Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Books to buy

APSA's now just around the corner, so no new academic book purchases for the next month. Especially now that the Canadian dollar is so high against the American dollar, it's much better to pick books up at 20-40% off American list prices than to get them at (already-higher) Canadian list prices. So time to start keeping a list of books-- mainly 2007 releases, but also some backlist items that I've recently noticed and don't own yet.

Anne Phillips, Multiculturalism Without Culture, was top of the list but I just got a review copy. Still, looking like a busy buying year. My shopping list so far:

Adrian Vermeuele, Mechanisms of Democracy (Oxford)
Harro Höpfl, Jesuit Political Thought (Cambridge)
Gerard Magliocca, Andrew Jackson and the Constitution (Kansas)
Stephen Buckle, Natural Law and the Theory of Property (Oxford)
Colin Farrelly, Justice, Democracy and Reasonable Agreement (Palgrave)
John Millar, An Historical View of English Government (Liberty Fund)
Hamilton and Madison, Pacificus–Helvidius Debates of 1793–1794 (Liberty Fund)
Jean Louis De Lolme, The Constitution of England (Liberty Fund) (This is a very exciting volume to have back in print)
Brian Tamanaha, Law as a Means to an End (Cambridge) (Shameful that I don't have this one yet, really, but it was sold out at APSA last year and then I forgot that I hadn't gotten it)
Andrew Mason, Leveling the Playing Field (Oxford)
Carles Boix and Susan Stokes, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics
Alan Cromartie, The Constitutionalist Revolution: An Essay on the History of England, 1450–1642 (Cambridge)
Sarah Song, Justice, Gender, and the Politics of Multiculturalism (Cambridge)
Suzanne Dovi, The Good Representative, Blackwell
Rhodes et al., eds., The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions
Sotirios A. Barber and James E. Fleming, Constitutional Interpretation: The Basic Questions (Oxford)
Philip G. Roeder, Where Nation-States Come From: Institutional Change in the Age of Nationalism (Princeton)
Corey Brettschneider, Democratic Rights: The Substance of Self-Government
Howard Schweber, The Language of Liberal Constitutionalism (Cambridge)
Urbinati and Zakaras, eds., J.S. Mill's Political Thought (Cambridge)
James Otteson, Actual Ethics (Cambridge)
Mark Francis, Herbert Spencer and the Invention of Modern Life (Cornell)
Seyla Benhabib, Ian Shapiro, and Danilo Petranovich, eds., Identities, Affiliations, and Allegiances

Hmm. I'm sure there was another list that I wrote down somewhere, but this'll probably do for a start...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Not sure how I hadn't known about the blog of Waterloo political theorist Colin Farrelly, In search of enlightenment. Onto the blogroll it goes. A sample from a recent post on some of my favorite methodological themes in political theory, titled "What Justice Demands, 'Many-Things Considered.'" See also his post on Political "Philosophy."

Our attention to the demands of justice can be developed at many different levels of abstraction. Here is a simplistic typology of the different levels of analysis one could be concerned with:

(1) what the demands of justice are, “all-things-considered”
(2) what the demands of justice are, “many-things-considered”
(3) what the demands of justice are, “some-things-considered”
(4) what the demands of justice are ,“when only abstract concepts (e.g. equality) are considered” (or, what justice requires when justice is construed purely as an abstract ideal or Platonic form).

I believe that something like this typology is very useful and can help political philosophers and theorists explain a lot of what is going on between proponents of different theoretical traditions. Egalitarians believe that others (like libertarians) ignore the harmful effects of the free market (e.g. the vulnerability of the worst off, inequality, etc.). Libertarians believe that egalitarians ignore the importance of side constraints or the inefficiency of the planned economy, etc. Feminists believe liberals ignore the realities of patriarchy. Multiculturalists believe that liberals ignore the fact of cultural inequality. And finally deliberative democrats believe justice-theorists ignore the limitations of their own armchair theorizing and the importance of democratic practices and institutions, disagreement, etc. One could go on and on, revealing how some theories are attuned to different kinds of concerns and ignore (or bracket) others.

These various considerations have lead me to be much more a pluralist than I once was. Certain values have an important role to play in certain contexts but not others, and figuring out when they have a role to play is the real important challenge. So for me the real action takes place in (2) (with (1) being a kind of ideal that we strive for but never reach), rather than in (3) or (4).

The most influential example of (3) is John Rawls’s theory of “justice as fairness”. Rawls takes some important considerations (e.g. moderate scarcity, pluralism, impartiality, etc.) seriously but he also invokes a number of idealizing assumptions that impoverish his theory (e.g. full compliance, society is closed and full of normal functioning people). And these idealized assumptions really skew and impair the prescriptions of Rawlsian justice.

Those partial to (4) might argue that I am confusing two different things- principles of justice and principles of regulation. This of course raises important questions concerning what kind of principles the principles of justice are (e.g. do they serve as a guide for human action). And this adds a further layer of debate to these issues. For me, there is no substantive difference between principles of justice and principles of regulation (though not every principle of justice need be a principle to regulate an institution). The principles of justice are those principles that dictate how a just society is to be regulated. That is why I think the important action takes place closer to (1) and (2) rather than (3) or (4).

The ideal/non-ideal theory debate, which is beginning to gain real momentum, will hopefully lead to a more serious debate about which kinds of considerations should be incorporated into (2). Which considerations- of the many, many considerations that arise- should a normative theorist take seriously? (and which should we ignore, etc.) Asking, and attempting to answer, that question will result (hopefully!) in us taking a “big picture” perspective on these issues. And that could really transform our moral sensibilities in important ways. It could open our eyes to new concerns we tended to ignore (e.g. the limitations of government, dangers of group polarization, etc.) or it could help us realize that certain convictions or beliefs are no longer tenable, etc.

I believe the best consequence that will likely result of our taking this big picture perspective is that it is more likely to lead us to taking a *proportionate* response to the different demands of justice that arise in real, non-ideal societies. To ensure our response to any particular demand of justice (X) is fair and proportionate we must appreciate not only the moral stakes at risk in pursuing X (e.g. equality, liberty, sufficiency, etc.), but also the costs, risks and tradeoffs involved with aggressively pursuing X rather than other laudable aims (e.g. Y and Z).

I think further benefits will be reaped by taking “justice-many-things-considered” (rather than (3) or (4)) seriously. It should make normative theorists realize how limited their armchair theorizing is. Defensible normative theories must take empirical considerations seriously and strive for something more meaningful than winning an abstract “first-best conceptualism” debate. A serious debate about which constraints or considerations we should take seriously will necessitate interdisciplinary dialogue and research, and this should help philosophers become more aware of the contentious assumptions they make (but do not have to defend) when they only engage in debate and dialogue amongst themselves. Furthermore, taking these various constraints seriously will make us realize that the demands of justice are provisional (both morally and politically provisional).

Monday, July 30, 2007

APSA notes

How is it that every other panel slot at APSA has no panels I want to go to-- but the other half of the slots have three or more panels apiece I want to go to?

It adds up to an unusually high number of panels I want to attend-- but with an unusually unfortunate distribution of them. Four I want to go to in the awful Thursday 8 am timeslot, when there are always fewer people in the audience than on the panel...

As of today, suddenly it's time to start getting ye olde APSA schedule nailed down. Funny how that happens sometimes; all at once people start scheduling stuff.
Post of the day

With the punchline "you know, all this openness to data and willingness to recheck your assumptions and basic generosity --- are you sure you're really cut out to be a blogger?"

Sunday, July 29, 2007

I know...

that it's silly to keep putting up posts that say "Go read Piled Higher and Deeper," but, well, Go read Piled Higher and Deeper. This sequence should be mandatory reading for advisors...
A proviso

This is the G'Nort Proviso to Matthew Yglesais' celebrated Green Lantern theory of geopolitics:

Even if it were the case that sheer American willpower was almost infinitely powerful, the distinction between minimal competence and massive incompetence would be more powerful still. Or in general form: at any given level of power generated by sheer will and determination, the distinction between minimal competence and massive competence in the use of that power is more powerful still.