Janan Ganesh & Michel Houellebecq ? Philosophical Apprentice considers this puzzle.

Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.

Perry Anderson



I read Mr. Ganesh’s column earlier in the week, but felt like I could not offer a cogent or relevant comment, that didn’t repeat what I had said many times before . Yet in my internet explorations , I  encountered  John Sturrock’s review of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Whatever, the English translation of Les Particules élémentaires , in the London Review of Books of  January 1, 1999: That seems to describe in detail the political/ethical/rhetorical stance of Janan Ganesh, or at the least it strongly echoes that stance, in his essay under the headline:

Britain is overexposed to its ruling class

Sub-headline :If government is weak, or strong but wrong, little stands between us and its doings

Now, it is not a prefect match with Mr. Genesh’s meditation on the British ruling class and it failings , but Sturrock being one of the most perceptive and, perhaps, one of French literature’s greatest English language critics, he clearly outlines some of the commonalities shared by Ganesh and Houellebecq :
… hard-line neo-Darwinian, but what he has is more a case of localised spleen than of cosmic angst., …he writes ‘animal fiction’, or sardonic fables of feral behaviour that constitute his ‘ethical meditations’,‘I associate little with human beings,’ ‘…as a red-in-tooth-and-claw reminder that the animal world is no place to look for ethical improvements on the human one.
I am sure there will be those who will find my comment, not just irrelevant, but manipulative and dishonest, but still I must make the wager that there exists these commonalities, as they manifested themselves to me!

This is the ‘domaine de la lutte’, the brownfield site of struggle as it might have been marked out by some hard-line neo-Darwinian, in which, once expelled from childhood, a stage of life that Houellebecq looks sentimentally on (as he does on grandparents, virtuous folk whose sons and daughters have somehow gone terribly wrong), we’re asked to spend the rest of our lives locked into a society in which men are in the business of wholesale domination and women that of seduction. It’s tempting to take Houellebecq’s own struggler at something like his own valuation, as a metaphysical Outsider, but what he has is more a case of localised spleen than of cosmic angst. He is far from being party to the old, exalted humanism that saw our species as being trapped in godless immanence, but potentially admirable for the lucidity with which it embraces its predicament. ‘I associate little with human beings,’ Houellebecq’s lone ranger declares, and in a formal act of dissociation from them he writes ‘animal fiction’, or sardonic fables of feral behaviour that constitute his ‘ethical meditations’ – in the new novel, the Aesopian mode makes way for the Attenboroughesque, and natural history on TV serves as a red-in-tooth-and-claw reminder that the animal world is no place to look for ethical improvements on the human one.


Philosophical Apprentice


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The ‘Paradise Papers’ are causing a stir @FT ! Yves Smith & Ronen Palan provide necessary clarity. Old Socialist provides the links to the unfolding melodrama









What the Paradise Papers Tell Us About Global Business and Political Elites



The Panama Papers revelations succeeded by the Paradise Papers: Capitalism lurches  from crisis to crisis, aided by its lawless impunity, and tax avoidance schemes confected by the mendacity and greed of lawyers and politicians.

Old Socialist



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On the indispensable John Sturrock. American Writer provides the links to one of his books, and two review/essays.


Mr. Sturrock’s ‘The Word from Paris: Essays on Modern French Thinkers and Writers’ 

Links to two of Mr. Sturrock’s insightful and challenging review/essays for the London Review of Books : (Behind a pay wall, but completely worthy of the cost, and your readerly attention!)

Ego’s End


Le pauvre Sokal



American Writer

P.S. Let me add another link, to another review/essay in the London Review:


I resume and I sum up




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My reply martin.wolf@ft.com

Thank you for your comment.

‘How do you know which activities I pursue? I would be really interested.’

At the least, Keynes was a fascinating and complex man, thinker and being! Full of contradictions, but none the less worthy of the readers attention and critical evaluation. I must be blunt, you are a rather grey technocrat, whose rhetoric and status demands hyperbole/polemic. You are one of the many experts/technocrats, at The Financial Times, who write apologetics for the failure of the Free Market Mythology, that has yet to manifest its powers of self-rescue: where is the Self-Correcting Market, nine years after the 2008 Crash and the Depression that is its continuing legacy? And then you and your political fellow travelers agonize over the ‘Rebellion Against the Elites’ that evolved into the Populist Menace, and the Brexiteers. Even the legitimacy of  European nation state is under attack :




The successors of The Mont Pelerin Society convenes at the FT!  Keynes is certainly  the rescuer of Capitalism, although his insights accomplished that until the benighted reign of Thatcher/Reagan. In the time of Adam Smith capitalism was emancipatory from the predations of English feudalism, and probably for others, in our time who form co-operatives to sell the goods and services to their fellow citizens, if their aspiration/practice is not stopped by government or some Multi-National!  Monsanto sues small farmers for ‘patent infringement’ .

On the question of China,  read the whole of my comment on the amount that it spent in 2013 on ‘Internal Security‘!


What of the rebellions and suicides of worker at  Foxxconn:


How many reforms of Capitalism will it take? As Manfred Max Neef pointed out long ago the model of growth must be supplanted by the model of development if we are to survive.


Global Capital has its collection of front men: Lloyd Blankfein of ‘We are doing God’s Work’. Or vulture Capitalist Paul Singer, who made obscene profit out of rescuing Argentina from the predations of the de Kirchners. Mr. Singer is an avid contributor to Neo-Conservative causes:


You wish to be invited back by the Chinese, and your rhetoric reflects your courtship of Xi Jinping and his confederates, that becomes ‘The results were spectacular.’ You soften your critique as the in-order-to of your courtship: not quite in Walter Duranty territory, but uncomfortably close!


Let me close by offering this valuable observation by Perry Anderson on polemic. I write polemic.

Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.

Perry Anderson







Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Midwives of Trump, episode DCCLV: Andy Divine on ‘The Failure of the Resistance’. Committed Observer comments

Mr. Sullivan’s penchant for political  moralizing is a never ending phenomenon, some examples of his analysis of the governor’s race in Virginia between Ed Gillespie and Ralph Northam are demonstrative of his rampant self-congratulation, not to speak of  his self-conception as ‘expert’ .

On Democrat Northham:

Northam seems to me almost a classic Democratic politician of our time. I have no idea what his core message is (and neither, it seems, does he); on paper, he’s close to perfect; his personality is anodyne; his skills as a campaigner are risible; and he has negative charisma. More to the point, he is running against an amphibian swamp creature, Ed Gillespie, and yet the Washington lobbyist is outflanking him on populism. Northam’s ads are super lame, and have lately been largely on the defensive, especially on crime, culture, and immigration. He hasn’t galvanized minority voters, has alienated many white voters, and has failed to consolidate a broader anti-Trump coalition. In Virginia, Trump’s approval rating is 38/59, but Northam is winning only 81 percent of the disapprovers, while Gillespie is winning 95 percent of the approvers. Northam’s early double-digit lead has now collapsed to within the margin of error.

On Republican Gillespie

If all this sounds like a rerun of 2016, well, that’s what it is. But insofar as it also represents Trump’s consolidation of the GOP, it’s all too 2017. Ed Gillespie is the last person you’d predict to become a Trump-style populist, and bring out the enraged base. He’s deeply Establishment, formerly moderate, and easily identified as part of the Washington-as-usual crowd. And yet he’s morphed — successfully — into a Bannonite, without losing mainstream Republican support. Somehow, the GOP still manages to rally together; and somehow, even now, the Democrats cannot. Gillespie also has a killer instinct. Putting what’s left of his conscience and decency in cold storage, he has been pushing out ads that make the Willie Horton spot look like Mr. Rogers. One ad targets Northam for believing that the Confederate statues should come down or be placed in museums; another blasts him for his waffling on sanctuary cities (in a state where none exist!) and links him to weakness against the MS-13 gang; another all but calls him sympathetic to pedophiles. The ads are brutal, foul, racist, demagogic, and effective. They embrace Trumpism with fervor and shamelessness and, in Gillespie’s case, staggering cynicism.

The ‘as if’ of both these ‘evaluations’ of the candidates is that reader is ignorant of Sullivan’s own ‘political evolution’ from worshipful acolyte of Thatcher , to Neo-Conservative, to Centrist Neo-Liberal of the Clinton warmongering variety.  As an advocate/apologist for that monument of Conservative Sociology ‘The Bell Curve’ Mr. Sullivan’s attack on ‘Gillespie’s case, staggering cynicism‘ is an example of the Sullivan investment in his cultivated ignorance of the history of racism in America. It is an act of will, not of some kind or type of historical analysis. Staggering is the fact that Sullivan somehow thinks that his readers are ignorant of his historically verifiable past. The record of the utterly corrupt, and clueless Democratic Party machine, in the thrall of Clinton and her minions, is well known.

The political monster of the ‘Left’ makes its obligatory appearance, fear mongering is the cornerstone of Sullivan’s political world view, he shares that specter with both the Republicans and Democrats. But his conclusion is what? Sullivan as Cassandra or Tiresias?

This is not a good omen. If Gillespie wins, or the result is close, it means the Trump-transformed GOP is electorally viable in every swing district in 2018. That it could win in the state where actual white supremacists marched this past summer and when the president is 20 points underwater is a sobering reminder of the actual state of play in our politics. I can only hope it’s a wake-up call to the Dems. In 2017, they are either useless or actively counterproductive in the struggle to resist right-authoritarianism. They have learned nothing from 2016. Their intelligentsia seems determined to ensure that no midwestern whites ever vote for the party again. Their public faces are still Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi. They still believe that something other than electoral politics — the courts, the press, the special counsel — will propel them back to power. They can’t seem to grasp the nettle of left-populism. And they remain obsessed with a Russia scandal that most swing voters don’t give a damn about.

They think they are “woke.” They are, in fact, in a political coma.

Their intelligentsia seems determined to ensure that no midwestern whites ever vote for the party again. Mr. Sullivan presumes that the reader buys the Party Line that he is somehow not part of the Democratic Intelligentsia, or at the least its witting ally! Sullivan must demonstrate his independence: that he is some how apart from that body of apologists/advocates that are/were the Midwives of Trump.

Sullivan declares that the current leadership of the Democratic Party: ‘They can’t seem to grasp the nettle of left-populism.’ Such is the cultivated political myopia of Sullivan, neither he nor the current leadership of the Democratic Party, confront the fact that the future of the Democratic Party lies in the New Deal Democrats Warren and Sanders. But if not them, then the Greens and the Libertarians will be that force for change. There is an alternative!  Sullivan hews to the myth that these two parties are eternal!

Committed Observer




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

martin.wolf@ft.com : ‘Against Xi Jinping’s Leninist autocracy’. Old Socialist comments

Yet how has the system that failed in Moscow succeeded in Beijing? The big difference between the two outcomes lay with Deng Xiaoping’s brilliant choices. China’s paramount leader after Mao Zedong kept the Leninist political system — above all, the dominant role of the Communist party — while freeing the economy. His determination to maintain party control was made clear by his decisions during what the Chinese call the “June 4 Incident” and westerners the “Tiananmen Square massacre” of 1989. Yet his resolve to continue with economic reform never faltered. The results were spectacular.

Mr. Wolf again demonstrates that Economics is the dismal science! He is no Keynes, who spent his days arising late in the day, and speculating in the stock market, and profiting handsomely in those investments. While he engaged in many cultural and varied sexual pursuits.

Mr. Wolf is all earnest technocratic commitment to Western Capitalism, even when it has proved itself unworthy of anything but contempt. But the Chinese ‘autocracy’ , better to call it by its real name totalitarian,  has proven that Capitalism does not need democracy to flourish, but can thrive in a state that has has an inexhaustible supply of slave labor: to manufacture Western electronic equipment, and the status symbols of the the Age, mobile phones. The suicides and rebellions of these workers have been quelled, or just covered up. Leninism was about establishing a network of state terror to keep the population in line! The spending of the Chinese government on ‘internal security’ is more than its military budget:

BEIJING (Reuters) – China unveiled another double-digit rise in military expenditure on Tuesday, but for a third year in a row the defense budget will be exceeded by spending on domestic security, highlighting Beijing’s concern about internal threats.

Spending on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will rise 10.7 percent to 740.6 billion yuan ($119 billion), while the domestic security budget will go up at a slightly slower pace, by 8.7 percent, to 769.1 billion yuan, according to the budget released at the opening of parliament’s annual meeting.

The numbers underscore the ruling Communist Party’s vigilance not only about territorial disputes with Japan and Southeast Asia and the U.S. “pivot” back to the region, but also about popular unrest over corruption, pollution and abuse of power, despite robust economic growth and rising incomes.


Spectacular compared to the Western Capitalism? And its politics lurching toward Corporatism, codified as ‘Trade Agreements’ TTP, TTIP, whose provisions make war on the very democratic traditions, of the modern Western nation state, that Mr. Wolf proclaims to be in need of institutional revitalization.

The west needs rejuvenation, too. It cannot rejuvenate by copying the drift towards autocracy of far too much of today’s world. It must not abandon its core values, but make them live, once again. It must create more inclusive and dynamic economies, revitalise its politics and re-establish anew the fragile balance between the national and the global, the democratic and the technocratic that is essential to the health of sophisticated democracies. Autocracy is the age-old human norm. It must not have the last word

Old Socialist






Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Midwives of Trump, episode DCCLIV: David Brooks on Political Idolatry. Philosophical Apprentice comments

Before I begin to comment on Mr. Brooks’ current essay the reader might just begin at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and its entry on Francis Bacon, and its entry 3.1 and sub-entries of 1 through 4. To refresh the reader on Bacon’s concept of Idols:

3.1.1 Idols of the Tribe

3.1.2 Idols of the Cave

3.1.3 Idols of the Market Place

3.1.4 Idols of the Theatre

Mr. Brooks lacks historical and philosophical breadth, he defines the notion of the  American parochial,  so to begin with Bacon assists the reader, in the  recognition of that lack of historical/philosophical breadth. Brooks parses Idolatry, as in the end self-defeating, an expression of nihilism, or just the hope of salvation through material goods, as ill fated. Brooks’ analysis of Idolatry is religious in nature, its the usual Protestant Party Line of tent preacher Billy Graham, or even of the loathsome Calvinism of Christian Realist Reinhold Niebuhr.

The pallid introductory paragraphs on Richard Linklater’s movie Boyhood are almost irrelevant, except that it is wreathed in a kind of nostalgia that appeals to the American Conservative sensibility, although not so roseate in the film.

Mr. Brooks’ ‘evolution’ from Neo-Conservatism to ‘Public Moralist’ is so awash in self-congratulation, and an ersatz humility, its hard to bear his chatter. But Mr. Brooks is more given to mild public scoldings, not quite in the mold of a Sunday Sermon from my youth at St Paul’s Lutheran, but more muted than the ‘Youth Night’ sermons at the Baptist church.

If politics is going to get better we need better myths, unifying ones that are built on social equality. But we also need to put politics in its place. The excessive dependence on politics has to be displaced by the expulsive power of more important dependencies, whether family, friendship, neighborhood, community, faith or basic life creed.

Better myths!? Quite plainly Mr. Brooks as Neo-Conservative political writer/propagandist never stood for anything like ‘social equality’, he claimed the territory of the Platonic Guardian, via Strauss and his American coterie,  rather than the social prophet and moralist of his present ‘evolution‘.

To be a moderate is to be at war with idolatry. It’s to believe that we become free as we multiply and balance our attachments. It’s to believe that our politics probably can’t be fixed by political means. It needs repair of the deeper communal bonds that politics rest on, and which political conflict cannot heal.

As one of the Trump Midwives, Mr. Brooks now claims the territory of the ‘moderate’, that might describes that amalgam of Neo-Liberalism and Neo-Conservatism that is the present political center of American politics. Note, that Mr. Brooks reaches a startling conclusion, that  leads to this conundrum or just call it nihilism!

It’s to believe that our politics probably can’t be fixed by political means.

Those ‘deep communal bonds’ that are in need of repair, as Mr. Brooks argues it, and holds in such high esteem, in the political present of Trump and Trumpism, are the very ones that he made war against his whole career.  Should the reader identify Mr. Brooks’ ‘turn’ as the product of satori?

Philosophical Apprentice



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment