Michael Sandel’s Reith Lectures.

by Harry on June 9, 2009

A more suitable pick for the Reith Lectures I cannot imagine. Sandel’s first lecture is online here, and if, like me, you’re pushed for time the transcript (with comments and questions from Ed Miliband, David Willetts, Baroness Williams, Oliver Kamm, and someone called Owen) is here. The bio for Sandel contains this surprise:

A more unusual claim to fame is that Professor Sandel is believed to be the inspiration for the nuclear power magnate Montgomery Burns in The Simpsons cartoon.

Anyway, feel free to discuss Sandel’s first lecture. Cohen seminar rules apply (i.e., read the bloody thing before commenting — unlike Cohen’s book its free, short, and an easy read).

The _Financial Times_ isn’t the leftiest of newspapers, but it is hard to argue with their “verdict”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4cd4fc48-5460-11de-a58d-00144feabdc0.html on the European Parliament elections:

The centre-right held its ground or advanced, both where it is in power and where it is in opposition. The mainstream left was decimated. This election shows that the social democratic parties have lost the will to govern. At a time when “the end of capitalism” is raised as a serious prospect, the parties whose historical mission was to replace capitalism with socialism offer no governing philosophy. Their anti-crisis policies are barely distinguishable from those of their rivals. The leadership crisis in several European socialist parties suggests their outdated ideas are matched by oversized egos.

Greens triumphed where the traditional left failed. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who knows a thing or two about critiques of capitalism, appealed to voters willing to consider fundamental social change. As one of few groups to fight on pan-European issues, the Greens also proved that not all voters are deaf to Europe-wide politics. But the crisis has most benefited the strand of the European right that was never against regulating the market economy. By arguing that the crisis is a result of excessive “Anglo-Saxon” policies, centre-right parties have presented themselves as the most trustworthy stewards of a safer, European-style capitalism. Voters agreed.

My own take on the failures of European social democracy a few months ago “was more or less identical”:https://crookedtimber.org/2009/02/18/social-democrats-and-capitalism/. I’d love to be convinced that I was wrong though. Or, in the absence of a compelling counter-claim, at least get a better sense of why European social democratic parties have become empty shells. One first-approximation guess is that this had to do with the largely successful efforts by social democrat ‘reformers’ to replace the old anti-capitalist ideas and language with more market-friendly stuff, which succeeded just in time to leave these parties completely unprepared to deal with the demise of actually existing capitalism. A second is that current day social democrats are much less able than their 1930s-1950s predecessors to meld nationalism and market constraints. Other possible explanations?

Apologies

by Henry on June 9, 2009

I’m glad to see that Ed Whelan has “apologized”:http://bench.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MjljOTg3NDY4ZWUzZWFkODliMzU4M2M3NGM5YTQ2N2Q, for having outed “Publius”:http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2009/06/stay-classy-ed-whelan.html. Bad that he did what he did – good that he apologized for it, and very straightforwardly too. Good also that so many conservatives came out swinging on the right side of this issue. But I actually think that “Michael Krauss”:http://www.pointoflaw.com/archives/2009/06/blogging-ethics.php, professor at GMU’s law school and sometime blogger, was arguably worse behaved than Whelan over this. Whelan perhaps didn’t think through the possible consequences of outing an untenured legal academic. Krauss very clearly did think it through – and apparently wanted the worst to happen. At least, this seems to me to be the most reasonable reading of his expressed hope that “the South Texas tenure committee is watching and taking note.” To hope that a tenure committee will take note of a behaviour you are condemning is to hope that they will deny the responsible individual tenure for doing this (if there is a plausible alternative reading, I am not seeing it). Given that Krauss is himself a senior legal academic, whose opinion of aspiring professors may genuinely affect their chances of doing well, this is nasty and vindictive bullying, which has (to use his own words against him) “no redeeming argument.” Krauss should think through what he has said, take it back and publicly apologize.

Update: I see that Brian Leiter, whose many contributions to intellectual life include his “occasional interventions in this blog’s comment section”:https://crookedtimber.org/2009/03/01/greatest-philosopher-of-the-twentieth-century/#comment-267599, is still “disinclined to apologize”:http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2005/06/who_is_juan_non.html for his aborted effort to out ‘Juan non-Volokh’ a few years back. The comparison is instructive.

Philosophy: Mind and Manners

by John Holbo on June 9, 2009

Welcome to our guest, Michèle Lamont, whose book I have been intending to read because it sounds damned interesting. The topic of her first guest post (philosophy vs. theory) has been an abiding research and reading interest of mine. A quick point about pecking orders, in response to her post, then I’ll just plug my own stuff, what hey! (But first: Squid and Owl was good today, and highly relevant to the theme of this very post. Right, that’s out of the way.)

Lamont says there’s a question as to “whether philosophers [inhabitants of that cave known as the department of philosophy, that is] have intellectual/emotional dispositions that preclude free interdisciplinary exchange of ideas. Or whether they are too concerned with their own status or with making claims for philosophy as the queen of the disciplines (encompassing others) to be open to interchange (to be contrasted with top-down proselytizing).” Yes, that one does get asked, and her asking it has provoked the usual range of responses in comments. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) But let me articulate what seems to me a fairly important sociological component to this ongoing interdisciplinary failure to communicate that actually tends to be overlooked – and is almost always funny. (So that’s two reasons not to overlook it.) Philosophers (by which I shall mean: typical inhabitants of the philosophy department) seem hyper-aggressive and bent on world domination because there is a style of debate in the philosophy department that is typically received as friendly and (personally) non-threatening by philosophers but typically received by non-philosophers in the humanities as the very opposite: namely, as unfriendly, an attempt to destroy, to humiliate, to silence, to cause the opponent to lose face in an intolerably grind-your-claims-into-sand fashion. (By the way, please note that I said ‘typical’. Yes, I know there will be counter-examples.) Who’s right? The question is ill-formed. It’s a cultural miscommunication. Maybe it’s easier to illustrate with a likely hypothetical. [click to continue…]