Thinking About Groups

by John Holbo on August 20, 2017

In the hopes of writing something that isn’t rendered obsolete by Donald Trump in 48 hours, I’m going to say a few (thousand) words about how I got a lot out of Jacob Levy’s good new book, Rationalism, Pluralism, Freedom. At its core is a dilemma – an antinomy: two models of the optimal form and function of groups within a liberal order. Neither model can be quite it. It seems we need to split the difference or synthesize. But there is no coherent or necessarily stable way. (Well, that’s life.) There, I gave away the ending.

Groups? Yes, you know the sort: families, political parties, ethnic groups, clans, churches, professional organizations, civic organizations, unions, corporations, neighborhood groups, bowling leagues. The lot. There is a lot to distinguish in this lot, but let’s not. Let’s lump. Anything that might be a locus of loyalty or ‘identity’, above the individual level, below the state level. There are citizens; there is the state; there are intermediate groups betwixt and between. (Use ‘civil society’ if you are happy with that, but maybe that term has baggage we might need to rummage through. Jacob has things to say about how the term is tricky.)

Continuing on cartoonishly, for (possibly illusory) clarity: most of us – I’ll wager – subscribe to the view that life in a modern liberal democratic society is like this: there are citizens and there is the state. Citizens enjoy a basket of liberties and rights, over and against each other and the state. A lot of critics say ‘liberals’ think too much in terms of autonomous individuals – little social atoms, bouncing freely off each other – but even those critics would mostly be slow to replace what we’ve got with another system in which some other circle was deemed more elementary than this mutually orbiting citizen-state binary: the family, the estate, the deme, the guild, the tribe, whatever. If you seriously want to scrap the US Constitution in favor of some kind of neo-feudal system, for example … well, that’s pretty radical. I’m just going to assume I’m addressing an audience that is basically ok with making individual citizens primary units over and against the state. (All pretty vague? Yes, quite. But we haven’t got all day. On we go.)

Now, if you have these two basic units, the state and the individual, it makes it kind of tricky what the normative status is of intermediate groups, eh? What is all that in-between stuff good for or bad for? What sorts of ‘mediating groups’ need to exist – because they’re great! possibly vital for the health of citizens and/or the state itself! What sorts of stuff should not be permitted, because it’s toxic – either to the state or to some individuals. And what sorts of stuff should be merely tolerated, even though its a bit dicey, but pragmatically what are you going to do? (Trying to rule out certain groups would cause more trouble – do more harm – than good. Even so, those groups may do more harm than good, to individuals and the state. A lot of dumb, bad groups aren’t banned, and that’s how it should be.) At this point some people might say: I care about the health/power/status of my group way more than I care about either the stability of the state or respecting the rights and liberties of my fellow citizens. If what it takes to keep my group dominant is depriving my fellow citizens of rights and liberties, I’m willing to do that. But if you say that, you really are not on the same page. You aren’t committed to liberal democracy. In this post I’m only considering what attitude you should have towards groups, in the abstract, if you have some normative commitment to making sure individuals can exercise their rights and enjoy their liberty, equally, in a stable liberal-democratic state.

This is a timely issue: identity politics and groupthink and partisanship and tribalism. (I am going to assume you’ve noticed these are hot-button issues, and I’ll omit reviewing recent events for your benefit. Some horrible thing is about to happen to make my report obsolete, if I tried.) The worry is that a lot of this groupishness is bad, inimical to the health of a free society. Everyone sees bad groups – bad identity formations – they don’t like. But everyone is also attached to groups they like.

How do we think about that? I think most people think about it pretty roughly. Now, let’s turn to Jacob’s book, which can help. As I said, he outlines two views about the proper/permissible form and function of groups, each of which looks too extreme in its purity (he says so and I agree.)

[UPDATE: it occurs to me I’m mixing my own thoughts with Jacob’s here. Tell the truth, I’m a bit mixed up myself about what I learned from him, what I thought before, and what I thought in response to him that maybe wasn’t explicit in his text. It’s a mystery.]

On the one hand, we have the ‘pure liberal’ theory.

Basically, the idea is that what any individual has the right to do, individually, many individuals have the right to do, associatively. Call this unfettered freedom of associations (note the ’s’). It’s a function of unfettered individual freedom of association. (This is a libertarian move, and you have no doubt met with it on the internet.) This makes sense abstractly. It has an attractive principled simplicity and clarity. It also provides plausible answers in a wide range of contexts. Consider, for example, groups that many people won’t find attractive or healthy-looking – from s&m dungeons to monastic orders! The  ‘pure liberal’ theory is clear about what you say: if you folks want to get together and bind yourselves to all that, tight as all that – you go be your bad selves! Don’t force anyone else to play along and join in. And there needs to be something like a safe word so you can get out if you change your mind. You still enjoy a right of exit from any group, as a citizen of the larger state in which this group exists.

That sounds good to me. How about you? I’m not interested in forbidding recreational bondage play or the Benedict Option.

Selling yourself into slavery is a bit dicier. Can you do that? I think the ‘pure liberal’ theory would have to say: yes. (If you get a good price for yourself and then you can give the money to your kids to make better lives for themselves? and you are happy with that exchange? – fine! But you can’t sell your kids into slavery.) I’m pretty much not on board with selling yourself into slavery. I’m off the bus.

The looming practical problem with the ‘pure liberal’ theory is not so much the selling-yourself-into-slavery bit, however. To me the more salient, sure-to-arise-in-real-practice problem with infinite freedom of associations is going to be something more like, for example, Jim Crow (just not state-sponsored). If all the white families in town form a voluntary association that collectively commits to disassociate from that one black family – no one will hire/sell to/be in the same room with them – that’s going to get pretty ugly for the one family. If the association likewise ostracizes any white who refuses to get on board with this? … well, you do the math. No reason why this viciously-illiberal, apartheid-like social order won’t be stable and self-sustaining, yet everyone is playing according to ‘pure’ liberal rules. The moral of the story: private, voluntary groups can – and predictably will, if unchecked – cast long, sinister shadows over large areas of the public sphere. Some citizens will not, in practice, enjoy a right of exit out from under the oppressive shadow of some group, even though all the group is doing is exercising aggregate freedom of association of its membership, doing things at the group level that would be fine at the individual level.

To sum up: if it turns out that ‘freedom’ is, in fact, another word for nothing left to lose, maybe you are using ‘freedom’ wrong? So the pure theory is wrong? (Don’t object that social Jim Crow – black-white racial prejudice – is not necessarily going to be such a problem. If not that, then something else like it. There’s going to be something.)

So that’s pure theory 1. On the other side, we have pure theory 2, what Jacob calls ‘congruence’ theories (which, before his book, didn’t really enjoy a collective label.) The idea here is that liberalism has to go all the way down – and through-and-through. You can’t have significant pockets of illiberal order existing within the matrix of liberal order, because such pockets are a toxic threat to that order, and to individuals living in it, inherently. For a representative expression of this view, see Susan Moller Okin’s classic, Justice, Gender and the Family. (Jacob cites it as a good example; it is.) The family needs to cease to be patriarchal. Same goes for churches and communities that enforce illiberal norms within their group borders. (Okin focuses on gender, but obviously that’s not the only possible issue. But it’s a good one. I think all the general types of problems groups can raise can be exemplified in terms of gender.) For Okin and other ‘congruence’ theorists it’s not enough to say that these groups are voluntary, or that citizens enjoy formal right of exit upon attaining the age of majority. I’m not going to run through the arguments for why it’s not enough. I take it the gist is clear and familiar. If you are a female, born into a patriarchal family, within a patriarchal ethnic community, raised in a patriarchal religious sect in which women do not have a significant voice in church leadership, it is not deemed sufficient that, at the age of 18 you can leave the church, turn your back on your family and community, up stakes and start again somewhere else. The requirement that you go to such extremes, to achieve exit, just so you can enjoy basic liberal standards of equality and opportunity and so forth, is too burdensome.

As Jacob notes, ‘congruence’ is what you arrive at on Charles Taylor’s ‘long march’. It’s what you get with ‘modular man’, in Gellner’s sense. You could say what we are insisting on, here, is ‘modularity’ all the way down. Not because we are the Borg. (The popular conservative idea that this view is motivated by an evil obsessive-compulsion to institute homogeneity-for-its-own-sake is mostly just bad psychology, with a bit of sophistry on top.) The motive is obvious: it’s not fair if equal citizens can’t exercise their rights and liberties fully without taking nearly heroic steps to get clear of groups that make it hard for them to do that. That’s a totally obvious and plausible moral reason to favor this approach.

So what’s the problem if not that congruence theorists are all evil Borg-types? The practical problems with congruence not likely to be so extreme, in practice, as those with the pure view are. (I think it’s almost certain that the pure view would produce extreme problems, if instituted, whereas it’s merely a likely possibility that the congruence view would produce extreme problems, in practice. That’s my back-of-the-envelope estimate. YMMV.) But the problems here are real, and may be extreme. You can’t get thee to a nunnery – or even into your favorite s&m dungeon – if that is your druthers. Or even just attend an all-girl’s school.

There is a flattening out of a lot of the texture of cultural and social and institutional and religious life. This can seem pointless, at worst horrifying (like rows and rows of identical buildings.) People can’t choose to belong to all sorts of distinctive groups because every group is required, not to be exactly the same as every other, but similar in essential points. So, in the name of freedom, you have restricted choice. Maybe – maybe – some dumb Harrison Bergeron stuff is going to be mandated as well. That’s less clearly required in principle by ‘congruence’ but worth thinking about. It’s pretty clear what it means to say that freedom of associations is in principle unlimited. It’s not so clear what it implies, in principle, to mandate the replication of liberal order at all levels and scales of groupish life.

So we have our two pure views: the pure liberal view; the congruence view. Take your pick. Which do you like: maybe Jim Crow, or maybe Harrison Bergeron?

Obviously we don’t like the bad extremes into which either side may fall. So how do you split the difference? It’s not so easy to see how to do so in a clear, principled (or just plain sensible-seeming) way.

Take the ‘pure’ side. The obvious danger comes when groups are big enough to generate a kind of critical mass problem. So you forestall that by imposing limits – kind of like zoning regulations. Or anti-trust, anti-monopoly rules. A rough first cut might be this: the degree of incongruity of your group with liberal norms has to be inversely proportional to its size/power. The more you can throw your weight around, the more careful you have to be not to trap your own members, so they can’t get out; and the more careful you have to be not to crush smaller neighbors, because they can’t get out from under you, into the light of the public sphere. The main problem with this fix is that 1) it’s a lot less clear than the categorical freedom of associations rule; 2) it’s philosophically orthogonal to it, because it’s being hybridized with the congruence view. Crudely: libertarians (like Nozick) don’t like mandated ‘patterned distributions’. You let people run free and the chips fall where they may. If you aren’t fine with Jim Crow, if that’s how the chips fall, you have to adopt at least a negative ‘patterned distribution’ proscription. Some patterns are forbidden. But then: you have to stop raging against ‘patterned distributions’ because that’s you now. (Maybe you are ok with that.)

We’ll get to the hybrid fix for the congruence side down below. But it will be clearest it we get something else out of the way first.

One thing that makes it hard to synthesize the two views, theoretically, is that each side – the pure view and the congruence view – is preoccupied with forestalling a particular class of practical, downside risks. (This is a very important point for Jacob, and he does a really good job of discussing it.) It’s reasonable to fault each side with downplaying the risk the other side sees, and excessively playing up the risk it worries about. But it’s not right to say that, theoretically, the risk has to be equal in every case. So it’s hard to theorize the right degree of correction in a general way.

Let me just fill in the details, so you see what I’m talking about. ‘Pure’ liberals are attuned to the danger posed by ‘the Man of Systems’ (which is paradoxical, because, to a man – and most of them are – pure liberals are men of systems. But that’s an irony for another day.) I actually don’t like the term because I think it implausibly exaggerates the incidence of planners who are inhumanely Borg-like in their normative outlook. It’s far more common just to be over-optimistic about what can be achieved – or just plain corrupt. Everyone knows that there are always cost-overruns, and the thing isn’t built on time, and there are construction flaws, due to planning failure and/or corruption. That applies to state planning as much as to building anything else – a new house. That’s really what we are talking about here. What are the problems going to be if, predictably, those in power are always over-straining their native capacity to plan and execute plans in a virtuous manner?

As a tonic correction to the limits of central planning and rationalization, you can insert your Burkean ‘little platoons’ (even though Burke was no pure liberal). You can slot in standard Tocquevillean insights (or just your copy of Tocqueville. I think some folks keep an unread copy of Democracy In America just to lob, self-righteously, at the heads of ‘progressives’, who allegedly haven’t read Tocqueville, even though they totally probably did read some in college.) Insert also your Montesquieu and your Constant, as well as Ferguson and Smith. Basically, pile up all cogent worries about how, possibly, the central power will have a tendency to stupidity and/or downright rottenness. On the day that risk is realized, you will be glad if intermediate groups exist that are of a proper size and character to counter central power. Even if the day isn’t here yet, it’s good for those in central power to know that if they start misbehaving, the periphery will get pissed and start acting as counterweight. Checks and balances.

Those attuned to the risk that central planners may go wrong are bothered that certain schools of liberal theory quite literally stipulate away such risk, assuming we’ve instituted justice just to see what perfection looks like. (I’m looking at you, Rawls!) Assuming the best, government-wise, is not the best way to prepare for the worst. At the same time, it’s worth pointing out that two very different argument streams are crossing here: 1) a principled argument that, since individuals should enjoy free association, that ought to scale up to groups. Why not? 2) a more pragmatic argument that the state should contain within itself powerful groups as a kind of insurance policy against the state going insane and bad. 1) and 2) can lean on each other, but they are not mutually entailing, by any means, and they are obviously very different thoughts.

Now we turn to face the other direction, the congruence group. The thinkers who are so sensitive to the dangers posed by central levers of power in the hands of The Man of Systems can be total idiots – willfully and/or self-servingly blind – when it comes to thinking about more local dangers. In his book Jacob talks about the ‘busybody’, as opposed to the ‘Man of Systems’. I think his foot slips a bit, in choosing this mild-sounding tag. It does catch a lot. But not all. But Jacob doesn’t play down the life-and-death risks. (Armed KKK militias aren’t ‘busybodies’ by half.) Local tyranny – from your dad, the boss, the intolerant folks in your neighborhood, the ‘little platoon’ burning a cross on your lawn – can be way worse for your health than what some dumb or even corrupt king or state planner gets up to, off at the distant center. J.S. Mill was sensitive to this, and most Americans are, too, without having to read Mill. When we tell ourselves history stories in which freedom triumphs over tyranny, some of the proudest moments take this form. If you are an African-American, under Jim Crow, you are glad when central government reaches out its universalizing, systematizing, visible hand, and gives you some civil rights for a change. Libertarians who can’t see any threats to liberty except from the government are just never going to win over people who know enough US history to know that, sometimes, government frees you from local, perhaps private tyranny.

So basically people can be dumb in both directions. They can be over-optimistic about the good government can do, systematically, for everyone – who are all supposed to be equal. They can incautiously play down the risks of government being dumb or corrupt, if local groups can’t counter-balance them. They can be over-optimistic about good in ‘little platoons’. They can fail to see the threat to liberty in what Mill called ‘the tyranny of society’, as opposed to the magistrate.

When you put it like that, it’s obvious: can both the government and your neighbor be an abusive jerk? Obviously. There isn’t some a priori theory that tells us whether we are more at risk, relatively, of being busybodied by our neighbor or excessively nose-counted by the state. Or killed by a soldier of the state, or lynched by a voluntary local association of neighbors wearing pillowcases on their heads. You just have to be not-dumb about perceiving risks of both sorts. But this obviously makes it hard to have an abstract theory, in which is inscribed some stable preconception of the relative salience of those risks.

In other words – and to sum up – the ‘pure’ theory says: worry about this more! The ‘congruence’ theory says: worry about that more! The only way to synthesize these is to say: girls, girls, you’re both hideous! But it’s just not obvious they are equally hideous.

And that’s Jacob Levy, folks! It’s a good book. I tried to make it sounds kind of duh-obvious. Like we knew this already. Well, that’s good books for you. After you are done you are kind of like: why didn’t I write that? (Except for the Montesquieu bits. It’s all I can do to spell that guy’s name. I get it wrong half the time.)

Now, let me chip in my own 2 cents on top. I said I would say something about the abstract problems with kludging the congruence side, by injecting it with some of the wisdom of the other side. I get the sense that Jacob would probably agree with what I’m about to say, but I’m not totally sure. Maybe I’m actually channeling him. Not sure.

A sociological observation: conservatives like to complain that liberals are victimologists and special snowflakes. The reason for this is that conservatives are themselves a bunch of big fat, moist, special snowflakes who like to think of themselves as endlessly victimized by victimologists. If liberals ever stopped feeling so damn sorry for themselves, conservatives would have to cancel their own eternal pity party. But seriously, the more charitable way to put it is: people of all walks of liberal democratic life like to feel like they are good, decent people. They couldn’t feel that way if their groups – the groups they identify with – were systematically, on a daily basis, infringing good, decent people’s rights and liberties. (Who could sleep at night thinking they are a total bastard for belonging to a group that is undermining liberal democracy and depriving innocent people of liberty?) So people, as a condition of feeling decent about themselves, need to feel like they are underdogs, in the groupishness department. It’s a form of moral self-justification or insurance: knowing your group is on the outs, on the defensive, is the little guy, the victim. So long as that is true, you don’t need to worry too much that the tribalism you are perpetrating might be a bad thing, not a healthy thing.

It’s like everyone is working with the following maxim: incongruency is ok so long as it counter-balances incongruency elsewhere in the system (so really the fact that you are being locally illiberal makes the overall system more liberal)

Putting it another way: groupishness is permissible iff it’s publicly anodyne (we can ignore those mild cases) or favors underdogs because it functions to level the public playing field by introducing an unleveling that is equal and opposite to some other unleveling. (To mix dog and leveling metaphors.) Obviously then it’s impermissible to have groupishness that favors overdogs, because that functions to unlevel the playing field. Overdogs really are morally obliged to make themselves like social atoms, because when they run in packs they are just intolerable.

This means, of course, that everyone is always figuring out how their group is actually an underdog, and trying to scope out angles from which they look underdoggy.

Is this a bad approach? Well, I think it’s kind of morally plausible. I’m attracted to congruence as an ideal, but I like my groups, too, and I feel that they are good for liberal democracy. When testing groupishness for permissibility, test it for underdogginess. But on reflection, that’s a pretty rough test. And it motivates not just victimology (which is sort of sour) but confabulation (which is not the way to think clearly.) It’s often confused or dishonest or otherwise inadequate.

This is not to deny that there are victims, and groups that have way better titles to victimhood than other groups. In saying a lot of people are motivated to think confusedly about how they are underdogs, I’m not saying there’s no such thing as thinking clearly, or that it’s just in the eye of the beholder.

I’ve tried to avoid naming group names in this post. I’ve talked very abstractly about ‘groups’. I think that’s actually a good thing, even though abstraction has its limits. If I had named names, we would have gotten in bitter arguments about the particulars in comments. (Because that’s what comments are for! Let the games begin!)

In what way does my abstract framework help in the least? Well, probably not much. Who pays attention to abstractions when they’ve got the least skin in the game? So when any actual case comes up, people will just be that way. But here’s a test, if you can just remember to run it when the time comes. When some group you identify with is being accused of bad groupishness because of something-something, and when you are inclined to make an underdoggish whadabboutish defense – whaddabout that other group that is against us, and is bigger? – think whether you would find your group’s behavior permissible on the (counterfactual!) assumption that it isn’t an underdog. You are free to go on believing your group actually is the underdog. I’m not asking you to doubt that. You could very well be right. But still perform the exercise. Imagine your group is dominant, or at least comfortably secure, not disadvantaged hence in need of actively pushing back when pushed. Would that thing your group did that bothers people still be ok in those non-dire straits? This should clarify, in some small way, whether the group behavior you defend, that someone else finds oppressive or bullying, is justifiable in your own eyes ONLY because you conceive of it as a defensive response to larger oppression and bullying. That is, you buy into the ideal of congruence, and you only excuse local incongruence in the service of larger congruence. You just happen to believe that everything your groups do serves that larger congruence, even though others (wrongly) don’t see it that way.

This post is long enough. I just hammered it out to get my abstract thoughts all out. Gosh, I wonder whether they are true! No doubt you will tell me they are false. Oh, what a relief it will be to be properly and severely corrected by your superior wisdom!

 

{ 640 comments }

1

Patrick Fessenbecker 08.20.17 at 10:55 am

Loved this! Does Levy talk about employers? I would think that as a matter of practice they’re the groups that sit most prominently between citizens and the state. And it seems like employment law might be an interesting archive to read for negotiations of this tension.

2

John Holbo 08.20.17 at 11:28 am

There’s more Montesquieu in his book. But I can’t spell it consistently so I don’t write about it. More seriously: there is a lot of good history. One of the bits that sticks in my mind is the stuff about the way in which institutions we associate with ‘civil society’ arise in cities sort of over-and-against the (medieval) church. But these days – maybe since Tocqueville: kind of a long value of ‘these days’ – we may think of civil society as a matter of, say, small, healthy churches existing over and against the government. Not so much about employment law, per se, in Levy. He mentions those issues. He doesn’t neglect them but thinks others have discussed them well. Not much about political partisanship, per se. A lot about the trickiness of pitching your theory ‘ideally’ or not. That stuff interests me. Rereading my post, it seems to me now a very impure mix of Levy and Holbo. I’m sure Jacob won’t mind, but I could have been more careful about that. I was just trying to get thoughts down without checking where exactly I got it from. There are some videos of Levy giving talks about the book on YouTube. So you can get the kernel of it from him in 50 fairly painless minutes. Here for example:

3

Matt 08.20.17 at 11:32 am

Does Levy talk about employers? I would think that as a matter of practice they’re the groups that sit most prominently between citizens and the state.
I don’t know if Levy does, by Elizabeth Anderson has a really neat book out, her recent tanner lectures, on just this topic Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It)

(The Libertarian view is represented in a reply by Tyler Cowen. It’s pretty weak, and I’m not a Cowen hater.) I am also working on this topic, though more narrowly. Alas, it’s still in progress.

Perhaps John touched on this, but because it’s a Holbo post, and so I got tired part way though and had to skim (surely, this is 2/3 too long, I hope we can all agree) I’m not sure, but really, the issue with kids isn’t _just_ that it’s not enough to be let out when you are 18 (though that’s clearly not enough, especially if you have no resources) but also that you might be deformed – often developmentally, if you were not allowed to go to school, like the Amish or some others, but or say, or more abstractly – but in the extreme, even physically. Groups want freedom – and that’s both understandable and desirable – but when it’s freedom to do oftentimes irrepairable harm to kids (often the freedom most actively sought!) it’s not so clear that it’s good to give it to them.

4

John Holbo 08.20.17 at 11:46 am

To atone for my post unclarity about which bits come from me, which from Levy, here’s a passage from the start that gives the flavor:

“This book is a liberal study of freedom, but it does not focus on the lone person facing a state law. At the broadest level, it studies questions of the following kind: Do the internal rules governing members of intermediate associations and non-state groups violate the freedom of their members? Do state restrictions on such groups, including those aimed at internal rules or the internal power structures that enforce them, violate the freedom of the groups’ members, enhance it, or both? Do intermediate groups serve to protect the freedom of their members (or of others in society) against the state? Should the state protect persons against domination by the groups to which they belong?”

Levy then says he studies these questions but doesn’t really answer them. He lays out the ‘pure’ view and points out the serious problems. He lays out the ‘congruence’ view then points out the serious problems. Here’s a nice bit from the start of the next section of the book, Part III, titled “Reunderstanding Intermediate Groups: Treating Groups As Groups”:

“One way of understanding the problem with the pure theory and congruence is this: the pure theory treats groups as if they were individual persons, while congruence treats groups as if they were states. On the pure theory, associations wield in aggregate the rights their members hold against outsiders, and their internal rules over members are considered little-to-no different from an individual person’s own reasons for action. On the congruence theory, associations’rules are considered tightly analogous to the legislation of a state, and subject to the same constraints as morally legitimate state
legislation.”

I think that’s smart and right. Now my post kind of goes off at a different angle in the end. Can we salvage the congruence view by insisting that incongruence always be underdoggish? I think that’s interesting because I think it’s an often operative idea. I think I think that way a lot and that other people think that way a lot. It’s not the worst way to think but it’s got limitations and problems and, at some point, ‘treat groups as groups’ is what we have to do. But that’s hard! (I didn’t really say enough in the post about what Levy himself does past this point.)

5

John Holbo 08.20.17 at 11:49 am

“surely, this is 2/3 too long, I hope we can all agree”

It’s nice to have some overlapping consensus about something, so I always make my posts too long to ensure that.

6

MrArt 08.20.17 at 11:50 am

I think there’s a difference between groups that have their own rules and can enforce them (like a family or an employer) and groups that are based on shared characterises (ethnicity, or even something like “scientists’). There’s a gray area for groups like doctors who have professional standards bodies.

Groups that can’t enforce behaviours are unfairly maligned for what some of them do.

7

Matt 08.20.17 at 11:54 am

It’s nice to have some overlapping consensus about something, so I always make my posts too long to ensure that.

This is where we need a “vote up” button, but I’d feel a bit funny, since the reply itself should, to be consistent, be made into a long paragraph.

8

John Holbo 08.20.17 at 11:55 am

“I think there’s a difference between groups that have their own rules and can enforce them (like a family or an employer) and groups that are based on shared characterises (ethnicity, or even something like “scientists’). There’s a gray area for groups like doctors who have professional standards bodies.”

It’s totally clear, yes, that my shameless lumping can’t last but the post was going to be too long anyway. Crucial axes like voluntary/non-voluntary, ease of entry and exit, voice, all this stuff must make a big difference.

9

John Holbo 08.20.17 at 11:56 am

“the reply itself should, to be consistent, be made into a long paragraph.”

There are reasons I’m not on Twitter beside the reason that Twitter completely sucks.

10

Jacob T. Levy 08.20.17 at 12:05 pm

I explicitly mostly bracket unions, firms, and political parties, on the grounds that thinking about them requires a full normative political economy/ democratic theory about the whole society and the role those institutions play in that society, and that I couldn’t possibly do that work responsibly inside the same covers as the work I was trying to do in this book.

Happily, other people are doing the work. Abraham Singer’s _The Form of the Firm: A Political Theory of the Corporation_ (forthcoming OUP), for example, uses a few ideas and tools from my book and other parts of political theory. and combines them with a lot of serious normative political economy. He ends up leftward of where I’d end up, but it’s very much the sort of book (and the sort of work) I think the topic demands.

(Thanks, John! Glad you enjoyed it! You were of course one of the earliest readers of one of the earliest fragments of the core argument.)

11

ardj 08.20.17 at 12:31 pm

er, Bravo. (I think.) You might have to think this through a bit further for me, because – ill-informed (and not very bright) as I am – my enthusiasm for your infracanine test is hampered by two thoughts.
One is that some of those who most need to apply this test will not in fact do so, which may lead to a quotation from Franklin which I happily lift from Wikipedia: “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” (I must read the original, to find out which were the perfect societies he was referring to.)
And the other is that I am not clear if this helps with the problem of having the means to assert one’s freedom of association, though this may be an aspect of the first thought; and maybe both pure and congruent liberals will claim you will get it.
Sorry if these are red-herrings.

12

Chris Bertram 08.20.17 at 2:43 pm

@Matt, I’d also mention wrt employers etc, the piece I did here with Corey Robin and Alex Gourevitch (unaccountably unreferenced by Anderson).

http://crookedtimber.org/2012/07/01/let-it-bleed-libertarianism-and-the-workplace/

13

John Holbo 08.20.17 at 2:43 pm

That’s a good old post, Chris.

14

Chris Bertram 08.20.17 at 2:48 pm

Just a small note, with which I don’t think Jacob would disagree. I think the picture that has the state at the top, the individual at the bottom and “intermediate” groups in between can’t be quite right. For the simple reason that it packs everything into the state container, but lots of collectives (and foci of allegiance) are transnational in character.

15

Matt 08.20.17 at 2:57 pm

Thanks for the reminder of that post, Chris – I remember reading it, but will check it out again. (If I am remembering correctly, it’s slightly to the side of my own current interests, but surely worth going back to.) Also a good point about trans-national organization or associations (with Churches – especially the Catholic Church, being the traditional example, for good or ill, but lots of others, too.)

16

Jacob T. Levy 08.20.17 at 3:07 pm

Chris: I absolutely agree and talk about that problem with the language. Religions in general and the Catholic Church in particular are paradigmatic cases for me; the Masons show up a fair bit too, and even universities have a partly-transnational character through mutual recognition, ius ubique docendi, etc. And the fact that they’re often transnational is part of what generates the excessive state suspicion of them discussed in ch 3.

17

Anarcissie 08.20.17 at 3:22 pm

Besides subnational versus transnational groups, I think there might also be a significant difference between organizations upheld by the state (corporations, for example; families, in some jurisdictions) and groupings which are not. States do make sovereign, totalitarian claims to everything within their boundaries, but not all individuals observe or believe in those claims.

18

Jacob T. Levy 08.20.17 at 3:25 pm

19

bruce wilder 08.20.17 at 3:55 pm

It is almost as if real liberals are characteristically skeptical and hostile to formulas of purity.

20

Gavin Kostick 08.20.17 at 4:46 pm

Encouraged by the generally ruminative natue of the post, which is not too long as I have a long wait in departures, can I ask you to go further in thinking about why the state is a suitable counter pole to the individual from which pair all of society hangs, if I have you right? I’m unconvinced. Would Bordieu (which I can’t spell either) be useful here?

21

Lord 08.20.17 at 5:02 pm

Everyone believes themselves the underdog, even when in the dominant coalition, because coalitions are varied and variable, while to be in a dominant majority is to not think about being dominate but just the natural state of affairs. While we can be the majority in some sense, we are all a minority in some other, and want to believe our opinions are the majority even when we realize they are not.

22

nastywoman 08.20.17 at 5:11 pm

The only problem with this groupthing -(lately) – is that there is so little good ole ‘groupthink’.

Like in the good old times -(a few years ago) if you joined a – let’s say nice and sympathetic group of so called ‘progressives’ or ‘liberals’ you could could nearly surely depend that they all were ‘progressives’ or ‘liberals’ -(in the dictionary definition of the word) BUT nowadays there are all these unpleasant surprises – if your progressive or liberal sister or brother’ – suddenly distracts with all her or his… let’s call them ‘hobbies’ – which have very little to do with the original idea of ‘a group’ as a group of synchronized individuals aiming for the same – agreed on – destination.

Like for example –
You might get into a great group of American ‘progressives’ and ‘liberals’ – and then some of them suddenly express their desires NOT to aim for the typical agreed on ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ causes – BUT instead having some ‘private’ agenda like teaching some – what they think – ‘not their kind of liberals’ a very personal lesson – OR they just pick one of their favorite… let’s call them ‘hobbies’ – which in their mind only makes a ‘liberal’ a ‘liberal’ – and they completely focus on that – to the extend – that – for example – ‘peacefulness’ lets them follow somebody who only pretends to be ‘peaceful’ – and then – by discarding all other ‘liberal things’ – which in the good ole time of good groupthink would have made it obvious for everybody – that the F…face in question is all BUT ‘peaceful’ – and thusly completely unacceptable for a group of ‘good liberals’ –
they vote for the ‘F…face anywhoo…

And so the absurdity happens – that members of a group of ‘liberals’ are suddenly going for something completely ‘illiberal’ – or helping a group they have absolutely nothing in common with just because this ‘other’ group has an individual in their group who has the same… let’s call it ‘hobby’ than somebody in the group of ‘liberals’ – and for sure – it’s pretty harmless if it is the ‘hobby’ of stamp collecting – and then the good liberal suddenly would have to make the choice do I go with the group of stamp collectors or with my ‘liberals’ – but if the hobby becomes ‘fighting the establishment’ and everybody ‘fighting the establishment’ is supposedly a good ‘liberal’ – even if he is a flaming F…face a..hole the whole groupthing becomes really… let’s say…
problematic?

Or is that too confusing to understand?

23

Alex K. 08.20.17 at 5:12 pm

Excellent post John. I disagree with your (and Levy’s) middle of the road approach, but I ordered the book nevertheless.

I used to think along the lines you mentioned: pure liberalism has limits –you shouldn’t be able to sell yourself into slavery– hence you can consider what we call now “civil rights” just a patch to liberalism, on the path to overcoming its limits. Nothing to see here, move along.

I now think that that’s a mistake, that the “patch” is an incoherent assault on liberal values which in the long term is poisonous to society. It’s poisonous for the beneficiaries of affirmative action, who will always have the cloud of doubt about their merits over their head. It’s poisonous to the supposed “losers” of affirmative action, since it builds up resentment (whether justified, or, more likely, unjustified) and you never know how such resentment will blow up.

It is also deeply incoherent: Asian Americans are denied admission in a racist manner in the name of racial justice. There are many good –i.e. not based on unjust discrimination — reasons why certain fields have different distributions of groups, and shoehorning that distribution into approved proportions in likely to lead to a poisonous atmosphere.

Does that mean that we just need to suffer egregious instances of private abuse from and against groups? No, it doesn’t!

We can still patch-up liberalism. We just need to abandon the search for abstract principles for the balancing the supposed faults of liberalism with the supposed benefits of “congruence.” In other words, treat the patch just like the patch that it is: put reasonable time limits and perhaps reasonable result limits to any law that is supposed to patch liberalism.

You think that due to abhorrent historical (usually state sponsored) abuse some minorities will likely suffer social Jim Crow-like abuse, for a debatable period of time? You’re probably right! So we treat the situation like an emergency situation, which requires emergency-like departures from liberalism.

The advantage of this approach is that you are free to consider the particulars of the emergency situation, you are not forced to design, once and for all, an abstract, coherent, principle of “social justice” which simply does not exist. Additionally, if the state gets the emergency law wrong –as it most certainly will, in one way or another– the society does not have to deal with this failure forever, as the time limits will kick in.

The disadvantage of this approach is that you still have to consider abstract rules about what constitutes an emergency situation, what is a reasonable time or result limit of the emergency. But this should be much, much easier than figuring out, a priori, all the possible oppression dynamics of groups that can make up their own rules, and that operate in an environment of other rules, designed by a mistake prone government.

(I’ve made my case in the context of civil rights because that’s where the case for “congruence theories” is the strongest. In other contexts it’s much easier to make my case)

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Sebastian H 08.20.17 at 5:30 pm

I like the framework, and I will probably have to spend quite a bit of time thinking about how it plays out. It plays into my thinking about pluralistic societies and identity-based rights. I wonder if there is also something about the importance level of action/inaction/coordination.

My thoughts on it arose around gay rights and the wedding photography/wedding cake cases.

This new (to me) way of looking at it sheds light on it in interesting ways. I generally don’t like to try to force people to do things that they don’t want to do. But I also see that letting surgeons choose not to operate on me because I’m gay, could cause serious problems. Making me get a wedding photographer who likes gay people seems not only not a big deal, right on the verge of an active good. Making people bake a wedding cake that they feel supports a cause they don’t like (can bakers say no to Nazi cakes?) seems like an unnecessary intervention in overbearing congruence.

So on the congruence side, we can accept the truth that making it impossible or unreasonably difficult to extricate yourself from the dominant ideologies is unfair, without accepting the idea that all extrications or workarounds are unfair enough to require that they get hammered down. The idea of tolerance (to me) is letting people think their own things and do their own things even if it causes inconvenience to me to work around it, so long as it doesn’t cause danger for me to work around it.

Or course then we get back into vicitimology games where seeing a person who doesn’t like gay weddings publicly admit to it is ‘triggering’, so we have to talk about what counts as a real danger and what isn’t.

Anyway it seems like an interesting set of tools to look at.

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b9n10nt 08.20.17 at 6:03 pm

I think the most relevant issue concerning the right of association is being passed over thus far in the discussion: As it currently operates, society and the state work to involuntarily disassociate citizens from potential groups: through employment, housing and economic development, and through mass marketing and entertainment. We have a “bowling alone” problem.

Perhaps there’s a flaw with the premis that we are looking for some equilibrium state: a “balance” between competing individual rights (association vs. privacy/speech/equality) and a rule that will help us find and maintain a balance. That sets us up to consider valid instances of limiting the right of association, but blinds us to the pervasive and harmful instances in which this right is already being effectively suppressed.

Really, we should continue to understand liberalism as a revolutionary, utopian force: we don’t want balance, we want progress! So instead of a balancing metaphor, we can employ a flow chart metaphor: step 1: liberalism dissolves the oppressive associations of church, guild, and feudal lord with the acid of individual rights; step 2: amid a flowering of liberal freedom, the liberal citizenry gets stuck in an atomized hedonism that promotes environmental catastrophe, economic injustice, and social isolation; step 3: communities that pass the purity test employed by the liberal state are encouraged by society and the state.

So the role of the state would be to continue to transform ourselves from step 1 through step 3. We still have some of the same problems of distinguishing which groups should be left alone and which ones repressed, but we would have a more comprehensive and honest* accounting of our decision making, I think.

*Honest because the state can never be a neutral arbiter of individual rights; it’s always a force of social engineering. So better to be forthright about what the state is doing and why.

26

bob mcmanus 08.20.17 at 6:20 pm

Would Bordieu (which I can’t spell either) be useful here? (Bourdieu, but I don’t care)

Yes. A very pointed, polysemous, pretentious, accusative and dare I say gibbous yes. Just cause gibbous is a neat word.

I wrote a too long comment (but too long comments should be de riguer in a Holbo thread; lots of parentheticals also) entitled “Why Levy Why not Ellen Rooney*?” which tried to inject post-structuralism into the praxis of the discussion of groups and group discussions. This is one. Here. Now. We are making it, and excluding others. I make mine by what I choose to read, and what I very rarely write. Even this I consider a small act of Bourdieu’s symbolic violence.

But I got distracted by The Destruction of Reason and saved off instead of posting.

*Seductive Reasoning:Pluralism as the Problematic of Contemporary Literary Theory 2016. There are shelves, going back way before Fraser vs Honneth. I frankly don’t understand Anglo-American political science or philosophy (economics, okay I understand a little, but not in a way you’d like) at all, and grieve at incommensurate discourses.

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Displaced Person 08.20.17 at 8:16 pm

Very interesting and I must reread. Nonetheless, I think that the thought experiment and the dialogue would be improved if Neibuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society is taken into account. I will not attempt to summarize Neibuhr’s argument here, but offer a tidbit to build interest. Why, Neihbuhr asks, do good, decent Christian people support government actions (and, per the argument above, the actions of intermediate actors) which are immoral without perceiving any problem or contradiction?

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Manoel Galdino 08.20.17 at 11:02 pm

Very good piece. I missed more explicit references to power though. In the end, it seems that we are concerned about unequal distribution of power (among groups, intra-group and between the state and the individual). If so, I’d rank the need to regulate groups based on the kind of power they have (three faces of power etc.). So, the state and some groups (like family, men over woman etc.) have access to the first face of power (coercion). Then, some groups (like the corporation) have access to the second face of power. And everyone may have (different levels of) access to the third face of power (ideology). Does it make any sense?

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John Holbo 08.21.17 at 1:39 am

“In the end, it seems that we are concerned about unequal distribution of power (among groups, intra-group and between the state and the individual).”

One more thing that the post shamelessly lumps: different senses of power, as well as different types of groups.

Just a quick note: I say that the will to underdogliness is an invitation to confabulation, not just because people have a strong psychic need to find the answer they like but because, in some sense, everyone lacks power. You can be a billionaire and someone says something mean to you on Twitter and you feel you are put upon. And it’s even true: for that one moment, one that one screen, someone ‘put you down’. It’s insane for you to forget how you have power everywhere else in that moment, but that’s people. Now, dialing back the insanity: a lot of groups have power in one context but lack it somewhere else, or have one type of power, but lack another. If you are looking to be an underdog, there is always some context or angle that will feed your desire to play the victim, the better to feel morally secure. This isn’t to say that there is no truth here, or that everyone is equally the victim, or there are no groups that we can identity as oppressed, in a fairly general sense. But it shows how trying to make underdogliness a heuristic for healthy groupishness encourages unclear, partial, delusive thinking, other things equal. It would be better to think about it better, somehow.

30

Val 08.21.17 at 1:54 am

I like “grieve at incommensurate discourses” from bob. I feel the same, but apparently can’t post here any more (irony).

31

Val 08.21.17 at 1:55 am

Or maybe I can!

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John Holbo 08.21.17 at 2:15 am

““Why Levy Why not Ellen Rooney*?” which tried to inject post-structuralism into the praxis of the discussion of groups and group discussions. “

My off-the-cuff explanation is that Levy is refreshingly free of post-structuralism. But, on a deeper, truer level, I just have never read Ellen Rooney.

33

M Caswell 08.21.17 at 4:15 am

Contra the parenthetical dig, it seems to me Rawls is pretty good on this. Cf the “fact of pluralism”, and the correlative “fact of oppression.”

34

John Holbo 08.21.17 at 5:44 am

“Cf the “fact of pluralism””

I totally agree that Rawls is trying to address this, increasingly with “Political Liberalism”. I like Rawls a lot and I think there’s a lot of good stuff in that second big book. But I totally agree with Jacob that the ‘realistic utopianism’ of Rawls ends up falling between two stools: namely, reality and utopia.

35

TM 08.21.17 at 7:48 am

“Let’s lump. Anything that might be a locus of loyalty or ‘identity’, above the individual level, below the state level.”

Good grief.

“Let’s lump together all physical systems larger than an atom but smaller than a galaxy and see whether we can construct a coherent theory out of them. Didn’t work out? Too bad but twas worth a try.”

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John Holbo 08.21.17 at 9:13 am

“Good grief.

“Let’s lump together all physical systems larger than an atom but smaller than a galaxy and see whether we can construct a coherent theory out of them. Didn’t work out? Too bad but twas worth a try.”

?

37

John Holbo 08.21.17 at 9:35 am

Sorry, that ‘?’ was less than fulsome in its indication of what is puzzling me about your comment, TM. I will elaborate briefly.

Strange but true, there IS a well-known body of theory that ‘lumps together all physical systems larger than an atom but smaller than a galaxy’, in a coherent framework. It’s known as classical mechanics. From Wikipedia:

“Classical mechanics describes the motion of macroscopic objects, from projectiles to parts of machinery, and astronomical objects, such as spacecraft, planets, stars and galaxies. Within classical mechanics are sub-fields, including those that describe the behavior of solids, liquids and gases. Classical mechanics provides extremely accurate results when studying large objects and speeds not approaching the speed of light. When the objects being examined are sufficiently small, it becomes necessary to introduce the other major sub-field of mechanics: quantum mechanics.”

I am at a loss to credit your total ignorance of this, so I am puzzled by your evident attempt to denigrate my post by drawing an analogy between my thinking and the course of post-Newtonian physics, which has generally met with intellectual acclaim, despite all the limits it has run up against in the last century.

Which is not to say that I am attempting Newtonian theory of groupishness or anything of the sort. Heaven forfend.

So let’s take it from the top. You see a problem with my discussion of groups. That is all very well, yet tantalizingly approximate, as full critiques go. Perhaps you could elucidate?

38

Val 08.21.17 at 10:01 am

For some reason all my comments have been disappearing. I wondered if it was because I had been accidentally using two different email addresses, but I’ve been doing that for a while, so I don’t know.

I apologise for not being able to apologise to Raven, who was very offended by something I said on a previous thread about people getting out of their bloody cars – I didn’t mean people like you Raven.

John Holbo – I often don’t understand what you’re saying but I also think that may be because of incommensurate discourses. Naturally I think I’m operating in the right one. Yours seems to be dangerously close to a discourse where no-one actually is any more powerful or privileged than anyone else.

39

Val 08.21.17 at 10:07 am

One thing I have tried to point out many times is that ‘individuals’, per se, don’t exist. We’re all part of the ecosystem. We have a sense of being separate, of ending at the skin – it’s an existential reality but it isn’t essentially true.

40

John Holbo 08.21.17 at 10:53 am

“One thing I have tried to point out many times is that ‘individuals’, per se, don’t exist. We’re all part of the ecosystem.”

It doesn’t follow from the fact that we’re all part of the ecosystem that individuals don’t exist. That’s a classic reductionistic fallacy, Val: the assumption that, if a system or order can be analyzed at one level, then, in some sense, all the other levels must be a kind of illusion.

“Yours seems to be dangerously close to a discourse where no-one actually is any more powerful or privileged than anyone else.”

How so? How does anything in the post imply anything of the sort?

41

Bill Benzon 08.21.17 at 11:09 am

Sorry John, but the Devil made me do it: What we’ve got here is a lumping commentariat.

Good Lord! Is that bad.

42

Val 08.21.17 at 11:12 am

No I don’t think being an individual is an illusion – as I said, it’s an existential reality. The sensation of border, of inside and outside, separation at the skin, is as real as anything I know of (though I don’t know if all human beings have felt this way). It just that I also know that the border is in fact permeable and I, the embodied person, am continually being created and recreated from the supposedly ‘outside’ world.

You do talk about individuals and groups (leave aside the apparent reification of the state for the moment) as if they were essentially separate from each other, but in fact they are all part of something.

43

TM 08.21.17 at 11:18 am

JH, fair enough for classical mechanics, but notice that mechanics doesn’t describe physical *systems* as such, rather it abstracts away each system’s internal structure. I don’t think this approach works very well for your purposes.

I don’t intend to denigrate your post. If anything, you are doing the denigrating yourself:

“There is a lot to distinguish in this lot, but let’s not. Let’s lump.”
“Continuing on cartoonishly … there are citizens and there is the state”
“If you seriously want to scrap the US Constitution in favor of some kind of neo-feudal system”
“All pretty vague? Yes, quite.”
“In what way does my abstract framework help in the least? Well, probably not much.”

Humility is commendable but when an analysis announces itself as “cartoonish”, why take it seriously?

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Val 08.21.17 at 11:39 am

I just don’t see how the argument works unless you see ‘the individual’ as some kind of primary starting point, which to me is incomprehensible, like astrology or something.
But I haven’t read it carefully so should either stop commenting or do that, I guess. I just liked what bob said, it seemed to hit a chord with how I felt about the bits I had read. Though now I think about it, it’s usually paradigms that are incommensurable rather than discourses, isn’t it? Not that it matters.

45

John Holbo 08.21.17 at 11:42 am

“Humility is commendable but when an analysis announces itself as “cartoonish”, why take it seriously?”

Ah, because I want to get out in front of any charge that I’m guilty of lumping. It’s obviously not on to treat all groups – of any sort – as the same, for all possible political theory purposes. That would be nonsense. (But this is the internet, so you have to be extra clear that you are not talking nonsense. Not that it does any good, usually.) Nevertheless, there are interesting properties that all – or very many groups may share, even at this rather rarified level of generality. Namely, people tend to think about groups – all of them – in the somewhat unsteady way I characterize in the post. Being thought about this way is a thing all the groups have in common, and it’s a significant property. (If that’s wrong, you can correct me. I’m sure there are exceptions. But it’s a pretty good generalization, I think.) Basically, pointing out this confused pattern of thinking concerning ALL groups is worth the candle of a whole post. You point out that physics works because “it abstracts away each system’s internal structure”. If you like, that’s what I’m doing, too. All these groups have different internal structures. But even when you abstract away from all that – without denying it – you haven’t left yourself with nothing left to say. I hope.

Val: “No I don’t think being an individual is an illusion”.

But you said (and I quote) that individuals “don’t exist.” They seem to. If they seem to exist but don’t then they are a kind of illusion. You say now they are an ‘existential reality’. Well, what does it mean to say that something that ‘doesn’t exist’ is an ‘existential reality’?

“You do talk about individuals and groups (leave aside the apparent reification of the state for the moment) as if they were essentially separate from each other, but in fact they are all part of something.”

What do you mean ‘essentially separate’? You seem to think the consideration that sinks my point of view is that they – individuals? – are all ‘part of something’. That’s pretty vague but – Well, sure. Obviously so. Surely I wouldn’t write the post if I didn’t know humans are social – groupish. The obvious inadequacy of any kind of implausible atomism about human individuality is the occasion for the post, not an objection to it. Somehow you are holding the thing upside down and backwards, Val.

46

John Holbo 08.21.17 at 11:45 am

“I just don’t see how the argument works unless you see ‘the individual’ as some kind of primary starting point”

For my part I just don’t see how the argument works unless you DON’T see ‘the individual as some kind of primary starting point. Let’s try this. Why do you think my argument doesn’t work unless I make this obviously problematic assumption?

47

Val 08.21.17 at 12:07 pm

Just – sorry I will stop, promise – but that thing about families and individuals – sure families can be oppressive etc, but the reason we have families is that literally everyone used to part of someone else’s body once (and yeah, the ecosystem, etc, but also, part of another body).

I was once was involved in a conversation with a professor, I won’t go into details, but it made me realise that he had literally forgotten he used to be a baby once (let alone a foetus etc). So now whenever I hear a professor talking about individuals, I look at them with a jaundiced eye, as you may understand.

48

Val 08.21.17 at 12:07 pm

Oh in the meantime you have responded. Well my argument seems still relevant.

49

nastywoman 08.21.17 at 12:08 pm

Now – as we have reached the wonderful question if individuals “exist” – or not? – let me show up with one of my favorite Cartoons:

It’s a dude somewhere sitting in a room and above his head is a big Cartoon Bubble and in the bubble there are the words:
”Seeing that our senses sometimes deceive us, I was willing to suppose that there existed nothing really such as they presented to us; And because some men err in reasoning, and fall into Paralogisms, even on the simplest matters of Geometry, I, convinced that I was as open to error as any other, rejected as false all the reasonings I had hitherto taken for Demonstrations; And finally, when I considered that the very same thoughts (presentations) which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is at that time not one of them true, I supposed that all the objects (presentations) that had ever entered into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams. But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be something; And as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the Sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search.

50

John Holbo 08.21.17 at 12:26 pm

“but that thing about families and individuals”

“but the reason we have families is that literally everyone used to part of someone else’s body once”

And if you read Susan Moller Okin’s classic, “Justice, Gender and The Family” – referenced in the post – you will, I believe, discover that, although Okin too discusses ‘families’ and ‘individuals’, yet she knows where babies come from. (I actually searched for the word ‘babies’ in her book just now and found a footnote that shows she definitely has ideas about where they come from.) There is nothing about knowing where babies come from that precludes you from finding uses for the word ‘individual’ and the word ‘group’. Look, Val: you have suggested that I have a weirdly atomized view of individuals and that I don’t know that different groups may have different levels of social power. Is there any basis for this whatsoever? You say you think I think these things. But (this is the part where I get lost) WHY do you think this? What is it I have said that makes you think I don’t know where babies come from, for example? Can you point to anything – anything at all? – in the post that supports any of your interpretation?

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John Holbo 08.21.17 at 12:28 pm

Nastywoman, without wishing to sign on for the whole Cartesian rigamarole, I’m solidly on team ‘exist’, when it comes to individuals.

52

TM 08.21.17 at 12:37 pm

Just my 2 cents, no offense intended!

53

Matt 08.21.17 at 12:39 pm

the reason we have families is that literally everyone used to part of someone else’s body once

the trouble with this as a general argument is that it applies to animals (and plants!) that clearly don’t have “families” even if they have ancestors. So, there must be something else going on here.

54

Z 08.21.17 at 12:41 pm

A too long comment is, as bob mcmanus wrote, required so here it is…

First a sociological point which applies perhaps more to Levy’s talk @2 than to John’s post. Bourdieu’s sociology indeed has a lot to say about a question which is more present in ; namely what happens when the free exercise of freedom of association creates authority and power. His most well-known scholarly work on the topic is probably The mystery of the ministry (easily available online) and its last sentence remains to me as pertinent as ever as a commentary on the OP, especially with respect to the underdog theory of congruence that John recommends . Relatedly, Bourdieu made the important point that the State is neither a tool (say of the élite) nor an agent (as seems to be implied in classical liberal political thought or in the sentence “against the state”) but a field in the technical sense of his sociology. This, I believe, is a significant intellectual progress beyond, for instance, the Tocquevillian corps intermédiaires/État distinction or (at the other side of the political spectrum as conceived by Americans) Marx’s German Ideology. On the other hand, I find that Bourdieu’s sociology has in the end little to say about non-agonistic social groups, so it is good to think about groups (in the terms of the OP) like “political parties, clans, churches, professional organizations, civic organizations, unions, corporations” but maybe not so good to think about groups like “families, ethnic groups, neighborhood groups, bowling leagues.”

Now, a critique of the OP and, if not of the book (of which I know nothing) at least of the presentation its author gave @2. Making the abstract philosophical assumption that “individual citizens [are] primary units over and against the state” is perhaps fine (or even required) and reasonably harmless if one wants to discuss abstract fictional judicial entities (like the citizens of the American Constitution) but it becomes a dangerous approximation if one wants to discuss actually existing political liberalism and, in my view, it is altogether blinding in the context of a discussion of the way actual human beings relate to actual groups (I guess that puts me squarely outside the “audience that is basically ok with making individual citizens primary units over and against the state”). Here is why.

First of all, a patent observation: human beings do not come to the world as atomized individuals with freedom of association, they come to the world has hapless infants who need to suck on a woman tits every three hours or they die. Now, in the peculiar anthropological context of the Anglo-American world (one would need to be precise; this is a world that encompasses 18th century England but also largely the Netherlands, Danemark and Normandy, but not Ireland or Scotland) – a world in which kin relations, even those between siblings or between parents and children are exceptionally weak by world standards, in which the anthropological statute of women is exceptionally high and in which children of both gender typically leave their family and even village at the end of adolescence – the fiction that at some point totally dependent newborn become totally independent individuals is psychologically and philosophically sustainable, groups can therefore be conceivably thought of as association of individuals that one is free to leave and join, and the opposition between individuals and the state can be thought as somehow primary. But change the fundamental parameters, and the foundations crumble so, in my view, everything else collapses.

To go to the polar opposite (exceptionally strong kin relationships, exceptionally low status of women, co-residence of parents and all male children and preference for first paternal cousin marriage, so co-residence of many female relatives as well), one would have to go the Arab/Muslim world but let me go halfway and pick Japan (strong parent/child relation, weak sibling relation, high status of women, co-residence of one child). In such a anthropological context, the notion that groups are the output of the exercise of freedom of association and that authority and power are socially created through this exercise of a fundamental freedom (as is the starting point of Levy’s presentation) is utterly absurd, indeed meaningless. Add to that a historical development of civil society under the Tokugawa feudal and caste system and instead of ending up with a believable structuration of the social world in terms of free individuals joining groups of various sizes which vie for power with a centralized and absolutist State, you end up with, well, something else in which for instance freedom is (not coincidentally) much closer to the internal freedom of christians to serve God according to Luther than to the outward-pointing standard liberal freedoms like freedom of speech or freedom of association (see for instance the use of the concepts of attribute and frame in C.Nakane’s sociology or E.Ikegami concept of publics as points of intersection between cognitive nexus for tentative descriptions of this alternative outcome).

Now, if one wants to think only about actually existing political liberalism (AEPL™), it might be OK to disregard such variation: the contribution of Japan to pluralistic political liberalism can, after all, be safely neglected in first approximation; more generally the AEPL™ is largely produced, believed in and practiced only within the Anglo-American world as defined above and its offshoots. But then again, what is the point of understanding AEPL™ if not comparatively? There is an amusing hint of this in Levy’s talk, in which he remarks (with apparent puzzlement) that his fellow Quebec residents (decidedly outside of the Anglo-American world in terms of the relevant anthropological features noted above) do not share his take on anthropological behaviors inspired by Islam.

Of more concrete interest, if the learned discussion of political liberalism is exclusively conducted under the peculiar assumptions of one specific corner of the world and if AEPL™ (or obviously any other actually existing political philosophy™) is thereby systematically conflated with political liberalism and pluralistic democracy, then a likely consequence is that the people outside of this specific corner of the world will similarly conflate them, and as every core impulse of their being reject AEPL™, so they will reject political liberalism and pluralistic democracy, with horrifying consequences (a phenomenon plainly at work in many corner of the world).

So (if anyone is still reading at this point), I will make a recommendation of my own regarding this discussion of congruence, pure freedom of associations, underdogs, oppression by local or distant authorities… Each time you conjure a concrete incarnation of the abstract principle you are invoking (Jim Crow law and segregation as examples of oppression through free association, sectarian splits within religious communities as examples of free exercise of free association, letting your wife decides everything for yourself as example of how freedom necessarily means the freedom not to exercise freedom… to take explicit examples from the OP and Levy’s talk), ask yourself how the same situation would or did play out within a different system of anthropological norms. If the example becomes meaningless or even absurd, then there is no point in analyzing it solely in abstract, political or game-theoretic terms and under your chosen hypotheses.

55

Patrick Fessenbecker 08.21.17 at 12:43 pm

Matt, I’d been meaning to read that Elizabeth Anderson book: I’ll move it up the list.

One other thought, since the conversation is lively. I wonder if some of the tensions Levy describes parallel or perhaps duplicate problems within the self. One might put the tension in terms of reasons and desires, and then ask whether investments in particular projects are supposed to be justified on the basis of the grounds of reason (conceived substantively) or because they fulfill particular desires. And I suspect there would be a similar scaling — the bigger and more central the investment to your life, the greater the sense that it needs to be justified in terms of reasons.

And two thoughts following off that. First, I wonder how much of this might parallel Plato scholarship regarding the role of the spirit in governance of the self and the city. Is the spirit more like reason, governing appetite in ways largely similar to those reason itself does (I think this is probably what Plato thinks) and thus susceptible to largely the same structural norms as reason, or is it more like appetite, confronting reason alongside appetite as a thing that needs to be governed? And then second, John, your point about victimology strikes me as analogous to a certain kind of anti-repressive practical deliberation: one where agents embrace particular desires particularly because they seem transgressive. But once this model dominates, then there’s a tendency to see transgressive desires everywhere, and every act of embracing them an assertion of one’s autonomy. So agents present to themselves desires that are really barely transgressive, or not transgressive at all — I want to watch a whole season on Netflix right now! I want to eat three Big Macs! — as transgressive precisely to justify their pursuit.

Thanks for reading!

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John Holbo 08.21.17 at 1:07 pm

“First of all, a patent observation: human beings do not come to the world as atomized individuals with freedom of association, they come to the world has hapless infants who need to suck on a woman tits every three hours or they die.”

OK, this is the second person to suspect me of ignorance as to where babies come from. I confess, you have the advantage of me. I don’t know why you suspect me of ignorance on this point of biology. From my point of view, its facts like this – the necessity of non-individualistic social units besides the state, so babies don’t die – that make the subject of the post interesting.

I guess maybe the problem is this: I talk about individuals over and against the state at the start of the post. Obviously I find this talk problematic because the post doesn’t stop there. The post goes on to talk about how the necessary existence of groups complicates this over-simple model. (Is it not obvious that that is why the post doesn’t stop there right at the start?) Maybe it’s not obvious because I am not advocating just rubbishing the whole individuals vs. the state framework and starting from scratch in practice? But are you guys in favor of that? I wouldn’t be in favor of abolishing individual rights, per the Bill of Rights, say, and replacing it with guild privileges or feudalism or theocracy or race-based government or a dictatorship of the Proletariat or anything like that. I’m very skeptical that constituting government without guaranteeing individual rights and liberties is a good idea. But, as the post says, the individuals-over-and-against-the-state framework is very confusing when we think about groups. And groups are a big part of life, necessarily. Because I know where babies come from! Does that help?

57

Sean McCann 08.21.17 at 1:41 pm

loved this post, and didn’t think it a word too long.

58

TM 08.21.17 at 1:53 pm

Z 54: Just curious, how are Quebeckers “decidedly outside” those parameters – weak kin relations, high social standard of women and children typically leave their family? I think that all fits quite well. I would say Québec society is at least as liberal-individualistic as US society, also taking into account religious attitudes.

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John Holbo 08.21.17 at 1:54 pm

Thanks, Sean! Good to hear from you.

It occurs to me that there’s an alternate – maybe clearer – way for me to express my frank bafflement with Val’s critique, which she may share with Z. She’s getting hung up on the first step where I basically say: I am assuming we are ok with some form of liberal democracy. That’s pretty weak, since it really ranges from libertarianism to social democracy. From Grover Norquist drowning government in the bathtub to generous Nordic-style welfare states. All those forms privilege the individual over and against the state by granting a basket of rights and liberties. Now I take it Val (and maybe Z) are saying: nothing of the sort can be acceptable because no one who thinks that sounds good can possibly know where babies come from. That is, they can’t possibly know that, in practice, individuals aren’t perfectly, effectively, autonomous. To me this is nuts. The fallacy is that you are looking at a proposed political constitution and reading it as the world’s worst work of descriptive sociology. But a Bill of Rights isn’t bad sociology. It’s not that genre of work. True, sociology may make trouble for your Bill of Rights. Hence my post. I don’t know whether this helps.

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John Holbo 08.21.17 at 1:56 pm

“I would say Québec society is at least as liberal-individualistic as US society, also taking into account religious attitudes.”

For the record, Jacob Levy is quite interested in the Quebec case.

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AcademicLurker 08.21.17 at 1:59 pm

OK, this is the second person to suspect me of ignorance as to where babies come from.

Funny. I seem to recall similar accusations (neglecting family, childrearing & etc.) in discussions of liberalism at the Valve way back in the days of yore. For some reason, people love to criticize liberals by supposing that they don’t understand the process of how adults become adults. I’m not sure why that is.

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Z 08.21.17 at 2:26 pm

OK, this is the second person to suspect me of ignorance as to where babies come from.

No, no, no. I know you know where babies come from, and I hope you know I know you know. What I intend to draw attention to is that something happens between babies and adults, and that the precise things that happen shapes the way individuals think of society, groups, the state etc… So that in particular the idea that a religious denomination can be (in first approximation) thought of as a by-product of free exercise of freedom of association can be considered a good starting point of a discussion (as Levy did) or a quite meaningless statement (as it is for e.g many Jewish people). Admittedly, the criticism applies more to Levy’s presentation of his work than to yours, but still.

Maybe it’s not obvious because I am not advocating just rubbishing the whole individuals vs. the state framework and starting from scratch in practice? But are you guys in favor of that?

Yes, at least if we really want to seriously discuss the way human beings fit within groups. Otherwise we are seriously discussing the way human beings fit within groups as the former and latter are conceptualized by political scientists who went through the process of growing from babies to political scientists within the anthropological system of the Anglo-American world, which is a totally legitimate topic, and of prime interest to anyone who cares about political liberalism, but still we should not conflate one with the other. Note again that it is not that I believe you don’t know what babies are, it is that the discussion will be highly sensitive to what happens to the baby afterwards, and absent an explicit discussion of what happens, we are bound to miss something crucial.

I wouldn’t be in favor of abolishing individual rights, per the Bill of Rights, say, and replacing it with guild privileges or feudalism or theocracy or race-based government or a dictatorship of the Proletariat or anything like that.

Here we are at the crux of the matter, which I tried to clumsily touch at with my distinction between abstract judicial thinking and AEPL™. Here follows a set of beliefs one can subscribe to without contradiction.
1) Individual rights ascribed to fictional autonomous individuals is the best starting point for a constitutionally organized political system that we currently know of, universally.
2) This idea of individual right is a product of a specific system of anthropological values as channelled through a specific political philosophy (pluralistic philosophical liberalism).
3) Fictional autonomous individuals are not the best starting point for an intellectual analysis of the way human beings fit in groups, because babies inter alia.
4) In the real world, the same specific system of anthropological values that serve as prerequisites for a pluralistic liberal conception of individual rights also come with a lot of different consequences that we might (and ideally should) want to discuss independently.

So it’s not only that I know you know babies come from, I want you not to throw them away with the bathwater, or if you want the learned scholar version, I want you to follow Rorty’s advice about political systems and their philosophical justifications and not judge a system by its anthropological origins.

To be clear(er) and concrete: I believe the exact same anthropological features that serve as foundations for the individual rights of the Bill of the Right also inspire the constant impulse of the American society to socially destroy Black people. If I am right, then yes, the exact same relations between individuals, groups and the state that produced the Bill of Right also produced Jim Crow yet, and I don’t know how I could put this more forcefully, we should not analyze one phenomenon and the other in a unitary way, we should on the contrary recognize their common origin but their different expression. Likewise, when we have reasons to believe that the relations between individuals, groups and the state that produced the Bill of Right are not present (or when opposite conditions prevail), we should not conclude that, therefore “guild privileges or feudalism or theocracy or race-based government or a dictatorship of the Proletariat” would be a better constitutional order (history indicates otherwise, to put it mildly), we should recognize that there will be a necessary chasm between the constitutional order and the actual way people behave (just like there is such a chasm even in the Anglo-American world, in that the Bill of Right does not mandate Jim Crow) and analyze the actual political behavior as expressed through this constitutional order accordingly.

Damn, I said I would be concrete. That is hard to me. Impose a perfectly pluralist liberal constitution on Japan (and surely nobody doubts that this was an improvement) and you will get one party in the permanent majority. Create a perfectly pluralist liberal constitution in the USA and you will get racial segregation. This has nothing to do with perfectly pluralist constitutions but everything with American and Japanese people. So if you want to know if you are in more danger of getting oppressed by your family, a local boss, an organized religion or a centralized state, pay attention to the people you are talking about more than about the precise constitutional order they chose (or not) for themselves.

I’m very skeptical that constituting government without guaranteeing individual rights and liberties is a good idea.

By now, I hope that you see that I agree in the abstract, but that my epistemological disagreement is in the lack of an expressed subject in the verb phrase “constituting government”. Who are this people that are constituting government? And how do they relate to each other?

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William Timberman 08.21.17 at 2:46 pm

John Holbo @ 45 (08.21.17 at 11:42 am)

Somehow you are holding the thing upside down and backwards, Val.

You’re holding it wrong. I’ve wondered where Steve Jobs came up that explanation — should have known it’d been from philosophy. As for the OP itself, and Val’s take on it, it seems to me that the detachment of the individual from the mother/other, no matter what one thinks of the individual as philosophical category, is well documented in both psychology and folklore. The allegiances, group affiliations, cultural identities, etc., that adhere to the fully developed individual, etc. apparently do so by a process of accretion and rejection, the elements and processes of which are eternally (it seems) under debate. Rationality in the Cartesian sense comes rather late to the individual’s self-awareness, if it comes at all, and while useful, is never, I think, fully satisfying as an explanation of who we are, who they are, or what our duties are to each. Hence all the -ologies which have arisen to help our doddering and half-blind old philosophy across the divide. Good luck to them one and all as the sorting goes on.

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John Holbo 08.21.17 at 2:50 pm

“Maybe it’s not obvious because I am not advocating just rubbishing the whole individuals vs. the state framework and starting from scratch in practice? But are you guys in favor of that?

Yes, at least if we really want to seriously discuss the way human beings fit within groups.”

OK, there’s an ambiguity here that is quite important. You aren’t seriously in favor of abolishing the Bill of Rights just so you can have a discussion. That’s really doing it the long, hard way. And the Bill of Rights guarantees your right to that, after all. You are saying that, to get clear about certain sociological realities, we shouldn’t look at the world, sociologically, through Bill of Rights-colored lenses. But I’m fine with that. I’m OK with your 1-4, for example. I wouldn’t say that 1-4 are the point of my post, but it would be very weird for me to deny any of that, right? Is there some point at which I seem balky about any of 1-4? If so, how and why?

You say this: “I believe the exact same anthropological features that serve as foundations for the individual rights of the Bill of the Right also inspire the constant impulse of the American society to socially destroy Black people.” That’s kind of ambiguous. Read broadly enough, it could almost be trivial. People are bastards, and that explains both why they wrote the Bill of Rights and also the bad stuff. I’ll buy that for a nickel. I’m sure you don’t mean it that trivially. I suspect you read it in a stronger sense than I would be willing to credit, but maybe not. But so far as I can tell my post is consistent with the strong reading, even though this point is a bit tangential to my topic. What do I say that you object to?

You seem to think that Levy and I are somehow obtuse about how much it matters what groups you get raised up in. You turn out a certain way and you obviously can’t unchoose that – like Munchhausen pulling himself up by his pigtail. I’m not sure why you think we are obtuse that way. Was it something we said?

65

TM 08.21.17 at 3:02 pm

Z: “I believe the exact same anthropological features that serve as foundations for the individual rights of the Bill of the Right also inspire the constant impulse of the American society to socially destroy Black people.”

Again, just curious, but is that also true of France, or is it really specific to America, and if yes how come that both France and the US have adopted liberal democracies based on individual rights (sure there are differences between them but also fundamental similarities)? Or would you disagree with that characterization? I’m not trying to dismiss your objection (might it have something to do with Horkheimer/Adorono’s Dialektik der Aufklärung?) but it seems to me both overly broad in its claims and curiously narrow in its application.

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William Timberman 08.21.17 at 3:09 pm

Apologies for the blockquote tag-closing error in mine above. Everything after the first line is me, not Holbo. (Muddying the waters is apparently okay in a CT comments section, but taking someone else’s name in vain is clearly not.)

67

reason 08.21.17 at 3:16 pm

Z @61

I’m not an American, so I suppose I can’t talk for them, but my understanding is that part of the deep malaise that is effecting America comes from it not being one people, that there is a very deep divide corresponding roughly to the two sides in the civil war. I’m very suspicious of what I like to term “inappropriate collectives” and the distortion it can lend to thinking. This doesn’t mean that I think that methodological individualism is always appropriate (in economics I think it is a big part of the problem), but that I think ignoring crucial heterogeneity (again with examples from economics) is an even bigger problem.

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reason 08.21.17 at 3:19 pm

Z @61
Actually, I think that the formation of effective single party systems in East Asian countries is an interesting phenomenon, but it doesn’t necessarily imply an unhealthy democracy (since the intraparty democracy can still be vigorously disputative). I wish I knew more about that I do.

69

William Timberman 08.21.17 at 3:20 pm

Z @ 62 (08.21.17 at 2:26 pm)

We are what they made us. Shouldn’t Saul on the road to Damascus fit into the discussion somewhere here? Or philosophy itself? Or if you prefer Buddha to Plato, meditation? (without the roshi’s bamboo stick, of course, given our need to abstract away those pesky cultural identity-specific associations.)

70

Z 08.21.17 at 3:32 pm

Is there some point at which I seem balky about any of 1-4? If so, how and why?

Unless you are very interested in an answer to that precise question, let me answer a slightly different one. Levy says in his talk @2 that the social creation of power and authority is a consequence of the free exercise of freedom of association. I take such a statement to be in contradiction with my point 3.

I’m sure you don’t mean it that trivially. I suspect you read it in a stronger sense than I would be willing to credit, but maybe not.

I certainly mean it in a much stronger sense.

You seem to think that Levy and I are somehow obtuse about how much it matters what groups you get raised up in.

OK, first a general comment. I don’t read a 23000 sign post, listen to a one-hour talk and write 7000 signs in reply when I believe people are obtuse. Now I realize that this is not necessarily obvious, so let me write it down for the record: your presentation of Levy’s contribution of the tension between pure freedom and congruence was of high interest to me, and I thank you both for that.

So I have no intention of pointing any obtusity, but maybe an analytic blind spot. OK, I don’t think you deny that part of your OP is devoted to the question of how individual rights will be promoted or violated and by whom (individuals? families? small voluntary associations? religious congregations? large amorphous collectives? the State?) within different institutional frameworks. What I want to draw attention to is that one’s understanding of individual rights, the way one’s political system and institutions operate and the precise relation one has with the entities listed above are all significantly shaped by a common source and in particular differ starkly among different people. No amount of political philosophy or intellectual history can in itself fully disentangle these aspects. You need anthropology.

Let me once again try (and fail) to be concrete: the congruence view of society does not mean the same thing at all to someone who has a fundamentally horizontal apprehension of society (as the typical French would) and to someone who has a fundamentally vertical apprehension of society (as the typical Swiss would), to someone with a fundamentally universalizing view of community (the typical Arab) and to someone with a typically differentialist view (the typical American). So if you want to seriously discuss how a congruence approach would affect individual rights, you need to specify if congruence is happening in a society people view horizontally or vertically and in which it is community or difference that structures the society.

If you don’t do such a specification and if you don’t explore the possible ramifications of different parameters (horizontal/vertical, universalist/differentialist, exogamous/endogamous…), then chances are you are unconsciously conducting the analysis within the narrow norms of your own preconception of what human relations are and should be and that what you take to be fairly general arguments and counter-arguments (e.g: the State level can be good, look at de-segregation; e.g: if I am free, indeed required, to wear a ski-mask in Montréal in January, I am free to wear an Islamic veil) are in fact largely by-products of said norms, which again is fine but which should not be mistaken for the real thing.

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Z 08.21.17 at 3:41 pm

TM @58: Quebecois have a much stronger vertical trait than do typical Anglo-American. This correlates with a belief into metaphysical differences, and so typically correlates with religious xenophobia among European countries.

TM @ (currently) 65: Not true at all of France. American social psyche is differentialist in nature, French social psyche is (predominantly) universalist. Make no mistake, that doesn’t make the latter better in any sense than the former: universalist people are by and large as xenophobic as differentialist people (or more) but they don’t obsess on quite the same thing.

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John Holbo 08.21.17 at 4:01 pm

“Levy says in his talk @2 that the social creation of power and authority is a consequence of the free exercise of freedom of association.”

I’m off to bed. Let me just say: I don’t have time to review the tape but it would be crazy for him to say that the ONLY way to create power and authority is through free exercise of freedom of association. As a descriptive claim that would be very strange. So if he literally said that it must have been a slip of the tongue. Obviously it’s completely uncontroversial to say that ONE way to create power and authority is through free exercise of freedom of association. As a normative claim, it might be possible to maintain that the only legitimate power and authority stem from freedom of association, but that would still be confusing because … well, it’s odd to reduce all the sources of authority we acknowledge in democracy to this one. You could take all the elements of democracy, for example, and re-describe them all as ‘free association’. Voting is free association, etc. There’s more to freedom than association, most people think. And there is more to politics than just association.

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TM 08.21.17 at 4:09 pm

Z 71: You haven’t answered any of my questions but in light of what you *have* responded, I’m not sure I want to know the answers any more. What a load of essentialist projections.

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TM 08.21.17 at 6:34 pm

Z: one’s understanding of individual rights, the way one’s political system and institutions operate and the precise relation one has with the entities listed above are all significantly shaped by a common source and in particular differ starkly among different people [peoples?]. No amount of political philosophy or intellectual history can in itself fully disentangle these aspects. You need anthropology.

No comment required. Z’s insistence on “anthropology” as determinant of present day political institutions and debates reminds me of Emmanuel Todd. I was baffled to read his description of l’Amérique, pays des femmes castratrices. Needless to say I wasn’t convinced then and that was in 2002.

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TM 08.21.17 at 9:39 pm

One last, concerning Quebec: in social value surveys, Quebeckers describe themselves as more individualistic than either Anglo-Canadians or USAians. The US-Canada comparison was the topic of the 2003 study Fire and Ice by Michael Adams, which showed (http://77list.com/image-9_Michael-Adams_fire-and-ice_2.html) – unsurprisingly – far more variation betweeen US regions than between Quebec and the ROC plus New England, although as mentioned Quebec stands out on the indiviuality axis. Not that pesky empirical observation would ever count as an argument against the wisdom of pop psychology.

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Lupita 08.21.17 at 10:10 pm

Hi Z, I found your posts very illuminating. What do you recommend I read to learn more about the horizontal/vertical, universalist/differentialist, exogamous/endogamous parameters you write about? You have convinced me that I need anthropology.

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LFC 08.22.17 at 2:31 am

@Z
the congruence view of society does not mean the same thing at all to someone who has a fundamentally horizontal apprehension of society (as the typical French would) and to someone who has a fundamentally vertical apprehension of society (as the typical Swiss would), to someone with a fundamentally universalizing view of community (the typical Arab) and to someone with a typically differentialist view (the typical American). So if you want to seriously discuss how a congruence approach would affect individual rights, you need to specify if congruence is happening in a society people view horizontally or vertically and in which it is community or difference that structures the society.

W/o meaning any disrespect, where are you getting this stuff? Can you drop the name of a classic or contemp. work of social science (broadly construed) or social theory that proposes or argues for these distinctions (or have you done so already and I missed it scrolling through the thread)? I have little to no idea what a ‘horizontal’ vs a ‘vertical’ apprehension of society is supposed to mean. It can’t refer to attitudes toward hierarchy, b/c my impression is that ‘the French’ (if we’re going indulge in sweeping generalizations) are far from hostile to certain kinds of hierarchy (as someone who is part of the French academic system is presumably fully aware).

78

LFC 08.22.17 at 2:42 am

p.s. @Z
I see you have dropped a few names @54 but didn’t really directly connect them to the notions in your comment @70.

79

Sebastian H 08.22.17 at 3:28 am

This discussion seems to come with a surprising number of universalizing objections that the questioners seem to want to just raise and leave hanging.

“One thing I have tried to point out many times is that ‘individuals’, per se, don’t exist. We’re all part of the ecosystem. We have a sense of being separate, of ending at the skin – it’s an existential reality but it isn’t essentially true.”

How is it that ecosystems exist in a way that is essentially true in a way that individuals don’t? That sounds like saying that electrons exist but atoms don’t. Or cells exist but bodies don’t. It seems likely that all sorts of things exist AT DIFFERENT LEVELS OF ANALYSIS. It is perfectly fine to suggest that a particular level of analysis is inappropriate for a particular problem. But that isn’t the same as just acting as if different levels of analysis don’t/can’t exist. It turns out that individuals really do act individually, and that groups really do act groupishly. It seems weird to try to deny that, and really weird to try to dismiss it as so obviously untrue as to need no further explanation.

“Just – sorry I will stop, promise – but that thing about families and individuals – sure families can be oppressive etc, but the reason we have families is that literally everyone used to part of someone else’s body once (and yeah, the ecosystem, etc, but also, part of another body).”

This seems like an unproductive level of abstractive parallelism. Is patriarchy justified because we all have fathers? Is violence justifiable because we all have to be forcibly cut from our mother’s umbilical cord?

“I believe the exact same anthropological features that serve as foundations for the individual rights of the Bill of the Right also inspire the constant impulse of the American society to socially destroy Black people. If I am right, then yes, the exact same relations between individuals, groups and the state that produced the Bill of Right also produced Jim Crow yet, and I don’t know how I could put this more forcefully, we should not analyze one phenomenon and the other in a unitary way, we should on the contrary recognize their common origin but their different expression.”

That’s quite a bomb to drop. Can’t we at least have the slightest hint about WHICH anthropological impulse you believe is exactly the same as to serve as the foundation for individual rights and the allegedly constant impulse to socially destroy black people? It seems unfair to make us guess.

“the congruence view of society does not mean the same thing at all to someone who has a fundamentally horizontal apprehension of society (as the typical French would) and to someone who has a fundamentally vertical apprehension of society (as the typical Swiss would), to someone with a fundamentally universalizing view of community (the typical Arab) and to someone with a typically differentialist view (the typical American). So if you want to seriously discuss how a congruence approach would affect individual rights, you need to specify if congruence is happening in a society people view horizontally or vertically and in which it is community or difference that structures the society.”

Gack. Ok, lets say we accept that the congruence approach would be radically different based on those factors. Could you maybe focus on what that might mean for say one of them? I can totally buy that it might be different in different cultures–though I’m typically suspect of anthropology’s thrill in highlighting differences while obscuring far larger similarities. But merely saying “things might be different in different circumstances” doesn’t really get us anywhere.

And I’m not really sure why you can talk about “fictional autonomous individuals” but then allude to communities and groups as if they are not fictional. You seem to want to set up a situation where no one can get “outside”, but if that is true, the communities and groups are every bit as fictional as the autonomous individuals.

All this talk of babies seems rather limiting too. Babies grow up. They mature. They differentiate. They separate. Why should we valorize the high-dependency phase while being dismissive of the much less dependent phases which follow? Couldn’t it be that some associations are for a certain time while others become more appropriate later?

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Sebastian H 08.22.17 at 3:29 am

I’m sorry I didn’t make clear that the first two quotes were Val and the second three were Z.

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Z 08.22.17 at 12:00 pm

Lupita and TM many thanks, for different reasons.

LFC blog comment are not ideal to communicate bibliographies. Here is nevertheless a brief one in rough chronological order. Tocqueville’s insightful comments on Switzerland (Rapport d’Alexis de Tocqueville à l’Académie des sciences morales et politiques sur l’ouvrage De la démocratie en Suisse de M. Cherbuliez,1848) and Weber’s Protestant Ethic are the grand-fathers of the topic. Laslett, I’m sure you know already (Household and Family in Past Time,1972). C.Nakane’s (Kinship and economic organization in rural Japan,1967) and ( Japanese society,1970) are classical studies of vertically organized societies. Then L.Dumont (Homo Hierarchicus,1971) and (Homo Aequalis,1977) plus M.Gauchet’s insightful commentary on them (De l’avènement de l’individu à la découverte de la société,1979). Then H.Le Bras (Les Trois France,1985) and E.Todd’s magisterial (L’invention de l’Europe,1990). T.Ertman (Birth of the Leviathan,1997) is good for the institutional side of the story. Finally Anstone et al. (Family Demography, Social Theory, and Investment in Social Capital,1999) and Duranton et al. research paper (Family Types and the Persistence of Regional Disparities in Europe,2008) are interesting research papers, one on the theoretical side (close to the OP), the other on the quantitative one. I have not read Fischer (Albion’s Seed,1989) so I can’t claim it is relevant but among books widely read in the English-speaking world, it seems among the closest.

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Z 08.22.17 at 12:54 pm

Sebastian H Could you maybe focus on what that might mean for say one of them?

Well, that’s what I would expect Jacob Levy (or John) to do. But OK. Take the formation of religious communities, certainly a topic of interest for anyone thinking about the articulation (and frequent tension) between a generally liberal and pluralistic society and the cumulative consequence of freedom of association(s), and a prime topic in Levy’s talk @2, in the OP and in general American discourse. The formation, reformation and secession of religious communities does not play in the same way in a country like the USA, in which seceding is arguably the founding act of the country, where it is understood as a voluntary breakaway from the righteous in order to preserve the elect status of the community and in which it is thus primarily experienced as a voluntary act reflecting a personal choice, and in a vertical society, in which secession is understood as remaining faithful to one’s leader and thus is experienced primarily as a manifestation of obedience.

Now imagine a thorough liberal pluralistic congruence approach of a community organized in the first way: there, the liberal pluralist abstract notion of freedom of choice can be transferred more or less directly from the State/individual relation to the Religious community/individual relation (in the form: you are free to join, free to leave, and a just society is one in which we ensure that everyone is genuinely free to join, free to leave). In the second case, however, there is a direct clash: the abstract notion asserts a freedom which is utterly negated by the direct experience of the group structure (it is the sentiment of obedience, not the sentiment of choice, which gives rise to the group, the assertion “free to leave”, far from being the operative definition of an association taken by Levy in his talk, is the exact opposite of what a group is). The OP hints at when it mentions people not being able to get themselves to a nunnery or an S&M dungeon. But part of my remark (which was a critique, but not a criticism, nor an objection) is that this is too flippant: some people live entirely immersed in social structures which are the complete negation of the abstract liberal values. Again, this obviously does not mean we should throw away the liberal values, even for them. It just means that when discussing the articulation of abstract liberal values with group life, we should not presuppose that group structures are themselves fundamentally the outcome of the same sociological fundamentals that gave rise to liberal values, and conversely, when we have reasons to believe that group structures are indeed the outcome of the same sociological fundamentals that gave rise to liberal values, we should not presuppose that that makes them inherently special.

About that last point

Can’t we at least have the slightest hint about WHICH anthropological impulse you believe is exactly the same as to serve as the foundation for individual rights and the allegedly constant impulse to socially destroy black people?

I’m genuinely surprised by the “allegedly”, but aside from that, I was referring to the strong differentialist strain in American political and social thought as well as practice, which has made progresses towards first political equality then economic equality among White Americans contingent on the exclusion of same of Black Americans. For a scholarly exposition (from a Marxist rather than my more structuralist point of view), think for instance of The Wages of Whiteness.

And I’m not really sure why you can talk about “fictional autonomous individuals” but then allude to communities and groups as if they are not fictional.

Let me try to be concrete and precise. Individuals exist, always. Social links exist, always. So neither are fictional. Autonomous individuals are fictional, I think that much is obvious. For some people, in some specific social circumstances, the psychological fiction (a useful one, often) that individuals are or can be autonomous can be sustained, as in the very mundane “I can choose to join or leave this club”, but in other specific social circumstances, this is not a psychological tenable proposition, not (only) because leaving has terrible consequences (John’s example of a woman raised in a patriarchal society) but because joining or leaving is just not an act that an individual is thought to be able to perform.

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Z 08.22.17 at 1:22 pm

OK, last one, if that is not too presuming on the hospitality of the host
John @72

Obviously it’s completely uncontroversial to say that ONE way to create power and authority is through free exercise of freedom of association.

Woe is me, I’m going to argue against a statement which is obvious and completely uncontroversial.

First a methodological point, statements about societies are rarely interesting in pure quantifier form, as they tend to be either obviously false (all power is always and everywhere created…) or obviously true (there exists at least one instance in which power…) so (of course) I understood Levy’s statement to assert some statistical common or typical property of liberal pluralistic society. For this appropriate statistical understanding, I disagree. I contend that this statement – to be crystal clear the statement that the psychological stages through which an individual goes are “I am free to associate, so I associate, we together decide to associate under some rules, we appoint a keeper of rules, she got social power, social power has been created” – is true (in the statistical sense) for some specific liberal pluralistic society. In others, it is essentially never true (never in the statistical sense) so it obscures more than it illuminates. Things may go precisely in the reverse order (and in others yet through different stages). For instance, individual may first and foremost experience authority, obedience to which is then the constitutive nature of belonging to a given group, and exercise of freedom of association comes last as the experience of belonging to the group. Now, it may seem strange to think that “I obey rules, so I belong to a group so I am free to associate” should be called freedom of association – isn’t it exactly the opposite? – and that is precisely my point: for some people (but not many English-speaking ones), Luther’s freedom of the christian is accurate psychology and yes, they call it freedom too.

It might seem abstract, but it is very mundane. You don’t bow to the sensei because you joined the Judo club, you joined the Judo club when you bowed to the sensei.

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Peter T 08.22.17 at 1:32 pm

I’m uncomfortable with the high degree of lumping in the O/P.

Maybe it helps to think of the the spectrum between group identities that are ascribed and so difficult to impossible to leave (being black in the US, distinctly aboriginal in Australia, as examples), through ones that are hard to leave (families, clans, religions in some places, class in others), on down to the local bowling club, just a matter of individual choice.

It seems to me the trade-off between congruence and liberalism is very different as you move along this spectrum. Even the power issues change – the state can disband even the mightiest bowling club, but cannot make white people see black skin as just another choice.

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Val 08.22.17 at 1:51 pm

Sebastian H, your post is long and if I may politely suggest, rather full of straw people. But just to clarify one thing if I may – no-one is asking you to “valorize the high dependency phase” above other phases. I – and some others here, I think – are merely asking you (and John Holbo) to stop ‘valorising’, and universalising, the perspective of the adult, white, professional, university educated, (probably American), man.

That is not a universal viewpoint. Other people may see the world differently. That does not necessarily make them wrong. (This is sometimes called standpoint theory)

It’s pretty much unassailable to assume that anyone who sees the world differently than you is both wrong and irrational, since by disagreeing with you they confirm your thesis. So not much point in arguing with you guys, in other words.

“Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.”

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Val 08.22.17 at 1:55 pm

Sorry I should have said “adult, white, professional, university educated, liberal individualist, (probably American), man”.

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John Holbo 08.22.17 at 2:16 pm

“So not much point in arguing with you guys, in other words.”

Val, there’s a post. You could address its contents. That you choose not to do so is not some tragic impasse to be explained with reference to standpoint theory. It’s you not having anything to say on behalf of your own standpoint.

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LFC 08.22.17 at 5:13 pm

Z @81
Thanks for the biblio.

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Val 08.22.17 at 8:29 pm

No more that I don’t have time. Anyway I take your point – should not engage with the post if don’t have time to read it properly.

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John Holbo 08.23.17 at 12:02 am

I’m curious, Val. Are you actually opposed to liberal democracy in all its forms? Because all its forms grant citizens a basket of rights and liberties and you are opposed to that step?

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Sebastian H 08.23.17 at 12:35 am

Z, if your critique is that the counterpoint between individual rights and a congruence leveling of individual expression doesn’t play out the exact same way in all societies, I’m sure that Levy would agree. But would you agree that it plays out that way in Western societies on some level (perhaps ALOT in the US, less in the UK, and even less in some other countries)? Assuming that it is a useful lens to look at things, might it be useful to tease it out in the societies which it is already particularly describing before trying to decide to what extent it applies elsewhere?

“I’m genuinely surprised by the “allegedly”, but aside from that, I was referring to the strong differentialist strain in American political and social thought as well as practice, which has made progresses towards first political equality then economic equality among White Americans contingent on the exclusion of same of Black Americans.”

I find this difficult to parse in the context of this discussion. I sort of want to just say “as opposed to what?” More particularly I’m not sure that most of your modifiers are necessary to get where you are going. Do we need “differentialist strain” for example? Because that contrasts with what exactly? Chinese strains for example tend to be much more conformist in style that US ones, but they still are fantastically racist. So do we need “differentialist strain”?

“Economic equality among White Americans”? As far as I know that doesn’t exist, so it can’t be contingent on the exclusion of Black Americans because it doesn’t exist. And political disenfranchisement of various sorts exists all over the world–with cultures that share very little on the dimensions you are describing. Germany famously wouldn’t let third generation workers become citizens until very recently. France has been all over the place with its minority populations (see especially Jews at various times). You seem to be wanting to make a distinction or particularization, but it isn’t clear what you think is distinct or particular. Which is not to say that the black experience in the US doesn’t have distinct and particular points to talk about. I’m just saying that it isn’t remotely clear which ones you think are pertinent. For example do you think that the black experience in the US makes them more or less prone appreciate the traditional liberal values in a way that makes them more or less interested in congruence than non-black Americans? That might be something worth talking about, and it might illustrate the kind of differences that you seem to be alluding to so that we can understand what they are.

Val “Sebastian H, your post is long and if I may politely suggest, rather full of straw people.” While I am long-winded to be sure, that particular post is long mostly because it contains comprehensive quotes which I try to respond to. Which is rather the opposite of strawmanning.

“But just to clarify one thing if I may – no-one is asking you to “valorize the high dependency phase” above other phases. ” Well no. You kind of did that when you tried to make broad statements about people allegedly forgetting where babies come from and forgetting that we all were dependent. As far as I can tell literally nothing in the discussion clearly led to the idea that we didn’t know that babies were dependent, or had forgotten that or some such.

Instead of reaching for the accusation that ‘we’ don’t understand other people’s viewpoints, I feel like it would be more productive for you to explain the viewpoint not being seen in a way that relates to the discussion.

Things like this don’t get us anywhere “That is not a universal viewpoint. Other people may see the world differently. That does not necessarily make them wrong. (This is sometimes called standpoint theory)”.

Ok. So say that’s true (which it certainly is). What is your purpose in raising that fact if you hoard your viewpoint so closely? We can’t really respond helpfully to that. We can say “yes, you’re right but since you haven’t bothered to tell us about these other viewpoints we really can’t engage you so we will turn back to the rest of the discussion”. But then you feel dismissed.

Tell us what we are missing! Don’t leave us in the dark.

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bianca steele 08.23.17 at 2:46 am

I was thinking of commenting, “I guess if I can’t fit my complaint about certain theories of ‘liberalism’ into either the Busybody or the Man of Systems (if I’m reading the OP right), I have no valid complaint.”

But now I only want to say that Val is right. I have right here in my tabs (though I’ll probably have to wait to look for it til I get home) something about “liberalism” tending to conflate the universal with the white and male. It’s not at all uncommon a topos in what people like John tend to call “continental philosophy.”

Also it occurs to me I must have walked past Jacob Levy’s office building just yesterday.

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Val 08.23.17 at 3:05 am

@ 90
I’m not opposing “liberal democracy” here, I’m opposing the dominance of the discourse in which you appear to be writing :

“Man [is not understood to be] in nature because he is not seen, is not the spectacle. A constitutive meaning of masculine gender for us is to be the unseen, the eye (I), the author “

I wanted that quote the other day but did not have it to hand. Isn’t it wonderful? It is relevant although I can see that many, including you, seem confused about what I am saying here, and therefore would not necessarily see why I think it’s relevant.

Another quick point – I have argued here before in defence of our Australian laws, which place restrictions on speech that ‘offends’ people. I don’t know where that places me on your idea of ‘liberal democracy’ but I think it probably illustrates, as has often been discussed here, that ideas about ‘rights’ in Australia are different from those in America even though we might both be described as ‘liberal democracies’. I think you tend to speak as an American, which is not surprising because you are, but again wonder if there may be a problem in universalising your viewpoint. I apologise again for not having time to conduct this debate properly, however although my thesis deadline has been extended once, I don’t think I can keep on extending it, so I’d better get back to work!

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John Holbo 08.23.17 at 4:35 am

As I said, Val, liberal democracy is a broad category. It’s broader even than you may think. It doesn’t just run from Australia to the US. (I would encourage you to think outside that box.) If you are onboard for any forms of liberal democracy – and you say you are – then I don’t see the problem with saying, as I do in the post, that we are going to be working in a framework in which individuals are, legally, afforded special respect over and against the state. That is, we will be guaranteeing some individual rights at a fairly basic level. If you are ok with that, then what is the problem with me being ok with that? (Food for thought, as you work on your thesis, perhaps.)

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Lupita 08.23.17 at 5:06 am

Thanks for the reading list, Z. I see that you include works about different societies and it is up to the reader to compare them. If I may, I would like to include a great book to your list, this one by the Mexican anthropologist, Guillermo Bonfil Batalla. It is called México profundo, una civilización negada which, for some profound civilizational reason has been translated as Profound Mexico: Reclaiming a Civilization. It describes the indigenous, Mesoamerican civilization as conquered and subjugated, yet alive, which makes a lot of sense to me because I can see it in downtown Mexico City with its sunken Aztec pyramid full of skulls right next to the metropolitan baroque cathedral and I can hear it in my own speech with its Nahuatl substrate topped off with Spanish vocabulary. There is an English translation that you can read online for free if you google it.

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Val 08.23.17 at 5:25 am

Thanks Bianca!

And I do think, JH and SH, that you should at least believe, and reflect on, my experience of realising that the professor in my story above did not think of babies (or I believe of mothers) as ‘normal’ in the same way that he thought of himself as a normal person.

Certainly the experience of being a mother is not universal, but then neither is the experience of being an adult man – let alone eg a professor – whereas the experience of being a baby is. So why did he feel that way?

You may feel you are better than that …

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Val 08.23.17 at 5:32 am

Also certainly my own earlier research clearly showed that in the early 20th century Australian census, the ‘normative’ person was an adult male ‘head of household’ and everyone else was understood in terms of their relationship to that normative person.

That didn’t change until the late 20th C (can’t remember the exact date)

Again you may think you have escaped the legacy of history, but can you be sure?

Really truly back to work now

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John Holbo 08.23.17 at 5:49 am

“Again you may think you have escaped the legacy of history, but can you be sure?”

Again: you may think I may think I have escaped the legacy of history, but how can you be so sure that I am so sure about that? (Have I said anything to suggest that I think I am?)

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F. Foundling 08.23.17 at 6:55 am

I think there are two problems here. First, both John Holbo and Jacob Levy have written at least a dozen paragraphs without mentioning gender even once and have made claims about ‘humans’, ‘people’ or ‘individuals’ in general, as if those words had any useful meaning and as if women and men had anything whatsoever in common, which could make it possible to make any meaningful statement that would apply equally to both. In fact, of course, it is *not* possible to make any such meaningful statement – after all, the two are as separate and incompatible as, say, Light and Darkness, Purity and Foulness, Virtue and Sin, Innocence and Depravity. Second, I’m afraid that I’m correct in my suspicion that both John Holbo and Jacob Levy are, themselves, men. That is another serious misstep in their reasoning. If what I’m saying doesn’t seem to make all that much obvious sense at first sight, don’t forget that the position that I’m expressing is underdoggy and therefore justified.

I should probably add that Levy and Holbo’s arguments also strike me as hideously straight. There is something unmistakably heterosexual in the way one line follows the other. Don’t ask me why and how, I can just smell it, I always do. The grammatical structure of their sentences oozes such appalling straight privilege and propensity for mixed-sex reproductive activities that I can hardly read them, the pain is so horrid. They should be very, very ashamed for this violence that they have perpetrated against my soul.

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Val 08.23.17 at 8:19 am

Ok I am on the tram and I have read most of the post, quite carefully (note qualifiers). I think the first, and perhaps the basic. problem is this:

“most of us – I’ll wager – subscribe to the view that life in a modern liberal democratic society is like this: there are citizens and there is the state”

I don’t, and I think quite a few others don’t. We hit bob’s incommensurate discourses right there. I think of ‘people, communities, societies, other species, ecosystems’. That’s how I think. Liberal democracy is just a way of organising societies – it has some good points and some bad points, but the mere fact that I live in a society that is politically organised that way does not mean that my main categories for thinking about that society are citizens and the state.

One thing is that that, as it were, requires one to elide that different people have different relationships with the state, based on factors such as age, political rights, gender, race/ethnicity, etc.

Thinking of ‘citizens’ rather than ‘people’ means that some people who are definitely people, like babies or refugees without citizenship rights, get left out straight away.

That’s a start and I haven’t even got onto the being part of the ecosystem stuff.

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Z 08.23.17 at 9:51 am

Sebastian H, first a general comment: I think you are asking exactly the right questions, thanks for the perceptive comment.

But would you agree that it plays out that way in Western societies on some level […] it is a useful lens to look at things, might it be useful to tease it out in the societies which it is already particularly describing before trying to decide to what extent it applies elsewhere?

Oh yes, I agree. That was the object of the last three paragraphs of my original comment @54 and again in my last paragraph @70. It’s fine to look at particular cases first, after all C.Nakane did not nothing else in Japanese sociology (but with a polar opposite point of departure). It’s just that one should not mistake “thinking about groups” with “thinking about groups in the Anglo-American world” (again, not an objection to what Levy and John are doing, just a mise en garde) and in particular mistake general philosophical and general game-theoretic arguments with universal arguments (if you want a concrete example, take Schelling’s appalling game-theoretic analysis of segregation). I would make the same critique towards Nakane had she entitled her book Sociology.

“Economic equality among White Americans”? As far as I know that doesn’t exist

You are right but you are not reading me fairly: I did not claim political or economic equality existed among White Americans, I specifically wrote that progresses towards political equality (universal male suffrage, equality before the law…) and progresses towards economic equality (8-hour day, social security, subsidized housing…) were contingent on the exclusion of Blacks. Which they were.

Do we need “differentialist strain” for example?

You are asking exactly the right question (and your subsequent exemples of China, France and Germany are precisely on the right track as well). I absolutely believe that you do need a specific differentialist strain. As I wrote earlier (obviously) every human being, every society and every people have imagined significant differences, reasoned about them and obsess about, exclude, oppress or exterminate others based on them. Yet they do not do so in exactly the same way. Characterizing the differences precisely would require much more than blog comment (but I did give about 15 references above) and would be OT but to take just one clear difference which is pertinent to the OP, whether members of the out-group are believed by members of the in-group to be fundamentally able to join the in-group or not has enormous differences in how the xenophobia plays out. People operating under the first mode tend to be more tolerant of differences (because the other is an other, so it is OK, even expected of him to be different) but tend to enforce longer and more brutal patterns of separation. American absolutely totally believe (historically and as a group) that there will be two distinct categories – for them, Black and White – in society in a way that Chinese, French and German people don’t. People in Europe used to know all that, if not in their mouth at least in their bones, when Protestantism and Catholicism were living ideologies in which people actually believed.

For example do you think that the black experience in the US makes them more or less prone appreciate the traditional liberal values in a way that makes them more or less interested in congruence than non-black Americans?

I wouldn’t frame it in this way, but that is again a great question. What I would say is that if one is interested in how the liberal value of equality (say of rights and political participation, if one does not want to go further) may be implemented in a congruent way (or for that matter pure freedom way) in the American society, then one should face head on the fact that this idea, in actually existing reality, has never came separately from the “value” of excluding Black people, so that social dynamics will not only tend to exclude Black people from actually existing congruence or pure freedom initiatives (as happened in most of American history) but also tend to destroy the value of equality when Black people are included (as I believe is happening now).

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Z 08.23.17 at 9:59 am

Lupita, thanks for the book recommendation.

I see that you include works about different societies and it is up to the reader to compare them.

Yep. Some of the books listed do the work themselves though (Dumont’s, Todd’s, Ertman’s and even Nakane’s to some extent). People who came to interact with significantly different anthropological spheres as a matter of contingent biography, like you I believe, have a slight edge in that respect.

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TM 08.23.17 at 10:01 am

Val’s comments could at times be clearer but I can’t fathom why Holbo would interpret her as expressing opposition “to liberal democracy in all its forms”.

SH 91: ““Economic equality among White Americans”? As far as I know that doesn’t exist”. Darn right it doesn’t.

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reason 08.23.17 at 10:41 am

F. Foundling @99
There is something about satire that appeals to me. Let’s hope some people have a sense of humor when they look in the mirror.

105

M Caswell 08.23.17 at 11:18 am

Babies are citizens.

106

bob mcmanus 08.23.17 at 11:55 am

My point about “incommensurate discourses” was partly reflective, an expression of my own frustration.

I think it is sometimes, maybe often rude to stand up in the Baptist service and spout existentialism, or thrust men’s rights at the NOW convention. Round these parts it is sometimes called trolling.

Intersectionality is entirely political and a praxis, and its purpose is to include rather than exclude, and to get specific, the project of a comment from those with differing ontologies is to find a translation path, a way to use the topic of the post and the desired discussion to show that a different standpoint could be useful to the originators of the discussion.

If I wanted to bring up the problems of constitution-writing and ethical utopias, I need to find an entry point somewhere round abouts “congruence,” and insinuate and implicate my agenda slyly and surreptitiously, gently and kindly. It’s about being social.

And there are also the lurkers. CT is a community of whatever dimensions, not completely defined by its owners or guests.

107

John Holbo 08.23.17 at 12:30 pm

TM is puzzled: “I can’t fathom why Holbo would interpret [Val] as expressing opposition “to liberal democracy in all its forms”.”

I asked Val whether that was her view because she objected strongly to the part of the post where I say, in effect: I assume we are basically ok with liberal democracy in some form. By asking whether she in fact was NOT ok with liberal democracy in any form – to which she answered that she is ok with it – I was able to confirm (what I suspected) that Val had not understood that first, key segment of my post.

That she misunderstands the beginning, hence the post as a whole, is further confirmed by her latest comment: she thinks the problem with thinking about the rights-holding citizen (including babies – thank you M Caswell!) and the state as a normative binary is that it causes you not not to think well about ‘ecology’. This is also the precise point of my post. So: Val is saying that the main point of my post is right. But she thinks the post says the opposite, so she thinks she is saying the main point of my post is wrong. These things happen.

But, you see, I couldn’t be SURE she had it upside down and backwards until I asked whether she rejects all forms of liberal democracy. (Because just a couple months ago I was arguing with someone on Facebook and it turned out that the guy was basically a Catholic monarchist. It would have been a lot clearer if he had been upfront about how the reason he held those opinions – about homeschooling, I think it was – was that he wants to overthrow the government. When arguing about what to do in a liberal democracy you really need to clarify whether you are trying to fix it as much as possible or destroy it as quickly as possible. For all I knew Val might be a one-world government communist who regards the liberal state as essentially illegitimate and in need of overthrow. She might have objected so strongly to me saying liberal democracy in some form is ok because she in fact doesn’t believe it. But now she has clarified that she is ok with liberal democracy, hence willing to conduct a conversation on the basis that it might be ok to have one. So I know she didn’t understand the post.)

Now, turning to address Val: I really am sorry but, per what I just said, I have come to the conclusion you have got the point of the post completely reversed. I held up something as problematic and you noticed I was holding it up. You figured I must be holding it up because I think it is unproblematic. But the rest of the post really is about how it’s problematic. Honest and for true.

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John Holbo 08.23.17 at 12:32 pm

“My point about “incommensurate discourses” was partly reflective, an expression of my own frustration.”

That’s ok, bob, you can be incommensurate with me any time.

109

reason 08.23.17 at 12:35 pm

One thing that occurs to me reading the first post carefully, is that there is actually not a lot of difference between a voluntary association and a government – surely they are both in some sense “groups”. It is just that a government covers an entire territory – i.e. Krugman calls a government “an insurance company with an army”, but isn’t a government just a “group with a territory”?

110

Bill Benzon 08.23.17 at 12:42 pm

Have things somehow wandered off into Marx Brothers territory?

https://youtu.be/v3hjo7V7TPs

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reason 08.23.17 at 12:57 pm

I find the topic in general confusing, but then I thought – isn’t there something fishy with the whole concept of a group in this sense. What is the defining feature of a group? Can a group exist with nobody in it? Can you change all the people in a group and still call it the same group? Isn’t a group a very spongy concept (because within every group there are almost always conflicts – open or concealed) and the nature of the group can be quite changeable – think about NRA now and NRA two generations ago. I’m not sure I’m comfortable talking about things when I don’t know what they are.

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John Holbo 08.23.17 at 12:57 pm

“there is actually not a lot of difference between a voluntary association and a government”

Here’s the thing Jacob says that I think is smartest and clearest and, honestly, I should have been shorter and clearer about it in the post. You start with an individual-and-the-state frame (normatively and legally). Then, in thinking about groups, you make one of two moves. The ‘pure’ theorists construe groups as, basically, individuals. The ‘congruence’ theorists construe groups as, basically, governments. Both moves have a certain appeal but, ultimately, neither can be fully satisfactory. But it’s hard to split the difference in a coherent way. You, reason, are evidently inclined to the congruence side. There’s a lot to be said for that. The problem, basically, is that maybe we should be willing to allow some groups that have characteristics that we would regard as unjust or otherwise intolerable if they were actually replicated at the level of the nation-state. It’s fine to join a monastery, for example. But theocracy is not a permissible form of government.

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John Holbo 08.23.17 at 1:08 pm

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable talking about things when I don’t know what they are.”

Yeah, there’s that. The thing is: they obviously exist. So we know they’re something.

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reason 08.23.17 at 1:10 pm

@112
I don’t understand your last sentence. Who is giving permission? I think we can both agree that theocracy is a lousy form of government – by why is it impermissible. It seems to me to be precisely what propertarians want (government by dead philosopher kings).

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John Holbo 08.23.17 at 1:28 pm

“Who is giving permission?”

It seems to me that in arguing about political theory we often talk about what governments would be best, what governments would be not best but good, or merely tolerable, what governments would be terrible hence intolerable, aka impermissible. So forth. If you prefer we could just say: really lousy.

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Stephen 08.23.17 at 2:00 pm

Z@101: “I specifically wrote that progresses towards political equality (universal male suffrage, equality before the law…) and progresses towards economic equality (8-hour day, social security, subsidized housing…) were contingent on the exclusion of Blacks. Which they were.”

In the USA, maybe. But similar progresses towards equality have certainly happened in a large number of non-US liberal societies, and I can’t see that they were all contingent on the exclusion of Blacks, seeing that in many cases there were at the time of progress no Blacks to exclude, and in other cases Blacks were not excluded in the US fashion.

So what is it that makes progress contingent on exclusion in the US, but not so elsewhere?

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Z 08.23.17 at 2:15 pm

You start with an individual-and-the-state frame (normatively and legally). Then, in thinking about groups, you make one of two moves. The ‘pure’ theorists construe groups as, basically, individuals. The ‘congruence’ theorists construe groups as, basically, governments.

Trying to emulate your concision, my point (again, not an objection) can I think be summed up in an examination of your use of then above. There are dozen other moves people can and do make. Groups as basically master/servant, groups as basically brothers, groups as basically divinely elect few… Is there any theoretical or empirical reason why, when thinking about groups, we should limit ourselves to the specific alternative “group as individual vs. group as government”, even if our point of departure is the normative and legal frame of individual/state? Doesn’t that artificially narrow the kind of answer we are able to find, and worse the kind of question we are able to formulate?

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John Holbo 08.23.17 at 2:28 pm

“Is there any theoretical or empirical reason why, when thinking about groups, we should limit ourselves to the specific alternative “group as individual vs. group as government”, even if our point of departure is the normative and legal frame of individual/state?”

Nope.

“Doesn’t that artificially narrow the kind of answer we are able to find, and worse the kind of question we are able to formulate?”

Now you’re cooking with gas, my friend!

119

LFC 08.23.17 at 2:42 pm

p.s. on Z’s biblio @81

While I’ve certainly heard of some or many of these, the only one I’ve read is The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and that was quite a while ago. I think it’s perhaps off on a tangent in terms of Z’s list and approach, but don’t hold me to that view. ;)

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John Holbo 08.23.17 at 2:42 pm

OK, that was somewhat too brief as a response. The reason for limiting ourselves to the two options is we get how those options work. If groups are like individuals, or like states, then we ‘get’ how to treat them. But if they are really neither, then we need a third model. How can you carve out a place groups for without threatening the rights of individuals, over and against these groups, or threaten the sovereignty of the state, without which you will, again, imperil the rights of individual, which the state guarantees? It isn’t that it’s so hard to notice that there are such things as groups. It’s hard to theorize the intermediate space for them in liberal democracy, as we understand it. It doesn’t solve the problem to note that there are master/slave relations and brotherhoods and various churches. That just points out the problem to be solved. The piece that needs to fit, or else have its shape changed so it fits.

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Z 08.23.17 at 3:08 pm

LFC @119 The approach of Weber (and indeed Tocqueville) in terms of cultural or religious temperament rather than in terms of class explains why they deserve a spot on the list, even as great ancestors (but there is a direct and clear intellectual line from them to Dumont and Gauchet).

Stephen @116

Sure, I’m precisely advocating the comparatist approach you use: in the USA, it happened in a certain way, elsewhere in a different one.

So what is it that makes progress contingent on exclusion in the US, but not so elsewhere?

Above, I gave a tentative answer: the particular form of differentialist American thought and practice (which imagine the social world as a constellation of fundamentally different and separated groups). Such a vision is in great tension with the idea of political equality (and even more so with the idea of social equality) and it appears that in at least one country, the solution of the contradiction was to declare equality permissible among one large group as long as an another was excluded.

But I think one should be modest. If it is indeed true that there is an interesting typology of xenophobia (last time you and I discussed that here in the comment section of CT, during Allen’s seminar IIRC, I seem to remember you were in fact doubtful of this proposition), then surely noticing that fact (or firmly establishing the negative, if that’s more your thing) is already an intellectual progress. Then, we can wonder if it correlates with other form of socialization, then perhaps start to look for a causal mechanism.

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LFC 08.23.17 at 3:14 pm

from the OP:
I think some folks keep an unread copy of Democracy In America just to lob, self-righteously, at the heads of ‘progressives’, who allegedly haven’t read Tocqueville…

Haven’t quite read all the way to the end of the OP yet, but it’s prob worth pointing out that, in the context of the issues discussed in the OP, there is stuff in Tocqueville that can be used by progressives who are worried about groups that pressure or force people to conform to “bad” norms. See Vol 1, Pt II, ch.7, “The Omnipotence of the Majority in the U.S. and Its Effects” (as the Lawrence trans. has it), where T. says, inter alia, “I know no country in which, speaking generally, there is less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion in America…. In America the majority has enclosed thought within a formidable fence. A writer is free inside that area but woe to the man who goes beyond it.”

If, granting T’s premise for the sake of argument, ‘the majority’ exercises this sort of power at the societal or national level, by extension it can do so through groups as well. The OP says Mill was sensitive to “local tyranny” and “the tyranny of society,” but Tocqueville was too, a point that his conservative admirers may tend to overlook. (And Mill read and, iirc, favorably reviewed Democracy in America).

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F. Foundling 08.23.17 at 3:16 pm

>It’s fine to join a monastery, for example. But theocracy is not a permissible form of government.

One reason why it might be acceptable to allow monasteries is that people can leave them, and the guarantee that they can leave them is provided by the government. If even the government, the ultimate authority, is theocratic, there is nobody left to guarantee that people can leave the monastery or the nation – not to mention that such an exit would always be more technically difficult.

One argument in favour of ‘congruence’, which I think others upthread have touched upon, is that most real-life groups that actually matter are nothing like s&m dungeons and (idealised) monastic orders. In real life, people typically belong to groups because they were born into them (ethnicities, religions, nation-states) or because they were forced, for the sake of their livelihood, to belong to them (workplaces), or both. Leaving is possible, but very difficult. State intervention is necessary to at least make them tolerable, *and* to make leaving as easy as possible. If your family, your community or your workplace look like an s&m dungeon, chances are that’s *not* because that’s your favourite fetish. And, to the extent that one has to choose between priorities, the right of some people to enjoy dungeon-like conditions is, IMO, infinitely less important than the right of others to be free from dungeon-like conditions. Freedom is far more diminished in the latter case than in the former: after all, there are lots of other enjoyable things in life that you can do besides being in a dungeon, whereas the whole point of a (non-recreational) stay in a dungeon that you can’t do anything else.

>A rough first cut might be this: the degree of incongruity of your group with liberal norms has to be inversely proportional to its size/power.

I’d suggest that it should be inversely proportional to the practical (not just formal) difficulty of leaving it, and to the practical (not just formal) easiness of *not* joining it in the first place (see above). That’s as far as the level of legislation is concerned. The individual ethical level is a separate matter – if you’re a liberal, you should simply minimise the incongruity of any group that you (choose to) belong to with liberal norms – and no, I don’t think any exceptions for ‘underdogs’ are justified.

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Z 08.23.17 at 3:27 pm

It’s hard to theorize the intermediate space for them in liberal democracy, as we understand it. It doesn’t solve the problem to note that there are master/slave relations and brotherhoods and various churches. That just points out the problem to be solved.

I must be exceptionally abstruse.

My invocation of master/servant, brotherhood and religious sects was not meant to point to their existence, which like that of babies I propose we assume is common knowledge in the sense of game theory for the rest of the conversation (more generally, and I realize it is a huge favor I’m asking, but I would like you to consider taking a leap of faith and assume that, in fact, I have understood what you meant in your OP ever since I first read it). It was meant to offer an alternative view to your “If groups are like individuals, or like states, then we ‘get’ how to treat them”. Who is we? For some “we”, “we” get brotherhood, not so much individuals and the state. So for these “we”, the natural original epistemological position when theorizing about the intermediate space occupied by groups in a liberal society is to say something like “we get brotherhoods, so let theorize that groups (any group! not necessarily brotherhoods!) are like brotherhoods and see where that gets us”.

Of course, again, everything is fine in theorizing using the concepts you yourself “get” but I’d like to believe we are able to think about the fine intellectual questions raised about a group-as-individual vs. group-as-state frame and equally subtly think about the fine intellectual questions raised about (say) by a group-as-master-and-servant vs. groupe-as-brotherhood (again, any group, not especially master and servant and brotherhoods!) frame and take a vantage, meta point of view from which we can embrace all these questions at once without arbitrarily selecting one.

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Z 08.23.17 at 3:37 pm

Ha! I have finally found a concrete example of what I would like to see.

E.Ikegami argues in my view very persuasively that the development of the idea of the liberal citizen in Japan went through the structuration of artistic publics and the transformation of the value of military honor among the Samurai class into bureaucratic efficiency during the Tokugawa Era (Bonds of Civility and The Taming of the Samurai respectively). If she is right, a resident of Meiji Japan, and perhaps Heisei Japan, would then think about the problematic intermediate social spaces formed by groups by trying to fit them either in the artistic public category or lord/vassal category. So are groups more like artistic publics or more like lord/vassal bonds? Because we “get” these categories. Is there a pure and a congruence view attached to this alternative as well? If not why not? If so, what problems does it raise? Why don’t we explore them as well?

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LFC 08.23.17 at 3:53 pm

typo correction in my 122:

first part of the quote should read:

“I know no country in which, speaking generally, there is less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America”

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John Holbo 08.23.17 at 3:57 pm

“It was meant to offer an alternative view to your “If groups are like individuals, or like states, then we ‘get’ how to treat them”. Who is we? For some “we”, “we” get brotherhood, not so much individuals and the state.”

I’m not totally sure I get you, Z. but I think there are two points to be made here. (If I get you.)

1) We is us. Me, you, anyone thinking about the issue. I, John Holbo, am presuming to form judgments about what political orders are good and bad. That’s kind of hubristic because am I so smart as to be able to do that? Well, I’m doing it. And so are a lot of people. If I’m in fact incompetent to do this then presumably I won’t come up with any good answers. I make judgments by my lights because those are the only ones closest enough to me that I can see by them. (Not very reassuring, perhaps, but what are you going to do?)

2. What about this idea that we have a mental tic of putting groups only in the individual box or in the state box? Neither of which is really a good fit. We can’t figure out how to ‘treat groups as groups’, as Jacob says. Who am I talking about here? Philosophers to some degree. But also ordinary people. I think ordinary Americans today – I can’t speak authoritatively for all other cultures and countries, obviously – have a tendency to fall into the same binary. I am sure it’s not a cultural universal. That’s obviously just empirically false. A lot of Jacob’s book is about periods and places from whose vantage our contemporary way of thinking about all this would have looked very strange. Obviously our sense of individuals and the state is a relatively recent development, taking the long view.

But if I could help just Americans – and people who think like Americans – to get their heads on a bit straighter about this, I’d take that as a win.

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John Holbo 08.23.17 at 3:59 pm

“Haven’t quite read all the way to the end of the OP yet, but it’s prob worth pointing out that, in the context of the issues discussed in the OP, there is stuff in Tocqueville that can be used by progressives who are worried about groups that pressure or force people to conform to “bad” norms.”

Oh, absolutely. That’s part of why I say that some conservatives seem to regard the thing more as a brick to be lobbed than as a thing you open, with pages with words on them, to be read.

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F. Foundling 08.23.17 at 4:41 pm

On ‘groups as individuals’ vs ‘groups as states’ – I don’t think that these two approaches can be treated as being even approximately on a par with each other. One approach basically means choosing to ignore the internal structure of groups and the relations between the individuals that constitute them, the other approach is one way of not ignoring them. While not all groups are states, certainly states are one type of group. Only after this comes the discussion of how, why and to what extent different types of groups, including states, may need to be treated differently. Ideals of democracy and liberalism, as well as other (and sometimes diametrically opposite) principles of the organisation of human collectives, can be and have been applied both to states and to other units of social organisation, and the distinction between states and other types of units has been even fuzzier historically than it is now, so there is nothing new or unusual in applying similar criteria to both or ‘lumping them together’. Monasteries are relics of authoritarian and illiberal times, as were, for a long time, patriarchal families within democratic Western countries.

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Lupita 08.23.17 at 6:27 pm

John Holbo@107:When arguing about what to do in a liberal democracy you really need to clarify whether you are trying to fix it as much as possible or destroy it as quickly as possible.

I think there is a third option which is to build on top of the first- and second-generation rights of the French and US revolutions (liberal democratic), a third generation of rights that are social, cultural, and inter-generational (socialist). So, there is no destruction of liberal democracy involved but neither are socialists trying to preserve what is through eternal, byzantine, and moralistic arguments about little persons who live inside us (identities), the relative merits of decriminalizing third vs second trimester abortions, who has sex with whom, whether Nazis are bad, purity vs congruence, etc., arguments that, viewed from the outside, seem to be missing the point (public health care, eternal wars, ecological disaster).

It is not that socialists do not appreciate the contributions to modernity of 19th century Anglo-Americans, such as Locke and the Founding Fathers, including slave-owners. Thank you. It is that now, in the 21st, it is not enough.

131

Lupita 08.23.17 at 6:30 pm

Excuse me, 17th century.

132

Lupita 08.23.17 at 6:32 pm

17th and 18th rather, in any case, long ago.

133

Stephen 08.23.17 at 8:07 pm

Z@121: thanks, that’s much clearer.

I couldn’t believe that you really meant to say what your words might be taken to mean: that progress towards economic and social equality is only possible if it involves excluding Blacks. Rather, your argument as I now understand it is that, in a society that starts off with a substantial minority who are despised by the rest and regarded as unalterably inferior, progress towards greater equality is only possible if the inferior group are excluded.

That makes good sense for the USA. Whether it applies elsewhere, I’m not certain. Historically, in Europe there have been groups commonly regarded as unalterably inferior – Jews, Gypsies, Protestants in countries where the Counter-Reformation was victorious, Catholics where it wasn’t, Cagots in southern France, Irish Travellers in Ireland and Britain alike – but their existence didn’t stop quite general, eventual progress. I suppose it’s a matter of the relative size of the supposedly inferior group, and the degree of their supposed inferiority.

I can’t remember where I argued that there is not an interesting typology of xenophobia, and if I did I might want to invoke the traditional judge’s escape clause: “The matter does not appear to me now as it appears to have appeared to me then”. But I would point out that your final conclusion that we can usefully look for correlations and causal mechanisms, while interesting, is only true if you assume that your starting point is also true. If there is no such typology, it isn’t.

134

TM 08.23.17 at 9:20 pm

Z 125: Your account of how a resident of Meiji Japan would have thought about social spaces is both highly class specific and specific to a particular historic period, rather than ethnospecific. Why then do you insist on casting political culture in ethnic terms? It’s he same old same old. Your national political cultures based on ancient “anthropological” constants are fantasy constructions built on baseless speculation. They fall apart as soon as those cultures, including their internal diversity and historical contingency, are studied empirically.

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LFC 08.23.17 at 9:57 pm

J. Holbo @128
Re Tocqueville: ok, that makes sense, thanks.

136

Val 08.23.17 at 10:01 pm

Naturally as a woman trying to participate in an important men’s discussion, I am dumb and have got it all backwards, but in fact I quite clearly said that liberal democracies have both good and bad points. They are a form of governance and all forms of governance are imperfect, but as far as that goes, I would prefer some form of world government, with as much subsidiarism as possible.

So it’s possible John Holbo that you don’t entirely understand me. It’s even possible that we are talking within rather different discourses.

I knew someone would say ‘babies are citizens’ – they are not full citizens, they can’t vote, and they don’t have a choice about which country they are citizens of – which has led to some weird political developments here in Australia lately.

Anyway I am truly sick of being patronised so think I will stop trying to participate in this discussion.

137

b9n10nt 08.23.17 at 10:57 pm

Something I’m not sure has been brought up yet:

There’s a lot of policy “space” between “pure policy” and “congruence” policy. What about nudges? Public service announcement: “Are you in a cult? Wanna get out? Call 1-800-still-me”. Compulsive public education is a sort of nudge: you can home school, but you still are taxed for public education and suffer loss of efficiency. So, the state has ways of pursuing congruence without trampling over the right of association.

Again, can’t help myself but “troll” (bob @ 106): We’re supposed to be concerned about a individual/state dynamic threatened by groups, but I think the opposite dynamic is equally manifest and more relevant. People don’t want to be oppressed, sure. But people also want to belong to a community. The liberal state is at least addressing the first issue, but ( I would argue) actively suppressing the second.

Furthermore, finding a way to bring (more) people into (congruently liberal) communities is a key aspect of strengthening the liberal state against illiberal groups. You’ll do much better with push AND pull instead of just push (repressing illiberal groups).

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John Holbo 08.24.17 at 1:51 am

“but in fact I quite clearly said that liberal democracies have both good and bad points.”

Saying this sensible thing doesn’t have the effect of making your critique of my post any less nonsensical, Val.

You have, by my count, lodged four related charges: Holbo doesn’t acknowledge that groups (the ecosystem) are important units of analysis; he cares only about individuals and the state; he doesn’t think it’s important to think about anyone but adult white men; Holbo assumes all groups are by nature equal in power. So far as I can tell all of these charges are bizarro-grade inaccurate. You may think I am only saying that because I am dismissing you, because you are a woman, but I think I am saying it because what you are saying has no basis in the text of my post. If I am wrong, and it bothers you that I am wrong, the means of mending the situation are in your hands. You could take even just the first (baby!) step towards establishing that your reading of the post has any smidge of a vestige of validity, by citing some portion – any portion – of the post that supports any element of your critique of the post. The only bit that you have cited is the bit where I say I am assuming liberal democracy is kind of ok. We have now established that you do not disagree. So that can’t be it. Then what?

One more time. I have said that you and I actually holding the same general position: we need to acknowledge the importance of groups. So far so good, but it’s not so easy to get any further. You seem to me to be peddling unhelpful platitudes, which split the difference between changing everything and changing nothing. “I would prefer some form of world government, with as much subsidiarism as possible.” What does that mean? After all, if you really want subsidiarity, you go for autonomous nation states and we’re back to square 1. That’s a possible form of subsidiarity. The post-Westphalian nation-state. We all know that we want justice – a just overall order. We all know that we want subsidiarity. We know that groups are real, they aren’t going away. They should be healthy. But we also want to respect individual rights. There seems to be no good theoretical recipe for mixing these things. But, even so, what are the best ways to think about the mix generally? We can, of course, dive down into the particularity of group life. Some people have critiqued my post for doing too little of that. Being too abstract. But this is confused. I did that on purposes for a reason, not because I don’t actually see that particularities matters. Diving down into real particular cases, all that nitty-gritty, is what we do all the time, reading the news every day. Nothing wrong with particularity, but it obviously isn’t fixing things to always be working at that level, as we typically are. I’m saying: what kind of imperfect, abstract framework can we overlay on our reading of the news everyday to make our thinking about groups and their place in a healthy liberal democracy better? (Not perfect, just less dumb?)

Moving right along. Lupita: “a third generation of rights that are social, cultural, and inter-generational (socialist)”. I am skeptical. I think most such proposals fall between two stools. Most of them are crypto-congruence approaches, insofar as the groups we are concerned to give rights to are marginalized groups. Not that it’s wrong to worry about marginal groups. But if you are giving them ‘cultural’ rights just to balance an incongruence elsewhere in the system – they have been historically oppressed and/or are economically too weak to exercise their formal legal rights effectively in practice – then we are still within our original binary. But some other versions of this proposal are more in the ‘big individual’ model. Here the danger really is precisely the one we worry about in the case of any large corporation: it’s potentially oppressive to actual individuals. You forcibly make autonomous citizens into subsidiaries of some cultural group, say, and thereby risk infringing their individual autonomy. It’s tough.

139

Sebastian H 08.24.17 at 3:19 am

“Naturally as a woman trying to participate in an important men’s discussion, I am dumb and have got it all backwards, but in fact I quite clearly said that liberal democracies have both good and bad points.”

This is an interesting illustration of group vs. individual dynamics. Around post 100, you reveal that you had written many comments before carefully reading all of the post. Reading only part of the post seems to have led you to rather dramatically misunderstand the post. To my eyes that sounds like a very individual level thing. If forced to ascribe anything to that I would tend to ascribe individual level things to it like “Val didn’t read all of the post.” If I ascribed group level things to it it would be something like “It is too bad that Val only read part of the post, because it sounds like she might have some interesting insights from different viewpoints, but instead of sharing them with us she misunderstood things which led to weird digressions instead of leading to better group insight.”

You seem to want to make a very high level group attribution. Something like: “People don’t want to listen to what I have to say because I’m a woman”. Through an individualist lens it would never occur to me to ascribe something like that to ‘women’. I perfectly expect that all sorts of women could read the whole post. I expect that all sorts of people of either gender can get confused by Holbo when he is being circuitous (though actually I found him pretty direct for Holbo in this particular post).

Now I fully understand that there are people who inappropriately attribute individual level interactions to groups. So there are indeed a bunch of sexist people who would interpret “Val didn’t read the whole post till she had already commented repeatedly, but what do you expect from women…” But one of virtues of the classical individualist liberal focus is that it argues against doing that.

I also get that it can be draining to be the model minority. And I seriously mean that–it can be draining to have people ascribe “oh that is how gay people do things” to me. But again one of the virtues of the classic liberal individualist interpretation is that it sets a strong foundation for resisting that.

This seems like the kind of case where you would want the attributions NOT to go to ‘women’. Because if you do that you are feeding the problem of the model minority.

Its interesting for me to try to look at this from a more congruence point of view–because that isn’t the most natural lens for me. Or rather it is a lens that I feel I may have developed an allergy to because of being raised in a church with some cult-like characteristics. (And I use the word allergy very intentionally–meaning BOTH that it provokes a strong instinctive reaction AND that the reaction is probably an overreaction). But which congruence is important? Male/female expectations? Some sort of academic expectation about keeping your opinions modest if you haven’t read the whole thing?

And when reflecting on that it gives me a lot more appreciation for the congruence side. Some of it would seem to be about ‘norms’ and such–which I can respect greatly.

Part of my problem with congruence styles is that I don’t properly understand the points where justice come into the discussion for that style.

So I can understand that from a classic liberal you would hear something like: “it isn’t fair to exclude Gwen (an individual who among her many groups is in the group ‘female’) from the academic world (definitely a group) which is allegedly supposed to be about mental pursuits (group definition probably really contentious) based on her group affiliation of female. You should judge her (the individual) for her fitness in the academic world (group) based only on characteristics which are actually pertinent to the group (femaleness not being one of them).”

I think the congruence analog goes something like: Females (a group) shouldn’t be excluded from the academic world (group).

But I have trouble going further without retreating to the individual. We clearly don’t want to include baby females, so maybe I should have said women. We probably don’t want to include illiterate women so maybe I should have said ‘literate women’. But when we start narrowing the groups we get closer and closer to what I see as judging someone as an individual.

And when we start talking groups there gets to be fights about levels of abstraction. We talk about affirmative action in universities in the US as being for letting in more ‘minorities’ (group). But of course we don’t mean most Asian minorities because obviously not. We have to actively discriminate against individuals who find themselves in the Chinese or Japanese groups or else we will have “too many” of them. It seems to me that all talk about rights is highly contingent, but that congruence discussions of rights end up turning into huge fights about which ‘group’ really counts. It isn’t at all clear by the way that congruence concepts really favor minority groups. That is how progressive congruence types market it, but I don’t really see where that comes from UNLESS maybe you see them as building on the foundation of already-presumed-to-be-important individual rights. (Which I think may be where Lupita is going).

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Val 08.24.17 at 3:26 am

@ 138
I’m not going to reply to all of that, but you have not understood me.

I know I’m a graduate student (even though an extremely mature one!) and you’re a professor, but I do have a specialised area of study, and from that perspective I can say quite strongly that I think we are talking within, or from, different discourses, and that that is the reason for at least some of the disagreement or misunderstanding between us, rather than that you are smart and I am dumb, as you seem (unwittingly I’m sure) to be suggesting.

Moreover, I know, from my research, that the discourse I am talking from is both gendered as female and subordinated.

141

John Holbo 08.24.17 at 5:24 am

I’ll let Val have the last word in this little exchange.

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mclaren 08.24.17 at 7:14 am

The usual dichotomy twixt liberty & equality (liberty = the `pure liberal’ model, equality = the modularity model). But, also as usual, no one talks about a justice-based model. Maybe if we threw out both liberty & equality and instead focused on maximizing social justice, things would work out better?

All of these paradigms about groups seem to operate from a Ronald Coase-style argument about hierarchies and the reasons for organizing subgroups to optimize society, blah blah blah. But what if all that elegant optimization reasoning about why societies form groups & subgroups is complete bullshit, and what’s really going on is that people form groups and subgroups for pure primate dominance displays?

Suppose what’s actually going on in society is not a balance between liberty of individuals an associational freedom of subgroups, but a balance between different primates jumping up and down and hooting and hoarding all the bananas and baring their fangs at one another? How else do you explain really bizarre facts like, oh, I don’t know, the fact that the higher the pay of a CEO, the worse his (usually his) performance? Or the election of a creature like Trump?

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Z 08.24.17 at 9:59 am

I make judgments by my lights because those are the only ones closest enough to me that I can see by them. […] What about this idea that [Americans] have a mental tic of putting groups only in the individual box or in the state box? But if I could help just Americans – and people who think like Americans – to get their heads on a bit straighter about this, I’d take that as a win.

OK, tell me if I got this right. Am I right to believe you are saying “Given that some people – broadly speaking Anglo-American whose socio-political persona is the product of the historical process of individuation under the auspices of liberal political philosophy in the dual emergence among some Western polities of the notion of individual and State – tend to mentally categorize in an individual vs. state dichotomy, let me try to have them think straight about their preferred dichotomy.”

To which I respond, all good and fine, but wouldn’t it help even these people (not to mention others) even more if they learned to realize that other mental framing are possible (say the artistic public vs. lord/vassal dichotomy), that other people do actually think by them, that some dilemma of their preferred dichotomy disappear under alternate framing and that part of their puzzlement at some conundrums stems more form their reflexive assumptions than from the inherent logic of the social world (I like very much b9n10t’s advice @137 to be push and pull, for instance )? Or maybe that is precisely what Levy’s book is doing, at least from a historical perspective (per your 127), and I’m just asking for exactly what he has done.

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Peter T 08.24.17 at 10:10 am

How does this analysis apply to group memberships that are essential for individual existence? If it takes the coordinated effort of, say, 50 people to maintain the rice-fields or keep the lions at bay, then allowing exit is not an option. What of social essentials? It takes at least 1000 people to keep a language alive (nearer 500,000 if it is to flourish) – every exit leaves the remainder nearer to voicelessness. Will numbers alone determine whose rituals are performed, whose monuments fall?

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John Holbo 08.24.17 at 10:12 am

“Wouldn’t it help even these people (not to mention others) even more if they learned to realize that other mental framing are possible (say the artistic public vs. lord/vassal dichotomy)”

Yes, one of the most enlightening uses I have ever found for my lights is to read books by them. For example, books about what things look like by other people’s lights. And one of the best such books I have read by my lights recently, about how things have looked by other’s lights, is Jacob Levy’s book. He likes to see, by his lights, what things looked like, by Montesquieu’s lights, for example. It’s kind of weird.

More seriously, you are suggesting that we find a way to think out of this box. But it’s not so easy. The problem is this. Nothing is easier than thinking up possibilities – real or imaginary – that are, in fairly basic ways, rather illiberal. Your Japanese example, for example. Well, ok, some things are easier. But it’s not especially difficult. Just throw a rock at human history and culture and you’ll probably hit something illiberal. Not that it’s not interesting, but it’s not an example of how to make liberalism work. What is tricky is coming up with something that is 1) new; 2) consistent with the liberal framework we are actually operating within, and to which I see no more attractive alternatives (but if you know better “we’d all love to see the plans”, as the man sang); treats groups as groups.

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Val 08.24.17 at 11:58 am

Ok since I am allowed to have the last word, I’ll seize the opportunity

“You have, by my count, lodged four related charges: Holbo doesn’t acknowledge that groups (the ecosystem) are important units of analysis; he cares only about individuals and the state; he doesn’t think it’s important to think about anyone but adult white men; Holbo assumes all groups are by nature equal in power. So far as I can tell all of these charges are bizarro-grade inaccurate”

I didn’t actually say any of those things and I have no idea how you got them from what I said.

“The only bit that you have cited is the bit where I say I am assuming liberal democracy is kind of ok.”

No. The bit that I cited at my comment @100, was this
“most of us – I’ll wager – subscribe to the view that life in a modern liberal democratic society is like this: there are citizens and there is the state”
You can check.

” After all, if you really want subsidiarity, you go for autonomous nation states and we’re back to square 1″
No. My understanding of subsidiarism, which I think would be widely shared, is decisions being made at the ‘lowest’ (most local) level possible – in practice something like what we call local government, I’m not sure what you call it in America (county? District?).

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Z 08.24.17 at 12:29 pm

Just throw a rock at human history and culture and you’ll probably hit something illiberal. Not that it’s not interesting, but it’s not an example of how to make liberalism work.

I think we are making progress in pin-pointing where we differ.

I believe that in this quotation, you equivocate between two sense of “liberalism” and that is precisely this equivocation that I want to tease out. In the first sentence, you seem to use liberal as a historical and culture-specific property, as you seem to be saying that a mental organization of social forms in the two categories of artistic public (in Ikegami’s technical sense of public, but let us assume that it is reasonably close to the usual one) and lord/vassal bond – which I propose we assume for the sake of the argument to be the predominant mode of analysis for Japanese people – would be illiberal. I take that to mean that liberalism, as understood in the first sentence, refers precisely to the point of view on the social world who gradually emerged in the Anglo-American world in a context of the dual emergence of the notion of individual and of the notion of the sovereign state in the 17th-19th century interval, a precise historically and socially grounded outlook on the social world (and a very legitimate use of liberalism, IMHO).

But in the second sentence, by declaring that conducting an analysis using the first illiberal frame would not be an example of how liberalism work, you seem to revert to an equally legitimate but much more general use of liberalism: one broadly defined by the existence of state organized around a liberal constitution. Why do I say so? Because Japanese live in a liberal democracy, that’s why! Hell, their ever dominant party is even called the Liberal Democratic Party, and even though the usual joke about the Holy Roman Empire applies (neither liberal, nor democratic, nor a party), that should count for something in terms of their own self-representation. So, for them at least, making liberalism (in the second sense) works mean making liberalism in the second sense work for people who have an illiberal (in the first sense) outlook on the social world.

Let me repeat that so you don’t miss it: for contemporary Japanese people, making liberalism work means making liberalism work for people who categorize the social world in public vs. lord/vassal bonds. That, for them, is making liberalism works. Making liberalism work for people who categorize the social world in an individual vs. state frame would not mean making liberalism work for them.

That distinction is what I’m trying you to convey to you. If you want to make liberalism in the second general sense work, you should first learn to recognize that people might not have a liberal-in-the-first-sense outlook on the world. And this realization is, I believe, important even if you are interested only in making liberalism-2 work for people having a liberal-1 outlook on the social world, for reasons I already explained several times in this thread but at which I nevertheless have another go, seeing how unclear I evidently was. With the liberal-1 outlook on the social world comes a lot of baggage, some good, some bad, most of it neutral from a moral and philosophical point of view, and we don’t want to mistake the narrow logic of liberalism-2 (the one which applies equally well to present day USA and present day Japan) with the more finely textured logic of liberalism-1 (which applied only to present day USA), because confusion is intellectually bad, and because mixing them up often leads to equally unsavory outcomes: people who like liberalism-2 might deny that liberalism-1 has decidedly dark undertones or, worse, feel that a criticism (actual or perceived) of liberalism-1 is an attack on their dearly held liberalism-2 values, people establish liberal-1 institutions and believe that they are liberal-2 institutions, people who perceive the dark side of liberalism-1 reject liberalism-2, people who believe equally in liberalism-1 and liberalism-2 decry as anti-liberal-2 people who are merely not liberal-1 while the latter reply that such an accusation is decidedly anti-liberal-2, and that the former are the real anti-liberal etc.

That clarification made

What is tricky is coming up with something that is 1) new; 2) consistent with the liberal framework we are actually operating within, and to which I see no more attractive alternatives; 3) treats groups as groups.

Which sense of “liberal framework we are actually operating within” did you use? 1 or 2? (And if you meant in the 1 sense, could you stop using the pronoun we? The framework I operate within is certainly liberal, yet it looks nothing like liberalism-1. Damn, don’t you feel similarly not quite part of the We as an American living in Singapore?) In either case, the task is, as you note, already quite tricky. I believe it is essentially impossible if you don’t specify.

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John Holbo 08.24.17 at 1:41 pm

Val, when someone gives you the last word, it’s generally considered polite to take just one! But I am not stingy. You may have another! And if you want me to cite chapter and verse , explaining how my attributions of views to you seems to be perfectly fair, based on your comments, I will do that. But only if you ask! And I am still curious what it is you think is wrong with my post, if it is none of these things you seem to me to have said are wrong with it so far. But I do not insist.

I will now sign off by answering your final question, and then if you want to reply, you may. I will give you the last last word.

You write: “My understanding of subsidiarism, which I think would be widely shared, is decisions being made at the ‘lowest’ (most local) level possible – in practice something like what we call local government, I’m not sure what you call it in America (county? District?).”

Technically, we call it ‘the individual’. Which is the very lowest level of local government (if you think about it.) And so the great circle of political theory life begins anew. Recurring to your ideal formula – “I would prefer some form of world government, with as much subsidiarism as possible”: how can one have a universal, equal shared framework (the state – either the nation state or world-government) and, over and against it, maximum subsidiarity (autonomous individuals enjoying a bundle of rights and liberties)?

Above I was responding to your formula only at the government level. Nation-states are subsidiaries, relative to world-government. But you are quite right that we can go to the local level.

And now a quick response to Z: I get what you are saying about Japan but it seems to me that the way Japanese people are making liberalism work is – illiberally. That’s not terrible. Life is complicated. That’s sort of what it means to treat groups as groups. You inject liberalism with something illiberal, for its own good, or out of necessity. But that doesn’t make it liberal, strictly. That’s the puzzle.

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Val 08.24.17 at 9:02 pm

“Val, when someone gives you the last word, it’s generally considered polite to take just one!”

Yes, but you were wrong on the internet!

I don’t suppose this debate is going to be resolved on this thread so I think I will leave it there.

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Val 08.24.17 at 9:11 pm

Sebastian H – I did read (most of) your comment (you admit you are wordy, perhaps you should try to be more succinct) – I think the answer is (lack of time) time, mainly, I just can’t afford to spend the time at present. I read a fair bit of the OP originally, and skimmed the comments, and was intrigued by bob’s comment about incommensurate discourses, because it seemed to fit with what I’d felt reading the OP.

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Val 08.24.17 at 9:43 pm

Also – apols for multiple comments (this is what happens when you write short snappy comments but I still think it’s better than being long winded)

SH – why do I think I’m being patronised as a woman rather than just as a person? 5000 years of patriarchy maybe?

JH – we’re talking about social organisation which by definition involves more than one person (possibly that comment sums up everything that’s wrong with America, although I must admit it’s not confined to men, since I read a female Trump supporter yesterday complaining that the problem with Obamacare is that her money goes towards other people’s care)

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John Holbo 08.24.17 at 11:16 pm

“we’re talking about social organisation which by definition involves more than one person”

I think that implies an oversimplified conception of personhood! And, so I can give someone else the last word.

“Our organism is an oligarchy.” – Nietzsche

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Val 08.24.17 at 11:52 pm

“I’m saying: what kind of imperfect, abstract framework can we overlay on our reading of the news everyday to make our thinking about groups and their place in a healthy liberal democracy better? (Not perfect, just less dumb?)”

I’m saying: “thinking like a planet” (Joni Seager, 1993). But that might involve thinking about something better (not worse, as you seem to imagine) than liberal democracy.

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Lupita 08.24.17 at 11:53 pm

But here’s a test, if you can just remember to run it when the time comes.

OK. I’ll take it. My name is George Washington.

When some group you identify with is being accused of bad groupishness because of something-something,

Something-something being slavery.

and when you are inclined to make an underdoggish whadabboutish defense – whaddabout that other group that is against us, and is bigger?

Hey, I’m trying to establish an independent liberal democracy here and that obnoxious George III is fighting me!

– think whether you would find your group’s behavior permissible on the (counterfactual!) assumption that it isn’t an underdog.

Of course it is permissible. Mount Vernon is full of slaves and quite profitable they have been for me, I must say.

Imagine your group is dominant, or at least comfortably secure, not disadvantaged hence in need of actively pushing back when pushed. Would that thing your group did that bothers people still be ok in those non-dire straits?

OK, independence has been achieved, I am president now and, as I said, slaves are very profitable. What’s the problem?

This should clarify, in some small way, whether the group behavior you defend, that someone else finds oppressive or bullying, is justifiable in your own eyes ONLY because you conceive of it as a defensive response to larger oppression and bullying.

Well no, I never said I wanted slaves because I was fighting a war for independence. I want slaves because they are profitable!

That is, you buy into the ideal of congruence, and you only excuse local incongruence in the service of larger congruence. You just happen to believe that everything your groups do serves that larger congruence, even though others (wrongly) don’t see it that way.

I suppose I do not buy into the ideal of congruence then. Am I still a liberal?

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J-D 08.24.17 at 11:55 pm

In my experience, when somebody announces ‘I am giving you the last word’, more often than not it is not true; I have learned to be deeply suspicious of such announcements.

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Val 08.25.17 at 12:19 am

Another question:
Do you think America would be better, or worse, if it were a more collective, rather than individualistic, society?

I’ve read the post again and you said you didn’t want to be ‘particular’, you wanted to be ‘abstract’. But the problem is, people who are not-like-you in certain ways, can say ‘but you are talking as an American’ (or an adult white man, or a professor, or whatever). You’re talking about ‘abstract’ ideas but simultaneously talking about a ‘particular’ society, and I don’t see that you can do that meaningfully without also acknowledging
1) America is a particular society, not a generic ‘liberal democracy’
2) you have a particular standpoint

I have mixed feelings about this comment myself and feel a bit uncertain about posting it. I think there is a tendency for people who are not-Americans to patronise Americans in some ways, and I don’t think that’s a good tendency. On the other hand, your country elected Trump, so maybe not-Americans being critical of Americans is a necessary thing.

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John Holbo 08.25.17 at 12:54 am

“I’ve read the post again and you said you didn’t want to be ‘particular’, you wanted to be ‘abstract’.”

Val, I want the post to be abstract, not ME. I still put my pants on one leg at a time.

“Do you think America would be better, or worse, if it were a more collective, rather than individualistic, society?”

This is the sort of abstractly unanswerable question that inspired me to try for a more useful abstract answer to a different but related question, in the hopes of some day being able to render not-useless particular judgments. Because the only answer to your question (high up in the air where it hangs) is: it depends. First, it’s undecidable. The US is through-and-through collective (groupish) as well as thoroughly individualistic. People want to be themselves and make their own way and they want to belong and be supported and support their ‘team’ (for various values of team). Is it more thoroughly one than the other? Who can say? And who can say whether it should be more so? It depends how. If it became more collective in a fascist sense, I would not approve. But I am all in favor of healthy community. Who isn’t? (In the abstract.)

We have to ask: what sort of groupishness – collectivity, identity – is healthy and what is unhealthy? What helps people, what hurts them? I have instincts about this. I respond to particular manifestations of ‘collectivity’ – of community, groupishness – in positive and negative, approving and disapproving ways. But are these attractive-repulsive instincts of mine sound? Do I know a good group when I see one? To try to get some distance on my own reactions I resolved to be more … abstract. You are worried about my abstraction: what if everyone only worries about liberal democracy in the abstract and no one worries about Donald Trump in particular? Look at the internet. That is literally the least likely to happen thing ever. There is zero danger we won’t have particular reactions to particular things going on in the news cycle today because we’ll just view the universe sub specie aeternitatis. It’s all we can do to shut down our particular reactions for just 15 minutes by sheer force of will.

You think that I want to be The View From Nowhere when I grow up. No, I’m trying to be a smarter, more critical particular person. Abstracting is … sometimes! … an important part of the becoming-a-smarter-particular-person process.

What do I think I have learned from my deliberate moment of abstraction?

On examination, with the help of Jacob’s book, I realized that I am kind of stuck in a binary pattern, when it comes to thinking about groups. (See post.) I am pretty sure you are stuck in it the very same one, Val. What goes between an ideal regime of equal justice and maximum subsidiarity (the individual)? You dodge the question by quibbling that individuals aren’t local political units. That won’t do. It’s funny to call them ‘local government’, I know, but it’s perfectly serious to note that they are the lowest level of subsidiarity. The position that individuals should be politically autonomous to run their own lives is a very serious and considerable one. So: consider it. But then: where do the groups go?

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Val 08.25.17 at 2:07 am

I take on all the points you have made and will think about them. But I also urge you to consider that there is a difference between America and say, Australia (because I am Australian) and that I can see it in ways that you can’t. Our society just is more collective, I think. We just do accept that people should care about each other (though many of us are clearly awful about rejecting ‘outsiders’ such as boat people and you could rightly point out that raises some questions about Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft).

There are some people here who espouse the idiotic viewpoints of the Trump supporter I mentioned (who, though a woman, is clearly within the ‘patriarchal’ or ‘masculinist’ discourse I criticised, which supposes the speaker as an independent individual who never has been, and never will be, dependent on anyone else for care), but they are a minority. American friends who have settled here, speak about that collectivism (especially in regard to healthcare) as the best thing – society wise – about living here.

I think being American inevitably does have implications for the way you understand ‘society’ or ‘liberal democracy’ in the abstract, and it would be good to make those more explicit (also it would be good to make the implications of being an adult white male professor more explicit). Anyway thanks it was interesting although I did feel I was being held up as an example of ‘shoddy thinking’ for the class for a while back there.

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b9n10nt 08.25.17 at 2:08 am

Commuting is a state-enforced abridgment to each citizens right of free association.

That is all.

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b9n10nt 08.25.17 at 2:09 am

Oops..transpose my prepositions, pls

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John Holbo 08.25.17 at 2:39 am

As promised, I give Val the last word. This time.

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bob mcmanus 08.25.17 at 8:35 am

Meszaros – “Lukâcs finds himself in this respect in the position of “ethical utopianism”, despite his repeated polemics against it, and despite his clear realization that the intellectual roots of ethical utopianism can be pinpointed in the lack of mediations.”

Necessary mediations between utopias and ethics would include contingency, history, race, gender, ecosystem. The increasing complexities derived from adding mediations is a good thing, preventing closure, adding temporality, getting real.

Thinking about a Greimas square, though maybe I should avoid power tools. North Pole:state;South Pole: body or perception; East Pole:Groups;West Pole:Identity. This might help with Val’s objections.

Point is that ” individual” is in the post here as both body and identity, both as contingency and social construction. The individual/subject is already a mediation between state and body (and between groups and state?) and adding one more mediation (groups) adds its opposite (I say identity, but am open) at the same time. Who are you, really? Check your driver’s license. Some group decides if I am Czech or not, not myself on my own.But the state can tell Mississippi (a group) that I am a citizen, whether they like it or not. But MI can then obstruct on a material and the identity level, with closed poll sites and voter ID. Etc.

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bob mcmanus 08.25.17 at 9:09 am

1) Course, going post-all, I would throw language and desire/affects as mediations between perceptions/body and groups.

2) To be honest, the “state” is a level of abstraction too high for me, with way too many mediations below it, from Trump to SCOTUS to an army division to a park ranger. Might be fun to replace the state at the top of my Greimas square with particular issues interests and contests, like immigration or gay marriage.

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J-D 08.25.17 at 9:38 am

John Holbo

“I’ve read the post again and you said you didn’t want to be ‘particular’, you wanted to be ‘abstract’.”

Val, I want the post to be abstract, not ME. I still put my pants on one leg at a time.

“Do you think America would be better, or worse, if it were a more collective, rather than individualistic, society?”

This is the sort of abstractly unanswerable question that inspired me to try for a more useful abstract answer to a different but related question, in the hopes of some day being able to render not-useless particular judgments. Because the only answer to your question (high up in the air where it hangs) is: it depends.

Doesn’t that response have a wider applicability?

For example:

Continuing on cartoonishly, for (possibly illusory) clarity: most of us – I’ll wager – subscribe to the view that life in a modern liberal democratic society is like this: there are citizens and there is the state. Citizens enjoy a basket of liberties and rights, over and against each other and the state.

Do we subscribe to that view? Perhaps the answer is that it depends.

Now, if you have these two basic units, the state and the individual, it makes it kind of tricky what the normative status is of intermediate groups, eh? What is all that in-between stuff good for or bad for? What sorts of ‘mediating groups’ need to exist – because they’re great! possibly vital for the health of citizens and/or the state itself! What sorts of stuff should not be permitted, because it’s toxic – either to the state or to some individuals. And what sorts of stuff should be merely tolerated, even though its a bit dicey, but pragmatically what are you going to do?

Perhaps the answer to all those questions is that it depends.

So we have our two pure views: the pure liberal view; the congruence view. Take your pick. Which do you like: maybe Jim Crow, or maybe Harrison Bergeron?

Obviously we don’t like the bad extremes into which either side may fall. So how do you split the difference? It’s not so easy to see how to do so in a clear, principled (or just plain sensible-seeming) way.

Perhaps the answers to these questions, too, is that it depends.

We have to ask: what sort of groupishness – collectivity, identity – is healthy and what is unhealthy? What helps people, what hurts them?

Could the answer be that it depends?

What goes between an ideal regime of equal justice and maximum subsidiarity (the individual)?

Again, could the answer be that it depends?

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engels 08.25.17 at 11:15 am

If only the rest of the world could be like Australia…

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John Holbo 08.25.17 at 11:57 am

J-D: ” Citizens enjoy a basket of liberties and rights, over and against each other and the state.

Do we subscribe to that view? Perhaps the answer is that it depends.”

The claim is normative, not descriptive, so it doesn’t depend on whether the actual state is actually measuring up. But it does depend on whether you are assuming liberal democracy as legit. So if we are arguing with a monarchist, it can’t be assumed. So it depends. (As I said, I got in an argument with a monarchist a couple months back and it depended.)

” pragmatically what are you going to do?

Perhaps the answer to all those questions is that it depends.”

Here you are too tentative with your ‘perhaps’. Is there any reason to doubt that it depends? Not that I can see. I am willing to lay down a firm marker: it depends.

“Which do you like: maybe Jim Crow, or maybe Harrison Bergeron? … So how do you split the difference? … Perhaps the answers to these questions, too, is that it depends.”

Regarding the first question you are needlessly tentative. No one likes Jim Crow or Harrison Bergeron except complete bastards and I take it you are not proposing to be one. So, no, it doesn’t depend. And you can lose the final ‘perhaps’. Surely it depends.

“Could the answer be that it depends?”

Again, you need to stiffen your spine. It depends. Lose the ‘could’.

“What goes between an ideal regime of equal justice and maximum subsidiarity (the individual)?”

Again, lose the ‘could’. It’s going to depend. Do you disagree?

But please note. It isn’t bad for things to ‘depend’, per se. (We aren’t like Republicans fulminating against a wide-spread ‘dependency problem’.) The problem with Val’s claim, in my eyes, wasn’t just that. My problem (to put it another way) is that she makes extremely abstract claims but is very resistant to abstract argument or analysis. This means that the claims can’t get clarified, even as to what they mean, never mind whether they are true. There’s no way forward. Things depend, but we’ll never know from what. My way, I hope, might do better. At least we see that the binary is unsatisfying and it becomes clear why you need to treat groups as groups, since trying to treat them as big individuals or as mini-states never works. At any rate, I found Jacob’s book clarifying in that regard.

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John Holbo 08.25.17 at 11:59 am

Sorry, now I have to give Val another last word. Just when you thought you were out! (and all that.)

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Val 08.25.17 at 12:09 pm

Will use it to deal with engels

A) have you nothing better to do with your life than sit round waiting for me to say something you can read in the least charitable way, and then made a snide comment about?

B) at least it’s better than England

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John Holbo 08.25.17 at 12:14 pm

It would be fair for J-D to ask, so I’ll obligingly go there first: depends on what, in these cases? Well, it depends on a lot of particular details about groups, in whatever situation you are in. Pragmatic stuff. (Duh! No surprise, so no prize.) More interestingly, it depends on values that are going to come from outside liberalism, because they aren’t going to be internally generated. So that’s a big step, but it’s useful to at least be clear about where and why it must be taken. Here again it’s not so surprising. No liberal thinks that all values are generated within what is largely a procedural framework. Think Rawls and conceptions of the good. Rawls doesn’t think his theory tells you what’s good. Not ultimately. So figuring out that liberalism can’t do what we knew it couldn’t isn’t a big surprise. But what is nice about Jacob’s book is how he gets clear about the limits of liberalism procedurally. To many people this will be dull, because they were just inclined to trash-talk the stuff anyway (even if they also assumed it, normatively. It’s fun to trash-talk the place you come from.) But it’s not dull to me. It’s interesting and challenging.

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John Holbo 08.25.17 at 12:22 pm

And Val is entitled to know which claims of hers I regard as hopelessly abstract. For example: Australia is more collectivist – 0r collective – than the US. And whether that’s a good thing.

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Val 08.25.17 at 12:27 pm

In fact if there was an international prize for total comprehensive stuff up, England should win it.

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John Holbo 08.25.17 at 12:30 pm

Once again I must reach into the jar and offer Val a last word. Last words are losing all meaning, when there are so many of them. It’s like an Ozzy Osbourne farewell tour.

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John Holbo 08.25.17 at 12:33 pm

I’m banning myself from the thread. It’s a friendly ban. And only for this thread. Others should get a last chance to express themselves, if they like.

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Matt 08.25.17 at 12:36 pm

Australia is more collectivist – 0r collective – than the US. And whether that’s a good thing.

Having moved to Australia a couple of months ago (not too far from Val, even!) I am … not sure what to say about that claim. But, I’ll say that it’s certainly more Benthamite than the US, perhaps especially in the University system, but all around, in my limited experience. Also, the beer is much worse. You can find some good beer, but it’s a lot harder to find, more expensive, and the average quality of “good” beer is much lower than in the US now, while the top is lower, too. That perhaps says nothing about collectivsim, but it does make me sad. The parrots are kind of nice, if also a bit noisy.

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Val 08.25.17 at 1:01 pm

But we have spent thousands of words talking about this collectivism stuff at CT
Healthcare
Gun control
Anti discrimination laws
Anti hate speech laws
Universal parental leave
Minimum wage
Etc etc

I think almost any political expert would tell you that Australia is more collective and has a more egalitarian ethos than America.

I am inviting a rebuke from engels again, but I was chatting to a guy from Florida on the tram once, and he said to me ‘ordinary people live like kings and queens in Melbourne’. He was just a visitor so obviously he didn’t really know, but there was something that struck him that way, I suppose.

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Val 08.25.17 at 1:06 pm

That’s interesting about the beer. Coopers (from my state of birth) is what lefty people used to drink, but then Coopers were stupid about gay marriage. There’s lots of microbreweries though, but I guess they’re expensive.

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Matt 08.25.17 at 1:17 pm

Don’t want to turn this into the Australia thread but, this:

he said to me ‘ordinary people live like kings and queens in Melbourne’.
Strikes me as not so obviously true, as someone living in Melbourne. (As I’m teaching Australian labour/employment law right now, some of the other comments are not so obviously distinctive or pro-Australia to my mind either, but I don’t have time to go into details – I have to prepare for lectures!) On beer, I’ll say that Coopers is barely drinkable. The mico brews have a long way to go, and are expensive. People are trying, and there are some good ones, just that the average quality is a lot lower. It’s not the most important thing about a country. But, I wish it were different.

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TM 08.25.17 at 1:21 pm

“Australia is more collectivist – 0r collective – than the US”

Why is that hopelessly abstract? “Collectivist” may be an abstract attribute, but “hopelessly abstract”? Is there anything on this thread that’s less “hopelessly abstract”? Can you even talk about whether beer is good or not without appealing to abstractions?

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John Holbo 08.25.17 at 1:53 pm

“Why is that hopelessly abstract?”

A direct question is very tempting. But I am banned. But I have the power to unban myself! (And I wasn’t banned for trolling. It was more like banned from the Mint Milano cookies.) A dilemma. I will unban if someone says: Holbo dammit, answer my specific question about what the hell you meant. Then I may answer – like Ozzy on a comeback tour, slogging through “Crazy Train” – and shout out a hoarse, sweaty ‘Thank you, Crooked Timber! Good night!” No encore. Randy Newman said it best, as always, late in life. So IF someone calls me back to answer a question, and IF I am foolish enough to do so, THEN someone else should leave a comment containing the chorus part, just to try to get it through my skull. If you get my meaning.

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AcademicLurker 08.25.17 at 2:17 pm

One of the books I read this summer was The Habsburg Empire: A New History by Pieter M. Judson. It provides a pretty detailed study of one society’s attempt to locate the basis of rights and obligations in the group (in this case the “nation”, although they frequently had difficulty defining what a nation was) rather than in the individual. Spoiler alert: it turned out to be pretty tricky.

It seems like it might serve as a useful case study for the subject of this thread. Not that I begrudge anyone their abstractions, but getting down to specific cases every now and then can be useful as well. If nothing else, it makes it difficult to hand wave away potential problems.

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Stephen 08.25.17 at 4:53 pm

Val@171: I remember you arguing that most of the population of London should be expelled, for ecological reasons. I fear that if you were forbid in supreme power, you would comprehensively stuff up England beyond any previously imaginable limits.

Incidentally, if it comes to “an international prize for total comprehensive stuff up”, in your opinion how does England compare to Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Russia, Maoist China, North Korea, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Nazi Germany, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Venezuela … needs I go on?

“I am an Australian woman” is not necessarily the right answer.

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ben w 08.25.17 at 5:54 pm

” You can’t get thee to a nunnery – or even into your favorite s&m dungeon – if that is your druthers. Or even just attend an all-girl’s school.”

This just does not seem plausible to me, given the description of the congruence school of thought given immediately above—especially in the former two cases. No one is born into a nunnery, and your stay in your favorite dungeon is unlikely to last even one full day. (And exit from it is going to be pretty trivial.) That is: there would seem to be a reasonable distinction to be drawn between illiberal orders that have got you in their grasp from the get-go and to which you may not ever have meaningfully consented (sexist family orders, the white citizens’ council (which has its non-members in its grasp)), and those which you can only enter as an adult, off your own stick.

On the other hand, maybe it’s actually not a big deal if you can’t join the Foreign Legion because there ain’t no such thing, or if orders whose members are instructed that they’re corpses with neither intelligence nor will are verboten. No girls-only schools seems less desirable, but the complaint against “formal exit is possible on achieving majority!” surely has a theoretical and an empirical element: freedom worthy of the name must be enjoyable without heroics (that’s the theoretical side), and in these examples that I’m pointing to here objectionable heroics actually are necessary, and that’s why these organizations or setups are substantively hostile to liberty despite having these formal safety latches. Why can’t the congruence side just get, you know, a little more substantive? (Because the idea is to be a formal or politically liberal theory only? But why?)

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Yankee 08.25.17 at 6:41 pm

Been meaning to raise the question whether whatever rights to join an associative group are symmetrical with rights to leave a congruence group? Or are they the same thing differently viewed?

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Val 08.25.17 at 7:34 pm

Stephen @ 181
“Val@171: I remember you arguing that most of the population of London should be expelled, for ecological reasons.”

I think I’ve been accused of this twice now, by you and engels (?). Can you point to where I said this, because I think it’s something engels made up.

Re “total comprehensive stuff up”, you seem to be using the word “stuff up” in a rather different sense than me. I personally wouldn’t refer to the Holocaust or the Killing Fields as “stuff-ups”. Brexit, on the other hand …

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Val 08.25.17 at 7:51 pm

I have insomnia, so have been whiling away the time reading definitions of “collective”. I think John Holbo may be right, it is rather abstract. There’s a cultural definition on which Australia comes out very close to the US, and an economic definition, on which again I think we’d come out quite close to the US.

The way I was using it was the existence of laws and practices that promote the common good, even though some of them may restrict individual freedoms. That may be a bit of an idiosyncratic definition though because I can’t seem to find anyone else defining it that way.

I guess Matt’s “Benthamism” may be nearer the mark, in terms of promoting the ‘general welfare’ (rather than utilitarianism, which is a bit too mixed in meaning for this context I think). Certainly here it’s widely believed that we have a lot of laws which arguably restrict some freedoms, but which are accepted widely here and often adopted earlier than other countries. To the previous list, I could add:

Seat belt legislation (early)
Anti-tobacco and anti-smoking laws, including plain packaging (first in world I think)
Compulsory voting (Matt you probably would have seen the headlines that now about 96% are registered to vote?)
Bike helmet laws (controversial!)

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Val 08.25.17 at 8:07 pm

Matt
The link in your name says you are at the University of Pennsylvania, but I guess that is a bit out of date at present? Can I ask which university you are at now, if you don’t mind? (Feel free to ignore if you prefer of course)

Your papers look very interesting – the one on climate change refugees is relevant to the subject I coordinate so might follow up on that.

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engels 08.25.17 at 9:08 pm

Val, did it ever occur to you that as a white Australian your connection to, responsibility for and enrichment from the British empire is every bit as great as mine?

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J-D 08.25.17 at 10:26 pm

John Holbo

My problem (to put it another way) is that she makes extremely abstract claims but is very resistant to abstract argument or analysis. This means that the claims can’t get clarified, even as to what they mean, never mind whether they are true. There’s no way forward.

When you put it like that, I think I can express my problem in the following way. You make extremely abstract claims and are very resistant to concrete analysis. This means that the claims can’t get clarified, evan as to what they mean, never mind whether they are true. There’s no way forward.

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William Berry 08.25.17 at 10:58 pm

@Stephen: “I remember you arguing that most of the population of London should be expelled, for ecological reasons.”

No, you have your Aussies mixed up. That was ZM with the London thing.

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engels 08.26.17 at 2:33 am

Seat belt legislation…
anti-smoking laws…
Bike helmet laws

Sounds like an egalitarian utopia

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bianca steele 08.26.17 at 2:37 am

Having read the OP more thoroughly on the long drive from Montreal to Boston, instead of “Contrapolitanism” or another 30 pages of “The Goldfinch,” I think this suggests a big problem:

most of us – I’ll wager – subscribe to the view that life in a modern liberal democratic society is like this: there are citizens and there is the state.

What reason is there to think this? I take it, that is, that you mean that you expect your readers, here at CT, to think things should be “simply citizens and the state”, with no groups. Not even “family” or “community.” Thus, you go on to try to persuade them that there should also be groups. But why should you think your audience believes this? My first guess would be because they’re typical Americans–this thought seems to have occurred to other commenters, as well. But the idea that on a scale from 0 to 100 of groupishness, Americans should be at 0, doesn’t fit with my experience. I don’t think even the rhetoric of extreme anti-groupishness is common, except maybe among certain academics (of more or less Rawlsian views), strawmanning people who think THEY understand groups but that some OTHER group is too individualistic, and under-50 libertarian or propertarian right-wingers. Trying to find the ideal mix of individual and group in the state may be fun, but in terms of politics right now, failing to understand where the median groupishness-level lies, and what that means for electoral politics and political rhetoric, seems more consequential.

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Val 08.26.17 at 3:09 am

Thank you William Berry! Mystery solved. It crossed my mind that ZM may have said something like that (maybe it’s been interpreted uncharitably though).

Both Australian, both female – how could they possibly tell us apart?

engels:

http://fairgreenplanet.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/why-we-should-acknowledge-elders-and.html

But anyway in this particular case I was just slinging off about Brexit (and your man Corbyn who has contributed quite a lot to that particular stuff up, from what I can work out)

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Val 08.26.17 at 3:24 am

I mean I know this is going OT but surely you cannot deny this is a stuff up of the highest order:

Poll finds that 60% of Britons want to keep their EU citizenship https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/01/poll-european-eu-rights-brexit

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Val 08.26.17 at 3:29 am

@191
Yes bianca that was exactly I asked John Holbo about and he did not ever answer – just said that I cited something completely different, which was wrong.

It was exactly that bit I quoted. Even if he is just saying it for the ‘purpose of argument’ why should we accept it, if we don’t think that way?

It just seemed like a wrong assumption and strange framing, but I did not get an answer.

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John Holbo 08.26.17 at 4:12 am

Just to be clear: I am recusing myself from the thread on the grounds that ‘someone is wrong on the internet’ should not rule my day. Even: ‘someone is wrong in my thread’. If Val – or J-D – wants to hear from me exactly why I feel they are being wrong in my thread, they can ask me a question and I will answer it. Val, would you actually like me to answer? J-D, would you like me to answer? If so, exactly what is it about my position that baffles you? So I can be sure to be direct and to the desired point. Otherwise, I’ll bite my tongue. I really have said it all already, as far as I can tell.

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Val 08.26.17 at 4:48 am

John Holbo @ 195
You did say you were out so that’s why we were talking about you rather than to you. But since you are still here, I will ask you a question. Way back @ 100 I quoted the below statement from your OP:

“most of us – I’ll wager – subscribe to the view that life in a modern liberal democratic society is like this: there are citizens and there is the state” “
[complete with typos]

– and then I went on to say I don’t think that way etc etc.

So the question is, if that statement is wrong, what does that do to your argument?

If some of your audience do not understand the issue in the way you assume they understand the issue, do you accept that, rather than them being wrong, or misguided, or having things backwards, they might actually understand the world somewhat differently than you do? That there might be a question of different discourses here?

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Val 08.26.17 at 4:49 am

Sorry – you didn’t have typos – my comment did but that’s irrelevant.

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John Holbo 08.26.17 at 5:45 am

“subscribe to the view that life in a modern liberal democratic society is like this: there are citizens and there is the state”

OK, I’ll explain. My statement of course needs to be read in the context of the post and the paragraph it appears in and it expresses a rather mild (so it seems to me) thought, in that context. The thought is: I’m going to talk on the assumption that we are ok with liberal democracy, and the reason that is an ok assumption is that we are, in fact, ok with liberal democracy. (That’s why I asked if you were, indeed, ok with liberal democracy in some form. Some people aren’t.) Now, the reason ‘there are citizens and there is the state’ is an ok tag for ‘liberal democracy is ok’ is that, if you click over the Wikipedia you will read that liberal democracies are 1) states that 2) ensure “the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and political freedoms for all people.” There is nothing there, in the opening paragraph at least, about groups, in the sense I discuss them in the post. ‘People’ is understood, in an ultimate legal and normative sense, individualistically. Persons. States guarantee the rights and liberties of the persons within them. They are the primary rights holders. Not churches. Not clans. Not races. Not guilds. Not genders. Not families. Individuals.

Liberal democracy is not, of course, opposed to the existence of intermediate groups. People will tell you that what makes liberal democracy good is that it best fosters happy, healthy group associations. But: the form those groups may take is bounded by the rights of the individual, on one side, and the sovereignty of the state, on the other. Groups may not oppress individuals or arrogate authority that is, properly, the state’s. My point (Jacob’s point) is: we don’t actually know what that means. We oscillate between two positions. Think of groups as big individuals (enjoying the freedoms individuals do). Think of groups as mini-states (bound by the formal limits that states are bound by, i.e. to be liberal.) Figuring out how to treat groups as groups, while respecting individuals and maintaining the sovereignty of the state is conceptually tricky.

There are lots of things the US Constitution (as an example) doesn’t mention: bowling leagues, for example. But it obviously doesn’t follow that the US is ‘against’ bowling, or free of bowling. Generalizing: when I point out that, constitutionally, intermediate groups don’t get a very clear look-in – only citizens and the state do – I don’t mean to say that they don’t exist, or are discouraged, or disapproved of, or any of that. It’s just that their place isn’t clarified as much as we might have assumed. We end up thinking of them as big individuals or mini-states, because those are the slots we have pre-prepared for stuff to go in.

So basically I was saying, for discussion purposes: assume a first paragraph of Wikipedia-grade understanding of liberal democracy, for post purposes.

Now, it’s important that some people are not down for that. As I mentioned I got in an argument with a Catholic monarchist who would not agree that all rights and liberties should be respected like that. Rather, you should have a king and the church should have a lot of power over individual lives. They control your sex life, what you can say, what kind of job you can get, so forth. That’s optimal. I was assuming we don’t have too many Catholic monarchists at Crooked Timber, although a few lurkers … maybe.

But a good question is whether anyone present is 1) such a person themselves or 2) thinks there are so many such persons that my post makes no sense because it marginalizes them. Neo-feudalists, fascists, antifa, communist one-world-staters, Catholic monarchists. People who think that your relationship with the government ought to (legally, or at least in real political practice) run through, say, the authoritative head of your church, or your racial group, your local lord, you village head man. Whatever. So, for example, white people should be ruled by a head white person who perhaps gets to dictate that white people not be race traitors and such. (And Asian people get one of those too – fair is fair! – and black people, etc.) And then the head white person and the head black person, etc. both meet with the President and they hammer out harmonious deals. It’s a way you could run the railroad, maybe. Not my cup of tea. I prefer a framework in which the individual enjoys a basket of rights and liberties over and against a sovereign state, thanks very much. Obviously I hope it’s not your cup of tea either. I pick a nasty example to underscore how I think these group-first options tend to be nasty, or turn nasty about a week later.

That said, maybe you, Val, or Bianca, or someone present, is thinking of some alternatives you could favor. You can have ‘cultural rights’ or ‘group rights’, as primary, for example. You may have specific groups that you want to give constitutional status of a special sort. I’m not in principle opposed to that, but it’s a dicey move and one whose merits I would propose to weigh and measure once we see this important point about how treating groups as groups is hard. Why are we treating this group as special?

And that’s my view of why the statement I made, which Val and Bianca and others regarded as controversial, was actually rather trivial.

One final note: I am glad you have dropped your use of ‘collectivism’, Val. Collectivism doesn’t imply – let alone mean – egalitarianism, as you were suggesting. It means: treating the group as primary, which can be very hierarchical. I’m just using the google definition: “the practice or principle of giving a group priority over each individual in it.” (Not that google is authoritative but I’m not making this meaning up. It has nothing to do with Benthamism, which you eventually suggest is more what you meant.) One thing that makes the US more collectivist, relative to Australia, is that race relations are so bad. If everyone always thinks primarily in racial terms, that’s collectivism. So it’s not a good thing, automatically. In general, there are good groups and bad, healthy and unhealthy and downright toxic one. I don’t see any way to gauge whether groups are, per se, more powerful, relative to individuals, in Australia vs. the US. There are just too many groups of too many different kinds. (‘Collectivism’ also refers to systems advocated ideally by Marx and Engels, for example, and instituted by the USSR, communist China in the 50’s, revolutionary Cambodia, North Korea. But I am sure you are not saying that Australia is collectivist in that sense, either in theory or practice.)

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Z 08.26.17 at 6:17 am

‘People’ is understood, in an ultimate legal and normative sense, individualistically.

Liberalism-2 in the sense of my 147, in other words. Or liberalism as in the preamble of the Wikipedia definition, if you like that more.

Generalizing: when I point out that, constitutionally, intermediate groups don’t get a very clear look-in – only citizens and the state do –[…] It’s just that their place isn’t clarified as much as we might have assumed.

And bam, there you did it again. A clear look-in by whom? Clarified by whom? By the constitutional order? Sure. By the actual people inhabiting that constitutional order? not necessarily. The Japanese Constitution is every bit as liberal as the American one, so it is every bit as fuzzy on what groups should be constitutionally, but the Japanese people did get groups a clear look-in, a better one arguably than to the notion “individuals” and “state”. So the place of groups, if it has not been clarified by the abstract document, might be perfectly clear to the people, and if it is not, it might be unclear for totally different reasons than those making the constitutional document unclear on that point.

We end up thinking of them as big individuals or mini-states, because those are the slots we have pre-prepared for stuff to go in.

Please John, no, we don’t. Maybe you feel like that. But I assure you I certainly don’t. And I bet I’m not the only one in the world and not even the only one in this thread (hello Lupita!). I mean, from time to time, coming from a totally different cultural world than the main posters must have some perks.

What prepared some of us (human beings) to think of groups as big individuals or mini-states is not the way a particular constitutional order is set up*, it is a historically and socially specific process which is arguably true of most current English speaking person, but which is strictly true essentially mostly for them, and which is decidedly false for a good number of people who nevertheless live within and subscribe to a liberal system of democracy as understood in your Wikipedia definition (me, for instance).

So basically I was saying, for discussion purposes: assume a first paragraph of Wikipedia-grade understanding of liberal democracy.

And I’m OK with that, but not with the much stronger move which then consists in taking this Wikipedia-grade understanding and then somehow implying (or even asserting) that this Wikipedia-grade understanding somehow influences the way “we” think about the social world at some deep cognitive level as if this was unproblematic. It might do so, it sometimes do so, certainly. But it does not always do so.

*That’s exactly the point Tocqueville makes in Democracy in America and then again more forcefully in Rapport de… Démocratie en Suisse which I quoted above.

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Z 08.26.17 at 6:29 am

Oh, and I don’t want to give the impression I missed your 148 (“but it seems to me that the way Japanese people are making liberalism work is – illiberally.”). It’s just that you asked if anybody was feeling marginalized by your assuming a Wikipedia-grade definition of liberalism in the post. I think I’ve been clear that I don’t dispute this initial assumption. The first step you then take based on that assumption (“it prepares us to think in certain specific ways in terms of individual and state”) on the other hand, well, it’s not exactly that I feel marginalized by it (my sense of belonging doesn’t really rely on things like that), it’s more than I’m seeing you asserting an apparent generality and I’m thinking it doesn’t hold for anyone I have known personally in my life, and yet all these people would have subscribed to a liberal democratic way to organize society.

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John Holbo 08.26.17 at 6:50 am

“Please John, no, we don’t. Maybe you feel like that. But I assure you I certainly don’t.”

And that’s fine, of course. I’ve allowed for that. (I am now going back into silent mode from which I shall be summoned only by direct questions, aimed at me, requesting a specific response! You don’t even have to put a quarter in the slot. It’s free. But you have to push the button.)

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John Holbo 08.26.17 at 7:02 am

OK, maybe a bit more clarification. No need to be gnomic about it. Z writes: “but the Japanese people did get groups a clear look-in, a better one arguably than to the notion “individuals” and “state”.”

I doubt this. I don’t doubt that people work out stable-in-practice modus vivendi arrangements for allowing for groupishness. We Americans do it, no need to deny it to the Japanese. But that’s not the same as making sense of it. You haven’t said anything that suggests to me that the Japanese system is anything but a contradiction that, however, works ok most days in practice. Like the American system.

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Matt 08.26.17 at 7:03 am

States guarantee the rights and liberties of the persons within them. They are the primary rights holders. Not churches. Not clans. Not races. Not guilds. Not genders. Not families. Individuals.

This is an interesting and important point (that could have been put clearly much sooner!) If you talk to, say, Catholic legal theorists who are first “Catholic”, that is, not ones who are liberals who happen to be Catholic, they want to talk about the “freedom of the church” much more than “freedom of religion” or “freedom of conscience”. And, they have been able to make a bit of headway (though only a bit) in this direction in the US. It’s a fundamentally ill-liberal move. But, it’s one that various groups often want. Now, liberalism can accept groups being illiberal internally. (Rawls, who I think is getting short shrift in this post, notes this.) But, it requires that there be boundaries on group control. Contrast this with, say, the way groups worked in the Ottoman Empire for a different view. I’d be very surprised if more than a tiny handful of people who read this blog would object to the liberal position, if they thought it through carefully.

(I actually think that Levey, as presented by Holbo, at least, underplays the way that groups get a lot of attention in recent liberal political philosophy and theory – certainly in my work, but then, I draw on the work of lots and lots of others. Even the presentation of Rawls here seems to me to be a caricature, although a common one.)

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kidneystones 08.26.17 at 7:34 am

“for contemporary Japanese people, making liberalism work means making liberalism work for people who categorize the social world in public vs. lord/vassal bonds.”

Far and away the strangest comment I’ve read ever about contemporary Japanese society. The notion that Japan retains any sense of lord/vassal bonds operates (perhaps) in social communication, not social structure. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to say no to one’s boss, for example. Where isn’t it?

Family, kinship, and real collectivism (where the needs of the group supersede those of the individual) are far more the norm. Indeed, decisions are usually made according to consensus, much to the confusion and consternation of westerners searching for ‘the’ decision-maker. I don’t know what’s going in your own world, John. But I’m sure you can find more useful ways of spending your time.

Nuff from me.

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John Holbo 08.26.17 at 7:40 am

I guess the short version of Jacob Levy on Rawls would be: Rawls tries to handle this stuff but ends up teetering due to what G.A. Cohen critiques as his ‘persistent wobble’. Levy is actually sort of on Rawls’ side, which conceding the letter of the critique. Yes, there’s a persistent wobble here. But what’s the alternative?

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Matt 08.26.17 at 7:53 am

I guess I don’t see the “wobble”. (I don’t find any of Cohen’s critiques at all convincing.) I’ve not read Levy’s book yet, but have read and seen his and others accounts of it, and am generally familiar with his work. I am not sure I get what the problem is. Yes, it’s difficult to figure out how to make groups, which often are internally illiberal and which want to extend their power and control, fit within liberalism, but no harder, I see, than lots and lots of other practical problems within political philosophy when you try to make it concrete. It’s hard! No one (reasonable) claims otherwise. But, insofar as it’s a problem, it’s a problem all around, and not a deep or special one for liberalism or Rawls, it seems to me. Certainly, Rawls never claimed it would be easy. (The more interesting job is to do the work of trying to work out particular cases, I’d claim, but maybe I’d claim that because it’s what I spend my time trying to do.)

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John Holbo 08.26.17 at 8:12 am

Thanks, Matt, I get where you are coming from. For my part, I see the wobble. I buy Cohen’s critique while yet, like Jacob, seeing a lot of value in Rawls. Wobbly old ‘ideal theory’ that yet makes concessions to reality. I’m interested in how to conceptualize that. This really wasn’t what the post is about, however. It may seem I’m neglecting stuff or skimming over problems in other areas but, you know, can’t do everything in a post!

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J-D 08.26.17 at 8:17 am

John Holbo

If Val – or J-D – wants to hear from me exactly why I feel they are being wrong in my thread, they can ask me a question and I will answer it. Val, would you actually like me to answer? J-D, would you like me to answer? If so, exactly what is it about my position that baffles you? So I can be sure to be direct and to the desired point.

Since you put it like that:
Why do you observe the mote of abstraction obstructing Val’s perceptions and not consider the beam of abstraction obstructing yours?

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Val 08.26.17 at 8:18 am

John Holbo @ 198

So you are talking within a discourse of liberalism, which you assume everyone shares, even though you are talking to an audience which includes Marxists, feminists, ecofeminists, cross-cultural theorists, probably theorists of racialised oppression, and so on – none of which theoretical perspectives accepts your framing of people as citizen/individualists and all of which in different ways assume that human beings are born and constituted within existing relationships of unequal power.

And yet you seemingly expect us all to agree with you, and if we don’t, you not too subtly suggest we are whackos who believe some truly, madly, deeply odd things.

It’s just not entirely convincing.

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Val 08.26.17 at 8:22 am

I know it’s a glib aphorism, but it just seems right at the moment – I think liberalism of this sort is part of the problem in America, not part of the solution.

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John Holbo 08.26.17 at 8:38 am

Was that last one a question, Val? I’m just going to pretend there’s a question mark after ‘deeply odd things’. I did think it was ok to presuppose that people were familiar with the wikipedia sense of ‘liberal democracy’. No, you obviously don’t need to be in favor of it.

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Z 08.26.17 at 9:59 am

You haven’t said anything that suggests to me that the Japanese system is anything but a contradiction that, however, works ok most days in practice.

Nor do I intended to! Of course the Japanese system (assuming it exists for the sake of conversation) is anything but a contradiction, but that is not the same contradiction as the American system, which in turns is not the same contradiction as the French system etc… And I claim the contradiction that the Japanese use deals comparatively more efficiently with the category groups (and less efficiently with the category individual and state) than the American one. Making it at least an interesting contradiction to observe, if one wants to think about groups, even exclusively from an American perspective.

I am a bit uneasy with “summon-Holbo-button” but my direct question would be: why then is it not more interesting to think about the different cognitive dispositions of different people and how they develop and come to translate into institutional schemes, and if that is too hard, why isn’t it at least more productive to think of the same question (say, how do we think of groups?) in the light of all these different perspective rather than from just one? (To which I guess you said above, “I use my light because I can see by my light and not by others” but to me it seems a bit like answering “I read only books written in my maternal language, because that’s the one I master most” which is alright but a bit parochial, isn’t it? And begs for the follow-up question “Why don’t you learn another language/another perspective?”).

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Val 08.26.17 at 10:16 am

This is a deeply odd thing, don’t you think?

“So, for example, white people should be ruled by a head white person who perhaps gets to dictate that white people not be race traitors and such. (And Asian people get one of those too – fair is fair! – and black people, etc.) And then the head white person and the head black person, etc. both meet with the President and they hammer out harmonious deals”

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Layman 08.26.17 at 12:15 pm

“States guarantee the rights and liberties of the persons within them. They are the primary rights holders. Not churches. Not clans. Not races. Not guilds. Not genders. Not families. Individuals.”

I have been frankly mystified that there was any controversy to the formulation in the original OP. That an essay which is entirely about the difficulty in striking a balance between individual and group rights should result in claims that the author is uninterested in group rights is, well, absurd. That those claims should also imply that this imagined disinterest is the result of his gender (or race, or culture) actually blows my mind. WTF?

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bianca steele 08.26.17 at 12:37 pm

Val, It sounds like you agreed with John’s assumption, actually, that “we” (Americans) are at 0 on the scale. That’s what I’m questioning.

Val and John, I’m not pretending I know what the ideal place on the scale is, or where any one group of people is. I’m questioning the utility of talking like “of course we’re all at 0,” when maybe what “we” really mean is something more like “I know you young’uns are at about 80 and I’d like to show you that philosophy says you ought to be at 0, really,” without being clear that’s what’s happening.

I know it’s much easier for white male professors to say to a female or nonwhite student “oh you disagree with me because you want more groupiness, you should really either stop disagreeing or find a more “identity-oriented” prof for yourself.” But I’m too old for that, and that’s not what my disagreement is. I actually think we should realize that real existing liberalism is not the negation of everything that might be called feudal, but has its own values, norms, and groups. I also think “but there are groups!” is usually tossed around in a specious way, as a kind of debating technique. If we think of groups, unless they’re each absolutely egalitarian, they are all going to have different ways of describing who’s right in a situation, and I think “groups!” is usually a way of shutting down discussion of which description is right.

(In my first comment I was mostly expressing frustration with commenters who were pretending they’d never heard anyone talk about the things Val did, or who maybe thought a woman talking here must have no morals and thus not know anything about “group behavior”, or something.)

But this way of focusing on Kantian or Rawlsian liberalism, as if we were focusing on the ideology of our own nation, when in fact most people are taught from childhood to distrust it, creates a distorted view of the electorate and of the political possibilities we have plausibly open to us.

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John Holbo 08.26.17 at 1:00 pm

Questions questions.

“why isn’t it at least more productive to think of the same question (say, how do we think of groups?) in the light of all these different perspective rather than from just one?”

I guess I’m just sort of vexed by the implication that, because I’m constructing this particular abstract argument, I’m just burrowing down into my own perspective. What makes you think I am? Your criticism seems sort of like the generic ‘why didn’t you write about that instead?’ school of blog post criticism. There’s always something I’m not thinking about at all. But that doesn’t seem like a good argument that I’m especially narrow in my approach.

Val: “This is a deeply odd thing, don’t you think?”

I agree that would be a very messed up form of government. My point is this: it’s easy to say ‘oh, this whole liberal picture of atomized individuals is inadequate.’ We all get it. But suppose you were given the power to rewrite the US Constitution – or the Australian, I don’t know it as well. You could choose to make some other level legally primary, instead of individuals. Some group. Would you do it? Most proposals to do that seem kind of messed up to me. Although there’s always state churches and such. France seems nice but they have a state church.

“Val and John, I’m not pretending I know what the ideal place on the scale is, or where any one group of people is. I’m questioning the utility of talking like “of course we’re all at 0,” “

OK, the word ‘question’ showed up there in Bianca’s comment, so I am summoned. On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being 100% in favor of this talk about a scale to measure groupishly, and 10 being 100% sure it’s nonsense, color me 11. I am not saying anything like Americans are o for groupishness. That’s fiddlefaddle and I disavow it and deny that anything I say was anywhere in the vicinity. Obviously everyone loves bowling leagues. Or else they love their mom. Or something.

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engels 08.26.17 at 1:14 pm

I think I’ve been accused of this twice now, by you and engels (?). Can you point to where I said this, because I think it’s something engels made up.

No, what I once mentioned on a previous thread (readily googlable) was someone had said that. You assumed that I was talking about you and vehemently denied you had. So as usual you’re the person who’s making things up.

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SamChevre 08.26.17 at 1:59 pm

I have wanted to read Rationalism, Pluralism, Freedom but haven’t yet done so.

I lean very far toward the “groups can do anything the individuals in them can” view myself: I think that is the (Anglo-American classical) liberal solution to group interactions, and that it, combined with the state being the only legitimate initiator of force, keeps the destructiveness of group conflict manageable. (Scott Alexander’s description is too good not to quote[1].) I’m probably more familiar than anyone else here with exactly how powerful entirely voluntary groups can be [2]; I still think “if you can do it alone, you can do it together” is a best-available solution.

I have a question for John Holbo or anyone else who has read the book about the “congruence” view. Is it focused on the groups internal organization, or on its goals? “Organizational congruence” as a goal seems very rare–it is even rare within the state, to the point that I can’t think of any egalitarian states that attempted to be egalitarian all the way down. (Maybe the Spanish Anarchists?) (Every state had some command-and-control structure, at least for state employees–an army or police force where everyone did what he thought best isn’t likely to be a functional organization.) The congruence I’m most familiar with is “goal congruence,” which has strong roots in the French Revolution tradition [3] and was most fully developed in the fascist tradition. (I would not call either of those “liberal”, but they are often called that). When I think of the “congruence” view, I’d expect the focus to be on the goals and effects, not on the internal organization–but the original post makes it seem that the focus in on internal organization.

1)Against Murderism, Part V

People talk about “liberalism” as if it’s just another word for capitalism, or libertarianism, or vague center-left-Democratic Clintonism. Liberalism is none of these things. Liberalism is a technology for preventing civil war. It was forged in the fires of Hell – the horrors of the endless seventeenth century religious wars. For a hundred years, Europe tore itself apart in some of the most brutal ways imaginable – until finally, from the burning wreckage, we drew forth this amazing piece of alien machinery. A machine that, when tuned just right, let people live together peacefully without doing the “kill people for being Protestant” thing. Popular historical strategies for dealing with differences have included: brutally enforced conformity, brutally efficient genocide, and making sure to keep the alien machine tuned really really carefully.

2) My parents–fairly typical Vietnam-era back-to-the-land-ers–converted and joined a very conservative Amish-Mennonite church when I was three. I joined it myself at 18, left just before I turned 23, and have dealt with the social and psychological fallout for 20 years now.

3) “Rousseau, The Social Contract

In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working of the political machine.

4)Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism

The Fascist State lays claim to rule in the economic field no less than in others; it makes its action felt throughout the length and breadth of the country by means of its corporate, social, and educational institutions, and all the political, economic, and spiritual forces of the nation, organised in their respective associations, circulate within the State.

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Z 08.26.17 at 2:16 pm

I really don’t want to sound too harsh but

I guess I’m just sort of vexed by the implication that, because I’m constructing this particular abstract argument, I’m just burrowing down into my own perspective.

The implication is straightforward, and I laid it down clearly several times already: you start with a reasonable assumption that liberalism-2 is a given, you then move on and the very first step you take is treat it as if that implied “we” should predominantly see things through the lens of liberalism-1. That is burrowing yourself down into your own perspective, or at the very least you are committing a fallacy of laying one of your hypothesis unspecified and implicit, as your reasoning at the moment admits (or so I claim) clear counter-examples: many people re happy to make your first assumption of liberalism-2 but do not share your opinion on how that conditions us to look at the social world.

What makes you think I am?

Your reliance on how “we” think in a certain way because those are the slots we have pre-prepared for stuff to go in. How is that not burrowing yourself in your own perspective? What I find odd is that burrowing oneself in one’s own perspective is fine, and I’ve said as much in my very first comment on this thread already, so that’s OK, John, especially if you don’t see a way out of the Burrow!

But I don’t understand why you seemingly deny that is what you are doing (hypothetically, of course I could be all wrong about how different people have different slots pre-prepared for them depending on specific historical and social conditions; I mean if you actually think the slots individual vs. state are really the one we human beings or we human beings living in liberal democracies are pre-prepared for, then fine, one of us at least would be wrong and I wouldn’t presume it is you, because I’m modest like that, but you don’t seem to believe that – or do you? – and certainly you didn’t specifically argue that – or did you?).

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Z 08.26.17 at 2:46 pm

To be fair(er), you have been consistently saying something like “Yeah, OK, that is my perspective, but I claim it can help people sharing roughly the same perspective, and then why wouldn’t I?” to which I have been consistently saying something like “even to think about people having that very same perspective, it is best to understand, or at least conceive of, the multitude of perspective.” To be concrete, I doubt you can think about for instance Charlottesville, French bans on Islamic veil or German courts moving to ban circumcision in the name of protecting the integrity of children solely from a “liberalism-2 automatically or at least unproblematically brings us to liberalism-1” outlook, and I would think these are the kind of tensions agitating liberal democracies you would have liked to think about.

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bianca steele 08.26.17 at 3:08 pm

John, okay, that’s not what you’re getting at. But it seems to be part of the Niskanen/Wilkinson/Levy shtick: the point of this discussion is to move you (that is, presumably, me) from your/my liberal ultra-individualism to this better place where we recognize the importance of groups (but never, ever name those groups or discuss their nature and requirements in detail, not here).

I mean, we get only so many topoi to choose among. We get “(America sucks because) Americans are too individualistic.” Or “things are less individualistic than you think.” Or “we can only start from where we are, and individualism is false, therefore where I have started from is also where you necessarily are starting from.” Or “the Internet is immature and hasn’t come into a mature understanding of the true way of groups, at least not yet.” So your comments sections invariably end up as one of those, instead of each person looking at the nuances of the text to come to her or his own understanding of the truth–we’re not mostly tenured philosophers after all.

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William Berry 08.26.17 at 5:07 pm

Val@92: You’re welcome!

“maybe it’s been interpreted uncharitably though”

It unquestionably was. Uncharitable interpretations of other commenters is Stephen’s specialty.

Where ZM was arguing (perhaps naively) for a kind of back-to-the-land movement, Stephen was basically accusing her of a desire to commit mass murder on a grand scale.

The fellow doesn’t seem to be able to keep track of his own malice.

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Lupita 08.26.17 at 5:31 pm

You can have ‘cultural rights’ or ‘group rights’, as primary, for example. You may have specific groups that you want to give constitutional status of a special sort. I’m not in principle opposed to that, but it’s a dicey move and one whose merits I would propose to weigh and measure once we see this important point about how treating groups as groups is hard. Why are we treating this group as special?

I’ll assume John Holbo pressed the “summon-Lupita-button” since I was the one who brought up group rights.

The reason we should treat social groups (not demographic groups) as special is because people need them to be healthy and happy and if they are destroyed people start to have mental disorders, do drugs, commit suicide, become refugees, and get sick. This is why the first and foremost collective right is that of self-determination. Nations should not be destroyed by other more powerful ones. There is also the collective right to the resources of a group’s territory: other, more powerful states should not take them, for example, in payment for debt. As to cultural rights, language groups should be able to use a legal system in the same language used at home and socially, that is, no powerful state can colonize a nation and institute a legal system in its own language.

In short, collective rights, if respected, protect collectives from colonialism, imperialism, global neoliberalism, and other forms of injustice and oppresion. They are very un-American, basically third-world stuff.

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bianca steele 08.26.17 at 5:44 pm

“therefore where I have started from is also where you necessarily are starting from” doesn’t refer to you, incidentally, and possibly would be more accurately if inelegantly expressed as “where someone like Charles Taylor starts from would probably be a good place for you to start from, for as he says, individualism is false and his project is to show where ‘we all’ have started from.”

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Lupita 08.26.17 at 5:53 pm

So, for example, white people should be ruled by a head white person who perhaps gets to dictate that white people not be race traitors and such. (And Asian people get one of those too – fair is fair! – and black people, etc.)

This is a fair description of a racial corporatist political structure. Mexico had a similar structure for decades, but instead of racial groups, the PRI organized people by “sectors” that included agricultural workers, health workers, communications workers, etc., and a very stable system it was since it lasted seven decades. The head of each sector was very powerful and could negotiate on behalf of his/her non-voluntary members or sell them out for personal gain. The system was very rigid (a “perfect dictatorship” Mario Vargas Llosa famously called it) but, initially, it did bring peace and stability to the country after the Revolution. Then it imploded.

What you describe is a similar system but based on race, as defined by the state, with membership to each race similarly non-voluntary (one-drop rule; Africans, Europeans, and Latin Americans who never identified as black, white, and Hispanic respectively until they reached American shores and learned; the re-branding of the Hispanic ethnic group to a race for the 2020 census), caucuses organized by race in congress and in political parties to represent whole racial categories, and race-based groups throughout society. This race-based corporatist system is just as rigid as the Mexican PRI, equally prone to corrupt charlatans, but did help de-segregate society. It seems about to implode.

My point is, we must carefully distinguish between corporatism and social groups which is easy if we ask the following question: Who created, legitimized, and gave these groups power, the state or society?

If everyone always thinks primarily in racial terms, that’s collectivism.

Since the state defined, instituted, and legitimized racial groups in the US, and quantifies them, I would call it corporatism.

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bianca steele 08.26.17 at 7:31 pm

Also, at the moment I do think the focus on Catholicism here is misleading, because the really big reason we who don’t live in Quebec are talking about this stuff is what happened between 1989 and 1991, when the Soviet Bloc collapsed, and the former S.b. countries’ encounter with liberalism through Marxism and Europeanism, as well as religion.

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Val 08.26.17 at 9:06 pm

John Holbo and bianca

I don’t think I’m working within your framework about ‘how groupish is America’, although it might seem like it at points. I’m saying that citizens/individuals and the state is not a useful framework for understanding the problems facing America. Indeed I think it’s part of those problems.

One thing that’s really unhelpful is the suggestion that if people aren’t completely on board with liberal democracy, they must want something worse, or possibly even ridiculous.

Question (for John Holbo) – how might your post (or your reasoning in general) be different if you assumed that people who don’t want liberal democracy want something better than liberal democracy?

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Val 08.26.17 at 9:27 pm

Ok @ 216 you (JH) asked me a question so I should try to answer

“But suppose you were given the power to rewrite the US Constitution – or the Australian, I don’t know it as well. You could choose to make some other level legally primary, instead of individuals. Some group. Would you do it? Most proposals to do that seem kind of messed up to me. Although there’s always state churches and such. France seems nice but they have a state church.”

Both the constitutions are actually written from the perspective of “the people”. That’s probably how I’d do it as well. I know we’ve agreed that ‘collectivism’ is confusing because it’s defined in several different ways, but that’s what I was getting at before – whether you are thinking of ‘we the people’ or the rights of the individual. Not ‘do the collective rights of the group over-ride the rights of the individual’ but rather ‘what’s best for all of us’?

And I guess what I was trying to say about Australia vs America before was that this sort of collective thinking, if I can call it that – ‘what’s best for all of us’ – seems more common here. I wasn’t trying to suggest Australia was an egalitarian utopia, sorry if I gave that impression, though I would say the idea of egalitarianism is still valued here.

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Val 08.26.17 at 9:30 pm

So maybe the problem isn’t just with your concept of the individual, but also that you have substituted the concept of the ‘state’ for the concept of ‘we the people’.

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M Caswell 08.26.17 at 11:46 pm

Re: “corporatism”

In modern liberal democracies, units of representation are typically geographical. Would it violate some principles of liberalism if legislators represented economic “sectors,” instead? Which principles? (Honest questions towards defining “liberalism”)

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Jacob T. Levy 08.26.17 at 11:51 pm

I’ve resisted the urge to play Marshall McLuhan and interrupt the conversation. I just want to pop in with an offer: I have a new batch of copies of the book thanks to the paperback coming out. If there are students (undergrad, grad, postdoc) who’ve read this and decided that the book might be relevant and useful to their research, send me an e-mail with a brief note about what you’re working on, and your snail mail address. I could send out comp copies to several students so situated. First come, first served.

(The offer is not limited to people who think they might want to draw on the book favorably, of course. A useful foil is still useful.)

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engels 08.27.17 at 12:07 am

Gotta say, as someone who lives in London, the idea of upping sticks and moving to the country in order to eat locally sourced vegetables doesn’t seem terribly attractive, however ‘charitably’ you present it

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John Holbo 08.27.17 at 12:20 am

We get questions.

Working backwards: “Question (for John Holbo) – how might your post (or your reasoning in general) be different if you assumed that people who don’t want liberal democracy want something better than liberal democracy?”

I wouldn’t have to change a word because I assume that people who don’t want liberal democracy want something better than liberal democracy (in their eyes). People who want Catholic monarchy believe that would be better than liberal democracy, so, in wanting it, they want something better. If what you mean, Val, is ‘what is you assumed that people who don’t want liberal democracy wants something that they not only think is better but actually is better than liberal democracy’ then I don’t know what I would change. I would have such a messed up post by that point that I’m not sure anything could fix it. Which is, of course, not to say that there’s nothing better than liberal democracy. Obviously that’s one the issues I’m trying to think about here. But there’s got to be a clearer way to frame it than just confusingly smuggling an assumption of an answer in like that.

“Not ‘do the collective rights of the group over-ride the rights of the individual’ but rather ‘what’s best for all of us’?”

I agree that if we just knew what’s best for all of us all of this would get a lot simpler. But, when it comes to groups in particular, I think we don’t.

“you have substituted the concept of the ‘state’ for the concept of ‘we the people’.”

I don’t think so. The state is ideally supposed to be just ‘the people’ writ large, but it’s not clear how that is supposed to go, even ideally. Classic ‘general will’ problems, for example.

“One thing that’s really unhelpful is the suggestion that if people aren’t completely on board with liberal democracy, they must want something worse, or possibly even ridiculous. “

Thank goodness I never made that suggestion, then! Obviously I did suggest that some people who aren’t on board with lib democracy want something much worse, but that’s just common sense.

Moving upwards: Lupita sees and says we need to distinguish corporatism from other group forms. I agree that we must eventually but in the post I didn’t and I think that is the right starting point. With my fanciful ‘head white person meets with the President’ model I did, of course, mean to indicate some hypothetical racial corporatist model. I’m glad Lupita agrees that it’s a real, possible model, although a distinctly unlovely one.

Jacob has some good stuff about medieval corporatism in his book. That’s why I keep mentioning ‘guilds’, I guess. Whatever Z may think, I don’t think I’m especially incapable of wrapping my poor brain around radical alternatives to the contemporary US. I just don’t advocate them. I don’t see any alternative that I think would be fundamentally different AND fundamentally better AND you can get there from here.

Here, I’ll just snip a bit from the book to give the flavor, lest people think it’s all this sort of ‘lets just imagine an idealized version of the US Constitution’ style of liberal theory. From a section subtitled: Parlement and Corporation

“The emphasis I offer here on intermediate groups as a feature of ancient constitutionalism is somewhat unusual; the two most-discussed features of ancient constitutionalism in the English-language literature are the rights of the Estates or Parliament to governing authority at the center, and the subjection in principle of royal acts to the rule of law. I have already suggested, in the discussion of the parlements, that rule of law concerns were entangled with the defense of the corps intermédiaires; we will return to that in the next chapter’s treatment of Montesquieu. The same is generally true for the authority of the Estates. The sharp distinction between the rights of the corps (including cities and provinces) severally and the rights of the Estates collectively at the center was slow to emerge. Ancient constitutionalist theories not only commonly defended them both, but treated them as tightly linked. Over the course of the seventeenth century, monarchs across Europe found themselves powerful enough to rule without the participation of the Estates in their various forms, or at least (in the English case) imagined themselves to be that powerful. The French Estates-General were dormant for 175 years after 1614; Charles I of England attempted to rule without Parliament 1629–40, and his son Charles II did so 1681–5; in 1653 the estates of Brandenburg (later Brandenburg-Prussia) met for the last time, surrendering their role in authorizing taxation. In 1665 the Danish estates ceded their power to the monarchy and freed him of his coronation oath, declaring, in an especially ringing statement of absolutist principle, that the“absolute and hereditary king” “shall hereafter be, and by all subjects be held and honored as, the greatest and highest head on earth, above all human laws and knowing no other head or judge above him, either in spiritual or secular matters, except God alone.” This diminution in estates and parliaments was a frequent occasion for ancient constitutionalist objections; it is worth emphasizing the pluralist and corporatist character of these ideas. Ancient-constitutionalist arguments about intermediate bodies combined three thoughts: that the corps should retain the right or privilege of governing themselves, according to traditional laws; that the corps should have a say in the government, so as to be able to protect their liberties; and that the corps were natural friends of legality and liberty, because their protection of their own rights was so tied up with the refusal of absolutist pretensions. When we think about the development of parliamentary institutions, we can see that these ideas were not neatly distinguishable.”

And now I gotta run, but I thought I would point out how reading Jacob Levy’s book isn’t exactly an exercise in just contemplating my own navel, by endlessly reconfirming American assumptions or whatever.

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John Holbo 08.27.17 at 12:23 am

Jacob will play Marshall McCluhen for you for the next 12 hours. I’m out.

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John Holbo 08.27.17 at 12:48 am

Just to be totally clear, Marshall MacCluhen once said: “I derived all my knowledge of media from people like Flaubert and Rimbaud and Baudelaire.” So, the better to understand things, I’m off to read Flaubert today.

Really, I’m going to read Flaubert. It’s good for me, I trust.

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Val 08.27.17 at 1:00 am

@ 231 Jacob Levy
I just want to acknowledge that’s a really generous offer. I’m sure there would be students for whom your book is more directly relevant to their research, who should get precedence over me, but I wanted to acknowledge it.

@ 233 John Holbo (assuming you will come back sometime)

“I wouldn’t have to change a word because I assume that people who don’t want liberal democracy want something better than liberal democracy (in their eyes). People who want Catholic monarchy believe that would be better than liberal democracy, so, in wanting it, they want something better. If what you mean, Val, is ‘what is you assumed that people who don’t want liberal democracy wants something that they not only think is better but actually is better than liberal democracy’ then I don’t know what I would change. I would have such a messed up post by that point that I’m not sure anything could fix it. Which is, of course, not to say that there’s nothing better than liberal democracy. Obviously that’s one the issues I’m trying to think about here. But there’s got to be a clearer way to frame it than just confusingly smuggling an assumption of an answer in like that.”

I haven’t done a close textual analysis of all your posts here, but I’m pretty sure – I’d probably wager – that nearly all the examples you have given of alternatives to liberal democracy are ones that you, John Holbo, think are ‘worse’ than liberal democracy. So it looks like you’re loading the dice, as well as smuggling.

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John Holbo 08.27.17 at 1:13 am

“nearly all the examples you have given of alternatives to liberal democracy are ones that you, John Holbo, think are ‘worse’ than liberal democracy. So it looks like you’re loading the dice, as well as smuggling.”

The smuggling I leave to you, Val. As to loading dice, doesn’t it depend on the objective incidence of alternatives to liberal democracy being worse than it?

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LFC 08.27.17 at 1:23 am

J Holbo @216

France seems nice but they have a state church.

Not as I understand it, not since the 1905 law on separation of church and state.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1905_French_law_on_the_Separation_of_the_Churches_and_the_State

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Lupita 08.27.17 at 1:40 am

Val: you have substituted the concept of the ‘state’ for the concept of ‘we the people’.

John Holbo: I don’t think so. The state is ideally supposed to be just ‘the people’

I agree with Val that they are distinct groups with distinct rights and obligations. For example, the Declaration of Independence grants the people the right to overthrow the government and the constitution grants the state (congress, specifically) the right to declare war.

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John Holbo 08.27.17 at 1:54 am

“I agree with Val that they are distinct groups with distinct rights and obligations.”

Unless I have misunderstood, I think Val meant that I have distinguished them but, ideally, there should be no distinction.

And now I am forbidding myself further contributions to this thread – no matter what – until I have finished an entire Flaubert novel.

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engels 08.27.17 at 2:47 am

Madame Bovary, c’est moi!

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engels 08.27.17 at 2:50 am

But suppose you were given the power to rewrite the US Constitution – or the Australian, I don’t know it as well. You could choose to make some other level legally primary, instead of individuals. Some group. Would you do it?

Maybe I’m missing the point but didn’t the US constitution sorta-kinda do this

The principle of coverture prevailed at the time the Constitution was written and adopted: a married woman was simply not a person under the law; her legal existence was bound up with that of her husband’s.

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Lupita 08.27.17 at 3:23 am

Val: I haven’t done a close textual analysis of all your posts here, but I’m pretty sure – I’d probably wager – that nearly all the examples you have given of alternatives to liberal democracy are ones that you, John Holbo, think are ‘worse’ than liberal democracy. So it looks like you’re loading the dice, as well as smuggling.

A close textual analysis reveals that the examples of alternatives to liberal democracy John Holbo has mentioned are: neo-feudal system, depriving my fellow citizens of rights and liberties @OP, guild privileges or feudalism or theocracy or race-based government or a dictatorship of the Proletariat @56, Catholic monarchist, one-world government communist @107, and fascists, antifa, communist one-world-staters @198. He repeats some of those, but listed are his first mentions.

John Holbo: I don’t think I’m especially incapable of wrapping my poor brain around radical alternatives to the contemporary US. I just don’t advocate them. I don’t see any alternative that I think would be fundamentally different AND fundamentally better AND you can get there from here.

One way to see it is that liberal democracies got the liberté bit first with bills and declarations of rights and then worked on the egalité part with public education, transportation, pensions, and health, progressive income tax, unemployment insurance, etc. An alternative, and one that I advocate, has to do with adding fraternité, that is, ending wars, militarism, arms trafficking and American global hegemony and guaranteeing absolutely every human being on earth, at the very least, food, shelter, running water, electricity, health care, and education. We have the resources. If one wants to get really radical, throw in a free cell phone and internet connection. And, of course, guarantee third generation rights of self-determination, control over resources, and social, cultural, and economic development to all nations and ethnic groups. I am sure we all can come up with measures that would ensure more solidarity among all human beings at the local, national, and global levels.

John Holbo: As to loading dice, doesn’t it depend on the objective incidence of alternatives to liberal democracy being worse than it?

That is kind of End of History, no? I am sure that next millennium people will look back at us and declare how inferior our global system of perpetual war, millions of dead, millions of refugees, hunger, ecological devastation, and financial crises was, how utterly barbaric and stupid we were. Let’s not go there and declare systems of the past as inferior options (feudalism was better than the chaos brought by the fall of Rome). Instead of feeling superior to societies past and glorifying the present, let’s think of how we can improve things for future generations.

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Val 08.27.17 at 4:42 am

I think I am not the only smuggler here.

And here’s something for engels (except the people doing it sound like capitalist entrepeneurs, but putting that to one side):

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DIMEakSXsAEAPUq?format=jpg&name=large

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Val 08.27.17 at 6:28 am

Lupita and John Holbo

I think the reason we may be getting a bit confused here is again because of problems of definition. Looking at various definitions of the state (Wikipedia and elsewhere) it can mean the whole community under one political system (ie all the people) or the mechanisms and structures of government/governance. It seems to be used both ways.

So let’s say you (Holbo) were using state to mean ‘all the people of the state’ and by citizens you meant ‘the individual persons of the state’ (including as I said before those who don’t have citizenship or don’t have full citizenship).

So what you (Holbo) are talking about is the rights of the individual persons in the big group of people who comprise the state, versus the rights of all the people in the big group. (It’s easy to see how this could be made into a tautology, which would be funny, but wrong). The rights of individuals versus the rights of collectives, as I was trying to say.

(And then of course there’s the rights of other species and ecosystems but I won’t go there just now)

And then you’re saying there’s also a lot of smaller groups and how do they fit into this picture?

And from there I’d have to go back and re-read the post.

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Val 08.27.17 at 6:38 am

Lupita @ 243
Thanks Lupita I didn’t see your comment before I wrote my last one. Very helpful.

I agree the tone of the post does seem a bit ‘end of history’ – liberal democratic states as the ‘best possible’ form of political organisation. Also agree with all your ideas about what could be better.

247

John Holbo 08.27.17 at 6:52 am

“Madame Bovary, c’est moi!”

Actually I’m doing the St. Anthony thing. Back later, although, like Anthony, I am sorely tempted …

248

phenomenal cat 08.27.17 at 7:03 am

“Just to be totally clear, Marshall MacCluhen once said: “I derived all my knowledge of media from people like Flaubert and Rimbaud and Baudelaire.” So, the better to understand things, I’m off to read Flaubert today.”

Huh.
I would have never put that together, but it makes sense, especially Baudelaire.

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Val 08.27.17 at 7:04 am

The next problem in the OP is about liberal democracy and whether it’s ok or not but we’ve already talked about that, so maybe we coukd just add that it may not be the best system but anyway moving on ..

Then after that the next problem is the issue about groups and identity.

“This is a timely issue: identity politics and groupthink and partisanship and tribalism
… Everyone sees bad groups – bad identity formations – they don’t like. But everyone is also attached to groups they like.”

I’ve fulminated at length on CT about the way people use “identity” to talk about issues like gender, race and power, but I don’t seem to get anywhere. So I’ll just have to do it again!

What work is “identity” doing here? Is the person (or group) who protests about being seen as inferior because they are female or black or Jewish the same as the neonazi or white supremacist who claims that women and blacks and Jews are inferior?

250

Val 08.27.17 at 8:36 am

This is OT but I thought some here might appreciate it. I was writing about different kinds of knowledge in my thesis and I tried to write the following sentence:

‘This issue is discussed in more detail later in the chapter, particularly in the concluding section on ecofeminist theory.’

I must have made a mistake as I was typing, because autocorrect changed it to:

‘particularly in the confusing section on ecofeminist theory.’

Possibly I’m becoming a little unhinged but I can’t stop laughing about it. Thought some interlocutors here might like it.

251

Petter Sjölund 08.27.17 at 8:58 am

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Val 08.27.17 at 10:39 am

Thanks Petter, that’s interesting. I saw it on Twitter I think and couldn’t seem to link the full thing but I thought engels might like it, after the conversation about vegetable growing and urban life previously. I thought at first they were Brussel sprouts! (I know Brussel sprouts don’t grow like lettuces really – but it was a little picture on Twitter)

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engels 08.27.17 at 11:00 am

Great way to solve London’s housing crisis: fill empty lots with shipping containers where yuppies can grow their own kale…

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John Holbo 08.27.17 at 4:21 pm

I don’t understand the ‘end of history’ critique. The remark that seems to have triggered the critique – the rolling the dice comment – is by Val, in any case. So even if there were some problem, presumably it would be with Val’s view not mine. (But I can’t say I see it.) I also don’t understand the problem with ‘identity’, Val. Are you saying that there is just no way to use the word, or are you critiquing my specific use of the word? If the former: why? If the latter: how?

255

Z 08.27.17 at 9:00 pm

My point remains the same as it was on my very first comment: there are constitutional orders and there are cognitive dispositions. You seem to treat as a given the fact that a specific constitutional order (liberal democratic, the only one I ever discussed in this thread) yields specific cognitive dispositions (“the slots we have pre-prepared for stuff to go in”). See for instance your 45 or “It’s hard to theorize the intermediate space for them in liberal democracy, as we understand it”. I disagree. In fact, I believe this statement to be clearly false: Japanese people live under a liberal democratic constitutional order and do not share said specific cognitive disposition, or so have argued at length C.Nakane and E.Ikegami (among many others) in highly respected books. That doesn’t end the argument, of course, but as far as I can tell, you never offered any argument in favor of your position, if you actually hold it, as if it were completely obvious.

Sometimes in this thread you have expressed a qualified position: that for some people – Americans, for instance, and philosophers (!) – operating within a specific constitutional order yields a specific cognitive disposition. I still disagree (I believe that the cognitive disposition and the constitutional order are both consequences of something else, so I agree that, in fact consider obvious that, they co-vary; but I am doubtful about the existence of a causation, in either direction, and especially in the one you assert). Again, as far as I can see, you did not offer any argument for your position, as if it were obvious.

You are entitled to believe that there exists a causation from the liberal democratic constitutional order to a cognitive disposition making it hard to think about the entity group as group because of the binary opposition state/individual, or that it sometimes exist (sometimes in a statistically non-trivial sense; even I am ready to believe that there exists one individual on Earth whose thinking about groups in terms of government or individual has followed causally from his living in a liberal democratic order). You are entitled to believe that this is so obviously true that it doesn’t merit any explanation or argument, so that for example you can presume your interlocutor shares them (as you did with Val in your 157). That is fine. Maybe you do not actually believe in such a causation and I mistakenly deduce from the quotes above that you did. Please pull me quickly out of this embarrassing misunderstanding if that is the case.

But could you at least acknowledge that my specific disagreement with you in this thread has been about the belief in such a causation which I understood you to hold, and which I don’t? That this, not something else, is what I am disagreeing with you about?

This is an interesting topic, you wrote a thoughtful text about it. Thanks. Even greater thanks to Jacob Levy for his very generous offer which I hope many students will seize. Now, what I would like (a lot, I know) is for you to correctly characterize what I said about it before writing that I claimed you didn’t know where babies came from, or that I claimed other cultural outlook are superior or less contradictory, or that I want you to imagine radical alternatives to the US or to advocate for them, or that I claimed you didn’t know or can’t think about guilds, medieval corporations and medieval Parliaments, or that I’m accusing you of gazing at your navel.

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Val 08.27.17 at 9:38 pm

The end of history refers to the book by Fukuyama https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_History_and_the_Last_Man which I have never read because I thought the entire thesis sounded silly.

I’ve written at some length here before about what’s wrong with the term ‘identity politics’ so maybe this time I’ll link to LGM instead http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2017/08/identity-politics-invented-1980-destroyed-democratic-party

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Val 08.27.17 at 9:41 pm

In one of your comments you said you couldn’t think of anything better than liberal democracy, or something like that, which sounded a bit like Fukuyama’s thesis – that’s how I interpreted Lupita’s remark, anyway.

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Val 08.27.17 at 10:01 pm

Lemieux has the figures on white women’s votes wrong in that post though – a majority of white women voted for Trump but not of college educated white women, as he mistakenly says. Apparently it was 62% of non college educated white women (which is terrifying) and 45% of college educated white women. https://qz.com/833003/election-2016-all-women-voted-overwhelmingly-for-clinton-except-the-white-ones/

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Helen 08.27.17 at 11:17 pm

Even 45% is a bit “WTF?!”, I think!

260

John Holbo 08.27.17 at 11:54 pm

Z, I don’t know whether this will help but my position is this: in the post I am not really doing political psychology. I am discussing political theory. But one thing that makes the political theory relevant, besides the fact that it helps one think about political order (one hopes) is that it is to some degree reflected in some significant number of people’s heads who haven’t really done any political theory. I expect that fact is not some cosmic coincidence, but the post doesn’t really have a significant causal thesis. I’ve addressed why I don’t think your ‘the Japanese do it’ claim falsifies my thesis. Namely, I doubt the Japanese do it. I expect they just sort of muddle through.

“You are entitled to believe that there exists a causation from the liberal democratic constitutional order to a cognitive disposition making it hard to think about the entity group as group because of the binary opposition state/individual, or that it sometimes exist (sometimes in a statistically non-trivial sense; even I am ready to believe that there exists one individual on Earth whose thinking about groups in terms of government or individual has followed causally from his living in a liberal democratic order).”

Can I just say: I know I’m entitled to believe this but I don’t, except in a sense so weak it’s not worth arguing about? I genuinely am confused what is bothering you about the post.

Val, I think once again your penchant for not reading things is playing you false. Fukayama’s book is not a normative theory that liberalism is optimal, it’s a descriptive prediction that liberalism is an evolutionary culmination.

I don’t understand the relevance of the LGM post. If that post makes sense, then my post is highly relevant – to wit, as a possibly diagnosis of where Lilla goes wrong. That is why I wrote it in part. I think Lilla’s attitude is rather incoherent. Also, that post totally uses the word ‘identity’ – your bugaboo, I take it. Or are you saying that you think the LGM is a bad post because it uses the word ‘identity’. If so, I disagree. I think it’s a good post.

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Val 08.28.17 at 12:00 am

John Holbo
“Or are you saying that you think the LGM is a bad post because it uses the word ‘identity’. “

Of course not. I’m recommending it because it explains what is wrong with the term ‘identity politics’.

I’m really disappointed with the way you’re conducting this discussion. Let’s leave it at that.

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John Holbo 08.28.17 at 12:23 am

“I’m recommending it because it explains what is wrong with the term ‘identity politics’.”

No it doesn’t. It doesn’t do that even approximately. It argues (correctly, I think) that Mark Lilla is wrong about identity politics (a thesis that is eminently consistent with my thesis in the post. I would go so far as to say that post implies a critique of Lilla, although that implication is not explicitly drawn out.)

“I’m really disappointed with the way you’re conducting this discussion.”

Val, we are up to comment 261. You have not yet come out and offered a statement of what you think is wrong with the post. You started out by accusing me of not believing that different groups can have different degrees of power. Later you denied you said that but here it is. “Yours seems to be dangerously close to a discourse where no-one actually is any more powerful or privileged than anyone else.” Then you made some other criticisms that weren’t any more plausible. Then you admitted you hadn’t read the post yet. Now you are hinting my problem is I’m like Fukayama – who you haven’t read. Or it’s something-something about a LGM post, which you haven’t explained. No doubt I have my faults as a leader of the discussion but you haven’t given me much to work with, frankly. It is not too late for you to say what you find wrong with the post, if anything. There is no way for me, as conductor of the discussion, to draw that out of you. You have to do it or it won’t get done.

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Val 08.28.17 at 2:36 am

That sounds ungrateful, so I should add that I really appreciate your readiness to engage with commenters, I just don’t understand why you keep misinterpreting and dismissing what I’m saying. As others have said, it is sometimes hard to understand what I’m getting at, but no one else seems to misinterpret me as often as you do. It feels as if you don’t respect me.

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Val 08.28.17 at 2:39 am

Our posts crossed. I was working my way through quite a detailed exegesis of the OP in fact, but I do think that you keep misinterpreting what I’m saying in a way that means it’s not really worth it.

265

Val 08.28.17 at 2:49 am

And when someone says that “yours seems dangerously close to” it is obviously open to you to defend it and I think most people would see it that way rather than as ‘I’m being accused of …’. I understand that anyone might get defensive with this level of criticism and scrutiny, but anyway as I said I feel this is a bit of a lost cause.

One thing you know there are a lot of people in these threads saying ‘Americans you’re doing something wrong’ (eg see the arguments with Layman in another post), which is also what I’m suggesting here. Again it’s not nice to hear, and no one at CT would think they were responsible for Trump, but maybe when people are telling you that your culture is too individualistic and not enough concerned with common good and structures of unfair power, it would be worth listening.

266

John Holbo 08.28.17 at 3:22 am

““yours seems dangerously close to” it is obviously open to you to defend it”

Val, the criticism is just wildly erroneous. How – and why – could or should I defend against it? It’s like defending my post against the charge that the moon is made of green cheese. All I can do is state, correctly, that this is nonsense. We’re done.

“I understand that anyone might get defensive with this level of criticism and scrutiny”

The level of criticism and scrutiny is currently zero, from you, by my count. So my defensiveness is of a character consistent with that. I’m a bit impatient, I suppose. Couldn’t we get on with it?

“maybe when people are telling you that your culture is too individualistic and not enough concerned with common good and structures of unfair power, it would be worth listening.”

Val, I think it’s wrong to see Trump as an expression of excessive individualism rather than tribalism, i.e. a kind of groupish identity politics. But be that as it may be, you can’t just fudge the difference between American culture and my post. Not the same. From the fact that American culture is too individualistic (if it is) it doesn’t automatically follow that my post is advocating too much individualism.

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Val 08.28.17 at 5:46 am

Let’s just leave it that you’re absolutely right and I’m absolutely wrong then, shall we?

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John Holbo 08.28.17 at 7:18 am

Well, I was actually going to score it as I’m maybe right and you aren’t talking about my post. You are talking about other things. But close enough.

269

Val 08.28.17 at 8:24 am

Ah well – I think I was talking about your post – I may have missed some of your points, but I also think Bob was right about incommensurate discourses.

It’s a big problem for the progressive side of politics, this lack of communication, but you have not (of course) convinced me that in this case it’s all my fault.

270

Z 08.28.17 at 2:16 pm

one thing that makes the political theory relevant […] is that it is to some degree reflected in some significant number of people’s heads who haven’t really done any political theory.

Stated in this way, it would be unreasonable on my part to disagree. I took you (I think not totally unreasonably in terms of actual quotes) to have asserted a stronger and more definitive thesis on the topic above; in the direction of a causal link. But now I realize that you meant something much weaker epistemologically.

I’ve addressed why I don’t think your ‘the Japanese do it’ claim falsifies my thesis. Namely, I doubt the Japanese do it. I expect they just sort of muddle through.

It would be helpful if you stated precisely what you take to be your thesis in that sentence and what you mean by “Japanese do it”. Do what? The claim you have addressed above is the claim that the Japanese system can think about groups as groups in a non-contradictory way (your 202) but I never made that claim and I already said I don’t believe in it. What I did say and believe is that Japanese people can operate within a liberal order subscribe to it, like it, consider it the currently optimal system etc. while at the same time having no general tendency to try to fit the social world into the dual categories Individual and State.

If your thesis is that “Oh yes they absolutely do tend to categorize in this way, then muddle through these dual categories in a certain way, just like American muddle through these categories in a certain way” and if you further believe that the differences between a Japanese and American outlook on the social world are due to the different ways Japanese and Americans muddle through but not to different underlying dispositions to categorize, then we are in disagreement about this point, as I believe exactly the converse: that there exist significative differences at the level of underlying dispositions to categorize and that these significative differences explain a lot of the specific ways the ensuing muddling through is done.

If, on the other hand, your thesis is the much less specific statement that Japanese people, like American people, have trouble thinking about all different forms of groups in the social world and that a close examination will show that they way they think about it is full of contradictions, then of course I agree.

I genuinely am confused what is bothering you about the post.

I have never been bothered by the post. I have disagreed with a specific point I took you to be making on the articulation between political theory and what goes on in people’s head. Perhaps it was my mistake to believe you made such a point (thank you for making it clear in your 260 that your claims were meant to be understood in a quite weak way). Even now, as you see, I’m not quite sure I could answer with certainty the question “Does John Holbo believe that the locus of difference between Americans and Japanese conceptualization of groups primarily lies in different cognitive dispositions or in different ways to deal with similar cognitive dispositions?” If you feel you can, and as I consider you the indisputable authority on what John Holbo believes, then I would appreciate a schooling.

I admit I have been bothered by how some of your comments characterized some of mine, but that’s the Internet, I should know better than to hang out there.

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Rob Chametzky 08.28.17 at 2:30 pm

I have read Levy’s “Rationalism, Pluralism, Freedom” (and, fwiw, his “The Multiculturalism of Fear”) with, I hope, some profit. One would, I suspect,
need to be either much smarter or much dumber than I (believe I) am not
learn something from Levy’s work(s), though one surely need not care (much)
about the issues he discusses.

Having now worked my way through the OP and this thread, I find myself in basic agreement with Layman @ 214 (though I must confess that I do not use ‘disinterest’ in this way–not that there’s anything wrong with that.):

“I have been frankly mystified that there was any controversy to the formulation in the original OP. That an essay which is entirely about the difficulty in striking a balance between individual and group rights should result in claims that the author is uninterested in group rights is, well, absurd. That those claims should also imply that this imagined disinterest is the result of his gender (or race, or culture) actually blows my mind. WTF?”

I might add that the OP seemed to me a fair summary of (a/the major point of) the Levy book–RC

272

bob mcmanus 08.28.17 at 3:29 pm

Z:that there exist significative differences at the level of underlying dispositions to categorize and that these significative differences explain a lot of the specific ways the ensuing muddling through is done.

1) I mostly agree with Z in general and about Japanese differences here. Besides Nakane (I don’t know Ikegami) I found Order by Accident: The Origins and Consequences of Conformity in Contemporary Japan 2001 very useful as to how sociability and sociality are constructed in Japan.

2) “Underlying dispositions” bothers me as a movement toward a racialism or orientalism or exoticism or other naturalization. Certainly there are a lot, if not a majority of Japanese who buy into mild or strong nativism. My own opinion is that Japan is an amazingly constructed society, self-conscious and somewhat proud of being able to manipulate its social patterns almost at will (meat-eating was evil last year! But next year everybody must eat beef), with enthusiasm or acceptance by the average citizen. In one example, the Japanese play with honorifics and hierarchies is self-aware and ironic, available as a site of resistance. The elementary school kids are aware that they are constructing an available social system, useful and fun. I think it has to do with the enjoyment of rituals as only rituals. Shrines and temples have little utilitarian value, and everybody knows it. They still visit and pray.

3) 271: Rob Chametzky: The US is at a partisan emotional peak right now. There are fascists abounding, liberals who enabled them, and radical lefts that are furious at being ignored. The OP seems all reasonable, but it does fit into a style, of say analytic philosophy, that is designed in its very logic and language to erase difference. Can there be a consensual hegemony on the meanings of groups, individuals, and the state? Not to speak of objective truth, though even writing those words made me pucker. Can we make things clearer? We shouldn’t.

The very idea, the project itself, the tools it uses is offensive and dangerous.

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John Holbo 08.28.17 at 4:04 pm

Thanks, Rob – and thanks Layman, further up. I share your bafflement at the bafflement certain of my formulations have summoned forth.

“Not to speak of objective truth, though even writing those words made me pucker.”

Bob, odds are you were going to pucker in any case.

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John Holbo 08.28.17 at 4:11 pm

Z, I’ll try to respond later. Now, to bed.

275

SusanC 08.28.17 at 4:18 pm

There’s an old joke about the person who asks for directions and gets told “I wouldn’t start from here.”

We might make an analytical distinction between (a) someone who seeks to replace liberal democracy with some other system they think will work better; and (b) someone who thinks the mountain of philosophical thought used to legitimize liberal democracy is a bit unconvincing, viewed as an argument. You can, of course, attempt both at the same time. But on the other hand, you can question the validity of an argument that p->q without doubting q.

I get the feeling from the some of the above discussion that what we ought to be saying to John H is that we don’t care for being stuck in the hole he seems to have got himself in by accepting his basic assumptions.

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Z 08.28.17 at 4:50 pm

geo comment 842 of the comment thread under John Quiggin’s famous The three party system post: “If you think Wilder is a hard sell, try getting a friendly nod from McManus.”

bob mcmanus, today: “I mostly agree with Z in general and about Japanese differences here”

I got one, geo! I got one!

“Underlying dispositions” bothers me as a movement toward a racialism or orientalism or exoticism or other naturalization.

That is OT, so I won’t write more, but that was also the gist of TM’s critics @134 above. Personally, I think one may very well believe that different people have different cognitive dispositions, that these dispositions may co-vary strongly with external characteristics along national or cultural lines for contingent historical and geographical reasons and at the same time be absolutely convinced that these dispositions are acquired, socially constructed and the product of specific historical processes which have nothing to do with ethnicity or “race” (to take a concrete example, I am personally convinced by Ertman’s argument according to which the relative timing of the vanishing of the États généraux in France and of the estates of Brandenburg compared to the de-patrimonalization and bureaucratization of the state apparel played a significant role in shaping French and Prussian modes of relation to the state; to revisit an example of Levy through John above – differences between French and German have everything to do with contingent events like that, nothing to do with ethnicity or blood and soil nationalism).

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bob mcmanus 08.28.17 at 8:41 pm

Everything in 272 is wrong.

I think I want to apologize to Z, who knows much more about Japan and post-structuralism than I do.”Disposition” aka dispositif is probably pretty good, to the extent I understand the concept. I am always looking for as much agency and complicity as I can find in social structures, because I think a recognition of agency and complicity is necessary for revolution…and maybe compassion. “Disposition” struck me as possibly too close to “natural inclination.”

Understanding Society i sa good meta-sociology blog.

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engels 08.28.17 at 9:25 pm

The OP seems all reasonable, but it does fit into a style, of say analytic philosophy, that is designed in its very logic and language to erase difference

That is (to me) an astonishingly strong claim—is any chance of a hint of what your reasons for holding it are?

279

bob mcmanus 08.29.17 at 12:26 am

278: Not really. The Wiki Entry
gives hints. Consider “Analytic philosophy is often understood in contrast to other philosophical traditions, most notably continental philosophies such as existentialism and phenomenology, and also Thomism and Marxism.” food for thought, as in if the contrast is unique to each or common to all. John Emerson used a historical or genealogical critique. Mine is more ontological, but even “only subjective and personal” would be adequate from my perspective.

There are not many names on that page I have found useful. And there are a lot of names with differing perspectives, many of which I have read.

280

engels 08.29.17 at 1:14 am

Where is Geo these days?

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bob mcmanus 08.29.17 at 1:28 am

We aren’t really going to do this here, are we? The analytic/continental thing? It isn’t, specifically something I so little interest in, though of course some the issues arise constantly, for instance where Habermas and Honneth went wrong.

Here’s a Discussion of Leiter

Moi:”My definition of continental philosophy is: the school of philosophy that only makes sense after dropping acid 😀”

Works for me, and is a very good argument. Everybody needs to take more acid.

or

re Leiter’s book “Hermeneutics of Suspicion?”…”these being Deleuze (who is not even named in the book), Klossowski (not named), Irigaray (who is dismissed in a single sentence), Ricoeur (dismissed in two or three sentences), Adorno (who Leiter concedes to social theory but not philosophy), Jameson (likewise), and so on. In THAT sense, those names that make up an imagined core of an imagined genre of philosophy are not good, in Leiter’s view, in terms of what they offer to the advancement of the field.”

Fuck the analytics. Hard.

This is a more concise and clear argument

“The analytical thinker’s wet dream is to someday wake up with a book, where each and every problem that troubled mankind in any time is neatly analysed away and replaced by some basic axioms of formal logic, so that all those questions can be forgotten and each and everyone can live their lives without having to go through the pains of philosophy, religion and other headaches. It’s much more utopian than it admits and – as the quote above implies – bears more problems than it admits to”

Jameson: “Form is political”

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John Holbo 08.29.17 at 1:58 am

Bob, you can’t really Rage Against The Machine of reasonableness and consensual hegemony of meanings (272) and then, when it is pointed out that this is a bit odd (278), quote Wikipedia in self defense. That’s like finding out Byron sensibly took out a life insurance policy before going to fight in Greece.

Also, from the fact that analytic philosophy is contrasted with continental, it does not follow that it is designed to erase difference.

I owe Z a reply. He asks me what my ‘thesis’ is, which I deem non-falsified by his Japanese meditations. That’s a perfectly fair question and useful to boot. Let me try: liberal democratic theory cannot really achieve coherence on the subject of ‘intermediate groups’. This is true for broad theoretical reasons. Liberal democracy sets up twin sovereigns: the individual and the state. But liberal democracy values intermediate groups – we’re all human, after all – but there is no stable conception of their optimal form and function that will not seem like a systematic infringement of the sovereignty of individual and/or state. That’s part one. Part 2 is more pragmatic, and this is perhaps the part where Jacob is most helpful in his book. It seems impossible to consistently theorize liberal democracy, normatively, because our ‘ideal’ is really a mix of ideals and a kind of pragmatism. And different theories may not be so much disagreeing as idealizing and pragmatizing at different elevations. Rawls assumes the state is just, for argument purposes. He is ‘realistic’ about other things besides the risk of state corruption. Other approaches are more ‘realistic’ about threats from the state itself but compensate for that by being a bit more rainbows and unicorns on other fronts. There isn’t one right answer about which things you should be optimistic and pessimistic about. Everyone is a bit of both. It entails a lot of talking past each other.

Getting back to the Japanese, concerning whom I am as agnostic as I am about the quality of Lafcadio Hearn’s Flaubert translation, I figure to the degree they have come up with something coherent, group-wise, they haven’t really instituted liberal democracy; and to the degree that they have instituted liberal democracy, they are probably just kludging through. The ‘thick’ stuff in between the individual and the state is all there, and the gears are still turning. But it isn’t the sort of thing that calls out for a normative theory of liberal democracy, to describe. It isn’t very coherent. Would be my guess. And nothing you say contradicts my suspicions in this regard. But I don’t really know Japan.

Z writes: “Oh yes they absolutely do tend to categorize in this way, then muddle through these dual categories in a certain way, just like American muddle through these categories in a certain way” and if you further believe that the differences between a Japanese and American outlook on the social world are due to the different ways Japanese and Americans muddle through but not to different underlying dispositions to categorize, then we are in disagreement about this point, as I believe exactly the converse: that there exist significative differences at the level of underlying dispositions to categorize and that these significative differences explain a lot of the specific ways the ensuing muddling through is done.”

I am agnostic. On the one hand, I think Americans are very conditioned to think about groups by the theoretical rhetoric of liberalism. When they argue about which groups are good or bad, or behaving well or badly, they fall back on a rhetoric that oscillates between the ‘pure’ theory and the ‘congruence’ theory, in Jacob’s sense. This is the American language for arguing about group rights and wrongs. That’s very interesting and significant. It’s a nice point where abstract theory and real politics rhetoric coincide. See the limits of the theory and you really do see the traps the rhetoric sets, in a nice way. I have no idea whether something similar is true in Japan, however. I rather doubt it is. It is certainly not the case that all facts about American group life are, as it were, just shadows of liberal theory. Nothing could be more nonsensical. Most of life isn’t very theoretical. It’s pretty path dependent on non-philosophy stuff. We got here because of where we were before, socially, economically, culturally … and politically. Japan is obviously a very different path. So it would be bloody weird if they weren’t quite different.

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engels 08.29.17 at 2:55 am

There are not many names on that page I have found useful.

That wouldn’t surprise me. What surprised me is that

analytic philosophy… is designed in its very logic and language to erase difference

which means it’s worse than I realised, even after having been hollered at by John Emerson about it back in the day.

(The ‘wet dream’ comment by the German MA student has been duly noted.)

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engels 08.29.17 at 3:07 am

Just occurred to me that Emerson’s advocacy of ‘populism’ in the mid-00s does look impressively prescient with hindsight

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Z 08.29.17 at 2:13 pm

John, thank you very much for the clarification, that is very helpful, now I feel I understand where I erred in attributing some positions to you and my objections correlatively vanish. So two rare events happened in this thread: I got a positive comment from bob mcmanus and an argument was resolved on the Internet! Now, if only geo could show up… (engels, last time I heard from him, a couple of months ago already, he unfortunately sounded pretty gloomy).

Liberal democracy sets up twin sovereigns: the individual and the state.

I like to state things I believe in bold terms, not because I am convinced my beliefs are correct, but because that way there is material to disagree with. So I would slightly reformulate that sentence.

I would say that what happens is that in the context of complexification of society and especially with the spread of universal alphabetization, all the social structures that give order to pre-modern societies (groups!) are shaken to their core, if not shattered (Gauchet’s Le désenchantement du monde is good on that for the specific case of religion and religious communities, but I think the point is more general). This tends to be a deeply disturbing, and usually deeply violent, period for individuals, so I believe they then desperately look for anything within themselves and in the social world to restructure society. Within the particular socio-historical context of part of the Western world, that something were Individuals and States as understood by liberal philosophy (so compared to your pithy formulation, I interchanged the chronological order and specified an actual agent for the verb “institute”).

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Rob Chametzky 08.29.17 at 3:29 pm

About analytic philosophy:

“Everybody knows that something is wrong. But it is uniquely the achievement of contemporary philosophy–indeed, it is uniquely the achievement of contemporary ANALYTIC philosophy–to have figured out just what it is. What is wrong is not making enough distinctions. If only we made all the distinctions that there are, then we should all be as happy as kings. (Kings are notoriously VERY happy.)”

–Jerry Fodor, “Precis of ‘Modularity of Mind'” Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 8, 1985; reprinted in “A Theory of Content and Other Essays” MIT (1990), chapter 8.

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TM 08.29.17 at 4:05 pm

J-D 188 +1

kidneystones 204: I never expected to experience this: a word of common sense from none other than ol’ kidney.

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engels 08.29.17 at 5:54 pm

Just for clarity, I’m not claiming analytic philosophy is perfect or that it can’t be criticised (sorry if that wasn’t clear)

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bruce wilder 08.29.17 at 6:55 pm

I am conscious at times of condensing my claims about the world into abstractions with no explicit referents (though I “saw” what I was talking about in my imagination as I wrote, even as I “saw” my readers understanding what I wrote by making the same connections — though I discarded the exemplars in the interests of brevity.

Talking about the state of the world and talking about the logic of the world are, to my mind, distinct and quite different thoughtful activities. Though both may make use of abstraction to condense what is argued, and all rich arguments mix the two, they go in different directions and follow different compasses in navigating their respective paths.

In the OP, I thought Holbo was primarily interested in making statements about the world, but was strategically employing a strict abstraction foregoing examples in order to get some emotional distance, so these statements about the world became tentative hints about the nature of emotional attachments not just to group memberships, but to particular meta-narratives associated with creating those groups.

Groupishness is a strategic instrument and groups are socially constructed in the service of political contests by means of competing and contradictory narratives. That’s inherent in the analytic logic of the social politics of groups and since those narratives draw on and socially construct the political culture out of the experience of people, an experience that is always receding over the horizon of actual memory into myth and mirage, there is both path dependence and a persistence of social artifacts which may puzzle each new generation, creating a demand for new narratives creating new groups in a chaotic evolution that turns the kaleidoscope of group contention, creating new patterns.

It is interesting to me that the hoary myths of liberal democracy are being called into question by, to me, a peculiar new species of left which combines a screechy righteousness with an economic complacency even foppishness. I suppose one cannot discuss that development without taking sides and making provocative judgements, which will obscure in partisan rhetoric any insight into the process. Because the social construction of groups is both strategic and contested, it is necessarily true that emerging groups are defined both by their conscious intentions and by the criticisms and attacks of their opponents busy forming other, opposed groups. And, in the melee that follows, “complicity” as bob says.

People do not in these contests argue only or even primarily from their own interests, which are always unclothed a minority interest — in the case of the putative self-governing individual, an isolated minority of one. Back in the 18th century, that self-governing individual of liberal theory was conceptualized as a propertied head of household and a component member of a socio-economic class, a reincarnation of a Roman pater familias reborn as yeoman farmer or landed gentry ready to resurrect the synthesis of the traditional rights of Englishmen and concepts of Roman law as constitutional rights and liberties and not a naked personality, but that was before television and social media made celebrity into a source of wealth far beyond the scope of Renaissance fame as an object of ambition and one’s own self-presented nakedness a means to that end and a platform for aggression and social power.

Most of us are not on television, of course, or at the head of a twitter following exceeding triple digits. In American political culture, the triumph of the liberal political platform has made us suspicious of group identities at a time when all social affiliation has declined to low ebb. The economy has been structured around attrition of the politically and economically naked individual, who is offered not membership, not social structure but identity — a team jersey to don and a set of myths. The completely artificial and synthesized nature of “Asian-American” and “Hispanic” as cultural groups (they are not culture groups) goes unremarked even as they are used routinely as political categories and political identities.

Within the on-going political contest, partisans well-represented on CT comment threads, are inclined now to deny that anything can be meant or understood from the use of “neoliberal” or “identity politics”. That is a tactic, just as a use of those labels is a tactic. It seems like an old and obsolete argument to me already, an engagement rapidly receding into the past, back there on the path of path-dependence. As someone inclined to use “neoliberal” and “identity politics” as pejoratives, I will say that I think both were about the practice of a politics of groups that wanted to do without membership organization (by which I mean groups in which the leadership structures the group to leverage dependence on their members for resources and the construction of group interest, as opposed to leveraging resources from above to the advantage of the leadership in manipulating the “membership”).

How skeptical are we of being manipulated? Any of us. If the politics of groups is the politics of manipulation by propaganda from above, if we live in Adam Curtis’s universe in which the autonomous individual of liberal theory has evolved into a self-involved narcissist trying to construct a life out of opportunities for on-line exhibitionism and virtue-signalling (or vice-signalling — a lot of that going on!), what function is left for political organizing? Antifa seems to me like a self-licking ice cream cone of social construction of political groups. If the whole point is the drama and the self-regarding role we can play by simply having the right opinions about the drama — or the wrong opinions, if we prefer the perverse, where has power wandered off to? (In the movies, the bad guys often get better lines, so it is really not that strange that the new guest at WestWorld might choose a black hat over a white hat, is it?) Buy a Prius, or roll coal — politics as a consumer good, like soap that confers social status or provides protection against a fear of social embarrassment (you need deodorants!)

Jacob Levy seems like a nice guy, but I am suspicious of a congruence that seems to have no theory of power in politics. Authoritarianism seems like a symbolic style rather than an operating method, if it is illiberal in principle to form membership groups interested in their own economic interest. Bring me some tariffs, Trump comically demanded. Without groups, where is there to be found a constituency capable of concerted action except at the top of the economic pyramid? Is this a design for living?

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bianca steele 08.29.17 at 7:42 pm

I can’t find that tab, but the article took it as understood that Kantian liberalism assumes a view of the person that’s universalistic in a way that assumes the person is the bourgeois white male of a certain period; and in order to question it or suggest it might change over time, one needs to draw on Hegel and successors, who are less well integrated into analytic philosophy in fact. (It has been argued, also, that analytic philosophy has some roots in McCarthyism and attempts to make the humanities safe for anti communism.)

John Emerson said some very astute things.

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John Holbo 08.29.17 at 11:58 pm

I would just like to point out – because it seems relevant to a certain line of critique that is now emerging – that neither Jacob Levy’s book, nor this post, can be described as ‘analytic philosophy’. (Well, they can be, but at the price of falsehood.)

I would like to draw a New Yorker Cartoon. Jacob Levy at one cafe table, reading Montesquieu. Bob McManus (and a few others) at the next table, reading Crooked Timber but giving Jacob the side-eye. The caption reads: ‘Fucking analytic philosophers’.

Maybe a bit recherche for The New Yorker, but I see the humor.

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Val 08.30.17 at 12:22 am

I was going to jump back with an analysis of why I think you, John Holbo, may or not be ‘wrong’ in terms of the things you’re talking about, but if you want to apply them to an analysis of contemporary America, you’re talking about the wrong things.

Then I started to read bruce wilder’s long comment and my heart sank. Is it really too much to ask that people be able should distinguish between opposition to a particular social phenomenon and opposition to the use of a particular word or phrase to describe a social phenomenon? Apparently so.

I don’t think you (bruce) are incapable of understanding this distinction, so you have to ask, why dont you?

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bianca steele 08.30.17 at 12:22 am

To be clear, I’m not suggesting Levy is an analytic philosopher. I did think you were. It does seem to me, however, that Val’s criticism of you is basically that you are one, and should at the very least be less “Kantian” and more “Hegelian”. I’d add that it also seems to me that you share some of the same prejudices as analytic philosophers, or at least that those prejudices affect the horizon within which you apparently feel comfortable. But I could say the same of her, to some extent, also, though probably with regard to different specific prejudices.

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Val 08.30.17 at 12:28 am

Anyway in brief I’ve just been rereading Game and Pringle ‘Gender and Work’ and I’ve been more convinced than ever that what is happening in America is a backlash caused by the apparent breakdown of the social contract between patriarchal capitalism and white male working class ‘breadwinners’.

(The book was published in 1983 and at that time they were arguing that capitalism didn’t just happen to be patriarchal, it was inherently patriarchal – the summary as ‘contract’ is mine but I think it’s fair)

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bob mcmanus 08.30.17 at 12:53 am

John Emerson said some very astute things.

Emerson got about half of it, but didn’t apparently AFAIK recognize the parallels between the first manifestation of AP in mostly Britain and the second in the Cold War. It is easy enough to see what pre-WWII Britain and post-WWII US have in common…Empire. AP is a logic of control and mystification. Of course there has to be at least one.

Dialecticians have to work in all directions at once, cause they’re required to see a totality. Working backwards/forwards from oh:

“We’re creating distinctions and difference. Now there are KFCs in Hakodate and sushi bars in Dallas. People are much more free with more choices”
“But doesn’t that eventually make, in some manner, Hakodate and Dallas the same?”

Then you try to find controlling concepts of that late capitalist process in a guiding philosophy or ontology, like maybe “universal singularity,” something that would make an analytic laugh.

Today’s book:Aime Cesaire. I am trying to study black nationalism/Marxism in order to love Obama better.

Of course Hegel.
And I also think Levy and Holbo are good guys.

Wilder: when all social affiliation has declined to low ebb.

Facebook Figured My Family Secrets But Won’t Tell Me How

The crises of late capitalism are crises of overproduction and excessive competition. It is not that we are lacking relationships, but that we have an unmanageable surfeit with more being produced by the minute. And relationships and identities are becoming a major profit center, ie., capital. Facebook owns the fixed capital and producing algorithms, which are designed to provide the raw material for us to create the product, which is ourselves. The black lesbian Democratic midwestern coder is certainly aware she is also a worker, but in order to maintain she must prioritize one or two, or thinks she does.

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Val 08.30.17 at 1:17 am

And as to why white women voted for Trump (particularly those who aren’t college educated) is that women’s interests are associated with the interests of the ‘family’.

Which, referring to bianca’s point above, is something that is not picked up in the OP liberal distinction between individuals and groups – whereas in the case of men, the interests of the group ‘family’ are assumed to be encompassed in his individual interests, in the case of women, their individual interests are assumed to be encompassed in or subordinated to the group ‘family’.

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Peter T 08.30.17 at 1:53 am

If, as the O/P argues, groups sit uneasily within liberal democracy as a political theory (and I agree), then perhaps the place to look is not within political theory – as in John’s Catholic Monarchist – but outside it altogether? A respectable argument could be made from an ethological/anthropological perspective as follows:

for humans, groups should the primary level of analysis, as we have evolved as a ultra-social species. Our key adaptation – language – is a group characteristic, not an individual one. In this perspective, groups individuals are the locus of various group identities, and the maintainers/changers of groups.

So states are just another form of group, and the question is what they characteristically do as groups. One thing they do is erode/disempower other groups, and so isolate the individual. Seen this way, liberal democracy is an outcome of strong states, and the political theory question is not how to curb states so as to empower individuals, it is to curb states so as to empower other groups.

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Alan White 08.30.17 at 2:00 am

Apropos of nothing, today driving in Green Bay I found myself next to a black SUV flanked by police front and back that was purposely driving across the white line (to intimidate drivers like me passing on the right to get over). Only too late after passing did I realize it was the FBI escort for Jeff Sessions going to the airport where, yes indeed, I then saw the government jet awaiting. A once-in-a-lifetime chance to flip that SOB off, and I missed it. (Though I wonder if I had, would I be behind bars tonight.)

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Val 08.30.17 at 3:07 am

I should also refer back to engels point @ 253 about married women not having a separate legal existence when the US state was first formalised – we may think that is all forgotten but I think psychologically the identification of women with the interests of family/husband is by no means just ‘history’.

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John Holbo 08.30.17 at 4:28 am

“is something that is not picked up in the OP liberal distinction between individuals and groups – whereas in the case of men, the interests of the group ‘family’ are assumed to be …”

Val, the liberal distinction between ‘individuals’ and ‘groups’, per the OP, covers families as well. Families are a paradigmatic case of a group, in my sense. They are paradigms for my analysis. Families are perhaps the unit to which my (Jacob’s) analysis most pertinently and I think illuminatingly applies, hence one of my only concrete examples in the post, the classic book “Justice, Gender and the Family”. I realize I keep harping on how you haven’t read the post, but I actually think the post would help you think about things you yourself are obviously interested in – to wit, issues like the way liberal theory has tended to be confused about what to do with/about the family.

You are interested in the liberal distinction between individuals and groups like the family! I have written a long post on this very subject, addressing precisely the issue that engages you. Yet you are continuing to write comments about how the problem with the post is that it doesn’t address/misses/fails to see the need to address … precisely the very thing it is about. You may not agree with what I have to say, but please do me the courtesy of noticing that my post is centrally and lengthily about the thing you keep assuming it completely omits.

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Matt 08.30.17 at 4:36 am

I should also refer back to engels point @ 253 about married women not having a separate legal existence when the US state was first formalised

Engels, somewhat oddly, tied this to the US constitution (which is neither hear nor there on the matter) but the rule of “coverture” is an old English common law notion, which existed in all common law countries (even Australia!) until it started to be taken apart in the mid to late 19th Century (in all common law countries), though the final defeat of all parts of it took longer in some places than others. There were similar systems in “continental” “civil” legal systems as well. The idea that this has anything special to do with the US, or the subject matter of this post, seems to me to be a weird confusion. For a semi-helpful overview, see here

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Val 08.30.17 at 8:05 am

Matt and John, I think you have misunderstood the points made by me, and in Matt’s case, the point made by engels.

I don’t think in either case you are ill-intentioned, but you are really just not understanding the points being made.

I’m actually surprised that you can’t see it, particularly about couverture because the point that it applied to women in all sorts of places is actually the key point. You do of course realise that women didn’t have the vote when the constitution of the US came into action?

Anyway, I should give up. Truly guys you’re not getting it.

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Val 08.30.17 at 8:10 am

Ok no I’ll have one more try.

That historical view, of the white adult man as the normative citizen or normative individual, can still be traced in the way you, John Holbo, are talking about the issue today.

That’s the claim. I don’t expect you to agree with it, but do you at least understand it?

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Matt 08.30.17 at 9:05 am

I’m actually surprised that you can’t see it, particularly about couverture because the point that it applied to women in all sorts of places is actually the key point. You do of course realise that women didn’t have the vote when the constitution of the US came into action?

Anyway, I should give up. Truly guys you’re not getting it.

Indeed, I know this. And I’ve talked about it in print. But, when you (and Engels) write about it as if it were a point _about the US in particular_, then well, I take you seriously as saying it’s somehow distinctive of the US. When you later suggest that you didn’t mean something about the US in particular, I think that maybe it’s time to stop and wonder if you are communicating clearly. When people consistently fail to understand you, perhaps it is you who are not being clear. It’s hard to be clear! We all fail sometimes. But if you find that people very regularly don’t get you, maybe you need to work harder to be clear. The problem might well not be your reader.

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engels 08.30.17 at 9:28 am

The idea that this has anything special to do with the US, or the subject matter of this post, seems to me to be a weird confusion

Fortunately it is a weird confusion that I don’t have (nor have I said nothing as far as I can see that read in charitable way suggests that I have).

I meant that at the time the Constitution came into force I think you could reasonably argue (pace John) that the family (headed by the husband), not the individual human being, was the primary conceptual unit (whether explicitly ackownledged as such or not) for liberal protection and political power versus the State, at least in some respects (voting rights, property, …) (As I said I might be missing the point, as I haven’t the post properly, or Levy…)

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engels 08.30.17 at 9:30 am

(‘Nothing’ in the previous comment s/b ‘anything’—sorry)

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engels 08.30.17 at 9:45 am

I think psychologically the identification of women with the interests of family/husband is by no means just ‘history

I agree with this, and I don’t think it’s just psychological either. Btw anyone who spends any time listening to British political debate might reasonably think the primary unit of concern for distributive justice in our country is the ‘hard-working family’.

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Bill Benzon 08.30.17 at 11:23 am

I’ve mostly been following this thing grow and grow without actually trying to follow the points at issue. But, at #305 engels says “at the time the Constitution came into force I think you could reasonably argue (pace John) that the family (headed by the husband), not the individual human being, was the primary conceptual unit…” Well, we can look at how the census was done at that time: “The six inquiries in 1790 called for the name of the head of the family and the number of persons in each household of the following descriptions: Free White males of 16 years and upward (to assess the country’s industrial and military potential), Free White males under 16 years, Free, White females, All other free persons, Slaves.” That certainly looks like the family was a primary conceptual unit.

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TM 08.30.17 at 11:31 am

I don’t get Matt’s complaint either. I don’t quite agree that couverture makes the family the primary unit of the polity; it simply negates the rights of women but an unmarried man had in principle the same political rights as a married one had he not?

JH somewhere pointed out that he specifically referred to the family as a special case of a group in the OP. His treatment there is as follows:

“The family needs to cease to be patriarchal. Same goes for churches and communities that enforce illiberal norms within their group borders. … For Okin and other ‘congruence’ theorists it’s not enough to say that these groups are voluntary, or that citizens enjoy formal right of exit upon attaining the age of majority.”

One problem with this is that belonging to a family is precisely not “voluntary”, certainly not in the sense of a bowling club or even church. And what is really meant by “the family needs to cease to be patriarchal”? Isn’t it rather that the state needs to cease to be patriarchal? What is at issue is precisely patriarchal family *law*, which for example gives the husband the right to beat children, rape the wife, denies married women economic agency, and so on. These laws were part and parcel of the modern “liberal” state and were dismantled in most places only very recently. One can surely argue that patriarchal laws violate the principles of liberalism but it seems relevant that most self-described “liberals” up to the 20th century apparently didn’t think so at all; they had no problem with a “liberal” order that was inherently patriarchal (and of course in the 19th century, many had no problem with a “liberal” slaveholder society).

Finally, an observation. the German constitution states that “Marriage and the family shall enjoy the special protection of the state”. (https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_gg/) This comes in Art. 6, after the inviolable rights of the person have been declared. Does this legal position of a liberal state prove anything either way about the status of groups vis-à-vis the state? The next clause says that “the care and upbringing of children is the natural right of parents”. Are parents rights group rights or individual rights? It seems that the OP aims at these kinds of questions but I don’t see that it sheds any light on them.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.30.17 at 11:44 am

A bit more in line with the top post, I just finished #41-44 today. The total time is 6 minutes:

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SusanC 08.30.17 at 11:50 am

In the western democracies that actually exist (as opposed to, e/g/, science-fiction speculations by philosophers), political groups have a key role. Although voting in elections is as an individual citizen, nearly all negotiation with the state (e./g. lobbying over proposed legislation) is done by organized groups. The main principle seems to be: if you want to negotiate with the state on any issue of policy, you need to join some kind of group to do it (possibly creating a new one if necessary) because the state is not interested in dealing with you, as a single individual.

Groups seem to be a key feature of the political order as it actually exists. Indeed, the political system basically requires groups to be created, rather than trying to marginalize them.

Thus, any theory of our current democracies that leaves out groups is not taking adequate account of the facts on the ground.

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Val 08.30.17 at 12:29 pm

I think the man (white adult male) was ‘the citizen’, and the family (including wife) was his ‘dependants’. That’s how censuses constructed it and I think that’s how liberal thinkers would have understood it at the time when the US constitution was written (and of course his slaves were his “possessions’). From Carolyn Merchant, I gather that’s how Locke and Hobbes saw it, except that Hobbes in Leviathan apparently forgot about women at all, and thought a household was a man, his children and his servants.

I think one problem in the OP is at the start JH ignores power differentials between citizens and then at the end brings in power in terms of under-doggishness and over-doggishness of groups, but that seems very underdone, because I guess most (? Or at least some) people here would accept that we are born into, and our subjectivities are created within, discursive relationships of power. So the citizens don’t start off equal, not because they are necessarily trapped in bad groups, but because those relationships of power are pre-existing and embedded in discourse or culture or whatever term you prefer.

Just to give a random example, I have been reading recently about the modernisation of coastal fishing in India and how it disempowered women. One of the factors that caused this was that the state lent money to men. So the relationship of the male citizens and the female citizens to the state was different. So you can’t start off with just ‘citizens’ and the state because the differences are embedded.

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bob mcmanus 08.30.17 at 12:38 pm

Too many details close above.

General principle: history and minorities etc must be pro-actively, pre-emptively included in everything, all discourses. No assumptions of general applicability or abstraction allowed.

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Val 08.30.17 at 12:48 pm

@ 307
Yes “working families” are a big thing here too (not even necessarily hardworking!) especially for the Labor party. Not sure what the conservatives say because I can’t bear to read it :)

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bianca steele 08.30.17 at 12:57 pm

I don’t really understand what Val’s arguing at this point in the thread, but it looks like we largely agree (though I’d rather not use the term “patriarchy” at this moment in history) . . .

But looking back through the thread, a lot of it seems much too politically focused. When we talk about these issues (we educated humanists), mostly talking about how we each can find some kind of personal autonomy among the restrictions the world places on us, be they from the state or some “intermediate group”?

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Val 08.30.17 at 12:59 pm

Actually I’m not quite right about the censuses – that’s how the Australian census was set up but I think the English one (and possibly some European ones) actually saw women more as partners in the work of the nation.

Judith Bennett suggests that instead of ‘the patriarchy’ we should think of ‘patriarchal equilibrium’ and I think that’s a good point – so Australia was progressively giving women political rights in the late 19th C while ignoring their economic contribution (though the guys developing the census would’ve seen it more as gallantry, but that’s another story).

However I do think the general concept is right – ruling class men (your man of property or your man of science) were the normative ‘citizens’ of modern liberalism and traces of that history are still in contemporary liberal thought.

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Matt 08.30.17 at 12:59 pm

One problem with this is that belonging to a family is precisely not “voluntary”, certainly not in the sense of a bowling club or even church. And what is really meant by “the family needs to cease to be patriarchal”? Isn’t it rather that the state needs to cease to be patriarchal? What is at issue is precisely patriarchal family *law*, which for example gives the husband the right to beat children, rape the wife, denies married women economic agency, and so on. These laws were part and parcel of the modern “liberal” state and were dismantled in most places only very recently. One can surely argue that patriarchal laws violate the principles of liberalism but it seems relevant that most self-described “liberals” up to the 20th century apparently didn’t think so at all; they had no problem with a “liberal” order that was inherently patriarchal (and of course in the 19th century, many had no problem with a “liberal” slaveholder society).

Every once in a while someone (often engels, for whatever reasons) will link to this blog from, say 2006 or 07. One big difference from that time to now is that then there were a lot more professional political philosophers and theorists (and other academics) actively involved in the comments than now. Because of that, I think, there were fewer comments like the one above, which invokes some ideas that everyone who is seriously involved in political philosophy would know and take as not needing to be said. I mean, you can just, like John did over and over, briefly reference Okin’s book, to make known that we all know this stuff. Now, if you’ve never read Okin’s book, and all the literature that came after that, you are likely to miss this, and then think that basic points, that are actually being assumed in the post, need to be pointed out over and over again. But this is just likely to lead to annoyance, frustration, and confusion from people who can’t help but know that the last 30+ years of political philosophy have actually happened, even if the average Crooked Timber commentor doesn’t know this.

(This is even leaving aside all the Dunning Kruger level “discussion” of “analytic philosophy” in the comments here.)

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Sebastian H 08.30.17 at 2:51 pm

Val, you respond to me with “SH – why do I think I’m being patronised as a woman rather than just as a person? 5000 years of patriarchy maybe?”

No. That is why many women are patronised much of the time. That doesn’t mean that all disagreements are patronizing someone. That doesn’t mean that pointing out that you clearly hadn’t read the OP is patronizing (which you admitted even). That doesn’t mean that after repeated polite attempts by multiple people to point out that you had misread the portions of the post that you had read so much that you were almost getting Holbo point 180 degrees backward, that it is some sort of plot by the patriarchy to keep women in general (and therefore you as a woman) from expressing their opinions. Nearly every thread in which you appear, you are accusing people of misogynistically misinterpreting you.

It is very frustrating because being mean to women particularly on the internet is absolutely a real thing, but you seem to reach for the identity politics excuse very freely across multiple discussions. I can totally understand why you might see it lots of places, as it is a real thing in the world, but it cripples you if you over-identify it so much that you don’t respond to legitimate disagreement without reaching for it.

Holbo very much was NOT making the point that “individual” was the main/only legitimate way of looking at things. So you end up with a lot of comments where you are arguing with your misconception of his argument rather than him.

That has nothing to do with your gender. Pointing it out has nothing to do with your gender. Your defensiveness about it is often attributed to your gender, but frankly that is wrong too. Men are equally defensive about being clearly wrong. I get that way too when I’m wrong, and I’m a man.

Then you do it again with “family”. Family is one of the CENTRAL points which Holbo uses to show that the individual/state classification is insufficient. It isn’t as if he is insensitive to the idea that family is something between the individual and the state. It isn’t as if he overlooked that. It is right there.

Again and again across multiple threads you seem to reach for the explanation that us men think the way we do because we don’t think about women enough. And whenever we disagree about particulars it is the patriarchy crushing down. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes you misread something. Sometimes people disagree. Men disagree with each other. I disagree with Z who is of indeterminate gender. I disagree with bianca fairly often but am rarely as exasperated as I am when talking with you because bianca says what she wants to say instead of mere alluding to it men not getting something.

Noticing that the patriarchy acts to hurt you is something that I suspect all women have to deal with. But noticing that not everything is the patriarchy trying to hurt you is a crucial step too.

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William Timberman 08.30.17 at 2:53 pm

This is a fascinating thread, and I’m late to it, but still…. The question I have, which maybe a postmodernist theoretician would be best disposed to answer, is which, if any of these marketing driven, consumer choice Wahlverwandtschaften are groups to which anyone would be willing to mutually pledge his/her life, fortune, or sacred honor? The Hell’s Angels. maybe?

Quaint, that question, but when the individual desires driving our chosen group affiliations, not to mention the rules governing the ones we’re born into, are so much in flux, and the scholars as well as the politicians are everywhere visibly scratching their heads over the implications, it doesn’t seem an impertinent or irrelevant question, at least not to an apostate like me.

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engels 08.30.17 at 3:18 pm

As someone who spent quite a lot of their formative years studying analytic philosophy with people who were somewhat critical of it I’ve always found both sides of the Crooked Timber debate finger-nails-on-blackboard unbearable.

But, to quote Marvin the paranoid android, ‘why stop now, just when I’m hating it?’

321

John Holbo 08.30.17 at 3:22 pm

Val: “That historical view, of the white adult man as the normative citizen or normative individual, can still be traced in the way you, John Holbo, are talking about the issue today.”

My post can be traced to that historical view in the following sense: I am talking about that view – and views like that. (Had this sort of problematic view never obtained – and other problems of a similar size and shape – I obviously wouldn’t have been called upon to post about it.)

From the fact that I – like you, Val! – am writing about a problem, it doesn’t follow that what I say is problematic or itself part of that problem. To make a criticism of my post as itself problematic you have to:

1) say what it is that I am allegedly saying, or implying, that you think is wrong.

2) say why you think I am saying/imply it (point to somewhere in the post, where I say or imply something of the sort;)

3) say why you think it is actually wrong (point to a better alternative to my way of thinking.)

We are now up to comment 318 and you have not done ANY of 1 – 3. If you really think you have some criticism of the post, you should state it, Val. If you don’t, I don’t really think you have any grounds for complaint that I don’t know what it is.

You keep saying that I treat all citizens or all groups as equal in power but that is precisely what I do NOT say or imply anywhere. And so, of course, you are unable to point to anywhere in the post where I say, or imply, this thing. (If you really think otherwise, you are welcome to provide evidence, Val. But please: stop just repeating the charge, baselessly.)

I am grateful to Matt for expressing bafflement, on my behalf, at TM’s response. I, too, find it baffling.

I write: “For Okin and other ‘congruence’ theorists it’s not enough to say that these groups are voluntary”

TM gets indignant: “One problem with this is that belonging to a family is precisely not “voluntary””

Yes, precisely. Hence for Okin and other congruence theorists it’s not enough to say that these groups are voluntary.

So it goes.

As Matt says, if you want to know what Okin says, read Okin. I tried to write the post so it could be understood by someone who hasn’t read her. If I have failed, I have failed. But even so, it isn’t sensible simply to assume she must be making highly specific and quite obvious mistakes and attribute them to her – or me, by extension.

Now, let me pluck one interesting issue from the disorder. Let me address Engels:

“I meant that at the time the Constitution came into force I think you could reasonably argue (pace John) that the family (headed by the husband), not the individual human being, was the primary conceptual unit (whether explicitly ackownledged as such or not) for liberal protection and political power versus the State”

And yet when they wrote the Declaration of Independence and then the Constitution they did not write things like: “Basically what we are doing here is establishing little private tyrannies of each man over his family.” They WANTED to think of marriage as a private voluntary union whose existence harmonized with the overall individuals-state framework they were working out. (At this point TM gets mad: ‘but that’s not a correct thing for them to have thought’. And I reply: precisely, but I’m not saying it’s a good argument. It’s a bad argument. I’m just trying to say what it IS. This is what they WANTED to make sense, not what actually makes sense.) Marriage is modeled under the ‘pure’ theory and so is a perfect example of the dynamic I discuss in the post. It is supposed to be voluntary association of man and wife involving some non-volunteering others – children – who are, however, incompetent to care for themselves, but who will be afforded full freedom when they grow. (But what about the girls! Yes, again: I’m not saying the view makes sense. I’m just describing how they WANTED to think about it.) It would be wrong for the state to meddle in the internal affairs of family because that would intolerably infringe on individual autonomy of the husband to order his family life as he sees fit. (But what about protecting the autonomy of women? Yes, precisely. If they had acknowledged that little problem, it would have been a real problem, wouldn’t it? But the mind has a talent for avoiding things that would mess up a desired pattern – in this case: individual-state.)

Conclusion: this alleged counter-example to my view does not seem like a counter-example to me.

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bianca steele 08.30.17 at 3:24 pm

There have in fact been nations in history–I think this doesn’t include 18th century England–where a woman could be a “head of household.” Assuming one way or the other is probably going to have limited accuracy.

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bianca steele 08.30.17 at 3:26 pm

Matt,

I don’t know if you’re referring to me, but if my reading is able to leave me only with a “Dunning-Kruger” level of understanding, I’m happy to walk away with my attitudes towards its practitioners intact, thank you.

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Rob Chametzky 08.30.17 at 3:53 pm

CT alert! CT alert! Families under discussion!

Harry Brighouse (along with Adam Swift) has published a
book that CTers who find themselves thinking (perchance
only dreaming/blogging?) about the family might do well to
inspect (perchance to read?–who’s dreaming now?):

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10385.html

No doubt, given the clarity of its exposition and argument, “Family Values”
would lend itself to some deeply outraged while largely redundant commentary.

I recommend it to all.

–RC

325

bianca steele 08.30.17 at 4:28 pm

I don’t think it’s unfair or even surprising to note that different *groups* would interpret the Brighouse/

326

bianca steele 08.30.17 at 4:31 pm

Sorry, hit submit instead of undo, please delete previous…

I don’t think it’s unfair or even surprising to note that different *groups* would interpret the Brighouse/Swift argument differently. Does “autonomy” for children mean they get to choose a religion or no religion? Or does it mean children of indigenous groups should be taken away from their parents to learn English and Christianity?

327

AcademicLurker 08.30.17 at 5:30 pm

SusanC@311:

Groups seem to be a key feature of the political order as it actually exists. Indeed, the political system basically requires groups to be created, rather than trying to marginalize them.

But isn’t that part of the point of the original post? E.g. “Look how important these intermediate level groups are to the functioning of our society. And yet look how little our founding political documents, such as the constitution, have to say about them.”?

Reading this thread has been a strange experience. John Holbo points out that the official forms of liberal democracy say a lot about the powers of the state and the rights of the individual, but say little about intermediate level associations such as bowling leagues. And the collective CT commentariat cries out “Why does John Holbo hate bowling leagues?!”

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TM 08.30.17 at 5:54 pm

217, 221: nice try. I was responding to Holbo, not to Okin. I think that kind of maneuver – oh you are pointing out a weakness in the argument of X but haven’t you read Y, and you aren’t even a professional philosopher what are you doing here! – means you lost the debate. Anyway almost nobody here has had much good to say about the OP. Perhaps it’s because we are all ignoramuses but then that’s what Matt said: “But if you find that people very regularly don’t get you, maybe you need to work harder to be clear. The problem might well not be your reader.”

329

LFC 08.30.17 at 5:56 pm

A question for Val (preceded by a statement) that, if she answers it, might help clarify some positions.

States — which for these purposes can be roughly defined as governments claiming sovereignty or authority (and recognized by other governments as having authority) over a population within a particular territory — are an ubiquitous, basic feature of the contemporary world and the way it’s politically organized. (There are somewhere around 200 of these entities that comprise the basic membership of the United Nations.)

Assuming we all agree that states/governments should not torture, slaughter, or otherwise randomly or systematically grotesquely abuse the populations over which they claim sovereignty or sovereign authority, what more precisely should the relationship betw. states and the populations be? Should states’ power over populations be *formally* constrained in some way, and, if so, how, and should those constraints take the form of assigning rights to some below-the-state entities, and if so, which entities? Individuals, or groups of some kind, or what?

It’s clear, Val, that you don’t like the style in which J Holbo has chosen to address these issues, but until you make clear what your own views are at least on the basic questions just listed, I don’t think it will be entirely clear just where your disagreements w him lie.

Holbo has already acknowledged, more than once, that no one has to agree that individuals should hold formal rights ‘against’ the state (i.e. to be free from certain kinds of state control of their behavior, etc, or to be guaranteed certain kinds of process if arrested, etc etc.). But if you don’t agree with that, or agree but think it’s insufficient, then who or what should hold formal rights vs. the state? W/o knowing yr answer to that question, it’s hard to for me (and I think some others) to see where your problems w Holbo move from stylistic disagreement to actual substantive disagreement.

Now you could say “I don’t want to think about states and their relationship to populations at all. I find that conceptual framework uninteresting/uncongenial/strange/reactionary/whatever.” But if that’s yr answer, then you and JH don’t really have any grounds for even a conversation here, b/c istm one of his post’s assumptions is that this relationship (states to their populations) is worth thinking about. If you disagree w that assumption then, at least for purposes of this topic, you don’t share enough common ground w him even to have a discussion.

330

TM 08.30.17 at 5:57 pm

And Holbo: “At this point TM gets mad: ‘but that’s not a correct thing for them to have thought’”

Seriously, you lost it. There is not a shred of argument in your tirade.

331

engels 08.30.17 at 6:31 pm

And yet when they wrote the Declaration of Independence and then the Constitution they did not write things like: “Basically what we are doing here is establishing little private tyrannies of each man over his family.” They WANTED to think of marriage as a private voluntary union whose existence harmonized with the overall individuals-state framework they were working out. (At this point TM gets mad: ‘but that’s not a correct thing for them to have thought’. And I reply: precisely, but I’m not saying it’s a good argument. It’s a bad argument. I’m just trying to say what it IS. This is what they WANTED to make sense, not what actually makes sense.)

I guess I’m disputing the inference from ‘they didn’t say it’ to ‘they didn’t think it’. Or maybe, to adapt a formulation Norman Getas made in a different context, they thought that the family group, not the human individual, was protected and primary, but they didn’t think that they thought it. To be clear, I’m not sure I want to defend this to the death, I just think it’s an interesting line of thought (apologies if it’s been discussed elsewhere and rebutted).

Another datum for our ontological underlabouring might be Mrs T:
“There is no such thing as society; there are individual men and women and there are families” (emphasis added).

332

engels 08.30.17 at 6:49 pm

(Btw I don’t think the fact they thought of marriage as a contract is decisive given that they also tended to think of the State that way…)

333

bob mcmanus 08.30.17 at 9:05 pm

323: Nah, Matt meant me, which means that either you skip my comments, good on you, or that you did read my comments and desired to have me called out by name. Which is amusing.

I did embarrass myself in places above and answer Matt’s interpellation without defensiveness or apology.

Today’s reading: Chela Sandoval. Who doesn’t show up once in umpteen years of CT. Bad book? Am I in the wrong place? Why don’t I hang instead at my intellectual and political home Verso? Cause it feels like accepting ghettoization (sic?) and irrelevance and because so little Real Left or diversity shows up here.

And because the practical moderate centers are leading the world to hell.

334

bruce wilder 08.30.17 at 9:17 pm

bob mcmanus: The crises of late capitalism are crises of overproduction and excessive competition.

The formulaic of late marxism tends to leave me puzzled: increasing poverty and precarity is “overproduction” and the re-incarnation of monopoly capitalism as Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon — not to mention creatures like JPMorganChase or Uber or Monsanto — is “excessive competition”. Okaay. I should write that down.

Being an introvert, who often finds socializing draining and being the center of attention anxiety-producing, I do not grasp Facebook or its appeal, let alone its methods. I see the interface / function design churn as especially puzzling as a method of keeping users “involved”. What little I have seen of their pitch to advertisers indicates to me that they routinely lie to advertisers about who their users are and what those users are interested in. Their algo may “know” you and certainly manipulate you, but there is something strangely . . . — the only word I can think of is “dishonest” but that’s not the right connotation — let’s say “fractured”. This is a sociability where asperger’s spectrum is introducing a basic misunderstanding of relation and affection into the culture. It is very puzzling, but the only part I have any confidence in understanding is the economics, and there, I half-expect collapse as increasing scale turns it into a digitized Tower of Babel.

Writing my earlier comments, I was meditating on the example of one, Roxanne Gay, writing — and being interviewed for — the New York Times recently. Ms Gay is the author of Hunger, a confessional reflection on identity and personal experience. She was the “black lesbian Democratic midwestern” professor-and-writer not-coder rolling around in my imagination. I don’t know, but I would guess that she would be something of a hero for Val. She’s a talented writer and she’s quite good at drawing power out of exhibiting aspects of self and social identity affiliation that ten minutes before our era would have been too embarrassing for any public performance outside of a avant-garde comedy club. I wonder what she has left for an intimate life, but maybe there was not much hope for that. Politically, . . . well, politically — from my analytical perspective at least, she’s an idiot, blinded and made unself-consciously cruel by her own self-regard and privilege.

I don’t think it’s priorities for Roxanne Gay; I think she saw her opportunities and she took ’em. These are our times, and these are the people rewarded by the direction of movement within our times.

335

Val 08.30.17 at 9:21 pm

John Holbo
I’ve stated my criticisms numerous times but you don’t understand them. This paragraph

“Continuing on cartoonishly, for (possibly illusory) clarity: most of us – I’ll wager – subscribe to the view that life in a modern liberal democratic society is like this: there are citizens and there is the state. Citizens enjoy a basket of liberties and rights, over and against each other and the state. A lot of critics say ‘liberals’ think too much in terms of autonomous individuals – little social atoms, bouncing freely off each other – but even those critics would mostly be slow to replace what we’ve got with another system in which some other circle was deemed more elementary than this mutually orbiting citizen-state binary: the family, the estate, the deme, the guild, the tribe, whatever. If you seriously want to scrap the US Constitution in favor of some kind of neo-feudal system, for example … well, that’s pretty radical. I’m just going to assume I’m addressing an audience that is basically ok with making individual citizens primary units over and against the state. (All pretty vague? Yes, quite. But we haven’t got all day. On we go.)”

You think that by making a passing reference to what critics might think you’ve addressed that criticism, but you haven’t.

You also haven’t understood what I said earlier about not thinking of (assumed human) groups as the only alternative to thinking about individuals v the state, instead of thinking ecologically.

Matt – I’ve been around for a while and read a fair bit of feminist thought.

336

Val 08.30.17 at 9:28 pm

Specifically –

“A lot of critics say ‘liberals’ think too much in terms of autonomous individuals – little social atoms, bouncing freely off each other – but even those critics would mostly be slow to replace what we’ve got with another system in which some other circle was deemed more elementary than this mutually orbiting citizen-state binary: the family, the estate, the deme, the guild, the tribe, whatever.”

The two parts of this sentence are presented as if the part after the dash is the only alternative to the part before, but it’s not.

(Also I am making two apparently different criticisms but they are connected – there’s the ‘eco’ strand of my critique and the ‘feminist’ strand but they are connected.)

337

Val 08.30.17 at 9:56 pm

bianca our posts above had a nice synchronicity if that’s the word I’m looking for, but why don’t you like the term ‘patriarchy’? I’m interested in this for my research.

338

Val 08.30.17 at 10:02 pm

““A lot of critics say ‘liberals’ think too much in terms of autonomous individuals – little social atoms, bouncing freely off each other – but even those critics would mostly be slow to replace what we’ve got with another system in which some other circle was deemed more elementary than this mutually orbiting citizen-state binary: the family, the estate, the deme, the guild, the tribe, whatever”

Another way might be people, species, communities, ecosystems. When I first heard an ‘Eco-farmer’ talking the ‘community’ of plants I thought it sounded strange, but then I got it.

Also I did earlier suggest that if you (JH) could talk about ‘people’ as individuals and collectives rather than citizen and state, but you seem to have ignored that.

339

Ogden Wernstrom 08.30.17 at 10:10 pm

If one wants some CT-type commentary on the book mentioned by Rob Chametzky, look here.

By the time I wrote this, others have probably posted the same….

340

engels 08.31.17 at 12:00 am

[If, as some people are saying, the point of the post was that just that classical liberalism doesn’t officially acknowledge a role for sub-national collectives in politics then I don’t have any objection to it.]

341

John Holbo 08.31.17 at 12:01 am

Val, you’ve stated – numerous times – THAT you have criticisms. You haven’t told me – even once – WHAT they are.

Or suppose you have stated your criticism and I just missed them – or pretended to miss them. You could restate them. Or simply refer me, by comment number, to where you state them already. So do so! Indicate what you think is wrong with the post, and why you think it is wrong. Or don’t. But if you don’t, don’t blame me.

The most I can get out of you – apart from erroneous accusations that I weirdly think everyone has the same amount of power – are some hints about how I am denying possibilities, or making assumptions, etc. But where have I denied a real possibility, and what is wrong with making explicit assumptions for post purposes? The proper response to that is to consider whether you accept the assumption, not to rage at the fact that I stated what I was assuming for post purposes.

You write: “You think that by making a passing reference to what critics might think you’ve addressed that criticism, but you haven’t.”

You have simply misunderstood the paragraph you are quoting. By making passing reference to critics I am not failing to refute them; I am, very appropriately, acknowledging points I won’t be dealing with. The structure of the post is: assume A. Now let’s look at the problems we get with A. This is not a failed attempt to silence critics who are unwilling to assume A.

If you want to suggest that there is some healthy alternative to liberal democracy, which isn’t based on granting to individuals a basket of rights and liberties, then go for it. The reason I mentioned this possibility is because, indeed, I think some people will go for it. But I also think that a lot of people – who may be quite happy to gripe about atomized individuals, etc – will balk at the final step: not granting individuals a suite of rights and liberties. But that’s up to you. Please feel free to say this is your pick, but don’t misconstrue that as a criticism of what I’m saying.

TM, I’m not sure what you are upset about. The problem with your comment that I see is that you are just leaping to the conclusion that I – and Okin, it seems – must be missing rather obvious considerations. But there is nothing in the post to suggest I am missing those considerations – that I can see. And I don’t think I am. Why would I be unaware of why it is problematic to characterize the family as a ‘voluntary organization’ and leave it at that? Why would I have written the post if I were unaware of such problems.

Let’s review the tape. I glossed Okin’s position in a few sentences. You respond.

“One problem with this is that belonging to a family is precisely not “voluntary”, certainly not in the sense of a bowling club or even church. And what is really meant by “the family needs to cease to be patriarchal”? Isn’t it rather that the state needs to cease to be patriarchal? What is at issue is precisely patriarchal family *law*, which for example gives the husband the right to beat children, rape the wife, denies married women economic agency, and so on. These laws were part and parcel of the modern “liberal” state and were dismantled in most places only very recently. One can surely argue that patriarchal laws violate the principles of liberalism but it seems relevant that most self-described “liberals” up to the 20th century apparently didn’t think so at all; they had no problem with a “liberal” order that was inherently patriarchal (and of course in the 19th century, many had no problem with a “liberal” slaveholder society).”

All this is precisely what Okin is getting at. And the fact that all this is obviously true motivates my post – rather obviously. So why are you assuming that all these things – which I obviously know perfectly well – are a problem for my post?

If I am missing your point, please set me straight. But please explain why I shouldn’t respond to your apparent criticisms with ‘yes, of course.’ What have you pointed out that is problematic for me? Or Okin?

342

bianca steele 08.31.17 at 12:22 am

engels: “I guess I’m disputing the inference from ‘they didn’t say it’ to ‘they didn’t think it’.”

I’d second this. I’ve never seen it asserted that the American Founders believed this. Some of them might have been led to assert it, given the right set of questions, and others, or maybe the same ones, given a different set of questions, might have been led to assert the opposite. If “they wanted to believe this” means however not “they thought it should be true and tried to convince themselves it was” but “if they didn’t, their project was futile,” that’s a more complicated claim.

Val: two reasons I don’t like the word patriarchy. (1) It usually assumes a real historical patriarchy that actually is unlikely really to have existed; it’s tied up with a specific school of feminism that I don’t think is persuasive or, for lack of a better word, up-to-date. (2) It’s currently popular with “men’s rights’ activists” who use it in claims that men who are lower-status in some vaguely sociobiological or evolutionary way are disadvantaged, primarily through the denial to them of women’s sexual availability.

I think the post was pretty good, actually. I just wish philosophers would sometimes look for their keys under a different streetlight.

343

bob mcmanus 08.31.17 at 12:23 am

The formulaic of late marxism tends to leave me puzzled: increasing poverty and precarity is “overproduction” and the re-incarnation of monopoly capitalism as Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon — not to mention creatures like JPMorganChase or Uber or Monsanto — is “excessive competition”. Okaay. I should write that down.

Leaving the top down economics aside for a moment, what I meant in context was an overproduction/overaccumulation and excessive competition in social relationships and social capital. F De Boer committed himself essentially because he couldn’t quit adding Facebook and Twitter feeds. Call it an “attention economy” because your attention linking and friending is what makes Facebook profits. The excessive competition is for your attention and loyalty.

I have never been clear about what you read, partly I suppose because the preferred comment stylesheet doesn’t approve of cites or quotes, cause that is appealing to authority or something.We live in pure reason round here, by will alone we set our minds in motion. But Jameson started writing great books thirty years ago. Or you could explore “late capitalism” online and learn quickly enough. Although of course if you hang out trolling the liberalsphere you will never hear his name.

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bianca steele 08.31.17 at 1:22 am

An example of what I mean by a streetlight: the paragraph ending, “The requirement that you go to such extremes, to achieve exit, just so you can enjoy basic liberal standards of equality and opportunity and so forth, is too burdensome.”

That sentence seems perfectly obvious. But why is this something we worry about? Only because we don’t think people can have really good lives unless their relationship to the state is that of a free and unencumbered individual. If we imagine a young woman in this position, we can imagine her having two possibilities lying before her in life: she can marry someone her parents approve of and have a family of the type approved of by the church she was raised in, or she can decide she prefers something else, something that is on offer by the liberal state, and she can go off and do it instead. And we don’t, in this country, let her parents prevent her from doing this.

But what if they kept her illiterate, so that she couldn’t do that? She couldn’t go to college, or she couldn’t manage a degree if she did, or maybe she didn’t know enough to cope outside her community? There are, unfortunately, communities in the US where this happens. And we don’t have laws against this (only mandating some minimum of schooling), though we don’t think it’s good. We don’t generally think groups, whether families or religious sects, should be able to do this to their children.

But within some range, we let them do what they want. If they want to teach their kids that math above the four basic operations is the work of the devil, they can. If they want to teach their kids that reading philosophy is evil, or political science, or the English novel is, they can. They are keeping their kids from being able to participate in liberal society as surely as the groups I described in the previois paragraph. Because those kids, when they grow up, will be excluded from many jobs, from many degree programs, and from social acceptance in many places.

So we are giving groups the right to prevent their members from participating on equal terms in liberal society, because of their beliefs. But we aren’t giving those groups the right to participate on equal terms in society, regardless of their beliefs. Shouldn’t they have the right to work in the same fields as everybody else? Aren’t we in some sense saying they don’t REALLY have a right to live out their beliefs?

And going back to the woman who may have left her evangelical community to join liberal society, only to find that the problems are too difficult and the price is too high. Who should she complain to/about? To liberal society, which doesn’t really accept her? Or to her birth community, which didn’t prepare her for society as it actually exists?

These are the kinds of questions I see people on the Internet (of the usual various sorts) raising.

I don’t see either Holbo or Levy addressing these; maybe Okin does. These examples all require a little narrative to go along with them, and require one to think about a situated person who isn’t an ideally autonomous weigher of preferences. And that just isn’t the problematic in these discussions.

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Sebastian H 08.31.17 at 2:33 am

“It’s clear, Val, that you don’t like the style in which J Holbo has chosen to address these issues, but until you make clear what your own views are at least on the basic questions just listed, I don’t think it will be entirely clear just where your disagreements w him lie.”

I think this is a big part of my problem in discussing things with you Val. You seem to want to say that I don’t get something. You imply/accuse that I don’t get whatever that is because I’m a male, or misogynist, or whatever. But you never say *what the things are*.

And to the extent that you do say what the things are, it tends to be things like suggesting that I (or Hoblo) aren’t thinking about families. But of course we are, and do so either you are horribly misunderstanding what we are talking about, or you are refusing to disclose what you are really thinking. Or maybe both. And then when people request clarification you suggest that people are willfully putting upon you because you’re a woman.

But what if you’re right? What if hundreds or thousands of years of patriarchy have brought us to this place. Surely you can’t expect that merely alluding to the idea that we have missed the woman’s point of view will cause us to break through that. Surely you can’t believe that it is all so fragile that merely hinting at it will cause us males to see.

So tell us what you are thinking.

346

John Holbo 08.31.17 at 2:38 am

Bianca: “That sentence seems perfectly obvious. But why is this something we worry about? Only because … These are the kinds of questions I see people on the Internet (of the usual various sorts) raising. I don’t see either Holbo or Levy addressing these; maybe Okin does.”

Bianca, you see me raising obviously worrying classes of possibilities, and obviously worrying about them for SOME reason. But you infer that I haven’t thought about WHY or WHAT I am worrying about them? Or I have no reason to worry, yet everyone else does?

What is it you think my post IS worrying about, if not the things one naturally would worry about, regarding these sorts of cases? There is very little ELSE that I or Levy or Okin are worrying about, at least for post purposes, except – by plain implication – precisely the things that you ‘don’t see’ us addressing. Can you point to anything I say that suggests I am weirdly NOT worrying about the things one naturally would worry about here?

“But what if they kept her illiterate, so that she couldn’t do that?”

In the post I mention cases that people are likely to disagree about. To what degree is it permissible to raise people in religious communities that may have restrictive cultural practices. I don’t pause over the extreme, hence obvious cases.

Look, suppose I did you one better. Bianca, you are worrying about women being kept illiterate or being beaten (which Holbo doesn’t discuss) but what about unprovoked, premeditated murder (which YOU don’t discuss)? Should it be ok for a man to straight up murder his wife and children if he wants? I don’t see you saying anything about this issue yet it is very crucial for women’s and children’s health and welfare. I infer that you are unaware that murder is a health hazard, or that death is bad? No, that would be ridiculous. The most likely explanation why you didn’t discuss murder, per se, is that life is too short (and who knows, you might be murdered tomorrow. Better to argue about things that people might disagree about rather than pretending we have disagreement about things we obviously don’t.)

You also fault me for not particularizing these cases. Well, I said that’s what we usually do and, for the space of one post, I wanted to try do the opposite for a change. I wanted to set aside particulars to get a clearer view of the general form all such particular cases tend to exhibit. Was that wrong? If so: why?

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bianca steele 08.31.17 at 3:08 am

What is it you think my post IS worrying about, if not the things one naturally would worry about, regarding these sorts of cases?

I think you’re worrying about the case in my second paragraph, and pointing to a literature that discusses the same or very similar cases, and suggesting that thinking about this one case should be enough for us to understand how we feel about all the cases.

And that discussions of particular cases simply gesture at the same literature, or at posts like yours, as if they prove something, and everyone knows what they prove.

Is that case really even a live argument? Maybe for the small number of college students from evangelical backgrounds. Maybe when discussing the small number of communities that give their kids only rudimentary education. We are, by and large, past that. (You may disagree if you think the white supremacists and fundamentalist separatists are so strong, and have been so strong for years, that the rest of us should never have been talking as if they were easily dismissed. But that’s a different discussion.)

It seems we like discussions about tribal or rural people meeting “civilized modernity.” We like discussions about young people encountering education and having to choose what to do with the new information they’re confronted with. We like discussions about the acquisition and necessity of job skills.

When we have some other problem, like wedding cakes or marriage licenses for same sex couples, it seems we tend to struggle to fit the new problem into one of those, so we can say it’s already solved. Then we say “groups have a long shadow” and wave our hands,

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Sebastian H 08.31.17 at 3:14 am

Maybe focusing on particulars would help.

One of the reasons why I like to keep most rights on the individual level is because when I see them grouped on higher levels I tend to see lots of nasty injustices.

So for example honor killing a daughter who slept with a man outside of marriage because it caused dishonor to come to the family. Or the idea that gay men should be forced to marry women for the good of the family.

Or the idea that black people and white people marrying is bad for “the purity of the race”.

Or that women should submit to a beating from her husband because it is internal to the ‘family’.

That children should be taught only young earth creationism if their parents want it to protect ‘the family’ or ‘the religion’.

That heretics should be killed to protect the sanctity of the religion.

That a particularly bright Jewish woman should be kept out of a college because there are already ‘too many’ Jews at Harvard.

Now it is possible that I’m only seeing the bad side because I’m so completely indoctrinated on the individual rights concept. But if you don’t want outcomes like the above in a group rights framework, you should discuss how a group conceptualization would avoid it.

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John Holbo 08.31.17 at 3:20 am

“and suggesting that thinking about this one case should be enough for us to understand how we feel about all the cases.”

Why would that be plausible? And if it is not, why would you attribute to me such a strange thought, especially in the face of my evident insistence on NOT focusing on any one case only?

“Is that case really even a live argument? Maybe for the small number of college students from evangelical backgrounds.”

It’s a live argument. (Rod Dreher worries about little else, and he’s got lots of readers!) Much more so than the non-live argument of whether forced illiteracy is ok, potentially.

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bianca steele 08.31.17 at 3:22 am

I wanted to set aside particulars to get a clearer view of the general form all such particular cases tend to exhibit. Was that wrong? If so: why?

To put it another way, I’m saying the other cases don’t all have the same form. I should think that was obvious. I know you’re more sophisticated than this, but these discussions almost seem sometimes as if people believe you learn these categories, you get initiated into how to make sentences with words like “group” and “state”, and you don’t have to think about what you’re saying means ever again. Your own OP doesn’t say things are wrong just because conflict between group and state, but because the conflict causes other bad things to happen. If the bad things are different–if in one case they’re exclusion from the state, and in another from employment, and in another, from the group, and in another from undiluted joy–they’re not the same problem, they don’t have the same form.

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John Holbo 08.31.17 at 3:25 am

The only precedent I can think about for your case, Bianca, is “Megamind”: “I had so many evil plans in the works – the illiteracy beam, typhoon-cheese, robo-sheep… Battles we will now never have. You know, I never had the chance to say goodbye. So it’s good that we have this time now…you know, before I destroy the place. “

I rank forced illiteracy about at the level of typhoon-cheese, as a live issue for the theory of liberal democracy. And recall: Megamind was trying to do evil! Even he didn’t think it was a good idea!

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Sebastian H 08.31.17 at 3:43 am

Bianca: “Is that case really even a live argument? Maybe for the small number of college students from evangelical backgrounds. Maybe when discussing the small number of communities that give their kids only rudimentary education. We are, by and large, past that.”

I sort of agree with you, but it seems to me like the reason we are, by and large, past that is precisely because of a focus on individual rights and the exercise of state supremacy over groups.

If you want to empower groups more, aren’t you reopening those mostly settled questions?

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b9n10nt 08.31.17 at 3:51 am

Was that wrong? If so: why?

You left the conclusion to the argument off. “Therefore…”. What you write appears clear and true to itself and an honest attempt to be true with the world. It just doesn’t seem relevant, but a mirror for our own reflection of relevance.

Or, if you’d rather, your argument is a helicopter that gives us a clearer view, but then it puts us right down where we were, rather than transport us onward.

we all projected of where it might be going. A rather perfect CT thread come to think of it.

Could you expand on what you said about “this is interesting” where “this” was American pubic discourse around groups (and how it was wedded to the state/individual “coin”, IIRC)?

Cuz I would want to say, illiberal groups are NOT so-wed, potentially. But liberal groups are. Now that is something I’d be willing to entertain:

It (liberalism) undoes itself politically (we all know how oligarchic eddies of private interest overwhelm the purported public). Now we also know: it undoes itself socially by being much better at dissolving groups in the libertine acid of the state/individual system than it is at fostering liberally eusocial groups. & in the capitalist context, it doesn’t stick up for itself to satisfy the lust for belonging so craved for by so many. (authoritarian followers, I’m lookin at you!)

& then it should occur to us from our helicopter-heights that the above could very well be a good problem to have. For any social system that has that much going against it, the liberal orders that rule from the cities of Europe, America, Asia, and beyond are displaying an awful lot of complexity and order! & that speaks to inherent value, I think.

But a good problem is still a problem. If liberalism in some robust form(in a public works sense, NOT a military sense) doesn’t prevail upon the minds and hearts of enough Americans (& Europeans for all I know…I think it’s the same from the helicopter when I look over there), …

If you can’t pull people into liberal communties that meet their/our need for validation and belonging (status), you whither as a relevance.

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John Holbo 08.31.17 at 4:10 am

“we all projected of where it might be going. A rather perfect CT thread come to think of it.”

Well, if people projected where my thoughts might be going, based on my post, I would be ok with that, b9n10nt. What has made this an odd thread is the number of people who are projecting where I am going on the peculiar assumption that my post must mean, or imply, the opposite of what it (to my eyes) consistently says. It is possible that the whole thing has been an exercise in automatic writing on my part. Somehow, in a hypnotic trance, I wrote the opposite of what I think and believe. But, if so, the hypnotic spell has not yet been broken and I can only implore those on the outside to somehow help me snap out of it. Point me to the place in the post where, under apparent hypnotic influence, I said the opposite of what I think and believe and meant and meant to imply! Oh what a strange day! Oh what a strange thread!

But obviously you are right that, having sought a higher vantage, to take in the overall geography, the thing is to go back on the ground and start taking advantage of what we learned from seeing the lay of the land.

And this is the precise formula that would be most interesting, I agree: “Could you expand on what you said about “this is interesting” where “this” was American pubic discourse around groups (and how it was wedded to the state/individual “coin”, IIRC)?”

So I will try to do that.

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John Holbo 08.31.17 at 4:22 am

Sorry, my comments and bianca’s crossed somewhat. One of hers languished in the queue for too long but is now on. She writes.

“I’m saying the other cases don’t all have the same form. I should think that was obvious.”

I agree. There are all sorts of different sorts of groups, hence all sorts of different sorts of problems regarding groups. Nevertheless there are some common denominators, per the post. They may not be strictly common. I am sure you can point me to problems that don’t fit my template. But I think my template is pretty good. And I think the fact that people have already tried to counter it, upthread, and I’ve been able to explain how, actually, attitudes towards marriage aren’t counter-examples to my scheme, suggest it has some robust validity.

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Val 08.31.17 at 5:20 am

I think the only thing I can say/write to my many questioners and critics here is that I am trying to speak/write as someone who is experientially an individual (I agree with you all to this degree) but is also part of the ecosystem: ‘thinking like a planet’.

The way I’m trying to think really does seem incomprehensible to several of you here (including JH), although I would suggest that if you put aside your ‘oh Val is talking some weird gibberish again’ “priors” and actually tried to understand at least some of the many, many comments I’ve made on this thread (far too many) you might be able to. But I have to finish writing my thesis in my own strange, incomprehensible way, so I’d better get on with that!

bianca
“It usually assumes a real historical patriarchy that actually is unlikely really to have existed”
Well as a historian who has studied this social system that you are claiming never existed, I am somewhat puzzled by this. If you mean it was never totally hegemonic, sure, but I don’t think anyone has ever claimed that.

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TM 08.31.17 at 7:12 am

John, various people here have stated that they found your analytical framework inadequate. You keep responding, no it’s not inadequate, you just don’t understand it. And then there are statements like this (to Bianca in this case): “But you infer that I haven’t thought about WHY or WHAT I am worrying about them? (…) What is it you think my post IS worrying about, if not the things one naturally would worry about, regarding these sorts of cases?”
Seriously, this is totally screwed up. if you want to be understood, you need to explain clearly what you are thinking, what you are worrying about and why. Not ask us to infer “the things one naturally would worry about, regarding these sorts of cases”. You are talking to yourself, and people who think like yourself, and you berate your readers for not properly divining your thoughts. How pathetic is that.

I’ll go back to Okin since you are so upset, indignant and mad about my not giving you credit for name-dropping her (btw if you don’t want to be psychologized, don’t do it to others): “You can’t have significant pockets of illiberal order existing within the matrix of liberal order, because such pockets are a toxic threat to that order, and to individuals living in it, inherently. For a representative expression of this view, see Susan Moller Okin’s classic, Justice, Gender and the Family. (Jacob cites it as a good example; it is.) The family needs to cease to be patriarchal. “ To which I responded: “The state needs to cease to be patriarchal.” (309), which I was berated for by both Matt and Holbo like a freshman student daring to question the professor. Now why exactly was I wrong to say that the state needs to cease to be patriarchal, if we all agree that the state has a long history of patriarchal family law, for example? I honestly have no idea what your disagreement is, other than that I ought to read Okin, which as a debating maneuver is immediately disqualifying. Perhaps you are not talking about the state as it really is but the state as it ideally should be. Or you are angry because you have already thought of this yourself and you think I should have guessed that. But surprise surprise I’m responding to what you wrote, not what you may have thought. The logic of your statement is: here is the liberal state, and there is the patriarchal family, and the state needs to depatriarchalize the family. But historically this is total BS. You know that don’t you?

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Val 08.31.17 at 7:52 am

This is an article about the ‘ecological self’ https://theconversation.com/why-we-need-to-forget-about-the-environment-8818

its relation to the argument is about ‘the individual’ not having clear boundaries

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Val 08.31.17 at 8:14 am

here is an article I just found that might link things a bit
I don’t necessarily agree with it all and in particular I think she does not fully understand Ariel Salleh’s position but it might be useful towards bringing the incommensurate discourses together perhaps
Unfortunately it does not seem to be on open access

Macgregor, Sherilyn
From care to citizenship: calling ecofeminism back to politics
Ethics & the Environment, April 2004, Vol.9(1), pp.56-84

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Val 08.31.17 at 10:58 am

Sebastian H
“But what if you’re right? What if hundreds or thousands of years of patriarchy have brought us to this place. Surely you can’t expect that merely alluding to the idea that we have missed the woman’s point of view will cause us to break through that. Surely you can’t believe that it is all so fragile that merely hinting at it will cause us males to see.

So tell us what you are thinking.”

I try to tell you what I’m thinking but you don’t get it. And then you either say I’m wrong or I’m not explaining myself properly. It must be my fault, either way.

maybe I’m wrong to suppose that 1000s of years of patriarchy have brought us to the place where an educated woman tries to explain her viewpoint and a group of men (I think all men) keep saying it doesn’t make sense, but you might get some glimpse of why I suspect it.

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Val 08.31.17 at 11:03 am

In other words, Sebastian, why not have a go at trying to understand me? I’ve certainly said enough. Try the old ‘charitable reading’, assuming that what I say does make sense and is possible for a human being to understand, even if he (you) may not necessarily agree with it.

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SusanC 08.31.17 at 11:08 am

I feel so many things wrong with the original post that it’s hard to choose which objection to start with.

Here’s an attempt from a different direction:

Quite possibly, liberal democracy requires that the bulk of the citizens buy into its moral values.

a) If (e.g.) the Pharaoh Akhenaten decides to use his power as absolute ruler to impose liberal democracy (which he has just invented, anachronistically and counterhistorically; see worship of the Aten for what actually happened…) on a completely taken by surprise populace and government apparatus, this isn’t quite a liberal democracy as we understand it.

b) If large organized groups within the society seriously don’t want to be a liberal democracy, there is plenty they can do within the law to subvert it. At the very least, the government is going to be playing whack-a-mole with non-discrimination legislation requiring bakers to bake gay wedding cakes, etc.

c) If the organized illiberal groups are big enough, keeping them within the law is going to be tricky. e.g. a Civil War re-enactment society with live ammunition is going to be a problem if they are so numerous and well armed that the battle between them and the police/national guard ends up with all the police and national guardsmen dead/fled and the Confederate-flag waving survivors holding the field. (Consider this the Harry Turtledove alternate history).

d) The science fiction “Terminator” style alternative, along the lines that the government’s killer robots massacre all the dissenting citizens, also doe not sound much like the ideal of a liberal democracy.

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John Holbo 08.31.17 at 11:18 am

TM: ““You can’t have significant pockets of illiberal order existing within the matrix of liberal order, because such pockets are a toxic threat to that order, and to individuals living in it, inherently. For a representative expression of this view, see Susan Moller Okin’s classic, Justice, Gender and the Family. (Jacob cites it as a good example; it is.) The family needs to cease to be patriarchal. “ To which I responded: “The state needs to cease to be patriarchal.” (309), which I was berated for by both Matt and Holbo like a freshman student daring to question the professor.”

I want to clarify the ethics of this situation. It is never right to berate a freshman student for daring to question the professor. However, it may be fine to come down relatively hard on confused blog commenters, otherwise how are we going to get anywhere in this crazy, mixed up world?

TM, what do you suppose the odds are that someone who has written a book entitled “Justice, Gender and the Family”, in which it is argued that patriarchal family life is unjust, has never noticed that patriarchal elements of the state are likewise morally problematic? Do you think Okin would be totally blind-sided by the out-of-the-box revelation that a patriarchal state is also unjust? Low odds, right? She’s probably already thought that, right? So why get indignant about how the problem at the state level is being weirdly neglected or overlooked merely due to the fact that it is being noted at the family level itself? What reason do you have to suppose that is the case, after all. None, right? You are simply assuming that a serious and distinctly unlikely-to-have-been-made mistake has been made. But you have no reason to suppose that is the case.

As to reading Okin … to mandate or not to mandate?

Common sense will get us through times of no Okin better than Okin will get us through times of no common sense. But useful contributions to discussions of Okin’s work, and related issues, require some measure of one or the other, I should think.

You are frustrated that I am bemused that people keep getting my post upside down and backwards, by my lights. Why won’t I consider that it is all my fault? Honestly, I am perfectly willing. I hope I am. But there is no way to usefully proceed on this front without people – my would-be critics – pointing to elements of the post and explaining why they assumed I thought such-and-such because I wrote this-and-that. So long as people are specific like that I can – and do – rebut them, where appropriate.

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bianca steele 08.31.17 at 12:02 pm

So this is only about marriage now? And is it about marriage because families are groups, or because groups like religions and cultures define how families work? It’s one thing to focus on the latest SCOTUS case, but while we’re over here watching Dreher agonize over whether the law should have prevented him from moving to the big city, and forced him to be kinder to his dad, over there Steve Bannon is trying to mobilize a version of the “Constitution” where there’ll be a religious as well as racial/ethnic/linguistic (not to mention sexual) test to participate in public life.

I picked up on your poor kid who attended a same sex high school and found the choices she had to make, to deal with the state, to participate in liberal democracy, were too high in the end. I don’t see what that has to do with whether marriage is a group, and don’t have the energy this morning to work out how it might, but okay.

Sebastian,

I didn’t say I think there should be more legal protection for groups. I think Val is making reasonable critiques but I think both she and John are making bad assumptions about how much “groups” we currently have, and how much liberal-style individualism. The only one of your examples we don’t already outlaw is teaching kids creationism. (There are also Hasidic groups, probably mostly in New York but I’ve read about this in Philadelphia too) that don’t teach kids, especially girls, enough English and real-world skills to let them leave the community.) I agree with your reasoning about why that is.

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John Holbo 08.31.17 at 12:04 pm

SusanC, those are definitely different directions!

366

John Holbo 08.31.17 at 12:11 pm

“I think Val is making reasonable critiques”

OK, since I have repeatedly failed to get Val to tell me what her critique of the post is, perhaps SusanC will consent to act as Val-whisperer. What thing is Val saying that is a reasonable critique of the post?

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bianca steele 08.31.17 at 12:17 pm

In case anyone cares, I don’t believe congruence is a good idea if it means: the state needs to be neutral wrt ends and individual commitments (which it does to be a liberal democracy, which is something I like), so every legitimate group within the state has to be neutral wrt ends. I don’t think groups can be run that way. So I’d want to make a distinction between voluntary groups, like workplaces and political parties, and groups meaning legal identities that have legal representation, which people are born into and live within. But I think framing the debate the way it is makes it more difficult to discuss this. Sometimes you need to say to someone: this is just how we do it here (and no feudalism required!). But sometimes you need to do the opposite: there’s no one right way of doing that, and you need to cooperate with many people who disagree.

From the snippet of Levy’s book that I’ve read, I don’t see that this isn’t compatible with his argument. I expect we’ll have to wait until SCOTUS addresses it, and then it will be time to try to make the theory apply to the example.

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bianca steele 08.31.17 at 12:36 pm

I wrote a long reply to JH@366 on the off chance he wasn’t asking Susan to clarify the question I raised, or making some point about women being interchangeable (as T.S. Eliot says). But it literally disappeared when I submitted it and I can’t retype it now. Weird!

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Val 08.31.17 at 12:52 pm

John Holbo
Once more with feeling –
maybe I’m wrong to suppose that 1000s of years of patriarchy have brought us to the place where an educated woman tries to explain her viewpoint and a group of men (I think all men) keep saying it doesn’t make sense*, but you might get some glimpse of why I suspect it

* I have repeatedly told you what my critique of the post is, and you have repeatedly ignored it

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Val 08.31.17 at 12:53 pm

You won’t actually engage with my critiques. That’s the problem.

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engels 08.31.17 at 12:55 pm

Think I might give Bouvard et Pécuchet a go

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bianca steele 08.31.17 at 1:39 pm

Re. @Susan’s (1):

The problem is that in the US, people who dissent from liberal democracy aren’t colonized peoples who are being presented with individualism and constitutionalism for the first time: they’re people who think they’re the ones who’ve been practicing true constitutional democracy since 1800 or thereabouts. They think they are colonizing nonwhite and non-Christian people who are “liberals” in American terms. (And their snootier counterparts are perfectly willing to say things like “the real illibealism is found among liberals.”)

And the history does not support them. The demographics do not support their claim to have the right to rule all of the US. The only thing that can support their claim is a racist and populist one that says “the US is white and Christian, and the true people are rural or working people, and these are DEFINITELY white, Christian people, so they surely should be in charge!” And they don’t think in terms of class, so they can’t see any reason why they aren’t treated the same as wealthy Presbyterians and Episcopalians on the coasts.

While academic history says the Presbyterians and Episcopalians from the East Coast are colonizing THEM. And to the extent that’s true, it’s reasonable to say “let’s make sure we recognize them and their commitments.” But abstracting away the details and pretending we’ll all understand one another seems like it creates confusion.

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John Holbo 08.31.17 at 1:43 pm

“Once more with feeling –
maybe I’m wrong to suppose that 1000s of years of patriarchy have brought us to the place where an educated woman tries to explain her viewpoint and a group of men (I think all men) keep saying it doesn’t make sense”

For the record, Val, I’m not saying your critique doesn’t make sense. I’m saying it doesn’t (yet) exist. (I doubt that will make you happier, but that is the way of it.) You haven’t pointed to some claim/argument I make/imply and said that, and why, you think it is wrong. I keep saying you haven’t made any such critique and you keep swearing up and down that you have. There is an easy way to settle this. These comments are numbered. Why not just point me to it? 1000’s of years of patriarchy are not stopping you from telling me where your already-published critique of me is to be found, if indeed it exists.

(This thread is weirdly fascinating in its Zeno-like progress.)

Bianca, I’m sorry about your missing comment and have no explanation. Certainly I did not delete it or not approve it. There’s nothing from you in the queue, I’m afraid.)

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John Holbo 08.31.17 at 2:31 pm

“Think I might give Bouvard et Pécuchet a go”

Someone was recommending that to me on Facebook. I say: go for it!

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Sebastian H 08.31.17 at 3:23 pm

“I try to tell you what I’m thinking but you don’t get it. And then you either say I’m wrong or I’m not explaining myself properly. It must be my fault, either way.

maybe I’m wrong to suppose that 1000s of years of patriarchy have brought us to the place where an educated woman tries to explain her viewpoint and a group of men (I think all men) keep saying it doesn’t make sense, but you might get some glimpse of why I suspect it.”

AN Educated woman often has that trouble I’m certain (which may indeed be why you are misdiagnosing it), but interestingly enough you’re confusing groups and individuals. YOU are not having that trouble in THIS thread.

The trouble YOU are having in THIS thread is that YOU (individually, not as a representative for ‘Educated women who get oppressed by the patriarchy’) seem to believe that asserting that men don’t understand a viewpoint because they are men/enforcing the patriarchy/don’t care enough about women is the same as actually explaining what the viewpoint they/we are missing IS.

There is a difference between “you don’t get IT” and “this is what IT is”. You are largely about telling us we don’t get it, and very little about telling us what it is.

There are two strategies that we can fairly use to engage you when you do this. We can ask you to clarify what IT is. Or we can make guesses about what IT is based on your vague suggestions and try to go from there. Both Holbo and I have attempted both strategies. Your response to those strategies has been to suggest that we don’t understand because we are tools of the patriarchy trying to actively harm you, or male idiots who just don’t think about the obvious things that we actually raised even before you mentioned them. So we can’t ask for clarification, we can’t try to guess what you think, and we can’t expect you to have read the whole post.

That isn’t a critique of ‘women as a group’. That is a critique of ‘Val on the comments of this post’. I sort of suspect this is performance theater on your part–like: no really I so strongly believe that groups are the proper measure so I will steadfastly confuse ‘women’ with ‘Val’. It is a critique I have in mind for another very male commentor as well, so it honestly isn’t a gendered thing.

In the context of the post, it would really be better for you to skip the speculation on why we don’t get it (which often just causes spiraling accusations and counter accusations), and go straight to the implications of your (desired?) more group level analysis.

I tried to do that from my perspective in #348. Now I fully expect that you don’t sign off on any of those outcomes. So please don’t feel need to waste time saying that you don’t like honor killings, don’t want forced marriages of gay people, are ok with inter-racial marriage, and don’t think that apostates should be executed. The arguments against those things are pretty well understood in terms of the individual rights frame. It isn’t clear to me how you would want to deal with them in the more group rights (specifically NOT individual rights) frame of analysis that you advocate. I think the apostate case is especially difficult.

Now I have some guesses, but considering your very strong reactions to my previous guesses I’m definitely not going to make them public at this time.

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TM 08.31.17 at 3:29 pm

John 363: Where have I ever stated disagreement with Okin? My objection to you – not anybody else, you John Holbo – has been very clear and I’ll repeat it one last time:

“The logic of your statement is: here is the liberal state, and there is the patriarchal family, and the state needs to depatriarchalize the family. But historically this is total BS.”

Now if you were engaging in good faith debate (*), you’d have three possibilities:
(1) No it’s not BS and here is why…
(2) You are misconstruing my statement, and here is why…
(3) You are correct, I have expressed myself poorly, thanks for pointing this out.

The response you choose to make is: “You should assume that I already thought of this because I read a book about gender.” How pathetic, the extent to which you keep making a fool of yourself just to avoid admitting that somebody else might actually have a point.

I will quote one other choice piece of “argument” from John Holbo: “So why get indignant about how the problem at the state level is being weirdly neglected or overlooked merely due to the fact that it is being noted at the family level itself?”
A: Imputing mental states to discussants is a violation of the norms of polite debate (*)
B: There is a difference in substance between locating the problem at the state level and locating it at the family level. And that difference is a source of disagreement. You could deal with that disagreement by trying to engage with it (see (1) to (3) above), by agreeing to disagree, or by ignoring it, but what you are trying to do is claim that anybody who disagrees with you is an idiot.

(*) I will in closing say that the style of debate you have exhibited on this thread has consistently been characterized by transgressions and bullying ,directed at practically anybody who criticized you. It would be a nice exercise to assign to a student for a term paper in rhetoric, to analyze how often you have violated the norms of polite debate and how many fallacies you have employed – straw man arguments, false dichotomies, appeal to authority, judgmental language, pooh-pooh and so on – it would make a great case study how not to debate. For your students.

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bianca steele 08.31.17 at 3:44 pm

I feel like Val, or anyone, might like the poem I just pinned to the top of my blog.

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Sebastian H 08.31.17 at 3:44 pm

Bianca “I didn’t say I think there should be more legal protection for groups… The only one of your examples we don’t already outlaw is teaching kids creationism. (There are also Hasidic groups, probably mostly in New York but I’ve read about this in Philadelphia too) that don’t teach kids, especially girls, enough English and real-world skills to let them leave the community.) I agree with your reasoning about why that is.”

I may have been seeing your position as having a different direction from what you meant.

I was seeing it as something in the zone of: we have too much legal/political emphasis on giving power to individuals, we should be giving some of that to groups. So I saw it as reopening the kinds of cases that I mentioned.

I now think you are saying something much more like: the individual rights focus has helped the cause of justice and so long as we don’t give up those gains, maybe we have gotten most of the good we are going to get out of that focus, so understanding how groups fit might be more fruitful.

Is that closer?

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LFC 08.31.17 at 4:04 pm

I think there may be a critique of J Holbo — i.e., something J Holbo and others wd recognize as “a critique” — implicit in some of Val’s comments. So I’ll take a stab at drawing it out. Here goes:

The three conceptual elements of Holbo’s post are individuals, the human groups that individuals form, and the state (i.e., the government or the political regime, basically). While individual citizens should enjoy “a basket of liberties and rights, over and against each other and the state,” the post leaves out a discussion of the natural world or ecosystem on the health of which human life ultimately depends. So not only should individual humans (and perhaps, in some cases, groups) enjoy rights against the state and vs each other, but (so the argument would go) trees, mountain ranges, rivers, estuaries, plants, wetlands, non-human species, and other elements of the ecosystem shd have formal rights vs. depredation by individuals or the state. Parts of this already exist (for ex., it’s a crime to deliberately cause certain kinds of pollution or start a forest fire) and there are environmental laws (though their strength varies depending on the party in power), but in most countries at any rate there is no formal document giving the ecosystem, or its constituent parts, rights vs the state and vs individuals (and vs human groups).

So the critique is not that any particular statement by JH in the post is wrong, but that the post is incomplete in leaving out discussion of the ecosystem and whether it shd be given formal rights comparable in some ways to those that individuals enjoy vs the state in a liberal order.

In other words, this critique is not of the form “Holbo’s claim X is wrong” but rather “Holbo fails to consider crucial issue X, which makes his post incomplete, because if the ecosystem deterioriates to a certain level there won’t be any pt in talking about groups and individuals and the state, b/c civilized social life as we know it will have disappeared and/or no one will be alive.” This seems to me to be one part at any rate of the critique Val is implicitly making (though I’m not sure she will agree).

p.s. The other thing she seems to be suggesting is that one can’t talk at all about individuals and the state b.c individuals as separate beings with their own physical or social boundaries don’t exist. But that I don’t find that persuasive, whereas the notion of giving the ecosystem formal rights is more plausible.

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John Holbo 08.31.17 at 4:08 pm

“Imputing mental states to discussants is a violation of the norms of polite debate”

You think the only polite thing is to assume everyone is a zombie? You are weird.

“what you are trying to do is claim that anybody who disagrees with you is an idiot.”

No, I am pointing out that you – and some others – have said some things I think are idiotic, TM. That’s a narrower thesis.

Speaking of which, I don’t understand why you deny disagreeing with Okin. I said that Okin’s view is, and I quote:

“The family needs to cease to be patriarchal. Same goes for churches and communities that enforce illiberal norms within their group borders. … For Okin and other ‘congruence’ theorists it’s not enough to say that these groups are voluntary, or that citizens enjoy formal right of exit upon attaining the age of majority.”

This is not me because I am not a congruence theorist, let alone Okin. (My name is Holbo.) Yet this part, where I am plainly not speaking in my own view, is the bit that sets you off. You write, and I quote ‘This is wrong …”

And then you go on to fill in all the things that Okin (one presumes) gets wrong. Like not realizing that the state, as well as the family, is patriarchal, etc. So either you are arguing against Okin or you are arguing against the accuracy of my summary of Okin, but you aren’t disagreeing with me. Now additionally you are talking a lot of nonsense, it seems to me. We can go into that if you like but your statement of ‘the logic of your [sic – Okin’s] statement’ is not correct. From the fact that Okin thinks justice requires changes to the family, it doesn’t follow that it is the state’s duty to make those changes. And certainly no historical claims follow.

“I will in closing say that the style of debate you have exhibited on this thread has consistently been characterized by transgressions and bullying”

I think I would describe my tone as passive-aggressive and tending towards mockery. That’s not the same thing. And it seems to me an appropriate tone to strike. I take the situation to be this: I am on the receiving end of some erroneous but more specifically wildly overblown criticism. That calls for a twin response: correction but also deflation.

And one more thing: “The response you choose to make is: you think I am somehow saying you should assume I am wise about gender because I have read a book on gender.” No, I am saying you shouldn’t attribute highly specific, weirdly wrong-seeming views to people unless you have some positive evidence that they hold them.

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Layman 08.31.17 at 4:15 pm

TM: “I will in closing say that the style of debate you have exhibited on this thread has consistently been characterized by transgressions and bullying ,directed at practically anybody who criticized you.”

To which I’ll respond that this is nonsense on steroids. JH is in my view largely right, in that a number of commenters have wanted to attack him for the failures they say they find in his post; but in fact they simply attack what they perceive as his motivations without ever making any clear criticism of the actual content of the post. If anything, he’s kept a good sense of humor in the face of a steady diet of insults.

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John Holbo 08.31.17 at 4:30 pm

LFC: “the post leaves out a discussion of the natural world or ecosystem on the health of which human life ultimately depends. So not only should individual humans (and perhaps, in some cases, groups) enjoy rights against the state and vs each other, but (so the argument would go) trees, mountain ranges, rivers, estuaries, plants, wetlands, non-human species, and other elements of the ecosystem shd have formal rights vs. depredation by individuals or the state.”

OK, if that is Val’s point, I seriously did not get it from anything she posted earlier. I’ll let Val ratify it or not before I respond. But thank you LFC for proposing a candidate Val can now own or disown, as she is inclined.

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Z 08.31.17 at 5:06 pm

perhaps SusanC will consent to act as Val-whisperer

I wouldn’t want to speak for Val, but it occurred to me that possibly she has been considering that you took as an assumption what was in your mind a statement of the problem to be solved. Specifically, when you wrote “most of us – I’ll wager – subscribe to the view that life in a modern liberal democratic society is like this: there are citizens and there is the state”, I think I have correctly understood now as saying “hey guys, I bet you think in this way, but guess what, this way of thinking will make you trip in these precise ways Levy’s book have described and that’s pretty cool” (statement of the problem) but I understood that clearly only after reading comment 282 and especially “On the one hand, I think Americans are very conditioned to think about groups by the theoretical rhetoric of liberalism. When they argue about which groups are good or bad, or behaving well or badly, they fall back on a rhetoric that oscillates between the ‘pure’ theory and the ‘congruence’ theory, in Jacob’s sense. […] That’s very interesting and significant. It’s a nice point where abstract theory and real politics rhetoric coincide. See the limits of the theory and you really do see the traps the rhetoric sets, in a nice way.”

What I initially understood and what I think she might be understanding based on her comment 100 is you to be writing “hey ladies, I’m going to construct a careful and complex argument but I need to start somewhere, and I’m sure you all agree that liberal democratic societies means we think in terms of individuals and the state, so that initial step being OK, now we proceed to less obvious stuff.”

Seeing that the two interpretations are almost polar opposite – under the first interpretation, what you want to do is outline the pitfall of a way of thinking and out of politeness you included yourself in the group being confounded by this inappropriate way, hence the “we”; under the second, you are seemingly asserting as self-evident something she resists and so the “we” suddenly seem to erase her resistance (see her 209 in that respect) – it is not surprising that the two of you are frustrated with each other, since the precise task you set out to do (show the pitfalls of a certain way of thinking) is the precise task that she thinks you don’t even want to contemplate (because that way of thinking is self-evident and can be assumed without discussion).

Of course, all this is speculative and I’m sure Val will correct me and speak for herself if everything above is wrong, but I can assure you at least that I misinterpreted you like that until your 282 (well, I thought you were making a positive claim that people think in a certain ways while I think Val thinks you are perhaps unconsciously making a normative claim that people should think in a certain way, see her 303, but close enough). In retrospect, an ironic consequence of this confusion, at least in my case, is that ever rhetorical trick you used to include yourself in the bag of poor confused people who labour under a point of view that has inherent pitfalls (especially the use of the first plural pronoun), I interpreted (infuriatingly) has an attempt to force me to take (what I took to be) your assumptions for granted and obvious, which was precisely what I didn’t want to do.

Flipping the tables, John can surely correct me if I got him all wrong. But if I didn’t, Val, I encourage you to re-read the OP and his subsequent comments assuming that what you and I took to be an assumption was in fact a statement of the problem to examine. Many things, logically and rhetorically (and dare I say psychologically in terms of John’s puzzlement as to what your criticisms could be) take a very different light.

I would believe that the same confusion between a particular statement seen as initial hypothesis (in the mind of the reader) and the same statement seen as statement of the problem (in the mind of the author) also explains the lack of progress between John and TM on “here is the liberal state, and there is the patriarchal family, and the state needs to depatriarchalize the family. But historically this is total BS” per TM’s 376 but in this thread, my interactions with TM have not been productive so I’d rather not even venture a guess. Let’s just say that after 73 and 134, I was surprised to see him reacting so violently to “straw man arguments, false dichotomies, appeal to authority, judgmental language, pooh-pooh.”

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bianca steele 08.31.17 at 6:04 pm

Sebastian,

That is much closer to what I meant (thank you!), but I haven’t been thinking of the post in terms of law. I’m more comfortable discussing the topic in terms of ideal political theory and of epistemology/logic (which are connected if you think political theory depends on a theory of the self and a theory of the self depends on a theory of mind and knowledge). But I’ve moved to a real keyboard and I’ll take a crack at what I mean, at the risk of writing too long.

I think there is an idea, which the OP uses, that we SHOULD have a theory that is perfectly liberal, in the sense of being based on individuals, rejecting tradition and religion as reasons for making decisions, and so on. That is, basing an argument on anything other than pure reason, with no mention of tradition or religion (or even social psychology), is automatically ruled out of bounds (as is basing an argument on any attribute of a person other than “this is a person”). In legal terms, for instance (from what little knowledge I have of (the liberals on) the Court), I think Sotomayor reasons this way a lot more than I’m comfortable with; Kagan a little more; and Ginsburg and Kennedy not much at all.

There are a lot of people, non-philosophers, who are interested in Kant and Rawls (there’s a big, or at least important, pro-Rawls contingent among people who have been called “Bernie Bros” fwiw), and who claim this view, as well.

(Similarly, there’s a big pro-group contingent among supporters of what’s now called the alt-right or neo-reaction or “Dark Enlightenment”.)

But there are a lot of objections to thinking of philosophy this way, without taking history and culture into account, beginning with Hegel (that is, these are objections within philosophy). And it turns out to be much too easy to accuse someone else of being insufficiently rational, too tied to culture or tradition. There’s never a point where no objection can be made, logically speaking.

And it turns out that things we tend to think of as important for liberal democracy—not just group behaviors but beliefs and norms—are difficult to justify in purely rational terms. Pragmatism, as much as traditionalism, might say that we shouldn’t abandon them just because in the future we could refute them. Vehement rationalism might say we should. Even if we don’t have anything to put in their place.

It turns out that there are a lot of good psychological and sociological arguments why it’s not really possible to think of ourselves and others as atomistic individuals. Vehement rationalists tend to dismiss these. At best, they tend to treat these as mistakes, which don’t have to be taken really seriously, except to refute the people who bring them up.

There turns out to be very little way to convince a vehement rationalist (is what I take from reading Stanley Fish) that legal precedent should be followed, or that canons of interpretation shouldn’t be questioned wantonly. With Trump in the White House, we are starting to see how this could be really bad.

And it turns out that outside rarefied academic environments (and little mostly-male Internet communities of self-taught nerds), vehement rationalism finds little place. There is no apparent path, as far as I can tell, to changing this fact. These people are not for the most part irrational or illiberal; they are just very convinced that rationalism is the wrong way to approach things; and they are very convinced that group life is more important than having beliefs that a Kantian would accept as true.

So it looks like we have vehement rationalists, beset on all sides by people raising objections and calling for nuances, some of whom are (not entirely unfairly) suggesting they can only avoid having to really address those objections because of privilege due to (among other things) gender and race. The vehement rationalists, as they become more and more vehement, and stick their fingers in their ears more and more, look less and less likely to be right.

I don’t know if this all has any legal implications at all in the near term. The only program I know of to make “groups” more important in American life is George W. Bush’s attempts to replace FEMA with uncoordinated faith-based volunteer groups, which is not something I’d look forward to happening.

It does seem to me that, rather than excluding “groups” from social and economic life, we’ve made peace with their existence and tried hard to ignore them—we liberals tend to feel they’re probably not too numerous, or too demanding, or so prevalent they exclude some people altogether, and to feel people ought to get to do as they like. We have a high regard for autonomy, and consequently we have a high bar for admitting we haven’t been treated fairly. At the same time, we do seem to have a hard time conceptualizing “groups” in terms of professions, and so on (maybe race would be included here; I haven’t read much about it, and almost nothing that was written recently). Will seeming to “favor groups” more than presently make it more difficult to address those problems? Or less? I don’t know. (Every non-group attempt to solve the problem seems to me to be a group method of solving the problem, when you look at it closely. JH probably disagrees at this point.)

What we’re doing now, though, is allowing people with pet projects that we might or might not like to hijack the debate.

This is, except for some philosophical underpinnings, I think, largely separate from the feminist question whether the consequences of not allowing “this is a woman” to be added to the kinds of things rationalists are allowed to contemplate. Catherine McKinnon’s criticism of the “reasonable man standard” seems to me to be along these lines. (Val though seems to pick up some of those others, too, because those “good psychological and sociological arguments” often depend on facts about human development.)

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Val 08.31.17 at 8:15 pm

Guys when I asked you to try to understand me, I was hoping you’d talk to me about it, not to each other. (There is a word for this, I’m trying not to use it)

For the record, I agree with most of what LFC has said, but also agree with Holbo that it’s a bit tangential to his post. The last paragraph is much closer to what I think, though not exactly. The article at 358 explains a bit of it – read it, it’s fascinating, I’d love to see what you make of it

There’s several aspects of my argument at least
– we are part of the ecosystem (not in spiritual or sentimental way, though I’m not knocking them, but physically)
– the original relationship is mother and child at birth – when one body becomes two (again I’m talking physically, not spiritually or sentimentally)
– the pregnant woman challenges the boundaries of self and other (please don’t think I’m saying the foetus is a person, I’m not, that’s kind of the opposite of what I’m saying)
– the useful words for what you are talking about is people and persons, not citizens and states (as Lupita and I pointed out to you, your usage of the word ‘state’ in unclear, not clear whether you are talking about institutions of government or the people who compose a state – I’m suggesting the latter is the one you need to talk about)
– the usage of ‘citizens’ and ‘states’, without acknowledging its limitations, carries the weight of patriarchal history

I started critiquing specific bits of the post way back at 100. I’ve engaged with specific bits numerous times eg 335, 336 and 338 with one paragraph.

You (John Holbo) are batting away criticisms without really engaging with them – which just means they keep coming – it’s a way to get lots of comments I suppose, as people more and more desperately try to explain themselves.

JH reminds me of my grandson A (a delightful child btw):
A: can I have this stick Grandma?
Me: ok honey if you’re careful
A: it’s a light saber! Kpow, Kazam (etc, etc)
Me: what are you doing darling?
A: I’m destroying all the bad guys!
Me: don’t you think it would be better if you engaged with the bac guys and tried to understand what they’re saying?
A: no you have to destroy them!

(Ok the last bit never happened)

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Val 08.31.17 at 8:32 pm

“agree with Holbo that it’s a bit tangential” – you didn’t say it was tangential, but I understand you not getting it, because although I agree with it, it’s not the criticism I’ve been making. I think I briefly referred to it once (rivers having rights) but I think it’s a different discussion. It’s the last bit, the para LFC doesn’t agree with, that’s closest to what I’ve been saying.

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LFC 09.01.17 at 3:48 am

Val @386
It’s the last bit, the para LFC doesn’t agree with, that’s closest to what I’ve been saying.

Just so everyone (i.e., whoever is still following some of this) is clear, I believe what Val is referring to here is this statement of mine:

“The other thing [Val] seems to be suggesting is that one can’t talk at all about individuals and the state b.c individuals as separate beings with their own physical or social boundaries don’t exist. But that I don’t find that persuasive….”

Actually I should have said I don’t find it persuasive, period. Anyway, I think maybe we are getting toward some clarification of the positions…

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John Holbo 09.01.17 at 3:50 am

Val, your grandson sounds like a handful and it would probably be hazardous to weirdly completely not notice what he is up to for long stretches of time!

Speaking of which, you say you critiqued me at comment 100, 335, 336, and 338. No, no, no, no. At 100 you mistake the basic logic of the post. Z is quite helpful about this at 383. I make a claim of the following two-part form: 1) If you accept A [bare bones wikipedia-grade liberal democracy individual-state], you find yourself bobbing uncomfortably between B and C. Furthermore, even though many people are quick to criticize A – damn liberals with their atomized individuals! – it is not so easy to give it up. But some people do give A up! In the post I do not address that move (best of luck to you!) I stick with considering an uncomfortable wobble we’ve got if we stick with A.

Your criticism of my post, per 100, is: you are wrong to assume A!

But I am not assuming A. Honestly, I suspect you are just substituting your prior sense of what a liberal would probably say for a reading of the post (TL;DR). A liberal would just assume A. So you expect me to assume A. And you are pre-prepared to fire off against A. You are all lined up to fire on that position (kpow, kzam!) But I don’t assume A. So that isn’t a critique of my post.

As to the others – 335, 336, 338 – I address them all at 341. It’s the same basic problem as with 100. Once again you are just assuming I must be saying something and not checking the post to see if I am. I’ll just quote my own 341:

“You have simply misunderstood the paragraph you are quoting. By making passing reference to critics I am not failing to refute them; I am, very appropriately, acknowledging points I won’t be dealing with. The structure of the post is: assume A. Now let’s look at the problems we get with A. This is not a failed attempt to silence critics who are unwilling to assume A.”

Now, I know you can read, Val. But I think you need to consider that you have been letting your prior sense of what you expect a typical, blinkered liberal guy (that’s me!) to say override your ability to notice that I’m not saying what you expected me to say. Your assumptions happen to be quite wrong in this case, but rather than revising them, in the face of the textual facts, you are just reiterating them. Above you complain about the lack of charity we have been showing to you. But charity is a two-way street. It’s unreasonable to demand charity when you yourself are, I think, engaging in the extremely uncharitable hermeneutic practice of just assuming what must be in the post without checking to see if it’s there. What I have been doing – which seems to me entirely reasonable, in the face of your style of approach – is demand that you acknowledge what I have actually said. I know your instinct is to ignore that because you are sure it’s all wrong – wrong style so surely there is something wrong with the substance. It’s as if you are saying ‘I don’t know what the hell Holbo is saying, but it’s long and obviously the wrong style so why not just consider this alternative that I like, guys! It’s sure to be better!’ That’s actually perfectly reasonable, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go so far as to constitute a critique of what I wrote. I’m going to boringly insist on that point. Maybe this seems like excessive defensiveness on my part but, dammit, where will we all be if we argue like a bunch of toddlers, engaging in parallel play rather than actually trying to listen to people on the other side?

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LFC 09.01.17 at 3:59 am

p.s. I was sent this NYT article a while back, about a murder in a small town in Uttar Pradesh, in northern India. A troubling and interesting story, and at the end of the piece the reporter has a para about the group-oriented, rather than individual-oriented, character of Indian society and (by extension) its way, at least in impoverished rural areas, of meting out ‘justice’ (or in this case, failing to do so). Too much trouble right now to pull the exact quote, but here’s the link to the piece:

here

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LFC 09.01.17 at 4:53 am

Z @383, the first part especially, is good.

And if J Holbo had written his comment @282, esp the part of that comment where he succinctly lays out his thesis, as the OP, or as a summary/abstract of the OP, instead of what he actually wrote in the beginning of the OP (esp the 3rd para thereof), I suspect at least some of the Val/Holbo talking-past-each-other would have been avoided.

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John Holbo 09.01.17 at 5:09 am

“And if J Holbo had written his comment @282, esp the part of that comment where he succinctly lays out his thesis, as the OP, or as a summary/abstract of the OP, instead of what he actually wrote in the beginning of the OP (esp the 3rd para thereof), I suspect at least some of the Val/Holbo talking-past-each-other would have been avoided.”

This may be right but, dammit, all I am doing is considering the truth of a conditional: A -> B. It shouldn’t be intellectual rocket science that establishing the likely truth of A -> B does not require establishing, or assuming, the truth of A. I said I wasn’t assuming A and that readers might not want to assume A and more power to ’em. No doubt I could have been clearer. But if folks are so far out of the habit of considering the implications of positions hypothetically that it doesn’t occur to them someone might be doing it – when they actually say they are doing it – then we need to be teaching more hypothetical thinking skills in school. Dammit.

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Val 09.01.17 at 5:10 am

@ 388
I have looked really closely at this OP several times and I can only say, if you want to acknowledge feminist (or even ecofeminist) insights, it needs to be apparent to the reader – and I can’t see that it is. If you use the exact same language as those bad old patriarchal liberals, people are likely to think you are one of them.

Acknowledging in passing that someone has written a good feminist book on these issues isn’t enough, I would respectfully suggest.

I will look back at what Z said later, I am just taking a minute now. I am chained to a desk till midnight I fear. But did you read the article I recommended?

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Val 09.01.17 at 5:13 am

But you ‘wagered’ that most of ‘us’ (CT readers) would see the issue in those terms! That’s not just saying ‘ if we accept A’, it’s saying ‘most of us think A’. Isn’t it? how can it not be?

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b9n10nt 09.01.17 at 5:20 am

bianca steele @ 384

The only program I know of to make “groups” more important in American life is George W. Bush’s attempts to replace FEMA with uncoordinated faith-based volunteer groups, which is not something I’d look forward to happening.

I think we should distinguish between “groups” and “communities”, the former being ephemeral and an expression of egoism and the latter being foundational and a prerequisite for egoism.

Then I’d say: liberalism loves itself sum group-y-ness, but is at the very least riding shotgun with an economic system that creates unprecedented private wealth at the price of community.

It does seem to me that, rather than excluding “groups” from social and economic life, we’ve made peace with their existence and tried hard to ignore them

I can see that being true of contemporary political liberals, but not true of Liberalism as a larger historical social force. And it’s the latter world that we live in.

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John Holbo 09.01.17 at 5:46 am

Val” “But you ‘wagered’ that most of ‘us’ (CT readers) would see the issue in those terms!”

No, I wagered EITHER that this frame would be intuitive OR that you could – hence would – read the post. (I lost my wager, but I’m not going to apologize for having made it. I think people ought to be able to make wagers of that form. The world would be a better place if people could read things by people who see things differently than they do! I am going to be the change I want to see!)

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John Holbo 09.01.17 at 6:06 am

“That’s not just saying ‘ if we accept A’, it’s saying ‘most of us think A’.”

I think most of us do think A. Honestly, I think you think A, Val (although you may not think you think A). But some people don’t accept A, it’s true, and that’s important. At any rate, accepting the truth of ‘if we accept A, then B will follow’ does not require accepting A. Or positing that most people accept A.

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Val 09.01.17 at 6:24 am

I am convinced that we will not agree on this. You think that you understand me, but you don’t – you don’t understand what I’m getting at. Maybe that’s my problem (as people keep suggesting) but I think it’s at least partly because I’m just doing these short, rushed responses. Anyway …

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Sebastian H 09.01.17 at 6:59 am

Val “Guys when I asked you to try to understand me, I was hoping you’d talk to me about it, not to each other.”

We can’t do that because you don’t bother to tell us what you’re thinking. You prefer to just tell us that we are doing it wrong.

And look you do it again! I’ll put your part in bold.

– we are part of the ecosystem (not in spiritual or sentimental way, though I’m not knocking them, but physically)
Yes we all know that. What does it mean for grounding rights in individuals, states or other groups?

– the original relationship is mother and child at birth – when one body becomes two (again I’m talking physically, not spiritually or sentimentally)
Yes we all know that. What does it mean for grounding rights in individuals, states or other groups?

– the pregnant woman challenges the boundaries of self and other (please don’t think I’m saying the foetus is a person, I’m not, that’s kind of the opposite of what I’m saying)
Yes we all know that. What does it mean for grounding rights in individuals, states or other groups? This is also a kind of double whammy with your parenthentical. Pregnancy challenges stuff in unexpected ways. I won’t tell you how but it definitely has nothing to do with the personhood of a foetus.

– the useful words for what you are talking about is people and persons, not citizens and states (as Lupita and I pointed out to you, your usage of the word ‘state’ in unclear, not clear whether you are talking about institutions of government or the people who compose a state – I’m suggesting the latter is the one you need to talk about)
This is a rather shocking turn of discussion for you given your statement at #39 which was “One thing I have tried to point out many times is that ‘individuals’, per se, don’t exist.” Unless you don’t think that individuals exist except when found in the plural ‘persons’. I’d wager you mean something else, but you’re very resistant to us guessing.

– the usage of ‘citizens’ and ‘states’, without acknowledging its limitations, carries the weight of patriarchal history
There you go again. Don’t be shy. Tell us more about these limitations. What does it mean for grounding rights in individuals, states or other groups?

With most people I’d try to fill some of that in into a coherent thought and then I’d try to check in when doing that (Like with bianca).

Sometimes I do that wrong and then when they respond to me with clarification I understand their point better (see 378 and 384). But with you, Val that doesn’t happen because you respond to requests for clarification as if they were attacks of the patriarchy on your womanhood rather than… well… requests for clarification. Now I don’t KNOW that bianca is a woman any more than I KNOW that you are. But I suspect you both are. I initially disagreed with both of you. Bianca responded to some different points by clarifying and expanding. I realized that I had misinterpreted her and I admitted it. I see more points which I will respond to in a moment. We were able to move on from the initial misunderstanding and further the discussion.

You aren’t doing that. You hang on to your initial misunderstandings. You are refusing to clarify your positions. You keep alluding to positions and thoughts without ever really outlining them. I sort of think I know what you mean by some of the words, like ‘ecosystem’ (which contra to LFC interpretation sounded more like you were using it as ‘complicated interlocking network of people’) but I have no idea where you are going with it. Yes we know that people interact in groups. That is the whole premise of the post.

I tried to draw you out with things like in #348. I fully expect that you don’t support things like executing apostates, but if you could explain how your definitely-not-individual-focused concept of rights avoids the type of things I mention in #348 I thought it would shed light on what you mean.

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Sebastian H 09.01.17 at 7:14 am

Bianca: you wrote “So I’d want to make a distinction between voluntary groups, like workplaces and political parties, and groups meaning legal identities that have legal representation, which people are born into and live within. “

I think you’re on to something here, and I’d love to tease it out further. Somewhere upthread someone talked about the coerciveness of groups and the possibility of exit making us more or less trusting of the group.

So if the group is ‘race’, you can’t ever get away from it. So maybe we want to try to focus on a more individual level to keep control of that? Which probably involves the state?

If the group is “religion chosen as an adult” you can usually exit if you want. So maybe we don’t need to look as closely on the individual level to protect just outcomes? So we don’t need as much state involvement?

Family is always a tough case that people want to tackle first. But maybe it is such a tough case that we have to tackle it last?

I think I agree with you on the rationalist stuff. Sometimes you just have to be more pragmatic than theory wants to allow. E.g. the family. In practical reality we haven’t found a good substitute for good or even mediocre families. So we tend to give lots of autonomy to families. But we also know that bad families can be horrible. So when we get too many signs that things are going bad, the state tends to step in.

There is something here in this zone of the conversation. But I’m not sure what yet.

If the group is

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TM 09.01.17 at 7:16 am

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TM 09.01.17 at 7:22 am

Holbo 380. “No, I am pointing out that you – and some others – have said some things I think are idiotic, TM.”

Well that helps us out a lot. because now we know what Holbo thinks of as a thing he thinks is idiotic: “The state needs to cease to be patriarchal”. That is what I said and what Holbo attacks relentlessly. It’s idiotic. Holbo is exactly as confused and clueless as pretty much everybody (save a few cronies) have stated in this thread. Case closed.

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TM 09.01.17 at 7:26 am

And speaking of idiotic statements: Holbo thinks he has access to the mental states and (unexpressed) thoughts of discussants in an online forum. Psychic Holbo.

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Matt 09.01.17 at 8:15 am

As a correction to what seems to me to be some of the less than great readings of (or more likely, thoughts about) Kant in this thread, I’d like to point people to the excellent recent book by Pauline Kleingeld, _Kant and Cosmopolitanism: the Philosophical Ideal of World Citizenship_. This isn’t to say that one can’t critique or disagree with Kant, but it’s a great corrective to the cartoon version of him often presented, by one of my favorite political philosophers and Kant scholars working today. It’s really a great book, and relevant to at least some of the topics in the threat beyond misreadings of Kant.

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Val 09.01.17 at 8:44 am

Sebastian, you write long, demanding posts, and I have really limited time at present. I can’t, and there is no reason why I should, jump to do whatever you tell me. Maybe if you don’t get the significance of the above, you could try thinking a bit harder. I know you don’t like it when I drag in the patriarchy (like some smelly, old-fashioned, embarrassing man that nobody want to see) but why do you assume it’s me that’s the problem here?

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Val 09.01.17 at 8:47 am

One of these days it will all be clear.

I know this won’t embed properly but anyway you’ll just have to click

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Val 09.01.17 at 8:47 am

what?

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John Holbo 09.01.17 at 9:11 am

“Well that helps us out a lot. because now we know what Holbo thinks of as a thing he thinks is idiotic: “The state needs to cease to be patriarchal”.”

But ‘the state needs to cease to be patriarchal’ IS idiotic as a proposed revelation/criticism of people who are presumably aware of the problem and in substantial agreement with the sentiment. Again, the thing I object to is your peculiar determination to assume that people must be making highly specific mistakes that would be very strange for them to have made, in the absence of any evidence that they have made them. Context, my friend!

“Holbo thinks he has access to the mental states and (unexpressed) thoughts of discussants in an online forum. Psychic Holbo.”

I can tell you are annoyed, TM. How do you suppose I am able to tell that? Is it my psychic power?

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bob mcmanus 09.01.17 at 11:01 am

384 is simply excellent, summarizing both sides I think fairly and providing an entry point to many forms of post-modern collectivism.

It mentions the importance of Hegel, although Kant can also be a starting point of course, or the German Idealists. I’ll take it a little ways to Marx, and try to hint how post-structuralism and Marxism have colonized each other from Lacan and Foucault through the next fifty years. See Negri on Foucault. My weak attempt.

The Rational is the Real. Marx turns on its head into The Real is the Rational. Stopping before the Deep Thickets of Lacan, believe it or not, the Marxian Real is the body, embodied history and memory plus perceived contingency (immediate environment, place, community, world, call it nature.) All we got. The Self and the Community or group (dialectically) emerge only in praxis, action, desire…labour…which also resolves the tension between memory/theory and nature. The new term, labour, then creates its antithesis, which can be Capital, Patriarchy, Racism (etc) depending on contingent circumstances. Serious Marxism, even as theory, only comes into being as praxis in the labor of changing the environment, always concrete, situational, in immediate sites. This is why C P or R are personal/political and not “realized” as abstractions or generalities. Capital is labour not recognizing itself in the commodity and the collectivity ( Social Relations or Capital), not owning its production. Alienated, labour divides, creates new dialectical terms, like Racism and Patriarchy. And so on. Or you can start or focus on P or R instead, the three terms (and others, there is a lot of labour ( symbolic, enunciation) goin on) arise simultaneously depending on desire and praxis. Intersectionality is both a political project and a necessary re-cognition of nature. How is the commodity mystification alienation CPR possible? That’s the tough one. Foucault is a start, genealogy is about embodied history, and of course many feminists, as are the various “Critical” projects.

A bare beginning, badly.

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bianca steele 09.01.17 at 12:09 pm

Sebastian,

A while after I posted that, I thought “oh no, someone is going to apply this to race and say but aren’t you tending to build an argument against identity politics, or even to support the idea that it’s the focus on culture wrt minority groups that created our current white supremacist “identity politics” of the right?” (Andy Seal has an interesting post on the much longer history of the second of these here.)

I really don’t see what you’re getting at. Sometimes racial or ethnic groups are separate; sometimes they’re not. (Taylor spends a lot of time on Canada’s Five Nations policy and a lot on Francophone policy–I think the articles I read were written before Quebec passed their new language law.) Same with religions. Sometimes we’re interested in a minority group’s right not to be interfered with by the government; sometimes in their right to interfere with other people (not necessarily their own members); sometimes in their right to get positive benefits from the state or society (e.g. grants for playground upgrades) or society.

On Kant, Levy’s “Contrapolitanism” (which I think was free online until yesterday–I admit I’ve been checking out BHL to see what new nonsense they put up about Nancy MacLean) looks like it complicates that a bit.

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John Holbo 09.01.17 at 12:23 pm

Bianca: “I think there is an idea, which the OP uses, that we SHOULD have a theory that is perfectly liberal, in the sense of being based on individuals, rejecting tradition and religion as reasons for making decisions, and so on. That is, basing an argument on anything other than pure reason, with no mention of tradition or religion (or even social psychology), is automatically ruled out of bounds (as is basing an argument on any attribute of a person other than “this is a person”).”

I would want to put the brakes on at a couple points. Yes, there is an impulse to a theory that is perfectly liberal but the idea that it can be based “on pure reason, with no mention of tradition or religion (or even social psychology)” is far from being something you have to assume to play the game. Closer to the opposite. Rawls, for example, would be ruled out of bounds as intolerably illiberal by your scheme. I don’t think any account of contemporary philosophical theory of political liberalism that rules Rawls “automatically out of bounds” could be good. But still the gist of your comment is quite interesting, Bianca.

Val: “why do you assume it’s me that’s the problem here?”

Sebastian doesn’t seem to be just making assumptions, Val. He seems to be making arguments. It is fine that you don’t have time to respond to arguments, but it is rude to imply that, until you find the time, they can be presumed non-existent.

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bianca steele 09.01.17 at 12:52 pm

John, I said “uses” because it really does seem to me the idea that we have to start with a disjunction between pure individual and pure state is all tied up with the idea of pure unsituated reason–you say you think the ideal or correct position, in your current thinking, is less pure-individual than that. And I didn’t think it was controversial that Rawls isn’t “pure-reason, pure-individual” especially by the time he published “Political Liberalism.” The social contract is a correction to Kant, not part of Kantian theory. Whether my description (or, as I admit it could be read, accusation, might apply in fact to “ideal theory,” I don’t know).

To be clearer, I’m not meaning to attack you or philosophy, but trying to find the point where it starts to look like philosophy mandates something like libertarianism, and where taking a different turn changes that appearance.

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Matt 09.01.17 at 12:59 pm

Is this the paper you had in mind, Bianca?

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2125187

I’ll admit that it sounds.. weird… to me, because I’ve never heard anyone who claims what Levey says he’s attacking int he abstract, but I’ve not read any more than the abstract, so I don’t know if it is good. (I’ll admit that the abstract doesn’t make me want to read more – there are lots of things to read, after all, including several things I have professional obligations to read that I’m behind on, but this sounds like it’s attacking a view that’s not so common, at least, to me.) In any case, if you’re interested in Kant, it’s better to read a serious Kant scholar like Kleingeld, anyway. Her book is short and excellent.

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John Holbo 09.01.17 at 1:09 pm

“And I didn’t think it was controversial that Rawls isn’t “pure-reason, pure-individual” especially by the time he published “Political Liberalism.” “

OK, I’ll read your comment again, bianca, I was taking you to be saying the opposite – namely that liberalism mandates pure-reason, pure-individual. “we have to start with a disjunction between pure individual and pure state is all tied up with the idea of pure unsituated reason”. I don’t think very many theorists would be comfortable with that, but there is something to be said for the complaint that they keep backing into it. Ideal theory needn’t be that, on paper, but tends to be that way by the time it reaches the clouds. I also don’t think it’s quite right to say that ideal liberalism tends to libertarianism. Although libertarianism is one strain of ideal liberalism which very much exemplifies the dynamics I discuss in the post. More later, perhaps. No more time tonight.

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Layman 09.01.17 at 1:11 pm

@ TM, the juxtaposition of this:

‘Well that helps us out a lot. because now we know what Holbo thinks of as a thing he thinks is idiotic: “The state needs to cease to be patriarchal”. That is what I said and what Holbo attacks relentlessly. It’s idiotic. Holbo is exactly as confused and clueless as pretty much everybody (save a few cronies) have stated in this thread. Case closed.’

…with this:

“And speaking of idiotic statements: Holbo thinks he has access to the mental states and (unexpressed) thoughts of discussants in an online forum. Psychic Holbo.”

…is, well, priceless. Project much?

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Matt 09.01.17 at 1:19 pm

The social contract is a correction to Kant, not part of Kantian theory.

No – the opposite, in fact. Kant is a social contract thinker (heavily influenced by Rousseau, famously, but others as well.) Again, Pauline Kleingeld is good on this, as are others like Arthur Ripstein. Or, Rawls’s lectures on the history of philosophy, or Rawls himself.

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bianca steele 09.01.17 at 1:32 pm

Thanks for the kind words, Bob.

Though: “The Rational is the Real.”

Eh. I prefer Rorty’s call for us not to be “metaphysicians” but to accept the contingency of our beliefs and commitments. I guess you can explain those with Marx and Marxist versions of theory, if works for you, but it doesn’t for me.

Matt, that’s the one. I don’t get much out of the abstract myself. The article itself is more concrete. Levy discusses Miller and Walzer on state sovereignty; he sets a narrative from Roman imperial Stoicism through Dante and Kant’s Perpetual Peace to Rawls, Nagel, and Wendt; he discusses “an emphasis on political unity of authority and will as a sine qua non for moral personality” and compares with various contemporary philosophers and Habermas/Derrida.

Thanks for the book recommendation. Though I personally would probably attack (as in read) Rawls before Kant, and the book of Larmore’s I haven’t finished before that, but I’m wondering whether “republicanism” (of the Skinner/Pocock variety, not the GOP) is a more hopeful addition to “liberalism” than “communitarianism” is (as Levy seems to take it to be).

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Lurker 09.01.17 at 1:34 pm

Val,

Somewhere early(ish) on you said something along the lines of ‘I think John and I are engaging in different discourses.’ This is entirely true. What’s also true is that your discourse (a) isn’t a critique of what John said originally, and (b) is tangential to John’s argument. John doesn’t want to engage in that particular discourse; it’s his post, that’s his right. There’s nothing gendered about that choice.

Now, in my opinion it’s also true that you haven’t done a good job of articulating what your argument is, beyond the fact that you don’t agree with “the view that life in a modern liberal democratic society is like this: there are citizens and there is the state.” It’s possible, of course, that this failure to understand you is a failure on my part, rather than yours, and possible that this failure is gendered. Of course I don’t believe that’s true – but I wouldn’t, would I?

I think a large part of the confusion here is this: while I think you (and others – TM is far worse in this respect) are attributing beliefs to John which he does not hold, if pinned down he probably does (mostly) agree with “the view that life in a modern liberal democratic society is like this: there are citizens and there is the state.” But as he has said multiple times, the truth of that view is not relevant to his argument in his OP, and he doesn’t see the need to defend it in this thread.

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Val 09.01.17 at 1:59 pm

I read Z’s @ 383 and really tried to make sense of it but I couldn’t do it. Because either way, there is no room for people who don’t think that way, not because they have some other group loyalty, but because they see the issues differently.

Perhaps one way to make this a bit clearer – JH asked me a while ago something about how I’d write a constitution (not scrolling back sorry). And I being agreeable tried to think about how I would. But what I actually thought, in the Australian context, is that I’d have to do a treaty first (because that’s an issue we have here, as there has never been a treaty). So there is work being done on that and I know a little about it. So that’s the first thing.

So in Holbo’s terms (which are not mine), I think I’m thinking about groups. But I’m not thinking about groups because I have a group loyalty to ‘my’ group, the white invader group, that over-rides my identity as a citizen, but because I know there is an resolved issue between these ‘groups’. i guess another thing that is relevant here is that as well as being an ecofeminist and keen on social justice and so on, I’m also a historian and this stuff is very important to me.

As Margaret Attwood said

“Where to start is the problem, because nothing begins when it begins and nothing’s over when it’s over … “

So as well as being part of the environment, we are also part of time (which again takes us back to the mother/child, birth thing but also death – my ancestors who are dead, still left me with this problem)

Possibly none of that will make anything clearer to anyone but confusion might be a good thing

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Val 09.01.17 at 2:20 pm

@396
“That’s not just saying ‘ if we accept A’, it’s saying ‘most of us think A’.”

I think most of us do think A. Honestly, I think you think A, Val (although you may not think you think A). But some people don’t accept A, it’s true, and that’s important. At any rate, accepting the truth of ‘if we accept A, then B will follow’ does not require accepting A. Or positing that most people accept A.”

That’s having it both ways, don’t you think? Either you’re saying ‘you, Val, think A’ (there are citizens and there’s the state) or you’re not saying it..

I’m saying, no, I get A and I can think in terms of A, but it’s not fundamentally how I understand the world.

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John Holbo 09.01.17 at 2:41 pm

“I’m saying, no, I get A and I can think in terms of A, but it’s not fundamentally how I understand the world.”

And I’m saying, as I said from the start, in the post, that’s fine.

“That’s having it both ways, don’t you think? Either you’re saying ‘you, Val, think A’ (there are citizens and there’s the state) or you’re not saying it.”

No. For post purposes it doesn’t matter whether you think A, Val. My points are all fine either way. I suspect you do think A. But I’m not trying to force you to accept A. My view is not undermined if you fail to think A. (All these discussions could be considerably simplified if you would tell us what you think, but … there will always be mysteries.)

‘”if pinned down he probably does (mostly) agree with “the view that life in a modern liberal democratic society is like this: there are citizens and there is the state.”’

In a normative sense, I am onboard with this. In a descriptive sense, it’s nonsense on stilts, of course. And there’s the rub.

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TM 09.01.17 at 3:02 pm

JH: “But ‘the state needs to cease to be patriarchal’ IS idiotic as a proposed revelation/criticism of people who are presumably aware of the problem and in substantial agreement with the sentiment.”

Here’s what happened. Holbo wrote something and I pointed out that it was flawed. I did so correctly and respectfully, without insulting anybody, without expressing indignation or madness or puzzlement or anger or anything else that Holbo has been
imagining as my mental state, even after I called him out for that blatant transgression. In fact I packed my criticism in a mild rhetoric question: “Isn’t it rather that the state needs to cease to be patriarchal?” That’s it.

My observation, as everybody had to admit, was entirely correct. Even if it weren’t – as pointed out, Holbo could have agreed or disagreed or ignored it but what he chose to do was to act the bully and paint my criticism as somehow illegitimate and turn my insolent objection into proof of ignorance (‘haven’t you read the book’) and pathology (“At this point TM gets mad” etc.) And that is entirely his method. He has spent a great deal of this thread using denigrating, condescending, paternalistic language aimed at commenters who dared express criticism. Which is what brought me back into the thread (see 103; 164, 178, 188, 208; 304 and 309): I have zero tolerance for bullying. I’m well aware that academia has its fair share of bullies – one gets the impression that being an asshole is if not a job requirement then at least an asset for an academic career. I have no tolerance for it and will not hesitate to call them out.

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engels 09.01.17 at 3:36 pm

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LFC 09.01.17 at 3:39 pm

I haven’t been closely following some of the more philosophical bits of this thread (for ex., I’ve skipped much of bob mcmanus’s comments, not because mcmanus doesn’t sometimes say interesting things — he does — I just don’t have the mental energy to deal w his usual mode of exposition right now).

W/ that as prologue, a couple of things.

In the preface to A Theory of Justice (the first edition), Rawls writes: “What I have attempted to do is to generalize and carry to a higher order of abstraction the traditional theory of the social contract as represented by Locke, Rousseau, and Kant.” (p. viii) This statement is relevant to some bits of the discussion above in this thread.

Although I’m roughly aware in a general (and no doubt not nuanced) way of how some of Rawls’s views changed in the 1980s and 1990s, the only book of his I have actually read (as opposed to dipped into here and there) is the first (1971) ed. of A Theory of Justice. After that he wrote, among other things, Political Liberalism, The Law of Peoples, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, and he also published a revised version of ToJ. On the rare occasions on which I see/read a scholarly article about Rawls (or one making substantial ref to him), I notice that the authors are still mentioning or citing, for certain points, the first ed. of ToJ. And the first ed. of ToJ was reprinted by the publisher a few years back on the grounds, as the preface by Scanlon (I think it was) stated, that “serious” students needed to have it in print. So the book is still ‘relevant’, despite everything he wrote afterward and despite the fact that his views changed on certain points. (This paragraph has nothing much to do w anything I’ve read upthread, but what the hell…)

As for the Rawls-curious BernieBros — mentioned in a comment upthread — who had not previously read a lot of Rawls (which wd be most of them, I’d guess), it’s possible that some of them took the reasonable step of skipping Rawls himself and reading one of the secondary books about him, of which there are now many good ones available, which likely wd have given them enough background for their purposes, whatever exactly those were.

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John Holbo 09.01.17 at 3:43 pm

TM: “Here’s what happened.”

No.

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Sebastian H 09.01.17 at 3:45 pm

“Maybe if you don’t get the significance of the above, you could try thinking a bit harder. I know you don’t like it when I drag in the patriarchy (like some smelly, old-fashioned, embarrassing man that nobody want to see) but why do you assume it’s me that’s the problem here?”

I don’t mind talking about the patriarchy. I mind when you use it as crutch to cover up your failing to actually make points. I don’t mind engaging the problems of patriarchy, I mind you invoking it as a magical excuse to avoid engaging. I mind when you use it as an all purpose weapon to try to whine instead of explain.

This quote from you is actually perfectly illustrates the problem. I’m not assuming you’re the problem at this point. I’m showing and explaining it (with specific details and quotes). If you were willing to show and explain things, it is very likely that people would misunderstand you less frequently. And if they still misunderstood you, it would be more obvious WHERE they misunderstood you. Then you wouldn’t have to hide behind excuses about the patriarchy so often. At this point all we know is that you have vague but allegedly important concerns.

“Sebastian, you write long, demanding posts, and I have really limited time at present. I can’t, and there is no reason why I should, jump to do whatever you tell me.”

The funny thing is that you interpret it as ‘demanding’ and that you should ‘jump to do’.

I’m merely illustrating one way that you could move forward. You don’t HAVE to use my particular examples. But you probably should use SOME particular examples. You don’t have to use my arguments, but you definitely need to use some arguments. At this point you are hundreds of comments in and even your most friendly readers only have a vague idea of what you are gesturing toward. You don’t even give unsupported arguments because you don’t give arguments at all. You say things like “the pregnant woman challenges the boundaries of self and other (please don’t think I’m saying the foetus is a person, I’m not, that’s kind of the opposite of what I’m saying)”

That is like a free floating nothing the way you use it. You could have said that in any discussion and it would explain about as much as it did here.

Not because it CANT mean anything. But because YOU don’t connect it to anything to make it anything. Statements like that need to be followed up with something like “this initial pairing implies X” or “this challenge to the boundaries of the self implies Y”.

Someone on the individualist side could easily have said “this challenges the boundaries of self in the initial months but the rest of life is never so close again so THEREFORE we must protect individual rights because we are never that connected again” I wouldn’t agree with that argument, but I can recognize it as an argument.

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LFC 09.01.17 at 3:57 pm

p.s. Though if what the BernieBros ended up with was the idea that Rawls thinks people are “atomistic” individuals, they likely didn’t read carefully enough. (But this wd be a discussion for another time and place.)

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bianca steele 09.01.17 at 5:03 pm

Thanks, Matt. We cross posted. I remembered that Rawls had combined multiple methods of arguing, and got the details wrong.

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hix 09.01.17 at 6:28 pm

Now we can agree on two things. First that the original text is too long and second that the comments are too long.

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Val 09.01.17 at 8:45 pm

@420

“(All these discussions could be considerably simplified if you would tell us what you think, but … there will always be mysteries.)”

This is the orthodoxy isn’t it? You, and your supporters, are now saying this regularly. So even when I try to explain what I think, and give examples, you don’t have to engage with them. You can just repeat the mantra.

I think there’s some truth in what TM is saying. This does feel a bit like group bullying. I don’t think you (or Sebastian) are actually interested in understanding what I’m saying.

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John Holbo 09.02.17 at 2:29 am

Val, TM doesn’t really think I’m a bully. He’s mad because I rebutted his criticism of my post in a somewhat sharp and impatient way and he doesn’t have a good response, apparently. So ‘You’re a bully!’ it is! (I’m a mind-reader like that.) If he really thought I was a bully he would never have commented in this thread to start with. He knows who I am. (He’s a mind-reader like that.)

“This is the orthodoxy isn’t it? You, and your supporters, are now saying this regularly. So even when I try to explain what I think, and give examples, you don’t have to engage with them.”

Val, it would be the easiest thing in the world for you to bust this orthodoxy for the collective fraud it is by simply offering the long-promised critique of my post. Everyone’s a winner. You no longer get criticized. I receive the promised criticism from someone who has read my post and thought about it and decided something is wrong with it. Win-win. It’s fine if you are too busy with your thesis work to do it, but if so: the orthodox line turns out to be have been true.

“I don’t think you (or Sebastian) are actually interested in understanding what I’m saying.”

I say you aren’t reaching down to the root. The root situation is that you are not interesting in understanding what I’m saying. That’s where it starts. Right there.

You don’t respect my point of view enough to engage with it, or even try to understand it. Which is fine! But doesn’t it make my lack of interest in what you are saying rather understandable? Why would I want to work to understand criticisms of my post from someone who hasn’t so much as lifted a finger to understand me? I see merit in my point of view so I’m not willing just to take your assumption that my point of view has no merit on double-faith. Double-faith because you have faith that my view has no merit. And you want me to have faith that your faith in my lack of merit has merit. Perhaps this is what you meant all along by ‘incommensurable’ but, if so, I think that’s an abuse of the Kuhnian notion.

This whole thread has been crazy of course, so my criticisms of the form ‘why would you say that?’ pale a bit in the shadow of the monolith that is the one big ‘why would you do that?’ mystery that is this whole thread. For my part, speaking as honestly as I can make myself (but who ever peels the last onion-layer of self-deception, eh?) the frustration is this: I bother to write a long post, into which I have put a great deal of thought and effort. I have read what I think is an interesting book by my friend Jacob Levy and have tried to condense an admittedly difficult argument from the book so that other people can consider it, and maybe know whether they would like to follow up by reading the book themselves. I would enjoy good conversation about it. But a lot of what I get is ‘you’re a bully!’ and people who have plainly not read the post presuming to tell me where I’ve gone wrong. And then, when I object to this – or merely point it out – I’m the baddie?

It’s annoying, frankly. It’s not that there’s no room in the world for half-baked ideas or criticisms. You may feel you haven’t written the masterpiece comment you have inside your soul somewhere, Val. But isn’t that the time when you try to be a bit more polite and charitable to the OP, to make up for the fact that your masterpiece isn’t cooked yet? ‘Perhaps I have misunderstood, but I’m reading you like this … and if that is right …’ Why is it so damn hard? (I am not the first to notice this problem.)

What’s wrong with a bit of epistemological egalitarianism? Show a bit of basic respect and thereby encourage a seminar-room style discussion. Not because the point is to be all tweed and elbow patches about it. Rather, because nobody is our philosopher king – I didn’t vote for you! – so what’s the alternative to speaking to everyone else as if they are fellow human beings, of presumptively equal worth and dignity, each entitled to have his/her contributions considered on the merits?

When this fails to occur, my passive-aggressive response is to try to needle people into doing better, by my lights. Can I get people so annoyed at being needled about their evident failure to read my post, before presuming to criticize, that they haul off and read the damn post, just to show me my place? Obviously that’s a terrible strategy. So I myself am part of the problem, I admit it. But I submit that the post was a fine starting point. I didn’t insult anyone or dismiss anyone’s perspective out of hand or do anyone wrong, get in anyone’s face. The sheer length of it should have been a (polite and painless!) filtering mechanism. But apparently not.

Ah, well.

Of course it wasn’t all bad. Thanks for the many useful comments I got. Really there were quite a few. I shouldn’t be so ‘glass is half empty’. And I should work harder just to ignore people who are behaving in ways I find frustrating, rather than chasing all that down and around, causing it to metastasize, predictably.

Last call! Comments are going to be closing soon for this thread. You don’t have to go home to comment on your own blog or yell at your dog – or whatever. But pretty soon you won’t be able to comment here precisely right here!

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JanieM 09.02.17 at 3:16 am

This thread is far above my pay grade in a number of ways, but as an onlooker I want to thank a number of people–JH, Bianca, Z, and Sebastian come esp. to mind–for the long, patient attempts to clarify various things. I still have hopes of reading the whole thread carefully, even though the fact that I never took a philosophy or political science course in my life is a serious handicap. Plus, I copied the text into a Word document and it’s literally as long as a novel — more than 80,000 words. !!

I keep thinking about the saying, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Little did I know that there’s a fancy name for it: The Law of the Instrument.

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Sebastian H 09.02.17 at 3:17 am

“This does feel a bit like group bullying. I don’t think you (or Sebastian) are actually interested in understanding what I’m saying.”

I think I’m going to sprain my eyeballs because you are making me roll them so hard. Stop overplaying the victim card. Save it for when you actually need it. Women actually get subjected to horrible things all the time, it is kind of disrespectful of women who actually engage and get bullied for a woman who is neither engaging nor being bullied to take on that mantle. A sort of appropriation of oppression.

If you think that you have made any clear statement, what is the number of the comment that we should have been reading carefully? Preferably one after you actually read the whole post and weren’t making claims that were dealt with in the paragraphs you failed to read–but I guess even before that if you are willing to disclaim the parts that became clearer after you read the last paragraphs. You literally just have to put say 2-3 number in the comment box. Nothing else.

433

John Holbo 09.02.17 at 5:36 am

“Plus, I copied the text into a Word document and it’s literally as long as a novel — more than 80,000 words. !!”

This happened long long ago at the Valve. (God knows in what thread.) I kept arguing with someone about whether he had made an argument somewhere or not. And he swore he had one somehow, and I said I hadn’t seen it. Around and around for hundreds of comments. At the time I said it felt like a cross between “Euthyphro” and “War and Peace”.

434

Lupita 09.02.17 at 6:12 am

I thought the intention of the new moderating policy was to make things better around here. The only difference I see is that before we all used to have fun and now only John Holbo and Val do.

435

Bill Benzon 09.02.17 at 10:53 am

I’ve been looking in on this little conversation now and then and saying to myself “Yikes”. But I haven’t, until now, actually read the OP in full much less tried to follow the whole thing. So, now that JH is about to call a halt I thought I’d take a crack at the OP.

Yikes!

Rolling down there near the end: “I’ve tried to avoid naming group names in this post. I’ve talked very abstractly about ‘groups’. I think that’s actually a good thing, even though abstraction has its limits.” Yes, it does. Somewhere in the middle there I found myself unable to follow the difference between pure theory and congruence theory. At any given moment I wasn’t sure which JH was talking about.

So I come away with the feeling that, in the first place, the OP is dealing with a very difficult problem, one which has attracted a lot of attention over the years and produced a large and diverse literature. Alas, I’m not familiar with that literature – my problem, for sure, not John’s, nor Levy’s – and so naturally some of those balls are going to go whizzing by me. Secondly, it’s really clear that JH is NOT claiming that we ARE atomic individuals. Rather, the whole problem is that we aren’t atoms. We each (am I allowed to say that now, “we each”?) live in an ecosystem (not JH’s word, but it, or a close relative, comes up often enough in the discussion) of intersecting intermediate groups. So how do we think about making the whole contraption work? And the problem’s important because, well, the real-world shebang seems to be coming unglued at the moment, at least in part because a lot of those intermediate are clamoring for power.

I’ve got a meta-comment, which I’ll formulate via an analogy with juggling. Pretty much anyone can, in time, learn to juggle three balls. W/ more time and effort, four, maybe five balls. At some point we’re moving into a territory where it takes more or less full-time dedication to the task to learn how to keep all the balls in the air. And, according to this argument, no one’s ever going to manage 13 or more.

So, I figure that Levy’s book is working with nine balls in the air. John’s abstraction takes it down to seven. And me, on this topic, I can only follow five balls at a time. Alas.

Hence Yikes!

Judging from the drift of this conversation, I’m not the only one stuck at five balls.

Let me try to juggle three, two real, one not so real. In the Declaration of Independence it says:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…

Three balls: “men”, which I take to be individuals (though I realize at the time that women, children, and slaves were not included in the pseudo-generic “men”), the Creator, the Government (aka the state). In this formulation the power of the Government derives from the powers of the men, which in turn get those powers from the Creator. (The Creator’s the not-so-real ball.)

You can see why, in this arrangement, you’d want to have a separation of church and state. If they aren’t separate the power logic doesn’t work. The Creator’s institution (the church) HAS to be separate from the Government. I suppose this Creator is some kind of unmoved-mover and then grants motion to individuals who in turn grant motion to the state. If you collapse the Creator and the Government together, then the individuals have no standing which allows them to rebell against an unjust state. It’s the separate and independent Creator that (who?) gives them that standing.

These days, of course, there’s a lot of people here in the USA who don’t like separation of church and state and likely don’t realize that their preferred arrangement, by collapsing three balls into two, undercuts the whole system.

I realize, of course, that the OP says nothing about this Creator and, presumably neither does the book. Nor do I think matters would be improved by introducing it. I’m just reporting what the Declaration says, which presumably was some of the best thinking of the time, and how that works in terms of institutions that existed then and still do exist. Whatever your beliefs about supernatural Creators, churches of all kinds and sizes do exist, both as groups and as legally recognized entities (tax-exempt, etc., depending on whatever national arrangements exist).

As near as I can tell, John begins by clearing the deck of all those institutions other than the “men” and the “Government”. Why? As far as I can tell, it’s because the two varieties of theory he’s talking about take those, the individual and the state, as rock bottom. Everything else is somehow derivative. And then Holbo lets all those intermediate entities back in so he can pose the problem: How do these two kinds of theory deal with them?

Well, I’m not clear on that, but I figure that’s more my problem – don’t know the literature – than John’s. Would matters improve if we made the interpersonal ecosystem our rock-bottom primitive? Don’t know.

PS @ Lupita #434: There’s not nearly so much yelling and screaming as there was before moderation.

436

engels 09.02.17 at 10:54 am

before we all used to have fun and now only John Holbo and Val do

I don’t want to be accused of mind-reading but it doesn’t look like that much fun…

437

Bill Benzon 09.02.17 at 11:35 am

Z mentioned mothers and infants (#54). And I note John’s reply (#56): “From my point of view, its facts like this – the necessity of non-individualistic social units besides the state, so babies don’t die – that make the subject of the post interesting.” The following paragraphs are from a post I put up some years ago:

A few years ago I was sitting in a departure lounge at Newark International Airport and happened to observe a mother and her infant playing together. She was seated in one of the chairs and had her infant on her lap. The infant was, say, nine months old and was playing with some cup-like object, perhaps a plastic container for storing food in a refrigerator. She was turning it around in her hands, looking inside, grabbing it and waving it, and so forth.

Then she dropped it and it fell to the floor. She had been following it with her eyes, of course, and so followed it to the floor. At the same time she leaned over and reached down for it. As she did so her mother smoothly lowered her to the point where she could grab the container and thus retrieve the dropped object—dropped deliberately, in exploration? Once she’d grabbed on and started pulling it toward her, her mother pulled her up and back to her lap. This happened quickly and smoothly, as though mother and infant were not two, but one: motherandchild.

Biomechanically, I suggest, they WERE one. They’d spent many hours thus playing together. They knew one another’s moves. Mother knew what baby wanted and how it would move; baby was secure in mother’s grasp.

So, how did this infant experience she mother’s action of lowering and then raising? Did she experience as her own, as answering to HER will? After all, when she reached for the dropped object, she was intending to reach it and the move was correlative with that intention.

And when mother carries her infant from one place to another, how does the infant experience that movement? Say, for example, that the infant spots something across the room and looks right at it, with interest. Mother carries the infant toward the object and then places the infant on the floor a few feet from the object. How does the infant experience that? How much of that movement is within the compass of the infant’s will? All of it? What distinction does the infant make between the carry portion and the crawl portion? And, if the infant is attending to one thing, and mother moves her away from that thing, against her will, how does the infant experience THAT movement? Note that, in neither case, does the infant herself propel the movement from one place to the other.

438

LFC 09.02.17 at 12:54 pm

Just to say before the thread closes that I think there have been some thoughtful comments here. It’s more than one person, to be sure; that said, Z, whether I agree with him or not (and I’m not always sure about that), has been consistently interesting. I’m also impressed that a mathematician has read certain books that I haven’t — e.g., Ertman’s Birth of the Leviathan — that are considerably closer to my (supposed) field than to his. (And to top it off, Z’s writing here in a language that’s not his native one, which is also true for a few other commenters.)

439

steven t johnson 09.02.17 at 1:25 pm

No doubt this will be so far behind the discussion as to be comical. It may be inadvertently insulting in the way it suggests I haven’t been paying attention. My apologies if so.

But, for one thing, I’m stuck on what “rationalism” has to do with Levy’s book. Looking at the table of contents and the Amazon description, about the only clue I can find is section referring to the “man of system.” In the real world, this means people like accountants, programmers, scientists, engineers, all very practical people. In the book it appears to invoke crackpot history where intellectuals who sit in libraries somehow devastate society with their crazed ideas when demonic forces give them power. That seems so bizarre I suppose the idea is to rationally analyze the theory of rights, to help maximize freedom?

The thing there is, it is not at all clear to me that the book really even tackles analysis of political theory. For one thing, shouldn’t a serious historical analysis concern itself with Edward Coke, Algernon Sidney, Shafetesbury, Locke, Cato’s Letters, John Adams’ book on constitutions? But perhaps the analysis is not really meant to be historical, but about the figures now regarded as the fundamentals?

But the thing there is, it is not at all clear to me that pluralism actually produces freedom. Yes, libertarians are convinced the freedom of property owners to exercise their rights over others is an indispensable part of freedom. But I’m still not there, even though this book seems to start somewhere past that.

Another thing is, I’m not altogether certain that an abstract commitment to individual rights are the motive for what freedoms we do have. It seems to me that modern individualism really seems to be modeling its notion of the citizen on the consumer in a modern market society. The notion of individual rights is not the political postulate that produces freedom, it’s the expression of the kinds of freedom we have now. It’s not clear to me this book addresses such issues, starting somewhere past that.

And the last thing is, it’s not clear to me at all that the action of the state to express the will of the majority really constitutes an attack on freedom. I think you can make a case that freedom is the ability of the majority to decide things, not the ability of minorities (“groups” as they appear to be called in this book,) to do things their way. I’m not sure that creating the term “congruence” in lieu of majority rule is really very helpful. Again, the book seems to be starting somewhere far ahead of me.

I’m afraid at this point I rather suspect Levy’s analysis assumes away most of the real issues, to focus on carefully limited subsidiary points. In other words, it seems to be about trying to rationalize a mildly reformist approach to libertarianism. But I think libertarianism if fundamentally a crock, and mild improvements are a waste, if not PR.

440

John Holbo 09.02.17 at 2:32 pm

Steven, not too late at all to ask a serious, specific question about Levy’s book. No time for a serious answer from me tonight but here’s a quote from the text (p. 27) that may help:

“We will follow two broad patterns and traditions of answers to these questions: one inclined toward the use of state power to protect individuals from local group power, one inclined to see groups as the results of individual free choice and the protectors of freedom against state power. I will call these patterns and traditions rationalist and pluralist liberalisms. I adopt these words for some of their connotations but not others. “Rationalism”is meant to encourage the reader to think of Weber, not Descartes: processes of bureaucratic rationalization, not theories of knowledge or standards of argumentation. Rationalist liberalism is sometimes associated with a kind of demand that rational accounts be given to justify customs, norms, and beliefs, demands that can perhaps never be wholly satisfied. This is obviously connected to the more abstract sense of rational knowledge and belief; but it is a demand that is made in a particular institutional context, i.e. states demanding justification of the practices of non-state groups.

“Pluralism”is meant to evoke associational, cultural, religious, and jurisdictional pluralism. In the first instance, pluralism should suggest allowing a plurality of associations, cultures, religions, and so on, to follow their own various norms. As a secondary matter, it is tied to a claim of descriptive sociology: that the sources of social organization are many, not one. It is not meant to be tied to the idea of moral pluralism made famous by Isaiah Berlin, though we will return to possible connections with that idea. In short, I ask the reader to keep in mind a contrast between state rationalization and the self-government of a plurality of non-state social groups, not such possibly related ideas as cognitive rationality or the supposed plurality of ultimate human ends.”

441

engels 09.02.17 at 2:49 pm

I think there have been some thoughtful comments here

Yes, it’s just a pity they seem to have got lost in a whirlwind of convoluted ad hominem denunciations

442

Rob Chametzky 09.02.17 at 2:59 pm

JanieM @ 431

‘I keep thinking about the saying, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Little did I know that there’s a fancy name for it: The Law of the Instrument.’

I have my own version of this, which seems perhaps even more appropriate for this thread:

When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a thumb.

–RC

443

JanieM 09.02.17 at 3:53 pm

Rob Chametzky: When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a thumb.

I am so going to steal that….. ;-)

444

steven t johnson 09.02.17 at 4:07 pm

John Holbo@440 Thank you, that is enlightening. How this kind of rationalism could obtain in city-states is a purely historical question. The role of medieval groups in the emergence of freedom, ditto.

445

Z 09.02.17 at 6:30 pm

Z […] has been consistently interesting.

LFC, please stop, you’re making me blush.

I’m also impressed that a mathematician has read certain books that I haven’t

Ah yes, but think about all the math books I should have read that I haven’t…

e.g. Ertman’s Birth of the Leviathan

It’s a good book, I think.

, whether I agree with him or not (and I’m not always sure about that),

Yeah, about that, since I’m still high on your compliment and since I want to promote the glass half-full approach of CT’s comment thread , I would like to express my appreciation towards Sebastian H. He disagrees with me, in fact I suspect he thinks I’m mostly talking non-sense (though I would believe that if we could sit together for an hour or so, that would clear a lot of things up), but he’s always disagreed with me in a respectful, inquisitive and pertinent way and I’m grateful for that.

446

Stephen 09.02.17 at 8:11 pm

Bill Benzon@435: echoing, maybe unconsciously, William Hazlitt, 1828.
“The chief of the Indian Jugglers begins with tossing up two brass balls, which is what any of us could do, and concludes with keeping up four at the same time, which is what none of us could do to save our lives, nor if we were to take our whole lives to do it in. Is it then a trifling power we see at work, or is it not something next to miraculous! … A single error of a hair’s-breadth, of the smallest conceivable portion of time, would be fatal: the precision of the movements must be like a mathematical truth, their rapidity is like lightning. To catch four balls in succession in less than a second of time, and deliver them back so as to return with seeming consciousness to the hand again, to make them revolve round him at certain intervals, like the planets in their spheres, to make them chase one another like sparkles of fire, or shoot up like flowers or meteors, to throw them behind his back and twine them round his neck like ribbons or like serpents, to do what appears an impossibility, and to do it with all the ease, the grace, the carelessness imaginable, to laugh at, to play with the glittering mockeries, to follow them with his eye as if he could fascinate them with its lambent fire, or as if he had only to see that they kept time with the music on the stage – there is something in all this which he who does not admire may be quite sure he never really admired any thing in the whole course of his life.”

447

Bill Benzon 09.02.17 at 11:21 pm

Thanks for the passage, Stephen, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never read it.

The Flying Karamozov Brothers:

https://youtu.be/IpUQZh9HjJA

448

Bill Benzon 09.02.17 at 11:24 pm

Thanks for the passage, Stephen, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never read it.

Michael Moschen:

https://youtu.be/BS-LyKorcq8

449

Bill Benzon 09.02.17 at 11:24 pm

450

Sebastian H 09.03.17 at 2:14 am

Talking with people who look at things differently is something I love, Z. I mean I also hate it, but I love it.

I’ve learned interesting things from your analysis. I still sort of think your priorities seem odd but I think I see the general direction that you’re coming from. I tend to think that we spend a lot of times skirmishing over the exact borders of ideas such that it can obscure a lot of common territory in thought.

451

Peter T 09.03.17 at 2:52 am

I found Bill Benzon’s comment @435 very thought-provoking. As he says, the logic of “people” and “state” does not work without some third element if, as in a democracy, the people constitute – en masse – the state. Rebellion, or simply dissent, then becomes internal to the people – arguments with oneself (this is not a problem when the state is conceived as not constituted by the people). It directs attention to those groups the state has historically not claimed jurisdiction over, or which have held power over and against the state. Churches, ulemas, the Buddhist clergy, the army in imperial Rome and under Cromwell and in Prussia. Interestingly, arbitration of family is usually among the areas the state leaves to religious groups.

452

Val 09.03.17 at 3:36 am

Ok my really last word I think since the thread is closing.
Lupita – this hasn’t been fun for me. JH says he needles people a bit, and I guess I got needled – not trying to blame, but I think that is what happened.

I was just trying to ask some questions – in the limited time I have – about the beginning of the post and whether there were incommensurate discourses operating, and I found myself in the position where I’d supposedly made unconscionable attacks on JH and I had to defend them.

Making ecofeminist critiques – or even suggesting that they might be made, as I started out doing – is inevitably going to upset people. I think that needs to be acknowledged. I haven’t read through the whole thread but I think there’s some good discussion towards the end that I will try to look at.

Z and LFC both had a good stab at trying to understand me. I think others, including JH, could have done at least some of that, rather than suggesting I had not said anything of content or significance.

I did, in fact, go back and read the post after the initial discussions. I read it quite closely once, as I said up thread, and closely twice after that, and I still had questions and concerns. So maybe John Holbo and Sebastian, you should think about that, because I did respect the OP enough to do that. I removed myself from the thread for a while because I was getting upset, and I don’t think you were according me respect. Call me a snowflake as much as you want Sebastian, but you should think about that mistake you and JH both made, of assuming I hadn’t ever read the thread properly, and cast out the beam in your own eye, because in fact I think both of you haven’t made much attempt to understand me.

453

John Holbo 09.03.17 at 3:54 am

I said way back in olden days I would give Val the last word. So: there it was.

454

Val 09.03.17 at 3:55 am

Peter T

“I found Bill Benzon’s comment @435 very thought-provoking. As he says, the logic of “people” and “state” does not work without some third element if, as in a democracy, the people constitute – en masse – the state.”

Lupita and I discussed the meaning of ‘the state’ way back up the thread, and I twice made a similar point about understanding the state as the mechanisms of governance or as “the people”. This, like all my comments, was not only ignored but also dismissed as meaningless by JH and Sebastian.

I know it’s easier for guys to just congratulate each other and all end up bonding, and feminist complaints are tiresome, but imagine how much more tiresome it is for us that this shit keeps happening?

455

Val 09.03.17 at 3:56 am

Not quite the last, obviously.

456

Val 09.03.17 at 4:00 am

@ 453
You giving me an apology would be better.

457

Sebastian H 09.03.17 at 5:58 am

All I asked at the end was that you tell us which numbered comment you thought was a good explanation. You just won’t explain yourself. You don’t have to. But whining about how people won’t listen to you while refusing to explain yourself is just petulant. I’m sure you’ve had experiences that made your reflexive reactions turn out that way. We all have defenses that served us well enough at the beginning to become ingrained. But if you really believe that you don’t play a huge part in how the discourse with you played out–well the defenses aren’t serving you well.

458

Peter T 09.03.17 at 9:12 am

Val

Apologies if I’ve missed something you said along the same lines. I flipped back over the thread and can’t find anything on Bill’s conceptual point. Can you point me to some comment numbers?

459

novakant 09.03.17 at 9:41 am

“Bouvard et Pécuchet” is great!

460

engels 09.03.17 at 11:20 am

Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.

461

Val 09.03.17 at 12:27 pm

@458

@228 @229 @239 @245

462

Val 09.03.17 at 12:33 pm

@458

“Arguments with oneself” sounds rather like my ‘it would be easy to make a tautology, which would be funny, but wrong’ or whatever it was I said, don’t you think? Not suggesting it was derivative, you can’t expect everyone to read every comment – just that when I said something like that it was apparently crap that didn’t engage with the OP or something.

Not blaming you, you didn’t say my comments were crap – or ‘completely failed to engage with the OP’ or whatever it was

463

Val 09.03.17 at 12:38 pm

@457

‘Good explanation’ of what? Why don’t you go back and read the whole lot? If you still can’t get what I’m talking about, maybe we can talk then. But don’t just assume that my comments were all meaningless, because you know what – there may be moderation here now but I think I can still say that asking someone to identify which of their comments had any value is still a fucking awful move.

464

Val 09.03.17 at 12:45 pm

@ 457
” But whining about how people won’t listen to you while refusing to explain yourself is just petulant”
Get stuffed

465

novakant 09.03.17 at 1:26 pm

Matt, thanks for mentioning the Pauline Kleingeld book.

466

engels 09.03.17 at 1:42 pm

467

Val 09.03.17 at 7:22 pm

I don’t know if any of these comments are going to get published, but I’ve woken up at four in the morning, and calmed down a bit (though I still think my anger was justified and that I have been treated disrespectfully in this discussion) so I’ll have a go at an overall summary.

I was intrigued by the post, although at first I had trouble getting past the early paragraphs because of the apparent problems in the framing, particularly around state and citizens and liberal democracies (which I’ll return to later).

I thought it dealt with some important issues and I thought the part about the problems with ‘free association’ and how it can lead to social exclusion and oppression was good. I’ve seen some things like that in my own life and been ambivalently involved in some group ‘sorting’ that was ostensibly based on values, but also class and education, in practice, and was socially exclusionary, I think and thought at the time, although I didn’t effectively oppose it.

There were bits I didn’t understand, probably partly because I’m not trained in philosophy and I didn’t get all the allusions and wasn’t familiar with all texts, also because some were a bit US-centric, also for reasons of style. However in the end I felt it didn’t deal with the issues satisfactorily and it wasn’t just because of my failure to get bits. (I have now read it about four times)

Some problems I see are the failure to define ‘citizens’ and ‘state’, and the apparent privileging of liberal democracy.

As discussed, it’s not made clear whether the ‘state’ that’s being referred to is the people or government.

‘Citizen’ seemed to be used in a rather individualistic way that didn’t take into account that there are different types of citizen and that they have different relationships of power with each other and the polity/state/government. It also didn’t seem to take the ecological feminist insights that we exist in relationships, that as embodied people we come from the body of another and are part of an ecosystem that we will eventually merge with when we die. As such it seemed to potentially be drawing on the patriarchal enlightenment notion of the ‘reasonable man’ (adult male, probably white and educated or ruling class, separate to and in control of the ‘natural’ world) or at least not explicitly rejecting that.

Liberal democracy seemed to implicitly privileged as a good or the best form of sociopolitical organisation. As Lupita’s analysis made clear, most of the other comparisons were with societal forms that the author would have thought of as ‘worse’ so those of us who don’t see liberal democracy as the ‘best’ form were being excluded to a degree. There didn’t seem to be room for a nuanced view – accepting that liberal democracy has some good points and is better than many other forms, but isn’t the best form possible.

Finally as a historian I found it a bit ahistorical – there seemed to be a failure to recognise that a) liberal democracy is a historical form that has been imposed on many forms of pre-existing groups and associations. So we we were forced into using the state and the citizen as primary categories even though there are a lot more ‘primary’ categories that exist before them
b) that even within the broad category ‘liberal democracies’ there are many different societies which have developed differently and have different issues to deal with. This was also related to an apparent US-centric approach that made it unclear whether the post was talking specifically about American problems or broader problems.

So that’s a lot of ‘problems’ but that’s not to say that I thought it was bad – I thought it was interesting and intriguing, but that it didn’t really make things clearer and it didn’t persuade me that Jacob Levy’s approach was helpful in facing major problems, such as I am dealing with in my research (environmental degradation/climate change and inequality) or even the specific political problems the US faces. That was a pity because I feel there may be something I’m missing here, and that this may in some ways be about different discourses.

I am not going to go back and read all the exchanges here, but it’s a shame this went off the rails. Maybe it’s my fault or responsibility in some way, maybe I didn’t express myself politely enough or something, but I did have some genuine questions that I think could have been answered. However it seemed they were taken as attacks by an upstart.

468

bob mcmanus 09.04.17 at 12:20 am

I thought the thread was fine, but I like chaos. Coulda been 15 sharp ontopic comments and scroll off the page, but Levy might have been served better by everybody getting confused and talking past each other like a real group. Gotta lot of data here for those who want to study group interactions in isolated text. Discourse analysts, have at it.

Stuff was learnt.

The weekend at the college
Didn’t turn out like you planned
The things that pass for knowledge
I can’t understand

469

TM 09.04.17 at 8:20 am

Holbo continues his psychic adventures into my mind:
“Val, TM doesn’t really think I’m a bully. He’s mad because I rebutted his criticism of my post in a somewhat sharp and impatient way and he doesn’t have a good response, apparently. So ‘You’re a bully!’ it is!”

Calling a discussant “mad” – repeatedly – is a convincing way to prove you’re not a bully. For the cronies who enjoy the spectacle, at least. Note how Holbo consistently misattributes quotes to other people ‘You’re a bully’ – wrong, I said he acted the bully, his behavior has been characterized by transgressions and bullying, he used denigrating, condescending, paternalistic language. Anybody who doesn’t understand the difference, do some research (try “nonviolent communication”). Again this is method. Go back in this thread and almost every time Holbo pretends to quote me, it’s a made-up quote. Contrary to Holbo, I avoid ad hominems and I only quote and criticize what the other person actually wrote. There is one exception, namely when I wrote that Holbo is “confused and clueless”. I should have said his writing is confused (Layman 414 has a point – but it’s the only catch, compared to the dozens of transgressions by Holbo and other commenters).

Whether Holbo is a bully he has to come to terms with in his own conscience. That he has been engaging in bullying in this thread is a factual observation. Cronies who support this behavior share responsibility for the abysmal level of debate around these parts. Those who don’t wish to support misbehavior should call it out. I do and I will.

470

engels 09.04.17 at 3:52 pm

It’s not the chaos, it’s the length of the comments, the relentlessly ad hominem focus, and the fact that it’s completely opaque (at least to someone who didn’t have time to read the whole thing in its entirety) what, if anything, is at issue.

471

Val 09.05.17 at 2:07 am

engels @ 469

I don’t know what is at issue either exactly, except that I made some comments (mainly short) that were apparently all either completely wrong, completely off-topic, and/or so mysterious that no human being could ever possibly have understood them (well at least according to John Holbo and Sebastian H).

I know that getting pissed off about this stuff online is generally fruitless, but it just does piss me off. I’m thinking of leaving and coming back as Keith Mann https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2017/aug/30/keith-mann-the-inside-man-who-has-exposed-tech-industry-sexism

472

Val 09.05.17 at 2:13 am

@ 469
“One for the ‘Australia is already great’ crowd”

DK if you are including me in this, but I think 70% of my compatriots are completely wrong about a whole lot of stuff
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/sep/05/most-voters-want-australia-day-to-stay-on-26-january-guardian-essential-poll

Just not quite as bad as America in some ways (eg being able to have a decent public health system, anti hate speech laws and controls on guns)

473

John Holbo 09.05.17 at 3:14 am

“I’m thinking of leaving and coming back as Keith Mann”

That’s actually a good idea for testing your hypothesis, Val. (Pick a new manly man name, of course.)

474

John Holbo 09.05.17 at 3:26 am

TM, anyone who is curious can indeed judge the quality of our exchanges for themselves.

475

Val 09.05.17 at 3:44 am

@ 473
Except you are a blog owner so I would have to get a new email address too. Moreover I wonder if when women use male names they may also use different ways of speaking (since the research shows that men and women do speak somewhat differently)

not that that invalidates the findings but the mechanisms may be different ie it may not be just the male user name but also that women using a male user name also ‘speak like a man’

personally I would rather not have to do such a thing, but be able to express my views and have people try to understand them, without making the false assumption that I haven’t actually read the OP, or asserting that whatever I am trying to say is a “mystery”

476

TM 09.05.17 at 6:58 am

470 +1
Indeed. And how about you now fulfill your promise and leave the last word to Val?

477

TM 09.05.17 at 6:59 am

[Sorry]
470: +1
Holbo 474: Indeed. And how about you now fulfill your promise and leave the last word to Val?

478

engels 09.05.17 at 10:40 am

Just not quite as bad as America in some ways (eg being able to have a decent public health system, anti hate speech laws and controls on guns)

Fwiw I agree with you about that

479

Sebastian H 09.05.17 at 12:17 pm

Val. There was no false assumption that you hadn’t read the OP. You said so yourself that you didn’t read it thoroughly till comment 100 something. No one just asserted that what you said was mysterious. At posts like 79 and 91 I pointed out where I thought I was confused and what I thought you could expand on. You spent many posts over multiple days complaining about the patriarchy and your lack of time rather than doing so. In the meantime I had relatively fruitful exchanges with Z (gender unknown) and Bianca (presents as female). The Bianca one should be interesting in that while we never really agreed, I wrongly interpreted her but was able to find that out through clarification and dialogue.

I literally don’t know enough about your position even now (after almost 500 comments) to agree or disagree with it (even in part). You object repeatedly to characteristics of people in the discussion (usually by focusing on their male gender) WITHOUT explaining what those missing viewpoints that you want to be represented ARE. That doesn’t lead the discussion forward.

There are indeed many venues where women have a harder time speaking. This is even one of those. So it makes sense that you have defences built in that direction. But you are letting them interfere with times when you actually have chances to be heard if you focused more on what you were trying to say rather than the identity of the speakers.

480

Val 09.05.17 at 8:22 pm

Sebastian H @ 479

“I literally don’t know enough about your position even now (after almost 500 comments) to agree or disagree with it (even in part). You object repeatedly to characteristics of people in the discussion (usually by focusing on their male gender) WITHOUT explaining what those missing viewpoints that you want to be represented ARE. That doesn’t lead the discussion forward.”

So you’re telling me you have read my entire long careful comment @ 467, and you still don’t understand it? Or – as I suspect – you don’t bother to read my comments before you start lecturing me?

I’m guessing you’ve jumped back in this thread, read the last few comments, and thought ‘here’s a good opportunity to lecture Val some more’.

Both you and John Holbo kept telling me – as you still are – that you couldn’t understand what I was saying, that I needed to make myself clearer, etc etc. But when I wrote a long and careful comment, neither of you responded to it. Telling.

To put it as plainly as I can – both you and John Holbo should pay me the respect of responding to the ideas I am expressing, rather than just making fun of me or criticising me.

It’s true that I sometimes make fun of people or criticise them too, but that’s not my only way of engaging with them. Basically, Sebastian, if you want to understand what I’m saying, READ MY COMMENTS.

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engels 09.05.17 at 8:39 pm

Just want to throw it into the mix that until Val showed up on one particular thread and demanded everyone id themselves as either male or female (and suspected me of being male on the basis that I was disagreeing with her) quite a few people said they weren’t sure of my gender (not sure how reasonable that is but it’s a data point)

482

Val 09.06.17 at 12:51 am

engels @ 481
“Just want to throw it into the mix that until Val showed up on one particular thread and demanded everyone id themselves as either male or female”

Here we go again. Can you point everybody to where this happened? Or did I in fact just suggest that CT is a bit male-dominated?

Talk about ‘groupishness’ – I think you have just supported one of JH’s points about people in socially dominant groups portraying themselves as victims.

483

engels 09.06.17 at 1:20 am

484

John Holbo 09.06.17 at 1:43 am

Val: “Both you and John Holbo kept telling me – as you still are – that you couldn’t understand what I was saying, that I needed to make myself clearer, etc etc. But when I wrote a long and careful comment, neither of you responded to it. Telling.”

It may or may not be telling, Val. Is it supposed to be telling me, specifically, that you want a response, from me, to 467? If so, I will offer one. Otherwise, not.

485

J-D 09.06.17 at 3:23 am

engels
I’ve just skimmed through Val’s comments in that discussion, and I can’t find one where she (to use your words) ‘demanded everyone id themselves as either male or female ‘. She analysed the content of comments, grouped them into categories, and referred to the declared or presumed genders of commenters in her analysis; in other words, she guessed which commenters were male and which female (if they hadn’t made it explicit themselves), but she didn’t demand or even request that her guesses be confirmed or disconfirmed — at least, not anywhere I can see. So your characterisation doesn’t seem fair. Do you think there’s something wrong with guessing commenters’ genders? I found nothing objectionable in Val trying (in another thread) to guess my gender, even though I was never going to confirm or disconfirm.

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pomo queer theorist 09.06.17 at 4:27 am

knowing how my last intervention ’round here ended up, i shudder to think that this comment would make the above thread worse, but as far as i can tell this question hasn’t been asked yet. with any luck of course comments will close before it gets moderated. (not sure what the precise timeline is for that) i also think i understand what was said pretty well, but if the past ~90000 words or so are any indication, this assumption is a treacherous one.

“This should clarify, in some small way, whether the group behavior you defend, that someone else finds oppressive or bullying, is justifiable in your own eyes ONLY because you conceive of it as a defensive response to larger oppression and bullying. That is, you buy into the ideal of congruence, and you only excuse local incongruence in the service of larger congruence.”

as a member of several groups routinely accused (i think) of “bad groupishness,” i find this thought experiment curious. our defensive responses (i won’t name names for groups as seems to be the style around here, though i’m sure holbo is well acquainted as of the last discussion) are rarely justified through liberalism. i tend to think this is because most of us reject liberalism entirely on several different grounds, hence why this doesn’t seem like a good thought experiment for my actions in various circumstances. this will probably sound evil, but our “local incongruence” is not part of a project that supports overall congruence but rather the opposite. we hope to upset the established project of congruence entirely, because we disagree with its foundational principles and moral precepts. now, i suppose you could generalize this framework beyond liberalism to what we think is our project and say that these local incongruences are in service of congruence with communism, anarchism, or in less loaded language for us (though perhaps more for this forum), a liberated society. nonetheless i think the normative implied by congruence makes less and less sense the farther you get from liberal democracy.

this is probably just because i am not a political scientist and don’t find counterfactuals all that compelling theoretically speaking, or because i am young and tired and too angry about politics for my current knowledge to support. but i am interested that the thought experiment does seem to imply some sort of fidelity to liberal congruence even in individual acts which seemingly work against it. of course this is precisely what is hedged against in saying that the argument and thought experiment do not apply unless you are a liberal, so this whole complaint is probably invalidated. are there non-liberal left directions in which this argument could be taken, or am i naive to expect it to apply that broadly?

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engels 09.06.17 at 5:17 am

I’ve just skimmed through Val’s comments in that discussion, and I can’t find one where she (to use your words) ‘demanded everyone id themselves as either male or female ‘.

You’re right, I over-simplified, but I linked to imthe thread so people can read what happened for themselves. She complained about gender-neutral language and attempted to guess everyone’s genders; the effect of her intervention was to type everyone as male or female where previously it had been ambiguous (at least for some).

Just noticed that was three years ago: yikes! Time to take up a new hobby…

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John Holbo 09.06.17 at 5:34 am

pomo queer theorist! Welcome back! (Sorry for the mess around the place. Kind of a long thread.)

“i suppose you could generalize this framework beyond liberalism to what we think is our project and say that these local incongruences are in service of congruence with communism, anarchism, or in less loaded language for us (though perhaps more for this forum), a liberated society. nonetheless i think the normative implied by congruence makes less and less sense the farther you get from liberal democracy.”

I was with you until the last line. I would precisely generalize in just the way you anticipate. And here’s how I rebut the last line.

I think the ethic of congruence makes as much or even MORE sense in communism and anarchism. Communism, after all, has often been accused of trying to produce forced homogeneity. Everyone too much the same. That’s too quick as a criticism, but there is a kernel of truth to it. What makes it possible to dismiss communism as a Borg-like nightmare, even in its ideal form, is that this normative political ideal demands congruence to an even greater degree than liberal democracy, probably.

Another way to put it might be this. The ‘pure’ liberalism option seems more right-wing because we can see how it admits possibilities that right-wingers have tended to favor: extremes of hierarchy and authority and inequality. This is too simple but ‘pure’ liberalism is for right-wing bastards who don’t want to admit that’s what they are. (In fairness, people can come to this view for more spiritually wholesome reasons. And it does deserve a hearing, and not to be dismissed simply on the ground that most people who believe it are bastards – although I think, by the numbers, that’s true. And if most of the people who believe your philosophy are bastards, you have a problem.) ‘Congruence’ liberalism – the true blue stuff – is for angels with two left wings who don’t want to admit they are utopians like that. This is relevant to your comment, pomo queer theorist, because I think the more people are open about their left-wing idealism (e.g. communism) the more they are open about their adherence to ideals of congruence. (Anarchism is a bit different because it can mess up the left-right axis. But there is always mess. Hell, there can be such a thing as right-wing communism, too.)

In short, you are probably a true-blue congruence theorist, by my reckoning. (I am guessing, of course.) You aren’t a liberal democrat, perhaps. That’s fine. Up to you. Do you have a problem with ‘groups’? Maybe you do, or should consider that you do? Communism is very insistent on imposing a particular form of social/political life, for the sake of justice, basically. Necessarily that form is inconsistent with a lot of forms of group life that people are pretty attached to. (Same for anarchism.) So maybe you are squashing stuff that people actually like and you should consider whether that’s for the best, even if it’s more just to do so?

489

John Holbo 09.06.17 at 5:36 am

You know, there’s a simpler way to say it: more egalitarianism means more congruence.

490

J-D 09.06.17 at 6:13 am

engels
I notice you didn’t answer my question. Yes, Val did guess people’s genders, but what’s objectionable about that?

491

engels 09.06.17 at 7:12 am

I didn’t say it was objectionable

492

pomo queer theorist 09.06.17 at 7:16 am

>What makes it possible to dismiss communism as a Borg-like nightmare, even in its ideal form, is that this normative political ideal demands congruence to an even greater degree than liberal democracy, probably.

continuing my line of dystopian thinking, perhaps to a point where it becomes too vague to be useful, i think the things that inhibit what we might call “congruence” such that it must be enforced in our present society could be eliminated in a different society such that deeper and stronger egalitarianism would sort of flow from smaller actions that fundamentally re-structure society around different goals, if that makes any sense. of course this is neither here nor there as pertains to the broader discussion about groups and such, so i’ll try to connect that here too.

>You aren’t a liberal democrat, perhaps. That’s fine. Up to you.

well, try as i might, liberal democracy is still not a perspective that i have been able to reject entirely. (and for a damned good reason too, you might say) i think it is somewhat trendy to reject liberalism wholesale in parts of the left these days, (at least in my social circles) and i can’t say to what extent that influences and informs my contempt for liberalism. what i will say though is that i think some part of these parts are in denial about how liberal they really are, such as when they make appeals to communism as something like revolutionary kindness which makes me gag a bit for several reasons.

>Do you have a problem with ‘groups’? Maybe you do, or should consider that you do?

i’ll echo what i think has been said upthread and say that i’m not really sure what groups are. i realize this is not your goal, which is why i’m hesitant to say i understand your post well, but a lot of this stuff seems like euphemistic language for veiled arguments against identity politics, or at least the formulation of intersectional feminism that is called “identity politics” by moderates and conservatives. this is what made me uncomfortable but that i couldn’t explain until now. you might say to this that acknowledging that these interests are in tension in liberal society is not the same as taking a side in the dispute, but i think that the tension is overblown if this is what you mean, and that that’s harmful too. (to clarify, i think there’s about a 90% chance you don’t mean this, based on prior experience) if that’s what groups are, no, i have no problem with them whatsoever, and i think this stems from my dislike for counterfactuals. otherwise yes i suppose i do have a problem with them.

but whatever incongruence these groups may have with a broader political norm, (they’re even incongruous communism for those transphobic and homophobic marxists out there), they serve an immediate and vital purpose in the current sociopolitical climate in giving people a space where they feel safe and secure and empowered. ultimately i don’t think these groups are necessary in any metaphysical sense but i think they arise out of the social context we currently find ourselves in, which is to say, one where not every group (let alone every person) feels comfortable and safe and well accepted (for some definition) by the rest of society.

>Communism is very insistent on imposing a particular form of social/political life, for the sake of justice, basically.

obviously it’s a mistake to assume you haven’t read the relevant resources here, so i’ll instead assume that this statement represents a pragmatic definition of communism based on what have historically become the de facto standard bearers for “what communism looks like.” granted, you’re older, wiser, and probably infinitely more experienced with all of what i’m talking about here than i am, but i used to feel this way too before it clicked for me that communism is not an ideal to be established but what arises or whatever yada yada yada. (a highly technical turn of phrase, to be sure) perhaps i’m just a little too young and naive for having accepted that glossy rhetoric for my definition instead of looking at the historical legacy of “communism,” (perhaps it should be both, in a dialectical nature) but on the other hand, my thinking in this area is mostly focused on how not to repeat those egregious mistakes which resulted in the deaths of millions and the brutal oppression of countless others, so i don’t think i’m totally blind to those potentials for oppression. concomitantly, i despise marxist-leninists, maoists, and the like, and really only want to listen to critical theory and its satellites in academia and activism at this point in my life. for example i will certainly take responsibility for those aspects of my ideology that may have intrinsic to them specifically an oppressive nature when practiced in the real world, but i believe there is a way to think past those limitations without reverting back to liberalism. i also think that if this argument can be made for communism, it can be made for liberalism as well. perhaps not.

>So maybe you are squashing stuff that people actually like and you should consider whether that’s for the best, even if it’s more just to do so?

one of the ideas i keep bringing up with leftist friends is that anarchism is a fundamentally non-normative idea. i think even beyond whatever the force of capitalist ideology is with regards to encouraging the more negative aspects of human behavior, there are people who will not be satisfied with their group, and they should be free to form other groups largely without restriction. perhaps it is simply inevitable that such libertine formations revert to domination and hierarchy, (what i believe is referred to in the original post as restricting freedom of association after the fact of association) but i hold out hope.

>You know, there’s a simpler way to say it: more egalitarianism means more congruence.

i think this disagreement still comes down to whether we see these concepts as ideals which must be imposed or as functions of their sociopolitical and economic contexts. you could probably argue that i’m using that to hand-wave away sincere difficulties with establishing real justice, and that is where my liberal wimpiness comes in because i do strongly believe in the power of reform (probably even over revolution, at least in a conventional sense of “guns”) to effect sweeping changes in society even prior to the transformation of that society as a whole.

could we do communism without the groupishness? probably. but i think the relationship is a little more complicated than that. for me some of the political characteristics queer communities and other forms of groupishness (especially queer communities of color and to a somewhat lesser extent trans communities) are exemplary of the kinds of stuff i think would be really nice to have but are incompatible with both capitalism and Soviet or Maoist socialism, (at least from my point of view) such as queerplatonism, polyamory, solidarity, and intersectionality without division. there’s something utopian about these forms of groupishness which i think can drive the more scientific struggle advocated for by orthodox marxists. who knows if i’m even using that word correctly anymore though, i’ve digressed a lot.

a few addenda: i use communism to refer to a generally emancipated form of society, not a single particular vision and certainly not that of lenin, stalin, mao, etc. certainly inspired by marx but i hope more so by neo-marxist critical theory and of course my beloved poststructuralism (womp womp) which i consider to be anti-authoritarian developments of marxist ideas for better or for worse.

my penchant for prolixity here is mostly informed by the fact that this place seems to be the only place where i can find a half-decent discussion of interesting ideas in politics. obviously i’m not even graduate level let alone a postdoc or a professor, which is why i relish the opportunity to engage with people so much more knowledgeable and experienced than i am whenever it comes my way. chronologically speaking i’m still barely on the cusp of adult life and i’m sure years from now i’ll look back at the silly pseudo-marxist 19 year old i was and laugh, when i was arrogant enough to argue (badly, in all likelihood) with philosophy professors on the internet in lowercase letters, and had yet to fully reconcile myself with liberalism.

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John Holbo 09.06.17 at 10:04 am

Thanks, pqt, I’m running now but a brief response to your long response is in order at least.

Here is Jacob Levy on the indispensability of identity politics.

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/defense-liberty-cant-without-identity-politics/

I agree with that. But it’s still true that there is toxic/bad identity politics. I think of this as a relatively trivial claim in the abstract. Obviously people can form messed up little units. Units that are bad for those inside and harmful to those outside. So a liberal theory should be able to say something about what’s good and what’s not. That’s the tricky part.

As to the communism point: it is surely wrong to judge the best in communism by the worst its worst critics have said about it. We shouldalso consider that the worst that has been done in its name is a real drag on the best that has been said about it. (Again, I hope this is rather trivial. Being a communist and not worrying about how it goes wrong is irresponsible. Being an anti-communist and not acknowledging the ideal impulses behind it is an error.)

“could we do communism without the groupishness? probably.”

I don’t think we can do anything human on any level above the individual – maybe the individual marooned on a desert island – without groupishness. We are groupish animals. It’s a package deal. You get us, you get groupishness. That’s why it’s such a problem if you can’t roughly distinguish the good from the bad, theoretically, if you want to theorize this stuff even roughly.

More later perhaps.

494

bob mcmanus 09.06.17 at 12:12 pm

492: Just caused you showed, and cause we might (or might not) be sympatico, and though you might know these already, I thought I might recommend

General Intellects by MacKenzie Wark. Or at least glance at the Table of Contents, because these are the contemporary thinkers I work on. Probably not enough critical racism (Paul Gilroy not enough) or post-colonialism here, but to list a few women:

Amy Wendling, Angela McRobbie, Jodi Dean, Chantal Mouffe, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, Wendy Chun, Isabelle Stengers, Donna Haraway.

Or you could read Clinton’s book, in which she says “All Bernie’s fault”

(Don’t hate M-L or Maoism. They’re just toolkits not responsible for the craftsmen’s errors. A lot of great minds used them for a while, Samir Amin)

495

Sebastian H 09.06.17 at 12:15 pm

Val, here we go again. You don’t understand how difficult you make it to respond to you. Look at 398 for example. I express confusion about your lack of clarification on multiple points. Then you spend multiple posts not responding by to them. Then you complain that I won’t read your posts carefully. You don’t HAVE to respond of course. But not responding AND complaining about not being listened to is a bit much.

As to your 467, it seems like a very long wind up to almost make the kind of explanatory comment that I’m talking about. And then at the end of the wind up you still don’t do it. Look at the paragraph beginning with “Liberal democracy seemed too implicitly privileged…”. You then go on about how it made you and your viewpoints feel excluded, etc. and I thought to myself “finally she will tell us about what that viewpoint says!” And then you don’t. You just move on.

You do the same with your allusion to colonialism. I keep expecting something like: “a focus on liberalism causes Levy to misunderstand X, while my approach lets us talk about X more clearly revealing Y”. You spend paragraphs telling us about excluded viewpoints,but then don’t bother to tell us what YOUR viewpoint is. You tell us that there are groups more fundamental than individuals, citizens, or states. But you don’t tell us what focusing on those groups will/can/might reveal.

This comment might have served great as your first comment on the thread if you later fleshed any of that out. But it certainly doesn’t give much insight as to what you think we are missing. All we know is that you very passionately believe we are missing stuff. I sketched out the problems I see with group focused rights in my comments with Bianca, and we sort of got somewhere I think. But she revealed her thoughts in a way that you don’t seem inclined to do.

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pomo queer theorist 09.06.17 at 2:07 pm

>Obviously people can form messed up little units. Units that are bad for those inside and harmful to those outside. So a liberal theory should be able to say something about what’s good and what’s not. That’s the tricky part.

i entirely agree, and only meant to say that for me at least this framework doesn’t seem to much help me reason about how those messed up units are formed. maybe i’m holding it wrong. and like i said before i didn’t really think you were against it, i just thought certain aspects of the language used were odd. i’ll read that levy article though, it sounds interesting.

>Again, I hope this is rather trivial. Being a communist and not worrying about how it goes wrong is irresponsible. Being an anti-communist and not acknowledging the ideal impulses behind it is an error.

it is rather trivial, at least for me. that’s why i assumed you were making a pragmatic judgment about the historical implementation of communism rather than one directed at its most articulate supporters.

>I don’t think we can do anything human on any level above the individual – maybe the individual marooned on a desert island – without groupishness.

i was referring to specifically the kinds of groupishness considered bad about the left by some people, i.e. identity politics. perhaps even these groups are an inevitable formation resulting from human psychology, but i’m not convinced, and i think i elaborated on both why i think they exist in our society and why they don’t necessarily need to in a strong sense. don’t get me wrong, i love me some groupishness.

i’ll cut it off there. sorry for the long post last night, my filter isn’t great at when i’m bored at 4am.

497

steven t johnson 09.06.17 at 3:30 pm

Still behind here. The idea that “groups” somehow distinct from the “state” are essential to freedom seems to me to require that the separate groups be equal in the essential respects. But, I’m firmly convinced that separate is never equal. And, since inclusiveness and equality seem to me to be essential to freedom, and also essential attributes of “congruence” in the state, I’m not seeing the tragic irreconcilability between group identities essential to freedom and the morally rationalized strictures of the state. In practice, I tend to think of the state as not being a moral project at all, but about defense of property, ranging from national territory and national currency and national market to minute details of labor law.

498

SusanC 09.06.17 at 4:17 pm

Hobbes’ Leviathan isn’t exactly an argument for liberal democracy, but I think the same problem is latent in it. “The war of all against all” isnt’t just the problem that isolated individual citizens will end up killing each other unless stopped by the state, but also that said individuals will likely end up organized into groups for the purposes of killing each other.

The role of the Leviathan is also to keep groups in check…

499

engels 09.07.17 at 12:00 am

The war of all against all” isnt’t just the problem that isolated individual citizens will end up killing each other but also that said individuals will likely end up organized into groups for the purposes of killing each other.

Well there is that line about the life of Man being solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short…

500

J-D 09.07.17 at 12:54 am

engels
In that case, what was the intended relevance of drawing attention to it?

501

John Holbo 09.07.17 at 1:23 am

“And, since inclusiveness and equality seem to me to be essential to freedom, and also essential attributes of “congruence” in the state, I’m not seeing the tragic irreconcilability between group identities essential to freedom and the morally rationalized strictures of the state.”

Is that because you don’t see any great cost or danger in the state squashing groups that don’t pass congruent muster? (I’m not being sarcastic. I’m just asking whether basically you are saying you are a congruence liberal, and quite comfy with the costs of that, such as they may be?)

502

Peter T 09.07.17 at 1:23 am

re “the state”, it’s many things of course, different over time and place. But the origin and indispensable locus of the state is in arbitration – it’s the ultimate decision point short of conflict (sometimes the decision point for a decision through conflict). This puts it very much in the moral sphere.

It also inextricably involves some non-utilitarian standpoint. One can’t argue about the rightness of the state level decisions from within the state structure – you have to have some normative standpoint outside to have a basis for argument at all (Antigone to Creon: above your law there is the law of Zeus the Giver of Justice). Utility offers no such standpoint: if we could agree of a common standard of utility we would not be having an argument at all.

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engels 09.07.17 at 1:53 am

J-D, what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

504

Val 09.07.17 at 2:59 am

@ 495
I’m sorry (not sorry) I keep failing your exacting standards Sebastian. My comment was not intended to be the last word on Jacob Levy’s work (which I have not read and for the reasons outlined in my comment am not currently intending to) but a response to John Holbo’s OP.

Has it occurred to you to take my repeated statements that I don’t have much spare time seriously?

505

Sebastian H 09.07.17 at 3:53 am

Val, it has nothing to do with exacting standards. My standards aren’t very exacting for people who actually try to explain themselves.

You seem to be pained at being misunderstood by multiple people, yet simultaneously highly resistant to explaining yourself.

You seem to dislike having people make guesses about what your saying, but even more you don’t like to clarify things.

You allude to things but don’t make them concrete. You blame it on patriarchy but refuse to take steps when offered.

“Has it occurred to you to take my repeated statements that I don’t have much spare time seriously?”

Val, In context that sounds like trolling.

I’m fine with not having time. I drift on and off of threads based on time constantly. But if you don’t have time to explain yourself, don’t be so pissed when people don’t understand you. And especially don’t spend the time to attack the people based on your projections of their deep psychological features INSTEAD of explaining yourself if you don’t have lots of time.

You do lots of set up, but no follow through. The conversations would get a lot further if instead of spending hundreds or thousands of words on how we don’t see certain viewpoints you said “you’re missing a key viewpoint AND HERE IT IS, LETS LOOK AT THE IMPLICATIONS OF IT”.

But you spend nearly all of your limited time on something that could be outlined in a sentence or two–with none of it thus far on the hard stuff.

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Val 09.07.17 at 6:43 am

@505
seriously Sebastian, take a critical look at yourself. Why are you spending 1000s of words on lecturing me?

Are you planning to institute rules for how people can comment on CT and have you told the blog owners?

No-one with limited time is allowed to pop in and throw a few ideas into the mix? Or is just me?

507

Val 09.07.17 at 6:47 am

@ 505
have you ever stopped to ask yourself whether the problem is in you? Maybe the reason you’re not getting what I’m saying is something to do with a lack in you rather than me? Or are you completely certain that you are capable of judging what I say on CT and giving it a categorical mark? You’re some kind of world expert on these topics? Or what?

This just seems so typical of male entitlement and over-estimation of your own abilities, I can’t help but suspect that’s what it is.

Or as my kids used to say, who died and made you king?

508

J-D 09.07.17 at 7:57 am

engels
The average cruising speed of a European swallow is eleven metres per second; now, what was the intended relevance of bringing that up?

‘I served with Monty Python. I knew Monty Python. Monty Python was a friend of mine. engels, you’re no Monty Python.’

509

engels 09.07.17 at 9:52 am

How many feathers are on a Perdue chicken?
How many fibres are intertwined in a Shredded Wheat biscuit?
What does “touche et lele pu” mean?
How many times did the Batmobile catch a flat?

510

bob mcmanus 09.07.17 at 11:15 am

On Val and trolls

1) I decided 40 years ago that it wasn’t Joyce’s fault if I didn’t like or understand or just accept/apprehend FW. Damn book sure looked hostile, why was Jimmy trying to hurt me.

2) Rational discourse, logic, objectivity, shared language makes the appearance of communication much easier, but of course it is hegemonic and universalizing. The point is to erase difference and singularity. Two singularities can’t interact. Which hegemony or power relation we are using at any one time can be questioned, but when using language, we are exercising power. It is always the residual outside of language and reasoned discourse that makes discourse and communication possible. Holbo likes Levy.

3) The other, landscape or face, presents a command: you must relate to the alien. We resist and rebel, use social tools to objectify and incorporate the perceived alien. “Partially totalizing discourses colonizing each other” is all we got, is the signifier part of the social, and most of the social. There is a remainder residual of the body, but little can be said about it.

4) The demand of the other is absolute. We must find a way to relate. To me, it has little to do with the form or content of the other, but is entirely my responsibility. To place responsibility for the relation/communication to the other on the other is to fall back on the support of the social, the hegemonies and pre-existing power tools. (Levinas, Kierkeggard)

5) The social, the power hegemony is what we use to maintain our identities. To respond to the other we must self-sacrifice/abnegate our identities. Should be terrifying and fun. The power relations are justified by possessive individualism.

6) Is it the patriarchy or me (or reason, etc) that rejects Val? Is it worth it to sacrifice what I value, my own identity? This can’t be a rational decision. You won’t find adequate reasons. It is a leap. By me if it is aesthetic, ethical, political or religious. Trying to decide, waiting, postponing is rejecting, abjecting.

7) “Identity politics” should make us all more human. Part of it is the dynamism, that we will move back and forth between ourselves and provisionally defined others, angry or ecstatic, frustrated or relieved. There is no place to rest, except in power.

8) Is all the above just more rationalizing? Probably. I hope there is a residual, and the nonsense and word salad aspects are the best and most important parts.

9) I need to go hug a horse.

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bob mcmanus 09.07.17 at 11:42 am

Umm, do I think I’m Nietzsche, or close to him. No I think I’m crazy (and boring) but not that crazy.

Shorter nonsense: If you want to relate to Val, you do it on her terms, not yours, her premises and priors, not any that can get you social support. Try it for a while. You’ll survive in untruth. Or not.

Two hangmen, hanging on a tree, but it don’t bother me at all. I get my philosophy from obscure country-rock groups. But alienation is so old-fashioned, so modern.

Where’s Baudelaire? I need support for my lies and hypocrisy.

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steven t johnson 09.07.17 at 2:27 pm

Susan C @498 reminds us of the role of the state, Leviathan, in checking groups in the name of civil peace. Some groups get checked more than others, and others are checked less. The great conservative principle that some people are better than others demands the state serves as the Scourge of God, instructing the people as the rod teaches the child. For Leviathan, what counts as peace is the proper distribution of favor to the elect, and disfavor to the reprobate. Also, in practice, Leviathan is us versus them, as in conquest of foreigners. This may be more noticeable in Athens and Sparta, the Roman Republic, the Iroquois League and the Continental Congress.

Overall the OP pictures the state flattening “groups” (tacitly assumed I think to be an afflatus of the spiritual or maybe genetic essence of the members?) in pursuit of administrative uniformity ( or worse, ideological purity?) No doubt it will seem hopelessly confused for me to think this is an elaboration of Burke, where men of system who emerge from their libraries, blinded by the real world, like moles blinded by the sun, to impose their preconceived schemes upon the world. The inexplicable improvements in so much of the world are the fait accompli that leaves the mysterious tension between rationalism of the state and the pluralism of groups.

Peter T@502 writes “This puts (the state) very much in the moral sphere.

It also inextricably involves some non-utilitarian standpoint. One can’t argue about the rightness of the state level decisions from within the state structure – you have to have some normative standpoint outside to have a basis for argument at all (Antigone to Creon: above your law there is the law of Zeus the Giver of Justice).”

In practice, many people use “moral” to refer to conformity to abstract principles. It means in effect, the purity of individuals. Others use “moral” to refer to how people treat other people. The idea that there has to be an independent (God-given? Or merely traditional?) normative standpoint I think uses “moral” in the first sense.

If you see morality in the second sense, there is no separation between the earthy state and the ideal realm of justice. The groups the state favors, and punishes (i.e., the property it defends,) both form and are formed by the state. There is no essence of the state, if you abstract to the foundations, it all dissolves into the whole of its history, an interminable interplay of people dutifully acting their roles, while others try to improvise, even as the sets themselves change.

We have at least one principle that we can learn from this impermanence: We cannot ever assume that what was had to be. (This alone refutes Burke, by the way.) Therefore what is, may be susceptible to change. What the OP explains is showed to be blow to freedom, rationalization, may be progress. Or not. There are no a priori proofs.

John Holbo@501 asks “Is that because you don’t see any great cost or danger in the state squashing groups that don’t pass congruent muster? (I’m not being sarcastic. I’m just asking whether basically you are saying you are a congruence liberal, and quite comfy with the costs of that, such as they may be?)”

I do not see the continued existence of all groups as compatible with freedom. I do not necessarily see “squashing” as brutal or necessarily violent. I do believe that states that defend groups even though the changes in our lives have made that defense of hoary privilege a menace to our collective future should be overthrown. What I suspect is that lurking beneath the discussion is a the tacit assumption that revolution is wrong, period. I think counterrevolution is against freedom.

I’m sorry if this doesn’t seem to directly answer the question, but the terms in which it is posed seems to be, well, loaded. Which may in a way be the whole point of the book.

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William Timberman 09.07.17 at 3:03 pm

bob mcmanus @ 510 (09.07.17 at 11:15 am)

I just got back from a weekend of horse-hugging. No, not literally. Seven of us rented a so-called retreat center in middle-of-nowhere New Mexico. Actually it was a two story, four bedroom faux log cabin with a large deck, one stuffed elk head, lots of cow skulls, painted and unpainted, navajo-like rugs over urethaned wood floors, and a massive outdoor barbecue. Besides myself, there were two couples I’ve known between for 50+ years, and another, much younger couple the rest of us met a couple of years ago. Both of them academics, PhDs in philosophy. He’s Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, she’s Wittgenstein. Daytime hikes, evening drinks and discourse.

It was madness, yet there was method in it. Your comment here is like a lingering echo of both. In a good way, you understand. Food for thought that relatively few others are likely to eat. Makes it all the more tasty, somehow.

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engels 09.07.17 at 3:20 pm

I need to go hug a horse

Let us know how it goes

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John Holbo 09.07.17 at 3:58 pm

Val, I take it you are still not interested in hearing my response to your comment 467? I must say, you seem to have comprehensively misread my post. Explanation available by request only.

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Armando 09.07.17 at 4:34 pm

I thought you were doing well with the high ground, John. But repeating that you have a response ready is not allowing a last word, even if we accept that the etiquette around such has barely been respected.

Just a lurker, fascinated by the to and fro.

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Orange Watch 09.07.17 at 5:17 pm

Val@507:

have you ever stopped to ask yourself whether the problem is in you? Maybe the reason you’re not getting what I’m saying is something to do with a lack in you rather than me?

This is a rather odd assertion to make given the theoretical perspective you speak from. If a communication breakdown is in fact a result of the being and character of several discourse participants rather than the communication actions of one speaker, it is far easier for the speaker to change what they do than for the listeners to change who or what they are.

I would also note that while I certainly agree that no commenter has the right to dictate how another should spend their commenting time, this is hardly the first thread where you have complained about having insufficient time to clarify your comments while simultaneously complaining at length that you are being misunderstood. No other commenter has the authority to dictate how you spend your time, but it’s entirely reasonable at this point to observe that you do not seem to prioritize your time in a manner that is consistent with a desire for your arguments to be clearly understood.

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Val 09.07.17 at 7:45 pm

@515
I’d be interested in hearing why and how you think I’ve misread you. I’m not interested in being patronised, treated like an idiot, told that what I’m saying is a mystery and so forth. I’m not interested in being straw-womanned. I’m not interested in you restating what you’ve already said and then saying to me ‘see you’re wrong’ without addressing the points I’m making or the questions I’ve asked.

So could your reply please clarify the following:
How do you understand the nature of the ‘self’?
What do you mean by the terms ‘state’, ‘individual’, ‘identity’, ‘identity politics’?
Do you accept that we are simultaneously individuals and part of a community and ecosystem (I don’t mean emotionally or spiritually but physically)? (Did you ever read the article I linked to?) How does that affect your notion of the separation between individual and group?
Isn’t the state just a form of group?
Do you accept that there are different forms of groups, ones that we are born into without any volition, and ones that we (at least somewhat consciously) join or create? Eliding that difference seems to undermine the point of your OP.
Can you see that the particular form of philosophical abstraction you use may seem to others (like me for example) fundamentally wrong? Squashing out the particularity, complexity and nuance that makes experience what it is? How is the feminist idea of ‘standpoint’ expressed in your post, because you seem to suggest it is, but I can’t see it? How is your post reflexive? Where does it acknowledge that you have a particular experience that influences the way you understand the world?

I’m not sure that you understand that I’m not necessarily questioning your conclusions – I’m kind of neutral on that. It’s your discourse, the way you express and understand things, that I am questioning. Not necessarily opposing (although possibly I do) mainly questioning.

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Val 09.07.17 at 7:54 pm

@ 515
And one more thing – I know I’ve already asked a lot – but would Jacob Levy’s book, in your view, be relevant to the issues I’m researching about environmental degradation, inequality, how they’re related and what we should do about them?

Not that every book has to be relevant to everything, but from your post I’ve ended up with the impression that it’s not, and I’m not sure if that’s fair.

520

Val 09.07.17 at 8:26 pm

I read the Levy article you (John Holbo) linked to @ 493, and I thought it was OK.

I’d say, he’s still a ‘liberal’, I’m still a ‘lefty’, but he seems a reasonable liberal I could talk to across the liberal-lefty divide. He sometimes uses words like identity politics where I’d use words like oppression and resistance, but I don’t think that’s an impassable gap (I’d rather people stopped using the term ”identity politics” altogether, but at least he uses it sensibly and analyses it)

He says at one point
“As citizens of a liberal state trying to preserve it, we need to be able to hear each other talking about particularized injustices, and to cheer each other on when we seek to overturn them”

In a way the bit about ‘particularized injustices’ is similar to what I’m saying, even though I have some reservations about the rest of it.

I still don’t know if Levy has written things relevant to my big picture issues, but I can imagine that he is a ‘liberal’ who could listen to my leftwing ecofeminist views without automatically feeling that he had to discredit them.

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Val 09.07.17 at 8:30 pm

Follow up – and “cheer each other on when we seek to overturn them” is fine too – the only bit I actually have reservations about is “As citizens of a liberal state trying to preserve it”.

As I’ve said, I think we can do better than liberal democracy , especially the American version (not mindless anti-Americanism there, but your system of voting for example is terrible).

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Sebastian H 09.07.17 at 8:53 pm

“It’s your discourse, the way you express and understand things, that I am questioning. “

That’s kind of funny. We all understand that quite well. You aren’t even understanding what we aren’t understanding.

523

J-D 09.07.17 at 8:57 pm

No Monty Python, and no De La Soul.

524

John Holbo 09.07.17 at 10:20 pm

Before I answer I need an answer from you to two questions, Val. How and why do you see the post as privileging liberal democracy in an objectionable way? Be specific. I can’t address your criticism until I know what you think and what parts of the post you are responding to. It seems to me that your claim that I am privileging liberal democracy is just flatly wrong. So what makes it seem right to you?

Why do you think defining these terms you want defined would help explain/frame what I’m saying? Why are definitions presently necessary? I’m a historicist, as you claim to be, so I anticipate any full definition being problematic and it doesn’t seem necessary for making my case. The post was abstract for a reason, after all. I wanted it to cover many different possible conceptions within a basic wireframe liberal democratic conception. Why do you object to that and how could I be more ‘particular’ without running into obvious historicist trouble?

525

Val 09.08.17 at 12:56 am

@ 523
“Before I answer I need an answer from you to two questions, Val. How and why do you see the post as privileging liberal democracy in an objectionable way? Be specific.”

We had a conversation upthread where I said it appeared to me that you were presenting liberal democracy as a preferred form, but I hadn’t done close textual analysis. Then Lupita went through and did close textual analysis, which appeared to confirm my theory.

Have you forgotten all this, or is this ‘be specific’ just an adversarial tactic? I think these kinds of debates are only worth having if they are conducted in good faith.

526

John Holbo 09.08.17 at 1:47 am

Val, I don’t think that asking for clarification that is needed before a question can be answered should be taken as evidence of bad faith. How could I answer your questions/objections without knowing what you are saying? I have read your comment 467, which you say cries out for a response and I require further clarification before making a response.

Yes Lupita made some comments. But I explained why I was skeptical of her approach upthread and I also pointed out (perhaps implicitly, via the manner I responded) the way her points, which might seem to go outside the frame of the post, can fit inside its scope. I am like Jacob Levy. (He and I were joking about it just last week.) Thus, like him, I like to write inclusively and not shut viewpoints down. (Which I why I am challenging you to show that I have failed to do this in some way, which you evidently think I have.)

Even if Lupita is quite right, which I don’t buy, it wouldn’t follow that I am privileging liberal democracy in an objectionable way, which is, apparently, your criticism. So let’s set Lupita aside.

So tell me: how and why do you say the post privileges liberal democracy in a way that merits criticism?

I take it you are not just saying: the post focuses on liberal democracy. Then what?

You say “you were presenting liberal democracy as a preferred form”. But that isn’t the same as privileging it in some way that deserves criticism. First, yes, I prefer it. But that’s honest disclosure, not privileging. Second, as I point out, lots of other people prefer it. Them’s just the facts. No hiding from that. Third, some people criticize it for being too atomistic but have trouble coming up with attractive alternatives. Again, them’s the facts. I’m not going to sweep that under the rug.

In the hopes of moving things along I will try to answer your questions briefly even though this would go better if you would actually tell me what your criticism of the post is. My answers are in CAPS to make them visible, but that doesn’t mean I’m shouting. (But I could actually sound less adversial – since frequently uncomprehending – if you would just tell me what your criticism of the post is.)

How do you understand the nature of the ‘self’?

I DON’T. IT’S DAMNED MYSTERIOUS. BUT IT’S NOT SOME CARTESIAN AUTONOMOUS GHOST IN THE MACHINE. IT’S SOCIAL AND RELATIONAL AND ALL THAT STUFF YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT.

What do you mean by the terms ‘state’, ‘individual’, ‘identity’, ‘identity politics’?

I AM TRYING TO BE NEUTRAL BETWEEN LIKELY COMPETING CONCEPTIONS FOR POST PURPOSES. IF THERE SOME SPECIFIC WAY IN WHICH MY ATTEMPT TO BE NEUTRAL HAS FAILED, KINDLY POINT IT OUT.

Do you accept that we are simultaneously individuals and part of a community and ecosystem (I don’t mean emotionally or spiritually but physically)?

I AM AT A LOSS TO IMAGINE HOW YOU COULD READ THE POST AND WONDER WHETHER I THINK INDIVIDUALS ARE PARTS OF COMMUNITIES AND ECOSYSTEMS. ISN’T THAT THE WHOLE POST, PRETTY MUCH?

(Did you ever read the article I linked to?)

NO. IF YOU TELL ME WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY VIEW, AND I AGREE, AND YOU TELL ME THE ARTICLE MIGHT HELP FIX THE PROBLEM, I WILL READ IT.

How does that affect your notion of the separation between individual and group?

MY WHOLE VIEW IS OBVIOUSLY STRONGLY PREDICATED ON THE FACT THAT THE INDIVIDUAL CANNOT BE REALLY SEPARATED FROM THE GROUP. IF I DIDN’T BELIEVE THAT, THERE WOULDN’T BE ANYTHING LEFT OF THE POST.

Isn’t the state just a form of group?

YES. BUT IN A LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC CONTEXT IT HAS A SPECIAL STATUS. IT’S THE SOVEREIGN GROUP. THE PROBLEM ISN’T REALLY THAT STATES ARE A FORM OF GROUP (THAT’S OBVIOUS). IT’S RATHER THAT PEOPLE TEND TO THINK OF GROUPS AS LIKE TINY STATES, WHICH IS PROBLEMATIC. BECAUSE THEY AREN’T SOVEREIGN.

Do you accept that there are different forms of groups, ones that we are born into without any volition, and ones that we (at least somewhat consciously) join or create?

SEE OP. IT IS CRUCIAL THAT THERE ARE DIFFERENT FORMS OF GROUPS.

Eliding that difference seems to undermine the point of your OP.

YES, IT CERTAINLY WOULD HAVE MADE NONSENSE OF MY POST IF I HAD MISSED THAT. LUCKY I DIDN’T. INSTEAD I CITED CASES THAT HIGHLIGHTED HOW TREATING ALL GROUPS AS VOLUNTARY WILL NEVER DO, BECAUSE SOME AREN’T. (BUT SOME ARE.)

Can you see that the particular form of philosophical abstraction you use may seem to others (like me for example) fundamentally wrong?

YES. BUT I THINK YOU ARE FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG. (AND THAT IS A VERY UNHELPFUL THING TO SAY, WITH NO FOLLOW-UP. AND THAT IS WHY I HAVE BEEN PRESSING YOU TO FOLLOW-UP YOUR EXPRESSIONS OF CONVICTION THAT MY POST IS WRONG WITH A STATEMENT OF WHY YOU THINK THIS.)

Squashing out the particularity, complexity and nuance that makes experience what it is?

ARE YOU SAYING THAT IT IS NEVER ACCEPTABLE TO THEORIZE EVEN SOMEWHAT ABSTRACTLY, OR TO GENERALIZE ACROSS PARTICULAR CASES? IF SO, I STRONGLY DISAGREE. IF NOT, WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? THE POST DOESN’T SAY WE SHOULD ALWAYS DO THIS. I SAY: USUALLY WE ARE CAUGHT UP IN PARTICULARS SO, FOR ONE POST, LET’S NOT. ISN’T THAT FINE?

How is the feminist idea of ‘standpoint’ expressed in your post, because you seem to suggest it is, but I can’t see it?

I THINK I KNOW WHAT FEMINISM IS AND WHAT A STANDPOINT IS, SO I WOULD ROLL MY OWN IF I NEEDED TO SYNTHESIZE THE TWO. BUT I DON’T SEE THAT I HAD A SPECIAL NEED TO DO THAT FOR POST PURPOSES. I DID DISCUSS A PROMINENT FEMINIST STANDPOINT. IT WAS REALLY MY ONLY CONCRETE CASE: OLIN ON JUSTICE AND GENDER AND THE FAMILY.

How is your post reflexive?

WELL, IT’S A POST, BY A LIBERAL, ABOUT AN ESSENTIAL DIFFICULTY WITH LIBERALISM. DOES THAT COUNT AS REFLEXIVE: TO TRY TO POINT OUT BLIND SPOTS IN MY OWN WAYS OF THINKING?

Where does it acknowledge that you have a particular experience that influences the way you understand the world?

WHERE DOES IT DENY THAT? NOWHERE, I THINK. COULD YOU JUST TAKE MY WORD FOR IT THAT I KNOW THIS THING?

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Val 09.08.17 at 2:35 am

@ 526

“So let’s set Lupita aside.”

No.

Lupita @ 243

” Val: I haven’t done a close textual analysis of all your posts here, but I’m pretty sure – I’d probably wager – that nearly all the examples you have given of alternatives to liberal democracy are ones that you, John Holbo, think are ‘worse’ than liberal democracy. So it looks like you’re loading the dice, as well as smuggling.’

A close textual analysis reveals that the examples of alternatives to liberal democracy John Holbo has mentioned are: neo-feudal system, depriving my fellow citizens of rights and liberties @OP, guild privileges or feudalism or theocracy or race-based government or a dictatorship of the Proletariat @56, Catholic monarchist, one-world government communist @107, and fascists, antifa, communist one-world-staters @198. He repeats some of those, but listed are his first mentions.”

You haven’t dealt with that. I think, again, that just wiping people’s specific objections away is not good faith arguing. You have said elsewhere that you can’t think of preferable alternatives to liberal democracy, but if arguing in good faith, I think you should acknowledge that some of your interlocutors can.

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Peter T 09.08.17 at 2:55 am

steven t johnson

“Others use “moral” to refer to how people treat other people. The idea that there has to be an independent (God-given? Or merely traditional?) normative standpoint I think uses “moral” in the first sense. “

My argument takes “moral’ to refer to the second sense. If the state arbitrates, it has to have not just a process (democracy or any other) but a justification outside that process. This is particularly the case where the arbitration is over rights or jurisdiction vs the state itself. The process itself will not resolve the dispute, because it is in dispute itself. The US had a civil war because the parties could not only not agree on what constituted property, but because they disagreed on how that dispute should be resolved.

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Layman 09.08.17 at 2:59 am

Val: “As I’ve said, I think we can do better than liberal democracy , especially the American version (not mindless anti-Americanism there, but your system of voting for example is terrible).”

Setting aside the criticism of the electoral college (with which criticism I agree), why do you think we can do better than liberal democracy? More importantly, how can we do better than liberal democracy?

530

kidneystones 09.08.17 at 4:38 am

As this is getting a tiny bit fractious, (and overblown), I think we can agree that we all fall short when it comes to ‘good faith’ for a variety of reasons. I don’t personally get the sense that anyone here is inherently mean-spirited, but when pet peeves creep into discussions, disagreement can become un-necessarily edgy.

My own work involves teaching people how communicate. The baseline I work with is that the responsibility for communication failure always rests with the person producing the product and (almost) never with the listener. You are not responsible for untangling my convoluted and/contradictory arguments.

I’m about to begin a new project for a major commercial client. Verbosity is out, clarity is in. Conceptualize the communication objective – limit, define, and refine this into the simplest possible terms – and be prepared to modify the message based on feedback.

If you can’t understand my utterances the responsibility is mine alone. It’s my responsibility to present my ideas clearly and coherently. (Yes, I realize that’s enough to make a few hostile readers spit.) Claiming to never deploy ‘ad homs’, playing the victim, etc, not being understood adds very little to one’s credibility, in my experience and invites both pity and contempt.

Not all people want to understand my utterances, or even read them. That’s entirely their choice. Most of us here know (I assume) know how to listen generously and with good will. That’s perhaps the easiest path to understanding.

The ALL CAPS is never a good sign.

531

Val 09.08.17 at 5:06 am

@ 529
Thanks Layman that’s an interesting question – though an enormous one. Most of the changes I’d advocate would be incremental I think, building on processes that are already in place or developing, that I would hope would incrementally turn our system into something better.

I suppose I can say some obvious things – liberal democracy is not giving us egalitarian or environmentally sustainable societies at present (well most countries are probably doing a bit better on sustainability than the US but the election of Trump shows the vulnerability of liberal democracies). Some of the existing/developing processes here are to do with the concept of rights

– human rights – the human rights concept is supposed to include social and economic rights but they are usually weak – they could be strengthened a lot, in existing charters, bills etc, (for example you might ultimately, conceivably, limit the right of private ownership or the right of individuals to receive more reimbursement than others or decide that all organisations had to be run on a cooperative model rather than hierarchical)
– environmental rights, which LFC suggested before would be part of what I am talking about – I didn’t pursue it then but it is part of the broader picture, the concept that ecosystem/s and other species have rights, like the river in NZ – there is work being done on this

issues to do with politics as such – the issue with the US in particular is the first past the post voting – that’s not even democratic (let alone when voter restrictions happen as well). As an Australian, I would advocate for compulsory voting even though it may seem counter-intuitive to others (maybe we are not a ‘liberal’ democracy to begin with!), but also certainly transferable voting systems so you end up with multiple parties and processes of negotiation and (forced though they may be) consensus. That’s probably compatible with liberal democracy although any system that allows more ‘diversity’ in representation tends to be an advance on the ‘old’ liberal system (the one where we were all ‘individual citizens’, but somehow the assumed characteristics of the individual citizens were the normal characteristics of the adult white male and most of the parliamentary representatives were in fact adult white males, now is that a coincidence or what?)

Then moving beyond that you could look at quotas for representation and councils that have an advisory function to Parliament but might have a veto power, say a council of Indigenous people in Australia. Then there are functions that could be devolved such as to citizen’s juries to debate issues, even if the legislation is still debated in parliament, and powers that could be devolved to local government. At the global level I think powers could be ceded to world government (incremental – base on UN), particularly the power to wage war, which would be ceded to a kind of central policing function, building on the ICC and ICJ.

So there’s a weird mixture of almost ‘third way’ gradualism and wild utopianism for you, but you have to be able to imagine things for them to happen.

I did this in an awful hurry, as you can probably see, and probably some of my critics will pounce on the mistakes and inconsistencies, but I hope it makes some sense. What I would like to see if a society that is egalitarian, where ecosystems are valued equally with humans, where governance is multi-focused, diverse, and representational, where argument and debate is valued and consensus is about getting the best results for everybody as far as possible.

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pomo queer theorist 09.08.17 at 5:32 am

Layman @ 529 http://crookedtimber.org/2017/08/20/thinking-about-groups/#comment-717826

I’ll bite, even though you weren’t asking me. I’ll warn you though that none of what I say is wholly new and most of what I add is a connection to personal experience.

>Setting aside the criticism of the electoral college (with which criticism I agree), why do you think we can do better than liberal democracy?

I’ve seen and felt the misery of this world, and I’m not happy about it. It’s a vague feeling for me mostly, and the belief that those on the other side of the debate have little better. It’s the way in which under neoliberalism people are deindividualized and dehumanized and then told that individualism is the highest calling a person can have. It’s knowing that we got to neoliberalism from liberalism and that there isn’t for me a clear place to draw a line between them, and not knowing whether we understand well enough how we got here to not do it again. At the risk that no one will understand me and that I’ll come off as unbearably pretentious for using a personal metaphor of mine, it feels a lot like gender dysphoria does to me. Until I figured it out, I had no concrete idea that something was seriously wrong, only the feeling that all was not right with my world. Only in hindsight did I realize it was kicking me in the face the entire time and that it took substantial and continuous effort on my part to rationalize my ignorance and ignore its pleas. (I could illustrate this metaphor further but I think it has diminishing returns.) Perhaps a similar thing is happening to us under liberal democracy. Perhaps also this question doesn’t make sense without a positive answer, i.e. question two of yours, i.e.:

>More importantly, how can we do better than liberal democracy?

“You got a better idea?”

In all seriousness though, I don’t really know how to do better in a grand sense of the “ideal society” and at this point I’m sufficiently wary of claiming otherwise. I know how to do worse, and I like to think I know some of what’s bad about the situation we’re in, but I think certain ostensibly leftist movements of the 20th century serve as a cautionary tale for those who think they know exactly what to do to fix society and exactly how society should look when that’s finished.

I’m really not clever enough to claim this but on this I think I’m more with Adorno, the Frankfurt School, and its descendants than anyone else in that I don’t think it’s necessary to provide a positive vision. I also naively think that there may be a way forward through saying “no” more to more things (society as a whole?). At least from my perspective it would be an ad hominem to suggest that criticism is invalid unless I can produce a better system from whole cloth, which this isn’t doing, though it comes close.

Methinks I’ve strayed a bit far from groups and groupishness alas. Or perhaps not.

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John Holbo 09.08.17 at 7:39 am

“You haven’t dealt with that. I think, again, that just wiping people’s specific objections away is not good faith arguing.”

Val, it seems to me I am literally doing the opposite of wiping away people’s specific objections. I have been trying to get you to state your objection and, and I now understand, it is this: that in listing alternatives to liberal democracy I listed mostly negative ones, thereby ‘rigging the dice’.

Is that basically it? You thought that the post needed more examples of positive alternatives to liberal democracy?

534

engels 09.08.17 at 7:58 am

So once you get past all the shouting about ‘philosophical abstraction’ being ‘fundamentally wrong’ you get to stuff like ‘the issue with the US in particular is the first past the post voting’ and ‘more powers could be devolved to local government’.

535

John Holbo 09.08.17 at 7:59 am

It sounds like the alternative to liberal democracy you favour is: a form of liberal democracy, Val. am I missing something?

536

engels 09.08.17 at 8:01 am

A spectre is haunting Holbo—the spectre of transferable voting…

537

John Holbo 09.08.17 at 8:58 am

engels said it better than I.

538

Gareth Wilson 09.08.17 at 9:20 am

The New Zealand river thing is just a fudge to settle a dispute between the Crown and local Maori – the Maori wouldn’t tolerate the Crown owning it, and the local whites wouldn’t tolerate the Maori owning it, so giving the river itself rights is a compromise.

539

Val 09.08.17 at 10:03 am

Hilarious guys. I said incremental change (that hopefully might gradually lead to transformative change). So let’s not mention getting rid of private property, or ecosystems having rights, or ceding powers to a form of world government. No , let’s talk about transferable voting (which btw neither of your countries has been able to achieve yet, in spite of you being such profound thinkers)

This is a complete waste of time.

540

TM 09.08.17 at 11:34 am

“This is a complete waste of time.”
[Can that be the last word?]

541

Bill Benzon 09.08.17 at 12:23 pm

@Val #539

It seems to me, Val, that your major objection is to a (very) abstract style of argument that leaves a whole lot of particular matters unspecified. Secondarily you believe, for whatever reason (things that he said, he’s a philosopher, he’s American*, he’s male, whatever) that John has preferences on those matters that are very different from your preferences.

Let’s take transferable voting, relatively minor detail though it is. And that IS what it is, right? A detail. It’s about how the votes are tallied up and winners selected. I should think that’s perfectly compatible with liberal democracy. I don’t recall anything in the OP about how liberal democracies should conduct the voting. In fact, I don’t recall anything explicit about voting at all – though it might well be there. Not even the distinction between direct democracy, where everyone votes on everything (not just electing officials, but voting on bills etc.) and representative democracy, where voters elect representatives, and the representatives decide on specific measures. The OP just assumed some kind of (abstract) democracy where people vote; it doesn’t even use the word “vote”.

Somewhere up there I believe someone mentioned that (wackiness that is) the electoral college system in choosing the President. That, of course, is not inherent in the nature of liberal democracy, assuming that America is in fact a liberal democracy; it’s just a contigent fact about America. Other liberal democracies don’t have it. Moreover, it applies only to one aspect of the voting system at the federal level, that is, the nation-state level. Senators and congressmen operate at the federal level, but they’re chosen directly by their constituents.

It’s not at all clear how these matters apply to the abstract argument being made in the OP. These matters are about the procedural details of how the democratic principle is implemented in specific cases, but not about the democratic principle itself. Given that that, for example, the electoral college system is what gave us the election of Donald Trump, one reasonably assert that these details are not without consequence – to put it mildly. But that’s a different kind of argument, an argument about the value of discussing abstract principles, which is what the OP is about.

That argument – about the value of abstract principles – is a running motif at CT, mostly likely to come up in connection with analytic philosophy. But Continental philosophy is every bit as abstract.

So that’s one thing.

Then there’s rights for ecosystems. OK. Where do they come from? Let’s say that they’re inherent in the nature of things, even inalienable. But just how could such rights be implemented in a social system? Ecosystems can’t speak, they can’t boycott Walmart, they can’t protest Trump’s hobbling of the Environmental Protection Agency, etc. I don’t see off hand why the state in a liberal democracy couldn’t decide to recognize the rights of ecosystems. Just what that means…I do not know. Lots of rules and regulations, lots of inspectors and so forth. But then, I don’t see why the Chinese government (PRC) couldn’t at some time choose to recognize the rights of ecosystems.

Unfortunately, if you will, human societies sit at the penultimate level of this ecosystem (Gaia is the top level, no?) and thus have inordinate strong influence over the rest. And humans are the only beings who can participate directly in human societies. So ecosystems and their rights are pretty much at the mercy of humans, and that’s true regardless of whether those humans organize themselves into a liberal democracy, a feudal hierarchy, a theocracy, a Communist dictatorship of the proletariate, or, for that matter, a humble hunter-gatherer group.

I don’t see how the desirability of rights for ecosystems stands as an objection to the abstract principles at issue in the OP.

And then there’s ceding powers to world government. Is it going to be just a bigger state – that nature of which Holbo declines to specific about (#526), which I understand – or something else? If something else, what? Will that something else be a liberal democracy or a theocracy or a dictatorship of the proletariat – can’t be a hunter-gatherer group because, well, it just isn’t on – or something wholly other that we can scarcely conceive of? A whole government, then, could just be another form of liberal democratic state, or not.

* But living, working, and raising a family in Singapore, which has a very different form of government from the USA. As people do vote, it’s some kind of democracy. But is it a liberal democracy?

542

Bill Benzon 09.08.17 at 12:26 pm

Oh, I forgot private property. But I’ve said enough.

543

John Holbo 09.08.17 at 12:43 pm

“So let’s not mention getting rid of private property, or ecosystems having rights, or ceding powers to a form of world government.”

Val, I am fine with mentioning getting rid of private property and ceding powers to a form of world government. That’s why – see Lupita’s comment if you don’t believe me! – I already mentioned these as likely alternatives to liberal democracy that someone might find attractive and worth taking seriously. For this I was faulted by you for not mentioning positive examples. Well, do you have any positive alternatives that I haven’t mentioned or discussed? You fault me for talking liberal democracy, and mentioning world-government and communism (among other things) as alternatives. And then when asked what YOU would talk about instead it turns out to be: liberal democracy plus a bit of world-government and communism.

(As an additional proof of my willingness to discuss communism seriously I refer you to my exchange with pqt, above.)

As to ecosystems having rights: this is, of course, a perfect illustration of the dynamic discussed in the post. We have trouble dealing with groups because we either turn them into individuals or into the state, neither of which shoes quite fits. Ecosystems are a similar case. Liberal democracy deals with things by constituting them into rights-bearing ‘individuals’, legally – like corporations – or ecosystems. This is problematic because it’s a kind of legal fiction. We may welcome the protections it produces in the case of a river, but we may deplore them in the corporate case. As Gareth says, this is a kludg-y fix. It may be the best we can do, in which case: fine. But we do well to take note of the characteristically liberal democratic thought-pattern that creates these kludges.

“let’s talk about transferable voting (which btw neither of your countries has been able to achieve yet, in spite of you being such profound thinkers)”

There seems to be little you haven’t blamed my post for, in the course of this thread. So, what the hell? Why stop with insinuating that, due to my hollow intellectual posturing, I’m somehow personally culpable for the lack of transferable voting. Why NOT blame this very post for that sorry state of affairs?

544

Layman 09.08.17 at 12:57 pm

Thanks for your response, Val.

I agree that the liberal democracies we actually have seem to be producing results that are mostly no better than mixed, and sometimes quite poor. That said, saying that you don’t like the actual liberal democracies we have isn’t quite the same thing as saying you don’t favor liberal democracy at all.

If you think about what we mean by liberal democracy as a framework, I imagine (I could be wrong!) most people come up with a list something like this:

– open, fair elections in which any person can stand and all people may vote
– a set of agreed-upon civil rights and protections which all people enjoy
– a functioning government characterized by checks and balances between discrete, separated powers (legislative, judicial, executive) and the rule of law
– a broad understanding that the purpose of government is to improve the quality of life of the people (else why have it?)

Feel free to point out what I’ve left out, but remember I’m talking about the framework, not the range of outcomes the framework can produce; and not even the question of whether one particular state or another has successfully adopted all the aspects of that framework. If we want to point to states that don’t obviously live up to the framework, of course we can point to the US, where we see e.g. that elections process is hampered by things like voter suppression and the vestiges of our archaic Constitution; that civil rights are unevenly distributed and enforced; and that the branches of government often abuse their powers, most often the executive but, increasingly, the legislative. That said, it seems to me that other liberal democracies produce similar, if not the same, uneven results.

So, why does liberal democracy sometimes (or often if you prefer) produce bad results? The obvious answer is that not all people want the same things, nor want them for the same reasons. We’re fond of saying that people all want the same things, but it isn’t true; and the framework of liberal democracy exists as a means to mitigate the inevitable conflict between competing wants, usually by allowing the majority to win the day, with the caveat that civil rights and the rule of law are intended to prevent the majority from going too far.

It’s also the case that people wield disproportionate power. Some people pursue their own desires more aggressively than do others; some do so more effectively than do others; some are better at marshaling the support of others for their ideas. So the outcome of the liberal democracy framework is influenced dramatically by the desires of individuals and the coalitions they form to advance those desires.

It seems to me that this was, if not the entire point of the OP, then at least a substantial point. How do we reconcile the rights and desires of the individual with the tendency of people to form coalitions (groups) that may be in conflict with those rights and desires? Do groups have the same rights as individuals? Am I free to form a group which will disadvantage others, or even harm them economically or spiritually?

This question was offered in the framework of liberal democracy, but to some extent the question exists no matter the form of government; because people demonstrably want different things, and people form coalitions to get them, and a common result is some kind of inequality, for someone, no matter the form of government. It’s human nature.

Now, having said all that, when I read your response @531, what I see is you describing liberal democracy outcomes that, in your view (and mine) fall short. Civil rights are not adequately protected. The welfare of all the people isn’t paramount. Elections are neither free enough nor fair enough. The rule of law isn’t adequately preserved, and not evenly applied. The liberal democracies themselves often exist at the wrong levels; they should be more local and, at the same time, global. Decisions are made which benefit the few, in the short term, at the cost of everyone else and to the ruin of the future.

These are all valid criticisms; but it seems to me that they are criticisms that, first and foremost, accept the basic tenets of liberal democracy. What you suggest is that liberal democracies should be better than they are; and that we should make them better liberal democracies than they are. What I don’t see is any solution you’re suggesting, even vaguely, which is something other than a liberal democracy. If you say that elections could be more free, fair, and representative, you’re saying elections and votes are part of the framework. If you say that the environment should have rights, you’re saying that government should be constrained by an agreed-upon set of rights. If you say that there should be indigenous councils with veto powers over legislation, you’re saying that there should be separate branches of government able to check the power of each other, within a workable framework of representative governance. To me, you’re saying you agree that the framework of liberal democracy is the right framework, but that you’d like to see different, better liberal democracies. This, to me, is quite consistent with the premise of the OP, which suggests that we all broadly agree that liberal democracy is the best framework, and seeks to discuss how to address the thorny problem of individual vs. group rights within that framework.

That’s how it seems to me, at any rate. Please let me know if and where I’ve read you incorrectly, or where you disagree with my argument.

545

steven t johnson 09.08.17 at 1:03 pm

Peter T@528 Thank you for the correction on your own view. I can’t say that I would use “outside’ to refer to the masses of people engaged in the conquests (or revolutions, more rarely but more happily,) that produce a constitutional order that eschews conquests (and revolutions.) But with your explanation of what you mean, I agree…I think.

546

engels 09.08.17 at 1:08 pm

Feel free to point out what I’ve left out

For starters: ‘limited’ government, representation (vs participation), private property (vs economic democracy)

547

engels 09.08.17 at 1:15 pm

So, why does liberal democracy sometimes (or often if you prefer) produce bad results?

Because underneath its the egalitarian ideology power is in the hands of the bourgeoisie

548

Layman 09.08.17 at 1:40 pm

engels @546, 547

Helpful as always.

549

Val 09.08.17 at 2:10 pm

Thanks Layman. I think if we take a step back and look at historical forms of governance and society, the key thing is that people really did understand themselves differently. So Indigenous people here in Australia actually understood themselves as being related to different animals, as I understand it, and did in some way talk to them. Now I could of course say ‘well of course they didn’t’, but I’m not prepared to say that. I think they experienced something different from what I experience, in a way that I do not fully understand and possibly can’t.

Carolyn Merchant says that people in feudal and medieval times believed that everything was animated by the principle of life. I think I understand that, but I’m not sure.

Ursula Le Guin wrote a story about a tree that spoke of itself as moving – I can’t remember all the details but it hurt my mind (in a good way). The Left Hand of Darkness was quite challenging, but you could see how it worked – it was more that Le Guin portrayed so effectively the challenge for the earth guy in trying to understand. But this tree story was amazing. I guess it’s about relativity and the movement of the earth but anyway it was fascinating.

Anyway – you may not be familiar with those examples of course – what I’m trying to say is that understanding that people (and other species, possibly even trees!) actually see things differently than you, can be quite hard, and yet they do (well I’m not sure about the trees). I think anyone who has studied history knows that people at different times understood the world differently, and I think it’s what Foucault was getting at with the concept of discourse as that which legitimises knowledge. The Enlightenment thinkers said ‘this is knowledge, this is science’ but it’s not the end of knowledge – it’s not that it doesn’t work at all, but it doesn’t completely work, it doesn’t cover everything.

So we have people on this thread saying ‘oh it’s just people or states giving rivers rights’ (I don’t know that much about that case, perhaps the more interesting one is the woman who is trying to get Ecocide established, I’ll try to dig out the details) but acknowledging ecosystems as having rights is actually a fundamental change, especially since a lot of imperialism and colonialism was built on the notion of ‘improving’ the land (which is traceable in our property law, I don’t know about yours). Enlightenment thinkers like Locke actually did think that they ‘improved’ nature. As did Marx.

It was a relationship of control and ‘improvement’ and that I think is being challenged legally now, which is interesting (this is like that ridiculous argument I tried to have with that funny guy on here a few weeks ago, Preston or whatever his name was, he just couldn’t get his head around this stuff about humans not controlling nature).

The other side of it is agency. I go to a reading group with a lot of people who are interested in practice theories and they often talk about agency – who or what has agency? Do things have agency? That hurricane barrelling towards Florida, does that have agency? We’d say it’s not intentional like we are, but it’s still an active agent, it does things (sorry that’s a bit of a tactless example at the moment, I guess). A purpose of laws might be to stop us making hurricanes worse – which is what we are doing of course – which is where the ‘improving nature’ thing has got us.

So – apologies for going completely off at a tangent but I don’t think the way I think can be neatly fitted into the concept of liberal democracy, no. It may not even make sense to you but hopefully you can get some idea where I’m going with this.

I should try to be a bit more relevant though – the points you make are about democracy, but not necessarily liberal democracy. I’m not rejecting democracy, I’m rejecting liberalism, to be a bit more precise.

Bill Benzon @ 541 – I’m sure you don’t mean to be read to be rude, but maybe you should go back and read the thread a bit further back. The transferable voting thing was just something that I mentioned in a discussion with Layman. John Holbo and engels were trying to make something of it for some point scoring reason that isn’t even worth thinking about.

550

Val 09.08.17 at 2:32 pm

Layman
I don’t think I’ve really got anything much against democracy, I think it’s a pretty good idea. But you know more than just voting to make it work of course.

But what we have – and you have – is not actually democracy, it’s a democracy-kingdom hybrid (this really is right up my street, this is my thesis talking). We all vote, and then everybody organises themselves in little hierarchical kingdoms. I should have mentioned that to John Holbo earlier, though doubtless he would have just said he’d already said that, and it was actually his idea in the first place.

551

Val 09.08.17 at 2:32 pm

‘need more’ not ‘know more’ sorry

552

Stephen 09.08.17 at 4:49 pm

Vak@531
Coming in very late (oppressed by the curse of the drinking classes): re transferrable votes.
It’s been tried. Ronan, if he’s not elsewhere, will agree that the Single Transferrable Vote with multi-member constituencies, in the Irish Republic, delivered the government of Charlie Haughey (who somehow kept out of gaol): in Northern Ireland, the current deliquescence of the Stormont Assembly.
These are not obviously preferable to FPTP.
Not to mention the reported effects of TV in Israel, though I am not so familiar with those: Netenyahu does not seem to be an ideal example, any comments?

553

bruce wilder 09.08.17 at 6:20 pm

kidneystones @ 530:

I don’t think the writer or speaker has sufficient control over what is said or written, let alone what is heard or read, to be held entirely (or even primarily) responsible for the “clarity” of communication, however that might be defined. I understand that in your professional activity, you may very usefully train someone to follow certain conventions and, more than that, to take some responsibility for soliciting and responding to feedback. I am not challenging the value of what you do or suggesting its futility; I am saying that what serves as a premise for that professional activity may not be as useful as a general philosophical or political precept.

Just seeing that communication — and more fundamentally, thought — is a collaborative effort — a social process, and a social process in which the individual may be simply a conduit open at more than one end — can be a helpful step onto the yellow brick road toward understanding that what we are collaborating on in communication(s) is the construction of shared fictions, from which we may well take disparate meanings (and not be “wrong” in doing so). The clarity of constructive ambiguity may be the most valuable product of the process. Or, to mix metaphors, consider improvising in rehearsing a jazz standard: a very useful metaphor in particular for the kind of recreational musing we do here in the comments of CT, since we are often repeating compositions we have heard elsewhere (and the audience has heard elsewhere, understanding and appreciation importantly reliant on the precedent of previous experiences). Some players may be more interested in reproducing discordant sounds while others instinctively seek familiar harmonies. The most resonant, admired and effective performances cum compositions may well be mashups. (“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” was a mashup of old tunes, as you may well know.)

Obviously, I am getting carried away with my metaphor. Like many in this thread, I have been struggling against the hypothetical axis defined by individual and state capping opposite poles, which the OP proposed as making problematic the status of groups populating the intermediate regions of a liberal social globe. What does make this world go round? Surely, not Nozick’s separate persons! Say it isn’t so!!! Please!

And, yet, we seem to believe in “the individual” more readily than in the obvious collaborative fiction that is the state, even when we use imagined groups to construct our own individual selves. Curious.

The reference to Leviathan, the state as arbiter, reminded me of Behemoth, the state as debating society exhausting itself in passionate but pointless and centrifugal disputation. And, yet we must think and to think, argue, if the state is to have any abstract idea to guide it, for the state must make rules for the other, where no one of us feels the need of a rule to govern ourselves alone and isolated.

It does seem to me that the tyranny of the bourgeoisie is to be feared when the bourgeoisie is unopposed and undivided, and has no need for critique or argument to organize itself or raise a common, public consciousness. Enlightened self-interest shared in community is a lot of work. So, is manipulation by propaganda, I suppose, but maybe the policy implications differ? Where is the political process of communication to get the former instead of the latter?

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engels 09.08.17 at 8:11 pm

Helpful as always.

I’m sorry?

555

engels 09.08.17 at 8:16 pm

(Fwuw I was trying to answer your questions. Those are imo textbook features of liberal democracy which the specifucation in your comment left out and the standard marxist critique of it if you’re interested—fine if you’re not!)

556

engels 09.08.17 at 8:25 pm

That hurricane barrelling towards Florida, does that have agency? We’d say it’s not intentional like we are, but [it] still…does things

That’s not what agency means. You might as well it’s intelligent because it gets the better of people, or it’s musically talented because it makes a lot of noise.

557

Bill Benzon 09.08.17 at 8:44 pm

Val,

Sorry about the rudeness on transferable voting.

The following passage is from the opening of Chapter 9, “Musicking the World” (pp. 195-196) of my book on music, Beethoven’a Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture (2001). You’ll find there’s stuff in the passage about “dynamical system, a community of sympathy, “synchronization of interacting brains”, “social neurodynamics” and “coupled sociality”. Somewhere up there (#437) I talk about a mother and her infant. Think of that as an example of coupled sociality. In this context I ask you to take it on faith that I’m not just pulling such terms out of the air. I develop them with some care earlier in the book (you can find final drafts of two critical early chapters here). Just how this bears on the argument in the OP is by no means obvious to me, but I think about this stuff ALL the time.

* * * * *

According to Fannie Berry, an ex-slave, Virginia slaves in the late 1850s would sing the following song as they felled pine trees:

A col’ frosty mo’nin’
De niggers feelin’ good
Take you ax upon yo’ shoulder
Nigger, talk to de wood.

She went on to report that:

Dey be paired up to a tree, an’ dey mark de blows by de song. Fus’ one chop, den his partner, an’ when dey sing TALK dey all chop togedder; an’ purty soon dey git de tree ready for to fall an’ dey yell “Hi” an‘ de slaves all scramble out de way quick.

The song thus helped the men to pace and coordinate their efforts. Beyond that, Bruce Jackson notes, “the songs change the nature of the work by putting the work into the worker’s framework…By incorporating the work with their song, by in effect, co-opting something they are forced to do anyway, they make it theirs in a way it otherwise is not.” In the act of singing the workers linked their minds and brains into a single dynamical system, a community of sympathy. By bringing their work into that same dynamic field, they incorporate it into that form of society created through synchronization of interacting brains.

What is the tree’s role in this social process? It cannot be active: it cannot synchronize its activities with those of the wood choppers. But, I suggest, “putting the work into the worker’s framework” means assimilating the trees, and the axes as well, into social neurodynamics. The workers are not only coupled to one another; by default, that coupling extends to the rest of the world. What does it mean to treat a tree or an ax as a social being? It means, I suggest, that you treat them as animate and hence must pay proper respect to their spirits.

Thus we have arrived at a conception of animism, perhaps mankind’s simplest and most basic form of religious belief. In this view animistic belief is a natural consequence of coupled sociality. In effect, the non-human world enters human society as spirits and, consequently, humans perform rituals to honor the spirits of the animals they eat, or the trees they carve into drums, and so forth.

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engels 09.08.17 at 8:45 pm

But what we have – and you have – is not actually democracy, it’s a democracy-kingdom hybrid (this really is right up my street, this is my thesis talking). We all vote, and then everybody organises themselves in little hierarchical kingdoms. I should have mentioned that to John Holbo earlier, though doubtless he would have just said he’d already said that

Fwiw I already said it (#242 & following)

559

Bill Benzon 09.08.17 at 9:02 pm

@bruce wilder #553

“The clarity of constructive ambiguity may be the most valuable product of the process. Or, to mix metaphors, consider improvising in rehearsing a jazz standard: a very useful metaphor in particular for the kind of recreational musing we do here in the comments of CT…”

Yes on ambiguity being constructive. And yes on the jazz improv metaphor. In my experience, to get a bit carried away with the metaphor, improv is at its best when it gets away from you a bit and you’ve got to scramble to catch up.

560

b9n10nt 09.08.17 at 10:00 pm

So, who’s gonna stick up for abstract theorizing in this case, and on what grounds? I’ve never gotten a sense from the OP or subsequent posts of how we can benefit from this theoretical endeavor. Perhaps I’m much to attached to deconstruction to see much use for the constructive impetus demonstrated by Prof Holbo.

How would resolving the theoretical contradiction (or merely appreciating the contradiction) between group-as-state and group-as-individual help us?

We should note that, to the analytical intellect, the world is full of similar apparent contradictions that are resolved by “kludginess” at the level of practice. In medicine, a doctor must respect a patient’s autonomy and be responsible for their physical health. In education, a teacher must be rigorous and supportive. In team sports, an athlete must do their best and think what’s best for the team. At a sufficiently abstract level, these are contradictions. At a sufficiently practical level, they aren’t.

What is so especially problematic about a contradiction for the state regulating groups?
What’s wrong with acknowledging and settling for the practice of statecraft? When abstract principles come into conflict, we can balance them and evolve towards intuitions (relational-ecological, non-analytical modes of perception) rather than fuss over the abstract. Do we need a no-muss-no-fuss theory of liberal democracy to perform, improve, and extend it? Why?

And so I want to end by repeating an earlier point: putting aside the inherent joys of puzzle-solving, isn’t the search for a more complete political theory of liberal democracy a politically small-c conservative impulse? We imagine that we can have a kind of stasis: here’s the rule-book. If anything goes wrong, look up the rules.

But if our goals are utopian rather than conservative, I think it then becomes far more agreeable to not worry about theoretical contradictions. In general, the moment may call for greater coherence or greater purity (correct answer: coherence) but the practice of statecraft is not guided by the need to preserve liberal democracy as an end in itself, but to use liberal democracy as a tool for greater human happiness.

I suppose I should expect to hear crickets on CT when I suggest that too much analytical thinking is becomes mere platonic spelunking, but…

561

Layman 09.08.17 at 10:50 pm

Val: “I should try to be a bit more relevant though – the points you make are about democracy, but not necessarily liberal democracy. I’m not rejecting democracy, I’m rejecting liberalism, to be a bit more precise.”

Which of the tenets in my outline do you reject because they are liberalism rather than democracy? Or, which tenets of democracy have I left out, that you think should be there? I tried to frame something you could respond to without resorting to labels. As it is, I still don’t know what you reject in liberal democracy, and I still don’t know what you’d replace it with as a framework. I do get that you want different outcomes.

562

Bill Benzon 09.08.17 at 11:05 pm

@engels #556 “That’s not what agency means.”

Like it or not, asking whether or not hurricane Irma has agency is thoroughly consistent with contemporary usage in some quarters.

563

Val 09.08.17 at 11:59 pm

engels @ 558
@242 you seem to have been talking about patriarchal marriages. I’m talking about the organisation of (paid) work, including the work of government.

The head of state thing is interesting too in that context of preserving the ‘kingdom’ while ostensibly having a democracy.

Bill Benzon @ 557
No need for apology. Transferable voting is an interesting topic, I see Stephen @ 552 has also added some interesting information that might qualify my position a bit, it was just the silly way John Holbo and engels were trying to take a passing remark out of context and use it to suggest my whole argument was irrelevant that was the problem. (I really, really wish people would not do that stuff. You can have interesting discussions and then you get people doing that kind of stuff and you think, dear god what is the point. Anyway)

Animism is an interesting topic. I will try to look at your chapters. I’m kind of a musical ignoramus so I may not get it all, but I think anything that helps us think more clearly about ‘being-in-the-world/being-in-ecosystems’ is interesting. Was it you who used the term “ecological citizen” back there? I like that. One aspect of the ecological crisis we are creating is that it may force us all to begin thinking as world citizens too.
Animism

564

Layman 09.09.17 at 12:00 am

engels: “(Fwuw I was trying to answer your questions. Those are imo textbook features of liberal democracy which the specifucation in your comment left out and the standard marxist critique of it if you’re interested—fine if you’re not!)”

Yes, sorry. On the first point, I included ‘limited government’ in my second tenet, “a set of agreed-upon civil rights and protections which all people enjoy”. I get that this isn’t clear.

On the second point, and more broadly, I’m trying to understand Val’s objections, and I don’t think hearing your objections is going to help me in that effort.

565

Val 09.09.17 at 12:06 am

Engels @ 556
The people I’m talking about are questioning the conventional concept of agency you’re using. I think that’s pretty obvious. I also think this may be why you get comments like ‘helpful as always’.

If I could restate this as a rule: don’t make put-downs based on a simplistic misreading of other people’s comments.

566

Val 09.09.17 at 12:08 am

@ 556
Though it’s possible Layman was just expressing gratitude for your contributions.

567

Val 09.09.17 at 12:11 am

Layman @ 561

I was talking about your framework:
“– open, fair elections in which any person can stand and all people may vote
– a set of agreed-upon civil rights and protections which all people enjoy
– a functioning government characterized by checks and balances between discrete, separated powers (legislative, judicial, executive) and the rule of law
– a broad understanding that the purpose of government is to improve the quality of life of the people (else why have it?)”

That’s a framework for democracy, right? Democracy is separate from liberalism.

568

engels 09.09.17 at 12:16 am

Layman, all democracy means is rule by the demos. There have been many different forms throughout history. It’s quite clear that what you outlined is much more specific (I’d suggest to wealthy capitalist nation states in the last 200 years or so)

569

engels 09.09.17 at 12:24 am

Okay, I should have stuck to Flaubert. Enjoy your friction-free pontificating!

570

kidneystones 09.09.17 at 12:51 am

@ 553 Agreed, to a point. The collaborative process complicates all this, especially if the intent is to sharpen our individual understanding of an issue/s by bouncing ideas around. Indeed, this collaborative process is necessary and extremely productive in my own experience. The mechanisms for success in that process usually depend on a number of factors – most notably the agreement of the meaning of terms. That’s often been the case here. The debate about nazis and hate speech on the other thread is excellent example of people talking past one another.

The fact of the matter is that I can’t take responsibility for what you hear, but I can take responsibility for what I say. The success path isn’t just a matter of semantics, however, but also involves cross-cultural (a term I loathe) obstacles, tone, and register. The new comments policy here is a welcome and usually illuminating example of this in practice.

The cognitive dissonance on display (often/usually/almost always) and the consequences there of serve as a good example of how people can simply ‘not hear’ evidence that runs counter to their preferred narrative – especially if the data touches on the ever emotionally-charged issue of self-perception with all the attendant fears. So, I’d add that element – bringing ego needs and insecurities to the discussion may not be the most fruitful and effective way to listen.

All these factors are at play in discussions where the participants share, or working towards, a number of desired outcomes. These desired outcomes need to be conceptualized and defined in the simplest, most accessible, terms at the outset. That’s normally the step people skip, “I know what I think, why should I do that.”

However, as you point out so usefully, we may not know what we think, at least, until we lay it out on paper – print. And if we are unable to conceptualize and clarify our own thoughts, it’s highly likely that many/most of our listeners will be unable and unwilling to do this work for us.

I agree that a number of us are not hear to listen, but rather to beat our own drums. That’s fine as far as it goes. But if I’m invested for any reason in convincing others first to listen, and then perhaps change their thinking and actions, then I may wish to make more of any effort to win them over. I feel I fail at this fairly often, but not so much as to discourage me entirely.

Simply put – when the ego needs ‘trump’ clarity and charitable listening, there’s very little chance of understanding and common ground – a result which is very often the desired outcome of virtue signalling and tribal chorusing.

571

Layman 09.09.17 at 1:19 am

Val, are you saying you don’t reject any of the tenets I outlined, and (by extension) you’d count yourself among those who think it’s the right framework? Put another way, are you saying your objection to the OP is a dispute over the meaning of the term ‘liberal democracy’? I don’t want to guess at that, I’d like it if you could address that clearly.

572

Layman 09.09.17 at 1:20 am

engels: “It’s quite clear that what you outlined is much more specific (I’d suggest to wealthy capitalist nation states in the last 200 years or so)”

Yes, of course.

573

John Holbo 09.09.17 at 1:21 am

Val, Layman is talking about liberal democracy. Plain vanilla democracy is just majority rule. Per the OP – or if you don’t believe me, just ask Wikipedia – liberal democracy adds the guaranteed bundles of civil rights and protections including guaranteed forms of individual freedoms. (Exactly what you get in your bundle may vary significantly by liberal democratic jurisdiction, but they all offer something like that.) That’s why we have been waiting to hear what you plan is for eliminating all that, and thereby improving things.

574

kidneystones 09.09.17 at 1:43 am

Yes, to Bill Benzon – on riffing, etc, in multiple comments with examples and the benefits of ambiguity by BW. Hard to replicate on comments boards, but I can’t think of many sites that do it better.

575

engels 09.09.17 at 1:43 am

576

engels 09.09.17 at 1:55 am

asking whether or not hurricane Irma has agency is thoroughly consistent with contemporary usage in some quarters

Yes, and so is asking whether Barack Obama is possessed by the Devil

577

John Holbo 09.09.17 at 1:58 am

“If I could restate this as a rule: don’t make put-downs based on a simplistic misreading of other people’s comments.”

I would propose significantly expanding this rule to include posts, not just comments to posts. After all, it isn’t just commenters who have agency. If even the trees might, I think it’s fair to suspect that the OP might as well.

578

engels 09.09.17 at 2:09 am

Layman, if the only purpose of the definitions and questions you posted was to try again to pin down Val’s views then I misunderstood you and should have not responded—sorry. (I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say at this point that there are few projects that interest me less…)

579

Layman 09.09.17 at 2:10 am

@ engels

Man, you’re killing me.

580

Val 09.09.17 at 2:24 am

I was using the Wikipedia definition of liberalism myself. If I might add another rule: don’t assume your interlocutors are ignorant or stupid (a thing that you, John Holbo, appear to be doing even if you don’t think you are).

I think kidneystones is right in some ways – the person trying to make a point has a responsibility to make themselves clear, and I did not specify that liberalism is what I was objecting to, not democracy per se. But other people have a responsibility for fair (possibly even charitable at least to the point of not assuming that people are saying something stupid until you have checked with them) reading.

So hopefully we can agree that democracy can be a broad concept, ok? But in principle I agree with it. However liberal democracy is another thing.

I should not have to prove here that the origins of liberalism assumed the individual as a man of property, and in the American context at least, white. If people are going to present themselves as knowledgeable on this subject, they should at least know that.

How far liberalism has moved from those origins is a matter for example, the Wikipedia definition says (current) liberalism includes ‘equal opportunity’ and one could argue about how far that’s true in practice. But to say those are the origins of liberalism should not be contentious in a discussion that purports to be well informed.

And yes, so engels doesn’t have to say, liberalism is inherently associated with private property and capitalism also. As I’ve said earlier, it was also associated with the idea of men as knowers (men of science) controlling and ‘improving’ nature.

Those are the issues that socialists, ecosocialists, ecofeminists, ecologists and so on might focus on in the original OP, as several of us have repeatedly tried to do. They’re not trivial concerns.

581

Val 09.09.17 at 2:27 am

‘How far liberalism has moved from those origins is a matter for example’ should be ‘matter for debate, for example’. Sorry using mobile

582

engels 09.09.17 at 2:47 am

I appreciate the last few comments may have been a little rude—sorry, I’m drunk. Anyway, as I said, I’m out.

Have fun, and give my regards to the Gulf Stream

583

Val 09.09.17 at 3:51 am

John Holbo – And to reinforce another point that I tried to make earlier: I appreciate that you’ve written a long and thoughtful post, and I can understand that you may get annoyed by what seem to you ignorant and poorly informed criticisms. But the possibility remains that the criticisms are not as ignorant and ill-informed as you think.

(Please don’t reply to this by saying it’s all my fault because I’m not expressing myself clearly. I don’t always express myself clearly, but that’s not the whole problem here.)

584

Smass 09.09.17 at 6:21 am

FWIW this late in the thread, the subject of the OP is a live issue in discussions about human rights. Human rights are a classic liberal construct that run into problems with groups precisely because rights are located at the level of the individual.

I’m most familiar with this in terms of Indigenous rights. Proposals to establish rights for indigenous groups – which follow on from many of the critiques of individualism rehearsed in this thread – run into these congruence issues. That is, what do you do if the indigenous group organisation is premised on unequal relations? Do you disallow this in the name of individuals’ rights to freedom (congruence), which means you are not really recognising the group’s rights to self determination, or do you leave them to it by saying it’s their choice (pure liberalism) and thus ratifying hierarchical and unequal relations? Neither is satisfactory so in practice people (and state or international frameworks if indigenous rights) go for piecemeal fudge solutions

585

John Holbo 09.09.17 at 6:55 am

Val: “I was using the Wikipedia definition of liberalism myself.”

So what you are saying is that when I wrote ‘liberal democracy’ in the post you basically just substituted a different thing you made up by combining ‘liberalism’ (in a really unreconstructed, emphasize-the-bad, 17th century sense) with ‘democracy’. You not only invented a new concept (which would be ok, honestly) but you attributed it to me. And then, when that turned the post into nonsense (no surprise!) you critiqued me for it – and rather bitterly, too?

586

John Holbo 09.09.17 at 7:01 am

Smass: “Proposals to establish rights for indigenous groups – which follow on from many of the critiques of individualism rehearsed in this thread – run into these congruence issues. That is, what do you do if the indigenous group organisation is premised on unequal relations?”

This is quite right. There are lots of problems with ‘group rights’, which have sometimes (not always!) been granted with the best of intentions. But which can often turn out to be not optimal in practice, either because they end up ratifying unequal social/cultural norms that local group leaders favor, or because they encumber individual’s rights against the group in other ways.

587

Val 09.09.17 at 7:31 am

@ 585
No, I’m criticising liberalism. Referring to the historical origins of liberalism is not a moral judgement on you or your post, but if that’s how you’re going to react to it, there’s nothing much I or anyone else can do, since it seems we can’t criticise liberalism without it being taken as a personal attack on you. I am sorry you can’t see that.

(TM nods somewhere, I guess. OK I accept that this seems a waste of time, but sometimes even when people appear to reject something, they see it later. But clearly I am not getting anywhere at present and I should let it go.)

588

Val 09.09.17 at 8:00 am

They are only ‘groups’ within a liberal state because they were violently dispossessed. Which is not to say the problems aren’t real. But anyway you keep going …

589

John Holbo 09.09.17 at 8:42 am

Val: “No, I’m criticising liberalism. Referring to the historical origins of liberalism is not a moral judgement on you or your post.”

No, Val, you are not – or were not – criticizing liberalism. You were critiquing my post for ‘privileging liberal democracy’. For not offering positive alternatives to it. When you were asked to provide something like that yourself you changed the subject, while pretending you hadn’t. You started criticizing, not liberal democracy but something like warts-and-all 17th century liberalism – which is obviously quite different. You are most welcome to criticize liberalism but, first things first, don’t you think you owe me an apology for all this nonsense? You came into this thread, initially not even reading the post (by your own admission) yet accusing me of all manner of dire intellectual and moral failings. We were promised a critique. We were told it had already been made and it was, assuredly, stored away in some secret place in the thread, and it was only our own carelessness that allowed it to escape detection for so long. Now it turns out that you simply had no basis for any of it whatsoever. You were just spouting off, not responding to me or my post in any way. Thinking your own thoughts, just adding a bit of color to them by assuming – for no reason – that somehow your thoughts must be the critical negations of mine.

And now, by all means, critique liberalism in some responsible way. But leave me out of it, for a change.

590

kidneystones 09.09.17 at 9:14 am

In the imaginary fairy-land of the modern ‘historian’ everyone enjoyed equality. There were no social divisions, no hierarchies, – even chimpanzees existed in a blissful state of equality before individual members were ‘violently’ dispossessed of their right to reproduce at will. Slavery was invented sometime in a murky period around 1600 by violent, Christian, straight white men who loved guns and who wanted to take all the good stuff from women and people of color. Before that, everything was great. Bad them!

The specific period discussed in the OP refers to a set of beliefs about social orders and about the roles of groups within these orders – usually identified as liberal democracy. That women were generally excluded from discussions of what this system might be is a matter of historical record. That does not, however, that womens’ voices went completely unheard. Indeed, women said a great deal. The problem was (see female Chartists) left-leaning men were just as reluctant to listen to women as conservative men.

What is important about this specific period is that the conceptualizing of this form of democracy in the abstract paved the way for the granting of full legal rights in reality to many/all of the excluded. This didn’t, btw, take place in states outside the western tradition, and certainly not in any strongly theocratic society such as Hindu India, for example, which still has a rigid caste system.

Is sexism alive and thriving today?

You betcha!

591

engels 09.09.17 at 11:21 am

the possibility remains that the criticisms are not as ignorant and ill-informed as you think

🤔

592

Layman 09.09.17 at 11:46 am

Val: “So hopefully we can agree that democracy can be a broad concept, ok? But in principle I agree with it. However liberal democracy is another thing.”

Forgive me, Val, but I don’t get it. The list of tenets I offered is the generally accepted definition of the term ‘liberal democracy’. Here’s the summary from Wikipedia:

“Liberal democracy is a liberal political ideology and a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of classical liberalism. It is also called western democracy. It is characterized by fair, free, and competitive elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and political freedoms for all people. To define the system in practice, liberal democracies often draw upon a constitution, either formally written or uncodified, to delineate the powers of government and enshrine the social contract.”

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_democracy

It’s not wrong to say that liberal democracy and classical liberalism are connected, but it is wrong to say that ‘liberal democracy’ means the same thing as ‘liberalism’. And it’s not true that ‘democracy’ necessarily encompasses the tenets of liberal democracy. Liberal democracy is a particular form of democracy defined by those tenets. There are other forms of democracy that lack those particular characteristics. To be clear, I’ve tried from the start to avoid this kind of disagreement over terms by focusing on the characteristics rather than the label. I’m not interested in an argument over the labels.

So, all I can do is ask the same questions I’ve already asked, but which I think you have not clearly answered. Are you saying you don’t reject any of the tenets I outlined, and (by extension) you’d count yourself among those who think it’s the right framework? Is your objection that you think the tenets are right, but that the actual existing liberal democracies we have aren’t producing good results because something else is missing? Or are there specific tenets among them you think are problematic, and that you would abandon in forming a better way of governing?

593

bob mcmanus 09.09.17 at 12:22 pm

After all, it isn’t just commenters who have agency. If even the trees might, I think it’s fair to suspect that the OP might as well.

Texts have agency? I am always so far behind the trends. Got more reading to do.

I am interested in incorporating Japanese popular animism: not just trees have agency, but rice cookers. Everybody needs more mecha and yokai.

594

rwschnetler 09.09.17 at 12:26 pm

They are only ‘groups’ within a liberal state because they were violently dispossessed. Which is not to say the problems aren’t real.

The elevator is stuck between floors.

595

John Holbo 09.09.17 at 1:05 pm

“Texts have agency?”

Oh, you think OP means ‘original post’. I have always assumed it is to be read ‘original poster’. So you are addressing, as it were, not the post but the author at the time of the post. Think of him as a time-slice Holbo. Although perhaps he is too short to enjoy agency. It is a mystery.

596

Bill Benzon 09.09.17 at 1:15 pm

@bob mcmanus #593

“I am interested in incorporating Japanese popular animism…”

Well, you might start with Fredrick Schodt, Inside the Robot Kingdom, which is about the Japanese take on robots, which is somewhat different from the Western take. He talks about how, for example, in the early days of industrial robotics, the workers would have a Shinto priest perform a ceremony to welcome and incorporate the new (robot) worker to the factory floor. I don’t recall him saying anything about rice cookers, though.

For some philosophical underpinning, try Bruno Latour, Jane Bennet, Graham Harman, or Tim Morton. They’re rather different thinkers, but each is interested in non-human agency.

I’ve got a working paper on graffiti, Animal, Vegetabale, or Mineral: What is Graffiti?, where I talk about kami at one point (pp. 6-12). BTW, I quote from that (superb) Eiko Ikegami book that Z mentioned upthread, Bonds of Civility: Aesthetic Networks and the Political Origins of Japanese Culture (Cambridge 2005).

597

Bill Benzon 09.09.17 at 1:16 pm

“time-slice Holbo” – A relative of Quine’s time-slice rabbit?

598

Sebastian H 09.09.17 at 1:33 pm

Val, for the sake of helping us out in the conversation, why don’t you SPECIFICALLY identify at least one tenet of liberal democracy that you don’t support. Please note that isn’t an OUTCOME.

599

Val 09.09.17 at 2:19 pm

I thought it might be useful to have definitions. People may or may not agree with them but at least they give us a starting point.

So first the definition of “Liberal democracy” according to Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_democracy

“Liberal democracy is a liberal political ideology and a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of classical liberalism.”

Then the definition of “Classical liberalism” according to Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_liberalism

“Classical liberalism is a political ideology, a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom. It is closely related to libertarianism and to free market capitalism.”

Then there is a discussion of Liberalism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberalism/

This is much broader and seems to encompass a very wide range of positions. Maybe a bit too broad, but puts a bit of nuance into Wikipedia’s bold assertion about “classical liberalism”. I’m guessing some people here subscribe to the more recent or ‘social’ form of liberalism, especially as Americans sometimes seem to use the term ‘liberal’ to mean the same thing as we here mean by ‘left’.

Then, trying to explain a bit about my views, here is a discussion of the “Ethics of care ” position http://www.iep.utm.edu/care-eth/

It’s quite comprehensive and includes a discussion about ethics of care as a political framework although it doesn’t (I think, I haven’t finished reading it all) include caring for environment/ecosystem, which I include in the definition of caring work I’m using in my thesis.

Finally here’s the info I promised about Ecocide earlier http://eradicatingecocide.com/our-earth/

I like this statement:
“”Ecocide law gives enforcement to a legal duty of care for the wider collective, for not only people and planet, but also future generations and the wider Earth community.”

Now it’s late here, I have to go to sleep. I hope the people in the path of the hurricanes are ok.

600

Val 09.09.17 at 2:23 pm

@598
Stephen H, stop SHOUTING at me. That’s not a REQUEST, it’s an ORDER.

601

John Holbo 09.09.17 at 2:30 pm

Well, I tried. No one will ever be able to say I didn’t try.

602

Val 09.09.17 at 2:36 pm

And just out of curiosity, who else is in the John Holbo -Stephen H ‘group’ (the ‘we’ and ‘us’ they’re referring to, who are apparently united in their condemnation and disapproval of me)?

I think that group is displaying some bad groupishness.

603

bob mcmanus 09.09.17 at 2:37 pm

I have always assumed it is to be read ‘original poster’.

Are you oppressing my outsider readings?

Ikegami: $50 or a lot of gasoline and time.

Umm, apologies if I am drifting far, but might be able to attach this, like a leech or something. The yokai are important to me as the robots. In current art-anime trends:yokai way up, mecha way down, isekai* rules! What does this mean?

Nature Human Technology

Nature: environment, body, history?, capitalism, patriarchy, yokai
Human: mediation, reason, affect, labour, praxis
Technology: language, political philosophy, Marxian theory, feminism, computers and networks, mecha and robots

And all the other damn category errors

Now I must run before somebody throws Heidegger at me. I don’t do Heidegger or Derrida. I am assuming ecofeminists have read their Haraway.

604

Val 09.09.17 at 2:48 pm

@601
It’s hopeless trying to convince women how right you are, because we’re so irrational and bad at thinking that we just can’t appreciate it. You did your best.

605

Val 09.09.17 at 2:52 pm

@ 590
“In the imaginary fairy-land of the modern ‘historian’ everyone enjoyed equality. There were no social divisions, no hierarchies, – even chimpanzees existed in a blissful state of equality before individual members were ‘violently’ dispossessed of their right to reproduce at will. Slavery was invented sometime in a murky period around 1600 by violent, Christian, straight white men who loved guns and who wanted to take all the good stuff from women and people of color. Before that, everything was great. Bad them!”

This is silly, btw. I thought you were trying not to write nonsense these days.

606

JanieM 09.09.17 at 2:57 pm

It’s hopeless trying to convince women

Don’t lump me in with your groupishness. That’s not a REQUEST, it’s an ORDER.

607

Layman 09.09.17 at 2:58 pm

@Val, I’m disappointed that you won’t answer my questions. You don’t have to, of course, but I don’t think we can get anywhere if you don’t. And that won’t be my fault.

608

Bill Benzon 09.09.17 at 3:00 pm

Um, err, Val, there’s no “Stephen H” here. If you want Sebastian H to stop shouting, you might try getting his name right.

609

Bill Benzon 09.09.17 at 3:32 pm

@Val #602: Which group am I in? Both and neither (?).

As an aside – but I’m going somewhere with this – up until a short time ago I’d assumed that “OP” meant “original post”. Until John said (595) he thought it meant “original poster” that possibility had never occurred to me. Now I’m wondering if others have the same reading.

But that ambiguity is small potatoes.

When dealing with things like “democracy”, “liberal”, and “liberal democracy” the possibility of (more or less innocently/unintentionally) getting it wrong confused are legion. Thus I’m not a political theorist. If a couple of days ago you’d asked me to define “liberal democracy” I’m pretty sure I’d have gotten it wrong. I mean, I’m pretty sure the term is fuzzy and flexible, but still, allowing for maximum leeway, I’d have gotten it wrong. Heck, if I were to hazard a defintion right now, I probably wouldn’t do very well.

Just how and when this conversation got off track, I don’t really know nor do I care. John can be abrasive and abrupt (“passive agressive” I seem to recall him saying). And you waded in before you’d read carefully and brought your default understandings of various terms with you. Now we’ve got a mess.

Maybe there’s no way out. Just let it go.

@bob mcmanus: Sorry, can’t give you any more help. Wish the Ikegami were cheaper. There some good stuff in there about liminal spaces (forget whether or not she uses that term, but that’s what she’s talking about) that might shed light on isekai.

610

engels 09.09.17 at 3:57 pm

[Kind of gutted that one of the few times a CT debate approached a topic I knew and care a little about (what’s wrong with liberal democracy and what could replace it) the only legitimate angle on it was clarifying the Word of Val. As Flaubert probably said: c’est la vie!]

611

engels 09.09.17 at 4:00 pm

[But how better to end such a debate than with an orgy of links to online encyclopaedia articles?]

612

Layman 09.09.17 at 4:37 pm

engels: [Kind of gutted that one of the few times a CT debate approached a topic I knew and care a little about (what’s wrong with liberal democracy and what could replace it) the only legitimate angle on it was clarifying the Word of Val. As Flaubert probably said: c’est la vie!]

Which comments of yours should I read to learn more about your view of what’s wrong with liberal democracy and what could replace it?

613

engels 09.09.17 at 6:27 pm

[PPPS. I wanna apologise to Bill Benzon for appearing dismissive of his views on animism, which sound interesting and eminently worthy of engagement, and make it clear that my snark was directed specifically at the argument that ‘hurricanes do things’ provides a reason for thinking they have agency.]

614

Sebastian H 09.09.17 at 7:37 pm

It’s just emphasis for clarity.

And again, you’re are confusing groups with individuals. No one is saying that the group “women” are incapable of explaining things. It isn’t helpful to hide behind that label. I am saying that you particularly are either uninterested in making the effort of explanations, and/or you are not currently understanding why people can’t bridge the logical gaps in your explanations. (Please note that I said explanations not thinking. There may very well be excellent logic in your thinking, you just don’t share enough of the particulars for me to see it.).

Perhaps it would be best for you to approach it as an ecosystem problem. In the crooked timber ecosystem you need to take certain approaches in order to discuss things in a functional way. That doesn’t mean it is the perfect ecosystem. That doesn’t mean you can’t make it better. It means that understanding how it functions is a good first step to working with it.

615

Sebastian H 09.09.17 at 7:41 pm

By the way. It would definitely help, if you actually want to positively interact with the ecosystem, that if you disagree with things like ‘liberal democracy’ you should give a specific example of a tenet (not outcome) that you disagree with, and ideally explain why you think that doesn’t work with the post or some specific comment.

That isn’t an order.

That isn’t a request.

That is an explanation of how to function in a particular ecosystem.

616

Val 09.09.17 at 8:18 pm

Layman and everyone, I thought it might be useful to have some clarity about what we were talking about. I spent unite a bit of time reading, trying to clarify my thoughts, because I wanted to answer the questions. I didn’t just put links, I put definitions – as a starting point for discussion.

But I don’t know, I think this has been a set up, and an exercise in group bullying. Nothing that I said was going to be ok. I tried not to let it get to me, I tried to make jokes and give as good as I get, but none of it was going to be any use.

(Btw I though OP meant original post also. That’s how I use it.)

There is just too much nastiness here, I don’t know why. Like for example I think engels would actually agree with me on some of my criticisms of liberal democracy, but it’s more important for him to demonstrate his contempt for me.

I don’t know why reasonable adults should want to do this pile-on stuff. Presumably it’s because John Holbo authorised it – I’m the ‘outsider’ and you are all entitled to show your contempt for me – but I would have thought people here were better than that.

I’m guessing I read the original post more closely than most people here, even though I hadn’t read it all when I first answered questions. This kind of ‘you deserved the contempt because you hadn’t read it’ stuff is wrong.

I read the post carefully and I didn’t agree with the ‘liberal democracy’ framing. I have tried many times, in many different ways, to explain why I think that framing, or discourse, is misguided. I don’t think I was always clear, but I don’t think that’s the problem here.

The problem seems to me that John Holbo didn’t like being criticised, so he decided to single me out for ridicule. Rather than answering my questions or criticisms, he kept insisting that they didn’t make sense, and quite a few of you seem to have gone along with that.

I’m sure it would have been possible to have a civil discussion about this, instead of a pile-on.

I apologise for getting Sebastian H’s name wrong.

617

Val 09.09.17 at 8:27 pm

@ 609

“Just how and when this conversation got off track, I don’t really know nor do I care. John can be abrasive and abrupt (“passive agressive” I seem to recall him saying). And you waded in before you’d read carefully and brought your default understandings of various terms with you. Now we’ve got a mess.”

So who do you think hasn’t brought their “default understandings” into this, and why is it wrong to try for some clarity around the understandings?

But one thing I concede (not specifically to you, but in general). John Holbo’s ridicule of me may not be primarily to do with me being a feminist critic. I think that has something todo with it, but I think it’s more because I’m a critic.

618

engels 09.09.17 at 8:28 pm

[For the record, I posted the ‘Talk to the Trees’ clip before his comment on trees appeared.]

619

Val 09.09.17 at 8:50 pm

Layman
I’ve said this before, but here it is again. In classical liberalism, the concept of the individual citizen was an adult white man of property and ‘science’ (ie educated), who was imagined as in control of ‘nature’ and superior to or in control of women and inferior races.

This Enlightenment understanding was also integrally related to capitalism, although there was a pre-existing belief in hierarchy and the right of some people (men) to control the labourer of others and have more money, wealth and resources than others. The belief that the production of commodities for the market is superior to and more important than small scale, local domestic and subsistence work, mainly done by women, was, however, common to both classical liberals and Marx.

I don’t think that contemporary liberalism has successfully overcome these assumptions, in particular it still draws on the idea of the individual as a discrete being who makes ‘free’ choices, rather than as someone who is also part of a community and ecosystem, and whose ideas and understandings are developed within that context. I have said most of this before.

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Orange Watch 09.09.17 at 8:59 pm

As an aside – but I’m going somewhere with this – up until a short time ago I’d assumed that “OP” meant “original post”. Until John said (595) he thought it meant “original poster” that possibility had never occurred to me. Now I’m wondering if others have the same reading.

It can mean either, depending on context. In a forum like this, where ideas are discussed more than people (usually), I would assume by default it meant post. Having said that, I still look at the context when I see it, not that context will or even can always point to one meaning over the other. As has been made clear yet again…

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J-D 09.09.17 at 9:22 pm

John Holbo

Well, I tried. No one will ever be able to say I didn’t try.

Since I actually did say that, it seems clear to me that I can say that.

(My exact words were:)

You make extremely abstract claims and are very resistant to concrete analysis. This means that the claims can’t get clarified, even as to what they mean, never mind whether they are true. There’s no way forward.

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Bill Benzon 09.09.17 at 11:19 pm

I just remembered, a number of years ago I wrote a short sorta’ review of Ikegami, Bonds of Civility. In that I summarized the argument:

Early modern Japan was, like most such civilizations, socially stratified. Overall rule was vested in the samurai class, who ceased being warriors and functioned more as bureaucrats and civil servants. The samurai class was dominated by the Tokugawa clan, headquartered in Edo (Tokyo). Ikegami argues that individuals who were assigned different stations by the Tokugawa shogunate would temporarily “escape” that structure in the pursuit of poetry, flower arranging, the tea ceremony, theatre, painting, and so forth. Samurai, merchants, farmers, and others were thus able to meet and interact as equals in these aesthetic activities. Over the centuries, these informal institutions forged a civil society “that generated an image of aesthetic Japan as if it had been a natural description of the geographical identity called Japan” (375). In the late nineteenth century, this identity coalesced around the figure of the emperor when the nation in general, and the shogunate in particular, was forced to adapt to Western imperialism (372-376).

So, artistic activities provided a social space where different groups of people that are normally separated by class distinction could meet as equals. As Z mentions up above (#125) these spaces exist ‘off to the side’ (my phrase, not his), as it were, of the otherwise strongly hierarchical lord/vassal structure of Japanese society. When meeting in these pursuits they would often adopt a name they’d use in pursuit of these activities, and for no other purpose. The physical locations where they met might well be the isekai (other world) that mcmanus mentions.

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Val 09.09.17 at 11:36 pm

JanieM

” … That’s not a REQUEST, it’s an ORDER.”

That was a joke I made because Sebastian H has repeatedly told me what I should be doing in this thread, frequently using CAPITAL LETTERS.

If you insist on coming into threads to police my behaviour, at least understand the context first.

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John Holbo 09.10.17 at 12:29 am

As I said, I really am done. Val can have all the last words she wants, past this point.

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Bill Benzon 09.10.17 at 12:34 am

@ engels: Apology accepted. I wondered what was going on, but decided to let it go.

@ Val 617: Of course, we ALL brought our default understandings (of everything, not just liberalism, democracy and their conjunction) with us, and John used his in making the post.

And, yes, the abstractness of the argument was/is a problem. I happen to like (very) abstract arguments. I think they’re useful and necessary. But they’re also very hard to control.

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Layman 09.10.17 at 12:35 am

Val: “I’ve said this before, but here it is again. In classical liberalism…”

You have said it before, which makes me wonder why you’re saying it again rather than responding to the questions I’ve asked you about liberal democracy. I’m not asking you about classical or contemporary liberalism. The OP was not about classical or contemporary liberalism. We’re talking about liberal democracy, a particular form of democracy possessing specific foundational characteristics which I have tried (inexpertly) to lay out, so that you could respond by telling me whether you endorse or reject them; and, if the latter, why, and what you would replace them with.

“But I don’t know, I think this has been a set up…”

“I’m sure it would have been possible to have a civil discussion about this…”

I’m trying to have a civil discussion with you right now, about what the OP says and why you objected to it. I have been for a couple of days. But, I think you’re not cooperating with that effort by actually addressing the things I’m saying; instead, you’re basically changing the subject. You’re avoiding direct answers to what I think are quite basic questions about the nature of your objections, and arguing for a special definition of ‘liberal democracy’ which isn’t standard so as to deflect my questions. It also looks like you’re accusing me of bad faith and bullying, which is (I think) absurd. What should I do? Give up?

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JanieM 09.10.17 at 12:39 am

If you insist on coming into threads to police my behaviour, at least understand the context first.

1. On what basis do you assume I’m too dim to understand the context? Do you think I can’t read the thread and tell when there are capital letters showing up?

2. Since you seem to feel free to police other people’s behavior (on someone else’s blog, no less) in almost every thread you participate in, I don’t know why different rules should apply to me.

And as for “insist[ing] on coming into threads…” — I think I’ve only ever made one comment about/to you, or at least had only one exchange. What I said then still applies.

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kidneystones 09.10.17 at 1:00 am

Val, I’m confident you have expertise in your area, are intelligent, and have a variety of rhetorical tools at your disposal. Your ‘arguments’ held up in the fun house mirror are hardly flattering and for that I apologize.

However, to an outside observer your fixations with individual members of this community are curious to say the least. Several years ago when you first engaged me I visited your web page, where your arguments and those of your interlocutors are clearly displayed. Your site at that time was a desert. No doubt it’s now throbbing with vibrant non-sexist debate. Or, perhaps it isn’t, through no fault of your own of course.

You may be active on other sites and engage with other communities. I’ve no idea. You’re far from the biggest bore at CT, at least in my view. However, your reluctance to inform yourself of fundamentals (which you openly admit to here) combined with your tetchiness and volubility makes for less than compelling reading. Many go to some effort to engage you in the spirit of good faith and are often rebuffed, or demeaned as sexists and bigots.

In my experience, such reflexive accusations of sexism/racism almost always instantly vaporize the integrity of the individual making the accusation. Why? Because many people take such issues seriously; and regard glib rhetorical barbs of the kind you frequently deploy as transparent admissions of indifference, immaturity, or worse, – ad hom the last refuge of the bankrupt intellect, etc.

I’d prefer to hear more from the informed Val, and much less from the ‘I haven’t read the book and don’t know much about the arguments.’ Val.

Jacob’s book sounds great and he’s very kindly offered to make copies available. That’s a good thing, and with that I’ll say thanks to Jacob, to JH, and to all.

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rwschnetler 09.10.17 at 1:05 am

@Val 616:
Layman and everyone, I thought it might be useful to have some clarity about what we were talking about. I spent unite a bit of time reading, trying to clarify my thoughts, because I wanted to answer the questions. I didn’t just put links, I put definitions – as a starting point for discussion.

It would have been fantastic if you did that at the beginning. You meandered all over the place and when they ask for clarification you accuse them of bullying.

Here is a thought, if somebody ask for more information, stop the personal attack crap and see if you can phrase it in a way that us mere mortals can understand.

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engels 09.10.17 at 1:15 am

Like for example I think engels would actually agree with me on some of my criticisms of liberal democracy, but it’s more important for him to demonstrate his contempt for me.

Well I don’t really take kindly to eg people who accuse me of lying then, when I show that I didn’t, just change the subject—maybe it’s just me… Also whenever you say anything about your actual views they just seem to be third way/Clinton/Blair type stuff so while I’m sympathetic to the themes of some of your criticisms in practicd they seem to be mostly posturing

Layman: the two comments you dismissed. Basically three issues (which you haven’t touched on): the passivity of most citizens under a representative system, authoritarianism in the ‘economic sphere’ and the de facto political power of the capitalist class. Generally happy to expand on that on the same tedious length as anyone else but maybe not after a week of this…

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Val 09.10.17 at 3:03 am

Just out of curiosity, how many people have read Jacob Levy’s book? Obviously John Holbo, but kidneystones are you trying to suggest that everyone here but me has? Because I think that’s wrong. I read the linked article by Jacob Levy, but I have mainly been talking about the ‘original post’ as the reference point. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

JanieM, as far as I can remember we have only had about two interchanges and both of them have been you reprimanding me. If you want to present another form of feminism that’s different from mine, fine, but could you try to do so positively? Otherwise you do come across as policing on behalf of the patriarchy.

Layman, I realise that you have been civil, but when you, like others, refuse to engage with the things I’m saying and just keep repeating that I’m not answering your questions, I am at a loss. I’m trying to answer your questions but somehow the answers are never good enough. Can’t you see that this situation where I’m (virtually) here in front of a crowd of people, most of whom are telling me what I’m doing wrong, without seriously engaging with what I’m saying, is ethically wrong?

What is actually wrong with the answers I’ve given you? Could you take one thing I’ve said and explain why it’s not meeting your criteria of an acceptable answer? Because at the moment your criteria, like John Holbo’s, are opaque to me. I realise I’m doing something very wrong in your eyes but I don’t know what it is. As far as I can see, I’m trying to answer your questions, but none of my answers are good enough, for reasons that I don’t understand.

It seems to be, with both you and John Holbo, that you are trying to say to me that I actually do accept liberal democracy as the ‘normal’ or ‘best possible’ political form, and I’m saying to you, no I don’t, but you can’t accept that. It does seem to me that you are talking within some hegemonic US liberal democracy paradigm that makes it difficult for you to think otherwise. That’s where I started at the beginning, with the ‘incommensurate discourses’, and it seems to me that these repeated claims that I haven’t answered you, that you don’t know what I’m talking about, are probably evidence of that.

I know that you are not talking within the discourse of ‘classical liberalism’. What I’m saying is that contemporary US style liberalism has not fully overcome the problems associated with that discourse. Empirically, you can probably accept that that is true. America, by the admission of most liberals that I have read, is politically divided along racial lines. Most commentators seem to think that is the main factor keeping Republicans, especially Trump, in power.

Moreover, America has a very low representation of women in politics compared with similar countries.

So on an empirical level, you can probably admit that the patriarchal, racist assumptions of the founding fathers still play out in your liberal democracy in practice. But when I suggest to you that there may be similar discursive problems, that apparently is unthinkable.

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Val 09.10.17 at 3:42 am

Just another tangential piece of evidence that possibly might help (if it doesn’t confuse you further, but please try to read with an open mind).

I’ve been doing (and should right now be writing up) a literature review of articles addressing health promotion, equity and environmental sustainability. My original searches produced 430 articles and I have ended up with about 18 (I’m still trying to decide on some). One of the key reasons why so many are excluded is that by my definition, health promotion that addresses environmental sustainability has to be about promoting the health of the ecosystem as well as human health, and most articles prioritise human health and assume the ‘environment’ as being ‘for’ humans.

I don’t think that’s necessarily intentional and I think many of these researchers are actually interested in caring for other species and the ecosystems, but that’s the way most articles are framed. We people who inherited enlightenment thinking and several thousand years of patriarchy and monotheistic religions before that (and I include myself in that) just do think of ourselves as the centre of the universe, and trying to decenter ourselves and think ecologically as part of communities and ecosystems is hard. I struggle with it myself. So I’m not surprised if it’s not clear to others, but it would be good if people could try to understand.

(Kidneystones I realise these comments are long but I have been pushed and pushed to explain myself, so I’m trying to do that. As for my blog, it’s still a bit of a desert, but it’s about my research, and I’m also not a tenured academic, so I have to be cautious, which probably makes it a bit boring. One day I’d like to really let loose, but it still might be a desert for all I know. I think you have to be pretty frequent and consistent to be a good blogger with a large audience.)

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Orange Watch 09.10.17 at 3:45 am

Val@631:

JanieM, as far as I can remember we have only had about two interchanges and both of them have been you reprimanding me. If you want to present another form of feminism that’s different from mine, fine, but could you try to do so positively? Otherwise you do come across as policing on behalf of the patriarchy.

1) You do not, as a general rule, present your own feminism positively;the comment the above quote comes from is typical of this. As JanieM points out, you do quite frequently act as though actions you criticize others for are entirely acceptable for you.

2) You do not have a monopoly on feminism, so it is frankly insulting to see you dismiss without further discussion comments touching on gender as being e.g. “policing on behalf of the patriarchy” simply by virtue of the fact that they are critical of you, your claims, and/or your rhetoric.

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Val 09.10.17 at 3:49 am

Engels
I’m not third way – objectively I’m a Greens voter and by most political measures I’m on the far left. I’m sorry you feel I accused you of lying, I don’t think I did, but if you want to discuss it I can do that. I know that we have differences, but I think it might be good if we could put those aside sometimes in pursuit of left wing goals.

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Val 09.10.17 at 3:56 am

@633
As I’ve said, the ‘rhetoric’ that was being criticised was a joke, in response to Sebastian repeatedly telling me what to do.

Is it possible to consider whether Sebastian’s behaviour was ok, before criticising me? Because otherwise what you and JanieM are doing does look like policing on behalf of the patriarchy.

You could at least try being even-handed – ‘Val and Sebastian, you are both being very naughty’. It would at least be marginally fairer than what you’re doing.

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kidneystones 09.10.17 at 4:09 am

Val, I single you out because your behavior on this thread has been aggressive and abusive, and that’s putting it kindly. I’ve interacted with many here; and know very well first-hand what Layman, for example, can be like when he wants to throw an elbow.

Layman has been unfailingly polite and respectful towards you and been rewarded by you for his efforts with evasion and excuses. I thought his questions clear, well-framed, and fair. And he’s far from alone.

Your suggestion that JH composed his post as some sort of trap and that folks just pile on speaks to the state of your mind. You’ve mentioned you enjoy drinking and posting and we’re at the weekend now. But I don’t feel even that explains your behavior.

My own personal history with you (when you delivered your cheap shots – re: sexism – driving you off the threads) as well as the paucity of meaningful content in your posts convinced me then to have nothing further to do with you. And that’s been my rule to this point. I tried as gently as possible to point out that perhaps the lack of interest in your site might have something to do with your manner and the content of your posts.

Your 480 figure, btw, which you evidently feel represents something significant, could be culled by a focused academic to 14 in an afternoon, a week, or at most a month – assuming of course the academic in question has at least skimmed the articles, which as we know is always something of an open question in your case.

I do not operate in your own area and will therefore offer no specific comment on the quality of your ‘research.’ I can only wish you the best of luck and respectfully restate my suggestion that you write less, and read and think more clearly before you write.

I take time-outs myself for lots of good reasons. Just a thought.

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JanieM 09.10.17 at 4:12 am

If you want to present another form of feminism that’s different from mine, fine, but could you try to do so positively? Otherwise you do come across as policing on behalf of the patriarchy.

I don’t want to present any form of feminism at all. That’s your schtick, I have my own.

Do you really have not the slightest shred of a clue that other people live out here in the world outside your head and care about things in a different order of priority from you, or even about different things entirely?

How I “come across” to you is of no moment to me; I have a strong suspicion that I come across quite differently to other people here, not necessarily positively, but lo and behold, not in terms of anything whatsoever to do with “the patriarchy.”

I’m not “policing” on behalf of anyone or anything except my own irritation at your impenetrable sanctimony (see above), and at the way you seem to manage to make so many CT threads be about you instead of about whatever the writers of the OPs intended them to be about.

And with that, I will stop contributing to the problem.

[Drafted this before I saw @Orange Watch — for which I’m grateful. But still going back to lurking.]

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Val 09.10.17 at 4:49 am

@636
I was being polite to you and you are being insulting and patronising. I should have known better, I will try not to make that mistake again.

JanieM – you may notice I respond to what people say to me. Try to consider that it is the people who talk to me who are ‘making the thread about me’. Clearly if I was just making comments repeatedly that no one was engaging with that would be different, but I don’t usually even manage to reply to all the people who are talking to me.

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Val 09.10.17 at 4:53 am

@636
I should really say – your answer is horrible. You hide behind anonymity and say nasty things to people, where are your ethics? I am now going to focus on my ‘research’ as you call it, but you are a disgrace as an academic.

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John Holbo 09.10.17 at 5:17 am

I think this thread has reached the end of its productive life. In an hour I’m going to close it. Anyone has anything else to say, say it now.

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