Texas Republicans, WAY over the line
Joshua Micah Marshall has continued to put together some fairly damning stuff about the Texas legislature story--except the redistricting issue has fallen into the background, as a stranger and scarier story about the Texas Republican leadership utilizing the Department of Homeland Security to track down the legislators who fled. So much for the rule of law (hey--the reasoning seems to have been--we're all Republicans here, so let's help each other out...). See here, and continue scrolling down. Glenn Reynolds has weighed in as well.
Friday, May 16, 2003
Texas Republicans, WAY over the line
Graduation by Lawsuit, Education by Default
Kieran Healy and the Invisible Adjunct are already all over this story, but it needs to be spread as far and as quickly as possible. The story so far, as the Invisible Adjunct summarizes it (based on an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education):
"Apparently, ten students who failed to complete the requirements for the master's degree in criminal justice [at Coppin State College in Baltimore] will nevertheless be awarded degrees at the upcoming graduation ceremony. This after the ten students filed a lawsuit against the college, claiming that the college 'had violated its contract with its students,' seeking 'punitive damages of $2,500' and demanding 'that the college change its requirements to allow them to graduate without having passed the exam or the seminar paper.' In other words, when faced with the prospect of a lawsuit, the president of the college, Stanley F. Battle, caved in to student pressure. 'The president began to take their demands seriously when he was served with court papers,' and, as lead plaintiff Alice Freeman notes with satisfaction, 'That woke him up.'....Meanwhile, student Jocelyn Evans, who did successfully complete the requirements for the degree, is considering a lawsuit of her own. 'Do you think companies are going to hire someone with a master's degree from this school?,' she asks, 'I want my money back. But how do you calculate the value of this wasted effort?' Evans is quite justifiably angry at the injustice of it all, and is of course quite right to point out that the degree she properly earned is now devalued. But note the consumerist logic of her own argument, along with the willingness to pursue her grievance through the courts. It's all about consumer satisfaction.
Appalling...if completely true. But there is more to this story, as the Baltimore Sun relates:
"A criminal justice professor at Coppin said yesterday that the school's new president, Stanley F. Battle, told the department's faculty Monday that the students who filed suit would get their degrees at Sunday's commencement at the 1st Mariner Arena. 'He said, "We have a capital expansion campaign, and we can't afford bad publicity,"' said Richard Monk, a professor at Coppin since 1992. But late yesterday, Battle denied there were any plans to give degrees to students who had not earned them, and he said the allegations in the higher education journal were untrue. 'All of the students who are graduating met the requirements, and the students who did not successfully pass are not graduating,' he said. A graduate school dean said she did not believe that anyone who failed the comprehensive exams would get a degree Sunday. Battle conceded, however, that the episode - the students' complaints and the failure of 11 of the program's 20 graduate students to pass their exams - has exposed serious problems in the criminal justice program. 'There have been challenges in that department for some time. This did not happen overnight,' he said. 'We're making some hard decisions in that department administratively. We're also doing a thorough academic review.'.....According to [criminal justice professor Richard] Monk, the criminal justice program has had problems for years. Early in 2001, he said, he was asked to review the graduate research papers of 10 of that year's students. 'I almost fainted,' he said. 'Some of them were certified gibberish. It was nonsense.' Monk said one paper plagiarized 90 percent of a research paper published in a professional journal in 1994. He also saw the essay responses to questions on the comprehensive exams this spring by Coppin's current crop of graduate criminal justice students. The students are given the questions in advance so they can research their answers. 'Most of them didn't have a single source,' Monk said. 'A few of them would have citations of their teachers. Then there would be citations in a few cases to an undergraduate textbook. There was not a single journal article that I recall.'....When the students' research papers came in, the department chairman, Concetta Culliver, asked Monk to help critique them. 'All agreed with me that they were not appropriate,' Monk said. Some were simply pointless, he said. Others were clearly plagiarized, verbatim, from a textbook. Monk said Evans, choosing to write a thesis in fulfillment of the master's requirements, was laughed at by the others."
For those of you who have never lived in or around Baltimore, let's put some cards on the table. Coppin State College is a historically black college in West Baltimore. It is not a wealthy school. The majority of its students are poor, many of whom come from the immediate urban area, which is also poor. Many also work (Evans, the student mentioned above who was reportedly laughed at because she decided to take the route of writing a thesis, is--according to the Sun--a 34-year-old full-time parole officer in Anne Arundel County, married with children). So what do we have? A school of (no doubt) overworked, (almost assuredly) underpaid faculty, trying to deal with students whose range of educational experience and expectations (if my own experience with students at a couple of heavily minority state universities is any guide) is probably so broad as to make any scholar used to working in more rarified educational environments gasp. Does that excuse President Battle, if he does go ahead and allow some students who failed in every way to receive their degree anyway? Not in the least. Standards must be maintained. But it does excuse, if only a little bit, the sort of confusion and disagreement which apparently reigns at the moment on Coppin State's campus. Students who clearly cannot handle the work are complaining that they were not prepared for or properly assessed in their work, and to what extent is the college president (or even the department faculty) prepared to defend the standards they have imposed in preparing students for and assessing said work? If you look at the Sun article closely, it seems clear: not whole-heartedly.
Yes, this is a sad tale of the consumer mentality continuing to taint higher education, and yes, it must be taken as a warning. But there is more going on here than just the poison of "consumer satisfaction." There is the deeper poison of a society attempting to educate without clearly being able (or willing) to articulate (much less fund!) who should be educated, in what, and how, and to what standards. It is the deeper poison of a social reality growing distant from the model (and it was--and is!--a good and worthy model) of reality that higher education was once imagined to serve.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 5/16/2003 09:34:00 AM
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
It'll be interesting to see what Joshua Micah Marshall comes up with here. The story of Texas legislators making a run for the border in order to prevent the formation of a quorum which would have then allowed for a vote on a Republican-sponsored congressional redistricting plan is a fun one; as Tapped says, it makes for great political theater. But I'll be watching what Josh writes in his space, because he may be correct: the Democratic legislators in Texas may have taken somewhat extreme action simply because a real (if uncodified in law) norm was being violated, one that has been in place across the nation for over a century: namely, that absent other considerations (lawsuits, etc.), redistrciting only happens after a census, once every ten years. Of course, one could take this in several different ways: on the one hand, another example of how the Republican juggernaut is tearing up the country's political standards in pursuit of complete domination; on the other, another example of the Republicans' brilliant determination to break down standards which they believe have implicitly served the interest the semi-permanent, mostly unelected liberal establishment. I'll be talking more about this, probably.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 5/14/2003 12:23:00 PM
Tuesday, May 13, 2003
The Matrix, Dumped
Adam Gopnik trashes the upcoming The Matrix Reloaded in an essay which also quite insightfully explores many of the ways the first Matrix film has been taken up over the last few years, culturally and philosophically. In particular, he spends a while talking about all the different ways the "brain-in-a-vat" scenario has played out in philosophy and popular entertainment (and wonderfully, he mentions a favorite sci-fi film of mine, the underrated Dark City, whose moment of realization (when the William Hurt character tumbles through the wall to reveal....) is every bit as cinematically thrilling as when Keanu Reeves woke up in his pod). However, oddly enough, despite dropping all sorts of names regarding the reality-perception problem, he someone manages to forget the father of them all: Descartes, with his evil deceiving demon argument (which has plenty of parallels to The Matrix all on its own).
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 5/13/2003 11:04:00 AM
Wilson and Kant
David Adesnik, over at Oxblog, has been inspired by Michael Totten's post "Builders and Defenders" to write at length on the Democratic party's failure, in recent years, to articulate "a compelling liberal approach to foreign affairs." David's posts (there are two of them now, one on Sunday, the other from yesterday) are long and erudite, and deal mostly with the degree to which various presidents, both Democrat and Republican, have either lived up to or ignored his preferred liberal foreign policy vision, the democratic idealism of Woodrow Wilson. As one very sympathetic to Wilsonian aims, I basically agree with what David has to say. He's moved into an exchange with Armed Liberal that deals mainly with America's foreign policy history, and there I don't claim any expertise. However, in defending and explicating Wilson, David casually touches on a couple of more philosophical matters which I can't resist exploring a bit. Specifically, Wilson's--and Wilsonianism's--connection to contemporary democratic peace theory, and the underlying, arguably Kantian, rationales which make possible Wilson's particular form of internationalism, with all its virtues and flaws.
Wilson surely believed, as David rightly notes, that "no democratic government would commit acts of agression against any other." Consequently, he wasn't devoted to a merely procedural internationalism; rather, he affirmed the need for a real democratic substance to form the core of any transnational order. Any arrangement on the global stage less than democratic self-determination could only be, in Wilson's view, a return to the secretive imperialism, the back-room deals between great powers outside of the earshot of indigenous populations, which he detested perhaps more than anything else. To that degree, I believe David is correct is suspecting that Wilson would have little respect for the United Nations as it operates today, with so much power and influence in the hands of plainly undemocratic, semi-authoritarian states, and would very likely have taken a route similar to President Bush's (or, as I would prefer to say, Tony Blair's) in regards to Iraq. However, one must also be sensitive to what it means to insist upon the existence of such a principled core. It means defining the core, and any such definition is bound to be limited in one way or another. Wilson's democratic core was an admirable one, in many ways; but looking at the historical record, it was plainly also a product of his essentially racist understanding of which people's were capable of "self-determination," and which were not. Wilson was a strict, 19th-century Calvinist gentleman, and he presumed that the same civilized rationality which motivated his government reforms and social policies would also be reciprocated on the world stage--specifically, by other educated, enlightened, Christian gentlemen, who would similarly lead their respective nations. In short, his pursuit of liberal principles through foreign policy was inextricable from his own understanding of "liberty," and thus the democracy he wanted to see spread around the world was a democracy that was grounded in assumptions--fairly elitist, definitely aristocratic assumptions--about how people thought about freedom. While such a worldview is certainly not naive in the sense of automatically assuming that any international institution much, simply by virtue of its by-laws, represent something "higher" than mere national principle--Wilson would not be Jimmy Carter, in other words--it does suffer from an inflexibility, from the conviction that the form and application around the globe of these substantive principles on behalf of which one fights will always, and necessarily, ultimately take on a very similar taint. And that inflexibility is hardly unique to Wilson, but on the contrary, characterizes a great deal of international thinking, including styles of thinking which Wilson himself (who, despite his aristocratic hang-ups, was also grounded in his own national community and its own lived principles as well) probably would have disdained.
Arguably, there is no way around this: everybody's freedom is going to be some kind of idealized "freedom"; that's what it means to have an "ideal." And by no means do I advocate the reverse--namely, abandoning the pursuit of ideals and the construction of institutions capable of supporting them, and embracing a "realistic" acceptance of intractable pluralism instead. All I mean to say is that if one's vision of democracy is grounded in the same sort of conviction that so many democratic peace theorists apparently assume--the cosmopolitan conviction that there is a rational law and a rational sense of self-interest available to all men should they only open themselves up to, as Kant put it in his "Secret Article to Perpetual Peace", the "maxims of philosophers"--then you are never going to fully escape the problem with Wilson's idealism: the constrained, predetermined and rather elite definition--and management!--of the central ideal. The solution, of course, is not to search for an alternative ideal; liberalism and democracy are near unimpeachable moral goods. Instead, one must qualify one's Wilsonianism: one must be, as I have written, humble in triumph; one must have a little of that substantive humility which David seems glad that Bush has left behind. The goal is not timidity, but openness: openness to the substantive (and not merely procedural) contributions of all nations, with the knowledge that simply because one is committed to spreading liberal opportunities and policies doesn't mean one already knows how any particular nation will liberalize and democratize their community. Community drops out of the Kantian formula, replaced with rational cosmopolitanism, which comes too close to a kind of rational imperialism. Exactly how one chooses to keep community in the mix as one pursues not just the veneer but the substance of liberal reform around the world is a rich debate, which I've written much on before. In truth, so has David and his follow Oxbloggers; they've been on the right side (which doesn't mean the conservative side) of liberal internationalist bandwagon as long and as productively as anyone. From a philosophical point of view, however, I just wouldn't want any of them to forget the problems and complications with their preferred historical model of their ideal.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 5/13/2003 10:17:00 AM
Monday, May 12, 2003
Back in the Provinces
It's been a while since I've written. Final exams--giving them and grading them--took up a bit of my time, but so did a job interview at school that, in many ways, I'd really set my heart on. Well, that interview didn't pan out, and so I'll remain at Arkansas State University for the time being. Dealing with the results of that interview, and assessing my present situation (and what it offers, and what I need to do to make more satisfying and fulfilling, both for myself and my students), have led me to do a fair amount of soul-searching of late, the bulk of which I won't bother to blog about. But there was one small exchange in the blogosphere, from late last week, which I want to write on, if only because it, to a small degree, threw into sharp relief some of what I am presently thinking about.
I refer to John Derbyshire's column "Confessions of a Metropolitan Conservative," in which he relates having dinner with some ardent conservative lady from Virginia, who proceded to expose him as a "milk and water conservative"--the sort of person who talked about and praised the values of the red-state, conservative heartland (in this case, specifically the state of Texas, where--until and unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise--laws prohibiting sodomy remain on the books), but who when it comes right down to it wouldn't, in fact, personally vote for such "authentically" conservative policies and doesn't, frankly, want to live in such "authentically" conservative environments. Derbyshire agrees with this woman's assessment of him, and is terribly honest about where his personal feelings about homosexuality and host of other hot-button conservative issues leave him:
"I have not the slightest doubt that I am a conservative by thought, feeling and instinct, yet on a lot of the issues that define American conservatism, I barely move the needle from the zero mark on the dial. I have guns but only fire them down at the range once a month, for the satisfaction of it, and to develop confidence in handling them. I have never hunted with guns. I am only feebly religious — feebly Episcopalian, in fact, which is feebleness squared! Homosexuality? I don't like it, and have got myself in a lot of trouble for saying so rather bluntly, but I wouldn't criminalize it. Abortion? Pretty much the same. Creationism? Sorry, I think it's pseudoscience. I'm fine with evolution. So — What kind of conservative am I?"
Derbyshire decides that he is a "metropolitan conservative," the sort of conservative who has spent "most of my adult life in big cities or their shadows" and has a "mostly metropolitan cast of mind"--which means that, as much as his political opinions may set him apart, he is "at ease in a roomful of New York liberals in a way that, to be truthful about it, I am not in a gathering of red-state evangelicals." In short, he is a conservative Bobo (much like his Weekly Standard counterpart David Brooks, who coined the term), a creature of the modern (postmodern?) capitalist (postcapitalist?) upper- or near-upper-class and all its "metropolitan" trappings who just happens to accept a sufficient number of libertarian and/or social conservative nostrums to make it reasonable to vote Republican. He is not, as he makes perfectly clear, really particularly comfortable with those provincial environments and worldviews which engender the greatest fervor in the American conservative movement, but he admirers those who do live in those environments or profess those worldviews from afar: "the red-state conservative with his Bible, his hunting rifle and his sodomy laws," Derbyshire writes, "is authentic, in a way I am not."
I neither consider myself a conservative (though there is a strong streak of social and moral conservatism in me), nor am I particularly troubled about how I would vote if given the opportunity to criminalize or de-criminalize sodomy (for the record: it shouldn't be against the law). So what is it about Derbyshire's comments which complicate my thinking? His willingness to own up to--and yet then blithely dismiss--a reality which undergirds so much of our society and our psychology, a reality which is often profoundly (and often purposefully) obscured and/or misused by those engaged in political conversation. What Derbyshire calls the "metropolitan-provincial divide" is reflected in matters pertaining to class, to region, to temperment. It is a divide rife with condescension, false judgments, and bitter resentments, fueled by everything from Hollywood's presentation of certain elite and scandalous social mores as "popular entertainment" to the Constitution's comparative over-representation (through the Electoral College and the Senate) of vast, underpopulated and by most economic measures "backward" parts of the nation. And it is a divide which I personally have never been able to fully or satisfyingly negotiate. Derbyshire may himself feel able to own up to and then set aside the strange mix of condescension and admiration he feels for the provincials out there in the heartland, but perhaps that's because he has a place on one side of the divide. But a great many people do not; I don't, for instance. I'm deeply religious Mormon (provincial!) who received his Ph.D. in political philosophy (metropolitan!) from a religious university (provincial!) in Washington D.C. (metropolitan!). I'm a professional academic (metropolitan!) who teaches at Arkansas State University (provincial? yes, mostly) in Jonesboro, AR, a conservative town in a conservative state which, just recently, followed the leadership of city clergy (mostly Southern Baptist and Church of Christ) to make sure it stayed alcohol-free (provincial, provincial, provincial!). It would be easy to fall into the cliche about "liberal college professors" making a home in some unenlightened backwoods at this point, and crank out all the predictable horror stories which academics like to share with one another at conferences about students who fly Confederate flags or pray in the classroom or haven't ever shopped anywhere besides Wal-Mart or actually like Lee Greenwood's music or some other metropolitan horror....but as sympathetic as I am to much of that, I don't think that represents the real tangle of issues here. It's not just living a divided life; it's recognizing and dealing with the social and psychological reality of the divide in forming one's life. Jacob Levy, to his credit, acknowledges some of this, reflecting that "everyone should sometimes wonder whether their preferred political order mightn't rest on cultural foundations that aren't to their liking." My ability to live the sort of life I do, and defend the sort of society I want, may very well depend upon distinctions I'm uncomfortable with. For example: as a professor who grades my students on the basis of their ability to read, understand and appreciate Kant, I am imposing a profoundly elite standard, one that will be--I cannot deny--of almost no use to the overwhelming majority of those who come through my classrooms. All academics are elitists, of course, but I am an elitist in Arkansas, which has to mean something different than being an elitist in Cambridge, MA. Does that mean I should change the way I do things? Or that I should expect (in vain, no doubt) Arkansas to? Maybe this would be easier if I were simply a philosophical liberal; then I could just measure communities and find them wanting (namely, when they didn't share my enlightened liberal ideals). But I'm a communitarian, and so I have to take--and I want to take--this provincial community as every bit as necessary to my own personal world as the community of ideas I come up with in my head and share (at too great length, no doubt) with my peers and on this blog (and indeed, as Derbyshire allows, the provincial community is probably even more necessary).
This question of boundaries and expectations, of what compromises are necessary to ensure the survival of "metropolitan standards" or "provincial authenticity" in our ever-more interconnected world, is the defining question, the defining negotiation, of the modern (postmodern?) West. And I guess, even if I don't have any better answers, I just don't like it when anyone closes down that negotiation, even for the most prudent of reasons, because the reality itself still remains, continuing to fester. After his sympathetic assessment of what Derbyshire wrote, Levy still decided he had to make it clear that, of course, "it's simply indecent to even be in a broad-tent coalition with" some provincials (in this case, referring to some white kids in Georgia who decided to hold a whites-only prom). Though I don't know all the facts in this case, I basically agree with him. And yet....well, ok, they're indecent--what then? Rural Georgia is still there. These kids will still vote, still take jobs, still tune into talk radio, and a lot of them will still go college (maybe my university; maybe they'll take my class). We can say how they're beyond the pale, how backward, how limited we metropolitans are in our ability to enlighten them, and oh how we wish that other job (the one nearer to an IKEA and a Starbucks, dammit!) had worked out, etc., etc.--but that doesn't settle the issue of what to do when we live next door to one another. Derbyshire is going to be all right; he lives in New York City, and if he doesn't like the sort of "milk-and-water-conservative" bitch-slapping which started him off on the metropolitan conservative tangent in the first place, he just has to watch more carefully which dinner parties he goes to. That same option doesn't exist for most of us on the divide--and I suspect that all our efforts to resolve it (whether through the perfect set of arguments or finding the perfect job), until and unless something allows us to change the terms of the debate entirely, won't ultimately help us much either.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 5/12/2003 01:13:00 PM
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Intellectuals, Academics, and Talk
If you're an academic, or you want to be (in some sense, I fit into both of those categories), be sure to read this touching rumination by Timothy Burke on the many reasons why true, intellectually spirited conversation is, contrary to one's ideals and hopes, actually the exception in academia, rather than the rule. He talks about how the fact of tenure paralyzes intellectual talk (those without it don't want to possibly give offense, those with it don't want to have to know that much about their colleagues for life...), and even more importantly how the drive to publish--or at least, be "productive"--crowds out the sort of ambiguity and openness which real conversation (and, in some important ways, education itself) depends upon. I cannot agree more with his spirited final plea, "We should be more concerned with our quality of mind and less concerned with our production of scholarship, and place greater value by far on one good conversation about the nature of a good society than the publication of five journal articles." Of course (the cynic responds) as a tenured professor at an elite school (Swarthmore), Burke isn't risking much in making that statement. But then again, the Invisible Adjunct agrees with him as well, which is a good sign (though she acknowledges that Burke's hopes are countered by huge institutional obstacles). As for me....I'm currently waiting to hear back from a small liberal arts school, a place where maybe, just maybe, I might be able to live more in accordance with Burke's vision than I am presently. No one, if they really want to do be a professor, can turn their back on the tenure-track of course, no matter what form it comes in, and truthfully, I would be just as happy (and nervous) as I am right now if I happened to be waiting to hear about an offer from any decent school, of whatever size or mission. But at this moment, Burke's essay speaks to me strongly, because it asks exactly the questions which led to me to take a chance on the school I interviewed at in the first place.
Update: Kieran Healy plays devil's advocate and defends the sort of specialization which keeps people within their boundaries; in the comments which follow Kieran's post, Timothy Burke and the Invisible Adjunct both clarify their positions a bit: Timothy says that he's many talking about the strange absence of conversations within departments and disciplines, while IA says that for her, "it's not a question of abandoning specialization, but of recovering or recreating some larger framework which gives the pursuit of specialized studies relevance and meaning." Of course, any time you start talking about "larger frameworks" in any of the social sciences or humanities, people are going to call you a "romantic" or some other name which implies you have a very non-Weberian weakness for realism or meaning or community or metaphysics or history or what have you. IA realizes that, and bravely accepts "the charge of romanticism." As a profoundly romantic communitarian, I'm with her.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/29/2003 09:46:00 AM
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Santorum and the "We"
Well, you can't say that the blogosphere has lacked opinions (almost uniformally negative) about Senator Rick Santorum's recent comment, referring explicitly to homosexuality, that "[i]f the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery...[y]ou have the right to anything." Amy Sullivan has weighed in, and so has Matthew Yglesias (twice), and Jacob T. Levy, and Kevin Drum, and Eugene Volokh (three times now), and so have many, many others. Out of all this, I'd like to make one small point--not in Santorum's defense, necessarily, but definitely in opposition to the preferred (within the blogosphere at least) mode of those who are attacking him. Consider what Andrew Sullivan had to say. First, quoting Santorum: "The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire." Sullivan responds: "Wow. I've long heard of people talking about individual rights against the government. I have rarely heard about the government's rights against the individual. And from a Republican! Notice how Santorum uses the pronoun 'we' when referring to the state. He's been in power too long. Has Santorum heard of limited government? It was once a conservative idea, you know, Senator."
Why does Sullivan assume that the senator's "we" meant "the state"? Probably because, like so many other libertarians (whether they call themselves that or not) in the blogosphere, he really isn't conscious of the possibility that there can be any collectivity, any community, in between the individual (with all their rights) and the state (with all its powers). I don't know Santorum from Adam; for all I know, he really does dream fascist dreams at night. But I can't understand how an intelligent man (a man who makes a big deal about having done work on Michael Okeshott for heaven's sake!) can so quickly and automatically assume that Santorum's invocation of some group which is worried about "people liv[ing] out whatever wants or passions they desire" couldn't possibly refer to any actual body of citizens, any substantive portion of a real and living civil society (say, Pennsylvanians? or conservative Christians? or parents?). Well, actually, I can understand it. Santorum is talking about issues of right and wrong, of toleration and legality--in short, he is speaking normatively, about what ought to be and ought not be, and for most of these writers (who share, as Sullivan put it, "the very American notion of live-and-let-live") normative force can be justified only in two ways: through the free choice of the sovereign individual, and the actions of a properly and freely consented-to social contract-type state. To suggest that communal norms--the values of some as-yet undetermined "we"--might actually be normatively relevant to our decisions about sexuality is, generally speaking, dismissed without consideration.
This is not an argument in favor of Santorum's preferred "we"--whomever they may be--being empowered, on the basis of some communitarian argument, to enforce certain standards of sexual behavior in the face of America's complicated-yet-indisputably-real embrace of sexual tolerance and the "right to privacy." It is, however, an argument that dropping out the "we" in defining which "wants or passions" everyone has a "right" to and which may be limited and for what reason, is only to court further animosity and frustration, since it is as a "we" that most people actually live. Michael Sandel noted this long ago in his essay "Moral Argument and Liberal Toleration: Abortion and Homosexuality" (available in this volume). Sandel wrote: "The problem with the neutral [i.e., the "live-and-let-live"] case for toleration...[is that] it leaves wholly unchallenged the adverse views of homosexuality itself. Unless those views [again, the views of a "we"] can be plausibly addressed, even a [Supreme] Court ruling [in favor of homosexual privacy rights, overturning Bowers v. Hardwick]...is unlikely to win for homosexuals more than a thin and fragile toleration. A fuller respect would require, if not admiration, at least some appreciation of the lives that homosexuals live. Such appreciation, however, is unlikely to be cultivated by a legal and political discourse conducted in terms of autonomy...alone" (p. 86). This argument can, of course, be challenged (see here, for instance) by responding that in the modern world it is neither possible nor desirable to engage all the "we's" out there; autonomy, live-and-let-live, state toleration for the individual, is the best we can and should try to achieve. That's an important argument to make; I'd just like to see some of the fine minds in the blogosphere actually make it, rather than simply assuming that anyone (like Santorum) who is apparently troubled by an (arguably) emerging legal tradition which appears to forbid any restrictions on any sexual activities (completely apart from social, cultural, scientific or moral debates) simply on the basis of privacy alone can only be the worst sort of bigot.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/23/2003 09:41:00 AM
Monday, April 21, 2003
"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.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 4/21/2003 11:54:00 AM