The Anxiety of John Stuart Mill – The New York Times

Mill was searching for a reliable source of joy, one that could survive the unbearable goodness of the world he sought to achieve. He was looking for a happiness that could stave off incursions of dissatisfaction or boredom once the ultimate battle is won, and (at last!) tranquility reigns. The answer, he discovered through reading Wordsworth, is to take refuge in a capacity to be moved by beauty — a capacity to take joy in the quiet contemplation of delicate thoughts, sights, sounds, and feelings, not just titanic struggles.

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Identity and Recognition: A Conversation with Daniel Mendelsohn – Los Angeles Review of Books

I’ve always been fascinated by ring composition. This idea of circles of narratives coming back is a structural device that’s also thematically connected to memory. It’s all about spirals of memory going deeper and deeper. That was more structural than anything else. Hollywood people think “epic,” and they think “size.” But in fact, epic is very narrowly focused. I started thinking about how to tell a story that has larger implications about fathers and sons, marriage, life and death — the big questions — while keeping the narrative intimate. The trick was figuring out the focus. The largest part is the classroom. As we all know, teaching is like parenting. That was overdetermined, because my father was also my student for that semester. And then I had to figure out a way to get this other stuff in. And the way to do it is Homerically, by using flash-forwards and flashbacks. Then it all came together very suddenly.

Source: Identity and Recognition: A Conversation with Daniel Mendelsohn – Los Angeles Review of Books

America’s Liberal Logjam | Foreign Affairs

The sobering conclusion is that liberals who think they can safely abandon humanist culture for the high ground of citizen politics will be overrun by the left’s identitarians and their intersectional allies. Politics will not save us from identity politics because politics can never save us, however inescapable and indispensable it may be. To pursue a truly shared vision of justice, humans require a deeper common ground.

Source: James Poulos, America’s Liberal Logjam | Foreign Affairs

Life after identity politics

The problem with practicing identity politics at the sub-political level is that it becomes just another form of individualism, replicating in a “less sentimental and more sanctimonious” idiom the anti-political outlook that came to power in the United States with Ronald Reagan. Whereas Reagan described a country of atomized individuals liberated from government (including from calls for public sacrifice of any kind), Democrats came to define politics as a form of self-exploration. Look into yourself, explore your background, situate yourself in relation to the various identity categories to which you belong, fasten on to the injustices these groups have suffered at the hands of powerful Others, and then demand recompense. This way of conceiving of politics has rendered incomprehensible JFK’s ringing call to civic service (What can I do for my country?) and replaced it with a “deeply personal one: What does my country owe me by virtue of my identity?”

Source: Damon Linker, Life after identity politics

The Liberal Crackup – WSJ

Every advance of liberal identity consciousness has marked a retreat of liberal political consciousness. There can be no liberal politics without a sense of We—of what we are as citizens and what we owe each other. If liberals hope ever to recapture America’s imagination and become a dominant force across the country, it will not be enough to beat the Republicans at flattering the vanity of the mythical Joe Sixpack. They must offer a vision of our common destiny based on one thing that all Americans, of every background, share.

And that is citizenship. We must relearn how to speak to citizens as citizens and to frame our appeals for solidarity—including ones to benefit particular groups—in terms of principles that everyone can affirm.

Source: Mark Lilla, The Liberal Crackup – WSJ

Reviewed: Philosophical Essays – a Critical Edition by Fernando Pessoa

Pessoa’s scepticism is not greatly different in its view of the limits of human reason from the sceptical philosophy developed in the ancient world by Pyrrho and Sextus Empiricus, versions of which have been revived in modern times not only by Montaigne but also by David Hume.

Where Pessoa differs from most exponents of systematic doubt is in his intent, which was not to prove the validity of scepticism or even – like Hume, in some moods – to encourage people to give up philosophising and return to everyday life. If Pessoa’s philosophical writings had any overall purpose, it was simply to emancipate the mind and enlarge the imagination. The human value of philosophy was not in underwriting any view of things but in making possible a certain kind of mental freedom.

Source: John Gray, Reviewed: Philosophical Essays – a Critical Edition by Fernando Pessoa

Spinoza Is Still Relevant – The Forward

For Spinoza, whose ultimate goal was to discover how human beings can be happy, our goal should be to replace our “inadequate ideas” (partial, incorrect, emotionally loaded and distorted understandings) with “adequate ideas” (understandings which are accurate and take in the full causal complexity of the situation as much as possible). This complex understanding not only includes a grasp of all the relevant scientific facts but most importantly views all activities and events as unfolding relentlessly from the laws of Reality as the predetermined unfolding of the totality and logic of Gods being.

Spinoza argued that viewing things this way leads to two consequences. The first is peace. When we understand that things could not have been other than they are and are not the fault of either ourselves or our “enemies” or anyone else, we are freed from guilt, blame, anger, bitterness and a host of other draining and destructive emotions. What happens is coterminous with the realm of the possible- what happens is exactly what could possibly have happened. Reality is the possible. Or to put it more technically, the borders of reality are coterminous with the borders of the possible; what did not happen by definition could not have happened.

The second is that our shift moves from our emotional reactions toward understanding- if we want to change things, we need to increase the accuracy and complexity of our causal analysis, not merely rage against people, political parties, or anything else. Understanding the causality involved can empower us to effect real change when possible, as opposed to relegating us to a soap box or privately gnashing our teeth in the dark.

Source: Matthew Gindin, Spinoza Is Still Relevant – The Forward

A Republican Health Care Fix – The New York Times

In his influential “The Road to Serfdom,” the economist Friedrich Hayek argued that the state should “assist the individual in providing for those common hazards of life” — among them poor health and unexpected accidents. And in his illuminating analysis of Ronald Reagan’s legacy, “The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism,” the political scientist Henry Olsen uncovered some timely insights. “Any person in the United States,” Reagan said in 1961, “who requires medical attention and cannot provide it for himself should have it provided for him.”