David Brooks: Better in the original German

by Corey Robin on March 11, 2014

Isaac Chotiner thinks David Brooks is not making sense. That’s because Chotiner’s reading Brooks in translation. He needs to read Brooks in the original German.

Here’s Brooks in translation:

What’s happening can be more accurately described this way: Americans have lost faith in the high politics of global affairs….American opinion is marked by an amazing sense of limitation —that there are severe restrictions on what political and military efforts can do.



Today people are more likely to believe that…the liberal order is not a single system organized and defended by American military strength; it’s a spontaneous network of direct people-to-people contacts, flowing along the arteries of the Internet. The real power in the world is not military or political. It is the power of individuals to withdraw their consent. In an age of global markets and global media, the power of the state and the tank, it is thought, can pale before the power of the swarms of individuals.



It’s frankly naïve to believe that the world’s problems can be conquered through conflict-free cooperation and that the menaces to civilization, whether in the form of Putin or Iran, can be simply not faced. It’s the utopian belief that politics and conflict are optional.


Now here’s Brooks in the original German:


A world in which the possibility of war is utterly eliminated…would be a world without the distinction of friend and enemy and hence a world without politics. It is conceivable that such a world might contain many very interesting antithesis and contrasts, competitions and intrigues of every kind, but there would not be a meaningful antithesis whereby men could be required to sacrifice life, authorized to shed blood, and kill other human beings.



The negation of the political, which is inherent in every consistent individualism, leads necessarily to a political practice of distrust toward all conceivable political forces and forms of state and government, but never produces on its own a positive theory of state, government, and politics.



What this liberalism still admits of state, government, and politics is confined to securing the conditions for liberty and eliminating infringements on freedom. We thus arrive at an entire system of demilitarized and depoliticalized concepts.



State and politics cannot be exterminated.


American Schmittianism, alive and well.

{ 410 comments }

1

bob mcmanus 03.11.14 at 5:13 pm

Sorry. I find little to disagree with in either the Brooks or Schmitt. I just consider conditions described a positive development, if understood correctly.

“In an age of global markets and global media, the power of the state and the tank, it is thought, can pale before the power of the swarms of individuals.”

Swarm

However, I just can’t seem to get a grip on where you are coming from.

“We continue to see the enemy as a subject that faces us – instead of experiencing it as a relationship that binds us – we confine ourselves to the struggle against confinement. We reproduce the worst relationships of dominance under the pretext of an alternative. We set up shops for selling the struggle against the commodity.”

– Call , Anonymous

2

Anarcissie 03.11.14 at 5:21 pm

It makes sense to me. Schmitt was proleptically nostalgic for the sovereign state, which those who thought about it had begun to realize was obsolescent even before his time. Even the subsequent orgy of racism, nationalism, fascism, war, and genocide could not rescue it from global capitalism. Now, the nostalgia no longer an anachronism, Brooks looks backward to the good old days. After all, the ‘high politics of global affairs’ is his business, his only stock in trade. This relates to Ben Judah’s incorrect belief that London could bankrupt the Russian ruling class by refusing to deal with it. Everyone knows that when one house doesn’t serve your needs, you just go to another.

3

Ed Herdman 03.11.14 at 5:25 pm

Brooks is scared by his inner German.

4

bob mcmanus 03.11.14 at 5:48 pm

Agent Swarm …for my enemies

“We can see an evolution in Feyerabend’s positions from “epistemological anarchism”, which is already a post-anarchism in its rejection of scientism and of dogmatic monist ontologies and in its valorisation of experimentation , to “Dadaism” which explicitly affirms the pragmatic value of the encounter with chaos, and enlarges the scale of intensities implicated in experimentation. Feyerabend’s “democratic relativism” puts the emphasis on the social nature of these experimentations , but Feyerabend saw that this notion of relativism was ambiguous between a consensual position (post-ontological passivity) and a more dynamic movement based on a new “diachronic” ontology .”

I like the link and cite style myself, and kinda wish “Shia LeBouef’s” brilliant piece hadn’t been deleted. But, ya know, I read that Brooks and get a feeling he is more in touch with the Zeitgeist, perhaps even reading more 21st Century leftism than the vast majority of denizens of CT.

Now… I have my reading to do.

5

elm 03.11.14 at 5:48 pm

War-wanter wants war. Film at 11.

6

bjk 03.11.14 at 6:44 pm

I thought we were going to get the original German.

7

hix 03.11.14 at 6:57 pm

There is such a thing as non american Schmittianism?

My understanding is that Schmitt was resurected after 9/11 by American political scientists and only (re*?) entered the rest of the world through them.

*I mean, how much could the NSDAP regime possibly have care aboutjustifications by academics, even earlier on before Hitler became a totalitarian dictator.

8

Matt 03.11.14 at 6:58 pm

I guess, but one need not be a Schmittian to believe that “state and politics” are ineliminable. In fact, that’s the majority view of political thinkers in general, from Aristotle to Augustine to Hobbes to Kant to Hegel to Arendt, no?

9

someofparts 03.11.14 at 7:10 pm

This impossible world Brooks seems to be discouraging us from considering bears an uncanny resemblance to the republic we did have shortly after the founding fathers established it.

10

AcademicLurker 03.11.14 at 8:29 pm

You have not experienced Schmitt until you have read him in the original Klingon.

11

Ronan(rf) 03.11.14 at 8:42 pm

This seems awful generous to the writer of Bobos in Paradise.

12

nnyhav 03.11.14 at 10:18 pm

13

tony lynch 03.11.14 at 10:42 pm

If you say: ‘ “state and politics” are ineliminable. In fact, that’s the majority view of political thinkers in general, from Aristotle to Augustine to Hobbes to Kant to Hegel to Arendt, no.’

Then I think you are using both terms – and “state” especially – in so wide a sense as to be hardly saying anything at all.

14

mdc 03.11.14 at 10:57 pm

tony lynch: Well, there is a ‘minority’ view that the state is something to be overcome. But part of the problem with Schmitt is that he is straw-manning his way to his preferred position by assuming that the ‘permanence of the state’ is some tough-as-nails straight talk, instead of something so trivial that almost nothing about policy or war follows from it.

15

elm 03.11.14 at 10:59 pm

tony lynch @ 13

Fortunately, Brooks and Schmitt are refreshingly clear in what they mean: they mean war and diplomatic strong-arming.

16

john c. halasz 03.11.14 at 11:09 pm

@14:

Likely this is from Schmitt’s 1920′s writings,- (the only ones that are really worth considering),- and there the issue is the crisis in the traditional notion of national sovereignty and the preservation of the German state under the Weimar constitution! (Have you ever actually read Schmitt, before opining?)

O.K., definitely.

17

Nick 03.11.14 at 11:12 pm

An even better language: http://youtu.be/340YeUb6P7c

18

Corey Robin 03.12.14 at 12:40 am

Hix: “My understanding is that Schmitt was resurected after 9/11 by American political scientists and only (re*?) entered the rest of the world through them.”

Not so. He had been read and engaged with by everyone from Hayek to later students of the Frankfurt School. Long before 9/11.

Matt: “I guess, but one need not be a Schmittian to believe that ‘state and politics’ are ineliminable. In fact, that’s the majority view of political thinkers in general, from Aristotle to Augustine to Hobbes to Kant to Hegel to Arendt, no?”

First, Schmitt is saying a lot more than that the state and politics are ineliminable (and in fact at other points in the text he seems to fear that they are not). Second, the issue at stake here is what Schmitt means by politics: he’s focused on the friend-enemy distinction as the essence of politics, an enmity at its highest and most intense level. I can’t think of a single thinker in the list you cite who believes that is the essence of politics.

19

bob mcmanus 03.12.14 at 1:08 am

he’s focused on the friend-enemy distinction as the essence of politics, an enmity at its highest and most intense level.

The “market place of ideas”, or the selection of an agent to negotiate my and my groups interests in a “deal”, or competition over resources and distribution, or …well, from Wiki “Habermas”:

His most known work to date, the Theory of Communicative Action (1981), is based on an adaptation of Talcott Parsons AGIL Paradigm. In this work, Habermas voiced criticism of the process of modernization, which he saw as inflexible direction forced through by economic and administrative rationalization.[15] Habermas outlined how our everyday lives are penetrated by formal systems as parallel to development of the welfare state, corporate capitalism and mass consumption.[15] These reinforcing trends rationalize public life.[15] Disfranchisement of citizens occurs as political parties and interest groups become rationalized and representative democracy replaces participatory one.[15] In consequence, boundaries between public and private, the individual and society, the system and the lifeworld are deteriorating.

Hell, it all looks like economics to me, with the state as the settler of bets, accounts, transactions under relatively amicable conditions. Like a Board of Exchange.

Schmitt didn’t say there was all that much “politics” goin on, or that it happened very often, or that it should. Politics happens when negotiation is impossible. The nation or state is that collectivity (polity) that comes into existence only under terminal or existential threat, and decides to fight. All else is parties.

I am suddenly reminded of Gramsci’s conception of the Party.

20

john c. halasz 03.12.14 at 1:11 am

@18:

Umm…no. Schmitt doesn’t think emnity is the height or essence of the politics, at least on a more “common-sensical” interpretation. (Though political hatreds, like theological ones, should never be discounted). The friend-foe distinction was intended to delimit the sphere of political behavior, whatever else may be involved: first you figure out what your basic political commitments are, thus what you are opposed to, then you look around to see who your “friends”, i.e. potential allies, are. Much else might follow from that. Such as the non-autonomy of legal systems, (in contrast to liberal illusions), which always require a political “supplement”, as well as a “sovereign” source, to function. But, however he subsequently went off the rails into ruin, it has nothing to do with the promotion of “emnity” as the highest political value. Rather the recognition of the conflictual and contested “nature” of the public-political domain and the “containment” thereof.

21

Corey Robin 03.12.14 at 1:43 am

Here’s john c. halasz: “Umm…no. Schmitt doesn’t think emnity is the height or essence of the politics, at least on a more “common-sensical” interpretation….first you figure out what your basic political commitments are, thus what you are opposed to, then you look around to see who your ‘friends’, i.e. potential allies, are. …it has nothing to do with the promotion of ‘emnity’ as the highest political value. “

Here’s Schmitt: “The political has its own criteria which express themselves in a characteristic way. The political must therefore rest on its own ultimate distinctions, to which all action with a political meaning can be traced…..The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy….the antithesis of friend and enemy corresponds to the relatively independent criteria of other antitheses; good and evil in the moral sphere, beautiful and ugly in the aesthetic sphere, and so on. In any event IT IS INDEPENDENT, NOT IN THE SENSE OF A DISTINCT NEW DOMAIN, BUT IN THAT IT CAN NEITHER BE BASED ON ANY ONE ANTITHESIS OR ANY COMBINATION OF OTHER ANTITHESES, NOT CAN IT BE TRACED TO THESE….The distinction of friend and enemy denotes the utmost degree of of intensity of a union or separation, of an association or dissociation….The political enemy need not be morally evil or aesthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may even be advantageous to engage with him in business transactions. But he is nevertheless, the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien….Thereby the inherently objective nature and autonomy of the political becomes evident by virtue of its being able to treat, distinguish, and comprehend the friend-enemy antithesis INDEPENDENTLY OF OTHER ANTITHESES. The friend and enemy concepts are to be understood in their concrete and existential sense, not as metaphors and symbols, NOT MIXED AND WEAKENED BY ECONOMIC, MORAL, AND OTHER CONCEPTIONS, LEAST OF ALL IN A PRIVATE-INDIVIDUALISTIC SENSE AS A PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPRESSION OF PRIVATE EMOTIONS AND TENDENCIES….In the domain of economics there are no enemies, only competitors, and in a thoroughly moral and ethical world perhaps only debating adversaries….THE POLITICAL IS THE MOST INTENSE AND EXTREME ANTAGONISM, AND EVERY CONCRETE ANTAGONISM BECOMES THAT MUCH MORE POLITICAL THE CLOSER IT APPROACHES THE MOST EXTREME POINT, THAT OF THE FRIEND-ENEMY GROUP…..For to the enemy concept belongs the ever present possibility of combat….The friend, enemy, and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing. War follows from enmity. War is the existential negation of the enemy. It is the most extreme consequence of enmity….as an ever present possibility it [war] is the leading presupposition which determines in a characteristic way human action and thinking and THEREBY CREATES A SPECIFICALLY POLITICAL BEHAVIOR….FOR ONLY IN REAL COMBAT IS REVEALED THE MOST EXTREME CONSEQUENCE OF THE POLITICAL GROUPING OF FRIEND AND ENEMY. FROM THIS MOST EXTREME POSSIBILITY HUMAN LIFE DERIVES ITS SPECIFICALLY POLITICAL TENSION. A WORLD IN WHICH THE POSSIBILITY OF WAR IS UTTERLY ELIMINATED, A COMPLETELY PACIFIED GLOBE, WOULD BE A WORLD WITHOUT THE DISTINCTION OF FRIEND AND ENEMY AND HENCE A WORLD WITHOUT POLITICS.”

Here’s me: “The issue at stake here is what Schmitt means by politics: he’s focused on the friend-enemy distinction as the essence of politics, an enmity at its highest and most intense level.”

I’d say that’s pretty accurate.

22

js. 03.12.14 at 2:05 am

Not the least strange consequence of this view is that all politics is international! You’d think that someone writing in the contemporary US context would stop and think for a second about advancing a view that committed them to this. Not that you’d expect it of course.

Also this:

The real power in the world is not military or political. It is the power of individuals to withdraw their consent.

Lovely to see what Brooks thinks of the common people qua political actors.

23

Harold 03.12.14 at 2:45 am

I don’t get it. Is he saying that the power of people to withdraw their consent is illusory? And if it is illusory, as he thinks it is, then why should the state or military be concerned about it? Or is Brooks as usual only joking, in the fashion of Leo Strauss?

24

Harold 03.12.14 at 3:06 am

David Brooks has always made a nice living playing the class clown.

25

js. 03.12.14 at 3:11 am

Is he saying that the power of people to withdraw their consent is illusory?

I was assuming that he simply didn’t conceive of the withdrawal of consent as a political act. After all, politics is what war machines do, not the sort of thing the masses could even aspire to.

26

john c. halasz 03.12.14 at 3:13 am

@21:

And do you grasp what that passage means, especially in the bolded sections, (which I take it come from you)? He’s *differentiating* the *criterion* of the political domain from the criteria of other domains. (He’s read Max Weber as well as Lukacs, implicitly responding to and influenced by both). “War”, as existentially irremediable conflict, doesn’t constitute the “essence” of the political, but its most “extreme” possibility, as mirroring the traditional notion of sovereignty as a power over life and death, which is now (then) in crisis. Hence political orders “derive” from that most extreme possibility, i.e. all political orders are actually or potentially, latently or explicitly, violent, as that is a source of their law-giving and enforcement powers.

There’s little doubt that Schmitt thought of the political as an especially high vocation, with a peculiar existential intensity, based on the requirement of decision, which rises far beyond merely utilitarian considerations. (But that’s not his own peculiarity; it’s a common vice of homme d’etat, such as de Gaulle). But emnity and antagonism, (i.e. conflict), are not somehow the ultimate end, as if it mattered more what one opposes that what one is for. (That public-political conflict is impersonal is rather more the point, vs. private interests and moralisms). And the invocation of “war” as the ultima ratio of the political, (fairly traditional), refers most of all the civil war, or perhaps rather the internationalization of civil war. So the emphasis is as much on its containment as its pursuit. If the potential loss of the political by a “completely pacified globe” is mourned by Schmitt, it’s not simply because of the loss of “intensity”, but also because of the impossibility of “one world” government, as no longer permitting the expression of political “identities” and differences and the formation of solidarities, leading to absorption into entirely private individualism and its indifference to the world.

Personally, I don’t care if a thinker is a Nazi and commie or anything else reprehensible. What matters is that the thinker is intelligent, and has something original, informative, or engaging to say, which can startle one into thinking and understanding anew. Reading only to re-enforce one’s prior presuppositions and prejudices is hermeneutic death. Close reading with bolded type is no indication of interpretive or conceptual grasp.

27

Andrew Burday 03.12.14 at 3:21 am

Brooks appears to think that there is a unique Civilization that must be defended from “menaces” like Putin and the Islamic Republic. That’s a silly view, but we are talking about Bobo; and it’s diametrically opposed to a Schmittian view that makes conflict the essence of politics. He criticizes individualism for being lax and naive, not for emptying politics of its meaning. If you wanted to make Bobo sound a little more sophisticated and a little more in line with classical republicanism, you could take him to mean that our civilization has a unique value for us; he still wouldn’t be a Schmittian. Is there a reason to reject his plain statement that he’s concerned about “menaces to civilization” and interpret him as advocating conflict for its own sake?

To paraphrase Dr Freud, sometimes a schmuck is just a schmuck.

28

Harold 03.12.14 at 3:38 am

“He who said that all Conservatives are stupid did not know them. Stupid Conservatives there may be,—and there certainly are very stupid Radicals. The well-educated, widely-read Conservative, who is well assured that all good things are gradually being brought to an end by the voice of the people, is generally the pleasantest man to be met. But he is a Buddhist, possessing a religious creed which is altogether dark and mysterious to the outer world. Those who watch the ways of the advanced Buddhist hardly know whether the man does believe himself in his hidden god, but men perceive that he is respectable, self-satisfied, and a man of note. It is of course from the society of such that Conservative candidates are to be sought; but, alas, it is hard to indoctrinate young minds with the old belief, since new theories of life have become so rife!” –Trollope, The Eustace Diamonds, Chapter IV

29

Corey Robin 03.12.14 at 3:58 am

john c. halacz: “But emnity and antagonism, (i.e. conflict), are not somehow the ultimate end, as if it mattered more what one opposes that what one is for.”

This statement is wrong on multiple levels. First, there’s no evidence in the text that Schmitt thinks an affirmation of “what one is for” is more important than “what one opposes.” His emphasis throughout on is on the “friend-enemy” distinction. No enmity without friendship, no friendship without enmity. The notion of privileging “for” over “against” cuts against the grain of everything he says. As he writes in a different context, “all political concepts, images, and terms have a polemical meaning….Words such as state, republic, society, class, as well as sovereignty, constitutional state, absolutism, dictatorship, economic planning, neutral or total state, and so on, are incomprehensible if one does not not know exactly who is to be affected, combated, refuted, or negated by such a term.” No friends, in other words, without enemies. No principles of affirmation without principles of negation.

Second, the phrases “what one opposes” and “what one is for” imply that for Schmitt the friend/enemy distinction is about values or principles or commitments, a word you in fact use above, in one of your earlier comments. That’s precisely the opposite of what he says. Though he admits that the friend-enemy distinction *may* derive from other fields of endeavor and other ideas/values/principles, the specifically political aspect of that distinction kicks in precisely when those other ideas and values are transcending. The political, in fact, is the moment of that transcendence. Here’s how he describes it:

“The political can derive its energy from the most varied human endeavors, from the religious, economic, moral, and other antitheses. It does not describe its own substance, but only the intensity of an association or dissociation of human beings whose motives can be religious, national…economic, or of another kind and can effect at different times different coalitions and separations. The real friend-enemy grouping is existentially so strong and decisive that the nonpolitical antithesis, at precisely the moment at which it becomes political, pushes aside and subordinates its hitherto purely religious, purely economic, purely cultural criteria and motives to the conditions and conclusions of the political situation at hand.”

In other words, the political distinction of friend/enemy is exactly what you claim it is is not: it is superior to, it pushes aside, the prior issues of what one is for and against. As he adds, and as I quoted earlier, “The political CAN derive its energy from the most varied human endeavors”; however, “it does not describes its own substance, but ONLY the intensity of an association or dissociation of human beings…”

As for your attempt to distinguish the essence of the political from the “extreme” possibility of war, Schmitt again doesn’t allow you to make that move. As he writes, “that grouping is always political which orients itself toward this most extreme possibility” of total conflict. The essence is to be found in the orientation to the extreme.

And this — “If the potential loss of the political by a ‘completely pacified globe’ is mourned by Schmitt, it’s not simply because of the loss of ‘intensity’, but also because of the impossibility of ‘one world’ government, as no longer permitting the expression of political ‘identities’ and differences and the formation of solidarities, leading to absorption into entirely private individualism and its indifference to the world” — made me laugh out loud. For all your huffing and puffing about being “startled into thinking and understanding anew” by reading Schmitt, you seem to want to just absorb Schmitt into some anodyne, garden-variety affirmation of “identity” and “solidarity” and “difference.” Totally neglecting his insistence that any identity or solidarity has to be grounded in a friend-enemy distinction, in antagonism and conflict, and his insistence that friends and enemies have “to be understood in their concrete and existential sense, not as metaphors or symbols, not mixed and weakened by economic, moral, and other conceptions….They are neither normative nor pure spiritual antitheses.”

30

John Quiggin 03.12.14 at 4:15 am

Personally, I don’t care if a thinker is a Nazi and commie or anything else reprehensible. What matters is that the thinker is intelligent, and has something original, informative, or engaging to say, which can startle one into thinking and understanding anew.

This looks fine at first reading, but it runs into quicksand unless the thinker’s meaning is clear at all times, which is evidently not the case here. If we are disputing what Schmitt’s “original, informative or engaging” sayings actually mean, the fact that he meant them to justify concentration camps and genocidal total war is relevant information. In this case, Corey’s reading is entirely consistent with Schmitt’s Nazism while yours is not.

31

john c. halasz 03.12.14 at 5:33 am

@ 29:
I don’t want to get into an endless argument about interpreting Schmitt. (I don’t have the time). But 1) the friend/foe distinction is, as I said, in the first instance, a descriptive/analytic/functional device, equivalent to, say, the notion of supply/demand equilibria among neo-claasical economists. 2) Schmitt does think that the political is “transcending”, but precisely in a secular sense, because of the failure of traditional notions of transcendence. 3) Schmitt’s writings from the ’20′s are quite topical and situated, and they should be read with reference to their historical context. 4) I have plenty of reservations about the notion of “decisionism”, but it is not just to be found in existential thought, but in, e.g., Weber and Popper. But it does focus on a fundamental historical contingency with respect to what is “rational” or “reasonable”. 5) I’m not converting Schmitt into something “anodyne”, but rather citing him as a possible source for avoiding such complacency. (Just read all the mistaken commentary here on CT about the Ukraine crisis). That there is more to politics than “norms”, (which are a type of counter-factual), should spare us lots of mistaken idealism. 6) Comparing Schmitt to Bobo is silly: the one is a paid blathering idiot; the other is a malignant intelligence. Those are incommensurable “values”. (And the criticism that there are more than mere “values”, as liberalistically conceived, to politics, is part of Schmitt’s sting.)

Here’s what I don’t think you grasp in your whole approach. Elsewhere at CT, I made the distinction between economic action/activity and political action/activity, (since that’s more fruitful than pretending that they belong to completely separate domains). The former concerns (functional analysis) of the generation and distribution of more-or-less material surpluses; the latter concerns the resolution of social conflicts and the securement of authoritatively binding agreements. But the thing is that there is no basis for “authority” whatsoever. There are no prior “foundations” for it, even as it is an inevitable requirement for cooperative social existence. (I could also provide a linguistic argument). What you miss about conservative and reactionary thinkers from intellectual tradition, in claiming that they are only concerned about maintaining elite material and social privileges, ( as if “elites” could be abolished entirely and is if “liberal” bourgeois elites weren’t laying claim to their own privileges), is that whole problem of groundless “authority”. The erosion of the credibility of traditional beliefs as providing any basis for the “legitimation” of authority and thus social order is what terrifies them far more than any loss of wealth or privilege. And the (neo?)liberal assumption that some combination of “identity politics” and technocratic management could fill that “void” without exercizing any conflicting “authority”, equally groundless, is just question-begging.

32

john c. halasz 03.12.14 at 5:59 am

JQ @ 30:

What I said about historical context. In the ’20′s Schmitt wasn’t a Nazi, (as scarcely anyone was), but rather he was associated with the RC Center Party, (being RC himself), which was one of the 2 core parties, together with the SPD, for Weimar era coalition governments. Many of his writings from that time were struggling to maintain the Weimar constitutional order as the legitimate successor to the Wilhelmine Reich. In the event, he was allied with Gen. von Schleicher, in opposition to the von Pappen group, in the entourage around Pres. von Hindenburg, which alternately competed in wooing and rejecting the Nazi’s rise to power. Von Schleicher lost and was murdered in “the Night of the Long Knives”. Schmitt converted just in time to save his own skin.

No doubt Schmitt was a rather nasty character and his post-war demeanor did him no credit. He’s reasonably guiltier than some others, such as Zara Leander or Heidegger, who were just “political fools”. But the reductio ad hominem works here just about as well as in other cases.

” the thinker’s meaning is clear at all times,”- is just nonsense.

33

John Quiggin 03.12.14 at 6:27 am

That’s fine, but it’s a totally different claim. If Schmitt’s politics were truly irrelevant to his writing, none of this would matter.

Now you’re saying that Schmitt wasn’t really a Nazi, but a different kind of authoritarian nationalist. It’s still the case that his writings need to be interpreted in ways that make sense, given his political commitments.

34

john c. halasz 03.12.14 at 7:18 am

@33:

How could Schmitt’s politics be irrelevant to his writings, given that he was a political theorist? (Actually he was a professor of “public law”, which doesn’t quite translate, but would roughly be “constitutional law”). Describing him as an “authoritarian nationalist” initially would be quite right, but how many back then weren’t so describable? There are actually some complications, since not only was he RC in a Protestant town, but he was Francophone, (with his family originating in Alsace), and identified with “Latin Europe”. Those distinctions are quite meaningless now, but back then they were “hot button” issues. So he was an authoritarian nationalist who thought much beyond the bounds of narrow nationalism and in implicit dialog with the liberal and leftist thinkers of that time, in recognizing the implications of the post-war crisis in “legitimation”. Which can still be of heuristic value, even if the terms are now outmoded and discredited.

What I object to is the drawing of a causal arrow between the issues raised in the 20′s and the “ultimate” outcome of total war and mass murder. Yes, Schmitt did get drawn into all that later and should bear his share of opprobrium. But there’s a post hoc propter hoc there, which just rather self-righteously obstructs understanding, when some elements of his thinking can be reconfigured into understanding current “problems” and crises.

One never has to swallow the whole hog to learn from any even marginally “interesting” thinker.

35

bob mcmanus 03.12.14 at 7:36 am

I liked John Dodd’s Violence and Phenomenology a lot which goes from Clausewitz to Schmitt to Unger to Arendt and Patrocka. Re-reading it tonight.

“War is the health of the State.” Wasn’t a Nazi said that.

Dodd:

This means in turn that the power of the political entity for Schmitt is also in an
important sense “unpolitical,” a kind of non-politics; it rises to a level that
both transcends politics and remains opaque to it, a status fully consonant
with the existential seriousness of war:

Schmitt

The state as the decisive political entity possesses an enormous power:
the possibility of waging war and thereby politically disposing of the
lives of men. The jus belli contains such a disposition. It implies a dou-
ble possibility: the right to demand from its own members the readiness
to die and unhesitatingly to kill enemies.

Frankly, any pacifist or internationalist argument coming from Americans is just absurd.

With every breath we take we give permission to launch those thousands of nuclear warheads on whom Obama targets. And of course, we give him permission to dronedead babies.

No? How ya stopping him?

36

bob mcmanus 03.12.14 at 7:58 am

Now we might disapprove of Obama nuking Montreal tomorrow, but does anybody here claim, if he thinks it is necessary, that Obama does not have both the legal right and the power? And if the politics of removing that power are impossible, and I have not seen anything serious since Jonathan Schell in the early 80s, then it is fair to say that our politics have created a non-political possibility.

We ourselves define ourselves as a nation in that extreme possibility. Anyone who finds it unacceptable should leave (in one way or another.)

And if a General hands this old crank a gun, and tells me Bob we need you, go shoot a random stranger in Montreal…I will give it consideration. I might end up saying no and going to jail, but by that act I will have to a certain extent, depoliticized/personalized my choice and alienated myself from my nation at war.

But no, you don’t get to say “My America is a peaceful land.” Solipsism.

DB: “The real power in the world is not military or political. It is the power of individuals to withdraw their consent”

Now this is interesting and smart and right. But we will have withhold a whole hell of a lot consent to get rid of those nukes and drones. Enough withholding to break the place and beget violence.

37

bob mcmanus 03.12.14 at 8:08 am

There exists no rational purpose, no norm no matter how true, no pro-
gram no matter how exemplary, no social ideal no matter how beautiful,
no legitimacy nor legality which could justify men in killing each other
for this reason. If such physical destruction of human life is not moti-
vated by an existential threat to one’s own way of life, then it cannot be
justified. Just as little can war be justified by ethical and juristic norms.
If there really are enemies in the existential sense as meant here, then it is
justified, but only politically, to expel and fight them physically.

Schmitt became some sort of Nazi, but part of what he was doing at the beginning was arguing against Clausewitz’s conception of instrumental war.

38

stostosto 03.12.14 at 9:23 am

Schmittianism, Shschmittianism.

39

Bruce Wilder 03.12.14 at 9:39 am

Maybe we do have to read Schmitt in a way that makes sense, but do we have to read Bobo in a way that makes sense? He’s a colleague of Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman, and Ross Douthat. I don’t look to the NYT op-ed page for sense-making. Do you?

Read on its own, Bobo’s column seems to be designed to make agency and leadership disappear into the shadows and down the memory hole. Presumably, he doesn’t want to make the most basic connection between popular distrust of elites and the untrustworthiness of elites. We’re exhausted by Iraq and Afganistan — no mention of the vaunted military, which cannot win a war against the poorest, most disorganized enemies in any finite period of time, within any finite budget — and that military, as polls show (and Brooks tellingly quotes polls, not leaders) is the most trusted American institution.

Bobo claims Americans “have lost faith in the idea that American political and military institutions can do much to shape the world” — something he might have called the decline of soft power in another column. No mention of the trashing of international law in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Of the use of indefinite detention or torture. No mention that the “worst of the worst” at Guantanamo turned out to be mostly hapless and unlucky. No mention of how the reconstruction of Iraq turned into an orgy of corruption and incompetence. No mention of how this squandering of principle left the West with no principled argument in its dispute with Russia over Ukraine and Crimea.

I don’t know much about Schmitt as a political philosopher — I know a bit about his place in the historical pageant. He was an advocate of what we might call a Shock Doctrine of Disaster Politics: to a country disillusioned, led by squabbling liberals with few convictions and no competence, he offered the-political-emergency-answered-by-a-dictator as a constitutional philosopher’s stone, able to transmute the body politic from base elements to noble ones, and revive the authority of law.

Maybe, Bobo is a closet authoritarian, waiting for the Great Dictator, but I doubt it, and see little evidence for such an interpretation in this silly column. Bobo is a well-paid blatherer, not a visionary, as some other commenter pointed out. He does not have thoughts of his own, so much as he tries to mirror the thoughts, such as they may be, of his readership. He studies his audience — probably why he’s so familiar with polls — and his elite audience doesn’t want to hear about how they are incompetent, untrustworthy greedheads, who are destroying their country and the world. His audience wants to hear about how there is, inexplicably, no audience for quality programming leadership in the prime demo anymore. The more superficial reading you give Bobo, the more accurate the interpretation is likely to be.

40

Corey Robin 03.12.14 at 1:46 pm

john c. halasz: “What you miss about conservative and reactionary thinkers from intellectual tradition, in claiming that they are only concerned about maintaining elite material and social privileges, ( as if “elites” could be abolished entirely and is if “liberal” bourgeois elites weren’t laying claim to their own privileges), is that whole problem of groundless “authority”. The erosion of the credibility of traditional beliefs as providing any basis for the “legitimation” of authority and thus social order is what terrifies them far more than any loss of wealth or privilege.”

I see you’ve read me about as carefully as you’ve read Schmitt.

41

jake the snake 03.12.14 at 2:05 pm

So many wasted pixels over Brooks. The right ignores him because he writes for the NYT. The left (rightfully) loathes him as an apologist for Plutocracy. His only audience are the totebagger “liberals” who read the NYT and listen to NPR.

42

Anarcissie 03.12.14 at 3:07 pm

jake the snake 03.12.14 at 2:05 pm @ 41 –
I imagine some people read Brooks and his kind to find out what the Line is. I can’t take the NYT or NPR, but I have been subscribing to the NYRB for this purpose.

43

LFC 03.12.14 at 6:29 pm

@41
what is a “totebagger ‘liberal’” and how is one distinguished, if at all, from an ordinary ‘liberal’?

@42

I imagine some people read Brooks and his kind to find out what the Line is. I can’t take the NYT or NPR, but I have been subscribing to the NYRB for this purpose.

I subscribed to the NYRB for a while in the 80s/90s, still glance at it occasionally, and all I can say is that is an *inefficient* decision, b.c a lot of the NYRB is art history, literature and other matter that has no direct, unambiguous political content. Moreover, the notion that the NYRB has a Line (capital L) is a little weird. The NYRB has been edited by the same person since its start in 1963. It reflects, no doubt, his tastes, predilections, whatnot. The NYRB tends to have a fairly stable (though not completely fixed, of course) group of contributors, many of whom it stays w until the person in question is no longer alive. Nothing nec. wrong w that, but none of it suggests that the NYRB’s purpose is to propagate a Line. It cd be seen as cliquish but not esp. Line-ish.

Unless, of course, one believes, as anarcissie no doubt does, that every ‘mainstream’ publication in a capitalist society will necessarily reflect the views of the Ruling Class, so in that sense it doesn’t matter which you choose: you cd get The Line equally well from Atlantic, Harpers, NYRB, New Yorker, etc.

44

Anarcissie 03.12.14 at 7:12 pm

LFC 03.12.14 at 6:29 pm @ 43 –

I should have said I have been maintaining my subscription. In an earlier day I subscribed for mere entertainment, although the occasional neocon thing would pop up — they had articles pushing for NATO expansion eastward way back when. Then, I thought of the NYRB as merely a window on the culture of the haute bourgeoisie, not a mainline purveyor of ideology. However, in the last few months NYRB has published a number of propaganda articles about Ukraine, which I thought was odd given its usual interests. My conclusions (guesswork, of course) is that (1) this part of the Line is being pushed very strongly by somebody; and (2) maybe the NYRB is partly supported by the same or similar somebodies. Needless to say I have no evidence of anything other than the curious flavor of the product.

45

Trader Joe 03.12.14 at 7:27 pm

@43 LFC
A totebagger liberal – a person who is willing to give minor lipservice support to general ‘popular’ liberal causes but rarely commits much of themselves beyond that.

The term comes from the fundraising efforts – Public TV, NPR, World Wildlife Fund…dozens of others, send out direct mail or host fundraising drives where if you give a particular amount, usually $50 but sometimes less, you get a totebag. The main purpose of the totebag being you can then carry it around when you go to pilates or your yoga session or leave it on the chair at Starbucks so that everyone knows you support liberal causes.

The other popular term is ‘bike path liberal’ which is a person who supports nice easy liberal-ish causes like putting in a bikepath or cleaning up a park, maybe even a food drive or something but really doesn’t want to opine on or tackle tougher questions like wealth inequality, racism, gender rights etc.

Quite often a bike path liberal and a totebagger are one in the same and feel they have quite a bit of liberal credibility as a result of both their contributions and their actions.

46

Harold 03.12.14 at 8:25 pm

I am interested in “art history and literature and other matter that has no direct, unambiguous political content” and therefore subscribe to the NYRB, but their few articles that do have political content too often are sadly indistinguishable from Brooks and Friedman in objectionable tone (especially) and content. Why this is so, I could speculate but don’t know.

47

LFC 03.12.14 at 8:26 pm

@Anarcissie
in the last few months NYRB has published a number of propaganda articles about Ukraine
The only thing I’m aware of is the online piece by Snyder which I only glanced at. I wdn’t call anything he writes ‘propaganda’ (even if I don’t agree w it) — tho I’m sure we disagree on that. (He is one of their regulars, which prob suffices as an explanation for why they run anything he feels like writing.)

@Trader Joe: thks (sort of thought that was what was meant.) But I don’t believe I’d heard the terms ‘totebagger’ or ‘bike path liberal’. (Out of the loop, middle-aged, whatever.)

48

Harold 03.12.14 at 8:36 pm

They have a number of “regulars” of that kind.

49

LFC 03.12.14 at 8:37 pm

Harold @46
but their few articles that do have political content too often are sadly indistinguishable from Brooks and Friedman in objectionable tone (especially) and content

As you may know, the NYRB’s politics (such as they are) have not been entirely constant, I wd say. As I suggested above, some of it simply depends on the regulars and their part. interests/views/hobbyhorses. But in the 60s, before I became aware of it and was too [cough] young to be a reader of such a publication (tho I suppose some *extremely* precocious 12-yr-old somewhere may be reading it now), it ran a steady stream of anti-Vietnam-War pieces.

Then in the 70s, when I was aware of it, it ran quite good pieces, as I recall, by the historian Geoffrey Barraclough (orig an expert on medieval Germany) on intl rels and North-South rels. I actually have a tattered hard copy of a Nov. 1978 NYRB on my shelf, with a Barraclough piece (“The Struggle for the Third World”) on the cover. Then for many years it ran the often incisive commentary of Stanley Hoffmann. Another contributor I used to look out for was James Joll. Joll is no longer alive, and neither (I’m fairly sure) is Barraclough.

50

Harold 03.12.14 at 8:51 pm

I guess I just don’t like Sean Wilentz. Also, I don’t understand why their reviewers raked Julia Child over the coals but gave a pass to Paul de Man. But, to be fair, this sort of thing pops up in all sorts of periodicals.

51

Anarcissie 03.12.14 at 10:28 pm

My earlier impression of NYRB was that they were sort of center-left, sort of liberal, in the tote-bag sense, but maybe a little wetter. Thus when something neoconnish popped up, a little latter-day Drang nach Osten, I was surprised enough to notice it.

52

Harold 03.12.14 at 10:53 pm

I actually was a precocious child and read the NYR of books from its inception in 1963, because it was lying around the house (my parent subscribed). It largely inherited the old Partisan Review crowd, who were given to the most unimaginably vicious and invective-filled (and thus to me ghoulishly fascinating) battles, doubtless fueled by copious amounts of alcohol. But it was very readable and refreshingly well produced at the time. Wikipedia says of them (the Partisan Review people) that their “decades of greatest fame and distinction were marked by a twin devotion to advanced Marxist or Trotskyist ideals in politics – and in literature to high modernism, whose reigning deities, it was often noted, seldom held such modish commitments, and were indeed often given to everything from Anglo-Catholic royalism to Fascist flirtations to mere political quietism in service to the non-programmatic demands of Art.” Of course everyone in those days worshipped at the same literary altars. I would say, though, that the NYR has become much more sober and academic in its advancing years — though I don’t miss the perpetually glinting long knives. The NYT used also to have quite a bit of anti-Vietnam, and anti-Iraq War material along with the pro-, and it also used to be perceptibly more serious. It lately seems have foundered into mere ventriloquism.

53

LFC 03.13.14 at 2:16 am

“become much more sober and academic in its advancing years”

that’s prob. right, I think, though unlike you I didn’t read it from inception

54

geo 03.13.14 at 3:00 am

Corey and JCH: I confess I’ve never understood Schmitt, and though I’m grateful for your elaborations, I still don’t. It’s not that I disagree with his claim that choice/decision/”friendship”/”the political” etc. are groundless and float free of economic/cultural/psychological/strategic considerations, that they are “superior to … the prior issues of what one is for or against.” It’s that I can make no sense of this claim. An unmotivated decision seems no less metaphysical than an uncaused volition. What on earth can he mean?

55

Corey Robin 03.13.14 at 3:18 am

Geo: I hear you. He does seem to play with a notion of sovereignty that borders on the theological, the unmoved mover. And in fact, in Political Theology, which came out a decade before The Concept of the Political, which I was quoting from, he actually says at various points some variant of “Looked at normatively, the decision emanates from nothingness.” (Another version: “A decision is born, when considered normatively, out of nothing.”) The thrust seems to be to want to find or locate some kind of political action or mode of agency that is radically undetermined: in this case by morality, but also by economics or cultural codes and whatnot. I think if you read him aspirationally — that is, he’s less describing an actual state of affairs than longing for the kind of unmoored political existentialism that so captivated the Weimar generation of the trenches — he makes more sense. Basically, a kind of politics that is too situated or constrained by the grubby and pedestrian concerns of material life, or that seeks to escape the existential freedom of an action by hemming it in with all sorts of moral concerns — that’s the kind of politics he hates.

56

Pseudonymous McGee 03.13.14 at 3:19 am

Read “Theory of the Partisan”, it is more germane to the content of Brookes’ piece and hasn’t been selectively quoted to death yet. Invoking “Concept of the Political” or “Political Theology” at every mention of state sovereignty or political enmity does injustice to the specificity and singularity of those works.

57

LFC 03.13.14 at 3:53 am

hix @7
My understanding is that Schmitt was resurrected after 9/11 by American political scientists and only (re*?) entered the rest of the world through them.

Although as Corey pointed out @18, Schmitt had been engaged w by various & sundry writers before 9/11, hix is not *totally* wrong, I think.

As someone who casts an occasional eye on the Intl Rels journals, I saw during the GWBush admin a definite jolt/uptick of interest by certain IR types (not only or even mainly American, necessarily) in Schmitt and also Agamben. I’ve never really read either one and have no present intention of doing so, but it got to the pt in the Bush admin where one wd glance at a journal and dang if there wasn’t an article intoning, in the opening graphs, “sovereign is he who decides the exception.” (I don’t remember actually whether this is Schmitt or Agamben and at this hour, I don’t much care.)

Also, in a Barnes & Noble (!) some months ago, I came across a nice paperback edition of ‘Concept of the Political’ (maybe it’s the one Corey links in the OP) w a long intro by, iirc, Tracy Strong. Wd that have been published w/o 9/11 and the Bush GWOT response and the ensuing controversies over interrogation, detention, torture, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, drones, etc etc?

58

Corey Robin 03.13.14 at 4:03 am

LFC: “Also, in a Barnes & Noble (!) some months ago, I came across a nice paperback edition of ‘Concept of the Political’ (maybe it’s the one Corey links in the OP) w a long intro by, iirc, Tracy Strong. Wd that have been published w/o 9/11 and the Bush GWOT response and the ensuing controversies over interrogation, detention, torture, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, drones, etc etc?”

That edition came out in 1996, five years before 9/11. You may be right that among IR types and perhaps even the popular media there was more attention to Schmitt after 9/11 b/c of the neocons and such. But the interest in him really does predate 9/11; it had long been building over the prior three decades.

59

LFC 03.13.14 at 4:07 am

That edition came out in 1996
I stand corrected. (For some reason I thought it was later.)

60

Anarcissie 03.13.14 at 4:09 am

According to some email I just got from the NYRB, Snyder now has an article there comparing the Russian leadership to the Nazis. We will see whether it is true that Godwin’s Law is not mocked.

61

john c. halasz 03.13.14 at 4:25 am

geo @54:

I don’t want to get into this much here for obvious reasons. And I have no idea why you think that a caused volition would be unproblematic and not somehow “metaphysical”. But “decisionism” wouldn’t imply that the decision is necessarily unmotivated, only that it is contingent and “prior” to any cause or reason, in the sense that it can’t be derived or deduced from such priors. IOW the decision and its commitment do not depend on some prior knowledge and its implications, but give rise, through its clarifying moment, to the relevant knowledge and implications.

As to the sense in which the political would “float free” of other issues, it’s that a) it is not reducible to any prior given issue or set of issues, and b) an issue, say, religious differences, might be simply that, but when it “rises” into the political or becomes politicized, it is ,as it were, super-charged by the political and becomes subject to the criteria and antagonistic dynamics of the political realm.

62

geo 03.13.14 at 5:06 am

Thanks, Corey, for the quotes, and for putting Schmitt’s claim better than I did (or than he did). I still think “radically undetermined” and “existential freedom” have no meaning above the subatomic level, but I at least feel somewhat reassured that I’m not completely misunderstanding him.

John, if “the decision and its commitment do not depend on some prior knowledge [motive, interest, desire, etc],” then what do they depend on? Can anything (except quarks or quanta or whatever the mystery particle is) come from nothing?

63

GiT 03.13.14 at 5:29 am

I can’t remember the periods/dates now but when I was studying Schmitt a bit in coursework I believe my Prof made the observation that there had been something like 3 Schmitt revivals in (anglophone) political theory.

64

john c. halasz 03.13.14 at 5:54 am

@ 62:

I can’t tell if you’re being faux-naif or what. What the hey does quantum mechanics have to do with the level at which these issues and arguments occur? Are you seriously arguing for a naturalistic determinist reductionism, (of a fairly 19th century cast)? Then how does anything new ever occur and enter into the world? And how does historical change at all occur? Do you think you can give a reductionist-physicalist account of meanings and concepts?

There is a gap between orders of meanings and orders of existents: one can call that “nothingness” or whatever one prefers. But orders of meaning emerge and change historically, but not simply as a reflection of and adaption to prior orders of existents, which the former frame, interact with and change. And your question about “decisionism” applies just as much to “rationalistic” thinkers like Weber or Popper, as to “irrationalistic” ones, like Schmitt. (Do you really not understand your guru Rorty’s point about “anti-foundationalism”?)

But Schmitt nonetheless is not without precedents. Hobbes had already long since referred to the “sovereign” as a “mortal god”.

Omnis determinatio est negatio.

65

geo 03.13.14 at 1:43 pm

Sorry, John, to be trying your patience, but yes, I guess I am arguing for a naturalistic, deterministic view, if that means there is no free will, no uncaused volitions, nothing radically undetermined or ex nihilo. The idea that naturalism renders change or novelty incomprehensible seems beneath you: after all, “explain” simply means “account for by means of or with reference to preceding circumstances or causes.” Marx was one kind of naturalist or materialist, William James another; neither of them imagined it was necessary to have recourse to a non-physical reality to explain the appearance of change.

When you say “orders of meaning emerge and change historically, but not simply as a reflection of and adaption to prior orders of existents, which the former frame, interact with and change,” it seems to me you’re merely conjuring with words. To “frame, interact with, and change” things seems to me to name exactly the same events as to “reflect” or “adapt to” them. Only the terms are different and more “dynamic,” “existential,” etc.

As for Rorty, I take his point about anti-foundationalism to be that we should stop using terms like “deterministic reductionism” and “physicalist-reductionist” altogether and get on with the business of just describing things and accounting for them causally in any way that works, ie, get some sort of foothold in this puzzling world rather than puzzling ourselves further with metaphysical notions like “radically undetermined” or “existential freedom.”

66

jake the snake 03.13.14 at 1:50 pm

Thank you, Trader Joe. I thought most everyone would know what a “totebagger” would be. I suppose I hang around Balloon Juice too much.

I do not think I have ever seen or heard a conservative quote or even mention Brooks.
Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg, Mark Steyn, etc, very often, yes. Brooks no.
To many “mainstream” (non-media) conservatives, Brooks is just another NYT liberal.

67

Corey Robin 03.13.14 at 1:51 pm

Geo: Very nicely put. And you inadvertently hit the nail on the head of what Schmitt is up to. He precisely does NOT want to explain, as you define the term, political action and political agency. He even uses at one point the language of miracles to describe politics at the moment of the decision. It’s an attempt to take politics out of the natural and social world, to find a way of thinking about it — particularly, these existential moments of decision — that cannot be accounted for by means of or with reference to preceding circumstances and causes. It’s that gap, that leap, between one moment and the next that most enthralls him.

68

William Timberman 03.13.14 at 2:47 pm

@65 & 67

What you’re both saying sounds sensible, particularly when measured against the arc of Schmitt’s intellectual progress, but it feels wrong. What JCH is saying sounds wacky, but feels right, in the sense that experience — my experience, at least — seems to confirm that we can’t explain what we need to explain by referring solely to what is already present, or already known. If I may venture a metaphor, Newton is fine when you’re campaigning for Congress in Missouri, but when you embark on phenomenological explanations, let alone ontological ones, sooner or later you’re going to encounter special relativity, quantum entanglements, and lord knows what else.

Poets know, or rather believe they know, that anything interesting always comes from nothing. For them, it’s a commonplace. Is their certainty just a fever of the brain, a naive trust in human language that Wittgenstein put paid to years ago already, or are actually they on to something? The modern distaste for metaphysicians aside, I don’t think that this is a trivial question, or one as easy to resolve as we’d like to think, and give as my evidence the massively irrational outcomes of so many massively rational enterprises that have occluded our confidence in ourselves in these last couple of centuries. What are we missing? Does the disclaimer for all practical purposes really give us a waiver on bothering ourselves any further about it?

69

geo 03.13.14 at 3:41 pm

WT: we can’t explain what we need to explain by referring solely to what is … already known

Not to be glib, William, but in that case, how can we explain it? Surely not by what is unknown? If you mean that we can’t yet explain a great many things, I’m of course with you. But doesn’t that just mean we have to know more before we can explain them? Of quantum entanglements, as I mentioned, mussen wir schweigen. And as for poets, they are (as Lawrence said of novelists) “dribbling liars.”

the massively irrational outcomes of so many massively rational enterprises

“Rational” has two meanings: “agreeable to reason” (ie, reasonable) — an evaluative term — and “based on reason” (ie, in accordance with prevailing canons of reasoning) — a descriptive term. One can have a rational (in the latter sense) explanation of irrational (in the former sense) behavior.

let alone ontological ones

That’s just what I’m suggesting.

70

William Timberman 03.13.14 at 4:07 pm

geo @ 69

That’s just what I’m suggesting.

Yes, this does threaten to be another round in a conversation as familiar as it is interminable, and I do agree that we should spare the long-suffering author of the OP more of it than he or any of our fellow commenters are willing to countenance. Books are there to be read in their hundreds, after all.

To be honest, I’m relieved to unbuckle my greaves, fold my tent and leave the field today, especially since here we only have to talk, not sign on to the sort of existential conflict that raises nations, and provides warrants for torture and mayhem in the name of order, pragmatism, and a brighter future for all. One thing I will say on my way back to the farm, though. I’m surprised that someone whose rationality is distinguished by such an impressive poetical force gives such short shrift to what seem to me to be our lingering uncertainties.

71

TM 03.13.14 at 4:22 pm

I don’t quite know who reads, and is influenced by, Brooks, and I do think it is an interesting question. One can tell for certain that the readers comments on his columns are mostly critical, mocking and unkind. And he does get a lot of comments, and readers vote for comments so you can tell what the majority thinks, at least among the online readership. So maybe people read him for the pleasure of finding flaws in a weak argument?

As for the NYRB, I would like to briefly join in that off-topic conversation to point out how uneven the quality of the contributions is. There are some real gems, and then there are a host of poor reviews which fall in two categories: those that uncritically praise the book under review without reviewing it, and those where the reviewer mostly writes about their own pet topic without reviewing the book. It is a mystery to me why the editors tolerate these non-reviews, and why the readers don’t complain more. Unfortunately one has to contend with the rubbish (e. g. check out http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/mar/20/women-at-the-top/, seems unbelievable to me in 2014) to not miss the gems.

72

The Temporary Name 03.13.14 at 4:25 pm

Yes, this does threaten to be another round in a conversation as familiar as it is interminable, and I do agree that we should spare the long-suffering author of the OP more of it than he or any of our fellow commenters are willing to countenance.

I like reading the arguments. This has been an interesting thread.

73

LFC 03.13.14 at 5:31 pm

[sorry, this relates to another thread, now closed, hence my putting this here]
@GiT
I meant to ask you this earlier: in the Fanon passage you quoted in the CA02 thread, what does lactification mean (in the phrase “lactification hallucinatoire”)? I can’t find a translation for the word on a couple of quick looks, but presumably something to do w/ milk? (hallucinatory milkiness? milky hallucinations?) Which doesn’t actually make a whole lot of sense…

74

GiT 03.13.14 at 6:19 pm

I think it is used just to mean “whitening.” So the line is ‘to no longer attempt a hallucinatory whitening/white-washing.”

75

LFC 03.13.14 at 7:03 pm

Thanks, that makes more sense.

76

afeman 03.13.14 at 8:27 pm

Poor Germans.

77

john c. halasz 03.14.14 at 2:32 am

Geo:

It’s one thing to say, “I don’t understand X”, where X may be a person or a topic. It’s another thing to say, “X “must” be impossible”, (according to my presuppositions). Your question, in response to my attempted explication, was broadly humean, in it’s understanding of human agency, (aka “freedom). (The small case indicating a general philosophic type, rather than any specific thinker). But surely you “must” recognize that there are other possible views and perspectives on such a matter, (which absorbs so much solipsistic attention)?

What I found strange in your response to my very limited effort at explication, was,- (aside from being rather off topic),- that you seem to deny any possibility for basic choice, as a criterion of “freedom”, even as you might wish to uphold such “freedom”. (Which, in fact, strikes me as utterly “unempirical”, as well as, denying the entire topic of conversation). And your insistence that a continuous chain of causal explanations must provided the basis of “reason”. (Which ignores the distinction between reasons and causes. And one of the basic points of the criticism of “metaphysics”, is that explanations are something that humans do, amongst other things, and that any complete or total explanation thereby explains nothing, least of all about what humans are actually doing). In fact, “reasons” are things that humans say, causes, as explanations, are only part of what humans say and do, and one can’t “hide out” from the responsibility and indeterminacy of human sayings and doings by reducing them to something pre-given.

How can something come from nothing, you ask, (with naivete about the “metaphysical” origin of your question)? Well, where does human natural language and its meaning-generating and world-disclosing capacities comes from? From nothing is as good an answer as any other, unless you think you can provide some other-than-mythical “causal” account. (Likewise, quantum mechanics has nothing to do with brain theory, except in the trivial sense that its causal substrate involves electrons). And so human action could be described as a “miracle” (CR), precisely against the background of such “naturalistic” reductionism. (Though Schmitt was far more concerned with the case of “collective action” rather than individual agency). To claim that politics belongs to the “natural and social world” ignores that humans are socio-cultural beings, not reducible to prior conditions, constraints and antecedents, even if not “free” of such matters. And that the conflicts that result aren’t simply to be academically explained.

(Materialism vs. idealism is a metaphysical aporia and one wouldn’t want to be impaled on either horn of the dilemma. But, as to Rorty, he was basically just recycling arguments from Wittgenstein and Heidegger into an Analytic idiom, hence his “naturalism” and “pragmatism”. But I’ve found him tone-deaf with respect to his sources, (including pragmatists), and far too willing to simply accede to the status quo, with his style of banal provocation).

Look, I haven’t been “defending” Schmitt here, only trying to explicate some of his points and their potential significance. (Just as I was trying to clarify the actual historical record with respect to Admiral Horthy on another thread). But he does raise some problems and questions about “sovereignty”, law, and the bases of “authority”, which aren’t easily answered. That he failed to answer them or that his answers were shit, (which amounts to the same thing), doesn’t vitiated the “force” of the questions, which unsettled “liberal-democratic” complacency. He was a lawyer who became an accidental political theorist in quite specific historical contexts. (He wasn’t a philosopher, and if you want to address such “deep” questions, Heidegger would be a better source, even as he was politically an idiot). It should be plain that some of the issues he raised are still quite germane. That CR responds to Schmitt’s polemical vein with a similar polemical vein doesn’t do his interpretative skills any credit. He just wants to re-enforce his “side”, without the same willingness, however denegated, to engage with “the other”, the very “enemy” that Schmitt was in implicit dialogue with, even if in opposition.

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geo 03.14.14 at 6:14 am

John: I’m genuinely sorry if I sounded either offhand or dogmatic.

About “choice”: of course everyone makes choices. Some choices are coerced, some aren’t; we commonly call the latter “free.” This doesn’t mean that free will, in anything like the traditional sense, exists. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, under the entry “Free Will Problem,” says “freedom requires an absence of determination.” If “absence of determination” means “absence of coercion,” then I understand. If it means “absence of causation,” then I don’t. I can’t conceive of an action, volition, decision, choice, etc. having no cause.

where does human natural language and its meaning-generating and world-disclosing capacities come from?

Not from nothing or nowhere, but from biology and culture, like all our organs, capacities, etc.

I think I understand the distinction between reasons and causes. One gives reasons and ascribes causes. I may give as my reason for loathing Henry Kissinger that he’s a callous, deceitful, arrogant, and self-aggrandizing mass murderer; but others may ascribe my hatred to such causes as envy or repressed sexual attraction. And the reference to subatomic particles was (half) tongue-in-cheek. People do, after all, claim that quantum indeterminacy is evidence of free will. (See, for example, David Graeber’s essay in the latest Baffler.) Maybe it is, but only for quanta.

Materialism vs. idealism

It’s a bit late in the day, admittedly, but I still haven’t given up hope of getting clear about what “idealism” means. If you’re not terminally discouraged, do you think you could attempt, however briefly, to explain?

About Schmitt: I didn’t mean simply to write him off. I imagine there are good reasons why so many people are interested in him. But if he means, as he seems to, that politics is not about anything except itself, that conflict is simply an expression of human nature and has no reference to economics, culture, psychology, or anything else in particular, that one chooses friends, sides, parties for no particular reason but solely in order to have an enemy — any enemy — to fight, then I don’t get it at all.

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Bruce Wilder 03.14.14 at 6:52 am

I am a bit surprised to see determinism invoked with regard to human behavior or politics. Surely, that’s not a serious objection to the questions raised by Schmitt? That social “causation” must be conceived of as homologous (you all must have known that I would feel compelled to use it in a sentence) with Newton’s physics? Or, am I misunderstanding geo entirely?

80

bob mcmanus 03.14.14 at 8:55 am

Oh hell. Maybe we are approaching the end of the thread.

The problem of the “subject” is like, hard, you know? Part of the reason that I, and others on the Left, are interested in Schmitt is that he raises the question of the undetermined subject. His answer or arguments seem to me, and maybe to James Dodd’s list of writers in comment 35 (I left out Sartre), feel somehow connected to the existentialism of the 20s to 50s. I might also include the Lukacs of H & CC. I also am not so repelled by Schmitt’s view of friend/foe since I am trying to connect it to the Self/other/Other of Levinas and Lacan. A large part of the Continental philosophical project is the attempt to recover the revolutionary subject after 1968. Anyway. The following quotes are selected from my notes on Warren Breckman, Adventures of the Symbolic, 2013, with gratitude and apologies. Recommended.

” Castoriadis later compressed these various attributes into a succinct definition of the social imaginary: “Imaginary: an unmotivated creation, that exists only in and through the positing of images. Social: inconceivable as the work or the product of an individual or a host of individuals (the individual is a social institution), underivable from the psyche in itself as such.”

“A full recognition of the radical imagination is possible,” he claimed
in 1978, “only if it goes hand in hand with the discovery of the other
dimension of the radical imaginary, the social-historical imaginary,
instituting society as source of ontological creation deploying itself
as history.”

As with every other element of the discursive field, the subjectivity of the agent
is penetrated by the same precariousness and polysemy that overflow all attempts
to conceal or “suture” the indeterminacy of meaning. Ultimately, then,
hegemonic politics is about the struggle for the creation of new subjects
or, more precisely, new subject positions, through the practices of
articulation.

We have already seen that Laclau attempted to distance himself and Mouffe from
Althusser…and full recognition that forms of overdetermination
ensure that subjects will always be in excess of any symbolic order.
Notwithstanding these objections to the Althusserian theory of subjectivation,
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy remained predominantly within
the framework of a linguistic conception of the subject. To be sure,
Althusser’s rigid structuralism has given way to a more dynamic
decentered model animated by surplus and slippage, and interpellation is now imagined as the outcome of political contestation, not an automatic effect irradiating from the big Other. However, Laclau and Mouffe still understand subjectivity as a product of the symbolic order, with identities being relayed up and down the chain of signification, while they see the “overdetermination” that exceeds the symbolic as stemming from the indeterminacies of signifiers themselves

Agon, after all, signifies a de-escalation of the existential struggle implied in the concept of antagonism, and, in this sense, the presiding figure in Mouffe’s later work is not Schmitt, but Hannah Arendt. Mouffe remains committed to a project that
challenges the hegemonic self-understanding of liberal democracy, but she
does so from a position that explicitly embraces the legitimacy of liberal
democratic values and institutions.

Like Žižek, Laclau argued that this void is revealed precisely by the
“retroactive failure of the Symbolic” in its attempt to name it and, again
like Žižek, Laclau emphasized that this emptiness itself, this negativity,
“produces a series of crucial effects in the structuration/destructuration
of social relations.”

That is to say, social relations will be driven by the impossible desire to
fill the empty place of the universal with positive content and the inevitable
failure of every such attempt. Laclau even edged up toward the explanatory
role of fantasy in supplementing the lack in the Other when he describes
the content of subjective identification and social representations of totality

At a certain level who would quarrel with the basic claim that passionate attachment is necessary for engaged struggle? What is disturbing is that Žižek reduces political attachment entirely to a psychological process. Attachment to Truth is not the result of arguments but of a series of psychological short circuits. Numerous commentators have rightly worried about Žižek’s “spontaneist” and “intuitivist” view of agency, the “gratuitousness” of political acts as he conceives them, and the impossibility on his terms of prefiguring alternative paths of action.

Indeed, Žižek produces a vision of political action that goes well
beyond the decisionism of Carl Schmitt. Of Schmitt, one could say that,
even if he saw no rational grounds for decision, it is nonetheless a subject
who makes the decision through an act of will. Žižek’s subject is never
really present in the moment of the act, but only discovers meaning retro-
actively.”

Okay?

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bob mcmanus 03.14.14 at 9:14 am

Do I trust myself to rephrase that (and there is a lot more just in my notes) in one or two sentences that Martha Nussbaum would find coherent? Probably not.

The revolutionary subject in the revolutionary act self-alienates from the Symbolic to the Imaginary? And returns when the fires cool down. Since there can be no personal or private Symbolic, the revolutionary cannot explain herself to someone attached to the hegemonic Symbolic, or describe “what comes after.”

The revolutionary subject is our Other.

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bob mcmanus 03.14.14 at 10:34 am

I expect someone to pull Breckman from behind a cut-out:”You know nothing of my work.”

Intellectual mumbo-jumbo? You want praxis?

Revolutionary rhetoric has to be opaque and irreducible and move the audience from the symbolic to the imaginary without utopianism.

“Jonah Goldberg is an idiot” or “10% surcharge on incomes over 5 million” won’t cut it

“Workers of the world unite” “Woman is the nigger of the world.” “All men are brothers” “Occupy Everything”

The revolutionary must abject herself via a series of psychological short circuits, must become the immanent troll.

“Burn shit down and take their stuff.”

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john c. halasz 03.14.14 at 11:33 am

(Suddenly awakening in the middle of the night, after struggling to hold the jaws of alligators shut…)

geo:

Physicalism, as the thesis, no mindedness without embodiment, such that all mental attributes “must” have a causal, physical substrate or basis, is likely “true”. But of itself, such a thesis conveys little. “Physicalism” doesn’t even imply atheism, or necessarily vitiate religious beliefs; Mormons. e.g, might be quite comfortable with such notions. (Whole tomes and infinite papers are dedicated to trying to make it out, one way or another, but how much depends on such efforts, I’m not sure). At any rate, there are not 2 things, “mind” vs. “matter”, but rather a 3rd thing, “information”, and that 3rd thing is really the “hard problem”.

As for “materialism” vs. “idealism”, I said it’s an aporia. Rough-sketch, reduced form, the aporia is as follows. If one starts from the premise that all phenomena must be derived from physical causes, then ones requires concepts or ideas about material causes. Oops! Where do they come from. Usually no such account is forthcoming and likely no such account can satisfactorily be completed in fully consistent terms. But if one starts from the premise that all phenomena must somehow be “constituted” by mind, spirit, intentionality, etc. , then one must take on ever-increasing loads of material contents, such that it becomes increasingly implausible that any rational purpose could account for such twisted complexity. Materialism inadvertently slips into idealism and vice versa.

As to “metaphysics”, the point isn’t that our claims don’t or can’t have any “metaphysical” implications, but rather that such implications are undecidable, can’t be made out and certified by rational means in any fully satisfactory way. That is why Rorty, among others, would say that says that terms like “reductionist physicalism” can be dispensed with. Not because they are completely meaningless as discursive constructs, but because the effort to provide some supernal guarantee or certification of such constructs, which they seemingly promise, necessarily fails.

All human knowledge, understanding. experience and action or activity is mediated by our meanings and concepts, (which is not to say, “constituted” by them). There is simply no way to strip our meanings and concepts off of the world or out of our consciousness, and compare them either to the things or experiences themselves.

Your distinction between coerced and “free” action is downright Hobbesian. But it doesn’t explain what the “thing” that can other be coerced or free is in the first place. Likewise your insistence that language comes from “biology and culture” is a muddle and petitio principii and the functionalist/instrumentalist “justification” given doesn’t help your case. Natural language, and the symbolic thinking and communication that it enables, opens up the world and gives rise to culture. And the semantic range that it affords can’t be reduced to prior causes.

I’m just surprised that you remain caught up in traditional substantialist metaphysics, with your insistence that something can’t come from nothing. The classical notion of substantia/ousia interprets being as that which remains the same amidst all change, thus as what is permanent. continuous, and perpetual, “eternal”. But in the course of the 19th and onto the 20th century, historical awareness and thinking took hold. And “history” involves changes in meanings, norms, basic conceptions, leaving behind the certainties, self-evidence or securities of traditions. And that is precisely what classical substance metaphysics can’t explain or account for.

To get back to Schmitt, he was raising basic questions about sovereignty, law and legitimate authority, precisely because he experienced them as being in crisis, with the traditional understandings no longer “holding”. If law requires a sovereign source, which promulgates and coercively enforces it, just what anymore constitutes the identity and unity of a people gathered under such sovereignty? Especially since not only are we dealing with modern structurally-functionally differentiated societies and democratic demands, but also because domestic and inter-national politics have become inter-penetrated in the post-war order/chaos. Civil war has spilled beyond borders even as global domination threatens. (Ironically, it was his very struggles with the notion that sovereignty derives from “the people” and thus must be “democratic” that drove him, given his priors, into collapsing into totalitarianism). But the single most interesting question he raises, if not uniquely, then signally, is the constitutional paradox of the constituting/constituted power. That still deserves consideration.

84

William Timberman 03.14.14 at 1:50 pm

Jacob wrestled with an angel; JCH wrestles with an alligator. Can this be all we get after after being soaked in a few-odd centuries of utilitarianism, logical positivism, dialectical materialism, pragmatism, existentialism, structuralism, und so weiter? Our totem antagonists are once again recognizably real animals?

I suppose we can call this progress, but not necessarily of the kind Eliot envisioned in his crowned knot of fire. Then, again, by the time that had popped out of him, he’d long since tottered off into the embrace of the old religion anyway, so I suppose it would be wrong-headed of me to invoke him here. Still, things do pop out of us in the most unexpected ways. We say them, we go about making them in the world, and then well-intentioned people putter along in our wake with their metaphysical or analytical dust brooms, trying to make sense of the detritus. God bless ‘em, I say, but don’t let ‘em get anywhere near our first causes.

85

LFC 03.14.14 at 3:56 pm

geo:
“I may give as my reason for loathing Henry Kissinger that he’s a callous, deceitful, arrogant, and self-aggrandizing mass murderer; but others may ascribe my hatred to such causes as envy or repressed sexual attraction.”

I have not been reading the latter stretches of this thread so much as grazing them, but I am very glad I caught this sentence. Laughed out loud.

86

geo 03.14.14 at 5:39 pm

Bruce: am I misunderstanding geo entirely?
No, not really. (I still haven’t twigged “homologous,” so I’m not entirely sure.) I’m simply not sure what “indeterminism” means. I understand what “X causes Y” means. I understand what “we don’t know what causes Y” means. But I don’t understand what “nothing causes Y” means.

bob: Okay?
Sorry, not yet. But I’ll keep trying.

john: Which is it: that metaphysical claims “can’t be made out” or that ” the effort to provide some supernal guarantee or certification of such [claims] necessarily fails’? In other words, are metaphysical claims unintelligible or merely (so far) unprovable? I think the former, and so, I’d say, does Rorty.

Your objection to materialism seems to be that decisions/choices/meanings/symbolic thinking/concepts/consciousness etc. aren’t “things,” i.e., medium-sized dry goods. No, they’re actions or practices or verbal formations or moves in a language game or whatever you like. But that doesn’t mean they’re immaterial, or that anything is. Does that mean that everything is material? As you say, “of itself, such a thesis conveys little.” Nothing at all, I’d say. So let’s take Rorty’s advice, drop the terms, and try to find some others or just get down to cases.

Re Schmitt: he may have been dissatisfied with “the notion that sovereignty derives from “the people” and thus must be “democratic”.” But this notion seems perfectly adequate to me, and I don’t yet have a sense of why it didn’t to Schmitt. “What anymore constitutes the identity and unity of a people gathered under such sovereignty?” As always, historical accident, ratified or modified by a democratically formulated constitution. If a society’s cohesion is not sufficient for constitution-making, then chaos, conflict, and violence will continue until it somehow becomes sufficient. What exactly is “the constitutional paradox of the constituting/constituted power”?

William: Can this be all we get … ?
I’m afraid so. Philosophy is a dead end. One impulse from a vernal wood …

87

CK MacLeod 03.14.14 at 6:09 pm

the single most interesting question he raises, if not uniquely, then signally, is the constitutional paradox of the constituting/constituted power. That still deserves consideration.

I agree with this observation, and I’ve read all of JCH’s comments on this thread with interest, while recognizing the difficulty and perhaps the impossibility of what he’s trying to do here – among other things trying to defend an in any way impartial interest in the enemy to that enemy’s enemies. (THE ENEMY was the title that Gopal Balakrishnan gave to his very useful intellectual biography of Schmitt, published in 2000). Quite often, this difficult exercise coincides with another difficulty-if-not-impossibility: of trying to do philosophy on a blog comment thread.

Without hope, I’ll point out that it is just a bit more than merely ironic that those perplexed by the theory of the primacy for politics of the friend-enemy distinction so frequently and perhaps universally operate from friend-enemy presumptions in their discussion, or most typically in their refusal of actual discussion, of the same concept. That this problem would tend to recur is one strong implication of the theory underlying Schmitt’s “Concept of the Political.” A second or corollary implication is that this concept of the political implies a politicization of the concept, and finally collapses into or is revealed to rely upon, is an argument or the argument on, the concept of concepts at all. The question of the sovereign decision ex nihilo turns out to be a form of the more general and more basic question of existence ex nihilo – another form of the “why is there something and not nothing?” and another form of the “why am I bothering to offer a comment on a blog thread?” or “why am I declining to continue this discussion?”

88

William Timberman 03.14.14 at 7:13 pm

And so it ends in irony. Appropriate, but not fulfilling. Like Arnold, we’ll be back.

89

bob mcmanus 03.14.14 at 7:20 pm

86: Sorry, not yet. But I’ll keep trying

Then let me toss more Breckman at ya. Breckman has written extensively on the Left Hegelians and Romanticism.

“Let me conclude the present chapter by linking once again the
Left Hegelian critique of Romantic symbol theory to the
broad themes of this book. Ambiguity and positivity are of interest to more
than the aesthetic theorist who recognizes the need to preserve
hermeneutical complexity in approaching the expressive art object.
The question is also of paramount concern to democratic political theory.

For over two hundred years, the revolution unleashed by the
struggle to replace personal power by impersonal institutions has inter-
twined and overlapped with the invention of quasi-transcendental entities
like State, Nation, and, of course, Class. The historical and conceptual in-
tersections of the democratic project with these new “immanent deities”
compel us to recognize the unavoidable symbolic dimension of politics.
Radical democracy demands preservation of nonidentity between the
symbolic and the real, renunciation of full possession, acknowledgment of the
power of symbols, and recognition that the impossibility of fixed and uni-
vocal meaning opens the symbolic domain to the possibility of a constant
activation of the quest for autonomy. “

And from there he moves to Marx, and the attempt at a
materialism that de-symbolizes. It fails.

Your objection to materialism seems to be that decisions/choices/meanings/symbolic thinking/concepts/consciousness etc. aren’t “things,” i.e., medium-sized dry goods.

You are right and if I may, misreading JCH*. Materialism and Idealism meet in the “Symbol,” the empty and opaque signifier without referent that determines the horizon of meaning. “Freedom” or “Capital” are real mental “things,” void but because void are useful for structure. We spend a lot of our time saying what “Freedom” is not, not torture etc, IOW, “Freedom” as void is not constitutive, but our relation to the Void is constitutive. Maybe.

What Foucault and Butler are trying to do is show the ways these empty signifiers, like gender and sexuality (or Revolution!), work as sites of power.

Maybe for Schmitt too, state/politics and friend/foe are symbols, empty signifiers. Arendt famously described totalitarianism as the hurricane surrounding the eye.

*JCH does a lot of the work, differently and better early in 83. I could have pasted parts here. I am just a rank amateur, reading way over my level.

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bob mcmanus 03.14.14 at 7:34 pm

From 80, I repeat myself:

“That is to say, social relations will be driven by the impossible desire to
fill the empty place of the universal with positive content and the inevitable
failure of every such attempt. ” …Breckman

Wittgenstein, and maybe Rorty and other analytics, liked to describe the “impossible desire” as a language game.

It ain’t a game. The work of adding “positive content” to words like “woman” or “democracy” is about power struggles.

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LFC 03.14.14 at 8:25 pm

To say that the “unavoidable symbolic dimension of politics” (mcmanus quoting @89) is not new would be an understatement. See, e.g., Harold Lasswell, World Politics and Personal Insecurity, published in the mid-1930s. (Or, for that matter, see The Prince.)

But evidently mcmanus finds his time better occupied w Butler, Breckman, Lacan, Levinas, Zizek, etc. I’ll give Breckman at least one thing: Adventures of the Symbolic is one cool title. Since I’m probably (actually, strike “probably”) never going to read the book, just thought I’d mention that.

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LFC 03.14.14 at 8:32 pm

mcmanus @90
On one hand, the attempt to fill the empty space etc is doomed to failure (Breckman).
On the other hand, “the work of adding “positive content” to words like “woman” or “democracy” is about power struggles.” None of which, per Breckman, is going to succeed. But I guess it’s better to travel than to arrive, or some such bromide. Whatever.

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John Quiggin 03.14.14 at 10:36 pm

” the “force” of the questions, which unsettled “liberal-democratic” complacency”

Well, no. Hitler upset liberal democratic complacency, and made clear that the political approach of Schleicher, Papen and the rest, who put him in power rather than make an alliance with the Social Democrats, was a road to disaster, and that Schmitt’s political ideology pointed straight in that direction. The fact that he chose to become Hitler’s lickspittle is, as you say, not strictly relevant to his earlier writings, but certainly helps to hammer the point home.

The conclusion, for liberal democrats, is that “questions” like Schmitt’s are in the same category as the “questions” of people like Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, useful in understanding the thinking of our enemies, but not deserving an answer that treats them as legitimate participants in debate.

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Bruce Wilder 03.15.14 at 5:20 am

geo: I understand what “X causes Y” means.

I don’t. Not in general terms. I know a speaker usually intends to mean something by invoking “cause and effect”, but whether that’s a functional relationship between observable variables, or a sequence of events or something else, I’m not always sure.

If we’re explaining the movement of billiard balls on a table, using Newton’s laws and geometry, I have some grasp of what it means to say that the white ball imparted momentum to the 8 ball, striking at a certain angle, with a certain spin, explaining path and speed. If I tell a neighbor about a movie I watched on Netflix, and she watches it, too, I’m less clear: did my remarks cause her to watch the movie?

geo: I understand what “we don’t know what causes Y” means.

I’m even less clear, in general terms, about this. If we’re talking about the epidemiology of a disease — what causes an epidemic, say — there are some useful ideas lying around — Koch’s postulates, for example — that structure the puzzle in a logical way, and enable methodical investigation. If someone asserts that medical science has not identified the agent responsible for AIDS, well, I can evaluate whether that’s true. Because there’s a standard of interpretative analysis.

Do we know what causes a crime epidemic? If someone proposes a story, do we know how to evaluate it? What does it mean to cause a crime? Is that related to what it means to commit a crime? How? What does it mean to cause a crime rate? When the police in a city use bureaucratic methods, including statistical methods and tactical improvisation to bring crime “under control”, is that strategic policy intervention relevant evidence about what causes crime?

Do we know what caused the Global Financial Crisis, which began in 2007? Do we know what causes the explanations, which are offered?

geo: But I don’t understand what “nothing causes Y” means.

When you do arithmetic or algebra, there are rules of operation associated with the system of notation, such that, a problem can be solved by applying the rules mechanically — a simple, deterministic machine can do it; a machine architecture as simple as an abacus can be used to work through a solution for many problems. To solve a problem in integral calculus, though, you have to guess. There’s a gap in the rules of operation, and the problem-solver must make a leap across that gap. It’s not such a huge gulf, but, still, it requires intuition, a departure from the deterministic rules of the machine. Framing a problem to be solved also requires an intuition, to leap from the streaming chaos of experience to managing an abstract analysis in a context, which makes a solution valuable.

We understand where global warming is coming from, in the sense of a chemical process of accumulating greenhouse gases affecting the planet’s retention of heat. That’s a deterministic process. Do we understand why greedy elites seem to be heedlessly driving civilization over a cliff? The first is a quantitative process, a cumulative historical process, where magnitudes matter; the second is also an historical process, but one, which seems to defy evidence and experience, and involves qualities and values and information, where moral judgment dominates. Where does moral judgment originate? What causes moral judgment?

95

geo 03.15.14 at 6:35 am

Sorry, Bruce, but I don’t see that any of the questions you pose require a radical rethinking of our ordinary usage of “cause.” Like every word, it’s part of a way of life, and its meaning is the way we use it for our common purposes. We usually use “cause” to help us figure out how to get things to happen or not to happen. We also apply it to rare or even singular occurrences, like the rise of Christianity or the Big Bang, but more loosely, with the understanding that we can’t really test, and hence prove, our conclusions. That is, like many other words, it’s not wholly univocal, unambiguous, hard-edged. Still, we generally use it consistently enough to understand one another and even sometimes agree with one anothers .

To your examples: Why does the 8-ball go left rather than right? As you note, there’s a straightforward answer, with a high degree of precision and certainty. Why did your neighbor watch the movie? If she’d never heard of it before, seemed very taken with your description, and generally shared your opinions about movies, you’d be provisionally justified in concluding that your mentioning the movie caused her to see it. If it really mattered to you to know why she watched it, you might ask her. But then, if she’s a compulsive liar or often doesn’t seem to know her own mind, you still wouldn’t be certain. But of course there are innumerable things whose causes we are uncertain of without concluding that they have no causes.

What causes a disease epidemic? As you say, we’ve worked out preliminary, in some cases more than preliminary, approaches to answering this question. What causes a crime epidemic? There’s much less agreement about how to go about answering this question, as well as about how precise or certain any answer can be. But there’s plenty of discussion. Some people may think we already know the cause(s); many people may think we’ll never know the cause(s) with any useful degree of certainty/precision. But no one thinks that crime epidemics have no causes.

The same is true of natural phenomena like global warming and historical processes like elite greed and short-sightedness. Some answers to what causes such things are fairly precise and widely agreed on; some are less precise and more controversial. But no one says: “Global warming exists, but it has no cause” or “Elite greed exists, but it has no cause.”

That intuition exists and is important, surely no one disagrees. But why do you think that means that some acts or conditions have no causes?

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Anarcissie 03.15.14 at 2:44 pm

geo 03.15.14 at 6:35 am @ 95: ‘ But why do you think that means that some acts or conditions have no causes?’

Why assume that the history of the universe is completely determined? But if it is not then at least some events or components of events must be spontaneous.

Another problem with saying ‘X causes Y’ is that, in the macroscopic world at least, it usually vastly oversimplifies the situation.

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geo 03.15.14 at 4:35 pm

Anarcissie: Yes, it’s true, “completely determined” sounds like overkill. There is quantum indeterminacy, and also statistical uncertainty. And there are the limits of human cognition — we are biological systems, organisms, and may simply be incapable of grasping some (many) interesting things, including many causal relations. I’m mainly reacting against the traditional notions of free will and spiritual substance, which are fundamental to the notions of sin and eternal punishment, which haunted my childhood.

98

Alex K. 03.15.14 at 4:46 pm

geo:
“I don’t understand what “nothing causes Y” means.”

Your brain developed in order to solve problems like distinguishing good from poisonous berries, swinging from trees and getting ahead in social hierarchies. Why exactly should the inability of one’s brain to grasp uncaused phenomena have any bearing on the existence of such phenomena?

Kant made a similar argument a couple of centuries ago (without the appeal to Darwinism) and he is still correct: our inability to think about some properties of things-in-themselves does not stop things-in-themselves from having them.

geo:
“Why does the 8-ball go left rather than right? As you note, there’s a straightforward answer, with a high degree of precision and certainty.”

There is a precise answer after the first impact. But in order to predict the movement of a ball hit after the ninth impact, you need to take into account the effect of the gravitational pull of a person sitting at the next pool table. In order to predict the ball movement after the 56th impact, you need to take into account the effect of every particle in the universe. (These are computations done by the physicist Michael Berry) It’s likely that Newtonian physics is no longer sufficient when you need such levels of precision.

So, all you can say is that thinking in terms of closed causal chains has a very useful role in a relatively limited, but important to us, domain. This does not amount to any sort of proof, or even preponderance of evidence, that causal determinism is the only possible way in which the universe behaves.

But there are other domains, domains where the avoidance of thinking in terms of closed causal chains is useful to us, for instance, the social domain where we behave as if we and our social companions have “free will.”

So both causal determinism and non-causal theories pass the test of “is it useful to think like that in some domain?”

What we are left with is just your asymmetric treatment of strict causal and non-causal theories based only on subjective and artificial reasons. You would probably be quite happy to endorse a theory that treats our concepts of “free will” as completely historically contingent, as emanating from Stoics like Epictetus , passing through Alexander of Aphrodisias, after which Christian theologians take the “free will” ball and run with it.

But you suddenly become timid when you analyse the limitations of completely causal accounts of the world, and you also become unwilling to acknowledge the historical contingency of the belief in a completely deterministic universe. However, the modern form of this belief is little more than the unscientific extrapolation, by pioneer scientists, of the philosophical correlates of Newtonian mechanics, to the entire universe.

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Alex K. 03.15.14 at 4:50 pm

(I didn’t read Geo’s last post before writing my reply. So my construct of Geo’s position is a bit of a strawman, but it’s a strawman composed of argument people of Geo’s persuasion often make, so it might be useful to argue against it anyway)

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GiT 03.15.14 at 5:02 pm

“you’d be provisionally justified in concluding that your mentioning the movie caused her to see it”

That seems at the very least incomplete. Presumably her disposition to like certain kinds of movies, to trust your recommendations, the affordances she possesses which enable the watching of movies, the people who created the movie, &so on &etc are also integral or necessary “causes” of her seeing the movie. It seems rare that causation is ever reducible to something like “x causes y.” If not for x, no y; but also if not for a,b,c,d,e,f,&g. Not sure what exactly my point is, but causation sometimes seems to be talked about a lot more flippantly than seems warranted. Our “ordinary” usage of “cause” often seems to be inherently misleading and incorrect.

Even go to an alleged simplistic materialist determinist like Hobbes and look at how he treats causation, and things are hardly so simple. Proximate causes, final causes, efficient causes, material causes, necessary causes, entire causes – causes as complex aggregates of accidents of agents and patients.

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ezra abrams 03.15.14 at 5:17 pm

Can someone explain to me why supposedly intelligent people spend time worrying about what D Brooks says or thinks ?
I’ve got way more important things to do, like examine the lint in my navel.

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Corey Robin 03.15.14 at 5:45 pm

ezra abrams: Might you explain why it is sillier to wonder and talk about allegedly silly things than it is to wonder and talk about the people who are wondering and talking about allegedly things.

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Watson Ladd 03.15.14 at 6:22 pm

Heidegger helped the Nazis take over the university he was charged with protecting. Carl Schmitt justified murder. Both should have been executed for their crimes.

As for David Brooks, this is a complete misreading. He’s arguing that the US public has chosen to ignore once again the rest of the world. For all the ability of citizens to withdraw their consent, Aleppo is burning, the Pakistani government executes Christians for blasphemy, North Korea remains hell on earth.

The key question is liberalism. Schmitt is anti-liberal, while David Brooks looks to the foundation and maintenance of a liberal order as the cornerstone of geopolitics. Any liberal order demands institutions that safeguard rights, and in the international realm that institution is primarily military force.

Oliver Cromwell was necessary. That doesn’t make Whigs into Tories.

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GiT 03.15.14 at 6:27 pm

“Any liberal order demands institutions that safeguard rights, and in the international realm that institution is primarily military force.”

Well, that was one of Schmitt’s criticisms of liberalism, yes? The vision of peaceful humanitarian liberalism cloaking the same old grosse politik.

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john c. halasz 03.15.14 at 7:11 pm

JQ @93:

See @87.

M. & H. have nothing to do with any issue here. There basically just junk social science, though there’s is not the only kind of subsidized junk social science.

If you want to blame any single individual for the rise of Hitler, other than the man himself, of course, blame Kanzler Bruening (Center Party) and his 6 million. But after he was through, there simply wasn’t any possible parliamentary coalition left. The majorities of parliament were all “anti-constitutional”, including the traditionalist conservative parties. Hence the resort to Article 48 presidential rule, after repeated failed elections, which Schmitt did advocate under the circumstances. The Center Party (RC center right) and the SPD both had been repressed under the 2nd Reich and formed the back-bone of the Weimar Republic coalitions, but that alliance couldn’t muster any majority or even a stable minority government. (If you check the last 4 elections, that coalition went from 47% to 39% to 37% to 36% of the vote. In the last vote the CP peaked at 17% and the Nazis declined to 33%). So you’re not only making a historically fallacious retrospective argument, but one based on historical fantasy. By 1932, with the rise to prominence of the Nazi Party, (which, of course never attained an electoral majority and even declined in its vote share in the last election), just about everybody thought the end of the Weimar constitution was nigh, and the longing for some resolution via some sort of strongman authority was palpable. Gen. von Schleicher was an inveterate intrigue and clearly thought he should be that man on a white horse. He sought to split the Nazis by drawing of Roehm and the “left” of the party and forming an alliance with other labor groups as a new basis for ruling. The alternative was a Reichswehr coup, (which in the event would have been better than what did happen). But the von Pappen faction, representing traditional conservations and industrialist, (who sought a policy of cartelization and reflation), instead made a deal with Hitler, no doubt thinking that they could use and control him for their purposes, rather than vice versa. Von Schleicher and Roehmer were both murdered in the “Night of the Long Knives”. Von Pappen was tried at Nuremburg and acquitted. Schmitt’s Nazism was a kind of death bed conversion.

At any rate, we do know, in the concrete instance who the “enemy” was for Schmitt: it was Marxism, and that was because behind the mask of Marxism, he perceived the devil himself, anarchy. But, as I’ve said, it is the problems and questions that Schmitt raised, not any “solutions” he might have offered, nor his personal political preferences, that retain interest today. And you’re just refusing to grasp the level of generality at which those sorts of questions occur. To simply presume that the formal proceduralism of “liberal democracy” automatically conveys “legitimacy” and resolves all questions of conflict and “authority” is naive at best. And to presume that all such political conflicts can be resolved by rational discourse and persuasive argument, such that impassible conflicts can never arise is utterly complacent. (That is, e.g., to willfully ignore all the problems of “democratic deficits” and Crouch’s “post-democracy” that riddle the world today). Besides which, politics has never been a pre-eminent realm of rationality and substantiated opinions and devoid of strategic manipulations. (Here in the U.S., we have Congress critters who seem to think that they can effectively legislate the laws of physics!). Your stance just reminds me of Brecht’s quip that if the people will not obey, just dissolve the people and elect a new one.

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john c. halasz 03.15.14 at 7:19 pm

@104:

Our marsupial friend just likes to spout slogans. They’re a substitute for any effort at thinking.

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Ronan(rf) 03.15.14 at 7:39 pm

Im sorry, 87 is completely incomprehensible and as much as I can make out the argument it seems to be working from a straw man of liberalism “that it doesn’t recognise politics/power/a Friend enemy dichotomy” ,as if any of these concepts are anything but very basic building blocks for any basic theory.

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bob mcmanus 03.15.14 at 8:33 pm

107: Also incomprehensible is Raku Tea Bowl, which doesn’t mean we can’t relate to or communicate with it.

“Comprehension” is overrated for those who want to achieve some kind of hegemony over a discourse.

“Apprehension” (in a somewhat specialized definition, opposed to comprehension; to grasp with self-doubt, to approach with fear and trembling) belongs to a more humble subject position, and is likely all we can honestly claim anyway. It doesn’t privilege meaning and interpretation, and values a receptive subject-position. Joyce taught me this.

Inspired after reading about Haroun Farocki, and might belong on the other “Butler” thread.

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LFC 03.15.14 at 9:25 pm

Watson Ladd @103

1) Is Brooks echoing Schmitt? My answer to that is I’m not sure, b.c. I don’t know enough about Schmitt and I’ve read only the OP excerpt, not the full Brooks column. Corey thinks the answer is yes, so I’m assuming there are at least reasonable arguments on that side. But as I say, I’m not expressing a view on that.

2) Putting Schmitt temporarily to one side, what is Brooks, on the face of it, saying? If past performance is any guide here, it’s going to be a mixture of platitudes (which, being platitudes, are hard to disagree with) plus a dose of recycled generic realism (the world is still a dangerous place, there are still malign people, we just can’t all join hands and sing kumbaya etc) plus a few things that he’s sprinkled in from whatever he happens to have been reading the night before he wrote the column. There may be a Schmittian flavor but it wd prob be in the nature of salt and pepper on an already baked dish, or so I’d guess.

3) There’s also the Brooks false-dichotomy or, better, false-polarity move. So here it’s the “liberal order” is either “a single system organized and defended by American military strength” or “a spontaneous network of direct people-to-people contacts, flowing along the arteries of the Internet.” As if there were nothing in between these two options.

4) As to your (Watson’s) “Any liberal order demands institutions that safeguard rights, and in the international realm that institution is primarily military force.” This is a quasi-platitude that tells nothing about the more interesting and pertinent questions, e.g. *who* wields the force, *how* it’s wielded, and *when* (under what circs and conditions). Also says nothing about, e.g., unilateralism vs multilateralism. It’s also not quite a correct statement inasmuch as there are actually various insts and mechanisms that “safeguard rights” in the “intl realm.” It’s true, at a very general level, that as long as there is no world govt in the strong sense, the system remains one in which force is the ‘last resort’. But this is so general as to be pretty uninteresting.

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Watson Ladd 03.15.14 at 9:28 pm

GiT: It’s a criticism without teeth. There is an order of difference between being sent to jail because the king doesn’t like you, or because you have been convicted in front of a jury of a crime made criminal by an elected legislature, with the right to cross-examine witnesses etc. While both involve objectively the same action being taken against you, there are morally relevant differences.

The policeman exists in the liberal state order to safeguard rights. Schmitt wouldn’t conceive of him as militarized in any sense.

David Brooks isn’t for war “just because we can” in the way that Schmitt is. He’s for the elaboration of an international system that avoids the worst sort of abuses which the 20th century was rife with, abuses which Schmitt legitimized.

I cannot think of Schmitt without thinking of Pol Pot. Here is the ultimate in direct action against the enemy of his people. No matter that the enemy is imaginary. They must be created for the need of politics.

By contrast in this editorial Brooks isn’t calling for an enemy to be created to fill the spiritual yearnings of the people. Instead he’s calling for recognition that the sort of leader who can emerge in this setting is the sort of leader Schmitt would like: “It can be governed only by someone who arouses intense moral loyalty, and even that may be fleeting.”

No bureaucracy ever aroused moral loyalty. The petty-minded functionary is indifferent to what he does, while the zealous one attempts to ensure its proper functioning. It is governed by innumerable rules and logic. Only outside the office do people get the anger needed to carry out pogroms.

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Andrew F. 03.15.14 at 10:36 pm

This strikes me as merely dancing around Godwin’s law.

As far as I can tell, the post’s comparison makes anyone who argues for (1) the need for national and military strength in order to (2) combat some “menaces to civilization” into Schmitt.

It proves too much.

The problem with Brooks’s column is not the assertion that appropriate military force and large organizations have an essential role to play in global progress, but in his assertion that a significant number hold to the dysfunctional and naive atomistic view of politics and power that he attributes to them. The world is just a little more complicated.

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Anarcissie 03.15.14 at 11:42 pm

I think Schmitt just cuts to the chase. For Schmitt, ignorant armies clashing by night — war and the state — are good in themselves. Brooks wants them, too, but they must be given a certain decor.

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The Temporary Name 03.15.14 at 11:43 pm

Both should have been executed for their crimes.

This is possibly not the position standing most firmly opposite Schmitt and Heidegger.

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Corey Robin 03.16.14 at 1:35 am

Watson Ladd: “David Brooks isn’t for war ‘just because we can’ in the way that Schmitt is. He’s for the elaboration of an international system that avoids the worst sort of abuses which the 20th century was rife with, abuses which Schmitt legitimized.”

I don’t think you’ve read very much David Brooks. If you check out chapter 8 (“Remembrance of Empires Past”) of my book on conservatism you’ll find more than enough textual evidence to suggest, at a minimum, that you need to rethink your claim above. He’s very much for war, not “just because we can” (which of course was not Schmitt’s claim either) but because we need to ensure that we don’t slide into cultural decadence and the sort of liberal internationalist ooze that has weakened our impulses and deadened our sensibilities. He’s very much a war for the sake of rejuvenating our souls sort of fellow. Not war for the sake of some sort of international order but war for the sake of proving that we live in a world that needs war. Because the alternative is the moral anesthesia that he thinks liberalism threatens to inject in us all.

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Corey Robin 03.16.14 at 1:40 am

Andrew F: “As far as I can tell, the post’s comparison makes anyone who argues for (1) the need for national and military strength in order to (2) combat some ‘menaces to civilization’ into Schmitt.”

That’s not what makes Brooks into Schmitt. What makes Brooks like Schmitt is that he recoils in horror at the possibility of there being such a world in which civilization could be preserved by means other than military strength. And I’m not quite sure he really wishes to preserve civilization at all. Or if he does it’s the *preserving* of civilization that he savors, rather than *civilization* itself.

You guys need to go back and read what Brooks had to say about Clinton’s America. What’s very clear in those writings is that he recoiled in horror at the idea that you could organize a world on the basis of free trade and open markets. That’s what he saw in Clinton’s America and he thought it profoundly shallow and decadent. His point was not that it wouldn’t or couldn’t work; his point was that if it could work, it would be a terrible world to live in: shallow, decadent, not serious.

People here seem to want to assimilate Brooks either to some kind of liberal internationalist or national security realist. He’s neither. He’s very much a political romantic, who yearns to live in a world where the frisson of political battle is the be all, end all. That’s the connection to Schmitt.

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PJW 03.16.14 at 3:23 am

“He’s very much a war for the sake of rejuvenating our souls sort of fellow.”

Is there close kinship here to the myth of regeneration through violence?

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Andrew F. 03.16.14 at 3:48 am

That’s a fair response Corey, and I actually went back and took a look at some of Brooks’s earlier work. I read your essays on fear, and on neoconservatives, which I liked even as I disagreed with parts, and I read the two articles by him that you cited.

However, I think you’re misreading Brooks. Partially.

And I say this because, for reasons surpassing my own understanding, I went back and read some of the things he wrote before 9/11.

Brooks is a political romantic in the sense that he believes people are nourished and elevated by grand, unifying projects and purposes. Brooks dislikes the notion of a culture that shrinks an individual’s purpose in life to the welfare of his particular self.

But, those grand, unifying projects and purposes need not be war, or a fundamental division between friends and enemies. He’s not Schmitt.

Let me cite what seems to be the best evidence of this. In 1997 Brooks directly addressed the question of national greatness in an article entitled A Return to National Greatness: A Manifesto for a Lost Creed in The Weekly Standard.

Now here, surely, one would expect to find any affinities for Schmitt painted vividly and unmistakeably.

Instead, Brooks chooses as his model for unifying and elevating national projects: the Library of Congress.

He writes: The librarian of Congress at the time, Ainsworth Spofford, gave pride of place to American heroes like Benjamin Franklin and Robert Fulton in the pantheon of historical likenesses that covers the walls. Spofford and his colleagues saw the building as a statement of American greatness — and as a way to elevate America to greatness.

And even as he invokes the metaphor of conflict, he’s more often talking about something other than actual conflict with other human beings, much less war. For example:

During the 23 years it took to design and build the library, more people immigrated to America than in the previous 250 years combined. The nation’s population almost doubled, and white Americans settled more land in these years than in the preceding three centuries. Cities grew exponentially. Slums spread. It was a period of labor unrest.

But menaced by these threats to national cohesion, Americans redoubled their devotion to American nationalism. Hit by economic blows to their confidence, they reasserted their faith in themselves. Faced by anxiety and intellectual uncertainty, they did not succumb to malaise or cynicism. Instead they counter-attacked, with big projects like the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the Library of Congress.

The counter-attack was not the division of the world into friends and enemies, or the conscious affirmation of eternal war against some necessary, and human, enemy. It was in collaborative, constructive projects.

The malaise of the 1990s that Brooks discusses elsewhere, the fear (yes) that America was turning into a giant, tepid kitchen (paraphrasing), is specifically described in this article as:

The designers must have felt in their bones what Tocqueville observed: Democracy has a tendency to slide into nihilistic mediocrity if its citizens are not inspired by some larger national goal. If they think of nothing but their narrow self-interest, of their commercial activities, they lose a sense of grand aspiration and noble purpose. “What frightens me most,” Tocqueville writes, “is the danger that, amid all the constant trivial preoccupations of private life, ambition may lose both its force and its greatness, that human passions may grow gentler and at the same time baser, with the result that the progress of the body social may become daily quieter and less aspiring.”

Now, without question, what he terms “an active foreign policy” is part of what he thinks America’s role should be in its achievement of “national greatness.” But that doesn’t necessarily involve war (he cites the Panama Canal as an example), and even when it’s mentioned, it is as one piece of a larger picture:

For much of this century, liberals possessed high aspirations and a spirit of historical purpose. Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, the New Deal, John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier — these were efforts to aim high, to accomplish some grand national endeavor. Liberals tried to use American preeminence as a way to shape the world, fight communism, put a man on the moon. But then came the 1970s, and suddenly liberalism became a creed emphasizing limits.

The emphasis on friend and foe, on defining human elevation through a politics of antagonism directed at another group of people, is absent here in a way that it is not in the portions of Schmitt you cited.

So I think you have Brooks right in that he’s a political romantic, in a sense. He does think that political action is as important as political ends. But I think you have him wrong in your emphasis on military conflict, and so far as the comparison to Schmitt goes, that is the crucial point imho.

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Anarcissie 03.16.14 at 4:48 am

Andrew F. 03.16.14 at 3:48 am @ 117 –
‘… But, those grand, unifying projects and purposes need not be war, or a fundamental division between friends and enemies. …’

They do if they’re state projects. The basis of the Gewaltmonopol is Gewalt. This is why war mysteriously grows out of the liberal state even when it has conquered all its serious enemies and Capital reigns supreme over the whole world.

‘He’s not Schmitt.’

Brooks and Schmitt are on the overt side.

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Harold 03.16.14 at 5:38 am

“Regime change” may not be war “technically” but it is still a grand national project that involves killing people, or inciting other people to kill people, a lot of the time. I think Brooks is sending basically the same message as his friend Jonathan Chait did some days ago, when Chait lamented that Americans didn’t seem to have the stomach for killing “for an ideal”. http://rjwaldmann.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-five-minutes-hate-of-chait.html

As far as Schmitt being RC, nineteenth century popes also adamantly insisted on this right to engage in “regime change” from afar. So the notion of a purported “right to meddle” in the internal affairs of other countries is nothing very new. The historian J. B. Bury inveighed against it in no uncertain terms in his “History of the papacy in the 19th century: liberty and authority in the Roman Catholic Church” (1930?), as I recall. I don’t know if 20th century popes still insist on it. They probably do; in any case, one needn’t be an isolationist to oppose it.

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LFC 03.16.14 at 5:44 am

Corey @114
He’s very much a war for the sake of rejuvenating our souls sort of fellow.

Before 1914, there were lots of war-for-the-sake-of rejuvenating-our-souls types (see e.g. R.N. Stromberg, Redemption by War: The Intellectuals and 1914). It was a fairly mainstream, albeit far from universal, position.

After the carnage of WW1, there were almost no war-for-the-sake-of-rejuvenating-our-souls types left in the Anglophone world at any rate. As J. Mueller has argued, the pre-1914 peace movement, a minority position before the war, injected a view and a vocabulary into public discourse that became much more generally attractive to people during and after the war. The idea that war is a glorious, revivifying, heroic, ennobling enterprise, that it sweeps away the cobwebs of decay etc, basically died forever as a mainstream position after the first couple of years of trench warfare. (If one were to single out a particular date, a good candidate wd be July 1, 1916, the first day of the Somme, when the British army suffered 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded.)

It’s true the U.S. did not suffer in WW1 as much as the European belligerents, partly b.c it entered the war late. But WW1 nonetheless did have an impact on attitudes to war in the U.S. as well. And WW2 and then the main subsequent ground wars the U.S. has been involved in, esp Korea and Vietnam, did not revive the ‘rejuvenation’ school at all (to put it mildly).

I strongly suspect that the “national greatness” conservatives of the 1990s, the Kristols, Kagans, and Brookses, do not say that war ‘rejuvenates our souls’, because almost no one says that anymore. As Andrew F notes above, they talk about greatness and unifying projects and the need for nat’l strength and common purpose and uplifting etc etc, but they don’t say war is a positive good. Someone like Kristol might, for all I know, *think* that, but he can’t actually say it; at most he can tiptoe around it.

(Anyway, now I *have* to read Corey’s chap. 8.)

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Harold 03.16.14 at 6:20 am

I suppose the Kristols and Kagans thought the Cold War “rejuvenated” people’s souls — and many of their relatives’ and friends’ pocket books. Just wanted to add that Bury’s book consisted of lectures delivered in 1908 and published postumously.

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john c. halasz 03.16.14 at 7:20 am

O.K. Just to clear up some issues with geo.

As to “metaphysics”, arguably we all make residual “metaphysical” claims. And there are still those that continue to explicitly continue such projects, not only in the air-conditioned offices of curators in the Analytic Philosophy museum, with stacks of paper piling high, but among scruffy partisans of “guerilla metaphysics” with their “object oriented ontology” who complain that Heidegger’s “correlationism” is still too humanistic. The only difference between the “Higgs boson” and metaphysical claims is that in the former case there is some hope of empirical substantiation, in highly pre-suppositioned ways, whereas in other projects there is never any possibility of providing clear criteria for deciding between one claim or the other. But both are equally obscure.

So, no, your reading of Rorty is likely wrong. All “metaphysical” claims fail, in principle and not just “so far”, but that doesn’t imply that they are simply unintelligible or unconstruable. Rorty simply declares them “optional”. Else why would he advocate “hermeneutics” as continuing conversation, (though his account is rather lame and unmotivated compared to Gadamer’s)? If “metaphysical” claims or projects were simply unintelligible, then how could we possibly read the whole prior tradition of philosophy and see how its various and sundry claims fail in their aims, even as they uncover partial truths that still inform “our” understandings?

Consider as an example, (since you want to get down to cases), Levinas’ remark “metaphysics, perhaps the very essence of which is reification”. And yet he styles his own project “metaphysical ethics”. Somehow those two remarks have to be reconciled, whether hermeneutically or logically, else we just complacently and with full philistinism, conclude he’s spouting nonsense, which “we” are comfortably immune from.

But then you seem to be caught up in performative contradictions of your own making. You’re insisting in the guise of “anti-metaphysics” on metaphysical criteria of your own. But, more importantly, you want to uphold a liberal conception of “freedom”, while denying any possible account of such a “thing”. (I’d agree with you that “free will” is a pretty useless term, but it’s more because of the “will” part than the “free” part. Insistence on causal determinism, aside from being a fairly primitive account of causal issues, is a reaction formation against traditional “free will”). I prefer the term ” human agency”, but then you seem to have no account of any such thing. Neither in the individual, nor the collective instance. What is the “nature” of such “freedom”, as a real phenomenon, not an illusory epi-phenomenon? How is it possible? Why is it valuable and what would give it “value”? Just radio silence there.

“Your objection to materialism seems to be that decisions/choices/meanings/symbolic thinking/concepts/consciousness etc. aren’t “things,” i.e., medium-sized dry goods. No, they’re actions or practices or verbal formations or moves in a language game or whatever you like. But that doesn’t mean they’re immaterial, or that anything is”.

No, actions and intentions are not “objects” at all. Bob Mc already did the work of the signifier/signified distinction, which effectively blocks off any sort of Platonism, insofar as patterned sounds or their corresponding written marks are part of the system of meaning-generating communication. But that’s a limited result. More importantly, language is always directly or indirectly a relation to an other, as that which is invoked and addressed by any utterance. And that other is inherently unobjectifiable, which is what gives “sense”. IOW language is what gives the possibility of (structured and conditioned) agency, and thus any human agency is not individual, atomistic, but bound up in interactions with others, such that there are no acts or intentions without interactions, such that the first-person solipsistic account of “intentional agency” is severely deficient, not at all sufficient “common sense”. You aren’t being “liberal” there, ie. “generous”, but rather defending against and repressing any relation to the “other”, potentially “violent” or disruptive of the ego. How can something come from nothing? How could it not?

But your philosophic objections were just a derailment of the direct issues. Part of Schmitt objections were directed against the notion that legal system is an autonomously self-regulating system, (which at the time was represented by the likes of Kelsen and buttressed by neo-Kantian idealism), as a liberal illusion. Of course, that mirrors the other liberal illusion, that the market economy is an autonomously self-regulating system. Hence the liberal mentality would be bifurcated between private moralism and private interests, without any genuinely public-political dimension. (This is pretty directly an inverted version of Lukacs’ Marxian account of “the antinomies of bourgeois consciousness”). To the contrary, Schmitt claims, any legal system requires a sovereign source, as the promulgating and enforcing power, and that any legal system is riddled with indeterminacies, which requires a political “supplement” to be sustained. The sovereign source and the popular basis need to be reconciled, extra-legally, in any narrow sense. Hence, he claims, the sovereign is what/who decides the exceptions. So who or what is the sovereign power that can back and enforce the authority and legitimacy of law? And what is its popular basis?

If you want examples for deciding the exceptions, they aren’t hard to find. Consider, e.g., Bush v. Gore, or the actions of the Federal Reserve Bank in 2008-09. In “international law” the issues are even more rife. But they don’t occur without issues about the inclusion/exclusion of relevant agents or agencies. Which aren’t actually derived from legal or normative deductions.

So what is the distinction between the “constituting/constituted power”? The constituting power gathers together and forms “the people” that would be subject to a constitution, as authorizing sovereign power. (It doesn’t matter, in the first instance, exactly what that constituting power consists in; theoretically, it might as well be flying monkeys). But it inaugurates, via some sort of constitution, a sovereign law-giving and law-enforcing body. The result then is the constituted power, the various delegated offices and authorities which derive from any such inaugurated constitution, which then uphold that constitution and rule over those who are subsumed under it. If the constituting power is said to be “the people”, then “the people” are subjected to their own “authority”, the constituted power rules over what constitutes it, what it ostensibly derives from. Already something of a paradox. But further, there is a “performative” dimension, connected to the dating of a before-and-after. The collective inaugural act, which derives from a collectivity, however assembled, that precedes it, also defines retrospectively the “identity” of that subjected collectivity. How can something come from nothing? Et voila! But it’s not as if the “constituting power” ceases to exist, after the “constituted power” takes hold. “Nations” can change their constitutions historically like clothing, and sufficiently severe national or international conflicts can give rise to “constitutional” issues.

Yes, indeed, there is something “mysterious” about such historical processes. Especially if one wants to insist that they all derive from “freedom” and that “freedom” readily converts into political obligation, recognizable authority and common “justice”.

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Corey Robin 03.16.14 at 11:29 am

Andrew F and LFC: Thanks for the thoughtful responses and qualifications. Both of your respective points — that Brooks is a political romantic open to a romanticism derived from political sources that need not be simply about war and conflict, and that WWI marks a break in which that kind of romanticism is no longer as widely shared across the spectrum — seem basically right. I would say though that while Andrew F is definitely right about Brooks in the 1990s, the post-9/11 Brooks really brought out what I think was always lingering there in Brooks: namely the military/violent/conflict dimension. His one essay that he did for The Weekly Standard or Newsweek or somewhere — “This Age of Conflict” — is really telling. Just some highlights (what follows is all Brooks):

“Obviously nobody knows what the future years will feel like, but we do know that the next decade will have a central feature that was lacking in the last one: The next few years will be defined by conflict. And it’s possible to speculate about what that means. The institutions that fight for us and defend us against disorder–the military, the FBI, the CIA–will seem more important and more admirable. The fundamental arguments won’t be over economic or social issues, they will be over how to wield power–whether to use American power aggressively or circumspectly. We will care a lot more about ends–winning the war–than we will about means. We will debate whether it is necessary to torture prisoners who have information about future biological attacks. We will destroy innocent villages by accident, shrug our shoulders, and continue fighting. In an age of conflict, bourgeois virtues like compassion, tolerance, and industriousness are valued less than the classical virtues of courage, steadfastness, and a ruthless desire for victory.

“LOOKING BACK, the striking thing about the 1990s zeitgeist was the presumption of harmony. The era was shaped by the idea that there were no fundamental conflicts anymore. The Cold War was over, and while the ensuing wars–like those in Bosnia and Rwanda –were nettlesome, they were restricted to global backwaters. Meanwhile, technology was building bridges across cultures. The Internet, Microsoft ads reminded us, fostered communication and global harmony. All around the world there were people casting off old systems so they could embrace a future of peace and prosperity. Chinese Communists were supposedly being domesticated by the balm of capitalist success. Peace seemed in the offing in Northern Ireland and, thanks to the Oslo process, in the Middle East.

“Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were elected president of the United States. Neither had performed much in the way of military service. Neither was particularly knowledgeable about foreign affairs. Both promised to be domestic-policy presidents. In that age of peace and prosperity, the top sitcom was “Seinfeld,” a show about nothing. Books appeared with titles like “All Connected Now: Life in the First Global Civilization.” Academics analyzed the twilight of national sovereignty. Commerce and communications seemed much more important than politics.

“Defense spending was drastically cut, by Republicans as well as Democrats, because there didn’t seem to be any clear and present danger to justify huge budgets. The army tried to recruit volunteers by emphasizing its educational benefits, with narcissistic slogans like “An Army of One.” Conservatives, of all people, felt so safe that they became suspicious of the forces of law and order. Conservative activists were heard referring to police as “bureaucrats with badges”; right-wing talk radio dwelt on the atrocities committed by the FBI, the DEA, and other agencies at places like Ruby Ridge and Waco. Meanwhile, all across the political spectrum, interest in public life waned, along with the percentage of adults who bothered to vote. An easy cynicism settled across the land, as more people came to believe that national politics didn’t really matter. What mattered instead, it seemed, were local affairs, community, intimate relations, and the construction of private paradises. When on rare occasions people talked about bitter conflict, they usually meant the fights they were having with their kitchen renovators.

“Historians who want to grasp the style of morality that prevailed in the 1990s should go back to the work of sociologist Alan Wolfe. In books like “One Nation, After All” and “Moral Freedom,” Wolfe called the prevailing ethos “small scale morality.” Be moderate in your beliefs, and tolerant toward people who have other beliefs. This is a moral code for people who are not threatened by any hostile belief system, who don’t think it is worth it to stir up unpleasantness. “What I heard as I talked to Americans,” Wolfe wrote of his research, “was a distaste for conflict, a sense that ideas should never be taken so seriously that they lead people into uncivil, let alone violent, courses of action.”

“BUT NOW VIOLENCE HAS COME CALLING. Now it is no longer possible to live so comfortably in one’s own private paradise. Shocked out of the illusion of self-reliance, most of us realize that we, as individuals, simply cannot protect ourselves. Private life requires public protection. Now it is not possible to ignore foreign affairs, because foreign affairs have not ignored us. It has become clear that we are living in a world in which hundreds of millions of people hate us, and some small percentage of them want to destroy us. That realization is bound to have cultural effects.

“There are other cultural effects. For example, commercial life seems less important than public life, and economic reasoning seems less germane than cultural analysis. When life or death fighting is going on, it’s hard to think of Bill Gates or Jack Welch as particularly heroic. Moreover, the cost-benefit analysis dear to economists doesn’t really explain much in times of war. Osama bin Laden is not motivated by economic self-interest, and neither are our men and women who are risking their lives to defeat him. To understand such actions, you need to study history, religion, and ethics. The people who try to explain events via economic reasoning begin to look silly….

“BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT CULTURAL EFFECT of conflict is that it breeds a certain bloody-mindedness or, to put it more grandly, a tragic view of life. Life in times of war and recession reminds us of certain hard truths that were easy to ignore during the decade of peace and prosperity. Evil exists. Difficulties, even tragedies, are inevitable. Human beings are flawed creatures capable of monstrosity. Not all cultures are compatible. To preserve order, good people must exercise power over destructive people.

“That means that it’s no longer sufficient to deconstruct ideas and texts and signifiers. You have to be able to construct hard principles so you can move from one idea to the next, because when you are faced with the problem of repelling evil, you absolutely must be able to reach a conclusion on serious moral issues.

“ut history never repeats itself neatly. No one can predict the political and cultural consequences of a war, any more than the course of the war itself. But it does seem clear that we have moved out of one political and cultural moment and into another. We have traded the anxieties of affluence for the real fears of war. We have moved from an age of peace to an age of conflict, and in times of conflict people are different. They go to extremes. Some people, and some nations, turn cowardly or barbaric. Other people, and other nations, become heroic, brave, and steadfast. It all depends on what they have in them. War isn’t only, as Bourne said, the health of the state. It’s the gut-check of the nation.”

This is me again: That war as the gut-check of the nation business — not exactly Schmitt, of course, but more of a Brooksian version of Schmittianism. American Schmittianism if you will. Political romanticism, politics as the highest good, with violence always around the edge.

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oldster 03.16.14 at 12:02 pm

You know, Corey, I thought your original post was another instance of your habitual over-reaching: trying for a splashy, sensational conclusion on insufficient grounds.

But this latest extended quote from Brooks fully justifies your accusation. Indeed, this sentence alone does it:
“War isn’t only, as Bourne said, the health of the state.”

Indeed, the word “only” alone condemns him.

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William Timberman 03.16.14 at 1:50 pm

JCH @ 122

With relation to the metaphysics of the constituting power, it’s also worth mentioning Rawls’ somewhat tortured attempt to define that constituting power in a colorless, tasteless vacuum, which he does, it seems to me, precisely in order to deny the metaphysical source of his definition. To be serious about converting freedom into political obligation, without being condemned as yet another obscurantist metaphysician, is apparently a lot harder than it looks.

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bianca steele 03.16.14 at 4:02 pm

john halasz:

I haven’t been following this whole exchange, but on this point–”All “metaphysical” claims fail, in principle and not just “so far”, but that doesn’t imply that they are simply unintelligible or unconstruable.”–I think you’re on the wrong side. You seem to be assuming everyone is or should be familiar with Continental philosophy, which isn’t the case. Rorty was, of course, but as I read him he has to take seriously the attack on metaphysics, from the analytical perspective, as “meaningless” (that’s the reason he opposes metaphysics, not at all postmodern and themselves-continental reasons).

As for “Else why would he advocate “hermeneutics” as continuing conversation, . . . ? If “metaphysical” claims or projects were simply unintelligible,” Richard Bernstein, in Beyond Objectivism and Relativism, has some suggestions for thinking about hermeneutics without going all the way down the Continental path.

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Harold 03.16.14 at 4:20 pm

“We will care a lot more about ends–winning the war–than we will about means. We will debate whether it is necessary to torture prisoners who have information about future biological attacks. We will destroy innocent villages by accident, shrug our shoulders, and continue fighting. In an age of conflict, bourgeois virtues like compassion, tolerance, and industriousness are valued less than the classical virtues of courage, steadfastness, and a ruthless desire for victory.” –David Brooks

Money and the catbird seat for me, tragedy for you. Indeed, that’s how it has been playing out. And to what end? More blood and plunder for David Brooks, &co. More tragedy for you and your stupid “bourgeois” values. Don’t say he hasn’t been honest about what the deal was.

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CK MacLeod 03.16.14 at 5:28 pm

Mr. Timberman @125 – “converting freedom into political [or any kind] of obligation” appears to translate as “converting freedom into its opposite.” If I’m obligated to you and yours at all – to put on a uniform and take up arms if war is declared and I’m summoned to serve, or even just to pay taxes or buy health insurance – then I am obviously in that way or to that extent less ideally free. Maybe you were already observing the contradiction with your italics.

I’m not preparing to argue against such compromises of ideal freedom in the manner of a Tea Partier. Instead of attempting a comment thread essay on the “mixed regime” and mass polities, a discussion that I trust will be familiar to many or most of you, I’m simply emphasizing that the contradiction arises not just in columns by big-name moderate-conservative pundits, or in books by political theorists who were implicated in crimes against humanity, or every day on Fox News, but at the highest level of “metaphysical” abstraction, or at the very conceptual as well as historical origins of modern liberalism. I was trying to suggest as much in my “incomprehensible” remarks above, and the excellent comment by JCH, to which you link, puts the argument much more clearly, generously, and expertly.

We are history’s great experts at negotiation of this contradiction, but the point of relevance to the discussion of Brooks and Schmitt, and the argument that must be admitted at some point on their behalf, is that both are arguing against forms of ideological liberalism that do not acknowledge or only very grudgingly acknowledge the existence of any significant theoretical problem at all, resulting in a discourse – as well as in policy, rhetoric, and popular expectations – that in their view is not just unrealistic, but tragically detached from reality, leaving their “friends” perhaps dangerously unprepared for whatever next inevitable conversion of the (thought to be) free into the un-free.

This necessity is, as said, realism for the statist conservative: a rule of “reality.” In the real world, they believe, there really are decisively illiberal enemies of liberalism who are both prepared and capable of forcing it to convert itself into its opposite. One such familiar form of resultant self-alienation was alluded to in a comment above, on liberal ideology as a “cloak” for “the same old grosse politik,” but such hypocrisy would be merely one common form – actual hypocrisy – of the more general problem addressed by Schmitt and perhaps, if obviously less incisively and coherently, by Brooks. On this basis arises one of the great ironies, rehearsed on this thread, of brown-baiting Schmitt in reference to his writings in the ’20s, since they were composed well before his abortive join-’em phase, when he was in fact arguing for beat-’em: employ the highly illiberal measures included in the very liberal Weimar constitution on behalf of the liberal or mostly liberal or liberalist order against the “negative” parties including the extreme right. He happened to be saying, at that moment, and I think with some clear if heavily qualified sympathy for liberalist aspirations, “Guys, this is what you always do, always have done, and must and will sooner or later do, if you want to survive at all, and survival doesn’t mean, because it’s never meant, preserve a perfectly orderly and lawful regime of peace and freedom: It means preserve some type of self-contradictory or hybrid mess sustained by an order that, in addition to maintaining some space for your ideals, also maintains some space for my different ones.” It is, in short, a Hobbesian argument, but modified for modern mass society under pressure.

Both in the comments originally cited and all the more in the extensive excerpts that Professor Robin supplies, Brooks is making a somewhat parallel Leviathan argument: We’re going to or ought to sacrifice some ideal liberalism-individualism for the sake of some reinforced nationalism-patriotism-statism (which latter configuration always includes and, according to Schmitt among many others – Arendt quite famously – rests on the potential for organized mass violence). He says, “You may not like the medicine, but will be good for us for a number of reasons, and it will be necessary whether or not you’re ready to call it good.” Viewed in historical context, he goes on to say, it won’t be in the least unusual, and there neither is nor ever has been any real alternative. The form of this argument also explains why Brooks is treated with such grave mistrust from the “constitutional conservative” and libertarian right.

I believe that Schmitt’s thought, on its own and “in translation,” became relevant again for one main and perhaps too obvious reason: Not because the state of the USA 1990-2014 greatly resembles the state of the Weimar Republic, and not simply because the War on Terror saw an escalation in illiberal or “legal-exceptional” policy supposedly on behalf of Western liberal commitments, but because the collapse of Communism finally posed or allowed for the posing of the question of the American-led international liberal-humanitarian order unambiguously. Schmitt was perhaps the most penetrating political thinker from the other side during the last great crisis of liberal democracy in its Eurocentric form, prior to the ascension of the Americanized global successor. (Schmitt in his post-Nazi writings analyzes this historical process in careful detail, incidentally – in many ways it’s even more “timely” reading.) Schmitt provides a set of apparent answers that we have determined we must oppose, but which we, or often the people we have claimed we wanted to help, end up adopting or modifying to suit whichever exigency.

In treating Brooks as Schmitt’s translator, Robin makes a version of the same charge against Brooks that Leo Strauss made in 1932 against Schmitt – the same charge frequently made against Strauss, and a charge that Robin himself often seems to be on guard against: of overly identifying with his subject. Obviously, unlike Schmitt and Strauss and Brooks, Robin has thusfar kept himself off the proscription lists. As for Robin’s specific point, I don’t think it’s wrong to say that Brooks’ stance is anticipated in Schmitt. On the other hand, so are a lot of other people’s, including, as we have seen right here on this thread, the stances of many of Schmitt’s self-styled enemies. The related but to me, and clearly to Strauss, more interesting question is whether Schmitt’s crypto-fascism (not a term used by Strauss, but I think clearly implied) and its intermediate enemy, ideological liberalism, define a horizon that we are in any way usefully able to think beyond without falling off the edge of the world.

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bob mcmanus 03.16.14 at 6:06 pm

You know, even though Halasz had been talking about the context for Carl Schmitt in the early 1920s, somehow I had forgotten one of my very favorite and instructive moments of European history.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Revolution_of_1918%E2%80%931919#Further_revolts_in_tow_of_the_revolution“>German Revolution 1918-19 …Wiki, focused here on the Liberals and Social Democratic unleashing the Freikorps on the Spartacists and Munich.

I was reminded by Buring of the Communist Leader’s House Near Kiev by Maiden paramilitaries.

Darn. Is every peace-loving law-abiding rational-scientific Social Democracy born in the slaughter of the opposition (with eyes averted from the hired thugs)?

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William Timberman 03.16.14 at 6:52 pm

CK MacLeod @ 128

No, I was — tangentially — arguing the opposite, or at least I think I was. The phrase is JCH’s, and I was reacting to the off-topic interchange between geo, bob mcmanus, and JCH about the constituting/constituted order, and the contradictions one inevitably faces when asserting that something can’t come from nothing.

The point, just as JCH argues, is fundamentally a simple one: asserting that metaphysics is outworn nonsense, and proving it are two different things, and for good reason. You can’t, I think, ground a principle in an analysis of its efflorescences. The dread continental philosophical tradition has a far better grasp of this than its antagonists do. Analysis, depending on how astute its practitioners are, can tell you with more or less precision where you’ve been, but can’t by definition tell you how you got there, or where you’re going now, except by inference. This would be fine with me, if they didn’t so frequently claim otherwise.

But to return to your point, freedom and obligation, as I understand them, aren’t opposites, they’re complimentary elements of a Gestalt. To think otherwise seems to me to be — at best — the consequence of a semantic confusion.

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geo 03.16.14 at 7:25 pm

JCH: Thank you for the lengthy philosophy tutorial. I’ll be pondering it for quite a while. Meantime, a very partial and inadequate response.

The only difference between the “Higgs boson” and metaphysical claims is that in the former case there is some hope of empirical substantiation, in highly pre-suppositioned ways, whereas in other projects there is never any possibility of providing clear criteria for deciding between one claim or the other. But both are equally obscure.

The second sentence seems to me in flat contradiction to the first. The mode of verification of a statement may not be the whole of its meaning, but the absence of any imaginable verification procedure seems to me equivalent to meaningless. I’m not just alluding to the dear, deluded old Vienna Circle, but also to Hume’s well-known anti-metaphysical dictum (quoting from memory): “You are holding a book in your hand. Does it contain any reasoning concerning facts or numbers? No? Does it contain any poetry or imaginary narrative? No? Then commit it to the flames, since it can contain nothing of value?”

All “metaphysical” claims fail, in principle and not just “so far”, but that doesn’t imply that they are simply unintelligible or unconstruable.

Indeed, it implies the opposite. They cannot be known to fail if they are completely unintelligible. Disproven claims are, by definition, intelligible.

If “metaphysical” claims or projects were simply unintelligible, then how could we possibly read the whole prior tradition of philosophy and see how its various and sundry claims fail in their aims, even as they uncover partial truths that still inform “our” understandings?

Yes, that’s a hard question, but I don’t believe, as you evidently do, that it’s unanswerable. Here’s a first pass at it: A large part of the history of philosophy consists of attempts to answer such intuitively plausible questions as “What is Being?” and “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Those of us who believe that no one has ever formulated a satisfactory, or even intelligible, answer to these questions have begun to wonder if posing those questions isn’t the wrong way of responding to the experiences that give rise to them. Maybe we should write poetry instead, or do neurophysiology, or insure that everyone has enough to eat, a place to sleep, a decent education, medical care, etc, and then come back to those experiences. At that point, they may suggest different, more promising questions. I suspect this is also what Rorty would say, and is part of what he meant by “the priority of democracy to philosophy.”

Re Levinas: of course it’s impossible to conclude from the little you quote that he’s “spouting nonsense.” But the very little I’ve read of him did, I admit, give me that impression, on the whole.

You’re insisting in the guise of “anti-metaphysics” on metaphysical criteria of your own.

This sounds a little like the believer’s tired retort: “But atheism is a religion too!”

you want to uphold a liberal conception of “freedom”, while denying any possible account of such a “thing”.

I thought I made it pretty clear in a previous comment that defining “freedom,” in the sense of “absence of coercion,” is a practical matter, i.e., for legal definition and political debate. It has no reference whatever to uncaused volitions or spiritual substances.

Insistence on causal determinism, aside from being a fairly primitive account of causal issues, is a reaction formation against traditional “free will”

Yes, which is why Rorty rightly proposed that we drop both causal determinism and free will and just get on with figuring out what we want to mean by “cause” and, more important (since we have at least a working definition already, and a lot of urgent problems to deal with) what causes what.

. I prefer the term ” human agency”, but then you seem to have no account of any such thing. … What is the “nature” of such “freedom”, as a real phenomenon, not an illusory epi-phenomenon? How is it possible? Why is it valuable and what would give it “value”?

Here’s a tentative account: People do things and give reasons why, which may or may not be identical with what appears to others the causes of their doing those things.

What is freedom and why is it valuable? Freedom is (again very roughly) an individual’s sense of control over her own (or a group’s sense of control over its own) fate. This is valuable to most of us in 21st-century capitalist democracy’s because when we look back, in the course of our education/socialization/acculturation at the lives of the people we identify with, things seem to have turned out better for them when that had that control than when others had it.

any human agency is not individual, atomistic, but bound up in interactions with others, such that there are no acts or intentions without interactions, such that the first-person solipsistic account of “intentional agency” is severely deficient, not at all sufficient “common sense”

Yes, I agree. At the risk of driving you back into the alligator’s jaws, what made you think I wouldn’t?

And now to the “direct issues” that all of the above is a “derailment” from:

any legal system requires a sovereign source, as the promulgating and enforcing power, and that any legal system is riddled with indeterminacies, which requires a political “supplement” to be sustained. The sovereign source and the popular basis need to be reconciled, extra-legally, in any narrow sense. Hence, he claims, the sovereign is what/who decides the exceptions. So who or what is the sovereign power that can back and enforce the authority and legitimacy of law? And what is its popular basis?

I’m afraid I don’t see the paradox here. I’m not sure what you mean by “indeterminacies” or “supplement,” what the distinction is supposed to be between the “sovereign source” and the “popular basis.” Perhaps you could illustrate historically? [As CK does @128.] My account of the process you describe in the above paragraph would be: Historical contingencies sometimes give rise to a group with enough of a common life to warrant their constituting themselves a democratic polity. This may happen in the state of nature or after overthrowing a previous regime. They talk about how to do this, agree on procedures, send delegates, agree on rules (including rules for interpreting and modifying the rules or withdrawing from the polity), and submit the scheme (ie, constitution) for popular ratification. When conflicts arise that cannot be reconciled within the constitutional scheme (including the rules for amending the rules), they may peacefully separate or engage in civil war. This seems to be the constitutional history of United States. What examples did you have in mind?

So what is the distinction between the “constituting/constituted power”? The constituting power gathers together and forms “the people” that would be subject to a constitution, as authorizing sovereign power.

I’m missing something: why can’t “the people” be the “constituting power”; ie,gather themselves together once the course of their history has made it seem advisable to enough of them to do so? Isn’t that (to a reasonable approximation) what happened in the US?

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CK MacLeod 03.16.14 at 8:04 pm

@130 – If it’s a Gestalt rather than a fatal contradiction, or both, then we pretend to banish Schmitt, but in banishing him become him, even while insisting any other thing, and reasonably. Sorry if that’s too paradoxical to be comprehended, but such is what verbally representing a necessary and universal enactment of a comprehension of the otherwise incomprehensible, or possibilization of the impossible, etc., seems to require. In other words, and as I tried to suggest earlier, I disagree that the ex nihilo question is in any way off-topic: I think it is the (specifically a-topical) topic itself at a high level of abstraction, where semantics or meaning-production or the origin of meaning is itself also in question, as equally the political question in its purest form. JCH captured the by-its-own-bootstraps-ness of the proposition very nicely, I thought:

The collective inaugural act, which derives from a collectivity, however assembled, that precedes it, also defines retrospectively the “identity” of that subjected collectivity. How can something come from nothing? Et voila!

Maybe that has to do for now.

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geo 03.16.14 at 8:11 pm

CK @128: [Schmitt] happened to be saying, at that moment … “Guys, this is what you always do, always have done, and must and will sooner or later do, if you want to survive at all, and survival doesn’t mean, because it’s never meant, preserve a perfectly orderly and lawful regime of peace and freedom: It means preserve some type of self-contradictory or hybrid mess sustained by an order that, in addition to maintaining some space for your ideals, also maintains some space for my different ones.”

This is a useful formulation. But there’s no reason why a democratic socialist couldn’t say such things. The legitimacy of curbing or suspending civil liberties in a supreme emergency is perfectly commonplace. What was novel in the Weimar situation was that the supreme emergency, or catastrophe, seemed to some people about to result not from external aggression or internal rebellion but from a free election. I would have thought that the disagreement between Schmitt and his liberal opponents should only have concerned whether preemptive action was necessary and feasible rather than whether it was legitimate. The — very heavy– burden of proof is always, of course, on those who propose extra-legal action. Schmitt apparently failed to convince enough people, perhaps because he embedded his argument unnecessarily in swathes of fallacious or unintelligible terminology, as German philosophers are wont to do.

I’m prepared to cut Schmitt a great deal of slack, both because I’m undoubtedly too quick to give up trying to make sense of Germanic philosophy and also because intellectually serious people like you and JCH seem to think Schmitt was on to something important. But about David Brooks, you’re vastly, almost recklessly over-generous. You put his argument this way:

We’re going to or ought to sacrifice some ideal liberalism-individualism for the sake of some reinforced nationalism-patriotism-statism … You may not like the medicine, but will be good for us for a number of reasons, and it will be necessary whether or not you’re ready to call it good. … i[I]t won’t be in the least unusual, and there neither is nor ever has been any real alternative.”

And for what purpose should we make this sacrifice, which will very likely entail “organized mass violence”? Because “the collapse of Communism finally posed or allowed for the posing of the question of the American-led international liberal-humanitarian order unambiguously.” I wish you’d been a little less ambiguous about the “American-led international liberal-humanitarian order.” If you meant “global capitalist regime,” you ought to have said so forthrightly. Because if you think that the history of American foreign policy offers the slightest evidence of concern for humanitarianism (if understood as democracy, human rights, relief from poverty and deprivation, etc.), except rhetorically and for public-relations purposes, then I’m afraid you are, as you cavalierly label us believers in international law and global solidarity (though no doubt only possible after decades or centuries of gradual, painful, continually contested efforts, which only makes it necessary to begin immediately, on however small a scale), “tragically detached from reality.”

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Harold 03.16.14 at 8:42 pm

Machiavellism is the martial law of the soul, as one writer has said. The problem is that when used as doctrine it quickly becomes a slippery slope to shameless criminality — with the resultant instability and chaos. This is nothing new, but apparently has to be stated over and over again.

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LFC 03.16.14 at 8:54 pm

Corey @123:
I agree that that Brooks piece is very revealing, in its tone as much as anything else.

geo @133:
One of the interesting things about the history of US for. policy is the tension between, on one hand, universalist ideals and reformist goals, often sincerely held by policymakers and, on the other hand, the lethal/violent means that they often adopted either in the name of those ideals or sometimes to further more ‘hard-headed’ objectives. Your one-dimensional view of the history of US for. policy, deriving (?) from Chomsky, turns a complicated history into a simple morality play (with US=bad) and deprives that history of much of its genuine interest. I wd recommend that you read David Milne’s bk about Walt Rostow to see how the archetypal Vietnam superhawk cd also be sincerely preoccupied w poverty alleviation (at its base, a moral/humanitarian issue). From this vantage, his career encapsulates the tragedy of Cold War liberalism. You wd never ascribe cardboard one-dimensional qualities to literary figures or philosophers, but apparently have no problem doing so in the case of everyone who has ever been involved w the formulation of US for. policy from 1783 to the present.

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CK MacLeod 03.16.14 at 9:30 pm

@geo/133: First I should say that conservatist-statists under their reality principle are the ones who accuse liberal idealists of tragic un-realism. Anyway, I don’t think I was being cavalier. I was describing how I think they see things. I seek a different view, though I will confess that I do take the conservative-statist view seriously. Whether that makes me suspicious or deserving of banishment, I’ll leave to others to decide for themselves.

As for the global capitalist regime, it seems to me that to deny even “the slightest evidence of concern for humanitarianism” in American policy ever and overall would be very close to saying, and for a self-styled humanitarian virtually the same as saying, that we might as well have let the Nazis have their way. To say anything else would be to admit of some meaningful difference between Nazism and Americanism. If you identify yourself as above all a humanitarian, then such a meaningful difference, if you recognize it, would presumably be a humanitarian difference.

There might also potentially or at least conceivably an alternative and possibly very Schmittian difference, based on the assumption that on balance it’s better to win than to lose a war for the winners, and that “we” (the friends) won (defeated the foes). Even under this construction, however, and without pretending to judge motives and morals of all involved on any side, among the fruits of that victory was the opportunity to impose an order of international law, entailing a global regime of human rights law and a range of global institutions, all in keeping with long-standing American aspirations, adopted under American tutelage, echoing American documents, and so on, and so on. So there’s rich irony, or arguably an exhibition of filial ingratitude, in standing on that same foundation or in that house in absolute condemnation of America or Americanism. Whether the global regime under whatever name and in its current form, including America’s role in it, is worth preserving (worth working to preserve, potentially fighting to preserve), and if so under what modifications, is another way of phrasing the historical-conjunctural question as I previously stated it.

On the specific circumstances that Schmitt addressed or encountered over the course of the ’20s, I believe JCH will be able to recall and recite the play-by-play and identify all the players far better than I can. However, I can say that, though you might think “the disagreement between Schmitt and his liberal opponents should only have concerned whether preemptive action was necessary and feasible rather than whether it was legitimate,” I expect JCH will agree that situation was very unfortunately not that simple. You can check the Wikipedia article if you want to get into the details on the above-mentioned “Article 48″ – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_48_%28Weimar_Constitution%29 – but, to summarize, Schmitt’s constitutional argument rested on a kind of emergency reading of ambiguities in the emergency clause, or of the reading of ambiguities into the emergency clause. In other words, and one might say wonderfully, if not for the historical sequels, the constitutional provisions for suspension of provisions of the constitution did not, according to the best legal analysis, allow for their own suspension to the degree necessary…. for their use: To follow them in this instance, it was concluded, you’d have to break them. So, to the legal idealistic mind, there might indeed under some circumstances be a legally sound basis potentially for suspending basic laws, but not in the way that Schmitt argued was necessary under the obtaining circumstances.

Hindenburg was not Lincoln, and Weimar was not the USA, so no one or not enough ones were ready to presume to negate the constitutional order in order to save the constitutional order. What they ended up with was a constitution that was still nominally the basis of law throughout the Third Reich, but which had been rendered impotent as an instrument of liberal-democratic order as understood anywhere else or anytime since. You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.

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geo 03.16.14 at 10:26 pm

CK: it seems to me that to deny even “the slightest evidence of concern for humanitarianism” in American policy ever and overall would be very close to saying, and for a self-styled humanitarian virtually the same as saying, that we might as well have let the Nazis have their way.

No, it would not be close to saying that. The United States fought Nazi Germany because a German victory would have made a globally-integrated, American-led economy — always the fundamental goal of US foreign policy — impossible. It opposed the Soviet Union and other Marxist-Leninist regimes for the same reason. It is a very good thing that the US defeated, ie, helped the USSR to defeat Nazi Germany, just as wage slavery is a far less painful and degrading thing than chattel slavery or totalitarian subjection. But this hardly proves that capitalists care about workers. It is advanced technology and the partial successes of past worker resistance that make capitalist exploitation more endurable than slavery or totalitarianism.

among the fruits of that victory was the opportunity to impose an order of international law, entailing a global regime of human rights law and a range of global institutions, all in keeping with long-standing American aspirations, adopted under American tutelage, echoing American documents

Indeed, not just an opportunity but a partial fulfillment of those hopes: ie, the UN Charter, which the US helped draft, publicly supported, and has spent subsequent decades ignoring or subverting. The notion that the US has acted substantially in conformity with the Charter, our global Constitution, is as absurd as the notion that the ideals expressed by embody “American aspirations,” rather than the rhetoric in which the US has traditionally concealed its subversion of popular self-determination throughout the world, except to the extent that such self-determination would, at least temporarily, result in that society’s becoming more open to American economic penetration and control.

About the historical context of Schmitt’s argument: thanks for the elaboration, but I don’t see that they make clear why, whatever the Weimar Constitution said, it would not have been possible for a liberal, if convinced that a humanitarian catastrophe — indeed, the annihilation of civilization — would follow from not acting preemptively against the Nazis, to support such action.

LFC: more later perhaps (I’m out the door), but there’s nothing simplistic or one-dimensional about claiming that it’s possible to find a consistent tendency in a given history, though sometimes modified by circumstances and always camouflaged by propaganda, whether or not the actors immediately concerned are aware of the constraints they must act under and whatever their motives may be.

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CK MacLeod 03.17.14 at 3:09 am

About the historical context of Schmitt’s argument: thanks for the elaboration, but I don’t see that they make clear why, whatever the Weimar Constitution said, it would not have been possible for a liberal, if convinced that a humanitarian catastrophe — indeed, the annihilation of civilization — would follow from not acting preemptively against the Nazis, to support such action.

You’re welcome. I think it might be helpful if you considered that the true believing liberals of Schmitt’s time, though not just them, asserted the opposite perspective – which was and to a large extent remains a traditional one for liberals generally, and features prominently in the official narrative of liberal democracies – regarding the primacy of the rule of law, and a necessary general obligation to accept risks, inconveniences, and real losses – sacrifice – on its behalf. They also of course could not know what was to come, and furthermore may have thought they had already survived the annihilation or near-annihilation of (a) civilization and the greatest catastrophe of all time, and that, in single-mindedly insisting on the legalism of their day (in this realm and in others), they were helping to stave off a repetition.

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geo 03.17.14 at 4:15 am

I think you’ve formulated the traditional liberal perspective quite well, and it seems to me perfectly correct — there is indeed a general obligation to sacrifice and take risks on behalf of the rule of law. The case for setting aside the rule of law — whether by outlawing a political party or torturing a terror suspect — must be overwhelmingly strong: a very high probability, perhaps approaching certainty, of supreme catastrophe if extra-legal measures are not taken. Which is why no one is entitled to condescend in retrospect to those “true believing liberals” of Weimar. It was an exceptionally difficult decision, and I’m not sure they weren’t right to find Schmitt’s arguments unconvincing.

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bob mcmanus 03.17.14 at 11:19 am

And thus a traditional liberal capitalist form of discourse ends up endorsing traditional liberal capitalist ends and means defined at the limits by the reluctant and conditional acceptance of rare exceptions. The resplendent display of individual rather than social resources/skills, and private rather than public intellectual capital is the actual message here, isn’t it? The agon of inwit.

The Bush DoJ started their real work after most of the torture had occurred, and the discussion of the surveillance state happened after the infrastructure and databases had been built. I still wonder if Schmitt, a fanatical anti-communist, was writing a retroactive justification of the Spartacist and Munich atrocities so that Ebert and Noske, and their footsoldiers could maintain their positions and viability, much as Obama with his bipartisanship, social vulnerability, and focused policy ambition was the perfect eraser and amnestic.

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bob mcmanus 03.17.14 at 11:42 am

Murder Rewarded

Pabst and Runge could have used 139 in their defense.

Extra-constitutional means should be used for extraconstitutional ends, IOW, a new constitution, new system, new government; not to preserve existing power structures and institutions. Once the state of exception is declared, all bets are off for everybody.
That’s why such conditions are usually accompanied by dictatorial powers and internal repression, and followed by liberal acquiescence and forgetting…reconciliation committees, rewriting of regulatory legal regimes to protect the victors, and the like. The state of exception is not really exceptional, but the foundational presumption of the liberal state.

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Bruce Wilder 03.17.14 at 2:42 pm

geo: Which is why no one is entitled to condescend in retrospect to those “true believing liberals” of Weimar.

Were there any practical liberals in Weimar? Anyone interested in forging popular majorities? The political tendency was centrifugal; there was no consensus in favor of legal process, because there was no political process capable of creating an establishment.

Schmitt was important historically, because he early on identified a constitutional solution in the state of exception, and the potential of a dictator to forge a state out of hatreds and violence. When history served up the dictator, he had the integrity to live his philosophy.

I agree with bob mcmanus that we would do well to recognize the centrifugal politics in operation today. In Ukraine, Thailand, Egypt, Venezuela, Turkey . . . there’s a theme of challenges to constitutional majoritarianism.

In the U.S., I think Obama’s destroying the Democratic Party, and undermining any hope of majority politics finding common public or social purposes, as he trades away liberals hope for plutocratic satisfaction. This will not end well.

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geo 03.17.14 at 2:44 pm

Pabst and Runge could have used 139 in their defense.

Yes, of course they would have. Now, let’s see: in the Nazi/liberal case, the “supreme emergency” to be avoided would have been genocide, wars of aggression, racial caste rule, and the permanent and universal abolition of civil liberties, and the remedy was simply the outlawing of certain activities. In the Socialist/Noske-Pabst-et al case, the “supreme emergency” would have been a workers’ state with abolition of class rule, no aggressive warfare, and full civil liberties, and the remedy was assassination. You be the judge.

Distinctions, Bob. Without them, there’s just people yelling at one another.

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geo 03.17.14 at 3:18 pm

Bruce: Were there any practical liberals in Weimar?

C.K. MacLeod says there were, and that’s good enough for me.

challenges to constitutional majoritarianism

What happened to Kant’s “the way to learn the exercise of freedom is through the exercise of freedom”?

Obama’s destroying the Democratic Party, and undermining any hope of majority politics finding common public or social purposes, as he trades away liberals hope for plutocratic satisfaction. This will not end well.

Hear, hear!

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Anarcissie 03.17.14 at 3:38 pm

Does Obama have any choice? It seems to me capitalism is just doing its thing.

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Ze Kraggash 03.17.14 at 4:54 pm

The story about “sovereignty” that “derives” from “the people” is already as obscurantist-metaphysical as anything. There’s nothing materialistic about it. Except for it being a clever trick to counter any objection with “you got no one to blame but yourself”.

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Andrew F. 03.17.14 at 7:52 pm

Corey @123: This is me again: That war as the gut-check of the nation business — not exactly Schmitt, of course, but more of a Brooksian version of Schmittianism. American Schmittianism if you will. Political romanticism, politics as the highest good, with violence always around the edge.

Well, but I think those two articles by Brooks should be read in context. They were written in the two months following 9/11, as an American invasion of Afghanistan was ongoing, as many wrestled with doubts and fears about the costs of that conflict, and as many feared additional attacks in the near future. The sentiments he expressed, particularly about being shocked from the, in retrospect, easy comforts of the 1990s, were largely shared, as I recall, by The New York Times editorial page, among others.

I think an American Schmitt would be inclined to discuss the centrality and need for conflict in times of peace as well as war. So I would expect Brooks, if he fit that description, to be concerned during the 1990s with the absence of military conflict and the need to find new enemies. I would expect a Schmitt to argue vehemently for the necessity of military conflict when peace was most ascendant and most accepted.

But a political writer musing about the importance of steadfast national dedication during war in the weeks following 9/11, and the testing of that dedication by the conflict joined in Afghanistan? That’s less revealing of a particular philosophy than the fact that the writer has a pulse and is cognizant of major contemporary events, imho.

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Bruce Wilder 03.17.14 at 8:59 pm

Anarcissie @ 145: Does Obama have any choice? It seems to me capitalism is just doing its thing.

Barack Obama is a human person, in possession of political office in an established, constitutional state.

“Capitalism” is a figure of speech.

Which one has agency? Hmmm?

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Anarcissie 03.17.14 at 9:31 pm

Bruce Wilder 03.17.14 at 8:59 pm @ 148 –
All right, ‘Capital’. I think you could grant capitalism metaphorical agency, though, even if it’s merely a category of social behaviors and forms. As for Mr. O, I think he must dance with the one who brought him.

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john c. halasz 03.18.14 at 4:15 am

G considering alternate POVs, (as you are formally committed to agreeing to). Just as ,eo @131:

I started a response last night, but got interrupted by a lengthy phone call (my birthday), and decided to scrap the effort and go to bed. And I don’t want to get side-tracked here on discussion of philosophical issues, (philosophical discussions being by their very nature “infinite”, interminable). Nor do I think that I could ever shake you from your “happy positivism”, nor from your Irving Howe type politics. (The latter is not exactly a criticism). The only thing I could ask is that you not reify them, in as should be fairly obvious, am not trying to impose my personal preferences here. No one’s preferences or presuppositions extend throughout the world or its history, even if they might hold past one’s front door.

Just a few quick points. Defining “freedom” as the absence of coercion is a negative definition. I mentioned Hobbes there, for whom, if a body wasn’t literally bound by chains, it was thereby free. (I myself, in a much different sense, would see human agency as constituted by constraints, as structured, rule-governed behavior). But the most relevant point here is that we’re discussing, among other matters, legal orders, “the rule of law”, and coercion is always ingredient in any such order. Does that mean you would define “freedom” as the absence of law or legal sanctions?

You also seem to have a rather instrumentalistic conception of language, as a tool or organ, (which derives from the Greek for “tool”). When asked where language comes from, you replied biology and culture, which is a backwards answer. (But the matter of how biological organization and drives and socio-cultural structure inter-penetrate to form “human nature” is Arnold Gehlen’s territory, not Carl Schmitt’s). Not only are there many more roles of language which are pervasive throughout the conduct of human life, but language, as I said earlier, is always a relation to an other. Which means that, though you acknowledge the humans are fundamentally social, you still seem to conceive of society as an “external” association of individuals. (“Individual” means etymologically undivided. But are human beings really undivided?). Which implies that human life is always a collective matter and the collective has a certain “priority” over the individual. So “freedom” is as much a collective as an individual issue, as are the various identities and identifications of individuals, (an especially important point when considering the hold that political “opinions” exercises on people).

“Performative contradictions” are always possible, since things are a tangle. One shouldn’t make such a charge manipulatively, nor under any assumption of immunity. But the sort of unruffled compatibilism that you seem to advocate strikes me as rather oblivious to its own vunerabilities to such a charge or criticism.

Now to try and get back on topic. Sovereignty precedes constitutionalism, both historically and “logically”. (The modern European notion of sovereignty is usually traced back to Jean Bodin, in the midst of the French Civil War). And the state as “the organized monopoly on legitimate violence” already involves a strange alchemy between violence and legitimacy, though often the key term “organized” is overlooked. That is why the “constituting power” can’t be reduced necessarily to a “democratic polity”, nor to a “social contract”, (which natural right theories were precursors to constitutionalism). And such a self-authorizing act can’t be derived, even heuristically, from the fiction of a “state of nature”, but remains paradoxical, since it draws on and presupposes the very “authority” that it creates. How can “freedom” be converted to submission to “authority” and how can such authority be “legitimated”? There are various and sundry possible answers to such questions. For example, the sovereign is said to “protect” freedom, if at the price of sacrificing some part of that freedom. But whose freedom and just why this sovereign? Or the sovereign protects its citizens/subjects from each other, in which case how could the sovereign be said to arise from the people and their freedom? There always remains something in excess of such stated reasons, as well as something arbitrary or contingent in them. Which owes to the rupture in the continuity of historical time of the inaugural act, which is precisely what you seem to wish to damp down.

Now, a paradox is usually considered a sign of trouble. And no doubt numerous political and legal theorists have sought to resolve or diffuse any such constitutional paradox. (Whether there are any “true” paradoxes is a question, but a systematically complete and self-consistent account of reality is a bridge too far. Some logicians now appeal to para-consistency, which make it all a kludge anyway). But I think the point is that this one can always re-emerge in some form or another. I have no idea why you think that there is some problem with my use of “indeterminacy”, but perhaps there are 2 kinds here. One is the risk and uncertainty that inheres in political affairs, since no one can know the future, (which counts against retrospective post hoc propter hoc historical fallacies), even as sovereign arrangements attempt to protect themselves against such contingencies. But the other sense is that meaning is always a potential; something means always only what it could mean, (this and not that). Interpretation is always required. As to “supplement”, that refers to the fact that laws must be obeyed, even as the system of laws isn’t an autonomously self-regulating one, so some “legitimating” political alliance is required to secure such compliance. The two together go into Schmitt’s claim that “the sovereign is what decides the exception”. I don’t see what you think is unclear here.

But I want to get a bit beyond Schmitt into the political problem of “authority”. Authority is “necessary” in pragmatic or functionalist terms for securing some basis of social cooperation. But there is a still more intrinsic reason, (though it doesn’t contradict exactly the first). Years ago, Gregory Bateson said that there is both a report and a command aspect to every statement. That formulation is inadequate for a number of reasons, but its basic intuition is correct. Language usage is always riddled with imperatives, multiple, contradictory and possibly even paradoxical. And often in disguised or denegated forms, whereby speakers issue them unaware or disavowing. (Have you ever attended an “Occupy” meeting?) And speech is very much of the “essence” of the political, as Arendt would have it. But there is no “foundation” or prior basis for such imperatives. Simply put, any imperative exceeds the factual basis from which it arises. In fact, it usually aims at somehow altering at least partly that factual basis, or, in the case of a negative imperative, a prohibition, at altering the course that otherwise would ensue. So there is no basis for “authority” whatsoever, it’s groundless and abysmal. And yet it’s inevitable, in the sense of unavoidable. That, in a nutshell, is the political problem of authority: it somehow must be “secured” and projectively constructed, yet there is no “prior” basis for doing so. But it’s an entirely secular “mystery”.

As to your rather nostalgic appeal to the American revolution, (another kind of “exceptionalism”), I’m no expert on the historiography of the early American republic, but the U.S. constitution was a compromise among elites and then imposed upon the “people”. And though a “miracle” in its time, it was scarcely “democratic”, just republican, and however amended in the course of history in a more “democratic” direction,- (and I would guess you’d be just as ambivalent about Andy Jackson as I would),- nowadays it’s a rather archaic and outmoded document, that scarcely functions and has been repeatedly “gamed”. In many ways, the Civil War, (and the Revolution was already such), has never quite ended, but returns with the repressed.

But I can’t resist quoting John Austin here, to the effect that, whenever anyone uses the word “democracy”, it’s never quite clear what is meant. A piece of donnish liberalism, to be sure, but not without its point. (Of course, in the 19th century, liberalism and democracy were diametrically opposed terms: just ask the Chartists). To me, “democracy” is not the name of a political regime, but rather names a social ethos that may or may not attach to any such regime. There is scarcely any regime in the world today that doesn’t claim to rule in the name of the “people”. (It’s the “kratia” root that’s interesting. It meant “power”, but one of its senses was “overwhelmingness”. How very Greek!) So we have “liberal democracy”, “representative democracy”, “mass plebiscitary democracy”, “people’s democracy”, etc. I myself, in a very, very abstract sense, would be a republican, with a very small r, and in a secular non-ethnic, non-religious sense. But the problem is this: how can a public sphere arise and purport to regulate and even oppose a state, if there is no sovereign power vested in a state in the first place? And then there is also the problem of “legitimation” or “hegemony”. How much is required? There are weak, more-or-less positivistic accounts, such as Weber’s, the mere acquiescence of the governed, strong requirements, such as Arendt’s, the active assent and participation of the governed, and the reductive functionalist accounts, in which “normative” requirements are to be reduced to functionalist terms, such as Luhmann’s systems-theory account of “self-legitimating political elites”, since all social sub-systems strive toward “autonomization” in their self-referential “codes”, and the political one is just concerned with interlinking with the other sub-systems.

But the problem for liberalism has always been this: how does liberalism deal with its “illiberal” opponents and yet still “incorporate” them under liberal rule or hegemony. At some point, “illiberal” means must be deployed, which is deeply corrosive of such “liberal” hegemony. But that is precisely the problem that Schmitt pinpoints. The problem for “sovereignty” is, as I said, who is included and who is excluded in the unity and identity of a “sovereign” demos. A fully “inclusive” political order, according to Schmitt, would be no such thing. But then what is the “principle” at issue; how is it to be decided? And upon what “mortal clay” is it to operate? The refusal to deal with such “concrete” issues, in the name of abstract “principles”, is very much part of the trap that he lays.

But the willful mischaracterization of Schmitt’s liberal opponents speaks precisely to his point. Schmitt is not advocating hatred and war as the basis of political “unity”, (as with B.W. @ 142). He was RC, which may have predisposed him to conservative authoritarianism, (likely so), but also means he was thoroughly versed in religious doctrine. When he emphasizes the *possibility* of “physically” being killed and killing, aside from just reflecting the traditional doctrine of sovereignty, (in the aftermath of a World War, in which massive killing had occurred), he is also emphasizing the religious outrage of such a thing, since the religious injunction is “love thine enemy”. And thereby emphasizing the differentiation of “value spheres”, (Weber among others), as well as, emphasizing the thoroughly worldly “nature” of the political and political behavior, as against any “spiritualizing” or idealistic interpretations, (which were rife at that time). Hence the “physical” as a marker that blocks such moves, as a stand-in for “existential”. But political existence, (on any appreciable scale), involves living in community with others, who are other, i.e. not just alter-egos, just like oneself. And certainly the political domain might involve fear-and-loathing of the other, just as it might involve resentment, anxiety, contempt, or a whole host of other “evaluative” emotions. It is a domain of unknowing, more than of knowing. But how that is to be gathered together into a workable polity is the relevant question. And likewise the emphasis is on the public “nature” of the political domain. Personal morality is a private matter, not to be confused with public-political “justice”. And, indeed, the moralization of political issues just renders political conflicts all the more “absolute” and thus irresolvable. It does damage to both private morality and public “justice”, rather than preserving the independence of those “spheres”. (Arendt, who must have known of Schmitt from her background at least, makes a similar point). But self-righteous moralistic outrage is precisely how his “liberal” opponents respond to Schmitt. B.W. at least acknowledges a certain “integrity” in the man, in the manner of Kafka’s “old commandant”, but still seems to miss the brutal irony of the story as a whole.

As for Bob Mc @129. I will call and raise him. By remembering that other momentous assassination in the summer of 1914: Jean Jaures. After which the SPD voted by majority to support the German war, which split not just the SPD, but the Second International and the entire labor movement based left. The Archimedean lever that Marx had sought to devise definitively shattered and failed back then. Ebert’s reliance on the Freikorps, in order to preserve “parliamentary legitimacy”, was already a repetition of a precedence. We’re still in recovery mode.

But after all these palaverings about “authority” and its “legitimations”, the really hard question remains: power. If “knowledge is power” (Bacon), and therefore (sic!) “power is knowledge” (Nietzsche), then what is power? What is its “nature”, what are its sources, how is it generated and gathered, concentrated and re-distributed? What are its modes and how are they converted into each other? What can we know or understand of such processes? I’m still awaiting the genius, (etymologically, “guardian spirit”), who could enlighten us about such matters.

Well, that’s all for now, folks. Cue the Loonie Tunes music.

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LFC 03.18.14 at 5:47 am

john c. halasz @150
I realize this was addressed to geo, but as a reader of it I find quite a lot here to object to, from the mischaracterization of geo’s politics (closer to Chomsky than Irving Howe [at least in the latter part of his life]), to the implication that J.L. Austin was a political philosopher (which he wasn’t, afaik), plus several other things that it’s too late to go into.

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geo 03.18.14 at 7:19 am

Dear JCH:

I’m afraid the philosophical part of our discussion has reached a dead end. I am, as you lament, an inveterate positivist, with an hopelessly sub-theoretical mind. Herewith a few comments prompted by the first half of your long post @150. They are mostly just statements without supporting arguments, and I beg you won’t trouble yourself to answer them, or indeed take them very seriously at all.

The range of accepted usage of “freedom” includes both absence of constraint and ability to pursue one’s goals. I meant only to object to the sense of the word implied in the phrase “freedom of the will,” which implies that there is a subsistent faculty, the will, which is self-moving.

I agree that constraints not only limit us but also enable us, in the sense that our nature is defined by our limits and that every structure shapes/compels/channels our powers in one direction or another.

I don’t see why the notion that “language comes from biology and culture” is in contradiction with the notion that “biological organization and drives and socio-cultural structure inter-penetrate to form human nature.” Or why the former notion is “backwards,” which seems to imply that culture and biology come from language.

To Schmitt and politics: “Sovereignty” means “supremacy of authority or rule” (American Heritage Dictionary). Authority is “the power to command, enforce laws, exact obedience” (ibid). A constitution is “a system of fundamental laws and principles” (ibid.). Of course non-democratic societies can have constitutions: ie, systems of rules that confer supreme authority on monarchs, aristocrats, dictators, etc. “The people are sovereign” is a normative claim: ie, the democratically expressed will of the people ought to be the source of supreme authority in a society.

The “constituting power” is whoever produced the constitution currently in force. You say this power “draws on and presupposes the very ‘authority’ that it creates. How can “’freedom’ be converted to submission to ‘authority’ and how can such authority be ‘legitimated’?” I honestly don’t understand this question. Those who formulate a constitution may or may not succeed in getting it adopted by whoever exercises sovereignty in a society; if they do, sovereignty will thereafter be exercised according to the constitution until the constitution is modified or a new one is adopted or imposed. Where’s the paradox?

Of course, no system of laws is “automatically self-regulating.” It’s regulated by the sovereign power, through its instrumentalities. And of course authority is “abysmal and groundless,” in the sense that it is always contestable, by persuasion or violence. It is not inscribed in the nature of things (ie, is not metaphysical).

It’s the wee hours of the morning, which is the only excuse for so partial, fragmentary, and inadequate a response. That, and perhaps also the fact that we’re pretty much spinning our wheels by now. You’re welcome to the last word, though you may justifiably feel that this comment doesn’t really merit a response.

At any rate, happy birthday!

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GiT 03.18.14 at 8:45 am

” to the implication that J.L. Austin was a political philosopher”

John Austin, 19th century philosopher of legal positivism and, pursuant to that, sovereignty; not John L. Austin, 20th century philosopher of language. At least I assume that’s the case.

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LFC 03.18.14 at 1:27 pm

@GiT: Yes, could be, but the context leaves it unclear (at least to me).

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LFC 03.18.14 at 1:33 pm

p.s. Though on reflection you’re probably right.

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LFC 03.18.14 at 1:37 pm

I have to say that to go from John Austin (that one) to N. Luhmann in one paragraph is in itself impressive, apart from whatever one thinks of the paragraph itself.

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CK MacLeod 03.18.14 at 6:29 pm

JCH:

the problem for liberalism has always been this: how does liberalism deal with its “illiberal” opponents and yet still “incorporate” them under liberal rule or hegemony[?]. At some point, “illiberal” means must be deployed, which is deeply corrosive of such “liberal” hegemony.

I grant you that the above effectively summarizes the typical appearance of the problem, but it does so in a way that conceals or only partly and inconsistently acknowledges internal contradictions that bear directly on the matter in question, or effectively comprise the matter truly in question.

To state and address the matter sufficiently clearly, we will need to abide by a sufficiently strict definition of terms. If we define modern liberalism as the doctrine of the primacy of the universal rights of human beings, for early modern theorists of liberalism the “natural right” or “inalienable rights” of “men,” there can be no “liberal rule” or “liberal hegemony” or liberal “incorporation” of the illiberal. There will be only intrinsically non- or anti- or illiberal or always incompletely or qualifiedly liberal arrangements that may be more or less conducive to the liberation or fuller liberation of human beings, or to the full realization or flourishing of human beings as free and equal individuals.

In other words, strictly speaking there is not and cannot be a “liberal state” as such, in the sense of a political administrative state whose principles of organization will be strictly speaking liberal principles. We may imagine that the universal uncompromising and homogeneous adoption of liberal doctrines would produce a “liberal state of things,” and we can argue that different governmental orders will promote, foster, safeguard, protect, and allow for liberal aspirations more or less successfully than others, but whatever political-administrative state there is, to whatever extent it is at all, will be non-liberal on its own terms, and “anti-liberal” in the sense that its ordering principle will be contrary to, place limitations upon the liberties or otherwise free pursuit of happiness of equal individuals.

So, we can re-phrase your statement as follows: The problem for liberals has always been this: How much illiberalism must really be tolerated or which illiberal means must be employed for the sake of whatever best achievable realization of liberal ends?

In this form the question re-states and expands upon the classical political question on human flourishing or the best society or the good by giving modern natural right a privileged position, but it also allows for realism, or for cognizance of the reality of illiberal or pre-liberated or constrained, etc., social, political, and economic relations and environments: the liberalist version of The First Noble Truth.

We could, as some have, seek to dispense with every form of natural right, aka bourgeois values, but we mostly, even in these relatively radicalism-friendly parts, remain visibly and even dramatically reluctant to do so. Even among those ready to put all systems of social, political, and economic relations as they understand them in question, I think we today will find few speakers, even here, ready to surrender freedom of speech and conscience, or truly prepared to dispense entirely with the modern idea of the individual, of of individuality as a form of life worthy of respect and protection. So they or we are still children of Locke and nieces and nephews of our Uncle Sam to that extent, or in other words we are mostly still meaningfully liberals whether or not under socialistic or other advisement. In that connection, according to this same theory of the necessarily hybrid character of all real-existing liberal political orders this side of the apocalypse, all liberals will always remain liberals only under advisement.

Since we, as individuals and in all real existing societies, are always also at least potentially, more likely flagrantly, “illiberal” in at least some respects regarding free realizations of some conceived interests of others – in murdering their rivals, say, or in stealing from their neighbors, or in abusing or effectively enslaving their employees, or in disposing of waste upstream from us – a second perhaps equally valid, or at least impartial way of re-phrasing the big question arises: The problem for us all has always been this: How much liberalism must really be tolerated, or which liberal means must be employed, for the sake of whatever best achievable realization of our not necessarily or entirely or simply liberal ends? (To declare this question impermissible would be to declare oneself an ideological or committed liberal, but illiberally, as an illiberally liberal liberal.)

In other words, the problem for the doctrines following from the asserted primacy of modern natural right under whatever name or configuration, including all of our very post-modern or supposedly post-modern but still recognizably and in the final analysis typically modern configurations, will always remain a matter of reconciliation of contradictory commitments, specifically commitments to the good of and for individuals as individuals and the good of and for collective or social entities.

The early modern political philosophers, I will maintain, did rather exhaustively examine these questions and the related ones on the nature of power or the origins of authority that you also raise. They did provide answers. They knew we wouldn’t all like them or fully understand them. Indeed, to a very significant degree they not only acknowledged, but rather depended on the latter – that is on general incapacities of understanding. They hoped and trusted that enough of us would accept and implement them, under whatever modifications. If we are in fact still living with those answers, showing no sign of succesfully implementing alternative ones, then Hegel was right, as far as we can say, to claim that in his time humanity had reached the end of history in principle.

The problem for Schmitt – who in some ways ironically, in other ways perhaps quite accurately was later charged with the crime of Hegelianism by his Nazi comrades – as for us in relation to Schmitt’s thought, or for that matter in relation to Brooks’ thought, is the simultaneous emergence into consciousness and into politics of a fundamental, or foundational, element of that answer, which upon every re-statement seems to re-embroil us in paradoxes and unacceptable logical as well as moral contradictions, for instance as the assertion of the actual rationality of acceptance of the seemingly irrational or perhaps never fully rationalizable – of that which, if ever actually fully rationalizable or fully thinkable, will remain not fully thinkable or rationalizable on terms accepted or understood by the same multitude, and by its tribunes, upon whose acceptance its success, to their benefit, would depend.

For related reasons, whoever presumes to think through these matters openly, honestly, and impartially, is likely to be greeted (if recognized and heard at all), by some or perhaps a large measure of opposition and incomprehension, while being left to wonder which is worse.

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geo 03.18.14 at 11:01 pm

CKM: Very interesting post. I have only one, entirely procedural comment. If you and John find yourselves met with “a large measure of incomprehension,” you might, before assuming that the difficulty lies in the subtlety, complexity, and depth of your ideas or in the shortcomings of your interlocutors, consider whether it may not lie in the insufficient clarity, specificity, and precision of your prose.

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CK MacLeod 03.18.14 at 11:58 pm

geo: always worth keeping in mind. On the other hand, though JCH clearly can fend for himself if he feels a need to, I should note for whoever is still reading here that I don’t think he deserves to be lumped in with me. Obviously, I have taken note of some prior complaints on my deficiencies as a communicator – not a brand new experience for me. I mainly had in mind, however, the normal resistance to uncomfortable implications, and old problems of philosophy and public life that I consider to be relevant to this discussion.

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john c. halasz 03.19.14 at 3:17 am

LFC @154:

It was the speech act theory guy, which should have been obvious from relevant context. I’ve never heard of the other one, (though it’s a common enough English name).

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LFC 03.19.14 at 4:02 am

ok, so I was right the first time.
The other Austin was, as GiT mentioned, a legal philosopher. Known for his work The Province of Jurisprudence Determined and for his definition of “law” as “the command of the sovereign” (which facts I prob. needed once to get through some exam or other and that’s really about all I remember off the top of my head).

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LFC 03.19.14 at 5:06 am

Back to this, per geo @133, which continues to bug me:

Because if you think that the history of American foreign policy offers the slightest evidence of concern for humanitarianism (if understood as democracy, human rights, relief from poverty and deprivation, etc.), except rhetorically and for public-relations purposes, then I’m afraid you are… “tragically detached from reality.”

It’s really quite hard to understand aspects of U.S. foreign policy from, say, 1945 to the present (and also before that) if you think it’s completely devoid of concern for e.g. “relief from poverty and deprivation…except rhetorically and for public-relations purposes.” From Truman’s Point IV to Kennedy’s Peace Corps and Alliance for Progress to LBJ’s support for the Green Revolution to Clinton’s intervention in Somalia to U.S. efforts in famine relief to — yes — G.W. Bush’s support of anti-AIDS initiatives in Africa and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, the record suggests an interest in development (and humanitarianism) on the part of a succession of administrations. That these efforts were often seen as part of the struggle against Communism and revolutionary leftist and/or nationalist insurgencies is not in doubt, that they were often not particularly effective is also not in doubt, but they cannot be reduced, certainly not entirely, to your categories of rhetoric and “public relations.”

I understand you think the consistent thread in US foreign policy has been to serve US business and its interests, but that does not preclude other aims and objectives that have also characterized US foreign policy at various periods, among them the concern for humanitarianism that you dismiss. I wouldn’t claim that it’s been a main driver of policy, except in unusual instances, as considerations of domestic politics and the usual issues of power and ‘security’, Cold War imperatives, and (yes) serving certain economic interests have all exercised more weight. But it’s been more than just public relations.

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LFC 03.19.14 at 5:07 am

(a comment in moderation)

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GiT 03.19.14 at 6:43 am

Hm, 19th century and the context made me think John Austin, not JL. Kelsen comments on 19thc Austin. Schmitt argues with Kelsen. Luhmann comments on Schmitt and Kelsen. Probably more connections than that, but those are the one’s of which I am confidently cognizant. A happy family of prominent legal theorists arguing about legal positivism. Just a tangent though.

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Ze Kraggash 03.19.14 at 8:09 am

“Labor, universally fraternal relations, love of life, the passion for free creation of beauty, all these values animate the life and activity of the libertarian communists. They have no need of prisons, executioners, spies and provocateurs, whom the statist socialists and communists employ in such huge numbers. As a matter of principle, the libertarian communists have no need for the hired brigands and killers of which the prime example and supreme chief is, in the last analysis, the State. Oppressed brother! Prepare yourself for the establishment of that society, through reflection and organized action. Except, just remember that your organization must be solid and consistent in its social activity. The sworn enemy of your emancipation is the State: it is best embodied by the union of these five stereotypes: the property-owner, the soldier, the judge, the priest and the one who serves them all, the intellectual. In most instances, the last-named of these takes it upon himself to demonstrate the “legitimate” entitlement of his four masters to punish the human race, regulate man’s life in its every individual and social aspect, and in so doing, distorting the meaning of the natural law in order to codify “historical and juridical” laws, the criminal outpourings of pen-pushers on a retainer. “
– Nestor Makhno.

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geo 03.19.14 at 3:54 pm

LFC: the record suggests an interest in development (and humanitarianism) on the part of a succession of administrations

Running the world is a difficult and complex business, at any rate since capitalism was invented. Capitalism, remember, requires free labor and the reproduction of free labor, which, though more productive, is also harder to manage than slave labor. Capitalism also entails competition, hence the possibility of intra-ruling-class conflict, hence a minimum level of political and civil liberty, hence the manufacture of consent, to make sure the working class does not make excessive or unwise use of its liberty.

Part of the manufacture of consent is the construction of an ideology justifying class rule. The myth of the market, of its superior efficiency and compatibility with freedom, is part of our ruling ideology. Another part is American exceptionalism, the notion that, unlike every other great power in the history of the world, the US does not act internationally to further the interests of those who exercise domestic power but rather to promote the freedom and welfare of all peoples. (Note the remarkable similarity to Roman exceptionalism, British exceptionalism, and Soviet exceptionalism.)

Because the level of civil liberties is higher in the US than in any previous imperial power, the ideology of exceptionalism is more difficult to maintain and requires a higher level of accommodation to popular and democratic values (as well as a more sophisticated, indirect system of educational and media control). Another complication during the Cold War years was a certain amount of competition from another empire and its ruling ideology, which limited the US’ freedom of action. when you have a powerful rival like the international Communist conspiracy, which has a mysterious ability to seduce the rabble, you have to think about whether the measures you’d like to take to deal with obstreperous governments or popular movements (invasion, subversion, buying elections, supporting dictators or paramilitary death squads) will give your ideological opponents an opening. You have to find plausible pretexts. You can’t kill two million people in Indochina merely because, if Vietnam manages to develop economically without the superintendence of Western capital, popular resistance in the really important neighboring countries like Thailand, Indonesia, even India and South Korea, might be encouraged. Likewise Cuba and Central America: you can’t invade them but you can’t just leave them alone: the former would arouse too much opposition, the latter, if the countries flourished outside the American-dominated global economy, would be too encouraging to radicals in the really important places like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela.

Credibility has secondary requirements as well. If you claim that your more invidious interventions are motivated by concerns about the welfare of all peoples, then it’s useful to show some humanitarian concern when it doesn’t cost much, when the stakes are negligible, ie, when there’s no danger of an important country escaping from the American-led, globally integrated economy and closing off investment opportunities for American industry and finance. It’s also useful to proclaim continually that “human rights are the soul of American foreign policy” and that the US is a uniquely benevolent hegemon, the most generous country in history, etc.

So how can this (Chomskyist) hypothesis be falsified? If the US incurs some costs to further the freedom or welfare of another country through measures which involve a serious risk of that country’s becoming unavailable for American economic penetration and control … well, then get back to me and we’ll discuss it.

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mdc 03.19.14 at 4:30 pm

One take away from the analysis @ 166 is that if certain economic conditions (competitive global capitalism, bourgeois civil-libertarian democracy) align the self-interest of nations even partially with human freedom and welfare, we should promote the spread of those conditions (absent feasible and superior alternatives).

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geo 03.19.14 at 6:47 pm

mdc@167: Yes, that’s exactly what Marx thought. Though it didn’t make him any less determined to help create those feasible and superior alternatives, which don’t, after all, appear out of nowhere, but rather grow out of decades (or even centuries, apparently) of radical activity in all spheres: protest, education, research, public information, labor organizing, civic/environmental/consumer activism, litigation, electoral activity, even political and economic theory. (Not sure about philosophy.)

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geo 03.19.14 at 6:48 pm

PS – And, of course, blogging.

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john c. halasz 03.19.14 at 7:13 pm

It’s easy enough to expose the hypocrisy of the moralizing pretensions of U.S. foreign policy, almost child’s play. The next step is to point out the functional connections between more “generous” measures and more nefarious purposes, “soft power”, a seduction into subaltern compliance, (“the better to eat you, my dear”), providing a veneer of legitimation, hegemony rather than demonstrative violence, (which is too costly and inefficient anyway). But the problem then arises that the criticism is itself moralizing, as if the exposure, (which is scarcely surprising), would eo ipso convert into its opposite, a realization of “morality”, rather than a re-enforcement of its pretensions. (Cf. @ 167). It’s much better, what ever moral concerns might lurk in the background to deploy arguments from expediency, (though not in any shortsighted or opportunistic sense), in pointing out the over-reach, mismatches of means and ends, the undermining of “domestic tranquility”, the impossibility of any complete and systematic “security”, and the waste of resources, (not least human lives), and the rebound effects of nefarious means. That needn’t imply any “isolationism”, nor hard-boiled realism, just a sense of limits and an awareness of the impossibility of any international sovereignty. IOW cultivating the recognition of how little of “imperialism” is actually serving any definable and public “nation interest”, as John Hobson pointed out eons ago. Only that way could any cooperation between friends and enemies on the international level be achieved, forestalling the worst. (So, e.g., the West and Russia should have been cooperating on the “Finlandization” of a perennially unstable Ukraine, rather than insisting, in defiance or ignorance of history and geo-politics, that Russia had no legitimate security concerns, or that the EU had any real interest in the development of Ukraine). Then one can better direct one’s analytic and critical attention to the neo-liberal globalization of capitalism, which has done so much to undermine the “authority” and operating room of sovereign national governments, and their abilities to actually provide for their own citizens, or address national or international “problems”.

@165:

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”.

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geo 03.19.14 at 8:50 pm

JCH@170: What’s wrong with morality? All the Very Serious Persons at the Times, Post, Foreign Affairs, New Republic, and other fonts of conventional wisdom prattle about expediency.

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Bruce Wilder 03.19.14 at 9:10 pm

What’s wrong with morality are the blindness and ignorance, which come along with righteous moralizing. What’s right with morality is the willingness to cooperate on a constructing a positive-sum game. The anarchy of the nation-state system requires that states have enough sense of enlightened self-interest, to see the expedience of forgoing simple and short-sighted expedience; that’s the morality worth cultivating: the morality of considered self-restraint, and from that foundation, process and precedent and trust. Without undue idealization or paranoia.

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Matt 03.19.14 at 9:16 pm

Geo@169:

Agreed that blogging is unlikely to be useful, in so far as it is philosophical blogging. But that’s ok- as Aristotle said, the highest study is also the most useless.

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LFC 03.19.14 at 9:19 pm

geo @166
Thanks for the reply. As an analytical matter it may sometimes or often be difficult to separate containment of Communism, the dominant explanation for most of the direct (and indirect) U.S. interventions of the Cold War, and keeping the world safe for US investment (your explanation). The initial decisions in the Truman admin to aim for “a preponderance of power” (M. Leffler’s phrase) vis-a-vis the USSR seem to have been driven by a mixture of interlocking considerations (security and economic) and this mixture probably continued to operate through the next several decades, with varying weights depending on the particular country or region involved and with modifications occasioned (sooner or later) by major events incl the tangled politics of the Middle East and other key regions, the Sino-Soviet split, the course of US-Sov relations during ‘detente’, etc.

W/r/t a major episode such as Vietnam, one drawback of an approach that sees it as *all* about economics, or all about dampening potential region-wide resistance to Western capital, is that it will overlook not only the range of parties’ motives but also internal policy debates about e.g. the character of the Viet Minh and whether to support the French in Indochina. The U.S. reached the decision to do that in a substantial way only in 1950.

As for rhetoric about human rights, that didn’t enter US for. policy in a big way until the Carter admin.

As for If the US incurs some costs to further the freedom or welfare of another country through measures which involve a serious risk of that country’s becoming unavailable for American economic penetration and control … well, then get back to me — I’m pondering it.

But I wonder how your approach wd account e.g. for the US stance during the ’56 Suez crisis (the detailed history of which, unfortunately, I don’t have ready to hand; and the Wiki entry on it, btw, appears to be the length of a novella).

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Harold 03.19.14 at 9:20 pm

@170″The West and Russia should have been cooperating on the “Finlandization” of a perennially unstable Ukraine, rather than insisting, in defiance or ignorance of history and geo-politics, that Russia had no legitimate security concerns, or that the EU had any real interest in the development of Ukraine).”

No doubt, although I am not too clear about what “Finlandization” means.

Again @170 “Then one can better direct one’s analytic and critical attention to the neo-liberal globalization of capitalism, which has done so much to undermine the “authority” and operating room of sovereign national governments, and their abilities to actually provide for their own citizens, or address national or international ‘problems’.”

I suppose this means the gobbling of Ukrainian land by multinational agribusiness and chemical weed killer manufacturers and seed patenters.

***
As far as what is wrong with morality, as JCH has pointed out, morality is also behind the criticisms of morality. It’s morality (settling disputes in a just manner) all the way down.

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The Temporary Name 03.19.14 at 9:22 pm

No doubt, although I am not too clear about what “Finlandization” means.

Maybe the Karelians can answer.

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geo 03.19.14 at 9:31 pm

Matt@173: I’m shocked, shocked that you misunderstood me so. I meant to include blogging among the indisputably useful activities.

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LFC 03.19.14 at 9:42 pm

Also, I want to say something about this:

Another part is American exceptionalism, the notion that, unlike every other great power in the history of the world, the US does not act internationally to further the interests of those who exercise domestic power but rather to promote the freedom and welfare of all peoples.

I agree that an ‘American exceptionalism’ is part of the U.S. ‘official’ self-image, and I also agree that its correspondence to reality is, shall we say, often dubious. But in my comment @162 I did not say that US foreign policy promotes “the freedom and welfare of all peoples.”

What I said was that one element of a complicated mixture of elements making up US for. policy in the last several decades has been a concern for ‘development’ of poorer regions and for alleviation of esp. severe humanitarian disasters, which concern had an anti-Communist component during the Cold War and has sometimes been a response to domestic reaction to, e.g., TV pictures of starving children (the so-called CNN effect), but has also sometimes had an actual humanitarian component. So not *just* public relations.

And your response @166 that it was necessary for US ‘credibility’, and for maintaining the myth of working to “promote the welfare of all peoples,” for it to pretend to be concerned w ‘unimportant’ countries and regions where nothing obvs. big was at stake, is one that I don’t find altogether convincing.

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Bruce Wilder 03.19.14 at 10:45 pm

One of my touchstones in regard to these issues is the work of Bob Altemeyer on “right-wing” authoritarian followers — a common cluster of political attitudes, which forms a type of sorts in the spectrum of human ambivalence. Altemeyer makes his book, The Authoritarians, available online as a free pdf.

He describes some social experiments, in which people, who score fairly high on an index of authoritarian attitudes, are sorted into various groups by themselves and mixed with others, with different attitudes, and asked to perform some task or play a game together. The results can be kind of scary. In particular, combining a bunch of authoritarian followers with a sociopathic social dominator in the leadership role — the lethal combination — is a recipe for catastrophe.

One thing I’ve gotten from reflecting on the results reported by Altemeyer is that liberal hegemony is a vitally important project — the left shouldn’t expect to make everyone into a true-believer liberal or social democrat (ain’t gonna happen), but it is vitally important to do everything we can to keep at least a large part of the population, who are inclined to be authoritarian followers, away from sociopathic demagogues. A modicum of hypocrisy in service to liberal hegemony is a good thing, and the manufacture of consent a necessary task.

geo might want to revise: “The myth of the market, of its superior efficiency and compatibility with freedom, [WAS] part of our ruling ideology.” The liberal hegemony of the immediate post-WWII era is an empty shell. We still say the words, but we all know their falsity. As James K Galbraith wrote in The Predator State, the right gave up on all that in the late 1980s, and the left mouths the words out of fear and lack of engaged imagination.

I’m generally in agreement with john c. halasz @ 170 about what I would like American foreign policy to look like, though I’m not so sure that arguments from reason and evidence about practical expedience are likely to be effective. As Altemeyer points out, right-wing authoritarian followers are highly resistant to reason and evidence, as well as susceptible to demagogic leadership. Many American foreign policy institutions are heavily weighted in their personnel toward exactly the wrong kind of personalities, and practices — the culture of secrecy and censorship — compound the problem. It doesn’t help that Obama seems to think he gains credibility by giving Republicans and right-wing technocrats free rein in key positions. The culture inside the military-industrial complex seems increasingly paranoid and insular. digby at Hullabaloo had an interesting note the other day (3/18 11:00 AM): someone had caught the distinguished journalist, Tom Ricks, on twitter, playing McCarthy to Glenn Greenwald — cultivating his sources, no doubt. These institutions, by the psychopathology of their own cultures, make themselves invulnerable to criticism. No one is going to make a cliche out of calling the CIA, an institution of serial failure, though it certainly is, and consequently there’s little hope of reforming or dis-establishing it. Incompetence breeds competence.

Another thing I would note, in general, about American leadership post-Cold War. During the Cold War and immediate post-WWII period down to 1970, there were American leaders, who were genuinely interested in the country performing well. It was both a product of the competition with the Soviets, and an outcome of the experience of WWII facing societies gone mad. (The Soviets had had their own experience, which is why it remained, mostly, a cold war and a competition to perform.) If you look at the people JFK appointed into foreign policy roles, you see the concern for competence. Edwin O. Reischauer as Ambassador to Japan. Can anyone imagine Juan Cole at Yale, let alone as, say, Ambassador to Egypt?

Sometime, in the mid to late 1980s, America’s elite began to abandon their concern with competence or performance — not just in foreign policy, but across the economy. Merit was removed from the meritocracy, in favor of systematic disinvestment. This is a general phenomenon in American domestic life; it is why we live with so many potholes, and why Johnny can’t go to college without accepting a life of debt peonage. One of the weirder residuals of American exceptionalism is thinking the military, with their fancy toys, has been an exception to this process.

The same kind of rotted thinking that drives the fumbling and bumbling of American foreign policy drives the conversion from trickle-down economics to the belief that jobs and prosperity can be had from fracking.

[Not as far from Carl Schmitt as it seems.]

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Bruce Wilder 03.19.14 at 10:49 pm

“It’s morality (settling disputes in a just manner) all the way down.”

It is, if you recognize that some people will want to lie and cheat and steal, and still think well of themselves in the process.

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Harold 03.20.14 at 12:49 am

They want to think that their lying and cheating and stealing is somehow moral.

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Harold 03.20.14 at 12:50 am

“are somehow moral” — like old David Brooks and his “only kidding” hackery.

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john c. halasz 03.20.14 at 6:28 am

geo @ 171:

I’d thought we’d been through some of this above. “Morality” concerns personal conduct in private affairs. Political matters concern public issues and conflicts. One way to make out the distinction between morality and ethics is, as Ian Welsh puts it, morality concerns how you treat those you know, whereas ethics concerns how you treat those that you don’t know, though that’s a bit short-circuited. Another way to make out the distinction is that morality only deals with issues of “right and wrong”, whereas ethics concerns issues of the good or goods and the sustenance of social relations. Or ethics is about acts and material and symbolic exchanges with respect to relations with others qua other, i.e. completely separate human existences. (Which is one way that “utilitarianism” falls short: a perennial complaint is that it lacks any criterion for the differentiation or separation of persons). But the key there is that anything good or just or right involves an acknowledgement of the other, and a certain amount of estrangement from which such criteria would arise.

In addition, there must be a distinction between ethical norms, ( about rightness, goodness and justice) and norms about “truth” and cognition, (about facts, functions, and theoretical frameworks), which are separate normative “dimensions”. (Anything that involves the derivation and application of a concept is “normative”, insofar as concepts can be well or poorly derived and applied. One of the key problems with positivism is that, though it claims that scientific theory is the uniquely valid form of knowledge and the rest is just “poetry” or “emotion”, it lacks in principle the normative resources to “justify” such a claim).

So what is “wrong” with “morality, you ask? Well, for one thing, it takes a certain amount of “amorality” to pry apart ethical and cognitive claims to see how they might fit together, in variable patterns of inference and implication, rather than just assuming that they run together, undifferentiated, into some POV or another. And for another, moralistic claims can be just as egotistical as self-interested ones, (and the former can serve to disguise the latter), especially if held self-righteously, (which is a vice rather than a virtue). Moralism can be self-denying, insofar as it replaces the very other that is the “object” of its concern.

But to return to the basic topic here, as I said above, with respect to both Schmitt and Arendt, moralizing public-political issues renders them all the more irresolvable, “absolutizing” political conflict and rendering it potentially all the more “deadly”. Because politics involves potentially competing “moralities”, which aren’t resolvable by political means, and which distract from resolvable public-political issues. (Which distraction is often the point, “strategically”, in crafting “wedge” issues, for electoral manipulation, as with abortion or gay rights, both of which belong to the private domain). Moreover, a basic distinction between public-political issues and private domains is “necessary” to the preservation of both, if only because the private “household” domain raises future citizens, even if the public support or regulation of “household” affairs is “necessary” for maintaining any “just” public realm. (Needless to say, the invocation of the “private household” realm has nothing to do with the maintenance of “private” business corporations). So public “justice” can’t and mustn’t be reduced to private “morality”.

Absolute and inconceivable justice belongs to “God” alone, the voice in the whirlwind. Human worldly and political justice is always compromised and “corrupted”. That doesn’t mean that standards shouldn’t be applied and the heavens cursed, that emendation shouldn’t be achieved. But it does mean that political and economic conditions and constraints should be acknowledged. And that political judgments are of a mixed kind, not reducible to “morality” alone. They are “prudential” judgements, in an old-fashioned idiom, involving not just ethical considerations, (usually expressed as political “legitimation”, the required “operational” extent of which I questioned above, but also involving more cuttingly questions of the common and public “good”), but also matters of means/end relations, and estimates of prevailing power relations. In that sense, they are “expedient”. Which doesn’t involve short-sighted manipulation or opportunism, the usual excuses of “pragmatic” and “realistic” political operatives, including our fearless leaders, who seek to maintain the established status quo (ante), which gave rise to their “success”. But rather involves some “clarity” about what they or we are actually doing and what we’re willing to take responsibility for. But, hey, geo, I’m not the one advocating for “pragmatism” as the fount of democratic “morality”, and then expecting that reality will comply, least of all on account of an “anti-foundationalism”, which should prohibit any appeal to “first principles”.

If I’ve done any good here, it’s to have made out the distinction between “authoritarianism” and “authority”, especially to the left-of-liberal end of the political spectrum, to which I belong, which too often lazily conflates the two, forgetting that we all must assert our “authority”, rather than conceding it, even as finite human beings. And to have moved any readers off their priors, unsettling them, and causing them,- (though that’s not quite the right verb),- some mite of anxiety, (if never enough). If so, then I’ve done my job.

B.W. @ 179:

The “original” study was “The Authoritarian Personality” by Adorno et alia. They used a “controversial” methodology of in-depth sociological interviews and “content analysis”. And they used anti-Japanese racism in CA during the War, as a proxy for German anti-semitism.

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Ze Kraggash 03.20.14 at 9:20 am

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”

Let us indeed, but that is not the point. The sole purpose of any power is to protect the privileged from the dangers of “a leveling spirit” and from their own excesses. All this talk about “sovereignty” derived from “the people” or from the pink unicorn, illiberal or liberal, is just an exercise in painting a smiley face on the beast. Easier done with a liberal, but that’s hardly the ringing endorsement.

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geo 03.20.14 at 3:54 pm

JCH:

Of anxiety you have indeed
Meted me out many a meed.
Let’s now resort to pragmatism
And forego any future schism.

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Bruce Wilder 03.20.14 at 5:18 pm

john c. halasz @ 183

I’m familiar with Adorno et alia, which was a landmark achievement in social science, but also very much of its historical era. I think it treated the attitudes of right-wing authoritarian followers almost as symptoms of a medical pathology of the individual, which is not how I see it at all. Altemeyer’s work, which carries a much gentler touch, came after the reaction in social psychology, which rejected Adorno et alia on methodological and other grounds.

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john c. halasz 03.20.14 at 6:56 pm

@184:

Because of the inevitably collective “nature” of human life, any collective will generate power and power-relations. Even somehow the most perfectly egalitarian society or political community would generate power-relation, just egalitarian ones. And the notion of absolute, unbounded “freedom” makes about as much sense as absolute unbounded anything. (Even the idea that “freedom” is a quantity to be maximalized, frequently expressed even by mere liberals, rather than a quality to be cultivated, is dubious). Further, not only are societies not sums or sets of pre-existent individuals, they are also not sums or sets of bilateral relations: there is always an implicit third that structures any bilateral relation. So the issue of “authority” is always at least a bit “excessive”, can’t be contained within the bounds of the cognitive, the voluntary, the egoistic. So you’re right that the idea that the sovereign, the constitution, the ruling class or political elite derive from the people, “the consent of the governed”, and rule “justly” in their name and for their benefit, is always at least a bit of a swindle. But it’s a swindle derived from a paradox.

The state or government as sovereign has traditionally been portrayed as a power over life and death, in war-making and criminal justice. Which is another way of saying that it is the risk-bearer of last resort, and with the advance of societies into full modernity, its functions have become extended and differentiated in that regard. The anarchist notion that the state is the sole source of oppression, injustice and evil, and if only the state were eliminated, such tendencies would disappear, is naive and illusory at best, and could refer to a primitive agrarian commune at most, not to highly complex and differentiated large-scale societies with advanced production economies, (unless you believe that the “spontaneous orders” of capitalist corporatocracy will always provide the proverbial lamb in the bush). The anarchist dream of a completely free and completely equal society that would be spontaneously and harmoniously ordered without any state or political structure is tantamount to the impossible fantasy of a purely descriptive and transparent language that would sheerly and simply reflect the pristine orders of the world. But language just doesn’t work that way.

So I’m afraid the rough beast will always be sloughing toward… and we have met the enemy and it is us.

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john c. halasz 03.20.14 at 7:03 pm

@ 186:

Well, it’s more a normative than an empirical question, but I would tend to say that authoritarian and racist attitudes contain some measure of personal psychopathology, (“ego weakness”, paranoia), especially when one considers that the authoritarian leaders are sociopaths or psychopaths. But it’s true that it’s not just a private individual problem, but one with broad socio-political sources and implications.

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Ze Kraggash 03.20.14 at 8:42 pm

Obviously I’m not suggesting that Geo should mount a Maxim gun to the back of his minivan and fight the Man. I only object to legitimizing and idealizing of what you call “at least a bit of a swindle”. It doesn’t matter what they write into their constitution and how it was ratified: there are always plenty of lawyers and other lackeys around to demagogue it any way they like, or to achieve the same result without violating the formal terms, or violate the terms and keep it secret. We see it every day. Where is the paradox, though? Just see it for what it is: a group of people exercising power for their own benefit, and no paradox.

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Bruce Wilder 03.20.14 at 9:52 pm

I’ve read john c. halasz’s “lectures” here with great interest, but not much satisfaction.

I have some interest in Carl Schmitt as an historical figure. I’m interested in political constitutions, and Schmitt seemed to have some genuine and profound insight into the pathologies of the Weimar state and its liberal, but apparently unworkable, constitution. That he stood on a reactionary’s ground just adds to my interest in trying to see the world thru his eyes, because, not despite, the fact that, speaking from my own POV, I regard his reactionary politics as malignant.

I appreciate jch’s caution about detaching from early moral judgments in trying to understand Schmitt, but I think it isn’t our moral judgments about Schmitt, which are the major obstacle to understanding him, but our moral judgments about Weimar, as a failure of liberal democracy. It’s too easy to cast the actors in the liberal coalition as fallen heroes or betrayers, as the case may be, and in attaching moral meanings to their behavior — heavily colored by the horrors that followed — completely miss the functional shortcomings of liberal democracy revealed in the pathos of Weimar.

Looking for the ultimate logical or causal foundation of legal authority is a bit of a mug’s game, when the “authority” in question is but a transparent veil cast over domination. It’s the organic relationship implied by a body politic ordered and identified by domination, which distinguishes liberalism from the reactionary’s (nostalgic or rentier’s) attachment to feudalism. Liberalism aims to free the ordinary individual from relationships of domination, removing privilege from the social order and elevating and girding the individual’s political autonomy with rights, etc., while theoretically rationalizing the state’s authority as a delegation of the natural and organic autonomy of the individual, mediated through some organic social organization, and serving, a public good, reducible ultimately, to the good of the individual. It’s the properties of that mediating social organization — the People in We, the People — that is ambiguous and in ill-defined dispute.

jch mentioned in passing the hostility of English liberalism to the Chartists, as evidence that liberalism was not always identified in the 19th century with aspirations to democracy. I think that mistakes the case. 19th century liberalism pursued reform in preference to revolution, offering as promissory notes, progress — a kind of debt incurred to buy peace; given the proven costs of revolutionary struggle, it was a sensible purchase, and the debt was paid, in a succession of reform acts, that worked a step-wise change in the British constitution that continued well into the 20th century.

The more important point, it seems to me, is that 19th century liberalism identified with nationalism: its projects for parliamentary, representative democracy was tied to the self-determination of “peoples”. It wasn’t always sensible — as when Gladstone championed the secession of the Confederacy — and it sometimes went badly wrong, as in the Hungarian case. Liberalism’s mediating “people” were nations, its parliamentary democracy the institutions of nation-states. I think Ian Welsh, (and his friend Stirling Newberry), are wrong about the definition of morality — there is a morality that attaches to the relationship of the individual to the nation to the state. It might be a mere analogue, on a different scale of course, to the morality of family, and it differs from ethics for sure, but the sense of membership in, deep identification with, a social corporate whole, of loyalty and obligation, transcending merely transactional dealings (where ethics rule), etc. is the ground, if not the foundation for the constitutional state.

There are definitely bastard liberalisms — left libertarian or anarchic and conservative libertarian — that want to simplify the logic of power, and reduce all good to private good. I have no sympathy with these views. With Arendt, I would say power is a property of social organization, just as strength is a property of the individual. The practical freedom of the individual isn’t the absence of the power, but an individual’s claim on power, as a member of a social organization, and claim on, share in, and recognition of a public good.

So, circling around to Schmitt, I suppose Schmitt could be taking advantage of bastard liberalisms to take some cheap shots. That’s not very interesting. But, it seems to me that his insights are much deeper than that, and much more specific to the shortcomings of European politics and liberalisms, in the aftermath of WWI. I question whether epistemological reflections are going to be a productive way to approach Schmitt or his critique of liberalism. The deep demoralization of German political culture might have had something to do with his views. I don’t know if we can understand without a lot more imaginative effort to comprehend the strongly felt tensions and weakly-held center of Weimar, and that means accepting an organic character for the body politic, which affects the identity and well-being of its members, and the shared psychology of the political culture, even if we don’t embrace the silliness of David Brooks, political romantic.

Schmitt’s locating an existential origin story for politics in a pseudo-Hegelian antithesis of enmity is an interesting move for a reactionary mind. Think about how much effort has gone into Whiggish accounts of liberal progress and precedent stretching back to the 13th century or before. He does this in the specific context of a Germany, shorn of 900 years of institutional history, where a consensus to govern seems impossible to form.

I cannot say I understand Schmitt’s pov, although I would like to. I think circumstances, and how the heat of those circumstances cooked the politics of his time, matter more than I can grasp.

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LFC 03.20.14 at 10:12 pm

Have just been glancing at the introduction in Frank Ninkovich, The Wilsonian Century: US Foreign Policy since 1900, which is somewhat relevant to my earlier conversation w/ geo — though Halasz possibly might find it more congenial (Ninkovich quotes Heidegger on p.9). (Unfortunately my preferred browser is not working at the moment so I’m not able to copy and paste easily, otherwise I wd do so w that passage.)

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Harold 03.20.14 at 10:57 pm

The end of the Weimar Republic

Edgar Mowrer, Chicago Daily News correspondent in Berlin from 1923-1933, recounts that on the morning after the May 1932 elections, his assistant Otto Brok, who was a “Doctor of Political Science and a respected member of the (Catholic) Centre Party [Zentrum]“, rushed into the [press] office in tears and shouting “It is all over , it is all over .” When Mowrer asked the cause of this distress, Brok replied, “Last night at a meeting of the Centre Party, which I attended, our Party leader , Monsignor Kaas , read a letter from the Secretary of State at Rome , Cardinal Pacelli, whom you knew in Munich as Nuncio. The Cardinal wrote that the Pope was worried about the rise of Communism in Germany and advised our Party to help make Hitler chancellor. The Zentrums [Centre Party] leaders agreed ,” he sobbed. “Yes , go on.” [Mowrer] said. “But, Edgar , that means Hitler in power! Hitler wants a new war and he will get it.” Once more he broke into tears. [Mower] asked, “Otto, may I report the cardinal’s message and the Party’s decision to cooperate with the Nazis?” ” “Nein. It was a secret meeting . But you will see.” ……..
And see we did . From that day the Centre Party regularly supported Hitler. In November, the Party urged Hindenburg to take Hitler as chancellor. Even when, in February 1933, the Catholics realized it was too late to hold him to the constitution, they voted an Enabling Act doing away with personal freedom , democracy, and law in Germany . This they called clarifying the situation . …..” — Edgar Mowrer, “Triumph and Turmoil-A Personal History of our Time” (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd , 1968) [Cited from Wikipedia Article on Ludwig Kaas, archived talk]

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William Timberman 03.20.14 at 11:35 pm

The flirtation with irrationality in discussions of the constituting/constituted order begin, it seems to me, in the process of defining a legitimate authority. Endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights seems too fanciful, political power grows out of the barrel of a gun too cynical, one person, one vote too glib.

However passive their inclinations, once individuals become aware of the temporal origins of the customs and institutions that have shaped them, they can’t help but become political animals, and that’s when the fun starts. Brooks may want to focus on what we owe to our traditions, as seems customary for folks who imagine themselves in the catbird seat (whether they’re actually sitting there or not.) It’s equally customary for the rest of us to switch subject and object, and ask what our traditions owe to us.

Yes, we are in a certain sense ingrates, or would be if our Creator did indeed exist, and had in fact endowed us with the constrained circumstances we find ourselves in. Before we bend the knee to any authority less grand than the Deity hisself, though, we’ll be needing the answers to some very personal questions. Bruce Wilder, geo, and john c. halasz have a solid handle on the difficulties involved in providing reasonably just answers that can also keep the lights on and the wheels turning, but in my opinion that doesn’t get us any closer to explaining — let alone defanging — the eternal recurrence embedded in the questions themselves.

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Anarcissie 03.21.14 at 1:54 am

‘…reasonably just answers that can also keep the lights on and the wheels turning…’

One might ask whether we really need the state to do this. That is, do we — the real we — need a permanent, ubiquitous institution with the power of life and death over its subjects, a power which must be exercised at least occasionally to make itself believable.

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Bruce Wilder 03.21.14 at 2:52 am

Some “we” will take that power, so a political struggle to constitute, rationalize and control power becomes as inevitable and as perennial, if not perpetual, as power, itself. As jch wrote above, “. . . the rough beast will always be sloughing toward… and we have met the enemy and it is us.”

Defending only a null is a powerful rhetorical pose, but it is an empty political program. At its best, anarchism is a promise to re-invent the organization of the state, on a diverse, distributed and cooperative basis, which can be a very good thing. At its worst, it is a profound and nihilistic pessimism that promotes what it purports to despise.

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Anarcissie 03.21.14 at 3:22 am

Fully distributed power, in the sense of the ability to work one’s will, or freedom, and fully distributed wealth, that is, actual stuff people want to have or consume, do not seem to me to constitute the same sort of situation as that which exists in the case state power, where a class system and private property are upheld by original coercive force. But I suppose you may be assuming that the former situation is impossible to human nature (the rough beast slouching). If so, how do we know this?

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Bruce Wilder 03.21.14 at 4:08 am

I know this, because I’ve been in a bar fight.

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Nine 03.21.14 at 7:37 am

Who won ?

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Ze Kraggash 03.21.14 at 8:10 am

190

With Arendt, I would say power is a property of social organization, just as strength is a property of the individual.

This is the god’s honest truth, except completely trivial and of no consequence.

The practical freedom of the individual isn’t the absence of the power, but an individual’s claim on power, as a member of a social organization, and claim on, share in, and recognition of a public good.

“Freedom” is not something you can define away, it’s something you feel.It’s a state of mind. And “public good” is a subjective value, individual judgement. “Let’s kill all the lawyers”, for example, has been a popular “public good” programme at least from the time of Shakespeare, so would you, personally, be enjoying your “freedom” if it was to be implemented by your social organization, despite all your protests?

It sounds like perhaps you find your “freedom” in cooperation with like-minded individuals, which makes a lot of sense. And then what you’re missing is a community of Bruce Wilder-like individuals. But if such a community was to materialize somehow, would you really need any cops, judges, lawyers, and politicians there? I don’t think so. Apart from expelling an occasional imposter, you should be able to get along with other Bruce Wilders just fine.

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TM 03.21.14 at 1:46 pm

[This belongs in the Nick Kristof thread which is now closed]

“Shortly before his [Kristof's ] column came out, Carole Vance and Kim Hopper, longtime professors at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, learned that they were losing their jobs because they hadn’t brought in enough grant money. Both, ironically, are models for the sort of publicly engaged intellectual Kristof wants to see more of.”

http://www.thenation.com/article/178821/columbia-university-fired-two-eminent-public-intellectuals-heres-why-it-matters

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Anarcissie 03.21.14 at 2:50 pm

I had hoped to get a serious answer, even if my question was too earnest and wide-eyed to merit one. Well, all right, a bar fight. That is, indeed, a vision of a human social order. May I suggest that its prospects are rather limited and are likely to be of short duration?

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William Timberman 03.21.14 at 3:20 pm

I’m with Bruce on this one. The idea that the state is the root of all evil, which here in my state, AZ, is an unfortunate commonplace, is a lot like the idea that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare, but somebody else entirely. Shakespeare by any other name still deserves the accolades, and if states didn’t exist, we’d shortly be compelled to invent something very similar.

I also like Bruce’s anecdotal offering/metaphor. Being in a bar fight, especially with, say, a half-dozen Hell’s Angels, will quickly teach you the advantages of a superior political organization — assuming you survive it, of course.

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Anarcissie 03.21.14 at 4:16 pm

A bar fight with Hell’s Angels? This is really the best you guys can do?

All right, let’s assume human beings are so bad that their inevitable social order is a bar fight with Hell’s Angels. We would not be here now if this were so, but let’s assume it anyway. Then, given the constant advance in weapons, demolition, and other technologies, it is inevitable, as the means of destruction improve and the power struggles go on, that humans will eventually destroy themselves, or at least set themselves back to the point where tiny, dumb remnants survive as hunter-gatherers in remote, isolated places. While the transition to one of these states of affairs may be very exciting, the aftermath seems pretty boring and not worth thinking about much.

This isn’t speculative, it’s obviously inevitable. This metaphorical bar fight includes a guy in the back room supplying the participants with hand grenades and machine guns, and they’re not really in a bar but a prison yard. No one gets out.

‘Formerly, man could not do as he desired. Now, he can do as he desires; and he must change his desires, or perish.’

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William Timberman 03.21.14 at 5:05 pm

Anarcissie, I’ve no desire to get in a bar fight with you. You seem a perfectly reasonable sort, after all. The thing is, you’re looking through the other end of the telescope. As long as there are folks around who resist the lure of civilization, we’ve got to deal with a motley assortment of usurpations of the communal access to power, local — the Hell’s Angels, the Taliban, etc. — as well as global — CitiGroup, the Koch Brothers, Putinismo, neoliberal wetdreams concerning the arc of instability,, etc. etc.

More civilized institutions, and the social movements which might make them stick, are rather thin on the ground at the moment. How to hold in our focus the good of what we’ve already got, while building alternatives that are equally robust, but more humane, is not a trivial problem. Assuming away the heart of darkness hardly helps anyone, not in real time, anyway.

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Ze Kraggash 03.21.14 at 5:14 pm

This is interesting, because the Hells Angels is exactly the kind of community of like-minded people you should be inspired to join or organize yourself. Except that in your bar you won’t fight (because it sounds like you don’t enjoy it), but instead play Thelonious Monk records and discuss Sartre or something. The Hells Angels don’t need any authority at their bar, and neither will you at yours. If one of the Hells Angels shows up at the door, tell him that this is not his kind of establishment, the one he wants is two blocks over. The important part is that neither you rule over Hells Angels, nor they rule over you, nor someone else rules over them and you both.

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CK MacLeod 03.21.14 at 5:15 pm

@196, @201, @203/Anarcissie
One answer comes under the heading of the the coordination problem, and the seemingly indispensable utility of “belief system” in the organization of collective enterprises especially on a large scale. The coordination problem is also a superficially inoffensive way of describing approximately the same “political theological” problem that, in an older and nowadays much-abused terminology, also appears under the heading of the “noble lie.”

Another way of putting the answer, or prevailing non-answer, is as follows: How we know that complete satisfaction for humanity via anarchism is not within our nature is by the general absence in our observations of humanity of complete satisfaction via anarchism.

You yourself, in the lines of Einstein’s you quote apparently with approval, appear to agree with that conclusion, since Einstein suggests that human nature itself has produced the requirement of its own fundamental alteration: We need to alter or cure our basically dangerous nature, because remaining dangerous to ourselves in this way imperils our survival.

One alternative would be to await our transformation via gentle persuasion. Yet we seem according to the original premise to be spontaneously dangerous, or, at best, critically and dangerously inconsistent in our spontaneous will to cooperate peacefully. The problem leads Schmitt, in his extended thought experiments on pacifism in Concept of the Political, to speculate that the only way to bring about the universal pacifistic and liberated state (implicitly other than by miracle or on evolutionary time scales) would be through an embrace of all of its opposite characteristics in a war against non-pacifists for the authority of non-authoritarianism, etc. – producing the context where Professor Robin found the passages used in the OP.

In the concluding lines Political Theology, Schmitt performs a similar operation in relation to anarchism, and, in passing, also complicates assumptions that he was in favor on general principle of the “decision” merely for decision’s sake, or authority merely for authority’s sake, or pure fascism:

Donoso Cortes was convinced that the moment of the last battle had arrived; in the face of radical evil the only solution is dictatorship, and the legitimist principle of succession becomes at such a moment empty dogmatism. Authority and anarchy could confront each other in absolute decisiveness and form a clear antithesis: De Maistre said that every government is necessarily absolute, and an anarchist says the same; but with the aid of his axiom of the good man and the corrupt government, the latter draws the opposite practical conclusion, namely, that all governments must be opposed for the reason that every government is a dictatorship. Every claim of a decision must be evil for the anarchist, because the right emerges by itself if the immanence of life is not disturbed by such claims. This radical antithesis forces him of course to decide against the decision; and this results in the odd paradox whereby Bakunin, the greatest anarchist of the nineteenth century, had to become in theory the theologian of the antitheological and in practice the dictator of an antidictatorship.

If I get the time I’ll be posting something I hope highly incomprehensible on the subject later.

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Layman 03.21.14 at 5:24 pm

anarcissie @ 194:

‘…reasonably just answers that can also keep the lights on and the wheels turning…’

One might ask whether we really need the state to do this. That is, do we — the real we — need a permanent, ubiquitous institution with the power of life and death over its subjects, a power which must be exercised at least occasionally to make itself believable.”

It’s hard for me to understand the point of the question. Must the lights be kept on, and the wheels turning? Of course they must. If so, someone must do it. In the absence of the state, who will? Assuming someone will (why would they?), again, in the absence of the state, what prevents that someone from becoming ‘a permanent, ubiquitous institution with the power of life and death over its subjects, a power which must be exercised at least occasionally to make itself believable?’

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Bruce Wilder 03.21.14 at 5:48 pm

Ze Kraggash: what you’re missing is a community of Bruce Wilder-like individuals.

Of course, we’re all missing that. Talk about “completely trivial and of no consequence“!**

Ze Kraggash: “Freedom” is not something you can define away, it’s something you feel. It’s a state of mind. And “public good” is a subjective value, individual judgement.

A little Buddhist detachment can be a great psychological salve, but it’s not a political analysis. Politics is a social construction, a shared project, and it’s most definitely not shared with the like-minded — it’s cooperation by managed conflict amidst opposed interests. Political freedom isn’t a state of mind, no matter how often the related words may be abused in slogans to evoke Pavlovian responses; it’s a state of society and a product of systems of governance.

The freedom of Robinson Crusoe, isolated on a desert island, may be an entertaining fantasy, but it is not a useful context for defining political freedom. Actual political freedom must be defined in the context of a society with a complex and deep division of labor, a well of common resources, and a fund of public goods, where the share an individual takes in the power and product of social organization determines his capacity and capabilities.

Anarcissie: [A bar fight] is, indeed, a vision of a human social order.

Disorder. A bar fight is an instance of the spontaneous eruption of a state of nature.

Anarcissie: May I suggest that its prospects are rather limited and are likely to be of short duration?

Emergent order is kind of the point. We will invent the state, or the state will be invented for us. You’ve made the point that the state must exercise its lethal coercive power from time to time to retain credibility; the obverse point is that the state of nature will erupt from time to time, to remind us about why the state exists and how it emerges from human nature — including drunken, belligerent, impulsive, jealous human nature.

Nine: Who won?

Really!?! You have to ask?

**It is a tantalizing vision! All Bruce Wilders, all the time: everyone handsome, intelligent, witty and modest to a fault. We might need some girls women, though, and that would be the end of like-mindedness.

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Bruce Wilder 03.21.14 at 6:00 pm

Just to clarify, I don’t imagine the emergence of the state as a pretty fairy tale. The actual history of the state in, say, England, since the Dark Ages, is a miserable, bloody tale of unconscionable, sociopathic greed and abuse. The struggle to turn the state into a practical utility, dispensing old age pensions and doing public health inspections, has been a long one, with many reverses, and we seem to be losing battles once again, with elites, Thelma and Louise like, driving civilization toward the cliff.

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Ze Kraggash 03.21.14 at 7:17 pm

Most people I know despise politics and want no part of it. And for a good reason. Which leads me to conclude that “political freedom” is not exactly a burning issue; freedom from politics is. And no one here except you talks about Robinson Crusoe and desert islands, so that’s a strawman. I don’t need you explaining why politics is better than a desert island, I need you to explain why it’s better than voluntary cooperation. “Complex and deep division of labor” is a good point, but perhaps it’s just a phase, perhaps increasingly complex technology is going to reduce the depth of division of labor?

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Layman 03.21.14 at 7:24 pm

“Most people I know despise politics and want no part of it. “

It is their good fortune to live in ordered states which permit them to ignore the source of that order while benefiting immensely from it. Plus, they don’t really ignore politics, they engage in it, by, for example, posting arguments against government on the internets.

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Layman 03.21.14 at 7:29 pm

@206

“Another way of putting the answer, or prevailing non-answer, is as follows: How we know that complete satisfaction for humanity via anarchism is not within our nature is by the general absence in our observations of humanity of complete satisfaction via anarchism. “

This!

There are places in the world where anarchy prevails, yet we never see anarchists lining up to live in them. What’s with that?

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The Temporary Name 03.21.14 at 7:49 pm

Most people I know

Always a winning argument.

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Ze Kraggash 03.21.14 at 7:50 pm

They went to Catalonia in 1936-37, thousands of them, from all over.

It is their good fortune to live in ordered states which permit them to ignore the source of that order while benefiting immensely from it.

No, that’s not it. I don’t live in a well-ordered state, and there is even more cynicism here. Politics is associated with lies and thievery. I think it’s pretty universal.

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Bruce Wilder 03.21.14 at 7:56 pm

Ze Kraggash: I don’t need you explaining why politics is better than a desert island, I need you to explain why it’s better than voluntary cooperation.

Well, there’s that matter of conflict and opposed interests, I mentioned. You don’t get mutual interest in voluntary cooperation in a pure form, abstracted away from conflict and opposed interests. It’s a package deal. Cooperation entails conflict. So, the simple answer is that pure “voluntary cooperation” is not on offer. Politics is on offer.

Even in an “horizontal” market exchange of good for good, we’d have conflicting interests in the terms and warranties, between the parties to even the simplest bilateral trade. And, in a highly organized society with a deep division of labor, there’s going to be a lot of “vertical” relationships in the organization of production and distribution, aka hierarchical regulation, in which people submit to coordination by rule-governed direction or supervision.

Sure, it’s unpleasant. I don’t think most people like being bossed around. I don’t. Most people don’t like conflict, either. Haggling, hassling, fighting — also unpleasant.

Good luck arranging social cooperation without those features of conflict in exchange. Ain’t goin’ hap’n. To get any of the benefits of social cooperation, you have to take politics. The quality of the politics will determine just how much you will benefit from social cooperation. Doing away with politics — not an option.

Ze Kraggash: “Complex and deep division of labor” is a good point, but perhaps it’s just a phase, perhaps increasingly complex technology is going to reduce the depth of division of labor?

OK, that’s just more muddle than I can handle.

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Bruce Wilder 03.21.14 at 7:59 pm

Durutti should never have stuck his head above the barricade. But, hey, Mondragon makes a pretty decent washing machine.

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js. 03.21.14 at 8:51 pm

I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but might one ask that people not keep conflating “state” (in the sense of a modern state), “political authority” (sovereign or otherwise), and “politics”? Those things aren’t even extensionally equivalent, let alone conceptually identical.

Examples of why it might help:

1. Dissatisfaction with politics need not in any way imply opposition to the state. It might, e.g., be an expression of a (possibly misguided) desire for a more efficient state formation.

2. Politics, e.g. of compromise and coexistence, can exist without anything like the machinery of the modern state. Indeed, they have, so we know that they can. Of course, given certain social conditions, this might well be impossible, but given some other conditions, it could of course be possible. That one could rule out such a social formation a priori strikes me as implausible.

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Ze Kraggash 03.21.14 at 8:53 pm

219

john c. halasz 03.22.14 at 12:47 am

“Ze Kraggash” sounds like an Eastern European name (Byelorussian?), though, of course, it could be held by someone whose family has immigrated to the West. But it’s really hard to make out what he intends to say here, given the number of conceptual sollecisms and contradictory things he seems to be saying. “Freedom” is the same as “power” and both are merely “subjective feelings”? Likewise any question of the “public good” is merely “subjective”. Politicians will always just use their “authority” to benefit themselves, to steal, lie and cheat. (This last sounds very much in the veins of “Virginia School” public choice theory, a la Buchanan and Tullock). People just want to be “free” of politics, (which ignores that such a sentiment is just what power-holders and their political operatives seek to instill, because a de-politicized and indifferent mass public is all the easier to rule over, cow and manipulate, as Gen. Pinochet was not the first, nor last to “discover”). “So would you, personally, be enjoying your “freedom” if it was to be implemented by your social organization, despite all your protests?” Aye, there’s the rub, the fundamental absurdity of it all. But absurdity is not an objection to, nor explanation of “existence”.

His image of a world full of Bruce Wilders is pretty funny in a Gogolian sort of way, everyone chasing after their rivalrous noses, (while trading in dead souls). But I prefer the short prose fragment from Kafka, in his inimitable tone, at once child-like and sober, solemn and lucid, about the longing to journey into the mountains, because there you can meet all the nobodies and there you can feel free.

At any rate, anyone who has read B.W.’s rants over the years, knows that he is the Benjamin Button, -(or is it the Merlin?),- of liberal political theory: the further he goes back in time, the more Whiggish he gets.

The accumulation of military means of annihilation, rampant capitalist dysfunction, hierarchical domination, class and caste privilege, the extraction and exploitation of “resources”, who knew? (Aside from the fact that the possibility of nuclear annihilation, though still with us, has decreased in likelihood, even as the possibility of environmental catastrophe is ever rising, so the dual aspect of state power might still be worth considering). But hollow, somewhat snobbish attitudinizing just won’t do. (In the old jargon, the distinction is between “abstract” and “determinate” negation). And just why is it that the self-proclaimed anarchists fail to grasp the “an-archic”, i.e. without ground or foundation, and therefore “abysmal” nature of basic political questions?

One of the basic questions I’ve been raising here is, just how much “legitimation” of “authority” is required for any state to still “hold power”, operatively function? (Contrary to j.s., I don’t think I’ve made any of the conflations he identifies). Or IOW what happens when the “legitimation” of a state collapses? We’ve seen that happen in any number of circumstances, historically and geo-politically speaking. The case of the Soviet Union and its “satellite” regimes, (communist party-states, in which not even the “nomeklatura” and its apparachniks believed in its reigning ideology or Byzantine “political theology”), is a recent case in point, though none of them, (with the singular exception of Tito’s Yugoslavia, which was a much “freer” and developmentally accomplished regime), are much to be mourned. But then what happens in the resulting “void”? TINA? Perhaps bog-standard (neo-)liberals are as clueless as monarchist legitimists once were.

geo @ 152:

You haul 16 tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.

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Layman 03.22.14 at 1:36 am

@ 214

“No, that’s not it. I don’t live in a well-ordered state, and there is even more cynicism here. Politics is associated with lies and thievery. I think it’s pretty universal.”

I said ordered, not well-ordered. I doubt your friends who despise politics are subsistence farmers or hunter-gatherer bands, but feel free to correct me. Otherwise, I imagine that the framework of the state is what makes it possible for them to cultivate disdain for it. Heck, I have disdain for it, too, and for its practitioners, but I don’t for one minute imagine we’d be better off with no state at all. History suggests otherwise. Consider the fate of those who flocked to Catalunya in 1936. First they denounced the state, then they joined it, then they fought for it, and then lost? Hardly an argument for the efficacy of anarchism against hostile regimes.

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js. 03.22.14 at 2:53 am

jch,

My comment was very much not directed at you. I would never think to suggest that you would make such an error.

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Ze Kraggash 03.22.14 at 7:26 am

“Ze Kraggash” is a character from the absurdist American 1960′s novel Mindswap. It once achieved a cult status in a far away culture, while attracting no attention whatsoever in the US. No prophet in his own land.

Anyway, thanks, been a pleasure.

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William Timberman 03.22.14 at 8:52 am

john c. halasz @ 219

On Whig historiography and the apposition of temporal and spatial metaphors for progress:

How long did it take to transform the father and master of Padre Padrone into the NSA’s panopticon? How far really were — are — the huddled masses from the golden door?

In my view we should probably talk less about progress and more about scale and complexity, not to mention the evolution of a collective consciousness which adds layers to our meta-analysis seemingly ad infinitum, with precious little concern, except in passing, for the actual good it does us — or doesn’t do us, as the case may be.

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Ronan(rf) 03.22.14 at 1:11 pm

If someone was whiggish in reverse, wouldn’t they just be a conservative ?

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Anarcissie 03.22.14 at 3:11 pm

A set of generic points. I’m using ‘government’ to refer to an overt, legitimated institution whose powers including the origination of coercive force. By ‘state’ I mean all those institutions, relations, processes, and so on, which the government creates, defends, and regulates, for example corporations — and even families, to the extent that these are instituted by the government.

There seem to be two arguments here for government and the state. One is that it is necessary or at least preferable to have a permanent institution to suppress certain behavioral pathologies, for example, the polity generated by a group of truculent Hell’s Angels in a bar fight. This need, if it exists, could be satisfied by the sort of minimal state envisioned by Nozick (for instance). In this arrangement, when the government tortures, imprisons, or kills someone, it is only as a supposed last resort, and this is all it ever does. In other words, we have a fantasy which I am unable to take very seriously, although as we know some people are fond of it. Hence the bar-fight proof doesn’t do much for me. In any case, any form of government seems to attract and empower the very sort of people it is supposed to suppress, and employing the pathological to suppress pathology doesn’t seem to have worked out very well, as witness the history of the United States in the last half of the 20th century, for one of myriad examples.

The other is that the state is the way to get big, important things done. My dissatisfaction with this proposition is twofold: first, I don’t see any logical upper limit to the possibilities of self-organization. Second, as mentioned before, the government remains credible only as long as it at least occasionally exerts its powers in a sovereign, arbitrary manner, that is, people have to be knocked off now and then to show that it can be done. So these big projects, if they can truly be carried on only by the state, are marked with blood. That raises a moral issue: how many people are we going to kill in order to have really big airplanes, fly to the moon, and so on? We might even be able to compute the necessary ratio of executions to a given size of airplane.

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The Temporary Name 03.22.14 at 3:26 pm

In any case, any form of government seems to attract and empower the very sort of people it is supposed to suppress, and employing the pathological to suppress pathology doesn’t seem to have worked out very well, as witness the history of the United States in the last half of the 20th century, for one of myriad examples.

In the last half of the 20th century domestically? It wasn’t such a bad run. Raining death upon millions elsewhere was criminal of course, but at home things got much better economically for most people until the 80s. and rights for other-than-white-males were constantly expanded. What government-free portion of the world did as well?

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Anarcissie 03.22.14 at 3:59 pm

One of the important aspects of the modern state is its totality.

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mattski 03.22.14 at 5:06 pm

There seem to be two arguments here for government and the state.

The Koch bros sympathize with you.

That raises a moral issue: how many people are we going to kill in order to have really big airplanes, fly to the moon, and so on? We might even be able to compute the necessary ratio of executions to a given size of airplane.

Imagine a path (and not a smooth one!) leading from the land we call “Mayhem” to the ultimate goal of “Utopia.” If you find yourself 40% along the way towards Utopia, then by necessity your world will still be characterized by a not very satisfactory 60% mayhem content. So, is your solution to turn around?

Bar fights?

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Bruce Wilder 03.22.14 at 7:52 pm

john c. halasz: One of the basic questions I’ve been raising here is, just how much “legitimation” of “authority” is required for any state to still “hold power”, operatively function? . . . Or IOW what happens when the “legitimation” of a state collapses? . . . what happens in the resulting “void”? TINA? Perhaps bog-standard (neo-)liberals are as clueless as monarchist legitimists once were.

I think liberals have always had a tendency to be a bit clueless about legitimacy, thinking it a bit of magic, an example of the power of symbolism and ritual. In this, they are not different from the monarchists, I guess. For the liberals, elections and numerical majorities and idealistic constitutions confer legitimacy; for the monarchists, genealogy and religious sacrament.

In practice, there’s a reflexive relationship between operative functioning, as you put it, and legitimacy. Lose a war, fail to collect taxes, debase the currency — in general, fail to make decisions that resolve conflicts and solve problems, allowing the conflicts to become chronic and the problems, acute — and the legitimacy of a ruling class or system erodes.

Functioning is not the same thing as quality of performance, though I’m not sure how to make the distinction. Politics is, per se, about resolving conflict — conflicts that are inherent in social cooperation — not about making the trains run on time, though that might be a bonus. Having the capacity to repress conflicts, or otherwise release the pressure, when conflicting claims add up to more than the total surplus, is critical.

The surplus is produced by social cooperation, and the total surplus might be larger under “fair” terms, conceived of, say, as the bargain made in free, competitive markets. This was the classic liberal claim. It’s why Adam Smith thought slavery “uneconomic”. The surplus might also be larger, if less of it is frittered away in disputes — this is, I presume, the point behind proposals to kill all the lawyers. And, it is quite possible for the ruling class to seek extraction, at a cost to others, disregarding entirely the theoretical possibility of a larger total surplus, because such a total could only be realized by reducing the relative or absolute share of a parasitic elite.

The state’s functional capacity for regulative violence and repression, often plays a dramatically prominent role, when it all unravels; it often gets cast as the Fat Lady singing the end of the Opera. For the Soviet Union, the security apparatus was the linchpin. Louis XVI did not have the troops. Papen took the Prussian police away from the Social Democrats (and Carl Schmitt confirmed it).

But, the reflexivity of the relationship between legitimacy and operative functioning remains key: the state must function, dynamically resolving conflicts, to remain legitimate, meaning that it must find ways to resolve conflicts that add up to more than the total surplus.

Repression to reduce or isolate claims can work. My precious Whigs legitimated the Glorious Revolution — which wasn’t a revolution so much as an invasion and conquest by a foreign monarch aided by a cabal of highly-placed traitors — by systematically marginalizing in politics large swathes of the population by religious tests and class distinctions, even while mouthing pieties concerning universal rights and securing property rights. (My peeps! Gotta love their creativity!)

One way to see the Great Depression and New Deal is as a prolonged stalemate in the struggle over the distribution of income, in which the Second World War created a context for resolution. (The inability of macroeconomics to acknowledge conflicting interests might be its greatest intellectual handicap, and the source of its usefulness to the plutocracy as ideology. Just a passing thought.)

In the most advanced countries, the monetary and financial system forms an institutional core for distributing and regulating the value of claims to surplus, and, whether a safety valve exists or is used, depends on how those systems are structured and administered. Historically, the differing fates of the Bourbons and the House of Hanover, turned on the differing outcomes of the Mississippi Bubble and the South Sea Bubble. Britain ended up with a central bank, and its burgeoning national debt became ballast for the ship of state; France imported its bankers, and its debt caused the ship of state to capsize. More recently, the Euro has been used to put enormous pressure on the social welfare state. We’ll see how that works out for the legitimacy of the European Union.

TINA? I think that’s more an inevitable tactic, in the herding of cats, than anything else. There are other tactics for coordinating consensus that inevitably resurrect the past. How long did the French go on reviving corvée after 1789? If we can still trace the boundaries of the Roman Empire across the Balkans, what does that tell us?

The most interesting case for eroding legitimacy may be that of neoliberalism in the U.S. at the present moment. American politics lacks any vocabulary but that of market liberalism, but no one believes it. The rich just take more and more and more, every day. To the point where billionaires are having paranoid fantasies about being rounded up for internment. And, the masses wonder what is eroding their precious freedom to shop.

I expect js. thinks I’ve bulldozed all his distinctions. Oh, well.

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Anarcissie 03.23.14 at 12:27 am

@228 — I actually thought this venue too well-informed and sophisticated to bother with foolishness like the Koch brothers’ ‘small government’ jive. No?

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Layman 03.23.14 at 3:19 am

@225

” This need, if it exists, could be satisfied by the sort of minimal state envisioned by Nozick (for instance). In this arrangement, when the government tortures, imprisons, or kills someone, it is only as a supposed last resort, and this is all it ever does. In other words, we have a fantasy which I am unable to take very seriously, although as we know some people are fond of it. “

How is one to read this? You doubt there’s any need for an agency to suppress mayhem; and, if there actually is such a need, it’s a fantasy to think the state can do it. Is that about right?

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Layman 03.23.14 at 3:22 am

@230

No, no one here would bother with small-government nonsense. No-government nonsense is the order of the day.

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The Temporary Name 03.23.14 at 3:26 am

One of the important aspects of the modern state is its totality.

Starting from a point of dealing with its totality is somewhat ambitious.

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GiT 03.23.14 at 5:31 am

“I don’t see any logical upper limit to the possibilities of self-organization.”

Do logical limits have anything to do with it? I thought the practical limits were enough.

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GiT 03.23.14 at 5:31 am

“I don’t see any logical upper limit to the possibilities of self-organization.”

Do logical limits have anything to do with it? I thought the practical limits were enough.

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js. 03.23.14 at 6:02 am

Since this thread is (hopefully!) dying anyway, it’s worth pointing out the following:

Some of the claims that have been made against Anarcissie’s position are bizarrely—indefensibly—strong. Because think about the dialectic of the argument. Several people have posited the following: given a materially advanced and interconnected society, the state (or at least a sovereign political authority) is necessary. Like, necessary (you can add any adverb you like there).

But this is a bizarre contention. It’s of course true that in the kinds of social formations we’re familiar with, materially advanced societies and extensive state machineries go together. But all I (maybe not Anarcissie—I don’t really know) need to hold out for is that this link is severable. The “lack of evidence” won’t really help you here, because it’s of course idiotically easy to go back in time and fine analogous “lack of evidence” for things we take utterly for granted now—where those things can range from aeroplanes to LLCs to the place of women in society.

Again, note who’s making the remarkably strong claim here. On the one side, I simply hold out for a possibility: that a materially advanced society can exist without anything like the machinery of the modern state; I obviously concede that that this society, were it to exist, would look nothing like ours. Indeed, I hold out that a materially advanced society could exist without anything like what we would recognize as a state. You concede this possibility, and as far as I am concerned the argument is over. (There’s a further question about whether we should applaud and encourage people working towards this kind of thing, but for now we can leave that question offstage.)

The people on the other side, again, need to defend not a possibility claim but a necessity claim. I’m still curious how any such defense ends up being structurally different from defenses forwarded for, say, the natural inferiority of black people or brown people or women people.

(So maybe I have a small puppy in this argument after all?)

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js. 03.23.14 at 6:04 am

I expect js. thinks I’ve bulldozed all his distinctions. Oh, well.

Not in that comment! At least what I understood of it. (Sorry, BW, sometimes you have amazing shit to say—better than anything I’ll ever say in a comment thread, and sometimes I can’t make heads or tails of what you’re talking about.)

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Layman 03.23.14 at 2:01 pm

js@236

“On the one side, I simply hold out for a possibility: that a materially advanced society can exist without anything like the machinery of the modern state; I obviously concede that that this society, were it to exist, would look nothing like ours. Indeed, I hold out that a materially advanced society could exist without anything like what we would recognize as a state. You concede this possibility, and as far as I am concerned the argument is over.”

Thanks for this. I re-read anarcissie’s comments and I find I agree with all of his criticisms of the state, and I sympathize with speculation about materially advanced societies without states. It may well be possible, I suppose, but it does seem unlikely given the evidence of human nature. Perhaps at sufficient levels of material plenty & technological prowess, one can dispense with the state. It’s hard to see how, though I get that the range of possibility isn’t limited by my imagination.

Banks’ ‘Culture’ comes to mind as a picture of a society where members of that society share the illusion that there’s no state, when in fact the state is there all along, waiting to spring into action.

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john c. halasz 03.23.14 at 2:52 pm

Sorry j.s., you seem to have not understood a thing that’s going on here. It doesn’t boil down to the simple logical triplet of necessity, possibility, contingency. It’s not about “logic” at all. (Politics is fundamentally a *practical*, not a theoretical matter!) It’s about the strange “alchemy” of the political that goes on not just within but in-between people’s heads (and bodies) between “freedom”, “authority”, “legitimation”, “violence” and “power”. (That there can be stateless societies is not an issue, because such stateless societies have existed. Though not without any sort of “politics”: nowadays even chimpanzees have “politics”. Nor is it reducible to a merely functionalist matter, though B.W. often tends that way). The “argument” here has been about some fundamental questions and problems concerning the necessarily political existence of human being, that don’t have any simple, nor invariant answers, that always lurk in the background of such arrangements and always can re-emerge into the foreground, in cases of exacerbated conflict or crisis. It’s not about any simple “dialectic” of argument. Rather, in many of the comments here, it has actually been about the incomprehension and various evasions of those sorts of questions.

And Anarcissie, least of all, hasn’t made much of an argument. (In many ways his apparent position is just sheerly anti-political in Arendt’s sense). To the notion that all political orders are potentially violent, he asserts that actual violence, quite adventitiously, must be periodically demonstrated to “prove” the existence of a political order. That’s rather like the sophism, that it is law that causes crime, because crimes must be defined by law, and without laws there would be no crimes. And thus all the obvious ills and injustices of this world, including complexity and differentiation itself, are to be wished away by fiat, because government. As I said, just rather hollow and snobbish attitudinizing.

Schmitt obviously viewed politics as an especially high “vocation”, (though not necessarily the only such), but one needn’t share his preferences on that, as on much else. (I myself don’t pay much attention to daily “topical” political chatter, as pointless and manipulated propaganda, and tend to look on the current course of political affairs with some combination of disgust and horror). But if you ignore politics, that doesn’t mean that politics will ignore you.

SO then you invoke the progress “we” have made in recognizing and protecting, (how?), the rights of minorities (or even majorities). But “rights” are political-legal institutions. Those who “possess” rights have already been invested by a system pf power. (There is a very real sense, in which they give you your rights, in order to take away your freedom: if you’ve ever been arrested, you know how that feels). Rights are only “inalienable”, (though never “natural”), in the sense that their violation doesn’t vitiate their (counterfactual) status as norms. (And inalienability was precisely said to be a distinguishing feature of “sovereignty”). My own view of the value of rights is not that they are “absolute”, (as if descending from the heavens), but that they enable a “higher”, more productive resolution, or, at least, pursuit of political conflict. But politics is pre-eminently the realm of alienation, of passing over into otherness, (which is why it is prey to resentment, anger, anxiety, hatred, and the like, and their manipulation). But insisting on “rights” as the sole “substance” of politics is curiously de-politicizing, (especially in international affairs). And the ever greater enumeration of rights does not somehow guarantee “progress”. To the contrary, not only might they serve to maintain entitlements, in the classic liberal fashion of perpetuating (“substantive”) inequality in the very name of (formal) equality, but they might just promote the “juridification” of political conflict, leading to the reversal of “substantive” progress. (I myself am Frankfurt Schoolish by origin, and everything in my political experience since I left school, at the beginning of the Reagan era, seems to confirm their post-War prognosis that the persistence of capitalism would mean ever-continuing forms of political regression). At any rate, rights are neither a substitute for, nor an explanation of the generation of social recognitions upon which the solidarities underpinning any political order depend.

And no one has bothered to attempt to address a question I raised above. How can there be an effective public sphere without a sovereign state, which it would rise up against and purport to regulate, (even as the state balances out conflicting “parties”). Arendt herself notably evaded that problem. But then the public sphere is one of those things that is always already said to be in decline, the moment the issue is broached and arises.

Schmitt is not exactly anyone’s cup of tea. But it’s the questions and problems he raises that persist, long after his demise. And no matter how nasty the man, that doesn’t permit a lack of hermeneutic probity is grappling with his work. At any rate, I just picked up from Macleod a reference to a contemporary thinker I didn’t know of:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_W._Kahn

But then, why is this thread still open? I thought they were all closed by automatic timer.

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mattski 03.23.14 at 2:54 pm

The people on the other side, again, need to defend not a possibility claim but a necessity claim.

Well, here’s where I’m coming from: I agree with you that it is in principle possible that what we know of as the ‘state’ might “wither away,” leaving a materially advanced society intact. But this possibility is so remote from the world we live in that most any discussion of it has no practical value. And that implies that engaging in such discussion is a form of escapism from the actual issues we face. It’s a way of fooling ourselves that we’re doing something constructive when we aren’t.

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Anarcissie 03.23.14 at 3:30 pm

This faith in violence as the inevitable dominating principle of human culture seems quasi-religious to me. I concede it’s possible that that’s just the way people are, but I don’t see it as obvious or necessary. Certainly it is peripheral to the conduct of most people’s lives, and to the life of the human community as a whole, regardless of its repute.

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William Timberman 03.23.14 at 3:37 pm

jch @ 239

This thread is still open because some very interesting thinkers, yourself among them, have been propping open the fire door again, and no one dares call the super for fear we might miss something.

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mattski 03.23.14 at 4:08 pm

@ 241

“Faith” in violence? This seems like an abuse of language to me.

Personally, I have (most of the time) faith in human nature. Specifically, faith in the ability of people to learn & grow for the better. That doesn’t mean human nature isn’t also extremely dismal as well. But speculating about worlds far removed from our own is mostly escapism. A refusal to look at what is, here and now.

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CK MacLeod 03.23.14 at 4:24 pm

@239 The Wikipedia entry on Kahn is a good capsule summary. I often wonder why, given that he’s a distinguished professor at Yale (not some wayward internet nobody), and given further that his work is in its way quite topical and unusually clearly written, his name doesn’t come up more often. I think it may have something to do with the fact that his analysis is somewhat inconvenient for our customary political conversations, and that his conclusions somewhat contradict his own avowedly liberal preferences, forcing him into intermittent apologies to his friends and colleagues, and leading him to adopt for his own part a pessimism of the liberal intellect, optimism of the liberal will similar to Charles Taylor’s. In short, he’s very good at explaining how sovereignty-based political orders work, why they call for and receive sacrifice of life (and other forms of ritualized or quasi-ritualized violence like torture), and why they still make the world go round, but he’s not good at providing encouragement to idealists and ideologues.

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Ze Kraggash 03.23.14 at 4:43 pm

“Consider the fate of those who flocked to Catalunya in 1936. First they denounced the state, then they joined it, then they fought for it, and then lost? Hardly an argument for the efficacy of anarchism against hostile regimes.”

Anarchism has been tired only a few times, even if we count more obscure episodes, like Mazdakist communism in 5th c. Persia. Every time (I believe) it failed destroyed by an outside force.

The idea of politics as the conduit for “public good” (as it’s perceived by the poster) has been tried a million times, failing every time from its own contradictions.

That a society is “ordered” is not necessary a great sales pitch for most members of that society, as there is a good chance it’s ordered precisely for the purpose of exploiting and oppressing them. Sure, most of them might prefer the devil they know, but that is not much of an argument still.

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bob mcmanus 03.23.14 at 5:07 pm

How can there be an effective public sphere without a sovereign state, which it would rise up against and purport to regulate, (even as the state balances out conflicting “parties”)

Networks? “Flash crowds” of distributed and provisional sovereignty? Syndicalism?

At the point we “fish in the morning etc” we can spend our time divided among 5-10 quasi-public sites…nomadism?

I not only think something newish is possible, I think it is happening, and fast. We just need to look with a different perspective. By no means is it all good. How was Maiden Square different from Tahrir?

Veronica Mars, financed by fans and written chock-full of fan service, doesn’t really have a creative center.

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CK MacLeod 03.23.14 at 6:06 pm

(once more into the breach…)

@241, Mattski, and Anarcissie and others: Following from the mention of Kahn’s work and specifically his focus on “sacrifice,” the link between faith and violence is more profound than a simple one-way transaction. I want to say more “complex,” but in another way the problem is that it’s so simple and immediate we have a hard time talking about it directly, even while we never actually stop talking about it. This connection also goes to the larger speculative discussion about the state-as-we-know-it and theoretical alternatives, and points to a particular liberal blind spot characteristic at least as much of those on the fringes of modern liberal discourse – anarchists, libertarians, communists, and their early modern precursors – as of those at the moderate and compromising center. This blind spot or possible blind spot is centrally evoked in the Schmittian challenge to liberalism, and understanding it might help to explain to claim that the political is uniquely defined by the potential for lethal violence.

Setting aside Anarcissie’s presumption of a necessity for “arbitrary” exercises of power, the question of “blood sacrifice” attaches to the notion of a “higher” or “broader” (we might also say “more basic,” or “eternal,” etc.) meaning of life and death, the death or life that points beyond itself. The ability to demand and to perform an authentic sacrifice rests on the notion of a reason for being beyond “merely being” (also beyond “mere being”) or of a meaning of “life, liberty, pursuit of happiness/property” necessarily resting beyond the horizon of any individual’s own life, liberty, pursuit of happiness/property.

The political-theological not only meets but tends to overpower and overwhelm the political-philosophical, or the rational-liberal, on this ground, since the “side” whose believers will die and (usually) kill for their beliefs possesses distinct advantages in any actual political struggle over the side that cannot produce a reason for doing so, or, put differently, that depends on mere reason as understood within the limitations of liberal thought for doing so.

The same mechanism, the ability to act on “faith” and in mutual confidence, on a firm basis of shared and effectively reflexive expectations, and so on, supplies the historical solution of the coordination problem, in diverse settings – thus the common utilitarian justifications for religion (it gets the job done). Fortunately or not, what makes cooperation possible for peaceful or anyway practical purposes, at sacrifice of labor and will, makes cooperation possible for aggressive purposes or war, up to and including “supreme sacrifice” and the demonstration of “no greater love.” How can we presume that justification of the latter sacrifice is simply false or inauthentic without implying that the former must also be inauthentic? One implies the other, and without them we are left with nihilism, since if nothing means anything and everything means nothing, then, if we’re consistent, we should be utterly indifferent to the fate of the world, and finally indifferent even to our own meaningless failures to remain consistently indifferent: The Humean proposition that reason alone cannot motivate action extends to any action of moral judgment and the political resistance it might engender, or, as he famously put it, “‘Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.” (My own view is that everyone here still arguing on these matters, especially those ever schooled in common social-scientific reductions of the “fact-value distinction,” should read or re-read Hume on the origin of government from the Treatise of Human Nature.)

Since there are, however, actually few to no true nihilists, we’re left with the prior state of play. Whether thought “truly” meaningful or not, those notions of the meaningful are all we have, and apparently will determine our actions whether or not in some perfectly consistent sense they “ought to.” (As Hume concedes.) We cannot expect those ill-equipped on either score – to accept the justifiability of any sacrifice at all for the common purpose that may not be the individual’s first preferred purpose or satisfactorily “reasonable” purpose, and to accept the justifiability of supreme sacrifice – to prevail in a contest against those who do not experience this difficulty. Furthermore, as long as resources are not available to all in superfluous abundance, there will be contests, and whatever differences there are will define what matters at all, will constitute the basis for a “life and death” struggle.

This is not an argument for a fascistic cult over “free people,” but a recognition that a free people whose freedom embraces “higher” etc. bonds as real bonds, as bonds no less real than any other human constructs, including specifically the construct of the primacy for right of the category of the individual (metaphysical individualism underlying modern liberalism including all or most modern anarchism), will discover advantages: not marginal advantages, but every advantage in the world, since these are also, as noted, the criteria for the organization of great projects, the trans-generational continuity of law, the general expectation that promises will be kept and pacts observed, the promise of “eternal life,” and so on.

The free or so-called free people may excel in some forms of working and fighting more than others, it may develop superior skill at “making the other bastard die for his country,” it may in fact seek and achieve obscene “kill ratios” on its own behalf: The sacrifice of the enemy to the national god, even the goddess of democracy, mostly suffices, even if it’s never completed without at least the willingness to offer one’s own head. Even, for example, many of the most ardent critics of the American drone assassination program, who focus on loss of innocent life, sooner or later will also be found complaining about the “cowardice” of remote control killing, though they may be deluded if they think that higher levels of risk to the combatants necessarily implies less combat.

It would seem logical and rational to think so, that mortal danger would be an effective barrier, rather than an ineluctably powerful force of attraction, but it needs to be the latter only for a few, if need be only for one “last man,” to re-inaugurate the entire cycle, never mind that the barrier, to remain a barrier, requires someone willing and able to embrace the moral and physical danger from its other side.

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john c. halasz 03.23.14 at 6:47 pm

@245:

Governments oppress and exploit the people. Who knew? But governments are not the only organizations or modes of organization that exploit and oppress the people. And just as the ever-proliferating technological complexes, in which we are trapped and can no longer escape from, not only lead to ever-accumulating means of planetary destruction, but also a potential abundance, that can alleviate the toil, hardships and sufferings of “the masses”, rendering them simply “unnecessary”, so the risk-bearing and planning capacities of governments can lead to political transformations and the “redress of grievances”, reconstituting politics. Not very likely, you might say. Sure, but do we really have any other choice than to struggle in the light of such prospects, else we just succumb to destruction? It’s a Hobson’s choice.

@ 246:

At the risk of entering into a performative contradiction of my own, I don’t think that the virtual world of the internet constitutes an alternative public sphere, let alone a truly international one, that could substitute for the “real” on-the-ground work of political struggles or implement any counter-hegemony on its own. At most, it’s a supplementary tool and means of evading direct repressions. On the other hand, what of those networks that you invoke? Are they really so “de-centered” that they are unowned and free-form? Or have precisely such network effects resulted in a remarkably rapid monopolistic consolidation of what would be a new public utility, and advanced the capacities of totalized surveillance?

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bob mcmanus 03.23.14 at 7:11 pm

248.2: Yes :)

“the” virtual world; “the” internet; “an alternative” public sphere

It is a very big step to relinquish grand narratives and totalities. I lose the fans of coherence and consistency.

Here’s List from Jodi Dean

Another List From Deterritorial Investigations

I have looked at Paul Kahn, but from his titles and descriptions, he looks too close to the “Theological Turn” of Agamben, Zizek, Laruelle and the folks around Adam Kotsko.
I won’t go there. Yet.

250

Layman 03.23.14 at 8:17 pm

@ 245

That attempts at anarchy are squashed by hostile states is precisely the point. States are made to protect subjects from harm. Anarchy by design lacks similar means to coerce collective action effectively, so it loses to enemies who exploit those means. It’s possible to imagine circumstances where this is not the case (the absence of any hostility, or anarchists armed well enough to achieve assurance of mutual destruction), but that seems like fantasy to me.

As to the failure of politics, there are failures and then there are failures. Surely you’ll grant that the failure of politics in modern Denmark is of a different order than the failure of politics in modern Somalia. All states are indeed ‘bad’, but some are more bad than others, and those others seem preferable to what we see when there’s no state at all.

With respect to ‘ordered’, I don’t mean in an ethical or even benevolent way. I mean both predictable and providing a basic framework for a complex society to function. Because we can travel on roads to our place of employment, free of the fear of roving bands of marauders,and be paid in the coin of the realm, which retains its value over reasonable amounts of time, we can exchange that coin for goods & services rather than being forced to grow our own food, make our own garments, and otherwise fend for ourselves. This means we are fed, & clothed, & housed, and can spend more time musing about our unfortunate tax burden, and how we might rid ourselves of it. I suspect the citizens of Somalia would swap places with us in a heartbeat.

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js. 03.24.14 at 4:28 am

Sorry j.s., you seem to have not understood a thing that’s going on here. It doesn’t boil down to the simple logical triplet of necessity, possibility, contingency. It’s not about “logic” at all.

I wasn’t thinking that the only kind of necessity (or possibility) is logical necessity. Anyway, I’m sympathetic to a lot of what you say, though I don’t see how it affects what I was saying. (E.g., I didn’t talk about rights at all—you’re of course correct that if we’re in the a realm characterized by rights, then we’re in a specifically political realm. But again, this doesn’t affect my claim.)

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john c. halasz 03.24.14 at 6:18 am

js.:

You’re right. You didn’t mention rights. (I extrapolated that from your correct observation that there is some foul odor involved here, with respect to the rationalization of the suppression of subalterns). But then the emendation of such suppressions typically calls forth the issue of rights, which lands us back into the tangle of issues that have arisen here.

Possibility is not exactly the problem. It can be a mere will-o’-the-wisp. It’s claims from “necessity” tout court that are likely to be confused and conflated. But it’s at least needful to forthrightly address the tangle of issues here, in order to give the devil his due, and to be prepared to understand and address “the enemy”, (which doesn’t imply any sympathy for “the devil”). Otherwise, one might be liable to perceive devils everywhere, and collapse into craziness, giving the devil more than his due, in the manner of Father Ferapont.

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Ze Kraggash 03.24.14 at 7:03 am

“This means we are fed, & clothed, & housed,”

Not all of us. I see people sleeping in doorways every day.
Sorry, I’m on a road, I’ll try to reply later.

254

Anarcissie 03.24.14 at 2:06 pm

Layman 03.23.14 at 8:17 pm @ 250:
‘That attempts at anarchy are squashed by hostile states is precisely the point. States are made to protect subjects from harm….’

I’ve avoided going into anarchist and other political techniques because that seemed like a major digression, even for me, but they exist and are effective in limited areas and ways. If they are not noticed on high, so much the better.

States do not exist to protect their subjects, they exist to serve the desires and interests of their ruling classes. These sometimes intersect with the protection of their ordinary constituents, and sometimes don’t, to understate the case rather monumentally.

@243 — I said not ‘faith in violence’ but ‘faith in violence as the inevitable dominating principle of human culture’ . Liberalism, in the wider sense, requires a suspension of attempts to resolve certain paradoxes, such as the contradiction between freedom (especially for the ruling class) and coercion (especially for the lower orders). It is polite to pretend the contradictions don’t exist, or at least to look the other way. Schmitt and his pale, fusty imitator Brooks rudely violate this etiquette. That is ‘faith in violence’. Another more polite stance is to frame the coercion as a sad but necessary evil. That is ‘faith in violence as the inevitable dominating principle of human culture’ which one may (pretend to) deplore. To see them as the same is to admit too much too quickly.

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mattski 03.24.14 at 3:49 pm

Liberalism, in the wider sense, requires a suspension of attempts to resolve certain paradoxes, such as the contradiction between freedom (especially for the ruling class) and coercion (especially for the lower orders)

First, I apologize for insufficient due diligence. I wasn’t taking your remarks in the proper, full context of this thread. But I still want to add my 2 cents:

There is too much conceptualizing going on here. (JCH & CKM, in my view, are classic examples of dead-end pedantry. “Conjuring with words,” in geo’s apt phrase.) I am skeptical that your use of the term “liberalism” above carries much meaning. ISTM, what is really happening here is that you are refusing to grapple directly with the “paradox” as you put it between freedom and coercion which is a necessary condition of any social group. It has nothing to do with some abstract ideology (“ism”) but rather everything to do with what happens when people interact with each other. An essential part of the life of a community is the adjudication of disputes. An essential part of the adjudication of disputes is the submission of individual desires to the desires of the community as expressed by the ‘authority’ of the community whether it is ‘the Chief’ or ‘the State.’

Blaming fundamental problems of civilization on “liberalism” is just nonsense.

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Anarcissie 03.24.14 at 4:54 pm

@255 — In the case of a bunch of hunter-gatherers running around the woods there is no contradiction because there is no state — the community exacts its demands on the individual directly, and vice versa, and if they become too onerous one or the other breaks. There is no such contradiction, either, in the case of a totalitarian state (‘Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.’) We can also guess that the contradiction does not arise in societies with strong traditions prescribing proper relationships and performances which are inculcated from birth in their constituents. So I think the uneasy paradox wherein one accepts both ideally unrestrained freedom and institutionalized coercive force — and the ongoing conflict between them — really is a peculiar characteristic of liberalism, not ‘a fundamental problem of civilization’.

(Is my use of ‘liberalism’ all that obscure? I hesitate to burden this comments section with a bunch of tedious definitions and narratives which everyone has heard before.)

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Ze Kraggash 03.24.14 at 5:56 pm

Yes. “The desires of the community” often don’t exist. If 51% are “pro-life” and 49% “pro-choice”, then you have 2 communities, not one. The solution is to de-legitimize the “wrong” “desires” in moralistic terms (as bigotry or treachery, for example), which really is a soft form of totalitarianism.

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bob mcmanus 03.24.14 at 6:05 pm

Blaming fundamental problems of civilization on “liberalism” is just nonsense.

Not if you equate or correlate it with capitalism.

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john c. halasz 03.24.14 at 8:46 pm

Mattski @255:

“Faictz ce que vouldras.” Translation: Suit yourself, YMMV. But what you call “conjuring with words” might be involved in, ya know, actually thinking, questioning, and understanding rather than just taking one’s assumptions unreflectively for granted. And “dead-end pedantry” might reflect actual grappling with contradictory and even paradoxical matters, rather than settling for the hobgoblin of little minds.

But, hey, I’m not the one who thinks that “neo-liberalism” is just a term for “whatever people don’t like”, rather than a determinate term with an exact origin, (of which you seem quite ignorant). And who makes utterly unreflective appeals to “civilization” and “human nature”. IOW I’m not a shallow, conformist, self-complacent opinionator who can’t think about or see anything beyond a highly restrictive doxa.

@256:

Hunter-gatherer groups, insofar as they can be known, (post-contact and marginalized), have very high murder rates. And many tribal formations, aside from witchcraft, magic and the like, operate on pre-conventional systems of cycles of honor and blood revenge. As for contradictions and conflicts, they don’t disappear because repressed: implicit/explicit, in-itself/for-itself.

@257:

Desire is desire of the other.

@258:

“Capitalism” is a double-edged sword. You, at least, should “know” better, Bob. Ya know, the shifting interactions between “the forces and relations of production”. Nor is liberalism just reflective of capitalism; there can be highly illiberal forms of the latter. That liberalism might be chronically unable to rationalize and cope with the famous underlying contradictions, and thereby unable to fully take responsibility for assuming “power”, (especially in its social democratic form), is more to the point. But I don’t think you’d want to return to “base/superstructure” reductionism.

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mattski 03.24.14 at 8:56 pm

In the case of a bunch of hunter-gatherers running around the woods there is no contradiction because there is no state

Why the term “contradiction?” That suggests a logical or semantic problem. True, “freedom” and “coercion” are words, and they are in some sense opposed. But let’s not allow language to distract us from reality. Hunter-gatherers experience no disputes amongst themselves? Clearly they do, as you acknowledge. You allow that it’s possible such disputes may result in the “breaking” of either an individual or a community. Well? So different from the world we live in?

If there is a community of TWO persons, on an island, we can imagine that there may be disputes that result in insults, enmity, isolation, fisticuffs, murder. In any and all combinations. But clearly, no State is involved.

If there is a community of TWO THOUSAND persons, on an island, we can imagine these folks may find it practical to form councils for the purpose of governing. That is, adjudicating disputes. This means situations will arise when some individuals or sets of individuals will need to submit to the will of the council. Or engage in war, etc, which only reaffirms the problem we’re trying to grapple with.

The problem is inherent when more than one individual live in proximity with each other.

“The desires of the community” often don’t exist. If 51% are “pro-life” and 49% “pro-choice”, then you have 2 communities, not one.

These two sentences are in conflict with each other. And your 2nd sentence is an escape into semantics. We can have/define as many communities as we want. It doesn’t change the facts on the ground.

Not if you equate or correlate [liberalism] with capitalism.

Right. But, bob, you just want to have pleasant discussions about imaginary worlds, seasoned with withering put-downs of various and sundry ‘people found wanting.’ That’s kind of your deal, no?

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mattski 03.24.14 at 9:05 pm

@ 259

Just as it is difficult to appreciate good baseball if you have not seen bad baseball, so it is difficult to appreciate kindness & warmth if you have not seen first hand the irascible & argumentative.

262

Anarcissie 03.24.14 at 9:38 pm

mattski 03.24.14 at 8:56 pm @ 260 — By ‘contradiction’ I meant the contradiction between the principle of personal freedom and the principle of coercive state power, not conflicts between individuals. I don’t see either ‘freedom’ or ‘coercion’ as devoid of reference to ‘reality’, by which I take it you mean the physical world.

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mattski 03.24.14 at 9:57 pm

Anarcissie,

OK. But the principle of personal freedom is an abstract idea. If it it is treated as an ‘idol’ rather than a useful approximation of an unattainable ideal then it produces confusion more than insight.

Personal freedom sounds great. Clearly, personal freedom is bounded and impinged upon by the existence of other people. We imperfect humans are struggling to find better forms of governance. It isn’t easy, and the greedy and ruthless will generally elbow their way to positions of influence which is a constant hindrance. I don’t see any choice but to push onward, tinkering with the levers of politics, law and culture as best we can.

264

Layman 03.24.14 at 10:09 pm

Anarcissie’s @ 254

“States do not exist to protect their subjects, they exist to serve the desires and interests of their ruling classes. These sometimes intersect with the protection of their ordinary constituents, and sometimes don’t, to understate the case rather monumentally.”

I dislike this approach you have a responding to a snippet in the conversation while ignoring the inconvenient remainder. People form states to establish greater power, which power can be used to resolve disputes, or protect subjects from crime, or even from the hostility of other groups. States come in many forms, some better & some worse, and their protection can certainly benefit some more than others, and can even be intended so. Be that as it may, states project power better than do anarchies, so anarchists locked in struggles with states don’t prevail in any meaningful sense of the word. Worse, anarchies lack the coercive mechanisms to maintain the peace & settle disputes. If you disagree with all of this, then by all means suggest some counterexamples. If you must ascend to fantasy to find them, then please try to describe them fully, so I may understand the example you offer.

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The Temporary Name 03.24.14 at 10:41 pm

What I don’t get is why anarchism doesn’t put an immense burden on my freedom. I can send my kid to school and know X standards are being met. It’s quite nice. Is my anarchist alternative to search among isolated conglomerations of individuals that precisely meet my needs? (Not that my present system is The Best of All Possible worlds: certainly other systems could provide me with an elementary school I don’t have to bother too much about.)

The larger aspect of the conversation is how you represent the arguments in this thread to anyone but the people likely to participate in it. Who will sit still to be convinced?

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john c. halasz 03.25.14 at 1:39 am

Baseball is boring.

267

Bruce Wilder 03.25.14 at 1:43 am

Anarcissie: I think the uneasy paradox wherein one accepts both ideally unrestrained freedom and institutionalized coercive force — and the ongoing conflict between them — really is a peculiar characteristic of liberalism, not ‘a fundamental problem of civilization’. . . . By ‘contradiction’ I meant the contradiction between the principle of personal freedom and the principle of coercive state power, not conflicts between individuals.

It really is just playing with words, if the terms have no political-economic referents. A non-liberal state would frame things in differently flowering rhetoric, to be sure, but every society must decide delegation of decision-making and distribution of goods, and those with an institutional state, must arrive at some rules for mediating some of those choices through their state institutions. That’s all that your so-called contradiction labels — a sideways glance at some aspects of liberal rules of delegation and distribution — and every society must have some such rules, which it will worry over. Nothing peculiar to the liberal state in that.

Liberalism contemplates a rationally constrained state power, and rationalized regulation of conflict between the state and individuals on a theory of individual rights and limited government, as well as both collective or shared enterprise and state-regulation of the economic relationships and interactions among individuals (marriage, business contracts; defining assault, property, etc.) on a theory of nominal political equality. In liberal theory, the state is an instrumentality for society, governed by institutions, ultimately answerable to society’s body politic, and normative standards for policy must be expressed in general rules and contemplate a general welfare.

If there’s a contradiction in liberalism, it is in the insistence that the good of the state — the general welfare — must be reducible to the good of sundry and all individual humans, without a fully articulated theory of how the good of individuals “adds up” to a general welfare for the society, whose servant the state is. The reverse of this contradiction is the problem posed by Schmitt: where is the good of a state, which is a mere instrumentality of a collectivity that doesn’t exist as a cohesive social entity apart from the state, its instrument. What creates a sense of public purpose to govern the state? What generates a sense of public duty owed to the state, among individuals?

But, there’s no “contradiction” between the liberal conception of the freedom of the individual and the liberal conception of the state as an instrument facilitating economic cooperation, unless you think systems of economic cooperation by means of intensive specialization and trade can emerge without some coercive restraints. For the liberal, the freedom of the individual rests on the state’s monopoly of coercive power, rationally applied to constrain the strategic options of other individuals and groups. Not a contradiction, but a foundation, a means to transform a Hobbesian state of nature into a highly organized, productive and cooperative society. And, by liberal lights, a fundamental problem of civilization.

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Bruce Wilder 03.25.14 at 2:35 am

CK MacLeod @ 247

I thought your comment was quite lucid, and appreciated it. I took your prompt and consulted Hume. (Kindle is a wonderful thing.)

john c. halasz thinks I’m too functional. It’s just to keep an orientation.

The phenomena of state and politics and political identity, rights and duties, do have a history. Emerging from the Dark Ages in the 8th century, western Europe did not have states, private property or public. They had bands of brigands and the Church. What evolved from that, evolved. When mass cohesion reared its ugly or pretty head, it was often in support of religion and religious identification; nationalism seemed to be proposed as a damper. When the New Model Army — a nest of levellers — proved supreme, well, even today, there’s a Royal Navy, a Royal Air Force, even a Royal Mail, but it is still the British Army. When the nation-in-arms appeared on the field at Valmy, I think it was a bit of a rude surprise to the powers-that-be, and not a happy one at all. Nearly, a century was spent trying to keep that genie in its new bottle. And, though, the military planners of the late 19th century had planned conscription and mobilization, did they really expect actual people, not statistics, to show up in 1914?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, though I appreciate the philosophical approach to the feel of allegiance and the call of duty, and their practical necessity even, or maybe especially, to the liberal state, I cannot help feel that bob mcmanus may be right — Schmitt’s insights belong more to the circumstances of a place and a moment, than his method allows him to acknowledge, or us to appreciate. The abstract speculation helps us to apprehend the deeply-felt demoralization of Weimar, in a way, though it doesn’t give us much of a handle on the economic problem of a severe shortage of surplus. Both things were happening, and the failure to cope combined them had consequence. I don’t see how to integrate one concept of politics with the other, and I fear that makes one a cover story for some sleight of hand with the other — maybe as prosaic as calling for “shared sacrifice” in financing further tax cuts for the rich with social security reform (This is David Brooks, after all).

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LFC 03.25.14 at 4:03 am

C.K. MacLeod @247
I’m bothered by much of this comment (and also, as usual, by some of jch’s, but I’m not going to go there, because it’s late here).

from your 247:
This is not an argument for a fascistic cult over “free people”
I’m relieved to hear it, because some of what preceded this statement certainly sounded that way to me. For instance, this passage:

The political-theological not only meets but tends to overpower and overwhelm the political-philosophical, or the rational-liberal, on this ground, since the “side” whose believers will die and (usually) kill for their beliefs possesses distinct advantages in any actual political struggle over the side that cannot produce a reason for doing so, or, put differently, that depends on mere reason as understood within the limitations of liberal thought for doing so.

A few years ago I happened to read Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism, and it strikes me that this paragraph I’ve just quoted would be quite at home in a tract of Mussolini’s, or perhaps D’Annunzio’s, just to name two fairly likely possibilities out of a number of them.

As for this:

Even, for example, many of the most ardent critics of the American drone assassination program, who focus on loss of innocent life, sooner or later will also be found complaining about the “cowardice” of remote control killing, though they may be deluded if they think that higher levels of risk to the combatants necessarily implies less combat.

Well, some critics of drones may refer to the “cowardice” of remote-control killing, but I think many don’t. Moreover, you don’t seem to take on board the fact that, given that the U.S., at least, has no draft, those exposed to the risks and danger of combat are, and have been in recent years, a small percentage even of the relevant-age population. I’m not sure *exactly* how this would alter your statements about the need for supreme sacrifice and so on, but I have a feeling it has some relevance.

270

LFC 03.25.14 at 4:24 am

Also, while “the “side” whose believers will [readily] die and (usually) kill for their beliefs” may possess certain “advantages,” those advantages, in themselves, may not be decisive. Suicide bombers happily die for their beliefs, but that doesn’t mean the “side” they fight for (which of course varies in different cases) will necessarily emerge victorious. (More cd be said here, but I’ll leave it at that for now.)

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mattski 03.25.14 at 10:50 am

@ 266

I agree.

;^)

272

CK MacLeod 03.25.14 at 2:20 pm

LFC #269, 270 – I’m glad that at least someone was bothered. I don’t think that you’ve read the lines that strikes you as so Italian accurately.

If every state that succeeds in persuading soldiers to kill and die is a fascist state, then everyone who’s ever thanked a soldier or joined the military or rooted for John Wayne or John McClane is a fascist, and every state is in the end a fascist state – the anarchist midnight in which all governments are brown. Or, easier to argue sensibly, every state is partly fascistic or there will be a fascistic moment in virtually every political ideology (even anarchism, it turns out). Or, perhaps a bit more disturbingly, if fascism didn’t possess some insight into human nature, not the same as a complete or adequate insight, then it wouldn’t have been able to move millions of people. It wouldn’t have been dangerous at all. Or maybe all forms of government or concepts of the state are simultaneous as potentials within every real existing state, just as all psychological states are simultaneous as potentials within every real existing human soul.

It’s always tempting to say too much, and for personal reasons I don’t know that I’ll be able to defend any further possibly disturbing arguments today or for the next little while. I’ll just observe again that the destructiveness and finally the self-destructiveness of fascism may be that it takes an apparently unavoidable necessity or reality, and, instead of acknowledging it or addressing it responsibly, glories in it, fixates on it, and makes itself highly vulnerable to being destroyed by it. This distinction is somewhat the basis also of the initial criticism of Schmitt by Strauss that I mentioned a couple hundred comments ago. In most instances, however, the “battle” between the side willing and able to put life on the line (the little bit fascist side) vs the side that is not willing to do so would be won without a shot being fired, since human beings in the mass would be by nature more theo-political than rational-political (though not irrationally). As the theory suggests on other bases as well, sovereign states would always be political-theological entities, products of theo-political victories in search of new ones.

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CK MacLeod 03.25.14 at 3:10 pm

Bruce Weber, #268 – I hope you enjoyed the Hume, and get why I suggested it/him (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzG_J7RCGS0).

As for the economic and other analyses explaining Schmitt or the moment to which he was reacting, I tend to view them as parallel. Schmitt addresses liberalism from the perspective of a Catholic jurist, a conservative statist who privately nurtured some, I don’t know, rather Gothic notions about himself and the universe, sometimes expressed in a manner one might have thought beneath his dignity. It’s probably necessary to keep his “other side” always in mind, to stay sensitive to the points where the two sides turn into the same side, and also to acknowledge the differences between him/his situation and ourselves/our situation, but it produces a standing temptation to let our own theo-political prejudices guide us nowhere further than where we began.

Sorry for the digression: What I meant to say is that I think you’re right that the political-economic haunts the Schmittian legal-philosophical, but it’s not coincidental that the ghost also went by the name “liberal.” You probably know the economics much better than I do, but, as I understand it, Germany like other countries but more so was being crucified on the famous cross of gold, according to the dictates of all of the best 19th century “liberal” political economic wisdom. It also had to deal with the terms of Versailles, with the destruction of the Wilhelmine state (more than a narrowly political matter), with the loss of millions of war dead and the re-integration of millions of soldiers, and with multiple types of humiliation and guilt all at once, with all of traceable to the “liberal” powers.

My point isn’t that there was psychological displacement or transference of some type going on in Schmitt’s writing, though there might very well have been, as there would have been in Weimar culture generally. I tend to view all of these different ways of telling the story – as an economic story, a philosophical story, a cultural-historical story, maybe a dialectical materialist or a mass-psychoanalytical or even a theological story, as transparent to each other. Each may seem convincing on its own terms, but will feel incomplete. If you’re strongly committed to one, then the other will tend to seem empty or distorted, or maybe just overly convenient: the economist thinks economics says it best; the film fan thinks it was all in the movies, really, in fact was all a movie…

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LFC 03.25.14 at 4:47 pm

@CK MacLeod:
In the passage I quoted, you suggested that “mere reason as understood within the limitations of liberal thought” does not provide adequate grounds for persuading people to defend a state, and it was that point in particular, taken in context, that struck me as having certain resonances of the kind I mentioned. But I was intending to comment on the general tone rather than to say you were advocating fascism; and the deprecation of ‘reason’ is of course not unique to fascism.

I also suggested, in a related point, that in a country with a professional army of ‘volunteers’ rather than draftees the issue may take on a somewhat different dimension. (See also, btw, what the OP’s author has written, in noting the relative absence of shared sacrifice in the U.S. post-9/11, in ch.8 of The Reactionary Mind, pp. 178ff.)

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Bruce Wilder 03.25.14 at 4:53 pm

with all of [it] traceable to the “liberal” powers.

Not all. Liberalism was left “holding the bag”, while more blameworthy parties hid in the shadows. Liberalism victimized itself (and the moderate left and centre) in choosing to play this role, and it was a choice, a fatal choice, but there were other deeper sources of pathology.

276

bianca steele 03.25.14 at 5:24 pm

To interject a point that may be off topic: While on this point I tend to agree with Bruce Wilder and LFC, who is it exactly that supports them against CK MacLeod? Neoconservatives don’t, absolutely not. Many liberals don’t, in fact, when it comes down to it. Marxists and Marxian thinkers don’t. Rorty is on their side (that is, LFC’s and Bruce’s), but mostly by refusing to engage the argument, the stronger side of which he admits doesn’t support their side. There’s a version of evo-devo that does, I suppose. But is there a rational foundation for their position?

277

bianca steele 03.25.14 at 5:25 pm

Their side, specifically, on: “mere reason as understood within the limitations of liberal thought” does not provide adequate grounds for persuading people to defend a state.

278

js. 03.25.14 at 5:32 pm

Kant, for one. (I guess that could be read as a joke, but it is of course true.)

279

CK MacLeod 03.25.14 at 5:51 pm

@274 – I’ll try to remember to take another look at the Robin passage you cite. Since I don’t have the time to develop the thought here, and since it’s bad manners to pimp one’s blog, I’ll just agree with what I take to be your point that the professionalized military may not be able to serve the same functions in a mass political-cultural process of binding sacrifice that mass mobilizations may have.

280

CK MacLeod 03.25.14 at 5:54 pm

ps – Bruce Weber’s reference to Valmy seems much on point. Reading up on it yesterday I ran across Goethe’s statement about it, offered supposedly in consolation to his fellow losers on the German side: “From this place, and from this day forth begins a new era in the history of the world, and you can all say that you were present at its birth.” There was a lot of that kind of talk going on in those days on both sides of the Atlantic, and there was truth to it. We seem to be on the other end of that era, but it may also be premature to say so.

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Harold 03.25.14 at 6:00 pm

Give us war, O Lord,
For England’s sake,
War righteous and true
Our hearts to shake. –Paul Cushing, published in National Observer (1892)

Song of the Sword (by W. E. Henley, dedicated to R. Kipling)
I am the sword ….
Sifting the nations,
The slag from the metal,
The waste and the weak
From the fit and the strong…. William Ernest Henley (d. 1903)

The Damoclesian sword of war ever hanging over a country has its value in keeping up the manliness of a people, in developing self-sacrificing heroism in its soldiers, in uniting classes, creeds and parties, and in showing the pettiness of party politics in its true proportion. ” —Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the boy scouts (1914). Baden-Powell was evidently very much opposed to war, as a matter of fact, but in 1914 looked on the bright side, hoping for the establishment of universal peace once it was over.

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mattski 03.25.14 at 6:24 pm

CKM: I’m glad that at least someone was bothered.

FWIW, it’s not that I wasn’t bothered, it’s just that I wish you would use smaller & fewer words.

:^)

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William Timberman 03.25.14 at 6:35 pm

In the end, it always seems to come down to whose ox is being gored. The problem with liberalism, from that perspective, is that it views itself as the untouchable ghost in the machine, supreme in its cost-benefit analyses, and the rest of humanity — be it the grandmother blown apart by a Hellfire missile in her okra patch in Afghanistan, the Mexican subsistence farmer with no more market for his surplus maize, the 200+ passengers in a disappeared airliner, or the foreclosed putative homeowner in North Las Vegas — are mere artifacts that appear, briefly, on the screen of the liberal panopticon.

That a disembodied intelligence is no intelligence at all — an insight as old, at least, as Petronius’ slashed wrists — is something, no matter what the well-meaning will tell you gratis, that the 21st century has yet to enter into its calculations. One way or another, what is owed will be paid, even by the 1% who pride themselves on their invulnerability to the concerns of mere mortals.

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roy belmont 03.25.14 at 7:14 pm

that “mere reason as understood within the limitations of liberal thought” does not provide adequate grounds for persuading people to defend a state

That’s explicated a little by Harold’s …”developing self-sacrificing heroism”.
Because the grounds in question are felt, not thought.
Reason can come in after that, with the rational behavior of genes etc, to create emotional chemistries in both the hero and his or her admiring community. Reason says the emotion that’s central to that sacrificial defending is just a complicated and mostly hidden rationality, structural and essentially non-human. Deeper.
But we have this suspicious history of trivializing emotion, reducing its presence in the community to subjective and ultimately illusory surface. Even as we sing anthems and cheer the hero’s valorous exploits.
So what we’re seeing in the present fix is the playing of emotion by unemotional manipulators. Lots of that.
Timberman’s lyrical promise of karmic come-uppance is gratifying to contemplate, but there’s no reason for the 1′s to be alarmed by it. There’s no rational basis for moral self-sacrifice in someone who’s opted out of the emotionally-linked community.
It’s about love, really. Why we sing about heroes and tell their stories. We love them. Someone who only loves themself, or a group that only loves itself, can reject that in a perfectly rational manner. And reason is silent.
Because once you step outside the embrace of the traditional heritage of love and sacrifice for love, reason says “Who cares?”

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Bruce Wilder 03.25.14 at 7:18 pm

Are you sure it isn’t about resentment?

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LFC 03.25.14 at 7:48 pm

I feel the need to try to clarify something, quickly and simplistically.

When I see the phrase “mere reason,” with emphasis on mere, I guess it triggers certain associations for me, esp. in certain contexts, and that was the basic prompt for part of my comment above. Perhaps I overreacted, mountain-out-of-molehill, etc. Perhaps not.

In any case, I was not intending to stake out an elaborate position or set up a reason- vs.-emotion debate. Reason and emotion both have their place, they’re both necessary. That various well-known currents in the history of Western thought (maybe Eastern, too) might have oscillated pendulum-like from one to the other is likely true, but probably not of direct relevance here. (Although this thread is at the point where I’m not sure what is and isn’t relevant.)

Ok? Are we all happy now?

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bianca steele 03.25.14 at 8:25 pm

I guess if you go to Harvard you don’t need a foundation.

(js., why would that be funny?)

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Ze Kraggash 03.25.14 at 8:31 pm

The idea of love/sacrifice certainly fits the bill, indeed states often become objects of passion to people. And maybe that’s the real purpose of the states: to stand for a tribe and to satisfy some evopsych tribal instinct. Because there are certainly other ways to resolve disputes and organize activities.

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LFC 03.25.14 at 9:01 pm

@bianca:
You asked “is there a rational foundation for their position”? (by “their” meaning mine and BW’s).

To that, speaking for myself, I said I wasn’t really staking out a “position.”

And your reply is: “I guess if you go to Harvard you don’t need a foundation.”

And my reply to that is: I guess if you go to Columbia you become good at asking people questions they feel no particular need to answer (such as “is there a rational foundation for their [your] position”?).

More seriously, I infer that you thought I was saying that reason alone is sufficient to motivate fighting for the state. But actually, I wasn’t saying that, because I’m not sure whether it is. Kant was big on reason, so js.’ suggestion that Kant thought that reason was sufficient is no doubt correct (and js., as he’s mentioned in another thread, wrote his dissertation on Kant).

Anyway, the point is: I wasn’t making a claim; therefore I don’t need a ‘foundation’ and I don’t have to produce a list of Big Name Thinkers. The fact is that 18th and 19th and 20th cent. liberals spent a fair amount of time thinking about peace and its preconditions; probably less time thinking about what is required to motivate ‘the ultimate sacrifice’ etc. in time of war.

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Harold 03.25.14 at 9:19 pm

@ 284 Not me! Baden-Powell. I just wanted to point out that it wasn’t only the Germans who praised the bracing effects of war. It appears that Baden-Powell, who I guess was one of those who dreamed of a political order without politics, also at first welcomed Mussolini and as late as 1939 (presumably while in his dotage) admired aspects of Mein Kampf . Though the admiration was not returned. The Nazis considered scouting subversive, possibly because although hierarchical, it tried to inculcate the virtue of kindness as well as of self-reliance in the young, which is basically an enlightenment outlook.

As far as reason and love, although I am not myself theistically inclined, I do admire the great philosophers and theologians who throughout the ages maintained that these concepts are not necessarily in opposition.

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js. 03.25.14 at 9:25 pm

js., why would that be funny?

Oh, I guess I was just thinking that a lot of people seem to think of Kant as totally wacko (not that I do), so that his supporting a position might actually be taken to count against the position. Very happy to be wrong about this.

Re the “mere reason” bit (and without having read this thread super closely): I think I see why LFC would react in the way he did, and on occasion I might react the same way, but it’s actually central to the classical liberal tradition that mere reason is not sufficient to secure allegiance to the state, even if the state itself is a broadly liberal one. You see this in the “fraternité” part of the famous French slogan, which is supposed to signal a sort of affective connection or identification. Of course, what’s at issue here is not the relation between a citizen and the state, but I think it’s not irrelevant.

So also, there are parts in Leviathan where, e.g., Hobbes conceptualizes the state as an organic whole (most explicitly in chap. 24: “Of the Nutrition and Procreation of a Commonwealth”), and again I think at least part of what this sort of thing is supposed to do is allow for and encourage a kind of extra-rational identification with the state. You can really find this sort of thing all over the place if you look for it.

My point is just that elements of extra-rational—tho not of course anti-rational—identification with the state aren’t a threat to the liberal tradition; indeed the liberal tradition is happy to avail itself of such. I guess you could define the liberal tradition or the liberal state much more narrowly to avoid this result, but I suspect the definition would end up being question-begging if you really wanted to limit it to strictly rational appeals.

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LFC 03.25.14 at 10:01 pm

js.@291
helpful comment, and I take the points.

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geo 03.25.14 at 10:34 pm

js@292: As a doctrinaire Rortyite, I distrust all non-fuzzy distinctions. Can you give an example of a “strictly rational” appeal, and then an example of a strictly emotional one?

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bianca steele 03.25.14 at 11:51 pm

LFC:

I can’t tell if you’re offended or just acting snippy, and if the latter, I don’t want to look like I don’t have a sense of humor.

I apologize for having misread you and insulted you.

The Harvard thing was intended as a joke (obviously it’s only the professors at Harvard who are immune from having to defend their claims, or non-making of claims, or whatever they call it . . . as my five year old would say: Joke!).

And my reply to that is: I guess if you go to Columbia you become good at asking people questions they feel no particular need to answer (such as “is there a rational foundation for their [your] position”?).

I guess I’m not the only one that could describe.

More seriously, I infer that you thought I was saying that reason alone is sufficient to motivate fighting for the state.

Specifically, I thought you were saying that when C.K. MacLeod said a liberal conception of reason couldn’t motivate such things as fighting for the state, he showed an affinity for fascism. This seemed to imply that you believe there’s a conception of reason that can motivate the self-defense of the liberal state without importing extraneous, not necessarily liberal premises (maybe the same thing as what js. calls question-begging?). The idea that you only get the right kind of reason by rejecting liberalism seemed to be an important point to him, and he seems to think he has the better of you on it.

(As far as I’m concerned, Rorty’s response is fine, a historicist response—I believe it because my community believes it—is fine, responding that this is the way the political theorists I understand think about it is fine. But I’m sure any of the philosophy professors on the site could tear holes in any of those responses in about ten seconds. Someone like me or C.K. MacLeod could probably put on a good show of doing the same thing, or appearing to.)

I don’t think Kant is a feasible response, because if I remember correctly, way back near the beginning of the thread, it was pointed out that if your liberalism stems from Kant, you’ll run into the problems Schmitt identifies, but if your liberalism doesn’t stem from Kant, you won’t necessarily run into the same problems. Arguing that Kantian liberalism leads to Schmitt says very little about non-Kantian liberalism. (js., I think, suggested this point already, too.)

And I don’t know enough about Kant to know whether I agree with him, or, say, with Hegel. (I’m assuming we’re talking about whole-hog Kant here, transcendental critiques and all.) It occurs to me that I could say I agree with Kant because he was basically a liberal and Hegel evidently wasn’t, and at least I’d be on the correct side even if I didn’t understand everything I was affirming. But that doesn’t satisfy me. And I don’t actually have a good reason to do so, and that is understating the situation quite a bit.

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LFC 03.26.14 at 1:11 am

Bianca:
I wasn’t offended, so no apology is necessary. I took your remark as a barbed joke, and I attempted to reply in kind. So if that’s what you mean by ‘acting snippy,’ yes, that’s what I was doing.

Turning to the substance: I’ve been less than clear, which is my fault. What follows is more or less thinking aloud, but I have to do that b.c I haven’t thought about this question all that much. Actually, there seem to be two questions here.

(1) What has actually motivated people to fight for ‘the liberal state’? An ‘easy’ case to discuss would be WW2, b.c in that conflict, (imperfectly) liberal states were in a fight to the finish with illiberal ones. The answer, I would assume, is that different motives, from the pedestrian to the idealistic, moved different people to volunteer or respond to a draft call, and probably a mix of motives operated even in the case of a single person. Of those soldiers who saw combat (a minority of the total enlistees), what motivated them during combat was primarily loyalty to and concern for their immediate colleagues, but the question here is what motivated people to enlist in the first place, and the answers to that question are almost certainly, I wd think, messier and more ambiguous. Moreover, I’m not sure (per geo, above) that one can neatly separate ‘strictly rational’ appeals or motives from purely emotional ones. Clearly, all the belligerent countries engaged in propaganda and appeals to the emotions (that’s what patriotic ritual and stirring oratory is all about), but in the case of the fascist regimes, such appeals were sharper, more insistent, and more extreme (for lack of a better word).

(2) The second question is: what does ‘the liberal tradition’ of political thought say about whether reason is enough to motivate loyalty or allegiance to the state, and on this I think js. is probably correct when he says that liberal theorists, on the whole, saw reason alone as not being enough. I say “on the whole” because I would assume (caveat: I’m not a historian of political thought) that Kant or maybe, say, Paine or Jefferson would lean more to the reason side, whereas, say, Tocqueville, who talks about “the martial spirit” in Democracy in America, would lean more to the emotion side. (Just to name a few names.) But with those shadings or qualifications, I would think js., who I’m quite sure is better read in the canon of political thought (or political theory) than I am, is basically right.

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Harold 03.26.14 at 2:13 am

Liberté, égalité, fraternité. The conceptions of freedom, equality, and fraternity were originally linked by François Fénelon, Archbishop of Cambrai, at the end of the 17th century. Fénelon was the author of Les aventures de Télémache, the runaway all-time best seller of the 18th c. and a favorite book of Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, and many others. As such, fraternity is definitely a Christian concept, or at least a Christian derived concept, even though, characteristically Fénelon chose a pagan setting for his work. He wrote the book with the idea of educating the heir to the French throne, to whom he wished to impart his many ideas about politics, including: parliamentary government, a belief in a federated Europe and a world order, abhorrence of war, the importance of free trade, the place of the arts, the need for sumptuary laws, and so on, all of which were a reproach to Louis XIV, who got the message. Fénelon was imprisoned — or put under house arrest , but no matter. I believe his ideas were further secularized in the 18th c. through various philanthropic organizations such as the Masons. Fénelon famously said, “I love my family more than myself; more than my family my fatherland; more than my fatherland humankind”. Whatever the case, I am sure the slogan fratérnité of the French army had little to do with “gens” or racial feeling.

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mattski 03.26.14 at 2:31 am

As far as reason and love, although I am not myself theistically inclined, I do admire the great philosophers and theologians who throughout the ages maintained that these concepts are not necessarily in opposition.

Reason seems to be in opposition to desire, in as far as reason refers to impassive observation of what is. Desire (and aversion) are cravings, or impulses to action towards objects or states of affairs in the world. But “love” is a tricky word with many uses. It sometimes has a strong connotation of desire. But the man who said, basically, “love is attention,” really hit it deep I think.

So at a fundamental level reason = observation which is attention, which is love. If we carry this over to our personal relationships it makes more than quite a bit of sense.

As I sit across the table from my lover, do I listen? Do I pay attention?

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js. 03.26.14 at 3:23 am

Can you give an example of a “strictly rational” appeal, and then an example of a strictly emotional one?

Umm… I’m a little hesitant to respond, because I think you’re doing sort of a faux-naïve thing there, but be that as it may, I was a bit unclear.

By “strictly rational appeal”, I meant an appeal strictly to reason. As an example, take Hume, who’s been mentioned before on this thread. On one plausible reading, Hume’s account of the state—or of one’s allegiance to it—is based on an expansion of sympathy guided by enlightened self-interest. Leave aside whether this is the right interpretation. (Also leave aside how ridiculously sketchy it is.) The point is that the “enlightened self-interest” bit is the rational bit, the appeal to reason, say. Whereas the expansion of sympathy is the affective element, and at least for Hume it’s really doing most of the work.

My point is simply that it’s quite characteristic of the classical liberal tradition to appeal to a combination of rational and affective elements in accounting for citizens’ allegiance to the state—indeed in accounting for the normative basis of this allegiance. So the “strictly rational” appeal is practically the null case. (Kant’s is actually a weird case I’d hate to get into.) But you can of course analytically separate the rational and affective elements in a given account, so it’s hardly nonsense to talk about the appeal, or the part of it, solely to reason.

And yet… I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t already know, so I still wonder about your question.

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js. 03.26.14 at 3:31 am

Whatever the case, I am sure the slogan fratérnité of the French army had little to do with “gens” or racial feeling.

Yikes! Where’d you get “racial feeling” from what I said? I’m just talking about the affective (emotion-based or whatever) component in the liberal tradition of citizen-state relations, or rather in the conceptualization of this relation within the liberal tradition. And part of the whole point of this tradition is that ‘fellow-feeling’, say, need not be tied to any “given” or “natural” categories. This is basically how you get civic republicanism (which I guess I’m treating as part of liberalism broadly construed–others may disagree).

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Harold 03.26.14 at 3:59 am

Racial feeling — I now realize should have said “tribal” not racial. I didn’t mean to suggest “racist” — in the modern sense. So “racial” was probably a wrong word to use. I was thinking of German — which is the same word as “hermano” — brother, i.e., from the same parents. So I always thought, perhaps I am wrong. But I do think the concept of “nationalism” is associated with the Germans and often implies the opposite of 18th c. universalism, at least to the modern mind.

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geo 03.26.14 at 4:12 am

The (American Heritage) dictionary definition of “rational” boils down to “based on logic”; the definition of “emotional” boils down to “based on feeling.” Does this offer sufficient grounds for characterizing an appeal or motive as either rational or emotional or not both? Let’s see.

Rather than offer an example, you simply reformulate the distinction: rational refers to “enlightened self-interest,” emotional or affective to “sympathy.” Does this simply mean “self-regarding” vs. “other-regarding,” so that to benefit oneself is a rational motive, while to benefit another is an emotional one? Suppose one plays music to some friends. Is the desire for one’s own enjoyment of the music rational and the desire for the others’ enjoyment emotional? Suppose one wants to impress these friends, or be liked by them, or introduce them to a new source of pleasure. Is one or all or none of these motives a case of enlightened self-interest? Suppose one gives up a place in a lifeboat, or simply a seat on the subway, to an older person or a child or pregnant woman because one thinks it’s the right thing to do, or because c0nvention dictates. Is the former decision rational and the latter emotional? In any (every) case, why? Why is acting from principle rational but not emotional — why adopt one principle rather than another, or follow principles at all, except that to do so makes it easier to live with oneself?

It’s true that Hume said that reason is and ought always to be the slave of the emotions. But I suspect that two and a half centuries later, after Freud, Nietzsche, James, Lawrence, Wittgenstein, and Rorty, he’d cheerfully acknowledge that that formulation was simply the best he could come up with at the time, given the linguistic and conceptual resources available, and that any attempt to render the distinction between reason and emotion precise or absolute was simply another metaphysical will-o’-the-wisp.

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js. 03.26.14 at 4:38 am

Oh no! The bit about Hume isn’t supposed to explain what “rational” and “affective” mean—it’s just an example of how the elements are supposed to work together in one account; they work together in other ways in other accounts.

I’m not really sure what point you’re trying to make here. That we can’t make any distinction between reason and the passions/emotions/affective states? That seems a bit throwing out the baby, etc. to me. Because we can surely acknowledge that they work together while analytically separating the contributions they make. I mean, why not?

Anyway, it’s certainly not the case that “reason” is always self-regarding or that affect is always other-regarding; obviously there can be selfish desires and rational motivations that are other-regarding. It’s just that it may be useful to draw a distinction between the “calculative” (the root idea of ‘reason’, as in ‘racionate’, etc.) and the “sentimental” (‘sentiment’ from what one ‘senses’, etc.) parts of our make up.

On the other hand, philosophy is maybe useless (as you’ve suggested), and I’ve wasted a decade and more and you’re wasting several minutes?

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john c. halasz 03.26.14 at 4:38 am

It was “slave of the passions”, geo, not “emotions”. Yes, historical vocabularies change, but “passion” is traditionally equated with patient rather than agent, i.e. something undergone and even suffered, rather than something actively pursued, but not something that has to do with self-satisfaction. And leaving aside that solecism identifying “reason” solely with logic, it’s not clear that its “demands” were traditionally to be identified with self-interest, “enlightened” or otherwise, or that “principles” should be adopted on such a basis. (One of the more astute comments from Luhmann is that the severe rigorism of Kant’s moral philosophy, whereby actions could only stem from entirely disinterested maxims, and any motivational basis was already “pathological”, was actually a sociological symptom of the crisis in “morality” as a medium of social integration. Of course, Kantian moral philosophy is already second-order, applying to an implicit de-moralization first-order actions, and his political thought was thoroughly utilitarian).

O.K. Carry on…

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js. 03.26.14 at 5:41 am

Kant’s moral philosophy, whereby actions could only stem from entirely disinterested maxims, and any motivational basis was already “pathological”

Kant never actually says anything like that, actually. And since you love this word so much, that use of ‘pathological’ is, like, a solecism.

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geo 03.26.14 at 6:06 am

jch: It was “slave of the passions”, geo, not “emotions”

The famous quote is from the Treatise of Human Nature. Throughout that work, Hume uses “passion” and “emotion” interchangeably. Viz: Book I, Part I, section 1: “under this name ["impressions"] I comprehend all our sensations, passions, and emotions”; I, I, 3: “Our internal impressions are our passions, emotions, desires, and aversions”; II, I: “Of the first kind are all the impressions and all the bodily pains and pleasures; of the passions and other emotions resembling them”; ibid. “the passions of love and hatred, grief and joy, pride and humility”; ibid: “under the indirect passions I comprehend pride, humility, ambition, vanity, love, hatred, envy, pity, malice, generosity, with their dependents; and under the direct passions, desire, aversion, grief, joy, hope, fear, despair, and security”; ibid: “I shall now explain those violent emotions or passions, their nature, origin, causes, and effects.”

From these and countless other passages, including the immediate context of the “slave of the passions” quote (Book II, Section III, part 3), it is crystal clear that Hume uses “passions” and “emotions” interchangeably throughout the Treatise, and that your correction was entirely gratuitous and without point.

As for your observation that “leaving aside that solecism identifying “reason” solely with logic, it’s not clear that its “demands” were traditionally to be identified with self-interest, “enlightened” or otherwise,” I presume it’s directed toward js, since the identification of “rational” with “enlightened self-interest” was his. I dissented from his attempt to distinguish sharply between the rational and the affective, but at least I understood (I think) what he was on about, for which — given the quantity of sheer fustian emitted in the course of this thread — I’m grateful.

Yes, historical vocabularies change, but “passion” is traditionally equated with patient rather than agent, i.e. something undergone and even suffered, rather than something actively pursued, but not something that has to do with self-satisfaction.

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geo 03.26.14 at 6:08 am

Sorry, please ignore that last paragraph (“Yes, historical vocabularies … “), accidentally pasted from jch@303.

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LFC 03.26.14 at 12:22 pm

1) p.s. to my 295 re WW2: the USSR was not a liberal democracy of course, and I wouldn’t want to give the impression I’d glossed over its crucial role in the war (so pls adjust accordingly).

2) @jch 303: Kant’s political thought is “thoroughly utilitarian”? It’s been a while since I’ve read Perpetual Peace or any other of the political writings, but that strikes me as a bizarre remark.

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LFC 03.26.14 at 1:01 pm

From the standpoint of intellectual history, a distinction between (or among) ‘reason,’ ‘passion,’ and ‘interest’ can be very illuminating, as Hirschman shows in The Passions and the Interests. He argues that ‘interest’ was a third term, so to speak, one that was “wedg[ed]…in between the two traditional categories of human motivation,” namely passion and reason. “Interest was seen to partake in effect of the better nature of each, as the passion of self-love upgraded and contained by reason, and as reason given direction and force by that passion. The resulting hybrid form of human action was considered exempt from both the destructiveness of passion and the ineffectuality of reason.” (pp.43-44)

Hirschman also points out that the notion of ‘interest’ arose first in connection with states and rulers (he notes, following Meinecke, that ‘interest’ and ‘reason of state’ were “initially synonymous terms,” p.33) before being applied to individuals. ‘Interest’ as it came into wide use in the late 16th cent. “denoted an element of reflection and calculation with respect to the manner” in which a person’s goals or aspirations, material and other, “were to be pursued.” (p.32)

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LFC 03.26.14 at 1:21 pm

mattski @297:
v. Murdochian, I think (as in Iris, not Rupert)

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Corey Robin 03.26.14 at 3:11 pm

geo: There you go again, quoting from the text. How pedestrian and jejune. Next thing you know you’ll be bolding certain passages.

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William Timberman 03.26.14 at 4:24 pm

It seems to me that the indeterminacy at the core of our behavior as individuals is a lot more radical than most of us can bring ourselves to believe. If we could actually find some transcendental promontory from which to view it, I suspect we’d find a derivative indeterminacy at the core of our collective behavior. If so, distrusting all non-fuzzy distinctions isn’t a bad way to go. At least it’s honest about our limitations, and reasonably modest about what we’re trying to achieve. If it leaves us no more than a wary self-mediation as consolation for our efforts, so be it. We could do a lot worse.

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mattski 03.26.14 at 4:24 pm

Iris Murdoch?

Is it really necessary to expose my illiteracy?

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CK MacLeod 03.26.14 at 5:44 pm

This discussion appears to be operating on misleading characterizations of both Hume and Schmitt. Neither was arguing against reason, which would be a self-contradictory position for a philosopher or theorist of any type to take.

There’s a discussion possible even on this point, but I’m going to set it aside. Though Hume has some very interesting things to say about the limits of reason or type of reasoning, much of the Treatise of Human Nature is devoted to explaining just how entirely reasonable many seemingly non-rational or never-rationalized sentiments are, and how, further, it’s no insult to faith, love, morality, honor, experiences of beauty, etc., to demonstrate that they can be explained by the purposes they serve and the sometimes relatively complex interest calculations embedded in seemingly spontaneous reactions. I brought Hume up originally in relation to the argument on anarchism. On the origins of government, quite typically, Hume argues for the in fact thoroughly rational basis of laws, customs, conventions of authority, and so on, and furthermore for the higher rationality of abiding by them unthinkingly in most cases: We can’t expect people to write a dissertation on traffic patterns every time they approach a stop sign. It goes better if they just stop because that’s what you do at a stop sign: It’s rational and socially useful conduct, but not actively reasoned conduct. The alternative of debating every stop sign “rationally” is what would be irrational.

Schmitt wasn’t a dadaist or surrealist or crypto-deconstructionist or nihilist or primitivist, even though there may be interesting points of contact between his approach and diverse radicalisms – for instance, as JCH mentioned earlier, between his critique and Lukacs critique of “bourgeois science,” what many today call “scientism.” He was arguing against ideological rationalism of a certain type, not against rationality per se, or for the higher rationality of an approach to law and politics that admitted what, from the “astonishingly systematic” liberal perspective of his time, was treated as irrational because non-rationalizable from that perspective, for instance in terms of the Weimar constitution or the possibilities of any written constitution.

I’m not suggesting that the philosophical or even anthropological questions are irrelevant, just that examining them usefully in this context requires careful and somewhat rigorous attention to terms and underlying assumptions, even if it sometimes forces us to write more, and more complicatedly, in order to say usefully less.

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john c. halasz 03.26.14 at 7:05 pm

geo @305:

I’ll stand corrected on the textual warrants. But the oft-quoted catch-phrase is “reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions”, and the rhetorical emphasis there is on “slave”. Hence my remark that “passion” traditionally implies something undergone, a patience, in contrast to its post-Romantic elevation in modern usage.

(I didn’t bring Hume into the discussion; MacLeod did, and I’m not sure why. I never read much of him and that was years ago, as required reading. And frankly, I’ve never understood why Hume, though canonical, is considered a great philosopher, as oppose to just a rather elegant writer. IMO Kant’s riposte to Hume was definitive and I remain on that side of the divide. But as to the issue of what “reason” is and what are its limits, that a perennial bone of philosophical contention, even nowadays, but it’s usually considered to involve something supra-personal. “objective”, not reducible to a mere subjective utility, even if one rejects the Kantian hyperbole of its utterly disinterested impartiality. And, of course, reasons and causes, and the issue of whether one acts on the basis of reasons or unreflective “irrational” passions, and the sources and justifications of the bindingness of norms are all part of the tangled contention over “reason”).

But it seems to me, that you are still evading or failing to grasp the issue here. Which has to do with a certain priority of the collective over the individual, call it “interpellation” or what you will, and that the issue of political authority and its attendant problems or complications of obligation, obedience, legitimation, limitation, etc. operate beyond, “transcendent” to, the individual, understood as an autonomous ego or whatnot, and its alleged “freedom”, however that is to be construed. (And BTW violence or coercion is not of itself any sufficient answer to those questions). That is not just a problem for a “liberal” polity, conceived as a community of individuals bound together by a system of rights, but applies generally. However, it is especially a problem for “liberalism”, insofar as it attempts to derive political “authority” from an entirely reasonable and peaceful basis from the “rights and liberties” of individuals. (I will refrain from the fairly standard critique of liberalism as just bourgeois-capitalist ideology here). And therefore (sic) must obfuscate or deny its own violences and repressions, substituting moralizing for political judgment.

That people have emotional attachments to their (political) communities, bonds of loyalty and the like, is not any sort of answer to the questions at issue, because those questions are not “psychological” ones, and, once again, you would be attempting to substitute a causal explanation where an explication of meaningful understanding is called for. (Psychologizing just spins endlessly in its own circle). Fuzzying up distinctions won’t help here, and if you complain about “fustian”, “clear prose” doesn’t eliminate (self-)obfuscation.

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Corey Robin 03.26.14 at 7:28 pm

Christ, this thread is already such a clusterfuck of Causabon-ry — that perfect mixture of the priest and pedant — that I hate to weigh in. But these blithe and uninformed statements about liberalism are driving me crazy. To wit this: “However, it is especially a problem for ‘liberalism’, insofar as it attempts to derive political ‘authority’ from an entirely reasonable and peaceful basis from the ‘rights and liberties’ of individuals.”

Who exactly is this liberal that believes this?

Hobbes? First, he was no liberal. Second, “entirely reasonable and peaceful basis” doesn’t begin to describe either the state of nature or the contract by which the commonwealth is formed. Third, what he meant by natural right is not at all what I suspect most people in this thread understand by rights and liberties of individuals.

Locke? This Locke by way of a Cliff Notes reading of Leo Strauss. Locke thought the basis of our natural rights lay in the fact that we all belonged to God, that we were God’s workmanship. This notion of a rationalist liberalism that doesn’t issues of faith has a really hard time coming to terms with Locke who thought that all rights came from God and that they were naturally circumscribed by a set of duties not only to preserve oneself — not because we are self-interested but because we are all the workmanship of God — but to preserve all of mankind. Again, all grounded in God.

Montesquieu? Kind of one of the foundational thinkers of the liberal tradition. AFter the Bible, he was the most cited authority among the Framers of the Constitution. Read the opening passages of The Spirit of the Laws: a total rejection of the social contract idea. Thinks it’s all bullshit. And kind of the emblematic thinker of the Enlightenment. By no means a rationalist as you people use the term. Very much aware of all sorts of bases for authority and legitimacy that have nothing to do with reason. In fact, of his various types of regime, if memory serves, none of them are grounded in reason at all: it’s fear, honor, and virtue.

Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment: as some people have pointed out (and I’ll leave open the question whether Smith was a liberal; on some interpretations he is), not really much emphasis on reason as the foundation of social order; sympathy much more important.

Tocqueville: another pretty damn important liberal theorist. None of these cliches about liberalism apply to him.

Constant and the entire French liberal tradition: again, very little in there on the role of pure reason.

And what about the New Liberals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century? Bosanquet, T.H. Green, and so on. Incredibly important, Hegelians for the most part, who completely reject the notion that the individual is prior to society. Dewey writes in the same vein.

And there’s a whole vein of post-Rawlsian liberalism — it’s called negative or political liberalism in political theory — that rejects all this stuff that somehow a liberal order is founded on pure reason. Judith Shklar’s a good place to start.

There’s so much free-floating speculation around here, completely un-moored from any textual evidence, or awareness of the diversity of the liberal tradition. It’s like you’ve read, I don’t know, the Frankfurt School, and you think you know what the Enlightenment is because of it. Or you read Strauss so you know what Locke said. Or Schmitt so you know Hobbes. (I’ve had students tell me they know Hobbes b/c of Foucault.)

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LFC 03.26.14 at 8:06 pm

jch:
Hence my remark that “passion” traditionally implies something undergone, a patience, in contrast to its post-Romantic elevation in modern usage.

That’s certainly not the impression one gets from reading Hirschman. I’m aware, more or less, of the Christian use of “passion,” which seems to be at least partly what you’re referring to, but I would think it had the other meanings (i.e., more active; not a ‘patience,’ but a driving force) from quite early on.

C.R.:
There’s so much free-floating speculation around here, completely un-moored from any textual evidence, or awareness of the diversity of the liberal tradition.

This can be maddening, but some (not all) of it just may come w/ the territory of a blog comment thread. Might note that political realism is also a diverse tradition in various ways, but one would not know that from the way it often tends to be discussed online (and offline, for that matter).

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LFC 03.26.14 at 8:11 pm

mattski:
Take the comment as a compliment. That was its intent.

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Ben 03.26.14 at 8:21 pm

I had someone tell me once they knew Hegel b/c they read Zizek

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GiT 03.26.14 at 8:55 pm

At least Zizek has a whole tome on Hegel. Does Foucault even spend any time on Hobbes other than a few mentions in his lectures?

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LFC 03.26.14 at 10:08 pm

That the reason/passion issue wasn’t easy to untangle can be seen, for example, in Rousseau’s Second Discourse, where he writes that knowledge and passion have a symbiotic relationship:

…human understanding owes much to the passions, which…also owe much to the understanding. By the activity of the passions, our reason is perfected; we seek knowledge only because we desire enjoyment, and it is impossible to conceive why a person who has neither desires nor fears would take the trouble to reason. The passions, in their turn, … owe their progress to our knowledge….

But then a bit later he sounds a more negative note about reason and “philosophy,” which foster “self-love” and an attendant distancing from others’ misfortunes, allowing one “to say privately, at the sight of a suffering man: ‘Perish if you will, I am safe.’”

(Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, in Ritter & Bondanella, Rousseau’s Political Writings, pp.19, 29)

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mattski 03.26.14 at 10:18 pm

LFC, I was joking. (But equally frustrated that I didn’t understand the reference!)

:^)

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john c. halasz 03.27.14 at 2:43 am

CR @ 315:

Ooow. A fine outburst of professorial pique and vanity. (Where do you “moor” your speculations? At the Basin Harbor Club? Because”textual evidence”, without interpretive acumen, is just vulgar “empiricism”). But the offending word I used was “reasonable”, not rational. And it was a “reasonable” synoptic comment, not the summation of everything, (in reply to geo). And as to “Causabon-ry”, is anyone here proposing , “the key to all mythologies”, by the mistress of all sympathies. (And I thought I was making a stretch with “Father Ferapont”).

So no one can have read everything and everyone must rely on some synoptic accounts. I don’t claim anything different, (and I am not a professionally paid reader). “Liberalism”, like “Enlightenment”, interacted with historically emergent events, (often quite twisted and violent), and has been constituted retrospectively as a “tradition”. Who knew? (That’s a hermeneutic expectation). Though that’s scarcely the only such re-constituted “tradition”. So do you want to go through your list? Hobbes, who was not so much ‘advanced” 17th century materialist, as much as an inheritor of a disintegrating form of Scholastic nominalism, was nonetheless very much a precursor of economistic thinking, and, of course, he satisfied neither side of the impending civil war, precisely because he offered a contractualist account of absolutist sovereignty. Of course, Locke expressed himself in “theological” terms: atheism didn’t even become thinkable until the later part of the 18th century, (despite the slanders against Spinoza). Montesquieu was an aristocratic champion of the provincial “parlements”; how did that work out? Hume and Smith belong to the 18th century British ethical problematic of the “theory of the moral sentiments”. But Smith disagreed with his mentor and offered a kind of attenuated “honor” ethics instead: people are motivated by their desire to attain the esteem of others, which would give rise to “sympathy”, as well as, “trucking and bartering”, (though both worked under the suspicion of “atheism”). De Toqueville was an heir to the Ancien Regime aristocracy and was somewhat pessimistically resigned to the coming “democratic” order. It wasn’t him, but one of his ilk who argued, in the post-1848 situation, that “Don’t you see, the extension of the franchise is precisely our means of maintaining control”, before tragedy descended into farce. As to the Oxford Idealists, it’s better to read the original than the Victorian imported version, motivated by an anxiety about declining “religion”. (But then you, fairly ethno-centrically, omit the original and any non-Anglo-phone or cognate Franco-phone “traditions”). Judith Sklar hawked the “liberalism of fear”: oh, noes, back to Hobbes and how did that work out?

Schmitt claimed that basic political concepts/questions were *secularizations* of theological ones. That is not the same as promulgating “myths”. What’s more, if you’d bothered to read Karl Loewith’s neat little monograph of the philosophy of history, the entire Western conception of history, as futurally oriented with a “progressive” outcome, could be considered a *secularization* of Christian eschatology. Indeed, even the most anti-Hegelian of “progressives” implicitly partake of the prospect he enunciated, that “History” is the process of the increasingly rational and free realization of “humanity”. (Which is why Foucault announced his project as to evade or escape from Hegel). But that’s what’s severely in doubt nowadays, though not because of any abstract philosophical “skepticism”, least of all of jejune Humean vintage. But then Schmitt’s “political theology”, however exacerbated, wasn’t really new: it was a reiteration of a very ancient theme, as he probably knew, usually called “civic religion”.

Yes, I’ve read the Frankfurt School,- (have you?),- and I’ve also read Hegel, so I “know” where the title of that book comes from, in the PhG, the “dialectic of enlightenment”, in which the contradiction emerges that reason is itself another kind of faith. Appropriate here. I’ve also read much else, though my brain absorbs it without footnotes. (Perhaps, Google or some other tech giant could develop a facility to vacuum footnotes from our brains). If you want to bully me in Holbo style, (because I espouse a “theory” of argument based on “paralogism” rather than “proof”, in which arguments, in order to be convincing or persuasive, must draw together disparate sorts of reasons into effective patterns of inferences, without “prior” foundations, which proves me quite low-minded and louche, in contrast to the august professorial dignity and rigor of museum curators), go on right ahead. I won’t be hurt, (though I might reserve my best spit-ball weapon, the dreaded accusation of bad faith). I just prefer to look out on the actual world, rather than relying on academic “normative” deductions.

But what’s really disturbing about your comment, is the expressed disdain for your students, who might not be inclined to feed at the professorial trough. You really should be grateful, if your “charges” are at least half so functionally literate and numerate, as to express “wrong” or “misguided” ideas. And might have read some things that are on your “Papal” list of proscribed reading.

LFC:

I was thinking of Aristotle, more than of any Christian associations, with respect to the historical senses of “passion”. (I’m influenced by long ago reading of Kenneth Burke on the changes in historical semantics. For example, “phantasia”, imagination, was anciently regarded as a common but rather low “faculty”. and only gradually ascended to it’s modern post_romantic exaltation).

As for Kant, maybe “Perpetual Peace” , resuming an Augustinian theme, belongs to his ethico-religious thinking. But his basic thinking assumes that the “phenomenal” world is entirely subject to a Newtonian type determinism, and thus is thoroughly “disenchanted”, to which his moral philosophy is super-added, hence the “second order” remark. His domestic political thinking occurs in minor writings, which I’ve never read, and have only heard of second-hand.

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Corey Robin 03.27.14 at 3:19 am

Shorter john c. halasz: Let me see if I can distract people with a bunch of irrelevant wikis that in no way counter the claims that have been lodged against me about my dubious statements about liberalism. And if that doesn’t work, let me give them whiplash as they try to figure out how they can be, simultaneously, “vulgar ‘empiricists’” AND devotees of “academic ‘normative’ deduction” who ignore “the actual world.”

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john c. halasz 03.27.14 at 4:08 am

Nice try, CR. (My giant spit ball sling-shot at the ready). I’ve never liked doing “customer service” type jobs, in scraping by. I’ve always preferred straight-forward jobs, like stocking the shelves, rather than manning the cash-registers. Obviously, I was never in so entitled a position as to “teach” anything. But, no doubt, you’re doing a great job of customer service while managing the cash-register.

But you’ve accused me of ignorance and “distraction” and of a failure to provide any sort of reasons, and some obscure sort of partisanship, etc. I’d rather let the vulgar rabble decide than your personal narcissism. Let them be my judge, jury and executioner.

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Bruce Wilder 03.27.14 at 5:10 pm

Corey Robin @ 315

I don’t know that getting liberalism, in its many guises and precursors, wrong, was a particular problem in this thread. It’s authority, which is not getting its due. Liberalism is a label we use for a set of political convictions that question the need for and usefulness of authority, often by supplying a rationalization for authority, which undermines or subtly subverts the authority of authority, so to speak. Exactly how feelings (an individual’s appetites, emotions, passions, whatever) work with, for and against “reason” in these various liberal rationalizations and critiques (do we suppose a state of nature? a social contract? a natural propensity in the individual to sympathy? utilitarian calculation?) is less important when confronting Schmitt, than whether liberals get authority, right — in particular, whether liberals get the relation of authority to feelings, right. That’s the challenge here: the relation of authority to feelings (and, through feelings, social identification and coordination).

If authority can ask for the sacrifice of life, and get it, more or less voluntarily, that’s poses a bit of a challenge to the secular humanism of liberals, who seek the ground of the good in the feelings of the individual. Not because liberal rationalizations cannot find defenders for the liberal state, willing to risk life and limb, for their communities or relatives or friends, but because the act of authority, itself, can provoke the feelings.

The other side of authority, which is less dramatically bloodthirsty, is that authority works by breaking the incentive bound. Authority doesn’t care if, or to what degree, you feel like stopping at that stop sign. Authority wants you to stop, regardless of your feelings in the matter in the moment. Authority may be acting rationally, in the enlightened self-interest of the community, but the individual in being made to comply, is acting in his own enlightened self-interest, not from a consideration of the need to coordinate traffic, but by consideration of authority’s capacity to impose risks and penalties completely unrelated to the costs and risks of running a particular stop sign on a particular day and time.

The politics of how authority comes to be enforcing a system of rationalized traffic control, or anything else, which authority coordinates by seemingly arbitrary rules and penalties, which reason may be able understand after a fashion, can be a bit murky in liberal theories. I don’t propose to review how that problem is treated by liberal theorists, but it is the problem, which those repulsed by liberal politics and longing for authoritarian alternatives, often point to. Liberal politics, with its obsession with opposed rights, and habitual falling back on compromise, cannot break the incentive bound, and, therefore, cannot produce authority, legitimacy and order.

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Corey Robin 03.27.14 at 5:51 pm

Bruce: I get that, and I very much appreciate you intervention, which has the rare — as compared to some of the rest of this thread — virtue of being clear.

But I think that authority issue is not in fact a problem for liberalism. Liberalism has not had nearly as much difficulty as some here seem to think in generating and justifying authority.

The authority issue is a problem for — sorry, to say this, but it’s true — a certain kind of conservative thinker who is absolutely sure, no matter the evidence, that authority needs to be something that’s, oh, I don’t know, more than what it in fact often is.

That authority issue is a problem that was essentially invented by the Counter-Enlightenment, and you see versions of it over and over again, most recently in the neocon critiques of the liberal welfare state in the 60s (Kristol was quite interesting on this, and of course there’s Sam Huntington’s famous crisis of authority).

My reading of this tradition is that it reflects less an actual problem in the world of politics — liberal states seem to have zero difficulty in getting their citizens to sacrifice their lives for the state (or at least they have, on the whole, no more difficulty than do non-liberal states), and that’s because liberalism as theory and practice has almost never looked like the caricatured picture that has been presented here — than it does a longing of conservative theorists (and some of their starry-eyed readers on the left) for a more vital politics that is centered on self-sacrifice and self-liquidation. (If you want the original statement from this on the right, read Joseph de Maistre’s famous essay on sacrifice, which is often appended to his St. Petersburg Dialogues.)

In other words, far from being a sign of greater realism or more muscular reasoning on the right, it’s a sign of romantic longing. That often overlooks the evidence right before the romantics’ eyes.

Why I find this discussion frustrating is that rather than simply acknowledging that they want a politics that’s more vital and heroic and meaningful, and fessing up to all that means, a lot of people on this thread dress up what I think is essentially a combination of quasi-religious sentiments and schoolboy juvenalia as this oh-so-profound critique of a shallow thoughtless liberalism. A liberalism that somehow or another managed, despite its centuries-long hegemonic reign (that’s the other odd assumption in this thread), not to come up with a credible account of why it is that citizens obey the state.

I say this, I should add, not as a partisan of liberalism or even a critic of the right. But as someone who’s heard this kind of talk for decades and just wish some of its progenitors would take the time to engage with the tradition they so confidently dismiss. Or come clean as to what they’re on about.

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mattski 03.27.14 at 6:00 pm

Bruce, yikes. Conceptualizing run amok.

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William Timberman 03.27.14 at 6:34 pm

If you were to argue that some of us old geezers are unfairly attacking liberalism in its declining, even decadent years, and are doing so for personal, rather than theoretical reasons, you’d no doubt be right. Then again, it wasn’t Hitler who wanted to send my ass to Vietnam, or even Donald Rumsfeld. It was Robert S. McNamara and LBJ.

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. When we found out what that actually meant, not a few of us were, shall we say, dismayed. Since that nasty little epiphany, many of us have gone on to search the sacred texts more for contradictions than confirmations, true, but we’ve had our reasons.

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bob mcmanus 03.27.14 at 6:54 pm

Does CR mean I was a fascist or a libertarian for not wanting to go to Vietnam? Or are they the same?

Oh wait, liberalism can only be failed?

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CK MacLeod 03.27.14 at 8:02 pm

Not my blog, not my post, but continual attacks on the honesty, intelligence, sophistication, and intentions of mostly unnamed interlocutors is not very conducive to discussion.

I do agree with the blogger, however, about Bruce Wilder’s comment, but I am not sure that the former has read either this discussion or Schmitt very closely, or closely enough. When Schmitt goes so far as to deny that there is an authentically liberal politics, he is obviously and very emphatically not (absurdly) denying the existence of liberals or nominally liberal governments or liberal policies or a “diverse” liberal “tradition,” in which among other things what we’re calling the “authority” problem has been solved as a matter of practical politics (since you want text, here’s text; emphasis added):

Liberalism has changed all political conceptions in a peculiar and systematic fashion. Like any other significant human movement liberalism too, as a historical force, has failed to elude the political. Its neutralizations and depoliticalizations (of education, the economy, etc.) are, to be sure, of political significance. Liberals of all countries have engaged in politics just as other parties and have in the most different ways coalesced with nonliberal elements and ideas. There are national liberals, social liberals, free conservatives, liberal Catholics, and so on. In particular they have tied themselves to very illiberal, essentially political, and even democratic movements leading to the total state. But the question is whether a specific political idea can be derived from the pure and consequential concept of individualistic liberalism. This is to be denied.

The negation of the political, which is inherent in every consistent individualism, leads necessarily to a political practice of distrust toward all conceivable political forces and forms of state and government, but never produces on its own a positive theory of state, government, and politics. As a result, there exists a liberal policy in the form of a polemical antithesis against state, church, or other institutions which restrict individual freedom. There exists a liberal policy of trade, church, and education, but absolutely no liberal politics, only a liberal critique of politics. The systematic theory of liberalism concerns almost solely the internal struggle against the power of the state. For the purpose of protecting individual freedom and private property, liberalism provides a series of methods for hindering and controlling the state’s and government’s power. It makes of the state a compromise and of its institutions a ventilating system and, moreover, balances monarchy against democracy and vice versa. In critical times—particularly 1848—this led to such a contradictory position that all good observers, such as Lorenz von Stein, Karl Marx, Friedrich Julius Stahl, Donoso Cortés, despaired of trying to find here a political principle or an intellectually consistent idea.

(The Concept of the Political: Expanded Edition. Kindle Locations 1430-47 and following).

Schmitt is in other words strongly implying that conventional political language is somewhat misleading. In his view, the “liberal” acting politically is always acting on behalf of some other concept or content, perhaps unwittingly, always contradictorily, or, again, that liberal political action cannot derive a positive content from its own concept. The liberal or self-styled liberal can draw upon a so-called liberal history or history of nominally liberal policies, but, according to Schmitt (and not Schmitt only by any means) the authentically or self-consistently liberal posture is not a political, but rather an anti-political posture, and what the liberal will drawing on is not liberalism per se, but a history of necessary yet often unacknowledged, in some instances single-mindedly denied, compromises. Schmitt appeared to believe that the ills of his era, which would be the midpoint of a multi-generational European catastrophe, were in effect the concrete realization of the contradictions inherent in a governing philosophy always governing against itself, somewhat suggesting the near-absolute rule of unhappy consciousness, to increasingly unhappy real results.

Schmitt was, of course, particularly concerned with his own times, but the evidence supporting his depiction of a typically liberal or liberalist agony extends well beyond Weimar. It is, naturally, a prominent feature of American politics. The argument between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, repeated after ratification and periodically re-played throughout American history up to the present day, exemplifies the difficulties of maintaining any pure or philosophically self-consistent “individualistic liberalism,” an ideology that we might today identify as “libertarianism,” in the face of practical political exigencies.

It must also be added that you certainly don’t have to agree with Schmitt’s preferences in order to acknowledge the coherence and potentially the usefulness of his critique. Much more could also be said about the validity of Strauss’s carefully argued designation of Hobbes as the “founder of liberalism” – which is not the same thing as “calling Hobbes a liberal” (whatever that means) – and also about a representation of Locke that seems to depict him as a theocrat rather than as honored co-parent of the separation of church and state.

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Corey Robin 03.27.14 at 8:40 pm

“You certainly don’t have to agree with Schmitt’s preferences in order to acknowledge the coherence and potentially the usefulness of his critique.”

You don’t. You could decline to acknowledge its usefulness (I never questioned its coherence) on other grounds: namely, that his critique of liberalism rests upon a misapprehension of liberalism.

But my argument was less with Schmitt than with the rest of you, who as I’ve said don’t seem to know the liberal tradition all that well. You know this caricature called “liberalism,” which is a repository for everything you dislike about modernity, but not really liberalism in its variety.

“exemplifies the difficulties of maintaining any pure or philosophically self-consistent ‘individualistic liberalism,’ an ideology that we might today identify as ‘libertarianism,’ in the face of practical political exigencies.”

You’ve inadvertently hit the nail on the head: liberalism is not the same thing as libertarianism. When you talk about liberalism, you’re talking about some confabulation of Nozick and Rothbard. But liberalism is not a “pure or philosophically self-consistent ‘individualistic’” philosophy; it is a *political* theory that first and foremost is a critique of arbitrary, tyrannical, and cruel exercises of power of the sort that it originally associates with the rise of absolute monarchy, and that cares about the fate of the individual, absolutely, but that with a very few exceptions — Godwin comes to mind, and of course he’s the fountainhead of a completely different politics — understands all too well the institutional, sociological, and cultural prerequisites of the individuality it seeks to promote (read Kymlicka on Mill for a good treatment of this), and that is equally attuned the problems of authority and justification that you seem to think it’s completely deaf, dumb, and blind to.

“Much more could also be said about the validity of Strauss’s carefully argued designation of Hobbes as the ‘founder of liberalism’….”

Much has in fact been said. Strauss’s designation is not, in fact, all that carefully argued at all because he presumes, in part, that the preservation of “bare life” is the foundation of liberalism (which would come as news to Locke or Mill, two thinkers of unimpeachable liberal credentials) and also a notion of the individual as a separate rational and self-interested ego (which is not, to be charitable, the only or the best reading of Hobbes’s account; Strauss is much better on Hobbes in his first book than he is in his exchange with Schmitt or in Natural Right and History) is part of the essence of liberalism. For starters, you have too many theorists in the liberal tradition who completely reject that sociology of the self. In order to say Hobbes is the founder of liberalism, as Strauss wants to do, you have to read out these other theorists. And second, you have to overlook the uncomfortable fact that a defense of absolute state sovereignty — unconstrained by any enforceable rule of law, whose only limit is ultimately subject to the interpretation of the sovereign itself (with the single exception of the right of the individual to resist his certain death or capture at the hands of the sovereign) — finds almost no corollary in the subsequent development of the liberal tradition.

“…also about a representation of Locke that seems to depict him as a theocrat rather than as honored co-parent of the separation of church and state.”

Here’s where too much Strauss (even too little) is really a problem. Read Locke on toleration. Read Locke on natural rights and duties. It’s really hard — unless you’re Strauss — to pretend that the underpinning of his argument is not theological (there’s a reason he doesn’t think you should tolerate atheists, and it’s not consequentialist; it’s that he can’t conceive of a structure of rights and corresponding duties without some grounding or foundation in God, a point I would think you, with your Schmittian sympathies, would actually be quite receptive to). If you think that makes a theorist a theocrat, you’ve got the little problem that one part of the foundations of the idea of religious toleration was laid by religious thinkers. Read Martha Nussbaum on Roger Williams to get a sense of how inextricable a particular idea of God is to the idea of religious toleration. Or Locke himself.

But what I’d really like to say to you is that, as geo pointed out above, you have a tendency to assume that somehow your imagined antagonists — “liberalism” — have not really thought through the problems you think only you and your favored thinkers have thought through. The fact is that that’s not true. My only plea is that rather than conjuring a straw man against whom you can confabulate your various theories, try actually engaging with those theorists. Don’t read them through Strauss or Schmitt, but read them directly. They’re far more interesting and surprising than your conversation will allow.

Unless of course your conversation is about something else. In which case, carry on.

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LFC 03.27.14 at 10:50 pm

@W. Timberman and b. mcmanus:
While there are doubtless some connections that can be drawn between ‘the liberal tradition’ and the way in which the U.S. approached ‘the developing world’ (see e.g. R. Packenham, Liberal America and the Third World, 1973), there is hardly a direct line from, say, Locke or Mill to the Johnson administration’s Vietnam decisions of 1965. I would assume that, for ex., George Ball, who opposed the ’65 escalation decisions, was just as much a liberal as Robert McNamara, who backed those decisions.

In other words, the Vietnam War can’t be blamed on liberalism as it’s being discussed in this thread. You could connect the Vietnam War to a particular strain of ‘Cold War liberalism,’ but that was rooted in a particular time and set of historical circumstances. Liberals (self-identified or otherwise) have rarely, if ever, spoken with a single voice on foreign policy.

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Anarcissie 03.27.14 at 11:54 pm

LFC 03.27.14 at 10:50 pm @ 332:
‘… In other words, the Vietnam War can’t be blamed on liberalism as it’s being discussed in this thread. …’

Well, capitalism. Did anyone come to a conclusion about capitalism and liberalism? One and the same? Twins? Entirely different?

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Corey Robin 03.28.14 at 12:11 am

“Did anyone come to a conclusion about capitalism and liberalism? One and the same? Twins? Entirely different?”

Definitely related, in many instances very closely, but not reducible to each other.

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Harold 03.28.14 at 12:36 am

I always thought the Vietnam war could be blamed on Cardinal Spellman (not a liberal).

As for Locke’s ideas being based on theology, that seems to me fairly trivial. St. Thomas Aquinas has been called a liberal by some, because he hinted that power derived from the consent of the governed. Other theologians were more forthright and flatly stated that the church councils had the power to depose the pope.

All the enlightenment ideas are in some sense based on theology (or humanism, which is the same thing, since it too is based on theology).

I think CR brings out the pedantry in people because his tone sometimes seems a a bit cavalier. For example, Mr. Causabon was not mocked for his erudition. He was mocked because he didn’t know German, and the language in which in his day real scholarship was being written. George Eliot (who did know German) thus made him a stand-in for the typical English academic of his day.

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William Timberman 03.28.14 at 12:42 am

LFC @ 332

Do I need to say that I don’t blame Locke for Vietnam? I wouldn’t have thought so, but if so, consider it said.

There is, however, a kink in the liberal tradition, however liberally defined. It arises in part, I think, from the rules of engagement thought necessary to grapple effectively with the truisms of the time, and partly from exactly what has been the subject of much of the discussion here, the legitimation of authority. I disagree with Corey in this respect: I do think that authority has to be legitimated somehow by the institutions said to embody it. The people in its role as sovereign may not be a great beast, but it’s as vulnerable as any other authority to the perversions and usurpations which can turn good into evil in the instant that it appears convenient to do so. In such hells as these, Orwell might be a better guide than Locke.

That we’ve suffered from such perversions and usurpations is beyond dispute. Why is complicated, perhaps even as complicated as jch says it is. The fact that the founders of liberalism Corey cites weren’t stupid, and foresaw many of the pitfalls we’ve since encountered, may allow them to escape ahistorical indictments of the kind Corey thinks we’re unfairly bringing forward here, but it doesn’t help us much otherwise.

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LFC 03.28.14 at 1:21 am

Harold@335
Causabon is a cold, formal, pompous, somewhat pathetic or pitiable character, who pretends to a vast erudition he doesn’t possess, and so Corey’s “a clusterfuck of Causabon-ry” effectively conveyed his exasperation. It wasn’t esp. nice, but it was well within the bounds of the unwritten house rules, in my opinion, and it’s the one phrase from this thread I’m sure I’m going to remember.

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Corey Robin 03.28.14 at 1:23 am

“Mr. Causabon was not mocked for his erudition.”

Funny, I wouldn’t have thought that I could be read as responding to, or having been bothered by, the massive displays of erudition here. (Nor would I have associated Causabon with erudition.) Insufficient attention to the norms and findings of contemporary scholarship (like Causabon), yes. Pedantry (like Causabon), yes. (You may be confusing pedantry with precision or exactitude. Afraid it’s something else: immoderate or excessive attention to small and irrelevant details.) Claims to knowledge that aren’t really well founded (like Causabon), yes. But erudition? No, no, I don’t think so.

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Harold 03.28.14 at 1:50 am

Nevertheless, Causabon’s lack of German, not his other qualities (or lack of them) was what made him a fraud in George Eliot’s eyes. He was the professional academic, seen through the eyes of the impassioned amateur.

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Harold 03.28.14 at 2:09 am

I like the way things circle back to the “original German”.
Middlemarch:
“I wanted to ask you again about something you said the other day.
Perhaps it was half of it your lively way of speaking: I notice that
you like to put things strongly; I myself often exaggerate when I speak
hastily.”

“What was it?” said Will, observing that she spoke with a timidity
quite new in her. “I have a hyperbolical tongue: it catches fire as it
goes. I dare say I shall have to retract.”

“I mean what you said about the necessity of knowing German–I mean,
for the subjects that Mr. Casaubon is engaged in. I have been thinking
about it; and it seems to me that with Mr. Casaubon’s learning he must
have before him the same materials as German scholars–has he not?”
Dorothea’s timidity was due to an indistinct consciousness that she was
in the strange situation of consulting a third person about the
adequacy of Mr. Casaubon’s learning.

“Not exactly the same materials,” said Will, thinking that he would be
duly reserved. “He is not an Orientalist, you know. He does not
profess to have more than second-hand knowledge there.”

“But there are very valuable books about antiquities which were written
a long while ago by scholars who knew nothing about these modern
things; and they are still used. Why should Mr. Casaubon’s not be
valuable, like theirs?” said Dorothea, with more remonstrant energy.
She was impelled to have the argument aloud, which she had been having
in her own mind.

“That depends on the line of study taken,” said Will, also getting a
tone of rejoinder. “The subject Mr. Casaubon has chosen is as changing
as chemistry: new discoveries are constantly making new points of view.
Who wants a system on the basis of the four elements, or a book to
refute Paracelsus? Do you not see that it is no use now to be crawling
a little way after men of the last century–men like Bryant–and
correcting their mistakes?–living in a lumber-room and furbishing up
broken-legged theories about Chus and Mizraim?”

“How can you bear to speak so lightly?” said Dorothea, with a look
between sorrow and anger. “If it were as you say, what could be sadder
than so much ardent labor all in vain? I wonder it does not affect you
more painfully, if you really think that a man like Mr. Casaubon, of so
much goodness, power, and learning, should in any way fail in what has
been the labor of his best years.” She was beginning to be shocked that
she had got to such a point of supposition, and indignant with Will for
having led her to it.

“You questioned me about the matter of fact, not of feeling,” said
Will. “But if you wish to punish me for the fact, I submit. I am not
in a position to express my feeling toward Mr. Casaubon. …”

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mattski 03.28.14 at 3:18 am

But my argument was less with Schmitt than with the rest of you, who as I’ve said don’t seem to know the liberal tradition all that well. You know this caricature called “liberalism,” which is a repository for everything you dislike about modernity, but not really liberalism in its variety.

Yes. Exactly.

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john c. halasz 03.28.14 at 4:17 am

CR:

The utter superciliousness of your hissy-fit here is unsurprising, but not unremarkable. Why do you assume that no one here has any coherent conception of “political liberalism”, (though contrary to your academic specialization, “liberalism” was never just a political “theory” or doctrine, however retrospectively constituted or construed), and are merely working from caricatures of the “true” doctrine? Obviously, no one has read “everything”, but your insistence on the “true variety” of your chosen “tradition”, just as well applies to those “traditions” that you would oppose. (And that is why, though I’ve never read everything you’ve ever written, having read a fair sampling here and elsewhere, I simply don’t trust your “authority”: I think it displays what above I termed a “lack of hermeneutic probity”).

But the issue here hasn’t been any lack of or failure to understand the “liberal tradition”. It’s been how it can generate the “authority” of the state out of its own resources. Not how it can circumscribe the arbitrary rule of “absolutist” sovereignty, but how can it generate such “authority” from the “rights of man”, whether understood individualistically or “democratically”. The issue has not been whether or not “liberal-democratic” states can generate sufficient allegiances so as to prosecute wars. (I know of at least one self-proclaimed “liberal-democratic” polity that is ready-willing-and-able to jump at the opportunity). The power over life-and-death is just the traditional conception of the sovereign, (which Schmitt made clear was in crisis), and physical death is just one marker of human finitude, ( which also applies at another level to collectives and not just individuals). That liberals have grappled with such questions over the years is obvious; that they have come up with any really and definitively convincing “solution” to the problem is not, (assuming they recognize it as a “problem”).

But what is really irritating and presumptuous about your outburst is this:

“In other words, far from being a sign of greater realism or more muscular reasoning on the right, it’s a sign of romantic longing. That often overlooks the evidence right before the romantics’ eyes.

Why I find this discussion frustrating is that rather than simply acknowledging that they want a politics that’s more vital and heroic and meaningful, and fessing up to all that means, a lot of people on this thread dress up what I think is essentially a combination of quasi-religious sentiments and schoolboy juvenalia as this oh-so-profound critique of a shallow thoughtless liberalism. A liberalism that somehow or another managed, despite its centuries-long hegemonic reign (that’s the other odd assumption in this thread), not to come up with a credible account of why it is that citizens obey the state.”

So it all comes down to “romanticism” and a quest for “intensity” and “heroic”conceptions. Umm… no. That’s just philistinism, in typically CT collective fashion, (though I don’t know if Holbo or Quiggin is the worst “violator” in that regard). That anything that might be “excessive” and conflictual, such that it can’t be simply damped down, and subjected to “reflective equilibrium”, in which all our beliefs, (which, of course, are cognitive entities), can be rendered coherent, and thereby detached from any worldly engagement, while possessing prosaic “clarity” that is unavailable to the hoi polloi, must thereby be declared “romantic”, (in ignorance of the application of historical-cultural categories), is just a sheer solecism. (Aside from the mere bibliographic fact that Schmitt penned early on a critique of “political romanticism”). You, CR, don’t seem to have a good handle on polemics and more specifically, ad hominem arguments, and their uses and abuses, which are not always fallacious, but do need to be handled with care. (In general, it is better to read for “intentions”, even though they are just another “text”, than secret, concealed motives, which are an endless quest). There are plenty of reasons to be interested in “Schmittian” questions, (as opposed to preferences or “solutions”), that have nothing to do with the reduction to motives that you crudely prefer. (Do I need to link to recent commentaries on the Ukraine crisis?). And, contrary to B.W., it’s not just more-or-less material, i.e., economic, surpluses that are at issue, but “cultural” surpluses as well, i.e. those “resources” that go into the formation of socio-cultural “identities”, (which are never reducible to mere bodily, nor material existence). Even though you scoff at any notion of any “liberal hegemony”, (which in the U.S. at least, peaked with the “madly for Adlai” crowd, whose intuitions Rawls belatedly encoded, even though Nixon implemented their peak policies), that’s precisely what’s at issue here. Because the idea that “modernity”, in some pre-destined fashion, arrives at and culminates in “political liberalism”, is rather out-of-date, (even as Schmitt, who certainly was aware, not just of the rising tide of “democracy”, but had certainly read Weber’s account of sociological differentiation, as well as responding to Lukacs, grappled with such issues to the point of being driven into the “total state”). In fact, it’s precisely liberals who’ve been oblivious, for the most part, and have been the last to get the news, about the displacement of liberal by neo-liberal hegemony, in which the sovereign state becomes suborned by global corporate-capitalist interests. So might not the interest in Schmitt have something to do with those who already knew the “news” before it arrived, and were aware of the possibilities of collapse, not just of “legitimacy”, but of, as I put it above, operative functionality of the “sovereign” under which we must labor? I end up being, to lay some cards on the table, a reluctant and ambivalent neo-Hegelian statist, for a whole host of reasons, not the first, nor last being AGW. But the idea that the terminus ad quem of human history is the “liberal” individual and his/her rights, because progress, is just “the higher fatuity”.

So you’ve provided a fine example of “repressive tolerance” here, even as you hypocritically lament the decline of “public intellectuals”,- (but why not “organic” or “specific” ones?),- even if all public-political utterances are necessarily hypocritical, because of the constraint that they must address the “public interest” rather than any personal one. But I’ve offered plenty of reasons here, to support my assertions, none of which amount to any sort of “obscurantism”. Rather I think the stick is in your own eye. But then perhaps intelligence, like consciousness, is a much more distributed property than you would be inclined to “authorize”.

Just to add some footnotes here, the assumption that the individual was subordinate to the state, wasn’t some strange appeal by Schmitt, but very widely held amongst those he was addressing, even amongst German liberals and social democrats, (which was, after all, a “mass” party). In fact, that obedience to the prince was part of one’s Christian duty, (which was to be “justified” by faith alone), was standard Lutheran dogma. And is Hume, though clearly an Enlightenment thinker, really a liberal one? The sort of moderate “common-sense” skepticism he espoused, (to escape his own panic at radical skepticism), is very much in line with a certain strand of conservatism. And Kant, who somewhat wrongly is considered to be a culmination of the Enlightenment, and who has iconic status as the source of certain strands of liberalism, nonetheless, out east, was very much cast in the Prussian authoritarian mold. And, of course, the notion of a “counter-Enlightenment” tradition is even more unstable than an “Enlightenment” tradition. But the notion that “modernity” involves increasing secularization, (even as lots of standard modern liberal ideas originated in the wars of religion), is somewhat belied by the persistence of reactionary religious fundamentalism, (in ever more tech-savvy and updated modes). That requires something more than crude “militant atheist” eliminationism, (which is really neo-neo-positivism), and ought to motivate something of a re-examination of the “religious” sources and contexts of the emergence of secular ideologies, which the “old” atheism, based in anthropological criticism, and thus both more knowlegeable about and more “sympathetic” to the issues involved, was more adept at. Needless to say, that has nothing to do with “mysticism”, other than the thoroughly “rational” kind.

Lastly, I was somewhat disturbed by MacLeod’s comment, citing torture and drones as if necessary consequences of any Schmittian conception of sovereignty. But I think that goes back to what I said above about arguments from expediency trumping moralistic ones in such matters. Not least because they would involve understanding opposing “moralities”, including those of the enemy, which goes to how counter-productive such measures really are.

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CK MacLeod 03.28.14 at 3:49 pm

I don’t find “like” or “dislike” to be a very useful or interesting way to discuss the question of modernity or any other significant historical or philosophical question, and I’ve also already addressed and re-addressed the tendency to treat an interest in Schmitt as a display of suspicious “sympathies,” which is akin to the depiction of an interest in problems of liberalism as some kind of unreasoning hostility to “liberal antagonists.” To respond in detail on such speculation about me would be to act as though I presume anyone much cares or has much reason to care how CK MacLeod feels about these topics. Nor do I find it particularly interesting that one or another writer may have held a different view on a particular question: Suggestions for further reading are harmless and often welcome, at least where not offered so condescendingly as to reduce interest, but in most instances to be presented with such a reference is to be presented with an opinion about an opinion, and possibly a cultural-historical footnote, not actually to be presented with that view in any form useful in a discussion under way.

So it would seem that at least in the blogger’s longer reply to me above, there isn’t really much to be discussed, especially since I have too many shelves that need re-stocking to spend very much time on the ways that, say, a relatively narrow, contextualized statement about a particular ideological expression gets misconstrued as a misconstrual… of a philosophy that’s really a theory that’s really a critique that’s really one of a constellation of concerns.. If I saw much reason to believe that Professor Robin was interested in discussion, I’d pause to disabuse him of additional odd notions he seems to be entertaining about my understanding of John Locke’s thought and specifically of his theological (or soteriological) argument for freedom of conscience and his influence especially in America, but Professor Robin does not appear to be very interested in discussion, at least not with a Schmitt-loving Strauss-adulating modernity-hating liberal-bashing fucking inerudite pedant and probably center-right deviationist class traitor too like me.

The more interesting note bringing me back to this thread is Mr. Halasz’s remark about his being disturbed. Though I would never be so bold as to declare myself neo-Hegelian, I think I more agree with jch than disagree with him on the topics we have been actually-discussing – so I am of course delighted to think that something I had to say succeeded in disturbing him. I don’t think I quite said what he thinks I said, but I might have said something like it, or pointed in its direction. I mentioned torture in connection with the sovereign demand for sacrifice, and drones in a related context, though specifically as seeming in the eyes of some to fall short as offerings to the popular demiurge.

Setting aside such nuances as in the latter case, I think torture and drone assassination are more or less automatically disturbing, or that not to be disturbed by them at all might be taken as a symptom of sociopathy. At the same time, their inevitably disturbing character would also be a sign of their sacrificial utility or one might even say their trans-utility. Trans-utility: It is now a commonplace in criticism of the “enhanced interrogation” program to say that “torture doesn’t work,” but to say so presumes several things about the purposes or possible purposes of torture, and misses the ways that torture is virtually guaranteed to “work,” not specifically as a means of obtaining so-called “actionable information” from a captive, which might qualify torture as a resort to “expediency,” but as a means of asserting a different kind of truth, an intensely disturbing one, about ourselves, and about an other than liberal morality as the actually operative morality even or especially within the world’s leading liberal democracy. Something similar can be said about the drone program and even about the wars of the ’00s in general. Our liberalistic culture insists on “reasonable,” usually meaning narrowly instrumental, justifications for embarking upon such policies as for embarking on any policies at all, and also sometimes for abandoning them in shame, perhaps while promising never, ever to do that kind of thing again. When their sacrificial instrumentality (or trans-instrumentality or the instrumentality of trans-instrumentality) is better understood, then both the promises and the normal mode of discussion become harder to take seriously.

Observations along these lines lead Kahn in what I think is his most disturbing book, SACRED VIOLENCE, to make a strong statement about liberalism and its incapacities.

To most liberals, torture appears as a display of pure power: the torturer says to the victim, “I can do this to you, and there is nothing you can do about it.” This asymmetry of power is anathema to liberal morality, which insists on the equal dignity of and respect for every individual. From the liberal perspective, law has no place for torture and politics must be circumscribed by law. Most academic work today is little more than repeated demonstrations that torture violates the fundamental principles of liberalism. In truth, liberalism has nothing interesting to say about torture.

It is easy to apply the same statements to the drone program, as another frontal assault on a liberal ethos or sensibility, directly on key elements of any recognizably liberal philosophy/theory/critique/tradition/constellation. With theories of sovereignty, as for sovereigns, it’s just the opposite.

That liberalism may not have anything interesting to say about torture doesn’t mean that torture doesn’t have very interesting things to say about liberalism. Just to scratch the surface (of Hume’s finger): If, as I think is easily demonstrable if not simply obvious, the mixed liberal-democratic regime form operates according to simultaneous but contradictory liberalistic and sovereign/sacrificial concepts, then our inability to get our story straight, or to stick to the same story for very long, to bounce from W to O while maintaining a somehow simultaneously comforting and disturbing continuity between them, becomes easier to understand.

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CK MacLeod 03.28.14 at 4:02 pm

(correction: in the last sentence I meant to refer to a tendency, not to an “inability,” to “bounce” from the likes of W to the likes of O (and possibly or likely back again))

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John Holbo 03.29.14 at 4:40 am

“That’s just philistinism, in typically CT collective fashion, (though I don’t know if Holbo or Quiggin is the worst “violator” in that regard).”

john c halasz, I don’t know whether this is philistinism on my part, but I admire the faux-delicacy, amidst the crockery-smashing. Many a heedless commenter might have penned such a sentence. How many would have paused, taken out tweezers, placed obviously functionless scare-quotes around ‘violator’, then resumed their headlong course?

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John Quiggin 03.29.14 at 9:36 am

Unfair! I’m a much bigger philistine than Corey or John H. I actually think that the fact of being an anti-semitic Nazi shit is relevant in assessing whether its worth paying attention to someone’s elaborate philosophical justifications of same. Not only that, but every word I read (and there have been so, so many in this thread) from the defenders of these scumbags confirms me in my philistinism.

Crass, but what can I say? Australians are like that.

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john c. halasz 03.29.14 at 2:23 pm

@345:

It’s a boundary patrolling move you often use, (hence the scare quotes, since it’s not a huge violation, just what it is). I often wonder what the implied opposite is, classicism? Needless to say, “romanticism” usually designates an historical period in the arts and more broadly in culture. (But even there, one should be careful. Hegel, for example, who stems from that time, was a trenchant critic of romanticism, and I personally don’t think “expressivist” interpretations of his work are correct). What it’s not is a sign of much interpretive acumen.

@ 346:

We’re talking Schmitt, not Heidegger here, (who was the prolly the much lesser anti-semite). But if anti-semitism were to be the sole criterion, as a reductio ad hominem, then much of European culture would have to be tabooed or banned. Frege was reportedly notably anti-semitic. And 2/3 of the German philosophy professors’ association joined the Nazi Party. (It was the collapse of a whole culture, a highly accomplished one, into barbarism, not just a few individuals, which is what should remain shocking). So because Nicolai Hartmann (d. 1936) joined the Nazi Party, are we to ban the notion of “emergentism”? For that matter, Zofia Kossack-Szczucka was notably anti-semitic. And most Nazi-affiliated thinkers were execrable mediocrities. It was a wildly incoherent hodge-podge of an ideology, hollow at the core, as Arendt noted a long time ago. (You can see the same sort of thing with Jobbik or Golden Dawn nowadays). Only a few Nazi-affiliated thinkers are worth considering much anymore, not because, but despite their affiliation. And we were explicitly discussing Schmitt’s Weimar writings, where it was precisely his wrestling with the notion of “democracy” that led him to collapse into the embrace of the “total state”. Which, at least differs from the more usual conservative stigmatization of “democracy” as excessive individualism.

But then you, JQ, don’t do Holbo’s romanticism thing. Rather you say things like economics is automatically utilitarian, and that Marxists are “aristocratic”, without any apparent awareness that they might be working from aristotelian rather humean conceptions of human agency and ends or goods, such that a more thorough-going egalitarianism than you are willing to tolerate, might also be less “leveling”. And though it’s far too late to revive the “glories” of the past, you seem to assume that works of art are reducible to individual hedonic preferences, are simply ordinary consumption commodities, like ice cream, and resent any claims for “distinction”.

There is a tacit manoeuvre that I call “putting oneself in the right”, which is just a “higher”, more intellectualized form of CYA. So maybe you two guys could spent just a wee bit of time analyzing your own reaction-formations.

One last remark. During the Iraq War build-up, it was a common-place among opposing liberals that the neo-cons derived from Strauss. (Actually, if that rather obscure emigre professor had much influence on the American right, it was much more in jurisprudence, with the Federalist Society and the like). I don’t recall Schmitt coming up much in that connection (maybe because of Godwin’s law), but it would be a mistake. I think, to consider Dubbya as the deciderer as acting in a “Schmittian” role. I think recognizing the consequences and implications of collapsing and thereby assuming the sovereignty of another nation would have been more a Schmittian, or even just plain Hobbesian, approach.

But then this is all just words conjuring words, without referents or consequences… and on the tubz no less.

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John Holbo 03.29.14 at 3:29 pm

“It’s a boundary patrolling move you often use, (hence the scare quotes, since it’s not a huge violation, just what it is).”

Sorry, just to clarify: you don’t just use scare quotes when talking about me, or moves I may make. You use them all the time. I take it you are trying to achieve plausible deniability of what you have said – or meant?

Also: why do you say things like “one should be careful”? You don’t believe that! If you did, you would use fewer scare quotes! Stands to reason!

But let’s talk Romanticism. Or just “Romanticism”, if you are scared to touch the stuff itself.

“Needless to say, “romanticism” usually designates an historical period in the arts and more broadly in culture.”

In fact, I think ‘Romanticism’ usually designates a movement (or movements) more than a period. And it is often used as a style term. I can recommend some good books, if you are interested.

But perhaps we can narrow down. You object to some use, by me, of the term ‘romanticism’ or ‘Romanticism’. It’s true, I have used the term, though not so much of late. Very well: what is your objection? (And please, don’t wander in your signature way. Don’t say, “Needless to say, “romanticism” usually designates an historical period in the arts and more broadly in culture,” as if I had somehow tried to forbid this usage. And don’t compound the confusion by then urgently scolding, in the opposite direction: “But even there, one should be careful.” As if somehow I were guilty first of perversely resisting then uncritically embracing a bland formula, which I can’t honestly imagine anyone wanting to fight to the death about, for or against.)

“I often wonder what the implied opposite is, classicism?”

I will answer this one: classicism is often thought to be opposed to Romanticism, yes. Movements and periods don’t really have opposites, of course, nor do styles. So there are limits to the utility of this way of seeing things.

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bob mcmanus 03.29.14 at 4:03 pm

“Romanticism” round bout these parts is usually connected to the ecstatic submission in a swoon to the passions, the void, the transcendent, the sublime, and becoming something other than a bourgeois moderate neo-keynesian Democrat. Who are grounded in pragmatics, doncha know.

IOW, a quasi- proto- or crypto- fascist or revolutionary socialist

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Bruce Wilder 03.29.14 at 4:30 pm

348 comments after his first comment, which should have closed the thread before it got started, bob mcmanus wins back the thread.

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Val 03.29.14 at 4:31 pm

I have not read all this thread and it is unlikely that I ever will. But from browsing it seems that this didn’t ever get picked up, except as a point of debate, or by someone who suggested those referred to so condescendingly were a lot of murderers anyway:

“In the case of a bunch of hunter gatherers running round the woods there is no contradiction because there is no state … ” @256

So I would like to suggest that the implication, oh these savages, how far beneath the civilized man they are, is something that someone should have picked up a long way further back.

And also note that they had/have laws, customs, rituals, elders, … etc – which also suggests that a bit more definition of what the state is, and is not, might have been useful.

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CK MacLeod 03.29.14 at 6:17 pm

We’re talking Schmitt, not Heidegger here, (who was the prolly the much lesser anti-semite).

Both, it turns out, were pretty far gone and in multiple ways that may or may not amount to the same way, but why presume that a serious discussion here – or pretty much anywhere, with or without Australianists – even if possible, would be advisable?

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mattski 03.29.14 at 6:20 pm

@ 349

Speaking as a bourgeois moderate neo-keynesian Democrat, I don’t mind a little ecstatic swoon to the passions. It’s just that I try to do that sort of thing in a comparatively private setting.

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Harold 03.29.14 at 6:40 pm

I have enjoyed reading this thread and have learned a lot from it, since I would like to know more about political philosophy. I have particularly enjoyed the comments of Bruce Wilder, but the others have also been unusually interesting (and not Casobon-y at all, though sometimes a little eccentric). I was especially pleased to learn of Wolf’s review of Saul Bellow’s Closing of the American Mind.

I did not know that the problem of authority was invented by the counter-Enlightenment — I thought it dated back to the doctrine of Papal Supremacy and the Investiture Controvsersy. Silly me.

In any case, it was not my impression that liberalism has had “a long tradition”, though I guess it depends on what you mean by “long.”

“Romanticism” is apparently an insulting term of art among political scientists, although lovers of music, literature, and poetry, and the visual arts might blench at this usage.
Bertrand Russell, a liberal, blamed the Nazis on Romanticism (particularly Byron!), and yet he was a fan of Shelley’s poetry — which goes to show that no one can be right about everything. As a matter of fact, I think at heart he too was a romantic, or at least a tepid liberal: “The doctrine of liberalism is an attempt to escape from this endless oscillation [between tyranny and anarchy]. The essence of liberalism is an attempt to secure a social order not based on irrational dogma, and insuring stability without involving more restraints than are necessary for the preservation of the community. Whether this attempt can succeed only the future can determine.” HWP, p. 20

I do think that insofar as it seeks to impose itself by war and conquest and brooks no alternative world view, liberal democracy can be likened to the evangelizing monotheisms. You could also say that in those conditions it is not liberal democracy at all, and I think even B. Russell came around to this view, though at one point he himself had spoken of dropping the atom bomb on Stalin.

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CK MacLeod 03.29.14 at 7:44 pm

I don’t recall Schmitt coming up much in that connection (maybe because of Godwin’s law), but it would be a mistake… I think, to consider Dubbya as the deciderer as acting in a “Schmittian” role. I think recognizing the consequences and implications of collapsing and thereby assuming the sovereignty of another nation would have been more a Schmittian, or even just plain Hobbesian, approach.

Schmitt’s later writings are quite on point here, but, precisely because they sought to define the limits of an American global project, and forecasted disaster in the inevitable encounter with those limits – the disordering effects of the attempt to orient a global order under liberalism or liberal universalism – they have also been dismissed as unacceptable exercises in self-justification on behalf of the vanquished enemy.

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Harold 03.29.14 at 8:11 pm

The native Americans would sometimes pick a little boy or a half-wit, as the “deciderer” (or oracle) to answer the questions of which direction their hunting expedition ought to go in — as a means of maintaining social cohesion — since there was really no definitive way of knowing where the game was, and some decision was better than none, or a lot of disparate ones.

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LFC 03.29.14 at 8:35 pm

The current lead post at the moment at the blog called The Disorder of Things is doubtless something bob mcmanus would love. I’m not linking — let him Google if he’s interested.

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bob mcmanus 03.29.14 at 10:19 pm

387: Yeah. That’s the stuff, though H & N aren’t really the center. A lot of Italians.

Another layer I have been looking as inspired by Lamarre is…well, Lessig, Leadbeater, Shirky, Henry Jenkins, David Morley, social constructivism. Cosplay, AVM, fansubs, doujinshi/slash, wikis…consumers as producers, the real subsumption of intellectual labor.

“For some thinkers, such as Antonio Negri, real subsumption of labor is transfigured into real subsumption of society such that all of society becomes a moment of capitalist production. “

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john c. halasz 03.29.14 at 10:43 pm

@ 348:

Yes, it’s true that I tend to use a lot of quotation marks. It’s a tic of mine. Sometimes it’s to highlight the word rather than the thing; more often it’s a suspension, a kind of mini-epoche, to consider the word and thing together. Rarely are they “scare quotes” in the sense of “snarky so-called undermining”. But to imply that it’s merely an evasion of accountability or responsibility for what I type, (because I couldn’t really “mean” it, in accordance with full “reflective equilibrium”, which the consistency of all my beliefs demands), is just a cheap shot. In fact here, I’ve put my personal belief preferences largely aside, in order to explicate Schmitt’s questions, problems, even puzzles. Obviously, I haven’t advocated for any of his “solutions”. (As an aside, I recall once a commenter here, obviously a recent philosophy grad, who claimed that all his beliefs were “rationally justified”. Which struck me as a bit like Baron von Muenchhausen’s claim to have extracted himself from the hole he had dug himself into by pulling himself out by his own pony-tail).

And, in fact, you do use, often enough, the term “romanticism” in just the way I indicated. Many years ago, you posted, with apparent surprise, that Schmitt had written a critique of “political romanticism”, implying that he must be some kind of romantic nonetheless, )even though, as far as I know, he didn’t write anything of artistic or cultural matters). More recently, you claimed that Heidegger was a romantic. When I replied that, no, if he’s to be correlated with any artistic category, (which is something he commented on extensively), then it would be expressionism, a modernist movement or style. At which you scoffed.

So no, I don’t think I’m off the mark there. My remark about Hegel wasn’t just fussiness. The point was this: even some “great” writers that stemmed from the historical romantic era, already transcended it, (e.g., Hegel, Hoelderlin, Beethoven), abutting on modernism. And claiming any exclusive take on or inheritance of modernity is just fool’s gold.

I’ve never claimed to be a writer or stylist. I’m just a typist, expressing his stray thoughts, picking proteins from his brain, hopefully in a somewhat on topic and focused manner, in response to the chaos of comment threads. (I’m grateful if I manage to catch even 80% of my typos). But you just don’t know if I’m a dog, (even though I actually am).

@351:

That comment was mine, and the only point was that hunter-gatherer bands would have no mechanism for dealing with murder, (since according to some reports, they often have a language with just two tenses). It wasn’t a claim that they are just savages, but just a riposte to an anarchist claim that politics is dispensable.

@352:

I take it you mean the anti-semitism question, rather than any discussion of the work anywhere. But, in fact, Heidegger’s case has been extensively combed over, and there is little evidence that he was strongly, let alone virulently, anti-semitic, or that is what motivated his actions or positions. At most, it was a certain cultural-nationalist snobbery. (His wife apparently was another matter). That he collaborated with anti-semites, despite his rejection of Nazi “biological” racism, which he did express, is another matter.

But if you’re saying, pay attention to the complexion of the work and not the person, and the good but mediocre and “great” but evil are equally possible, I’d agree.

@354:

I don’t know who first coined the term “Counter-Enlightenment” (Berlin?), but it’s a fairly recent vintage. As to when “the problem of authority” politically first arose, there’s no clear answer. Perhaps with the Reformation, perhaps with the emergence of nation-states, perhaps with the violence of the French Revolution. But especially with the emergence of “full” modernity in the course of the 19th century, whereby the accelerating pace of historical change equally eroded any sense of unreflective or secure traditions, not open to question, the “problem”, amidst crises in worldly affairs, became exacerbated. One of Hegel’s basic claims was that with the arrival of “full” modernity, in which not only rational freedom had to be reconciled with objective truth, but the differentiation of institutional and discursive domains required some sort of “integrative” account, modern societies had to derive their own legitimating “authority” from their own “resources”, rather than relying on some sort of “external” or transcendent source.

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John Quiggin 03.29.14 at 10:49 pm

This whole thread seems like a reductio ad absurdam on “mine enemies enemy …”

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William Timberman 03.29.14 at 10:52 pm

bob mcmanus @ 358

If we’re lucky — and talented — I suppose we can live in this brave new world as William Gibson. If we’re neither, we can live in it as a barista, I suppose — at least for a while. I’m to old to live in it at all, except maybe in my imagination. Fortunately, I won’t have to.

It does seem to me, though, that any politics-as-remedy worthy of the attentions of a Negri — or a mcmanus, for that matter — will appear to arise suddenly, and be irresistible. I do admire you for trying to spot the early signs, and it is fun following along somewhat goggle-eyed in your wake. I can’t say, though, that I’ve been able to linger anywhere along the way with much conviction.

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William Timberman 03.29.14 at 11:08 pm

Too many supposes in my 361. Inattentive lily-gilding at the end of the editing process, as usual. I don’t really mind though, too much supposing being characteristic of a dilemma which few of us escape for long….

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CK MacLeod 03.29.14 at 11:09 pm

#359/jch

I was referring to anti-semitism specifically.

Am I wrong to think that you may not have been keeping up on H’s newly published “Black Notebooks”? ( http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2014/03/why-does-it-matter-if-heidegger-was-anti-semitic.html ) In other words, I think you can expect statements on “little evidence” to meet with strong opposition from now on.

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john c. halasz 03.30.14 at 1:14 am

@ 363:

Yeah, that was the one bit of news that Quiggin’s links conveyed. But it wasn’t all that new. The idea that Germany was pincered between the technologisms of Americanism and Bolshevism was already available from his long since published work, (aside from being the actual military situation at the time). The only thing new is the bit about the manipulativeness of Jews, though even there, the emphasis is likely on the manipulativeness rather than Jewishness. (Though the idea that the Nazis weren’t entirely “manipulative” is a bit odd).

Look, it was always known that Heidegger was basically an arch-conservative German nationalist, by origin and temperament, even if he became somewhat “radicalized” in the 1930′s, and that he never accepted “liberal democracy” as a viable political form, early, middle or late. (Equally, he was never much of a political thinker, the infamous “Rectoral Address” confusing delusionally the Nazi program with the Greek polis, and his actual political opinions were the prejudices and commonplaces current among much of the then “mandarin” elite). But likely, when these private diaries are fully combed through, dated and contextualized, the “picture” won’t be much different from the balanced Safranski book, which defuses many of the sheer slanders against him, partly by complicating the context.

But look, Heidegger is by now pretty much passe, and whatever his baleful influence, it has been absorbed by now. Much of the controversy is rather directed against the post-Heideggarian (post-)philosophical “space” that his work opened up and the various and sundry thinkers who’ve taken up occupancy there. The New Yorker link you provided is a case in point. But, taking a link off of that link, this is a much better account:

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/art-books/in-defence-of-heidegger/#.UzdfJ4Vpe_V

I once read a monograph by an American Jewish scholar, entitled “Heidegger’s Silence”, in which Heidegger’s obvious failure to issue any apology was traced to the theme of “silence” in his work. Certainly Heidegger’s style is laconic and terse, even if he might palaver on at great length on the verge of redundancy. But the “soundless saying of the voice of Being” concerns a meditation on the sources of language and the emergence of (systems of) meaning. Levinas, who knew Heidegger’s work meticulously and took a long time to fully work out his riposte, even as his own thinking was thoroughly indebted to Heidegger’s, denounced “a voice which no Face commands”. But, of course, the “Face” is equally silent.

But we’re supposed to be “discussing” Schmitt here, who was a much lesser figure philosophically, even if, for a while at least, a more astute political thinker.

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John Holbo 03.30.14 at 2:11 am

“And, in fact, you do use, often enough, the term “romanticism” in just the way I indicated. Many years ago, you posted, with apparent surprise, that Schmitt had written a critique of “political romanticism”, implying that he must be some kind of romantic nonetheless, )even though, as far as I know, he didn’t write anything of artistic or cultural matters). More recently, you claimed that Heidegger was a romantic. When I replied that, no, if he’s to be correlated with any artistic category, (which is something he commented on extensively), then it would be expressionism, a modernist movement or style. At which you scoffed.”

Sorry, I don’t remember this particular exchange but, for what it’s worth, my first reaction is to scoff at you all over again.

Let’s start just with this. Your objection, above, seems to be that it is absurd to call Schmitt a romantic because he wasn’t an artist, and romanticism is an artistic category – more generally a ‘cultural’ category. And … I guess Schmitt wasn’t … a culture? Anyway. You then say that it isn’t right to call Heidegger a romantic either. Same reason, I guess. But then you admit that it might be ok to call Heidegger an expressionist. That is, you concede that there could be some sense in trying to get what a philosopher is up to by applying a term that is, more standardly, an artistic movement/style term. But once you’ve admitted that, you’ve given up the game. If it could make sense to think of Heidegger as an expressionist it could make sense to think of him as a Romantic. And, by extension, it could make sense to think of Schmitt as a Romantic. It no longer makes sense just to rule out the thought with dictionary of art history border policing. ‘This term refers to a period in art history, it is verboten to apply it to philosophers!’ You don’t think it’s verboten any more than I do, so what’s the point, pretending otherwise? If you think I’m so wrong to call Schmitt a Romantic, the proper thing to do is address my reasons for calling Schmitt a Romantic? Fair enough?

I am aware, of course, that both Heidegger and Schmitt would be perfectly horrified by being called Romantics. I didn’t offer the suggestion because I thought they would like it. I offered it because I thought it contained a kernel of cross-categorial truth. (Sometimes it’s good to color inside the lines, but you can’t always be coloring inside the lines. Sometimes the lines aren’t right.)

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Harold 03.30.14 at 3:13 am

I don’t think the objection to the use of “romantic” as a derogatory and insulting term is that it should be reserved for artists. It just seems imprecise and, well, I won’t say philistine, but really unfortunate, to lump Schmitt, a Nazi, in with Leopardi, George Sand, and Beethoven, say.

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John Holbo 03.30.14 at 3:41 am

“I don’t think the objection to the use of “romantic” as a derogatory and insulting term”

Harold, it’s reasonable to object to the use of ‘romantic’ as blanket derogatory. But I have never used ‘romantic’ as a blanket derogatory term. Calling Schmitt a romantic isn’t an objection to romanticism. It’s an objection to inappropriate expressions of romanticism. His sort of philosophy isn’t supposed to be romantic, but that’s not because being romantic is bad. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Beethoven.

“It just seems imprecise and, well, I won’t say philistine, but really unfortunate, to lump Schmitt, a Nazi, in with Leopardi, George Sand, and Beethoven, say.”

Harold, I really don’t think that can be right. Schmitt and Beethoven were both German. You wouldn’t object to me calling Schmitt a German on the grounds that this lumps him together with Beethoven. If I say Schmitt is a romantic, that isn’t an attempt to smear Beethoven by association.

I think the thing to do is wait for john halasz to give his considered objection to my use of the term ‘romantic’. Either he’s got an argument or he doesn’t.

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Harold 03.30.14 at 4:34 am

Well, I didn’t really object to your using it, per se. It’s just that if it were me, I would substitute some other term, because I recoil on general principles to it being used as a smear. On the other hand, I do realize that the derogatory sense — in the meaning of impractical, soft-headed, and unrealistic is the correct (second, I think) dictionary definition. I don’t really know Schmitt’s writings. Is he really a romantic, in the sense of yearning for the infinite like Leopardi? Or is it correct to call corporatism — as opposed to individualism — a species of Romanticism? The Germans were big on that. Would one call the Spartans, say, romantic?

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John Holbo 03.30.14 at 4:45 am

“It’s just that if it were me, I would substitute some other term, because I recoil on general principles to it being used as a smear.”

I don’t yet have any indication of what john halasz thinks the problem with my usage is, but if he thinks I’m using ‘romanticism’ just as a smear, then the problem is simply that he has misread me.

Were the Spartans romantics? I wouldn’t think so. Is corportatism romanticism? No.

The ball is really in john halasz’ court. He has gone to the trouble of calling me the worst violator – worst “violator” anyway. He can explain what he meant by that, if anything. I suspect, from the scare quotes, that he didn’t mean anything. But I could be wrong.

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Harold 03.30.14 at 5:05 am

I had the impression John Halasz was referring to someone else’s use of the term.

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John Holbo 03.30.14 at 5:29 am

Well, if he wants to explain himself, he’s welcome to.

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roy belmont 03.30.14 at 6:07 am

Hey. speaking of using “romantic” as a “derogatory and insulting term”:

The native Americans would sometimes pick a little boy…

The mind blenches.
Estimates of “American” indigenous demographic totals vary widely. But there’s agreement that there would appear to have been around, near, or even more locals in the New World than there were Europeans in Europe, at the time of Columbus’ sailing.
And, as in Europe, a lot of them were doing really different things during the day.

The phrasing indicates a bizarre-at-this-late-date “romantic” notion of those indigenous people, who were living in widely variant cultures, most of them (pre-invasion) successfully. Even when they didn’t have half-wits to guide their hunting parties.

God that was nauseating to read.

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Harold 03.30.14 at 6:18 am

I was quoting from memory a conversation from a recording of a conversation with a well known anthropologist (now deceased), no doubt I got the details wrong; and since he wrote in the 1930s and 40s he would seem a “romantic” to Roy Belmont.

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roy belmont 03.30.14 at 7:58 am

Well no, Harold, he wouldn’t.
If I could get through all those cut-outs to what he actually said, I might find that he had “romanticized” [v.] indigenous people to the abstract null, I might see him as someone with a “romantic”[adj.] view of aboriginal cultural practices.
But for me to see him as a “romantic” [n.] he’d have to have a leather-bound copy of Shelley in his hand, and he’d have to make swooping cries at things he found inspiring or offensive, especially beautiful things and hideous things.
Also long hair, relatively well-groomed. And a scarf. Or a green velvet coat.

Also the reason I busted that quote is it’s straight-up racist horse-shit.

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mattski 03.30.14 at 12:04 pm

I recoil on general principles to it being used as a smear.

I may be mistaken and hope to be corrected if I am, but wasn’t John Holbo accusing Schmitt of not realizing the romanticism implicit in his world view? So, it isn’t that being a romantic is such an embarrassment (although there *might* be something inherently immature about it) but believing oneself to be above that when in fact one isn’t above it… now that is an embarrassment.

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John Holbo 03.30.14 at 2:45 pm

“wasn’t John Holbo accusing Schmitt of not realizing the romanticism implicit in his world view?”

Yes, pretty much. Well, that’s part of it.

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Harold 03.30.14 at 5:40 pm

@374 You don’t think that the Greeks and Romans used oracles for the same purpose? I don’t see what is racist about a comment except my error in making what appeared to you to be a general statement, rather than one about a specific a specific tribe, the name of which I don’t know. The context of the conversation was the relationship between the economics of hunting and religion. The professor was the president of the American Anthropological Association.

The obvious fact is there are similar mechanisms in all religions, which is why kings and emperors called themselves “God’s anointed” or even God. Perhaps that was what Schmitt was getting at with his talk about with “the decision”. In any case, Schmitt’s philosophy may have had genuine insights, but from a practical standpoint, insofar as it led to Hitler, it was a disaster, obviously. As that of the neocons equally.

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Val 03.30.14 at 8:11 pm

@359
Actually it was Anarcissie who made the comment about a bunch of hunter gatherers running around in the woods. You made the follow up comment about murder and some other stuff about magic and witchcraft and blood and honour, and you’ve now followed that up with some comments about hunter gatherer “bands” (I’ve put that in quotes because you said it, but that would have been a place where your scare quotes might have had some justification) who only use “two tenses”.

Can I just suggest stop and do some reading. I don’t know much about Indigenous history outside the Australian context, but within that context I recommend Bill Gammadge’s ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth”. It’s about the environmental rather than strictly social issues of the sort being discussed here, but it does suggest a very high level system of governance that made an entire continent comfortable and pleasing to look at, as well as sustainable. And doesn’t mention magic or blood or honour or running around in the woods at all as far as I remember.

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Harold 03.30.14 at 8:34 pm

Thanks, Val. Will do. If you are addressing me, I have to protest that I never said anything whatsoever about blood, honor, witchcraft, running around in the woods, or purportedly high rates of murder, though I think someone else may have. Only about deciding which direction to hunt, which one could do by tossing bones or consulting an oracle, but the important thing was getting everyone to agree to some decision and stick to it, rather than none at all.

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Bruce Wilder 03.30.14 at 8:43 pm

Gammadge’s romanticism (!) makes him an untrustworthy narrator.

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Harold 03.30.14 at 9:04 pm

But does he yearn after the infinite?

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Collin Street 03.30.14 at 10:10 pm

I don’t see what is racist about a comment except my error in making what appeared to you to be a general statement, rather than one about a specific a specific tribe, the name of which I don’t know.

Well, no. You can’t be expected — you can’t expect — to recognise your own errors immediately, because if you could do that you’d have never made the errors in the first place.

[recall that if you _are_ racist what others see as your racism appears to you to be natural and justified, even indisputable. Hidden in your mental processing rather than something you add later. Noone thinks, "oh, the evidence points to X but because I hate jews I'll believe Y": the "hate jews" is subsumed in the processing of the evidence and in the conclusion X, not something that the thinker themselves has direct access to or is necessarily aware of.]

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roy belmont 03.30.14 at 10:39 pm

I learned about Dunning-Kruger here at CT. Thank you CT.

Harold, I’m sure it’s an unconscious racism, not your fault, not unique to you. But it is 2014.
If you got here through the usual means, you must have seen somewhere along the way at least some mention of the objections by indigenous people to continued use of racist stereotypes and European fantasies as factual descriptions of their often violently eradicated ways of life.
There’s an innocence in your response, and in your illustration itself, but the toxicity it carries isn’t harmless.
Haruspex, runes, tarot, yeah I get it. But the mind-set’s right out of the “They don’t feel pain like we do” playbook. A delusional arrogance so fully acquired it just seems like common sense.

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Bruce Wilder 03.30.14 at 11:04 pm

Harold @ 381: “. . . does he yearn after the infinite?”

He titled his book about the putative continental “land management” scheme (sic: singular) by the 250 aboriginal nations of earth’s smallest continent, The Biggest Estate on Earth. What do you think?

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Val 03.30.14 at 11:05 pm

Harold @ 379
My comment above was addressed to john c. halasz @ 359.

There is a lot of confusion on this thread, with both you and him responding to comments of mine that weren’t originally about you! Pity there isn’t a reply button.

The book is worth reading.

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Val 03.30.14 at 11:08 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 380
Gammadge may be idealistic (rather than romantic I think), but untrustworthy? How do you know?

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mattski 03.30.14 at 11:10 pm

But does he yearn after the infinite?

If he doesn’t he ought to.

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Val 03.30.14 at 11:12 pm

(Please excuse this – I’m just trying to fix the broken link in my name while I think of it)

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Bruce Wilder 03.31.14 at 1:26 am

Corey Robins:

I think that authority issue is not in fact a problem for liberalism. Liberalism has not had nearly as much difficulty as some here seem to think in generating and justifying authority.

The authority issue is a problem for — sorry, to say this, but it’s true — a certain kind of conservative thinker who is absolutely sure, no matter the evidence, that authority needs to be something that’s, oh, I don’t know, more than what it in fact often is. . . . That authority issue is a problem that was essentially invented by the Counter-Enlightenment, and you see versions of it over and over again, most recently in the neocon critiques of the liberal welfare state . . . My reading of this tradition is that it reflects less an actual problem in the world of politics — liberal states seem to have zero difficulty in getting their citizens to sacrifice their lives for the state (or at least they have, on the whole, no more difficulty than do non-liberal states), and that’s because liberalism as theory and practice has almost never looked like the caricatured picture that has been presented here — than it does a longing of conservative theorists . . . In other words, far from being a sign of greater realism or more muscular reasoning on the right, it’s a sign of romantic longing.

Contra Holbo, you don’t have to be an Hegelian to see that period movements can be antithetical to what has gone before, or may be going on contemporaneously. If you possess the superhuman power of the historian to remember the future, you might even see a movement as antithetical to what follows. That doesn’t mean we can use one movement’s name as an antonym for another, and play wordgames productively, but still we can see relationships and dependencies, recognizing that what is said, is often said in dialectic with historical circumstances and other movements. In short, these things have a history.

Liberalism, historically, was antithetical to authority of a certain kind: received, traditional, hereditary, un-rationalized, and the original liberal answers included appeals to universal principles, the assembly representative of the whole people, and the constitution. These answers were not created systematically or ab nova; they were ad hoc contradictions of inherited tradition: the constitution corresponding to the charter, assemblies corresponding to traditional vehicles for giving counsel and consent to kings, universal rights corresponding to the grant of particular privilege, etc. Liberalism cantilevers precariously off the same foundation structures it proposes to tear down. Of course, authority (and solidarity) are core problems.

Liberalism has, in historical fact, sometimes had a great deal of difficulty governing, making decisions, building institutions and elevating competent leadership, responsive to circumstances. The French Revolution, quite famously, failed to usher in competent liberal governance. It took Napoleon Bonaparte to resolve many of the problems fully manifest in 1789, which a decade of republican wrangling had failed to adequately address. It was Napoleon, who forced through the law code that bears his name, for example. It was Napoleon, who instituted a Bank of France. It was Napoleon, who found terms by which the secular French state could live with the Catholic Church. It was Napoleon, who moderated the venality of the French haute bourgeoisie to a dull roar of corruption. The capacity of Napoleon to cut through these political problems like an Alexander cutting the Gordian knot made a definite, albeit varied, impression. What do we imagine Hegel apprehended that day in Jena, when he saw world-history riding thru the streets on a white charger?

Schmitt’s critique of liberalism belongs to Weimar Germany, a place and period of liberal failure (where the most celebrated Casaubon was the unlikely Otto Spengler! What does that tell you about the mood?). So, to claim “Liberalism has not had nearly as much difficulty as some here seem to think” is, at the very least, ahistorical. Liberalism, between the world wars in Europe and the Americas, was, generally, pathetic. In Germany, its failures opened the door to a collapse into barbarism. Schmitt had some genuine insight into the constitutional problems of governance, which the liberal, moderate and social democratic parties couldn’t manage to address in the circumstances. (Schmitt as “romantic” just seems bizarre to me.) That non-liberal parties did find an opening in the failure of Weimar is, of course, an historic tragedy of monumental proportions; that liberalism may still carry some disability, potentially fatal to civilization, ought to concern us. [Especially when (neo)liberal governance is doing such a bang-up job in our own day, creating, once again, economic depression and political upheaval, within spitting distance of the peak oil / climate change/ overpopulation cliff.]

Liberalism recovered somewhat from the inter-war debacles, in part because some liberal critiques of the social and political order — the American New Deal and the postwar German ordo-liberalism and Keynes’ polemics might stand as examples — did address important problems, and provided a way out of crisis and collapse created by reactionary failures. Those patches, now aged and obsolete, seem to have fallen off. Just noticing. Not feeling the romance, though.

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Anarcissie 03.31.14 at 1:35 am

My mention of hunter-gatherers was not intended to disparage anyone’s culture. (I know about peoples of Stone Age material technology with polysynthetic languages that have many, many tenses, modes, aspects, etc.) I was trying in vain to express an idea about an exceptional feature of liberalism which I believe is interestingly paradoxical. It didn’t get through, so I gave up. No hunter-gatherers were harmed in the construction of my arguments.

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john c. halasz 03.31.14 at 3:11 am

My “original” point with respect to the appeal to anthropological issues was this: all human groups will have some sort of “politics”, i.e. modes of dealing with conflict and achieving social cohesion or integration. However, the carrying capacities of such “politics” will differ by scale, complexity, and cultural levels of understanding. (Hence the reply to Anarcissie, that he was being somewhat irrelevant to the topic at hand, in appealing to “primitive” peoples in arguing for the possibility of non-state political organization). Anthropological “literature” presents a wide variety of different accounts of various tribal peoples and their ways, some rather irenic, others rather bellicose, which is part of the point of the discipline. (The discipline runs into some troubles, insofar as it attempts to describe differing ways without any normative judgments, which isn’t quite possible, and insofar as it has several competing methodologies of explanation and/or interpretation and the referents in which such should be “grounded”, e.g., functionalist, structuralist, hermeneutic, socio-biological, and the like). But what it doesn’t, by its very “constitution”, provide is some sort of “universal” evidence to decide political disputes, nor accounts of “human nature”.

So with respect to hunter-gather bands, (which largely had already been displaced on marginal lands, by larger tribal organization, before “whites” had made contact, with the obvious exception of AUS), the two tenses, present time and dream time, have been reported of Kalahari Bushmen and Inuits, which implies very limited time-horizons, which goes together with little capacity to regulate issues such as murder, within constraints of social cohesion. (They also would operate within an entirely animistic conceptual or mental “world”). Witch-craft practices, (which should be distinguished from healing practices), have been interpreted as a means of maintaining social cohesion and equilibrium in the face of growing and potentially disruptive social conflicts; they could even be conceived as a type of “jurisprudence”, except that the explanatory scheme is entirely circular and impervious to correction. Pre-conventional honor-and-revenge tribal systems have been reported too many times to be mentioned, though the Pashtun are legendary in that regard, (which is one of the reasons drone strikes are inadvisable, since, as Gen. McCrystal among others has admitted, it creates more enemies than it kills, hardly a “pacification” strategy.)

As to the Aussie case, I am aware of the Aboriginal “song-lines”. Graeber also tells of a curious Aboriginal exchange ceremony, in which the sharing of women substitutes for the potential fro aggressive combat. But the idea that we could return to some pristine and pure “state of nature”, uncontaminated by the evils of whites, (even though plenty of non-white civilizations have perpetrated similar violences and conquests), is just sheer romanticism, in the pejorative sense.

So Harold retails an anecdote, and is assailed for his evident “racism”. But not to worry, he’s been offered forgiveness for his unconscious, provided he accepts “correction” and enters into the secularized version of holy communion, re-entering the community of universal humanity. But aside from that, in most cases, it is better to address intentions, rather than search endlessly after concealed motives, (which is a paranoid mentality, even if it’s “objectively” warranted by the relevant conditions), and that someone can harbor racist or other objectionable prejudices and still raise a valid point or even do a good deed, the posture of moral superiority and righteous purity is itself objectionable, as if, out of their own heads, such apostles of “political correctness”, (the stupidest political “strategy” ever devised), could eliminate all human differences and the prejudices they invite, and bring about a redemptive reign of universal love. The mis-recognized religious impulse is perhaps the silliest thing about it.

If one would want an example of “the infinite” breaking through a finite and temporal political order, consider the case of transformations in the sense or conception of “justice” within a polity. Is it really just a matter of enlarging the scope of application of pre-existent norms? And thus an extension of rights, as already defined? Or does it involve, insofar as it isn’t just re-arranging the musical chairs, a “prior” alteration in social recognitions and relations and a genuine transformation of “subjectivities” or “souls” involved, something more akin to religious conversion than to an extension of law. That would be more in line with Levinas than Schmitt. But I don’t think it involves any “romanticism”, even if it might involve some anthropological, (in the philosophic, not the social-scientific, sense), sense of “religion”, though that too can be entirely secular. It doesn’t involve the vanquishing of political questions of inclusion/exclusion, but, in fact, might involve the intensification of such “contradictions”. But that is something that the “deductions” of liberal “normative political philosophy”, with its universalizing, but ahistorical pretensions can’t quite accommodate, which is why such moralism ends up re-enforcing the status quo. The discontinuities of futural and quite other potentials, (which uncertainly might be for better or for worse), are anathema to its claims for “rationality”, even if it is pleased to claim retrospective credit.

But then “universal humanity” is in actuality much more defined by its differences, oppositions, and prejudices than by its singular abstract substance. But then “prejudices”, i.e. prejudgments, are not to be necessarily abhorred or dissolved, following Gadamer, insofar as they form the operative basis of understanding.

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Bruce Wilder 03.31.14 at 3:58 am

john c. halasz

For some reason, your last comment made me think of Jared Diamond, who, as I recall, supposedly created his Guns, Germs and Steel narrative during an extended conversation with a highly successful politician leading a New Guinea cargo cult. I’d like to imagine how it was heard, that first time.

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William Timberman 03.31.14 at 4:32 am

Another thought: liberalism is that political carpetbag with ample room for both the sons of liberty, and the father of his nation. I’m not so sure, given BW’s observations about the limits of its resilience, that it really is the better wisdom to leave it unpacked behind the couch.

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Ronan(rf) 03.31.14 at 1:30 pm

Astonishing that in a thread about Carl Schmitt, political correctness should be identified as “the stupidest political “strategy” ever devised.”

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Ronan(rf) 03.31.14 at 1:35 pm

It seems such a clear eyed and logical view of the world doesn’t extend into the present.

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john c. halasz 03.31.14 at 6:15 pm

Political correctness: If you can’t change the underlying realities, why, just change the labeling. And thereby set up an elaborate game of euphemism, which only serves to “legitimate” what it ostensibly opposes, by inviting ridicule of its conventions and pretensions. There’s no longer any need to attend to the indirect correspondences between speech and action, the stuff of actual political engagement. Rather one can attend, in a self-referential and rather entitled way, to the mufflings of an entirely autonomous “discourse”. It’s no accident that the fashion emerged with the Reagan administration, as left-liberal academics somewhat mis-interpreted their French imports in line with a residual puritanism. After all, if your Commander-In-Chief is a fabulist, why not confabulate right back?

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William Timberman 03.31.14 at 7:41 pm

I doubt that any discourse held in public can be entirely autonomous. It is annoying, I admit, to listen to erudite discussions which go on and on about solving the world’s problems without any apparent reference to the real world as most of us perceive it. I do wonder, though, if what we’re reacting against isn’t so much the supposed lack of relevance in such discussions as what seem to us to be insufferable attitudes on the part of those involved in them.

As we were saying a couple of hundred comments or so ago, attributions of causation in such complex situations are always problematic. Still, there is a feedback loop between thought and action, I think, even when its workings seem impossibly attenuated, and beset at every exit by reactionary demonstrations of power. If we don’t get where we want to go, someone else will give it a bash; an idea seemingly wasted here will crop up somewhere else in the hands of someone who can actually make use of it. And if the whole enterprise comes to ruin in the end, it will necessarily be a different ruin, one that might even be less resistant to repair.

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Ronan(rf) 03.31.14 at 8:00 pm

I wouldn’t have thought ‘political correctness’ was a strategy, it’s a tactic; at its most general it’s an extension of basic manners to everyone. Whether or not it has ‘been successful’ depends on what the goal is, and I doubt many people assumed ‘it’ would banish sexism, racism, all power relations etc. So its perceived failure is probably exaggerated(for political reasons), and the claim that it’s the ‘stupidest political strategy ever’ is completly over the top to the point of nonsensical.
That’s before we even get into what we’re talking about when we talk about political correctness, which like neoliberalism seems to mean everything and nothing.

Not that I’m denying ‘political correctness’ can manifest itself in extremely annoying ways at times. But perspective is important. A mild annoyance does not make a massive strategic failure.

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mattski 03.31.14 at 8:17 pm

But perspective is important.

Yes, and it’s astonishing to see the volume of rhetoric on this thread devoted to making a souffle out of,

“How dare Locke & Mill get my hopes up like that.”

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Harold 03.31.14 at 8:27 pm

“Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!”
“Of course it is,” said the Queen, “what would you have it?”
“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

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CK MacLeod 03.31.14 at 8:29 pm

john c. halasz 03.30.14 at 1:14 am @364 http://crookedtimber.org/2014/03/11/david-brooks-better-in-the-original-german/#comment-519314

After breaking my brain on this subject over the last two days, I’m more convinced than ever that the Heidegger-Schmitt parallel is at least as relevant and instructive as it looks like it might be on first glance. Our inability or refusal to think Heidegger through is entirely of a piece with our inability or refusal to think Schmitt through.

I have the impression that the two men never developed a significant personal or professional relationship, though a friendly, collegial, and somewhat substantial letter from Heidegger to Schmitt does survive, written in 1937, in other words from the approximate onset of the eclipse of their Nazi… detour, around four years after they joined the Nazi Party along with millions of other relative latecomers to the cause: They both chose May Day 1933 to sign the political contract in blood. (I will guess this was a popular choice for its political-historical resonances, not sheer coincidence.)

The certainty of their shared untruth, the presumption of its simple wrongness, constitutes our truth, our right. It’s why anyone interested in Schmitt or Heidegger or both must be interrogated and re-interrogated for suspicious sympathies. The operation of the taboo, or of its enforcement, shows up in that New Yorker piece, whose reference to the Prospect “defence of Heidegger” includes slanderous speculation about the latter’s author: “”This makes me wonder about Rée as well”: In other words, “This would-be neutral summary of Heidegger’s thought about Judaism makes me think that Rée is also a racist/anti-semite/Nazi symp.” The tendency appears in the comments under Rée’s post, where a voluble self-styled philosopher claims to have identified “radical evil” not in the Nazis or the Holocaust or total war, but specifically in post-structuralism. It shows up on this apparently immortal discussion thread from top to bottom – in the ritual shaming of Harold, in Robin’s presumptions about diverse commenters here, the CT-typical proud announcement of the latest proscriptions, and in the “Australian” demand to ignore the “philosophical justifications” of the “anti-semitic Nazi shit.” It is a political-theological demand by the self-styled enemies of the political-theological, a dedicated need-not-to-know about themselves, to leave the sacred Grundnorm (along with its own origins) undisturbed.

I’ll add here before I get back to the shelves, that I think to understand Levinas on the missing Face, you also have to consider Buber, whom Levinas acknowledges directly, and, perhaps even more, Rosenzweig and Hermann Cohen, both of whom, Rosenzweig more explicitly, Cohen more simply “reasonably,” seek to trace the outlines of the Face (or face to higher face). I’ve put HEIDEGGER’S SILENCE on my reading list. So I’ll recommend in return Peter Eli Gordon’s book on Rosenzweig and Heidegger, which I first read before tackling STAR OF REDEMPTION: Rosenzweig and Heidegger: Between Judaism and German Philosophy . It points to a further explanation for Heidegger’s silence, and possibly to Heidegger’s own need-not-to-know.

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John Quiggin 03.31.14 at 8:49 pm

The black notebooks, and the postwar anti-Nazi laws in Germany have pretty much resolved the question of Heidegger’s silence, haven’t they? He stayed silent for the same reason as millions of other Nazis.

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Bruce Wilder 03.31.14 at 8:58 pm

Autonomous discourse? Is that anything like the Context of No Context, being referenced on another thread?

Whatever one might usefully say about the Nazis, or the various flavors of fascism — and the fascist ideology did seem like the collective Id exposed — their racism or antisemitism was not unconscious. Totalitarianism demanded political engagement.

Political correctness is the euthanasia of consciousness raising, in the politics of a state, which has been converted into a public-private partnership condominium. All political issues are labeled with euphemisms, to emphasize our detachment and disengagement: runaway corruption and predation becomes economic “inequality”. Professional spokes-models will discuss “inequality” without openly accusing anyone, expressing concern of course, and be refuted effortlessly with the absurdity of “equality” of material outcomes as an ideal standard and questions about the propriety of resentment and envy as motives.

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roy belmont 03.31.14 at 9:51 pm

halasz:
“Politically correct” is itself a euphemism. Like most euphemisms it doesn’t always mean the same things to individual users and hearers.
It gets used as a rejection of shallow lock-step reaction, thoughtless conformity with a moral gloss. Good.
It also gets used by people who don’t like to be reminded that they haven’t achieved complete moral and cultural enlightenment. Bad.
Mindlessness is generally, in my experience, only encouraged by deceitful manipulators, who are comforted by superficial conformity with nothing underneath it but the desire for acceptance.
Mindless adherence to dogmatic concerns / mindless cultural transport of racist attitudes. Both bad.
The legacy of racism in the world is increasing in volume even as the conscious practice of racism is called out and legislated down, because the sheer numbers of those who inherit the damage of racist practices are increasing, as the world population metastasizes.
I don’t personally care if 87% of the discursive criticism of bigotry and racism is just knee-jerk automatic crap.
It’s an aesthetic reaction with me, not an ethical one, situational not wholistic.

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Collin Street 03.31.14 at 11:48 pm

wholistic

The generally-accepted and original spelling is “holistic”. From greek “holos”, as in “hologram”, “holocaust”, &c. If the word were from “whole” it would have a long o, see.

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bob mcmanus 04.01.14 at 12:42 am

Huh, back to the top

I just noticed that Foucault in D & P uses the concept of “swarm” as in “the swarming of disciplinary mechanism”

Wiki: “From a more abstract point of view, swarm behaviour is the collective motion of a large number of self-propelled entities.[1] From the perspective of the mathematical modeller, it is an emergent behaviour arising from simple rules that are followed by individuals and does not involve any central coordination.”

Also, F wrote D & P in part to move political discourse away from a preoccupation with sovereignty and legitimacy.

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Peter T 04.01.14 at 4:16 am

Not a political theorist, so just a tag at the end of an interesting thread. Schmitt’s line of thought seems to me to reflect the outlook of a military officer (very Wilhelmine and Weimar Germany): there is an enemy, you have to decide, you cannot be certain, doing nothing is likely the worst option, whatever you do may be countered, there is no ultimate goal (only local victories), success demands creativity and the free exercise of will, solidarity and brotherhood count…..

As compared to classical liberalism, which tends to cast politics as a C19 House of commons debate: an argument among social equals, looking to numbers and persuasive ability, with a strong emphasis on good manners.

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john c. halasz 04.01.14 at 7:23 am

bob mc @406:

Yes and no, with respect to “Surveillance and Punishment”. What it sought to show is the diffuse mechanisms for the “production” of power, in opposition to the tradition of the critique of ideology, such that one could readily change the official ideology, and leave the “mechanisms” of power intact. But then also Foucault was himself developing a method of parodic critique, (which he had learned and revived from Nietzsche), which means not just that his synoptic descriptions should be taken with a grain of salt, but also that they mimetically reproduce and re-enact, askew, the very “object” of criticism.

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john c. halasz 04.01.14 at 7:38 am

roy belmont @404:

“they haven’t achieved complete moral and cultural enlightenment.”

But that’s precisely what isn’t possible to achieve. Just who would decide upon that?

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Limericky Dicky 04.01.14 at 12:28 pm

It seems pretty clear why Carl Schmidt didn’t like Liberalism one bit: if we plebs run the state then there’s no potentate, and who then will make us eat shit? After all, his concern for the nation’s not for failures of coordination. He wants, for ‘the state’, the power to dictate that we fight against our inclination.

And refusing to call it ‘Romantic’ really does seem a trifle pedantic: it’s transcendentally nationalist, bloodthirsty, irrationalist, with some kind (I’d guess) of ‘great man’ schtick.

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