Sunday, December 31, 2006

Five things

Dan tagged me with this game (it's not a "meme," people-- it's just a blogospheric parlor game). Five things most people don't know about me:

1) I type using two index fingers and my right thumb for the spacebar. People call this "hunt and peck" but I don't look at the keyboard, and I move along at 60-65 words per minute. I started typing very early, both because of my terrible handwriting, and because my grandfather was determined to introduce me to computers early on (so I spent a summer when I was six or so pointlessly writing programs in BASIC on his Commodore PET-- I had fun and learned a lot of math while learning what BASIC's math functions did, and it's only in retrospect that the pointlessness is apparent). So I was typing long before anyone was going to teach me to touch-type, and the habits were way too ingrained to unlearn later.

Unfortunately, other than the PET my typing was done on a manual typewriter-- and one of the habits I've been unable to unlearn is pounding on the keys much too hard. It's not only noisy; in the long run it's bad for the keyboards.

2) Career paths not taken, part 1: from the ages of 9 through 17 or so, I was almost constantly involved in theater, stage, performances, etc. I took a couple of years of kids' acting lessons from this guy (and he was in most of my earliest plays-- local Equity stock theaters that cast area kids in choruses and extra parts). When I was 10 I appeared in a TV ad for my uncle's race for a Florida judgeship [judicial elections-- shudder]; indeed I gave a 29.5 second testimonial to him, and he appeared only to speak the final two words ["Thanks, Jacob!"] I was never what you would call a good actor; and I didn't have my first dance lessons until I was 16, which was way too late for getting very far in musicals. The crowning moment was my honest-to-god Broadway tryout, for Oliver!-- which happened to come during the ten-day period when I dropped from soprano to bass. (Think Peter Brady singing "Who Will Buy?")

For a couple of years I was in one of those kids' song-and-dance troupes that goes around singing at malls, outside the entrance to Fanieul Hall, and so on. For several months we were the opening act for a solo tour by "Maria of Sesame Street," as she was billed. One of the other kiddie performers in the troupe (and someone I also went to high school with) was future CBS News correspondent (and an operatic singer to boot) Trish Regan.

3. Career paths not taken, part 2: politics. Let's see: I was, at 18, an elected delegate to the New Hampshire Democratic Convention. (My birthday was after the filing deadline but before the election; no one filed; I ran a write-in campaign.) At 21 I ran for the NH House of Representatives as a Libertarian, winning 12% of the vote. At 16, when my hometown had a Charter Commission (the local equivalent of a Constitutional Convention), I wrote, circulated petitions for, and spoke at Commission meetings on behalf of the creation of a nonvoting seat for a student from the local high school (which I didn't attend) on the school board-- as far as I know the provision's still in place. The first holder of that seat was Chip Griffin, now a blogger and political consultant. I was a tireless teenaged letter-to-the-editor writer, was heavily involved in one city council race and one gubernatorial race, and interned for a term in the Washington office of then-Congressman (now-Senator) Byron Dorgan. My own State House race was my test to see whether I really liked electoral politics and wanted to carve out a place for it in my life. The answers were no and no.

4. Career paths not taken 3: journalism, radio, and business administration. After three years as a reporter for my college radio station, I became its CEO for a year-- during the 91-92 recession, with bankruptcy looming. (The station is an independent corporation and depends on commercial ad revenue.) I've fired two people (non-student full-time staffers); one filed suit purporting discrimination on the grounds of anti-Semitism (yes, I'm Jewish, and so was her immediate supervisor); and I still authorized paying her a settlement because it was much, much cheaper than paying our lawyers for a suit would have been. Glad I've had to make payroll in my life, and glad I don't have to do it on a regular basis.

5. I was pretty isolated and out of the loop as a kid-- and, in pre-internet days, geeky kids didn't always have a way of finding out what other geeky kids did. When I went to math geek camp [a.k.a. Johns Hopkins' CTY program] at age 13, that was my first exposure to Dungeons & Dragons. 1984 is shockingly late for a kid as geeky as I was to have first played D&D...

Tag: (Ah, fun with exponents! You tag five people, then they tag five people, and so on, and so on until you're in a Clairol commercial that has used up all the atoms in the universe.) Belle Waring, laloca, Aeon Skoble, Andrew Norton, and Fabio Rojas.

In Washington this week: the annual meetings of the American Association of Law Schools, the Federalist Society, and the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy. I'll be giving "Three Perversities of Indian Law" at the Federalist Society Friday morning. The ASPLP program follows. As always, to join the ASPLP and receive the volume of Nomos that will follow from this volume, click here and e-mail me.


Friday, January 5, 2007

3:30-5:15 pm: "American Conservative Thought and Politics: Perspectives from Political Science"
Washington 4, Exhibition Level, Marriott Wardman Park

Paper: Nathan Tarcov, Professor of Social Thought and Political Science, University of Chicago
"Leo Strauss and American Conservative Thought and Politics"

Commentator: John Holbo, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, National University of Singapore
Commentator: Arthur Jacobson, Max Freund Professor of Litigation & Advocacy.

Chair: Melissa Williams, Professor of Political Science and Director, Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto

6:30 pm: Wine and Cheese Reception
Washington 3, Exhibition Level, Marriott Wardman Park

Saturday, January 6, 2007

8:00-9:00 a.m: American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy Breakfast
Marriott Salon III, Lobby Level, Marriott Wardman Park

9 am- 10:40 pm: "American Conservative Thought and Politics: Perspectives from Law"
Marriott Salon III, Lobby Level, Marriott Wardman Park

Paper: Richard Garnett, Associate Professor, Notre Dame Law School, Notre Dame University
"“Two There Are”: Church-State Separation and Religious Freedom"

Commentator: Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
Commentator: Elizabeth Harman, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University

Chair: Sanford Levinson, W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair,
University of Texas Law School; Professor, Department of Government, University of Texas

10:50am- 12:30 pm, "American Conservative Thought and Politics: Perspectives from Philosophy"
Marriott Salon III, Lobby Level, Marriott Wardman Park

Paper: David Sidorsky, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Pluralist Perspectives "

Commentator: Patrick Deneen, Associate Professor of Government and Markos and Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Chair in Hellenic Studies, Georgetown University
Commentator: Elizabeth Emens, Associate Professor of Law, Columbia University

Chair: Jacob T. Levy, Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory, McGill University

Saturday, December 30, 2006

There's a very strange...

blogspheric discussion afoot about federalism, whether and how American federalism is tainted by Jim Crow, antidiscrimination law vs. freedom of contract, and the bounds of civil discourse-- strange because somehow it's all come to center around Ann Althouse's judgments about who weirded her out at a conference, which seems not to be the most intellectually productive starting point. (See a roundup and reaction from Ron Bailey; more from Virginia Postrel; Dan on the basic character of the conferences and the oddity of Althouse's reactions;and Orin Kerr, Eugene Volokh, and Ilya Somin on the merits of the question. [UPDATE: See also Julian Sanchez. Or else just skip all that follows and seeThers, on the general pattern of which I was unfortunately unaware when I first posted, or Altmouse, the existence of which confirms that there's a well-known and well-established phenomenon here.]

I've got a discussion of the federalism and Jim Crow questions in my APSR paper, and a much more extensive follow-up in a an article that should be coming out in Social Philosophy and Policy any day now. (Can't be put online for a year, per SPP's copyright rules.) The upshot:

1) Federalism is valuable in a system instrumentally, as a check on overall power-- both a direct check on the power of the center and an indirect check on the power of peer provinces/ states. It is to be valued for its contribution to freedom, not as if it were a freestanding moral principle that might be superior to freedom.

2) By empowering local majorities over local minorities, federalism sometimes, predictably, threatens freedom as well.

3) These tendencies can't be reliably teased apart in practice, no matter how cleanly they can be distinguished in principle. For federalism to have its favorable effects, the provinces/ states must have some substantial power in the political system, and must be able to command some genuine loyalty from their local citizenries. Their ability to command that loyalty and hold onto that power will often come from emphasizing that which is distinctive to the local majority-- at the cost of local illiberalism and threats to local minorities. Provinces and states that are so sharply limited by the center that they could not threaten local minorities are alos likely to be effectively powerless against threats from the center, and may be coopted or may become vestigial irrelevancies. (Remember the discussion from Tocqueville, Old Regime: because the aristocrats lost so much of their effective regional governing power, power which they undoubtedly abused, they were easily coopted by Versailles and eased to be an effective check on the crown.)

4) So in any given federation there is a need for rough estimates, attention to historical context, and balancing calculations; we will lack bright-line rules that can either tell us to consistently favor provinces or to consistently disfavor them.

5) In the American context, slavery and Jim Crow are fundamental facts about American political development and state-building; they and their influence permeate everything in the system, and can rarely be dismissed as a marginal case that's beside the point of some larger political principle.

6) Most of the centralization of the American state had nothing to do with fighting Jim Crow or slavery, and indeed the federal government was itself deeply implicated in them (actively, not just through inaction). We should resist the lazy tendency to equate Washington with antiracism and the states with racism, or centralization with antiracism and federalism with racism. Neither Wilson's centralization nor FDR's had anything to do with fighting Jim Crow (indeed Wilson made it national policy, and FDR provided Jim Crow with massive subsidies and material support-- see Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White). The crucial transformation of the Commerce Clause was neither necessary nor sufficient nor particularly relevant for much-later civil rights activity-- Heart of Atlanta could have been decided on the basis of the 14th Amendment, not the Commerce Clause. To oppose the centralization of 1937 is not to support Jim Crow.

7) But, finally, the Union Army, the federal courts, and Congress did play decisive roles in breaking racial despotism, and I doubt that any balance of advantage calculations could possibly show that the indirect costs to freedom from the attendant erosion of federalism came close to outweighing the benefits. I've met a lot of conservative/ southern agrarian types whose view of federalism seems to be otherwise; and there were moments in the American libertarian movement when some undoubtedly antiracist libertarians (Murray Rothbard) sided with the Dixiecrats, mistaking the means (federalism) for the end (freedom). This is an old mistake-- Lord Acton made it with respect to the American Civil War-- but it's still a mistake.

Jim Crow does in a real sense taint American federalism, though Ilya Somin is certainly right to say that it taints American centralization, too. It doesn't taint the whole of American federalism, or of federalist jurisprudence. And in order to preserve the states in their ability to protect freedom in the overall system, the states have to be left some leeway-- not treated with such knee-jerk suspicion that every arguably bad state law is considered a Jim Crow-like mortal threat to civic values. But in figuring out the balance of advantages about any particular allocation of responsibility between the states and the center, Jim Crow must loom large in the American historical memory.

In my own assessment, the American center remains massively too powerful, and federalism in the U.S. generally needs to be bolstered not further eroded. But, yes, the project of bolstering it should be haunted by Jim Crow, and chastened by the memory.

UPDATE: Oy. I just read some more of Althouse's own posts on all this-- which are a really bizarre mix of extreme defensiveness, extreme personal vitriol, and a dramatic interest in herself and her own sense of righteousness. And I then remembered the tone, and remembered where I'd heard of Ann Althouse before. (I know she's become a big-deal blogger, but she's never been on my to-read list.) She was the one who found Feministing blogger Jessica guilty of having breasts while standing in the same room as Bill Clinton. The arguments that followed spiralled nastily quickly-- I think due to that same combination of traits. I don't know Professor Althouse-- never met her-- and I have no idea whether the persona of her blog corresponds to her character. (Blogging's not for everybody, and it can be very tricky to keep control of the tone of one's blogging.) But the blog persona seems to be consistent across the two cases, and to be... something less than admirable.

A commentor on this Amber Taylor post writes:

I think that Jacob Levy is right on and essentially agrees with Ann Althouse. I think Levy's criticism goes to Althouse's style, rather than her substance.
That is, top-down thinking is very limited when thinking about Federalism. Althouse agrees with this fundamental point when she criticizes the libertarian worship of ideas (really top-down ideas) and failure to acknowledge the limitations (or exceptions to) top-down thinking exhibited by libertarians.

Personally, I am not as bothered by Althouse's style as is Levy. But like Levy, I agree with Althouse on substance.

Not quite. I agree that we lack bright-line rules and are in the world of judgment calls. I strongly disagree that those whose judgment calls differ from Althouse's are to be presumed racist until they prove (to her!) otherwise. That's more than a stylistic difference. Part of really recognizing complexity is recognizing the likelihood of reasonable disagreement.

Althouse's position isn't really an anti-dogmatist one. It's dogmatism without a theory. She's drawn a bright line in a particular place, and those on the wrong side of it are presumed to be arguing in bad faith for malicious motives because no one could ever really hold such a view. Her bright line isn't drawn deductively, but it's a much brighter line than those that have been drawn by any of her critics. Even if I draw the federalism line kind of close to where she does, I do so on the basis of balancing considerations some of which she's preemptively declared it illegitimate to even take into account.

FINAL UPDATE: Althouse responds. She's displeased that both Dan and Jonathan Adler declared my post to be the 'last word' (not a claim I made). And, apparently, she thinks we're talking across genres:

I'm writing in a different mode from them. I'm not trying to model an academic writing style or demeanor. I'm writing in a way that makes the squares exclaim "You, a law professor!" I'm doing something different here.

Or, as she says elsewhere, what she does is

not the political/law/academic blogging those bloggers who like to take shots at me do. Oh, no! It's something else. Do you get it?

Maybe I don't. So, rather than perpetuate the genre mistake and argue further, I'll direct you to her own last word.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Jonathan Adler asks:

A well-crafted sci-fi book can be a fun read, but are there many modern science fiction works that would qualify as "literature"? Any science fiction books that would qualify as literary masterpieces?

The usual discussions ensure in comments (what's literature? who's to judge? how dare you? Of course Stranger in a Strange Land is literature! Of course it's not! Lem! Wells! Verne! Shelley! Canticle!) But the question made me think about something else.

I take it that the question would by now have a different flavor when asked about fantasy, both because of the recognized status of Tolkien and because of the advent of magical realism. There's no meaningful way to draw the boundaries of the category "fantasy" that excludes Rushdie, Garcia Marquez, Murakami, etc., unless it's purely arbitrarily limited to sword-and-sorcery. SF has an occasional Margaret Atwood novel, plus, for example, Never Let Me Go. But, notwithstanding all the technological excitement and anxiety of the past quarter-century, there hasn't been a genre that is to SF as magical realism is to fantasy-- a clearly literary style that makes use of the genre's resources while so completely transcending the genre's boundaries as to have their primary readership far outside the genre's audience. We've had SF married to the political-suspense-thriller genre, and to historical fiction (steampunk, the Baroque Trilogy), but not to high literary fiction to create science-fictional realism (or whatever). I wonder why?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Back from Belize

I'm back now, from the first two-week vacation of my adult life; our plane landed in Montreal at 12:40. Had an absolutely wonderful time, scuba dove into this remarkable thing, read lots of books (about which I'll be blogging). Eastward-facing balcony overlooking the Caribbean and the reef made for spectacular sunrises. Hey, wanna see my slide show?

Happy to go, happy to come back. It makes a real difference how pleasant your hometown airport is, doesn't it? Trudeau is clean, bright, very efficiently planned and laid out, and has enough immigration officials to get you through in a matter of minutes. (By contrast, Miami, where our connection was, has the dumb layout dreaded by international travellers everywhere-- you have to go through immigrations, collect your baggage, and get it through customs, even when you're immediately connecting onto a flight that will take you out of the country again. Also: all the commerce is in the main terminal, almost none on the concourses. Very bad.) Missed Montreal, missed my house, missed my dogs.

I think Open University may be closed for the week, so I'll probably do some blogging here instead. But of course there's also a syllabus to finish, some hundreds of e-mails to read, and a few items on my 2006 to-do list that are now looking endangered... and I'm tired, and it's the holidays!

So here's an amended repost (now with titles) in lieu of new content.


American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy Annual Meeting
American Conservative Thought and Politics
Conference co-chairs: Melissa S. Williams and Sanford Levinson
Washington DC, January 5-6 2007, in conjunction with the American Association of Law Schools Annual Meeting.

Friday, January 5, 2007

3:30-5:15 pm: "American Conservative Thought and Politics: Perspectives from Political Science"
Washington 4, Exhibition Level, Marriott Wardman Park

Paper: Nathan Tarcov, Professor of Social Thought and Political Science, University of Chicago
"Leo Strauss and American Conservative Thought and Politics"

Commentator: John Holbo, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, National University of Singapore
Commentator: TBA

Chair: Melissa Williams, Professor of Political Science and Director, Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto

6:30 pm: Wine and Cheese Reception
Washington 3, Exhibition Level, Marriott Wardman Park

Saturday, January 6, 2007

8:00-9:00 a.m: American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy Breakfast
Marriott Salon III, Lobby Level, Marriott Wardman Park

9 am- 10:40 pm: "American Conservative Thought and Politics: Perspectives from Law"
Marriott Salon III, Lobby Level, Marriott Wardman Park

Paper: Richard Garnett, Associate Professor, Notre Dame Law School, Notre Dame University
"“Two There Are”: Church-State Separation and Religious Freedom"

Commentator: Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
Commentator: Elizabeth Harman, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University

Chair: Sanford Levinson, W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair,
University of Texas Law School; Professor, Department of Government, University of Texas

10:50am- 12:30 pm, "American Conservative Thought and Politics: Perspectives from Philosophy"
Marriott Salon III, Lobby Level, Marriott Wardman Park

Paper: David Sidorsky, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Pluralist Perspectives "

Commentator: Patrick Deneen, Associate Professor of Government and Markos and Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Chair in Hellenic Studies, Georgetown University
Commentator: Elizabeth Emens, Associate Professor of Law, Columbia University

Chair: Jacob T. Levy, Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory, McGill University


In order to join the ASPLP-- paying a year of dues now carries the benefit of receiving the volume of Nomos on "American Conservative Thought and Politics" in about three years' time, and dues are lower than the cover price (for graduate students, very much lower)-- please click here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

All the cool blogkids

... are playing with the new LibraryThing toy, Unsuggester

Unsuggester takes "people who like this also like that" and turns it on its head. It analyzes the seven million books LibraryThing members have recorded as owned or read, and comes back with books least likely to share a library with the book you suggest.

But unlike them, I can't get any really funny results. Indeed, I can barely get different results from book to book. Every book I enter yields a whole string of Christian self-help books ['how to accept that Jesus died a purpose-driven death so you can lead a prayerful life'], plus sometimes Eragon and Confessions of a Shopaholic. The fun thing about the toy is the ability to say, "aha! I defy your automated predictability, because I read both X and Y!" But I failed to find anything like that; I really don't own all of the books that Unsuggester predicts I won't own...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

In the news

I'm in The McGill Reporter's "Ask An Expert" section today.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The greats

From this very smart Will Wilkinson post about Rawls (Will has a real habit of being right about important stuff), the following odd judgments.

Who are the greatest political philosophers of the past few centuries, according to my idiosyncratic judgment? 19th C.: Herbert Spencer (maybe the most unjustly maligned thinker ever) by a hair over J.S. Mill and Henry Sidgwick. 18th C.: David Hume over Adam Smith by a nose. 17th C.: Thomas Hobbes by a nose over John Locke, for reasons similar to Rawls vs. Nozick.

Well, Hobbes, certainly. I understand the appeal of Spencer but can't share in that judgment-- and for Sidgwick to be even a close third reflects an unacceptable deviationism brought on by Will's training as a political philosopher rather than a political theorist. (Is Sidgwick meaningfully political at all? Can he rival Constant, Tocqueville, Hegel, or Marx?)

But-- Hume?

The second half of the 18th century saw breakthrough after breakthrough in the human sciences-- political theory, political philosophy, political economy, and political science, but also moral philosophy, moral psychology, epistemology, and also historical sociology, jurisprudence, etc., etc. In the human sciences taken in aggregrate, four of the greatest thinkers in western history wrote their major works in something like a forty-year timespan: Hume, Rousseau, Smith, and Kant. I submit that there hadn't been anything quite like that concentration of intellectual greatness in these fields since Plato and Aristotle. And qua philosophers, Hume and Kant tower over even Rousseau and Smith.

But as political philosophers? No. Smith and Rousseau tower over Hume and Kant, as important as the work of the latter two was. Please, Will, an explanation and defense...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I can't say...

that I always agree with the Chronicle's "Ms. mentor" column. But ABDs, get ye hence. And remember: writing's just like that.

Monday, December 04, 2006


I've uploaded into SSRN the final revised version of "Federalism, Liberalism, and the Separation of Loyalties," forthcoming, American Political Science Review, c. August 2007.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I haven't seen it yet...

but my former teacher Roderick Long alerts me to the following:

The Journal of Libertarian Studies continues to bring you exciting cutting-edge scholarship in libertarian theory. Here’s what you’ll find in issue 20.3: [...]
Jacob T. Levy has maintained that the primary case for multiculturalist legislation lies in its potential to block the oppression of some cultures by others. In a review of Levy’s book The Multiculturalism of Fear, Marcus Verhaegh worries that Levy’s approach manifests an uneasy tension between suspicion of particularist identities on the one hand and suspicion of attempts to suppress such identities on the other; Verhaegh suggests that a more positive appreciation for particularist identities can be reconciled with the kind of protection from oppression that Levy seeks by embracing a more decentralist, libertarian vision.

Sounds like a fair characterization of my view; "uneasy tensions" are a specialty of my work in political theory, I think. I'm of course skeptical of the proffered altenative, but look forward to reading the argument for it.
Oddly enough, no one's covering the story in just this way

Montreal political scientist beats out Toronto philosopher for some non-academic post.

(Yes, I know that the bilingual Professor Iggyhas strong sentimental and family ties with Montreal:
Though born in Toronto, Ignatieff has always identified with Quebec. He says the prospect of the province's separation fills him "with something like physical pain, anguish, tears. I can't think about it. My parents are buried there. It's very emotional."

but Toronto is where he was a student and is an affiliated professor. Don't spoil the joke.)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Conference announcement

The Montreal Political Theory Workshop Presents a Conference:

Emotions in Politics

Date: Friday December 8, 2006
Time: 9:30 - 3:30 pm

Location: Leacock Building, Room 429 (Leacock is located on the east side of McTavish Street just below Dr. Penfield)


Daniel Conway, Texas A & M, "Affect, Knowledge and Power in Nietzsche's 'On the Genealogy of Morals'"

Sharon Krause, Brown University, "How Deliberation Feels: Moral Sentiment and the Politics of Judgment in Hume"

Christina Tarnopolsky, McGill University, "Power's Passionate Pathologies: The Logic of Thumos in Plato's Republic"

Discussant, Hasana Sharp, McGill University.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Political theory and political philosophy

A couple recent e-mails from prospective graduate students put me in mind to repost this old piece. I mean to update and revise it at some point, but in the meantime, hope it's helpful as is.


NOTE: The following is assembled from three blog posts from April 2003; it was not written as a single essay, and parts respond to some out-of-date blog conversations. Some links might be broken. I post it here nonetheless, because undergraduate and MA students often ask how to decide between political theory/ political science doctoral programs and political philosophy/ philosophy doctoral programs.

POLITICAL THEORY AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY: This will be a little meandering, inductive rather than deductive, and impressionistic rather than precise. But that, as we shall see, is part of the point!

(One qualifier before I begin: In order to compare Granny Smiths with Golden Deliciouses, I'm going to emphasize Anglo-American political theory and political philosophy. Adding the Anglo-American/ Continental distinction to the mix makes matters more confused still. I think political theorists are typically more open to Continental approaches than are political philosophers, sharpening the institutuional differentiation; but among Continental practitioners, the theory-philosophy distinction is less sharp than it is among Anglo-American types. If that didn't make any sense to you, ignore it and move on.)

Political theory and political philosophy... at the conferences I attend, the tendency for discussion to come around to this dictinction eventually so strong as to rival Godwin's Law. What is it that differentiates John Rawls, Christine Korsgaard, Thomas Scanlon, Brian Barry, Thomas Nagel, G.A. Cohen, and Joseph Raz, and their students and admirers, from Michael Walzer, Judith Shklar, George Kateb, Sheldon Wolin, and their students and admirers? (These lists are only meant to be illustrative.) Why do the former often look at the latter and say, "Where's the argument?" Why do the latter often look at the former and say, "What's the point?" Where does some one or another figure (Isaiah Berlin, Will Kymlicka) "fit in"? And so on.

In the U.S., we start with the obvious difference. Political theorists ordinarily receive their PhDs from, and ordinarily teach in, political science departments. Political philosophers from, and in, philosophy departments. The two groups study much the same questions, read and write for much the same journals, and attend many (not all) of the same conferences. They are intellectual next-door neighbors; to mix metaphors, the wall between the humanities and the social sciences distinction is very thin at this point. But they have different institutional homes. There are some exceptions. Some philosophy PhD s are hired directly into political science departments, though the reverse is almost never true. Some philosophers' interests gradually migrate toward more empirical or historical work (about which more below), and they switch over. And those who receive degrees from outside the U.S. are sometimes difficult to pigeonhole and are able to move back and forth across the division. (Some of them are difficult to pigeonhole and therefore fall between the cracks, satisfying neither set of hiring committees.)

Given the structure of American doctoral programs, this means that a political theorist and a political philosopher-- even if they have complete overlap in their core interests-- will be differently trained. The philosopher will almost certainly study formal logic, very likely study ethics and moral philosophy broadly rather than political philosophy narrowly (and, often, legal philosohy as well), and study at least some topics from philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaethics. The theorist may well take statistics and/or formal theory (i.e. rational choice and game theoretic mathematical models). The theorist will certainly study one or more of American politics, comparative politics, and international relations in some depth, and may also study American or comparative constitutional law.

All of this means that theorists and philosophers, even when thinking or writing about the same questions, have different intellectual backup resources. To put it crudely: a political philosopher is much more likely to appeal to a higher level of abstraction (to general ethical theory, then to metaethics, then to epistemology...) while a political theorist is much more likely to appeal to a lower level of abstraction (empirical findings, history).

Relatedly—though this is probably the weakest tendency I’ll mention—theorists tend to be more interested in institutions, in normative analyses of political systems as a whole, and more willing to think that politics is importantly distinct from other realms of ethics. Sometimes “political philosophers” are simply ethicists and moral philosophers who apply their familiar tools to new situations. What a policymaker should do is treated as a special case of what the person standing at the trolley switch should do. This is not true of Rawls, and indeed isn’t true of many of the most prominent political philosophers. (Interestingly, it is sort of true of Nozick.) Moreover, some theorists tend this way themselves. But (as Matt Yglesias notes), for this sort of reason theorists have a loose tendency to find the turn to “political liberalism” in late Rawls both more comprehensible and more justifiable than do philosophers.

Matt Yglesias said (in a post I can no longer find to link to, due to his MT troubles) that the Andy Sabl piece on Micah Schwartzman's blog, like many arguments by those who dirty their hands with empirical claims, left him not quite able to sort out the level of abstraction at which the argument was supposed to operate. That's a fair comment about a lot of political theory. The bad news is that that can allow a certain slipperiness of argument and a mishmash of approaches. Turning a normative question into an empirical one can happen at lots of different points in the argument. (It's usually more transparent, and done for more narrowly-defined reasons, when one moves from a normative question to a metaethical one.) The good news is that it allows theorists to be very open to the messiness of the world. Throwing around excessively stylized or stipulated or hypothetical facts gets you into trouble when you're surrounded by social scientists (other than economists and economist wanna-bes). There are many empirical questions that are relevant to many normative ones-- questions about the short- and medium-term stability of the political coalition that would support the normatively-preferred policies, about the kinds of institutions that could bring them about, about the moral psychology or social psychology being assumed by the policies, about macrohistorical changes like industrialization and globalization that might render the policies obsolete or counterproductive, and so on.Knowing which facts about the world to accept as given and which to treat as subject to deliberate reform in a normatively desirable direction-- this is tricky, complicated, and not prone to satisfactory resolution. As a theorist, I think that that means messiness is likely to characterize the best normative arguments. But I also recognize that it deprives those arguments of a great deal of their rigor.

One way I have described the philosophy-theory distinction is as one between rigor and richness. Compare Rawls' Theory of Justice to Walzer's Spheres of Justice. (Ah, to have been at Harvard in the 1970s, able to hear Rawls and Nozick and Sen, Walzer and Shklar, all at the same institution!) In the original position, rational agents understand the Humean conditions of justice, and know nothing else about the society they are entering (not even the stage of history it occupies). Rawls aspires to the construction of a very determinate theory from quite minimal premisses, and proceeds with great rigor and sophistication. Walzer moves back and forth across space and time, telling lots of fascinating stories from lots of places and moments. He constructs a list of "blocked exchanges" that one prominent commentator referred to as an unparalleled exemplar of the idea of "category mistakes," throwing together goods that can't in their nature be sold, goods that Walzer thinks oughtn't be sold, goods that can be given away but not sold, and things that aren't really goods at all. It's extremely hard to get a grip on any real arguments. But there's a richness and nuance that is missing in Rawls, an engagement with moral psychology and with the interaction of different bits and pieces of a society.

A rigorous argument has the capacity to be definitive and right. It also has the capacity to rest on an unexamined, unmentioned premise that is false, or to commit a fallacious leap-- and then to be simply wrong. A rich argument is unlikely to be convincingly, compellingly, finally right. Many readers of Theory of Justice have felt "Eureka" moments, or felt compelled to change their minds. If you don't already share Michael Walzer's intuitions about a lot of things, Spheres of Justice is pretty unlikely to move you toward them. But a rich argument is also unlikely to be simply refuted or shown to be flatly wrong. (This disqualifies it from being Popperian science-- but Popper never claimed that ethical questions were relevantly like science.) And many readers of Spheres of Justice learn something important from it, and bring away significant lessons or changes in their understanding of things, even without being moved to adopt Walzer's normative conclusions.

Nozick had a funny but thoughtful recurring riff about "coercive" and "non-coercive" argumentation, the difference between making arguments that seem, if they succeed, to require assent in the listener and making those that are suggestive or inviting or provoking rather than compelling. We ordinarily mean it as a compliment about an argument if we describe it as a "compelling" one. Nozick asked us to think about that a bit more, most memorably with his image of the perfect philosophers' argument, on the "coercive" model, being the one that was so definitively correct that it would set up sympathetic vibrations in the listener's brain and physically force agreement. This has been the object of some derision and much puzzlement. (For a very sympathetic and thoughtful account, see David Schmidtz's introduction to his new edited volume, Robert Nozick.) Insofar as the model for a philosophical argument is a mathematical proof, it seems bizarre to talk about one's freedom to continue to disagree with a successful argument-- one might have both the physical capacity and the legal liberty to disagree, but one is simply wrong. Among political theorists, the aspiration to mathematical proof-level certainty is much less in evidence; the hope for finality much diminished.

One political consequence of all this: philosophers are much more willing to be radical in some important ways. Theorists are much more likely to insist on remaining tethered to some core intuition or some (relatively unexamined) political or moral virtue. A philosophers' argument seems to have the potential to accomplish more. It can show that all persons have the right to an unconditional basic income provided by the state, regardless of fitness to work and availability of jobs. It can show that those with no eyeballs have a right to have one, even if this requires coerced organ donation from those who have two eyeballs. It can show that there's no such thing as deserving. It can show that masturbation is morally intolerable (to tie this post back to recent discussions on the Conspiracy), that the wealthy in the west are guilty of murder for not transferring all of their available wealth to the starving and ill in the developing world, and that adult rats have higher moral standing than human newborns. Theorists are more likely to stick with a core moral notion—revulsion at cruelty for Shklar, individuality for Kateb, something like individuality in Sabls’ response to Cohen—and to build a theory around it. Perhaps the most interesting case here is Walzer, who tries to extract normative principles demanding radical change from thick understandings of what he takes American’s shared moral convictions to already be—not to compel agreement by argument, but to show, like prophets used to show, that his audience at some level already agrees with him.

To be more precise: philosophers (at least since Rawls introduced reflective equilibrium) typically own up to relying on one or more intuitions. But they aim to have those intuitions be parsimonious, a la axioms in mathematics, physics, and (ostensibly) economics. The aim is to be able to go a long way starting from fairly little. Theorists remain more closely tethered to intuitions for longer.

There are debates within ethics that look like this. Kantians and radical utilitarians have always said to intuitionists and sentimentalists that our gut-level views about the wrongness of the conclusions reached by Kantian or utilitarian theory don’t constitute any argument against them. There’s no reason to think that our intuitions and conditioned prereflective responses really reflect the demands of morality; the point of moral argument is to be able to unsettle our unreflective responses and practices. There are, of course, both intuitionists and moral-sentimentalists among philosophers. But the major Anglo-American political philosophers have mostly been either Kantians or utilitarians—the two schools of ethics that are most universalistic and promise to be able to do the most by way of argument. There are good reasons for this. For someone concerned with the quality of arguments, there’s bound to be something unsatisfying about final reliance on either intuitions or sentiments. Kantian and utilitarian universalist arguments look, well, more like real arguments. Theorists are—as a very loose and general rule—less eager to follow either of these rigorous (in both senses of the word) paths, and more willing to hold tight to familiar political virtues.

Political theorists are notoriously more interested in the history of political thought than are political philosophers. This has on occasion led to mutual mocking: a political theorist doesn't know what he or she thinks unless he or she can first tell you what Hobbes or Rousseau thought; a political philosopher with a clever thought won't notice that it's a 2,500 year old thought, unless that fact has been mentioned in a recent issue of the Journal of Philosophy or Ethics. (Related: jokes about reading Rawls' "Justice as Fairness" article counting as historical work; after all, it came out before 1971.) There are some very distinguished historians of moral and political philosophy in philosophy departments-- Jerome Schneewind, Knud Haakonssen, etc, many of them recently assembled for this conference on the history of philosophy-- but they are rarely the avowed political philosophers. When political philosophers turn to the history of political thought, it is typically to extract an argument, not to study a particular person or group of persons or set of influences. Theorists, sometimes sloppily and sometimes enrichingly and sometimes both, move back and forth between historical and contemporary or normative arguments. This gives us, I think, a rich vein to mine, a constant infusion of new-old ideas into current debates. When contemporary debates show signs of becoming too formalistic and procedural in their analyses of democracy and democratic institutions, there is a reawakening of interest in Tocqueville, or in Madison's writings beyond Federalist 10, or in Rousseau beyond the Social Contract. When arguments about multiculturalism get stuck in a rut ("individual vs. group rights," for example) there's an opportunity for someone to bring Montesquieu or Herder or Constant to bear and to reframe the argunments. This is all partly because of the fact that there can be relevant empirical claims at all sorts of levels of abstraction or genera ity. So what we extract from Tocqueville isn't a syllogism in ethical theory, but a very complex web of causal arguments about social and polticial change, about what changes go together and what trends-- perhaps independently normatively desirable-- don't. Of course, like the back-and-forth between normative and empirical claims, this also encourages a certain slipperiness and sloppiness, an unwillingness to let claims be tested according to either historical or philosophical rules.

Relatedly, political theorists and political philosophers have somewhat different historical canons, and pay attention to different works within them. Montesquieu and Tocqueville figure much more prominently for theorists than for philosophers, Kant the reverse. Sidgwick remains almost unwritten about among theorists, Sidney among philosophers. Mill's On Liberty is shared by the two groups, but his Utilitarianism has priority for one group, Representative Government for the other. And so on. Theorists are more likely to take an interest in political pamphleteers or activists or statesmen than are philosophers, and more likely to take an interest in the apparently-minor-and-of-the-moment writings by a canonical thinker (Rousseau's Government of Poland). Philosophers care about the best-developed version of a philosopher's core arguments; that means that they look at the central works very closely. Theorists often care about a thinker's political engagement and position, about context that can be provided by minor works and correspondence and works by contemporaries. Some theorists follow this path all the way to Cambridge school contextualism; most do not.

Not all theorists (or all philosophers!) have the same canon, of course. Students of Leo Strauss put an emphasis onto Francis Bacon and Maimonides that is pretty alien to the rest of the discipline; I'm unaware of any significant Straussian treatment of Constant. (NB: Those influenced by Strauss are somewhat anomalous in other ways. They place great weight on a practice they identify as "philosophy," but mostly they study others who have engaged in that practice rather than engaging in it themselves. They are strongly pro-philosophy (as they understand it) and at least sometimes serious critics of social science. Yet almost without fail they are located in political science rather than philosophy departments, and few do work that contemporary philosophers identify as philosophy.) But the general trend is that theorists cast a wider net in the history of ideas, while overlooking some figures in the history of ethics who are treated as central by those philosophers who care about the history of moral philosophy. And, of course, there is a tradeoff between breadth and depth. As Kieran Healey has noted, philosophers reading a major historical (or contemporary!) text in a seminar will proceed argument by argument, paragraph by paragraph, trying to sort out exactly what's going on. A theory graduate seminar is much more likely to race through a major work or two, several minor works or letters, and some secondary literature, trying to get a sense of the theorist's major claims, what they were arrayed against, and why they were thought to matter politically. (Again, Straussians are an exception here.)

The intellectual genealogy of analytic political philosophy travels throguh Rawls' argument about the autonomy of moral theory back to conceptual analyses of concepts such as liberty (think the first few sections of Berlin's "Two Concepts;" Berlin was later to abandon analytic work, and his later writings are more like the final sections of that essay). This in turn brings the geneaology back to the Oxford analytic school of philosophy, whence also grew analytic jurisprudence-- note that H.L.A. Hart's seminal book is called The Concept of Law. The sub-discipline of analytic political philosophy is relatively of a piece with the other sub-disciplines that grew out of the Oxford analytic turn in philosophy-- which, in many departments in the English-speaking world, are considered the whole of philosophy excepting only the history of philosophy. (This doesn't mean that other philosophers necessarily wholly accept them. In many departments, ethical, normative, and political philosophy are considered decidedly poor cousins to philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and epistemology. Harvard and the University of Arizona are two of the departments where that has not traditionally been true.

Political theorists are situated in and trained by political science departments without ever being so completely of them. The study of normative political thought and the history of political thought is not an outgrowth of the same social-scientific turn as the other sub-disciplines in the field. The relationship is often uneasy, and a political theorist is much, much less likely to self-identify as a political scientist than a political philosopher is as a philosopher. I do; but I give my former advisor George Kateb hives by doing so, and for reasons I understand. The two groups do share some common intellectual ancestry: Montesquieu and Tocqueville are shared with the comparativists, Hobbes with IR, Madison with the Americanists. There are many people who combine political theoretic and political scientific approaches, and some do it very well. But the rule, I think, is that political theory sits much farther from the center of gravity in political science than political philsophy does in philosophy. The relationship works nonetheless, partly because the theorists have been in "government" and "politics" departments since before serious statistics were even developed, and so they were always there even during the height of the behavioral revolution, and partly because political science has an especially subfields-based structure in general, both at the departmental level and at the overall professional level. Still, at the many conferences that have political theorists and political philosophers, and not philosophers of mind or statistical voting behavior scholars, there's an air of "ah, now here are people who understand each other." And, mostly, usually, we do...


Matt Yglesias follows up:

To use myself as an example, I go to Harvard which is considered to be a quite historically-oriented [philosophy-- JTL] department by American standards. Nevertheless, the list of authors I've never been assigned in a philosophy class include not only the post-Kantian German idealists and the continental postmodernists, but such seminal figures as Aristotle, Kant, Hume, J.S. Mill, Descartes, and William James. I've also never been assigned anything at all from the long period between Plato and Hobbes or the shorter, but still big, period between Adam Smith and Frege. At the same time, the only authors I've ever been asked to read in translation are Plato, Frege, and one page of Wittgenstein. Of course I've read many of these authors, but when they've been assigned it's always been for non-philosophy courses.

What's especially odd about this is that I could tell you all about many of these people since they're often commented by the authors I am assigned and because it's very common to label such-and-such a position as "Humean, "Kantian," "Platonic," "Cartesian," "Aristotelian," or "Millian." 'Round the Harvard way "Kantian" more-or-less means "correct" whereas "Humean" means "clever argument but he's wrong" "Aristotelian" means "go ask Michael Sandel in the Government Department, we don't talk about that sort of thing here" and everything else just means "wrong."

I had thought about including a comment in my post that said philosophers were more likely to be interested in proper adjectives-- the Kantian position, which translates as the best (i.e. Korsgaard's) reconstruction of an argument that Kant seems to have made, the Humean argument, etc-- while political theorists were much more likely to write about proper nouns, talking about an historical person's range of arguments in a way that makes it difficult to extract an adjective from them. I couldn't figure out whether that was fair or not, so I left it out. I was trying hard to write a comparison of two closely-related and friendly but non-identical fields of inquiry, not to write an apology for theory or a critique of philosophy. It's reading Rawls and Nozick that got me started in this game, after all. But what Matt says seems to me broadly representative (with important exceptions).

Maybe I subconsciously chose theory because my name ends in a pronounced vowel and so is ineligible for conversion to an adjective ("Levyian"-- shudder). My first name ends in a consonant, but "Jacobin" and "Jacobite" are both already taken, and neither is something I want to be remembered as...

Update November 2006: Apropos of that last concern, the irrepressible Phoebe Maltz suggests that the correct solution is "Levyathan." Oy...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


This Crooked Timber thread reminded me that I've had the fraction of a post below saved as a draft for weeks. I'm now posting it as a down payment, and will answer the remaining questions piecemeal.

I've been tagged...

by Aeon Skoble and, effectively, Will Baude, too. I don't usually play these "meme" games (nor do I approve of the weird blogospheric alteration of what I considered the ugly and barely-tolerable-to-begin-with concept of "memes"), but this is about my great obsession (no, not coffee, the other one), and I've been unpacking book boxes lately, so why not?

But in matters bibliophilic I do everything to excess, so I won't feel bound to stick to one book per question. But in order to keep the numbers of books per answer to the single digits, I'll restrict myself to fiction.

1. One book that changed your life?

Doesn't every book?

But I'll go with Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, which for many years I confidently identified as my favorite novel. (Now I don't think I could single one out that way). It was my first post-college, just-for-pleasure literary novel, at a time when I was stuck in an Asimov-and-Heinlein rut, and it completely transformed my tastes. It made me hungry for more-- for The Satanic Verses, but also for (in the following year or so) Kundera, Pasternak, and Vargas Llosa, and (later) Eco, Marquez, and many more.

I fell out of love with it after The Moor's Last Sigh made me suddenly realize how much schtick there is in Rushdie, and how often characters are created, named, and put through suffering for the sake of the schtick. I suddenly wanted characters who were truer to themselves and less at the mercy of an author's comic sadism. Midnight's Children is a far better book than Sigh, but the latter soured me on the former (and on The Satanic Verses) by making me view its humor and linguistic cleverness in a different light. I've warmed back up to it since, but never quite with that same initial enthusiasm.

Note that this is, in a way, my serious answer to the question posed on that Crooked Timber thread about "an author you've given up on." I hope I haven't given up on new Rushdie novels forever. But I have yet to open or even purchase Fury or Shalimar the Clown and my copy of The Ground Beneath Her Feet has had a bookmark in about chapter 2 for many years now.

2. One book you have read more than once?

Well, I'm on my third generation of paperback volumes of Lord of the Rings because the first two fell apart. But that hardly seems to count. Ditto for pure genre fiction: Asimov, Heinlein, Le Guin, Lem, Jordan, Martin, and Stephenson have all had many rereadings. (And, don't start-- I don't mean "genre fiction" as an insult, and I recognize the many ways in which Heinlein, Lem, Le Guin, and Stephenson aren't captured by the phrase.) And Midnight's Children, Satanic Verses, and East, West, but I've already used Rushdie. So: David Lodge, Trading Places and Small World.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

4. One book that made you laugh?

Christopher Buckley's too obvious, Douglas Adams way too obvious, The Princess Bride and Good Omens have been mentioned by other people already (but are both rollingly funny), and I've already used David Lodge. So: Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon, many times but including the dinner party and Capn'n Crunch. (Snow Crash is probably even funnier, pound for pound.)

5. One book that made you cry?

There's something embarrassing about any admission here, isn't there? One just has to make a choice of embarrassments. So I'll keep mine thematic. I shed a manly tear at the catastrophe at the end of Name of the Rose.

Oh, okay, one more that's less nerdy: A Prayer for Owen Meaney.

6. One book you wish had been written?

The temptation is strong to go look at my Sandman volumes for the section of Lucien's library that consists of books which were only written or completed in dreams. But I'll resist. I'll also resist the cop-out of books I wish had already been written because I'm impatient for their arrival (the next volume of Song of Fire and Ice, for example).

I wish Frank Herbert had written volume 6 of the Dune series. The boring butchery perpetrated on Dune by Herbert's son is not a substitute.

Also: Twilight, by Alan Moore.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

This isn't fiction, and it involves talking about non-book media, but: A Beautfiul Mind. Because then that godawful movie wouldn't have been made, and if it hadn't been made not only would I have been spared seeing Russell Crowe trying to act like a genius and not only would the world not have lost IQ points due to the misstatements about game theory, but also it couldn't have won all those Oscars and thereby stolent them from Fellowship of the Ring (which was, in the end, much more deserving than Return of the King).

Also: Dickens, Hard Times a book I loathe by an author I deeply dislike. I know it's given many others reading pleasure, but I'd indulge my selfish displeasure and wish it away if I could.

8. One book you are currently reading?

Two on my bedstand at the moment:
The Mendelbaum translation of The Divine Comedy; and Bilbo, Le Hobbit, to practice my French. When I was first tagged I was in the middle of The Fortess of Solitude, which was every bit as good as I'd been led to hope, and not quite like anything I'd ever read before.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Mortals, by Norman Rush. I loved Mating. Unfortunately I ran out and bought Mortals in hardcover as soon as it was published-- and somehow the times when I've been in the mood to read it I haven't been in the mood to deal with the big hardcover.

Saturday, by Ian McEwan, which is coming up very soon.

10. Now tag five people.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman, RIP. See also Tyler Cowen. Free to Choose was the first book I read in the human sciences, the first serious book about politics or economics I ever read, and obviously had a huge, transformative effect on me at an early (11 or 12 or so) age.


Quoth Ogged:

On the occasion of Milton Friedman's death, Jacob Levy brings out the big guns in the ever-ongoing precocious nerdosity contest. [...] I am slain. As a big Doors fan, I wanted to find out about this Nietzsche character who Jimbo loved so much, so I read Thus Spake Zarathustra in 8th grade, during which I was what, 13? I think we should set aside questions of whether we understood what we read, counting books just as long as we believed that we understood something of them. Can anyone beat Levy?

Aw, heck, that's not even the nerdiest thing I did when I was 11 or 12-- ask me sometime what I wrote in sixth grade. I'm not going to blog it, though. It turned up in an old box when I was packing to leave college; my housemates got at it and read it and I've never lived it down.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Various announcements

At Chicago:
There will be a memorial service for Iris Marion Young in Bond Chapel on the U of C campus, Sunday, November 14, at 2 pm. It will be followed by a reception in Pick. Chicago grad students have assembled a collection of tributes here.

At McGill:
The Atlas Institute and the Center for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism are cosponsoring a panel on "Finding Common Ground: The Challenge of Freedom in the West and in the Muslim World," Tuesday, November 14th, 4:30-5:30 p.m., Ballroom B, New Residence Hall. Panelists include Payam Akhavan, Professor of Law, Center for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, School of Law, McGill University; Alejandro Chafuen
President, Atlas Economic Research Foundation, Virginia, USA; Father Kail Ellis, OSA
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Villanova University, Pennsylvania, USA; A. Uner Turgay, Professor of Islamic Studies, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University. A reception will follow.

At U de Montreal:
Workshop on Left-Libertarianism and its critics
Journée d’études autour des travaux de Peter Vallentyne

Friday 10 Novembre 2006
Pavillon Claire McNicholls
Salle Z 315

9 h 30 Accueil
10 h 15 Peter Vallentyne Left-Libertarianism : a presentation
11 h 00 Peter Dietsch The Interpretation of self-ownership at the heart of left-libertarianism
11 h 45 Speranta Dumitru Le partage des ressources génétiques
14 h 15 Vincent Bourdeau Égalité de contrôle et égalité des bénéfices. Justifications républicaines et libertariennes de gauche de l’accès aux ressources naturelles.
15h00 Roberto Merrill Libertarisme de gauche et républicanisme : le test de l’esclavage
16h00 Christian Nadeau Non domination et propriété de soi
Débat à 17h30 : Éthique libertarienne (Peter Vallentyne) et éthique minimale (Ruwen Ogien)

The 2006 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy will (confusingly!) take place in Washington DC on January 5-6 2007, in conjunction with the American Association of Law Schools Annual Meeting. The program follows.

American Conservative Thought and Politics
Conference co-chairs: Melissa S. Williams and Sanford Levinson

Friday, January 5, 2007

3:30-5:15 pm: "American Conservative Thought and Politics: Perspectives from Political Science"
Washington 4, Exhibition Level, Marriott Wardman Park

Paper: Nathan Tarcov, Professor of Social Thought and Political Science, University of Chicago

Commentator: John Holbo, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, National University of Singapore
Commentator: TBA

Chair: Melissa Williams, Professor of Political Science and Director, Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto

6:30 pm: Wine and Cheese Reception
Washington 3, Exhibition Level, Marriott Wardman Park

Saturday, January 6, 2007

8:00-9:00 a.m: American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy Breakfast
Marriott Salon III, Lobby Level, Marriott Wardman Park

9 am- 10:40 pm: "American Conservative Thought and Politics: Perspectives from Law"
Marriott Salon III, Lobby Level, Marriott Wardman Park

Paper: Richard Garnett, Associate Professor, Notre Dame Law School, Notre Dame University

Commentator: Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
Commentator: Elizabeth Harman, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University

Chair: Sanford Levinson, W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair,
University of Texas Law School; Professor, Department of Government, University of Texas

10:50am- 12:30 pm, "American Conservative Thought and Politics: Perspectives from Philosophy"
Marriott Salon III, Lobby Level, Marriott Wardman Park

Paper: David Sidorsky, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University

Commentator: Patrick Deneen, Associate Professor of Government and Markos and Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Chair in Hellenic Studies, Georgetown University
Commentator: Elizabeth Emens, Associate Professor of Law, Columbia University

Chair: Jacob T. Levy, Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory, McGill University
Election blogging

My posts at Open University over the last couple days: Referendum Power, Consolidating New England, Bye-bye, If not Gerry's mander, then whose?, The Wrong Target.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

From today's NYT, the first discussion I've ever seen in such a prominent place of one of the most appalling facts about Chicago governance.

What people do want, he said, is room to grow. To accommodate developers looking to build structures whose dimensions fall outside the parameters of zoning requirements, Mr. Matlak said he frequently changed the zoning of a particular lot. According to city tradition, aldermen have exclusive authority to change zoning requirements — often called spot zoning — to allow construction that would otherwise violate the city’s zoning ordinances.

This “aldermanic privilege” can work to preservationists’ benefit — or add to their consternation, depending on what is being changed and who is making the changes. Some aldermen act independently, bowing to the demands of developers, while others seek community input before making a zoning change that could result in a large condo building going up on a block of single-family homes.

That is to say, aldermen-- city councillors, members of a collective legislative body-- have massive-- as far as I cal tell, unlimited-- discretion to waive zoming requirements in the districts they represent. This makes them not only delegates of their districts but also feudal lords (or, to put it more politely, "discretion-wielding executives") over their districts.

Now: model something in your head. The aldermen have the collective authority to pass the zoning laws to which they will then have the individual authority to grant exemptions. What rules will they pass?

Of course, they could decide to pass rules that wouldn't ever need exemptions-- fair, transparent, easily-comprhehensible rules that accommodate the needs of the real estate market. That would, y'know, minimize the demands on their time. It's possible. When members of an academic department are passing curricular rules, that sort of consideration does come up: "what rule can we pass now that will save me from having to talk about this in office hours henceforth?"

On the other hand, they could pass rules that would make development all but impossible without their individual say-so-- rules such that all roads to development must go through the alderman's office. That wouldn't maximize the alderman's leisure time. But if, in the euphemism of microeconomics, "side payments" were permitted-- or massively unofficially tolerated-- then it could maximize some other maximands of the aldermen.

Now say that you've ever heard anything about city politics in the city of Chicago. Which model would you guess is chosen?

The truth isn't quite as simple as the model; but it's shockingly close. "Side payments" need not be bribes into the alderman's pockets. It can be "community investment" in the alderman's politically-preferred charitable causes, or local makework jobs that turn the developer into a branch of the alderman's reelection machine. But, one way or the other, the aldermen collectively make themselves separately into the bottlenecks for a massive amount of the city's real estate activity, and they're entirely clear-eyed about the rents that allows them to extract, the political friends it allows them to reward, and the political enemies it allows them to punish.

I referred to this long ago in the long-ago "Why is there no Gap in Hyde Park?" thread, but it seems generally to be a dirty little secret of Chicago politics. It seems to me that the NYT reporter was missing the bigger story in the midst of the "architectural preservation" one...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Crescat Sententia has a new home at (not .org), as Will Baude explains
here. Everyone keep an eye on your previously-registered domain names. (Compare: the old address for Volokh.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Call for Papers

Les ateliers de l’éthique welcomes articles and book reviews on the multiple domains of ethics, with a particular attention to the normative challenges of public policies and social practices. Submission date: 1 December 2006.

email –

Articles should be between 10 and 20 pages, single spaced (Times New Roman 12). Notes should be placed at the end of the text. An abstract in English and French of no more than 200 words must be inserted at the beginning of the text. Articles are anonymously reviewed by the editorial committee.

Book reviews must not exceed 5 pages, single spaced (Times New Roman 12). Book reviews are evaluated by the editorial committee.

The journal is published by my cross-town friends at the Centre de Recherche en Ethique de l'Universite de Montreal (CREUM). The current issue may be viewed here.-- JTL
Blogging scholarship

Curious but interesting: a $5,000 scholarship for a college student-blogger. I don't know anything more about it than is on the site, but worth a look.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Have I mentioned...

how happy I am to have cashed out of the US housing market by early summer?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

"One day I realized that sadness is just another word for..."

I haven't read Dilbert in a long time, but a friend pointed this week's strips out to me as being funny and of, er, particular interest. have a look.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Apropos of nothing, and recognizing that the point is in some ways an old and familiar one, I was very struck by this passage from Fontana Labs at Unfogged.
We make moral judgments about characters and narratives all the time, and our moral responses to them are accountable to the same consistency pressures that are brought to bear on our everyday moral judgments about actual circumstances. (It's interesting that our moral responses are less apt for suspension than our [dis]belief[s], since we're able to imagine with ease various counterfactual scenarios but we have a harder time imagining worlds in which basic moral principles are false.)

I think that's right, and very nicely said-- and might give a little bit of pause to our assumption that our knowledge of morality is radically uncertain and opaque. At least it suggests a real stability to moral psychology, in good Smithian fashion.

Other than fantasy that defines some humanoid races (e.g. orcs) as Evil as such and therefore outside the boundaries of compassion or sympathy, are there any counterexamples? Interesting science fiction about alien encounters is set in our moral universe-- there may be interspecies war, but the characters face all the usual moral dilemmas about killing in wartime. And in non-fantastic genres, in mainstream fiction, part of our ability to engage with or become interested in a character is typically our ability to empathize with the character's moral problems or questions or failings or successes. The occasional exceptions to that, the Hannibal Lecters, don't posit an alternative moral universe but simply fascinate by their amorality. Lots of fiction emphasizes one moral truth at the expense of others-- loyalty to family at the expense of justice, or compassion at the expense of responsibility, or retributive justice at the expense of procedural justice. But those aren't the equivalent of moral-science-fiction or moral-surrealism.

I think The Stranger might be a kind of counterexample, since it really does seem to posit an alternative moral (or rather amoral) universe, one in which killing a man because the sun was in your eyes seems like no more unreasonable a thing to do than any other. But I've never liked or understood The Stranger, so I'm not sure.

Anyway: loved that second sentence.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A prediction

The 34-year-old Haitian-born Quebecoise soprano Marie-Josée Lord (see biographical stories here and here) is going to be a major figure on opera's world stage very soon.

We saw her in the lead of Puccini's Suor Angelica at the Opera de Montreal on Saturday and were completely awestruck-- both as an actress and as a singer she gave what may be the most compelling, enrapturing operatic performance I've ever seen-- and I've seen dozens of operas at the Met and the Lyric. She has a hauntingly beautiful voice, and real mastery-- Angelica is a demanding role, with a long, uninterrupted, and difficult aria ("Senza mamma") at its heart-- and she was captivating in it.

For now, she seems to mostly sing here. I don't expect that that will last very long, but we're going to treasure being able to attend her performances for as long as it does.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

In which I geek out...

more than would be seemly to do on Open University.

So, there's something delightfully immersive about the geekiness around me in Montreal. Within a two-block radius of my front door, there's this place, my terrific neighborhood comics shop; this place, my neighborhood gaming shop and one of the best gaming shops I've ever seen; and the neighborhood armory. (I don't say my neighborhood armory, because SCA geekery isn't my type of geekery, but there seems to constantly be a huge group of SCA warriors in a big field on the mountain path where I bike with my dog). Right across the street from my department is the student center... officially the William Shatner University Centre, named for McGill's Kobayashi-Maru-winningest generous alumnus.

But today I saw the thing that put it all over the top-- made me burst out loud laughing. The old campus gym, which contains the swimming pool, is named afer a former Principal [a.k.a. chancellor or president] and is called...

wait for it...

the Sir Arthur Currie Memorial Gymnasium-Armoury. Yes, we have a swimming pool in a building named Arthur Currie.

If you have to ask, I'm not going to explain it...

Update: Coincidentally, other blogospheric geeks have been raving about Montreal this week.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I just noticed...
that Judith Shklar's wonderful autobiographical essay, "A Life of Learning," is available online. I'd completely forgotten that Shklar spent her teen years in pre-Quiet Revolution Montreal, and that she attended McGill:

When my father was at last able to settle his financial affairs, we finally went to Montreal. It was not a city one could easily like. It was politically held together by an equilibrium of ethnic and religious resentments and distrust. And in retrospect, it is not surprising that this political edifice eventually collapsed with extraordinary speed. The girls’ school that I attended there for some three years was dreadful. In all that time I was taught as much Latin as one can pick up in less than a term at college. I also learned some geometry, and one English teacher taught us how to compose précis, which is a very useful skill. The rest of the teachers just stood in front of us and read the textbook out loud. What I really learned was the meaning of boredom, and I learned that so well that I have never been bored since then. I report without comment that this was thought to be an excellent school. I dare say that there were better ones around, but I remain unconvinced by those who respond with vast nostalgia to the manifest inadequacies of high-school education today.

I do not look back fondly to my college days at McGill University either. That may have something to do with the then-prevailing entrance rules: 750 points for Jews and 600 for everyone else. Nor was it an intellectually exciting institution, but at least when I arrived there, just before my 17th birthday, I was lucky to be in the same class as many ex-servicemen, whose presence made for an unusually mature and serious student body. And compared to school it was heaven. Moreover, it all worked out surprisingly well for me. I met my future husband and was married at the end of my junior year, by far the smartest thing I ever did. And I found my vocation.

Originally I had planned to major in a mixture of philosophy and economics, the rigor of which attracted me instantly. But when I was required to take a course in money and banking it became absolutely obvious to me that I was not going to be a professional economist. Philosophy was, moreover, mainly taught by a dim gentleman who took to it because he had lost his religious faith. I have known many confused people since I encountered this poor man, but nobody quite as utterly unfit to teach Plato or Descartes. Fortunately for me I was also obliged to take a course in the history of political theory taught by an American, Frederick Watkins. After two weeks of listening to this truly gifted teacher I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. If there was any way of making sense of my experiences and that of my particular world, this was it.

Watkins was a remarkable man, as the many students whom he was to teach at Yale can testify. He was an exceptionally versatile and cultivated man and a more than talented teacher. He not only made the history of ideas fascinating in his lectures, but he also somehow conveyed the sense that nothing could be more important. I also found him very reassuring. For in many ways, direct and indirect, he let me know that the things I had been brought up to care for, classical music, pictures, literature, were indeed worthwhile, and not my personal eccentricities. His example, more than anything overtly said, gave me a great deal of self-confidence, and I would have remembered him gratefully, even if he had not encouraged me to go on to graduate school, to apply to Harvard, and then to continue to take a friendly interest in my education and career. It is a great stroke of luck to discover one’s calling in one’s late teens, and not everyone has the good fortune to meet the right teacher at the right time in her life, but I did, and I have continued to be thankful for the education that he offered me so many years ago.

Well, Montreal's much easier to like these days, and I think students now tend to be rather fonder of their time at McGill. But I'm still fascinated-- and now interested to go look up Frederick Watkins. And the thought that there might be a young Judith Shklar waiting to be inspired in class is an exciting and daunting one.

Update: So I google Watkins... and one of the first pages to come up is the ASPLP page that I put up myself, because Watkins was president right after Lon Fuller.

Watkins was a Rousseau scholar who later went to Yale. Given the timing of his years here, I'll bet that he had something to do with the creation of the McGill Library's Rousseau collection.
For the first time I can recall...

There are no academic social scientists or humanists among this year's class of MacArthur Fellows.

Maybe a couple of such years, plus Little Miss Sunshine, could remove the award's mystique and diminish its outsized effect on the psyches of people in our fields...?

Nah, probably not.

Friday, September 15, 2006

For the couple of people who still follow this blog with a bloglines account or some similar, but who don't do the same for Open University: I've got a big post up there about the Pope and Islam.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Congratulations revisited

In this post at the beginning of the summer, which mainly congratulated some graduate students I advise and one who taught for me on various honors and awards, I mentioned that there was more good news coming up. It turned out that there was more of it than I knew: two of my former advisees (that is, people on whose dissertation committees I sat-- I didn't chair them) and another former TA (all comparativists, as it happens) won four best dissertation prizes among them.

Deborah Boucoyannis was awarded the APSA European Politics and Society section's Ernst B. Haas Best Dissertation Award for the best dissertation on European politics and society as well as the Seymour Martin Lipset award for best comparative dissertation from the Society for Comparative Research, for "Land, Courts and Parliaments: The Hidden Sinews of Power in the Emergence of Constitutionalism."

Joon-Suk Kim was awarded the APSA Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations section's William Anderson Award for the best doctoral dissertation in the general field of federalism or intergovernmental relations, or state and local politics for "Making States Federatively: Alternative Routes of State Formation in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe."

And Matthew Kocher, TA for the Constitutionalism course way back when, was awarded The APSA Gabriel Almond Award for the best dissertation in comparative politics for ""Human Ecology and Civil War."

Again, sincere and hearty congratulations all around. I know that Boucoyannis' and Kim's dissertations were excellent and well-deserving; while I've only read one paper of Kocher's and so can't testify to the quality of his dissertation first-hand, that paper and the conversations we had over the years about ethnic violence lead me to not be at all surprised that the dissertation was superb.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Something new

I'll be taking part in a new blog that's launching today: Open University, at the New Republic, along with a terrific group of co-bloggers. I'm at the APSA Annual Meeting now which will probably prevent me from posting much for a few days, but there's already an interesting bunch o' stuff there. Go check it out.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A tale of two campuses...

specifically my undergraduate alma mater and my previous site of employment.

Top Parties and Professors

If you're preparing for the next step in education or just like to get competitive about schools, the Princeton Review has released its annual list of the country's top colleges.

The survey quizzes 115,000 students at 361 top colleges across the country, investigating everything from top academics to top parties, best libraries and, of course, top food.

The University of Chicago heads this year's list for the best overall academic experience for undergraduates, edging out Stanford and Rice for the top spot.


The rankings even go so far as to identify the college where kids are the "happiest."

"These are really interesting ways to look at a university," Franek said, "because the kids do know a lot about what's going on."

And where are students most content this year?

Brown takes the cake.

Both results seem about right to me.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Apparently I now belong to an iconic cohort.

According to this NYT review, The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

"is a masterly comedy of manners — an astute and poignant evocation of hobnobbing glitterati in the months before and immediately following Sept. 11.

"“The Emperor’s Children” entwines the stories of Danielle Minkoff, Marina Thwaite and Julius Clarke, who met at Brown University and came to New York in the early 1990’s, giddy with the parochial entitlement of expensively educated young Americans. Each expected to do something important and each, at 30, is still struggling to make something of him- or herself."

Well, as an early-90s Brown alum who was 30 on 9/11, who had at that time only recently stopped living in New York half the year, and who worked in an intellectual profession and had a number of friends who worked closer to the publishing/ writing/ cultural commentary/ media worlds descibed, I can't say I really recognize the stereotypes in play, other than as stereotypes.

"The most pragmatic of the three (she has Midwestern roots), Danielle has a job as a producer of television documentaries, but her skills exceed the demands of her job, and she finds herself doing stories about liposuction. Julius, a gay half-Vietnamese transplant from a small town near Detroit, is a freelance critic and flibbertigibbet who has failed to live up to his collegiate precocity. He has written no books, has found no steady work and despises the “bourgeois regularity” required to hold down an office job. Marina, a “celebrated” beauty and the daughter of the legendary journalist and liberal opinion-maker Murray Thwaite, has been struggling for years to finish a book that will reveal how children’s fashions reflect “complex and profound truths” about our culture. In their way, these three embody the different methods by which American privilege is accrued and idly sustained."

Danielle is barely evocative of anyone I know, and Julius and Marina not at all. Maybe I ran in the wrong circles, but I tended to know Brown alumnae who, by 30, had, well, held jobs and made some early inroads on careers, gotten advanced degrees or gotten married or otherwise established themselves a bit more firmly in the world. I suppose there were people I knew of whose parents would subsidize a decade of flibbertigibbetting, but mostly I knew people who, one way or another, had to adjust the long-term career plan around the short-term rent plan.

I'll have a look at the book, which does sound interesting. But it's odd to feel like I belong to a cohort that could evoke a set of associations so utterly unfamiliar to me.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I don't typically post about my blogroll, just occasionally tweak it. But I realized today that I'd clicked through to, and quite appreciated even when I disagreed with, a lot of Scott Lemieux posts over the past several months, sometimes without fully processing that "the guy who wrote this excellent post also wrote that other really interesting one I read last week." I finally put that together, and started reading the blog Lemieux shares with two co-bloggers on a regular basis instead of just clicking through to particular posts. So I thought I'd note the addition to the blogroll, for anyone who's even further behind than I was in realizing that Lawyers, Guns, and Money is filled with smart and entertaining stuff.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Some good news

I've had no shortage of wonderful discoveries about Montreal and McGill in the last six weeks. Here's a new set I wasn't expecting at all-- exciting for both my research and my teaching next year.

The McGill David Hume Collection
The McGill David Hume Collection research grant, for those who'd like to come visit and consult those archives
Jean-Jacques Rousseau collection

Looking forward to beginning to consult them-- and to talking with those who come on the research grants.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Newly posted on SSRN: My paper Three Perversities of Indian Law. Comments welcome.

(No, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, just off the map of the United States. Blogging's not a priority while packing, moving, unpacking, immigrating, or writing APSA papers-- or while enjoying Montreal's spectacular but too-brief summers.)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Congratulations all around

To, as I mentioned last week, Loren Goldman political theory graduate student in the poli sci department, for winning this year's Wayne C. Booth Graduate Student Prize for Excellence in Teaching, for his terrific job TAing the winter quarter of my course on 18th century political thought;

To Leigh Jenco, Mara Marin, and Emily Nacol, also political theory graduate students, for winning a William Rainey Harper Fellowship, a Mellon Foundation Dissertation-Year Fellowship, and another Mellon Foundation Dissertation-Year Fellowship, respectively, for 2006-07;

(There's been some more very good news for a former graduate student, but it's not public yet, so I'll put this placeholder here until it is.)

And to Shelley Clark, who is neither a political theorist nor a graduate student but who I have the good fortune to be married to, for again winning the "Best Teacher in a Core Class" award in public policy, for teaching "Statistical Methods for Policy Research."

Always nice when good things, and good recognition, happen to good, deserving people!