Friday, May 23, 2008

A slap in the face: a tale of the Brezhnev Doctrine

While I don't agree with all of it, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission Report is a very thoughtful, judicious, impressive document-- extraordinarily so, given the circumstances of its creation.

And the ink wasn't yet dry on it when the Charest government made clear how thoughtfully it would treat the the report's analyses and recommendations. It rushed to the National Assembly and introduced a unanimously-approved quickie resolution affirming that the crucifix would not come down off the Assembly's walls.

Bouchard and Taylro spent months, at the request of the Charest government, trying to conceive and describe a balance among the various rights, responsibilities, and identity claims at stake in the accommodation debate and related disputes. Their proposals rested in part on an "open secularism," a secular state that was not as reflexively anti-clerical or Jacobin as post-Quiet Revolution Quebec has sometimes been. One of the most prominent obstacles to that is the very public symbol of a non-secular Quebec that is the crucifix on the QNA walls.

Charest defended the crucifix as embodying 350 years of Quebec history, though it does no such thing. It was erected in 1936 by Duplessis, who more than any other politician embodies the Francoist Catholic-corporatist regime of the bad old days when members of minority religions were actively persecuted in Quebec.

The immediate rejection of the crucifix's removal is an obvious attempt by the government to escape any political fallout from the commission it appointed in its rush to survive the ADQ's challenge before the last election. Insofar as the commission made recommendations that depart from already-existing majority sentiment, it will be ignored. This was always likely, of course, but it did not need to be expressed in quite so obnoxious a manner. Bouchard and Taylor (and the taxpayers, and the hundreds of people who took part in the process) could be forgiven for wondering today why they wasted their time. Surely one of the things that we've learned in thinking about religious accommodation is that symbols matter, and the symbolic import of yesterday's action coulnd't have been clearer. Charest slapped Bouchard and Taylor in the face in exchange for their months of service.

But the graver slap to the face is to religious minorities. What they have learned is that questions of religion and politics remain ripe for demagoguery in Quebec. Any possible steps taken as a result of the report that will protect their religiou freedom will be slow, painstaking, reluctant, and potentially voted down in the QNA by the two opposition parties. Kirpans, turbans, hijabs, and kosher and halal food all apparently raise difficult questions that require careful government consideration even after the commission has done its work. The crucifix requires no such careful consideration. In short, religious minorities who might have been hoping for the unlikely outcome that the commission's report would be taken seriously now know better. The message from the Charest government to them is a variant on the old Brezhnev Doctrine: What's ours is ours, what's yours is negotiable.
CTV appearance

My CTV appearance last night is online.

I was a little bit longwinded; I was also a little bit angry, because on my way to the studio I heard the news that the Charest government had rushed through a unanimous resolution insisting that the crucifix would remain on the National Assembly walls. I never expected it to come down, but I though the government would have the decency to ignore unpopular or difficult recommendations rather than deliberately hanging the commissioners out to dry. I'll have more to say on that in the next couple days.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Commission report reactions

I'll be answering reader questions about reasonable accommodation tomorrow starting at 3 pm at . Questions can be sent in advance or during the session.

I'll be on CBC Newsworld tomorrow afternoon, apparently. I'll be taping an interview not long after the 12:30 press conference that unveils the report; not sure when it will air.

Update: I'll also be on CTV tonight, probably between 7 and 8 pm.

Update: The link above (now fixed) remains good even though question time is now closed; the questions and answers are all there (and my typing fingers are tired!)
Henry Richardson succeeds John Deigh as Editor of Ethics

From the press release:

Henry S. Richardson named new Editor of
Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy
Press salutes accomplishments of departing editor John Deigh

The University of Chicago Press salutes the service of John Deigh, Professor of Law and Philosophy at the University of Texas-Austin for his eleven year term of service as the editor of Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy. He previously served as Associate editor from 1985-1997, and served as the book review editor from 1990-1996. Under his leadership, the journal strengthened its position as the premier journal in its field.

The Press is pleased to announce the appointment to a five year term of Henry S. Richardson as the new Editor of Ethics, where he is currently an Associate Editor, effective July 1, 2008.“I am excited to be taking over the helm at Ethics at this time,” Richardson comments, “for now it is more possible than ever before for this venerable and vibrant journal, so well nurtured under John Deigh’s leadership, to live up to its full title, Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy. While moral philosophy will always lie at the journal’s core, I look forward to reaching out both to scholars abroad and to those in allied fields who write on normative issues.”

About Henry S. Richardson
Henry S. Richardson is Professor of Philosophy and Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University. Currently an Associate Editor of Ethics and Editor-at-Large of the Human Development and Capability Association, Richardson has taught at Georgetown since 1986. He has also served as visiting scholar at the Department of Clinical Bioethics, Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health. After earning his undergraduate degree at Harvard College, he went on to earn graduate degrees in law and in public policy at Harvard University before earning his Ph.D. there under John Rawls. He would later edit, with Paul Weithman, The Philosophy of Rawls. Dr. Richardson’s work centers on practical reasoning in all of its many guises: in the reasoning of individuals about their aims, in the democratic reasoning of citizens about public policy, and in our moral reasoning. Dr. Richardson’s initial work concerned the nature of individual reasoning. His more recent book, Democratic Autonomy: Public Reasoning about the Ends of Policy, won the Herbert A. Simon Award in Public Administration and the David Easton Award in the Foundations of Political Theory. He is the current recipient of an NEH Fellowship for University Teachers to begin a book project in moral theory entitled Articulating the Moral Community.

That aspiration to live up to the full title is a good one. It seems to me that Richardson is right-- while the journal is in great shape and is incomparable in moral philosophy, the articles section has seen social, political, and legal philosophy, to varying degrees, slip away over the past decade or so. (The same is not true of the book reviews.) Best of luck to him.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bouchard-Taylor Commission: The Climax Approaches

The press has gotten ahold of a leaked (French) copy of the commission's report: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

From the summaries and reactions, it seems as though the report was filled with decency, moderation, and good sense (e.g. "enough about the hijab")... which means it's doomed to impotence. Better that than the alternative, but I feel for the commissioners; they're in for a brutal reception. As I've said several times, they were given an impossible combination of explicit and implicit missions.

I'll have more to say after I've read the report myself.

The official

Monday, May 19, 2008

Modern Political Thought, Winter, 2008

If I want my August to be free of hecticness, I ought to start thinking now about how to rework this. But here's what we did this past semester.

POLI 232: Modern Political Thought
Winter 2008, McGill University
Jacob T. Levy

This course provides an introduction to questions of morality and politics: what it is for a private person or an officeholder to act ethically in a political society, the degree to which an individual person ought to be free from political interference to follow his or her own moral understanding, what collective decisions ought to be made, and who ought to make them. Through analyses of some of the central ethical questions in politics (obedience, freedom, the use of bad means for good ends) and some of the central modern views about right and wrong in politics (liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and democracy) it will offer an introductions to key concepts in social science and in ethics.

1. January 4: Introduction

Part I. Ethics and Politics

2. January 7:
Thoreau, “Resistance to Civil Government” [appearing under the modern title “Civil Disobedience”]

3. January 9:
Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” in Gerth and Mills, eds., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, Oxford University Press, 1958 [1919] pp. 77-128

4. January 11:
Sophocles, Antigone, entire

5. January 14
Plato, “Crito” and “The Apology”

6. January 16-18
Machiavelli, The Prince, ch. 8-26

7. January 21:
Michael Walzer, “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 2, No. 2. (Winter, 1973), pp. 160-180.
Stable URL:

8. January 23-25:
Bernard Williams, “A Critique of Utilitarianism,” in Smart & Williams, Utilitarianism, for and against, Cambridge University Press, pp. 93-118.
Williams, “Politics and Moral Character,” and Thomas Nagel, “Ruthlessness in Public Life,” in Stuart Hampshire, ed., Public and Private Morality, Cambridge University Press, pp. 56-73 and 75-91

9. January 28:
Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, University of Chicago Press, 1996, pp. 19-38
Thucydides, “The Melian Dialogue,” from History of the Peloponnesian War

10. January 30- February 1:
Robert Nozick, “The Tale of the Slave,” from Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 290-2.
Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism, University of California Press, 1970, pp. 3-19
Aristotle, The Politics, Everson ed., Cambridge University Press, pp. 65-8 and 170-1

11. February 5:
F. A. Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” The American Economic Review, Vol. 35, No. 4. (Sep., 1945), pp. 519-530.
Stable URL:
John Dewey, The Political Writings, Hackett, pp. 158-60, 169-72


12. February 7-9:
Michael Oakeshott, “Rationalism in Politics,” in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, Liberty Fund, pp. 5-43
Jeremy Bentham, Bentham’s Handbook of Anarchical Fallacies, pp. 43-51, 131-5, 193-205

Part II. Liberty

13. February 12.
Plato, The Republic, Allan Bloom trans., pp. 235-242 (557a-564a), 251-60 (571a-579e)

14. February 14-16.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, in Gourevitch,ed., The Social Contract and Other Later Political Writings, Cambridge University Press, pp. 49-54, 59-64, 121-2 (I.6-8, II.3-4, IV.1)
Benjamin Constant, “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with That of the Moderns,” in Biancamaria Fontana, ed., Constant: Political Writings, Cambridge University Press, pp. 309-28

15. February 19.
Isaiah Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty,” in Four Essays on Liberty, Oxford University Press, pp. 119-54

16. February 21-23.
Berlin, “Two Concepts,” pp. 154-72.
Charles Taylor, “What’s Wrong With Negative Liberty,” in Philosophical Papers vol 2: Philosophy and the Human Sciences, pp. 211-29

Part III. Ideas, ideals, and ideologies: what shall we do?

19. March 3:
John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government, Cambridge University Press, pp. 269-78, 330-63, ch. 2, 8-11
Declaration of American Independence

21. March 5-7:
David Hume, “Of the Original Contract,” in Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, Liberty Fund, pp. 465-88
Hume, Political Writings, Hackett, pp. 51-73 [Treatise of Human Nature III.8-10]
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Conservative,” in Essays & Lectures, Library of America, pp. 173-89

22. March 10:
Oakeshott, “On Being Conservative,” in Rationalism in Politics, pp. 407-37

23. March 12-14
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, ch. 1-2

24. March 17
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, ch. 3-5

25. March 19
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press, 1971, pp. 3-33 and 54-65

28. March 26-28.
Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question,” in Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 26-52
“The Communist Manifesto,” sections 1 and 2, pp. 469-91

29. March 31.
Publius, The Federalist Papers, Rossiter ed., Signet, pp. 66-79, 297-322 (#s 9-10, 47-51
And review: Rousseau reading from February 14-16
Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen

30. April 2-4.
John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government, ch. 16, “Of Nationality.”

31. April 7
Isaiah Berlin, “The Pursuit of the Ideal,” in The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Vintage, pp. 1-19
George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” in The Orwell Reader, Harvest, pp. 355-66

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Quote of the Day

From Brad DeLong.

Glaukon: But the bottom line is that we don't have good explanations at any deep level for why the U.S. today is and stays 30 times richer than Kenya.

Akhilleus: Or, rather, that we have good explanations but they are historians', political scientists', and sociologists' explanations--not explanations in which a facility with the differential calculus is terribly helpful and thus not explanations instrumentally useful to a sect of academics who want to use their facility with the differential calculus to impose a form of hegemonic domination over social science in general.

The post has a great title, too: "After the Examination All Professors Are Sad: A Dialogue About Teaching the Wrong Thing."