Monday, December 13, 2010

Princeton Graduate Conference in Political Theory

Graduate Conference in Political Theory
Princeton University
April 8-9, 2011

The Committee for the Graduate Conference in Political Theory at Princeton University welcomes papers concerning any period, methodological approach or topic in political theory, political philosophy, or the history of political thought. Approximately eight papers will be accepted.

Each session, led by a discussant from Princeton, will be focused exclusively on one paper and will feature an extensive question and answer period with Princeton faculty and students. Papers will be pre-circulated among conference participants.

The keynote address will be given by Professor Patchen Markell of the University of Chicago.

Submissions are due via email to by Monday, January 10th, 2011. Please limit your paper submission to 7500 words and format it for blind review (the text should include your paper's title but be free of other personal and institutional information). Only graduate students who will be enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the time of the conference may submit papers; papers from post-doctoral students will not be accepted. Papers will be refereed by current graduate students in the Department of Politics at Princeton. Acceptance notices will be sent in February.

Assistance for invited participants' transportation, lodging, and meal expenses will be provided by the committee, which acknowledges the generous support of the Department of Politics, the University Center for Human Values, and the Graduate School of Princeton University.

More information is available at Questions and comments can be directed to:

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Department of unintended consequences

Bicycle locks endangering health of McGill’s most vulnerable trees
The tree in question, a 10-year-old magnolia acuminata, stands in front of the Macdonald-Harrington Building. It’s not much to look at, standing barely 10 feet tall, with a few spindly branches at its uppermost reaches – branches that carry fewer and fewer leaves in the summer months.
The tree, a protected species in North America and the only one of its kind on McGill’s lower campus, is dying. And it’s not dying of disease or as a result of an infestation of some exotic bug. Ironically, it’s being killed by cyclists.
With the greening of lower campus, more people are riding their bikes to McGill and the extra two-wheel traffic means crowded bike racks. The University is in the process of doubling the number of bike racks on lower campus from 1,200 to 2,4000. Nevertheless, some cyclists insist on chaining their rides to anything that doesn’t move, including fences, signposts, wheelchair access ramps – and small trees.
The problem with the latter is twofold. First, the constant rubbing and banging of locks, chains, pedals and pointy derailleurs cut into the protective bark, leaving the tree susceptible to disease, fungi and insects. It also impairs the flow of sap, which usually runs just below he surface of the bark.
Second, the relentless traffic of people and bikes at the base of the tree tamps down the soil, compacting it and making it more difficult for the roots to absorb water – another hindrance to the healthy flow of sap.
With its vital supply line of sap in an increasingly compromised state, the magnolia tree is literally withering to the point where its trunk at bike level is significantly thinner than it is higher up the tree (see photo). It is slowly strangling to death.
“This tree has almost stopped growing,” said Champagne. “It should be twice as large as it is now. And it’s a shame because in Canada this is a fairly rare tree.”
The situation is compounded because cyclists are locking their bikes to smaller trees all around campus, including just inside the Milton Gates.
As a result, a generation of smaller, less robust trees is increasingly at risk of developing serious problems.

Gee, I wonder why bicycles are being inappropriately and excessively crowded just inside the Milton Gates?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Compare and contrast

Does Canada lack global ambition?
"We don’t have enough time on task, we don’t have enough days in the year, we don’t have enough hours in the day. We don’t have enough emphasis on science and math. We don’t have a high enough standard for literacy, an encouragement for people to be literate and numerate when they graduate. The people [teachers] who perform the most precious job in our society and economy are not rewarded for success nor punished for failure.

So mediocrity is protected and excellence is not rewarded. At the university level, I think we have high quality institutions but again I would say that we tend to be very constrained by collective agreements. Fewer and fewer days in the year are actually spent teaching."

University considers cutting semesters from 13 weeks to 12
SSMU VP Abaki pushes for the change, arguing that McGill students work harder than their peers

The McGill administration is currently considering a number of changes to the university's academic calendar, including a proposal to shorten the lengths of the fall and winter semesters by reducing the number of hours students are in contact with their professors.

Standard McGill classes currently give students three hours of contact with instructors per week for 13 weeks, for a total of 39 hours per semester. The proposal, which is being considered by the Working Group on Calendars and Dates, a subgroup of McGill Senate's Committee on Enrolment and Student Affairs, would reduce the required number of contact hours to 36 per semester.

Students' Society Vice-President University Affairs Joshua Abaki has pushed for the changes, arguing that McGill students must work harder than their peers at other universities. According to Abaki, McGill is the only member of the G-13—a group of research-focused universities in Canada—that requires 39 hours.


It may be of interest here to note that McGill's faculties are not unionized.

Concerning the astonishing student complaint that they are getting too much teaching for their dollar, it is perhaps also worth noting that in-province tuition for Quebec universities is far lower than equivalent tuition is at other G13 universities.

"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value." Thomas Paine.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


The idea is rapidly spreading that a ban on earmarks doesn't affect spending, since earmarks are a way of distributing what's already been appropriated.

This is just true enough to be clever, and marks the speaker as being more sophisticated than those Tea Party rubes. But it's basically false, for three reasons.

First, it is more expensive to do things inefficiently than to do things efficiently. Building the Ted Stevens Bridge To Nowhere or the Robert Byrd Gold-Plated NORAD Auxiliary High Command Of West Virginia means that money has simply been wasted, and that all the needs that weren't met this year will arise again next year. If the real needs exert at least some pull on appropriations levels, then wasting money rather than spending it wisely at time 1 does affect appropriations at time 2. The U.S. gets very bad value per dollar of federal infrastructure spending, in part because earmarks screw up the ability to prioritize projects. That doesn't increase the appropriations at time 1; but it does tend to drive them up in every later year. Similarly, when earmarks keep alive weapons systems that the Pentagon wants to cancel, because the defense appropriators in Congress view the defense budget as a jobs program, the Pentagon shrugs its shoulders and increase its request the following year; it's not going to let the wasteful jobs-program part of the budget displace its own military priorities.

Second, bills often emerge out of House-Senate committees with higher appropriations levels that have the express aim of smoothing passage with earmarks.

But third, and most important: the earmarking members of Congress are the same people who set the appropriations level. And by this I don't only mean that they're members of the House and Senate; I mean that they're powerful members of the relevant committees. Ted Stevens and Robert Byrd took turns chairing the Senate Appropriations Committee. The knowledge that they were going to have a chance to start shoveling pork a little bit later in the process affected how much they appropriated at the beginning.

The idea that earmarks don't affect spending levels rests on a crazy image of how appropriations levels are set. We don't have one set of legislators who are dispassionate, disinterested judges of how much money needs to be allocated, who are then later on replaced by a bunch of grubby politicos deciding how to divvy up the spoils. Neither do we have legislators who, during their initial appropriations deliberations, somehow forget that earmarking comes later. Instead, we have normal human legislators throughout, responding to their incentives and environment. It would take a kind of saintly self-denial for them not to increase the initial size of the pool knowing that they were going to get a chance to give themselves a share later on.

Republican earmark supporters have been saying that abolishing earmarks transfers allocation authority to the dreaded Obama Administration. Well, yes. And if you tell a bunch of Republican legislators to decide how much money to give to the Obama administration to allocate, they'll come up with a smaller number than if you tell them to come up with an amount for them to divide up among themselves to allocate. Indeed the same holds true for members of the President's own party.

Earmarks aren't themselves a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, and abolishing them entirely would only make a tiny dent in the deficit. But they do indeed affect appropriations-- and my hunch is that they affect appropriations for more than their actual cash value, because they create a system that attracts appropriators like Byrd and Stevens, who err on the side of spending too much to make sure there's enough to go around.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Remember, remember!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

SPEP Meeting, Montreal, November 4-6

The Society for Phenomenology and Existential PhilosophyANnual Meeting will be held in Montreal, November 4-6. The meeting is supported by SSHRC, McGill's Dean of Arts Development Fund, the Department of Philosophy of McGill University, and by the Université de Montréal.

The program is here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Responding to Sandy Levinson

Levinson asks:
PBS reports that the cost of rescuing the 33 trapped Chilean miners was $10-20 million. A third apparently came from private donations, with the rest from a mix of the state-owned copper company in charge of the effort and the government of Chile itself. Every American law student is told that there is, in the United States, no "duty to rescue." It is, of course, just such a notion of "good Samaritanism" that is the foundation of the welfare state, in which haves see their funds redistributed to have-nots lest the latter end up starving or freezing on the streets or watching their houses burn down because they can't afford to pay the user fee to the local fire department....

I've done a quick check of recent entries to the Volokh Conspiracy, which I take it is the leading collection of libertarians in the legal academy, and I notice that none of them saw the rescue as worthy of comment. Might it be too threatening for, say, David Bernstein, who announced his forthcoming talk to the Federalist Society (with a comment to follow by Jack Balkin) on his new book that attempts to rehabilitate Lochner, to admit that at least sometimes there is a role for the "rescuing state," which, almost by definition, must take from those who have in order to provide for those who don't? Or is there an ostensible "public purpose" in rescuing miners that doesn't cover, say, supplying medical care to children or food or shelter, among other things, to hungry infants or persons at the other end of the life cycle who, say, saw their savings wiped out by an economic collapse?

I answer:

I propose to treat the state as a morally contingent form of social organization that is nonetheless pervasive in the world we inhabit and in any world we can reasonably imagine in the medium-term future.

If we do so, one consequence is that we should view state officials as wielding a great deal of power in our social world that is probably not justified all the way down. States did not come about by individualist contractualist consent; they are not the institutional form of morally foundational nations; religious, hereditary, and customary forms of legitimation may remain sociologically credible in some places but are surely not morally well-grounded accounts of the justifications for the organized use of violence. Yet states are such well-entrenched features of the political landscape that, if can constrains ought at all, we are probably not morally obligated to abolish the state form in favor of some other form of political organization or in favor of anarchy of any description. We must morally make the best of them, making do with what we have.

In a world filled with states, officeholders and officials should view themselves as having political responsibility as analyzed by Weber, which is much like [David] Miller’s remedial responsibility. They wield power that is not morally legitimated by its origins; the power exists because of morally neutral historical and social accidents. What remains is moral responsibility for what is done with the power.

State officials then confront a world in which their authority gives them unusual power over outcomes. In a world full of drowning children, they are unusually likely to have access to life preservers. As Miller stresses, it is important not to view the world as always only made up of drowning children; we must also be able to see ourselves as partly responsible for the creation of our circumstances, our social worlds, and our outcomes. But even with that caveat in mind, there are drowning children enough to go around. Miller draws on Virginia Held’s (1970) famous argument that a random collection of individuals can be held morally responsible, to suggest that if they can, surely more substantial collectives like nations can be. But Held’s “random collection” shouldn’t be passed by so quickly; it is a serviceable shorthand for the reality of fellow-citizenship in a modern state, who make up a random collection of individuals who happen to be socially organized in a particular, contingent but powerful, way.

The state’s first duty, the prevention of interpersonal violence, follows more or less straightforwardly from the kind of social organization that the state is: the agency that is able to claim and enforce a local monopoly on the legitimate initiation of force. Not all forms of political organization have been like that, and the responsibilities of officeholders under them differed accordingly. But the ability to prevent private violence is constitutive of the modern state, which just for that reason acquires a responsibility to do so in accordance with the background moral rights of persons to be free from violence. Similarly, it acquires a responsibility to protect against theft and against aggression from outside its boundaries. It has displaced all other possible protectors; it has both the greatest ability and (due to its own actions) the only ability to defend against force; and so it bears the responsibility to do so.

Orthodox libertarianism would hold that this first responsibility (understood to include the prevention of private theft, not only personal violence) also more or less exhausts the state’s responsibilities. But the creation of the social technology that can protect against internal and external violence—for example, the creation of a professional body of armed men trained for coordinated action and a financial apparatus that can support that body—means that there is a significant concentration of physical and fiscal power on hand. And there may well be an overprovision of that power, since an underprovision is irresponsible and generates political pressure for state actors to fulfill their duties, and “just right” provision at the level that would keep police and armed forces working at precisely their whole capacity would be an astronomically unlikely coincidence. Then, unavoidably, the slack in the system provides the state and state actors with situations in which they have a unique capacity to prevent or mitigate harms and suffering. The police force created to prevent crimes also has the ability to respond to car crashes. The public fisc created to fund an army also has the ability to feed the starving. I am sure that there is no morally decent way to insist that the police officer refuse in principle to aid people in danger even if the danger wasn’t caused by crime, even though that means that the taxpayers will be involuntarily funding some use of the officer’s time that is not connected to rights-protection, even if the resulting situation is a violation of the best understanding of taxpayers’ property rights. Nor will it just be a matter of the personal benevolence of the police officer who wants to be free to prevent non-criminal harms while on the clock. If capacity and proximity can generate outcome-responsibility, then it can be the officer’s responsibility to act—and, accordingly, the responsibility of the state of which the officer is an agent.
Once the public fisc can prevent non-criminal harms indirectly, by paying its personnel to do so, it is a difficult distinction to maintain that it may not prevent them directly, by, e.g., feeding the hungry. Indeed, the distinction is probably an impossible one, and so all non-autocracies will end by being in the business of distribution (Dahl 1993). Once states are distributing benefits—and even physical protection is a benefit about which distributive decisions are made, as is perfectly evident when looking at the geographic unevenness of police protection in all countries—they face moral constraints about how and to whom they should be distributed. That is, there are problems of political redistributive justice, even if redistribution is not in itself demanded by justice.

I do not suppose that these brief remarks will persuade my fellow libertarians that they ought to abandon their views on redistributive spending. But perhaps they will agree that the police officer on duty has a responsibility (and not just the responsibility borne by any natural person) to aid the drowning child, even though doing so is a drain on taxpayer resources that is not for the sake of the prevention of interpersonal rights-violations, even though doing so provides a kind of subsidized in-kind insurance against misfortunes that are not injustices. The subsidy is not itself a demand of libertarian justice but of public responsibility conditional on the fact of public power; but once the subsidy exists, it is constrained by concerns about justice. A state could not justifiably intentionally deploy police differentially according to the race of the children likely to be at risk of drowning.

(From Levy, "National and Statist Responsibility," Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Volume 11, Issue 4 December 2008 , pages 485 - 499.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The pamphlet

I think this has the potential to be very big news in our little corner of the world, though it won't feel like it until the first uptake from a university press. From the press release:
Less than 10,000 words or more than 50,000: that is the choice writers have generally faced for more than a century--works either had to be short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the "heft" required for book marketing and distribution. But in many cases, 10,000 to 30,000 words (roughly 30 to 90 pages) might be the perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated--whether it's a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event.

Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch "Kindle Singles"--Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today's announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.

For academics in the liberal arts, the options have been more like "less than 10,000 or more than 70,000"-- monographs don't typically weigh in at 50,000 words. But everyone knows that what Henry Farrell says is true: many of those 80,000 word books would have been better as 25,000 word extra-sized articles.

Presumably, the reason we don't have physical pamphlets published is because they don't make economic sense, and presumably that will continue to be the case.

But imagine what happens the first time a university press says it will publish-- "direct to digital," as it were-- peer-reviewed contributions in that 10-30,000 word range.

Departments, disciplines, and universities that draw very sharp distinctions between articles and books ("one book for tenure, two for full")

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Research Assistance wanted

Ad here for McGill undergraduate RAs.

Monday, October 04, 2010

What I've been reading: A promissory note

Once grant/fellowship/job application/recommendation season is over, I owe posts on three excellent books, one each from political theory, political philosophy, and political science:

Bryan Garsten, Saving Persuasion: A Defense of Rhetoric and Judgment
Avery Kolers, Land, Conflict, and Justice: A Political Theory of Territory
James Scott: The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia

Garsten's and Kolers' books are immediate additions to my list for graduate students: "You want to aspire to write a dissertation that could, after a few years of post-PhD work, turn into something like that." In addition to their many substantive merits, they're each in very different ways exemplary in size and scope. They show how much can be accomplished with a well-defined project. They're each big and ambitious projects, going after fundamental questions in novel ways; and they each articulate and defend a sufficiently clear and interesting position that they can make real progress on those big questions within a few hundred pages.

Scott's book is of a different order of magnitude. It will take further reflection to feel confident of this, but I think it's the most important political science book of the 2000s of which I'm aware. I think political theorists aren't rushing to it the way we did to his earlier Seeing Like A State, but I recommend it to all those who appreciated that book-- or, for that matter, to those who appreciated Rousseau's Second Discourse, or Smith's Lectures on Jurisprudence, or Ferguson's Civil Society.

There are others to whom I'll be recommending it in a more antagonistic spirit-- not, "here, you'll appreciate this!" but rather, "here, you really need to read and understand this because it will correct your errors!" But that will have to wait for the real post.

Monday, September 27, 2010

On Scott and Hayek

Welcome, Marginal Revolution readers. The essay to which Tyler refers in his post is here, at Cato Unbound. But as long as you're here, I'd like to refer you to this article of mine (an ungated version is available here) which is about pluralism and rationalism in the liberal tradition-- and how the distinction between them crosscuts that between market and welfare liberalism, and thus there's a dimension along which we can think about Scott's and Hayek's similarity without denying their differences.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A problematic entry in the continuing series

A loyal reader points me to this bizarre story in which a Kentucky man is claiming caffeine intoxication as a defense against murder. Apparently there is some (but slim) precedent for this.

Counterpoint: he's claiming that his caffeine sources were "sodas, energy drinks and diet pills." I've never endorsed energy drinks or diet pills, and distrust the thought that caffeine is the only relevant ingredient in them.

Counter-counterpoint: "Reports and case records say that during that time, he was drinking five or six soft drinks and energy drinks a day, along with taking diet pills; it all added up to more than 400 milligrams of caffeine daily. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — the American Psychiatric Association's guidebook for the classification of mental disorders — defines a caffeine overdose as more than 300 mg."

If 400 mg of caffeine provides a legal defense against a murder charge, then I've been entitled to at least two, usually three kills a day for years now. I'm starting my list for this afternoon right now.
Seeing Like A State, Seeing Like A Market

I add my two cents to the Cato Unbound forum on Seeing Like A State.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Of McGill-only interest: Bicycles

Over the summer, bicycling was forbidden on McGill's central campus. I wrote a letter of objection, mainly reproduced below, and was assured that ongoing discussions about possible revisions were possible in the fall.

The decision to begin the school year with a lengthy article in the official McGill Reporter quoting at length from an administration official dismissing all objections annoys me and seems not to signal an interest in ongoing conversation. Significantly, there's no mention of the fact that McGill is built on the southern face of a mountain which has a real effect on how useful it is to tell people to bike around campus in an east-west direction rather than through it. So I hereby make my letter an open one.


I am writing to urge that bicycle-riding be allowed on parts of the lower downtown campus. I recommend that one bicycle lane be opened between the University Ave. gate and tghe bicycle racks at Leacock; one between the University Ave. gate and the McTavish gate; and one up McTavish Ave.

The shift to a bike-free lower campus on May 28th unnecessarily discourages bicycling, and so is in direct tension with the aims of the Greening project. The east-west distance across campus (say, University to Peel) is considerably longer than the usual distance between bike parking and destination, and long enough to provide a real deterrent to biking to and from campus. Sherbrooke is an unsafe alternative for the east-west route; Dr. Penfield is one-way; and Dr. Penfield and Pine both involve such steep ascents at least one direction to also discourage biking.

There's an aesthetic problem that's already becoming apparent, too. Just as McGill has finished the renovations beautifying the University Ave. entrance to campus, it's become a bicycle parking lot. It's overcrowded even now, outside the school year. I understand that there are plans in the works for double-stacking racks that might alleviate the overcrowding (though probably not enough to solve the problem once the school year begins). But that will only make the aesthetic problem worse. What should be a signature view of campus is going to be significantly diminished, because the vast majority of bicycle parking for campus is being concentrated unnecessarily in that one spot.

The stated objective of the policy is pedestrian safety. I don't know how many bicyclist-pedestrian collisions there have been on lower campus in past years. But in past years, lower campus was also crowded with cars. Roads that are wide enough for a lane of traffic and two lanes of parking, with sidewalks alongside them, are now mainly empty of cars. It seems, at the very least, premature to assume that with all that space freed up, pedestrians and cyclists could not coexist-- at any time of day, at any time of year. I suspect that one bicycle lane could always be open, safely, on those roads. A bicycle lane could obviously be open, safely, during non-peak times: outside the academic year; weekends; outside business and class hours on weekdays.

There is a lingering worry about biking on lower campus that dates from non-McGill people using campus to fill in a gap on the city bike paths, as a shortcut between University Ave. and downtown. That worry might be now out-of-date, since the University Ave. bike path has been extended south. But in case not, I think it would be reasonable to require dismounting at the Sherbrooke entrance, and not allow biking on the road that extends McGill College Ave. into campus (the trunk of the Y, as it were).

There are many possible permutations of where and when. But that is part of my point; we proceeded immediately to the most draconian possibility at the same time that auto traffic was removed from lower campus and McTavish. It seems to me absurd not to at least experiment with safe coexistence on all this newly-auto-free real estate.


One final update comment: there is an inconsistent account being given about changes to pedestrian behavior. "As the campus becomes more pedestrian friendly, incluyding the conversion of most of McTavish Street to a pedestrian zone, more and more people will feel increasingly free to walk all over the roadways, [Associate Vice-Principal Jim Nicell] said." So pedestrians are assumed to be highly responsive to one change: no cars. But it's assumed that their walking all over the roadways would be completely unresponsive to the existence of bicycles or a painted bicycle lane on those roadways-- and, of course, that bicyclists would also be unresponsive to lanes and rules less draconian than a ban. The following:

"Perhaps once people are accustomed to the new situation, it may be possible to explore some flexibility with specific hours when people might be permitted to cycle through the campus. It's too early to say when or even if that could happen."

is especially bizarre. To the degree that people get accustomed to the new situation, it will become harder to reintroduce bicycles, because new habits and norms will have developed around the status quo. The way that you let habits and norms of coexistence develop is by allowing coexistince, at least sometimes.

The official FAQ says:
McGill has had a number of pedestrian injuries reported in recent years due to collisions with cyclists. Once pedestrians become accustomed to the reduced amount of vehicular traffic on campus, we believe the risk of such injuries would increase, should cyclists be permitted to circulate as in the past.

This suggests a) that the "ongoing discussion" claim is a stall, and that in a matter of weeks or months we'll hear that the new status quo is irreversible because pedestrian behavior has changed so much, but b) that pedestrian behavior can change only once.

Oh, and one final annoyance: "the fairly minor inconvenience to cyclists of having to walk a few metres." The distance from, say, the Milton gates to Bronfman or the various centres on Peel is more than half a kilometer. That's not an epic forced march or anything. But the rhetorical dismissal of bikers' concerns with "a few metres" is false and rude.

Update: Open forum this Thursday, Shatner building, 3:30-5.

Call for applications: The Groupe de recherche interuniversitaire en philosophie politique de Montréal (GRIPP), spanning the departments of political science and philosophy at McGill University, l'Université de Montréal, Concordia University, and l'Université du Québec à Montréal, invites applications for its 2011 manuscript workshop award. The recipient of the award will be invited to Montreal for a day-long workshop in April 2011 dedicated to his or her book manuscript. This "author meets critics" workshop will comprise four to five sessions dedicated to critical discussion of the manuscript; each session will begin with a critical commentary on a section of the manuscript by a political theorist or philosopher who is part of Montreal's GRIPP community. The format is designed to maximize feedback for a book-in-progress. The award covers the costs of travel, accommodation, and meals.


A. Topic: The manuscript topic is open within political theory and political philosophy, but we are especially interested in manuscripts related to at least one 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.

B. Manuscript: Book manuscripts in English or French, not yet in a version accepted for publication, by applicants with PhD in hand by 1 August 2010, are eligible. Applicants must have a complete or nearly complete draft (at least 4/5 of final draft) ready to present at the workshop. In the case of co-authored manuscripts, only one of the co-authors is eligible to apply. (Only works in progress by the workshop date are eligible; authors with a preliminary book contract are eligible only if no version has been already accepted for publication).

C. Application: Please submit the following materials electronically, compiled as a single PDF file: 1) a curriculum vitae; 2) a table of contents; 3) a short abstract of the book project, up to 200 words; 4) a longer book abstract up to 2500 words; and, in the case of applicants with previous book publication(s), (5) three reviews, from established journals in the field, of the applicant's most recently published monograph. Candidates are not required to, but may if they wish, submit two letters of recommendation speaking to the merits of the book project. Please do not send writing samples. Send materials by email, with the subject heading “2011 GRIPP Manuscript Workshop Award” to Arash Abizadeh . Review of applications begins 10 January 2011. Contact Arash Abizadeh with questions.

Previous GRIPP Manuscript Workshops:
April 2010: Hélène Landemore (Yale), Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many
April 2009: Alan Patten (Princeton), Equal Recognition: The Moral Foundations of Minority Cultural Rights
March 2009: Kinch Hoekstra (UC Berkeley), Thomas Hobbes and the Creation of Order



Appel à candidature: Le groupe de recherche interuniversitaire en philosophie politique de Montréal (GRIPP), qui réunit des chercheurs des départements de science politique et de philosophie de l’Université McGill, de l’Université de Montréal, de l’Université Concordia et de l’Université du Québec à Montréal, fait un appel à candidature pour son prix 2011 de l’atelier de manuscrit. Le lauréat sera invité à Montréal en avril 2011 pour un atelier d’une journée complète consacré au manuscrit de son livre. Cet atelier du type « l’auteur rencontre ses critiques » comprendra quatre ou cinq séances de discussions critiques sur le manuscrit ; pour chacune d’entre elles, un spécialiste de théorie politique ou un philosophe membre de la communauté montréalaise du GRIPP lancera la discussion par un commentaire critique d’une des sections du manuscrit. Ceci a pour but de faciliter les échanges sur un livre en chantier. Le prix couvre les dépenses de voyage, d’hébergement et de repas.

Éligibilité :

A- Sujet : De façon générale, le manuscrit doit traiter de théorie politique ou de philosophie politique, mais nous sommes tout particulièrement intéressés aux manuscrits qui correspondent à l’une des thématiques de recherche du GRIPP : 1) l’histoire de la pensée libérale et démocratique, et notamment du début de la pensée moderne; 2) la psychologie morale du sujet (ou encore de l’agent) politique, ainsi que la politique et les affects, les émotions ou la rhétorique; 3) la démocratie, la diversité et le pluralisme; 4) la démocratie, la justice et les institutions transnationales.

B- Manuscrit : Sont éligibles tous les manuscrits de livres en français ou en anglais, non encore publiés et non en version acceptée par une maison de presses, et dont l’auteur a reçu un doctorat avant le 1er août 2010. Les candidats devront avoir une version complète, ou presque (au moins 4/5e de la version finale), à présenter à l’atelier. Pour ce qui concerne les manuscrits coécrits, seul l’un des coauteurs est éligible.

C- Soumission : Vous voudrez bien fournir les documents suivants, en format électronique, dans un seul fichier PDF : 1) un curriculum vitae; 2) une table des matières; 3) un court résumé du projet du livre de moins de 200 mots; 4) un résumé plus long, de moins de 2 500 mots; et, dans le cas de candidats ayant déjà publié, 5) trois recensions parues dans des revues spécialisées et reconnues dans le domaine de la plus récente monographie publiée. Les candidats peuvent, s’ils le souhaitent, joindre deux lettres de recommandation présentant l’intérêt de leur projet de livre. Nous vous prions de ne pas envoyer d’extraits de manuscrit. Envoyez ces documents par courriel, avec le sujet « 2011 GRIPP Manuscript Workshop Award » à Arash Abizadeh . L’examen des candidatures commencera le 10 janvier 2011. Pour toute information supplémentaire, veuillez contacter Dominique Leydet

Derniers lauréats du prix :
Avril 2010: Hélène Landemore (Yale), Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many
Avril 2009: Alan Patten (Princeton), Equal Recognition: The Moral Foundations of Minority Cultural Rights
Mars 2009: Kinch Hoekstra (UC Berkeley), Thomas Hobbes and the Creation of Order

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What I will be reading: APSA Shopping list

Starting up my annual book shopping list for APSA. Here's what I already know I'll be looking for. Suggestions in comments for other new or new-ish books I should be on the lookout for welcome. (Read: Plug away, or talk about what you're excited about, or correct and instruct my tastes even if it won't do any good!)

During APSA I'll be solidly mid-move-- my office should be partly packed up by then, but my new office won't yet have its bookcases. So don't expect to see me walking around APSA with my customary huge bags of books; I think the better part of valor will be to have them shipped so I can just leave them boxed up until I move!

Inevitably I won't get some of these. The publishers oddly insist on bringing political science books to the political science convention, instead of bringing precisely the combination of political science, philosophy, history, law, and economics that I want to buy...


Sigal Ben-Porath, Tough Choices: Structured Paternalism and the Landscape of Choice

Bergin et. al., eds., The Eighteenth-Century Composite State: Representative Institutions in Ireland and Europe, 1689-1800 Palgrave

Condillac, Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship, Liberty Fund

Joshua Cohen, Philosophy, Politics, Democracy: Selected Essays, HUP

Joshua Cohen, Rousseau, OUP

Ann Ferguson and Mechthild Nagel, eds., Dancing With Iris: The Philosophy of Iris Marion Young

Axel Honneth, The Pathologies of Individual Freedom: Hegel's Social Theory, PUP

Alan Houston, Benjamin Franklin and the Politics of Improvement, YUP

Jonathan Israel, A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy, PUP

Kauna Mantena, Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism, PUP

Avishai Margalit, On Compromise and Rottehn Compromises, PUP

John Marshall, John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture, CUP

Robert Molesworth, An Account of Denmark (with Francogallia and other writings), Liberty Fund

Eric Nelson, The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought HUP

Douglass C. North, Understanding the Process of Economic Change, Princeton

Frederick Pollock and F.W. Maitland, The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I, Liberty Fund

Arthur Ripstein, Force and Freedom: Kant's Legal and Political Philosophy, HUP

Filippo Sabetti, Civilization and Self-Government: The Political Thought of Carlo Cattaneo, Lexington

Debra Satz, Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets

Samuel Scheffler, Equality and Tradition: Selected Essays, OUP

David Schmidtz, Person, Polis, Planet, OUP

Judith Shklar, Hegel [newly republished], CUP

Germaine de Stael, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, Liberty Fund

Iris Marion Young, Responsibility for Justice, OUP

[NB: This is the shopping list of books for me. For the RGCS Ferrier library, I got my first big box of blue books from CUP yesterday; the shopping's already begun.]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What I've been reading: Ernest Gellner, Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and Its Rivals

What if Max Weber had written like Isaiah Berlin?

I thought I'd read this book in grad school, but having seriously read it this summer I now suspect that I just skimmed a few chapters. The alternative is that by second year in graduate school I just knew so little social theory and so little history that my brain didn't have receptors for the ideas in this idea-rich book to latch on to-- which is, I admit, possible.

The book is deceptive: published by Penguin and written in a light, breezy, sometimes chatty, and lucid style, it looks like it should be a popular book on the end of the Cold War and the resurgence of the idea of civil society. In fact, there are books packed into most paragraphs-- many books read and, usually, books to be written. Like Weber, Gellner tosses out three-sentence ideas that make you (or at least me) stop and say-- "wow, if that's right it's hugely important, and I can see how it might be right, but figuring out whether it actually is right would take years."

In one respect the book has dated badly; there's a bit too much immediate-post-Cold-War smugness in putting down Marxists and Marxisms of all stripes. Which is not to say I think he's wrong on the merits-- but it gives the book a certain ugliness, not mitigated by his swipes and jabs at what we would now call neoliberalism.

But in other respects just the opposite is true. Certainly, the idea that Islam represented a world-historical idea, a great and important set of rival ideas and social organizations to liberalism, Marxism, and traditionalism, would probably interest a lot more people now than it did in 1994. Gellner is not loved by scholars of the Islamic world (any more than he is by anthropologists or analytic philosophers), but compared with most large-scale social theorists, he took the Islamic world seriously, and treated it as importantly normal and central rather than exotic and inexplicable. Crucially, he also treats it as changing over time, and as participating in modernization.

I probably would have preferred a book that was more about civil society and less about its rivals (Marxism, Islam, and pre-modern systems). I found his history and theory of Europe through the 19th century much more interesting than his mini-book about Marxism, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War, useful though it is to try to offer a general account of the relationship between productive power and coercion that includes the Communist case.

But I think Gellner was in a mood to write something big and sweeping, and this certainly is that. It's more sweeping a theory of politics, economics, language, society, and religion than a 200-page book has any business being. And I wish that we were now 15 years into an era when people wrote books trying to understand whether the ideas in this book were right or not. Maybe we would be, if this book and Plough, Sword, and Book: The Structure of Human History had been combined into one book. In any case I find them fascinating and provocative big ideas. Now that I've properly read it, I expect to return to this book many times.

In the short term, I'll be doing follow-up writing. Gellner treats civil society as dependent on the linguistically-unified nation-state in the sense and for the reasons he laid out in Nations and Nationalism, and on the "modular man" also developed in that book. Modular man can not only switch from job to job, from one sector of the economy to another, he can also switch from one local, religious, cultural, or associational attachment to another, with only national identity not being malleable in this way. And civil society depends on the existence of a state that is Weberian in function (it expropriates private holders of coercive power and subsequently monopolizes that power) and yet limited enough to allow for private and decentralized market and associational life.

My own view is that keeping the state limited in that way depends in some part on there being associations and groups in the social order that are not filled with modular men. If the only real loyalty is to the nation-state and loyalties are not separated among other social groups, the equilibrium Gellner praises is likely to be unstable. I think he's [very] broadly right about the forces that tend undermine social loyalties and transfer them to the nation-state, but he's entirely too sanguine that the result will just happen to be, and to remain, a stable outcome. He's also only broadly right about those forces, and social (religious, cultural, associational, federal) ties, organizations, and institutions have always been somewhat stronger, man always somewhat less modular, than he allows-- and I think this has been important for the development and stability of (in his sense) civil society.

I wish that I had read this book six or seven years ago, whether that would have been a first-real-reading or a first-serious-rereading.

FN: I had started to re-read this before this Crooked Timber thread alerted me that my colleague John Hall has published a new intellectual biography of Gellner, and prompted reflection on why Gellner isn't better appreciated, but the thread (and Scott McLemee's review of the Hall book) may well have shaped the way I thought about the book as I went.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Picking sides

David Boaz on Vaughn Walker, the judge who struck down Proposition 8
In other words, this “liberal San Francisco judge” was recommended by Ed Meese, appointed by Ronald Reagan, and opposed by Alan Cranston, Nancy Pelosi, Edward Kennedy, and the leading gay activist groups. It’s a good thing for for advocates of marriage equality that those forces were only able to block Walker twice.
H/tWill Wilkinson.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

What I've Been Reading: Helena Rosenblatt, Liberal Values: Benjamin Constant and the Politics of Religion

Shorter post than usual on this one, as I read it to help with what I'm writing now, and I should just keep writing. It's a marvelous book in at least three ways.

One, it's astonishingly efficient, moving the reader rapidly but thoroughly across multiple parties and intellectual movements and some four decades. I've read a lot about liberal politics in Restoration France in general, and Constant in particular, and was still learning a tremendous amount in each chapter. It's a book in the "Ideas in Context" series from CUP, and it fits that label as well as any book bearing it, indeed better than most.

Two, it's really very well-written. It's a scholars' history through and through, addressing interpretive questions and suitably thickly footnoted, but it reads as easily as good popular history does.

Three, the book wears its sympathy for Constant on its sleeve yet presents his various antagonists' views with almost as much care as it presents his.

The book covers Constant's turn to a kind of Protestantism, and shows of what kind that was-- Kantian, Germanic, and Romantic in inspiration, close to being Deist or "natural religion" in content but interestingly (to my eye bizarrely) progressive in its ecclesiology. Constant believed that religion changed with the times and was no less true for that; God allowed us to gain knowledge over time, and offers us new times, new revelations, to match our intellectual maturity. Religion is perfectible or at least progressive, becoming ever-more attuned to authentic religious sentiments and moral goodness, ever-less superstitious and stultifying. And so Protestantism was progress, and it also facilitated progress by opening free inquiry into religious matters and diminishing the importance of external church forms. But progress continued.

With that religious worldview explained, the book's core purpose is to treat it as part of Constant's political thought, and in turn to show the political importance of his religious thought and writings, through a marvelous exposition of post-Revolutionary religious politics in France.

Two thoughts prompted by the book, but less about this book than about the Constant literature in general. One, we're now decades into the Constant "revival." His reputation as both a liberal political actor and a great political theorist now seem to me rescued. Of the people who know who Benjamin Constant is, most are basically well-disposed toward him (at least in the English-speaking world; it might be different in France). At what point does "rehabilitate Constant's reputation" cease to be an imperative in every new book about the man and his thought? It was less of a distraction in this book than in many, because Rosenblatt had something new to say-- viz. that the venom with which Constant was attacked and his name denigrated for a generation after his death was directly connected to usually-overlooked religious disputes.

Two, the contemporary admiration for Constant often goes with an embarrassment over his economic views, which were openly laissez-faire. Rosenblatt, unlike some Constant authors, doesn't hide this or deny it. She argues, rightly, that Constant was no egoist or materialist, and that he thought commerce and wealth were less important than the development of the individual mind and soul (though she misses the importance of some of his change in thought, from static property to dynamic commerce, that's suggested by passages she refers to). But she still talks about it as though that means that he doesn't really count as a laissez-faire liberal, that he's not like the rest of them. That Constant had a gambling problem, was a womanizer, and probably visited prostitutes-- these are presented matter-of-factly. That he believed in free trade and an open market-- this must be apoloigized for, minimized, and mitigated, rather than being understood or explored. That's OK; this is a book about Constant and religion, not about Constant and commerce (though, again, there are interesting connections between the two that get left unanalyzed). But after you read enough about Constant, the pattern becomes a little bit tiresome.

The book is well-blurbed at Amazon (in what I think is an excerpt from a Perpsectives on Politics review, despite what Amazon says) by Art Goldhammer, whose excellent blog on French politics I don't link to as often as I should.

I believe that Yale political theorist Bryan Garsten is working on a book on the same subject, which I now await even more eagerly than I did before.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A belated mea culpa

This is roundabout; bear with me.

Matt Yglesias highlights a story about the closure of Walter Reed hospital, and notes the existence of regulations on how the land may be used. In short, the land may be conveyed directly to government agencies or various kinds of non-profit entities that submit proposals for it. It cannot be auctioned or otherwise sold to the private market.

Matt notes-- rightly-- that this is weird.
What on earth is the purpose of rules of this sort? Why not sell the land and earmark the money for these worthy purposes? That would seem to make everyone better off. You don’t see that many examples of truly pareto optimal policy changes out there, but this is one. No nefarious interest I can think of benefits from this arrangement, it’s just wasteful for no reason. And it comes up in DC all the time because a similar rule applies to a bunch of long-vacant school buildings we have.

I didn't know about these rules, and probably would have thought no more about it if not for the fact that he quoted David Alpert's reference to the regulations as "federal base closure rules." (Walter Reed is, after all, a military installation.)

Uh-oh, thinks I.

A little reading later, I believe I owe the following apology:

In 1988, the Pease Air Force Base on the edge of my hometown had been slated for closure, and it was shuttered in 1991, at important savings to the federal government and important anti-stimulus for the local area during the early 90s recession. The land was transferred to a QUANGO, the Pease Development Authority, which spent its first few years trying and failing to attract high profile firms to come use large amounts of the land all at once. In the meantime, a huge chunk of real estate and infrastructure sat basically vacant.

In 1992 (at the ripe old age of 21) I ran for the New Hampshire House of Representatives, as a Libertarian. And my distinctive policy proposal was: break up the PDA, stop trying to land the One Big Firm that would come replace the Air Force as a dominant employer, and allow the base to be parceled and auctioned. Market-led base redevelopment rather than local-politico-led posturing.

It's now pretty clear to me that this would have been impossible under federal law, and that the PDA/ tradeport model was as close as any local authorities could come to letting commerce take hold there. (At least they didn't turn the base into a megaprison complex.) Doesn't mean it was a good model, and almost twenty years later I still think there's underutilized capital there. But it would have been wholly outside the New Hampshire legislature's authority to fix this.

Of course: 1) No one else seemed to know this, either; certainly, my opponents never slapped me down as an ignorant kid who didn't know the rules. 2) I was a 21-year old third-party candidate running against two Democratic incumbents in a solid Democratic (two-seat) district. I wasn't ever going to win. 3) Had I won, I would hardly have been the most ignorant member of New Hampshire's 400-person part-time lower legislative house, or the first to find that the thing they'd talked about on the campaign trail couldn't be done.

Nonetheless: I apologize to the voters of my then-district, and to my opponents in that race. I spent several months arguing something on the basis of insufficient information, and making claims that it turns out were false or impossible.
A point that should be obvious

Opposing someone else's expression or activity on the grounds that it's "provocative"-- that it will provoke various observers and third parties to some negative reaction-- is usually a dishonest way of dodging agency. It means: "I've made the decision that my dislike for your expression is more important than your freedom, and I intend to aggress against you to shut you up, but I want to make it seem like you're the one who's made a decision to be aggressive." It's a decision posing as a passive reaction. It's then, perversely, often followed by the idea that the expression's primary purpose was to provoke, and so denying that the first person has any non-aggressive interest at all in the expression.

Some of this was worked out and widely endorsed during the controversy over the Danish cartoons.

But it applies just as forcefully to the way that defenders of laicite talk about the various forms of Islamic women's covering (from headscarves to the burka/ niqab).

And, boy oh boy, does it apply to the despicable demagoguery around building a mosque in lower Manhattan.
Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, has urged “peace-seeking Muslims” to reject the center, branding it an “unnecessary provocation.” A Republican political action committee has produced a television commercial assailing the proposal. And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has decried it in speeches.[...]

He added: “The average American just thinks this is a political statement. It’s not about religion, and is clearly an aggressive act that is offensive.”

Update: Isaac Chotiner had the same thought.
What I've been reading: Steven Pincus,1688: The First Modern Revolution

I have enough to say about this book that I keep putting off the blog post, but eventually that makes the post an overdue assignment, and I don't need to add any of those to my life. So let's see what I can rush through:


This is an important book with a powerful, distinct argument pressed forward in lots of ways. It isn't, and shouldn't be mistaken for, a freestanding popular history of the Glorious Revolution, though given the conventions of history book publishing it physically looks like it could be. Instead, it's an argument in support of the following propositions:

Contrary to the traditional Whig understanding, the Glorious Revolution was not a consensual, peaceful restoration of a stable and traditional English political order.

Contrary to the modern revisionist understanding, the Glorious Revolution was not a conservative elite Anglican coup against a moderate James II as punishment for his support of religious toleration.

James II was an innovating modernizer, rapidly building up and centralizing an absolutist modern state on the close model of Louis XIV's state in France. This included an aggressive plan for Catholicizing England and English institutions (not merely allowing Catholics religious freedom), but the Catholicism James promoted was the Gallican Catholicism of France and the Jesuits, putting him on the other side of a profound split from the papacy and Catholic Spain and the Holy Roman Empire-- all of which ultimately aligned with William of Orange and the Netherlands against Louis and James. Gallicanism was as much a political project as a religious one, and the Glorious Revolution cannot be well understood as the last shot of the Wars of Religion. Instead, it was part of a long-term and Europe-wide fight against Louis' absolutist modernization and imperial ambition.

This means that the Revolution cannot be (as it often has been) read in a narrowly English or even British context; and it also means that it cannot be read in a narrow timeframe that ends in 1689. But neither was England just a field on which to fight out the European conflict; Pincus forcefully denies another revisionist thesis that sees the Revolution as essentially a Dutch invasion.

James had domestic modernizing opponents, those who sought to pursue a different modernizing and state-building project on non-absolutist, commercial rather than aristocratic, tolerant rather than Gallican grounds. They (along with more traditionalist Anglican Tories) rose against James in a genuine domestic violent insurrection-- one that would have failed without the invasion by William at the head of an armed force that included Dutch as well as Anglo-exile forces, but one without which William would not have made the crossing.

Pincus maintains that this fits a general pattern. Revolutions, he thinks, are made against modernizers. An initial state modernization project either reveals that traditional institutions are fragile, or makes them so, or both. And so at the moment that state capacity is being built up, the popular allegiance to it is shaken-- change no longer seems unthinkable, as change is already being pursued, indeed already seems inevitable. And revolutions are also made by modernizers. That is, they are the violent and (at least semi-)popular overthrow of a modernizing state by rival modernizers-- not, despite frequent rhetoric, by restorationists. He maintains that revolutions are events in early state modernization and consolidation-- and that the English Revolution was the first of them.

The book is sweeping and general-- which is to say that it pursues depth of evidence of a number of different kinds, aimed at making its interpretive claim irresistible. It offers quantitative and archival history; economic, theological, ideological, and diplomatic history; domestic and international history, all arranged to clear argumentative purpose. Again, this doesn't amount to a narration of events-- much is explained but much is not. (I know a lot about the era for a non-historian, but I read the book with wikipedia open next to me, and made a lot of use of it.)

The cumulative effect is sometimes devastating for the rival views, and I doubt that they can survive in unmodified form. That said, Pincus' own evidence sometimes points to openings that might be exploited by adherents of the rival views trying to rebuild and recover. The first major case of this I noticed was the frequency of anti-Catholic rhetoric in Whig claims he quotes in places besides where he's maintaining that the Revolution was not essentially anti-Catholic. The distinctions he draws between Gallicanism and Catholicism as such are well-taken (and for me were probably the most important revelations of the book), and they do provide a way to understand anti-Catholic language that's not narrowly confessional. But it's not always clear that the revolutionaries observed the distinction as cleanly as Pincus suggests, and he doesn't tell us how to evaluate or weigh the cases in which the distinction was not observed. I think he ultimately makes his case-- I was persuaded, anyway-- but I predict that there will be pushback here.

In the second case I'm less sure what to think. His narrative of rival imperial and economic visions, and of Whig-revolutionary triumph in the second half of the 1690s over a Tory restorationist mindset, seems to demand the destruction of the East India Company. But the Whig attempt to do so failed. Pincus leads us through the sequence of events, and then shows that Whigs triumphed on the related but distinct ground of banking (in the creation of the Bank of England and the destruction of the Tory Land Bank). But I was left dissatisfied; it seems as though the survival of the Company is more important disconfirmatory evidence of Pincus' thesis than he allows. I predict pushback here, and am eager to see how it turns out.

But it is to the book's (Pincus') credit that I end the book understanding that these are moments of possible weakness in his claim, on the basis of evidence he has supplied. More importantly, it is to the book's (Pincus') credit that it has such a clear and controversial thesis that we can talk about what would be disconfirmatory evidence; and that, despite its novelty, the thesis is supported so powerfully across so many areas that one can identify the discrete patches of ground left to defend by those whose views Pincus is critiquing.

I think the book is a major event in historical scholarship, but I also think it repays reading for political theorists. Some thoughts on why:

I learned a lot about a semi-minor figure I'm writing on (Robert Molesworth); and learned enough to seriously change how I'll teach Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration in the future. His exclusion of religions that demand allegiance to a foreign prince, I now think, was certainly not a euphemism for Catholicism as such. Instead, it emphasizes the political-not-confessional divides in the way that Pincus shows was common among (at least) Whig and revolutionary intellectuals and leaders. The upshot is that Locke was acknowledging that the Catholicism of Elizabethan times, the Catholicism that taught that heretical monarchs could be deposed and killed on order of the Pope, was intolerable in a regime of toleration-- but insisting that by-then-contemporary Catholicism was tolerable. This is largely my interpolation-- Locke qua philosopher rarely appears in 1688, and even Locke the important Whig exile intellectual often appears only passively-- I think much more is quoted from letters to Locke or accounts of things told to him than is quoted from Locke, and he begins to seem like a curiously blank center of Whig and exile networks. But it's a treat to be able to read a book in another field that supplements and contextualizes things I already know in a way that changes what they seem to mean.

Moreover, the reader of Pincus' book is left understanding what was radical and revolutionary in the Second Treatise, and what the chapter on property was about in a way that transcends the justification of expropriation in America. The idea that labor was the source of property was at the core of the Whig non-zero-sum political economy, opposed to the Tory account that treated the finite sum of land in the world as the core resource, and commerce as just a matter of moving things around. I look forward to my next re-reading of the Second Treatise; I think that having read this book will make it exciting again.

The Whig account of the Revolution as limited in aim, consensual, and mainly intended to undo the absolutist innovations of James receives one of its canonical statements in Burke. While everyone understands that Burke is no neutral narrator, I think his account still has a substantial influence on those of us who read more political theory than history. Here, again, theorists have something important to learn from the book. Pincus' Whig revolutionaries were tamed and staved off eventually; the Revolution was, in the French idiom, brought to an end by the 1720s, giving rise to the relative stability of the Hanoverian era. But the Revolutionary era itself here seems more like the Americans' long-distance memory of it in the 1770s than like Burke's account of it a little bit later.

Similarly, I think that political theorists, political scientists, and sociologists who worry about revolutions as a category really need to read this book-- the introductory treatment of their literatures and development of a rival claim about what revolutions are and why they happen, and then then enough of the rest of the book to understand why 1688 qualifies. Revolutions aren't a key idea for me-- but state-building and state-consolidation are, and here too I learned a lot and had my ideas sharpened considerably. The sharper ideas aren't always in agreement with Pincus', but they're indebted to his book.

Very, very highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What I've been reading: Don Herzog, Cunning

This is the funniest book of political theory I've ever read.

That sounds like a faint praise, and like a very low bar to clear. But I laughed-- actually laughed-- more often reading Cunning than reading Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit, or Montesquieu's Persian Letters, or Mandeville's Fable of the Bees, or Hume's Essays, all of which I think are genuinely funny works. (And much much more often than when reading the last officially-meant-to-be-funny work of political theory published in my lifetime that I made my way through-- a disappointing book from an author who's both brilliant and funny but who produced a text that was neither.)

It's subversive (and admits to being self-subversive, too), sarcastic, and constantly surprising, which helps keep the laughs coming; it never settles into shtick.

Cunning is also the work of a word-crafter, precisely written and a delight to read on that count alone, even without the wit.

This book is a humanist essay, not a monograph bound within one or another disciplinary genre. (And Herzog has entertaining things to say about the monographs within the disciplinary genres.) It ranges from major works of literature to almost-unknown figures of history to contemporary social science and philosophy, and in so doing manages to feel genuinely new in its reflections on instrumental rationality.

That's terribly hard by this point. Everyone in social science and the cognate areas of philosophy is familiar with all the decades' worth of back-and-forth on rational actors who choose efficient means toward given ends that even hearing the words triggers a whole set of preprogrammed responses and counter-responses. So Herzog gives us a new word: cunning. He invites and provokes thought on the ways in which the word can be praise and the ways in which it implies wickedness. He plays with the figure of cunning Odysseus to great effect, and helps the reader to wonder what kind of character Odysseus can finally be. The book unsettles some of those very entrenched thoughtless patterns of thought about rationality-- and it doesn't propose new safe patterns into which one could settle. Any reader who feels smug seeing Herzog whack at the other side's idols and icons has missed the point, or has stopped reading at the moment of smugness and missed the turnabout on the following page.

The reflections on method and genre in the introduction and scattered throughout ["foundational justifications are philosophers' pet unicorns; their colorful folklore tells us what they look like, but we have yet to see one"], the bracing skepticism and useful modelling of how we can proceed despite skepticism, are all very useful. But it would be a mistake to read this book in the spirit of ends-means rationality, mining it for what is useful in it. Read this to enjoy it, and learn from it along the way.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Robert Paul Wolff on writing a dissertation

Here. I endorse almost every part of this, and of course especially this:

In Philosophy, a dissertation is The Defense of a Thesis. [That is why a dissertation is referred to familiarly as a thesis.]

What is a thesis? It is a proposition, expressed in a declarative sentence. Here are some examples of theses:

Contrary to popular opinion, David Hume and Immanuel Kant have almost identical views on the role of the mind in empirical knowledge. [This is the thesis of my doctoral dissertation]

God is dead.

God is not dead; he has just been on vacation.

In all situations, I am morally obliged to choose the act that will produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.

Here are some examples of things that are not theses:

Kant and Hume on the role of the mind in empirical knowledge

Nietzsche's view of religion

Act utilitarianism

Each of these is a topic, not a thesis. You cannot write a dissertation defending a topic.

I take exception to the boldfaced portion of this:
In order to write a dissertation, you must be prepared to defend a thesis. If you cannot state the thesis of your dissertation in a single declarative sentence, you are not ready to write. Do not make the mistake of thinking that if you begin writing, your thesis will become clear eventually. That way lies disaster. You ought to be able to begin your dissertation with the sentence, "In this dissertation, I shall defend the thesis that p." You should then be able to conclude your dissertation with this sentence: "Thus we see that p."

The beginning and end of that paragraph are certainly right. The middle is right only
"If you are like me, and work in your head,"

Some people can work through an article-length idea in their heads. It has become clear in reading Wolff's memoirs that he really can work through a book-length idea in his head. But most of us can't.

What is true is that until you know your thesis, you cannot write your introduction or conclusion. What is probably true is that if you do not know your thesis, much of what you are writing won't end up in your final dissertation. But the last thing graduate students need to think is "you are not ready to write," full stop. Write. Try an idea out. See where it goes. Maybe you have a thesis for one chapter that you're pretty sure about; write that. Or maybe you have an objection to a standard view in the literature that you're pretty sure about. Write that. (A literature review per se isn't writing, but it does get you in the habit of putting words onto paper, and it sometimes leaves you with a more useful resource than scattered notes.)

Wolff is absolutely right to emphasize the importance of slow-but-steady writing-- a page or two a day, every day, of new writing, not revising. But I doubt that any but a handful of students are well-served by telling them to : Start on Page 1, with the sentence, "In this dissertation, I shall defend the thesis that p." This is all of a piece with my concerns above. Almost every successful dissertation I've seen written was written from the inside out, not from the beginning to the end. If you're going to write from page 1, you have have to know your thesis cold before you start writing. If you wait until you know your thesis cold before you start writing, you'll wait far too long.

When you write from the inside out, you should make every effort to write a beginning and end that make it look as if you've written from beginning to end! And that will require some revision of the middle chapters. By the time you're writing your introduction, you know your story, and you'll want to adjust the middle portions to make them fit more cleanly together and more cleanly into the story.

Wolff's absolutel right on what a dissertation is, and in large part right about writing. But I fear that parts of his advice encourage too much delay. Start writing.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Visiting Fulbright Chair in the Theory and Practice of Constitutionalism and Federalism, 2011-12; application deadline August 2

Visiting Fulbright Chair in the Theory and Practice of Constitutionalism and Federalism, 2011-12.

Open to US citizens (who are not also Canadian citizens or permanent residents). The Research Chair awards provide a fixed sum of US$25,000 for stays of 4 to 9 months (one semester or the full academic year). Click here to apply.

Specializations: Normative, jurisprudential, comparative, historical, or analytic/formal studies of constitutional theory and practice, with preference for studies that encompass some aspect of constitutional federalism. Methodologically open within political theory and political science, including intellectual and institutional history.

Additional Grant Activity: Candidates would be invited to take part in a faculty and graduate seminar, with respondents, focused on the chair’s work in progress.
Comments: The McGill University Department of Political Science is an internationally recognized Ph.D. granting department with 29 faculty members with interests spanning Canadian Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory. Normative, comparative, Canadian, and jurisprudential research programs on constitutionalism and federalism are all represented within the department. The Research Group on Constitutional Studies, of which the visiting scholar will be a member during his or her visit, encompasses researchers from the Departments of Political Science and Philosophy and the Faculty of Law studying constitutional theory and its antecedents, jurisprudential pluralism and federalism, legal theory, and empirical constitutional politics.

Contact: Olga Naiberguer, Associate Director, International Programs, or
Jacob Levy, Department of Political Science,

Note: French language ability commensurate with the requirements of the project and the host institution is required. Facility with French not required but an asset.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What I've Been Reading: Geoffrey Brennan and Philip Pettit, The Economy of Esteem

I mean to start doing more book-blogging here, along the lines that Tyler Cowen does it-- my thoughts and reactions to what I read, rather than worked-out reviews. These'll sometimes be opaque to those who haven't read the books, but might at least stimulate interest in them. What follows is rather longer than I expect these posts will usually be.


This is a superb book by two outstanding scholars, demonstrating a terrific fusion of rigorous philosophical argument and formal/ economic reasoning, in the service of an argument that modern economics is radically incomplete. Against the invisible hand of the marketplace that relies on interest, and the iron hand of regulation that relies on punishment, they set an intangible hand relying on the quest for esteem. In the heart of the book, they walk through one type of setting after another and one type of problem after another, showing in an abstract and powerful way what the tradeoffs and dynamics are within the pursuit of esteem, what social institutions and individual choices look like when thought of in esteem-seeking terms.

It’s also, to my mind, a sometimes strange and frustrating book. I may not be its target audience, for much of it seems designed to refute the null hypothesis that esteem-seeking is irrelevant or powerless, and that only interest-seeking matters. I suppose that it ought to be persuasive to anyone subscribing to that hypothesis. But then again someone holding it has disregarded a great deal of evidence and argument already, and won’t necessarily cease to do so just because the argument Is presented in terms he or she finds cognitively familiar.

As a result, Brennan and Pettit often—not always, but often—talk about the desire for esteem as an unusual feature of human life, something that has its primary effects in the domain of civil society set apart from the market and the state. But it is pervasive; it pervades and intertwines with the pursuits of wealth and power. It is indeed more pervasive than they are, no matter how powerfully they shape our macro-social institutions. The desire to avoid disesteem and humiliation , and the willingness to follow norms the breaking of which is shameful, surrounds us and shapes us, all the time.

Another oddity of emphasis, that is I think connected. The authors are conscientious about regularly noting perverse cases—“intangible backhand” problems in which the desire for esteem results in misaligned incentives or undesirable behaviors. But these are always treated as exceptional, as interestingly quirky—kind of the way that economists present Giffen goods. The language of “esteem” and “estimable” encourages this.

But there are plenty of other words and concepts that might be used, but that barely register in the book: Pride. Glory, vanity, or their traditional hybrid vainglory. Egotism (as distinct from the egoism of homo economus). Above all, as far as I’m concerned: status. Many of the dynamics that are presented in such successful abstraction seem likely to be beneficial so long as we think of them as esteem-seeking—and immediately take on a more baleful aspect when we think of them as status-seeking.

The book notes that sometimes the economy of esteem is blocked from its best operation by a systematic disesteem for whole groups of people, e.g. racial prejudice. And its treatment of what happens within the subordinated group as a result are very interesting. But the superordinate group isn't mentioned, and I kept thinking that some whiteness studies would have done some good here. The authors are interested in the disincentive to performance among the subordinate group who can't receive full-- or, sometimes, any-- esteem rewards for excellence. But the counterpart is the unearned status boost for even the least estimable members of the superordinate group. Jim Crow was economically destructive, but represented a categorical increase in status for lower-class whites; they gained a status floor beneath which they could not normally fall, just in virtue of not being black. And so they became dogged supporters and enforcers of Jim Crow, to protect and maintain their own otherwise-precarious status gains.

The often-positive-sum esteem settings the authors focus on are important and interesting. But they are not the whole of the economy of esteem, and are probably not the most important ways that esteem and status affect social institutions, the market, and politics.

A final complaint, minor in fact though it bothered me a great deal. Brennan and Pettit do make occasional reference to the historical importance of the view that esteem-seeking was a primary motivation. But their desire to contrast the intangible and invisible hands means that Adam Smith almost always appears as a synecdoche for the economistic worldview—and doesn’t appear often in any case. But Smith’s greatest work, the Theory of Moral Sentiments—mentioned here primarily as a source for the invisible hand metaphor!—is a work that’s centrally about the relationship between esteem-seeking and moral psychology, between the desire for praise and the desire for praiseworthiness, between human motivation and the good opinion of others; in short, about the core material of this book. And the book omits altogether the great critic of esteem-seeking behavior, Smith’s contemporary Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

The book in fact contains many good answers to traditional critiques of esteem-seeking, draws credible connections between the pursuit of esteem and the attainment of excellence, and greatly adds to our understanding. And I want to emphasize again how admirable its combination of economic and philosophical reasoning is. This may be the finest manifestation I know of the intellectual atmosphere that existed at the Australian National University’s Research School of the Social Sciences (where the authors were longtime colleagues) for many years, and that’s high praise. But the book by its own admission is meant to be research-agenda-opening, not primarily question-answering. Much work remains to be done in thinking about status, power, and interest-based motivations alongside each other, sometimes rivalrous, sometimes reinforcing, always interacting—and about what follows for the methodologies of the social sciences.

With respect to institutional reforms, the authors are very concerned to make the point that professionals should be treated like professionals, and rewarded with esteem for excellence, rather that either micromanaged in a punitive regulatory fashion or "incentivized" (as the ugly word goes) with constant payments for performance. This is persuasive and important-- and indeed helps to make sense of how and why many professions are organized the way that they are. But it's a lesson that operates within boundaries, too. Professions as sectors, and firms of professionals like law firms, face market discipline, even when professionals as individual workers are not paid by commission. I think the authors are concerned to show that, e.g., civil servants and public school teachers also ought to be treated as professionals, with their time use regulated by the intangible hand and not the invisible or the iron hand. No doubt there's something to that; but it needs to be paired with an understanding of what will take the place of the market boundaries faced by private-sector professions. And there's something slightly underwhelming about "treat schoolteachers better" as the institutional takeaway from a book that, on its face, is attempting a major overhaul in how social science is done.

(At least, a major overhaul in how economics is done. Sociology, it must be said, has never been blind to the importance of status. But economists-- even, apparently, very fine and professionally-interdisciplinary economists-- sometimes have trouble acknowledging that sociology has gone somewhere before they have.)

The best part of the book by far is Part II, "Within the Economics of Esteem," that formalizes and analyzes many features of esteem-seeking behavior, and casts light on lots of situations. (Not accidentally, many of these are set in universities and among academics; I've maintained several times on this blog that academic life is more usefully modeled as status-seeking than as interest-seeking.) Readers of these chapters need to be brave enough not to be frightened away by the mere appearance of a diagram or an equation, but these are no more difficult than what appears in an introductory microeconomics class and in any case their ideas and intuitions are clearly explained in the accompanying prose. But pause to appreciate the models if you can. They're pitched at a very well-chosen level. They simplify and abstract, as models do... but they don't simplify into straight lines or monotonic curves. Brennan and Pettit have thought carefully about discontinuities, asymmetries, sharp angles, and indeterminate zones, and they simplify just enough to highlight them, rather than simplifying them away-- and many of the best ideas of the book are found in the discussions and justifications of those discontinuities, asymmetries, and so on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I'm going to live forever, part 4,872 in a continuing series

Good news:
Drinking several cups of tea or coffee a day appears to protect against heart disease, a 13-year-long study [of 40,000 people] from the Netherlands has found.

Less good news:
Consuming between two to four coffees a day was also linked to a reduced risk... the protective effect ceased with more than four cups of coffee a day,

But at least:
even those who drank this much were no more likely to die of any cause, including stroke and cancer, than those who abstained.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Liberty and civil society

[Note: originally written as a contribution to the Cato Unbound symposium on Philip Blond's Redy Toryism. Russell Arben Fox's reply to the symposium, and I guess mainly to me, is here, and it's of course a much better and more interesting defense of an idea like Red Toryism than was the piece of Blond's to which we had to reply.]

My old friend Patrick Deneen writes:

"The contemporary conspiracy between State and Market -- apparently locked in battle, but more fundamentally consonant in their hostility toward, and evisceration of, the institutions of civil society -- mutually reinforce each other, strengthening simultaneously commercial and State concentrations of power that recent events reveal to have been deeply intertwined. Both are based upon the radically individuated anthropology of classical liberalism, an anthropology that both necessarily precedes and ultimately succors the progressivist liberalism that it purports to oppose. ... The only true locus of human liberty is to be found in the institutions of civil society, yet our dominant philosophies both regard its requirements for stability, self-sacrifice and generational continuity as an obstacle to individual liberty."

I can't imagine the time horizons over which the purported changes have happened. The civil society that is a semi-distinct sphere of human society, the order of intermediate and sometimes-voluntary associations that mostly lack either coercive power over outsiders or expressly commercial purposes, isn't any older than the state and the market as distinct spheres. Like them, it arises in the world of modern social differentiation. The medieval church was, to our eye, quite state-like; the medieval guild looked a great deal like a participant in the market. From the time that civil society in this sense is really identifiable as a sphere-- the time when The Church became churches which were required to peacefully coexist, when one of the guilds evolved into the Freemasons and others were replaced by fraternal societies that did not regulate the labor market, when the intergenerational corporate form became democratized and demonopolized and made accessible to voluntary associations, and so on, in other words from the 18th or early 19th century onward-- there has always been augmentation of material wealth on the market and there has always been an increase in the coercive power of the state. And yet the grand narrative of the decline of civil society is, according to its leading empirical scholar Robert Putnam, the story of a civic-minded Greatest Generation inadvertently raising baby boomers who watched too much television. The pessimistic take on civil society is that it flourished and its forms proliferated until the 1950s, 60s, or 70s. (The optimistic take is that it flourishes still, and that its forms continue to proliferate, even if fewer hours are being volunteered for the Rotary.) The timing matches neither an unusucal increase in state power (certainly not compared with the 1910s or the 1930s and 40s!) nor an unusual increase in market power.

The life of religious institutions in particular is somewhat more complicated. One of the great institutional accomplishments of American civil society, the Catholic school system, has indeed fallen victim to the market. The system rested on the service of men and, especially, women who opted to forego market rewards for lifelong religious-education vocations. The opportunity costs of that decision have risen dramatically, especially for women who had been excluded from the labor market altogether. It is unclear whether the system is sustainable on current trends. If it is not, there will be a loss to the social world. But it will not be because of, nor will it engender, a loss of liberty.

Liberty is productive of civil society. The tremendous creativity of nineteenth-century Americans in creating churches, voluntary associations, universities, and fraternal societies is a testament to this. And the existence of a rich and vibrant civil society is a sign of freedom. I do not believe that a society that lacked such a civil society would be a free one-- but the lack would be more symptom than cause. Free persons do create and inhabit and maintain and perpetuate organizations and institutions. They do so partly under the umbrella of a coercive state that allows the institutions to be intermediate, rather than rival armed camps enforcing the rights of the members. And they do so partly with the wealth and leisure that the market makes possible. There are, of course, countervailing effects and complex relationships. But there is nothing like a simple inverse relationship between civil society and a reifiied sum of "state plus market."

The phrase "civil society" is a complicated one. It suggests the self-governing city or city-state, free of feudal power or coercive religious jurisdiction. In early modernity, this sense of a complete political society with rough equality before the law and excluding religious violence becamse generalized to the entities we now think of as nation-states-- the Hobbesian, Weberian, Westphalian states that overpowered coercive church jurisdiction and suppressed the possibility of religious civil war. And so, in the writings of someone like John Locke, civil society is political society, theself-contained and unified political society that can apply a general law and that excludes external (e.g. church) claims of political power. There was an important sense in which that society offered freedom-- freedom from the inquisitors and their Protestant equivalents. That is, civil society-as-state suppressed the power of intermediate institutions. In the 18th century, thinkers such as Adam Ferguson and Adam Smith came to imagine social spheres distinct from political society-- a society, and an economy, that could persist over time and survive changes in political regime. (Scottish society and the Scottish economy changed, but did not disappear, when the Scottish state disappeared into the British.) That, too, was an advance in our understanding of freedom-- our social lives are not wholly constituted by our political lives. Hegel was later to use the phrase to refer almost entirely to the market, under an appropriate legal regime-- the legal regime that recognizes free bourgeois citizens, legally autonomous and interacting with each other as equals. That is the social world of liberal agents creating new voluntary associations as easily, and with the same rules, as they create economic firms or political parties.

To say that liberty is only possible in civil society is an interesting thought when it admits of this complexity. But when it treats the non-political non-economic domain as the whole meaning of the phrase, it is misleading at best.