Plato, Kagan and Yale, Oh My YouTube!

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Plato, Kagan and Yale, Oh My YouTube!

Postby Elvis » Thu Sep 06, 2018 3:41 pm

Have you ever wondered what they teach freshmen at Yale about Plato? Well, I have. And now, thanks to Yale University and the wonder of YouTube, you can hear and see it for yourself.

Professor Smith spends some time on the question, Was Plato a fascist? He reminds the class that their very presence in the room traces back to Plato's Academy, where, just as at Yale, the next generation of leaders were trained. So, then he asks,

"If Plato was a fascist—what does that make you?" :whistling:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVQKbQVc2_w

The whole series is worth watching if you're into that sort of thing, plus course materials there if you wanna go whole hog.


But wait! There's more!

Professor Smith above is good, but not the most electrifying lecturer. This next Yale dude I listened to for 40 minutes thinking, "I could listen to this guy all day" (and I did), before realizing it is none other than *the* Donald Kagan—distinguished historian (and Yale professor until 2013), one-time liberal turned neocon, signer of the PNAC Mission Statement, and patriarch of the notorious neocon Kagan clan which includes sons Robert (another PNAC signer) and Frederick, and their wives Victoria Nuland and Kimberly Kagan.

Once I realized who was speaking, Kagan's political beliefs briefly shaded my listening, but all that quickly went away as he delved into the history. He's got a pretty vast knowledge, and whereas most 'distinguished' professors I've known have dreaded teaching introductory classes, Kagan seems to enjoy it.

I count 24 lectures in this series, I think this one below is the first. I'm on the fifth one I think. It's easy to just listen, no need to watch the screen, but it's funny when he tortures a dozen freshmen for twenty minutes by making them stand on stage in hoplite formation, holding imaginary shields, while he meanders down several avenues of thought while getting to the point (in Ancient Greece: Colonization and Tyranny (Part 1).


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d7pqVo ... wwMVPC6VDy


It's good stuff, but never completely forget, that it's Yale.
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Re: Plato, Kagan and Yale, Oh My YouTube!

Postby JackRiddler » Fri Sep 07, 2018 7:40 am

Listened & enjoyed. Very interesting & knowledgeable, the Kagan lecture on The Republic. Obviously more than I know! He has a minor flub that I can't resist pointing out. I doubt it's an unconscious revelation, not at all, it's just a typical binary reversal, like when you go right instead of left. But it's too delicious for speaking the opposite of what he thinks, which is what I actually think. In tracing the lineage from the Academy to Yale, he concludes by saying Yale is the ancestor of the Academy. He meant descendant of. But that's pretty much how I see it. On this scale, it is the living who construct the history they desire. We decide what to have as our heritage. There is no way to support a counterfactual argument on that scale of time, that if Plato hadn't founded an academy just then, 2400 years later there wouldn't have been a history of academic monasteries or Bologna or Heidelberg or finally Yale. I'm not even talking about the Eurocentric narrative, not the point. In the same way he implies seriously some kind of development from Hegel to Hitler and Stalin, wiping out the daily and annual contingencies of events from which actualities emerged. This is the kind of history-of-ideas approach I do not buy into. If I'm talking Nazis coming to power, I have a lot more to say about Weimar failures and the many fascisms coming to power at the time and the effects of the Great Depression than what Rousseau or Napoleon may have said or how Carl Schmitt or Heidegger may have framed the time and events we call the Enlightenment 150 years later. Ideas live in (material) presents, and presents produce ideas more than vice-versa (though it doesn't go in one direction). Thousands, countless factors went into there one day being a modern industrial society (his liberal freedom society) that makes a Yale (we're not judging it good or bad here). It's like an oceanic flow and ebb with geological turns, and some people and some moments stand in the currents more influentially than others, but the currents are not unleashed by any one of them, certainly on that scale of time. I'm also not arguing for what is materially or spiritually or developmentally inevitable (given no asteroid strikes) or contingent in the big history. Saying Plato-to-Yale is a big statement that identifies protagonists, reassures the speaker he knows something unknowable, spares him admitting the impossibility of reconstructing how a given temporary present really emerged out of the infinite potentials of time and life and one damn thing after the next, one damned generation after the next. He's on much stronger ground when he talks about the Republic as a literary work, a great novel.
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Re: Plato, Kagan and Yale, Oh My YouTube!

Postby JackRiddler » Fri Sep 07, 2018 8:08 pm

.

As it happens, this was published today and addresses the point in a broader way. This guy tells it more like it is - the story of how a Yale came to be as one product of thousands in the Western amatorium, as result of geography and a whole lot of contingent events and forces - though I object to the last sentence, which actually goes against the overall gist. As "Europe" or "the West" has been a conflicting patchwork, so too "its" values, and there is no final form of these or verdict on their meaning.

- www.counterpunch.org - https://www.counterpunch.org -


Western Civilization 101

By Joshua Sperber
September 7, 2018

Notwithstanding the fears of Samuel Huntington and the more overtly violent demonstrations of self-described Western chauvinists such as the Proud Boys, the term “Western Civilization” is of only relatively recent creation. Advanced following the First World War, the concept, along with other inventions such as “Great Books” series, was designed to uphold the merit of a project that had just culminated in an unprecedented industrial bloodbath. That the idea was promulgated merely decades before an even larger industrial bloodbath suggests that its promoters ought to have taken a humbler approach in their attempt to salvage, in fact construct, Western European history. After all, insofar as it even constitutes a coherent and quantifiable entity, Western Civilization advanced not because of any intrinsic superiority but because of fortuitous geographic circumstances and no small portion of simple freak luck.

It has been noted that if an informed observer had been standing atop the world in 1500 CE and was asked to predict which power – among Western Europe, the Ottoman Empire, China, Japan, India, or Russia — would become dominant over the following centuries, it would have been unlikely that he or she would have chosen what had until recently been the Western European backwater. It would have been far more sensible to instead opt for, say, Ming China or the Ottoman Empire, which was in possession of Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Greece, and Hungary and continually menaced, and periodically invaded, lands further west.

Yet, as we know, Western Europe did become dominant over the next four centuries — though not necessarily evenly or without setbacks; the so-called Sick Man of Europe defeated Britain in battle as late as 1916. Nevertheless, by WWI, Europe directly or indirectly controlled a full eighty percent of the world’s landmass, an unprecedented degree of global domination. So how do we explain this extraordinary growth?

The Cultural Myth

For some, the answer is self-evident. The ostensible superiority of what is imagined to be Western culture inexorably led to the domination of Europe (and its eventual offshore offspring). There are of course immediate problems embedded in the notion of a coherent and homogeneous European culture giving rise to European dominance. First, such an explanation fails to address the timing of European ascension. If cultural superiority explains Europe’s rise, why now? And where was this superiority during the long centuries of the Middle Ages?

More generally, “European culture” in reality consists of a myriad of practices and customs varying by place, period, demographic, and other factors. Not only were different European countries — say England and France — at one another’s throats for centuries, but they would have been astonished to learn that they, notwithstanding their religious, linguistic, political, and other differences, were in fact family, united within a single civilization. On the contrary, each identified the other not as a member of the same political and cultural project but as a fundamental impediment to that project.

Even during the Crusades, the imagined zenith of European unity, the doge of Venice redirected the Crusaders from an attack on the Islamic World (which included Venetian trading partners such as Egypt) to Constantinople and Zara, Christian cities but commercial rivals to Venice. Making explicit what was already apparent, the Venetians understood that the Crusades, which invoked Christianity to pillage and pillaged to promote Christianity, were a racket.

Perhaps more than any other event, the Protestant Reformation, and the century of geopolitical pandemonium and mass slaughter following it, dramatically ruptures the idea that Europe contained a shared and coherent set of values and traditions. Rather, it exposed the profound antagonisms and divergent interests among those who competed to define a Christianity — the great language of medieval political legitimization — that had been turned inside out by the growing accumulation of private wealth.

If Catholicism, the religion of late Rome and feudalism, denounced the pursuit of wealth and counseled its followers to turn the other cheek, Protestantism and particularly Calvinism, mirroring the ideological demands of the emerging market economy, encouraged industriousness and identified wealth not as a potential sign of damnation but of salvation. Yet Protestantism, making itself more serviceable to modern rule, ultimately won a Pyrrhic victory. Relocating God from a clerical intermediary to the believer’s own conscience, Protestantism ushered in a new ideological hegemony but in so doing diminished its political relevance.

Insofar as these Christian traditions have endured in a world increasingly dominated by the state and the market, it has been due to their ability to identify opportunities for institutional aggrandizement that simultaneously furnishes ideological buttress to the demands (rendering unto Caesar) of the modern system. That these demands are themselves evolving reminds us that there has been no “Western culture” but rather ephemeral “Western cultures,” tearing themselves asunder at different places and at different times. The long historical effect was not a single diamond refined under pressure, but a flotsam of, among other things, power, brutality, and justificatory sophistry.

Just as the concept of European culture erases enormous variation and conflict within Western Europe, it also dismisses the pivotal exchanges, famously during the Crusades themselves, that occurred between Western Europe and the greater world that equipped Europe to expand in the first place. Crusaders were stunned to encounter the vastly more sophisticated denizens of the Levant and beyond living in more advanced economies and enjoying greater standards of living with more plentiful and finer luxuries. Crusaders were also introduced to the superior scientific knowledge of the Islamic world, whose advances in math, astronomy, medicine, physics, chemistry, and optics (not mentioning philosophy and art) helped shape the thinking of European thinkers such as Copernicus and Galileo. It is not so much that “Western Civilization” is an oxymoron — or a “good idea,” as Gandhi famously quipped — but that the civilization in question is not even intrinsically European.

Geography Not as Destiny

It is not culture, historians and other scholars have shown, but geography that provided the critical precondition for European ascension. As Jared Diamond has noted, the latitudinal axis of Eurasia, in contrast to that of Africa and the Americas, facilitated both successful migration and the diffusion of intra- and extra-European knowledge (farmers who migrated east or west, for instance, did not experience significant climatic variation and therefore did not have to reinvent technological and agricultural wheels in contrast to farmers who migrated north or south).

Further, the fractured topographies of the European peninsula, in contrast to the sweeping plains of China or the wide river valleys of the Nile or the Tigris and Euphrates, helped produce, as Paul Kennedy has observed in his Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, centuries of political fragmentation. European Conquerors, whether Charlemagne, the Habsburgs, Napoleon, or Hitler, consistently failed to establish unified and sustained political rule as they were ultimately impeded by, among other natural barriers, Europe’s numerous mountain ranges and forests.

Such obstacles not only discouraged conquest by foreign rivals but also led to highly decentralized rule characterized by roughly comparable powers who, of necessity, continually invested in improvements to their military technology. The eventual result was an increasingly sophisticated arms race born of the need to keep formidable rivals at bay, conditions that were generally absent outside of the European peninsula where, for instance, Ming China held a monopoly on cannon production inside of the empire.

Such geographic diversity also helped encourage the development of the market system. Centralized political rule in, say, the Ottoman Empire meant that would-be traders could be taxed into bankruptcy, a penny wise but pound foolish policy that disincentivized private investment. Europe’s political decentralization meant that traders could play different lords off of one another or, at the least, depart one high-tax fiefdom for a relatively lower-tax one. Europe’s many navigable rivers further facilitated this trade, which, notwithstanding rulers’ inclinations toward interference, ultimately provided European states with an enormous source of perpetually expanding taxable wealth. In other words, Europe’s economic power developed in spite of the myopia of its leaders, a closed-mindedness that Adam Smith was struggling to penetrate as late as 1776.

None of this ought to imply geographic determinism, as these environmental preconditions are necessary but certainly not sufficient to explain the expansion of European power after 1500. Indeed, geography taken by itself, not unlike the cultural explanation, cannot account for the specific timing of Europe’s ascension.

We also need to address contingency, and there is no greater example of it than the Ottomans’ 1453 conquest of Constantinople. An historic catastrophe for Europe, the conquest of Constantinople, and with it the collapse of the 1500 year-old Byzantine Empire, deprived Europe of its vital gateway to where all major economic activity had been previously directed: The East.

It was within the ensuing atmosphere of loss, dread, and despair that Columbus proposed to sail to India via the west and, after being rejected by several of Europe’s numerous rulers, was ultimately sponsored by Spain to do so, whereupon he stumbled upon the Americas. Led by Spain and Portugal, Europe proceeded to commit the largest and most horrific plunder in world history, enslaving and destroying indigenous peoples and their economies — “with a bible in one hand and a rifle in the other” — and extracting enough silver and gold to multiply European treasuries fourfold. It was this wealth, which soon migrated from the Iberian Peninsula to England, that funded the Industrial Revolution, enabling Europe to further increase its advantage over a globe that it would by and large rule — whether through the invocation of a Christian civilizing mission, the White Man’s Burden, eugenics, or democracy — for the next four centuries. In other words, apart from its geographic good fortune, Europe achieved world domination largely because it had experienced a disastrous military defeat. Interpreting this history as an indication of superiority constitutes the height of irony.

That we are living in an era in which there are renewed demands to extol and “defend” Western Civilization is not only a warning that a system that is again experiencing crisis is issuing one more call to arms. It is also a reminder that the violence with which it has historically advanced its aims is ultimately inseparable from the values that it invokes to justify them.

URL to article: https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/09/07 ... ation-101/
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Re: Plato, Kagan and Yale, Oh My YouTube!

Postby Elvis » Sun Sep 09, 2018 4:38 am

JackRiddler wrote: In tracing the lineage from the Academy to Yale, he concludes by saying Yale is the ancestor of the Academy. He meant descendant of. But that's pretty much how I see it. On this scale, it is the living who construct the history they desire. We decide what to have as our heritage. There is no way to support a counterfactual argument on that scale of time, that if Plato hadn't founded an academy just then, 2400 years later there wouldn't have been a history of academic monasteries or Bologna or Heidelberg or finally Yale.


Good catch and I like the meaning you give it. I think one reason they like to go back to Plato is that The Republic gives license to oligarchy—in their minds anyway; there's an anonymous retired investment banker who's written an extensive blog condemning democracy and defending Plato's ideal. It's been awhile, I'll look for the site. He may not appreciate linking; in an introduction he says he hesitated before publishing it online, "lest some philosophy leak out."


JackRiddler wrote: This is the kind of history-of-ideas approach I do not buy into.


It's like the (old?) anthropological notion that the development of civilizations is linear: give the "primitives" enough time, and they'll eventually be just like us. I thought Ruth Benedict refuted that idea, but it persists.



Serendipity...
JackRiddler wrote:this was published today


Seriously excellent piece, thanks!

JackRiddler wrote:- http://www.counterpunch.org - https://www.counterpunch.org -

Western Civilization 101

By Joshua Sperber
September 7, 2018

Notwithstanding the fears of Samuel Huntington and the more overtly violent demonstrations of self-described Western chauvinists such as the Proud Boys, the term “Western Civilization” is of only relatively recent creation. Advanced following the First World War, the concept, along with other inventions such as “Great Books” series, was designed to uphold the merit of a project that had just culminated in an unprecedented industrial bloodbath. That the idea was promulgated merely decades before an even larger industrial bloodbath suggests that its promoters ought to have taken a humbler approach in their attempt to salvage, in fact construct, Western European history. After all, insofar as it even constitutes a coherent and quantifiable entity, Western Civilization advanced not because of any intrinsic superiority but because of fortuitous geographic circumstances and no small portion of simple freak luck.




Anyway, just heard the "Sparta (Part 2)" lecture... Kagan's politics shows in an aside when he equates tyranny with taxation (paraphrasing): "With a democracy you don't have taxes; with a tyranny you have taxation. Greek farmers didn't like being taxed...in this country we used to call people like that Republicans."

Greek democracies apparently raised their revenues from... tariffs! :shock2: (a different discussion)
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Re: Plato, Kagan and Yale, Oh My YouTube!

Postby JackRiddler » Sun Sep 09, 2018 11:50 pm

It's nonsense depending on what period he's talking about. The original Jeffersonians who became the Democrats believed in the (untaxed) yeoman farmer ideal (but with slavery) ; later in the 19th century the original Republicans besides anti-slavery and "free labor" were committed to commerce and internal improvements, i.e. the market ideal with taxation (and high tariffs) to keep its necessary infrastructure growing. But Kagan probably means Reagan, and it's untrue of his era also but nominally they were against taxes (on the rich).
Last edited by JackRiddler on Mon Sep 10, 2018 6:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Plato, Kagan and Yale, Oh My YouTube!

Postby Elvis » Mon Sep 10, 2018 12:17 pm

JackRiddler wrote:But Kagan probably means Reagan, and it's untrue of his era also but nominally they were against taxes (on the rich).


Yes, and would Kagan ever admit that even then it didn't work? ...or did work, just not for the citizen farmer. Any, good background there thanks.
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Re: Plato, Kagan and Yale, Oh My YouTube!

Postby JackRiddler » Mon Sep 10, 2018 6:06 pm

But who better than a master sophist to teach the Republic, most of which is a parody of sophistry, which the author may or may not have intended?
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