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July 08, 2020


That's a fine article.
I've no comment for now, other than thanks for linking it.

seconded. It covers a lot of ground and touches on a lot of issues that are of interest, to me anyway. I'm still digesting it.

Thanks LJ!

Thirded! (It's not the most uplifting read, but the world kind of sucks, so whaddya gonna do?)

I really like this (of all things):

Weber visited the U.S. for three months in 1904 and faced the lurid enormity of capitalism. Chicago, with its strikes, slaughterhouses, and multi-ethnic working class, seemed to him “like a man whose skin has been peeled off and whose intestines are seen at work.”

Since the topic here seems to be political philosophy and history and there are common threads about Weber and Germany's social model...:


However, after the most radical upheaval of our times, even the bleakest account of the German-invented social state seems a more useful guide to the world to come than moist-eyed histories of Anglo-America’s engines of universal progress. Screeching ideological U-turns have recently taken place in both countries. Adopting a German-style wage-subsidy scheme, and channelling FDR rather than Churchill, Boris Johnson now claims that ‘there is such a thing as society’ and promises a ‘New Deal’ for Britain. Biden, abandoning his Obama-lite centrism, has rushed to plagiarise Bernie Sanders’s manifesto. In anticipation of his victory in November, the Democratic Party belatedly plans to forge a minimal social state in the US through robust worker-protection laws, expanded government-backed health insurance, if not single-payer healthcare, and colossal investment in public-health jobs and childcare programmes. Businesses pledge greater representation for minorities; and book and magazine publishers seek out testimonies of minorities’ suffering while purging unreconstructed colleagues.

Such tardy wokeness, unaccompanied by major economic and cultural shifts, invites scepticism – black lives, after all, have increasingly mattered to corporate balance sheets. The removal of memorials to slave-traders is likely only to deepen the culture wars if it is not accompanied by an extensive rewriting of the Anglo-American history and economics curriculum. Certainly, the new-fangled welfarism of Britain and the US will remain precarious without a full reckoning with the slavery, imperialism and racial capitalism that made some people in Britain and America uniquely wealthy and powerful, and plunged the great majority of the world’s population into a brutal struggle against scarcity and indignity.

A long and involved, non-Ango-American take on stateship during global crises, well worth the read, but perhaps too big for discussion.

Biden, abandoning his Obama-lite centrism, has rushed to plagiarise Bernie Sanders’s manifesto.

I agree with the part about the necessity to rewrite history and curriculum, but, at least from what I'm picking up, there is a good deal of cooperation between the Biden and Sanders camps.


I'm not following it really closely, and the erection of paywalls around everything makes it difficult, and I don't want to be panglossian about it, but I believe there is a lot more going on, especially as COVID makes it difficult to follow things more closely. I did read an article that said that Sanders advisers 'got rolled' on proposals for removing immunity from police, but it pointed to not a plagiarization as the article assumes, but actual cooperation. While this is a nit to pick at with Mishra's discussion that draws on other models (which is really refreshing, yes the US is like other places), the assumption is that Democrats are simply Republican lite. Which I pray is not the case.

lj, there appear to have been multiple join task forces of Biden and Sanders folks working thru various policy issues. The results appear to be, as intended, things that both sides can live with, even if neither got everything them might have wanted.

The gloss that Biden "abandoned" anything is about as ridiculous as the gloss that Sanders' supporters "got rolled" because they didn't get everything they wanted.

I've gotten a chance to read thru the whole Misra piece and think about it. I've read Mishra before, but unfortunately, a lot of what I read is behind paywalls. Here's a good Guardian interview

While the essay is interesting to read and there are some good points, (and his points in the interview are things that resonate with me) what I find about the essay is he takes one part of US opinion as indicative of all of US opinion. This paragraph

Instead, the elevation of tub-thumpers to high office in London and Washington led to a proliferation of self-pitying and self-flattering accounts, describing the way the long march of ‘liberal democracy’ had been disrupted by uncouth ‘populists’, ‘identity liberals’, ‘social-justice warriors’ and even, as Anne Applebaum claimed in a cover article in the Atlantic, by senior Republicans, who had abandoned their ‘ideals’ and ‘principles’. Mark Lilla’s preposterous argument, first aired in the New York Times, that the ‘Mau-Mau tactics’ of Black Lives Matter and Hillary Clinton’s radical ‘rhetoric of diversity’ helped elect Trump, was reverently amplified in the Financial Times and the Guardian. Mainstream periodicals on both sides of the Atlantic quickly mobilised against a resurgent left by promoting intellectual grifters and stentorian culture warriors while doubling down on their default pro-establishment positions. ‘The New York Times is in favour of capitalism,’ James Bennet, the newspaper’s editorial page director, told his colleagues, because it is the ‘greatest anti-poverty programme and engine of progress that we’ve seen’. Bennet, who had given space to articles that denied climate change, promoted eugenics and recommended apartheid and ethnic cleansing in Palestine, was forced to resign last month over an op-ed calling for military force to be used against anti-racist protesters. Nevertheless, Samantha Power’s recent claims in the NYT that ‘the United States leads no matter what it does’ and ‘nations still look to us in times of crisis’ confirm that the factotums and publicists of the ancien régime remain persistent, yearning for a Restoration under a Biden administration.

Chooses a lot of people that certainly don't speak for me (I hope he does realize that James Bennet recently had to resign from his sinecure and Mark Lilla's Mau Mau quote is from 2017 and a lot has happened since then). In another paragraph, he lists Friedman, Bush, Niall Ferguson, Andrew Sullivan and the Murdoch-owned media as "fervently promot(ing) fantasies of Anglo-American supremacism". Errr, yeah, glad you noticed, but so did we and so did a lot of folks in America. Yet to sustain the notion that it is a unitary America that refuses to understand history, he has to pull up this rogue's gallery.

In fact, his citation of Samantha Power's quote of"The United States leads no matter what it does." is a real misrepresentation of what she wrote, at least in my reading. The last sentence of the piece is "Unless the United States exerts leadership to prevent Covid-19 from raging out of control abroad, the crisis will not end at home." So her quote is not some sort of American exceptionalism writ large, it is more 'shit or get off the pot'.


But what caught my eye was his discussion about Germany and Japan. Some of the things that he says about Germany's development is very true, but he seems to elide over the fact that Germany was at least a good part of the cause of two world wars, along with a Nation-state that tried to eliminate a portion of its population. So saying that what we learned from Germany is that we have to make a strong nation-state is not necessarily the lesson I get from it.

He also asks
What made Germany such a compelling prototype for Japan?

and answers
It is that Germany was a classic ‘late developer’ – the archetype of all nation-states in Asia and Africa.

This is not really the case. Japan originally drew on France, and it was the country's humiliating loss to Prussia in 1871 that had Japanese recalibrate and align itself with German models. Might may not make right, but it does make modelling choices easier. Of course, the Japanese imitated Great Britain for its navy and the US for its policy towards the Ainu.

I'm not sure how you read that Germany was 'the archetype of all nation-states in Asia and Africa'.

So that's a bit of a dive into the Mishra piece, hope that's not too harsh.

I read something like "Germany was 'the archetype of all nation-states in Asia and Africa'." And I immediately think of this: In 1906, right after the end of the Russo-Japanese War, even people in the most remote parts of Africa (and Asia) were aware that, somewhere, a non-European country had defeated a European one. It was such big news that it got everywhere on the planet. In the days when communications were nothing like they are today.

It rather makes me think the perhaps Japan, not Germany, was the model in their minds when establishing their nation-states. Yes, Japan may have modeled itself on Germany (and France). But those nuances were unlikely to have spread widely.

lj - not overly harsh, though I think you are reading more into Mishra's claims regarding Germany's influence as a model than Mishra is himself intending. I was reading him as limiting his "Germany as a model" claim to the Social State:

Few narratives are more edifying, as economies tank and mass unemployment looms, than the account of the ‘social state’ that emerged in Germany in the second half of the 19th century. ‘The state must take the matter into its own hands,’ Bismarck announced in the 1880s as he introduced insurance programmes for accident, sickness, disability and old age. [...] Nevertheless, Bismarck’s social insurance system wasn’t only retained and expanded in Germany as it moved through two world wars, several economic catastrophes and Nazi rule; it also became a model for much of the world.

This particular point about the role of the state in insuring the welfare of the people (whatever problems arise from political arguments about who, precisely, constitutes "the people") seems like his bedrock paradigm, and his discussion about how governments organize around that principle in order to manage that social state flows from there.

I'm still thinking about Mishra's claims and having to sort through a lot of the political history for which I have scant background, so I can't really say whether or not I thing Mishra has a strong case here or not. It's just a perspective that I think is productive for getting outside of the Anglo-American bubble.

I had come across the New Republic article on Weber before and it is really good - as far as I can tell, because I have never read Weber (in my student days I considered sociology to be incredibly boring).

nous, that's a good point. I'm now curious about the history of various social welfare systems. Here's one link about Japan's history


It also has the interesting observation that war [WWII] caused the political establishment to move beyond traditional cultural norms that had long undermined public welfare initiatives and toward new values that unleashed a veritable policy revolution

Almost all of the other states were colonies, Thailand being the one exception I can think of.


However, Mishra's point about the Anglo-American model was brought home to me when I realized that my university (and a number of other unis in Japan) have a department of Social Welfare (shakai fukushi). It's hard for me to imagine the faculty even existing in a US or UK university.

One "elective affinity" I take away from the TNR article is the association of virtue with the accumulation of wealth. I'm not sure the early Puritans, specifically, made that association, but certainly in the years (centuries) since, I think that association has been made. Especially (perhaps?) among people who come out of a Calvinist Protestant heritage.

This is, I think, in contrast to older, or at least other, traditions, who considered the accumulation of great wealth to be a bad, or at least suspicious, thing. To accumulate greater wealth than you could ever use in any meaningful way - wealth well beyond what is needed to insure a comfortable life for yourself and your family - was seen, in those traditions, as a sign of a character flaw, a sign of a disordered psyche.

Matthew 19:24:

it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
It is interesting that a tradition (Protestantism) which makes such an emphasis on each man reading and understanding the Bible for himself should come to a conclusion (wealth = virtue) so directly at odds with Jesus words.

Translation tangent: in the Lamsa translation of the Peshitta (Syriac version of the New Testament with Lamsa a native speaker of Syriac) that verse is translated: "Again I say to you, It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

He says that the word in Aramaic means both "camel" and "rope," and he chose the one that better fit the needle imagery.

I tend to prefer the thesis that The Eye of the Needle was a gate into Jerusalem. A small one. A camel could get thru it, but only on its knees. Hence, a rich man could get into heaven, but he would have to have humility. (In somewhat short supply among the rich.)

I've read that the eye of the needle gate is apocryphal.

Quite possibly. On the other hand, anything that encourages a bit of humility among the rich and powerful is all to the good.

I've heard that particular bit of gloss about the gate before, but I've always found it a bit too precious to be credible. Haven't been able to chase down the origin of that gloss, but it reads like a folkloric retcon to me.

Apparently there is Midrash from even earlier that talks about elephants passing through the eye of a needle as well, always used in a way that shows the speaker is calling bullshit on whatever is involved.

There's no need for an elaborate explanation of the imagery, which comes from the Talmud.

I don't know about Aramaic but in Greek a thick rope is 'kamilos' while a camel is 'kamelos' with an eta. And eta in koine Greek is pronounced like an 'i', so they could be easily confused in particular by people who spoke Greek as a second language only.

But as it has been said, it all depends on the relative size. Just make the needle big enough.
A good hypocrite will easily strain out a gnat but swallow a camel after all.

in Greek a thick rope is 'kamilos' while a camel is 'kamelos' with an eta.

So far as I know there is no evidence for κάμιλος meaning "thick rope" independent of claims, starting in the 5th century, about the meaning of this passage.

It is interesting that a tradition (Protestantism) which makes such an emphasis on each man reading and understanding the Bible for himself should come to a conclusion (wealth = virtue) so directly at odds with Jesus words.

Well I guess they can fall back on a convenient interpretation of the parable of the talents... ?

My Greek dictionary lists it as a version/reading (Lesart) in the NT, the Greek etymology refers to the Suda (10th century) and to a possible semitic etymology but also cites the elephant.
If all Byzantine sources have their origin from the NT verse, then it might indeed be a hapax legomenon resulting from a spelling error. And those Byzantine scribes had a predilection for obscure words. Who would put it past them to adopt a spelling error and to turn it into a terminus technicus that their successors then use freely?
Btw, Byzantine naval literature seems to be especially prone for that kind of thing and κάμιλος is (afaict) used exclusively in the context of ships.

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