Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yglesias Reads Weber

Matt Yglesias, reflecting on the politics of the past few weeks, quotes from passages of Weber that I've quoted here many times.

However, there is an abysmal contrast between conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of ultimate ends–that is, in religious terms, ‘The Christian does rightly and leaves the results with the Lord’–and conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of responsibility, in which case one has to give an account of the foreseeable results of one’s action.

I would add just one point to Yglesias' reflections on this contrast. It is possible to harbor considerable doubt about the "foreseeable results of one's action." This uncertainty greatly complicates the commitment to an ethic of responsibility. Pascal's wager weighs the scale too heavily in favor of ultimate ends by positing an infinite reward for preferring the ultimate over the here and now. But the scales can be tipped in the same direction by attaching too low a probability to imminent (or immanent) success. As Tocqueville recognized, it is rather too easy to dissuade oneself from attempting that which is merely difficult but not necessarily impossible.

He's paid to write this stuff?

Alain Duhamel, I mean. Shouldn't a pundit deliver more than a primer? I think he's actually on holiday in Switzerland. This column seems to have been written by a robot. Maybe there's an iPhone app: "Phone-It-In," for the pundit in a hurry. And Libé actually publishes this garbage.

Diam's and Islam

On the controversy over the rapper's "conversion":

Les stars médiatiques devenues baptistes ou Témoins de Jéhovah sont pléthore. Ces conversions font souvent sourire, sans provoquer une telle bronca. "On n'en aurait pas parlé si elle s'était convertie à une autre religion, assure Meriem, une fan de Diam's, Française de 27 ans d'origine marocaine aux allures de cadre supérieur, présente au Transbordeur de Lyon. Ici, une femme voilée est une femme soumise, alors que c'est un choix personnel, un dialogue avec Dieu." Surfant sur l'idée que les signes chrétiens sont mieux acceptés en France, Diam's a placé sur son nouvel album, une chanson, Lili, qui plaide pour l'autorisation du voile à l'école en mettant en scène le mal-être d'une lycéenne convertie : "Elle n'est pas laïque cette nation/Elle craint juste la contagion."

Neglect pop culture at your peril. It's often where social ferment first appears.

"Des immigrés parfaits"

Tahar Ben Jelloun. A must read.

"Immense déception"

Read Alain Juppé's account of Copenhagen. This is about as frank as a politician ever gets.

And then there's this from Laurent Joffrin:

"Quelle chienlit ! ... Il est manifestement plus facile de sauver la finance que de sauver la planète."

But The New York Times plays it cool. After highlighting Obama's characterization of the "agreement" as an "historic breakthrough," John Broder writes: "The agreement addresses many of the issues that leaders came here to settle. But it has left many of the participants in the climate talks unhappy, from the Europeans, who now have the only binding carbon control regime in the world, to the delegates from the poorest nations, who objected to being left out of the critical negotiations."

Perhaps it's just differences of tone and house style, but I think it goes deeper (cf. the Washington Post). Climate change just doesn't have salience as an issue in the United States, even in the columns of a liberal newspaper, let alone in the country at large. The failure of the negotiations means that we will now be spared the spectacle of a ratification debate in the Senate, but it's not hard to imagine the rhetoric that would have been forthcoming.

In the meantime, Obama's reputation in Europe, hitherto almost inoxydable, has, I think, taken a severe hit. There was open dismay at the tenor of his speech, and his decision to negotiate separately with China, India, Brazil, and South Africa may have made pragmatic sense but alienated Europe, whose friendship he needs. Obama's political instincts are sometimes puzzling. Man does not live by charisma alone, and charisma, in any case, is not a renewable resource.