Sunday, June 28, 2020

Social Sadism: The Woman Who Studied Cruelty (a lesson for today)

Since we posted "Social Sadism and the Sadocratic Impulse" in 2018 it seems the phenomena has spread far and wide, cruelty for no apparent reason, just because you can.
One of the more recent examples was the multi-thousand word story about a hitherto unknown woman who went to a party wearing blackface to mock a celebrity who wore blackface.
NewYorkMag investigated and summarized the story in "Why Did the Washington Post Get This Woman Fired?"
(HT: FT Alphaville, Further Reading, June 26)

Contra that woman, the WaPo didn't collect scalps from Tina Fey (she wrote blackface into three episodes of her show, 30 Rock), Justin Trudeau who wore blackface on multiple occasions (and appears, in a couple of the pics to stuff socks into his crotch).
The Post didn't go after Ralph Northam, Governor of Virginia in their own freakin' back yard.
But some rando woman, she they take down and destroy.

Observant reader may have noticed we don't link to the Post nearly as much as we once did.
Since Bezos bought it from the newspaperly Graham fam in 2013, the WaPo has degenerated into a garbage rag.
Plus you can't trust them. There was the time they ran the story claiming the Naked Capitalism blog was fāke News. WTH?
Or the story with the Daily Mail-esque headline “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.” in December 2016. Forbes called them out two days later.

I guess I'm saying the Washington Post is nothing but a content farm operating under the guise of being a news organization. And being callously cruel as they do it.

Which brings us to Judith Shklar, the first woman to receive tenure in Harvard's Government department. She later was appointed to an endowed chair as the John Cowles Professor of Government. She was an intellectual heavyweight.

From the National Interest, June 23, 2019:

How Great a Scholar Was Judith Shklar?
Utopian dreams that curdled into nightmares were a frequent theme and personal experience of Stalinism and Nazism infused Shklar's scholarship. She stands out for the wide range of her interests, literary and historical, enabling her to draw connections between authors separated by centuries and revolutions of thought.
THE SUDDEN death of Judith N. Sklar in 1992 at the age of sixty-three deprived American letters of a distinctive and imposing voice. Her friend and colleague Stanley Hoffmann in the Government department at Harvard once remarked, “she was by far the biggest star of the department.” Her most important contribution to political thought was the “liberalism of fear,” an imperative to put “cruelty first” as the vice to be identified and eradicated. An exile from Riga who arrived in America in 1940 on a boat from Japan as an eleven-year-old with her family, she wrote in a detached yet moving style of the challenges and rewards of living removed from home. Utopian dreams that curdled into nightmares were a frequent theme and personal experience of Stalinism and Nazism infused her scholarship. She stands out for the wide range of her interests, literary and historical, enabling her to draw connections between authors separated by centuries and revolutions of thought. In an essay in Daedalus, for example, Shklar discovered analogous structures of meaning in the Five Generations of Hesiod and Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality.

Shklar’s writing was never less than clear and approachable, qualities readily apparent in On Political Obligation, a series of lectures that have been edited by Samantha Ashenden and Andreas Hess. They explain that Shklar would herself not have published these lectures in their current form. A number of the talks are either missing or presented in truncated form. Shklar had also voiced reservations about the publication of lectures by colleagues, as the editors note, for erasing the distinction between teaching and writing.

But Shklar did have a book in mind on the theme of political obligation and the lectures provide a map to the lines she might have pursued. The editors themselves observe, “the lectures on political obligation provide the missing link between her last two books, The Faces of Injustice and American Citizenship, and the intention of writing a political theory from the vantage point of exile.” If Shklar had a general theory of political obligation it is hovering at a distance. She focuses on particular authors and political figures whose works enter on the questions of “should I obey” and “what and how far can I legitimately obey.” We get to hear, at a distance, the voice of an outstanding teacher grappling with the life and death issues that link ancient Athens with contemporary America. Throughout, Shklar was commendably forthright in addressing the big questions that many of her colleagues shunned. But the lectures, an early draft, to be sure, of a book that Shklar was unable to complete, suggest that her answers were not always wholly persuasive.

TO HIGHLIGHT the complexities of moral engagement, Shklar delivered a lecture contrasting Ernst von Weizsäcker, a high-ranking official in the German Foreign Office with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the renowned theologian who helped found the Confessing Church that opposed Nazism. Weizsäcker, who sat out the war’s end in a cozy Foreign Office post in the Vatican, was arraigned at Nuremberg (where he was defended by his son Richard who became a leading figure in postwar Germany, first as mayor of West Berlin, then as president of the Federal Republic) and sentenced to a seven-year prison term for abetting crimes against humanity, which was later commuted. Bonhoeffer, by contrast, had links to the July 20, 1944 conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler, which led to his imprisonment and death at the hands of the vengeful Nazis.

Shklar draws on Weizsäcker’s postwar memoirs to limn the intricacies of his collaboration with a murderous regime; we get him as he understood or wished himself to be understood. He put on an outward show of loyalty by joining the NSDAP and the SS but his true fealty was to the Foreign Office, a redoubt imbued with traditions that harkened back to the pre-Nazi order. “[I]t was to preserve its traditional class and expert character that he wanted to stay there and serve it,” Shklar remarks. It’s a perfectly respectable observation except that it was, of course, Hitler who was calling the shots, as it were. She also points to a less interested source, Paul Seabury’s classic The Wilhelmstrasse, to remark upon Weizsäcker’s palpable contempt for Joachim von Ribbentrop, the champagne salesman turned foreign minister. Still, Ribbentrop turned out to be “a lot shrewder” than his aristocratic underling. That shrewdness came to light in Ribbentrop’s support for Weizsäcker to become state secretary. He knew what he was about. “[T]his man will obey,” he told Hitler. Obedience, in other words, was the moving principle of Weizsäcker’s career.... 

If interested here is her short essay "Putting Cruelty First":
The following article first appeared in Daedalus 111:3, Summer, 1982, pp. 17-28 (Copyright 1982 by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences). It is reproduced with the kind permission of MIT Press Journals. Parts of the article were reprinted in Ordinary Vices (Harvard University Press, 1984).
I have not had any of my posts intro'd by dropping the Journals of the MIT Press, the Harvard University Press and the AAAS in the introductory paragraph.

On the other hand, I think of the Washington Post as Amon Göth, commandant of the  Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp shooting random prisoners and servants from his house to get his kicks. 
Judith Shklar probably would not think of the WaPo that way.

"Media That Focus on Scandals and Spread Fake News to Smear Politicians Risk Becoming Like People Who Have a Morbid Fascination with Excrement"--Pope Francis
Washington Post Says Their Fake News Story May Be Fake News
Rolling Stone Slams Washington Post Over Fake News Story  
BOMBSHELL: Prince Was Secretly Married, Died To Protect CIA Connection !!! 

'Fake News' Site Threatens Washington Post With Real Lawsuit