"Promises to Keep"
I haven't been blogging much lately, with the end of the semester (and an important interview) now upon me, or nearly so. One of the results of this is that I never got around to writing any kind of overview of my feelings, hopes and fears with the end of the war. Not that there is any need for me to do so, not when Timothy Garton Ash continues to write like this. His basic point--that the United States must now act to fulfill the best and most liberal aims of this war, or else the justice of the whole endeavor must be challenged--is one I feel much sympathy for. Also, read Mark Kleinman's postmortem on the war, if you haven't yet.
Monday, April 21, 2003
"Promises to Keep"
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
More Theory and Philosophy
The story so far: Matthew Ygelsias has commented on Jacob Levy's original post and my response to it, and now Jacob has added some additional comments of his own. (Jacob is also, by the way, continuing to refine and update his original post, so read it through if you haven't yet; as I said below, I think it clarifies a lot of things very well.) Let me also throw out one follow-up observation.
Matthew suggests that the division I described between that group (the majority?) of political theorists who are trained as "political scientists," and those few (the proud?) trained in a more philosophical way, a division which I identified as arising from whether or not a particular program has opened itself up to the "continental" or "German" or "postmodern" body of philosophical ideas, actually reveals something pretty profound about how philosophy has come to be taught taught at English-language universities. He thinks, however, that what my distinction reveals can be stated more simply. He writes that this difference "is normally stated in terms of a division between Anglo-American and 'continental' philosophy, but that's misleading....Rather, I think what you're looking at is the anti-historicism that's been adopted by most English-speaking departments as part of the quest to put philosophy on the secure path of a science." I think Matthew's exactly right, only it's necessary to think carefully about what he's right about. What does it mean, for instance, to "put philosophy on the secure path of a science"? It means, I suspect, something very close to what I said before: that the philosophical truth which is aimed at via patterns of inquiry which aspire to "science" is a truth which requires "a certain unconsciousness about the broad and problematic historical and moral ontologies which [such] arguments...presuppose." Now, my personal philosophical biases lead me to look to what is (or at least what I think is) a real counter-point to that definition of truth, a "counter-Enlightenment"/romantic challenge that insisted, in one way or another, in thinking about the ontological and metaphysical dimension of moral and political matters. This particular challenge I (and many others, first and foremost Charles Taylor) see beginning with Rousseau and (some of) the German idealists, continued through Nietzsche and Heidegger, and in to 20th-century hermeneuticists, communitarians and postmodernists. Hence, when I speak of the "continental" tradition, I have something pretty specifically continental (i.e., German) in mind. But of course, there are also plenty of thinkers--many of whom consider themselves "political theorists"--who do this same sort of thing, only they go to medieval sources to rediscover "moral realism," or maybe (like Matthew suggested about Michael Sandel) they go all the way back to Aristotle. So really, as much as I like my position along this divide, it's broader than any single philosophical tradition. Matthew's point about "anti-historicism," fully understood, is probably closest to getting it right than any other possible description. The heart of the dispute, in the end, is whether or not you believe philosophical arguments should be (or can't avoid being) historically embedded. If you don't, than there's no reason to think about what might have been lost from this or that tradition, morally or otherwise, since of course you still have the argument right here. If, on the other had, you do believe arguments need a home if they are actually going to have a point, than one way or another, you're obliged to work out, historically, what your preferred argument's home is, or ought to be.
This leads me to two quick final points. First, this helps to underline what I said before about how religious (in particular Catholic) universities seem to often be more open teaching their doctoral students in politics along the latter route than other schools; after all, what could be a greater motivation for taking history seriously than the possibility that God might have had a hand in it? Second, Matthew's reframing of the issue also furthers Jacob's claim that the Straussians are odd ducks here; for of course, they follow the second route in the sense of wanting to appreciate the history of philosophy, yet they insist that they're doing is the real "anti-historicism."
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/16/2003 09:32:00 PM
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
Levy's Theory vs. Philosophy Opus
Jacob T. Levy's long promised essay on political theory and political philosophy is finally up. And it's great. To be sure, it is, as he says, "a little meandering, inductive rather than deductive, and impressionistic rather than precise"--but that just means it reads pretty much like everything I post here. The theoretically and philosophically-inclined inhabitants of the blogosphere (Matthew Yglesias, Micah Schwartzman, Chris Bertram, Lawrence Solum, and so forth) will no doubt soon be all over it, and rightly so; it's a really nice essay, full of great little observations. I take issue with a few of his claims, but let me do so by way of personally situating myself as best I can into his categories.
Generally speaking, what Jacob says about theory--that it aims for richness rather than rightness, that it willfully embraces its dependence upon and employment of various more-or-less unexplored ethical or political intuitions, that it does not prize definitiveness, that it appeals to a "lower" as opposed to a "higher" level of abstraction in its arguments (history rather than epistemology, for example), and so forth--all very much describe myself. My published work--ranging from the Anti-Federalists to Confucius to Charles Taylor to J.G. Herder to Mormonism--is clearly much more a product of breadth than depth; I truly do want to cast a "wider net in the history of ideas" rather than search for the "best-developed version of a philosopher's core arguments." The question which Jacob suggests theorists so often ask of the political philosophy they encounter ("What's the point?") is my question. So, according to Jacob I'm a theorist, right?
Wrong, or at least partly wrong. Jacob's analysis is incomplete, which he admits right from the start, when he states that "I'm going to emphasize Anglo-American political theory and political philosophy...[since] adding the Anglo-American/Continental distinction to the mix makes matters more confused still." Why is that? Because, he continues, "political theorists are typically more open to Continental approaches than are political philosophers, sharpening the institutuional differentiation...[while] among Continental practitioners, the theory-philosophy distinction is less sharp than it is among Anglo-American types." I think there is a lot of truth to what he says--clearly, there are certain theorists (like myself, I guess) who talk and think in what can only be called a "philosophical" way--but it needs to be teased out a little, if only to figure out why I (and so many other theorists who employ hermeneutics and other elements of Continental philosophy in our writing) have turned out more "philosophical," in a particular sense, than our professional approach and attitude might otherwise suggest.
Jacob writes that "political theorists ordinarily receive their PhDs from, and ordinarily teach in, political science department," whereas so-called political philosophers receive their's from philosophy departments and teach in philosophy. He goes on: "Given the structure of American doctoral programs, this means that a political theorist and a political philosopher-- even if they have complete overlap in their core interests-- will be differently trained. The philosopher will almost certainly study formal logic, very likely study ethics and moral philosophy broadly....and study at least some topics from philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaethics....[while the] theorist may well take statistics and/or formal theory (i.e. rational choice and game theoretic mathematical models)....as well as study one or more of American politics, comparative politics, and international relations in some depth, and may also study American or comparative constitutional law." So far, so good. But Jacob's description doesn't hold very well from those American universities where the Continental philosophical tradition (particularly but not exclusively the aesthetic-metaphysical German tradition of Hegel, Dilthey, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, and so forth, as opposed to the Marxist and Frankfurt critical theory schools, though there are obviously a lot of deep--though contested--connections between the two), which its preoccupation with issues of being, intentionality, interpretation, nihilism, and modernity, have taken root. In such universities, the graduate student in political theory--like I was, at Catholic University of America--will likely get a fair dose of international, comparative and American politics, but along with that, rather than having various topics in methodology, analysis and statistics hammered into one's head, the Ph.D. student may well have been required to read Michel Foucault, Emmanuel Levinas, Richard Rorty, Hannah Arendt, along with Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, and maybe Juergen Habermas and Paul Ricoeur too. With the exception of Arendt and Habermas, all of these people are obviously philosophers (Foucault and Ricoeur are difficult cases, but for their own complicated reasons); they are all asking deep questions about (or critiquing others' questions about) such traditional concerns as truth, reality, consciousness, history, morality and so forth. In this way, the aspiring "political theorist" will be obliged to familiarize herself with what Jacob described as the province of the philosopher: "some topics from philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, epistemology and metaethics." But what one would not get from these particular philosophers is, as Jacob put it, the drive to be "parsimonious" in one's use of such topics. On the contrary, engaging with these philosophers (and their romantic, medieval and even ancient forebearers) is likely instead to lead one to the conclusion that the strict argumentation of the Anglo-American philosophical school depends to an unfortunate degree upon a certain unconsciousness about the broad and problematic historical and moral ontologies which their arguments must presuppose.
It might be easy to just say that Jacob left out "postmodernism," but that wouldn't exactly address the point. For one thing, I'm not talking about all "postmodernism" (fortunately, kooks like Jean Baudrillard are mostly absent from the programs I'm describing). For another thing, it doesn't explain the attraction. After all, why would any political thinker (or teacher of future political thinkers) bother with postmodern thought in the first place, if the aim of such ideas (as they are so often stereotypically depicted) is to compromise the ability to define and describe (much less argue about and change) political bodies, or any kind of collectivies, in the first place? Let postmodernism settle in the humanities where it can break up texts, not communities, right? Well, the reason, as Stephen K. White has I think amply demonstrated in a couple of wonderful books (see here and here), is that such ideas, properly understood, can turn political thinking to a different, deeper notion of "responsibility" and "care"--not the kind implied through a rigorous analytic argument which weighs duties and conditions, but the kind which situates ones acts to a sense of being itself. Of course, many postmodernists would dismiss such metaphysical talk, but it cannot be denied that even in trying to overcome traditional metaphysics, it is this body of ideas which enable real thinking about the point of metaphysics in the first place. Consequently, I'm not surprised to find that many of the political theory programs which have most internalized this tradition are at religious--perhaps especially Roman Catholic--universities, though of course that's a not an iron-clad rule (Stephen White, for what it is worth, now teaches at the University of Virginia). Even in those programs where Ph.D. candidates don't read Heidegger, there are many more where they teach graduate students about Kant and Hegel (and by extension, about Rousseau and Hobbes all the rest) through that prism, with the result that "justice" and "interpretation" or "plualism" and "objectivity" appear in the same sentences. As one member of my dissertation committee put it, this sort of concern goes back to the Continental tradition; whatever their faults, he said, at least "the German philosophers still cared about truth." So if you're religious enough or communitarian enough (another debatable, though I think in this case appropriate, term) or postmodern enough to want or to hope that or just wonder whether or not politics can be truthful as well as "normative," then this is the way to study political theory. (Of course, there is also still another side to this dynamic, affecting those who receive an explicitly religious education in political philosophy, often centering on themes like natural law, but that's pretty much separate from the role of Continental philosophy I'm considering here.) Even if all this only partially describes one's graduate training (for, of course, Rawlsians and Continentalists can and do work side by side), the result is going to be an approach to political theory which is distinctly "philosophical"--one which asks big moral and/or metaphysical questions about the history of ideas, about the possibility for action and meaning and so forth, as well as employing them for the sake of "richness."
There's a lot more which could be said here; obviously hauling the Continental philosophical tradition into the discussion results in something more multifaceted than simply an additional, more ontologically sensitive approach to theorizing about government and community. But if nothing else, it perhaps provides a kind of supplement to Jacob's fine post. Would that more of us political theorists and philosophers had as good and confident a grip on what we're doing as he.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/15/2003 04:46:00 PM
Kinsley on Bush
I hope this piece gets a wide readership. Kinsley is often just bitter or snarky, but I've long found him capable of producing, on occasion, just about as intelligent and thoughtful a piece of writing as the op-ed format allows. This short essay, on Bush as a mover of history, is certainly one of his best; familiar subject + different perspective = a very reflective take. Here's the best bit:
"Bush's decision to make war on Iraq may have been visionary and courageous or reckless and tragic or anything in between, but one thing it wasn't was urgently necessary. For Bush, this war was optional. Events did not impose it on him. Few public voices were egging him on. He hadn't made an issue of the need for "regime change" during the presidential campaign or made it a priority in the early months of his Administration. If he had completely ignored Iraq through the 2004 election, the price would have been a few disappointed Administration hawks and one or two grumpy op-eds. But something or someone put this bee in his bonnet, and from a standing start, history took off. Thousands died, millions were freed from tyranny (we hope), billions were spent, a region was shaken to its core, alliances ruptured, and the entire world watched it all on TV."
As always, read it all.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/15/2003 11:38:00 AM
Monday, April 14, 2003
Intervention and Responsibility
David Remnick continues to be right about nearly everything. Another superb piece from the New Yorker editor, defending the principled liberal goals of the war in Iraq, casting all sorts of doubts on neoconservative imperialist, revolutionary aspirations, and most of all, emphasizing our immediate responsibilities. This is from the concluding paragraphs:
"Tens of thousands of soldiers will need to remain in Iraq long enough to prevent civil unrest or even civil war, while being vigilant against snipers, terror attacks, and guerrilla reprisals like last Thursday’s suicide bombing in Baghdad. Food, water, electricity, medicine, and other resources will need to be rapidly distributed. The production and flow of oil, the source of Iraqi wealth, will need to be maintained in a way that does not imply an occupier’s exploitation. And then there is the question of helping to build a free state on the rubble of tyranny. To stage-manage a hasty election of surrogates and then beat a fast retreat would confirm suspicions of American inconstancy no less than the rapid elevation of Halliburton, Bechtel, and Exxon Mobil as the titans of Iraqi industry....To help create a liberal state following a military invasion is an enormously radical, and delicate, project. Here the prize is not power but something more elusive—legitimacy. There are many ways for the United States to press the case for peace and political reform in the Middle East. A doctrine of permanent revolution, however, brings to mind no analogies in history to comfort us. The phrase is Trotsky’s, and the precedent is catastrophe."
As always, read the whole thing.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/14/2003 08:23:00 AM
Sunday, April 13, 2003
Mormonism and War
Caveat: the following post is by a Mormon (namely, me), and speaks of Mormon things (namely, doctrines of war and peace), but isn't necessarily for Mormons alone. For much of the past week, I've been involved in following (and contributing to) a couple of different e-mail discussions between several fellow members of the church about the war in Iraq; I'm going to try to summarize a couple of tentative observations and conclusions that I've drawn out of these debates, for whomever may be interested. If you're not, well, hopefully my posting on more traditional topics will resume tomorrow.
The immediate origin of this past week's discussions was the 173rd Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which is the actual name of the Mormon church). Twice each year the ecclesiastical leaders of the whole church--referred to as "general authorities"--gather in Salt Lake City, Utah, where they present various messages of moral and spiritual counsel and exhortation, as well as lay out new or changing policies or positions in the worldwide church. The most important of all these sermons are those give by the president of the church, whom members believe to be a prophet (a term which can be defined in several different ways, I grant), and therefore capable of speaking authoritatively (again, the meaning of which depends on how one defines the "prophetic authority") about God's will for the church, and indeed the whole of humanity. This past session, on Sunday morning, the current church president, Gordon B. Hinckley, gave a talk titled "War and Peace," with explicit reference to Iraq. Since the church president doesn't often speak on topical matters, and even more rarely on ones which are profoundly divisive with the church as a whole, this was a closely watched--and subsequently much discussed--address.
I won't address his complete sermon here. The majority of it made use of powerful, traditional themes of spiritual consolation which, I would hope, resonate with the longings of any Christian. "Even when the armaments of war ring out in deathly serenade and darkness and hatred reign in the hearts of some," Hinckley said at the conclusion of his sermon, "there stands immovable, reassuring, comforting, and with great outreaching love the quiet figure of the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. We can proclaim with Paul: 'For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 8:38–39)." As that is one of my favorite lines of scripture, I took particular comfort from hearing the man I accept as a prophet of God to end his counsel to a world at war with it. But most of the debate which I mentioned above hasn't dealt with Hinckley's use of such themes; rather, it has focused on his statements on Iraq in particular, and what Mormons should or may think of a war such as this one. I want to focus on two passages from his sermon which are especially relevant to topics I have written a great deal about here; namely, the idea of intervening--that is, making war--on behalf of liberal ideals, while at the same time doing so anti-imperialistically. But first, a little background.
Mormonism has never been a clearly pacifist movement, though there are threads of Christian pacifism which can discerned throughout our scriptures (particularly in certain passages of the Book of Mormon, such as right here) and history. When the church began in the 1830s in New York and Ohio it fairly quickly encountered a good deal of sectarian hostility and violence, culminating in the murder of the first leader of the church, Joseph Smith, in 1844. Even after departing to the Utah Territory the church continued to suffer abuse and harassment, this time mostly at the hands of federal authorities committed to stamping out the Mormon practice of polygamy (and, more broadly, to challenge the church's theocratic authority over a large tract of mostly empty land, which in itself arguably led in at least a few tragic cases to a fair amount of internal violence). There are, of course, numerous possible explanations for this opposition, many of which place a significant portion of the fault at the feet of the church itself. Regardless of how one feels about the Mormon church, its past (and now mostly repudiated) practice of polygamy, or the relationship of its various teachings to traditional Christianity, it cannot be denied that all this conflict left a mark on the church (and the country: a few authors have argued that anti-Mormonism is an essential, as-yet mostly unconsidered, element in any good history of 19th-century American society or constitutional jurisprudence). So, rather than pacifist, what you find throughout early Mormon documents is a fair amount of antinomian thought: a waiting for the end of the world, in which the wicked oppressors would (of course) receive their just reward at the hands of God. Until that day, members of the church were to defend themselves against their enemies, but according to God's laws, not civil ones (for both theological and practical reasons, the church for many years looked askance at availing itself of the secular, civil order). And so, for instance, one can find in the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations to Joseph Smith, a passage which apparently binds the church to renouncing war and bearing patiently any violence against ourselves or our families, at least up until the third offense; after that, if one's enemy has been properly warned and comes yet once more against you, then "thine enemy is in thine hands." This passage, and other similar to it, have been used to argue for the existence of a kind of revelatory "just war" doctrine in the Mormon tradition; one which conditions going to war on God's explicit command, on having made peace overtures, and having already suffered violence without making a response, so as to make certain that we are not the aggressors (aggressive war is even more emphatically denounced throughout Mormon scriptures). At least one Mormon organization (Mormons for Equality and Social Justice, a group which espouses many ideals I agree with) has made this argument explicitly, denouncing the war in Iraq as unjust and "grossly immoral" exactly because it fails to meet this scriptural standard.
President Hinckley did not mention any of the aforementioned scriptures in his sermon. Some members of the church have taken that to be plain evidence that he did not intend to expound doctrine, but rather was only giving his personal opinion. I won't even attempt to go into that debate, for the hermeneutical and procedural question(s) of exactly when a Mormon prophet is speaking prophetically, and thus should be understood as making statements which are binding upon the faithful, is at least as complicated as the long Roman Catholic tradition which guides attempts at distinguishing ex cathedra statements from other papal declarations, if not more so. What I can say is that, opinion or otherwise, Hinckley presented clear, if qualified, support for the war in Iraq, recognizing at the same time that there are and will continue to be broad disagreements, both within and between the various national bodies which members worldwide reside in, over the war; this is to be expected, since as he put it, "as citizens we are all under the direction of our respective national leaders." (This, of course, may well be the reason that Hinckley found little guidance from the 19th-century revelations cited above; they clearly address the Mormon church as a more or less sovereign people, which to a certain degree was certainly Joseph Smith's--and his successor Brigham Young's--intention: like the ancient tribe of Israel, the church was to be a polity as well as an ecclesiastical body. Since, for good or ill, that hasn't been even metaphorically true for over a century, perhaps it is reasonable that those statements should be ignored, though again there could be a long and fruitful debate about that.) Furthermore, Hinckley was especially careful to emphasize that those members of the church who support the war do not (and must not) assume that the policies presently being pursued by the coalition forces endorse a general war against Islam or any particular Muslim people; also, he clearly stated that dissent was both a right and a privilege in democratic societies and should be exercised (though he drew the line at "legal" dissent, however one chooses to interpret that). The crucial political passage, however, was when he spoke of an "overriding responsibility" we have, as a "freedom-loving people" (referring presumably to members of the church, though it would be duplicitous to deny that Hinckley obviously had his own life experience as an American in mind here) to "fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression." The scriptures he cited at this point are notorious ones in the church (or at least notorious for those of us who dislike the often mindlessly patriotic spin put on them by the mostly conservative American church membership): passages from the Book of Mormon which speak of rallying to the cause of the "title of liberty," and of God lending His blessing to those who go to war "inspired by a better cause" rather than simply fighting on behalf of "power." If this sounds like something not unlike the humble, Gladstonian, liberal interventionist position I have been describing....well, good, it sounds like that to me as well. Not that Hinckley ever described such wars as "good" causes--only that "there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight." (The existence of an obligation, it should go without saying, does not in itself transform an act into something good.) The fact that he spoke of this moral cause as necessarily qualified by "times and circumstances" allows a tremendous amount of debate into this "doctrine," if it is such. Indeed, this is not, by any means, a complete Mormon just war theory, for the matter of "cause" may be easily and often subject to abuse--especially given that "liberty" need not and should not always mean the same thing to all people, thus requiring any such announced "cause" itself, and not merely the circumstances of making war on its behalf, be subject to consideration and critique. But nonetheless, President Hinckley's (arguably) prophetic statements last Sunday do give us Mormons, I think, an entrance to productive thinking about just war principles, something which, as the church spreads, I believe we will increasingly have to engage in.
One last point. President Hinckley, in a fascinating passage near the beginning of his sermon, after describing war as one of Satan's tools, mourned the way we "are prone to glorify the great empires of the past," including "the vast British empire." That rhetorical choice didn't seem to make sense to me at first: if he wanted to talk about the evils of war, he could have easily talked about how we glorify armies, soldiers, weapons; how we make a big deal out of military heroism and get our blood up when we see scenes of war. But he didn't; instead, he spoke of how imperial ambitions lead to "brutal conquest," "subjugation," "repression, and an astronomical cost in life and treasure." (That "life and treasure" bit in particular has an almost 19th-century, anti-imperialist ring to it.) So clearly he didn't simply want to condemn warfare; instead, he wanted to rebuke certain causes to which warfare is put. I don't know how well-read a man President Hinckley is, but there's no way any halfway informed American citizen (and by this I mean someone who reads Time magazine) can still by this point be unaware of the vaguely imperial language which has surrounded much of the planning and execution of this war: the neoconservative "democratic imperialism" which I have written about, and so forth. I can't help but feel that President Hinckley included this passage in his sermon because he wanted to underscore the care which must attend any attempt to tease out a Mormon position on war on the simple basis of "cause." That he believes we sometimes "obliged" to do so is apparent; that it is also a dangerous thing to do, a thing which invites triumphalism, is equally apparent. I don't know what Hinckley imagines should or must happen in Iraq, but I come away from nearly a week's worth of constant thought and discussion about his sermon with two convictions. First, that it is justifiable, sometimes, with full consciousness of the sin invariably involved, to fight even a faraway war for a good (i.e., liberal, freedom-loving, rights-defending) cause. And second, that those who let the cause go to their heads, who flirt even distantly with the idea of using power to remake the world, have in fact left the cause behind: they have become advocates of empire, and the prophet of the Mormon church has little sympathy, historical or otherwise, with them. I am grateful that in my writings on the war I have always made it clear that I don't think being willing to fight on behalf of liberal causes need be the same thing as defending a kind of "liberal imperialism"; still, I feel the sting of Hinckley's reproach. What the prophet has to say to all Mormons, I think, is that we're playing with fire here--indeed, we're all in the fire, all us mortals--and just because we may not see our way clear to transcending it doesn't mean we are free from watching carefully how we use it, or how it may be used (or abused) in a good cause's name.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/13/2003 12:15:00 PM
Wednesday, April 09, 2003
Theory vs. Philosophy (or, Regarding Rawls)
More on the Rawlsian front: Andrew Sabl summarizes an article of his which challenges Cohen's critique of Rawls on Micah Schwartzman's blog; Jacob T. Levy and Matthew Ygelsias both chime in. Two points, one on Andrew's criticism of Cohen's criticism; the other one what Levy calls the matter of the "Harvard-Oxford-Ethics philosophers."
1) Andrew argues that the problem with Cohen's egalitarian challenge to Rawls is that it ultimately aims not at liberality or individuality, but at fraternity and community. Of course, anyone whose read Marx knows just how close certain strands of Marxist and neo-Marxist thought are to any number of contemporary (or even traditional) communitarian philosophies; and as far as Andrew is concerned, the problem with Cohen's attack on Rawlsian egalitarianism is exactly the degree to which he is determined to borrow principles from those philosophies, and make them part of the "liberal" camp. He writes: "Certain rationalist liberals and those who seek to build bridges with communitarians....in fact do aspire to these ideals of mutual justification, fraternity, and rational consistency as the basis for social unity. They do indeed play down, or abandon altogether, individuality as liberalism's animating idea. And they do indeed try (a la Dewey) to make liberalism consistent with an extremely demanding form of social solidarity. These kinds of liberalism may indeed be inconsistent of hypocritical. And these kinds of liberals may indeed have dug their own graves--with Cohen as gravedigger. But the rest of us liberals may safely whistle past them." This, of course, would seem to place those who try to unite liberal practices with communitarian principles in a bad light. Since that describes me to a certain extent, I feel obliged to respond. Please note, as Andrew rightly does, what kind of community Cohen values: "not a concrete social or political community, real or aspirational, but a rationalist, 'justificatory community' where people seek to 'make policy together.'" Now I'm not certain if the kind of deliberative democratic community which Andrew alludes to here (such as was discussed in Michael Sandel's Democracy's Discontent, especially the later chapters), where people "make policy together," is really always best termed a "rationalist, justificatory community." I hope not, as I would like to think deliberation can properly be pursued in democratic communities which are not grounded in rational justification. Neo-Marxian (actually, I think, in a weird sort of way, Kantian) communities of that sort depend upon the belief that the cosmopolitan, egalitarian principles of justice which Cohen embraces, properly applied, will result in communal identification and solidarity, which he holds to be the highest sort of freedom or agency. Communitarians may agree with that final claim, but don't see such fraternity as properly characterizing social arrangements which are actually just rational projections; rather, they see fraternity as a function of historic, organic embeddedness. What Andrew is criticizing Cohen for, then, should be limited to the use to which Cohen wants to put liberalism (i.e., to the achievement of communal justice), not the simple fact that he wants liberal societies to affirm (some kind of) communitarian good(s). (Though actually, Andrew seems a rigorous enough classical liberal to want to reject all communitarianism. But that may be a mis-reading on my part, and in any case, would involve an different argument than the one he gives.)
2) Very briefly, Jacob comments that this dispute "sounds like the sort of argument that reminds us of the difference between political theorists [such as himself]...and political philosophers." In other words, the philosophers who spend their time trying to come up with a meta-ethical theory of liberalism are driven, like Cohen is, to pick apart the failure of Rawlsian or other kinds of liberalism to rationally accomplish their own presumed egalitarian aims, while political theorists shake their heads ruefully. Matthew wonders if this means theorists just want to emphasize that such perfectionist philosophies are unrealistic (which he correctly notes doesn't amount to a moral argument against it), or if Andrew (and Jacob, and presumably other "theorists") just don't like perfectionist arguments period (to which he rightly responds, exactly what is the problem with arguing about how one ought to live one's life?). My response: I'm with Matthew in the sense that I'm a philosopher, and find myself drawn to the hard moral and ethical arguments; but I'm also with Jacob in that I find the sort of perfectionist moral imperatives which motivate Cohen to be flawed. The reason I can say this, of course, is that not all political philosophy is "Harvard-Oxford-Ethics" philosophy, with it's analytical Kantian-Marxist axis. Fundamentally, I'm not a theorist, though I can do theory; but since my political philosophy is more historical and hermeneutical ("Continental," as they say), as well as religious, I can escape what Andrew accuses Cohen of. Lucky me!
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/09/2003 04:55:00 PM
Women on Women in Combat
Having never served in the military, and having never been female (though married to one and the father of two more), I recognize my limitations to comment on the question of women (including mothers) being subject to combat duty. This is not to endorse some sort of experience-based "you-can't-understand-it-until-you've-been-there/done-that/are-one"-type relativism, but rather to simply to recognize knowledge limitations: there's a lot I just don't know about this subject. For those who want to learn (and I'm one of them) two sources: first, a nice essay that really deserves more attention posted a few weeks back by the Invisible Adjunct, wherein she struggles to articulate a feminist position that acknowledges the kernel of real, unsettling truth behind the traditionalist, conservative attack on women in combat: that (as she put it in a reply to a comment to her post) "the experience of motherhood explodes the myth of the autonomous individual and reveals it for what it is: a sometimes useful and sometimes not so useful fiction." Second, for those who want more of the political and cultural inside of this deabte (particularly inside the military), check out this exchange. It's just starting, and looks like it may be a good one (and the Fray following it, so far, is excellent).
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/09/2003 11:40:00 AM
Tuesday, April 08, 2003
Sedition and "Lese majeste"
Micah Schwartzman asks an interesting question: is it possible to come up with a defense of laws which forbid seditious libel? (Lawrence Solum chimes in on the same issue.) Micah looks back to the Alien and Sedition Acts, New York Times v. Sullivan, and reflects that, insofar as the United States is concerned, arguments which hold that since "the free circulation of facts, opinions, and ideas is crucial for effective and legitimate political opposition, and because of the difficulty in isolating abusive practices, the government should not have the power to prosecute seditious libel" have pretty much carried the day. But then he further wonders that, whereas in cases where "the government has as much power as it does in the United States today, these types of laws [appear]....highly pernicious," in other situations, such as "unstable democracies threatened with civil dissolution, or in countries ruled by so-called 'liberal authoritarian' regimes, the arguments in favor of restricting the freedoms of political speech and press may seem much more compelling." So he asks, what can be said in favor of such laws, all things considered?
I suppose, as someone basically sympathetic to philosophical communitarianism, that there's a fair amount I might add to this discussion in terms of how one justifies "rights" or defines "sedition" in relation to particular national communities. But instead, let me put on my Asian studies hat, and talk about Thailand--arguably one of those "liberal authoritarian regimes" Micah mentions. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy; it has a royal family, whose position in the society is inextricably tied to the nation's identity as a Buddhist community, but it also has a basically liberal order in terms of government power and civil rights. You can see the U.S. government's mostly positive report on human and civil rights in Thailand here. However, as that report states clearly, "laws prohibiting criticism of the royal family (lese majeste), threats to national security, or speech likely to incite disturbances or insult Buddhism remain in place under the Constitution." In other words, Thailand has laws against seditious libel. Does that result in a ruinously undemocratic society? I don't think so--though obviously, those whose liberalism is more philosophically serious than mine would disagree. Two anecdotes on how these kind of libel laws play out, one somewhat silly and pathetic, another serious. First: in Mormon missionary circles (especially those of us who served in Asia), this story (and others like it) about a couple of idiot missionaries perching on top of a Buddha and snapping their picture is nortorious. Just a joke? Not to the good people of Thailand: these morons were jailed and then unceremoniously ejected from the country. A crime against liberalism? Or maybe just using seditious libel laws to make a point about identity and the social order.
Second, and more seriously, consider the case of Dr. Sulak Sivaraksa, a Buddhist social activist so deeply committed to a traditional Thai identity that he prefers to refer to himself as "Siamese." Sivaraksa was charged in 1991 by the then-military ruler of Thailand, General Suchinda Kraprayoon, for committing lese majeste--that is, for insulting the royal family while in the course of attacking the government and the current military junta in particular. Sivaraska fled the country, but returned the next year after the military government had fallen, in order to defend himself against the charge. His arguments, which were full of democratic fervor, in no way challenged Thailand's "illiberal" sedition laws; indeed, he claimed that if he had truly committed lese majeste, he would consider only right, as a member of the Thai nation, to be punished for it. He wrote afterward: "I did not....stake my ground on an absolute right to free speech. My defense against the charge of lese majeste was my innocence of the charge; my defense was my loyalty to the Kind and the Royal Family and, even where I discussed the use of the charge of lese majeste in current Siamese political practice, it was to highlight abuse and to point to the ways in which abuse might undermine the monarchy, rather than to defend any theoretical right to commit this action. I am not affirming, nor would I affirm, a right to commit lese majeste. This aspect of the case is particularly concerned with my being Siamese and belonging to the Siamese cultural tradition."
Clearly, there are culturally communitarian contexts wherein defenses of seditious libel can be mounted which do not, in themselves, seem to undermine democratic practices. Since the United States is not a Buddhist country, and doesn't have a royal family, Sivaraksa's arguments don't work for us. But still, his example suggests, in answer to Micah's questions, that serious defenses of such laws can be made. (Sivaraksa's autobiography has all this, and more. Get it; it's worth reading.)
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/08/2003 11:41:00 AM
Monday, April 07, 2003
Another Point About Kurtz...
...though it isn't my own. John Holbo, a philosopher who does his blogging from Singapore, makes an interesting point about Kurtz's discussion of democratizing Iraq, when he observes that Kurtz thinks, not unreasonably, that one thing that will have to be done in the wrong run is disarming and disempowering tribal groups. Kurtz writes: "A truly modern and democratic Iraq will require a state with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. That means in the areas where rifle-bearing tribesmen still rule, the populace will eventually have to be disarmed....It will take time to educate and train a modernizing and liberal elite. [But e]ventually, patronage through tribe and kin will have to be stamped out in favor of an educational and bureaucratic meritocracy." Holbo responds: "We would be reasonably content – insanely pleased - if Iraq became like the United States. But the USA is not only a well-armed society, it is fiercely tribal. There are fifty (!) states....Beneath that, there are stubborn satraps and satrapies all the way down to level of the local school board. Last but not least, although our Constitution did not anticipate the permanent establishment of two fiercely prideful, mutually hateful, warring tribes – Democrats and Republicans – it has actually worked out more or less OK in practice." Now, I'm not sure if there's isn't more rhetoric than argument to the claim that local government institutions in the U.S. are "satrapies," and that our major political parties are "tribes." (We'd probably need Jacob Levy, who wrote one of the better books out there on tribes and federalism, to weigh in on this matter.) Still, John's onto something. As he puts it, completely aside from all my aforementioned philosophical concerns about language and cultural imperialism, let's not set the bar too high here.
Update: a friend e-mails me to say "I think Holbo's critique of Kurtz is absurd. In the U.S., as in all functioning states, liberal or otherwise, the government (whether at the federal, state, or local level) has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. In fact, I'd say (with Weber) it is the minimum definition of a functioning state. Sure, the 2nd amendment is defended using rhetoric of self-governing individuals, but that's a case of mere rhetoric: when one of those individuals decides to claim a right to use force on his own, he is promptly arrested and punished. The DC sniper is a perfect example of this. Holbo would only be right if, when he/they started shooting people, we all threw up our hands and said -- 'well, that's democracy for ya!' But of course we didn't say that, because we have (a) functioning state(s) -- just as Iraq will have to have one."
I must say, nice retort.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/07/2003 08:53:00 AM
Sunday, April 06, 2003
Kurtz and the Problem with Language, Liberalism, and Empire
It's been empire-madness in the blogosphere lately. Check out the April 4th entry over at Political Theory Daily Review; no less than 28 separate links. I can't possibly read and critique all or even half of them, though a couple of the articles they link I have commented on before (particularly Niall Ferguson's exploration of what the British empire can teach the United States, and Michael Ignatieff's careful consideration of what an American empire may and may not be able to do). In general, I still stand by my earlier argument that, while I can't deny the attractions or even the necessity of the United States learning from and perhaps even taking on some elements of the "imperial tradition" (especially given how much of that tradition arguably lives on in the "Anglosphere"), I believe what is necessary now is the ability to articulate an anti-imperialist position--which is not the same as a globalist, institution-based position. Rather, it must be an internationalist position grounded, paradoxically, in national bodies. As I wrote before, "in order for what I believe we Westerners value (or at least ought to value) about communities and nations to be realized, we must intervene [if we intervene] in such a way that the values of the liberated communities and nations are not prevented from developing differently from our own." Thus, as strong as the temptation may be, I simply can't support any serious flirtation with empire, at least not as traditionally conceived.
This doesn't mean, of course, that those who are engaged in such flirtations aren't worth reading and learning from. Obviously I think Ferguson's discussion of Britian's Victorian-age "liberal empire" falls into that category. Another one, also linked above and recently discussed by Matthew Yglesias and Joshua Micah Marshall, is this piece by Stanley Kurtz on "democratic imperialism." Marshall is more interested in the partisan political implications of the way the imperial argument has (or hasn't, at least not publicly) been made by various neocon elites who have Bush's ear. But the ideas in Kurtz's piece deserve engagement on their own terms, and I'm sure they'll receive plenty. I'm no expert, but in line with what I've written lately on liberal and illiberal forms of democracy, let me add one point here, dealing with something which Kurtz doesn't seem to appreciate and which I at least know something about: the centrality of language to the realization of a particular democratic order.
Kurtz presents the British rule of India as the best pragmatic model for an American occupation of Iraq that wishes to aim (as liberal nationalists like myself insist it must) for the creation of a liberal, self-governing state. He sets up his history of the British rule around two poles: the "Orientalists," who respected the indigenous Indian culture sufficiently that they doubted it could ever change, and the "Reformists," who were appalled by Indian culture and insisted on "enlightening" the people. Kurtz suggests that the key victory of the Reformists (whose side he doesn't necessarily always take) over the long history of British rule was the institution of an English language-based elite education system. He writes:
"It was the liberals’ education policy that successfully laid the groundwork for India’s modern and democratic future. The Orientalists wanted to subsidize the advanced study of indigenous languages. The liberals, on the other hand, were determined to create a class of English-speaking Indians....Their hope was to mold a class of Indians that was modern and liberal in outlook, a class that could eventually govern India on its own. That is exactly what happened. Liberal administrative victories over the Orientalists in the 1830s set up a system of English education that eventually produced a small but influential bureaucratic class of Anglicized Indians. Although a more conservative administrative policy of indirect rule through indigenous elites eventually returned...a small but productive system of English-language education remained sacrosanct throughout British rule. By the 1880s the growing class of English-educated Indians, frozen out of higher administrative positions, was agitating for a larger role in government. At that point, administrative liberals returned to power long enough to devolve a limited share of control to local representative assemblies on which Indians could sit. These English-educated Indians, who populated the bureaucracy, the courts, and the local democratic assemblies, formed the core of India’s movement for independence."
Kurtz acknowledges that this selective, language-based transformation of the Indian elite took a very long time to accomplish, and even if the process could be expedited in Iraq (which he thinks it could be), the "slow process of English-medium education in modern and liberal ideas" in Iraq would leave plenty of time for nationalist reactions to arise. Kurtz responds by wondering about the possibility of "devis[ing] a way of exercising influence in postwar Iraq that is something less than classic direct imperial rule, yet something more than the 'Orientalist' policy of indirect rule through traditional elites.' That is something worth thinking about--but so is this. The "traditional elites" he speaks of dismissively would, of course, speak and rule through the languages of the Iraqi people, not through English. For Kurtz then, it seems, the key feature of any compromise which would limit the American presence and hence any nationalist backlash, but still pull off something like what he sees the British as having accomplished in India, would be the degree to which we could still successfully implement a selective program of Anglicization (if you use that term to describe the linguistic culture of American soldiers and social workers). I don't like any argument which rests so heavily on the imposition (whether direct or indirect, though you can never prevent the latter entirely) of linguistic frameworks, however, as I tend to see those frameworks as essential to the articulation of any genuine (and thus, in the long run, legitimating) national community. Daniel A. Bell, whose books I mentioned in a recent post, e-mailed me to comment that he feared the present war was actually going to make the kind of democratization which liberal communitarians like he and I prefer actually less likely, because the cultural force of the American presence will warp the development of the Iraqi community's understandings of key liberal principles. As I've made clear, I'm more sympathetic to the possibility that this war may provide the necessary ground-clearing for such understandings to truly take root, though I'm certainly aware of the complicating (and rival) interferences present in any such project. Still, I think I would have to draw the line at something which saw membership in the Anglosphere as the only defensible, or even just the best, route to democratic self-government; my anti-imperialist position, therefore, would be one that respected the power of English enough to not want to use it as a blunt instrument. Obviously, one could make this argument without employing my preferred Herderian language about expression and authenticity; one could go Habermasian and talk about the integrity of indigenous languages as central to the development of a non-stratified, structurally democratic public sphere. And that argument would work--except that, from a philosophical point of view (which is what mine is, after all), that leaves you with no constitutive claim against those who argue for the complete linguistic domination of Iraq. After all, as long as they all--or at least all their elites--speak the same language, it doesn't matter which one it is, right? Wrong, and not just for practical reasons. There is identity to consider. Hence, if there is to be "democratic imperialism," then I would argue that it must be, as I've written before, humble: which in this case means attentive the sort of "local knowledge" which Bell as defended and which cannot, in any case, be extricated from a traditional and indigenous (though admittedly porous and always evolving) linguistic framework.
One additional point. I suppose one might defend Kurtz's argument here by saying that it wasn't just the British institutional presence which laid the groundwork for the democratization of India, but the British cultural presence as well--that it was, in fact, strictly out of a thoroughly Anglicized environment that the fullest authentic articulation of a democratic India was realized. What such a counter-claim rests upon, of course, is the career and example of Mahatma Gandhi, who came back to India, intellectually, culturally and spiritually (or so the argument goes) via London. I'm not persuaded by this challenge, as I think there is a tendency to misunderstand and minimize just how profoundly anti-Western (in the religious sense) Gandhi's "illiberal" vision of democratic India really was. (Gandhi's wonderful line about how he thought Western civilization would be a "good idea" is widely read as nice liberal reproach for the West's failure to live up to its ideals: check this paper out, however, to understand Gandhi's actual view of the whole spiritually vexing question of "civilization.") But more generally, the problem with using the Anglo-American tradition's appropriation of Gandhi as a defense of seeing language as something negotiable rather than fundamental in dealing with interventions across nations is simply that, well, Gandhi was a genius: no, he was a Dichter, with all the authoritative cultural, linguistic and moral implications that German label gives rise to. Maybe we could count on a true Iraqi prophet-poet eventually arising out of some future, selectively Anglicized, liberal Iraqi environment, to lead the way to genuine Iraqi democracy...but I wouldn't allow myself to justify a thorough linguistic-cultural occupation on that basis.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/06/2003 11:29:00 PM
Friday, April 04, 2003
What I Wish I Knew about Just War Theory...
...is a very long list. For someone who attended two formally (and in many ways substantively) Christian universities--Brigham Young University, undergraduate; Catholic University of America, graduate--I'm embarrassed to say that I find myself to be woefully ill-equipped to deal with questions about classic, and contemporary, just war principles and their application. I can teach it to my introductory students well enough when we get into Aquinas, but I'm just a student myself when it comes to larger debates about the doctrine. Fortunately, Lawrence Solum has provided a nice set of links to help me (and others) get educated on this matter. Let me add a couple of others. For starters, the journal First Things has long featured excellent treatments of just war principles; check out this exchange, for instance, between George Weigel and Paul J. Griffiths. And for a more scholarly take, a rich and interesting reflection on just war theory--titled "Just War Theory and the U.S. Counterterror War," by Neta C. Crawford--has just been published here, in the first issue of the new APSA journal Perspectives on Politics. It's not available on-line, but it's worth tracking down, or getting a political scientist you know to make a copy for you, if you have the chance.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/04/2003 04:17:00 PM
Hart's Question about Democracy, Liberality and Community
In the first item of real political substance on his new blog, Gary Hart brings up an issue that demands some serious reflection--though he himself doesn't actually provide any. He writes:
"For Bush administration hard-liners, this [war] is the first in a string of battles to 'liberate' so much of the Islamic world as is not 'democratic'....But serious foreign policy thinkers have pointed out that 'democracy' is not necessarily liberality. What if, for example, the first 'free' Iraqi elections produce President Mullah Omar? Do we then overthrow a democratically elected theocracy? Has Dick Cheney thought this far ahead?"
Maybe Cheney has; I wouldn't know. From the way he asks the question one might assume that that Hart has, but if so, he doesn't spell out his thoughts on the matter. After bringing up the potential disconnect between liberal values and democratic practices, he makes a familiar plea to "strengthen existing international institutions, including the UN, and design new ones, including, for example, an international peace-making force." I completely agree that more attention must be paid to international institutions, and I do think that an international peace-keeping force could well become a crucial feature of a more just future (though whether the United Nations, and the whole web of supposedly "supranational" laws and practices which it embodies and defends, is ultimately the right model to adhere to in constructing such a future is something I doubt). But Hart's complaint with the Bush administration's current policies (or rather, the by-now familiar neoconservative interpretation of those policies) focuses, at least in part, on an issue which is quite distinct from any possible strengthening of international institutions: namely, what about those nations which would contribute to such a strengthening? Are they democratic? Do we want them to be democratic? And what do we do if they are not? In this same post, Hart links to a recent speech of his, which seems to promise some close consideration of these questions. But no luck; though he states that one of the key principles of "America's Role in the 21st-Century World" should be to "encourage democracy—especially among regional powers—including forms of democratic government possibly different in design and structure from our own," he doesn't give any attention to what the preferable (or even acceptable) range of differences in design or structure might be. Despite spending a couple of paragraphs of his speech talking about the connection between democratization, China, and security in East Asia, he drops entirely the question at the heart of his original complaint: what if the democracies which we encourage (or, in the case of Iraq, import) do not turn out liberal, and thus do not join Western nations in the pursuit of liberal goals?
This is really too bad for Hart, because there is no region of the world about which more research has been published that addresses these same questions of democracy and liberalism than East Asia. For starters, he could have considered the wonderful work of Daniel A. Bell, particularly East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia and his edited volume, Towards Illiberal Democracy in Pacific Asia. The latter is especially interesting. Thanks to Fareed Zakaria's recent arguments, the conventional wisdom about "illiberal democracy" will probably soon coalesce around the idea that such forms of government are by definition a threat to liberty itself; but in the aforementioned work, Bell and his co-authors make the (I think) much more nuanced argument that several nations in East Asia (particularly Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan) are developing democratic systems which internalize local values and preferences that are particular to their own national cultures--and that includes their own cultural (in these cases, mostly Confucian) conceptions of liberty. This is not an apology for authoritarianism; scholars like Bell clearly recognize and condemn the way democratic or "popular culture" rhetoric can and has been used to preserve simple autocratic privilege. Still, they insist that it is foolish to assume that all "illiberal" acts, when democratically chosen, are all equally inimical to what we would call liberal principles, no matter what cultural or national context they occur in.
Part of the confusion here, as I have discussed before, is simply terminological. Is liberalism a political philosophy, a normative and/or descriptive account of political reality, or is it primary a theory or posture towards the application and interpretation of such accounts? Usually, when people in the United States or Europe speak of "liberal democracy" they tend to think in a manner which supports the former view; democracy, in this sense, serves as the essential concomitant to the realization of a certain philosophy of human and social being. Since individuality and independence are held, under philosophical liberalism, to be the final and proper condition of humankind, the democracies which exist need to be such that they always promote and protect, in the end, just such individuality and independence. But if, as Michael Walzer suggested in his article "On Negative Politics," liberal can be taken as an adjective, then a different relationship to democracy, and the community or culture which governs itself democratically, may be discerned. Democracy, after all, is a practice tied to political or social body, not a definition of that body. It is a means, an expression and reflection of certain assumptions about how best to be true to what that body collectively affirms regarding itself and its prefered ends; it is not the ends themselves. Those ends will be accounted for by a different, perhaps more communitarian, perhaps more religious (or even, as I suggested a couple of days ago, more fundamentalist) philosophy. What is happening in many nations in Pacific Asia, and in many of the nations which concern Zakaria, is the development of democratic communities which are not (surprise!) Western: they are Confucian, or Muslim, or something else. Of course, one shouldn't just leave it at that: the historical, theological and structural components of "Confucian" and "Islamic" societies are neither clear nor undisputed (just as they aren't for "Western" nations either), and hence one musn't feel obliged to simply take all such culture-bound claims at their word without any critique. Nonetheless, it is entirely coherent to speak of, say, "Confucian-communitarian democracies," and then, after having recognized how their ends diverge from the distinctly Western, European, pseudo- (or post-) Judeo-Christian liberalism by which we have come to measure our democracies, begin going about the business of asking how those kind of democracies might be made more "liberal" (in the adjectival sense).
To return to Hart's original question: say Mullah Omar, or someone like him, is elected president in the first free and fair Iraqi election. Well, that certainly wouldn't be good for any sort of "liberality," much less the region's stability. But if Hart really thinks that someone needs to be asking these questions (and he's right), then he should also be thinking about the full range of possible answers. The options are not simply (as I think his question meant to imply) either a democratically legitimated regime of Mullah Omars, on the one hand, or a costly, long-term American presence in Iraq until they finally get their democracy "right" on the other. There is, among other possible options, the example of Turkey. As David Remnick brilliantly explored in this New Yorker article, the long struggle between the military, devoted secularists, and equally devoted Muslims to control Turkey as it has modernized and democratized has had all sorts of tragic costs; but at the present moment, Turkey is ruled by an avowedly Islamist party that is finding a way to present its very popular, culturally and religiously-grounded ideas in a language that, while obviously conservative (and thus arguably "illiberal," at least in the more perfectionist sense), is by no means outside the range of opinions which can effectively be incorporated into a democracy which still affirms basic liberties. Remnick quoted a very Americanized and liberal journalist named Cengiz Candar, who argued that "Turkey is developing a synthesis of democracy and Islam....the Justice and Development Party [the ruling Islamic party] sees itself as a conservative party" (like the traditional Christian Democratic parties in Western Europe, Remnick adds) "and the core leadership tends to the political center, not Sharia" (or Islamic law). Of course, it may not work: Turkey may end up in civil war, and so might Iraq. So surely, if it's democracy and liberty which everybody wants (or at least hopes for), then yes, we need to ask careful questions about their relationship and meaning, and Hart is right to do so. But if we are to be attentive to the whole range of possible answers, we may find some which don't fit perfectly into Hart's rather polemical intention.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/04/2003 12:23:00 AM
Thursday, April 03, 2003
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
Where We Are
The fact is, I don't know. I've no military background, and unlike many other bloggers, I haven't been obsessively following every news update, because 1) I haven't the time, 2) I'm not confident that I have a sufficient knowledge base in these political-military-strategic-policy-type matters to be able to effectively put together and assess all such news updates anyway. Like most everyone else, I'm aware of what journalists like Seymour Hersh and Josh Marshall have recently claimed about the connection between events on the ground in Iraq, and ideas bouncing around in the heads of neocons like Rumsfeld and Perle. It seems like a plausible and (given my liberal interventionist sympathies) worrisome claim. But I simply don't feel like I have it in me to come to any conclusions, even tentative ones, about where we are at the present moment, and what where we are at the present moment tells us about who put us there, and where they (if there is a "they") are going to be sending us next. In the meantime, I've been following a debate between Andrew Sullivan and Marshall about just these issues. Even if you've burned out on Sullivan lately, as I have (his arguably admirable single-mindedness has crossed over into an annoying narrow-mindedness, in my view), it's worth reading in full. Begin with Marshall here, then go to Sullivan here, then Marshall here, then Sullivan here, and finally (early this morning--not really a response to Sullivan, but close enough) Marshall right here.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/02/2003 08:51:00 AM
Tuesday, April 01, 2003
Rawls, Kant and Teaching Political Philosophy
Lawrence Solum, Micah Schwartzman, Matt Yglesias and Chris Bertram have all been talking about John Rawls's difference principle and various critiques of it, in particular G.A. Cohen's. I'm not a "Rawls anorak" as Chris put it (to be honest, I have no idea what that means--isn't an anorak a kind of coat?--but I assume from the context he means "people who care passionately about getting Rawls right," which I know I'm not), but the exchange is an interesting one, and deserves to be read through entirely. I've always been impressed by the level of attachment some people have to Rawls--and therefore, I assume, to the principles of liberal egalitarianism which his arguments did so much to both clarify and (indirectly) critique. I'm attracted to those principles as well, though in a derivative way; to me, Rawls is most important as a reader of Kant, and as presenter of an analytic, liberal egalitarian interpretation of Kantianism. (Perhaps this is simply the difference between someone explicitly trained in political theory and someone like myself who was educated primarily in the history of political philosophy.) Rawls ideas work within the same world which Kant presented, a world in which the "fact of reason" is, in itself, as Rawls put it in his essay "Themes in Kant's Moral Philosophy" (included in this collection, my absolute favorite out of so many anthologies on Kant), "the glorious disclosure of our autonomy." This is a powerful, enchanting idea, arguably the highpoint of liberal universalism in the history of Western philosophy. But it is hard to communicate to students; or, at least, I've found it difficult. This exchange over Rawls began with Chris's comment about giving his "annual lecture" on Rawls's difference principle; interestingly, on that same day I gave my "annual lecture" on Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, as my introduction to Kant's social contract thinking. One of my better students in that class, as I was wrapping up, commented that she just didn't believe it; any sort of universalism struck her as obviously implausible. I basically agree with her, but it bothered me that superficial criticisms of the Enlightenment (the popularization of which, I free admit, communitarians like myself are at least partly responsible for) have been so internalized by so many that the power of Kant's transcendental argument, made on behalf of realizing the sort of autonomy which Rousseau argued for while not abandoning the larger Newtonian Enlightenment vision of a rational world which Hume's skepticism had dealt (in Kant's view) a death blow to, can be so completely missed. So many of my students, when pressed, fall back on the usual universalist tropes about "dignity" and "rights," but find Kant's attempt to provide a ground for such a total confusion. Hence the usefulness of Rawls, who I don't usually teach in my political theory classes (political ideologies is a different class) but whose concepts and arguments I borrow liberally from (pun intended). Thought experiments like those which put forward the difference principle often provide, in my experience, wonderful entrances into discussions about the abstract demands of (and, therefore, the nature of) obligation and duty, which in turn help clarify the importance of Kant for political theory. Perhaps, in a way, I'm only repeating what Jacob Levy said months ago after Rawls's death: that "Rawls created a common disciplinary discourse within which arguments could be had." For better or worse (I often think for worse, but then, I would, wouldn't I?), the analytical mode of Rawls's philosophical arguments has a profound appeal. That is, it wasn't just some bizarre Anglo-American conspiracy which forced liberalism and utilitarianism to wed themselves together for much of the 19th and 20th centuries; there was also the simple fact that philosophical arguments about political things which were amenable to the language and methods of analytic thinking (which utilitarianism certainly was, and still is) could really get through to a lot of people, and hence liberal theorists made use the philosophies most comprehendable to them. And that level of comprehension available through analytic thought remains high--or at least it does, from what I can tell, for most American undergraduates. Hence, if I want to introduce them to something transcendental, something critical (and thus something which may eventually move them into an ability to appreciate political ideas which question the whole ontology behind the traditional social contract)--in other words, if I want to introduce them to Kant--then I need to use Rawls, who found a way (sometimes, one suspects, even against his better judgment) to suggest these deep ideas from within a language that really doesn't usually bring them up. And that, for me at least, is at least as valuable a contribution to political theory as anything which may perhaps provide us with an occasion to debate the particular circumstances of social equality.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/01/2003 01:54:00 PM
Saturday, March 29, 2003
"We Are All Interventionists Now"
Through Matt Yglesias I discovered this fabulous little essay by Timothy Burke. Without going into any of the philosophical speculation which has characterized my (much too long) posts on the need for a new kind of anti-imperialism and learning from the history of the British empire, Timothy pretty much just cuts to the chase. Here's the best bit:
"When you defend sovereignity as the only moral principle in all the world, and say that all intrusions, forcible or otherwise, are wrong by their very nature, you ought at the same moment to deny yourself any and all judgements about the places and peoples you deem sovereign. If East is East and West is West, then the twain really must never meet, and humanity is sundered from itself, the globe inhabited by ten times ten thousand variants of the genus Homo. If you rise to sovereignity as the singular sacred principle, then human rights, civil liberties, democracy, and freedom are no more than local and parochial virtues....We lose also the ability even to criticize forcible imperial interventions into other cultures or sovereignities because some cultures are demonstrably imperial by their 'nature.' If it is the culture of Islamic societies to convert other societies to Islam, by trade or by force, or the culture of early 21st Century America to bomb and invade, then who are we to criticize? That’s just their way, and in an ethical system that vaults respect for sovereignity to the supreme position of virtue, all ways have their own legitimacy, even violations of sovereignity committed in the name of cultural authenticity. A journey through that hall of mirrors always brings us back to interventionism. We are all interventionists now. The question of the 21st Century is not whether interventions should happen, but how they should happen. It is a question of method and result, not of yes or no."
I'm sure Timothy and I would disagree on a lot, but when he asks just what "sovereignty" means today, and who possesses it (states? nations? cultural groups?), and on what basis can we (if we can) distinguish between "imposing Roe vs. Wade...on a town of Southern Baptists in Georgia" and "invading Iraq with tanks," he's asking the right questions. Read the whole thing.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/29/2003 12:38:00 PM
Friday, March 28, 2003
Islam, Democracy, and Fundamentalism
Check out this wonderful round-up of views on the prospects for democracy in the Muslim world, including essays by such well-known writers as Fouad Ajami and Kenneth Pollack. (Thank heavens for A&L Daily: how any of us bloggers could find and highlight great nuggets of information like this out of the daily flood of news without the help of the A&L gang, I can't even guess.) There's not much I can personally offer on their various takes on the compatibility of Islam and democracy, either philosophically or in relation to the needs and circumstances of the contemporary Arab world, since I'm not an expert on either Islam or the Middle East; the best I can do is just add a couple of addition voices to the mix: if you want to be informed on these matters, be sure to also read Bernard Lewis and John L. Esposito, two very reputable voices who also happen to profoundly disagree with one another.
However, one thing I can add is regarding the broader issue of Islamic fundamentalism, and fundamentalism generally, as conceived as a challenge to the modern (Western, liberal) world. As I mentioned in an earlier post, John Coumarianos over at Innocents Abroad is doubtful that there is, as he puts it, "a genuine religious element in Islamism" which presents a particular, perhaps even original, challenge to the liberal order. He furthers his argument with a reference to an article by Adam Wolfson which I haven't read, and concludes that "the religous claims of the Islamists may be less genuine than Wolfson thinks." For Coumarianos, "late modern thought," with its almost antinomian commitment to "groundless" principles--in other words, nihilism--is a more likely explanation for recent developments in radical Islam than "traditional religion." "How does Wolfson account for the 9/11 hijackers frequenting strip clubs?" he asks rhetorically.
The implication, I suppose, is that if Islamic fundamentalists don't perfectly live their religion, then their religion must not really be motivating them, at least not any more than are any number of other (no doubt unconsciously held) indulgent, self-satisfying, "postmodern" attacks on the delicate compromises and accomplishments of liberal civilization. And if that is the case, well, we simply need to recognize that the tradition has adequately defended those accomplishments before, and will certainly do so again--no need, in other words, to feel overly threatened by this radical, antiliberal posture: we've survived Rousseau and Nietzsche and Heidegger, so we'll survive this. (This may be a profound misreading of John's claim, but it's what I see him saying. My apologies if I'm getting it all wrong.) I think this attitude, however, betrays a lack of thought regarding the relationship of the liberal achievement to our own tradition. The Western liberal order (usually, but not always, including democracy) is at least partly the fruit of secularization, a process which was for a long time understood rather straightforwardly in Enlightenment terms: people become secular, and hence less religious and more tolerant and (ergo) more capable of self-government, as their mastery over the environment increases, as scientific and technological accomplishments lessen their dependency upon traditional authorities and forms of life, and as new political and economic doctrines encourage individual diversification. According to this theory, complaints with modernity are at least partially complaints about secularization, complaits about the loss of "meaning." Thus did Rousseau attempt to recreate the world of religious intensity through his general will; and thus did Heidegger, in the end, say that only the appearence of a new god could save the modern world. When we look at Islamic fascism in this light, we see just one more nihilistic attack on the secular world, and particularly on its most delicate and wonderful consequence: the liberal compromise which, when rightly understood, allows for liberty and virtue, individuality and belief. But, should you doubt the secularization thesis--not just its particulars, but its whole terminology--then this analysis breaks down. The rise of fundamentalism within the modern world--Christian fundamentalism at home, and Islamic fundamentalism abroad, even in states thoroughly exposed to the possibilities and promises of the modern ethos, such as Algeria and Turkey--poses just such an analysis-breaking challenge. Of course, much of the literature on Islamic fundamentalism makes it simply a feature of elite nationalist ambitions, and thereby assimilates back into an understandable reaction to modernity. But I think that if fundamentalism and nationalism are disentangled somewhat, you'll see that there is more going on. (I disagree with this reading of nationalism too, but I've made that clear in earlier posts.)
The best work that is being done towards such a disentangling today is Charles Taylor's; his current research is all about understanding the relationship between "secularity" and "the public sphere" in the modern West (see here and here for examples of his thinking). Taylor's great contribution (which he admits is not wholly original) is recognizing that the "secular public sphere" within which liberalism is possible is not just a "spatial" accomplishment, but a "temporal" one as well. The modern West developed a way of thinking about time, about temporality, which shaped our sense of what may, and may not, be constituted as a meaningful relationship between persons and events. This wasn't, in Taylor's view, an act which banished God from the public square (though that is what was generally assumed, and consequently has arguably taken place) so much as one which changed our language by which God's relation to the nation, to the people, was "enframed." For example, rather than seeing oneself as primarily "acting out" a meaningful, temporally foreordained role, one derives meaning from temporally open-ended, concurrent relationships. Among other things, this new kind of enframing, even (or perhaps especially) when simplistically misunderstood, made the modern nation-state possible. But fundamentalists, whose diversion from the contemporary world is at least as much espistemological and temporal as moral, are working out (in a highly untheoretical way, to be sure, but still...) an alternative to that public sphere. This is why I've written elsewhere that political theorists, especially those who (like myself, and Taylor) hold to a basically communitarian philosophy--who, though we advocate liberalism, dislike the liberal order being reified (in our view, falsely) into the whole ontological framework of our philosophical tradition--ought to look seriously at fundamentalism. It is not simply complaining about or attacking liberalism; it is bringing out from within the tradition behind liberalism an examination of that public enframing, an examination of how one may speak about (to use one of Bernard Lewis's phrases about the perspective of Islamic fundamentalism) the community being "God's polity" while still being and remaining an modern individual. To be sure, much of this fundamentalist speaking will be profoundly conservative, even illiberally so (the condition of women under the Taliban made that crystal clear). And hence those of us sympathetic to liberalism would want to work towards a liberalizing of these communities: a "liberal fundamentalism," just as we want a liberal Catholic community, a liberal Islamic nation, a liberal Mormon space, and so forth. But this can only be accomplished if we are willing to recognize all the ways in which Islamic fascism is not "just" another nihilistic, sour grapes complaint about all sorts of modern goodies which may have passed the Muslim world by. The religious argument of today's conservative Muslims--including radical Islamism--is an important one, with echoes across the Western intellectual landscape. If Muslim nations do accept liberalism or democracy or both (whatever role Western nations play in that acceptance), it will hopefully be on terms which acknowledge, on some level or another, the multiplicity of ways to be (temporally, epistemologically, and morally) "secular" within any given community, a multiplicity that was, perhaps, always in some sense there in our modern tradition, but one which is also, nonetheless, contra Coumarianos, an idea which hasn't really ever been seen as itself before.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/28/2003 10:45:00 AM
Thursday, March 27, 2003
Berger on Illich
Peter Berger has written a touching, thoughtful tribute to the late Ivan Illich in the March issue of First Things. Illich, for those of you who never read anything by him, was a wonderfully odd thinker, one of those resolute anti-moderns whose conservatism was so profound that he was embraced by the radical 1960s left. He attacked the dehumanization of the marketplace, the devaluation of traditional modes of work (in the home, on the farm, etc.), the modern public education establishment, the "medicalization of death" brought about by the professionalization of medical care and the creation of modern hospitals, and so on. When he passed away late last year, and old friend (and committed socialist) wrote me to give me the news, and we discussed him a bit. I commented that most everything found in Illich can also be found in such disparate figures as Wendell Berry and Michel Foucault (now there's an odd twosome); my friend responded by writing that "Illich's biggest strength was as a philosopher-essayist who took much of foucaldian and neo-marxist criticism and made it readable to an informed, critical "lay" audience...his ability to turn them into understandable and entertaining social criticism were unmatched." I think that's about right. If you ever have a chance to sit down and read one of his small books, like Deschooling Society or Limits to Medicine, do so: you probably won't agree with him, but you'll be a better person for having confronted his thoughts, as Berger eloquently attests.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/27/2003 05:20:00 PM
And now, "Angloglobalization"
Following up on my post a few days ago on the terminology of the Anglosphere, here are Niall Ferguson's reflections on the British empire, its costs and accomplishments, and what the United States ought--and must--learn from it. It's a wonderful piece, if only because it attempts to advance the debate over globalization in light of the increasingly evident importance of national--that is, "imperial"--force in the spread of not just "commodities, capital, and labor," but also "knowledge, culture, and institutions." It is one thing, of course, to talk about (as I did, drawing on Benjamin Barber's critique of globalization) how America is transforming the globe through the power of a "neo-liberal capitalist compromise [which is shaping]...the world into a state of mutual, homogeneous inter-dependency"; it is another thing to consider the role which a national agent--composed of not just economic but also military might--might play in the disciplining and orienting of that process: preferably, an orientation towards the creation of liberal communities. This is an intriguing philosophical question: does globalization have a "content"--is it, perhaps, the very fruit of liberal modernity, or is it, perhaps, an entirely different sort of process, within which liberal civilization must struggle (or ought to struggle) in order to preserve and strengthen itself just as much as any other civil order? This brings up the idea of "riding the whirlwind" which I mentioned in an earlier post. To those suspicious of all manifestations of national power and identity, to turn global history in one's own direction is, by definition, an appallingly oppressive and illiberal act. But perhaps it needn't be. As Ferguson writes, reflecting on the process of "Angloglobalization" which took place in the 19th century under the aegis of Victorian Britain:
"[T]he fact remains that no organization in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital, and labor than the British empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And no organization has done more to impose Western norms of law, order, and governance around the world. To characterize all this as "gentlemanly capitalism" risks underselling the scale -- and modernity -- of the achievement in the sphere of economics; just as criticism of the 'ornamental' (meaning hierarchical) character of British rule overseas tends to overlook the signal virtues of what were remarkably nonvenal administrations....It is of course tempting to argue that it would all have happened anyway, albeit with different names. Perhaps the railways would have been invented and exported by another European power; perhaps the telegraph cables would have been laid across the sea by someone else, too. Maybe the same volumes of trade would have gone on without bellicose empires meddling in peaceful commerce. Maybe too the great movements of population that transformed the cultures and complexions of whole continents would have happened anyway. Yet there is reason to doubt that the world would have been the same or even similar in the absence of the empire. Even if we allow for the possibility that trade, capital flows, and migration could have been 'naturally occurring' in the past 300 years, there remain the flows of culture and institutions. And here the fingerprints of empire seem more readily discernible and less easy to wipe away....I do not mean to claim that all British imperialists were liberals -- far from it. But what is very striking about the history of the empire is that whenever the British were behaving despotically, there was almost always a liberal critique of that behavior from within British society. Indeed, so powerful and consistent was this tendency to judge Britain's imperial conduct by the yardstick of liberty that it gave the British empire something of a self-liquidating character. Once a colonized society had sufficiently adopted the other institutions the British brought with them, it became very hard for the British to prohibit that political liberty to which they attached so much significance for themselves."
Ferguson concludes by suggesting, as I did in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way, that since "America's strengths may not be the strengths of a natural imperial hegemon," perhaps we need additional--"Anglospheric"--help if the United States is going to play the role it may, and arguably ought to take, in directing already-occuring globalization towards liberal ends. Of course, all this Whig history may seem like a little much; as a friend of mine, a former student of Tony Judt's, has recently been reminding me, we need a sense of "the tragic" as well as a sense of "history" to properly guide us; and the tragic requires a more comprehensive sense of the world than Britain's imperial history may provide. All the more reason for comparative, pluralistic, Herderian humility, I say. But whether a tragic sensibility would require us to abandon present historical opportunities is by no means clear, at least not to me. Even less clear is whether we actually have this choice, or whether we are now, like it or not, already committed, and thus obliged to act.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/27/2003 10:14:00 AM