March in Podcasts: Slow Burn

This month, I have been mostly listening to two new podcasts for me.  The first of these is Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate.com exploring aspects of the Watergate scandal.  There’s an open political agenda here – comparing the slow drip of sleazy stories from the Nixon White House to the abundance of stories coming from the Trump administration.  There’s nothing killer, no knockout against Trump (yet); but maybe this is what a scandal unfolding looks like.

600x600bbIn the days immediately after the Watergate break in, there were bizarre and disturbing stories in the news, with Martha Mitchell the wife of the Attorney General being tranquillised and imprisoned by hired goons; cheques from the break in being linked with republican donations.  Then came investigations, some stymied by Nixon.  Then the oval office tapes became known.  The information is interesting, and not necessarily in the main narrative of Watergate as it is told.  Sometimes it would be nicer to have the main narrative before spinning off on a tangent, but it should be a fresh take for even those familiar with the story.

Direct comparisons to the events surrounding Trump are made, and the many figures in the current Republican party are involved enough to not come across well.  It does steer clear of commenting too deeply however – largely limiting its analysis to presenting both governments as having a similar tendency towards chaos and sleaze.  We can’t say that Trump is going to end like Nixon, but if he was this is probably what it would look like from the sidelines.

Season two will be on the impeachment of Bill Clinton.  Not as interesting a topic for me, but Leon Neyfakh did delve into some of the unfounded conspiracy theories (mostly by Mae Brussell) on Nixon – so I have no doubt that he can do similar for Clinton.  The podcast is smooth and professionally produced, and I’m definitely happy to get more of it.

 

The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper (Volume 2)

Unlike Volume 1, with its focus on Plato, I’m a bit less familiar with the material here – largely Hegel and Marx – so it can be a bit hard to know how to take Popper when he goes off on one.  As ever, he’s a very convincing writer but often drifts into his own take on things.  Hegel, he doesn’t like at all – taking a view from Schopenhauer for much of it.  Popper dismisses him as a charlatan and a fraud deliberately prophesying whatever his employer Prussia wanted.  We get a bit on Aristotle too (he doesn’t much like him either).

The book improves as the author starts to tackle Marx – he doesn’t necessarily agree with him but he seems to respect the talent with which he deals with the material and the dire social situation that spurred him to do his writing.  He picks out some of the flaws in Marx’s work rather skilfully – the inability to factor in that democracy and compromise could dilute capitalism and improve life for the workers.

Where Marx like the others seemed to get caught in the predictions of his model, Popper finds a core of rationalism.  At other points though, Popper deals with issues that seem somewhat tangential or nitpicking – Marx as anti-psychologism in sociology, his views on materialism.  It’s clear that the criticisms often aren’t of Marxism as such as it became, but of the actual philosophy of Marx and this means that they occasionally feel like a contribution to an argument that no one else cares about.

Towards the end of the book Popper gets back to his familiar topic of historicism, rationalism and reason: constantly pushing for a middle ground and for the role of liberal democracy in improving a world without a plan or destiny.  It’s an enjoyable, if very uneven read.