Friday, January 09, 2009

The news I miss on red-eye flights

Cass Sunstein chosen as new administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Congratulations to him!

Notes Orin Kerr, "this is terrific news for other legal academics. Cass currently writes about 120 law review articles a year, all of which place in top journals, amounting to about 30% of the total placed articles in those journals. With Cass working full-time in Washington, I'm betting that his scholarly productivity will plummet. He might write as few as 20 articles a year! That means that there will be 100 more non-Cass placements free every year for the next few years for the rest of us, which gives other scholars a great opportunity to place their articles while Cass is working in government."

But Orin neglects the cost to all of Cass' foregone coauthors.
2008 books in political theory, continued

See this post for part 1.

Ten interesting and important books, by my lights, in political theory in 2008 by young and mid-career scholars. This will be a much more idiosyncratic list built around my own interests than the first one was-- not that the first one represented Objective Truth or anything, but, e.g., I'm pretty confident that there will be APSA panels or conferences or workshops or review symposia about most of the books I named there. Some of the books below are ones I suspect not many people have heard of yet; I want to encourage more people to have a look at them. In any case, well-known or not, consensus choices or not, these are interesting-to-me books published last year. Further contributions welcome in comments!

  • Sharon Krause, Civil Passions
    Must we put passions aside when we deliberate about justice? Can we do so? The dominant views of deliberation rightly emphasize the importance of impartiality as a cornerstone of fair decision making, but they wrongly assume that impartiality means being disengaged and passionless. In Civil Passions, Sharon Krause argues that moral and political deliberation must incorporate passions, even as she insists on the value of impartiality. Drawing on resources ranging from Hume's theory of moral sentiment to recent findings in neuroscience, Civil Passions breaks new ground by providing a systematic account of how passions can generate an impartial standpoint that yields binding and compelling conclusions in politics. Krause shows that the path to genuinely impartial justice in the public sphere--and ultimately to social change and political reform--runs through moral sentiment properly construed. This new account of affective but impartial judgment calls for a politics of liberal rights and democratic contestation, and it requires us to reconceive the meaning of public reason, the nature of sound deliberation, and the authority of law. By illuminating how impartiality feels, Civil Passions offers not only a truer account of how we deliberate about justice, but one that promises to engage citizens more effectively in acting for justice.


  • Burke Hendrix, Ownership, Authority, and Self-Determination: Moral Principles and Indigenous Rights Claims
    Much controversy has existed over the claims that Native Americans and other indigenous peoples have a right—based on original occupancy of land, historical transfers of sovereignty, and principles of self-determination—to a political status separate from the states in which they now find themselves embedded. How valid are these claims on moral grounds?

    Burke Hendrix tackles these thorny questions in this book. Rather than focusing on the legal and constitutional status of indigenous nations within the states now ruling them, he starts at a more basic level, interrogating fundamental justifications for political authority itself. He shows that historical claims of land ownership and prior sovereignty cannot provide a sufficient basis for challenging the authority of existing states, but that our natural moral duties to aid other persons in danger can justify rights to political separation from states that fail to protect their citizens as they should.

    Actual attempts at political separation must be carefully managed through well-defined procedural mechanisms, however, to foster extensive democratic deliberation about the nature of the politic al changes at stake. Using such procedures, Hendrix argues, indigenous peoples should be able to withdraw politically from the states currently ruling them, even to the point of choosing full independence.

  • Dennis Rasmussen, The Problems and Promise of Commercial Society: Adam Smith's Response to Rousseau
    Adam Smith is popularly regarded as the ideological forefather of laissez-faire capitalism, while Rousseau is seen as the passionate advocate of the life of virtue in small, harmonious communities and as a sharp critic of the ills of commercial society. But, in fact, Smith had many of the same worries about commercial society that Rousseau did and was strongly influenced by his critique.

    In this first book-length comparative study of these leading eighteenth-century thinkers, Dennis Rasmussen highlights Smith's sympathy with Rousseau's concerns and analyzes in depth the ways in which Smith crafted his arguments to defend commercial society against these charges. These arguments, Rasmussen emphasizes, were pragmatic in nature, not ideological: it was Smith's view that, all things considered, commercial society offered more benefits than the alternatives.

    Just because of this pragmatic orientation, Smith's approach can be useful to us in assessing the pros and cons of commercial society today and thus contributes to a debate that is too much dominated by both dogmatic critics and doctrinaire champions of our modern commercial society.

  • Annelien De Dijn, French Political Thought from Montesquieu to Tocqueville: Liberty in a Levelled Society
    This study makes a major contribution to our understanding of one of the most important and enduring strands of modern political thought. Annelien de Dijn argues that Montesquieu’s aristocratic liberalism - his conviction that the preservation of freedom in a monarchy required the existence of an aristocratic ‘corps interm√©diaire’ - had a continued impact on post-revolutionary France. Revisionist historians from Furet to Rosanvallon have emphasised the impact of revolutionary republicanism on post-revolutionary France, with its monist conception of politics and its focus on popular sovereignty. Dr de Dijn, however, highlights the persistence of a pluralist liberalism that was rooted in the Old Regime, and which saw democracy and equality as inherent threats to liberty. She thus provides a new context in which to read the work of Alexis de Tocqueville, who is revealed as the heir not just of Restoration liberals, but also of the Royalists and their hero, Montesquieu.

  • Elisabeth Ellis, Provisional Politics: Kantian Arguments in Policy Context
    If we are to vindicate moral reasoning in politics, Elisabeth Ellis argues in this original and provocative work, we must focus on the conditions of political discourse rather than the contents of any particular ethical system. Written in an engaging, direct style, Provisional Politics builds on Ellis’s prize-winning interpretation of Kant’s theory of provisional right to construct a new theory of justice under conditions of agency and plurality. She develops this new perspective through a series of cases ranging from the treatment of AIDS widows in Kenya to the rights of non-citizens everywhere, as well as the clash between democratic decision-making and the politics of species conservation. The book concludes with a sobering discussion of the probable limits of political agency.

  • Jenet Kirkpatrick, Uncivil Disobedience:
    Studies in Violence and Democratic Politics
    Uncivil Disobedience examines the roles violence and terrorism have played in the exercise of democratic ideals in America. Jennet Kirkpatrick explores how crowds, rallying behind the principle of popular sovereignty and desiring to make law conform to justice, can disdain law and engage in violence. She exposes the hazards of democracy that arise when citizens seek to control government directly, and demonstrates the importance of laws and institutions as limitations on the will of the people.

    Kirkpatrick looks at some of the most explosive instances of uncivil disobedience in American history: the contemporary militia movement, Southern lynch mobs, frontier vigilantism, and militant abolitionism. She argues that the groups behind these violent episodes are often motivated by admirable democratic ideas of popular power and autonomy. Kirkpatrick shows how, in this respect, they are not so unlike the much-admired adherents of nonviolent civil disobedience, yet she reveals how those who engage in violent disobedience use these admirable democratic principles as a justification for terrorism and killing. She uses a "bottom-up" analysis of events to explain how this transformation takes place, paying close attention to what members of these groups do and how they think about the relationship between citizens and the law.

    Uncivil Disobedience calls for a new vision of liberal democracy where the rule of the people and the rule of law are recognized as fundamental ideals, and where neither is triumphant or transcendent.

  • Jason Maloy,The Colonial American Origins of Modern Democratic Thought
    This first examination in almost 40 years of political ideas in the seventeenth-century American colonies reaches some surprising conclusions about the history of democratic theory more generally. The origins of a distinctively modern kind of thinking about democracy can be located, not in revolutionary America and France in the later eighteenth century, but in the tiny New England colonies in the middle seventeenth. The key feature of this democratic rebirth was honoring not only the principle of popular sovereignty through regular elections but also the principle of accountability through non-electoral procedures for the auditing and impeachment of elected officers. By staking its institutional identity entirely on elections, modern democratic thought has misplaced the sense of robust popular control that originally animated it.

  • Dana Villa, Public Freedom
    The freedom to take part in civic life--whether in the exercise of one's right to vote or congregate and protest--has become increasingly less important to Americans than individual rights and liberties. In Public Freedom, renowned political theorist Dana Villa argues that political freedom is essential to both the preservation of constitutional government and the very substance of American democracy itself.

    Through intense close readings of theorists such as Hegel, Tocqueville, Mill, Adorno, Arendt, and Foucault, Villa diagnoses the key causes of our democratic discontent and offers solutions to preserve at least some of our democratic hopes. He demonstrates how Americans' preoccupation with a market-based conception of freedom--that is, the personal freedom to choose among different material, moral, and vocational goods--has led to the gradual erosion of meaningful public participation in politics as well as diminished interest in the health of the public realm itself. Villa critically examines, among other topics, the promise and limits of civil society and associational life as sources of democratic renewal; the effects of mass media on the public arena; and the problematic but still necessary ideas of civic competence and democratic maturity.

    Public Freedom is a passionate and insightful defense of political liberties at a moment in America's history when such freedoms are very much at risk.

  • Alan Houston, Benjamin Franklin and the Politics of Improvement
    This fascinating book explores Benjamin Franklin’s social and political thought. Although Franklin is often considered “the first American,” his intellectual world was cosmopolitan. An active participant in eighteenth-century Atlantic debates over the modern commercial republic, Franklin combined abstract analyses with practical proposals. Houston treats Franklin as shrewd, creative, and engaged—a lively thinker who joined both learned controversies and political conflicts at home and abroad.

    Drawing on meticulous archival research, Houston examines such tantalizing themes as trade and commerce, voluntary associations and civic militias, population growth and immigration policy, political union and electoral institutions, freedom and slavery. In each case, he shows how Franklin urged the improvement of self and society.

    Engagingly written and richly illustrated, this book provides a compelling portrait of Franklin, a fresh perspective on American identity, and a vital account of what it means to be practical.

  • Adrian Vermeule, Law and the Limits of Reason
    Human reason is limited. Given the scarcity of reason, how should the power to make constitutional law be allocated among legislatures, courts and the executive, and how should legal institutions be designed? In Law and the Limits of Reason, Adrian Vermeule denies the widespread view, stemming from Burke and Hayek, that the limits of reason counsel in favor of judges making "living" constitutional law in the style of the common law. Instead, he proposes and defends a "codified constitution" - a regime in which legislatures have the primary authority to develop constitutional law over time, through statutes and constitutional amendments.

    Vermeule contends that precisely because of the limits of human reason, large modern legislatures, with their numerous and highly diverse memberships and their complex internal structures for processing information, are the most epistemically effective lawmaking institutions.
  • Thursday, January 08, 2009

    Blogging on jet lag and 2 hrs sleep in the last 2 days

    You know, it's remarkable how entertaining and enjoyable and rewatchable I find Shrek, given that its moral is "It doesn't matter whether you're beautiful or ugly; all that matters is that you're not short."

    By contrast, no matter how much fun I found watching Legally Blonde once in my life, I'll never watch it again. Its moral that "people who are beautiful and rich and popular but don't work very hard on their studies have it unfairly tough, until such time as the rest of us realize that their beauty entitles them to academic success" is too execrable to put up with twice.

    Tuesday, January 06, 2009

    The return of the big book

    In late 2005 I wrote:
    2005 was a kind of curious year in book publishing in political theory and philosophy. The market was mainly filled with huge Companions or Very Short Introductions or anything else besides actual monographs. It doesn't seem to me that there was any book that captured everyone's attention. There was no new book in the prestigious Oxford Political Theory series. People have been talking for the past few years about the absence of any set of questions so exciting and energizing as to draw everyone out of their niches and into a common conversation. This year seemed to me the year in which that absence filtered through to the lagging-indicator of newly-published monographs.

    Now, there's nothing wrong with that. The exciting, unifying, common-conversation Big Ideas are only sometimes productive. There need to be signficant periods of time when people are working in their niches and making progress there. Frankly, I enjoy going to APSA more in the years when it's filled with scores of panels with interesting new papers, each following its own logic of argument and discovery, than in the years when everyone feels compelled to give a paper about, e.g., deliberative democracy.

    But in those fragmentary moments, excellent books can get published that don't get noticed because they're in other people's niches. I like to see good work get read and recognized, and like to discourage the occasional bout of "nothing good is being done these days" despair. So, as a partial corrective, a list of ten excellent, interesting, important, or potentially transformative books in political theory


    Well, the last twelve months look rather different. Herewith a quick rundown of some of the books published since December 2007-- some of them works that people I know have been eagerly awaiting for years. In this post I'll list ten by well-established prominent senior figures in the field; I'll follow up with a post on ten by young and mid-career scholars. No rankings or claims of "ten best" or "ten most important;" more like my equivalent of Larry Solum's Legal Theory Bookworm (and, unsurprisingly, there's a bit of overlap with the books he's highlighted over the past year).

  • Thomas Christiano, The Constitution of Equality: Democratic Authority and Its Limits

    What is the ethical basis of democracy? And what reasons do we have to go along with democratic decisions even when we disagree with them? And when do we have reason to say that we may justly ignore democratic decisions? These questions must be answered if we are to have answers to some of the most important questions facing our global community, which include whether there is a human right to democracy and whether we must attempt to spread democracy throughout the globe.

    This book provides a philosophical account of the moral foundations of democracy and of liberalism. It shows how democracy and basic liberal rights are grounded in the principle of public equality, which tells us that in the establishment of law and policy we must treat persons as equals in ways they can see are treating them as equals. The principle of public equality is shown to be the fundamental principle of social justice. This account enables us to understand the nature and roles of adversarial politics and public deliberation in political life. It gives an account of the grounds of the authority of democracy. It also shows when the authority of democracy runs out. It shows how the violations of democratic and liberal rights are beyond the legitimate authority of democracy and how the creation of persistent minorities in a democratic society, and the failure to ensure a basic minimum for all persons, weaken the legitimate authority of democracy.


  • G.A. Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality


    In this stimulating work of political philosophy, acclaimed philosopher G. A. Cohen sets out to rescue the egalitarian thesis that in a society in which distributive justice prevails, people’s material prospects are roughly equal. Arguing against the Rawlsian version of a just society, Cohen demonstrates that distributive justice does not tolerate deep inequality.

    In the course of providing a deep and sophisticated critique of Rawls’s theory of justice, Cohen demonstrates that questions of distributive justice arise not only for the state but also for people in their daily lives. The right rules for the macro scale of public institutions and policies also apply, with suitable adjustments, to the micro level of individual decision-making.

    Cohen also charges Rawls’s constructivism with systematically conflating the concept of justice with other concepts. Within the Rawlsian architectonic, justice is not distinguished either from other values or from optimal rules of social regulation. The elimination of those conflations brings justice closer to equality.


  • George Kateb, Patriotism and Other Mistakes

    George Kateb has been one of the most respected and influential political theorists of the last quarter century. His work stands apart from that of many of his contemporaries and resists easy summary. In these essays Kateb often admonishes himself, in Socratic fashion, to keep political argument as far as possible negative: to be willing to assert what we are not, and what we will not do, and to build modestly from there some account of what we are and what we ought to do.

    Drawing attention to the non-rational character of many motives that drive people to construct and maintain a political order, he urges greater vigilance in political life and cautions against “mistakes” not usually acknowledged as such. Patriotism is one such mistake, too often resulting in terrible brutality and injustices. He asks us to consider how commitments to ideals of religion, nation, race, ethnicity, manliness, and courage find themselves in the service of immoral ends, and he exhorts us to remember the dignity of the individual.

    The book is divided into three sections. In the first, Kateb discusses the expansion of state power (including such topics as surveillance) and the justifications for war recently made by American policy makers. The second section offers essays in moral psychology, and the third comprises fresh interpretations of major thinkers in the tradition of political thought, from Socrates to Arendt.


  • Charles Larmore, The Autonomy of Morality

    In The Autonomy of Morality Charles Larmore challenges two ideas that have shaped the modern mind. The world, he argues, is not a realm of value-neutral fact, nor does human freedom consist in imposing principles of our own devising on an alien reality. Rather, reason consists in being responsive to reasons for thought and action that arise from the world itself. Larmore shows that the moral good has an authority that speaks for itself. Only in this light does the true basis of a liberal political order come into view, as well as the role of unexpected goods in the makeup of a life lived well.


  • David Miller, National Responsibility and Global Justice

    This book presents a non-cosmopolitan theory of global justice. In contrast to theories that seek to extend principles of social justice, such as equality of opportunity or resources, to the world as a whole, it argues that in a world made up of self-determining national communities, a different conception is needed. The book presents and defends an account of national responsibility which entails that nations may justifiably claim the benefits that their decisions and policies produce, while also being held liable for harms that they inflict on other peoples. Such collective responsibility extends to responsibility for the national past, so the present generation may owe redress to those who have been harmed by the actions of their predecessors. Global justice, therefore, must be understood not in terms of equality, but in terms of a minimum set of basic rights that belong to human beings everywhere. Where these rights are being violated or threatened, remedial responsibility may fall on outsiders. The book considers how this responsibility should be allocated, and how far citizens of democratic societies must limit their pursuit of domestic objectives in order to discharge their global obligations.

    The book presents a systematic challenge to existing theories of global justice without retreating to a narrow nationalism that denies that we have any responsibilities to the world's poor. It combines discussion of practical questions such as immigration and foreign aid with philosophical exploration of, for instance, the different senses of responsibility, and the grounds of human rights.

    [See also my article "National and statist responsibility," Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy]

  • Martha Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America's Tradition of Religious Equality

    From one of America's most distinguished moral philosophers, a sweeping historically based argument that equal respect for all citizens is the bedrock of America's tradition of religious freedom.

    In one of the great triumphs of the colonial and Revolutionary periods, the founders of the future United States overcame religious intolerance in favor of a constitutional order dedicated to fair treatment for people's deeply held conscientious beliefs. It granted equal liberty of conscience to all and took a firm stand against religious establishment. This respect for religious difference, acclaimed scholar Martha Nussbaum writes, formed our democracy.

    Yet today there are signs that this legacy is misunderstood. The prominence of a particular type of Christianity in our public life suggests the unequal worth of citizens who hold different religious beliefs, or no beliefs. Other people, meanwhile, seek to curtail the influence of religion in public life in a way that is itself unbalanced and unfair. Such partisan efforts, Nussbaum argues, violate the spirit of our Constitution.

    Liberty of Conscience is a historical and conceptual study of the American tradition of religious freedom. Weaving together political history, philosophical ideas, and key constitutional cases, this is a rich chronicle of an ideal of equality that has always been central to our history but is now in serious danger.


  • Josiah Ober, Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens
    When does democracy work well, and why? Is democracy the best form of government? These questions are of supreme importance today as the United States seeks to promote its democratic values abroad. Democracy and Knowledge is the first book to look to ancient Athens to explain how and why directly democratic government by the people produces wealth, power, and security.

    Combining a history of Athens with contemporary theories of collective action and rational choice developed by economists and political scientists, Josiah Ober examines Athenian democracy's unique contribution to the ancient Greek city-state's remarkable success, and demonstrates the valuable lessons Athenian political practices hold for us today. He argues that the key to Athens's success lay in how the city-state managed and organized the aggregation and distribution of knowledge among its citizens. Ober explores the institutional contexts of democratic knowledge management, including the use of social networks for collecting information, publicity for building common knowledge, and open access for lowering transaction costs. He explains why a government's attempt to dam the flow of information makes democracy stumble. Democratic participation and deliberation consume state resources and social energy. Yet as Ober shows, the benefits of a well-designed democracy far outweigh its costs.

    Understanding how democracy can lead to prosperity and security is among the most pressing political challenges of modern times. Democracy and Knowledge reveals how ancient Greek politics can help us transcend the democratic dilemmas that confront the world today.


  • Philip Pettit, Made With Words; Hobbes on Language, Mind, and Politics
    Hobbes's extreme political views have commanded so much attention that they have eclipsed his work on language and mind, and on reasoning, personhood, and group formation. But this work is of immense interest in itself, as Philip Pettit shows in Made with Words, and it critically shapes Hobbes's political philosophy.

    Pettit argues that it was Hobbes, not later thinkers like Rousseau, who invented the invention of language thesis--the idea that language is a cultural innovation that transformed the human mind. The invention, in Hobbes's story, is a double-edged sword. It enables human beings to reason, commit themselves as persons, and incorporate in groups. But it also allows them to agonize about the future and about their standing relative to one another; it takes them out of the Eden of animal silence and into a life of inescapable conflict--the state of nature. Still, if language leads into this wasteland, according to Hobbes, it can also lead out. It can enable people to establish a commonwealth where the words of law and morality have a common, enforceable sense, and where people can invoke the sanctions of an absolute sovereign to give their words to one another in credible commitment and contract.

    Written by one of today's leading philosophers, Made with Words is both an original reinterpretation and a clear and lively introduction to Hobbes's thought.


  • Nancy Rosenblum, On The Side of Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship
    Political parties are the defining institutions of representative democracy and the darlings of political science. Their governing and electoral functions are among the chief concerns of the field. Yet most political theorists--including democratic theorists--ignore or disparage parties as grubby arenas of ambition, obstacles to meaningful political participation and deliberation. On the Side of the Angels is a vigorous defense of the virtues of parties and partisanship, and their worth as a subject for political theory.

    Nancy Rosenblum's account moves between political theory and political science, and she uses resources from both fields to outline an appreciation of parties and the moral distinctiveness of partisanship. She draws from the history of political thought and identifies the main lines of opposition to parties, as well as the rare but significant moments of appreciation. Rosenblum then sets forth her own theoretical appreciation of parties and partisanship. She discusses the achievement of parties in regulating rivalries, channeling political energies, and creating the lines of division that make pluralist politics meaningful. She defends "partisan" as a political identity over the much-vaunted status of "independent," and she considers where contemporary democracies should draw the line in banning parties.

    On the Side of the Angels offers an ethics of partisanship that speaks to questions of centrism, extremism, and polarization in American party politics. By rescuing parties from their status as orphans of political philosophy, Rosenblum fills a significant void in political and democratic theory.

    [There will be a symposium on On the Side of Angels on this blog in the near future.]
  • Monday, January 05, 2009

    CFP: Association for Political Theory

    The APT Conference 2009
    Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
    October 22-24, 2009
    CALL FOR PAPERS
    Proposals due February 15, 2009

    The Association for Political Theory (APT) invites proposals for its
    seventh annual conference to be held October 22–24, 2009 at Texas A&M
    University in College Station, Texas. The APT is an interdisciplinary
    organization devoted to supporting political theory and political
    philosophy. We recognize that scholars in a range of disciplines are
    doing important critical work on social and political questions. We
    welcome their participation in this conference. The APT Conference
    provides a collegial setting for scholars of various professional ranks,
    institutional affiliations and theoretical approaches to engage one
    another in fruitful discussions of their work. To learn more about the
    Association and its annual conference, please visit the APT Gateway
    website
    .

    The full text of the call for papers is now available on the APT
    website. Visit the APT homepage, or click on this link to
    download a printer-friendly pdf of the Call.

    Paper and panel proposals can be submitted any time on the APT website.
    Proposals are due by 15 February 2009.
    Hither and yon, Oxford edition

    I'll be at the Adam Smith/ 250th Anniversary of Theory of Moral Sentiments at Balliol College and then the "Liberalisms East and West" conference at St. Antony's College this week/ weekend. Very excited about both.