Daily Office:


Matins: Blood and Treasure. We were supposed to be the land of the free, but we’re really that land of the pirates.

Lauds: The death of Nathasha Richardson — how?

Prime: Not since David Owen’s New Yorker piece have I seen such a ringing endorsement of Green Gotham. Hey, you rubes in your country idylls — we’re the conservors.

Tierce: Something else to drive the Wingnuts crazy: Attorney General Eric Holder has announced an end to raids on medical-marijuana dispensers.

Sext: Bullfighting becomes exciting — out of the ring. When one torero wins the top arts medal (?), an earlier laureate returns his in disgust.

Nones: Sukumar Muralidharan’s concise and lucid “Accountability in a time of excess” exhorts you to know what you’re talking about when you invoke Adam Smith.

Vespers: Everybody knows that French workers love to walk out in protest. For the chattering classes, reading books that are unpopular with the grosse légumes is preferred. As a result, La princesse de Clèves, a historical novel published in 1678, is once again a sell-out. (via Alexander Chee)

Compline: It’s a lengthy, small-type read, but Danielle Allen’s review of Josiah Ober’s Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens in TNR may be the most important piece of political theory that you read this year. Yes,



§ Matins. And one of our most beautiful fair maids has been taken from us. I’m not making the best of sense; the loss of Natasha Richardson is momentarily crippling.

§ Lauds. One of the most enviable women who has ever lived is not enviable tonight — and our hearts pump twice as hard in sympathy.

§ Prime. It must be the father in me; it certainly isn’t the celebrity-hound. I can’t stop sobbing for Liam Neeson, his children, and Vanessa Redgrave. I have no idea why this death is killing me.

§ Tierce. The Bush Administration’s hostility to medical marijuana was a singularly distasteful example of Cherrypicking Federalism. “States’ rights” were upheld — except when they were more progressive than the nation’s as a whole.

§ Sext. If you can get your hands on it, you may agree with me that Colm Tóibín’s The Sign of the Cross has the last word on bullfights.

The second bull was fiercer than the first, he ran at the side of the horse, but caused it no injury. Instead, he was pierced with a pic and I could see the raw flesh on his back and the blood spilling on to the sand. The horses withdrew then. I watched this injured and bewildered animal standing there as the matador killed him, the crowd cheering and whistling and waving white handkerchiefs to protest that the killing did not take long enough. As the horses came and took the bull away there were more whistles and cat-calls.

(It was passages such as this that made me realize how richly Mr Tóibín has transmuted the legacy of Ernest Hemingway, burning off the raffish macho so that the simple but burnished prose might glow more steadily).

§ Nones. Culling books yesterday, I heaped up books that I have never read and very well might never read, and schlepped them off to Housing Works. One such title, however, I not only held on to  but advanced to the reading pile: Emma Rothschild’s Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment. From the back of the book:

A benchmark in the history of economics and of political ideas, her book shows us the origins of laissez-faire economic thought and its relation to political conservatism in an unquiet world.

§ Vespers. I do share some of M Sarkozy’s bemusement: Mme de La Fayette’s novel does end with the European form of suttee.

§ Compline. Mr Ober has dedicated his career to correcting the view of Athenian democracy that obtained in the late Eighteenth Century, before archeology and other disciplines challenged the tendentious written accounts of Xenophon and others. We know a lot more about ancient Greece than Madison did, and much of what he and his colleagues had to say about it in the Federalist Papers is incorrect.

The idea that something called “the public sphere” is important to the success of democracy has been with us for some time now. But analyses that convert the idea of the public sphere from a philosophical ideal into something concrete, by naming the social practices and interactive processes that actually constitute it, are few and far between. Jurgen Habermas famously offered such an analysis in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, when he traced connections in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries among cafe societies, the circulation of news through journalism, bourgeois culture, and opinion formation. Now Josiah Ober’s book–when was the last time a work of ancient history seemed so, well, relevant?–identifies the concrete components of a democratic public sphere in far greater detail than any previous contribution to this literature. Moreover, it provides us with some criteria for assessing why some ways of structuring the public sphere might work better than others to educate the citizenry, to find and to deploy the knowledge of citizens, and to sustain a real connection between citizens and the policies that their government chooses in their name. As an advance in our understanding of what a public sphere properly is, this book is essential.

Bon weekend à tous!

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Nom de Plume says:

    Why Natasha Richardson’s demise effected you so much is something I want to acknowledge, and yet not attempt to explain. I am no royal watcher, either, yet Diana’s death dealt an emotional blow and took an emotional toll on me that was inexplicable. I didn’t have any previous emotional or vicarious relationship to the public persona that perhaps bore little relation to the real person. So why did it wreck me for weeks? I theorized that having lost a husband I could keen on behalf of her heirs. But many others have died who didn’t elicit that reaction from me, including those in their prime.

    I can only sympathize with your reaction, and I know that is real if inexplicable.