Opinion | What Pelosi Versus the Squad Really Means – by David Brooks – The New York Times

“What’s at stake in the struggle between Nancy Pelosi and the four progressive House members known as the squad? Partly it’s just the perpetual conflict between younger members who want change fast and older members who say you have to deal with political reality.

But deep down it’s a conflict of worldviews. No matter how moderate or left, Democrats of a certain age were raised in an atmosphere of liberalism. I don’t mean the political liberalism of George McGovern. I mean the philosophic liberalism of people like Montaigne, John Stuart Mill, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass — people who witnessed religious and civil wars and built structures to restrain fanaticism.

Philosophic liberalism, Adam Gopnik explains in his essential book, “A Thousand Small Sanities,” begins with intellectual humility. There’s more we don’t know than we do know, so public life is a constant conversation that has no end. In the liberal view, each person contains opposites and contradictions. You flatten and dehumanize complex individuals when you see people according to crude dichotomies and assign them to tribal teams.

Liberals prefer constant incremental reform to sudden revolution. “Liberal reform, like evolutionary change, being incremental, is open to the evidence of experience,” Gopnik writes. Liberals place great emphasis on context. The question is not: What do I want? It’s: What good can I do in this specific circumstance?”

David Lindsay: I love this piece by David Brooks, because it puts the local fracas into a larger, historical framework that makes sense, and is ellegant. Not everyone agrees. Here is a comment I admired, that also counters the basic premis of Brooks’ slap on the wrist of the four young women of color.

Tad Ellsworth
Bolivar, Ohio
Times Pick

I have also read Gopnik’s treatise on Liberalism and I come away with a somewhat different take than Brooks. The so-called radicals of “the Squad” are working within the system to change it. They are elected members of Congress, and the last time I checked, they were not calling for a revolutionary overthrow of our liberal institutions, but reform of them through legislative action. While some may disdain AOC’s use of Twitter, she is communicating with both admirers and critics alike in the medium of her generation, and the debate over her policy ideas is vigorous. The left-wing critics of liberalism that Gopnik describes do not believe that liberal institutions are capable of affecting the kinds of changes, and certainly would not disdain to become duly elected members of Congress and to work within the system to change it for the better. While they may wish to move our liberal institutions toward greater egalitarianism than some may like, they are not looking to do away with those institutions. I see current progressives in Congress as being of the same vein of Thaddeus Stevens or Frederick Douglass or Susan B. Anthony, who may have been seen as radical in their time, but were believers in the reform of American liberal institutions, but doing so through Constitutional means. While “the Squad” may not be fighting for so noble a cause as the abolition of slavery or the enfranchisement of women, they are fighting to improve American liberal institutions, not to diminish them.

20 Replies861 Recommended

Opinion | How to Serve a Deranged Tyrant-Stoically – by Ryan Holiday – NYT

“In the ancient world, as is true today, navigating political chaos was a pressing dilemma. Philosophers were forced to decide whether to participate in, resist or simply endure the political rulers of their time. Socrates, the incorrigible free spirit, was a soldier in the Peloponnesian War and a citizen who lived through Athens of the Thirty Tyrants. Aristotle, who wrote brilliant works on justice, happiness and government, worked for Alexander the Great, a murderous warmonger.

Or consider the case of Seneca, a man whose political life mirrors much of the chaos of the Trump administration. In A.D. 49, the well-known writer and Stoic philosopher was recalled from exile to tutor the successor of the emperor Claudius, a promising teenager named Nero. Like many people today, Seneca entered public service with ideals mitigated by a pragmatic understanding of the reality of the politics of his time.

Although just a few generations earlier, the Stoics had been ardent defenders of the republican ideals (Cato, Seneca’s hero, famously disemboweled himself rather than live under Julius Caesar), by Seneca’s time most of these objections had become futile. As Emily Wilson, a translator and biographer of Seneca, writes: “Cicero hoped that he really could bring down Caesar and Mark Antony. Seneca, by contrast, had no hope that he could achieve anything by direct opposition to any of the emperors under whom he lived. His best hope was to moderate some of Nero’s worst tendencies and to maximize his own sense of autonomy.”We can imagine, too, that he saw the inexperienced Nero as an opportunity to advance his own interests and influence. Only time would reveal that fusing his fate to Nero was a Faustian bargain.”

Fascinating. Here are two of many good comments, I particularly valued.

Stephen Hoffman
Harlem

Roman Stoics like Seneca gave a characteristically Roman public spin to the academic writings of their Greek masters like Epictetus. Seneca had a writer’s vanity and high literary ambitions with which he inspired his star pupil, Nero. He made himself monstrously rich by profiteering in military contracts in the Roman colony of Britain. When the political entanglements in which he had ensnared himself finally exacted their fatal dues, he died in the messy, non-Stoic way all people die (read Tacitus’ gruesome account) ) but not without preparing his own “dignified” version of his death to leave to posterity as a literary testament.

B
BobMeinetz
Los Angeles

Unmentioned here is Marcus Aurelius’s classic Meditations, the Roman emperor’s treatise on Stoicism considered by many one of the finest works of philosophy.

When my teenage daughter was undergoing teenage-daughter-type problems I recommended Meditations to her, thinking it might provide some non-religious insight on personal values. Years later she admitted she had read it three times, and it’s since become somewhat of a secular Bible in our family.

Highly recommended to Times readers unfamiliar with Stoicism and unaccepting of theistic religion.

John Stuart Mill Showed Democracy as a Way of Life – The New York Times

This year we’ve been so besieged by Donald Trump’s shriveled nature that we sometimes forget what full and courageous human life looks like. And so today I’d like to hold up John Stuart Mill, the second in our Heroes of Democracy series. Mill demonstrated that democratic citizenship is a way of life, a moral stance and a humanistic adventure.

Those who know anything about Mill know about his upbringing. His father separated him from other children and from loving relationships and tried to turn him into a perfect thinking machine. Mill learned Greek at age 3. Between 8 and 12, he read Herodotus, Homer, Xenophon, Plato, Virgil and Ovid (in Latin) while studying physics, chemistry, astronomy and mathematics.

He had the inevitable intellectual and emotional collapse at age 20. He finally pulled himself out when he discovered Wordsworth’s poetry and came to cherish emotion, beauty, warmth and art. One day he found himself weeping over the death of a character in a novel. He was delighted.

“From this moment my burden grew lighter,” he recalled. “I was no longer hopeless: I was not a stock or a stone. I had still, it seemed, some of the material out of which all worth of character, and all capacity for happiness are made.” He staged a lifelong gentle revolt against his father’s shallow intellectual utilitarianism.

via John Stuart Mill Showed Democracy as a Way of Life – The New York Times

Diogenes lived in a barrel and searched for an honest man- 412-323 BC – Wikipedia

“Diogenes (/daɪˈɒdʒəˌniːz/; Greek: Διογένης, Diogenēs [di.oɡénɛ͜ɛs]) was a Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy. Also known as Diogenes the Cynic (Ancient Greek: Διογένης ὁ Κυνικός, Diogenēs ho Kunikos), he was born in Sinope (modern-day Sinop, Turkey), an Ionian colony on the Black Sea,[1] in 412 or 404 BC and died at Corinth in 323 BC.[2]

Diogenes was a controversial figure. His father minted coins for a living, and when Diogenes took to debasement of currency, he was banished from Sinope.[1] After being exiled, he moved to Athens and criticized many cultural conventions of the city. Diogenes modelled himself on the example of Heracles. He believed that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory. He used his simple lifestyle and behaviour to criticize the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt or at least confused society. In a highly non-traditional fashion, he had a reputation of sleeping and eating wherever he chose and took to toughening himself against nature. He declared himself a cosmopolitan and a citizen of the world rather than claiming allegiance to just one place. There are many tales about his dogging Antisthenes’ footsteps and becoming his “faithful hound”.[3]

Diogenes made a virtue of poverty. He begged for a living and often slept in a large ceramic jar in the marketplace.[4] He became notorious for his philosophical stunts such as carrying a lamp in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man. He criticized and embarrassed Plato, disputed his interpretation of Socrates and sabotaged his lectures, sometimes distracting attendees by bringing food and eating during the discussions. Diogenes was also noted for having publicly mocked Alexander the Great.[5][6][7]

After being captured by pirates and sold into slavery, Diogenes eventually settled in Corinth. There he passed his philosophy of Cynicism to Crates, who taught it to Zeno of Citium, who fashioned it into the school of Stoicism, one of the most enduring schools of Greek philosophy. None of Diogenes’s many writings have survived, but details of his life come in the form of anecdotes (chreia), especially from Diogenes Laërtius, in his book Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. All that is available are a number of anecdotes concerning his life and sayings attributed to him in a number of scattered classical sources.[8]”

Source: Diogenes – Wikipedia