Saturday, November 03, 2007

Taylor-blogging that doesn't involve the commission

hat-tip Henry: SSRC has created a new scholar-blog: "The immanent frame: secularism, religion, and the public sphere," and it currently features Professor Taylor among others blogging about A Secular Age.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Professional news

I don't do a lot of these kind of posts, but a blogosphere-jurisprudence-Chicago Law combination means this one's too noteworthy to pass up: Brian Leiter from Texas to Chicago.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln...

From time to time we run into the old discussion about academic book reviews: too many puff pieces, too little incentive to be critical when a book calls for it, vs. too high of stakes if (especially) a junior author gets a bad review in a major journal.
Brian Leiter excerpts from a review whose author is... not afraid to say what he thinks.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Today in the Chronicle

One of the better pieces that's been written surveying the controversy around and aftermath of Walt and Mearsheimer's "Israel Lobby" work: "'Waltheimer' on the Hot Seat" by Evan Goldstein.

It includes the following.
That explanation has not satisfied Walt and Mearsheimer's critics, who insist there must be a more-compelling explanation for why two scholars with deeply entrenched intellectual inclinations would push such an argument at this juncture in their careers. And so a parlor game of sorts is under way within the discipline to explain what many find so inexplicable. The theory enjoying the most credence holds that their crusading zeal against the Israel lobby is fueled by lingering resentment from the period leading up to the invasion of Iraq, when Mearsheimer and Walt were high-profile critics of the Bush administration's policy of militarized regime change.

In addition to writing a major article in Foreign Policy decrying the 2003 invasion of Iraq as an "unnecessary war," they published a flurry of op-eds and led the effort to place an open letter in The New York Times with the headline "War With Iraq Is Not in America's National Interest." Yet by all accounts, those efforts barely made a ripple in the broader public conversation. "I think this flummoxed the living hell out of them," says Daniel W. Drezner, an associate professor of international politics at Tufts University. "I think it was inconceivable to them that no one listened."

When asked about that analysis, Mearsheimer concedes that the debate over Iraq policy was "very frustrating." As he rehashes that period, it is evident that he continues to be irritated by the uncivilized terms on which he feels the debate was conducted. "Critics of the war were called all sorts of names — you were called soft on terrorism, you were called an appeaser, you were accused of not being very smart," he says. But both he and Walt emphatically reject the suggestion that Iraq is at the root of their recent work on the Israel lobby.

And Iraq does seem to be only part of the story. Spend some time talking with Mearsheimer and Walt, and it immediately becomes apparent that they are animated by a rather exalted belief in the critical role scholars should play in a democratic society. They use phrases like "speak truth to power" without a hint of irony or self-consciousness. "The reason we have great universities and tenured professors at those universities is to allow those individuals to enter into the marketplace of ideas and engage powerful policy makers," says Mearsheimer. A few weeks later, he adds, "At the high end of the academic enterprise, you should be asking important questions and providing answers to those questions that challenge the conventional wisdom."

It's not at all clear to me that the last paragraph contradicts the Iraq thesis (a thesis I've discussed before). Indeed, I think it emphasizes that thesis. The exalted view of the role (apparently only tenured) professors at great universities should play in a democratic society would only aggravate the sense of frustration that policymakers and the public didn't listen to them in 2002-03. The more sure you are that you're an authority and ought to be listened to, the more baffling and irritating you'll find it when you're not-- and, sometimes, the more you'll go looking for some extraordinary explanation for the anomalous situation that your wisdom wasn't listened to.

Now Walt and Mearsheimer were right to think they were right about the war. But they also seem to be struck with a certain sense of entitlement-- that when they speak truth to power, power will sit up and listen, because they are who they are, and they're right. The failure of power to do so seems to them inexplicable in normal terms. They spoke, loudly, in the run-up to the war; they perceive themselves to have been silenced, because their authority wasn't heeded. And so they went looking for a silencer, and convinced themselves they had found one. And their view that they're still being silenced seems impervious to money, fame, or the prominence of their national and international platform from which to speak.

A couple of other things struck me.
This month, Mearsheimer and Walt depart for Europe, where they will address audiences in Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, and Britain. In London alone, they have events scheduled at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the University of London, and the House of Lords.

I am for some reason terribly amused at the thought of the bien-pensants of Europe turning out to cheer authors whose stated concern is that the United States should pursue its own national security interest more effectively. In any other context, would an American IR realist receive the reception they may well receive? And I wonder whether either the authors or the audiences will notice that oddity if it arises, and what they will tell themselves about it.

Also: on Colbert, Mearsheimer spun the project as one of just looking at a lobbying group among other lobbying groups, as ordinary as the NRA or the AARP. We already know this isn't right; one would study the NRA by studying the NRA, but they study The Israel Lobby by studying AIPAC, and American Jews in the media, and neoconservatives in government, and Jews in think tanks, and Jews in academia... and the fundamentalst Christians who believe odd things about Israel's destiny. But the gap between "just another lobbying group" and the work is exposed here:

Mearsheimer and Walt are quick to acknowledge that realist theory fails to explain the outsize influence of the Israel lobby. "All theories face anomalies," Mearsheimer reasons. "There are always going to be cases that contradict a particular theory; this is true of all social-science theories." With a mixture of defensiveness and reassurance, he adds, "And this case is an anomaly."

He's right that there are always outliers, of course. And funny things sometimes happen when people turn to the study of outliers. If one's own theory doesn't explain the outlier, then one might want to learn some new theories if the outlier is particularly important, rather than engaging in a standardless, disciplineless, methodless inquiry about what makes this Lobby different from all other lobbies. (As I've noted before, there are political scientists who study the effects of domestic lobbying on US foreign policy-making, some of whom have found that AIPAC is decisively important and others of whom have not, and none of whom have been called anti-Semitic for their troubles. But qua realists, M&W aren't in that intellectual business.) But, even if one doesn't, there's something especially odd about then going in front of a general audience, putting on a "who, me?" face, and denying that you're treating the Israel Lobby as anything out of the ordinary.

Monday, October 29, 2007

News of the day

Canadian dollar tops $US 1.05, highest level since 1960, up 22% since January.
CFP: Political Hebraism

Political Hebraism: Jewish Sources in the History of Political Thought
Conference at Princeton University
September 7-9, 2008

Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thinkers -- philosophers, scholars, statesmen, theologians, and rabbis -- have historically drawn ideas with political import from the Hebrew Bible and from talmudic and later rabbinic writings. The derivation of political thought from the Hebrew Bible and later Hebrew sources coexisted and continues to coexist with better-known Greek, Roman, European, and Anglo-American traditions. As such, the Hebraic political tradition, broadly defined, constitutes an integral if understudied component of the history and legacy of Western political thought. The 2008 conference on political Hebraism invites proposals that examine various aspects of this Hebraic political tradition, including analyses and appropriations of elements of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish textual tradition in the history of political thought as well as constructive evaluations of some of their central ideas

While other submissions will be considered, we especially invite proposals that address the following topics:

Origins and Ends of Political Society
Thinkers with widely ranging understandings of the origins and ends of the political order have drawn on Hebraic sources: Some have looked to contractual agreements, and others believed the political order was divinely ordained. Whether the ultimate goal of politics was conceived as concord or salvation, these understandings could be grounded in Hebraic sources.

Papers in this section will examine such questions within the Jewish tradition as: To what extent is politics a response to human nature? Does the polity have a divine or messianic end, or does it serve the ends of its members or human society? To what extent is political virtue valued, and of what does it consist? Papers should also consider whether questions such as these arise within the Jewish tradition or outside it. These questions may be addressed with direct reference to Jewish texts, or it may explore how the tradition has been pressed into service to deal with them.

Monarchy and Republicanism
Questions surrounding political regimes -- which is preferable? how do they evolve? what are the roles of the key players? -- are issues central to Greek political philosophy; similarly, the question of which regime is preferable is often addressed within the Jewish tradition. To what extent is monarchy Judaism's preferred regime? Is there an essential nature to biblical monarchy as it was discussed and established? Is the Jewish tradition concerned with actual regimes and the mechanics of politics, or do these discussions tend to be symbolic? What is the role of the scholar-king within the Judaic tradition? Is there a relationship between philosophy and government within this tradition?

Papers in this section may represent the authors' own understandings and interpretations of the political thought of Hebrew sources as these address political regimes. Alternatively, papers may examine reliance on Hebrew sources by political thinkers throughout history.

Since the modern nation-state began dominating European politics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, appeals to the Hebraic tradition and allusions to the people of Israel have become increasingly commonplace in political thought. Questions of nations and nationhood have recently regained prominence in political discourse, and there is now frequent talk of a "post-national world." Can Hebraic sources contribute to this debate? If so, is their contribution comparable to their place in the early-modern analyses and defense of the emergent modern state and new conceptions of the nation?

Papers may address the nation in Jewish thought or the Hebrew nation as it was taken to be a model for other nations in history; they may also develop or propose theories of the nation rooted in Hebraic sources

Law and Constitutionalism
It has been widely asserted -- at least since the New Testament missionary writings of St. Paul -- that the Jewish tradition is distinctly identifiable by its focus on the law. Those who valued as well as those who derogated the Jewish tradition often characterized it in this manner. To what extent is Jewish law political law? How within this tradition do the laws of the political system relate to religious laws? Is consent a necessary attribute of Judaic constitutionalism? Is there a relationship between contemporary jurisprudence and Hebraic -- biblical as well as rabbinic -- understandings of the "rule of law"? Does the Judaic legal tradition permit or even invite an interplay between positive and divine law? To what extent do theorists and jurisprudential scholars -- ranging from Grotius, Selden, and the authors of The Federalist to Robert Cover and perhaps even H.L.A. Hart and Ronald Dworkin -- who have incorporated Hebraic legal notions into their analyses of ! We! ! stern legal systems, succeed in transplanting Hebraic conceptions into new contexts? Where might Jewish conceptions of law provide alternative perspectives in discussions of legal issues today?

Theories of Justice
Greek political thought arguably begins with a search for justice rather than with the concern for order that may be said to characterize Hebraic political thought in the biblical period. How and how much is the Jewish political tradition concerned with justice? Is there a recapturable conception of justice that is peculiar to political Hebraism? In periods when Jewish rather than Greek and Roman texts served as sources for political thought, what if any alternatives to the classical notions of justice were found in the Jewish tradition?

Papers may address biblical ideas or ideals of justice broadly conceived, the idea of justice propounded by any rabbi or group of rabbis, or theories of justice that purport to draw from the Jewish textual tradition. Alternatively, papers may propose distinctively Hebraic theories of justice or compare Jewish and Greek and/or Roman, Christian, Muslim, Eastern, and Western thought on these and related matters

The Individual and the Collective
The relationship between the individual and the collective is among the most evident concerns that distinguish modern political regimes and ideologies from one another and from pre-modern forms of governance. How does the Hebraic tradition conceive of this relationship? Is there a single, unifying understanding of the individual-collective relationship in the various forms of Jewish political organization -- kahal, kehilla, and goy, for instance?

The Jewish textual tradition can be studied as a body of texts, coherent or not, just as the Bible may be conceived as a single book, but none of this can be taken as self-evident. By the same token, neither can readings of the Bible and of the Jewish textual tradition be offered as parts of the same field without encountering and contravening disciplinary conventions.

Papers in this section will pose and address methodological obstacles to the study of political Hebraism, proposing solutions and ideas that will assist scholars in the field.

Proposals, each including a 300-500-word abstract and a short letter of introduction, should be sent by e-mail to no later than December 15, 2007. It is presumed that all papers presented at the conference will also be submitted for publication in Hebraic Political Studies, subject to double-blind review. Authors should state their intentions with regard to publication in their initial proposals. Authors of papers accepted for presentation will be notified by February 1, 2008. Complete drafts of these papers should be submitted for distribution to conference participants by May 15, 2008.

Scholars and students whose papers are accepted for presentation, or who are invited to participate in the conference as discussants or panel chairs, will be offered financial support that will allow their participation. Acceptance of this support will entail a commitment to participate in the entire conference.

For more information, contact:
Meirav Jones
Associate Editor, Hebraic Political Studies
Managing Director, Institute for Philosophy, Politics and Religion
The Shalem Center
Perestroika and the Israel Lobby

This article [via] about political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita includes a brief overview of the Perestroika movement in APSA, and reminds me how prominent among the Petestroikans were... Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer. At this point I find it a little odd to see both (or either!) of them mentioned in an article that's not at all about The Lobby-- which is of course unfortunate.

I wonder what there is to say about the path from Perestroika to The Israel Lobby. I think that there's something; I don't think this is mere coincidence. But I'm not sure what that something should be. There are cheap things that could be said about rigor, but I don't think they're the right things to say-- and, after all, while I'm no Perestroikan, I'm certainly not a rigorous scientist by BBdM's lights either. (I also don't think that the connection is to be found in M&W's ostensible martyrdom for free speech and intellectual openness about the Lobby, likened to the Perestroikan struggle for openness back then, though perhaps they think so.)

Something to puzzle over. Readers who can squint just right and see what the relationship is between M&W 2001 and M&W 2007 are encouraged to let me know.