August 2005
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Month August 2005

Book #46: Democracy’s Discontent, by Michael Sandel

I took awhile finishing Michael Sandel’s “Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy” because I believe the argument it presents is critical to the future shape of progressive liberalism. As a consequence, I read it fairly slowly, with frequent asides for footnotes and chasing down referenced articles, etc. This was fairly rewarding, because it led to rethinking some of the assumptions I’d previously had about how to defend the progressive project within the overall framework of liberalism. Such a defense is sorely needed, as we all recognize. Jeffrey Issac’s “The Poverty of Progressivism” advances a persuasive argument for how progressivism has declined in stature as public philosophy, but Issac takes for granted the version of liberal political philosophy which underlies both progressive and conservative varieties of liberalism today. Sandel reaches deeper into our history, and shows how the civic republicanism of the Founding era evolved into the liberal neutrality of the modern, “procedural” republic.

Sandel writes from what might best be described as a “progressive communitarian” perspective, or better yet as a defender of self-government within a civic republic which has adopted progressive ends as its public philosophy. In this sense, his critique of how “rights-oriented” liberalism has proven hollow and unsatisfying, even as it succeeded in guaranteeing rights for minorities, women, and the disadvantaged, is an important one.

I’ve said this many times, but I’m not yet fully ready to write about how I view Sandel’s critique of “rights-oriented” liberalism. I’ve started reading review and response articles to Sandel by William Galston, Eldon Eisenach, and Mark Tushnet, among others. Once through these critical reviews, I’ll post again with more thoughts on this important book.

Recent Wines in August

Back towards the beginning of the month, we had some fairly notable wines:

  • Raveneau Montee de Tonnere 1997 Chablis (this was terrific, with great acidity and an almost licorice concentration)
  • Leroy 1978 Meursault AOC (fascinating and well-stored but more interesting than terrific)
  • Raveneau Montmains 1995 Chablis (superb, still very youthful but drinking very well)
  • Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2001 (many of us thought it was Loire sav blanc, were fooled. Is on the crisper, rather than lusher, end of white Bordeaux. Excellent wine)
  • Georges Deleger 1996 Chevalier-Montrachet (superb, spicy, terrific body)
  • D’Armilhac/Mouton Baronne 1982 (superb bottle, well extracted, sweet and juicy but a nice maturity)
  • Palmer 1982 (not nearly as good as the D’Armilhac but a good bottle of mature Bordeaux)
  • Gouges 2000 Clos de Porrets St. Georges (excellent Pinot, fairly subtle but forward and lush)
  • Jaboulet 1995 Les Cedres Chateauneuf (my contribution – spicy, sweet, peppery, not ready but coming along nicely)
  • Prum 1990 GK Auslese (incredible bottle of Prum – honeyed bruised apples, hint of petrol, plenty of acid)
  • Renou 1997 Cuvee Anne Bonnezeaux (not my style – this seemed weird and funky, not clean, but I’m told this is what the Renou is supposed to be like. Glad I focused on Pierre-Bise and Baumard)
  • Schloss Johannisberg 1976 Auslese “blue cap” (gorgeous Riesling, definitely 1970’s but youthful. Thick “bruised apple” sweetness, great acid)
  • Gouges 1971 Vaucrains (Chuck pulled this out after the desserts while we were playing pool. Spicy, very much alive, but at the edge. Not much body left)

There were a couple of other wines there, but not as notable, including my Kunstler 2001 Hoch Reich Kabinett — good but not noteworthy.

Tuesday night I had dinner at Cafe Campagne with the usual suspects — Bryan Loufbourrow was in town so we had a good excuse. We began with a decent but forgettable Tavel (Aqueria 2003), while we waited for everyone to arrive. Wines included:

  • Colin Deleger Chassagne Vergers 1996 (creamy and excellent, improved greatly with air)
  • Jadot 1996 Gevrey Clos St. Jacques (superb, still very youthful but great fruit and depth)
  • Dujac 1998 Gevrey Combottes (amazingly extracted with too much new oak for my tastes right now, but I think it’ll integrate later)
  • Dom. de Lambrays 2003 Clos de Lambrays (herbal, great concentration, light sweet oak. Nice.)
  • Tempier 1992 Cabassaou (bottle was very slightly off, the smells were right but muted. Oh well. Might have been my only 92 Cab)
  • Beaucastel 1981 (wine of the night — this was a terrific bottle of the 1981, with no drying out. Parker is still right about this wine — “Mourvedre cotton candy” describes it beautifully)
  • J.B. Becker 1989 Wallufer Walkenberg TBA (holy shit – intense peach/apricot, great acid. Wow.)
  • Ridge Zinfandel 1993 “Essence” (intense blackberry pie, with some brown sugar. A “discussion” ensued about maturity in this wine, but it’s safe to say it’s maybe no less than 1/2 way to full maturity. Amazing stuff)

I suspect that’s probably it for wines in August, it’s a busy month.

Books #44 and #45: Ken MacLeod, Dark Light and Engine City

“Dark Light (The Engines of Light, Book 2)” and “Engine City (The Engines of Light, Book 3)” complete MacLeod’s “Engines of Light” trilogy. I finished the latter today, and found the entire trilogy to be a fast and enjoyable read. The middle book, “Dark Light,” was in my view the most interesting of the three, with fine pacing and detail. In some respects, of course, it “feels” like the middle book in a trilogy, but the detailed focus on the society of Croatan and its inhabitants was fascinating, as was the dynamics of the revolution begun and manipulated by some of the characters from book one. Engine City, the concluding novel, moves very quickly and really felt to me more of a sketch of how things turn out than the full story. This is caused, I think, by the large amount of territory — both in space and time — covered in the third novel. One is left wanting to know just a bit more about how things really work themselves out. But that’s the way of a good series, and while I don’t feel sad to be finished, as I did with the Fall Revolution series, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Now I’m moving on, fiction-wise, to finally tackle Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. I flipped idly through the opening pages of “Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1)”, and was amazed by the density of references to Newton, Leibniz, the Glorious Revolution, the English Civil War, the Puritans, and the Thirty Year’s War. All by page 21. I’m hooked.

Book #43: Ken MacLeod, Cosmonaut Keep

Finally taking a bit of a break from Michael Sandel and excursions into Philip Pettit, and began reading MacLeod’s “Engines of Light” trilogy over the weekend. “Cosmonaut Keep (The Engines of Light, Book 1)” turned out to be an excellent read, fast-paced and fascinating. I’d shied away from it after buying it at an airport bookstore when I read the synopsis, which seemed to include a more fantastic element than I typically like — in this case, the notion of a “second sphere” where an intelligence had long ago sampled life on earth and seeded a new set of worlds. I was hooked by the end of the first few chapters, however, and enjoyed the novel immensely. I’ve embarked on the second book during spare moments, and will have that to report on soon.

I also reread Richard K. Morgan’s “Broken Angels” recently, mostly because I needed a break and didn’t feel up to tackling Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle yet. Since it’s a relatively recent re-read (albeit a fun one), I’m not counting it towards the 50 book challenge.