Saturday, June 09, 2018

some links for the weekend, a case that the university isn't an aristocracy still comess off as aristocratic, Millenials are "generation broke", and Weezer covers Toto's "Africa"

over at Chronicle for Higher Education Nathan Schneider writes that the university system is not necessarily an aristocracy


Less than 5 percent of the university’s budget comes from the legislature of the state whose name it bears and whose elected regents govern it. And we are far from alone. Public universities all over the country are being expected to behave more like private businesses. Tuition nationwide has risen far faster than families’ incomes — by more than 50 percent in Colorado since 2008. It costs about $30,000 each year to be an in-state student at CU Boulder and $50,000 for those from elsewhere.
University people have internalized this. I regularly hear students, colleagues, and administrators refer to themselves as elite, as if this were uncontroversial, even in a populist era when elitism is not doing higher education any political favors. We aspire to selectivity and winning sports teams more than to enabling social mobility. The truth is that most of us are not economically or otherwise especially elite. Nor can what we do in universities operate for long as an income-generating business like any other. Our job is not to be elite, by some contrived measure, or to outcompete the competition. It is to serve. [emphasis added]

My other grandfather was a professor at a state university, a devoted and decorated teacher of orbital mechanics and an early environmental activist. He left a more lucrative career in industry to do it. I once heard him express a longing that I might have the privilege of being a professor too, a longing that at the time seemed about as remote and quaint as a wish that I would succeed him in the horse-and-carriage business.

Somehow, it worked out, and I am starting to understand why this profession meant so much to my grandfathers. Universities are precious institutions that make space for the free inquiry that our politics and markets alone would not know how to value. [emphasis added] A hailstorm, or other circumstances beyond our control, should not be allowed to stop those who seek to experience this.

But this is an appeal to the university system being an elite, an aristocracy.  Sure, it's not an appeal to universities being the home of a financial elite and not to a formal, titled aristocracy.  But in the context of what a variety of authors call the era of neoliberalism the university is the residence of a cognitive elite.   The idea that universities are precious institutions that make space for the ree inquiry that our politics and markets alone would not know how to value doesn't seem like it's proven so much as asserted.  Would Jonathan Haidt and others have gotten around to starting Heterodox Academy if they were really certain and had no doubts that the university systems in place were fostering free inquiry?  For instance ...

or ...

Throw in the observations that the urban/rural divide is growing more pronounced, we can look back on some frustrations vented with the election of Trump to the effect that a bunch of rural ignorant farmers were able to sway the electorate.  Pervasive gerrymandering seemed to play a role but ... if we go back to the more caustic formulations of the idea that the urban centers count in a way that can't be said about the rest of the United States ...

It's time to state something that we've felt for a long time but have been too polite to say out loud: Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion--New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on. And we live on islands in red states too--a fact obscured by that state-by-state map. Denver and Boulder are our islands in Colorado; Austin is our island in Texas; Las Vegas is our island in Nevada; Miami and Fort Lauderdale are our islands in Florida. Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland "values" like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country. And we are the real Americans. They--rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs--are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers. Red Virginia prohibits any contract between same-sex couples.


another way to read that sanctimonious rant is to suggest that it was a manifesto in favor of the idea that a handful of cities and their urban populations should be allowed to establish the guiding policies for the entirety of the United States, a United City-States of America. 

Now maybe an era of megalithic corporate feudalism with city-states calling all the shots sounds appealing to editors at The Stranger even now, but there's all kind of ways in which that manifesto, as stated, seems like an aristocratic rather than a democratic impulse ... unless we're talking about a democracy as conceived by ancient Greek city-states or something ... .

Yet here we are fourteen years after The Stranger's manifesto, in the age of Trump because if everyone is living in the cities who wants to vote blue then, guess what?  Clinton could lose more electoral votes on the day of the actual vote than she did by way of pledged voters on a fateful Tuesday.  Clinton lost electoral votes in Washington state when people tried to call for a "Hamilton" moment.  One possible reason among many for that is that for those who insisted on the primacy of the urban archipelago there was a forceful, maybe even brutal reminder that that is not how the electoral systems actually work. 

And we're in an era in which it looks like millenials have a ton of doubt.

It's not necessarily that they have more debt than Generation X in every respect, it's more like Generation X managed to pick up a few conventional assets along the way by way of cars and homes that millenials haven't attained to the same degree.  The chart in the article shows that Gen X got hit harder in initially by the 2008 crash but that there's a slight rebound, whereas millenials are sinking. 

I sometimes get the impression that journalism seems to spend most of its time on Boomers and millenials.  It's almost like Generation X isn't on the radar any more.  There's reason to wonder whether millenials will have a solvent Social Security System by the time they're old enough to draw on it. 

One among many reasons to doubt whether or not #MeToo and #TimesUp may lead to lasting change has less to do with the causes themselves then the details of how individual incidents play out.  For instance ... Jeffrey Tambor's capacity for verbal abuse is probably moot to anyone who has heard his vituperative bent in a single episode of, say, Archer. That's not so much news, it's not even news that "artists have their unique way of doing things" spiel comes up. So the ... explanation Jason Bateman gave for Tambor's way of dealing with cast members doesn't seem surprising.

“What we do for a living is not normal,” Jason Bateman said in Wednesday’s New York Times interview with the cast of Arrested Development, in an effort to address his co-star Jeffrey Tambor’s admitted verbal abuse of Jessica Walter. “Therefore the process is not normal sometimes, and to expect it to be normal is to not understand what happens on set. Again, not to excuse it.” As Hollywood continues to grapple with widespread revelations of hostile work environments, institutional sexism, and sexual misconduct on and off set, Bateman insisted that he wasn’t trying to explain away an actor’s bad behavior—while displaying, over and over, exactly how his industry does it.
Bateman’s glaring mistake in the interview—for which he has already apologized—is how he rushed to defend Tambor from Walter’s account of Tambor screaming at her on the set of Arrested Development years ago. In doing so, Bateman defaulted to every entrenched cultural script of minimizing fault, downplaying misbehavior, and largely attributing Tambor’s verbal harassment to the unique, circumstantial pressures of acting—a process, he suggested, most onlookers could not hope to understand.
but, of course, in this moment in America all sorts of things could be blamed on the atavistic influence of Puritan culture ... although sometimes I wonder how many people who rush to blame the Puritans have read even one sermon by a single Puritan.  Are we sure that what is imputed to the Puritan legacy as a whole couldn't also be credited or blamed to more nominalist Anglican/Episcopalian traditions?  Or Lutherans? Or Baptists?  Or Methodists? 

The point being that there's a low threshold in American cultural discourse for blaming Puritans for the cultural evils of American society that may on the one hand give the American Puritans too much credit and on the other hand may tar them as the originators of ideals and ideas that after so many centuries might be more emblematic of American thought rather than Puritanism across the board--which is another way of saying I like English Puritans a bit more than American Puritans.  It's possible that all sorts of theocratic/dominionist thought from postmillennialist traditions could be pinned on Americans of all sorts of theological stripes or even atheological stripes if we throw in Marxists with their post-Hegelian philosophy of history stuff. 

and on that note ...

for those who have never heard of Richard Sibbes, Digital Puritan has what looks to be his whole catalog over here.

apropos of nothing ... Weezer has covered the Toto song "Africa"


an Atlantic article asks whether Classic Rock was really a sound or a "tribe"?

We now live in the era of the blockbuster obituary—a Tom Petty or Wolfe drops with at least the frequency of a Disney franchise movie—largely for simple demographic reasons: The Baby Boom has reached the beginning of the end of its trajectory. And the Boomers, as seen in the very label classic applying to the soundtrack of their primes, have excelled at overlaying the mantle of myth on stories whose ink was still drying. But the overlapping public funerals of the past few years have also been a forum for intergenerational probing of legacies. Just this week, it’s been made clear how cherished Philip Roth was by the writers who came up after him. But resentments have also been revealed, linked to the notion of important white men choking off pathways to acclaim.
Hyden, though, is not a fight-picker. He ends up defining down classic rock, positioning it less as an essential art form than as a slowly dissolving tribe. The driving thesis seems to be that classic rock electrified folks like him not necessarily because of the brilliance of the musicianship, the evolutionary way it expanded its form, or the grand truths it told. Rather, the connection was personal. “I needed role models,” he writes, “and while Jimmy Page was unlike me in every other way, he did sort of look like me, which was enough.” That admission comes during an admirably self-aware passage about classic rock’s racial biases, and Hyden might not be mad if you came into the book thinking that classic rock was a last hurrah of straight-white-male centrality and finished the book still believing that.
He does toy with more formal definitions of classic rock, though. Early on, we’re reminded that the term derives from radio taxonomies, and that the divide that programmers made between “oldies” and “classic rock,” somewhat arbitrarily, drew a line in the mid-’60s. But he also suggests that intrinsic to classic rock is an emphasis on cohesive albums like The Dark Side of the Moon and Tommy. As a teen, what attracted him to classic rock was that it “felt like the opposite of pop music, which was proudly disposable and all about the here and now … whereas classic rock had roots that you could trace back as far as you cared to go.” The genre, he argues, began with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 and ended with Nine Inch Nails’s The Fragile in 1999.
These criteria—radio classification, album-length ambition, and an awareness of tradition and legacy—clearly aren’t watertight, though. [emphasis added] Other genres have meaty, purpose-driven albums, as seen lately with Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar (both of whom Hyden acknowledges). Other genres self-consciously evolve from old traditions and aim for lasting listenership, as seen, again, in Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar. Moreover, if the album matters so much, why is classic radio—which divorces song from track listing—still the practical arbiter of the canon? Why is the most widely owned release by the Eagles, named by Hyden as the platonic classic-rock band, a collection of singles? Why is there a chapter on Phish and the Grateful Dead, whose appeal is concert improvisation rather than studio recordings? And what classic-rock station is playing “Starfuckers, Inc.”?
Having recently finished Knapp's monograph on Haydn (discussed here) it's interesting that Knapp pointed out that when rock music began to be taken seriously as an art form it was paradoxically "just" those strands of rock and roll that could be taken seriously on the basis of one of two standard cultural scripts. The first cultural script was of an oppressed minority barred from mainstream participation (black music) but the second cultural script was the rock star as a kind of authentic Byronic hero.  Knapp's observation is that the kinds of rock that got accepted got accepted in terms that were paradoxically consistent with a re-applied checklist from German Idealism, and this despite the fact that a lot of rock and popular music was still coming from traditions of music and entertainment that can be thought of as having rejected the paradigms of German Idealism.  The rock and pop that has not passed muster in being part of a rock canon (i.e. "classic rock") could be seen as work that is too camp to fit into the ideals of a "rockist" as opposed to "poptimist" sensibility.
Come to think of it, the "rockist" vs "poptimist" debates could come down to sensibility wars as to who favors the legacy of German Idealism and who is not in favor of it. 
Billy Joel, for instance, can probably never be completely assimilated into the ethos of "classic rock" any more than probably Elton John can.  Piano-drive pop music became insufficiently rocking for the genre.  But then you might have Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder and they're fine, because ... well ... not white.  The legacy of German idealism influencing white literary, arts and music criticism might even explain why someone like Jimi Hendrix could define rock and roll even as many other black musicians and composers get somehow shunted off to the side as R&B or pop. 

a post on the recently deceased Bourdain has me wondering about some of the axioms that get out on the net

Anthony Bourdain has died and because it is a fact of life in the age of the internet that celebrity deaths are occasions for cultural commentary we get cultural commentary.  In this most recent case there's a rumination at Mbird.  In the same sense that I don't really think we can all describe ourselves as sad Ben Affleck; I don't believe that it's actually the case that if we don't appreciate the art of monsters we'll have no art left and have written about that at some length; I also don't really agree with the following axiom.

We all long for fame on some level or another. Maybe we won’t be Anthony Bourdain. Perhaps we would really love to be the head of a company. Or the head pastor of our church. Or have more followers on social media. Or be the PTA president. [emphasis added] But fame does not do what it promises. Because fame has an unquenchable desire to be fed. It solves none of life’s problems. Fame will take your mental illness, insecurities, and addictions and scare the hell out of you. Because now, instead of just you carrying the burden of yourself, it is entirely possible that the whole world will find out your deepest, darkest secrets. I cannot imagine the stress.
In this way, suicide makes an odd kind of sense. It is that exposure of all our brokenness to the world. It is this way of saying, “I can’t hold it all together. I give up completely. And I will do it in front of all you who have asked far too much of me.” Certainly, not every famous person will die by suicide. But I believe we would be shocked to know how many of them have considered it. 
In truth, we were not made for fame. Being famous ultimately means being responsible for other people’s lives. It means taking on the pressures of the world. And it means being loved by people who do not really love you. Because they do not really know you. And this is the worst kind of love to be offered.

It's not really clear to me that we do all long for fame on some level or another or what is meant by that declared longing.  There may be a distinction between fame for one thing and fame for another, for instance.  Someone may be famous for his or her work but not famous in other respects.  Pierre Boulez was notorious within the classical world but he said he wanted to live the kind of life where there couldn't be an interesting biography written about him, or so I read or heard somewhere.  Hindemith was reticent about personal life details in favor of letting the music he wrote speak (or not) for itself.

So it's possible that there's a uniquely American sensibility about what "fame" is supposed to be and why "we" might all long for it. 

I'm also not sure about the suicide as public service announcement of "I don't have it together" claim.  People who kill themselves may despair of life more than they fear death.  In a culture in which individual autonomy largely seems to be prized more than personal or familial honor suicide may not mean "here" what it has meant in other cultural contexts. 

Joe Horowitz on Shostakovich, the Cold War, and CIA sponsored take-downs of the composer's work

One of my favorite composers is the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich.  Actually, despite growing up American I've had a fondness for Soviet composers that goes back to my late teens when I heard the 8th string quartet.  I was also inspired at a young age by, of course, Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.  So even if I grew up a Pentecostal kid in Oregon set against communist expansion in political terms I couldn't help but admire the musicianship and craft of a number of Soviet composers. 

But I also began to discover that there were two scripts about Soviet music in college and adulthood.  One script had it that Soviet music was by definition not even really art.  That is most forcefully articulated by the likes of Adorno but there are other variants, which we'll be looking at.  But the other script I was exposed to was that all the really great musicians and artists in the history of the Soviet Union had to be anti-Soviet dissidents in some way, shape or form.  That was fostered by what increasingly seems to be a mythological presentation of Shostakovich as a dissident.  It is fostered somewhat, perhaps, by the stories of people like Solzhenitsyn, too, where writers and artists who were imprisoned gain a kind of street cred through imprisonment that elevates their work and stature.  Either that or the secret dissident script is applied.  The possibility that genuinely skilled and even visionary artists and writers and musicians could be completely invested in Soviet ideology.  There's a similar dynamic at work in the United States and elsewhere in the West, we could call it a kind of Star Trek ideology (which, the more I've thought about it ,the more the entire Star Trek franchise could be considered emblematic of what people are nowadays calling neoliberalism, which can be thought of as a totalizing cultural imperialism that prefers soft power but always has the phasers at the ready, even if they're supposed to be set on stun) ... anyway, getting to Horowitz.

“It is difficult to detect any significant difference between one piece and another. Nor is there any relief from the dominant tone of ‘uplift.’ The musical products of different parts of the Socialist Fatherland all sound as though they had been turned out by Ford or General Motors.”

This October 1953 assessment of contemporary Soviet music, by Nicolas Nabokov in the premiere issue of Encounter Magazine, is fascinating for three reasons. The first is that Encounter, which became a prestigious organ of the Anglo-American left, was covertly founded and funded by the CIA via the Congress for Cultural Freedom, itself a CIA front. The second is that Nabokov, a minor composer closely associated with Stravinsky, was the CCF music specialist.  The third is that his article “No Cantatas for Stalin?” imparts blatant misinformation. And yet Nabokov was shrewd. charming, worldly, never obtuse. He was also laden by baggage of a kind that was bound to skew his every musical observation.

Nabokov’s verdict came weeks before Evgeny Mravinsky premiered Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 with his peerless Leningrad Philharmonic. Some two years before that, Shostakovich completed a cycle of 24 Preludes and Fugues for solo piano. Neither work sustains a dominant tone of uplift. In fact, both are imperishable monuments to the complexity of the human spirit, arguably unsurpassed by any subsequent twentieth-century symphonic or keyboard composition.

A cousin of the famous novelist, Nabokov was born in 1903 near Minsk to a family of landed gentry subsequently dispossessed by the Revolution. He wound up a US citizen in 1936. In 1949, he conspicuously humiliated Shostakovich at the “Peace Conference” at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel – an adventure in Soviet cultural propaganda that provoked counter-measures; the CCF came one year later.

A decade after that, JFK joined the cultural counter-offensive with a series of speeches claiming that art could only flourish in “free societies” and casting aspersion on all political art. Here is some of what he had to say:

“We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology. Artists are not [as Lenin put it] ‘engineers of the soul.’ It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society — in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. . . .”

“We know that a totalitarian society can promote the arts in its own way — that it can arrange for splendid productions of opera and ballet, as it can arrange for the restoration of ancient and historic buildings. But art means more than the resuscitation of the past: it means the free and unconfined search for new ways of expressing the experience of the present and the vision of the future. When the creative impulse cannot flourish freely, when it cannot freely select its methods and objects, when it is deprived of spontaneity, then society severs the root of art.”

It all came to an end when in 1966 Ramparts Magazine outed the CCF as a CIA operation. A firestorm of controversy and consternation erupted. Scores of prominent publications and writers suddenly discovered that they had in effect been secretly employed as American intelligence agents. The best-known book about the CCF – Frances Stonor Saunders’ The Cultural Cold War (1999) – impugns the CIA for compromising the intellectual freedoms it sought to promote.  But the ironies of the campaign against Shostakovich elude her and other writers on the CCF.


It took me a while to take to the Shostakovich cycle, which I like, but which I consider to be less fun in several ways than other fugal cycles from the 20th century.  I admit that I'm actually a fan of Paul Hindemith's music, which is practically enough to ward off a lot of people who are into classical music.  I also have more fun listening to Kapustin's 24 preludes and fugues, for instance, and also the only recently (for me) discovered Zaderatsky cycle of 24 preludes and fugues.  But I do admire the Shostakovich cycle. 

What's been interesting is to see how the prelude and fugue as an idiom was regarded as more or less obsolete in Western academic musicology.  It's not that it's an idiom of writing that has become obsolete, it's that after a century of so of post-19th century pedagogy the tradition became stultifying at the academic level more than at the level of people actually writing music.  There are more cycles of fugues in the 20th century literature than we could realistically talk about at a blog in one lifetime.  Not all of the work is worth talking about ... maybe even a lot of it is worth passing over without comment or even naming names, but the tacit and at times explicit notion that the fugue is antiquated doesn't really hold up.  For as long as people are writing fugues, even dry and pedantic fugues, the fugue is not a dead way of writing music. 

Now The Cultural Cold War might be best read back to back with The Mighty Wurlitzer.  That anti-communist leftists were willing to collaborate with the CIA seems like a pedestrian point to make by now, and not even necessarily a scandalous one.  The scandal might be in terms of what polemics against musicians on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain were promoted.  When someone as Marxist as Adorno could condemn all Soviet art as not-even-art it would be hard to assume that the polemics can be reduced to pro-USA or pro-Soviet since Adorno ultimately didn't stay in the United States and had his issues with the country.  It's hard to buy the idea that Eisenhower ended up being as authoritarian as Hitler ... though if someone wanted to suggest that about folks in the Dulles family  ...  maybe? 

This might be yet another time to wonder whether an American president trafficked in assumed and also unexamined ideals that had seeds planted in German idealism that won't necessarily account for other possibilities for artists and the cultures in which those artists emerge. Because while you might theoretically be able to choose freely of any and all artistic means in a Western cultural context good luck finding ways to possibly get the monetized. 

Raymond Knapp's Making Light: Haydn, Musical Camp, and the Long Shadow of German Idealism

Making Light: Haydn, musical camp, and the long shadow of German idealism
Raymond Knapp
Copyright (c) 2018 by Duke University Press
ISBN 9780822372400 (ebook)
ISBN 9780822369356 (hardcover)
ISBN 9780822369509 (paperback)

I discovered this book through OAPEN library

which I, in turn, learned of through the biblioblogger Jim West

This is a recent publication and it's ... alright.  The core thesis of Knapp's book is that German idealism cast such a long and overpowering shadow on arts criticism that Haydn, who was celebrated across the Western world, was overshadowed by his students and proteges Mozart and Beethoven in Romantic and post-Romantic culture. 

Knapp's proposal is that Haydn's music has fall out of favor in the last two centuries because German Idealism, which posited that music was the highest of the arts and able to convey a sense of the infinite and in a way that allowed the highest of arts to stand in for a kind of transcendental religious experience, could not really altogether make sense of the remarkably self-aware and jocular music of Haydn.  Haydn's musical descendants Mozart and even more so Beethoven could fit into the ideals, ahem, of German Idealism perfectly but Haydn ... was, and this is the substance of Knapp's thesis right down to the title, too camp.

Knapp argues that post Susan Sontag our understanding of what camp can entail is so confined to notions of gay culture (and Oscar Wilde has no small influence in Anglo-American terms, too) that we can forget that there's every possibility for camp to be a straight thing, too.  Camp is to revel in artifice which calls attention to itself, a way of meaning and not meaning what is "said" in the artwork. 

This is not so much a book about Haydn directly as a book that proposes to reintroduce study of Haydn in light of an aesthetic stance that has stood over against German idealism in Anglo-American cultural traditions.  Camp resides in Oscar Wilde but also in Gilbert & Sullivan and also, and here's where Knapp treads lightly and carefully with cause, in the minstrelsy tradition.  Without wishing to diminish or dismiss the virulently racist caricatures of the minstrelsy tradition Knapp argues that we have to remember that this whole tradition of entertainment had to have become popular for reasons that aren't "just" about racist stereotypes.  Knapp argues that the most probable and compelling explanation for the popularity of minstrelsy and musical theater (i.e. operetta, light opera and the more literally recognized Broadway musical all stem from the Gilbert & Sullivan and Offenbach lineages) is that these all revel in camp and are all, as such, artistic traditions that implicitly and explicitly set themselves against the tenets of German Idealism. 

Knapp's thesis is interesting and it seems to have some validation, in a sense, if read in conjunction with a book such as Douglas Shadle's Orchestrating the Nation. Shadle has been writing about the ways in which a large body of American symphonic music has been sidelined thanks to what can be called the Beethoven problem and then the Wagner problem, and this has led to a canon in which the consecrated scores of the European tradition have become canon at the expense of new additions being possible

I don't think cultural conservatives and art conservatives have taken seriously how stained with colonialism the 19th century canon is for a lot of people in our time who have an interest in the fine art traditions of Europe.  What's interesting, in a way, is that on either side of the historic Iron Curtain 18th century musical traditions and norms don't necessarily always have the same baggage.  Fugue is a developmental process you can subject hooks and riffs to, so you can have a Nikolai Kapustin write 24 prelude and fugues in an Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum inspired style while still tipping a hat to Scriabin and Rachmaninoff along the way.  Zaderatsky wrote his 24 preludes and fugues for piano in the 1930s in the Gulag system without so much as having access to a piano.  But the nationalist impulses so prominent in a lot of Romantic and post-Romantic art seem less easily assimilated to 21st century artistic concerns in the United States for a lot of people.  By contrast, even though Baroque era idioms developed under autocratic mercantilist circumstances jazz and art music fusions seem more open to interaction in the jazz/Baroque interface than the jazz/Romantic interface despite the fact that you'd think the latter would be far easier given that jazz has a history of Chopin quotes as jokey codas going back to early Ellington.   If I had to hazard a guess on the weekend ... it'd be that we live in a kind of neo-Baroque era in socio-economic terms and the Baroque philosophy of music was more suited to a polystylistic European scene in a way that gives us more room to play.  Once you realize sonatas and fugues are open-ended flexible script-like processes rather than rigidly defined plans post Hoffmann or A. B. Marx then Baroque and jazz fusions seem natural enough. 

But to make them you have to be willing to embrace the sheer artifice of the process.  In a word, camp, and an openness to camp as diametrically opposed to German Idealism has to come up as an issue and approach to be accepted or rejected.

So perhaps it's not a surprise to me, being a fan of Haydn most of my life, that I have no problem embracing Haydn and also embracing Haydn's monothematic sonata form approach as a foundation from which to explore fusions of jazz with 18th rather than 19th century norms.

Knapp's book is alright.  I felt the descriptions of the camp traditions went on longer than I felt was necessary, and I was hoping the book would discuss Haydn and his music a whole lot more.  But I suppose the book has to be thought of as broaching the topic of Haydn and camp as a preliminary proposal for future research and discussion.  What's interesting about Haydn and camp as a premise is that it invites us to consider that Haydn's aim was to pelase his patrons and his audience and that the question of whether he "meant it" is secondary.  There's a lot of reason to suppose that he did "mean it" as a composer but that this was secondary to figuring out what pleased his audience and patrons.  Haydn's work has borne a stain of having been written to please an aristocratic patronage and thus, especially in comparison to his pupils Mozart and Beethoven, to be less "authentic".  If we cast off the ideals of authenticity as formulated by Romantic era thought in German Idealism we might find Haydn is no less "authentic" for working within the patronage system of his time and place.  Haydn's no less a composer who "means it" by calling attention to the artifice of his craft.  That's where Knapp's book opens up potential for future thought and writing, that Haydn can be thought of as camp in the sense that he takes the work seriously without necessarily taking himself seriously and his music invites us to be in on the joke, too. 

The idea that minstrelsy can be understood as part of a camp reaction to German Idealism seems persuasive on paper, even though I'm sure nobody will want minstrelsy back in the 21st century.  Knapp is aware of how much racism resides in the tropes of minstrelsy but makes a careful, perhaps even too careful, case that minstrelsy couldn't have become as popular as it did without appealing to some basic American sentiment and he proposes that minstrelsy's antithetical style and substance over against German Idealism is probably the best way to understand how it became so popular and what it was considered to be the healthier alternative to in terms of alternatives.  Minstrelsy, in Knapp's argumentation, was the tonic to the suffocating and not-so-American German highbrow tradition to which American art couldn't match up and to which, in any case, it arguably didn't need to match up.

It doesn't seem too surprising that those form whom the European art music tradition represents a pinnacle of human achievement would regard any and all stunts to the effect of "Beethoven was wrong" as offensive, most of all coming from the likes of John Cage, musical provocateurs and philosophers with non-Western sympathies who can be regarded as hucksters and frauds. But if Cage's rhetoric can be seen as part and parcel of a larger radical/reactionary impulse within American musical culture against the impossibility of measuring up to the German Idealist legacy in the fine arts then Cage's stance can be seen as having a sympathetic core even if some of us will never bother to move beyond intermittent listening to his prepared piano music without bothering with his other music.

It's in this sense that someone like Francis Schaeffer could only grasp that Cage was seemingly in favor of Zen this and aleatoric (not music) that without getting the history within which Cage's perceived stunt was being perpetrated.  To put what he may have been getting at in another way, he was saying Beethoven was wrong without necessarily saying who was right.  in terms of my own musical interests I love a lot of Beethoven.  I admire his late piano sonatas and string quartets, but while I wouldn't go so far as to say Beethoven was "wrong" I think his disciples and worshippers overplayed their hand.  I awould also suggest that in the 21st century we might want to say Haydn gives us a path to keep exploring independent of the Romantic readings of Mozart or Beethoven.  The Romantics could not find a bad word about Haydn and what they did, paradoxically, was to sort of canonize him into irrelevance while they tried to keep building on what they believed was the more important legacy of Mozart and Beethoven. 

So, of Knapp's book, it's alright.  I think only Haydn fans would read the book and I think it's a starting point more than a satisfactory end point.  I had hoped for more discussion of Haydn's work.  But so it goes.  Academic monographs are often starting points for future scholarship whether said future scholarship materializes.  With Hepokoski and Darcy's Elements of Sonata Theory we've got a more recent door-stopper tome that admits throughout that Haydn's whole approach to sonata form is so eclectic and mercurial it's almost impossible to describe what he did as if it could be normative but with the concession that his unpredictable and rug-pulling antics help explain why it was he rather than Mozart and others who was most praised and celebrated within his own era.  As Charles Rosen put it, Haydn was praised by academic and learned musicians and loved by the public in a way that has arguably never been repeated since. 

So I figure I've been pretty straightforward in loving Haydn's music and looking to his music as an inspiration for how to synthesize affection for the Western art music tradition with American vernacular and popular styles.  I also think, the more I read and think about these things, that a lot of the objections to the Western art canon are not necessarily objections to everything about the Western canons of art.  People can still appreciate beauty in Shakespeare or poetry by John Donne or music by Beethoven.  What people are objecting to is how inseparable the artistic canon is from an age of imperialism that conflates beautiful imitation-worthy elements of the artistic canon with the innate superiority presumed to be given as to the societies that are credited with creating the artistic legacy and lineage. 

But ... now that the Cold War has been over for decades I think we should reconsider that axiom from both sides of the divide.  It's not a foregone conclusion that we throw out the Western canon as elitist, racist, sexist and so forth without considering what we want to keep from that tradition ... but to put it another way, the more I look at how musical innovation played out on either side of the Iron Curtain it was not just George Rochberg introducing a polystylistic rejection of the teleological arc of history in which tonality was replaced by atonality; composers like Alfred Schnittke and Rodion Shchedrin began to riff on multi-style and eclecticist musical ideas during the post-Stalinist thaw.  Here's a point at which Adorno did a great disservice to musical history by assuming the entirety of Soviet cultural activity couldn't even be art.  In a sense his blanket condemnation was played out across the West even among those who weren't Marxists. There might have to be a separate post about this topic, but I'll say that the idea that art can't be made in totalitarian societies or that, if it is,  it's not "good" art is a myth that needs to die.  Art can be made by artists contracted to serve regional autocrats that is beautifully made art.  I'm hoping to get to reading a book about Soviet composers in Poland and Eastern Germany during the Stalinist years called Composing The Party Line, which is also available
at the OAPEN library online.

The idea of the autonomous artist is in all sorts of ways a 19th century bourgeois ideal.  It's in that respect, too, that Haydn's life and legacy is too awkward a fit for German Idealism's legacy and cultural ideals.  But in the 21st century when it seems we have a neo-feudal era of corporations and in which even ostensibly blue-state liberal types who editorialize at The Stranger are implicitly and explicitly arguing for an archipelago of city states ... that sort of ties in with Mounck-ish thoughts this weekend about an antidemocratic form of liberalism ... maybe we really are living in a new kind of Baroque era.  So having written all that, might as well link to a score-video of an ensemble playing the first movement from Haydn's Op. 76, string quartet No. 1, first movement.

I know this was much less a book review than a post riffing on ideas that's inspired by the book but I hope you'll cut me some slack.  The earlier book review I wrote was 12,000 words long, covered twenty years of material from a public figure in Seattle history and was reviewing an academic monograph on that topic.  I figure a weekend blog post about a book on Haydn I read recently can be a bit less formal attire. ;)

two different reviews at LARB about Yascha Mounk's The People vs Democracy

Seeing as Mounck has a book out and is arguing that populism has become dangerously antidemocratic
On Aug. 23, 1939, the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union and the Third Reich secretly met in Moscow to sign a treaty of non-aggression. The infamous “red-brown pact” paved the way for the Nazis’ conquest of large swathes of central Europe. It also caused a deep crisis of conscience for activists, including my grandparents, who had been attracted to communism in part because of its promises to free the world from sectarianism and racial injustice.
In the end, most communists found some way of reconciling their conscience with the unconscionable. They invoked strategy or necessity, the evil of bourgeois capitalism or the wisdom of Joseph Stalin (or denied the existence of the pact altogether). In one way or the other, they contrived to recover the certitude that they were on the side of the angels—and that this could, at times, justify an alliance with the devil.
and that the far left and the far right can agree on goals, it's about time to check out some discussions of Mounck's ideas.  I've read a few interviews he's given discussing his ideas and I am just not entirely convinced that when he says people are turning against democracy that they are necessarily turning against liberalism or democracy.  People may be getting angry about and upset over internationalism and globalism but that's not exactly the same thing.  Disquiet over those trends could even explain why the far right and far left have paradoxically had some goals in common--if people believe that internationalist globalism has damaged regional economic and cultural life and that what's called neoliberal globalism seems to have been the catalyzing problem over the last forty years it would make sense that the left and right might bargain to fight those trends. 
What if, spitballing here, the unifying opposition is against Atlanticist internationalism as the dynamic that governs the global economy?  Having lived my whole life on what is sometimes caustically referred to as "the left coast" what if the power balance has been shifting in the last half century away from an Atlantic seat of power to a Pacific seat of power?  Couldn't the recently reported news about Facebook and companies in China at least invite this as a consideration?  What if the forces opposed to the status quo are not necessarily against either liberalism or democracy in Mounck's taxonomy but against attempts to maintain the viability of Atlanticist internationalism, in a phrase the idea that a consortium of American and European influences would govern the course of the global economy.  What if there's a future in which a steadily declining United States finds it easier to be in league with China, India and tethers its economic interests there? 
If Europe spirals down into decline, perhaps even eventually the point of becoming Second World in some future centuries from now, that doesn' tmean the world will end. 
So, with that speculation in mind ... here's a few reviews of Mounck's book from LA Review of Books.
Apocalyptic visions are in vogue, it seems: Mounk’s book on contemporary threats to liberal democracy, subtitled “Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It,” might easily be sold as part of a millenarian package deal with Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die, Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny, and Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West.

What distinguishes Mounk’s contribution to the genre, for good and ill, is what we might call its fundamental Voxiness — its currency in the cafe society of liberal Washington. At the level of form, Voxiness combines a seemingly insatiable desire to convey the latest social science with a correspondingly steadfast refusal of wide-ranging normative argument. This is what generates its astonishing capacity, at the level of content, to somehow both overturn conventional wisdom and affirm the preexisting beliefs of reasonable people. [emphasis added]
Scalpel at the ready, Mounk approaches our ailing body politic with a comprehensive vision in three parts: diagnosis, etiology, and therapy. The diagnosis, which forms the longest section in the book, is that liberal democracy has been pulled apart — not only in places like Venezuela or Hungary, but also in Western Europe and the United States — by the forces of populist authoritarianism on the one hand and oligarchic technocracy on the other. The etiology and the therapy are more complicated: among the sources of our woes are stagnating living standards, newfound ethnic pluralism, relentless globalization, changing technology, and growing skepticism about core liberal-democratic values, and the remedies lie in multifarious prescriptions for bolstering productivity, rehabilitating national identity, recovering national sovereignty, taming social media, renewing civic education, and so on. That is a lot to swallow, but in Mounk’s opinion a complex problem requires a complex solution
One of the most important moves in The People vs. Democracy comes right at the beginning, when Mounk insists that a definition of liberal democracy should distinguish its two components so that we can track their fortunes separately. A democracy, he says, is “a set of binding electoral institutions that effectively translates popular views into public policy.” Liberal institutions, meanwhile, are those that “effectively protect the rule of law and guarantee individual rights […] to all citizens.” It follows that a society counts as a liberal democracy if it combines democratic and liberal institutions. It also follows that some societies might be democratic but not liberal or liberal but not democratic.

Some will object to these definitions. The Ancient Greeks, for example, saw election as an aristocratic mechanism that would inevitably benefit existing elites or produce new ones. And socialists have long claimed that genuine democracy requires the collective shaping of the whole of life, including the economy. But Mounk’s approach has the virtue of being uncontroversial relative to standard political discourse while nevertheless pointing to some of the aspirations behind liberalism (protecting or respecting individuals) and democracy (shaping the world together). [emphases added]

Keeping liberalism and democracy apart from a conceptual perspective allows Mounk to make his signature claim, which is that the two have begun to come apart empirically as well. In some areas, he says, we are seeing democracy without rights; in others, we are seeing rights without democracy. This is a neat idea, perfectly formed for an op-ed or a book jacket or an elevator speech, but it turns out to fit awkwardly with the messy phenomena that Mounk wants to uncover in connection with the rise of populism.
The essence of populism, he says, is a propensity to offer “glib, facile solutions” to complex problems: Voters do not like to think that the world is complicated. They certainly do not like to be told that there is no immediate answer to their problems. Faced with politicians who seem to be less and less able to govern an increasingly complex world, many are increasingly willing to vote for anybody who promises a simple solution.

That could make a person wonder whether Mounck's own explication of the problem traffics in the very populism he's trying to warn us against, when it's put that way.

Once a simple solution has been formulated (“Build a wall!”) the slippery slope to illiberalism begins. For if the answer is so obvious, the question becomes why it hasn’t been implemented already, and the answer to that must lie in a conspiracy to thwart the will of the people — that is, a conspiracy by enemies of the people, whether corrupt politicians (“Lock her up!”) or foreign interests (“Obama is the founder of ISIS!”). The only remedy is to empower an honest leader (“He tells it like it is!”) to shake things up (“Drain the swamp!”) and thereby allow the authentic demos (“real America”) to take back control of the state (“America First!”). Once in power, however, the people’s spokesman (“I am your voice!”) gets frustrated by the institutional roadblocks of a liberal society, from the media to the judiciary to the civil service, and therefore begins to delegitimize those roadblocks (“fake news,” “the deep state,” et cetera) and undermine them wherever possible (“I expect loyalty”). And so it comes to pass that democracy becomes severed from liberalism.

There is certainly a thrill in coming to recognize this pattern, especially given Mounk’s enviable ability to assemble examples from Italy, Spain, Greece, France, Sweden, Austria, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Venezuela, South Korea, and Switzerland. Conceptually speaking, however, there is an obvious problem with the notion of “illiberal democracy”: those who undermine liberal institutions tend to also undermine democratic ones. Mounk claims that while the typical effect of populism is to threaten democracy, its fundamental nature is democratic, inasmuch as it expresses the will to restore power to the people. But as Jan-Werner Mueller has argued, the strategy of characterizing rival political parties as enemies of the people already signifies contempt for the democratic project of discovering the real will of the people.

The brittleness of Mounk’s conceptual framework is even more apparent when we turn to his examination of “undemocratic liberalism.” He provides a compelling argument that technocracy is on the rise in liberal democracies, pointing especially to growing numbers of civil servants, bureaucratic rules, trade treaties, independent central banks, and judicial review procedures, all of which involve entrusting a professional elite with decisions that might otherwise be the subject of political contestation. [1] Few will need persuading that liberal democracies are becoming increasingly oligarchic, but Mounk does an excellent job of pressing home the point. In the United States, he observes, the amount of money spent lobbying politicians doubled from $1.5 billion in 2000 to $3.2 billion in 2015; and in 2013 it was revealed that members of Congress (whose median net worth is over 10 times as high as that of an average American) are urged to spend around half their working hours seeking campaign contributions. [2] The situation is less dramatic in Europe, but even there politicians have grown more and more insulated from their constituents, with working-class backgrounds a rarity among representatives.

When the trend toward technocracy is combined with the trend toward oligarchy, the influence of ordinary voters starts to seem marginal at best: either an issue is taken out of the democratic arena altogether, to be handled by allegedly neutral experts drawn almost exclusively from the upper middle class, or it is debated by those who have a structural incentive to please the super-rich.

Mounk is surely right that the mixture of oligarchy and technocracy provides fertile ground for populism — it is precisely because the people really have lost their voice that the populist can claim to restore it to them. But what this has to do with “undemocratic liberalism” or “rights without democracy” is unclear. Neither oligarchy nor technocracy is naturally understood as resulting from any kind of emphasis on citizens’ rights; technocracy subordinates the individual’s right to self-determination to the expert’s decision regarding her best interests, while oligarchy privileges the rights of the few as against those of the many.

So there is nothing particularly liberal about “undemocratic liberalism.” [emphasis added] Nor is it necessarily undemocratic, at least in its technocratic dimension, since as Mounk himself points out, democratic decisions need to be carried out by public bodies and hence by officials who inevitably have some degree of autonomy. In the end, then, Mounk’s diagnosis seems faulty: liberal democracy may well be under strain, and perhaps even under threat, but the categories of illiberal democracy and undemocratic liberalism mostly serve to obscure the phenomena at hand.

This is not simply pedantry, for if we picture the threats to liberal democracy as in some way symmetrical and hence on a par, we may fail to see that populist authoritarianism is typically a reaction to oligarchy and technocracy. And if we fail to see that, we may end up treating the symptoms rather than the disease.

And at this point I'd interject that the fuzziness that may come about with a term like "undemocratic liberalism" is that we might want to ask which demographics of a population to which such a liberalism could apply.  To invoke Hollywood and the arts worlds, you could be as LGBTQ as you want and still not do anything significant for the working class.  A battle over land zoning and art space in Boyle Heights comes to mind.  People in the neighborhood came to believe that the promotion of an LGBTQ friendly arts venue was actually in conflict with the interests of the long-time residents of the neighborhood and that part o what made the venue dubious was that it ostensibly promoted art by people of color when the gentrification process at work marginalized the economic interests of longtime residents in favor of an arts scene. 

So another way to put that is that "undemocratic liberalism" looks like the liberalism typical of aristocrats and autocrats for millennia.  In Baroque era operas princes and counts and kings could bask in stories about their kind generously making life better for select members of the lower castes.  We may arguably be in a new feudal age where the powers are corporate juggernauts and the royalty sit in board rooms but because the monarchy isn't official ... it's not any kind of new Counter Reformation era Baroque period.  ...
For a book that is in large part a reflection on the election of Donald Trump, The People vs. Democracy is strangely silent about Bernie Sanders, who receives no mention at all. This bespeaks a more general refusal to consider left-populism as a phenomenon distinct, both analytically and normatively, from the populism of the far right. Mounk claims all forms of populism offer simple solutions to complex problems and then asserts that anyone resisting those solutions must be an enemy of the people. It follows that left-populism is distinguished from right-populism only by its choice of simple solution and cartoon villain: the people are pictured as needing to wrest power from a wealthy elite as opposed to a cosmopolitan one, basically. From Mounk’s perspective the appropriate response to left-populism and right-populism is therefore the same: reasonable people need to insist that our problems are too complex to be addressed by panaceas and then advocate more nuanced policy proposals.

There is therefore a sense in which the whole book can be summed up by the following passage: “There are no easy solutions. And yet, a principled compromise is possible.” The posture is that of the adult in the room, the millennial who despairs of his own generation’s flirtation with populism (there is a section entitled “The Young Won’t Save Us”) but hopes to exhort them toward mature reasonableness. It’s easy to poke fun at this stance, especially given Mounk’s awkward prose — an electronic search yields 76 entries for the “And yet,” formula at the start of sentences — but in the era of Twitter politics there is something refreshing about Mounk’s refusal to paint himself as more radical than he actually is.
Taken by themselves, Mounk’s proposals for bolstering liberal democracy seem perfectly sensible. Citizens should vote against populists, stick together to protest populist authoritarianism, not get distracted by the personal foibles of an authoritarian leader, and, above all, remind one another of the merits of liberal democracy. Politicians should speak the idiom of ordinary people, have a positive message, respect institutional norms, promote an inclusive form of national identity, and avoid the political extremes without appearing wedded to the status quo. Policymakers should desegregate schools, raise taxes on the well off, restore welfare-state provisions while decoupling benefits from employment, invest in infrastructure, research, education, and health care, make transnational individuals and corporations pay taxes domestically, increase the housing supply, fund continuing education, find ways to give gig workers a sense of professional pride, encourage social media companies to nudge their users in responsible ways, diminish the influence of lobbyists by increasing budgets for parliamentary staffers, and improve civic education in both schools and universities.

This certainly qualifies as a complex package of proposals. But if Mounk were to ask himself why the various policies that he suggests have not already been implemented, the answer would most often seem decidedly simple: our political systems have grown increasingly oligarchic over the last few decades and turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. For Mounk’s proposals to pass, the balance of power in society would have to alter first. And since this cannot be achieved simply by appealing to the conscience of existing elites, it will require large-scale mobilization of the rest of the population — or, to put it another way, left-populism.

The same conclusion can be reached if we focus on Mounk’s recommendation that citizens remind one another of the merits of liberal democracy. Why would people do this if the system is as unresponsive to their interests as Mounk suggests? In an egregious passage, Mounk vocalizes the kind of thing that a citizen from a group whose life prospects have stagnated over the last few decades — that is, most of the population, since the average American household is no richer now than it was 30 years ago — might have said to themselves during the last election: “‘I’ve worked hard all my life […] and I don’t have much to show for it. My kids are probably going to have it worse. So let’s throw some shit against the wall and see what sticks.’” If we can get past the Clintonite cyborg aspect of this exercise in sympathetic imagination, the point that Mounk is making is that oligarchic regimes are unlikely to inspire true loyalty. For ordinary citizens to want to protect liberal democracy, in other words, they must be given a genuine stake in it. And that is precisely what left-populism proposes to give them.

Mounk is not some kind of crypto-neoliberal. If anything, he seems to be a European-style social democrat, which puts him way to the left of most American Democrats. The point is just that his desire to defend the complexity of the reasonable center against the simplicity of the crazy extremes blinds him to the logic of his own argument. No doubt it would be a mistake, both practically and theoretically, to assume that curtailing oligarchy will solve all our problems. But it does seem plausible that the interests of ordinary citizens are unlikely to be served by a political system in which you basically have to be rich to get elected — including at the local level — and even then you have to spend half your time sucking up to other rich people.

As a result, it also seems plausible to say that in the United States, at least, wresting back popular control of political institutions is a sine qua non of stabilizing liberal democracy. So if a politician such as Sanders were to make that the guiding thread of a campaign, that need not imply any simple-mindedness — only a sense of where the most pressing problems really lie.

The People vs. Democracy almost raises this question, but doesn’t quite follow it all the way through. “If we want to preserve both peace and prosperity, both popular rule and individual rights,” writes Mounk in the introduction, “we need to recognize that these are no ordinary times — and go to extraordinary lengths to defend our values.” But what are these lengths? In the conclusion, Mounk glosses the “courage to stand up for what we hold dear” as involving a readiness to attend public protests, to remind fellow citizens of “the virtues of both freedom and self-government,” and to push political parties to bolster liberal democracy in the ways already described. But this seems a remarkably irenic response to the apocalypse that is allegedly upon us, not least given that Mounk himself says that in “extraordinary times, when the basic contours of politics and society are being renegotiated” the existential stakes of politics seem to justify departures from the rules of the game. Might we not need to bend or break the rules of liberal democracy in order to defend it for the long term, as Lincoln famously did when he suspended habeas corpus during the American Civil War? This is what the authoritarian left-populist will claim.

To provide a compelling answer to this challenge, Mounk would have to show why people should care about liberal-democratic institutions in the first place — why the rule of law is valuable, why individual rights should be considered inviolable in certain respects, why norms of civility are important, why popular views should be translated into public policy, and so on — and then make the case that these reasons do not collapse with the onset of oligarchy. That would be a different book, of course, but it would be one that treated those attracted by populism as susceptible to rational argument. Without that, all we are given is reasonableness without reasons. [emphasis added]
"Reasonableness without reasons" aptly sums up the problem with what Mounck seems to be striving for.  But I have also gotten a strong sense, in reading what Mounck has had to say, he's ultimately worried about the demise of what I'd have to call Atlanticism, the idea that the First World powers united by the Atlantic ocean and some kind of shared Euro-American legacy of Western civilization constitute the sum of both liberalism and democracy.  Maybe we need to be cut loose from the postmillennialist style master narratives endemic to Marxist and dominionist/theocratic Social Gospel legacies for Euro-American colonial imagination.  Certainly there's no inherent reason a Christian should assume that such a regime of thought is actually biblically defensible or desirable.  In this sense the fundamentalist is probably better off than either the evangelical or the mainliner but here is not the place to burrow into that--the proposal is that the Atlantic age is already coming to an end and perhaps that's as should be.  The question of whether or not liberalism and democracy as we've known them can survive the demise of Atlanticism seems to not be on the table.  The possibility that human life will go on without either liberalism or democracy seems to be unthinkable to journalists and thinkers in the West at this point.  The sun set on the English empire generations ago and if it is still twilight for the empire that's because of how closely it has been tethered to American interests. 
So, on to the next review 
But as we enter the book’s second tertile, Mounk’s explanation for populism begins outrunning his evidence. He writes that “the rise of populism is a global phenomenon,” adding that “we should look for causes that are common to most countries where populism has spread in the past years.” He wants to differentiate his work from “analysts [who] have told stories about their local context.” What first seems mere enthusiasm is soon exposed as an a priori dismissal of inconvenient examples — and there are many — that fall outside his grand theory. [emphasis added]

Mounk attributes populism to anxieties bred by economic, technological, and cultural change. More specifically, he blames anger at stagnating wealth and fears about future economic prospects (especially for the working class), communications allowing outsiders to bypass media gatekeepers to reach large audiences (social media and the internet), and unease about changing national identity (those immigrants sure seem to be coming fast). In the context of the Brexit and Trump, this looks like a decent explanation, but Mounk claims to be writing a defining book about populism generally, and “local context” be damned.

When it comes to “most countries” where populism is surfacing, all three of Mounk’s contentions are problematic, but the most flawed is his contention that populist voters are reacting to stagnating salaries and limited work opportunities. Actually, in Hungary and Poland — places Mounk and others hold up as the vanguard of today’s insurgency and archetypal authoritarian populist regimes — wealth and living standards have exploded since the collapse of communism in 1989. Salaries continue to grow rapidly, including for industrial workers. In Hungary, per capita GDP increased 534 percent since 1989. Unemployment is 3.9 percent as compared to 12.1 percent in 1993. Wages rose 11.6 percent on average between the third quarters of 2016 and 2017. Put bluntly, these are not the same problems confronting ex-GM assembly line workers in Saginaw, Michigan.

While Mounk would surely chalk all this up to Central European “local context,” these examples are not outliers. In India, where the economy has grown 2,216 percent since 1991 and the country has moved to dismantle its rigid caste system, populist Narendra Modi is in charge. Indian real wage growth is forecast at 4.8 percent this year. In 2017, in the Philippines, now administered via the violent stylings of populist Rodrigo Duterte, salaries rose five percent, and similar growth was seen in Turkey, the domain of authoritarian populist Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In these places too, it is difficult to see parallels to the plight of out-of-work pipe fitters in Youngstown, Ohio, or Newcastle, England. No doubt there are economic anxieties in Central Europe, Turkey, and elsewhere, and it is true that the gap between rich and poor is growing (it is growing in Canada, for that matter), but there is no prevailing feeling that opportunity has left, never to return. At some point, an accumulation of local contexts is just context.
In fact, Mounk’s enmity for local conditions is telling. In over-relying on a select group of Western European countries and (especially) the United States, Mounk is guilty of the very thing he claims to be against. While a few chapters begin with anecdotes from his native Germany, and he sprinkles in cherry-picked international data throughout (including exaggerated public opinion data taken in Europe in 2016, amid the worst of the refugee crisis, as evidence of general European sentiment on immigration), they are mostly window-dressing for analysis of the United States that is then extrapolated to everywhere else. Fairly quickly, the book ceases to be about populism as a general phenomenon and mostly a book about Trumpism. [emphasis added]

There is at least one egregious omission too. Though Mounk briefly discusses campaign finance in the United States, he mostly ignores what, between 1980 and 2016, was demonstrably the single biggest driver of votes for right-wing authoritarian populists — heightened perceptions of corruption. [1] In the United States, this was embodied by Trump’s “drain the swamp” mantra and the animus for “Crooked Hillary” (that predatory plutocrat in a pantsuit) that was the single biggest branding exercise of the 2016 election. Elsewhere, perceived corruption was also the key to the rise of authoritarian populists.

In 2010, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party gained a two-thirds majority in parliament amid corruption by the rival Socialists and fallout from a scandal that saw Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány caught on tape admitting he lied to voters. With enough parliamentary support to change the constitution, Orbán dismantled checks and balances and has kept power ever since. In the 2015 Polish elections, the illiberal Law and Justice party rode discontent from the so-called “Waitergate” scandal — in which incumbent Civic Platform party politicians came off as corrupt after servers recorded discussions over meals at posh restaurants — to become the first party since 1989 to form a government without coalition partners. Law and Justice used the recordings to create the picture that “the whole political and economic elite is corrupted, sucking out the blood of the nation,” Łukasz Lipiński, with Warsaw-based think tank Polityka Insight, recently told me.

Meanwhile, Duterte in the Philippines and Modi in India both ran on anti-corruption platforms. In Turkey, Erdoğan’s AKP party first won elections in 2002 (two years before Facebook was founded), when the key issue was corruption in the previous government that lead to a stock market crash.

But even as Mounk’s effort to map the root causes of populism makes some wrong turns, all is not lost. The explication remains thought-provoking and illuminating, and the same goes for the final section of the book. Here, Mounk takes on the impossible task of proposing solutions to our many political predicaments.


These reviews, I must admit, have tended to confirm my already forming impression that Mounck's case is probably better understood not as a worry that liberalism and democracy are at odds as much as that the cumulative dominance of Atlanticist internationalism is slipping away rapidly.  The less legitimate the United States is seen as the "leader of the free world" the more precarious the influence of Western global liberal or neoliberal influence may be seen as being.  Factor in ecological concerns and one might ask whether there even "should" be a liberal or a democratic response to global climate change concerns.  Wouldn't a totalitarian response be faster and more efficient?  Nobody in the West would advocate for a totalitarian response, of course, not officially, but if the world is in as much peril as Hollywood films are apt to make it seem then perhaps the best thing that could happen to the world is for the entire First World Western-based system to crash.   Who in the Third World already unable to access the amenities and luxuries of the First World that we take for granted would miss us? 

First World imagination looking at the end of human civilization in the wake of our own hubris is a common thread.  Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind ran with the idea that humanity refined technology to the point where seven days of fire reduced the world to an ecological decimated wasteland but that, paradoxically, humanity had mastered gene manipulation and biological engineering to a degree that allowed them to create a kind of ecological reboot disk in the form of the ecological world Nausicaa found herself living in.  Her decision at the end of the manga to destroy the shrine that would allow the earlier humanity that engineered a solution to the seven days of fire was motivated by a belief that life itself must life, not at the behest of technocratic engineering and manipulation on the part of humanity.  She is aware, though, that in doing this she may have doomed all life on the planet to eventual extinction but decides she must trust that life will go on. 

So a crisis in the First World about a sense that the First World has cultivated a lifestyle that ultimately damns the entire human race to extinction is not really a new motif. 

What may feel temporarily new is a belief that the stakes are easier to recognize in our era than they were half a century ago.   When the system crashes how many hundreds of millions of people in urban centers will suffer and die as a result?  For as dismissive as so many people can be of religious writings in general and of apocalyptic writing in particular it's fascinating how strong a pull apocalyptic and eschatological writing still has in catalyzing thoughts about just how much longer we can ride this civilizational train before it derails. 

an older piece from this year by Jeet Heer about Cynthia Nixon's candidacy bid "The Democratics' Elitist Obsession with Qualifications"

In the age of you-know-who, there's been cyber ink spilled on the populist appeal of Trump, though a populist appealed considered specious and misleading.  But the rebuttal to Make America Great Again as some form of America Already Is Great merely shoves the question inherent in such a rebuttal back to "great for who?" When the GOP was gerrymandering the nation a few years back it seems improbable that they were all thinking that Trump would be the candidate who would land the nomination for the 2016 election.  But when the guy got the nomination the party did what a party would do when a national election with global implications and consequences was at stake, they rallied to the candidate.  Sanders' bid for the DNC candidacy foundered and there's been room for debate and discussion as to why.  Given the dynamics in place in the DNC it was probably optimistic to have hoped Sanders could pull off what Trump pulled off--i.e. grabbing the nomination over against the machine mainline.

The question of whether a populist insurgency could happen from whatever the American left is supposed to be has remained a live one, at least in some circles.  The trouble with a populist anything in politics is that in lieu of the political aristocracy what have our options historically been?  Celebrities.

The case against [Cynthia] Nixon rests on the figure The New York Daily News alluded to: Donald Trump. While the president is Exhibit A in the case against celebrity politicians, his victory in 2016 proves that many Americans reject the notion that politicians must be “qualified.” Candidates for most public offices need only meet certain citizenship, residency, and age requirements, and win the plurality of the vote (or sometimes, in the case of presidential elections like Trump’s, even a minority of the vote will do). [although that gets back to the distinction between the Electoral College and the popular vote, a distinction that Team Clinton changed its tune about in the 2008 election, dismissing the Electoral College as antiquated up to more or less the point at which delegates were the last chance of securing DNC candidacy for HRC rather than HO, if memory serves]
Many elite Democrats think of politics as a profession with a fixed career path. You’re supposed to work your way up the ladder, working on political campaigns and in legislative offices, running for local elections and then statewide elections, gaining experience along the way. In essence, it’s all about resume-building. Thus, Democratic elites tend to reject candidates who are seen as trying to cut the line before having paid their dues to the party.
These views were on full display during 2016 presidential campaign. “There has never been a man or a woman, not me, not Bill, nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America,” President Barack Obama proclaimed during the Democratic National Convention. Meanwhile, one of the most common refrains against Bernie Sanders—as Clinton herself noted in her 2017 memoir—is that “he isn’t even a Democrat.”
 Credentialism has deep roots in the Democratic Party, which has a tropism toward technocratic wonks. “This election isn’t about ideology; it’s about competence,” Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis insisted during his party’s 1988 convention. But politics are inevitably ideological, because people want governments that reflect their values rather than just educated administrators. (And if the election really was about competence, then voters apparently thought Dukakis’s opponent, George H. W. Bush, was more qualified.)
The credentialism of the Democratic Party is not widely shared by the public at large. One of the towering political figures of the last half century was Ronald Reagan, a former actor whose political career started with being elected as Governor of California. Whatever political disputes one can have with Reagan, he was undeniably successful in winning elections and implementing his agenda.
Both major political parties in America have had success recruiting actors and other celebrities, particularly athletes. Celebrity politicians who have won high office include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono, Fred Thompson, Al Franken, Jesse Ventura, Fred Grange, Ben Jones, Heath Shuler, Steve Largent, and Bill Bradley.


At this point it would seem that any kind of populist appeal might have trouble because blue state polemical responses to the election of Trump by the Electoral college seem to have translated into lambasting those parts of the popular vote considered to blame for the electoral shift (i.e rural voters, farmers, evangelicals, white evangelicals, etc) that the idea of a counter-populism seems remote.  The well has been poisoned by those who are set against populism in the case of Trump--how do you try to build a case for populism in some direction other than the right if populism itself has been rendered suspect?  Well, maybe a Russell Kirk style conservative would say it always WAS suspect but a Democrat or a Green can't really run like that. 

Not surprisingly, an author at Slate points out that the far left and far right can find it easy to work together when the situation calls for it.

Radical critique from the left or the right of the center can end up agreeing on a lot.  That's not even really news.  It does, however, remind me of Richard Taruskin's macabre observation about how in the history of Europe the far left and the far right somehow have a long history of agreeing that the way to solve the ills of Europe was killing Jews and that this got implemented in the Soviet Union as well as Germany.   Now advocates of critical theory have managed to no true Scotsman the Soviet Union out of actually being socialist and that's one of the conundrums of the last half century within the Anglo-Americna left.  If real socialism hasn't existed then there may be a left variation of a no true Scotsman fallacy that Austrian economist fans have tried with capitalism, i.e. there's never been a pure unregulated market so you can't criticize a form of capitalism that has never existed.  Right, so if there's never been pure capitalism or pure socialism the odds that there will be pure either would seem established as being zero for the future.  The debate is over what mixture of the two poles would be healthiest.  But that's a side trail.

If the alternative to the aristocracy of the political classes is still celebrities then we're arguably stuck with deciding between the caste of political figures and the caste of entertainers-turned-political figures.  It's not the least bit clear in the long run whether an Al Franken has been better for us thana Bill Clinton, for instance, or whether a Reagan has been a better alternative to Bush seeing as Bush got in through the path of Reagan anyway.  The aristocracies seem sufficiently intertwined ... .