:: Essays archive ( 2000-2005, click for articles pre-2006)

the ethics of belief published 23/02/2015

German writer Christa Wolf asks herself: “What kind of faith will the people of the future (assuming there are people in the future) read out of our stone, steel, and concrete ruins?” If we’re to take history as a reliable measure, the story of the 20th and 21st centuries will, in two or three thousand years, be quite the simple yarn: we built the freeways out of national pride; we liberated peoples across the globe from their cruel dictators; we went to war against terrorists to defend our freedom; and so on. Every ruin has its myth; every war has its Helen.

Patrick Nathan on Cassandra, myth, Google Maps, and the power of stories.

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The Will to Marxism: Need We Work in an Economy of Abundance? published 20/02/2015

Karl Marx - portrait

Why should a 3 hour working day be considered more insane than an 8-10 hour working day or a fifth of the population put in jail? Why should the sane submit to the insane, who think it right that a minority should decide whether or not a majority lives in penury or pleasure? Why should a particular mode of market-capture undermine our ability to seek philosophy and self-understanding rather than the economic bottom line, which, if it doesn’t kill us, certainly won’t follow us to the short-faring graves that await us all, even those few who manage to profit?

Jeremy Brunger on the role of Marxism in 2015.

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Violins, Dirty Shoes and Broken Biscuits: Laurie Lee as unknowing British Beatnik published 16/02/2015

At one point among the most celebrated writers of his day, Lee’s legacy in contemporary culture is accompanied by an eerie silence. Along with Down and Out in Paris and London, Midsummer Morning, is one of the definitive chronicles of the aimless wandering generation of Europe caught between two world wars. Each town with a real identity, and most characters displaying an at times laughably innocent vision of the world, the book portrays what feels to me at least as the last embers of an authentic European experience, before the destruction of war took place, and the subsequent white-washing of mass tourism took hold.

Robert Greer on the oft-overlooked early British beatnik, Laurie Lee.

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The Sensation of Failure published 15/02/2015


There’s the Freudian slip, and then there’s the Freudian insertion. I’m suspicious, usually, when in the course of a perfectly ordinary essay the writer chucks in a bit of Sigmund. It feels like a cheap trick, performed with the purpose of saying: look, perhaps what I’ve written isn’t that interesting but think about what I’ve not written, or how it is that what I’ve written – or not written – may signify something else, then think about the process of my writing, the effects of the meditation that has gone on while I’m producing these words, isn’t that the real prize, for profound and soulful people like you and me.

Emran Mian on love, betrayal and its politics.

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War and Morality published 08/02/2015


America’s wars have in fact always been represented, in films and novels, in the media, in the protests, in terms of their morality as much as in terms of their horror (or their glory). This manner of representing wars is very much like putting the cart before the horse.

Fred Russell on Ignorance and Morality.

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What Marxist Ideology Can Set In Motion published 07/02/2015


If the reason current U.S. free speech doctrine protects unrestricted spending by the wealthy in elections is because this insures that the political system does the bidding of plutocrats, then most people have no reason to affirm the free speech value of unlimited political spending by the wealthy: if free speech is a value, it must be good for everyone, not just the wealthy. (Notice that what is at stake is the moral status or acceptability of the legal claim: the status of the claim qua legal does not depend on these considerations.)

Brian Leiter on Marxist Ideology.

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Two Pieces on Film: Hitchcock & Bresson published 02/02/2015

The theme of existential doubt – Am I really me? Am I really sure of not having done or seen or heard that which I cannot remember in any way, but which everything at present colludes to assure me that I heard it said or saw it done? – appears in almost every Hitchcock film.

Clément Rosset on Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Bresson.

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What Leo Strauss set in motion. published 31/01/2015


Strauss has an ironic, double meaning here as in almost all the names he chooses. What Strauss thinks is being hidden is the urging of the rule of one best man, reactionary and in our times, authoritarian or fascist rule. Similarly when Strauss speaks of Natural Right and History in a lecture series in honor of the Declaration of Independence, a superficial reader will imagine him to be talking about natural rights – of individuals. But he actually affirms “the classical view: inequality ” and means natural right as the “right” to dominate of the stronger

Alan Gilbert on Leo Strauss’s esoteric fascism.

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European Marks published 24/01/2015


A Mark (or March, Marches) is the European name for a border, a frontier, a “boundary” territory; its name comes from early Middle Ages. The Franks called it marka, Anglo-Saxons called it mearc, but both nations meant only one thing by the word: something that is situated between two sources of power, political and economical influence, and law.

Kirill Kobrin on borders.

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Why does America torture? published 02/01/2015

Habeas corpus – the right of each prisoner to a day in court and not to be tortured – is, as Philip Soper argues, the central feature of a system of law as opposed to despotism. It is what had distinguished (somewhat, if one does not disregard genocide against indigenous people, the ordinary practice of slavery, Jim Crow and the like, which mark American history…) the US or English system of law from, say, the Chinese.

Alan Gilbert on US Torture.

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