The Virtual Stoa Chris Brooke's Weblog Thu, 12 Mar 2015 15:45:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Patrick Riley (1941-2015) Wed, 11 Mar 2015 23:25:46 +0000 I have drunk quite a bit of wine tonight at a university occasion. I ought to be preparing a document for a meeting I have tomorrow about my academic probation. But instead I am going to pour myself a bottle of beer, and write about my dear friend Patrick Riley, the news of whose death reached me this afternoon.

When I was a graduate student at Harvard almost twenty years ago, some of us were entertained in an affectionate kind of a way by the mismatch between what the professors who supervised us were interested in researching, and their personalities. Michael Sandel—who always seemed awkward in any kind of social encounter—taught about the distinctive virtues that were bound up with community living. Seyla Benhabib—whom even the cleverest among us found not a little intimidating—was committed to a vision of a society where interpersonal communication was undistorted by relations of asymmetrical power. Harvey Mansfield was writing a book on manliness. But there was someone on the fringes of that world whose academic commitments dovetailed perfectly with everything we knew about him. Patrick Riley taught at Wisconsin-Madison, but he lived in Cambridge, Mass. (and therefore had a complicated commuting schedule), and he was often to be found in emeritus professor Sam Beer’s office in the basement of the Littauer Building. And Patrick was writing on Leibniz’s vision of justice as universal benevolence, or of justice as the charity of the wise—and there was no better advertisement for universal benevolence than Patrick himself.

Patrick had a distinctive relationship with technology. When his old student and my then flatmate Sankar Muthu got a job at the New School for Social Research in New York City, I ended up taking his congratulatory telephone call at home, because the rotary dial phone he was using was sufficiently old-fashioned that it was unable to connect to Sankar’s office extension number. He was only ever an erratic email correspondent—with his email address an AOL address based on what he said was an archaic spelling of Leibniz’s name. But he was a master of the fax machine, and used to send faxes years after everybody else had stopped. A classic fax from Patrick started life as a piece of Harvard Government Department headed paper. A photocopied snippet of something—an obscure bibliographical reference from a midcentury French source, perhaps—would be pasted onto the middle of the page. The letter would be typed on his old machine around the pasted snippet. The whole thing would be annotated by hand. And then the collage would be fed into the fax machine and sent to its destination. A fax from Patrick was a thing both rich and strange, and always quite wonderful to receive.

I owed a lot to Patrick, at the start of my career. I basically inherited him from my friend Sankar. Sankar had been an undergraduate at Wisconsin-Madison, and had gone on from there in 1992 to Harvard to work on Enlightenment political thought with Patrick’s old teacher Judith Shklar. But Shklar died around the time Sankar arrived in Massachusetts, and Patrick was willing to serve on his dissertation committee for the project that eventually became Enlightenment against Empire. Then, when I was looking to assemble a committee a few years later, for my dissertation project on Stoicism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I asked him to join Richard Tuck and Pratap Bhanu Mehta in supervising me, and I never looked back. Patrick was visibly delighted that I was interested in working on this kind of thing, and my goodness, it made a difference. And when I spent too long trying (and failing) to land a job in the Winter of 1999-2000, and I sent the text of a job talk I had given in Philadelphia to Patrick, in order to try to show that I’d actually been doing something over the previous few months, he stunned me by asking if it could be rewritten for inclusion in the Cambridge Companion to Rousseau that he was editing, since he’d long felt that it needed one more paper on the foundations of Rousseau’s political philosophy, and in my work on Stoicism and Augustinianism, he thought perhaps he’d found it. And getting that piece in the publication pipeline was, I am sure, instrumental in me landing a teaching post in Oxford later that year.

After moving back to England, I didn’t see Patrick especially often at all. But he would turn up from time to time, usually unexpectedly. There were various projects in Europe he would visit—a Leibniz project in Hanover, a natural law project in Bologna—and he would often be passing through England en route, travelling from Heathrow to Exeter to visit Iain Hampsher-Monk’s seminar, or to Oxford, where he would stay at the Galaxy hotel on the fringes of Summertown, and the first thing I would know about his visit would be when he knocked on the door of my college rooms. The last time I saw him in Oxford, I remember eating sausages at the Rose & Crown on North Parade. And the last time I saw him full stop was in Cambridge, MA in the Spring of 2012. I hadn’t been in Boston for years, but Josephine was giving the Balmuth lectures at Tufts University, and on a glorious April morning I had breakfast with Patrick in the café at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. What I remember from that conversation was filling him in on our mutual friend István Hont’s declining health, a topic of interest to Patrick not only because of his great admiration for a fellow dix-huitièmiste but also because he was himself a diabetic who was wrestling with not dissimilar health problems. And in the end, it sounds as if they met their ends in similar ways. Both men had a fall—István in 2013, Patrick just now—and were taken to hospital where they subsequently died, István at 65, Patrick at 73.

What a fine scholar he was. There were various books: Will and Political Legitimacy, Leibniz’ Universal Jurisprudence, the Cambridge edition of Fénelon’s Telemachus (which, when I read it at home on the sofa in a single sitting one Sunday afternoon, resulted in a torn rotator cuff and a great deal of pain), and The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau. But for me, and I am sure for many others, the book by which I will remember Patrick is his 1986 study of The General Will before Rousseau, an exploration of the vocabulary of généralité in French thought—first in theology, then in what we might with only mild anachronism call sociology, then in political theory—going from Arnauld to Pascal, to Malebranche, to Bayle, to Fénelon, to Montesquieu and beyond, a real tour de force, and a book that only Patrick could really ever have written. He gave me a copy when I defended my dissertation in 2003, and that book has just become an even more precious possession than it has been heretofore.

There is lots more to say about Patrick— about his family, especially his splendid wife Joan; about his teachers (Michael Oakeshott—with whom he corresponded for decades—, Louis Hartz, Judith Shklar, John Rawls, Sam Beer, and others), to whom he was devotedly loyal; about his politics (insofar as I could work them out, a kind of Left Hegelianism). I am sure many things will be said in the days ahead, by those of us who loved him. But it is late here in Cambridge, England, and so I shall stop.

Patrick Riley, ave atque vale.

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Charing Cross Road (revisited) Fri, 27 Feb 2015 14:44:08 +0000 So many years ago, in 2002, I wrote this on this blog:

This week’s New Statesman comes with a special supplement on “Ken’s London”, the usual pullout which doesn’t have a great deal of interest in it, except (this time around) for an article on the decline of the Charing Cross Road. Not having lived in London for ten years now, I haven’t really been paying attention, but the story Richard Lewis tells is a very sad one. The Charing Cross Road Bookshop closed two years ago, what used to be the excellent Waterstone’s is boarded up, the Silver Moon Bookshop is moving inside Foyle’s, moving off its old premises after being faced with a rent rise of 65% from its landlords at the Soho Housing Association which also affects some of the other specialist shops there.

In the late 1980s, the strip of bookshops along the Charing Cross Road was the middle of London for me: virtually all visits would follow the same pattern, of walking over Hungerford Bridge from Waterloo Station, heading up the Charing Cross Road, and not quite knowing where to go by the time I reached Centre Point. (Often enough to the British Museum, if it was still open by the time I got there). Collett’s, of course, is long gone and much missed: it was firebombed for stocking The Satanic Verses in 1989, and I don’t think it ever really recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. And there are too many chains towards the northern end of the road. But these recent changes seem more fundamentally threatening to the character of the place. Fleet Street stopped being Fleet Street a couple of decades ago. It will be a great shame if the Charing Cross Road follows suit.

And I repost it here because Ashley Pomeroy has just added this comment–thirteen years on–and it would be a shame if nobody ever saw it ever:

2002. Thirteen years ago although my instinct is that 2002 was only three years ago. Google brought me here while I was writing a blog post of my own; thirteen years later Charing Cross road is still clinging on, although it seems in terrible shape.

The Crossrail extension has transformed the northern end of it into a building site and post-2002 the rents skyrocketed, and a lot of the shops have either closed or seem to have been gutted spiritually.

It’s interesting because I’m nostalgic for the Charing Cross Road that Chris Brooke gave up on. I fondly remember the large Borders and the shops selling used synths and DJ gear and guitars; but even then I remember thinking that the new-fangled internet and eBay was going to wipe them out, and nothing since 2002 has convinced me that there is a future in used bookshops in central London, or any shops apart from shoe shops.

But as this post suggests, Charing Cross road has been in decline forever. I wonder if people in the 1980s were convinced that Charing Cross road’s heyday was the 1960s? And perhaps people in the 1960s fondly recalled the 1930s, etc forever.

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Bonnie Honig writes to the Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Sun, 24 Aug 2014 19:50:26 +0000 [Letter by Bonnie Honig, hyperlinks added by CB]

Dear Chancellor Wise, (and Members of the Board of Trustees, and the UIUC community of faculty, staff, and students),

I wrote to you when I heard about the Steven Salaita case a couple of weeks ago and hoped you would reconsider. As I told you then, I am Jewish and was raised as a Zionist, and I was moved by the case. I write now in the hope that you might find some measure of empathy for this man. Please bear with me for 2 pages….

I do not know Prof. Salaita, but I must say that as I read about the case I was struck by what I can only describe as a certain smug and uncivil tone in his critics, who seemed very assured about what sort of speech is within the bounds of propriety, and what is not. To be clear: I do not grant that speech that lacks propriety justifies the treatment Prof Salaita has received. I leave that point aside since others — John Stuart Mill, Brian Leiter, others – have ably addressed it.

I want to draw your attention to the issue of “empathy.”

This is what I thought at the time this story first broke: Here is a man of Palestinian descent watching people he may know, perhaps friends, colleagues, or relatives, bombed to bits while a seemingly uncaring or powerless world watched. He was touched by violence and responded in a way that showed it. In one of the tweets that was most objected to (Netanyahu, necklace, children’s teeth), Salaita commented on a public figure who is fair game and who was promoting acts of terrible violence against a mostly civilian population. I found that tweet painful and painfully funny. It struck home with me, a Jew raised as a Zionist. Too many of us are too committed to being uncritical of Israel. Perhaps tweets like Prof. Salaita’s, along with images of violence from Gaza and our innate sense of fair play, could wake us from our uncritical slumbers. It certainly provoked ME, and I say “provoked” in the best way – awakened to thinking.

That is what I thought. I also, though, felt something. I felt that whoever wrote that tweet was tweeting his own pain. And I felt there was something very amiss when he was chided for his tone, by people who were safely distant from all of it, while he was watching people he maybe knew or felt connected to die as a result of military aggression. This, frankly, seemed evil. And then to have the major charge against him in the UIUC case be that he lacked empathy: now that seemed cruelly ironic. The real charge, it seems to me, is that he suffers from too much empathy.

What kind of a person would Prof Salaita be if he did not respond more or less as he did!? What kind of a teacher? What kind of community member?

Meantime, even under duress, he is careful about a key thing: His published tweets distinguish Zionism from Jews and others. In the one tweet about anti-Semitism, he puts that term in scare quotes. I don’t know if I would be as nuanced were I in the same situation. Certainly many of my Zionist or Netanyahu-supporting friends and relatives are not: they do not take the trouble to make the analogous distinctions in their commentaries on the situation.

Anyone involved in this case who is incapable of empathy for Salaita at the moment could themselves perhaps learn something about empathy from the very person who has been charged with lacking it. May I ask you: Surely you are not incapable of empathy for his plight, both now (stranded between institutions) and in July (watching from afar as people to whom he presumably feels connected die or are wounded)?

May I add, further, that, as befits the picture I have here painted, there is no actual evidence in the teaching record that Prof Salaita lacks the empathy and tolerance expected of teachers in the classroom. The repeatedly stated ‘concern’ that he is lacking in this way is not only unpersuasive. It is also painful because it may well stick: based on nothing but ignorant or self-serving fears, it may well have a lasting impact on a blameless person’s career and fortunes.

Can you not find a way to resolve the situation to the advantage of both UIUC AND Prof. Salaita? Decisions like this one are the sort that haunt the people who make them for years to come, so I hope you will indeed be able to open your heart in your consideration of the matter. It is not too late. At the very least I urge you and UIUC to stop charging Prof. Salaita with being wanting in vague and either irrelevant or personal ways. That just adds insult and injury to injury. Another irony there: your stated position is that words matter, so much so that other commitments must fall before them. So the responsibility to choose them carefully seems to me to land especially heavily on you and your institution. I do not see you rising to that challenge. This too, I want to suggest, should be hard to live with.

In the meantime, I stand in solidarity with the thousands of academics worldwide who, regrettably, cannot accept invitations henceforth to speak at UIUC or to do any other sort of support work (tenure or promotion letters etc) for your institution. I say regrettably because I have been happy to visit in the past, as a keynote speaker and lecturer. I hope you can understand my position. Simply put, to act in any other way would be wrong.

Thank you for your consideration.

Bonnie Honig, Nancy Duke Lewis Professor, Brown University, Providence, RI

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Harriet Martineau explains why socialism will come to America before it comes to England Sun, 24 Aug 2014 17:04:34 +0000 From Society in America (1837), vol. 2, pp. 127-8:

In England, the prevalent dissatisfaction must subsist a long time before anything effectual can be done to relieve it. The English are hampered with institutions in which the rights of individual property are involved in almost hopeless intricacy. Though clear-sighted persons perceive that property is the great harbourage of crime and misery, the adversary of knowledge, the corrupter of peace, the extinguisher of faith and charity; though they perceive that institutions for the regulation of outward affairs all follow the same course, being first necessary, then useful, then useless, pernicious, and finally intolerable,— that property is thus following the same course as slavery, which was once necessary, and is now intolerable, — as monarchy, which was once necessary, and is now useless, if not pernicious: though all this is clearly perceived by many far-seeing persons in England, they can do nothing but wait till the rest of society sees it too. They must be and are well content to wait; since no changes are desirable but those which proceed from the ripened mind and enlightened will of society. Thus it is in England. In America the process will be more rapid. The democratic principles of their social arrangements, operating already to such an equalisation of property as has never before been witnessed, are favourable to changes which are inched necessary to the full carrying out of the principles adopted. When the people become tired of their universal servitude to worldly anxiety, — when they have fully meditated and discussed the fact that ninety-nine hundredths of social offences arise directly out of property; that the largest proportion of human faults bear a relation to selfish possession; that the most formidable classes of diseases are caused by over or under toil, and by satiety of mind; they will be ready for the inquiry whether this tremendous incubus be indeed irremovable; and whether any difficulties attending its removal can be comparable to the evils it inflicts. In England, the people have not only to rectify the false principles of barbarous policy, but to surmount the accumulation of abuses which they have given out: a work, perhaps, of ages. In America, the people have not much more to do (the will being once ripe) than to retrace the false steps which their imitation of the old world has led them to take. Their accumulation of abuses is too small to be a serious obstacle in the way of the united will of a nation.

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Harriet Martineau on Robert Malthus Sat, 23 Aug 2014 15:45:34 +0000 From the Autobiography (US ed., vol. 1, p. 247):

He [= Sydney Smith] was not quite the only one of my new friends who did not use my trumpet in conversation. Of all people in the world, Malthus was the one whom I heard quite easily without it; — Malthus, whose speech was hopelessly imperfect, from defect in the palate. I dreaded meeting him when invited by a friend of his who made my acquaintance on purpose. He had told this lady that he should be in town on such a day, and entreated her to get an introduction, and call and invite me ; his reason being that whereas his friends had done him all manner of mischief by defending him injudiciously, my tales had represented his views precisely as he could have wished. I could not decline such an invitation as this: but when I considered my own deafness, and his inability to pronounce half the consonants in the alphabet, and his hare-lip which must prevent my offering him my tube, I feared we should make a terrible business of it. I was delightfully wrong. His first sentence, — slow and gentle, with the vowels sonorous, whatever might become of the consonants, — set me at ease completely. I soon found that the vowels are in fact all that I ever hear. His worst letter was l : and when I had no difficulty with his question, — “Would not you like to have a look at the Lakes of Killarney?” I had nothing more to fear. It really gratified him that I heard him better than any body else; and whenever we met at dinner, I somehow found myself beside him, with my best ear next him; and then I heard all he said to every body at table.

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Harriet Martineau on Robert Owen Sat, 23 Aug 2014 15:07:51 +0000 From the Autobiography (US ed., vol. 1, pp. 174-5):

From the time of my settlement in London, there was no fear of any dearth of information on any subject which I wished to treat. Every party, and every body who desired to push any object, forwarded to me all the information they held. It was, in fact, rather ridiculous to see the onset on my acquaintances made by riders of hobbies. One acquaintance of mine told me, as I was going to his house to dinner, that three gentlemen had been at his office that morning;— one beseeching him to get me to write a number on the navigable rivers of Ireland; second on (I think) the Hamiltonian (or other) system of Education; and a third, who was confident that the welfare of the nation depended on it, on the encouragement of flax-growing in the interior of Guiana. Among such applicants, the Socialists were sure to be found; and Mr. Owen was presently at my ear, laying down the law in the way which he calls “proof,” and really interesting me by the candour and cheerfulness, the benevolence and charming manners which would make him the most popular man in England if he could but distinguish between assertion and argument, and abstain from wearying his friends with his monotonous doctrine.

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Anniversary Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:56:20 +0000 It was ten years ago today that I first noticed there was something fishy about Johann Hari’s journalism–a post that was cited by the Deterritorial Support Group when they decisively went to work on destroying his reputation in 2011.

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“Expensive appendages to the science of robbery” Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:08:16 +0000 So I spent part of the morning reading stuff by the eccentric eighteenth-century Welsh philosopher (and friend of Brissot) David Williams, as one does, in which he more or less calls for the Hanoverian political system to be replaced with something that looks quite a bit like what the Marxists later called democratic centralism. Anyway, I liked the rhetoric of this bit, towards the end of the sixth of his 1782 Letters on Political Liberty:

It will probably be said, that the revival of this mode of establishing political liberty would have all the effect of innovation; and that innovations, even on the most perfect principles, are hurtful, because they press on the prejudices of the people.

This is always the shallow pretence of political Jesuitism. The throne is daily innovating; while every step presses out the blood of the most industrious and excellent among the people. A standing army is an innovation against the prepossessions, habits, and judgement, of every independent man in the nation; and yet it has been established. Is it to be imagined, the people will object to the very little trouble attending to such an arrangement, as will afford them an intire security against the encroachments of the Crown, and the depredations of fluctuating parties in their legislature, who plunder them in succession? If they were to arm themselves slightly, they would also have a police on the best footing; and be perfectly secured against the collusions of thieves and thief-takers, watchmen, constables, church-wardens, overseers, trading justices, and the whole train of expensive appendages to the science of robbery.

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“In 1994-95 Hannibal’s march on Rome was recreated, though using buses rather then elephants…” Sun, 17 Aug 2014 16:37:35 +0000 Josephine, over at the LRB blog.

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“Beaver Bombers” Tue, 05 Aug 2014 16:58:03 +0000 The National Geographic has written up the Great British Beaver Debate over here.

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