Friday, September 05, 2008

McGill/ GRIPP postdoctoral fellowship

The Departments of Political Science and Philosophy at McGill University and the Groupe de recherche interuniversitaire en philosophie politique de Montréal (GRIPP) will offer one postdoctoral fellowship at McGill in 2009-10. Area of specialization is open within political theory and political philosophy, but we are especially interested in applicants whose research is relevant to one or more of these GRIPP research themes:

1) The history of liberal and democratic thought, especially early modern thought;
2) Moral psychology and political agency, or politics and affect or emotions or rhetoric;
3) Democracy, diversity and pluralism.
4) Democracy, justice, and transnational institutions

Ph.D. must be in hand by 1 September 2009; preference may be given to candidates whose Ph.D.s will be in hand by 15 April 2009. Preference may also be extended to those with a knowledge of French, and to Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

The fellow will be expected to be in residence at McGill for the academic year and to take part in the intellectual life of political theory at McGill and in GRIPP, including regular workshops and conferences. The successful applicant will be assisted in applications for the McGill Tomlinson Postdoctoral Fellowship and for a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship (if eligible) to increase the available stipend.

Please submit CV, writing sample, research statement, graduate transcript, and three letters of recommendation to: GRIPP postdoctoral fellowship, Political Science, McGill University, 855 Sherbrooke St W, Montreal QC H3A 2T7. Review of applications will begin September 15.
Being put on the couch

My friend Todd Seavey-- with whom I have a twenty-year morphing-but-running argument about the relationship between libertarianism and (variously) liberalism and conservatism as systems of ideas, liberalism and conservatism as organized political movements, the American Democratic and Republican parties-- offers an analysis of why I (among other libertarians he knows) certainly won't vote for McCain and will probably vote for Obama. It's odd to see oneself analyzed as a phenomenon, but I do think he's right about me and the Iraq War. I was basically in support of the war, I was wrong, and I give Obama credit for having been right and McCain discredit for seeking to double down on the wrongness. (I've never written a big mea culpa post about it, but Dan Drezner and Belle Waring have written posts that happen to do a very good job of speaking for me-- both in what I was thinking in 2002 and in what I came to think since.)

As far as the Chicago connection goes, there may well be some added comfort on my part with Obama, whom I've never met, because of all the people I know and respect who know and respect him. Sunstein is certainly on that list-- but so are a lot of other people at the University of Chicago Law School whose politics are much closer to Todd's and mine than they are to Cass'.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

POLI 232 announcement

This is an almost-useless place to post this message, but faculty don't have access to the wait list, so I can't do any of the things that would actually make sense like send it to the appropriate students.

As the waitlist is currently configured, when someone drops the course, the top person on the waitlist gets an e-mail inviting him or her to register-- and a window of time in which to do it. If you receive such an e-mail but no longer plan to register for the course, please indicate that as directed. Just ignoring it and taking no action means that the next person on the waitlist can't be invited for the duration of your timer.

Of course, by the same token, if you're enrolled but planning to drop, please drop sooner rather than later out of courtesy to those waiting.

Monday, September 01, 2008


A faithful reader of good taste and sense writes to ask "some serious theoretical questions" about the organization of books on the shelf:

How much should the 16th century be grouped with the 17th century or the 15th? E.g. Hooker, Coke, and King James, who span both, could be on the same shelf as Machiavelli, or as Hobbes and Locke. “Modernity” would then start either with Machiavelli or with the Reformation(s).

Does the eighteenth century end in 1804, when Napoleon is crowned Emperor, or in 1814, when he is finally defeated? It affects the shelf where Bentham is placed, and perhaps others. Fichte I’ve decided is on the nineteenth century section.

I’ve decide that the nineteenth century ends on 1914. I have made no distinction (forgivemerawls!) between pre- and post-1971 twentieth century theory.

I am ambivalent between universalizing American Political Thought (shelving by date) and particularizing it (by giving it its own section. Normatively, I prefer the former, but practically it may be better to have it all in one place. Tocqueville, in any case, is a nineteenth century Frenchman, not an American.

This is exactly my kind of thing-- I'm being asked to elevate my aesthetic preferences-- about books, no less!-- to the level of moral and historical truth. No better appeal to an academic's vanity than that!

And yet my answer is: that way lies madness. There is no truth of the matter here. Filing your personal library is a matter of making predictions about the thought patterns of your future self-- or an attempt to leave clues to that future self about what you did in the past. I've heard of people who shelve books by color (and people have defended it to me, using books that they and I easily know the color of-- "you'll never forget to look for Theory of Justice under blue!"). Seems silly to me, but by that I only mean "I'd be utterly failing my future self by doing that, because I know perfectly well that he won't remember stuff that way."

As for chronology, there's just no winning that game. We have too many works with uncertain dates of composition or publication. We have too many "collected political writings of X" that span decades overlapping in part the "collected political writings of Y." You don't want to split up a given author's works, but do you go chronologically by birthdate, by date of the the author's most important work, or what?

Now if the question were: design an ideal update of Dewey Decimal or LC for other book browsers, and put things into order, then maybe I'd go with a kind of chronology of clusters rather than a chronology of authors or (worse) a chronology of works. My clusters might go, in relevant part:

Thinkers of the Renaissance and Humanism (mainly Italian); thinkers of the Reformation; thinkers of the Counter-Reformation; thinkers associated with the English constitutional struggles up through and including the Civil War; [skipping some unasked-about steps] the French Enlightenment; the Scottish Enlightenment; the American Enlightenment, Revolution, and Founding; the French Revolution up to and including the complete Constant; the Revolution Debates in 1790s England; Kant and early Idealism; Romanticism; classical utilitarianism and classical political economy up to and including the younger Mill; Hegel and the Hegelians up to and including Marx...

But even in the course of writing that list, I've noticed a dozen problematic cases and weird outcomes of doing things that way. So after all, even that can claim no more merit than an attempt to out-think my future self: "If I were me-- and I will be-- where would-will I look for that book?" For my part, my opinion about when the French Revolution ended wouldn't affect where-when I think about Bentham; I put him mainly in a different story. I think of American 18th-century political thought as a story by itself-- but not one that stands apart from an otherwise-unified Plato-to-Rawls canon. It's no more distinct than any of the others partial stories.

I don't use that succession of clusters either, though. The demands I make on my future self are limited to these:

"Is the book pure academic history; positive law; or something else?"
"Is the book a secondary commentary on a primary canonical author named in the title?"
"If so, look alphabetically under the canonical author; if not, look alphabetically under the book's author?"

"Something else" includes all manner of social science, social theory, political theory, and the history of political thought-- so Arendt and Aristotle and Aron, Benhabib and Bentham and Berlin, Habermas and Hampshire and Hardin and Hart and Hayek, Machiavelli and Macintyre and Madison.

Unfortunately, playing the "what will I think then?" game doesn't do any good if what you will think then is "what's the truth of the matter about the era to which Bentham belongs?" But, just this once, I urge you to embrace subjectivism and relativism and reject realism-- if you reject realism forcefully enough now, perhaps you can reach across time and knock the unproductive "truth of the matter" thought right out of your future self's head.