Monday, July 2, 2012

This Week at the Library (2 July)

Summertime, and the livin' is easy....

Well, not quite. At the moment we're experiencing a heat wave, and in 110-degree heat, the livin' is anything but easy. After nine o'clock the  soaring temperature makes it impossible to do anything outside, and unless you have a soundly insulated house, the inside isn't too much easier. What I wouldn't give for a cool thundershower...

This Wednesday, on the Fourth of July, we in the United States observe Independence Day. I've been marking the occasions in my own fashion by orienting my reading. I began with Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers, an excellent bit of history I've already commented on, and will soon finish The Good Citizen, a collection of essays on the meaning of citizenship. I've also been reading from an anthology of letters, speeches, and related documents penned by the "founding fathers", called Our Sacred Honor. Expect comments on that to follow in the next day or so.

I'm also half-tempted to tack on The Glorious Fourth to this week's reading, in light of the recent revival of my interest in the American Civil War. The title refers to 4 July 1863, a date that sealed the fate of the ill-born southern confederacy. On that day, Lee's shattered army was driven in retreat from Gettysburg, a battle that marked the turning point of the war. On the same day, in the west, the city of Vicksburg fell after a long siege to General Grant's army -- giving the Union complete command of the Mississippi and dividing the south in two. I say half-tempted, I'm somewhat leery about committing to it in light of the fact that it will soon be time for my Bastille Day reading. The first book, Alistair Horne's The Age of Napoleon, has already arrived in the post. The French reads seem like a lot of fun, and I could use some levity. Lately my reading has tended toward the serious. Although I'm currently nibbling on A People's History of the Civil War, which some kind soul donated to the library last week and which I immediately checked out, I may save it for later -- for as interesting as it is, by Abraham Lincoln's beard it is also grim. I need some light reading, something heartening -- so I'll be looking for some science reads. Science's wonders are always refreshing for my spirits.

"I am not a Federalist, because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatsoever. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all." - Thomas Jefferson,  as quoted in Founding Brothers

"Every human being, my dear, must thus be viewed according to what it is good for, for none of us, no not one, is perfect, and were we to love none who had imperfections, this world would be a desart for our love. All we can do is make the best of our friends, love and cherish what is good in them, and keep out of the way what is bad." - Thomas Jefferson, as quoted in Our Sacred Honor

"Eventually Americans will learn that the fast and hectic pace of urban life is not due to modernity but to bad urban planning. Life is so badly staged in our time [...].  [...] If people more fully understood that many of their problems either neither of their own making nor amenable to self-help but stemmed from the 'mess that is man-made America', personal problems would become political issues."  - Roy Oldenburg, The Great Good Place

"Meanwhile, the Right is in this incredibly contradictory position. It has positioned itself as the champion of the pain that people feel because of the ethos of selfishness and materialism. Paradoxically the Right is the champion of the ethos of ethos of selfishness and materialism in the world of work. With regard to the economy, the Right claims that everybody ought to pursue their own individual self-interest, that every corporation ought to pursue their own self-interest, and that no moral responsibility ought to be imposed upon them. In other words, the Right is totally opposed to any government, collective or social movement that restricts the self-interest of corporations or tells them that they ought to be morally or socially responsible. The same Right that articulates this ethos [...] simultaneously positions itself as the force concerned about the pain that people feel when they bring that every ethos home."  - Michael Lerner, "The Crisis of Values in America: its Manipulation by the Right and its Invisibility to the Left". From The Good Citizen.

In the nineteenth century, the reigning public philosophy was what he calls a republican political theory in which liberty depends on sharing in self-government and sharing "require[d] a formative politics, a politics that cultivates in citizens the qualities of character that self-government requires." [...] As corporations increased in power, a new public philosophy emerged, what Sandel terms the neutralized liberal approach to freedom, or the "procedural republic". The central idea of that philosophy is that government should not affirm, through its policies or laws, any particular conception of the good life; instead it should provide a neutral framework of rights within people can choose their own values and ends.  Rather than liberty depending on "our capacity as citizens to share in the shaping the forces that govern our collective destiny," it now depended on our capacity as persons to choose our values and ends for ourselves.   - Barbara Christian, "The Crime of Innocence". From The Good Citizen.

"Incessant and excessive promotion of the individual and the idea that the good life is an individual accomplishment discourages collective effort, discounts collective effort, and obscures the fact that many good and necessary things can only result from collective effort." - Oldenburg, The Great Good Place


  1. sc said: in light of the recent revival of my interest in the American Civil War.

    I seem to be developing something similar so it will be interesting what we can cross fertilise....

  2. Indeed! Iron sharpenth iron, and bibliophiles deepen one another's to-be-read piles...!

  3. I've just ordered an out-of-print book by the same guy who wrote the book on The Monitor I reviewed a little while back. It's on the Confederate Navy. I'll probably be reading it minutes after it hits my doormat!


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