Monday, January 26, 2009

On the Side of Angels symposium: Introduction

This week in this space we'll be having a look at Nancy Rosenblum's important new book, On the Side of Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship.
Political parties are the defining institutions of representative democracy and the darlings of political science. Their governing and electoral functions are among the chief concerns of the field. Yet most political theorists--including democratic theorists--ignore or disparage parties as grubby arenas of ambition, obstacles to meaningful political participation and deliberation. On the Side of the Angels is a vigorous defense of the virtues of parties and partisanship, and their worth as a subject for political theory.

Nancy Rosenblum's account moves between political theory and political science, and she uses resources from both fields to outline an appreciation of parties and the moral distinctiveness of partisanship. She draws from the history of political thought and identifies the main lines of opposition to parties, as well as the rare but significant moments of appreciation. Rosenblum then sets forth her own theoretical appreciation of parties and partisanship. She discusses the achievement of parties in regulating rivalries, channeling political energies, and creating the lines of division that make pluralist politics meaningful. She defends "partisan" as a political identity over the much-vaunted status of "independent," and she considers where contemporary democracies should draw the line in banning parties.

On the Side of the Angels offers an ethics of partisanship that speaks to questions of centrism, extremism, and polarization in American party politics. By rescuing parties from their status as orphans of political philosophy, Rosenblum fills a significant void in political and democratic theory.

Those who read this blog from time to time will know that one recurring issue is the intellectual relationship between political theory and political science, and that I'm constantly urging a view of political theory as within and tied to the social sciences, not only within or tied to philosophy. On the Side of Angels sets a high new standard for what political-theory-with-political science can look like and do. A number of our commentators also do exemplary work at that intersection; and all are terrific and thoughtful scholars whom I'm honored to have on this site for a week!

Our participants are:

Nancy L. Rosenblum, Senator Joseph Clark Professor of Ethics in Politics and Government and chair of the Department of Government at Harvard University, and Vice-President of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy. She is the author of Membership and Morals: The Personal Uses of Pluralism in America , Another Liberalism: Romanticism and the Reconstruction of Liberal Thought, and editor of, among other volumes, the very influential collection Liberalism and the Moral Life. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Patrick Deneen, Markos and Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Chair in Hellenic Studies and Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University. He is the author of The Odyssey of Political Theory (2000) and Democratic Faith (2005), and coeditor of Democracy's Literature. He blogs regularly at What I Saw In America.

Henry Farrell, well-known in the blogosphere from his frequent contributions to Crooked Timber (which pioneered this kind of book event) and The Monkey Cage, is Assistant Professor of Political Science at George Washington University; the author of The Political Economy of Trust: Institutions, Interests and Inter-Firm Cooperation in Italy and Germany, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press; and co-editor (with Dan Drezner of The Political Promise of Blogging, forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press.

Jacob T. Levy, That's me. Just for the sake of completeness within one post, I'll say: I am Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory at McGill University, and the author of The Multiculturalism of Fear.

Mara Marin is Collegiate Assistant Professor of Social Sciences and a member of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago. Her research centers on the status of commitments in politics and political theory.

Andrew Rehfeld is Associate Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Political Theory Workshop at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of The Concept of Constituency: Political Representation, Democratic Legitimacy and Institutional Design and is currently writing a book entitled A General Theory of Political Representation . He made an important and controversial contribution to the political theory/ political science debates with his paper Offensive Political Theory.

Melissa Schwartzberg is Associate Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. Her research centers on the historical origins and normative consequences of rules governing democratic decision-making. Her first book, Democracy and Legal Change (Cambridge, 2007), retrieves and defends the historically salient view that democracies regularly change their laws, while exploring the circumstances under which democracies have enacted immutable rules. She is writing a second book, Counting the Many, on the historical development and justifications of supermajority rules. Democracy and Legal Change was featured, along with Corey Brettschenider's Democratic Rights, in a mutual-critical-exchange in Perspectives on Politics 6(2), June 2008.

Nadia Urbinati is Nell and Herbert M. Singer Professor of Contemporary Civilization in the department of Political Science at Columbia University. She is co-editor of Constellations, and author of Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy (University of Chicago Press 2006), and Mill on Democracy: from the Athenian Polis to Representative Government (University of Chicago Press, 2002; Italian translation by Laterza 2006), which received the David and Elaine Spitz Prize as the best book in liberal and democratic theory published in 2002.)

Welcome to all of you!

The symposium will begin with posts by Rosenblum summarizing a few of the central arguments of On the Side of Angels, so that blog-readers not familiar with the book can take part in the conversation. Several of the commentators will focus on the arguments in those posts, though reference is made to the book as well. I'll be posting the contributions to the symposium between now and Thursday, so that each cluster of posts spends some time as a possible locus of conversation.

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