Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Andrew Sullivan Takes on Trump the Demagogue

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Ross Douthat starts the conversation
Ross Douthat's recent blog entry commented on a piece by Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine about Donald Trump. Douthat's piece was interesting; Sullivan's article essential. 



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Andrew Sullivan: a medium for Plato
Sullivan, for those not acquainted with him, is an emigre from the UK to the US who's been in the thick of American political discourse since the early 1980s. He served a stint as editor of The New Republic, and he became a prolific blogger at The Atlantic, The Dish, and then on his own website, until he decided to hang it up 2015. He considers himself a conservative, but he supported Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012, and he was an early and influential supporter of gay marriage from a time when it seemed unthinkable. Among other attributes, Sullivan is gay, Roman Catholic, a Harvard Ph.D. in government, and a student of Michael Oakeshott, the mid-20th-century British philosopher. Sullivan has been known to change is mind about some subjects, such as the Iraq War and Republicans for president. Having recently joined the staff of New York Magazine, he has written perhaps the most singularly impressive article on Trump and Trump's movement that I've come across. While I'll provide some excerpts and commentary below, I urge you to read it in full (here). 

Shall I compare thee to . . . ? Hmm, could be, doc. I see some likeness.
The place to start is Sullivan's conclusion: 

For Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.
But while I start my consider of Sullivan at the end, Sullivan starts his analysis at the beginning--with Plato. Plato experienced the Greek democratic polis and as a result of his acquaintance with democracy he wrote The Republic, which includes a scorching critique of democracy. Sullivan summarizes and quotes Plato's portrait of a demagogue: 

He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess—“too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery” — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.

Does this remind you of anyone? Sullivan echoes Plato's complaint that democracy can develop--tends to develop--an inordinate trend toward equality that jettisons authority and leaves elites bereft of power. (I think that Sullivan could have mined the Federalist Papers for similar insights, but he notes that they'd read their Plato, so I quibble.) 

Sullivan recognizes that elites can abuse their power, and he accuses American elites of having done so. He writes: 

An American elite that has presided over massive and increasing public debt, that failed to prevent 9/11, that chose a disastrous war in the Middle East, that allowed financial markets to nearly destroy the global economy, and that is now so bitterly divided the Congress is effectively moot in a constitutional democracy: “We Respectables” deserve a comeuppance. The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force.
While I think that Sullivan overestimates the importance of "massive and increasing public debt" (Obama has reduced it significantly and of itself it's not a pressing economic issue), his underlying point remains valid: American elites have let down a segment of the population; in particular, white, working class males. Sullivan and I realize that for many, sympathy with white males in our society hardly seems warranted, but for a significant segment of them, it is. Sullivan does an excellent job of discussing what's happening to this group--the core of the Trump constituency--and how they have arrived at a place where Trump's demagoguery became attractive to them. 

Sullivan draws on the work of Sinclair Lewis in his 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here and Eric Hoffer's The True Believer (1951) to reveal the psychology and motivations behind mass movements. These references work to great effect. Sullivan also contends that Trump's movement has "fascist elements" but doesn't qualify as true fascism, at least yet. I agree with his assessment. Trump, at least for now, is more Berlusconi than Mussolini, but we can't be complacent. I appreciate Sullivan's careful parsing of terms such as "fascism" because such parsing is essential to meaningful analysis and dialogue. 

Yet, Sullivan also knows how to craft an insightful observation:

Tyrants, like mob bosses, know the value of a smile: Precisely because of the fear he’s already generated, you desperately want to believe in his new warmth. It’s part of the good-cop-bad-cop routine that will be familiar to anyone who has studied the presidency of Vladimir Putin.
It's Putinism more than fascism or Berlusconi-like antics that I fear from Trump. 

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Putin & Berlusconi: Trump role models? 


Finally, I can't resist this insight from Plato that Sullivan channels: 

[L]ike all tyrants, he [Trump] is utterly lacking in self-control. Sleeping a handful of hours a night, impulsively tweeting in the early hours, improvising madly on subjects he knows nothing about, Trump rants and raves as he surfs an entirely reactive media landscape. Once again, Plato had his temperament down: A tyrant is a man “not having control of himself [who] attempts to rule others”; a man flooded with fear and love and passion, while having little or no ability to restrain or moderate them; a “real slave to the greatest fawning,” a man who “throughout his entire life ... is full of fear, overflowing with convulsions and pains.” Sound familiar? Trump is as mercurial and as unpredictable and as emotional as the daily Twitter stream. And we are contemplating giving him access to the nuclear codes.
Sullivan has written an exceptionally perceptive and persuasive piece, and I join him in urging everyone concerned with the well-being of our Republic to take heed of his warning. This is no longer an issue of party victory or a time to gloat over the collapse of any semblance of respectability in the GOP. It's more serious than that. Much more serious. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Eduardo Porter Overstates His Case

Eduardo Porter in “Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Climate Change” blasts those on “the left” who question the use of nuclear power to mitigate the discharge of carbon that contributes to global warming. His allegation and its premises require careful consideration.

Porter aims his case against those on the left who oppose or doubt the need to adopt nuclear power as the “the only technology with an established track record of generating electricity at scale while emitting virtually no greenhouse gasses.” Porter quotes Netscape founder Marc Andreessen that “the left is turning anti-science” and has become “reactionary”, with Andreessen citing resistance to the use of genetically modified foods and the expression of doubts about the displacement of workers by technology as two examples a “reactionary” trend. Porter, by citing the quote (and in the remainder of the article) apparently shares this view. Porter cites survey results that 65% of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science support nuclear power. He fails to reveal or discuss the grounds upon which the 65% supporting the use of nuclear energy or the 35% who oppose it base their decisions. Porter even notes—suggesting, I think, that we (liberals) should be shocked—that more Republicans support the use of nuclear power than Democrats.

While Porter remarks that climate change denial as espoused by Senator Cruz is “absurd,” he counter-balances Cruz’s absurdity by stating: “But Bernie Sanders’s argument that “toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology’s benefit” might also be damaging.” Porter fails to follow-up on this quote by explaining how this concern isn’t legitimate. Instead, Porter moves into a discussion of “our scientific and technological taboos”, suggesting that Sanders statement is an example of yielding to such a taboo.
Porter’s argument turns toward issues like evolution and general relatively (Einstein’s theory) as examples of how beliefs and interests affect a person’s willingness to adopt a scientific proposition. No doubt that this is true, but it’s not equally true or consequential for every possible scientific theory or decision based on a theory. For instance, Christian fundamentalists question or deny the theory of evolution because it conflicts with a literal reading of the Bible. Porter compares this with those on the left “who said scientists either disagreed or were divided on the safety of storing nuclear waste”, suggesting that this, too, is a belief motivated by bias against science based on some other beliefs. Porter ignores the 35% of members surveyed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science referenced earlier who didn’t support building more nuclear plants—or are those scientists “the left” in that group who are subject to reactionary taboos?
In another balancing point, Porter notes that the right favors smaller government and free enterprise and are therefore motivated to deny climate change because doing so would require a modification of those ideological beliefs. Fair enough, but then look at the other side:
On the left, by contrast, people tend to mistrust corporations — especially big ones — as corrupt and destructive. These are the institutions bringing us both nuclear power and genetically modified agriculture.
Porter seems to suggest that we should be asking ourselves “why on earth would someone adopt such a foolish attitude about big corporations? What they told us about the safety of cigarette smoking and their concealment of global warming evidence was so honest, forthright, and helpful to all of us!”. (I leave other examples to your sound recollection.)

Porter concludes with this peroation:

Fixing it [what exactly?] won’t require just better science. Eliminating the roadblocks against taking substantive action against climate change may require somehow dissociating the scientific facts from deeply rooted preferences about the world we want to live in, on both sides of the ideological divide.

For Porter it’s simple: just follow the scientific facts.

Now I should put my cards on the table.

I’m skeptical but not actively opposed the expanded use of nuclear power. As someone who’s been around for almost all of the nuclear age, including fallout from atomic testing, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, I have a profound concern about the harm that nuclear energy can unleash, as well as an appreciation of its potential benefits.

I understand that if we drastically reduce the use of carbons for fuel, we could suffer a reduction in the amount of energy available to us in our daily lives. Generally speaking, the greater the energy supply, the more complex the society, and a more complex society allows a better quality of life. Thus, I take a reduction in the energy available to society as a threat to our collective well-being if taken to an extreme. Of course, conservation, walking, and taking public transportation, for instance, are examples of reducing demands on the energy grid that won’t hurt—and make actually improve—the quality of life. But if taken too far, we all will suffer. As for alternative energy sources, they remain a hope, not a reality. Thus, we spurn any source of energy at our peril.

But the critique of Porter’s argument must go to a deeper level, addressing the conceptions of science, engineering, and risk assessment upon which Porter bases his argument.

Porter notes that science changes its opinions continually and sometimes drastically. Science and its practical application in engineering are human projects subject to human strengths and weaknesses. While science has continued to push back the barriers of ignorance and engineering has allowed the creation of increasingly sophisticated structures and systems, both still carry the curse of human fallibility. Science knows a lot and really smart scientists know that we are ignorant of a great deal more, both because of the inherent limitations of the human thinking and as a result of the biases that we all struggle with. As to creations that we build, we create amazing things, and we create catastrophic failures. Having seen what failings nuclear plants can suffer as a result of Nature’s unpredictability (Fukushima) or as a result of human flaws of design and operation (Three Mile Island and Chernobyl), caution should be our guide. While we can push back against the tide of ignorance and failure, we can never fully defeat it. Science and engineering are not monolithic gods to whom we should bow before in a new idolatry. Instead, they are human enterprises that must remain subject to an awareness of  our limitations. Hubris is the greatest enemy of science and engineering; it always has been, and I suspect this will remain so.

But to warn of hubris on the part of science and technology in believing that these enterprises can move beyond failure and ignorance is a meta-perspective. We need to address the particular problem of nuclear energy. As the advisability of using nuclear power, we should ask about the specific risks and benefits. Having spent more than three decades as a practicing lawyer—and because I believe that certain legal principles provide a wide-ranging and sensible set of guidelines—we should ask about issues of liability if problems with a nuclear plant develop (and not limit ourselves to fuel waste). What liability insurance coverage does a nuclear plant in the U.S. receive? What is required? How does an insurance carrier measure the risk? How is the likelihood of risk measured? How is the magnitude of damage measured? What standard of liability applies? Strict liability (liability regardless of fault, say because of an earthquake or tsunami) or ordinary negligence (a foreseeable risk that a reasonable person in like or similar circumstances could have avoided). Are there any caps on damages? In other words, what is the largest loss that any carrier or guarantor (i.e., taxpayers) would be expected to pay out? What are the other available options and how do they compare on these and other relevant criteria, such as technical feasibility? And last but not least, what Black Swans lurk in the field? Or in Rumsfield language, what are the unknown unknowns? If the Deepwater catastrophe did x amount of harm, what can we expect from the next nuclear disaster?

There are some answers to these questions. The U.S. nuclear industry does have insurance coverage, although it's backed up by the government. But I question (and don’t presume to have a final answer) whether the appreciation of the risks has been appropriately addressed. Before I’d say yea or nay to further plants—and without any concern for Porter’s imagined taboos—I’d have to review and consider these risks and the available alternatives.  


The point of this exercise is not that Porter is wrong to argue in favor of using nuclear power to ameliorate the carbon loading that increases the likelihood of catastrophic climate change. This argument can and should be made. However, to argue that those who question the wisdom of using nuclear power are Luddites who refuse to worship the god of Science and Technology is a calumny. It presents a na├»ve view of science, and it fails to consider the demanding issues of weighing risks and benefits. We can and must do better. Mr. Porter should do better by his readers. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Why Study History?

Yesterday, my wife asked me, “Why do we study history?”. Her question arose from a conversation she’d had earlier in the day with her elementary school colleagues. I was both taken aback and intrigued. I was taken aback because from early elementary school days I’ve been intrigued by history for reasons that I cannot identify at so young an age. I majored in history (and political science) as an undergraduate, and I’ve remained a life-long student of the subject. I was intrigued with the question because it’s so easy to take for granted. Why do we study history?

My wife suggested that we needed history to provide us analogies which we can use to help make current decisions. This is not wrong, but its incomplete. In addition, history as a source of analogies, while useful, is also fraught with peril. Historical precedents, like “Pearl Harbor”, “Munich”, “Hitler”, and so on, mislead as well as instruct.

Before we dig deeper directly into an answer to the question of why we study history, let’s engage in a short thought experiment. Imagine that you wake up one day from sleep and you have no memory. Your senses all work just fine—you can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. But you connect none of your sense experiences with any memories. Even tastes and smells—the most primal senses (just ask Proust)—bring no memories. The faces you see are all new. Of what your life consisted of before awakening that morning—either the day before or years before—you have no knowledge. You don’t have a name. (I’ll posit that you recall language, but the words which you use are new to you, you have no memory of having used them before.) Now, do you know who you are? Do you have a self? Do you have a soul? I suggest that you’re more like a zombie than a human being. Without memory, your sense of a personal history, you’re unknown to yourself and therefore soulless. As St. Augustine put it centuries ago, “the seat of the mind [anima] is in the memory”.

And so it is with our collective selves, our civilizations, nations, towns, churches, family, bridge club, and every form of human endeavor. Each entity is the sum of its history. To know the history of a person or group is what it means to know that person or group. Of course, such knowledge is always partial and limited, even as to ourselves knowing ourselves. (We do like to hide certain things from ourselves, don’t we?). We tend to think of history as the history of nations, politics, and battles, but history applies just as much to art and science as it does to politics or any other human endeavor. Science? Yes, for while we think of science as discovering timeless laws, in fact, the laws (perhaps better thought of as habits) of science arise in time. For instance, what were the laws of biology or chemistry at the first instant of the Big Bang? Or the laws of physics? Not only does our knowledge of science have a history, but those laws themselves developed over time as a part of the evolutionary history of the universe.

The historian John Lukacs sums up this attitude:

The history of anything amounts to that thing itself. History is not a social science but an unavoidable form of thought. That “we live forward but we can only think backword” is true not only of the present (which is always a fleeting illusion) but of our entire view of the future: for even when we think of the future we do this by remembering.

Lukacs, The End of an Age, 53.

Lukacs draws upon C.S. Lewis to further his theme that all knowledge is a matter of memory—of history in its many different guises:

The past in our minds is memory. Human beings cannot create, or even imagine, anything that is entirely new. (The Greek word for “truth, aletheia, also means “not forgetting”.) “There is not a vestige of real creativity de novo in us,” C.S. Lewis once wrote. No one can imagine an entirely new color; or an entirely new animal; or even a third sex. At best (or worst) one can imagine a new combination of already existing—that is, known to us—colors, or monsters, or sexes.”
           
           Lukacs, At the End of an Age, 52.

How does this relate to education? In education, we tend to segregate history as a separate course among all of the others. We think of science and math as dependent solely on only the most up-to-date information. But even in the sciences and in math we delude ourselves if we believe that the current practice of a discipline can ignore its own history. We can afford this attitude because we can make the history implicit in teaching these fields by concentrating on current states of knowledge. But experts in a field are conversant with the history of the field, whether concentrated in the near-past (e.g., the latest developments in quantum mechanics) or the distant past (e.g., the world of Newtonian physics). As the Lukacs quote above suggests, all knowledge comes from the past, whether far or near.

For teachers, this means that in addition to the traditional segregation of history into a separate course about government, politics, and wars, history can enlighten the entire curriculum. The great American philosopher, psychologist, and teacher, William James, writes:

You can give humanistic value to almost anything by teaching it historically. Geology, economics, mechanics, are humanities when taught by reference to the successive achievement of the geniuses to whom these sciences owe their being. Not taught thus, literature means grammar, art a catalog, history as a list of dates, and natural science a sheet of formulas and weights and measures.
           
           James, Memories and Studies, 312-313, quoted in Lukacs, At the End of an Age,              53.

(By the way, the late Neil Postman, media ecologist, and educator makes a very similar point in this book, Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future (1999)).

Of course, I’ve only identified a few key thoughts that have bounced around in my head since my wife raised this topic with me. On careful examination, we’ll find that the question—like most crucial questions—defies a single, definitive answer. Such questions invite a conversation, with many voices, many perspectives, occurring over time. In other words, this is just one more contribution to the history of attempting to answer the question: Why do we study history?



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

About Romania: A Review of In Europe's Shadow by Robert D. Kaplan

Kaplan's latest comes at just the right time
When my wife accepted a position to teach in Bucharest, Romania, I went online to look for books on Romania, and at the top of the list I found Robert D. Kaplan's In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond (2016). I hadn't known about it, but I certainly knew of Kaplan. I'd read his The Coming Anarchy (2000) and Warrior Politics (2001) and thought very highly of them both. I'd also read parts of The Ends of the Earth (2001) and Monsoon (2010). What a wonderful discovery! I dove in, and part way through I recommended it to my wife as we were running errands on our e-bike around Suzhou.

"Do you know this guy?", she asked.  
"Yes, I've read his stuff. He's good. He's also written books about the Indian Ocean and India, and about China, Vietnam, and the South China Sea."  
"Is he following us?"  
"I don't know!" 

In checking the publication dates of Monsoon (2010)) and Asia's Cauldron (March 2014), I determined that we were following him. Anyone acquainted with Kaplan won't be surprised at this. He must need a new 50-page passport every couple of years just based on the published accounts of his travels. (I wonder where he vacations?) No, we're just very lucky, especially with this book.

We're especially fortunate to have this book because Kaplan hasn't just passed through Romania or considered as just another piece on the geopolitical chessboard. He's been traveling to Romania since the 1970's, and he's seen it transformed from a gray, Stalinist backwater, racked by poverty and fear, into a what is now a vibrant society that holds membership in the EU and NATO. Romania seems to have found a good place for itself. As Kaplan describes it: "History surely had not ended here, but it had for the moment become more benign." Kindle Locations 3916-3917. Kaplan displays a genuine affection for this nation, and this spurs his interest in its history and its present, as well as prompting him multiple visits to contemplate its unique place in the busy world of Eastern Europe.

Kaplan first traveled to eastern Europe as a student in the early 1970s, and then he came a bit later to Romania as a young reporter. Trips back included a stint just after the Christmas Revolution in 1989 that toppled the hated Ceausescu regime and led to the summary trial and execution of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena. His most recent trip back was in 2014, when he observed the changes that have occurred in Romania after it has mostly-completed the transition to democracy and a market economy. This long history of personal involvement allows Kaplan to include not only his trademark travel writing, history, and geopolitical analysis, but it also serves as a bit of a memoir. For instance, his observations and assessment of the brutality and waste of the Ceaucescu regime prompted him to support the Iraq War, a judgment that he reports that he has come to regret. (A pointed reminder of the limits of historical analogy for decision-making.) As he notes, he didn't foresee the subsequent Sunni-Shia civil war that would break out after Saddam's demise.

Romania is a fascinating country, and Kaplan's draws on the distant past, the recent past, and the present to create his portrait of this country. Romania is a Westen outpost in eastern Europe. Romanian is a Romance language, closely related to Italian and Spanish (and, I'm thrilled to report, not very difficult to learn). Romania identifies with the West, yet the thread of culture passes via the Romanian Orthodox Church, anchored in the tradition of Byzantium and the cultural heritage of Orthodoxy. Also, the Ottoman, Russian, and Hapsburg empires have exerted influences on this land through which the Danube flows to reach the Black Sea. Kaplan explains that the intellectual class, including prominent figures that reached maturity in the 1930s, such as Mircea Eliade and E.M. Cioran, were attracted to the political Right, not the Left, unlike most western European intellectuals. Romania suffered the influence of the Iron Guard, a fascist movement that helped prompt Romania to ally with Hitler in the early period of war. Its authoritarian (but not truly fascist) leader, General Antonescu, both protected some Jews (Romanians) and helped ship others to the death camps. Romania committed over a half-million troops to Hitler's war against the Soviet Union. But before the end of the war, Antonescu led Romania to switch sides and aid the Soviets against the Nazi regime. All of this intrigue didn't do Antonescu much good. He was executed immediately after the war.

Through Kaplan's efforts in ancient, medieval, and modern history, we obtain a sense of the complexities of this culture and its political fortunes. His tour of the country, as well as neighboring Moldova (also Romanian speaking) and a foray into Hungary (now under a regime administering a "diet of low-calorie Putinism") gives us a further historical perspective. But also, in the tradition of great travel writing, Kaplan provides an intense sense of the present. (Among the several travel writers he mentions, Patrick Leigh Fermor gets a special mention, "that craftsman of irreducible godlike essences whose every sentence belongs in a time capsule". Kindle Locations 732-734). I've now begun Fermor's Between the Woods and the Water--just the prompt that I needed to uncork this champaign of travel writing.) From churches and monasteries to castles and homes, we get an engrossing sense of these places and the people who inhabit them. When my wife and I travel in Romania, we'll consult my Kaplan as much as our Lonely Planet.

In all, the publication date of this work (February 9, 2016) could not have been better timed or more welcome. Kaplan's complex layering of history, personal observation, and geopolitical analysis creates the perfect primer for anyone wanting to explore this fascinating nation and its environs. Or it's a treat for anyone who simply wants to enjoy the work of a master of observation and analysis. As Kaplan writes of Fermor, so I would of Kaplan: "to call him a mere travel writer is to diminish him." Id. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Principles of Art by R. G. Collingwood

"Art is the community's medicine for the corruption of consciousness"
I decided to read R.G. Collingwood's The Principles of Art (1938) to move toward rounding out my reading of Collingwood, having recently completed his Autobiography and his The New Leviathan (reviews forthcoming on both). I started The Principles of Art thinking I might learn about beauty in music, painting, or literature and some such. Having read a good deal of Collingwood by now, I should have known better. 



Collingwood is not a systems thinker in the way of many great philosophers, such as Plato, Aquinas, Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel, to name but a few in the history of philosophy who have constructed philosophic edifices with a room for every major issue. No, Collingwood isn't a system builder, but his is a systematic thinker. When he approaches a topic, be it history (The Idea of History) or civic life (The New Leviathan) or art, he lays his foundations very deep, sufficient to support the heavy weight of argument that he places upon those foundations. For instance, in The Principles of Art, he considers the history of analyzing sensation (Hobbes to Kant) and the innate expressiveness possessed by every human being and how that innate expressiveness prompts the unique human capacity for language. 

In the first part of the book, Collingwood distinguishes art from craft, and he discusses the creations that we often refer to as art but that he excludes from the domain of art, such as amusement and magic. "Magic"? Yes, magic. But here we learn from Collingwood the archeologist and folklorist that magic isn't for the manipulation of creation by some mystical force (although some few may have believed this), but he describes it as an enactment of rituals to arouse certain emotional responses from those performing or observing the rituals. Magic uses a representation of reality to arouse emotions important for various undertakings. Collingwood's argument is an intriguing and persuasive understanding of what we would otherwise consider irrational and useless behavior. 

Collingwood's explication of magic is but one of the distinctions and definitions that Collingwood makes in the first section of the book. Early on we're introduced to the carefully drawn distinctions that he makes with his lucid prose. Indeed, I'd like to quiz Collingwood about his writing: Is it art? Or is it a craft? Is all rhetoric a craft driven by the end of exhortation? In any event, he writes engagingly (except when he drops in obscure Latin phrases), and his use of everyday examples and metaphors makes his prose not only readable but entertaining. 

But while the first part of the book is intriguing, it's only a prelude to deep dive found in Part II. In the second part of the book, he delves into issues of sensation, emotions, imagination, experience, attention, consciousness, thought, intellect--and then the foundations of language! He also discusses what he describes as "the corruption of consciousness" (shades of Aristotle, Sartre (who published later), and C. Terry Warner here). But we can follow Collingwood through this palace of complex terms because he constructs his arguments brick-by-brick on top of his deep foundations. He thereby creates a substantial work of . . . well, art, even if he would disagree with my use of the term. As readers of his work on history might not be surprised to learn, he concludes that art is found in the mind of the artist who seeks to express (not just arouse) emotions. All art--and not just literature--is an expression of emotions that uses a form of expression, a language, if you will. he argues that language grows out of expression and that art is a language of expression (whether words, music, painting, etc.). His contention strikes me as brilliant and insightful. 

In the third part of the book, Collingwood ties up some loose ends. He refers only rarely to actual works of art, although he does spend some time discussing and praising T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" as an exemplary work from the time Collingwood was beginning his career as an academic philosopher. 

I could go on at some length about this book, as I've only given the briefest tour of Collingwood's creation that I think merits careful study. A student of philosophy tells me that Collingwood is considered outdated in his analysis of these issues. Perhaps so. I'm not in a position to judge because I'm not widely read in this field. But even if so, I contend that Collingwood has laid down too many fundamental and fortified arguments to ignore. If there are more persuasive thinkers writing about these issues, I want to read them. In the meantime, I'll appreciate and benefit from this Collingwood masterpiece.