February 19th, 201702-19-2017
In Praise of Hypocrisy
Masha Gessen rightly cites Hannah Arendt in Gessen's essay in praise of hypocrisy.
"Fascists the world over have gained popularity by calling forth the idea that the world is rotten to the core. In “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt described how fascism invites people to “throw off the mask of hypocrisy” and adopt the worldview that there is no right and wrong, only winners and losers. Hypocrisy can be aspirational: Political actors claim that they are motivated by ideals perhaps to a greater extent than they really are; shedding the mask of hypocrisy asserts that greed, vengeance and gratuitous cruelty aren’t wrong, but are legitimate motivations for political behavior. In the last decade and a half, post-Communist autocrats like Vladimir V. Putin and Viktor Orban have adopted this cynical posture. They seem convinced that the entire world is driven solely by greed and hunger for power, and only the Western democracies continue to insist, hypocritically, that their politics are based on values and principles. This stance has breathed new life into the old Soviet propaganda tool of “whataboutism,” the trick of turning any argument against the opponent. When accused of falsifying elections, Russians retort that American elections are not unproblematic; when faced with accusations of corruption, they claim that the entire world is corrupt. This month, Mr. Trump employed the technique of whataboutism when he was asked about his admiration for Mr. Putin, whom the host Bill O’Reilly called “a killer.” “You got a lot of killers,” responded Mr. Trump. “What, you think our country’s so innocent?” To an American ear, Mr. Trump’s statement was jarring — not because Americans believe their country to be “innocent” but because they have always relied on a sort of aspirational hypocrisy to understand the country. No American politician in living memory has advanced the idea that the entire world, including the United States, was rotten to the core."Gessen and Arendt are not arguing that we should welcome hypocrisy as a sign of good government. On the contrary, excessive hypocrisy is a sure indicator of a corrupt moral and governmental environment. But Arendt understood that hypocrisy is "the complement that vice pays to virtue." At the very least, the hypocrite upholds the public face of virtuous government. While the hypocrite may think and act differently outside the glare of the public, the need to at least keep the mask of hypocrisy believable sets a limit to the actions of the hypocrite. What is more, we all wear masks in public. The word "hypocrisy" is from the Greek for a play actor. It is one who wears a mask, as did the Greek actors in ancient tragedies. Similarly, the word "person" was a legal term in ancient Rome indicating those who were legal citizens. It literally means "those in whom the law sounds through." To be a citizen is to wear a mask of legality and to be someone who, whatever his or her private thoughts and failings, must act a certain way in public and, in return, receives certain public rights and considerations. Thus, all persons are hypocrites. The politics of anti-hypocrisy is hugely compelling, to tear off the masks of corruption and expose the elite as corrupt and deceptive. The danger of unmasking is a political strategy, however, is that we come to accept as true and real the ugly truth of what had long been hidden by the mask of hypocrisy.Form more information visit: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/18/opinion/sunday/in-praise-of-hypocrisy.html
The Power Writer
[caption id="attachment_18714" align="alignright" width="286"] Robert Moses[/caption] Robert Caro explains how he came to write books about Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson.
"I loved being a reporter. I loved finding out about how things really worked and trying to explain them in my stories, and I became more and more interested in politics because I was starting to feel that it was important to explain political power. The paper assigned me to cover this bridge that Robert Moses wanted to build. The bridge was supposed to run from Oyster Bay to Rye. I can’t remember the details, but it would have required something like six more lanes on the Long Island Expressway just to handle the traffic. And the bridge itself would be so big that the piers on which it crossed Long Island Sound would have disrupted the tidal flow and caused pollution. The bridge was still years away, but there was some minor measure, a bill or appropriation or feasibility study, perhaps, pertaining to it that Moses needed to keep the project moving forward. I went up to Albany, I saw Governor Rockefeller, I had a long session with his counsel. I saw the assembly speaker, a guy named Tony Travia, and I saw the president of the state Senate, Joseph Zaretzki. They all understood that this bridge was just a terrible idea. So I went back and told my editor, The bill is dead. And then a couple of months later, a friend in Albany called me and said, Robert Moses was up here yesterday. You better come back up. And I drove back up there and walked into the assembly chamber just as they were approving the bill by a huge majority. See, before that, I had written articles on politicians, investigative pieces, and I had won a couple of journalism awards. They were really minor awards, but when you’re young and you win any award, you think you know everything. So I thought I was accomplishing my purpose, which was to explain political power to my readers. But driving home from Albany to Roslyn that night, all the way I kept thinking, Everything you’ve been writing is bullshit, because everything you’ve been writing is based on the belief that political power comes from the ballot box, from being elected. Here was Robert Moses, a guy who was never elected to anything, and he came up to Albany for one day and changed the entire state government around, from the governor to the assembly. How did he have the power to do that? You have no idea and neither does anybody else. I said to myself, If you really want to explain political power, you’re going to have to understand that. So I decided to apply for a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard to study urban planning, and I got it. I was taking a course taught by two professors who had written a textbook on urban land-use planning, and they were explaining why highways get built, where they get built, and they were explaining it as if it were a mathematical equation, and with every class, they added a couple of factors—population density, grade elevations, things like that. Totally rational. I would sit there diligently taking notes, and then one day I suddenly said to myself, This is all wrong. They don’t know why highways get built where they’re built, and I do. They get built where they’re built because Robert Moses wants them built there."Form more information visit: https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6442/robert-caro-the-art-of-biography-no-5-robert-caro
Righting An Old Wrong
[caption id="attachment_18717" align="alignleft" width="263"] "Self-Portrait with Horn," Fair use[/caption] Michael Hoffmann admires the new show of works by German emigre painter Max Beckmann at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: "One of the interesting things about Beckmann is how much the paintings moved and morphed under him. The form of the triptych was arrived at adventitiously; he simply had more material than could be fitted onto one canvas. Colours shifted all the time. In the course of five months, the portrait of Quappi went from ‘green and blue’ to ‘green, black and yellow’ to ‘blue, green and yellow’ to the final ‘grey’. The seated figure, outlined in black, upright, smoking, arms and legs crossed, is wearing an elegant pale grey hat and coat, against a green, round-shouldered chair and a grey and brown panelled wall. Earth colours, nature colours. The curve of necklace, ear and chin, the gleaming hair breaking on the shoulders, the bend of the arms and the endless drape of the long-fingered hands with crimson nail-varnish: it’s as lovely as anything by Matisse or Modigliani. Objects – Beckmann had a positively theatrical way with ‘speaking’ props and costumes – and expressions were there one day, gone the next: a smile, a raised forefinger. A circus trapeze gives way to a flugelhorn; a ‘Leda and the Swan’ is made over into the exquisitely provocative Woman with Mandolin in Yellow and Red. In some way, these paintings are not copied from any reality, not Platonic approaches, or aspirations towards any ‘ideal’ scene, so much as improvised solutions to self-set problems of structure and colour. Plaza (Hotel Lobby) of 1950, one of very few New York subjects painted by Beckmann in his time there (and no exteriors), may look like a stained-glass rendering of a jam-packed subway scene, but basically it dramatises the rhythmic return of an orangey red – in a fez, a woman’s hat, a man’s face, a woman’s hair – while the tonic green appears in two versions, jade and a yellowish pea-green, strong and weak, at the top and bottom of the picture... Structurally, or formally, it is striking that so many of the pictures are in longish formats, in many cases further narrowed by vertical framing devices, drapes or ladders or unspecified blinkering blocks of colour or a zigzagging pattern. We see things in Beckmann’s pictures as though through closing elevator doors or theatre curtains. An image is barely retrieved: imperilled, exalted, made precious by its height. And then, as Rilke says in ‘The Panther’, it is fetched into the heart and abruptly ceases to exist."Form more information visit: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/08/opinion/american-universities-must-take-a-stand.html