2. Rereading Burnham's
This is, apart from the first item, not about the crisis, and is indeed
much like the previous Sunday, for I am
again reporting on some of the books that I recently reread.
There is one item on the crisis, and it is this, a brief item by Jeff
Jarvis in the Guardian:
This starts as follows:
In fact, there are two reasons
to quote this:
According to Britons,
Americans are incapable
of irony – and our president is certainly proving their point.
In his address
about Egypt's military coup – or whatever bowdlerizing
euphemism is permitted this week in Washington – Obama condemned
the notion that "security trumps individual freedom." Really?
After his press
conference announcing an oversight commission for the NSA, it emerged that the
NSA's truth-challenged director of national intelligence, James
Clapper, would apparently oversee the oversight. The White House had to
the joke, and then said Clapper would merely facilitate.
Firstly, because of James Clapper, who "would apparently oversee the oversight": As I said before, I had accepted - like
most others - the conclusion that Clapper would be nominated by Obama,
in Obama's planned 'change' towards what he claimed to be an
'independent' panel or committee to bring some minimal sort of
'control' of the NSA - but it turned out I was mistaken.
So now he seems to be nominated as someone who will "facilitate" the 'change'...
And secondly, because I agree with Jarvis and indeed go further: The
White House not only has a "credibility deficit" - it has totally lost
me, and indeed it seems something similar holds for parts of the press.
(See yesterday's first item, for an
exposition of many of the reasons why the U.S. government lost trust:
It lied, lied, lied and lied again.)
This outcome is another consequence of Snowden's revelations, and also
of Obama's quite inept and dishonest reactions to these, which show, at
least to me, that Obama and his government are as problematic as Bush
Jr. and his government, and cannot be trusted or relied upon at all.
However, what I think is hardly relevant: what is relevant is
the change in parts of the press, and indeed I do hope Jeff Jarvis is
right about that, and that there will be some more or less decent
reporting in other papers than the Guardian and the Washington
Post, and some few others.
2. Rereading Burnham's "Managerial
I mentioned James Burnham
last, I think, on May 22 of this year,
when I also said that
If I return to
this book by
Burnham, I will probably treat him together with Orwell (..)
This is not that time,
in part because the
Orwell piece (which you'll find under the link) is both too good
and too long to treat now, and in part because I have now read all of
Burnham's "The Managerial Revolution", and I know why I
did lay it aside in 1983: it definitely was far too
semi-marxist for me.
Indeed, that was, at that time, nearly inevitable for Burnham, for he
had when he wrote this book just given up marxism. Or more
precisely: that is what he thought he had done, but in fact he still
used the marxist schemes, indeed to a larger extent than he seemed to
have known, for Marx
himself had said rather similar things about managers as Burnham did,
namely in the third volume of "Capital", that is rarely read,
and probably also not by Burnham.
In any case, for me Burnham's "The Managerial Revolution" is too
simple-minded, is clearly mistaken in many of its predictions, and is
also too marxist, while his later "The Machiavellians" is, at
least to my mind, a lot better, if also not at all free from mistakes.
But this is the case with all writers on society and on power that I have
read, and I have read quite a lot of them. The reason why Burnham is
still worth reading is that he was intelligent; that he did have courage; that he
wrote better than most; and that what he has to say, especially in "The
Machiavellians", still provides a better understanding than most
men have of politics.
Then again, if you read Burnham, you should read Orwell, and indeed you should read Orwell also if
you don't read Burnham.
3. Rereading Russell's "Autobiography"
As I have said before, I am one of those who believes Bertrand Russell
was the most important philosopher of the 20th Century, and I have read
more than half of his over 70 books, and did so mostly between 1970 and
At present, I am only concerned with the three volumes of his
Autobiography, of which I bought the first two volumes in Dutch
translation on October 30, 1970, that I read the next month. (I bought
the third volume on September 11, 1971, in English, and also soon read
that. This was less attractive, already then, than the first two parts.)
Let me first say something about why I consider him the most important
philosopher of the 20th Century, which seems to be a fairly popular but
not - by far - the most common choice of most present-day philosophers
and intellectuals, for the common choice seems to be that Ludwig
Wittgenstein is the most important philosopher of the 20th Century.
In fact, here is a link to a poll:
You'll find that Russell
comes second, after Wittgenstein, in this poll, and in several other
polls that I have seen, that seem to be more or less adequate, at least
for Western intellectuals living in the beginning of the 21st century.
I think there are two main reasons for this outcome.
The first is that Wittgenstein is very hard to understand, while
Russell, who also wrote a lot more and who also wrote about a
lot more, is a model of clarity.
Clearly, being extremely difficult to understand is something that
creates considerable appeal and respect under intellectuals, and does
seem to do so especially when the writing is philosophical.
The second reason are the two biographies that Ray Monk wrote, of
both philosophers, namely first of Wittgenstein,
which is very praising, and next of Russell,
that is rather damning. (Incidentally: the last two links are to my
treatments of Wittgenstein's "Tractatus" - that will be read by very
few, and understood by almost none - and to Russell's "Problems of
Philosophy", that may be read by almost anyone, and has the
apparent set-back, for most intellectuals, of being easy to understand.)
I will not discuss Monk on Wittgenstein, except by saying that Monk is
a true believer, but I will say something about his two volumes of
biography of Russell, whom he definitely does not like.
My problem with Monk's two volumes on Russell are that he shows, rather
convincingly, that Russell's autobiography in quite a few ways did not
tell the truth - and then uses that to mount a personal attack on
Russell, especially in the second volume.
Now I agree that Russell's autobiography tells a story that is, at
various places, quite far from the truth, and I also agree that this is
But then it seems to me that very few autobiographies are quite
veridical, and indeed they normally cannot be, at least not for someone
who lives a full life, rather than the life of a hermit. This is so in
part because one's own point of view is quite different
from that of anyone else, and in part because there were strong
reasons, some also legal, that prevented Russell from writing all, or
indeed most, of the truth about quite a few things, relations and
Then again, I am here merely briefly indicating some of the reasons why
Russell currently tends to be considered the second most important
philosopher rather than the first.
And besides, I should say that having read Monk's volumes on Russell has
changed my perception of his autobiography: These are
some of the books I have changed my opinions more about than
about most other books I have read, and indeed also far more than about
Russell's other books that I have read.
So the brief summary is: When one knows a lot more about Russell's life
than his autobiography tells, the autobiography looses considerably in
value and interest, but Russell's other work remains, for me at least,
mostly as it was before.
And one's judgment on Russell's greatness as a philosopher will depend
mostly on one's attitudes to a clear, coherent and logical style of
writing: If one strongly favors a clear, coherent and logical style,
there are very few who can beat Russell.
ME/CFS (that I prefer
to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search
is a disease I have since 1.1.1979: