Thursday, February 21, 2013

Politics, in large part, is a response to diversity. It reflects a seemingly incon­trovertible condition—any imaginable human population is heterogeneous across multiple, overlapping dimensions, including material interests, moral and ethical commitments, and cultural attachments.
"Politics, in large part, is a response to diversity." No. Politics begins with negotiated intimacy, parents and children, and expands out.  System builders start with regulation and end up systematizing familial relations.

This is a book with some important, even profound, ideas about politics, institutions, the virtues of democracy and what it takes to realize them, but it is written so so very, very diffusely that it will will have next to no impact, which is a shame. Let me try to lay out the main path of argument, which is rather lost amid the authors’ digressions and verbiage. 
We live in big, complex societies, which means we are thoroughly interdependent on each other, and that we will naturally have different ideas about how our life in common should go, and will have divergent interests. This means that politics we shall always have with us.
Again, earnest condescension is his métier.

Boettke: "Institutional Problems Demand Institutional Solutions"
Knight and Johnson have produced one of the most profound books in recent memory dealing with the questions of political structure and the processes that are necessary to reconcile our differences and to learn to live better together.
"Peter Boettke is a University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University, the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism, and the Director of the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at GMU."

If democracy is to be justified, it will have to be in consequentialist (or, if we prefer, “pragmatist”) terms; and as it seems prima facie implausible to think that all political and social institutions could or should be democratic in a first-order sense, only a second-order version of the consequentialist case for democracy can succeed.
A review [PDF] of Vermeule's Judging Under Uncertainty
As with statutes, so too with the Constitution. The courts, Vermeule argues, should enforce clear and specific constitutional texts, but should disclaim any role beyond that. Where constitutional texts are ambiguous or open ended, courts should let legislatures interpret them. Under this rule, Vermeule blandly notes, courts would cease enforcing the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment. In particular, freedom of speech, due process, and equal protection would all be remitted to legislative enforcement.
Vermeule in 2004, with Eric Posner, defending the OLC torture memo; more here and hereetc. A fascist from a good family.

James Johnson co-author of The Priority of Democracy, on his own site:  "Political Science In The News: They Say Political Science is Arcane and Silly. And They Say That As Though It Is A Bad Thing!"
What are we to make of this essay at The Atlantic? It is easy enough just to be snarky. We could point out that Mr. Ferenstein actually learned something important from his foray into grad school: he was not cut out for the profession. He simply did not like - or was no good at - political science (although it turns out in the comments thread that he had gone off to study political philosophy, which is a whole other thing).  Good! Hopefully his talents are better used elsewhere, although this essay is hardly evidence of that. And we might also point out that he seems to have no idea what he is talking about. Example: "The problem is that modern-day "political science" is rarely related to public policy or diplomacy at all. The scientific study of politics is the hyper-analytic mathematical, psychological, and anthropological study of civic behavior" Let's assume that this final sentence makes sense (it doesn't). Let's issue the same complaint about, say, evolutionary biology, which is not really related to direct practical human purposes either.
The perverse esthetics of systems and system-builders: a vampish defense of political science as the equivalent of biology, as if human beings (those other than the author and his copains) are proteins or cogs. That's not a simple defense of the article in the Atlantic. The question is whether political science and political philosophy are themselves anti-political and anti-humanist.
Cohen: I wrote a book called "If you're an Egalitarian How Come You're so Rich?" And the final chapter discusses fourteen reasons people give for not giving away their money when they're rich but they profess belief in equality, twelve of which are, well, rubbish. I think there are two reasonable answers that a person who doesn't give too much of it away can give and one of them has to do with the burden of depressing yourself below the level of your peer group with whom you're shared a certain way of life; and in particular, depriving your children of things that the children around them favor. And also, and slightly separately, the transition from being wealthy to being not wealthy at all can be extremely burdensome and the person who has tasted wealth will suffer more typically from lack of it than someone who's had quote unquote the good fortune never to be wealthy and therefore has built up the character and the orientation that can cope well with it.
It's so much harder to be powerless if you once had power. Pity the rich ex-Marxist.

The foundation of democracy is not in the ability of any given system to regulate conflicts among citizens, but the willingness and the ability of citizens' to face and then negotiate their own contradictory desires. Negotiation with others extends out from negotiation within a divided self.

The focus on technics and ideal organization weakens social bonds by weakening the ability to understand them. The focus exclusively on the world  beyond the self does not eliminate the self; it elides it, flattening it. Selflessness requires self-awareness. Self-awareness requires an awareness of internal division.   Saying you don't understand why people go to church, watch sports, have a "hometown", is not the same as choosing not to think or behave as they do.  It's self-satisfied, incurious, and it means you're blind to your own reflexes and foibles: blind to your own complexity.

"A focus on the mean puts downward pressure on the mean."  The performative reinforcement of mediocrity.

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