At The Financial Times: Julian Baggini reviews 3 books on ethics, a comment by Philosophical Apprentice

Headline: Painful truths: psychologists unpick the ethics of empathy

Sub-headline: Why putting yourself in others’ shoes can sometimes be a poor moral guide

The headline and the sub-headline are indicative of a publication that worships at the alter of  the Neo-Liberal Trinity of Hayek/Mises/Friedman, with a lesser position being occupied by Ayn Rand as protector and advocate for Greed. Is it surprise to be read Mr. Julian Baggini’s review of three books on ‘Empathy’ with just the merest mention of Hume? Or any of the thinkers of a very long tradition.

The ‘as if ‘ here is that we, the readers, are the windowless monads of Leibniz, or something akin to that imaginary creature. And that we are somehow strangers to the human world, in which the exercise of ethical judgement is beyond our ken. If our journey here on earth has taught us anything of worth, our misapplication of ’empathy’ is learned the hard way, by too many applications of ’empathy’ when it was unwarranted. Those hard lessons do not preclude the exercise of empathy, when we fell that it is deserved, even when we discover it is undeserved, again and again: it is part of valuable life lessons. Not to dwell on the negative, we see, we experience our ethical actions ,as not within an economic frame, but in actions based on our judgement, our experience. Not to speak of a faith based on our evolving rationalism wedded to our evolving sensibility.

Also unmentioned is the Adam Smith’s ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments’:


Or even D.D. Raphael’s book ‘The Impartial Spectator: Adam Smith’s Moral Philosophy’


Mr. Baggini seems properly skeptical of the value of ‘Brain Scans’ and the contribution that ‘Science’ can make to ethical decisions. Its unclear what exactly ‘Rational Compassion’ might be, other than the ethical territory explored 250 years ago by Smith and carefully explored and explicated by Mr. Raphael.

Philosophical Apprentice





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Davos as interpreted by Gideon Rachman, Political Observer comments

The most important ‘meeting’ at Davos  was the one between Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger in 1929. See Peter E. Gordon’s book ‘Continental Divide’ for the particulars of this truly momentous meeting/debate, between the two most prominent German philosophers of their time.


That ‘meeting’ is beyond the interest of Mr. Rachman, but he seems very impressed with the whole spectacle of Davos 2017, and the mutterings, overheard conversation, or just off the record comments of the participants, to one of the media’s respected pundits.

Like Mr. Wolf, Mr. Rachman expresses a muted hysteria about the end of ‘the Atlantic alliance’  in his essay. Yet the German economic powerhouse headed by Merkel, and Germany’s economic capo, the European Central Bank, seem to be in a much better position to defend themselves, from the mythical, not to speak of the looming Russian hordes, about to invade Europe, at least as narrated by Samantha  Power, Victoria Nuland, and the rest of the Clinton surrogates and their Neo-Conservative allies. The fact that America does not want to relinquish its foothold in Europe, can be attributed to the simple fact that America is an Empire, and it won’t let go of its claimed protectorate.

You can only marvel at the speech by Huckster Arianna Huffington on Gender Equality, praised in a tweet by @UN_Women, who failed to check Ms. Huffington’s record for exploiting both genders. The fact that her ‘citizen reporters’, at Huffington Post were unpaid isn’t important enough.

And who can forget Tom Friedman interviewing John Kerry? Friedman is that improbable, yet happy combination, of the obsequious, of sanctimonious pretension, the sagacity of Mrs. Malaprop, and the timing of a Borscht Belt comic on the skids:

Mr. Rachman would have written a more believable, more reasoned essay, had he followed and listened to Sec. Kerry, he is a believable  advocate/salesman for the Obama Neo-Liberal agenda, and the shopworn notion of America as the indispensable nation.   Instead Rachman extemporizes on the perpetual theme of The Financial Times: decline and decadence the twin shibboleths of a shopworn Conservatism. The reader of Rachman’s essay would benefit from viewing the Kerry interview to its end.

Political Observer

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Martin Wolf on ‘aggrieved nationalism’, a comment by Old Socialist

In Martin Wolf’s essay of Jan 17, 2017, he engages in the intellectual plunder of Benedict Anderson’s path-breaking  book ‘Imagined Communities’to frame his Ne0-Liberal hand-wringing. His seemingly perpetual state of mind and spirit. And the Tribalism that afflicts us, even in the crisis ridden political present of ‘aggrieved nationalism’.*   But this could or might be checked by commerce. Except that that ‘commerce’ has done nothing of the sort.

Another way exists to achieve prosperity: commerce. The balance between commerce and plunder is complex. Both require strong institutions supported by effective cultures. But war requires armies, underpinned by loyalty, while commerce requires security, underpinned by justice.

But judge the final sentence:  ‘But war requires armies, underpinned by loyalty, while commerce requires security, underpinned by justice.’ This last part of the sentence is  breathtaking myopic on its face : while commerce requires security, underpinned by justice.’ The reality that the Chinese are better more profitable and efficient Capitalists than anyone in the  ‘West’, is a fact that cannot be overcome, even by the wan propaganda here at The Financial Times.

But the ‘Imagined Communities’ are under threat from the practice of commerce itself, as it undermines this sense of that ‘Imagined Community’, conceived as an independent singularity. Mr. Wolf has yet to realize that Cosmopolitanism, the notion of a ‘World Community’ in the Age of the Internet, is already a fact. Ulrich Beck’s trenchant idea of ‘global domestic politics’, as part of the fact of an actual ‘Re-imagined Community’ eludes the grasp of a thinker moored where? The answer is not reliant on the  un-moored status enunciated by Teresa May, but on the notion of ‘identity’ as a pluralism of ‘identities’, as argued by Amartya Sen in his Identity and Violence. We can be British, European, Labour, Tory etc., etc.

I find Mr. Wolf’s ‘defense’ of his conception of pluralism to be too little to late, woefully tardy, after the unstinting  advocacy of Neo-Liberalism, that has been the Party Line of this newspaper, since the rise of both Thatcher and Reagan and the glaring object lesson of the Economic Collapse of 2008, and the economic doldrums visited upon us into 2017.

It used to be that Capitalist Apologists would point to the Soviet Union as the primary example of an egregious Utopianism gone wrong. For those with open minds ‘Voices of Glasnost’ presents a collection of vivid, compelling  and revelatory portraits of ‘Communist Reformers’. Can the reader count on such a  publication featuring portraits of Neo-Liberal Theologians?

For a well written and argued alternative to Mr. Wolf and the Financial Times Capitalist Apologetics, read Wolfgang Streeck’s 2014 essay ‘How Will Capitalism End’:

* Is ‘aggrieved nationalism’ the replacement for ‘The Rebellion Against the Elites’ Party Line at The Financial Times?

Old Socialist


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Anne-Marie Slaughter awaits Trump’s ‘New Social Contract’, a comment by American Writer

This is how the president of New America pronounces on the possibility of Trumpism: The world awaits America’s new social contract’. The ‘as if’ here is that Trump and his team of Corporatists are capable of even entertaining the mere notion of a ‘social contract’. For the American people this is destined to become the realization of Trump Nihilism. Allied to the unslakable ambition of the lupine Paul Ryan. Undeterred by that reality, Slaughter’s use of History, and the windy abstractions of the Policy Thinker, are employed to try to soften the blow of Trump’s un-reflective political opportunism, by wreathing it in policy laurel.

The political evolution/maturation of Ms. Slaughter from bellicose policy thinker allied to the Neo-Conservatives/New Democrats, to her Feminism, that has led to her status as Political Philosopher has been instructive. I can’t exactly pinpoint what that notion of  ‘instructive’ is or resembles, although the example of Trump looms large. If that even resembles cogent argument, rather that an example of intuition: the blend of reason and sensibility?

American Writer

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@mattklewis: Betsy DeVos is a Revolutionary ! a comment by Old Socialist


Since the departure of gossip queen Tina Brown, The Daily Beast has come under the partial leadership of Neo-Con Michael Weiss, and it shows.  Leslie Gelb, a former Clinton employee/protege, is also disappeared.  While still  employed is  New Democrat Michael Tomasky, a vocal Clinton fellow traveler, which amounts to Neo-Conservatism Lite. The newest addition to The Daily Beast’s menagerie is Matt Lewis. His latest essay:

Headline:Betsy DeVos Fight Demonstrates Donald Trump’s Serious About Changing Washington

Sub-headline: At its heart, her nomination is about a changing America, and a proxy war coming to a head in the U.S. Senate.

In Mr. Lewis’ world view Betsy DeVos is of ‘ A revolutionary leader will have to balance pushing school choice with making the trains run on time.’ Call Ms. DeVos and her ilk the unholy matrimony between Corporatism, an American idiosyncratic version of Fascism, and the deeply reactionary politics of The Theocons ,as Damon Linker describes in his book. The alliance between God and Mammon, in American life, is a remarkable example of American political/religious ingenuity, destined for ignominious failure. Or to put it the most vulgar terms Jesus and Ayn Rand are not political bedfellows.

In Mr. Lewis’ ebullient pre-inaugeration mood, celebrating the victory of  Trump, and the DeVos hearings as the opening of a  ‘proxy war’, he forgets Obama’s loss of the House in 2010, and the loss of the Senate in 2014. To judge from the 2010 defeat, the ‘Hope and Change’ political mantra had a short lived popularity with the electorate, and the 2014 loss of the Senate, can be, and is viewed by ‘Conservatives’ like Lewis, to be a repudiation of the whole of his presidency. Judging from the discontent of those coal miners , how much time can Trump count on? Is 2018 the date? If the  New Democrats can dig themselves out of the wholesale corruption they are steeped in, probably too much to ask. Are the Greens finally to come into their own, as the natural alternative to New Democratic corruption?

Old Socialist



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Stephen Metcalf on the guilt of the ‘Left’, a comment by Old Socialist

In the watershed of the Trump victory in the 2016 election the Neo-Liberals masquerading as the ‘Liberal Elites’ , are desperately looking for scapegoats. Here is Stephen Metcalf’s January 10,2017 essay,  at The New Yorker, titled ‘Richard Rorty’s Philosophical Argument for National Pride’ , which certainly qualifies as the most convoluted, and intellectually pretentious attack on ‘The Left’, as yet presented in this unrelenting campaign.

Rorty’s only issue with identity politics was that the left, having worked so hard to transfer stigmatic cruelty away from received categories like race and gender, had done too little to prevent that stigma from landing on class—and that the white working class, finding itself abandoned by both the free-market right and the identity left, would be all too eager to transfer that stigma back to minorities, immigrants, gays, and coastal élites. (Hence the viral prophecy.)

So much of what Rorty wrote was confined to the philosophical essay, and it was composed of a series of critical evaluations of the whole or parts of a very long and complex Philosophical Tradition.

As Metcalf interpolates Rorty, or his usable rhetorical facsimile, the ‘white working class’ was deserted/betrayed  by both the ‘free-market right’ and the ‘identity left’. What is strategically absent from this argument is that the New Democrats, the Clintons and their free market allies, the Republicans, made alliance that codified a Reaganite Agenda: Welfare Reform, Financial Reform, and a Crime Bill. In sum the dismantling of the protections of the New Deal Welfare State and its successors.

Welfare Reform ludicrously and  euphemistically called  Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA)

Financial reform: Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (GLBA) ,Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 i.e. the repeal of Glass-Steagall

Crime Bill:  Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994

The 2008 Economic Collapse is the result of the Free Market Theology that both the Republicans and the New Democrats supported, as the answer to what? One wonders in 2017 at  the utter absence of the return of prosperity! what of the Myth of ‘The Self-correction Market’? Those technocrats, like Larry Summers, have been proven  catastrophically wrong. The Neo-Liberal blight has come to rule both Parties, so the blaming of ‘The Left’ for  ‘white working class anger’ is an act of self-serving misdirection, as  it was the New Democrats, who with the eager help of Republicans, dismantled the welfare state protections of the New Deal. That New Deal was built on the allegiance of the whole of the  working class! The rarefied atmosphere of ‘philosophical tradition/debate’ has rendered  Mr. Metcalf myopic to the of jejune concerns of the quotidian world.

Instead of solving these problems, Rorty thought we could ditch them, just as Descartes had ditched the problems of thirteenth-century scholasticism, and at a similarly low cost to the progress of human knowledge. The cheerfully non-philosophical way to ditch them was to ignore them, like most healthy people do. The slightly more philosophical method was to notice that people argued from, rather than to, their moral intuitions—an observation that may encourage us to accept that truth is at best a matter of consensus, not an observable fact of the world. The most philosophical way to abandon them was therapeutically: one could relive the philosophical past the same way an analysand relives her emotional past. By drawing, inch by agonizing inch, an unconscious pattern to the surface, one might discard it forever.

According to Mr. Metcalf’s last sentence, of this paragraph, Rorty eschews the philosophical tradition and engages in its stead the  methodology of  Psychoanalysis:

The most philosophical way to abandon them was therapeutically: one could relive the philosophical past the same way an analysand relives her emotional past. By drawing, inch by agonizing inch, an unconscious pattern to the surface, one might discard it forever.

The Melodrama of Psychoanalysis that Metcalf presents as Rorty’s borders on the comic, even the ludicrous, as Rorty was always the sober rational Pragmatist: the psychoanalytical strum und drang- more deliberate misapprehension? And on the question of the negative influence of Nietzsche in the thought of Foucault, consider Ronald Lehrer’s  book ‘Nietzsche’s Presence in Freud’s Life and Thought: On The Origins of A Psychology of Dynamic Unconscious Metal Functioning’ as demonstrating that Freud too fell under the spell of Nietzsche, but in a good way. If one believes in Psychoanalytic Science or in its status as an elaborate pseudo-science that generations of scholars, among them Frederick Cruz, have unmasked. See ‘The Memory Wars: Freud’s Legacy in Dispute‘ of 1995, Unauthorized Freud of 1998, and Follies of The Wise of 2006. For a more lengthy discussion of the Freud critics, see my essay:

Around the same time Rorty completed his metaphysical therapy, and was reinventing himself as a general-interest writer, his peers in the English department were replacing the categories of mind and world with language and text. They were, in other words, reproducing the epistemological conundrums that had bedeviled modern philosophy since Descartes. Instead of ditching the old neurotic patterns, literary theory repeated them ad nauseum. Problems of knowledge became problems of interpretation. The glamour of its European intellectualism aside, this meant only that literary theory knocked back and forth between the assertion that nothing can be known—versions of this skepticism are found in Descartes, Hume, Berkeley, and Kant—and the assertion that skepticism can be vanquished when knowledge is reconstructed upon a new foundation.

One can only marvel at this sentence by Metcalf:

Around the same time Rorty completed his metaphysical therapy, and was reinventing himself as a general-interest writer, his peers in the English department were replacing the categories of mind and world with language and text.

Rorty was never a ‘general-interest writer’ this is dismissive of what Rorty became. He realized that philosophy was a literary genre, and when he realized that he became a better philosopher and writer. On the question of  ‘language and text’ see ‘Philosophy as Kind of Writing: An Essay on Derrida’ in ‘Consequences of Pragmatism’. ‘From ironist theory to private allusions: Derrida’ in Contingency, irony and solidarity*.Two Meanings of “Logocentrism”: A Reply to Norris’ in ‘Redrawing the Lines: Analytic Philosophy, Deconstruction, and Literary Theory’  and ‘A Spectre is Haunting the Intellectuals : Derrida on Marx in ‘Philosophy and Social Hope’.  Call Rorty’s advocacy/defense of Derrida to be completely consistent over time.

Rorty was a man and thinker of his time. Perhaps he never encountered Marshall McLuhan’s prescient idea of the Global Village, perhaps it seemed like Pop Sociology of the Television Age. Or Ulrich Beck’s Cosmopolitan notion of ‘global domestic politics’, that was ushered in by the Age of the Internet.

Some of us on ‘The Left’ read ‘The Machiavellian Moment’ by J.G.A. Pocock, ‘Identity and Violence, The Illusion of Destiny’ by Amartya Sen and Twenty Observations on a World in Turmoil’ by Ulrich Beck.  These three books put the ‘patriotism’ advocated by Rorty, as interpolated by Metcalf, and the ‘Leftist’ singularity of ‘Identity’, in their proper places. We owe our allegiance, not to the state, but to a republican tradition, that is now expressed as Cosmopolitanism, as embracing the whole of sentient beings, rather that a fealty to a state. And to the realization of that belief. Metcalf as apologist for the losers of the 2016 American election would call this Utopianism, or something more dismissive. Yet the New Democrats were/are corrupt to their core, and even now cling to that corrupt leadership, and their party regulars seeking scapegoats where they can. Rorty as interpolated by Metcalf does their bidding.

Old Socialist

*Added January 16,2017                



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At The Economist: ‘Russian hacking’ as ‘grave assault’ on American Political Virtue. A comment by Political Cynic

Recall that old saw ‘think like a lawyer’? Its an invitation to the exercise of self-serving mendacity, at the very least. Here is the center  of the case that The Economist makes for believing the lawless operatives of the American National State.

In language as blunt as it is startling, the assessment, written by the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency, declares that this crime is no whodunnit. Though the declassified report does not make public its sources or supporting evidence, it declares the “high confidence” of American spy chiefs that they know the culprit. It finds that: “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign… to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

The descriptor ‘high confidence’ is the rhetorical place holder for the actual evidence, that is so secret that it can’t be used in a public document. That lack of ‘evidence’ is the product of  National Security State rampant paternalism.

Some of the readers of this newspaper are old enough to recall Joe McCarthy’s waving around his ‘List of Names’. This is the purest hyperbole, to match this:

‘AMERICAN democracy has suffered a grave assault…’

The Trinity of American Exceptionalism, American Hypocrisy and American Mendacity comes together in the notion that ‘grave assault’: American innocence besmirched by a kind of abstruse Russian revanchism?

The record of American interference in the domestic affairs of other countries, since the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823,  even to the point of invasion and occupation, the disappeared facts of the case. Call it American Stalinism i.e. the attempt to erase the inconvenient facts of history, allied to the branding of dissidents as ‘deviationists’. In the Age of the Internet, those dissidents to the Party Line are named ‘trolls’ who are by rhetorical prestidigitation the 5th Column from another age.

Call this moment in American History 1952 Redux. Except that the role of Inquisitor is continually shifting from Republicans like the Neo-Con McCain to New Democrats like Neo-Liberal Schumer.  While the role of Paul Ryan, as Trump apologists, casts him in the role of a Hubert Humphrey to his Lyndon Johnson. Ryan’s burning political ambition renders him a comic figure, without a trace of the pathos, that can humanize even the most unsympathetic comic bungler.

Political Cynic

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