Moleskine's Philology

Hand-crafted Notes on Language and the World It Fills.

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Pride and Dependence: Konstantin Levin in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”

In his creation of Konstantin Levin, Tolstoy introduced a character whose attention was constantly presented to the reader but often hidden from the man himself. Granting attention is surely a manifestation of agency, and thus an intention to move towards the attended object, person, or role. Levin’s pride spurs him to aim at an identity that he cannot feasibly inhabit. Only by granting attention to Kitty and allowing his ego to envelop her is he able to settle into his proper role and flourish.

It is important to clarify that pride is not here used in a self-aggrandizing sense. Certainly Levin, the man who blushes at every comment and says the same witticism twice, does not view himself above others. In fact, Levin readily admits that he is “pathetic and worthless in his own eyes” (p. 344). What pride means here, then, is not lofty thoughts of himself, but simply thoughts only of himself. That is, we may call Levin prideful in moments when he considers the world through an egoistic lens.

We may greet Levin and his pride at the brief period in which he first attempts to implement a new style of farming on his Pokrovskoe estate (P. III, Ch. 28-30). After having discussed the epidemic losses generated by “rational” Russian farming, Levin decides to install a system that considers his workers not as a European workforce but as the Russian muzhik (p. 338). This new method grants muzhiks a share of the profits in an effort to give them an investment in the productivity of the estate. According to Levin, this method will increase profits two- or three-fold for both the landowner and the peasant.

Yet Levin is completely unconcerned with the feasibility of his plan, instead noting naively that “how to [implement the system] is a matter of details” (p. 338). As he encounters difficulties, he simply proceeds with blind optimism. Notice the anaphora of the word “True” in Chapter XXIX: “True, in the cattle-yard things went no better than before . . . True, Fyodor Rezunov’s company did not cross-plough their land before sowing, as had been agreed . . .” and again thrice more (p. 340-1). The repetition emphasizes the near totality of inconveniences that plague Levin’s system and his concession to them. And still, after all these concessions, Levin responds with “But . . . everything would go by itself.” He expresses that “by having it his way,” the system would eventually prove profitable, presumably strictly because Levin believed in the idea. Clearly, then, Levin cares not to see the difficulties of his endeavor, nor to actively solve them, but instead presses blindly forward with his vision focused only on his idea and the notion that it is precisely his.

Levin’s pride, though, is not limited to his vision. That is, he does not simply see the unfolding of his plan with a blind egoism, but surely uses that pride to motivate his actions. Consider his rant to Agafya Mikhailovna: “This is not my personal affair, it is a question here of the common good . . . In short, a revolution, a bloodless but great revolution, first in the small circle of our own region, then the province, Russia, the whole world” (p. 344). Certainly, this appears to portray Levin as precisely un-prideful. He goes on, however, to change his tune: “I’m not concerned with [muzhiks], I’m doing it for myself.” This is the sentiment that is masked by the first rant: Levin sees his system, and the revolution it may spur, not as improvements for others, but as a source of identity. It is as his brother Nikolai so acerbically put it: “You don’t want to set up anything, you simply want to be original” (p. 351). And precisely because the system can supply Levin with an identity all his own, that of a revolutionary Russian farmer, he hardly concerns himself with Dolly and Sviyazhsky, whom he has effectively abandoned after his rudeness towards each one, respectively. The business of his system has so consumed his life that the lives of others “made no difference to him now” (p. 341).

The establishment of identity is most clearly explained when considered in juxtaposition with Levin’s comment to Agafya Mikhailovna: “And the fact that it is I, Kostya Levin, the same one who came to the ball in a black tie and was rejected by Miss Shcherbatsky . . . proves nothing” (p. 344). This comment, a part of the rant mentioned above, must also be considered as part of Levin’s motivation in establishing the system and an identity attached to it. Recall the attachment that Levin once had—and likely still does have—to Kitty. By attaching his identity to the new system, he can separate himself from the pain he felt by Kitty’s refusal. Surely, all his efforts towards the implementation of his pride-driven plans are essentially efforts at creating a stable, yet Kitty-deprived identity. That the system, while not disastrous, certainly does not spur a revolution, and thus does not grant Levin the role of revolutionary, is not a surprise, for Levin will proceed to reunite and marry Kitty.

When we encounter Levin once again at Pokrovskoe, he has just returned from Moscow with his new bride (P. V, Ch. 14). His pride, too, returns under the guise of blissful expectations. Consider how Levin predicted his married life to unfold: “In his own future married life, he was convinced, there not only could be nothing like [trifling cares, quarrels, or jealousy], but even all its external forms, it seemed to him, were bound to be in every way completely unlike other people’s lives” (p. 480). He expects his life to be an exception from those of all others, that his role will somehow be different from that of all other husbands. This is simply not the case. As Levin notes, marriage was not what he imagined, nor did his life with Kitty form itself in any special way (p. 479-80). And as Tolstoy emphasizes, Levin was precisely “like all men” in misconceiving the notion of family life (p. 480).

It is not simply that his egoism is damaged by his conformity, however. He has returned to Pokrovskoe with a new target of attention—Kitty—and chooses, presumably out of love, to grant his attention to her rather than to himself. While Kitty fusses over the cook, the trays, the curtains, and the maid, we would expect the prideful Levin to scoff at such unimportant concerns and become slightly insulted by Kitty’s lack of affection for him. Indeed this is partially what Levin does: he is often offended and confused by Kitty’s ability to concern herself with “extraneous things” (p. 480). Nevertheless, he finds that he “could not help” admiring them (p. 480). Even more telling, however, is Levin’s account of their first quarrel. After Kitty’s rather needless fit of jealousy upon Levin’s late arrival home, Levin first felt “one habitual feeling [that] urged him to shift the blame from himself to her.” This is the lingering manifestation of Levin’s pride. Yet the other, “stronger one urged him quickly, as quickly as possible, to smooth over the breach and keep it from growing bigger” (p. 481). This is a new thought, a lens through which Levin sees the world not only by egoism, but also by care for another. Granting his attention to Kitty has grafted in a new mode of vision inextricably linked to his love for her.

For Levin, the marriage union was not simply societal, but spiritual, and in that we are able to further explain this evolution. What Levin here experiences for the first time, other than quarreling with his wife, is a sense of unity with her. He came to understand “not only that she was close to him, but that he no longer knew where she ended and he began” (p. 482). In short, Levin discovered that “she was him” (p. 481). Now, a pain for her is a pain for him; a joy for her, a joy for him; and a thought for her, a thought for him. This is precisely the root of Levin’s change: whereas his pride once consisted of thinking strictly of himself, he cannot, after his marriage, think of himself without also thinking of his wife, and vice versa. His pride encompasses her life, concerns, grief, and happiness. Accordingly, he does not have to lose his pride to care for Kitty but only make space for her within it.

When we encounter Levin yet a third time at Pokrovskoe, we can fully experience the changed nature of his pride (P. VIII, Ch. 10). Tolstoy here provides us with an image of Levin’s actions over the course of the summer that may be characterized as necessitated living. For instance, Levin notices that his activities “occupied him only because it seemed to him that he had to do what he was doing—that he could not do otherwise” (p. 790). Levin, then, considers all his acts, and the means by which he does them, necessary, and justifies their doing accordingly so. When he farms personally, it is necessary. When he visits his wife while a muzhik waits, it is necessary. When he punishes a worker for felling timber but not for letting cattle astray, it is necessary. Everything he does is evaluated by “an infallible judge who decided which of two possible actions was better and which was worse; and whenever he did not act as he should, he felt it at once” (p. 791). But, surely, we must ask: what is this infallible judge? What is making these actions necessary? Levin is certainly not obligated to do them; his feeling of necessity must still be the act of a will. And they precisely are, but indirectly. Levin has chosen to attend to Kitty, and his pride has ever since encompassed her needs. Thus, his actions must in part be driven by the needs of Kitty. That Levin extended this concept of care to those around him, making his actions towards the peasants and others feel “necessary,” is likely, too. 

We must still answer one more question: what is Levin’s role? As elucidated above, he is certainly not a revolutionary, nor an exception to any societal standards. He is not above all those around him, although he often wishes to believe that he is (think Stepan Arkadyich or Sviyazhsky). Instead, he is precisely what others need him to be. For his wife, a husband and lover. For his son, a father and provider. For Sergei Ivanovich, a brother and manager. For the muzhiks, an employer and advisor. His attention to and union with Kitty have drawn him into the role that she needed him to inhabit, and he subsequently settled into those needed by all others.

This is not to claim, however, that Levin is aware of this role, of his purpose, or of his dependence on Kitty. In fact much of the turmoil that he faces near novel’s end is centered on this confusion. For example, “when Levin thought about what he was and what he lived for, he found no answer and fell into despair” (p. 789). Later, when he notes that “reasoning led him into doubt,” we encounter the same sentiment of the turmoil of abstract thought for Levin (p. 791). But this storm resides completely in Levin, in the realm of his soul that he could not share with the purity of Kitty. That is, Kitty does not share all of Levin, and she is not a panacea for his turmoil. This storm resides in the part of his soul that remains Kitty-deprived. But, as the scene above depicts, this part of his identity does not affect his practical reasoning. In fact, it must be blocked off for Levin to act at all: “when he stopped asking himself about it, he seemed to know what he was and what he lived for, because he acted and lived firmly and definitely” (p. 789). So Levin’s practical reasoning resides entirely within the space that he and Kitty share and therefore must be considered as dependent upon her.

To consider Levin as dependent upon Kitty is not an attack on his independence. This argument does not aim at implying that Levin cannot live without his wife. Instead, it aims simply to show that Levin cannot achieve his greatest happiness or find his true identity without her. Levin is all too often blinded by his own thoughts; he simply needs a light, namely Kitty, to show him the way.


Springs of Human Action: Contrasting Aquinas and Hobbes

The springs of human action are the mechanisms by which humans come to act. The springs must include all inputs and the mechanisms themselves, and thus any discussion of springs will then be a discussion of these things. When we compare Aquinas and Hobbes with respect to these things, we will find that Hobbes has reduced (i.e. carved into a simpler model) Aquinas’s theory of the springs of human action. His reduction of the decision-making mechanism, however, is illogical, and accordingly his previous reductions about objects and understanding cannot be proven true. 

Let us begin our exploration of springs with objects external to an agent. Note, I use objects in the broadest sense, including both the physical (e.g. an orange chair) and the abstract (e.g. leisure). Surely, objects, by this use, are a sensible starting point for both Aquinas and Hobbes: Aquinas finds the source of agency in extrinsic “ends,” while Hobbes believes agency can only be established by our experience of the external.

We now focus on the former, i.e. Aquinas and ends. As already hinted, Aquinas views ends as the beginning of human action (Aquinas, Q.7, A.4). Ends, as things beyond the human being, are objects. According to Aquinas’s definition, every object is defined by its relationship to other objects (idea of integration). But here we encounter a seemingly infinite loop: Object A is defined (in part) by its relationship to Object B; Object B, by its relationship to Object C; Object C, by its relationship to Object A. In sum, these relationships are nontransitive. The only solution to this problem is the existence of some original, highest object to which humans can aim and by which all these goods can be immediately defined. And this is exactly what Aquinas gives us with his concept of happiness. Happiness, as the ultimate end, relegates all other ends to be potential means towards it. As the means to a normal end are always colored by that end, so are all ends colored by happiness.

Here we encounter Hobbes’s first reduction: Hobbes does not consider objects to have such relationships with some final end. That is, he does not define Object A by its relation to happiness in that Object A has the potential to approach happiness. Instead, every object is defined by what it presently is and is therefore separated from all that it currently is not (other objects) or can be (its potentiality). Without any potential, then, can objects tend toward anything? For Hobbes, no, because he claims there is no greatest good (Hobbes, Ch. XI). If there is no greatest good, there must be either a coalition of greater goods or all goods are equal. The first is illogical: the greater goods can be collapsed into the greatest class of goods, then providing a limit to which all other classes would approach. Then, Hobbes’s classification implies that all goods are equal in goodness, or lack thereof, and can objectively be considered value-neutral.

With objects and their relations now defined, to what extent do Aquinas and Hobbes require us to understand them in order to act? Here, the Summa must be carefully parsed. Aquinas gives us a dual idea of knowledge of the end, viz. perfect and imperfect. Perfect is knowing the end, its aspect, and its relation to the means; imperfect, knowing merely the end (Q.6, A.2). Aquinas argues that the former is only attainable by rational beings, whereas the latter can be achieved by beasts (Q.6, A.2). Furthermore, perfect knowledge leads to the perfect voluntary, in which the man can deliberate whether to pursue the end in question. Imperfect

Now we pose the same question to Hobbes. On the surface, Hobbes does admit that voluntary motions require some mental form: “. . . voluntary motions, depend always upon a precedent thought” (Ch. VI). Hobbes attributes these antecedent thoughts to imagination, i.e. the “relics” of sense (Ch. VI). Therefore, voluntary motion requires there to be a mental form of the object toward or away from which the action moves. In other words, Hobbes prescribes that an agent must understand X to deliberate if he will act or not act for X. But he does not admit the need for understanding with respect to the aspect of the act. He leaves no space for the decision to act for X or for Y, because he does not admit (a) a relation between X and Y to make a comparison possible, or (b) the possibility of asking why one should do X. For Hobbes, a train of thought is regulated by some desire, viz. for X, and thus cannot include an evaluation of whether Y may be a better desire (Ch. III).

Already, however, we are starting to see gaps in Hobbes’s logic. According to the above logic, sense (and, by extension, thought) must be noncognitive. That is, we are conscious of having a thought, but not of having the desire that is limiting and directing that thought. But what of delight? Recall, Hobbes labels sense as motion across our eyes, ears, etc. (Ch. VI). He then defines desire as the appearance or sense of that motion (Ch. VI). This implies interpretation of sense, or at least a sensing of sense. Therefore, there must be some mental faculty above sense that is assigning value to senses (and thus, objects) in order to make delight or displeasure. So much for the inputs.

Now we must discuss the mechanisms by which a human agent narrows his inclinations to a single action, i.e. the machinery of the spring. Note, Aquinas and Hobbes both include the possibility of having multiple inputs in an output function (i.e. action). For Aquinas, these inputs are reasons and the function is reasoning; for Hobbes, these inputs are passions and the function is deliberation.

Free choice is the essence of Aquinas’s theory of human action. We can choose between many ends and between many reasons for action. Accordingly, there is always a possibility of “otherwise.” Free choice, however, is not free will (McCabe, p. 68). We do not act unpredictably or haphazardly; we still obey a definable, predictable function. Let us propose such a function. At the most basic level, Aquinas admits the presence of passions, and he attributes them to external objects (Q.6, A.1; McCabe, p. 72). We will henceforth define these passions as integers, with positive and negative values for appetites and aversions, respectively. We then encounter the will. For Aquinas, the will is an intrinsic principle that must be aimed at an end, but it need not be the first principle of action simply (Q. 6, A. 1). So, we may define the will as a variable  that can be present anywhere within the function and varies according to the reason of the agent. In other words, the will is a variable with a domain completely within the agent’s rationality that can overrule the sum of passions. For example, take the action function:. The integers (3, -4, and 2) are appetites and aversions of the given values. The variable  is the will, which may coincide with the sum of passions (i.e.  = 1, so  would be positive), or it may override the sum of passions (  -1, making the sum negative and the action undone). The special character of the will is that its value comes from within the agent; the passions are valuations of external objects.

Hobbes, on the other hand, uses a reduced function. For him, voluntary action is a byproduct of deliberation, which reckons only the relative positive values of appetites with the negative values of aversions. For instance, Andrew sees a pint of vanilla ice cream in Bethany’s freezer. Andrew is hungry for ice cream, so we can assign this appetite a value of +2. He does not, however, want to steal because Bethany may return, catch him in the act, and label him a thief—an aversion of -3. He then notices Casey, a pretty girl whom he likes, enter the room. He recalls that her favorite flavor is vanilla, and he thinks that she would enjoy sharing the ice cream with him. The desire to please Casey is an appetite of +5. Andrew deliberates: 2 – 3 + 5 = 4. This sum is a positive value, i.e. an appetite. He will then take the ice cream. (Note: this is a quite simplified example, but an account of all possible passions in this situation would be fruitless).

The final passion—that which is left after all other passions have cancelled out—is that which Hobbes calls the will. In the above example, the will to take the ice cream rests in the desire to please Casey and to (hopefully) one day secure a date. Deliberation, however, if it is a sum, must be commutative. That is, 2 + (5 – 3) = 5 + (2 – 3) = -3 + (5 + 2). This raises three problems for Hobbes: (1) how can the will be the last passion if any passion can be last? (2) how can a -3 aversion (e.g. not wanting to be caught) be the will for a +4 appetite (e.g. stealing the ice cream)?  and (3) if order is necessary, how can anyone recall the order (surely one is not passionate slowly)? The answers to all three questions rests on a retrospective determination of will. The will is only identified in the deliberation function after deliberation has occurred, not during. Thus, the order of deliberation can be rearranged so that the most overwhelming appetite or aversion is last. In that case, order doesn’t matter, and the will is always last because you can retrospectively rearrange it to be so.

It is important to note that nowhere in the above mechanism is rationality used. Recall, Aquinas represents the rational will with a variable . When he considered animals or the manic, however, he removed this variable and called acts common to man and animals by the name “Passions” (Q.6, Introduction). We now begin to see the reduction: Hobbes thinks this second mechanism to be the only device. For Hobbes, then, both men and beasts can deliberate (Ch. VI). We must note, too, that Aquinas matched passions with imperfect knowledge, forming the imperfect voluntary (Q.6, A.2). For Hobbes, passions are the inputs for all voluntary action.

Hobbes justifies his mechanism with the claim that since all voluntary actions are not rational, the will cannot be the rational appetite (Ch. VI). To explain Hobbes, we must broach the question of human mistakes, i.e. how do the mechanisms go awry? Hobbes’s mechanism is devoid of reason, so it’s no wonder—even to Hobbes—that it goes astray. In fact, this is exactly why he designed it as such: people are irrational too often for their voluntary decisions to have always been rational. But Aquinas already supplied a counterargument to this objection in his Summa. He claims that we can misapprehend that which is good because we cannot see all consequences of our actions (Q.8, A.1). Therefore, those actions that appear irrational seem so only because our rationality is blind to the future. For example, David may enter a bathroom with the expectation that it is a men’s room. Edna, however, will hardly expect that reason before she screams over David’s seeming irrationality. Most strikingly about this counterargument, however, is that Hobbes admits it, too! He notes that the passions with which we deliberate are “raised by the foresight of the good and evil consequences” of the act (Ch. VI). He continues to then say how she who has the most reason is she who will be able to foresee these consequences most accurately (Ch. VI). It appears, then, that Hobbes need not—and possibly could not—strip reason from deliberation.

This is not Hobbes’s most prominent inconsistency related to reason, however. That lies in his valuation of passions. What exactly can be a passion? Hobbes defines passion as an endeavor towards that which causes it (Ch. VI).  An endeavor, as preliminary forms of voluntary motion (Ch. VI). Voluntary motion, as beginning principally with imagination (Ch. VI). Imagination, as decaying sense (Ch. II). Sense, as impressions of objects upon a human agent (Ch. I). Recall, objects, for Hobbes, are objectively value-neutral. That is, there is no intrinsic morality or valuation of good that objects hold for all. How, then, does Hobbes suppose we create passions toward good or away from evil, if he establishes no mechanisms for these motions? In other words, how does an object obtain value to pull us towards or push us away from it? Simply, it cannot unless our impressions are filtered subjectively. And this would be perfectly reasonable, and Hobbes may even agree, but he has not described a filter—likely because he cannot. He leaves no room in his system for an interpretation of sense, because sense is, to him, noncognitive (see above). By this logic, Hobbes’s method of deliberating necessarily self-destructs.

If deliberation is not a reasonable reduction, what about Hobbes’s limitations on objects and understanding? To explain this, we must mention how value is attached in Aquinas’s mechanism. For Aquinas, happiness must be aimed at by all agents (Q.9, A.2). Ends, then, obtain value relative to their ability to serve as means to happiness (Q.6, Introduction). Their ability to do so is necessarily evaluated by reason, and mistakes are made only because reason can be blind to consequence. For Hobbes, then, if passions must obtain value, the most logical mechanism is reason. If reason is now required for deliberation, then understanding need be required, for an agent cannot reason without an input of knowledge. If we must understand objects, must we understand them in relation to something? Yes, because the values of appetites and aversions must be relative to one another.

Surely we can save Hobbes; the preceding interpretation must not be the only one. He has left space for there to be a cognitive sense (viz. Delight), we have seen that he could have included reason with his mechanism, and maybe his appetites and aversions don’t have relative value, i.e. they may just be +1 and -1. Let us quickly focus on that last idea. By this model, objects need not be related, because their value isn’t bigger or smaller. Accordingly, all that is required to act toward something is more appetites than aversions. But this is outrageous. Simply put, two people desire things to different extents. My appetite for ice cream is surely not exactly the same as yours: so they can’t be both +1. With that disproved, let us return to the first two. If we include reason and make sense cognitive, we have arrived back at Aquinas! The only way to save Hobbes’s reduction is to unreduce it.

It is clear that Hobbes has carved Aquinas’s springs into much simpler, more brutish ones. In fact, Hobbes has reduced rational human agent to simply “human agent” with the mere capacity to be rational. But so much of human action relies upon reason, that this reduction cannot be so. The separation of man from animal is vested in our reason; Hobbes should have discovered that taking out reason is impossible, for we are undeniably different from animals.


Machiavelli, Rousseau, and the Future of a United Europe

To say that the European Union is a fragile construct is an understatement. Calls for dissolution have become more prevalent as Great Britain looks to exit, an austere Germany scoffs at compromise, and the Mediterranean countries need billions to fend off bankruptcy. But it may be too soon to dissemble an infant union that is the first of its kind. The political philosophy of old, while incongruent with the EU project on the surface, may be able to provide clarity. Although Machiavelli and Rousseau, as representatives of that political philosophy, would think the European Union’s future as a stable construct is improbable, the extension of their logic—viz. viewing each nation as an individual in the state of nature with others—can be used to justify the EU and its further consolidation.

The economic asymmetry of the Eurozone is a base for Machiavelli and Rousseau’s skepticism. The inequality between nations should preclude the republican form of the EU, for differences in wealth often require differences in policy. Consider the differences between Germany and Greece. The former is an austere nation with the sixth largest GDP in the world; the latter, a prodigal debtor with a negative GDP growth rate (CIA World Factbook). How these two can be equal partners in a republican body would befuddle Machiavelli, who would claim the necessity of a principality to overpower such differences (B. I, D. 55). This sentiment would be echoed by Rousseau, who claims that economic asymmetry requires different governments (B. III, Ch. 8). But different policies are not the only obstacle: the increase in vigor necessary for such an overarching body as the EU to be functional requires a corollary increase in payments from member nations (B. III, Ch. 8). With the Machiavellidistribution of wealth awry, these payments will be disproportional among countries. We can only assume that disproportional payments will lead to calls for a similar distribution of power—such asymmetry cannot exist in a system that binds a nation to the wills of other members.

The dilemma of inequality extends to the union as a whole, i.e. differences in customs and norms should not be subject to a common authority. The heterogeneity of the EU, then, which is defined by contrasting and deeply-rooted cultures, poses a central problem for legislation in the Eurozone. No community ties or homogeneity can be used as a base for laws. Then, to Machiavelli’s disappointment, laws cannot be normative, for norms require a common concept of moral action. Neither can they be natural, as Rousseau desires, because there are but weak natural relations between such disparate cultures and economies (B. II, Ch. 11). The only solution for such shaky laws is a strong prince (B. I, D. 55). The European Union, however, lacks any cohesive authority, instead having a mix of councils and commissions that have yet to systematically consolidate.

The most adamant objection to the European project, however, is the impossibility of surrendering Sovereignty. According to Rousseau, “the Sovereign, drawing its being wholly from the sanctity of the contract, can never bind itself, even to an outsider, to do anything derogatory to the original act” (B. I, Ch. 7). If it does so, it self-destructs. Now, one must recognize that the EU is an economic union at present, and thus does not require the complete annihilation of national sovereignties. But Rousseau continues on to state that a Sovereign cannot “alienate any part of itself” without losing its identity, for the Sovereign is an indivisible and inalienable construct (B. II, Ch. 1-2). This is where our interest lies: each member of the EU that accepts the euro as its currency is forfeiting its monetary powers. By Rousseau’s logic, this is an impossible action. Each member has surrendered a part of its sovereignty, viz. that which controls its economic policy, and as such should no longer exist independently.

If economic policy is proved to be separate from the Sovereign, however, then each EU nation is still whole, and, as Rousseau concedes, “in relation to what is external to [the state], it becomes a simple being, an individual” (B. I, Ch. 7). Let us here focus on the dependence of politics upon economics. Economic freedom is a means toward political freedom (Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom). If economic freedom is a means, then it is by nature a predecessor, and that which is a predecessor cannot be part of the product. The production of economic freedom, then, is not part of the Sovereign, a political construct, despite their close connection. Economic freedom simply supplies the model for free and equal transaction within the state. With economics now isolated from the political Sovereign, each state can be viewed as an individual actor.

But is the government capable of acting as an individual without the expressed and overwhelming consent of the people? That is, is EU membership legitimate? If it can and is, the EU is then a union of European states and not necessarily that of European peoples. Here we point to Rousseau’s statement: “between things disparate in nature there can be no real relation” (B. I, Ch. 4). When engaging with State Y, State X acts as an individual. The people of State X have no relation to State Y itself, for they are of disparate natures. The EU, by extension, is a union only of states, not of peoples, and thus is a legitimate construct.

With the collective individuality of states now proved, states can be seen in a state of nature among each other. By state of nature, I mean only a state in which there is no authority capable of enforcing cooperation (Miller, Managerial Dilemmas). There is no world government, only the empty sanctions of the UN and disdain of human rights activists, to impose order between nations. Each state is originally free to change policies—in this case, economic policies—at their own discretion.

Nevertheless, trading the state of nature for union is not necessarily a natural development. Each member nation must have assessed the utility of the union before joining. What was the overwhelming incentive to surrendering original freedom and equality? The answer is twofold: (1) access to the largest unified market for goods and labor, and (2) a roadblock to the ubiquitous European fear of a third continental war. The appeal of the former is obvious, so it needs no explanation. The latter, however, is peculiar to Europe, and thus requires specificity. The two World Wars of the early twentieth century and the Cold War of the latter half instilled in Europeans an aversion to intracontinental warfare. The euro, then, was meant to be a sort of forced alliance among members. No two member states could attack each other, in theory, for the EU Headquarterseconomic pain of the loser would be the economic pain of the winner, too. The money supply could not be changed, financing could not be easily attained, and economies could not be mobilized without cooperation between the warring nations.

The concept of reciprocity rises to a head here. When a member state joins the union—or when any individual joins a state—the liberties it forfeits it then supplements with those of all other members (Rousseau, B. I, Ch. 6). In other words, the economic authority each member surrendered to the EU is offset by a share in the same authority over all other members. Thus, when Spain’s economy is ailing, the French can help create measures to combat the recession. As time progresses, the roles can  reverse, and Spain, via the EU, can then aid the French. Such symbiosis can keep the Eurozone perpetually stable.

With the EU so depicted, why would any nation refuse to opt in? More bafflingly, why would any nation want to opt out? The  only possibility is that the union is not symbiotic by nature. That is, not every nation experiences benefits simply by joining. The common currency, however, has created an artificial symbiosis: if the euro were to dissolve now, every nation in and affiliated with the Eurozone would experience drastic drops in GDP. Thus, a nation must accept the euro as its currency on top of joining the EU for it to be beneficial. An inconsistency with Rousseau’s ideas presents itself here, too. Opting out should be an impossible act in his state. In the EU, however, this need not be so. Rousseau’s conception of being bound to the social body relies upon the extent to which those bounds are mutual. Since not all EU members experience mutual benefits, not all EU members are bound to the union.

This is where the argument needs to be parsed delicately. As states, member nations have maintained their sovereignty in the strict sense that they can exist without the union. That is, when they are in a state of nature among each other, they are not necessarily in a predicament. As individuals, however, seventeen of twenty-seven members (recall, the acceptance of the euro is not a requirement for EU countries) have surrendered to the union monetary powers, making their economies codependent. Nevertheless, they maintain all political sovereignty and all potentiality for economic sovereignty. The other ten members, we can conclude, are nominal only, maintaining all former powers.

With regards to a solution for the Eurocrisis, then, the transition from state of nature to union must be complete. A central authority that can enforce cooperation is necessary to back the euro, for it is a fiat currency and is thus only exchangeable if it is stable. The European Central Bank needs the puissance to regulate banking, debt, and budgets. Execution of these fiscal policies must be consolidated under the European Commission. The European Council may need to be given more power over transportation and foreign affairs to facilitate intra- and inter-market transactions. This is all quite obvious with quasi-Rousseau logic, for a union as large as Europe entire must have a highly centralized authority (B. III, Ch. 1). Any further cession of sovereignty to the union would, however, raise further questions of the independence of member nations.

This is not to say that the EU was always a good idea, nor that Machiavelli and Rousseau would have simple support or protest for the union, only that further consolidation is justified based on the current monetary interdependence of the nations. Nor does this argument preclude the possibility of democratic nations electing representatives on a platform of EU dissolution. The people always have the power to change their government, but their government alone has the power to change, or conjoin, their economy.


A tale of two systems: Eric X. Li at TEDGlobal 2013

TED Blog

Born in Shanghai in 1968, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, Eric X. Li grew up hearing a story: All human societies develop in linear progression, beginning with primitive society, moving through capitalism to socialism and, finally, Communism. Sooner or later, all of humanity, regardless of creed or culture, will reach that final stage of political and social development. The world’s peoples will be unified in this paradise on Earth and live happily ever after. Meanwhile, we are engaged in a struggle between the good of socialism and the evil of capitalism. One third of the world’s population lived under this meta-narrative, distilled from the theories of Karl Marx. The story was a best-seller. “We were taught that story day in day out,” says Li. “It was part of us, and we believed it.”

But then, he says, showing a slide of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, the world changed overnight…

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Your mega summer reading list: 200 books recommended by TEDsters

TED Blog

Books can entertain, sucking you like a tornado into incredible new worlds. Books can teach, giving you a richer understanding of time periods, people and ideas you’ve never been exposed to. But books can do so much more.

[ted_talkteaser id=1755]In today’s talk, TED’s own Lisa Bu introduces us to the concept of “comparative reading,” the practice of reading books in pairs, to give deeper context and reveal new insights. Comparative reading not only helped Bu adjust to American culture after moving here from China for graduate school — it also helped her re-imagine her life and find new directions after her dream failed to come true. This personal, moving talk about the magic of books and resilience of the human spirit is a must-watch »

Every year at TED, we set up a bookstore filled with books recommended by TEDsters of note. Today, as you prepare for a summer…

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Freelance 101


By Caitlin Kelly

The reason I’m in Tucson for the moment is that my husband helps teach a two-week workshop called The New York Times Student Journalism Institute, offered twice a year to Hispanic and African-American students and recent graduates. Participants win two weeks mentoring one-on-one, while reporting stories here, with Times staff. (The other program is offered in New Orleans.)

All expenses paid, plus a stipend.

Oh, and your work may end up in the Times. Pretty amazing opportunity!

I spoke to the students about how to freelance, several of  whom had already begun to do it, and one lesson I shared is that you join a small community of people (even internationally) if you stay in the industry — one of the editors here was my city editor in 2006 at the New York Daily News — who I hadn’t seen since then.

I went hiking…

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Bertrand Russell: Is the Present King of France Bald?

Yale Books Blog: Yale University Press London

On this day in 1872, a boy was born in Wales who would later grow up to pose many perplexing questions to the rest of the world. His name was Bertrand Russell, and he is remembered today as an important British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. Russell held a good number of controversial beliefs in his lifetime and sometimes got into trouble for them. But he was a very influential thinker, and even contributed a great deal to the field of mathematics.

Yale University Press’ Little Histories collection is a family of books that takes a closer look at some of the most significant events, ideas, discoveries and people throughout history. As part of our ongoing coverage of the collection, here’s an excerpt from Nigel Warburton’s A Little History of Philosophy, a book that presents the grand sweep of humanity’s search for philosophical understanding from Socrates to Peter Singer.

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‘How to Read Literature’ by Terry Eagleton. Understanding Openings and ‘A Passage to India’

Yale Books Blog: Yale University Press London

What makes a work of literature good or bad? How freely can the reader interpret it? Could a nursery rhyme like Baa Baa Black Sheep be full of concealed loathing, resentment, and aggression? In this accessible, delightfully entertaining book, Terry Eagleton addresses these intriguing questions and a host of others. How to Read Literature is the book of choice for students new to the study of literature and for all other readers interested in deepening their understanding and enriching their reading experience. 

In this extract from the first Chapter of How to Read Literature, author, critic and philosopher Terry Eagleton discusses the mechanics of openings and why the narrator of A Passage to India seems so bored.

Learning how to be a literary critic is, among other things, a matter of learning how to deploy certain techniques. Like a lot of techniques – scuba-diving, for example, or playing the…

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Swift’s Gulliver: The Puppeteer and His Marionette


It is not appropriate to name Gulliver among the likes of Pip and Gatsby and Madame Bovary; he is not a literary character by their definition. At the same time, it is not enough to limit Captain Gulliver to the role of bland, transparent satirist, interpreting him only as Swift’s inked emissary. He is something in between. And, in the scope of Gulliver’s Travels, this murky dualism is imperative, for it elucidates the manner in which Swift can express misanthropy without implicating himself among the “Yahoos” he is satirizing.

It is rather simple to prove that Gulliver is not Swift’s direct representative: for much of the narrative, he is too imbecilic and innocent of an observer to properly convey the Juvenalian satire of Swift. Consider Gulliver’s voyage to Lilliput, the nation of diminutive humanoids, or his journey to the Houyhnhnms, the race of intelligent horses. While Swift compounds absurdity with absurdity in his fabrication of these worlds, Gulliver innocently takes these environs to their logical ends. For instance, the Lilliputians are credited with “bury[ing] their dead with their heads directly downwards,” under the presumption that the world will one day flip and the corpses will land on their feet (Swift and Seidel, 63). To this Gulliver makes no remark; Swift’s satire is palpable nevertheless. For another example, Gulliver claims that, “[t]he Houyhnhnms use the hollow part between the pastern and the hoof of their forefeet as we do our hands, and this with greater dexterity than I could at first imagine,” (273). He continues with descriptions of mares milking cows and stallions building huts. How outrageous an image does he have to describe before he abandons his mundane style and expresses the bewilderment of the reader? Apparently one more preposterous than a horse with “dexterity.”

It is not Gulliver’s simple narration alone that brands him naïve; rather, his eager claims of veracity implicate him. Gulliver may have been acquitted for his report of Swift’s environment if he had admitted its irrationality. Nevertheless, Gulliver repeatedly makes statements such as he did in Houyhnhnmland when he claimed: “I strictly adhere to truth,” (245). He even has the audacity to exclaim: “I should have great reason to complain, that some [readers] are so bold as to think my book of travels a mere fiction out of mine own brain,” (8). To a sane narrator, it should appear “so bold” for a reader to accept his book of travels without doubts! The outrageous surroundings in which Gulliver finds himself are beyond disbelief, let alone skepticism. But, as Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh comments, “Gulliver is a fellow ‘of exceeding honesty,’ and he goes about his deadly work the better for his bluntness and scrupulous pretense of veracity,” (138). Gulliver’s innocent outlook supplies the reader with a clear view of Swift’s irony and satire, for Gulliver is too ignorant to evaluate his circumstances in the reader’s stead.

Then Swift has created a Gulliver that cannot evaluate, an “ingénu” that “roams the world uncritically recording or even embracing the folly which it is [Swift’s] business to undermine,” (Elliott, 96-7). But our Captain is prone to random bursts of enlightened criticism, such as his reflection on “how vain an attempt it is for man to endeavor doing himself honor among those who are out of all degree of equality or comparison with him,” (128). And therein is rooted Gulliver’s second misnomer, that of a literary character. His development is too disjointed—if at all connected—for him to possess the traditional dynamism of a novel’s protagonist. Indeed, “Gulliver’s character can hardly be said to develop; it simply changes,” (97).

Consider, for example, Gulliver’s tendency to assimilate. As he grows accustomed to each new land, Gulliver begins to use the possessive “our”: “our district,” “our house, “our family,” (269-73). He seems to lose his identity in an effort to fit in, to weave himself into his incredible surroundings. We encounter here an insecure Gulliver, a traveler that wishes to dress as the Lilliputians dress, stride as the giants stride, think as the Laputans think. Most strikingly, this Gulliver wishes to abandon his humanity, accept the reason and ways of the Houyhnhnms, and never return to England. He chronically abandons his ego. And yet, barring his final return, each regression to Redriff provides the same, unmuted, British maritime physician that precariously set sail years before. His remarkable circumstances do little to develop his character; in fact, they do little to create a character at all.

One of the few developments of Gulliver is that he grows disillusioned. This is most glaring when juxtaposing the innocence of Gulliver in his first three voyages with his vitriol in the last. Our babbling buffoon—the man who considered peace a “narrow principle,” who criticized the king of Brobdingnag for rejecting armaments, who was confounded by Laputan meritocracy—began his travels blindly patriotic (139, 190). He admits that he has “always borne that laudable partiality to [England],” going so far as to apologize to his readers for any criticisms of his homeland that he was forced to record (137). The Gulliver of these voyages is “an absorber of [irony], a character who proceeds with the comic bewilderment of a quixote,” (Hanlon, 7). Compare that to the Gulliver of the horses’ stable in Houyhnhnmland: passionately reasonable, sharply misanthropic, fallibly truthful. Inspired by his equine companions, Gulliver not only considers, but also espouses the reproaches of his native land that reason ordains. He basks in the absence of all humans from “tedious talkers” to “strolling whores” (276). He is even openly satirical, chastising men for their misapplication of reason: “When I thought of . . . human race in general, I considered them as they really were, Yahoos in shape and disposition, only a little more civilized . . . making no other use of reason than to improve and multiply those vices,” (277). To the new disillusioned Gulliver, England—and human nature—was nothing more than an embarrassing root.

It is pertinent here to explore the Gulliver that records the Travels, for he is not the same as the Gulliver that experiences them. As the prefatory letter indicates, the Captain who sat down at Redriff to record his journeys was crazed and misanthropic—manic, even. He chastises his editor for making him “say the thing that was not,” and rants about “some corruptions of [his] Yahoo nature” reviving in him (5, 8). This is a Gulliver that despises human kind, having lived with and learned from the reasoned horses of Houyhnhnmland. But it is this same Gulliver that wrote the first three voyages, plainly reconstructing his former self, withholding the criticisms of the Lilliputians and Brobdingnagans and Laputans that he certainly would make now. The “inversion of common sense” that this idea elucidates confirms Gulliver’s misnomer and, more extremely, suggests insanity (98).

This duality of Gulliver—character or satirist, ingénu or misanthrope—is exactly what Swift desired. By casting doubt upon the congruency and sanity of his narrator, Swift is able to dissociate himself from Gulliver. The captain can neither be Swift’s voice nor Swift’s independent character; he is at once tied to and torn from his manipulator—he is a puppet. And this is logically required, for the theme of misanthropy is rendered null and void if presented by Swift alone. Indeed, “if all men are Yahoos, the creator of Gulliver is a Yahoo among the rest, and Gulliver’s Travels . . . are no more than the noisome braying of an odious beast,” (99). But the total Yahoodom of man is not actually Swift’s idea; this gem belongs to Gulliver. It is the manic seaman that presents the reader with a diatribe on human pride at book’s end, and it is him in Houyhnhnmland and Redriff who stuffs his nose with tobacco leaves to avoid smelling human flesh (294). Swift strings Gulliver toward hyperbolic misanthropy in order to underscore his own: “I hate and detest the animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth,” (Swift, 103). Swift’s misanthropy is humanistic, for it accepts human folly, but not Gulliver’s assertion of human rottenness (99).

The opacity of authorial responsibility that often dominates the Travels is dissolved when viewed in this light. Although subtle, the fracture between Swift and Gulliver is illuminated by the seeming mistakes and inconsistencies of the latter. Indeed, Gulliver proves to be an “abstraction, manipulated in the service of satire,” (97). For Swift, this puppetry exonerates him of hypocrisy and frees him to express his peculiar brand of misanthropy, the “great foundation” of Gulliver’s Travels (103).

7 writer/artist/thinker groups whose members made a tremendous impact on their time … as well as ours

TED Blog

In 1812, four men met for a “philosophical breakfast” at Cambridge University: Charles Babbage, John Herschel, Richard Jones and William Whewell. Over food and drinks, they debated the state of knowledge –- imagining a world in which thinkers drew conclusions based on data, where research was done for the good of humanity rather than for financial gain, where researchers questioned each other in the name of moving each other forward and where research received outside funding rather than requiring an individual to pay for it themselves.

[ted_talkteaser id=1712] In today’s talk, historian Laura Snyder gives us an introduction to the discussions of these four men, who eventually became known as The Philosophical Breakfast Club. While their ideas form the basis of scientific inquiry now, their concepts were radical at the time, says Snyder in this talk from TEDGlobal 2012. It would be another 20 years before the term…

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