janan.ganesh@ft.com on Joe Biden’s self-serving ‘nostalgia’: Political Observer comments

Mr. Ganesh frames his essay on Joe Biden with the Shakespeare tragedy Romeo and Juliet and the ‘“ancient grudge” between the Montagues and the Capulets.’ Garnished with his jejune observations, masquerading as telling insights on ‘the human condition’.

Posh Boy education collides with an utterly provincial American politician. If one can define Joe by means of the greatest playwright and poet in the  English language – his play  deserves more that its hollowing out, by the political desperation/opportunism of a writer, on American politics, suffering from an advanced case of historical/political ignorance.

As for Joe’s ‘nostalgia’  for the notion of an absent political comity see this Nation essay:

Headline: When Joe Biden Collaborated With Segregationists

Sub-headline: The candidate’s years as an anti-busing crusader cannot be forgotten—or readily forgiven.

In an education-policy proposal released by his campaign on May 28, Biden briefly spoke of encouraging diversity by giving grants and guidance to districts that are willing to pursue it. But he said nothing to disown his long history as a fierce opponent of school busing and a scathing critic of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

“We’ve lost our bearings since the 1954 Brown v. School Board desegregation case,” Biden said in 1975, in an interview that he gave to a newspaper in Delaware that was recently unearthed by The Washington Post. “To ‘desegregate’ is different than to ‘integrate.’”

Crucially, Biden didn’t just talk the anti-busing talk. He also took a leading role in fighting what he called “unnecessary busing” by pushing bills that would have forced the federal government to consider other ways of equalizing education—ways that would not have required what old-fashioned bigots used to call race mixing. In a series of letters, recently released by CNN, that he wrote to Dixiecrat Senator James Eastland in 1977, Biden expressed thanks to Eastland for supporting anti-busing legislation that Biden introduced.

“I want you to know that I very much appreciate your help…in attempting to bring my anti-busing legislation to a vote,” he wrote the Mississippi Democrat, a virulent opponent of civil rights who frequently referred to black people as “an inferior race.”


Is the political comity that is the subject of Joe’s nostalgia, and subject to Mr. Ganesh’s self-satisfied critique- the reader, with patience, makes her way though the thickets of Mr. Ganesh’s arguments to this concluding paragraph:

Anyone who has fallen out with friends over politics in recent years, having once associated such behaviour with bores and fanatics, has learnt something. Some beliefs, it turns out, really are irreconcilable. The job of politics is to contain them, lest they spill into civil disorder. It cannot aspire to do much more. It cannot always even finesse them into constructive legislation that splits the difference. The promise of bipartisanship is always and everywhere rousing to hear. That does not make it any less of a fool’s errand.


Isaiah Berlin,  long ago, considered the vexing question of incommensurables:

One of the knottiest dimensions of Berlin’s pluralism is the idea of incommensurability, which has been open to diverging interpretations. One can make a three-way distinction, between weak incommensurability, moderate incommensurability and radical incommensurability. Berlin goes beyond weak incommensurability, which holds that values cannot be ranked quantitatively, but can be arranged in a qualitative hierarchy that applies consistently in all cases. It is not, however, clear whether he presents a moderate or a radical vision of incommensurability. The former holds that there is no single, ultimate scale or principle with which to measure values—no ‘moral slide-rule’ or universal unit of normative measurement. This view is certainly consistent with all that Berlin wrote from 1931 onwards. Such a view does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that it is impossible to make judgements between values on a case-by-case basis, or that values, just because they can’t be compared or ranked in terms of one master-value or formula, can’t be compared or deliberated between at all.

Berlin does sometimes offer more starkly dramatic accounts of incommensurability, which make it hard to rule out a more radical interpretation of the concept, according to which incommensurability is more or less synonymous with incomparability. The latter states that values cannot be compared at all, since there is no ‘common currency’ in terms of which to compare them: each value, being sui generis, cannot be judged in relation to any other value, because there is nothing in relation to which both can be judged or measured. As a result, choices among values cannot be based on (objectively valid) evaluative comparisons, but only on personal preference, or on an act of radical, arbitrary choice. If this view is adopted, it is difficult to see how pluralism’s practical consequences would differ from those of relativism, although some scholars—most notably John Gray—have attempted to work out a version of pluralism that will both accommodate this more radical interpretation of incommensurability, and yet be differentiated from relativism.


Political Observer








About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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