From the monthly archives:

February 2013

Inside the Division of Historical Defense

by Eric on February 13, 2013

In the sub-basement of the old State, War, and Navy building in Washington, DC, there’s a door with a small, yellowing card next to it reading, in Selectriced letters, “AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.” (There is, of course, an ongoing debate between the authenticity faction and the archival preservation faction over whether the card ought to be replaced with one made of acid-free paper.) Inside the room is – well, is a lot more dust than there should be, actually, but also an agglomeration of black boxes wired to a console distinguished by its steel heft and Bakelite knobs. There’s a row of lights across the top of it, each with a paper label underneath – 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, and so on – years extending back to the dawn of the republic and forward, with the limited foresight of the original engineers, to 1976. Fortunately, that year – with a special bicentennial appropriation – the AHA was able to add an auxiliary console, carrying the lights forward to the millennium. But no further; nobody works here full time anymore. [click to continue…]

Some Microfoundations for Pragmatist Democracy

by Henry on February 13, 2013

One of the arguments that Knight and Johnson make is that standard ‘epistemic’ accounts of democracy do not provide a good foundation for understanding what democracy actually does. Such accounts argue that democratic institutions can do a good job at capturing and aggregating the knowledge of citizens, so that the collectivity can make better decisions than any individual. For example, Condorcet shows that if everyone is slightly more likely to be right than wrong, and if they make their judgments independently, then the more people who vote on a question, the more likely that they will collectively reach the right decision. [click to continue…]

The girls are not alright

by Maria on February 12, 2013

In Sydney, there’s a restored old barracks in the central business district. From 1848, all single female immigrants came through there before being funneled on to jobs as maids or farm girls. Many were Irish, part of a government scheme to get poor women out of work-houses or other bad situations and send them to Australia where there weren’t enough women to work and marry.

Hyde Park Barracks is a wonderful museum; imaginative and unflinching. Visiting it a month ago, I was moved to angry tears. In a darkened room at the end of a bare wood hall, there were photographs, stories and artifacts of these would-be servant girls. The centerpiece was a battered wooden trunk, about the size of my council recycling bin. Each girl got one to carry everything she might need to a place she would never come home from. She was issued with a Bible, nighties and knickers, a comb and some soap.

This often involuntary transportation was actually a really good option for many girls. Most went on to marry and often outlive husbands, and support and raise families all over Australia. They are shown photographed formally as old women in high, white lace collars and stiff black crepe dresses, the very picture of Victorian respectability; proud, upright, straining just a bit forward, not to show how far they have come, but as if to imply they have always been so prosperous.

What upset me was how unwanted they were, first in Ireland, then in England, and finally in Australia. Irish peasant girls were considered dirty, cheeky and most likely fallen. They were damaged goods. (The good Protestant burghers of bootstrapping Sydney were alarmed at the influx of Catholic breeders, too.) My heart ached for those cheerful, ignorant, doughty girls who pitched up on a then-despised shore to find out even the people there thought they were lazy sluts. [click to continue…]

Democratic Legitimacy and Democracy’s Priority

by Melissa Schwartzberg on February 12, 2013

The central argument of _The Priority of Democracy,_ as I understand it, is that democracy does not have a claim to be the sole justifiable means by which all decisions should be made in a modern political community. Instead, its primary role is to enable citizens (on free and equal terms) to select, implement, and maintain the institutions regulating first-order decision-making by means of voting and political argument. Though I find this quite compelling, I did wonder about the conception of democratic legitimacy underlying the theory, and wanted to push Knight and Johnson to say a bit more. [click to continue…]

The Political Consequences of Learning

by Chris Ansell on February 11, 2013

One of the morning news stories that recently caught my attention was about the power of the New Finns—a rising Finnish populist party—to change the debate about bailing out Greece and possibly other southern European countries (_Financial Times_, September 24 2012). The New Finns have pushed the two largest Finnish parties—the Social Democrats and the Centre Party—to harden their line on Greece and led them to demand collateral from Greece and Spain for aid.  The governing parties, the article suggests, hope that their harder line has taken the wind out of the True Finns’ sails and brought them in line with the 54% of the Finnish electorate who support taking a tougher stance toward their Mediterranean partners.  The story catches my attention not only because I am visiting in Sweden, Finland’s neighbor, but also because I have just finished reading Jack Knight and Jim Johnson’s powerful and tightly-reasoned treatise, _The Priority of Democracy: The Political Consequences of Pragmatism._ [click to continue…]

Seminar on The Priority of Democracy

by Henry on February 11, 2013

Over the next several days, we’ll be running a seminar on Jack Knight and Jim Johnson’s recent book, _The Priority of Democracy._ The participants:

“Chris Ansell”: is a professor of political science at UC Berkeley. He works on pragmatism and Western European politics, and is the author of “Pragmatist Democracy: Evolutionary Learning as Public Philosophy”:

“Peter Boettke”: is University Professor of Philosophy and Economics at George Mason University. His most recent book is “Living Economics: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”:

Henry Farrell blogs here.

Ingrid Robeyns blogs here.

“Cosma Shalizi”: is Associate Professor of Statistics at Carnegie Mellon University, and a former guest-blogger here at CT.

“Melissa Schwartzberg”: is an associate professor and political theorist at Columbia University. She has a forthcoming “book”: under contract with Cambridge University Press, Counting the Many: The Origins and Limits of Supermajority Rule.

“Adrian Vermeule”: is a professor at Harvard Law School. His book, “The System of the Constitution”:, was published by Oxford University Press in 2011.

Popen Thread

by Kieran Healy on February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict steps down and surely Mitt Romney thinks, “One door closes, another door opens”. Or maybe the FAI could engineer a swap for Giovanni Trappatoni. Either way, the field seems wide open.


by Henry on February 11, 2013

“Charlie Stross”: argues that we’re living in a post-democratic system.

bq. Institutional survival pressure within organizations — namely political parties — causes them to systematically ignore or repel candidates for political office who are disinclined to support the status quo or who don’t conform to the dominant paradigm in the practice of politics. … The status quo has emerged by consensus between politicians of opposite parties, who have converged on a set of policies that they deem least likely to lose them an election — whether by generating media hostility, corporate/business sector hostility, or by provoking public hostility. … The news cycle is dominated by large media organizations and the interests of the corporate sector. … Overall, the nature of the problem seems to be that our representative democratic institutions have been captured by meta-institutions that implement the iron law of oligarchy by systematically reducing the risk of change. … So the future isn’t a boot stamping on a human face, forever. It’s a person in a beige business outfit advocating beige policies that nobody wants (but nobody can quite articulate a coherent alternative to) with a false mandate obtained by performing rituals of representative democracy that offer as much actual choice as a Stalinist one-party state. [click to continue…]

Who’s your daddy?

by John Holbo on February 10, 2013

I read Jonah Goldberg op-eds; also Media Matters; thus, back to back, this: [click to continue…]

Remembering Aaron Swartz Again

by Henry on February 8, 2013

As Crooked Timber readers will already know, there was a memorial service for Aaron in DC this week. Like “Rick Perlstein”:, I wasn’t able to go. Unlike Aaron’s funeral, it was a specifically political event, intended to draw publicity both to Aaron’s causes and the causes of Aaron’s death.

Public deaths are strange. When someone dies, what is left is an imperfect aggregation of different people’s memories, which can never surprise you in the way that the real person could. But when the aggregation of memories is mostly made up of the memories of people who never knew Aaron directly, it is stranger again. The person whom you knew becomes a mythological figure, onto whom others map all sorts of things that may, or may not, have anything to do with the actual individual. It must be much stranger for the people who knew Aaron much better than I did (we were good friends, but not intimate ones).
[click to continue…]

Reality breaks through the Overton window

by John Quiggin on February 7, 2013

While I was looking at sources for my post on declining middle class access to first-tier college education, I came across this piece by Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute His main point is the possibility of reducing education costs through low-cost distance/online learning, on which I might say more another time[1]. What struck me, though was this passage (emphasis added)

my 10K-B.A. is what made higher education possible for me, and it changed the course of my life. More people should have this opportunity, in a society that is suffering from falling economic and social mobility.

The change on this point has been striking in a matter of a few years. When I was writing Zombie Economics in 2009 and early 2010, I spent a lot of time citing work going back to the 1980s and 1990s to show that the US has less intergenerational income mobility than most European countries. At that time, the conventional wisdom was definitely that the US was characterized by equality of opportunity – there were still plenty of hacks willing to deny that inequality of outcomes had increased, including plenty at AEI.[2]

The Occupy movement played a big role in focusing attention on the general issue of inequality, and once attention was focused, the facts pretty much spoke for themselves. At the other end of the political spectrum, the intellectual collapse of the political right became more and more evident, to the point that they were unable to put up any effective resistance. Instead we got arguments like this from Tyler Cowen, suggesting that maybe social immobility isn’t so bad after all.

[click to continue…]

It’s over. The politicians have backed down. We won.

by Corey Robin on February 6, 2013

Hi everyone. Just a quick note because I’m completely exhausted. Long story, short: we won. This morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out strongly in defense of my department’s position on the Brooklyn College/BDS controversy. Then the “progressive” politicians followed suit. I’ll just give you the links to my blog, in reverse chronological order, which you can read if you want to get caught up. Many thanks for all the support! [click to continue…]

City Council Speaker—and leading mayoral candidate—Christine Quinn is a signatory to that “other” letter about the Brooklyn College BDS panel from the “progressive” government officials and politicians.

In that letter, Quinn and four members of Congress, Bill de Blasio, and many more, call upon my department, political science, to rescind our co-sponsorship of the BDS panel at Brooklyn College because, well, read it for yourself:

We are, however, concerned that  an academic department has decided to formally endorse an event that advocates strongly for one side of a highly-charged issue,  and has rejected legitimate offers from prominent individuals willing to simultaneously present an alternative view.  By excluding alternative positions from an event they are sponsoring, the Political Science Department has actually stifled free speech by preventing honest, open debate.  Brooklyn College must stand firmly against this thwarting of academic freedom.

(Set aside the fact that the department is not excluding anyone since we did not initiate, conceive, organize or plan this event. Also set aside the fact that we did not reject legitimate offers from prominent individuals willing to present alternative views because we were never asked to do so, and even if we had been, we would have been in no position to reject those offers. Because we did not initiate, conceive,…you get the idea.)

No, here’s what’s interesting about Quinn’s signature.

For many years when she was a member of the City Council, Quinn and her office financially supported—to the tune of roughly $4,000 a year—the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at the CUNY Graduate Center. The money, according to one representative request letter from CLAGS that I have seen (from 2004), was supposed to fund publicity and outreach for CLAGS talks, panels, and events.

Talks like this one (see p. 13 of this newsletter): “Unzipping the Monster Dick: Deconstructing Ableist Penile Representations in Two Ethnic Homoerotic Magazines.”

Or this talk from February of that same year (see p. 12). Well, it had no title, but it was given by one Judith Butler, who will be speaking at the BDS event and whose views on Israel/Palestine and BDS—like her views on gender, free speech, and so much else—have aroused such controversy.

(See p. 22 for Quinn’s name under a list of “foundation and institutional supporters.”)

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s terrific that Christine Quinn used her office and its monies to support talks like those that are sponsored (and not just co-sponsored!) by CLAGS.

I just wonder how she can criticize my department’s co-sponsorship of a panel (to which we donated no money at all)—however one-sided that panel may be (and check out the CLAGS talks in that newsletter; not much balance there!)—when she actually used the city’s money to subsidize and promote talks at CUNY that were sponsored not by student groups but by an official university program and that were equally controversial and “divisive,” that excluded alternative positions, and that advocated strongly for one side of an issue.

Given her own history of supporting, not just with her name but with her office’s dollars, such official CUNY programming, I think she should rescind her name from that letter.

I urge all of you to write or call her office and ask her to do so immediately. Her office phone numbers are (212) 564-7757 and (212) 788-7210; you can email her here.

Where Does Mayor Bloomberg Stand on Academic Freedom?

by Corey Robin on February 4, 2013

This morning, Karen Gould, the president of Brooklyn College, issued an extraordinarily powerful statement in defense of academic freedom and the right of the political science department to co-sponsor the BDS event. I don’t have a link yet (will post when I do) but this is the critical part of her statement: [click to continue…]

Dave Weigel calls this, from Yuval Levin, the ‘best riposte’ to the new HHS regulations. I must say: if this is the best they can do …

Levin’s objection is that HHS is just looking for a way in which they can say that, technically, we’re not doing this thing people say infringes their religious liberty. HHS is hereby neglecting to address the larger spiritual issue of religious freedom. But the original complaint about the contraception mandate was that technically you can be made out to be making us do this thing. Technical hitch calls for technical fix. It ain’t pretty, but what were you expecting from a lawyerly work-around? [click to continue…]