I think that sums it up

NICE, FRANCE - JUNE 25:  Dejection for England fans at full time during the UEFA Euro 2016 Round of 16 match between England and Iceland at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 27 in Nice, France.  (Photo by Craig Mercer/CameraSport via Getty Images)

NICE, FRANCE – JUNE 25: Dejection for England fans at full time during the UEFA Euro 2016 Round of 16 match between England and Iceland at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 27 in Nice, France. (Photo by Craig Mercer/CameraSport via Getty Images)

democracy FAIL

Since ancient times, philosophers have tried to devise systems to try to balance the strengths of majority rule against the need to ensure that informed parties get a larger say in critical decisions, not to mention that minority voices are heard. In the Spartan assemblies of ancient Greece, votes were cast by acclamation. People could modulate their voice to reflect the intensity of their preferences, with a presiding officer carefully listening and then declaring the outcome. It was imperfect, but maybe better than what just happened in the UK.

By some accounts, Sparta’s sister state, Athens, had implemented the purest historical example of democracy. All classes were given equal votes (albeit only males). Ultimately, though, after some catastrophic war decisions, Athenians saw a need to give more power to independent bodies.

Kenneth Rogoff. The entire ethos of late-modern procedural bureaucracy is summed up in those last two words: “independent bodies.”

on the reckless lending of megaphones

Everybody knows that there are people like this — smug, self-satisfied, massively condescending towards everyone whom they believe to be less cosmopolitan. Everyone also knows that there are people like this — bloated by a sense of entitlement, hyperbolically emotional when their will is thwarted, oblivious to any perspective or experience but their own. The sort of people you dread being seated next to at dinner, or being unable to escape at a party.

You read a few articles along these lines and it can be tempting to categorize a whole generation in the terms I’ve just used — and in fact, I often see such language used to describe millennials and whatever we’re going to call the people who come after millennials. (I bet you do too.) But this is manifestly unfair. I have spent my life working with young people, and while I have from time to time had to deal with the petty, the selfish, the entitled, they are pretty rare. The great majority of the students I’ve dealt with in my 35 years of teaching have been respectful and reasonable — sometimes unhappy with my ideas or my grading, to be sure, but unhappy within the normal parameters of human intercourse — and that hasn’t changed at all in recent years. I see absolutely no evidence that millennials are more inclined to such vices than earlier generations.

So the problem — and there is a problem — is not that there are more people like this than there used to be but that they are nowadays more likely to be given a megaphone. Those two pieces I just linked to are content-free, idea-free, reflection-free. They are bleats. And if you want to bleat to your friends over drinks, or on your blog, by all means knock yourself out. But for newspapers like the New York Times and websites like Vox to give a massive signal boost to brainless stuff like this is inexcusable. Have some standards, editors, if only minimal ones.

Farewell, Michael Bradley?

Not so long ago, Michael Bradley was a young, rising, dynamic midfielder who was making a real name for himself in Serie A. Then he came to Roma and discovered that, in the eyes of the coaches, he was not nearly as good as Miralem Pjanic and not quite as good as Kevin Strootman — which made him the third man in a two-man central midfield. So he left for MLS.

In retrospect this does not seem like a good decision. Strootman has been injury-plagued and Bradley surely would have played regularly over the last couple of years — and now Pjanic has moved to Jventus. There is a real chance that had he stuck it out Bradley would now be a central figure in one of the best Serie A clubs.

But he chose to leave, and his game has been in decline ever since. Never much of an attacking threat, he has ceased to attack at all, especially with the USMNT, and what was once his greatest strength — patience and reliability on the ball — has become a notable weakness. With club and especially with country his passing accuracy has dropped noticeably and he gives the ball away with distressing frequency; moreover, he often shows little interest in working to get back the balls he loses.

Bradley has been an important figure in American soccer for many years now, but I am inclined to think that, whatever happens in the clubs he plays for, the USMNT needs to look beyond him. He has long been assured of a place in the side, but it is a place he no longer deserves. I think it may be time for the USMNT to say Arrivederci to Michael Bradley.

But I hope tonight he makes me seriously question this judgment.

The City of God is not Brussels

Christians are duty bound for theological and historical reasons to support the ever closer union of Europe (which does not imply a superstate) and to deny the value of absolute sovereignty or the lone nation-state. Tragically, the Reformation, Roundhead, nonconformist, puritan, whig, capitalist, liberal version of Britishness last night triumphed over our deep ancient character which is Catholic or Anglican, Cavalier, Jacobite, High Tory or Socialist. The spirit of both Burke and Cobbett has been denied by the small-minded, bitter, puritanical, greedy and Unitarian element in our modern legacy. Unfortunately it has duped the working classes, once again to their further ruination.

John Milbank. Aside from its rather massive condescension — We of the cultural elite know what’s best for those poor duped working-class folk who simply can’t be trusted to act in their own self-interest — this comment perfectly embodies what we might call Zombie Hegelianism. The genuine and full-blooded belief in the irresistible forward march of the Weltgeist has long-since died, but here’s its reanimated corpse: a vague notion that there’s some correspondence between the current European project and the transnational, transcultural Body of Christ. But if we’re going to immanentize the eschaton can’t we ask for something more robust than a bloodless bureaucracy?

Better still, perhaps we could think of the European political order as a set of practical arrangements for improving the common weal and evaluate them in that pragmatic spirit, rather than as spiritual prostheses, extensions of the Church of Jesus Christ.

a matter of temperament

As a conservative-liberal-socialist, I don’t fit onto any political maps that I know of, and I am accustomed to feeling slightly out of place — more, out of focus — in any given policy debate. But despite the sizable liberal element in my own personal political constitution, in times of serious conflict — today’s Brexit contretemps, for instance — I am always temperamentally alienated from liberalism. For what distinguishes many (most?) liberals from both conservatives and socialists, as today’s social media torpedoes reveal, is genuine incomprehension that any sane and decent person could disagree with them. By contrast, conservatives and socialists, accustomed as they are to being distinctly out of the norm and to having their views go largely unrepresented in mainstream media, expect and are prepared to deal with disagreement.

So when liberals lose contests, they have a marked tendency to attribute disagreement to malice or stupidity or, when they’re being kind, naked emotionalism — though they themselves can get altogether overwrought in their insistence that the liberal position simply is the rational one. As a result, when they don’t win they sound, to put it bluntly, like whiny babies. And this is why, despite the significant proportion of my political views that is genuinely liberal, I am less at home among liberals than among any other political group. Once their howls of outrage get wound up — and there is no outrage like that of a thwarted cultural elite — I just want to back quietly out of the room, close the door behind me, and get as far away as I can.

the thinkpiece so dumb that it makes you shut your computer down and go for a walk

Oh, sure, UK : EU :: Texas : USA. I mean, if Texas had been an independent nation for a thousand years before joining a brand-new United States twenty years ago, retaining its own national sovereignty, its own military, and its own currency. Those trivial differences aside, great analogy.

needed: a grip

A view from the English channel, looking towards England — as seen in the fevered imagination of Felix Salmon. “That world—the world of hope, the world of ever-closer union among countries which for centuries would kill each other by the million—came to a shattering end on Thursday.” Good grief. Listening to Salmon’s shrieking, you’d never know that the EU is less than a quarter-century old, and is the product of post-World-War-II cooperation, not the cause of it. Brexit may have been a mistake, but apocalyptic rhetoric like this is just ridiculous.

some early thoughts about the Brexit

One: I only wish this had happened when I was in London last week: those snooty waiters at those posh restaurants would have fallen at my feet when I waved American currency before them.

Two: Chris Hayes gives us the tweet of the century (in more ways than one):


Three: Since Plato’s Republic, rational political planners have lamented and sneered at and railed against humans’ tendency to have strong local, familial, and communal ties, and weak ties to larger and more abstract entities. But the planners have never taken those preferences seriously, or tried seriously to persuade those who don’t already share their understanding of what counts as rational. They have always blamed the rubes and rednecks for their lack of sophistication, and that will continue in this moment. The one certainty is that no one in Brussels will say: Man, we really screwed this up.

Four: Europe now consists of Germany and a set of its client states.

Five: The functional language of the EU is a bizarre variant of English sometimes called Brussels English. With Brexit, will English gradually be deprecated within the corridors of the EU headquarters? Seems unlikely, but that would be a curious development. Perhaps Esperanto’s day has come at last.

Six: Love means never having to say you’re sorry:

A photo posted by Alan Jacobs (@ayjay) on

Seven: Watch this (preferably with the bombastic music turned low) and remember that Europe is more than the EU — and that some things of beauty will remain even when the EU has long since passed away:

Byzantine – BigFly from BigFly.fr on Vimeo.

excerpts from my Sent folder: on Imagination

“Imagination” became a word to conjure with in the Romantic era, thanks largely to Coleridge, with some help from Shelley, but it’s interesting to note that in the early modern period it’s usually, if not invariably, pejorative: e.g. Tyndale has Paul denouncing people who are “full of vanities in their imaginations” (Romans 1) and saying “we overthrow imaginations” (2 Corinthians 10). It’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for years, because I have an inchoate theory about how imagination is a dangerous thing in an enchanted world but a necessary thing in a disenchanted one.

In any case, we need some kind of language to describe the mental investment of the listener or reader in generating a lively sense of what he or she is encountering artistically — the sort of constructive ability of the receiving mind to capture which Coleridge coins the adjective “esemplastic.” I wonder if the language used in cultivating The Art of Memory (the title of France’s Yates’s great book) in the early modern period, which was so relentlessly visual, would be helpful to you…