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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Liberalism and Loneliness

Two articles: one from the Times, another from the Post give me some insight into our situation.

One describes the failure of the liberal mind stemming from Hobbes and Locke through Jefferson and Madison through which we have put individual life, liberty, and happiness over public life, liberty, and happiness. This according to the author explains why the US is highest among nations on the unhappiness, suicide, pain, and loneliness scales for which she cites many individual studies. This article had me return to Reisman's 1950s study of The Lonely Crowd.

The other describes the Hungary, Poland, and US turn to authoritarian leaders who champion nationalism, religious purity, single party control, true doctrine and who create enemies of the "other" and disdain the cosmopolitan tendency of a United Europe, the United Nations, and inclusive immigration policy.  These leaders have seen that free market national capitalism is not necessarily linked to liberal democracy and find it more advantageous to adopt the former over the latter.

And so liberalism is under fire. Libertarians find no home in a political party that wants to achieve national unity through cultural identity. Democratic republicans find no home in a political party that wants to achieve global order and stability through economic growth.

Liberalism on the right advances the free market but often neglects the market's control by oligarchs and plutocrats. Liberalism on the left advances the dignity and rights of every person but often neglects the corresponding responsibility of every person to the good of the whole. The Liberal (GHW Bush's L-word) becomes the enemy of both right and left.

But perhaps liberalism's enemy is itself when it does not recognize it's limits. Free markets and free beliefs can only be achieved within boundaries, that is, in spaces of freedom, i.e. public space, defined by citizens. Politics, through which people engage in speech and action, set the boundaries of both the economy and culture, regulating the economic and cultural institutions so that no one is denied the means of livelihood, no one is harmed by intolerance, and everyone is part of the action.

Setting those boundaries is tricky business. While people may choose to opt in or out of the race for personal and family wealth and while people may choose whom they love, worship, believe, citizens can not opt out of the responsibility to determine and shape their public space. For that is the essence of citizenship. It is also the essence of freedom and power. It cannot be handed over to a CEO, a salesman, or a fixer.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Depression 2018

Il pleure dans mon cœur
Comme il pleut sur la ville ;
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon cœur ?

            --Paul Verlaine 1844-1896

In my translations, I find the poet connecting the rain over the city to the gloom he feels in his soul and wondering what it is, where it comes from, and why. He links the spirit of his body with the spirit of the polis.  The personal soul and the public soul.

It rains in my heart
As it rains o’er the town
What is this melancholy
That pierces my heart

Clouds over the city
Mirror the gloom in my soul.
Whence comes this self-pity,
That infects humanity whole.