The Social Contract

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How shall we be governed? Philosophers have debated that issue since Plato and the question is more important today than ever, given the rise of right-wing extremism everywhere, especially in liberal democracies where there is an ongoing, concerted effort by several current political parties and non-government organizations (NGOs) like the IDU to subvert or overthrow Western democracies and replace them with authoritarian dictatorships; American Repugnicans and Canadian CONservatives among them*. Let’s look at the history, first. It was Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) who first tried to … click below for more ↓

Seven Faces of Marcus Aurelius

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I am going to assume that you, dear reader, already know who Marcus Aurelius Antonius was. I have respect for both the intelligence and education of my readers, enough to feel I can avoid making pedantic explanations and reiterating his biography that is more fluently available on dozens or hundreds of better, more encyclopedic websites. No, this is not a treatise on him, or even on his Stoic philosophy. It’s a look at how six different translators rendered some parts of his book, Meditations. But … click below for more ↓

Hobbesian vs Benthamite Politics

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Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was not an optimist about human behaviour. Writing more than a century after Niccolo Machiavelli, the English political philosopher argued in his masterwork, Leviathan (1651), that the quest for power was the main motivation for humans. And that our quest to acquire more would never cease until we were dead. He wrote: …in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death. And the cause … click below for more ↓

Ancient Election Wisdom

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I recently came across this piece by Marcus Tullius Cicero (one of my favourite classical authors) on the Sententiae Antiquae website (a good source of classical Latin and Greek translations), taken from Cicero’s oration Pro Murena (35-36). Lucius Licinius Murena was elected as his election as consul in 62 BCE but was subsequently accused of bribery. He was defended by  Cicero, who recorded his speech for posterity. Here’s what Cicero said about elections in general: What strait or what channel do you imagine has as … click below for more ↓

Debunking Poilievre’s Tweets Part 1

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Pierre Poilievre — aka Skippy — tweets a lot. A lot. Not quite in the Donald-Trump-tweeting-on-the-toilet range, but close. And he often repeat-tweets his angry, bumper-sticker slogans that are little more than libertarian micro rages. They are big on emotion but empty on substance. no details, facts, or anything even vaguely resembling a coherent platform that would benefit Canadians. His Twitter profile lists him as “Member of Parliament for Carleton and candidate for Prime Minister of Canada” which is pretty arrogant, given that he’s not … click below for more ↓

Debunking Poilievre’s Freedom Myth

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If you listen to Pierre Poilievre, the leading — and rightmost — candidate for the Conservative Party’s leadership, Canada is a dictatorship suffering under the thumb of the tyrant, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. To escape from the authoritarian rule of the Liberals, Poilievre (aka Skippy) promises to make us “the freest place in the world.” In a recent interview published in Macleans, Poilievre used the words freedom or freedoms 24 times. In one answer to the interviewer, Skippy said, I believe in freedom of speech on … click below for more ↓

Wild Fruits

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When he died of tuberculosis in his mother’s home, in 1862, 44-year-old Henry David Thoreau had already made his mark on the world with the publication of several books and numerous essays, including Civil Disobedience, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, The Maine Woods, A Yankee in Canada, and his classic, Walden, or Life in the Woods. I trust we’re all familiar with Thoreau’s major works, at least their titles, particularly Walden (first published in 1854). Thoreau — or at least some of … click below for more ↓

Freedom or Just Free-Dumb?

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It’s a sad statement on modern affairs that the word “freedom” has been reduced to a generally meaningless term, thanks to the constant gaslighting by the right.  Every rule, regulation, protocol that the right doesn’t like, doesn’t agree with their ideology or that hurts their feelings is trumped up as an attack on freedom. The right thrive on such conspiracies. But while they press all the hot buttons to get their followers riled into a frenzy over perceived slights against alleged freedoms, you seldom hear … click below for more ↓

Socrates and Saunderson

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In Plato’s dialogue Gorgias, Socrates debates with three sophists — Gorgias the rhetorician and his pupils Polus, and Callicles — about justice, power, morality, and virtue. Socrates also questions the value of oratory and rhetoric — the crafts of the sophists — in contemporary politics and whether they do good for the people. Spoiler alert: he’s not convinced they are for the good. You can read the somewhat stuffy Benjamin Jowett translation here and here, or read David Horan’s more modern translation here. I realize … click below for more ↓

Montaigne on Ketchup-Flavoured Cheetos

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In his famous work, Essays, Michel de Montaigne, channelling the Epicureans, wrote that, “All the opinions in the world point out that pleasure is our aim. (Book I: On the Power of Imagination).” And I have to admit that what we euphemistically call “junk food” is a widespread pleasure that many of us enjoy these days. Of course, Montaigne, ever the skeptic, also wrote, “Que sais je?” (What do I know? Book II, Ch. 12). I did it again: I used the name of my … click below for more ↓

A Meeting of the Minds?

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Niccolo Machiavelli and Michel de Montaigne never met, nor could they have — Machiavelli died six years before Montaigne was born, and they lived about 1,200 km (800 miles) apart — but imagine the conversations they could have had if they had lived at the same time and close enough to visit one another, to have dinner together. Imagine the hard-nosed philosopher of the body politic and the curious philosopher of inner space, together, discussing humankind, discussing ways of living, ways of governing, discussing the … click below for more ↓

Musings on Aesop and Local Politics

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I’ve always liked reading “wisdom tales”; I still read and delight in those Zen Buddhist stories that Paul Reps recounted in his book, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, which I first encountered in the late 1960s. Not long after that, I discovered the many tales of the Mulla Nasrudin retold by Idries Shah, and the stories of the Wise Men of Chelm, the imaginary city of fools in Jewish folklore. Decades later, I still have most of these books. I suspect, however, little of the implied … click below for more ↓

Musings on Montaigne’s Cannibals

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Montaigne’s essay On Cannibals contributed at least some of the content and ideas in Shakespeare’s late play, The Tempest. A speech by the recently-shipwrecked counsellor Gonzalo in Act 2, Sc.1 about creating a utopian community on the island is lifted almost word-for-word from this essay.* Montaigne’s other essays might have added to other of The Bard’s plays as well, although we can’t be sure when he read the Essays. If it was at the time he was writing The Tempest, by then (1611) Shakespeare was … click below for more ↓

Musings on Art and Taste

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Many years ago, I had a lengthy correspondence with a friend in another part of Canada about what constitutes art. His basic argument was that art was not neutral or generic, but was the final product of high achievement: real art was “good” art. That is, art was defined by recognized masters and their works. Mona Lisa was art, Picasso was art, Monet was art — solely because they hung in galleries. It took cultural recognition or at least acceptance to make the change from … click below for more ↓

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