Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A review of “TR: The Story of Theodore Roosevelt”

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt, in his "Citizenship in a Republic" speech (delivered in Paris, France in 1910)

It's hard to imagine an American more interesting than Theodore Roosevelt - the youngest man ever to enter the White House up to that time, who stands out as one of the most remarkable peacetime presidents in American history. Mr. Roosevelt once said that "if [Abraham] Lincoln had lived in a time of peace, no one would have known his name," and there may actually be some truth in this - presidents who fight a war (particularly a just war) often get credit for this well beyond anything they receive for their other policies; and few could tell you a single thing Lincoln did unrelated to slavery or the Civil War, since these issues overshadow everything else for his presidency. I don't wish to take anything away from Mr. Lincoln (as he is my favorite president), but Theodore Roosevelt was no slouch himself; and the fact that we still remember him - even though he was a peacetime president - testifies strongly to the visibility of his legacy; as few peacetime presidents are remembered more favorably than he is - or, for that matter, remembered at all.

Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Why I like political philosophy

Why political theory, instead of just political practice?

It is usually easy for others to understand why politics interests me - the market for political news is a considerable one, and the many ways that government affects our life (good and bad) create a great deal of public interest. But interest in political philosophy is not as common, so my fascination with it can be somewhat strange to others. Why would you read political works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? Why would you read books about political theory, rather than focus more exclusively on how government works in practice? And why would you read something about government from Ancient Greece?

Plato, Greek philosopher

The history of ideas

Part of it is undoubtedly an interest in history: the study of political philosophy - and other kinds of philosophy, for that matter - has a long and rich history. There are good ideas and bad ideas; theories that work and theories that fail; so one can learn a lot about history by studying these things. But why focus on this kind of history? Why not the history of art, or music, or science? It should be noted that I do have an interest in these things as well; but the reason political philosophy engrosses me so much is that the ideas found in it are all around us. It's in the values we espouse - whether we value equality of condition, for example, or prefer the greatest happiness of the greatest number. It's in the assumptions we make - both the workable and the unworkable ones. And it's in the arguments we engage in: the dialogue about politics, both among and between the different camps; and the endless discussions about the best way to govern society.

Baron de Montesquieu, a political philosopher I like

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A review of PBS's "Jimmy Carter" movie

"For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the last five years."

- Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech, 15 July 1979 (after he'd been president for two and a half years)

PBS made a three-hour documentary about the life of Jimmy Carter. The documentary was a lot like Carter himself: frequently boring (particularly in the first part).

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