Excerpt #11 — Plato’s “Ship Of State”

No matter how well-intentioned, public speech from candidates on the campaign trail –or elected officials who are already in office– cannot ever be entirely sincere, but is something between being either a technology entirely for the purpose of securing political power (an anecdotal exhibit B of this here) or else is in some sense caught up into the gravity well of such a game, no matter how honest and authentic the politicians wish to be. (Even the honesty and “authenticity” of any given politician, insofar as these makes such a candidate attractive to an electing populace, become tools, instruments, means to gain power as soon as they enter into the political game. [1] Anyone watching recent popular TV shows recognizes this.) The game holds sway over what can and must be said in order to be successful, for success means persuasion and even domination according to the rules of the game, rather than the communication of truth. For Plato’s Socrates, however, true speech is not about control.

For Socrates, a philosopher should be always concerned with truth. Those who are interested in power are at a distance from this ideal, for they cannot be entirely so interested in truth: their pursuit of political office means that, to the degree that they as politicians are interested in truth, it must aid in their acquisition of, or retention of, power. Within a democratic polity, a principled and consistent concern with truth on the part of those in power will, at least at times, fight against the interests of those who are in power. Continue reading

The Flags of the Dead and the Promise of the Future, Part 1 of 5

Among other component parts, the Modern world is irreversibly marked by the heritage of the Enlightenment; this Enlightenment strain inclines people and cultures to a very fraught relationship with the accumulated goods of their own history. What is the relationship between these accumulated goods, goods that have roots, as well as a people’s having roots, and the kind of forward-looking freedom and rationality that our Enlightenment inheritance champions and promises? I love the Liberal project, and I love my several heritages, but the two, it must be admitted, live in a kind of tension. 

It could be argued that part of the reason why America is a bastion of the Liberal project is because it is not located geographically in a place where ancestral identities call from the earth to stifle it;  even without this, we are not always clear about how to engage with, or remember, events that we all share, such as September 11. 

It saddens me that there are symptoms of people flirting with abandoning the Liberal project. Consumerist formation leaves us unfit to the task of negotiating a common identity that is not pre-packaged by others, certainly. More than this, the seeming escalation of terrorism (the most violent imposition of ancestral identity) and the amplification of xenophobia (the fear-driven in-group trend by which people huddle with some ethnos or heritage for comfort instead of negotiate shared identity) hammer at many Liberal polities at the moment. Quite alarmingly, some major figures have said that democracy is merely a train that one takes until one arrives at one’s destination, at which point one exits. The reader should find such comments frightening. Ergo, this post seemed to be warranted, for what little it’s worth.

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John A. Bremer (1927–2015)

My friend John Bremer died this past November. He was 88, and lived a remarkable life. I loved him fiercely. Continue reading