What is populism? The most serious mistake in trying to answer this question lies in the (usually unspoken) assumption that where we have a single word or term there must be a single corresponding concept and that the word will therefore refer to a singular definite phenomenon.
For those living in the United States the conditions of American politics will, for obvious reasons, be of some interest. But given the economic, political, and military power of the US it is not surprising to discover that American politics is scrutinized all over the world. When one looks at the International media one notices how much attention they pay to American affairs.
Does this mean that American politics also has a particular interest for political philosophy?
There are plenty of reasons why we should be interested in China. It is the world’s most populous country with more than a billion people and it presents thus (together with India) a singular challenge as to how a state of such magnitude can be governed.
Joshua Green, Devil's Bargain. Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising, Penguin Books 2017, republished with a new preface 2018.
Joshua Green's book has been somewhat overshadowed by the publication of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury but it adds significantly to Wolff's account and corrects it at some important points. It tells in fascinating detail the story of bad bargain the American people accepted when they elected Trump.
Philosophers have written copiously about politics. There is, moreover, no sharp dividing line between “philosophical” writings on politics and other kinds of writing on this topic. So there is no end to what one might read under the heading of “political philosophy”. Here is a list of 15 significant texts, some classical and some modern, some short and some long, some famous and some not so famous, some highly readable and some very demanding. The selection is, of course, mine; others might add to it or subtract from it. I will add some comments on what makes these writings interesting and important.
What's happening in China? On Sunday, February 25, the Xinhua news agency reported: "The Communist Party of China Central Committee proposed to remove the expression that the President and Vice-President of the People's Republic of China "shall serve no more than two consecutive terms" from the country's Constitution." Some commentators called this a bombshell.
Imperfect cognitive states are characteristic of social and political life. But these are not the cognitive states our epistemologists have in view. We need to consider, in particular, states of uncertainty and disorientation since those are now so prevalent in our politics.
Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss. The Lives of the Frankfurt School, Verso, London 2017
Poor Frankfurt School. Turn to the internet these days and you realize that the handful of German professors who go under that name are being held responsible for almost everything bad that has happened to society since … when? !990? 1970? 1945? Or even 1920? All these dates are being tossed around on those feverish websites. Neo-Marxism, cultural Marxism, feminism, multiculturalism, sexual excess, postmodernism, political correctness, and all in all the entire “Western decline” are due to their nefarious doings.
We have learned that the ocean waves pulverize our plastic debris which is then consumed as dust by the fish we eat. The circle is closed and the poisons we have created come back to us in this altered form. The internet pulverizes human knowledge and feeds it back to us as unconnected bits of information. Our minds are bound to be ultimately overwhelmed by all this new kind of poisonous debris.
Digital technology has had the peculiar effect of atomizing human knowledge and this in two ways. It has favored the creation of small bits of information which are passed around in digital messages. And it has overwhelmed our ability to concentrate on extended lines of reasoning. There is too much information, tempting us to move quickly from one bit to another. We are distracted by all these bits of knowledge that are offered to us so enticingly on all the websites of the world. This is already showing disastrously in our students who find it increasingly difficult to read whole books. We feed them instead with power point slides that contain carefully selected bits of information. Even this blog illustrates what is happening. Blogs are signals of the decreasing attention spans of those who write them and those who consume them.
There is much debate about climate change, but changes to our environment are nor limited to the weather.
Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury. Inside the Trump White House, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2018
On August 8 of last year, Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” His words were meant to cow the North Koreans into abandoning their nuclear and missile arsenal but until now, at least, they appear to have been only idle threats. Michael Wolff has now adopted the phrase as the title of his book on the first nine months of the Trump presidency – surely, a cleverly ironic choice. For since his election Trump has proved to be more a source of combative words than of real achievements.
Populism is the political fashion word of the moment. But do we know what the word stands for?
Should we worry about the alt-right?
January 21, 2018 - Over the course of the last twelve months, both laymen and experts have sought to diagnose Donald Trump. They have been asking again and again after each one of his many bewildering tweets: What is wrong with the man psychologically? I am interested in another kind of diagnosis. My question is what Trump’s elections means politically...
We must keep an eye on China, if we are to understand the future of global politics.
An article in the South China Morning Post drew my attention to Zuriaake, an intriguing and unsettling Chinese black metal band:
January 19, 2018 - Our sharpest break with the tradition has come with the realization of the disunity of knowledge (of thought, the mind, the world, and pretty much else that concerns philosophy). We are no longer trying to construct “a system;” we are not looking for “the foundations” of a single structure; we have abandoned the belief in completeness and in our capacity to make everything cohere.
Raymond Geuss, Changing the Subject. Philosophy from Socrates to Adorno, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass. 2017
Does philosophy have a future? That is the question Raymond Geuss asks in his latest book. And the answer he gives is unsettling. Philosophy, as we have known it, may, in fact, have already come to an end behind our backs – sometime in the second half of the twentieth century - without any of us realizing this.