Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In Memoriam: Brian Barry

Brian Leiter has the news. Harry Brighouse follows up.

Update: My only sustained public engagement with him as a thinker was not a particularly sympathetic one. But I was tremendously impressed with both Sociologists, Economists and Democracy and Political Argument as a grad student; he was a lifelong advocate of keeping normative political work engaged with social science and social theory; and his long work at the journal Ethics did a tremendous amount for political and moral philosophy and theory. By my reckoning he didn't just raise the standards of the journal; he raised the standards of the field.

On a more personal level: I didn't know Barry well-- but I got to know him toward the end of my time as a graduate student, when I was commuting from New York to Princeton and he was teaching at Columbia. He and his wife Anni were personally incredibly warm and welcoming to me; and intellectually he treated me as someone worth talking and arguing with about our areas of shared interest. I shared a drink with him on several occasions, and always enjoyed the experience and the conversation.

I had cause to complain about the way in which he read the work of some other people, but with regard to my own work, he had read it before we ever met, talked about it (in person and in print) fairly and accurately, and was supportive and encouraging about it. I think he was the first person who included my work on a syllabus, and I was still a grad student at the time; it's hard to overstate how flattered I was by this. And he was generous with time and advice, though he had no advisorly obligations to me.

Because he genuinely retired, I almost never saw him after the publication of my review linked to above; but he was in touch enough to make clear that he took it in good spirit, and indeed he asked whether I'd follow up with a review of Why Social Justice Matters. There's a traditional joke in political theory about the mismatch between official intellectual positions and personal style-- the civic republican who's a terrible departmental citizen, the deliberativist who will never let anyone else talk and the deliberativist who hates to talk, that kind of thing. Brian Barry often comes up as a central example-- the pugilist, brawler, or (depending on your perspective) dirty fighter on the printed page who was exceptionally warm, generous, and open in person. He knew this himself, and it seemed to amuse him. I had my quarrels with the printed pugilist-- but remember and appreciate that warm and generous man.

further update: Valuable comments continue to be posted at the Crooked Timber thread from Barry's colleagues and friends. Wyn Grant gets at what I was trying to express here: "He could certainly be pugancious and unwilling to suffer fools gladly, but he was very supportive to younger scholars." Jo Wolff recounts some more examples of the pugnaciousness-- and suggests that it represents a sense on Barry'spart that "political theory can be much easier than most people make it, provided that one keeps things clear, puts down one’s ideological axe, and resists the temptation to seek novelty or paradox for its own sake.” And Paul Kelleyalso emphasizes Barry'sinterest in keeping political philosophy intellectually engaged with the social sciences, in the service of doing normative work aimed at the world.
States of the same nature

Now posted at SSRN:

"States of the Same Nature": Bounded Variation in Subfederal Constitutionalism
"That the federal constitution should be composed of states of the same nature, above all of republican States," Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws.

This paper offers a defense of the bounded variation in state- or provincial-level constitutionalism within a federation. The extreme positions are the traditionally easy normative ones: there's no reason for state-to-state variation in fundamental questions of constitutional value (because once we know what justice demands, it demands it the same everywhere), or the several states' sovereign peoples may enact any old rules they want, because democratic positivism trumps liberal justice. On the second model, states may be constitutionally constrained from the outside, by the federal courts enforcing the federal constitutions, but as a domestic matter their substantive variation could be unbounded. I don't deny that one or the other of these might accurately describe the legal situation in one or another federation. But I will argue that bounded variation is normatively preferable, not just as a middle way but as the right way to attain the benefits of a federal system. And there are at least some good reasons for internalizing the at least some of the boundaries within the constitutionalism and jurisprudence of each state. Constitutions are not social contracts, either of the positivist or the realist sort; and the hybrid constitutionalism of a federal order can't be understood just with reference to founding or with reference to moral truth. It seems to me that this leaves us in the domain of non-dispositive reason-giving and argument about the scope for constitutional variation. It typically does not count as much intellectual progress to say that answers will lie at some indeterminate point in the middle. But the claims of federal supremacy and of state sovereignty have been such that the middle has sometimes seemed squeezed out; there has been a perceived need to resolve the logic of state constitutionalism to a greater degree than the nature of the problem permits.

And one bit from further in the paper:
It is apparent that the position described here allows federal constitutional norms to have some weight in a state's domestic constitutional interpretation. It is perhaps less apparent, but noteworthy, that it allows sister-state constitutional norms and jurisprudence to have such weight. And, perhaps most surprisingly, it allows state-level norms to have weight at the federal level. Perhaps the gravitational weight of federal constitutional interpretation is greater than that of the interpretation of any one of the states, but gravity is mutual, and planets pull on the sun as well as being pulled by it.

Since I finished that draft of the paper, Professor Solum has drawn my attention to this extremely interesting argument which I'll have to incorporate into that section!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Federal Bar Association Indian Law Conference

I'll be revisiting the perversities of Indian Law thesis in light of last year's Plains Commerce Bank v Long, in a talk at the Federal Bar Association's Indian Law Conference, April 3, Pueblo of Pojoaque outside Santa Fe.

Here's an utterly unsurprising spoiler: the outcome in Plains Commerce only aggravated the perversity of the incentives facing tribal governments. In the article I said that the Montana exceptions had been whittled away to near-nothingness; in Plains Commerce the Court just shaved a bit more wood off the paper-thin bit that remained. Step by step, the Court continues to make a bad situation worse.

For newcomers to Plains Commerce, I recommend the superb amicus brief from the Solicitor General.
Stanley Fish inhabits a very different academic world from the one I inhabit...

If this is true.
I’ve been asking colleagues in several departments and disciplines whether they’ve ever come across the term “neoliberalism” and whether they know what it means. A small number acknowledged having heard the word; a very much smaller number ventured a tentative definition. I was asking because I had been reading essays in which the adjective neoliberal was routinely invoked as an accusation, and I had only a sketchy notion of what was intended by it.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Research Workshop on Thomas Hobbes

March 21-22, 2009, McGill University, Montreal

This two-day workshop brings together a number of scholars working on Hobbes today to discuss two recent book-length manuscripts: Thomas Hobbes and the Creation of Order by Kinch Hoekstra and The Oscillations of Thomas Hobbes by Arash Abizadeh. Topics include Hobbes's treatment of morals, politics, religion, language, mind, and knowledge.

Format: To maximize the quality of discussion, participants are expected to have read the two manuscripts beforehand. Each panel will begin with two fifteen minute critiques of a section of the manuscript, followed by a brief response by the author and general discussion.

Registration: The workshop is open to everyone, but attendance is by registration and limited in number. Those wishing to attend should RSVP to the workshop coordinator Douglas Hanes, douglas.hanes@mail.mcgill.ca .

Manuscripts: Manuscripts are available on the workshop website for download. Access requires a password, which all participants will receive upon registration.


Saturday March 21
Arts 160, McGill University

9:55 am Welcome

10:00 am - 11:45 am: Linguistic Convention and Mental Inspection
Chair: Emily Carson (McGill, philosophy)
Commentators: Douglas Jesseph (South Florida, philosophy)
Justin E. H. Smith (Concordia, philosophy)
Author/Respondent: Arash Abizadeh (McGill, politics)

11:45 - 1pm: Lunch Break

1:00 pm - 2:45 pm: The State of Nature
Chair: Dario Perinetti (UQAM, philosophy)
Commentators: Ioannis Evrigenis (Tufts, politics)
Jacob Levy (McGill, politics)
Author/Respondent: Kinch Hoekstra (Berkeley, politics/law)

2:45 pm - 3:00 pm: Coffee Break

3 pm - 4:45 pm: Morals and War
Chair: Catherine Lu (McGill, politics)
Commentators: Michael LeBuffe (Texas A&M, philosophy)
Patrick Neal (Vermont, politics)
Author/Respondent: Arash Abizadeh (McGill, politics)

5 pm: Reception

6:30 pm: Dinner

Sunday March 22
Arts 160, McGill University

9:30 am - 11:15 am: Commonwealth by Acquisition and Institution
Chair: Christina Tarnopolsky (McGill, politics)
Commentators: Michael Green (Pomona, philosophy)
Travis Smith (Concordia, politics)
Author/Respondent: Kinch Hoekstra (Berkeley, politics/law)

11:15 am - 12:30 pm: Lunch Break

12:30 pm - 2:15 pm: Sovereignty and the State's Ideological Program
Chair: TBA
Commentators: Jeffrey Collins (Queen's, history)
Will Roberts (McGill, philosophy/politics)
Author/Respondent: Arash Abizadeh (McGill, politics)

2:15 pm - 2:30 pm: Coffee Break

2:30 pm - 4:15 pm: Justice Made Reasonable? The Reply to the Foole
Chair: Victor Muniz-Fraticelli (McGill, politics/law)
Commentators: Tom Sorell (Birmingham, philosophy)
Ed King (Concordia, politics)
Author/Respondent: Kinch Hoekstra (Berkeley, politics/law)

4:30 pm: Reception

This workshop has been made possible by generous support from the Dean of Arts Development Fund (McGill), Department of Political Science (University of California - Berkeley), Groupe de recherche interuniversitaire en philosophie politique de Montréal (GRIPP), Department of Political Science (McGill), and Department of Philosophy (McGill).