Saturday, April 18, 2009

Welcome to Canada,

Will Wilkinson and many like you. Happy to have you here, though the whole "wake up Canadian!" bit is a teensy bit irksome as I enter month 10 of the permanent residency application process!
Carole Pateman nominated for APSA presidency

From the APSA newsletter:

After careful consideration of suggestions from the APSA membership and organized groups, the Nominating Committee has agreed on the following slate of distinguished political scientists as its nominees for elective office in the association. [...] Unless there is any contestation, elected officers will assume office following action at the Business Meeting on September 5 at the 2009 APSA Annual Meeting in Toronto. If there is a contest, an election will be held by ballot of the entire membership. Procedures for nominations are documented in Article V (1, 2) of the APSA Constitution and Section 4 of the Business Meeting Rules.

President-Elect (2009-10)
Carole Pateman, UCLA

The President-Elect holds that title for one year, and then assumes the Presidency after the following year's [2010, in this case] annual meeting.

While the most accomplished political scientists often cross subfields, and many APSA presidents have engaged with or contributed to political theory (Beer, Lowi, Lipset, Dahl, Rudolph, etc.), by my reckoning Pateman will be only the second APSA president whose primary field is political theory in the past 45 years, after Judith Shklar, and the third in the past fifty, adding in Carl Friedrich.

Pateman was also the first woman president of the International Political Science Association.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Comment on Brooks

The NYT appears not to be running this, so here's the letter I wrote to the editor in response to David Brooks' goofy column on "The End of Philosophy" last week.

To the editor:

David Brooks unhelpfully confuses two claims: that moral judgment is like aesthetic judgment, and that moral judgment is immediate, emotional, and entirely intuitive. He is right that these have both been put forward as accounts of the evolution of morality, but wrong to think that they go together. Aesthetic judgment, after all, is subject to considerable refinement by education, reflection, and the acquisition of acquired tastes. Brooks says that when you put something that tastes disgusting into your mouth, "you just know." But we outgrow sugar cereals for lobster, or fruit punch for fine wine, even if the acquired taste seems disgusting at first. Ethical judgments, too, are probably educable, even though they are built on a visceral reaction.

The "warmer view of human nature" Brooks mentions is suspect as well. Empathy and altruism "within our families, groups and sometimes nations" are compatible with brutal behavior and dehumanization outside those boundaries. One of the traditional worries about relying on moral emotions and moral intuitions rather than moral argument has been that it leaves no space to think past the edges of our groups.

Jacob T. Levy

Note to students: yes, I thought about using my traditional counterpart to "fine wine" in that argument, but was afraid that it involved a trademarked name brand and therefore couldn't be run in the Times.
Soon to be added to the reading list...

upon its release later this month.

Cary J. Nederman, Lineages of European Political Thought: Explorations Along the Medieval/Modern Divide from John of Salisbury to Hegel, Catholic University of America Press, 2009

This book examines some of the salient historiographical and conceptual issues that animate current scholarly debates about the nature of the medieval contribution to modern Western political ideas. On the one hand, scholars who subscribe to the "Baron thesis" concerning civic humanism have asserted that the break between medieval and modern modes of political thinking formed an unbridgeable chasm associated with the development of an entirely new framework at the dawn of the Florentine Renaissance. Others have challenged this hypothesis, replacing it with another extreme: an unbroken continuity in the intellectual terrain between the twelfth and the seventeenth centuries (or later). The present book seeks to qualify both of these positions. Cary J. Nederman argues for a more nuanced historiography of intellectual continuity and change that depends upon analyzing a host of contextual as well as philosophical factors to account for the emergence of the European tradition of political theory in the medieval and early modern periods. He finds that categories such as "medieval" and "modern" can and should be usefully deployed, yet always with the understanding that they are provisional and potentially fluid.

The book opens with an introduction that lays out the main issues and sources of the debate, followed by five sets of interrelated chapters. The first section critically assesses some of the leading scholars who have contributed to the current understanding of the relationship between medieval and modern ideas. The central part of the book includes three sections that address salient themes that illuminate and illustrate continuity and change: Dissent and Power, Empire and Republic, and Political Economy. The volume closes with a few examples of the ways in which medieval political doctrines were absorbed into and transformed during the modern period up to the nineteenth century.

Nederman is perhaps the leading current scholar of medieval political theory, and this looks like an exciting book (at least to me; I understand that there are a lot of people who would think "exciting" a laughably weird way to describe a book of the historiography of the medieavl-modern divide in political theory).

As it happens, both of the universities at which I've taught in the undergraduate history of political thought sequence break between Machiavelli and Hobbes, not between the medieval era and Machiavelli. (At Chicago the first term is ancient-medieval-Renaissance; at McGill there's an ancient term and a medieval-Renaissance term. At both there's then a 17th-c/18th-c class, and a 19th-c/early 20th-c class.) But at the graduate level, both universities take the other tack, breaking between medieval and early modern with Machiavelli belonging to the latter. There's good reason to be puzzled here, and I'll be interested to see what Nederman has to say.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I missed this very important academic group blog when it launched just over a year ago.