NOTES ON CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY

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Trump v. Kennan, Part 2

 

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Still image from Hell on Wheels

Part One is here. I thought about scrapping this post but decided against that only because I’ve been watching historical drama tv, and despite its flaws, Hell on Wheels’ dramatization of the building of the first transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s underscores in my view two things: 1) Trump will never be Thomas C. Durant, 2) Trump’s “Make America Great Again” pseudo-gospel, which is rightfully challenged by BLM / LGBTQ / feminist / immigrant rights et al activists (whose America should be “great” again?), is an illusion from the perspective of the rise and fall of empires… (more…)

Trump v. Kennan, Part I

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George Kennan, 1990

Donald Trump’s pledge to renew a conservative Americanism–“We will stop apologizing for America, and we will start celebrating America”returned my attention to Cold War diplomat and realist George F. Kennan, and the below passage from Kennan’s 1984 Grinnell lecture “American Diplomacy and the Military,” collected in the IR classic American Diplomacy (The University of Chicago Press). To what extent does Kennan’s realism, i.e., recognize our foreign policy limitations, restrain our overmilitarizing impulses, situate its acts of national contrition in line with a damaging exceptionalist historiography that provides the conservative intellectual substrate upon which Trump can perform his cheap and hateful populism for the “love America or leave it” crowd? I’ll take up this issue in following installments. 

 

George Kennan in 1984 (with emphasis on the first half):

So our record is far from being only one of failures. On balance, we have little to be ashamed about. The rest of the world can be thankful that if a great world power had to arise on this magnificent North American territory in the last three centuries (and this could not have been avoided), it was one as peaceably and generously minded as this one. The offenses we have offered to our world environment since the establishment of our independence have been ones arising as a rule not from any desire on our part to bring injury to others or to establish power over them, but from our attempts to strike noble postures and to impress ourselves. But just as it does the human individual more good to reflect upon his failings than upon his virtues, so, too, I think the national society has more to learn from its failures than from its successes. The contemplation of the failures induces humility–and that is something we Americans could well use more of. The contemplation of the successes leads only too easily to the pride that goes before a fall.

 

Six questions

It is only natural to have already questions in mind before reading a text of Capital’s rank, i.e., a text (and author) which has entered mainstream political, economic, and social thought to the extent that one already “thinks” “exegetically.” These are the questions which I currently have in mind:

  1. What can Capital (19th Century industrial capitalism) teach us post-financial crash, in the current wake of Brexit and Greece’s continuing economic crisis, climate change, neoliberalism et al.? In other words, is Capital a relic of a failed ideology and radical and brutal social experiment of the 20th Century, or as is often the case in philosophy, a source of invaluable instruction when modified by awareness of our contemporary hermeneutical situation?

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The Coast of Utopia

Jason Butler Harner, Ethan Hawke and Adam Dannheisser in Tom Stoppard's trilogy The Coast of Utopia

On Hegel

Lenin: "It is impossible completely to understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic. Consequently, a half-century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!"