Tag Archives: David Bolotin

Donne’s Undertaking

I was recently called on to recommend a poem. I chose “The Undertaking” of John Donne. I want to say here why.

  • The poem (quoted below) has a sound that impressed me when first I read it, more than thirty years ago.

  • The poem alludes to ideals:

    • of recognizing what is good for its own sake;

    • of climbing a rung or two on Diotima’s ladder or stairway of love, recounted by Socrates in Plato’s Symposium (211c):

      And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love (τὰ ἐρωτικά), is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these as steps (οἳ ἐπαναβαθμοί) only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair forms (τὰ καλὰ σώματα), and from fair forms to fair practices (τὰ καλὰ ἐπιτηδεύματα), and from fair practices to fair notions (τὰ καλὰ μαθήματα), until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is (ὃ ἔστι καλόν).

  • The sound of Donne’s poem may seduce one into thinking the ideals worthy.

Analytic Geometry and Donne's complete poetry

Two books that were my mother’s

Continue reading

NL XL: Peace and Plenty

Index to this series

With “Peace and Plenty,” we reach the end of the account of civilization in Collingwood’s New Leviathan. What remains is the account of barbarism. Strictly speaking, we little need it. Civilization quâ ideal of civility is the positive end of civilization quâ process, and as was pointed out on Chapter XXXII, “Society and Nature in the Classical Politics,” the positive end is the primary thing to know in conducting a process (32. 35–6).

“May Day, 1929,” V. V. Kuptsov

Continue reading

NL XXVIII: The Forms of Political Action

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 12, 2018), To condemn political discussion is to wish for tyranny: this continues a thought from the previous chapter. The ruling class need not share their deliberations with the ruled class, but it is better if they do. As our understanding of the reason for an action evolves—at first the action is merely useful, but later it conforms to a rule—, so ruling, originally by decree, has evolved to include legislation. However, to be enforced, law does not require a formal structure; international law is an example. The best reason for an action is duty. Though the German Treitschke says our highest duty is to the state, he gives the state no duty, and so his politics are entirely utilitarian.


In Plato’s Republic, Socrates seeks understanding of the just human being through examination of the just state. In Collingwood’s New Leviathan, the order is reversed. What we first considered in somebody, we now look at in the “body politic.”

Narthex of the former Taksiyarhis Church (now museum), Ayvalık, Balıkesir, Turkey, August 30, 2018

Continue reading

On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XII

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

Both first and last place may be prominent in a narrative. Occurring three-quarters of the way into Book XII of the Iliad, but presented last below, Sarpedon’s great speech on leadership ought to be known by everybody with authority and power.

Continue reading

NL XXVI: Democracy and Aristocracy

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 12, 2018, edited January 26, 2019).

  1. Aristocracy and democracy are abstractions (§§26. 1[0]–28). Inseparable from one another, they are properly understood as correlative rules for the ruling class:

    1. Don’t let in anybody who is unqualified.
    2. Don’t keep out anybody who is.
  2. By what Collingwood will call, in Chapter XXXI of the New Leviathan, the Principle of the Limited Objective, (which was recognized by the Early Church Fathers,) the ruling class should be prepared to solve, not every problem (as Plato wanted), but those problems that are expected to come up (§§26. 3[0]–34).

  3. The democratic and aristocratic principles have been at work throughout the history of Europe: in Greece, in Rome, under the feudalism of the Middle Ages. The French Revolution was not only democratic, but also aristocratic, for aiming to give power to the bourgeoisie, not the entire population (§§26. 4[0]–66).

  4. Adapted from the literary concept of peripety, the concept of revolution actually has no place in history, where there are no heroes or villains, just human beings, partly good and partly bad (§§26. 7[0]–82).

  5. The concept of a revolution in history is even dangerous, if it leads you to think a political problem can have been solved once for all (§§26. 9[0]–96).


There can be no pure democracy, not for a length of time, not if we understand a democracy to be a society whose ruling class is the whole of it. Even the most extreme democrat of ancient Greece never contemplated citizenship for women, slaves, or resident foreigners. We may be more liberal today, at least regarding women and slavery. Still we do not open the ruling class to foreigners, such as myself where I am; nor do we open it to children. We could do so, in the sense of extending the franchise to all human residents. Both possibilities were discussed favorably in the early 1990s in The Nation, as I recall, in one case by a legal minor. However, perhaps most children could not be given such adminstrative duties as used to be assigned by lot to Athenian citizens. Even if they could, what of the animals that live among us—shall they be citizens?


Edward Hicks (American, 1780-1849),
The Cornell Farm, 1848, oil on canvas,
Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch,
National Gallery of Art Continue reading

Happiness

If only tangentially sometimes, this is about living in Turkey, especially under the ongoing official state of emergency.

Aristotle, Marx & Engels, and Collingwood

Aristotle, Marx & Engels, and Collingwood

A blog article on Medium recently struck me for its treatment of science. Dated October 3, the article is called “The Purpose Of Life Is Not Happiness: It’s Usefulness,” and its opening section is as follows.

For the longest time, I believed that there’s only purpose of life: And that is to be happy. Continue reading