The Crust of Custom.

I have written about Herder a number of times, as in this 2009 post where I said he and I “have much more in common than I had thought”; Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti has posted a couple of Isaiah Berlin passages about him (from Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas) that poke at one of the most sensitive joints in my sloppily patched-together worldview, the tension between love of particularity and hatred of nationalism:

To belong to a given community, to be connected with its members by indissoluble and impalpable ties of common language, historical memory, habit, tradition and feeling, is a basic human need no less natural than that for food or drink or security or procreation. One nation can understand and sympathise with the institutions of another only because it knows how much its own mean to itself. Cosmopolitanism is the shedding of all that makes one most human, most oneself.

[…]

The philosophes proposed to rationalise communication by inventing a universal language free from the irrational survivals, the idiosyncratic twists and turns, the capricious peculiarities of existing tongues; if they were to succeed, this would be disastrous, for it is precisely the individual historical development of a language that belongs to a people that absorbs, enshrines and encapsulates a vast wealth of half-conscious, half-remembered collective experience. What men call superstition and prejudice are but the crust of custom which by sheer survival has shown itself proof against the ravages and vicissitudes of its long life; to lose it is to lose the shield that protects men’s national existence, their spirit, the habits, memories, faith that have made them what they are.

I agree with the praise for “impalpable ties of common language, historical memory, habit, tradition and feeling,” but he (that is, Berlin’s summarized Herder) makes what seems to me a basic logical error (or, less charitably, a nasty prosecutorial trick) when he follows that with “Cosmopolitanism is the shedding of all that makes one most human, most oneself.” To me, cosmopolitanism is not a rejection of particularity but that very understanding and sympathizing with others who do not share one’s particulars which he seems to agree is important. To be cosmopolitan is not to be a citizen of nowhere with no particular language or tradition (how would that even be possible?) but to be sufficiently aware of the languages and traditions of others to realize that one’s own are not God-given and ideal but merely the ones we happen to have grown up with and therefore are comfortable with, just as our family is not actually better than other people’s, it just seems that way because it is ours (assuming, of course, we have a family we love and are comfortable with, which I realize is often not the case). We can at one and the same time love and revere the customs and people we have grown up with and respect, even love, other, very different, people and their customs; indeed (and here comes the tedious moral, sorry about that) we must do so if we are to avoid endless and ever more destructive wars. I sometimes argue with people who insist that nationalism (or “patriotism,” as they often prefer to call it) is a Good Thing for reasons that probably resemble Herder’s, but they can never explain to me how we can indulge ourselves in it while avoiding wars. (Of course, before WWI people frequently thought war was a Good Thing because it revitalized our virility and restored our precious bodily fluids and life essence, but that has mostly fallen out of fashion in respectable discourse.) And the idea that a universal language would solve our problems is so silly I don’t understand how intelligent people have ever entertained it. Human thought is very muddled.

Comments

  1. From Wiki article on Herder

    Following a trip to Ukraine, Herder wrote a prediction in his diary (Journal meiner Reise im Jahre 1769) that Slavic nations would one day be the real power in Europe, as the western Europeans would reject Christianity and rot away, while the eastern European nations would stick to their religion and their idealism, and would this way become the power in Europe.

    We found the first Slavophile.

  2. Ha!

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    One nation can understand and sympathise with the institutions of another only because it knows how much its own mean to itself. Cosmopolitanism is the shedding of all that makes one most human, most oneself.

    The first sentence (substituting “person” for that slippery abstraction “nation”) is, I think, absolutely correct. The second is not so much a non-sequitur as an anti-sequitur. I presume that it arises from an interpretation of “cosmopolitanism” which has almost nothing at all to do with what I understand by the word myself (perhaps the sort of “cosmopolitanism” that led to the idea that Euro banknotes should be embellished with designs of imaginary non-existent bridges, or indeed the idea that “Euro” was a good name for the currency. Cosmopolitanism by subtraction of differences,)

  4. Yes, exactly.

  5. David Eddyshaw says:

    The principle generalises, of course.

    Open-mindedness is utterly different from lacking any personal convictions of one’s own, and the “tolerance” that arises from thinking that any differences at issue are just imaginary or trivial is merely pretending to represent that difficult virtue.

  6. I still grind my teeth when I think about Marcuse’s dishonest concept of “repressive tolerance,” so popular among soi-disant progressives then and now.

  7. David Eddyshaw says:

    He’s quite right that there are some things which are intolerable; his apparently untroubled confidence that he personally knows where to draw the line strikes me as … questionable.

    He also seems to conflate tolerance with apathy. That is to confuse activity with inactivity.

    I suppose what he is getting at is that the good name of “tolerance” can be hijacked by the Man as a way of making some sorts of legitimate political protest appear to be beyond the pale (or at least not quite genteel), but that’s really just a subset of the much broader issue of intellectual hegemony. It doesn’t seem helpful to tarnish the good name of “tolerance” itself if you’re trying to point out this particular error/deception.

  8. Exactly. Ever since then “tolerance” has had a bad name among lefties. Marcuse, as often, was cloaking a decent idea in misleading and provocative language. I’m glad his once inflated reputation seems to have subsided.

  9. John Cowan says:

    There’s an equal and opposite problem, and that’s to pretend that repressive tolerance is solely a fault of the Left, whereas it seems to be more like Original Sin. i’ve read several articles on the subject, all of which talk either entirely of Judean People’s Front style issues, or at most mentions conservatives offhand.

  10. JC, I am confused. This gives the following definition for “repressive tolerance”

    (i) the unthinking acceptance of entrenched attitudes and ideas, even when these are obviously damaging to other people…
    (ii) the vocal endorsement of actions that are manifestly aggressive towards other people…

    (which strikes me as somewhat repressive, but having nothing to do with tolerance, but I am bad at philosophy). I cannot see how that applies to “the Left”. If anything, a typical leftist sin is groupthink and motivated reasoning. Those are pretty universal human biases, maybe “the Left” practices them more loudly. Occasional acts of violence from the American Left (antifa and couple of college campus attacks on unpopular speakers) generally don’t gather any vocal endorsements.

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    The idea is not that the Left is particularly prone to so-called repressive tolerance, but that it is too keen on diagnosing the supposed malady in others.

  12. Aha!

  13. David Marjanović says:

    To be cosmopolitan is not to be a citizen of nowhere with no particular language or tradition (how would that even be possible?)

    People who assume such things tend to overlook the fact that if your culture is Hollywood, McDonald’s and Coca Cola, that’s still a culture.

    (…and not just because Hollywood, Burger King and Pepsi is another culture.)

    substituting “person” for that slippery abstraction “nation”

    …That turns it into a Radio Yerevan joke, though. 🙂

    the idea that Euro banknotes should be embellished with designs of imaginary non-existent bridges,

    Still bridges (and windows) in recognizable architecture styles.

    or indeed the idea that “Euro” was a good name for the currency

    The previous idea was Franc.

    Just saying.

    But I won’t forget the caricature that pointed out how hard it is to find any two language varieties in the EU that pronounce eu the same way. 🙂

  14. David Eddyshaw says:

    The previous idea was Franc

    I was disappointed they didn’t go with Florin. I liked that.

  15. David Eddyshaw says:

    that’s still a culture.

    The Null Culture. An important theoretical concept.

  16. Trond Engen says:

    I liked Florin, but not exclusively. My idea (which was mine) was to use one of those old international coins with a common symbol (like €) but its different traditional names. Florin/Gulden/Złoty etc. is one example. Thaler/Peso/Crown is another,

  17. Bathrobe says:

    I had never heard of “repressive tolerance”. Given more fully, the Oxford Reference cited by DO is this:

    Repressive tolerance, Marcuse argues, takes two main forms: (i) the unthinking acceptance of entrenched attitudes and ideas, even when these are obviously damaging to other people, or indeed the environment (the painfully slow response to warnings about climate change and environmental degradation might be seen as an example of this); and (ii) the vocal endorsement of actions that are manifestly aggressive towards other people (the popular support in the US and the UK in the aftermath of 9/11 and 7/7 for the respective government’s attempts to override or limit habeas corpus is a clear example of this). Genuine tolerance, Marcuse argues, can only exist in a situation of intolerance for these limits on real freedom.

    Marcuse’s point appears to be that so-called “tolerance” isn’t tolerance at all when it results in repressive situations. This kind of repressive tolerance should not be tolerated. Sounds reasonable in a roundabout, means-justify-the-ends sort of way, but awfully easily abused…

    I wonder what he would say about anti-vaccers….

  18. Trond Engen, Soviet money (rubles) had they value inscribed in the official languages of 15 republics. Which was a source of innocent amusement for kids. In addition to the nominal value (number) each language used what appeared to be it’s own name for the traditional main monetary unit. In fact, though, it was a variant of ruble, manat, or som and, in case of Ukrainian, karbovanetz . As you might have heard, ruble and USSR fared much worse than Euro and EU (at least so far, ptoey-ptoey-ptoey (English apparently has no standardized way to represent the sound of spitting, talk about culture!)). I am not sure whether it happened because of excessive unification or because of insufficient unification.

    The Soviet emblem featured “Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!” in the same 15 languages, but it was hard to read and, frankly, would require linguistic curiosity in excess of an average kid.

  19. David Eddyshaw says:

    Seems to me that the fundamental problem with “repressive tolerance” is that it is a horrible linguistic mistake for what should in fact have been called “tolerance of repression.”

    Many philosophers have had a tin ear for language. One from Königsberg springs to mind …

    All together now! Let’s move that Overton window! Two-six! Heave!

  20. Trond Engen says:

    I don’t mean that each coin or banknote should carry the name in all languages, but that each national edition should be recognizably the same and still different. Making the coins identical and European on one side and different and national on the other was a good decision. I remember sitting on a bench under a tree on a hot town square in Southern France in the summer of 2008, picking small change out of my wallet (I had a wallet with coins then!) and looking at them with my kids. There were French, German and Belgian coins, a couple of Spanish and Italian coins, even one Greek-minted, and we could speculate about the traveling patterns and interconnections of Europe.

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    Making the coins identical and European on one side and different and national on the other was a good decision

    Yes indeed.
    One of the things I came to regret about the decimalisation of our UK currency (a little act of temporal, as opposed to geographic, imposition of the Null Culture) was that it cut us off from our past. As a child, I remember that every now and then I would get – in ordinary change – a penny with Queen Victoria on it, in all her majesty as Empress of India.

  22. John Cowan says:

    That’s not my understanding at all: repressive tolerance is tolerance for those who only slightly disagree with us, intolerance for the rest. Those statements are from Marcuse’s essay, but they are the consequences of r.t. rather than a definition of it.

    I think it’s clear that Marcuse was reacting to the effectiveness of Nazi propaganda in bringing the party to power. This effectiveness is generally confirmed by modern research, which however points out that Nazi propaganda before 1932 was most effective in the strongly Antisemitic South and West, which were full of towns that had burned their Jews in medieval times; much less so in the North and East (least of all in the Hanseatic cities), which were not. After the war, both Germany and all its subject nations (excluding Denmark and Norway) passed laws against the use of Nazi symbology in public and public denial of the Holocaust.

    Marcuse’s view is that tolerance by the state is a disguise for repression, with conservative and centrist voices allowed to speak and revolutionary leftist voices repressed or minimized. In particular, he attacks the support of state tolerance by the liberal left.

    Part of the trouble, I think, is that he’s firmly committed to the view (now known to be false) that violence is more effective, even infinitely more effective, than nonviolent social protest. A longitudinal study over the last 30 years shows that for a variety of reasons, violent revolutions against repressive tyrannies succeed only about 25% of the time vs. about 40% for nonviolent ones, and the latter generally have much more liberal-democratic outcomes.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    tolerance for those who only slightly disagree with us, intolerance for the rest

    Even so. Let’s move, move, move that Overton window – in the right (i.e. left) direction.

    It remains the case that to call this “repressive tolerance” is a most lamentable transferred epithet.

  24. Ok, but those are 2 vastly different things, tolerance only of views not much different from one’s own and state tolerance of right and centrists views and actions, but not leftists. And neither fits the “official definition”. Discussions about terminology were denigrated in a nearby thread, but there should be at least a bit of consistency. Or maybe there shouldn’t. Maybe it’s more fun without consistency.

  25. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think (though he can speak for himself, and surely will) that JC is pointing out that Marcuse’s on-the-face-of-it somewhat rebarbative formulation of a basically valid point makes more sense in the context of the specific historical situation he had in mind. I’d actually go farther: it’s not just Nazis pushing the envelope of what counts as acceptible political discourse, but “respectable” right-wing parties easing up on their opposition to extreme right-wingers/demogogues in the hope that they can capitalise on their support without getting fatally compromised themselves. Sound familiar? This has happened before …

  26. I can kind of see it, but then calling it repressive tolerance is not all that bad. It also has an advantage (even exceeding usual advantages of theft over honest toil) of forcing everyone who works with this “definition” to agree to the factual claims as well

  27. When the Fascists started marching many millions had to pay.
    We saw them come to power, but we looked the other way.
    It happened once before, and it can happen once again.
    Will you show me that I didn’t die in vain?

  28. January First-of-May says:

    The previous idea was Franc.

    Just saying.

    The immediate previous idea, as far as I’m aware, was Ecu, which is of course a French coin, but was explained away as standing for European Currency Unit.
    (…I don’t think that abbreviation works anywhere outside English.)

    Did they ever seriously propose Franc for the common currency? I could rather expect them to imply that everyone will accept France’s currency.

    Florin/Gulden/Złoty etc. is one example. Thaler/Peso/Crown is another

    Really the most common and familiar one (for the core Western areas, at least) is the (Carolingian) L/s/d system (ironically enough, those abbreviations reflect the continental names much better than the names that they usually abbreviate).
    Unfortunately, 1) it’s too closely tied to its non-decimal ratios, and 2) it was used within living memory in exactly one EU country, and not for centuries anywhere else.

    That said, they probably could have gotten away with using the Pound/Livre/Lira as the main unit, especially if they allowed the (post-1971) English to still subdivide it into pence instead of cents.

    EDIT: another very good option is the Ducat, though that one might have been interpreted as implying gold content, or at least gold equivalence, and consequently a much higher face value than any unit that still existed at the time.

    EDIT 2: TIL that Austria-Hungary changed the name of its currency from “gulden” to “krone” in 1892 because the former was associated with silver and the latter with gold. And no, I didn’t invert the direction.

  29. @ John Cowan:
    A longitudinal study over the last 30 years shows that for a variety of reasons, violent revolutions against repressive tyrannies succeed only about 25% of the time vs. about 40% for nonviolent ones, and the latter generally have much more liberal-democratic outcomes.

    Do you have a reference for that? (I’m curious partly because that sounds like a slightly distorted/weaker version of Stephan and Chenoweth (2008) — later expanded into a book — which found that the success rates for nonviolent vs violent movements/revolutions was 53% vs 26%, based on analyzing over a century’s worth of data.)

  30. AJP Crown says:

    £-s-d was used within living memory in exactly one EU country

    Namely Ireland, of course.

  31. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Brett: Well found. RIP.

  32. January First-of-May says:

    Namely Ireland, of course.

    Oh, right, Ireland. I forgot both that they also kept it that long, and that they were an EU member.
    The last currently-EU country to have used a non-decimal monetary system was in fact Malta, which held on until 1972; however, they did not join the EU until several decades later.

    (Two modern countries still use non-decimal money, though neither of them is an EU member, or even a particularly plausible candidate for such membership.
    In both cases the non-decimal system was created because the post-independence currency was equal to 5 colonial francs, and the colonial franc was kept on as a sub-unit.)

  33. January First-of-May says:

    however, they did not join the EU until several decades later

    More importantly (I would have edited this in, but didn’t have enough time), they did not join the EU until after the euro was already introduced in many other EU countries.

  34. David Eddyshaw says:

    currency was equal to 5 colonial francs

    In Mooré, you call a hundred-franc piece a piisi “twenty.” Seems to be pretty much universal in the lands of the old AOF.

    I think it’s to do with Maria Theresa dollars.

  35. Part of the trouble, I think, is that he’s firmly committed to the view (now known to be false) that violence is more effective, even infinitely more effective, than nonviolent social protest.

    And the rest of the trouble is that leftists tend to be romantically wedded to the idea of violent revolution and will seize joyfully on any excuse to justify its, so to speak, intolerance. (I speak as a leftist of half a century’s standing who is fed up with many of his, so to speak, fellow travelers, just as as an anarchist I am fed up with soi-disant anarchists who know nothing of Kropotkin but long to smash windows and fight other people.)

  36. David Eddyshaw says:

    leftists tend to be romantically wedded to the idea of violent revolution and will seize joyfully on any excuse to justify its, so to speak, intolerance

    This applies to exactly zero leftists of my acquaintance. I wonder if this is connected with the apparently widespread inability in America to distinguish between the politics of Clement Attlee and those of Joseph Stalin?

  37. Well, you are naturally acquainted with sensible people like yourself, and probably do not spend time on the kind of websites where people yell passionately about politics. I assure you that the romance of revolution is not confined to Yanks; in fact, I’d say just the opposite (Americans having been exposed to a century’s worth of right-wing propaganda that, as you suggest, equates healthcare and childcare proposals with the Gulag and having had no truly left-wing parties since the heyday of Fighting Bob LaFolette, whereas Europeans are used to hearing from Social Democrats and the like).

  38. David Eddyshaw says:

    probably do not spend time on the kind of websites where people yell passionately about politics

    True: but that is because I spend (or spent, until just lately) too much time going to actual meetings where people yell passionately about politics.

    There are certainly romance-of-revolution lefties out there in the UK: my main beef with them is that they do bugger-all to get leftists into actual political power (i.e. by joining the Labour Party and actually, like, campaigning.) The much-demonised-by-the-media Momentum are not a bunch of à la lanterne Jacobins or even entryist Trotskyites (I think the Trots are mostly getting a bit long in the tooth for entryism nowadays.) Their typical fault (alongside many virtues) is a naive belief that just being right is enough. I think. But they try.

    Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Möglichen.

  39. There are certainly romance-of-revolution lefties out there in the UK: my main beef with them is that they do bugger-all to get leftists into actual political power

    Yes, exactly.

    Mind you, the threat of revolution is extremely useful; it’s the only way progressive policies have gotten enacted in most bourgeois/capitalist countries. But actually wanting revolution is an Infantile Disorder (to use a phrase of Lenin’s in a way that would give him heartburn).

  40. AJP Crown says:

    I’m right behind you in everything you’ve said so far and the way you expressed it, Language, esp. in your post.

    Berlin’s view of cosmopolitanism seems absurd during the current Corvid crisis. He doesn’t mention economics (it’s economics that usually kicks nationalism into gear), nor the natural sciences, medicine, the visual arts… None of these suffer when I take a cosmo world view, quite the opposite. Perhaps he was thinking more about a Weltanschauung.

  41. Yes, Berlin was a great guy and a very congenial thinker, but he was, let’s face it, a plummy Oxford professor far removed from the nitty-gritty of life down here in the trenches.

  42. David Eddyshaw says:

    Isaiah Berlin was a PPE student’s idea of a Great Philosopher.

  43. PPE is apparently “politics, philosophy and economics: a degree subject originally offered at the university of Oxford,” in case anyone else was wondering.

  44. AJP Crown says:

    – Well don’t forget he was 12ish when he first came to England, so not that plummy, and more aware than most that To belong to a given community, to be connected with its members by indissoluble and impalpable ties of common language, historical memory, habit, tradition and feeling, is a basic human need.

    – Not quite fair (do we wish to be? Of course not!) to PPE students, who only need to be interested in political philosophy.

  45. AJP Crown says:

    PPE is apparently…

    Oh well the thing about PPE is that it was the course taken by David Cameron and tons of other PMs & MPs both on the Labour right & in the Tory party. The other thing they do, sometimes at the same time, is become bankers.

    My cousin taught the first P (politics) for about 40 years at Berlin’s old college at Oxford and he (my cousin) despises Philosophy (though possibly only to get a rise out of me).

  46. I’m well aware of his background, but everything I’ve read about him suggests he took to Oxbridge plumminess like a duck to water. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s a very attractive lifestyle.

  47. David Marjanović says:

    with a common symbol (like €) but its different traditional names

    To some extent this is done with the cents (French centimes, Greek leptá). But the ¢ symbol has not been introduced.

    Ecu

    That was a thing in actual existence, but a somewhat different one than the €.

    Did they ever seriously propose Franc for the common currency?

    Seriously enough that Austrian public-owned TV news once stated the EU currency was (or was probably) going to be called, in German, Franken (like the Swiss Franc).

    Fair enough for the formerly Carolingian areas, but…

    Really the most common and familiar one (for the core Western areas, at least)

    Not for over 500 years on the mainland.

    another very good option is the Ducat

    That would have struck people as laughably quaint.

    EDIT 2: TIL that Austria-Hungary changed the name of its currency from “gulden” to “krone” in 1892 because the former was associated with silver and the latter with gold. And no, I didn’t invert the direction.

    Huh. I knew about the change, but neither that it happened so late (I thought a few decades earlier) nor the upside-down reason.

    The Krone : Heller names remain in Czech use (koruna : haleř). Austria turned ten thousand crowns into one Schilling in 1924 (deliberately digging up an early-medieval term to emphasize how German the country was, but that was soon forgotten).

    die Lehre vom Möglichen

    I know it as die Kunst des Machbaren – not the doctrine of the possible, but the art of the feasible.

  48. That would have struck people as laughably quaint.

    So what? Anything they chose would have struck people as quaint or silly or dumb for one reason or another. People don’t like change. After an amazingly short interval they’d all get used to whatever word was chosen and resent it if someone tried to change it again.

  49. I did PPE (in Cameron’s college, three years before him) and didn’t become a banker or an MP. I remember Two Concepts of Liberty being on the reading list but don’t remember otherwise being expected to read Berlin.

    The first P is Philosophy, by the way, or it is at Oxford anyway. You didn’t have to be interested in political philosophy – you could pretty well avoid it by dropping the second P after the first year or by keeping on with it and concentrating on institutions and political history.

  50. David Eddyshaw says:

    Pretty sure I’ve got the Bismarck right. However:

    https://gutezitate.com/zitat/267196

  51. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, that explains a lot.

  52. I’ve read that Swedish öre was named after gold. By now the öre only exist digitally, they are too worthless to stay as coins. Ducat sounds quaint, but I wouldn’t have anything against new ducats.

    Not sure about the £ s d thing. I might be European, but I only get confused by it.

  53. AJP Crown says:

    My bad, Ian Preston.

  54. David Eddyshaw says:

    I hereby comprehensively exempt all Hatters from my anti-PPE snark, especially those who subsequently decided to run with the E.

    I’m still getting double-takes from the fact that the abbreviation seems currently to be turning up constantly in contexts where I am forced to conclude that it must represent something desirable: indeed, something of which there seems to be an actual shortage. These are strange times …

  55. David Eddyshaw says:

    From the Grauniad/Observer today

    The former MI5 director general, who led Britain’s domestic security service between 2006 and 2013, said: “Whatever you think of the outcome of the recent election in the UK, the fact that some of the legitimate concerns that were being used as a pretext by English nationalists have now been formally acknowledged at the ballot box might be a good outcome, even though it is sort of disconcerting for southern liberals.

    Legitimate concerns, eh?

  56. John Cowan says:

    Ok, but those are 2 vastly different things, tolerance only of views not much different from one’s own and state tolerance of right and centrists views and actions, but not leftists.

    In principle, yes. (Radio Yerevan again.) But since Marcuse was himself a leftist, the two collapse in practice. An imaginary Esucram, monarchist or neo-Nazi or what not, might completely agree with #1 while at the same time completely disagreeing with #2.

    Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Möglichen.

    Usually “Politics is the art of the possible.” Peter Medawar added, “Science is the art of the soluble” and wrote an excellent book of essays called Art of the Soluble.

    “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.”

  57. matabala says:

    Cosmopolitanism is, de facto, a rejection of particularity. History is riddled with stories of “native savages” being brought to Cosmopolitania with disastrous effects. Few would now claim that process was a positive contribution to cultural particularity.

  58. John Cowan says:

    Ok, but those are 2 vastly different things, tolerance only of views not much different from one’s own and state tolerance of right and centrists views and actions, but not leftists.

    In principle, yes. (Radio Yerevan again.) But since Marcuse was himself a leftist, the two collapse in his practice. An imaginary Esucram, monarchist or neo-Nazi or what not, might completely agree with #1 while at the same time completely disagreeing with #2.

    the (Carolingian) L/s/d system

    In Ill Bethisad, decimal currency is almost unknown, and local names vary even within currency blocs (pound, pund, llîr, unofficially esku in Cornwall). However, although both are divided 1/20/240, it is not the case that Europe’s livre is pegged to the Commonwealth’s pound: indeed, it is about 1/3 the value.

    The Scandinavian Realm, on the other hand, often uses the same names with different meanings: the riksdaler is uniform, but 8 Danish marks is 1 1/3 riksdaler, 12 Swedish marks is 3 riksdaler, in New Ísland 5 1/3 skilling is 1 1/3 riksdaler (but American money passes current there as well, New Iceland being a condominium like Lybæk), and in Tsingdav 3 1/3 yen = 1 2/3 riksdaler.

    Lousianne is the outlier, with 1 écu = 10 decimes = 100 centimes; this fits in with their insistence on keeping the old French Revolutionary weights and measures rather than adopting the SI agreed upon by almost all other nations in 1875. In scientific matters both the names and the values are universal, the names being in Interlingua (de Peano, of course) nowadays rather than Latin proper, with a few Greek terms like drachma thrown in. The libra (325g) may be called the livre in French, but it any case it will be 12 unciae / onces.

    slightly distorted/weaker version of Stephan and Chenoweth (2008)

    That’s just what it is; i read the book but characteristically misremembered the numbers.

    romance-of-revolution lefties

    I think the home of these nowadays is Latin America.

    they do bugger-all to get leftists into actual political power

    They don’t have no truck with no right-deviationist reformism, comrade!

    entryist Trotskyites (I think the Trots are mostly getting a bit long in the tooth for entryism nowadays.)

    My parents, born in 1904 and 1919, might justly be described as exitist Trotskyites. They tended to get kicked out of institutions a lot.

    PPE

    Shows what I know. I always understood it as ‘the philosophy OF politics and economics’. There are folks out there now who claim that economics is tarred with neoclassicism, and insist on calling themselves political economists in the old style.

    Add joke about my old aunt being greater than Marx here.

  59. @matabala: As Terry Pratchett put it in Strata, “The Eskimo learned tax accounting, but the German did not learn to hunt the whale.”

  60. David Eddyshaw says:

    exitist Trotskyites

    Heh. That does seem to be, if not the actual raison d’être of Trotskyism, something rather close to it …

    You probably appreciate the old saying that only even-numbered Internationals are any good.

  61. John Cowan says:

    I don’t know. The anarchist wing of the First International still exists.

    The German actually did learn to hunt the whale (mostly out of Hamburg to Spitsbergen and Greenland): the most successful year was 1770. However, whaling became a pastime for rich farmers’ sons in the 19C, and collapsed completely by 1872.

  62. The Geneva Congress of 1866 is the common name assigned to the 1st General Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association, held in Geneva, Switzerland from September 3 to 8, 1866. Une séance ordinaire.

  63. PPE: I keep seeing references to this in the news and was puzzled until I realized it is the current abbreviation for Personal Protective Equipment — masks, sanitizer etc.

    As for the other PPE, I had long been inclined to think of it as the Oxford equivalent of the Cambridge degree known as Land Economy, which (I think) has a bit of economics, a bit of business, a bit of law, a bit of agronomy. Just the ticket for getting an easy degree and then returning home to run the family estate. PPE at Oxford, by contrast, is an easy degree that gives you a ticket for running other people’s business, or so it seems.

  64. David Marjanović says:

    History is riddled with stories of “native savages” being brought to Cosmopolitania with disastrous effects. Few would now claim that process was a positive contribution to cultural particularity.

    Well… in some cases…

    The German actually did learn to hunt the whale (mostly out of Hamburg to Spitsbergen and Greenland): the most successful year was 1770. However, whaling became a pastime for rich farmers’ sons in the 19C, and collapsed completely by 1872.

    …right after the German had become a German national.

  65. @ matabala:
    Cosmopolitanism is, de facto, a rejection of particularity.

    It would be more correct to say that cosmopolitanism, as an ideal, is about recognizing and accepting the existence of multiple “particularities” without assuming that those who hold particularities different from yours are inferior, in- or subhuman, or implacable enemies. Put another way, cosmopolitanism is about rejecting the idea that there is only One True Particularity that all people — or at least all people belonging some particular culture or nation — must follow. (Or, well, just go back and look at Hat’s description of cosmopolitanism in the original post; that’s a pretty good summary.)

    If one believes in the One True Particularity, then of course “cosmopolitanism” is bad, which is why ultranationalists of different stripes have portrayed “cosmopolitanism” as intrinsically bad and dangerous, whether they are doing this from the left (e.g., “rootless cosmopolitanism”) or from the right (contemporary ultranationalists in places such as Hungary, Poland, and the United States).

    If you just mean “some cultures which have at times prided themselves for being ‘cosmopolitan’ have done or advocated things which suppress other peoples’ particularities” — well, yes, but then you can do that with many things that are, on balance, good ideas. (E.g., “Country X prides itself on being ‘democratic’, but it has done [insert bad, anti-democratic things], therefore democracy is bad.”)

  66. Thanks for that comprehensive rebuttal to matabala’s comment, which left me so irritated I was afraid anything I said would be intemperate.

  67. I do agree that the two parts of the Berlin quote are non-sequitur at best and probably at odds with each other; however, I think I understand where he was going with it. I would even go so far as to say that Berlin was perfectly aware of the contradiction; he is, I think, trying to say that to go from nationalism to cosmopolitanism was – had to be – not just to acquire, but to lose something, because you can’t change and stay the same. Yes, cosmopolitanism doesn’t mean a dislike of the particular at all, and my hope is that it is indeed quite the contrary. But once one has lost the happy state of innocence where one is not even aware of the particular being particular, one can not go back to that state and the special happiness it supposedly assures, especially in retrospect. Berlin was just trying to make his Herder say that in Herder’s terms, I think. What we also might be missing when we are trying to dismiss this as contradiction is how personal this was for Berlin.

  68. Stu Clayton says:

    because you can’t change and stay the same

    Well, I can. The technique is called “become”.

  69. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Even if you become something else, you are still our Grumbly.

    δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης and all that.

    (More Akismet-abjurative text to dilute the Greek. There must be some greek spammers out there influencing her heuristics).

  70. Stu Clayton says:

    As the man said (ποταμῷ οὐκ ἔστιν δὶς τῷ αὐτῷ ἐμβῆναι, ekshually, according to LSJ, same thing but differnt (!)): you can’t step twice into the “same river,” but you can talk forever about the “same river” and nobody gets hurt. Anybody out there still fooled by this inconsistent guff ?

    Can you quote Heraclitus twice? Discuss, but briefly since I’ve got to see a man about a horse before 6 this evening.

  71. Stu Clayton says:

    Here’s a good subject for a term paper: “Was Heraclitus a Practical Joker?”

  72. David Eddyshaw says:

    I expect some Heracliti were.

  73. Stu Clayton says:

    You’re such a tease !

  74. @Stu Clayton: well, becoming and staying the same Stu, granted; but not same in all respects, surely? Something is acquired and something is lost, as in Reid’s senile general.

  75. John Cowan says:

    The Zompist culture tests are a nice mixture of cosmopolitanism and particularity. The underlying issues which each test responds to are American, the language is English, the markup is HTML, because those things are at present cosmopolitan. But each individual test is all particularity, both for the constructed cultures (what Tolkien calls Secondary Art) and for the natural ones (what Tolkien calls Primary Art, or Creation, and others call Evolution). For Blake, who could hardly be less like Tolkien if he tried with both hands (except for their common Englishry), particularity was the essence of virtue: “He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars: general Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer, for Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars.”

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