists, and in part its associates, but not on that account the less powerful. It is, on the contrary, one of the most penetrating influences of the day. It shows itself now and then in definite forms, of which Positivism is the one best known to our generation, but its special manifestations give no adequate measure of its depth or width. It penetrates other creeds. It has often transformed Christianity into a system of optimism, which has in some cases retained and in others rejected Christian phraseology."

You can feel the black leather gloves being put on with that phrase, "transformed Christianity into a system of optimism..." As if a creed with a tortured man/god spilling his blood at the center of it promised us a lifetime of teacups and edifiying lectures! Stephen wasn't having any of that nonsense: religion is about the last things, and in that bleak and all consuming light, happiness shrivels up like a dead cockroach.

We mention the Grand Inquisitor with intent -- for part of Stephen's work does, indeed, touch on the same territory treated, much differently, by Dostoevsky. Remember the way Ivan Karamazov's "poem" starts. Jesus comes back to Earth. It is in the time of the great heresy hunts in Spain. Jesus has just raised a dead child when the Grand Inquisitor comes into sight:

"There are cries, sobs, confusion among the people, and at that moment the cardinal himself, the Grand Inquisitor, passes by the cathedral. He is an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of light. He is not dressed in his gorgeous cardinal's robes, as he was the day before, when he was burning the enemies of the Roman Church -- at this moment he is wearing his coarse, old, monk's cassock. At a distance behind him come his gloomy assistants and slaves and the 'holy guard.' He stops at the sight of the crowd and watches it from a distance. He sees everything; he sees them set the coffin down at His feet, sees the child rise up, and his face darkens. He knits his thick grey brows and his eyes gleam with a sinister fire. He holds out his finger and bids the guards take Him. And such is his power, so completely are the people cowed into submission and trembling obedience to him, that the crowd immediately makes way for the guards, and in the midst of deathlike silence they lay hands on Him and lead him away. The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on' The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy, inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, 'breathless' night of Seville. The air is 'fragrant with laurel and lemon.' In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks."'Is it Thou? Thou?' but receiving no answer, he adds at once. 'Don't answer."

Well, Stephen does not intend to reach these depths -- he would no doubt find them rather repulsive. Yet his book does contain a disquisition on Pilate that is certainly worthy of the Grand Inquisitor -- transposing some of the elements.


Saturday, December 14, 2002


The Pilate problem

James Fitzjames Stephen was a Victorian bravo of the purest water. When Gertrude Himmelfarb gets all fluttery about Victorian masculinity, she is undoubtedly envisioning a man of Stephen's type. In his entry in the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica, he is described as �massive, downright, indefatigable and sincere even to unnecessary frankness.� In other words, a sort of Mr. Rochester sprung from Jane Eyre�s tale.

Stephen was a member of the Apostles, the Cambridge group, in the 1840s � well before it became the conglomeration of aestheticism and the higher buggery under Keynes and Strachey � where he met Henry Maine, the legal historian; Stephen, having no taste for curateships, went into law himself; in his practical life, he eventually devoted himself to grafting principles of English common law into the workings of the British Raj in India.

The Mills, of course, father and son, were the redeeming intellectual ornaments of the East Indian Company, and Stephen must have been highly aware of them in his work. It is said � at least, in the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica it is said � that on the boat back from India, Stephen, reading John Stuart Mill�s On Liberty, devised his rebuttal, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

The book rather sank. Lately, however, it has become the subject of a little Tory cult.

Among the little band of Fitzjames Stephen's acolytes, none is fiercer than Roger Kimball of the New Criterion. Kimball, who has done his warrior bit in the Kulturkampf of the early nineties, rousting out tenured radicals and exposing them for the dubious souls that they are, has featured Stephen as a sort of Archangel Michael, putting the sword in the breast of that loathsome liberal toady of Satan, John Stuart Mill. Kimball�s loathing of Mill has breathed even in the pages of the Opinion section of the Wall Street Journal, where all conservative hobby-horses eventually find a home. But there's a problem. Mill is widely revered in Libertarian circles. Kimball represents one crucial side of the untidy conservative front. He is plainly unhappy with his libertarian allies.

In an essay in November, 1998, that served as the centerpiece for a later, book-length attack on�liberalism,� Kimball poured out the vials of his wrath on Mill, � and as is the way of New Criterion loathings and the mood of the time, he attacks him as a sexual being as well as a thinker. Kimball, like Ken Starr, is a great one for keeping up with the bedroom habits of his enemies. In Mill�s case, the great sin was one of omission, rather than commission. Kimball writes, of Mill's relationship to his wife Harriet, �it is noteworthy that this "lofty minded" relationship was apparently never consummated.� There are, it appears, no sexual depravities to which the liberal mind won�t sink � including chastity.

In this essay, Kimball referred to Stephen�s book, Liberty, Fraternity, Equality. The book has already been rescued by Richard Posner, and has found its way into the reading list of the Federalist Society. Here�s Kimball�s assessment of it:

�By far the most concentrated and damaging single attack on Mill's liberalism is Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, first published serially in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1872-1873, and then in book form in March 1873 in the last year of Mill's life. It was written by the lawyer, judge, and journalist Sir James Fitzjames Stephen (1829-1894): Leslie Stephen's older brother and hence--such is the irony of history--Virginia Woolf's uncle. Mill himself never responded to Stephen's book beyond observing, as Leslie Stephen reports in his excellent biography of his brother, that he thought the book "more likely to repel than attract." But several of Mill's disciples responded--the most famous of whom was the liberal politician and journalist John Morley (1838-1923). Stephen brought out a second edition of his book the following year, 1874, in which he reproduces and replies to many criticisms raised by Morley and others. Stephen described Liberty, Equality, Fraternity as "mainly controversial and negative." Pugnacious and devastating would be equally appropriate adjectives. As one commentator put it, Stephen made "mincemeat" of Mill.�

One notes that there is nothing worthy, sexually, of noting about Stephen. Thank God.

The Federalist Society of Wisconsin has, very kindly, made available half of Stephen�s famous polemic on-line.We�ve entertained ourselves, in these doggy days of flu and cloud, by reading the great man. It turns out that Kimball is right � at least, he is right to accord Stephen a great deal of recognition. The confused elements of American conservativism, circa 1998 � the longing for an established religion, the opposition to dissent, and the confused sense that the marketplace is no model for ideas � already form Stephen�s politics. In fact, this is no surprise � Mill might have been an eminent Victorian, but Victorian society, in its imperial flush, was much better represented by Stephen than by Mill. Stephen articulates a type that dominated the latter half of the nineteenth century in Britain. Shaw, in Heartbreak House (his best play � the only play of Shaw�s that LI re-reads, as we re-read Shakespeare�s plays), was talking of the Mill/Stephen split when he describes the difference between Heartbreak House and Horseback Hall. Heartbreak�s liberalism, of course, was falling down around Shaw�s ears as he wrote � World War I was an unmistakable counter-blast to the genteel Victorian and Edwardian virtues, and seemed, at the time, to put an end to the matter. Shaw�s description of Heartbreak culture in the preface seems, to LI�s mind, alarmingly like contemporary academia, with the substitution of other references for Wells, of course -- try Foucault, or whoever:

�With their heads as full of the Anticipations of Mr H. G.
Wells as the heads of our actual rulers were empty even of the
anticipations of Erasmus or Sir Thomas More, they refused the
drudgery of politics, and would have made a very poor job of it
if they had changed their minds. Not that they would have been
allowed to meddle anyhow, as only through the accident of being a
hereditary peer can anyone in these days of Votes for Everybody
get into parliament if handicapped by a serious modern cultural
equipment; but if they had, their habit of living in a vacuum
would have left them helpless end ineffective in public affairs.
Even in private life they were often helpless wasters of their
inheritance, like the people in Tchekov's Cherry Orchard. Even
those who lived within their incomes were really kept going by
their solicitors and agents, being unable to manage an estate or
run a business without continual prompting from those who have to
learn how to do such things or starve.�

Horseback Hall has, of course, few voices, because its texts are woven of such common-places of the governing classes as have, usually, no need for the exposure of literature, being content with the half-grunted affirmations of one's fellow club-men over a nice glass of port. However, Shaw creates a sort of ambassador from Horseback Hall in the play, Lady Utterword, whose husband, Hastings, has been a colonial governor over various tracts of the empire. At one point in the play, the house discovers a burglar, and there is a debate about sending for the police. If they do, of course, their names will be in the paper, which is the kind of publicity to which both Heartbreak House and Horseback Hall are constitutionally averse. Lady Utterword alludes briefly to her husband�s ways of dealing with crime:

�Think of what it is for us to be dragged through
the horrors of a criminal court, and have all our family affairs
in the papers! If you were a native, and Hastings could order you
a good beating and send you away, I shouldn't mind; but here in
England there is no real protection for any respectable person.�

Hastings Utterword, who never appears, in propria persona, on the stage, is embodied once and for all in that outburst. His type was invented by such as James Fitzjames Stephen.

Ah� we�ve reached the limit of the post-able, for one day. And we haven�t even gotten to Pilate! But never fear � tomorrow we will try to make a stab at Fitzjames Stephen�s Gedankenexperiment with the honorable Pontus Pilate, and connect it to the current baying for war against Iraq.

Friday, December 13, 2002


LI has been battling the flu this week. Hence, the noticeable lack of activity in this space. Some of you probably concluded it was the curse of Coleridge -- wrestling with that writer's anfractuosities has done in many a better man than LI. But no -- we were on top of the Coleridge problem until we felt that tickle in the throat, and that slight, heady rise in the body temperature, portents and symbols of the pathogen in the blood.
We're going to try to put up some feeble thing or other in this space today, however. Coleridge, who deserves all our health, will have to be swept into that veritable out-box of promises, all the projects LI has mentioned and failed to carry out.

Monday, December 09, 2002


Bush insatiable appetite for CEOs was apparently not sated by Paul O'Neill's unspotted record of ineptitude. There were times we rather liked O'Neill -- for instance, his idea that financial gamblers who invest in high risk emerging markets should (gasp!) take their risks. But on the whole, the man was as out of the loop as any Treasury secretary since the late Andrew Mellon. So now we have John Snow, chairman of CSX, whose arrival has been greeted by the cautious hossanahs of various Democrat honchos. This is, of course, a bad sign -- to be followed by the rote label, moderate Republican, and such business. Here is Forbes, trumpeting the integrity of the man:

"Snow has been serving as co-chairman of a Conference Board blue-ribbon commission on corporate governance. In its first report last September, the panel called for widespread reforms in the way executive compensation is determined.

In a news release accompanying the report's issuance, Snow deplored the series of corporate scandals involving companies like Enron that weighed on the U.S. stock market this year.

"These egregious failures evidence a clear breach of the basic contract that underlies corporate capitalism," Snow said in September."

There you go -- in the fashion of moderate Republicans everywhere, a scandal that stinks up the culture for almost a year finally gets struck down with the true, denunciatory thunder of a man whose own compensation package will guarantee him steaks and lobsters, with a diamond garnish, for the rest of his born days, if he so choses.

LI reviewed a book by William Leach years ago. The book rather convinced us that the new world ushered in by the de-regulation of the railroad system deserved much of the credit that went to the Internet in the nineties. The internet merely ushed in a new way to order things -- the de-regulation of the railroad industry, allowing the merger of trucking and rail companies, was a significant factor in the great decline in transfer costs. That journalists, who are much more likely to hang around a computer terminal than a railroad depot, pumped the Internet as the miraculous offspring of Gutenberg and Jesus Christ shouldn't surprise anybody. After all, when Time was portentiously summing up the century in 2000, it somehow overlooked almost everything that had happened in agriculture during the last one hundred years -- for instance, the invention of artificial fertilizer, which has had much more effect on our lives than, say, the rocket or the modem.

So what is Snow's background? This report on the Rail industry,
Railroads at a Crossroads: Time for a New Business Model?

by Steven Ryder and Jay Frazier

is a nice place to start. If, indeed, deflation is the phantom menace around the corner, Snow must have caught the fatal intimations at CSX.

One of the puzzles of economics is the continuing belief in the myth that "corporate capitalism", to use Snow's term, is the best way to efficiently distribute investment. If one looks at the amount invested in fiber optic wire in the nineties, compared with the amount invested in reworking railroad track in order to make a faster system, it is easy to see that corporate capitalism is not driven to invest in those things which will ensure long term profit, but in those things that promise some kind of short term pay-off. It is all a matter of being convinced that there is, indeed, a short term pay-off -- which is the task of those drudges in the Biz journalism racket who mindlessly report the forecasts of the bought and sold in pages meant for the guileless. Rationally, the investment should have been in creating the kind of transportation network that would reinforce just in time manufacturing. The key stat from Ryder and Frazier is this:

"...railroads remain as a low-cost service provider. The operating cost of a railroad easily undercuts its competition in bulk freight surface transport. Shippers who choose to route freight by truck rather than by train typically pay a 25% premium in price. The dramatic rise in oil and energy prices will further magnify this cost advantage for rail. "

That premium, remember, exists in spite of the considerable support given by the State in the form of a highway system that is built and maintained with tax money. As a transportation mode, railroads, with their much greater carrying capacity and their potential, given the tracks and the equipment, to achieve greater speeds than road based vehicles, should have been the recipient of heavy investment. However, it is impossible for the American mind to get itself around the idea that railroads aren't something obsolete, out of a cowboy movie.

CSX, after taking over Conrail, spawned a protest site -- CSX sux. Why it sux isn't exactly clear on the site -- there is a gabfest of disgruntled employees, and there is some news about nuclear materials run by the company. Frankly, the site looks inward, to who did what in the Montgomery station at 2 p.m. on February 15th. However, the nuclear materials story definitely deserves some press play -- although we doubt anybody is really going to look into it in the big newspapers. Lately, the news has been Bush's party.

Sunday, December 08, 2002


The Patriot game

Lately there has been a lot of, to LI�s mind, rather unseemly genuflecting to the American flag on the part of a group in the left press that apparently entertains the fear that honorable goals, such as economic justice and anti-belligerence, are being undermined by a googley eyed gang of flag burners. We have little patient with the thesis that America is the Great Satan; on the other hand, when lefists get chummy with the tropes of jingoism, we look for the exits.

Dissent recently published an essay by Michael Kazin, an editor, entitled �A Patriotic Left.� This is an excellent example of the neo-Popular Front in the age of Bush. Kazin has a good time sporting in progressive cant. You know the variety: You call for some moderate objective in the most bloodcurdling ultra rhetoric. After the writer is finished, you are supposed to count the silverware in the silverware drawer, to see if any of it has been expropriated by the masses. Since the rhetorical style at Dissent is fatally oriented towards what was hip when Sidney Hook bought his first Flivver, you get bizarre tirades against �cosmopolitanism.� It turns out that patriotism and cosmopolitanism are deadly enemies, in Kazin�s mind:

�In daily life, cultural cosmopolitanism is mostly reserved to the rich and famous. Radical environmentalists and anti-IMF crusaders seek to revive the old dream of internationalism in a version indebted more to John Lennon's "Imagine" than to V. I. Lenin's Comintern. But three years after bursting into the headlines from the streets of Seattle, that project seems stalled indefinitely in the Sargasso Sea that lies between rhetorical desire and political exigency.�

Wow. If the rich are for it, I must be agin� it � I suppose that is the response Kazin wants to induce in his readers; who will then form a posse to string up the varmints. However, LI rather likes those rich who are cultural cosmopolitans � are we talking about Gertrude Stein, here? Well, we are very fond of her. As well as Henry James, John Lennon, and the rest of em. The Frankfurt exiles � just loved those guys! Dutch architects and radical Italian fashion divas � love and kisses, guys and gals.

However, we have our doubts that this class of the rich and the famous actually still exists. Maybe some relics can be found in Tangiers. We live near the border with Mexico, and have found a lot of non-rich'nfamous cosmopolitans. For instance, the sons and daughters of Mexican migrants � or even Mexican migrants themselves, who cross the border to see the family on holiday occasions. They speak Spanish at home and in the street, they make meals that will, no doubt, eventually grace the tables of the the rich and famous (oh, please, please, let us get within rubbin', pick pocketing distance of the rich and famous) with a plethora of unpatriotic ingredients -- chiles, cilantro, or that displacement, to the Puritan mind, of chocolate from the frivolity of pastry to the sober thighs of chicken � mole, in short. Mostly, they are stalled indefinitely in the Sargasso Sea � of credit card debt.

However, just because the Left Patriot side is represented by Kazin�s risible New Masses rhetoric doesn�t make LI want to abandon patriotism to the New School rubes. For the next two posts (approx.), we want to look at Coleridge�s Patriotism � that is, we want to look at how Coleridge transformed himself from a Romantic Jacobin to a Burkean conservative around 1800 in the pages of The Morning Post � and John Stuart Mill�s idea that patriotism is a necessary adjunct of social stability, which, we believe, was probably influenced by Coleridge�s example. Coleridge gives us a sort of emblem of the career of the British intellectual, with its stages -- the romantic enthusiasm for Revolution with its aesthetic root -- the confrontation with the accidents and barbarisms of a real revolution � thebeing absorbed in that confrontation to the extent that the sense of the barbarism of tradition, the continuing structures of oppression, begin to blur � and the ending up speaking for the worst Tory elements � the jingoists, the theocrats, the belligerents, the fatuous defenders of massive economic injustice, etc. etc. Even as we speak, this pattern is being etched in the diatribes of Christopher Hitchens, who is floundering, rather sillily, to find some third, past reference in whose career he can justify his vain attempt to make consistent his past and present stands. Orwell, his choice, is perfect because he was cut off before he could really crawl into the carapace of crankdom that closed around Koestler. Orwell seems wrong, to us, for C.H.'s quest. Hitchens should touch up on his Burke and Coleridge � much more logical intellectual antecedents.

Friday, December 06, 2002


LI learned our probability theory from the Dover Press edition of Richard Von Mises book on same. At the time, we did not realize that Von Mises was presenting a much controverted thesis on probability -- that he represented the extreme point of the extensional school. von Mises was the brother of the conservative economist -- although, according to his biography, he was definitely not hedged about by his brother's libertarian ideology. He gave up an honor given to him by East Germany with the admission that he would have taken it if the times -- the year was 1952 -- didn't make any truck with the communists automatically suspicious.

James Rizzo, in this essay on expected utility, gives a good overview of the difference between the view that that probability refers to the frequency of the observation of an event's occurence in a series of observations, and the 'subjectivist' view, which makes a softer case for the meaning of likelihood.

"Probability is neither a simple nor innocent concept, and there have been profound disagreements, especially during the 20th century, over basic matters of definition. Although I have relatively few original things to say about the terms of these debates, my discussion cannot proceed without minimally outlining them -- for probability is where, I am arguing, decision theory stows its metaphysical baggage. I am not sure how obvious my basic point that probability is a metaphysics might seem. On the one hand, it is clear that even our everyday concept of "probability" depends on fairly specific claims about the nature of the universe (the cosmos) and its knowability. And Ian Hacking?s (1975, 1990) efforts to relate the emergence of probability to various modernist projects, like the building of the nation-state, are well-known. On the other hand, critical social theory and Marxism have paid far less attention to probability than it deserves -- if we take its metaphysics as seriously as I propose we do.

A first step in this direction would be to account for the opposition between the frequentist (objectivist) and personalist (subjectivist) definitions of probability.

In large part, frequentism represents an extension of the classical theories of Laplace and Pascal, in which probability was treated as a ratio of favorable to equally possible cases --the paradigmatic events here being series of coin tosses, dice rolls, and other recreations of the French aristocracy. Modern objectivism treats probability as the limiting value of the relative frequency with which certain events, or properties, recur within a sequence of observations. Most frequency theories (such as the one advanced by Richard von Mises) do not require this sequence of observations to be finite, i.e., it can stand in for limiting relative frequency that would be manifested by the unlimited repetition of the event. Peirce, whose theory of probability is in many respects frequentist, is quite clear on this point:

"Probability never properly refers immediately to a single event, but exclusively to the happening of a given kind of event on any occasion of a given kind. [I]tis plain that, if probability be the ratio of the occurrences of the specific event tothe occurrences of the generic occasion, it is the ratio that there would be in thelong run, and has nothing to do with any supposed cessation of the occasions.This long run can be nothing but an endlessly long run..."

Hans Reichenbach, who was also a logical positivist, was dissatisfied with a position that seemed to rule out saying things about singulars - like giving the probability of landing on Mars at a certain date. A professor Uchii has a nice site sorting through these issues. Reichenbach's compromise basically gives us a concept of possible worlds -- thus embedding a theory of probability in what will later, under Kripke, become a theory of description: i

"According to Reichenbach, the probability concept is extended by giving probability a "fictitious" meaning in reference to single events. We find the probability associated with an infinite sequences and transfer that value to a given single member of it. ... This procedure, which seems natural in the case of the coin toss, does involve basic difficulties. The whole trouble is that a given single event belongs to many sequences, and the probabilities associated with the different sequences may differ considerably. The problem is to decide from which sequence to take the probability that is to be attached "fictitiously" to the single event."

So: the point, here, is that when we are making probability claims, we have to get our theory of probability straight. And a refined version of extensional probability, one that can encompass a single event, still needs to construct a a reference class and an attribute class. The attribute class is some definite description, and the reference class is the particular, defining order of events or properties under which to classify our observations. Got that?

So what, pray tell, is William Saletan doing with his Saddameter in Slate?

The premise is the jokey one that invading Iraq is much like Wheel of Fortune -- an idea reinforced by the visual. This is, of course, in accordence with the idiosyncratic Saletan touch, tasteles and tacky, a subdeb Harvard Lampoon conceit. But it is also a completely odd exercise. Every day Saletan gives us the "odds" on invading Iraq. Well, what does this mean?

The problem is that the relationship to a reference class, here, begs the question: what is the reference class? Let's try to think this one through.

100% must refer to the certainty of invasion. But, if this is so, what does 0% refer to?

On the one hand, LI could make the case that, unconsciously, Saletan has constructed a reference class that includes all the non-USA nations. We can then assign hostility quotients to them -- Canada, for instance, would get so much, and Syria would get so much, and so on. Thus, the probability of invading Iraq would refer to the class of invadable nations.

But we doubt this is Saletan's point. Although he believes that odds talk is self-explanatory, LI thinks that Saletan's assumption is much more revealing than his exercize. The relevant reference class, in LI's opinion, is the punditocracy sense of the certainty of an Iraq invasion. The odds, in other words, refer to another level of odds. And that refers to the penchant, among the punditry, for belligerence or pacifism. So 100% would be, say, the Weekly Standard editorial board, and 0 would be,, say, Hans Blix p.r. man. With the in betweens probably being those who are pacifistic but think the US will invade Iraq, those who are belligerent but think Bush will chicken out, and so on.

You'll notice the large divergence between the reference classes. They don't, actually, share any members. Well, this doesn't surprise us. Saletan, for all his snobbery about the great unwashed that live outside his zip code, has never shown himself to be a very bright bulb himself. That the odds thing continues to take up space on the Slate site is a little amazing to me, however, since Slate prides itself on running nit-picky pop sci features that knock down buncomb in other forums.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002


James and Dickens

Only a short time ago it might have been supposed that the English novel was not what the French call discutable. It had no air of having a theory, a conviction, a consciousness of itself behind it-of being the expression of an artistic faith, the result of choice and comparison. I do not say it was necessarily the worse for that; it would take much more courage than I possess to intimate that the form of the novel, as Dickens and Thackeray (for instance) saw it had any taint of incompleteness. It was, however, na�f (if I may help myself out with another French word)... -- Henry James, The art of fiction.

LI, yesterday, contended that the first chapter of Our Mutual Friend could be put up against Dickens great first chapters -- that of Bleak House, of David Copperfield, and of Great Expectations. Of these, OMF is most like BH in its blending together of nature -- in the case of Bleak House, London fog; in the case of OMF, the Thames River -- and the polis. The London fog in which the bodies of the dispossessed rather bob, and become alternately trackless and to be tracked -- become, that is, objects upon which there is an interest in tracking -- makes of the first chapter of BH something on the order of the musical overture to an opera, rehearsing a set of motifs that will assume greater import later, as these motifs structure the dramatic situation of the songs. That sense of tracking and tracklessness, and the implication of texture in which the trace is supported, or erased, is even more marked in OMF. The first chapter begins on the Thames, with some unnamed thing, which by numerous hints assumes, eventually, a form of some horror to the reader, is being towed behind a boat that is powered by a girl. The unexpected conjunction of the girl, the boat, and her scavenger father gives us, who have read Dickens before, the idea that sentiment, here, will be wound by Dickens art of exaggeration, juxtaposition, and comparison into the sort of grotesque that makes Dickens novels, sometimes, seem to lurch, rather than to progress.

Henry James review of the book in the Nation is a startling shot across the bows, from its first condemnatory sentence to its last. James does not chose, at this point, to clutter his judgement with the tone of retraction and balance that becomes, later, his signature style. In this review, however, James sentences are definitely more in the way of bullets, those most unretractable of the things one might shoot across the bow, rather than, as it sometimes seems in his latter essays and fictions, the murmurs of a foggy judge on a winter night in the uncertain light of a dying fire. Here's how the review pops off -- really, in the manner of some kid on the streets of Boston bringing down a Beacon Hill bourgeois:

"Our Mutual Friend is, to our perception, the poorest of Mr. Dickens's works. And it is poor with the poverty not of momentary embarrassment, but of permanent exhaustion."

After such a death sentence, James reads out a bill of particulars that alternates between the insinuation of senility and the insinuation of pandering. This is from the second graf:

"To say that the conduct of the story, with all its complications, betrays a long-practised hand, is to pay no compliment worthy the author. If this were, indeed, a compliment, we should be inclined to carry it further, and congratulate him on his success in what we should call the manufacture of fiction; for in so doing we should express a feeling that has attended us throughout the book. Seldom, we reflected, had we read a book so intensely written, so little seen, known, or felt."

There is one aspect of OMF that seems, in particular, to have stirred up the acids in James' soul -- it is the treatment of Miss Jenny Wren. Here's James' inimitable prosecutory description:

"What do we get in return for accepting Miss Jenny Wren as a possible person? This young lady is the type of a certain class of characters of which Mr. Dickens has made a speciality, and with which he has been accustomed to draw alternate smiles and tears, according as he pressed one spring or another. But this is very cheap merriment and very cheap pathos. Miss Jenny Wren is a poor little dwarf, afflicted, as she constantly reiterates, with a "bad back" and "queer legs," who makes dolls' dresses, and is for ever pricking at those with whom she converses, in the air, with her needle, and assuring them that she knows their "tricks and their manners." Like all Mr. Dickens's pathetic characters, she is a little monster; she is deformed, unhealthy, unnatural; she belongs to the troop of hunchbacks, imbeciles, and precocious children who have carried on the sentimental business in all Mr. Dickens's novels; the little Nells, the Smikes, the Paul Dombeys."

This is the most striking passage in James' review, at least if we read it in the light of James' future work. The review was written in 1865. Interestingly, when James came to write a novel on the scale of one of Dickens -- namely, Portrait of a Lady, in 1881 -- he choses, in Ralph Touchwood, the benefactor of Isabella Archer in the novel, to present us with just such an unhealthy and deformed creature, all the way down to the queer legs. In fact, James, as well as Dickens, choses to carry out all the sentimental business with a more decorous train of precocities. LI can't, at the moment, recall a definite Jamesian hunchbacks, but the mysteriously sick abound -- the supreme instance being Milly Theale, in Wings of the Dove. In the preface to that novel, written in 1902, James might almost have been thinking of his review of OMF almost forty years before, speaking of the crystal of inspiration in these terms:

"It [the idea of the story] was formed, I judged, to make the wary adventurer walk round and round it--it had in fact a charm that invited and mystified alike that attention; not being somehow what one thought of as a "frank" subject, after the fashion of some, with its elements well in view and its whole character in its face. It stood there with secrets and compartments, with possible treacheries and traps; it might have a great deal to give, but would probably ask for equal services in return, and would collect this debt to the last shilling. It involved, to begin with, the placing in the strongest light a person infirm and ill--a case sure to prove difficult and to require (vi) much handling; though giving perhaps, with other matters, one of those chances for good taste, possibly even for the play of the very best in the world, that are not only always to be invoked and cultivated, but that are absolutely to be jumped at from the moment they make a sign."

So what, our longsuffering and probably fewer readers might be asking, is your point, LI? We don't, exactly, have one today -- there are times when having a point, as my old Dad used to say, following George Wallace, just makes you pointy headed. So we are entertaining the first drafts of speculation, and without trying to weave it into the denser texture of an argument. Speculation, pursued to a certain degree of exhaustion, merely evaporates, as though it had reached some scientifically calculable temperation of cognition that determines a change in the phase of the thing. Which point has been here, we think, reached.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002


My friend S. and I were talking about Christmas movies. I mentioned a cartoon version of the Christmas Carol that I remember, still, with great affection -- the affection one feels for those tv shows of childhood in which the memory is less of the show itself than of the very experience of watching it, of being, in retrospect, that small body so consciously cocooned in the warmth, the sofa, the pjs, the accumulated stuff -- embodying a family history of purchases, breakages, hobbies taken up and abandoned, and the crude taste for the adornments of mass merchandizing characteristic of middle class America - of some room in your house that is all turned, like the minds eye gazing at the image of the self, towards the pictures that might show on the tv screen, that box's weirdly animating presence, while outside the window the clouds are gray, low and full of the odious promise of chill.

My friend S. is from Istanbul. She had never heard of the Christmas Carol.

Now, this didn't surprise me -- I had the misfortune to tell her the story of Christmas, as it is derived from Luke, once. She found the whole thing an amalgam of tedious nonsense, too long by half and unrelieved by the poetry that, for me, at least, makes the whole myth emotionally weighty. So I didn't know what she would make of the Christmas Carol. We rented an eighties version, starring George Scott as Scrooge. Scott was his usual scenery eating self -- which was all to the good, since the rest of the movie was a fat, suet pudding of theatrical Victorianism. The actors had that look of constraint as they mouthed various of the sentimental pieties Dickens attributes to his walk on characters, as though they couldn't believe it, either. Scott, who has all the good lines -- well, almost all -- the spirits of Christmas past and present also get off a boutade or two -- went through the puddingness like an electric carving knife.

Still, I was really moved. I mean, to tears, gentle tears, moved at Scrooge's immersion in the ruin of his life, and his redemption, and the way that redemption, for a brief moment, seems indissolubly connected to the redemption from misery of the poor, the working class, and the system that paid so little to so many and so much to so few.

S. was moved too. I was glad to see this.

It has been a long time since I've read Dickens, so yesterday I went hunting around for Dombey and Son, and began to read it. I've read almost all of Dickens novels at one time or another. Dombey and Son, and Little Dorrit, are the two major ones that defeat me. Reading the first chapter of Dombey and Son, I realized that it was going to defeat me again. So I turned, instead, to one of my favorites -- Our Mutual Friend. The first chapter of that novel is one of the best in all of Dickens, a writer who was very conscious of first chapters. After all, the sale of a serialized novel depends greatly on the appeal that exists, from the first, in that opening. No time for the long haul -- for the gradual winding in of your audience. I'd put that chapter against David Copperfield, Bleak House, and Great Expectations.

At the time it was published, however, Our Mutual Friend received withering blasts of criticism -- especially from the young Henry James. Tomorrow's post will be about the ferocity Dickens work aroused in James, who read it as exactly the kind of thing that would never do; and that, still, with the great reading public, did. In my opinion, James is the greatest artist of the English language novel, but Dickens is a much greater writer -- a matter I should sort out some time.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002


LI's uncertain morality

We just finished re-reading the day before yesterday's post. My God, we do go on and on, don't we?

We'll allow the pro-legalization argument to settle, for a bit, in the stomachs (or, okay, brains -- the metaphors are getting awfully out of hand here, lately) of our poor readers. There's a lot to digest there, in a little space.

And we will highlight the article du jour from the NYT -- it is surely this wonderful piece about the glamorous, highwire lives of certain executive secretaries who choose to defraud their bosses. Intro grafs ahead:

"ike many busy executives, E. Scott Mead, a top banker at Goldman Sachs, trusted his secretary to help him run his life. Beyond answering the telephone and setting his schedule, she helped organize family vacations and managed his expense account.

Mr. Mead may have trusted her too much. The secretary, Joyti De-Laurey, is to appear in court today in London, charged with embezzling more than $5 million from Mr. Mead in an elaborate fraud in which she is accused of wiring blocks of his money to bank accounts in Cyprus."

Joyti DeLaurey, it turns out, isn't the only exec secretary with the sense to dictate the terms of her employment on the sly. A number of these buccaneers of the office pool are covered. Anamarie Giambrone, for instance, who worked for a Bear Stearns bigwig, used erasable ink to make out checks that she had her boss sign. Then she erased the names of the payees, substituted her own name in their place, and inflated the sums. She poured 800,000 dollars into such ventures as buying a pizzaria for her family. Of course, her lazybones boss never checked up on his checkbook.

Having often worked as a secretary ourselves, LI just can't get into a froth about these crimes, like we get into when we approach the topic of the Neronian exec set pillaging their companies. Secretaries don't usually have such colorful sub-streams of income. A friend of ours works at a multi-national corporation in which the secretaries are so badly compensated that a number of them have to work second jobs. Alas, tthe luxuriant lifestyles of exec secs in NY are not, by any means, the norm -- the second job lifestyle is the more usual pattern.

LI had just started to get into the heart of this issue -- the link between secretaries, typewriters, Arthur Krystal's review/non-review, in the latest issue of Harper's, of German Philosopher Friedrich Kittler. After I'd assembled my magpie bits, however, my computer blinked off. I don't have the heart, at the moment, to shore any more fragments against that ruin. More, though, about secretaries and such in the next post, which will probably be after the holiday. In the meantime, since you can't access the Krystal review, here's a page with some of Kittler's writings ( in German) posted. And here's a very munchy interview, in English, with the man his own self.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Even more astonishing is the fact that tobacco use not only spread at an unprecedented rate and in the absence of media advertising, but in the face of penaltiesthat remain unparalleled in the history of smoking. For example, the council of
Bern, Switzerland, placed the prohibition against tobacco among the Ten Commandments, gave it the same penalty as for adultery, and initiated an Inquisition-like tribunal known as the Chambre du tabac to deal with offenders. In
Turkey, smokers had the stems of pipes thrust through the cartilage of the nose and were seated backwards on mules as they were led through the streets. Meanwhile, Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov had Russian tobacco users whipped and their nostrils slit, whereas the Persian shah ordered tobacco traders to have their noses, lips, and ears cut off or molten lead poured down their throats. In India, the Mughal Emperor Jahangir also decreed that smokers should have their lips slit. He
was lenient compared with the Ottoman tyrant Sultan Murad IV, who imposed the death penalty for smoking, and the Chinese, who issued an edict against selling tobacco on pain of decapitation. All of these measures, which were rarely motivated by health concerns, failed to stop the spread of smoking during the early 17th century. The ruling classes soon were obliged to rescind their laws. Alexander von Gernet

My friend T replied to LI�s post re the Drug War with an interesting set of objections. Here�s his letter:

yes, yes, and again yes, a nightmare as envisioned by Foucault it is. But will the legalization of the drug trade rouse anyone at all from that unrestful slumber?

To be fair, I have no idea beyond a gut-sourced jerk of the knee where I stand on the topic, except that any discussion (which, as you note, will never happen) must exclude anything pretending to morality and must include a sophisticated (not NECESSARILY cynical) acceptance that the product will do irreparable harm to many of its users (plenty of precedent here), and that the concept of "choice" for the user for a similar number of users becomes moot for the use of the product.
Thus, yes, inverse the Hegelian dialectic; temporarily, in the first instance, set aside concerns for those who the product will harm irreparably (which helps, I thing, in setting aside matters moral and cynical), let fall one's attention of the Marxian material relations of society; more specifically, on the material relations of producer/distributor/consumer in the conditions following the legalization of the drug trade.

Not that I would (or could) measure the efficacy of implementing any bit of Hegel or Marx in its predictive possibility, but shouldn't the specter of legalization consider the "violence of putting environmental hazards in poor neighborhoods...of allowing corporations to operate in regulatory breakdown..."? Would not this same violence all so effectively propagate through the channels created by a sanctioned trade? Surely the billboard for "Crack - brought to you by Pfizer" might be regulated beyond 500 feet of a schoolyard, but that would place it adjacent to an advert for Newport cigarettes, which is across the street from a poster for some swill of a malt liquor. Do we then devolve to a mere cost-benefit analysis in the discussion (which will never happen) of the legalization of the drug trade?�

This is the problem with having sharp eyed friends.
Reaching under the brilliant plumage, LI thinks that T is expressing two objections to our post, one formal, and one political. The formal one is that really, to pretend that the analysis of the mechanism comes first ignores the motivation for the discussion in the first place. If drugs did us no debateable harm, there would be no point in discussing whether to ban them.

This is true. In the order of motivations, the discussion of harm has to come first. But LI thinks that that discussion should be held in light of a very clear eyed sense of what the State has done, in the past, in terms of regulatory bannings, and how it has done it. That clear eyed sense of mechanism would recognize that the variables of enforcement are not to be wished away when deciding to banish or legalize marijuana, heroin, ecstasy and the lot. Even on the level of harm, of course, discussion is skewed by the reticence of the consumers of these drugs to defend them. The defense of pleasure is always a shy and naked thing in forums in which utility is King. Pleasure, of course, is the Jack. And that pleasure can lead to addiction is considered the main and only subject. That utility can lead to empty, disgusting lives, lives full of polyunsaturated fats and tv, is considered, well, merely frivolous.

But let�s grant the norms their normativeness, for the moment. LI would prefer to overcome these values in a great Nietzschian burst, but we have learned, from experience, that great Nietzschian bursts empty the hall. So by all means, let�s say that we have the harm of addiction on one side. And that there is only the contentless demand on the other. Demand, practically, wins. The Murads cut off the lips of smokers, the King Jameses blast tobacco, but tobacco wins.

The political objection is about the very nature of the relationship between the State, the market, and the people. Indeed, drug use can be framed as an environmental hazard � in the same way that DDT is an environmental hazard.

Dealing with this question is hazardous. Even the drug war skeptics often mis-frame what is at stake. In the fall, 2001 Social Research (unfortunately not on-line), there were a number of articles about drugs, criminality, and economics. One of them, by Jeffrey Miron (Drug Economics and Drug Legalization), is a comparison of the �costs� of legalization versus the �costs� of the drug war. Miron is forthright about his conclusion:

�This paper explains that many of the harms typically attributed to drug use are instead due to drug prohibition. This is not to deny that drugs can have powerful effects on the user, nor to deny that drugs differ in some respects from other commodities. But a wide range of outcomes typically thought to result from drug use is far more accurately attributed to the current legal treatment of drugs.�

However, Miron frames the argument in terms that LI will have to object to. This makes sense: Miron is a libertarian. That slant gets into the very way he presents economic categories � or doesn�t. His opening move is to observe that drug prohibition creates a black market in drugs. He then observes:

�Even though prohibition does not eliminate drugs, it is likely to have important effects on the operation of the market. In particular, prohibition might affect the demand for drugs as well as the supply. I address each of these in turn.

Prohibition potentially affects the demand for drugs through one of several mechanisms. First, the mere existence of prohibition might reduce demand if some consumers exhibit respect for the law. This mechanism does not appear to be quantitatively important since abundant evidence suggests that many people disregard laws that are weakly enforced. Second, prohibition might encourage demand for the good through a "forbidden fruit" effect. There is little concrete evidence to support this effect, although anecdotally it appears plausible for some groups (for example, teenagers). Third, prohibition might reduce demand directly by punishing purchase or possession of the good.�

What is the problem, here? The problem begins with the notion of drug prohibition �creating a market�, and runs through the analysis of the drug market itself. That drugs are bought by people is true, but not true enough. A prohibition doesn't necessarily create a market in itself. DDT is bought by people, yet there is very little black market in DDT in this country. What creates a market is an group of consumers who strongly prefer a certain good, and what creates a black market, at least in the case of drugs, is a group of consumers whose preferences: a. are specific enough not to be eroded by legal substitutes, and 2., are of a scale, either in wealth or number, great enough to make the risk of getting caught marketing the product, in comparison to the benefit of selling it, favor the latter course.
To understand how this is so, we have to understand what is missing in Miron's article. We have to get clear about the fundamental differences between kinds of goods, how those differences effect regulation, and how those regulations fold into democratic forms of government. In other words, one must really consider how a thing like asphalt or DDT or dioxin differs from a thing like heroin or cocaine. Since this transgresses the libertarian credo that all goods are the same, and all government regulation is the same, it is easy to see how Miron might not be inclinded to make essential distinctions here. Still, as an economist, he really should distinguish between perishable and durable goods.

That distinction isn�t fine grained enough for the analysis LI has in mind, but it is common enough to get to some of the salient features of the economic embeddedness of narcotics. Usually, durable goods are thought of as products that have a use that extends over at least, I believe it is, three years time, while perishables are bought for semi-immediate consumption.

We need to build on this distinction.
When you buy a house, you buy a quantity of nails, so many pounds of asphalt in the roof shingles, some amount of copper in the wiring, the PVC in the pipes, etc. Yet this is not what you are really buying. It is the rare housebuyer who asks about the PVC � and only the impossible ones want a count of the nails. Out of that mass of goods, the buyer aims at an emergent property � the house itself. This isn�t to say that some buyers want hardwood floors, some want bullet proof glass windows, etc., but in the end, you buy a house to get a house. Consumers are like phenomenologists: they want to go to the things themselves.

When, on the other hand, you build a house, you are, indeed, concerned with the amount of nails put in. You are concerned with the matter and the labor. But if you are building the house to sell, you are ultimately concerned with these things as they affect sale. Because you are concerned, like the Kantians, with the thing-in-itself, otherwise known as lucre, moola, the green stuff, bucks, dineros, bread, money.

This distinction is not, of course, absolute. The workman is also concerned with workmanship, and the homeowner is concerned with resale value. The point, however, is that, from the state�s point of view, different regulatory mechanisms are appropriate for different kinds of economic activity.

For the emergent property � whether it is bubble gum or a car � the rules that adhere usually gain their force through social convention. Compliance with the rules, which always depends largely, over time, with self-compliance, usually depends on trust. One can be fined for, say, junking up a yard in contravention of a zoning ordinance. But this kind of fine doesn�t insert itself into the owner�s sense of costs and benefits of continuing an enterprise. When one descends into banned activities such as stealing, murder, rape, etc., we find that only stealing is really about monetary gain � the rest are about emergent properties. Among the most prominent of which is pleasure.

An enterprise, however, is all about continuing to make a profit. Incentives to obey regulation must attach to that sense. What is interesting is how easily the regulation of business activity can be embedded into democracies � in spite of the gloom of the latter phase Hayek, real liberty has certainly increased in democracies in the last hundred years. Why? Because the relationship between the state and business enterprise is not, primarily, conflict. It is, rather, collusion. Business enterprise depends on contract. The cost of enforcing contract � a cost that could really unravel most enterprises � is offloaded onto the state. The state also allows externalities that would otherwise cripple the system of property ownership. Property as use -- property considered dynamically -- is a different thing than property as a claim -- property considered statically. Of course, Libertarian ideology is engaged in massively disguising these distinctions, and it has done so so energetically that it has seeped into the common sense way we see things. But we have to shake off the image of the state as a monster to get a clear idea of what the state does well and what it does badly.

LI hopes our readers have already done this. If not, we recommend you jettison the idea of the State as Leviathan. The State, alas for romantics and Che Guevara, is merely another algorithm.

Money, which is derived from the contractual nexus, is the black magic that makes it possible to constrain corporate power. In this sense, every good leftist should harbor some kindly feeling for money in his heart.

We�ll go into the rest of this tomorrow, if we can.

Thursday, November 21, 2002


At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has been sometimes disastrous, by giving to opponents just ground of opposition, and by kindling dispute over the spoils in the hour of success. No obstacle has been so constant, or so difficult to overcome as uncertainty and confusion touching the nature of true liberty. If hostile interests have wrought much injury, false ideas have wrought still more; and its advance is recorded in the increase of knowledge as much as in the improvement of laws. The history of institutions is often a history of deception and illusions; for their virtue depends on the ideas that produce and on the spirit that preserves them; and the form may remain unaltered when the substance has passed away. -- Lord Acton

There's a general sense on the Left that the tools of invective should be expropriated from the Right. Expropriated? It's become a common paradox, worthy of a Slate writer, that the tools of invective were invented on the Left, usually in the sixties, when the Left was fun. Although the Slate writer, in keeping with the immortal rule of journalism, coined by Evelyn Waugh in Scoop, that the truth is only worth pusuing "up to a point" (that point being determined by the prejudices of who is in charge), never seems to find Leftists like Cockburn hilarious.

However, this cause has been taken up by many on the Left. It's the vague desire that for every Rush Limbaugh, our side should have a Michael Moore. LI can understand this. Certainly, Cockburn's Counterpunch is founded on the premise that the American public will be moved more by rock em and sock em than by the dictates of pure reason. The tabloid style is in Cockburn's blood -- from his dad, Claude -- and such is the style of CP.

But LI feels that this is a misunderstanding of the sources of rightwing triumphalism. That triumphalism does, indeed, go back to the dictates of pure reason, at least as it is purveyed among the makers and shakers in conservative think tanks, and absorbed, with a decreasing amount of substance and an increasing amount of smugness, among the Right's constituencies. The phrase, endless attributed to Churchill, that if a man isn't a socialist at twenty, he has no heart, and if he isn't a conservative at forty, he has no brain,
captures the mood of this crowd exactly. (Incidentally, LI finds that little saying screamingly funny -- it is usually quoted as if we've really hunted down a zinger, here, boys. Wisdom at last! When we know the real organs in question are the penis, in the first instance, and the intestine and anus, in the second. LI prefers Leon Bloy's Exegese des lieux communs, which treats such bourgeois maxims to the acid bath of inversion, in keeping with St. Paul's verse: Videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate: tunc autem facie ad faciem.)

Excuse the convoluted prolegomena, ladies and germs, and on with tonight's feature presentation!

There's a nice article about pot on the Counterpunch site. It is by Ben Tripp. It scores on honesty -- Tripp is not coy about his own pot experience. We also approve of Tripp's sardonic tone. Of course, there's something peculiar about the "medical" part of the "free marijuana" campaign. There's something refreshing about demanding the end to the banning of pot on the grounds that it is a harmless and pleasurable recreation, instead of its supposed helpfulness in cases of glaucoma. However, there's an underlying rule in Tripp's piece, one endemic to both the Left and the Right in the endlessly sterile war over the Drug war. It is the premise that the main question, when discussing the banning a product, is to find out if it is immoral or harmful. As soon as you have that sorted out, you ban or you don't ban. Is pot as bad as alcohol? Is it better than cigarettes?

This, we think, is inverting the real analysis of the material conditions of banning.

We've just been in correspondance on this very topic with a friend. Our friend believes in banning guns, especially handguns, and LI doesn't. But by making LI defend that belief, our friend has refined the way LI thinks about what is involved in regulation -- in the mechanisms of governance.

Here are some various excerpts from our letters.

"What if the law prohibiting slavery resulted in locking up more people than the slave population?

I mean, the question isn't slavery so much -- and I really think that is something that can be successfully banned within a democracy, because the mechanism for banning it actually increases the domain of democracy -- as the question of what has happened to the poor and working class in this country during the last thirty years. I'm increasingly convinced that the "lockdown America" thesis has some merit. It isn't just that the prison population increased from something like 60 thou in 1970 to 1 and a half million in 1998 -- that really understates the number of people who have been cycled through the prison-court system. It is that this systematic marking, the explosion in the number of offenses that lead to prison, and their assymetrical enforcement, is the shadow Great Society program for dealing with blacks, hispanics, the unemployed, the blue collar white male, etc. It is the threat that has effectively demoralized these groups. I mean, I think there is something symbolically just in the fact that Gore lost the presidency because the Florida State Department "dis-enfranchised" black voters by going through felonies lists and delisting the appropriate (and inappropriate) names -- for this is the same Gore who advocated taking people who are found with drugs in prison and doubling their sentences.

He was, in fact, the perfect candidate for the era of punitive liberalism -- in which, behind a front of seemingly liberal concerns, like controlling the "violence" endemic in American society, the mechanisms were put in place to coerce the poor at the buttend of the policeman's Tasar. As for the real, systematic violence -- the violence of putting environmental hazards in poor neighboorhoods, the violence of allowing corporations to operate in a regulatory breakdown (or is it break dance?), the violence of allowing police to, in affect, abolish the constitution at their leisure in poor neighborhoods in NYC, in LA, in Chicago, in whereever -- that just isn't an issue. It is a joke.

What determines a successful ban is not the harm done by the product or the service, or the morality of it. Rather, it is the way the product or service is embedded in the political economy. That's it. That's the one and holy clue. Marx was right: you have to inverse the Hegelian dialectic before it comes out right -- start with the material relations of society, rather than the ideas. Or in this case, the morality. Or the harm.

So what are the signs of an unsuccessful ban? Let's just talk about one of them. An unsuccessful ban depends not on the compliance of the people in the marketplace -- the producers, dealers and users -- but on the police. The police are always the regulators of the last resort. They are the most inefficient, and do the most harm to liberty, justice and equality -- my trinity, still, after all these years. This is a rule of thumb that has some exceptions. Those exceptions depend, however, on the scale of the supply. For instance, when you look at environmental regulation, a good part of it is devoted to protecting a rare resource -- the water in a particular area, or endangered species, etc. In this case, police power can efficiently be concentrated, and can operate with a maximum respect for liberty. Even there, however, the only way a ban will be more beneficial than harmful is if it on a good or service that is amenable to other sources of cultural suasion -- this is why I think banning the trade in endangered bird feathers in this country worked at the turn of the century. The Audubon society, first of all, was able to militate against bird massacring, and there was a ready substitute available -- you could easily manufacture artificial flowers. But this point can't be gotten over in the rhetorical cloud around the 'war on drugs' because nobody wants to discuss substitutes -- they want to discuss abstinence. In other words, they don't want the market to be what it is.

So the market continues, its suppression continues, and the cops form the interface between the two. This is a disaster.

I think the number one act that can lower violence in this country is not the banning of handguns. I think that will eventually increase it. No, if we really want to eliminate gun violence -- gun homicide violence, that is, not gun suicide violence -- is the legalization of the drug trade. I think that is undoubtedly the biggest weapon used against the poor in this country -- it is where the cracks of race and class gape. Until that happens, I don't think there will ever be a real decline in gun violence -- or any violence -- as compared to other countries. And I think a debate (that will never happen) should occur about the lockdown mentality. And I think that debate would put into question what I see as the increasingly upper middle class composition of the only kind of lefty discourse that gets allowed in the media of this country, which can stage a million mom march but seems disinclined, to say the least, to stage, say, the five million, the ten million mom march of mothers whose kids, husbands, lovers and fathers have been cycled through the lockdown state. Unless, of course, that class doesn't get something -- when its candidate, Gore, loses, then they come out shrieking. Where was that shrieking when Gore and his boss were presiding over the sharpening of laws to imprison more people! Or calmly let neighborhoods slip into the maws of the penal system? When you build your house of virtue on the backs of the classe laborieuse et dangereuse, eventually it will tumble down. And before it does, a pervasive, unconscious sense of the hypocrisy of the whole exercise will become the norm -- feeding into the most reactionary currents abroad in the country, as well as demoralizing the most progressive segment.

So I guess this is my deal. I think we really are living in the Foucaultian nightmare.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002


The Justice department scored another smashing triumph over that unnamed colluder of all terrorisms, your constitutional rights, today. According to the NYT, Judges Ralph B. Guy of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; Edward Leavy of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; and Laurence H. Silberman of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, who were all appointed by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist of the Supreme Court and make up an entity grandiosely called the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, overturned the first ruling against the government's wiretap request in an 'intelligence' investigation ever by a special secret lower court, which bears the bogus moniker of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court.

Now, LI's question is, how did these Kangaroo Courts come into existence? We are always ready, on this site, to bash Bush. But it turns out the Bush Justice department is merely magnifying trends that started in the previous administration, with the US PATRIOT act merely the enhanced, special effects version of Clinton's own anti-terrorism legislation. There's a fascinating review of the Kangaroo Intelligence Malarky courts by Patrick Poole here. The Courts were instituted under the Ford administration. Ford was, apparently, terribly afraid that the intelligence infrastructure was being hurt by the Church committee. In Poole's words:

"The FISA bill was a product of closed-door negotiations lasting several months between legislators and the Justice Department. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who had attempted to regulate the power of warrantless surveillance in four different sessions, sponsored the FISA legislation. The FISC concept was a compromise between legislators who wanted the FBI and National Security Agency (NSA), the only two agencies affected by the FISA statute, to follow the standard procedure for obtaining a court order required in criminal investigations and legislators. The federal agencies believed that they should be completely unfettered in conducting their foreign intelligence surveillance work inside US borders. Hence, the FISC was born."

The seventies was a regular cauldron of agencies being hatched to crawl across the American landscape in search of rights to devour. The orthodox historical account is that this was the decade in which the system of civil rights violations was unravelled, via the Church committee and several pieces of legislation mandating intelligence agencies to spill the secrets to selected congressional committees. LI has read several accounts of the era, and none mentioned FISC.

Poole, however, shows that FISC is not a monster summoned from the deep by Ashcroft in all of his evil. Rather, since the end of the Cold War -- during, that is, the administration of Clinton -- FISC went into overtime, ruling on twice the number of cases that were ruled on in Reagan's era. As always, the secret growth of some malign habit in one administration gets carried over to the next administration, regardless of party, to metastasize among the flags and desks. As for the vaunted independence of the judiciary -- a concept that can be disposed of only at the expense of all democratic processes -- forget about it! Yesterday's news! Montesquieu and all the rest of those guy never faced "pure evil," as we now like to call our opponents. Ah yes, "pure evil" calls for a whole bunch of special whoopass. So we go to FISC, which has the rigidity and integrity and independence of a wet strand of pasta. The reason FISC hit the news today was that the court, for the first time, questioned the nature of a case. That is, they decided that the over-ride of our rights in some "intelligence" case was really a criminal case. So the FISC appeals court was duly convened, and of course they trashed the idea that there are any rights that the Justice Department can't take away from us, in the name of National Security.

Where are all those Orwellites -- the Hitches and such, who are using Orwell as a prop to support an unjustifiable and unprovoked war? Perhaps they better come out of the corners. But of course -- they are too busy doing battle with such dangers to the republic, and all of Western Civ, as Susan Sontag. A few thousand dark skinned individuals being stripped of their rights by secret courts at the discretion of the Justice department doesn't really register on the list of current dangers.