Notes On Virginia


You can see Jefferson’s regular topics and conceits clearly here. A chapter on religion is mainly about the religious freedom he so assiduously (and successfully; he wrote the statute) championed in Virginia. On education, it reflect the inadequacy of both the physical and curricular structure of William & Mary, then the state’s only college; arguments no doubt in support of his quest to establish the University of Virginia at the base of his mountain. You see Jefferson the amateur scientist (and a fascinating digression into some amateur archaeology that he undertook on a Native American burial mound.

On manufacturing, his disdain for large scale production is clear (despite the fact that very nearly his only profitable venture was a nail factory he built on his lands). It feels a little naive, to disdain creating finished goods here, beyond basic items, but it fits with his pastoral/agricultural republicanism. Like Socrates, he seems to think smaller polities are better.

On race… the less said the better. He was at a point where his views were evolving and not for the better. He is open to the idea that the native peoples could achieve a cultural status close to whites, but that “generosity” only reminds the modern reader of the anti-black racism running through his brain.

Takeaway quote (from the religion section):

It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.

And you know what? In this day, his vigorous, anthropological critique of religious oppression may seem commonsensical today, in the eighteenth century it was far more daring and outre.

Doesn’t make up for the racism, though.

Maria Edgeworth, William Wordsworth & David Ricardo


I read this little piece on William Wordsworth’s visit to Ireland and the extent to which he was influenced by what he saw there (both in terms of the political and ecological content of his poems). It also noted his encounter with Maria Edgeworth, the author of Castle Rackrent.

Later, I was re-reading my favorite bit of a beloved book, The Worldly Philosophers. My favorite bit of that book (after the description of Thorstein Veblen washing dishes with a garden hose) is the section on Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In that section, it notes the correspondence (and influence) one Maria Edgeworth had on Ricardo.

When I saw the Edgeworth name on page 85, I wondered, could that be the same one? Flipping over the page, when I saw Castle Rackrent mentioned, I obviously knew it was.

That’s it. Just a fun little thing. But you should definitely read The Worldly Philosophers. I actually had it in my bag because I have been intending, for some time, to loan it to a friend who going to be studying business. My father once semi-famously said that one should never confuse a business degree with an education. I thought that a book about influential economists might split the difference a little bit. So I had it in my bag, in case I should run into him.

Another Bookstore Gone…


cq5dam.resized.270x180!While DC has been good about adding bookstores (like my neighborhood’s recent addition, East City Books), we do seem to be taking two steps back for every step forward (we lost Books for America and the downtown Barnes & Noble over the last year).

This time, it’s the only in DC World Bank Group InfoShop Bookstore.

That’s right. If you didn’t live in DC, you would never know such a thing existed. But it did. And it was super awesome.

In addition to World Bank publications, it had a fantastic array of very specialized books on economics and global development. I bought my copy of Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land from that particular bookshop.

And just… what a cool thing to have in your hometown?

Ugh. Another one bits the dust.

‘The Left In Dark Times’ By Bernard-Henri Lévy


9780812974720I bought The Left in Dark Times because I wanted to read something by Bernard-Henri Lévy and I thought that this book, rather than his reportage/current events style books, would be a good introduction to his actual thinking. While sometimes called a philosopher, I’m not really sure it applies, but I wanted something vaguely rigorous by him (which, as it turns, this isn’t, exactly).

You may know Bernard-Henri Lévy (sometimes known as BHL; he’s that famous in France) as that rick looking French guy on TV with the leonine mane of grey/white hair, dark suit, a white shirt that is always unbuttoned two buttons below what is appropriate to the situation, yet always staying above the critical belly button line.

The Left in Dark Times feels terribly dated. It is something from a time that feels very long ago; before the ‘Great Recession,’ before the more recent global economic contractions (Greece, China, etc). Before we were expelled from an economic eden where risky trade and capital entrepreneurship would lift all boats, if we just let it. In this book, economics aren’t a ‘thing’ at all.

The left is in dark times because, he writes, economic democratic-socialism has been, somehow, disproven, by the good times of the early and mid noughties. For him, the true Left (capital L) is in international humanitarian interventionism. Which is not, in itself, bad, but now, things feel so tied to the economy as causing so many humanitarian problems through indirect means. He scoffs at the idea of a malignant economic imperialism and colonialism, but these days, their ill effects feel all too true.

Let’s just say it: his Left feels more like neo-liberalism. The vapours hanging over his exhortations are pre-lapsarian, before Tony Blair and New Labor fell from grace. We can no long say, can we, that humanitarian crises are unrelated to the failures of unregulated, neo-liberal, rentier capitalism.

He writes a lot about the anti-semitism and the ‘Palestinian question.’ I agree with him on a two state solution, but I don’t agree with his positioning on things like BDS and attitudes towards Israel, but as a Jew (BHL, not me), I give him some leeway here, especially since I am not so blind as to understand that anti-semitism is a much more pervasive problem in France and in Europe, in general, than it is in America (or is worse in America than I know? with Trump’s appropriation of anti-semitic imagery, is it an underappreciated issue here, too?).

He ends (not really; there’s a meandering and surprisingly long epilogue) with a passionate defense of the Universal, by which he means universal human values. He does defend Europe, but is careful not to mean merely an extension of an idea of western values to the world. His Universals are, though, the justification for interventionism. Reading just made me sad, coming on the heels of the Brexit and dissolution of trust between northern and southern Europe (really, between southern Europe and Germany). He becomes oddly religious. Or almost religious. He defends (sort of, and then backs away) Jewish concepts of prophecy and the prophetic tradition as linked to the Universal. I like one phrase, near the end: “The Universal works more by influence than incorporation.” I can get behind such a Universal. It feels kindred to King’s moral arc.

Ultimately, he is a Hitchens like figure. Tied to a time and a place and an ideology that makes him more than normally timely and less than normally timeless. And, while it might be the translation, he lacks Hitchens’ genius for scintillating polemics that make him, still, a worthwhile read for students of essayistic style.

American Marxist


The paragraph is from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, The American Scholar. While reading it before bed the other night, I wondered whether or not it was just or whether he really seemed to be describing the Marxian concept of people’s alienation from the fruit of their labors? Of course, his solution is more spiritual, combined with what might now be described as college town, farmer’s market, DIY liberalism (and Marx never really wrote out the solutions, did he? No, not really).

Christians In America Are Not Being Persecuted; Or, The Only Christians Being Persecuted By Wal-Mart Using ‘Happy Holidays’ Signs Are Exploited Wal-Mart Employees Who Happen To Be Christian


I am a Christian and we are so ridiculously far from being persecuted in this country, that it’s… ridiculous.

The major holy days of my religion are national, federally recognized holidays. Spring break is entirely designed to make sure people have time off during Easter!

Yom Kippur and Songkram are not holidays. Americans do not suddenly feel compelled to say “happy holidays” to each other during Ramadan, nor are we deluged with signs and holiday sales during it.

And about that whole “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” b——t… the entirety of non-Christian America is basically forced to recognize Christmas for an entire month, at least, so “Happy Holidays” does not represent an attack on the Christian faith, but rather a recognition that maybe we could make the state sponsorship of a Christian holiday maybe, slightly, but not really less exclusive of non-Christians. And, frankly, if the Wal-Mart stops using the name of a holiday celebrating the birth of my faith’s messiah to promote the sale of lawnmowers and to celebrate an exploitative system, well that’s okay with me.

The entirety of supposed ‘persecution’ of Christians in America is a response to a half-hearted effort to make our culture less overwhelmingly biased towards one religion.