Friday, December 30, 2011

Anybody Home?

Are we alone in the universe?

By , Published: December 29

Huge excitement last week. Two Earth-size planetsfound orbiting a sun-like star less than a thousand light-years away. This comes two weeks after the stunning announcement of another planet orbiting another star at precisely the right distance — within the “habitable zone” that is not too hot and not too cold — to allow for liquid water and therefore possible life.

Unfortunately, the planets of the right size are too close to their sun, and thus too scorching hot, to permit Earth-like life. And the Goldilocks planet in the habitable zone is too large. At 2.4 times the size of Earth, it is probably gaseous, like Jupiter. No earthlings there. But it’s only a matter of time — perhaps a year or two, estimates one astronomer — before we find the right one of the right size in the right place.

And at just the right time. As the romance of manned space exploration has waned, the drive today is to find our living, thinking counterparts in the universe. For all the excitement, however, the search betrays a profound melancholy — a lonely species in a merciless universe anxiously awaits an answering voice amid utter silence.

That silence is maddening. Not just because it compounds our feeling of cosmic isolation, but because it makes no sense. As we inevitably find more and more exo-planets where intelligent life can exist, why have we found no evidence — no signals, no radio waves — that intelligent life does exist?

It’s called the Fermi Paradox, after the great physicist who once asked, “Where is everybody?” Or as was once elaborated: “All our logic, all our anti- isocentrism, assures us that we are not unique — that they must be there. And yet we do not see them.”

How many of them should there be? The Drake Equation (1961) tries to quantify the number of advanced civilizations in just our own galaxy. To simplify slightly, it’s the number of stars in the galaxy . . .

multiplied by the fraction that form planets . . .

multiplied by the average number of planets in the habitable zone . . .

multiplied by the fraction of these that give birth to life . . .

multiplied by the fraction of these that develop intelligence . . .

multiplied by the fraction of these that produce interstellar communications . . .

multiplied by the fraction of the planet’s lifetime during which such civilizations survive.

Modern satellite data, applied to the Drake Equation, suggest that the number should be very high. So why the silence? Carl Sagan (among others) thought that the answer is to be found, tragically, in the final variable: the high probability that advanced civilizations destroy themselves.

In other words, this silent universe is conveying not a flattering lesson about our uniqueness but a tragic story about our destiny. It is telling us that intelligence may be the most cursed faculty in the entire universe — an endowment not just ultimately fatal but, on the scale of cosmic time, nearly instantly so.

This is not mere theory. Look around. On the very day that astronomers rejoiced at the discovery of the two Earth-size planets, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity urged two leading scientific journals not to publish details of lab experiments that had created a lethal and highly transmittable form of bird flu virus, lest that fateful knowledge fall into the wrong hands.

Wrong hands, human hands. This is not just the age of holy terror but also the threshold of an age of hyper-proliferation. Nuclear weapons in the hands of half-mad tyrants (North Korea) and radical apocalypticists (Iran) are only the beginning. Lethal biologic agents may soon find their way into the hands of those for whom genocidal pandemics loosed upon infidels are the royal road to redemption.

And forget the psychopaths: Why, a mere 17 years after Homo sapiens — born 200,000 years ago — discovered atomic power, those most stable and sober states, America and the Soviet Union, came within inches of mutual annihilation.

Rather than despair, however, let’s put the most hopeful face on the cosmic silence and on humanity’s own short, already baleful history with its new Promethean powers: Intelligence is a capacity so godlike, so protean that it must be contained and disciplined. This is the work of politics — understood as the ordering of society and the regulation of power to permit human flourishing while simultaneously restraining the most Hobbesian human instincts.

There could be no greater irony: For all the sublimity of art, physics, music, mathematics and other manifestations of human genius, everything depends on the mundane, frustrating, often debased vocation known as politics (and its most exacting subspecialty — statecraft). Because if we don’t get politics right, everything else risks extinction.

We grow justly weary of our politics. But we must remember this: Politics — in all its grubby, grasping, corrupt, contemptible manifestations — is sovereign in human affairs. Everything ultimately rests upon it.

Fairly or not, politics is the driver of history. It will determine whether we will live long enough to be heard one day. Out there. By them, the few — the only — who got it right.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Moral Basis For Capitalism: Roger Backhouse and Bradley Bateman

'To convert the business man into the profiteer is to strike a blow at capitalism … The business man is only tolerable so long as his gains can be held to bear some relation to what, roughly and in some sense, his activities have contributed to society."

Can we create a morally acceptable form of capitalism; and if so, what would it look like? Faced with a decade of hardship apparently caused by the greed of a few, people are asking whether bankers are no more than profiteers, and whether inequality has risen too far. Even the former US treasury secretary, Lawrence Summers, and former head of the CBI Richard Lambert, have said we need to do better on inequality.

The quote above, however, comes not from anyone today but from John Maynard Keynes, in 1923, during the postwar turmoil in the financial markets. There was hyperinflation in Germany, a collapse of the Mark, chaos on the foreign exchanges as prices had gone up and down, and violent fluctuations in employment.

Like many of those who turned to communism and fascism, Keynes had strong moral objections to capitalism – but he consistently repudiated socialism, communism, and fascism, for he believed that capitalism was essential both to create high standards of living and to guarantee personal liberty. In effect he sought a capitalist revolution.

For Keynes, the sustainability of capitalism was not only a technical question but a moral question – because if capitalism is to survive, people have to believe it is a system worth supporting. His priority was to eliminate unemployment. It was also a moral priority to design an international monetary system that would reduce the chances of capitalism descending into chaos again. And to do that, economists had to grapple with difficult technical details, but their motivation was a vision of a better capitalism.

We face the same challenge today – to develop a morally acceptable form of capitalism. As Keynes feared might happen, much business is now seen as no more than profiteering. Many people object to the bonus culture of the banking system because they don't believe those bonuses are earned. We have also learned that inequality not only undermines the legitimacy of capitalism (that was Keynes's concern) but it has corrosive effects: unequal societies are unhappier, less healthy, and have more crime.

We cannot wind the clock back, but we should not be afraid to look to the past for ideas. It is hard to make a clear distinction between profiteering and legitimate business activity and yet, throughout history, there have always been limits on what can be bought and sold in the market. Perhaps the boundaries between legal and illegal activities need to be reconsidered; perhaps derivatives need to be better regulated – or simply banned from banks' portfolios. Creating a more stable banking system so that banks do not need bailouts would help maintain high employment and tackle inequality.

We can also look abroad. A decade ago it was common to look to Scandinavia or Germany and to compare their institutions with ours. Now "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism has lost its shine, perhaps we should reconsider whether we can learn, for instance, from Germany, with its system of industrial democracy and a banking system geared up to support industry, or try to find out why the gap between rich and poor is much narrower in most of Europe.

One reason for the problems we face today is that we have stopped seeing taxes as an essential institution in a capitalist economy for if taxes could be raised, especially on those who can most afford to pay them, public services would not have to be cut. We should see taxes as an integral part of a moral capitalist economy, providing health, education and social care outside the market. People should not be afraid to join Warren Buffett in saying the rich should pay more tax. The "Tobin tax" on financial transactions should not be seen as a way to raise funds for the euro, but as a tax that could help stabilise the financial system and as a "Robin Hood" tax.

Such changes need to be analysed carefully, for technical details do matter, but they need to be on the agenda: if we are to save capitalism, as we must if we want prosperity and liberty, we must face up to its moral failings. Unless we do this, we will be unable to imagine a better future, let alone work out how to achieve it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Romney Bounces Back

O Lucky Mitt

John Heileman/Dec 23, 2011/NewYork

The first votes in the Republican presidential contest were two weeks from being cast when Mitt Romney arrived in Bedford, New Hampshire, to give a speech with the same title as his campaign slogan: Believe in America.

In the fifteen minutes the address consumed, Romney declared his belief not just in America but in the notion that our founding principles are what made America the greatest nation in the history of the Earth principles that include the pursuit of happiness, which is the foundation of a society that is based on ability, not birthright.

Romney also talked about Barack Obama, who, according to Romney, sees America differently and believes in an entitlement society in which government should create equal outcomes.President Obama has reversed John Kennedy’s call for sacrifice, Romney thundered. He would have Americans now ask, What can the country do for you?’ 

Romney’s speech was billed by his advisers as his closing argument before the GOP nomination fight kicks off in earnest with the Iowa caucuses on January 3. But you would be forgiven for thinking it sounded more like the opening salvo in a general election. Romney drew no explicitor, really, implicitcontrasts with any of his Republican rivals, training his fire exclusively on the Democrat in the Oval Office. His focus reflected a strategy from which his campaign has rarely deviated all year long.

But it was also born of a confidence in Team Romney so deep it borders on serene: that the nomination is, if not in entirely the bag, then about to stuffed there soon.

The dynamics couldn’t be better for us, says a senior Romney strategist. I don’t see any scenario where we’re not the nominee.

At the start of December, this degree of self-assurance would have seemed not merely misplaced but a sign of mental illness. Newt Gingrich was surging, Romney was reeling, and the political-media class was predicting, with its own demented brand of amnesiac certitude, that the day of reckoning had come for Mitt’s (supposedly) fatally flawed candidacy. On the cover of Time, his face was pictured beside the half-mocking, half-pitying headline, Why Don’t They Like Me?

What a difference a month has made. At this writing a few days before Christmas, Romney has reassumed his perch in the catbird seat: level with the deflating Gingrich in the national polls, far ahead of him (and everyone else) in New Hampshire, and quite possibly on the verge of pulling out a win over the rising Ron Paul in Iowa. Romney and his people deserve much of the credit for this turn of events. But an equally large share belongs with the fact that, rather than staging a proper nominating contest, the GOP finds itself hosting what Republican strategist Alex Castellanos calls the world’s greatest clusterfuck.

In other words, Romney has had his share of unearned good fortune. And though the lack of affection for him in his party’s base might yet come back to bite him, at the moment he appears to be on the verge of proving an eternal verity of politics: Better to be lucky than loved.

The first visible sign of the Romney rebound came in the final Republican debate of the year in Sioux City, Iowa, on December 15. The national press corps had flocked to the northwest corner of the state in the expectation of a Donnybrook. But apart from the food in the filing center�from a local joint called La Juanita, whose tacos should be enough to persuade any Republican possessing taste buds to embrace the causes of amnesty and open borders�the event provided little satisfaction for reporters.

Romney, in particular, eschewed attacks on Gingrich or any of his other opponents, instead heaving brickbats at the president and massaging the right’s erogenous zones. (On Obama’s request that Iran return a downed U.S. drone: A foreign policy based on pretty please? You have got to be kidding.�) After a less than stellar showing five days earlier at the ABC News debate in Des Moines, he was back on his game.

The next morning, Romney conducted a town-hall meeting at a nearby steel plant, flashing his private-sector bona fides, and then flew off to South Carolina, where he received the coveted endorsement of the state’s governor, Nikki Haley. In the days that followed, his campaign unfurled a great many more such shows of support: from Bob Dole, Illinois senator Mark Kirk, and, for us New Yorkers, a slew of local Republican leaders. On top of that, he snared the backing of three newspapersthe Des Moines Register, the Portsmouth Herald (of New Hampshire), and the Oklahoman (the Oklahoma City daily) with widely diverse political leanings, allowing his campaign to argue for the ideological breadth of Romney’s appeal.

While Romney was gathering steam, all the other Republican candidates were chugging along in Iowa or New Hampshire�all except for Gingrich, that is. And where was he? Back at home in Virginia, watching his wife, Callista, play the French horn in the City of Fairfax Band; signing books in the Mount Vernon bookshop; and mugging for the cameras with a person dressed up as Ellis the Elephant, a character in Callista’s illustrated children’s book.

Gingrich’s bizarro campaign priorities and especially his glaring neglect of Iowa, which is critical to his prospects, raised eyebrows and brought forth harsh criticism from local and national Republicans. Apparently stung, Newt hightailed it back to the state and announced that following the examples of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum he would crisscross Iowa on a 44-city bus tour in the days leading up to the caucuses; he also took the opportunity to chastise his rivals for the barrage of negative ads pummeling him over the Iowa airwaves. It’s candidly very disappointing,� Gingrich tut-tutted, to see some of my friends who are running who have so much negative junk to hurl at him.

Put aside the fact that, coming from Gingrich, one of the progenitors of the modern practice of scorched-earth attack politics, this complaint was pretty rich. More important is the fact that his failure to respond in an effective way to the withering assault on his character and record�by Romney’s and Perry’s super-PACS and Paul’s campaign�was almost as damaging to him as the fusillade itself.

In the space of two weeks, Gingrich saw his poll numbers in Iowa sliced in half, from the low thirties to the mid-teens, and his standing fall from first place to third or even fourth, behind Paul, Romney, and Perry. Through it all, Gingrich continued to insist that he would run a relentlessly positive� campaign, and, who knows, given the famous Iowa nice proclivities of the Hawkeye State’s electorate, the gambit might yet work. But it was also a sign of desperation, of a candidate so drastically underfunded he has no choice but to stay positive.
I don’t see any scenario where we’re not the nominee, says a senior Romney strategist.

All of which brings us back to Romney, whose available resources�between his campaign, his super-PACS, and his personal fortune�dwarf not just Gingrich’s but those of the rest of the field. All year long, the looming question for the former Massachusetts governor and his team was how they would react when faced with a mortal threat. And while the Gingrich surge turned out to be, in the words of John McCain’s 2008 chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, more of a summer squall than a Cat-5 hurricane, it was still, quoting Schmidt again, a threshold test the campaign had to pass if it’s going to win it all.

In fact, the test for Team Romney came in two partsand it passed both. The first was whether the Romney operation would and could do what was required to halt, and ideally reverse, Gingrich’s rise. In any campaign, there are moments where you need to swing the bat and club someone who is a threat,� says a senior strategist for another Republican presidential runner. �It’s easy to talk about but not every candidate or campaign is actually able to do it, and they were.

They marshaled their forces, deployed their surrogates, and spent the money necessary to cut Gingrich’s guts out. It’s a credit to their toughness.

The second test was for Romney himself: Under pressure from Gingrich, would he wet the bed? He did not. �There was that debate where Mitt stood up and said, I’m not a bomb thrower’  in reaction to Gingrich’s incendiary claim that the Palestinians are an invented people and that showed great discipline and confidence, says Castellanos, who advised Romney in his previous White House bid. There were times in 2008 when things got hairy and he went off the rails. But this time, Gingrich didn’t faze him; he didn’t hit the panic button. He’s emerged as a much stronger and more mature candidate.

Yet Romney has also benefited enormously from forces outside of his control. Given his weakness with the hard-core base and conservatives more broadly�a weakness illustrated vividly by his inability to break through a ceiling on his support in the mid-twenties in national and non�New Hampshire state polling�most analysts expected that, in time, the anti-Romney vote would consolidate around one viable alternative on the right. But, to date, that has not happened, in no small part because the available options have proved serially to be, well, somewhere between faintly and screamingly ludicrous.

�Who would’ve thought that Romney would get to this point without having a crapload of negative ads dropped on his head,� says a veteran Republican consultant. �It’s not like there’s not any material out there to work with, after all. But the other candidates have no money, so they can’t afford even to do the research, let alone pay for the airtime to really hurt him. And then, on top of that, they’re all incompetent, so they’ve wound up splitting the anti-Romney vote and opening up the door for him to win this thing real quick.

Nowhere has the fracturing of the field been more evident�and more potentially consequential�than in Iowa. In 2008, it was the coalescence of the Evangelical vote around Mike Huckabee that allowed him to whip Romney in the caucuses and in so doing effectively cripple his campaign.

This year, however, the Christian right has so far split its support among Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry, and Santorum, while at the same time no Establishment challenger to Romney exists. In such a fragmented field, it is possible, and even likely, that winning on caucus night will entail capturing less than 30 percent of the vote. (In 2008, Huckabee won with 34.) And that in turn explains why either Paul or Romney, barring a sudden efflorescence by one of the second-tier candidates after Christmas, has the highest odds of taking the prize�for while both have ceilings on their support, both also have relatively high floors, along with the organizational strength to turn out their supporters.

Either scenario is, of course, great news for Romney. A victory in Iowa by Paul would set up as Romney’s chief competitor going forward a candidate whose views are too far out of line with too much of the Republican Party for him ever to claim the GOP nomination. And a victory by Romney would send him hurtling at breakneck speed into New Hampshire and almost certain triumph there�a result that would more or less hand him the nomination before Republicans in 48 other states have even voted.

If things do indeed unfold this way, Romney will stand as unquestionably the luckiest nominee in modern Republican history�and also the most curious. For most of the year, he floated above the fray, not running for president so much as hovering over the sad and comic spectacle of his rivals’ imploding one by one.

It was enough for him to appear presidential. Enough for him to debate well. Enough for him to avoid disaster. Just as in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king, in a contest with a bunch of clowns the guy without the funny nose and floppy shoes wins the day. But before Romney and his people get too giddy, they should remember one thing: Barack Obama, for all his flaws and weaknesses, won’t be wearing any greasepaint, either.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

George Will on Gingrich's Last Decade and a Half

Excerpt from Will's op ed in WaPo of December 23, 2011:

In eight of the 14 years between his service in the Continental Congress and the presidency, George Washington kept busy winning the Revolutionary War. And in the 17 years between John Quincy Adams’s service in the Senate and the presidency, he was minister to Russia and to Great Britain and secretary of state. Since 1998, Gingrich has been a businessman and a historian for Freddie Mac.

Jeffrey Goldberg on the Arab Spring

Bloomberg December 23, 2011

There was a time in Cairo, just a few months ago, when it was considered slightly outre to suggest that Egypt’s religious conservatives might take advantage of Hosni Mubarak’s demise to engineer their way into power.

We were told that battalions of tweeting secularists were steering this revolution, and that the people of Egypt did not want sharia, or Islamic law, to govern their lives. They simply wanted freedom. This was Selma on the Nile.

One night in a ragged, badly lit cafe just off the square, one of the revolution’s “Google kids” -- not an actual employee but someone who could plausibly be employed by Google - - explained to me how the Mubarak regime manipulated Western opinion. “They wanted you to believe that the only thing stopping the Muslim Brothers from taking over the whole country was them,” he said. “This is how they scared you. Then you gave them guns they used to kill us.”

Both statements were true. Mubarak did invoke the specter of Islamism to Western visitors; a dozen years ago he told me, “My people expect a firm hand. If we don’t lead strongly, they will turn to the mosque for leadership.” And the regime’s thugs did deploy American weaponry against the demonstrators in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt. This was America’s shame. It is also a shame -- a lesser shame, a shame of poor analysis--that the Arab Uprising went entirely unpredicted in Washington and elsewhere. To compound the shame, few people, even in the midst of the uprisings, forecast the rise of Islamist parties to power not only in Egypt but also in Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and coming soon, inSyria, when the Assad regime finally falls.

Dignity and Respect

In many ways the Arab Uprising -- or Arab Awakening, or Arab Spring; freedom means we can call it what we want -- should thrill the American soul. Millions of Arabs, their fear of torture and persecution finally conquered by anger at the regimes that oppressed them, rose up and, in countless acts of astonishing bravery, defeated or are attempting to defeat the despots and the massive secret police apparatuses under their command. The protesters sought dignity and respect and the freedom to choose their own path, and these are things that resonate with Americans.

Then came a problem. It turns out Mubarak was right. The only thing standing between Egypt and the rise of fundamentalist Islam was … Mubarak. The path the Arab people seem to want, at least for the moment, is the path of Islam.

The big news out of Cairo late this fall was not the Muslim Brotherhood’s triumph in parliamentary elections, even though the Brotherhood-affiliated party took 37 percent of the popular vote. The main news was made by the more extreme Nour Party, which is affiliated with Egypt’s Salafists. The Salafists, who believe that the world should be made over to look as it did during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, took almost 25 percent of the popular vote. In other words, the majority of voters in the Arab world’s most populous country chose either a party whose motto is “Islam is the Solution” or a party that believes that medieval Arabia is an appropriate state model.

There have been two predictable Western responses to the rise of Islamism in Egypt and across the Arab world: panic and rationalization. Panic is self-explanatory: The Muslim Brotherhood and its more radical cousins are, generally speaking, anti-Western, anti-Semitic, hostile to Christians in their midst, and have a view of women that most Westerners find abhorrent. It is not difficult for creative minds to place the Muslim Brotherhood on a continuum that ends at al-Qaeda, even though al-Qaeda was created in part as a corrective to what Osama bin Laden & Co. viewed as the unforgivable moderation of the Brotherhood. The panic felt in some quarters is precisely what men such as Mubarak, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, and even the late-stage Muammar Qaddafi in Libya hoped to cultivate in their Western interlocutors.

Rationalizing Fundamentalism

The other predictable response among Westerners has been to rationalize the rise of Muslim fundamentalism by arguing that the Muslim Brothers and even the Salafists are not the bogeymen we think they are. Scratch a Muslim Brother, the argument goes, and you’ll find the Middle Eastern analog of a European Christian Democrat. This argument elides the misogyny and anti- Semitism of Islamists, not to mention their embrace of various baroque and pathetic conspiracy theories, including the notion that the attacks of 9/11 were plotted by the Mossad or the CIA. On the other hand, the Egyptian Brothers no longer have to look to Iran to see how Islamists govern; they can look, and are looking, toTurkey, where the ruling AKP party has come closest to maintaining a commitment to traditional Islam without turning its back on the West or completely cutting off the oxygen to liberal-minded secularists.

A set of less predictable responses to the upheaval in the Middle East would include, at the outset, a strong dose of analytical humility. No one knows how these newly empowered Muslim political parties might govern. Never having governed before, the parties themselves don’t know. There are reasons for conditional anguish: The (now contracting) economy of Egypt can’t afford to be led by people who believe “Islam is the solution,” and it certainly can’t be brought into the 21st century by leaders who want to build a bridge to the 7th. But no one has yet offered compelling proof that the Brotherhood would break Egypt’s treaty obligations or press its views through violence.

Another less predictable response might come in the form of fatalism: What will happen in the Middle East is going to happen. The crisis in the region this year was, indirectly, of America’s making: On the advice of the camp of cynics known as foreign policy realists, successive U.S. Administrations believed that the best American policy in the Middle East was to make alliance with the most amenable Arab despots, who would ensure stability. Well, stability turned out to be chimerical. The Arab masses, less interested in geopolitical stability than in dignity and free expression, have rebutted the realist argument.

Military Hangs On

All this assumes Egypt’s brutal military will actually cede power to elected parties. Either way, the outcomes won’t be determined by the U.S. The people of the Arab world are going to spend the next 10 (or 20 or 30) years deciding for themselves how they wish to be governed. It will often be messy and unpleasant, but in the end, once they complete their experiments in theocratic rule (or revert back to other forms of authoritarianism), I’m reasonably sure (as an American optimist, rather than as a fatalist) that they will turn to a type of liberal democracy informed by faith, but without the intolerance associated with fundamentalism.

This is not to say the West must ignore the Arabs as they sort out the future. The U.S. still has the ability to shape certain outcomes -- the intervention in Libya is a case in point -- and protect those who need protecting. (The aggrieved Christians of Egypt spring to mind.) And the U.S. should work more assiduously to speed Assad’s downfall in Syria, which would leave America’s main nemesis in the Middle East--Iran--without an Arab friend. The uprisings offer opportunities for the U.S. None is greater than the chance to see the Arab world find its way to freedom, if we only have the patience and fortitude to watch as it detours through fundamentalism.


Two points:

1. Some self-indictment here? Maybe Goldberg didn't see it, but I read not a few analysts, like Barry Rubin, David Frum, Marty Peretz and other unexcitable, non romantic types who predicted exactly the rise of the Brotherhood in Egypt.

2. There's no call for optimism as to the emergence of liberal democracy in about 25 years time. This kind of prediction I diagnose as self-mollification. No one knows what the next 25 years will bring, and predictions are fatuous. Let's watch and observe, hoping our governments do the best they can.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Their Sex Life by A.R. Ammons

Their Sex Life,

One failure on

Top of another

William Giraldi on Adam Kirsch on Lionel Trilling

....What makes Trilling such a complex subject is not his outstanding intellect that insisted on complexity and pluralism, but his steadfast resistance to being pigeonholed and his seeming contradictions of character. A career academic and critic, he was also, in Barzun’s words, “the very negation of an academic critic” in his freedom from Eliotic dogmatizing and method-making. A cloistered, lifelong New Yorker who got itchy whenever he left the five boroughs, he deigned to speak for all of human society in his infamous use of “we.” An unbelieving Jew reared in a conservatively Jewish household, Trilling held that being Jewish was a social rather than religious or cultural enterprise. An apolitical citizen who walked the middle road because “between is the only honest place to be,” he was a powerfully political reader and writer who contended that literature offered badly needed political and moral instruction. And, most splitting of all, Trilling the Apollonian critic of refinement yearned to be a Dionysian artist up to his elbows in the sweet blood of creativity...


Dr. Johnson’s criterion for lasting criticism: the conversion of mere opinion into universal knowledge.

Dr. Johnson’s criterion for lasting criticism: the conversion of mere opinion into universal knowledge. (William Giraldi)

Me: this is so good I had to repeat it twice.