Archive for July, 2012

TCB (Special Tuesday Edition)

July 31st, 2012

So it turns out poor Ptolemy has a fractured metatarsal in his right-hind-paw, and will be indoors and bandaged up for the next month or so. Happily, he doesn’t have to wear a Stupid Plastic Cone–at least not initially: he’s shown no interest in trying to remove the bandage, and I hope things stay that way. And he’s generally being heroic and good tempered about the situation, which can’t be much fun for him. Good cat.

1790s political thought

July 25th, 2012

It’s pretty obvious why it was a rich period, but there really hasn’t been another decade like it, has there?

Sieyès: What Is The Third Estate? (1789)
Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790)
Paine: Rights of Man, part one (1791)
Burke: A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
Paine: Rights of Man, part two (1792)
Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
Kant: Essay on ‘Theory and Practice’ (1793)
Godwin: Political Justice (1793)
Condorcet: The Sketch (written 1793, published 1795)
Kant: ‘Towards Perpetual Peace’ (1795)
Fichte: Foundations of Natural Right (1796)
Burke: Letters on a Regicide Peace  (1796)
Bentham’s writings on the Poor Law (1795-7)
Paine: Agrarian Justice (1797)
Kant: The Doctrine of Right (1797)
Babeuf’s defence speech (1797)
Malthus: An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)
Fichte: The Closed Commercial State (1800)

And in addition to texts like this, Bentham’s Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation was published in 1789 (though written much earlier) and Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments was republished with important new additions for the 6th posthumous edition in 1790.

Jeremy Bentham, music critic

July 25th, 2012

The War whoop of anarchy, the Marseillais Hymn, is to my ear, I must confess, independently of all moral association, a most dismal, flat, and unpleasing ditty: and to any ear it is at any rate a long winded and complicated one. In the instance of a melody so mischievous in its application, it is a fortunate incident, if, in itself, it should be doomed neither in point of universality, nor permanence, to gain equal hold on the affections of the people.

Bentham, Essays on the Subject of the Poor Laws, Essay III, in Michael Quinn, ed., Writings on the Poor Laws (Oxford, 2001), vol. 1, p. 136.

TCB (Special Sunday Edition)

July 22nd, 2012

Ptolemy hurt his right hind-leg outside somehow yesterday morning, and has been taking it easy since. We hope nothing’s broken. (I’m cautiously optimistic.)

Allez Wiggo!

July 22nd, 2012

I’m writing this post as the Tour sweeps onto the Rue de Rivoli for the first time, and I’m in a very good mood about this year’s Tour de France.

I’ve loved the Tour for twenty years now. It flickered on my radar screen in 1987, with the gripping duel between Stephen Roche and Pedro Delgado, and then again in 1989, when I watched Greg Lemond pipping Laurent Fignon to the post in that final time trial, but the race permanently captured my imagination in 1992, specifically on the occasion of Claudio Chiappucci’s epic solo ride into Sestrières.

Those twenty years, of course, were mostly very heavily doped up indeed. For a long time I wasn’t really bothered by the doping, and treated it as part of the soap opera. That attitude more or less survived the 2007 Tour–one I particularly enjoyed, being in Hyde Park for the Prologue and on the Champs-Elysées for the finale–when Michael Rasmussen was thrown off the race while wearing the maillot jaune. But it took a big knock the following year, when Riccardo Riccò was kicked out, shortly after winning a stage in tremendous fashion. That was, I think, when it was brought home to me just how intimate the connection was between the doping, on the one hand, and the kind of riding that make for the most exciting television, on the other.

So while Bradley Wiggins hasn’t won the Tour in the most exciting fashion this year–he’s copied the Indurain method of dominating the time trials and defending in the mountains–I find that this doesn’t really get in the way of my appreciation of his achievement. There doesn’t seem to be terribly good reason to think that he’s doped (and there seems to be quite good circumstantial evidence to suggest that the race isn’t as doped as it once was), and I find myself warming to the man himself. He comes across (to me, at least) as a very civilised champion, and it’s gratifying to read that the French public are learning to appreciate him. I’m almost feeling patriotic.

Allez Wiggo! Vive le Tour!


July 19th, 2012

Fénelon Now!

July 18th, 2012

Various Philosophical types in my twitterstream are drawing attention to this story in today’s tehgraun about an Italian town that has appointed a municipal Philosopher. What an excellent idea, they say, appointing a municipal Philosopher. And perhaps it is. But when I read the article, my first thought was, my goodness, this is Fénelon’s Salentum, isn’t it?

So what’s that about, and why is this interesting (to me, at least)?

Corigliano d’Otranto is a dinky little town with six thousand inhabitants, right down in the heel of the Italian boot. As the article points out, it’s in a part of Italy called Grecìa Salentina, ‘a stronghold of Italy’s ethnic Greek minority, which has been there since long before Plato put pen to papyrus’. Historically, that’s right, and Greeks have been in that part of the world for a very long time indeed. Mythologically, the story begins with Idomeneus (the subject of Mozart’s opera), who fights at Troy, sacrifices his son when he gets back home to Crete, and as a result goes into exile, winding up in this bit of Italy.

Now (changing direction for the moment), hardly anyone reads Archbishop Fénelon’s book Telemachus these days, written at the close of the seventeenth century, which is a shame, as it’s a cracker. I have a particular reason to remember reading it for the first time five years ago, which is that what I thought was the cramp I report in this old blogpost after the strenuous activity of sitting on the sofa all afternoon reading Fénelon turned out to be a rather painful tear in my rotator cuff (and, incidentally, a clear sign that I had passed into middle age). But happily there’s a lot more to Fénelon’s book than a trivial episode in my medical history, and it’s sometimes said–though I don’t really know on what evidence–that Telemachus was the most popular book in France in the first half of the eighteenth century, other than the Bible. (Given that it was never intended for publication, that’s quite an achievement.)

Fénelon was a royal tutor, in charge of the education of Louis XIV’s grandson, le petit Dauphin. In the end, he never became king of France, because his father, le grand Dauphin, died in 1711, he himself died in 1712, the Sun King kept on going on the throne for 72 years (!), and, when he finally died in 1715, was succeeded by the infant Louis XV, the king’s great-grandson and le petit Dauphins son. Telemachus was written as part of Fénelon’s educational programme for the young prince, and it was important to Fénelon that it not be published, as it contained very sharp criticism of the king’s policies. Indeed, the book presented quite detailed and only somewhat veiled instructions for how a new, virtuous king might rescue France from the disastrous legacy of Louis XIV. The manuscript leaked, the book was published, and Fénelon was banished from the court.

Telemachus was Odysseus’s son (in Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus), and the first few books of The Odyssey describe him setting out from Ithaca in search of his father. What Fénelon did was to imagine how his adventures continued, after Homer’s spotlight shifts back onto Odysseus, drawing very heavily on plot devices from Homer and also from Virgil’s Aeneid to tell another story of extensive wandering around the Mediterranean. And just as Odysseus and Aeneas have their divine protectors, so Telemachus is accompanied by Mentor, who is in fact the goddess Minerva in disguise, and Mentor ensures that Telemachus receives, along the way, a thoroughgoing education for future kingship.

Like Aeneas, Telemachus ends up in Italy. He encounters Idomeneus, who has founded the city of Salentum, and joins in the wars in that part of the world. But Salentum has become corrupt, and while Telemachus is off on campaign, Mentor reorganises Salentum in order to purge it of the luxury ‘that poisoned the whole nation’, and to enable it to live in peace with its neighbours. And this is the heart of Telemachus. Unreformed Salentum is a thinly disguised version of Louis XIV’s France, and Reformed Salentum presents Fénelon’s vision of what France might become.

Running an economy devoted to the production and consumption of luxury goods made war more likely, Fénelon argued, as those without access to luxury goods were tempted to use violence to acquire them, and it made that war more dangerous, because ‘these superfluities enervate, intoxicate and torment those who possess them’, making them less able to fight. In Mentor’s reorganisation, much of the urban population is resettled in the countryside, and the economy is recentered on agricultural production, foreign trade is strictly limited, and the profits of agriculture are used to purchase domestically-manufactured armaments, in order to provide military defence.

To a quite remarkable extent, the story of political and economic thought in the eighteenth century in Europe is the story of a series of responses to Fénelon’s blueprint for Reformed Salente, and we can’t really understand what Bernard Mandeville, Jean-François Melon, Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Physiocrats, Adam Smith, and others were doing without taking seriously the challenge that Fénelon threw down. Those who were attracted by his vision often faced the problem of how-to-get-there-from-here, since Fénelon’s extensive reorganisation certainly required the exercise of absolute power, but absolutism was not an especially attractive prospect in a world in which virtuous monarchs were in pretty short supply. Those who were not so attracted had to explain where Fénelon went wrong in his diagnosis (hence the rest of the luxury debate). But the eighteenth century understood the centrality of Fénelon to its debates, in a way that often we do not: Benjamin Vaughan wrote in 1788, for example, that ‘the seeds of all the sentiments, if not all the doctrines of modern political œconomy’ were to be found in Telemachus, and Fénelon remained a key point of reference throughout the controversies of the French Revolution. (Robespierre is supposed to have whispered to his neighbour after one of the speeches in one of the debates in the Convention on the price of grain, ‘that man is the Fénelon of the Revolution’, and, coming from him, it was meant as a compliment.)

Corigliano d’Otranto, then, is pretty much exactly where the fictional Salentum was supposed to stand. Graziella Lupo is the new municipal Philosopher there, embarking on its Reform. Minerva is a tough act to follow. But I’m sure she is up to the task.