There is a touch of Stan Brakhage (who was a fervent Malick admirer) in this poetic ambition: to film the things of the world (people, animals, flora and fauna) before they acquire their names, before they coalesce into firm shapes, objects, identities … Indeed, Brakhage made a film called “The Animals of Eden and After” – and could there be a better title for the cinema of Terrence Malick, with its obsessive central myth of Eden before and after the Fall?
For a century, liberals have been chasing the same organizing idea: to perfect the welfare state—the soaringly aspirational, deeply flawed apparatus of Social Security, public health insurance, and progressive taxation designed to guarantee a secure middle class—and to extend its protections to every American. A year ago, after Obama’s health-care reforms became law, that project looked closer to completion. Now we are debating the terms of its erosion—with Republican proposals to cut the benefits of Medicare and Medicaid, conservative efforts to repeal protections for labor unions, and an emerging Washington consensus that the costs of a broad welfare state may be beyond what Americans will willingly pay. The White House meeting this past December [with Paul Krugman and other left-of-center economists], viewed in retrospect, seemed to mark the end of the expansive first part of Obama’s administration and the beginning of an austere second phase. Krugman, departing, found himself left in the position that every purist fears, holding blueprints for impossible buildings.
“I think what people like Paul Ryan are trying to do is set us on a glide path to a much harsher society,” Krugman now says. “A country in which, step by step, more and more people are cast out into a situation of not having health insurance and poverty, and so we slide back to a Victorian notion that life is full of evils and that’s too bad but that’s the way that God made the world. That large numbers of the poor, large numbers of the elderly just live in dire poverty and don’t have health care because life is tough.” For two years, Krugman has been arguing that this trajectory might have been averted if only Obama had been a little less deferential, a little more demanding, a little more alarmed. And so Krugman has given the debate on the left its shape: whether the president could have mounted a more effective defense of the welfare state, and whether liberalism’s tragic flaw is Obama’s instinct for conciliation or his leading critic’s naïveté.
Sean Kelly, in The New York Times‘s philosophy blog, The Stone:
Writing 30 years before Nietzsche, in his great novel “Moby Dick,” the canonical American author encourages us to “lower the conceit of attainable felicity”; to find happiness and meaning, in other words, not in some universal religious account of the order of the universe that holds for everyone at all times, but rather in the local and small-scale commitments that animate a life well-lived. The meaning that one finds in a life dedicated to “the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country,” these are genuine meanings. They are, in other words, completely sufficient to hold off the threat of nihilism, the threat that life will dissolve into a sequence of meaningless events. But they are nothing like the kind of universal meanings for which the monotheistic tradition of Christianity had hoped. Indeed, when taken up in the appropriate way, the commitments that animate the meanings in one person’s life ─ to family, say, or work, or country, or even local religious community ─ become completely consistent with the possibility that someone else with radically different commitments might nevertheless be living in a way that deserves one’s admiration.
Section II consists of three lectures …. [that] offer a fairly simple, albeit sketchy, outline of my own version of pragmatism. …
My choice of themes, and my ways of rephrasing them, result from my conviction that James’s and Dewey’s main accomplishments were negative, in that they explain how to slough off a lot of intellectual baggage which we inherited form the Platonic tradition. Each of the three essays, therefore, has a title of the form “– without –“, where the first blank is filled by something we want to keep and the second something which James and Dewey enabled us, if not exactly to throw away, at least to understand in a radically un-Platonic way. (p. xiii)