The National Geographic has written up the Great British Beaver Debate over here.
Since I seem to have fallen back into a habit–goodness knows how long it will last–of posting here in a low-key way, here are three links to pages through which you can get to the audio files of talks I’ve given over the last few months and years that have found their way on-line, in case anyone is interested.
17 February 2011: ‘Why secular liberals need Roman Catholics (and Marxists)‘, a talk at ‘Republicanism and Religion: a colloquium in memory of Emile Perreau-Saussine’, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.
19 February 2014: ‘Towards a new, gendered history of property-owning democracy‘, a lunchtime Sussex University Lecture in Intellectual History.
15 May 2014: ‘Bees, Ants and Beavers in European Political Thought‘, an informal talk given to the King’s College Apicultural Society in Cambridge.
Virtual Stoa heaven, pretty much. From the BBC: “Beavers set for return to Wales for Ceredigion project“.
Here’s Ferdinand, Baron d’Eckstein, addressing the issues that matter:
Mais quelle différence entre les vérités que nous admettons et les dogmes que proclame un industrialisme grossier et trivial, dogmes qui tendent à transformer l’ordre social en une république de castors, de fourmis ou d’abeilles. Méconnaissant la dignité humaine, ce genre d’industrialisme confierait les rènes du gouvernement au seul intérêt privé. C’est lui qui donne pour l’article de foi la maxime suivant, que gagner de l’argent c’est bien mériter de la civilisation, c’est répandre la lumière. C’est dans le sens de cette doctrine que le Constitutionnel immole chaque jour, sur les autels de la classe industrielle, les nobles et les administrateurs. Lancer le moindre sarcasme contre un fabricant, c’est un blasphème! malheur au poète comique, au journaliste ou au député qui se permettrait ce crime contre la seule classe inviolable de toute la société.
— ‘De l’industrialisme’, in Le Catholique, vol. 5 (1827), p. 241
Also of interest at the Virtual Stoa is the way that the Baron goes on to call Johann Gottlieb Fichte a Stoic just a few pages later (p. 239) — but, right now, we’re focused on the beavers.
When you start looking for it, the Republic of Beavers is everywhere!
Goethe called Venice the “Biberrepublik” in his Italian Journey (27 September 1786), and the identification was picked up by the Comte Pierre-Antoine-Noël-Bruno Daru in his 1819 Histoire de la république de Venise, vol. 5. There’s even an article on ‘The Republic of Beavers: An American Utopia’ by Arnold L. Kerson in the 2000 volume of Utopian Studies!
Daru says that it was Montesquieu who first called Venice the R of the Bs, but I don’t know what the original source is supposed to be. So I now find myself leaning towards the thought that the original for all of this is Voltaire, who in the entry on ‘laws’ in his Philosophical Dictionary (1764) shrewdly notes that ‘The republic of the beavers is still superior to that of the ants, at least if we judge by their masonry work.’
This just in, via Josh:
The kind of difficulty both cases exemplify arises when something we encounter defeats our ordinary capacity to get our minds around reality, that is, our capacity to capture reality in language. That dislodges us from comfortably inhabiting our nature as speaking animals, animals who can make sense of things in the way the capacity to speak enables us to. The special kind of animal life we lead comes into question. It is as if a beaver found dam building beyond its powers.
That’s from John McDowell, “Comment on Stanley Cavell’s ‘Companionable Thinking'” in Wittgenstein and the Moral Life: Essays in Honor of Cora Diamond, p. 302.
There’s also a new Mel Gibson film called The Beaver coming soon. “A troubled husband and executive adopts a beaver hand-puppet as his sole means of communicating”, apparently. The trailer is here. My brother Michael wrote to me to draw my attention to it, commenting that, “This looks as though it could conceivably be one of the worst films ever made.”
And, as a tribute to the late, lamented Leslie Nielsen, here‘s a link to the beaver joke from one of the Naked Gun films.
I think that’s about all for now. As you were.
Stoa-reader JW tells me to look in the 31 August 1861 edition of the British Medical Journal, p. 241:
THE REGENT’S PARK BEAVER. This beaver seems perpetually happy. He has constructed his own abode with materials thrown over into his enclosure, and goes on thus reconstructing and altering it for ever. The superintendent communicates it to first gentleman, who retails it to second, and so on, that this beaver is so fond of his house, that though he managed on one occasion to get out of his enclosure and down to the banks of the neighbouring canal in the dead of the night, he was yet found next morning back in his legitimate domain, and working away at his “improvements” as hard as ever. He is a lively chap at night, and was not the least disconcerted by the presence of the party gathered round him; but was, on the contrary, so tremendously busy in doing nothing, and then undoing it again, still keeping his eye upon the four gentlemen who had come to see him, that third gentleman was heard at last to remark to fourth gentleman that he “looked upon this animal as an impostor, and believed he was doing it all for effect.” (Dickens’s All the Year Round.)
Thing #1: “But he did not take into account that the best of men, free from all wickedness, would join together the better to accomplish their goal, just as birds flock together the better to travel in company. Or as beavers congregate by the hundreds to construct great dams, which could not be achieved by a small number of them… That is the foundation of society amongst social animals, and not fear of their kind, which hardly occurs among the beasts.” Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, New Essays, III, 1. (He clearly forgot to add the words, “visible from outer space” after the hyperlink.)
Thing #2: Even more exciting than Leibniz’s thoughts about beavers, the first beaver kits (=baby beavers) for a very, very long time indeed have been born in the wild in Britain! Over here; with slideshow pics here.
This week has been a fantastic week for Gordon Brown’s “Britishness” agenda, as two events have united the people of Britain as almost never before.
First, the people of Britain came together to support Barcelona in the final of the Champions League (with the exception of a small handful in the Northwest of England). Second, we are (almost) all of us delighted to welcome a dozen Norwegian beavers into the wild (with the exception of a small handful within fifty miles or so of the beaver-reintroduction zone in Scotland).
I’m feeling fairly patriotic this week, at any rate, certainly much more than usual.