The political is personal

by John Quiggin on May 18, 2015

Working on my Economics in Two Lessons book, I’ve had to address the concept of Pareto optimality, which naturally raises the question of how it fits into Pareto’s larger body of anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian thought, which culminated, at the end of his life, in his embrace of Mussolini’s fascism. This led me to an article (paywalled, sorry) published by Renato Cirillo, in 1983, defending Pareto against the charge of being a precursor of fascism. Cirillo asserts that, far from being a fascist, Pareto

“manifested consistently a strong attachment to a type of liberalism not dissimilar to the one later attributed to Mises and Hayek”

These are rather unfortunate examples, in view Mises writings in praise of fascism and work for the Dollfuss regime, and (even more), Hayek’s embrace of Pinochet, at the very time Cirillo was writing [^1].

This, along with my discovery that Locke was actively involved in the expropriation of the native American population, justified by his theory of property, led me (back) to the question of the relationship between the writings of political theorists (broadly defined to include economists, sociologists and philosophers engaged with these issues) and their personal political activity and commitments. I’ve come to two conclusions about this.

First, for serious writers on political theory, political engagement is and ought to be the rule rather than the exception. I don’t mean that philosophers should (necessarily) run for office. Rather someone whose political theory doesn’t lead them to have and express views on the great political issues of their day probably doesn’t much of interest to say about theory either (unless of course, their theory leads them to some form of quietism). That’s true of the writers whose commitments were creditable (for example, John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell) as well as the discreditable cases I’ve mentioned.

Second, it makes no sense to look at the theoretical writings and ignore the political commitments with which they are associated. For example, it is easy to construct readings of Pareto, Mises and Hayek in ways that make them appear either as friends or as enemies of political liberalism. Their (remarkably similar) actions make it clear which reading is correct. Eventually, of course, ideas outgrow their creators to the point where original intentions, and the texts in which they were expressed, cease to be relevant. But, as the Locke example shows, that’s a very slow process. As long as a writer is regarded as having any personal authority, the weight of that auhtority must be assessed in the light of their actions as well as their words.

[^1]: To be sure, none of these writers can properly be described as fascists – they aren’t interested in nationalism or in the display of power for its own sake. Rather, their brand of liberalism is hostile to democracy and indifferent to political liberty, making them natural allies of any fascist regime which adheres to free market orthodoxy in economics.

{ 143 comments }

1

Nicholas Gruen 05.18.15 at 8:08 am

Nice post John

As an admirer of Hayek’s basic insight – even if I’m not an admirer of his monomania about it – his lack of sympathy for the weak and powerless has always saddened me.

The opposite is true of Adam Smith who, as Menger observed, whenever the issue came up in all of his writing made clear his sympathy with the weak and powerless, his active hostility towards the depredations of the strong and powerful.

2

Phil 05.18.15 at 9:01 am

Would you count Rawls as a quietist? How about Habermas?

I’m not sure about your conclusion, though – I think it needs more work. I’ve never read any Hayek but suspect I’m going to have to at some point, to get a handle on his ideas on the rule of law. I don’t want to be told
(a) not to read Hayek
(b) to read Hayek but make sure I stop and remind myself about Chile every so often
(c) to pursue any line of inquiry regarding Hayek except positive ones
etc.

I mean, the Pinochet coup was the first major political event I was aware of; I hate Hayek as a political actor with a burning passion. I still want to read what the bastard had to say about law – and if, for example, the arguments I’m reading on the page seem to have an interesting relationship with political liberalism, I want to be able to follow that argument without telling myself it must be wrong.

It’s a question of range, I think. Engagement with the text is always good, & we shouldn’t get in the way of that. What comes afterwards is another matter.

3

John Quiggin 05.18.15 at 9:31 am

You may not want to be told it, but I am telling you a stronger version of (b). Read Hayek, but with Chile in mind at all times. That’s where his ideas ended up, so, whatever merit they may have, either
(a) they were wrong in crucial respects; or
(b) he didn’t understand and act on his own ideas

I think (a) is clearly correct. Everything he wrote, from Road to Serfdom onwards presents socialism and social democracy as an existential threat, to which a man on horseback is preferable. And his version of liberalism is one in which political liberalism is subordinated to the preservation of property rights. Applied to Chile, this implies support for Pinochet.

4

Masahiro 05.18.15 at 9:38 am

Wasn’t Bertrand Russell on the side of eugenics, at least for a while? Should we throw out his body of work? How should we define “writers whose commitments were creditable”?

5

Metatone 05.18.15 at 9:56 am

@Phil at 2

To add on to what JQ at 3 is saying, one of the reasons it’s crucial to at least regularly examine this kind of thing is to look for what these theories miss out or assume.

As always, the boundary between “economics” and “political economy” is a particularly treacherous region, where assumptions fall into crevasses and are neither identified nor explained.

6

John Quiggin 05.18.15 at 10:05 am

@2 Rawls is an ideal illustration. I used to think that his difference principle implied a position well to the left of even the most egalitarian of utilitarians. But his ambivalent/negative view of progressive income taxes led me to the conclusion that readings in which the difference principle played a much less central role, and which implied a mildly liberal position (in the US sense and context) were correct.

https://crookedtimber.org/2014/09/08/rawls-bentham-and-the-laffer-curve/

7

david 05.18.15 at 10:09 am

The welfare state was invented long before philosophers came up with reasons why it is self-evident – philosophers, especially in the post-WW2 20th century, engage for performative reasons. The Khmer Rouge was not (initially) attractive for US leftists to ally with because radical socialist agrarianism was a politically potent position in the US, but rather because allying with it was such a radical sign of leftism in the US.

In the 1970s Maoism captured the imaginations of French intellectuals, but Maoism never became a serious political force in France; instead, the period was marked by moderate Gaullism struggling with more humdrum issues like the oil crisis, and slackening growth, and figuring out how to implement cultural liberalization in legal and institutional terms – things on which Maoism says little. French Maoism was attractive because it was unserious, and it was unserious because its French form attracted careerists and opportunists, as a kind of simultaneous relationship. That’s an inevitable side-effect of being human, though, so I don’t think it’s fair to condemn the philosophies of Sartre or Foucault or Althusser for the author’s dalliances with the amusements of the day. Even if it did coincide with tens of millions of bodies on the other side of the planet.

Hayek, likewise, would face little stakes in a lifestyle shuttling between LSE and UofChi in advocating for authoritarianism elsewhere. At home the populists and labour unions he despises are fought with culture politics or voter blowback from strikes, in polities where even Thatcher cannot get away with simply disappearing people or forming a junta: at home, Hayek is not actually putting his own political viability on the line. Center-right people who dislike juntas would still invite him to dinner parties and conferences; juntas will simply not be brought up since it is not a burning issue at home. But for the dead in Chile: who cares?

Of course the nature of postwar postcolonial imperialism is that what is merely a gesture for a celebrity philosopher in the first or second world, may make or break a mainstream political movement in the third. This being the third world, the losing side often dies, literally. That’s a sin of imperialism, though.

8

Neel Krishnaswami 05.18.15 at 10:11 am

That’s true of the writers whose commitments were creditable (for example, John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell) as well as the discreditable cases I’ve mentioned.

Though I think he is the finest political theorist who ever lived, I would not call J.S. Mill’s position on India creditable, nor (for that matter) was it really consistent with the rest of his political theorizing — however, his connections with the East India Company were immensely personally profitable for him.

9

David 05.18.15 at 10:27 am

Some risk of anachronism here, perhaps? I don’t think Locke would have described what he was doing as “expropriating the native American population” – that’s a verbal formulation (and a moral judgement) which comes from modern times. Likewise, Pareto gave only qualified support to Mussolini early in the latter’s dictatorship (he died in 1923 in Switzerland and had lived outside Italy for most of his life). And Chile was not a Fascist regime under Pinochet (Paxton specifically excludes him from the definition). It was a traditional authoritarian state, built around the traditional trilogy of Church, Army and Family.
The point is not to pick nits or start peripheral arguments . But I think it’s worth distinguishing for clarity between (1) practices that political philosophers lobbied for, directly praised or supported, or which were logical and unsurprising consequences of their arguments and (2) Later appropriation of ideas by practical politicians as a justification, or even coincidental similarities or parallels.
Rather, I think you have put your finger on one very important point, too often overlooked, that classical liberalism is perfectly compatible with authoritarian regimes of different types, whether “fascist” or others. This is because classical liberalism has never really been “democratic” in the sense of promoting mass popular involvement in politics, but always an elite affair, involving professional parties, indirect elections and intermediaries. Likewise, much classical liberalism regarded the only true freedom as economic freedom, and thus accepted that authoritarian political practices (suppression of tiresome trades unions etc) would be necessary to being this true freedom about. This, as I recall, was Hayek’s position about Chile (where the population under Pinochet was “freer” than under Allende) and was shared by people like Thatcher and Reagan, at least to some extent.

10

John Quiggin 05.18.15 at 10:28 am

@4 This is silly, and suggests the weakness of the position you are trying to advance. The OP didn’t suggest “throwing out” anybody or anything; in fact it’s you who wants to exclude relevant facts from the discussion.

Both Russell’s views on eugenics (Google doesn’t give a clear indication of what they were) and Mill’s on India are, in my view, relevant to how we read them. In Mill’s case, for example, it’s linked to his general fears about unfettered majority rule.

11

Phil 05.18.15 at 10:56 am

I think you have put your finger on one very important point, too often overlooked, that classical liberalism is perfectly compatible with authoritarian regimes of different types, whether “fascist” or others

I agree that this is an important point. My disagreement with the OP is that I think the best way to explore arguments like this would be through a three-stage process, beginning with something very like Coleridge’s “negative capability”, rather than trying to do it in one. So, in Hayek’s case, the first stage would be to immerse oneself thoroughly in everything that was good, valid and thought-provoking in Hayek’s version of liberalism. You’d then come up to the surface and think “but this is actually Hayek we’re talking about” – then re-examine the results of the first stage in the light of the second. I think that could be really interesting, and probably quite unsettling in a number of ways. JQ seems to propose that anyone reading Hayek should instal a raven on a handy bust of Pallas and have it croak “Pinochet! Moneda Palace! Santiago Stadium!” at them; I think that would be a hindrance to close reading, and would tend to promote a superficial dismissal of powerfully, subtly and interestingly bad arguments. (I mean, I teach undergraduates, and the last thing I want is to give the radical ones any reason not to engage with the text.)

12

pongogogo 05.18.15 at 11:25 am

Would it have been better for Hayek to not have tried to apply his view on political philosophy and instead left us with an abstract philosophical framework? How would you read Hayek then? More favorably?

If something is testable, we should test it. Hayek is testing his theory by applying it to Chile. It failed and he was wrong.

However, science surely works based on repeated verifications of theory.

I think you overweight the singular application here.

13

SimonH 05.18.15 at 11:35 am

I disagree with David, Pinochet was a fascist, a classic fascist. I interpret fascism as dictatorship deployed to smash the working class in both its political and economic organisation. Is that not what happened in Chile?

14

The Raven 05.18.15 at 12:00 pm

And this applies as well on my side of the aisle, the left. It breaks my heart that so many high ideals have been turned into tools of oppression.

In political theory, there no excuse for not, as Brad Delong, a former Hayekian, calls it, “Marking your beliefs to market.”

15

The Raven 05.18.15 at 12:09 pm

Phil@11: many people never get out of that first stage. Is that not the basic problem of popular political discourse? Perhaps it is best to provide context early on. I would prefer to ground discussion of political theory in history, in perhaps the same way that discussion in the physical sciences is grounded in experiment or physical history.

16

Mr Punch 05.18.15 at 12:45 pm

2, 6 – Rawl’s studiously abstract arguments were widely understood at the time as intended to support the mild (US-style) liberalism JQ cites. They have also been widely misunderstood as more leftist, by those who missed his commitment to liberty.

17

William Burns 05.18.15 at 12:49 pm

Is there a political theorist whose political commitments have been altogether admirable?

18

LFC 05.18.15 at 1:33 pm

JQ @6 is, in my view, wrong about Rawls, but since this has been argued before at CT and no one involved in the discussions, iirc, has changed his (or her) mind, there’s no point going through it again.

Anyone interested in Rawls’s political views on issues of the day, though, would benefit from a look at the B. Baranowski USIH post that I’ve linked at CT before. I don’t have the time to link it again right now. (Will come back later.)

I hope that JQ will not mention Rawls in his ‘Economics in Two Lessons’ book. OTOH, there are lots of different readings of Rawls out there, so I suppose one more (wrong) reading is not going to matter that much.

19

alkali 05.18.15 at 1:38 pm

With reference to Russell and eugenics: the term “eugenics,” in its day, covered a variety of views, ranging from the monstrous (“let’s have selective breeding of humans backed by state power”) to the now-almost-banal (“perhaps it would be nice if poor people had access to contraception so they didn’t bear children that they don’t want and can’t afford”). If Russell held any view more extreme than the latter I am unaware of the evidence for it.

20

reason 05.18.15 at 1:38 pm

William Burns @16
Who could possibly agree on that? It is like saying no policies are controversial, at least not in hindsight.

21

jake the antisoshul soshulist 05.18.15 at 1:40 pm

@ John Quiggan: Sadly, I fall into the “you read those guys so I don’t have to school”.

@William Burns: Probably not, but theory tends to fall afoul of the perverse reality of human nature. That is why Socialism and Libertarianism run aground. As much disdain as I hold for Capitalism, it does take in account human failings. In fact, human failings are necessary for Capitalism to work.

22

Daniel 05.18.15 at 1:45 pm

the term “eugenics,” in its day, covered a variety of views, ranging from the monstrous (“let’s have selective breeding of humans backed by state power”) to the now-almost-banal (“perhaps it would be nice if poor people had access to contraception so they didn’t bear children that they don’t want and can’t afford”)

Unfortunately, the nice kind were very much in the minority. Russell was in favour of state-issued breeding tickets and heavy fines for miscegenation with a member of a different social-intellectual class. Even John Maynard Keynes believed in this rubbish, practically everyone did.

23

Sandwichman 05.18.15 at 2:06 pm

I prefer Sally Rand to Ayn Rand any day. Theory AND practice.

24

Nicholas Gruen 05.18.15 at 2:08 pm

Not to mention Tallyrand

25

William Timberman 05.18.15 at 2:16 pm

Is this an existentialist theory of politics? It certainly seems to contain the germ of one. On the other hand, I think we’re entitled to divorce what people say from what they do if doing so provides grist for our own mills. It’s in the nature of conversation to find inspiration in the unintended. Despite its apparent contradictions, this is probably a Good Thing.

26

otto 05.18.15 at 2:19 pm

Are there any philosophers that support and vindicate democratic parliamentary tax-and-capitalism, as such? it turns out to be a pretty good piece of governing technology, but I unaware of any philosophical backing.

27

Sandwichman 05.18.15 at 2:26 pm

“I think we’re entitled to divorce what people say from what they do…”

Whether we’re entitled to or not, we divorce what people say from what we think they said. I’ve read — it might have been Cirillo — that Pareto has been widely misinterpreted, based on selective reading of unrepresentative texts. That may be. Just about everyone is more likely to be misinterpreted than to be understood. But then it is those misinterpretations that make the “myth.” Ultimately our myths say more about us than they do about the people we reference.

28

LFC 05.18.15 at 2:37 pm

From the OP:

someone whose political theory doesn’t lead them to have and express views on the great political issues of their day probably doesn’t [have] much of interest to say about theory either (unless of course, their theory leads them to some form of quietism).

Phil @2:
Would you count Rawls as a quietist? How about Habermas?

Since Rawls expressed views on (to quote the OP) “the great political issues of [his] day” (at least on the Vietnam War, at any rate) and Habermas certainly expresses views on some current political issues, one can conclude that in neither Rawls’s nor Habermas’s case did their theorizing lead to “quietism.” Neither is a “quietist.” You may not like what Rawls and/or Habermas said about the “political issues of the day,” but that’s an entirely separate issue. Habermas’s journalistic writings (which I’m aware of but haven’t read) are presumably easy to find. It’s a bit harder to find Rawls’s expressions of views on political issues, but they are there if you look.

29

Peter Dorman 05.18.15 at 3:25 pm

Well, this is all about whether the author matters or whether it’s just about the text, isn’t it? On this issue I’ve always wanted to split the difference. Authors write texts, and they do this for reasons. To ignore the reasons is to throw away information. If you ignore Hayek’s actual political commitments, including Pinochet, you limit your ability to interpret his writing, increasing the risk of not seeing the work his words perform. Of course, texts are not reducible to their authors either. Not only are readers free to draw implications from texts that their authors didn’t intend, the authors themselves are not always in control. Personally, as a writer, I often feel that the words I string together begin to take on a life of their own and pull me toward ideas I didn’t initially sit down with.

As for the stages heuristic, I think it’s better to keep the various perspectives in your mind simultaneously. It’s true, as The Raven @15 says, that in practice the return to the historical context often fails to occur. But even if we could depend on it, alternation of perspective is a rather clumsy way to deal with the matter. Hayek certainly speaks to the real need for liberty on the part of real people, but part of understanding his position is recognizing that he was (perniciously) selective about which liberties and which people. I don’t think you can do the positive part of his theory justice without the critique, or vice versa.

And back to Pareto: as has been pointed out, a slave society can be Pareto optimal, especially if there is a market in slaves. The man’s political commitments are absolutely illuminating. (Incidentally, a slave society can also be potential Pareto optimal. You could do rigorous cost-benefit analysis in the antebellum South without challenging the peculiar institution, although Olmsted tried to show otherwise. It’s an empirical question.)

30

Phil 05.18.15 at 3:38 pm

part of understanding his position is recognizing that he was (perniciously) selective about which liberties and which people

Yes, but that needs to be there in the text. If it isn’t there, then philosopher-Hayek is merely guilty of hypocrisy, which is much less interesting. If it is there, you need to take the time to find it.

It may be no more than a difference of emphasis. “Hayek said this, this and this, which relates to X, contrasts with Y and needs to be considered alongside the evidence that he thought the Pinochet regime was just fine” enriches the picture. “Hayek was an apologist for Pinochet who said some stuff which directly or indirectly supported his position” impoverishes it.

31

Bruce Wilder 05.18.15 at 3:39 pm

Philosophers lie.

They say they want to tell the truth. But, they would say that, because they want to persuade. They are not fashioning their expressions to accurately reflect their own thinking, ever. They are harlots desiring to be paid by others for the privilege of intimacy, and they put on makeup, and dim the lights, the better to seduce an audience.

That desire to persuade may not be a fatal disease in a teacher, but it ought to be treated as a source of noxious contamination by the student.

32

Neel Krishnaswami 05.18.15 at 3:51 pm

@29:

Well, this is all about whether the author matters or whether it’s just about the text, isn’t it?

It can be, but it isn’t necessarily so.

Take J.S. Mill as an example — JQ claimed that his position on India was linked to his fears about majority rule. Now, Mill’s ambivalence about pure majority rule arose from his fear of majorities oppressing minorities, which (as any casual glance at history shows) is a rather sensible worry.

However, Mill’s position on the Indian question is in hilarious bad faith. I do not exaggerate much to render it as (a) Parliament does not contain any Indian representatives, (b) non-representative rule is likely to be oppressive, and (c) therefore the conduct of the East India Company should not be directly controlled by the British government. This is a masterpiece of shamelessly mendacious argument — modern climate change denialists have nothing on Mill.

But perversely, the fact that no one can possibly take this line of argument seriously except as a justification for Mill to continue personally profiting from his involvement in the EIC means that it doesn’t distort the reading of the rest of his political theories. So “reading around” Mill’s position on India turns out to be pretty easy.

33

Plume 05.18.15 at 3:59 pm

I think some people needlessly make things far too complicated, with one of the major factors behind this being:

The refusal to see obvious conflicts of interest, cause and effect, action and reaction.

As in, if someone spouts “freedom and liberty” for business owners, the markets, trade, etc. etc. . . . . they are already lined up against “freedom and liberty” for workers, consumers and the health of the planet. It’s not rocket science. They’re in major conflict. Virtually all the time — with rare exceptions. The more “freedom” one gives to the desires of a business owner, to business owners plural, and to capitalism itself, the worse it pretty much always is for workers, consumers and the earth. Their goals are in direct conflict with one another.

Which means a Mises, a Hayek, a Friedman, a Ron Paul, shouldn’t be able to spout their nonsense about freedom and liberty, or even “liberalism” without red flags . . . at least without red flags for people paying attention to the dynamics involved.

Mises was also one of the original Birchers — and many of his followers remain in that camp today (like Paul) — so with him it shouldn’t be that difficult to see how close he was to fascism. In 2015, it may be slightly more difficult, at least if people hear just the empty words and rhetoric and forget to look at the obvious divisions and conflicts between classes that still remain. The right would have us believe they, along with divisions based on race, gender, sexuality, etc. etc. have disappeared.

Again, it’s not rocket science. One person’s “freedom” can and often does mean another person’s chains.

34

William Berry 05.18.15 at 4:23 pm

Phil @11: Coleridge’s “negative capability”

That was Keats. He actually posed the concept as part of a criticism of what he perceived to be C’s grasping after mere “material fact”, or knowledge, instead of the poet opening his soul to Nature.

C’s Big Idea was “that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith”.

In examining the two concepts, one ends up concluding that they weren’t so far apart after all.

35

Phil 05.18.15 at 4:25 pm

Hayek was an apologist for free-market liberalism in all its forms, up to and including the form that’s enforced by making trade unionists disappear. This isn’t news (to me, at least). He was also a legal philosopher with a particular take on individual liberty and the rule of law, which he developed in a series of books which are still cited. It may be that the corpses of Santiago Stadium are in between the lines of Hayek’s legal project; I think it would be worth finding out. But I think that would involve, as a first step, taking that project seriously, rather than dismissing it as nonsense – which to me looks less like “radical critique” and more like “know-nothing grandstanding”.

36

Phil 05.18.15 at 4:28 pm

William Berry – thanks for that; I’ve been using that concept wrong for ages! I guess the WSoD doesn’t need to be that different from NC conceptually – you could read Keats as saying that STC didn’t actually practice it, not that he didn’t advocate it.

37

The Raven 05.18.15 at 4:41 pm

Plume@33: When I found out that Friedman had worked for Pinochet, I started saying that his conception of “liberty” resembled nothing any normal person would recognize.

Daniel@22: the British intuition of “class” that I found in the fiction of that period is stunningly intense. Apparently, there was only a very limited idea of social equals: people were always deciding who was “above” or “below” them, even when it mattered not a whit. To my later American eye, this seems pathological, and I wonder how British (and perhaps other) society developed these ideas. Eugenics is a natural outgrowth of such thinking, especially since ideas of class inheritance were and are unleavened by substantive knowledge of the biology of inheritance.

38

geo 05.18.15 at 5:00 pm

JQ @4: that [Chile] is where his [Hayek’s] ended up … so, whatever merit they may have, either
(a) they were wrong in crucial respects; or
(b) he didn’t understand and act on his own ideas

Isn’t there a third possibility: his ideas were right in all respects but their practical implications were misunderstood, including by him, and taken to justify policies they don’t actually justify? After all, it’s obvious — isn’t it? or has so much polemical passion been expended on previous threads in vain? — that the fact that Marx’s ideas “ended up” in the Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China doesn’t imply that they were “wrong in crucial respects”?

As the OP wisely acknowledges: “Eventually, of course, ideas outgrow their creators to the point where original intentions, and the texts in which they were expressed, cease to be relevant.” In other words, eventually it gets much easier to deal with them honestly. Shouldn’t we try to do so sooner rather than later?

39

David 05.18.15 at 5:13 pm

Isn’t Hayek simply guilty of an extreme case of what liberal theorists usually argue? That is to say, it’s morally right that there should be as few controls as possible on economic activity, in the name of “freedom.” When this idea actually put to the test, it becomes clear that (1) it produces massive inequality and suffering and (2) it requires a substantial coercive apparatus to enforce it. I would argue that each of these consequences is entirely foreseeable, and, indeed, almost mathematically predictable. So if you are going to argue that “free markets” are morally desirable, then you have to be prepared to accept responsibility for the actions of those who take your advice, and their consequences. If you simply argue that they are pragmatically better, of course, then you simply have to admit you were wrong. There’s an important difference.

40

Curt Doolittle 05.18.15 at 5:39 pm

John,
This might come across as offensive, but we all have jobs to do in defense and preservation of the informational commons, and this is mine.

1) Fascism was a ‘good’. A necessary means of combating communism. Persisting in the denigration of authors who supported it is merely conflating a utility in time of stress with a truth of social science. Fascism was a good. By any measure.

2) Hayek completed his journey by correctly identifying the common law as the source of liberty, which is how he perceived western exceptionalism. Most of his work an be seen as a series of investigations in various fields into solving the problem of the social sciences. It took him most of his life but he got there. Prior works can only be seen in this light. Most of his work is partly correct. His movement across fields is evidence that he ran into dead ends in all of them.

3) The jury is out on social democracy, and at present, despite the rather obvious self interest of the state and academy, those of us who work the subject are fairly certain that democracy is little more than a temporary luxury for the redistribution of a civilizations windfall, rather than a system that constructs liberty and prosperity.

4) Mises failed to solve the problem of economics because he failed, like everyone else in his generation, to solve the problem of operationalism. (Mises:economics, Brouwer:math, Hayek:Law, Bridgman:physics. And countless others in philosophy.) Everyone failed.

They failed, and Hayek’s prediction that the 20th century would be seen in retrospect as an era of mysticism appears to be true. He didn’t get it quite right, because pseudoscience and mysticism perform the same obscurantist functions differently. But it is becoming clear that the 20th century (macro included) will be seen as an era of pseudoscience, and most of us will be cast as fools because of it.

Hayek is not to be disrespected for having failed if so many thinkers failed in every other field of human inquiry. I made this mistake myself by crucifying Mises for a time. They were men of their time. They could sense something was wrong, but they were not able to solve it. Strangely enough, Brouwer and Bridgman do so, but not thoroughly enough to grasp that the problem was material in morality, epistemology, law, economics, and politics. Helpful in physical science. and only tepidly meaningful in mathematics. Its both telling and interesting that psychology – a pseudoscientific field totally absent any empirical content – saved itself by adopting Operationalism – and in doing so produced all the innovative content that it has in just twenty years – nearly overturning the century of pseudoscience.

Economics requires this reformation as well. Mises could sense but not construct it. In simple terms Keynesian macro is the the study of how much we can ‘lie’ in order to achieve a suspected good by increasing consumption despite the negative externalities for mankind by doing so. So objectively, mainstream macro is very much the study of immoral politics The operational view, and the moral study of economics (Austrian) is predicated on attempting to improve voluntary transfers so that all lying is eliminated from human cooperation.

They were great minds working desperately hard against an existential threat to man. But they failed. That does not mean we have to.

Neither does it mean that we should consider luxuries not of our own construction, as measures of our merit. They are not. If anything we merely consume twenty thousand years of western development in a century.

So, economics is the study of human cooperation. We can perform that study toward immoral ends (dysgenia, consumption, and lying), or we can perform that study toward moral ends (eugenia, accumulation, and truth).

There is only one ‘law’ of human cooperation: that is that the only moral criteria that one can imposed costs upon another, is by productive, fully informed, warrantied, voluntary exchange, free of negative externality. Under no other condition is cooperation rational. That single statement explains all moral biases.

The purpose of economics is to complete the sequence of training the human mind to understand cause and effect at different levels of complexity. Perception(existence), counting(scale), arithmetic, mathematics(ratio), geometry(space), calculus(relative motion), economics(equilibria), relativity(frames).

Only with this understanding can man understand and apply this general rule to human affairs such that we can calculate all worlds determined by an action, and choose between them. But only once we have determined the full circuit of consequences in each.

Only with this understanding can man apply this general rule to human affairs so that we can use monetary prices to sense and compare complex phenomenon at a given point in time.

Only with this understanding can we make policy decisions that allow us to justify takings and givings as producing a common good.

But only if we include all costs: Genetic, Territorial, Institutional, Normative, Pedagogical (Knowledge), Material, can we say we have accounted for all costs.

Otherwise, we are just engaged in an obscurant means of justifying our preferences.

5) You (John) have an extremely Australian view of the world, and your definition of economics and your interpretation of what ‘economics is reducible to’ is a justification of that Australian view. That Australian view is, like that of the English, Canadian and Americans: a North Sea islander’s view: one who is insulated by the seas from the pressures common to territorial peoples. If your tradition and genetics originated in the steppe or the levant you would hold very different views.

So it appears (obvious) that your perception is a cognitive bias that you are seeking to justify, not a scientific truth that describes necessary properties of human cooperation. It is terribly apparent to me (as I would assume it was to any intellectual historian) that you are confusing a luxury of circumstance with a ‘good’ that one should aspire to.

So as far as I can tell your selected definition is one that justifies your conclusion. It’s creative accounting so to speak by selective ‘ben franklin’ accounting of costs and benefits.

By carefully defining a preconception as a good, we can justify anything.

And that is what your two laws do.

6) The alternative argument I would like to put forward. “Every forced transfer, is a lost opportunity for mutually beneficial exchange.”

We do need a means of constructing commons. Physical and institutional commons are a unique western competitive advantage, second only to our most valuable commons: truth-telling. But why is it that commons must be constructed monopolistically? Why is not government constructed to facilitate exchanges, rather commands?

There isn’t an answer justifies that question that does not violate the only law of human cooperation: that cooperation must be rational.

Curt Doolittle
The Propertarian Institute
Kiev, Ukraine

41

Harold 05.18.15 at 5:47 pm

@ 32 Mill’s position on the Indian question is in hilarious bad faith.

How much did Mill profit from the East India company, exactly? I’m asking because I really don’t know what his position was there. Also, because my impression — very vague because of my ignorance in these matters — always was that he wasn’t completely bad. But maybe that is just wishful thinking.

42

MPAVictoria 05.18.15 at 5:53 pm

The comment at 40 can’t possibly be real right?

43

geo 05.18.15 at 5:56 pm

Harold @41: my impression … always was that [Mill] wasn’t completely bad

Do you mean wrt India, or in general? If the latter, then the above is the understatement of the millennium. Mill was a saint. He was almost as great a human being as George Eliot.

44

john c. halasz 05.18.15 at 5:59 pm

@42:

Poe’ law.

45

Harold 05.18.15 at 6:30 pm

@43geo, I actually meant re: India. What I really meant was, wasn’t he more of a bureaucrat than a predatory speculator? And in those days, bureaucrats didn’t make killings from inflated speaking fees (otherwise known as bribery).

46

alkali 05.18.15 at 6:35 pm

@22: Russell was in favour of state-issued breeding tickets and heavy fines for miscegenation with a member of a different social-intellectual class.

There exists a second-hand account of Russell suggesting something like this in an informal conversation when he was 22. To say on that evidence that “Russell was in favour of …” is a bit much. Certainly there is nothing along those lines in his published work.

47

C Trombley 05.18.15 at 6:44 pm

I’d like to say many things, all of them trivial. This is the internet after all.

Pareto’s thought evolved over time, and his embrace of fascism can’t be attributed just to one idea, and not to a technical idea he used inconsistently. When he made the discovery that the principles that he (and Walras and etc. before him) derived so carefully didn’t work out perfectly (well, they didn’t have good macro), he declared mankind irrational and became a sociologist (shock, horror :P). I don’t want to divide him into a Good Edgeworthian/Walrasian Pareto who _totally_ would have been pro-democracy and a Bad Spenglernian Pareto who loved Musso, since after all declaring mankind irrational because you got a bad theory was a bad sign already. But, it does mean that it might not have been the detailed economic theories of Pareto that intellectually lead him to like that bald young man.

Incidentally, at the time, many people like him believed one could be a lukewarm, critical Facsist, in the way one can be a lukewarm, critical Labor…ist in Australia. Obviously, he died before Lil’ Benito could inform him that one could not, died less than a year into the Fascist’s reign. This excuses nothing and no one, but it is worth mentioning.

Finally, Pareto did not develop Pareto Optimality on purpose – it was forced upon him. Pareto Optimality is a condition in multiobjective programming, _the_ stability condition in multiobjective programming, and that is why it was forced upon him. The old men, like Benthem, assumed that a market (or some-such process) would maximize welfare in some sense and the stability would come out of examining the derivatives. They were wrong, and Pareto was forced to look for some other concept to describe the outcome. This process was, as you know far better than I, completed by Hicks and Samuelson.

Why then did Hicks and Samuelson not become facsists? I don’t know. Maybe they never felt the need to declare the human race irrational – because they had better macro…

48

John Quiggin 05.18.15 at 7:11 pm

David @9. I forgot to link to the post where I discuss Locke (added now). Of course, he would have denied that he was engaged in expropriation, but I don’t think there’s any anachronism in using the term against him. His theory of property was precisely designed to justify the expropriation from which he was benefiting, and the past expropriations that had led to the existing set of property rights, but to bar the gate against any future state action that would impinge on those property rights.

49

William Berry 05.18.15 at 7:31 pm

@Curtis: “Fascism is a good”, and “criteria” used in the singular:

Thank you for these tip-offs that no-one need bother paying any attention whatsoever to anything you have to say.

[The Ukraine address makes me wonder if this isn’t data tatushkia’/ Ze K’s idea of an elaborate joke, but I think it must actually be an attempt at seriosity of some sort.

Too much work for basic trolling of the Ze variety.

50

cassander 05.18.15 at 7:36 pm

John, do you equally condemn those ever who spoke well of Lenin? Stalin? Mao? Castro? Ho? Because if you do, you’re going to have to eliminate pretty much everyone in the 20th century to the left of Barry Goldwater, including not a small number of people in this forum . Of course, few of these writers can properly be described as communists – they aren’t interested in murderous global revolution or in the display of power for its own sake. Rather, their brand of progressivism is hostile to democracy and indifferent to political liberty, making them natural allies of any regime which adheres to heterodox economics.

As to the assertion that fascism is compatible with ” free market orthodoxy”, well we discussed this last week, and I know you know better.

51

geo 05.18.15 at 7:38 pm

His theory … was precisely designed to justify …

This may help us to interpret a theory (ie, might give one clues if interpretation is otherwise difficult), but does it help us to evaluate it? Every theory — indeed, according to Hume, James, Dewey, Rorty, and pragmatists generally, if I understand them, virtually every statement of any kind — follows from one’s purposes/interests/moral intuitions. Reason is a servant of the passions, etc.

Does it matter to their validity that Marx’s theories were explicitly formulated for a political purpose: to put workers in possession of a weapon of intellectual defense against their exploiters — to help them expropriate the expropriators? No, they stand or fall on their own merits. Shouldn’t we extend the same intellectual courtesy to Locke and Hayek?

52

John Quiggin 05.18.15 at 7:49 pm

Does it matter to their validity that Marx’s theories were explicitly formulated for a political purpose: to put workers in possession of a weapon of intellectual defense against their exploiters

Absolutely, it matters and I can’t imagine that Marx would want to deny this.

As for leftists who wrote in support of Mao or Stalin, of course this is relevant to an assessment of their theoretical writings. As Cassander says, such support, like that of libertarians/propertarians for fascist and authoritarian regimes, implies indifference to political liberty (or else a willingness to be duped by propaganda from a seemingly sympathetic source). This is obvious in the case of the Webbs and HG Wells, for example.

53

geo 05.18.15 at 8:05 pm

It’s not obvious to me at all, either in the case of the Webbs and Wells or of Marx. Nor can I imagine that Marx would agree with you that no one who did not share his political purposes could grasp the validity of his arguments.

The Fabians’ failures of judgment about Soviet communism are certainly relevant to our judgments about their moral character and imagination, but not to our judgments about the validity of their analyses of capitalism, any more than Marx’s philandering and polemical nastiness should diminish our admiration for his brilliance, eloquence, or moral fervor.

54

cassander 05.18.15 at 8:27 pm

@John Quiggin

>As for leftists who wrote in support of Mao or Stalin, of course this is relevant to an assessment of their theoretical writings.

Now, how many prominent leftists in the 20th century can you name that aren’t included in that category? And how does that knowledge affect your assessment the political left and its theoretical writings? Do you always sit on a copy of the gulag archipelago before picking up your dog eared copy of Mill?

>, like that of libertarians/propertarianism for fascist and authoritarian regimes, implies indifference to political liberty

To say that Hitler was preferable to Stalin does not imply “indifference to political liberty.” Hitler was a thuggish, anti-semitic rabble rouser before 1941, while Stalin was the greatest mass murderer in history.

55

dsquared 05.18.15 at 8:38 pm

Hitler was a thuggish, anti-semitic rabble rouser before 1941

somewhat arbitary cut-off date, presumably intended to yaddayadda the very obvious problem with this argument, didn’t work.

56

Chris Bertram 05.18.15 at 8:49 pm

Bas van der Vossen’s piece may be of interest as an opposite view to your own John

http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/07/why-philosophers-should-stay-out-of-politics/

57

cassander 05.18.15 at 8:52 pm

@dsquared

somewhat arbitary cut-off date, presumably intended to yaddayadda the very obvious problem with this argument, didn’t work.

Not unless you have quotes from the people in question defending Hitler after 1941, or more precisely, after the crimes that began in 1941 were exposed. Like I said, I give full credit to Bertrand Russell for being anti communist despite his early flirtations with it. I would expect at least as much leeway in return.

58

David 05.18.15 at 9:00 pm

Would it not be fair to gloss “indifference to political liberty” as “indifference to the kind of open, thoughtful political debate characteristic of a liberal democratic society?” Because by definition this was impossible in the Soviet Union, which was built on the theory that some theories are wrong and some are objectively right. To support the Soviet Union, especially under Stalin, meant accepting that some ideas should be suppressed because they were wrong and potentially dangerous. (Just as some western governments seem to be showing a troubling indifference to political liberty just now).
But that’s rather different from “supporting” Stalin or even preferring Stalin to Hitler (a fatuous comparison but one with an obvious answer). I don’t think there were many intellectuals in the 1930s who had produced prior theoretical justifications for massive purges of the Communist Party, the use of terror as a system of political and economic management or the imprisonment and murder of political opponents. Some of those who went along with Stalin were certainly misinformed, and some may have been power worshippers, but for many Stalin represented the only realistic alternative to a Europe dominated by Hitler, and who is to say they were wrong? As I said earlier, you can only really blame thinkers for the crimes of others if those others implement pre-existing theories, and if those crimes could reasonably have been foreseen as a consequence of the theories.

59

LFC 05.18.15 at 9:19 pm

cassander
how many prominent leftists in the 20th century can you name that aren’t included in that category [i.e., the category of having written in support of Mao or Stalin]?

I started a list and it got too long and unwieldy and motley. But suffice to say the answer is: a lot. There was an entire anti-Stalinist left, of varying ideological hues, in the U.S. and Europe and the ‘third world’ (and the ‘second world’, where it was mostly underground, of necessity).

60

cassander 05.18.15 at 9:20 pm

>(Just as some western governments seem to be showing a troubling indifference to political liberty just now)

What is with this false equivalency? When western governments start rounding people up by the millions, brutally torturing them, then publicly broadcasting their “confessions” to the world, then we can talk about “just as some.”

>(a fatuous comparison but one with an obvious answer)

Fatuous? That is literally the choice people on both sides thought they were making. You can argue that they were wrong, but the choice was hardly fatuous.

>but for many Stalin represented the only realistic alternative to a Europe dominated by Hitler,

Well, since Stalin preceded Hitler by most of a decade, and Lenin preceded him by almost two, I’m going to say not many.

>As I said earlier, you can only really blame thinkers for the crimes of others if those others implement pre-existing theories, and if those crimes could reasonably have been foreseen as a consequence of the theories.

If that is the argument, then Hayek, Mises, and co are completely innocent. No where does any of them call for fascism. The argument Quiggin has advanced is that you can also blame them for lending their moral and intellectual support to actual existing regimes, something the left did in spades, with numerous communist dictators, for decades.

61

LFC 05.18.15 at 9:24 pm

Wikipedia has a list of notable figures in the anti-Stalinist left. Not precisely the list I would compile, but it will do.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Stalinist_left#Notable_figures_in_the_anti-Stalinist_left

62

Lee A. Arnold 05.18.15 at 9:39 pm

Cassander #54: “…Stalin was the greatest mass murderer in history.”

Depends on the intentions perhaps, but Stalin is greatly outranked by Genghis Khan and Mao in deaths, and of course Timur (Tamerlaine) gives Josef a run for the money. Most killing as percentage of world population, in his time? Timur, tops!

63

Plume 05.18.15 at 9:47 pm

Cassander,

The vast majority of 20th century leftists were against what Mao and Stalin did. It’s a much greater percentage in the 21st. A better question is to list those leftist intellectuals who actually supported them, for they were a slim minority.

And, sorry, but Mises, Hayek, Friedman and company are guilty in their own time for pushing horrific economic theories that have killed millions. Literally. There is no need to hedge on those numbers. Capitalism itself has killed hundreds of millions, and the kind of capitalism pushed by right-libertarian/propertarian/neoliberal thinkers is its most virulent form, at least since the end of slavery — capitalism’s foundational model.

It is also the case that if those propertarian theorists got their way, the death tolls would be multiplied exponentially . . . . with their “night watchman” state, zero safety net, and nothing but private tyrannies for as far as the eye could see. Whereas with leftists thinkers, if their dreams would come true, we’d have true democracy, social and economic equality, and an end to class divisions, etc. etc.

The main difference between left and right, when it comes to theory -> practice, is that the left’s intellectual big guns actually dream of a much better world for everyone. The right’s? Better for the ruling class only, and far, far worse for everyone else.

64

Luke 05.18.15 at 9:47 pm

The Nazi eugenics programme was hardly a secret. Forced sterilisations began 1933, exterminations 1939. That’s not to mention the political murders, the anti-semitic outbursts, the concentration camps, or the past actions of the Freikorps veterans who formed much of the rank and file. The idea that, prior to 1941, no-one could have known that terrible things were going to happen in Nazi Germany beggars belief.

Again and again, recently, I find people of a liberal-conservative persuasion minimising the awfulness Nazi Germany by way of attacking Stalin. I sometimes feel a rehabilitation is under way. I wonder, for example, whether Curt in Ukraine (if such a creature exists) has heard of Generalplan Ost.

Regarding Hayek, here’s a tidbit from the 2007 University of Chicago Press edition of The Road to Serfdom, page 110:

‘Democracy is essentially a means, a utilitarian device for safeguarding internal peace and individual freedom’. He then goes on to note that an autocrat might in some cases be able to preserve freedom, while a ‘true “dictatorship of the proletariat”, even in democratic form, if it undertook centrally to direct the economic system, would probably destroy personal freedom as completely as any autocracy has done.’

Hayek was no fascist, except to the extent that he supported the abolition of democracy when he found it incompatible with his politics.

65

JimV 05.18.15 at 9:59 pm

Daniel @22

That unsourced quote in the article you linked to did not sound like Bertrand Russell to me so I did a Google search and found this:

https://books.google.com/books?id=hV7bHY0fTCoC&pg=PA123&lpg=PA123&dq=%22procreation+tickets%22+Bertrand+Russell&source=bl&ots=7ew1sK05e_&sig=QnqzNf6UuJ0C818fHNnaGeGnnu0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=kl1aVaXRHYWbyASN1ICgAg&ved=0CDUQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=%22procreation%20tickets%22%20Bertrand%20Russell&f=false

In my reading that definition of “procreation tickets” does not have the sinister meaning that you associate with it, and is similar to requiring a blood test (for incompatibility) prior to a marriage.

66

cassander 05.18.15 at 10:06 pm

@LFC

It is not merely enough to be anti-stalin. One must also be anti-Lenin, Mao, Castro, etc. That excludes most of the people on that list, including, most laughably, trotsky.

@Plume

You can claim that the world is capitalist, or you can claim that capitalism is particularly murderous, but you can’t claim that the murderous capitalism rules the world when the world is the least murderous it’s ever been in all of history.

@Luke

Eugenics was very popular in dozens of countries in the interwar period, almost always being pushed by left wing parties.

>The idea that, prior to 1941, no-one could have known that terrible things were going to happen in Nazi Germany beggars belief.

It does not beggar nearly as much belief as the conventional wisdom about stalin at the time. The official party line, you will remember, was that stalin was not a dictator, but merely a sort of paper pusher in chief. That there had been no famines in the Ukraine. That collectivization was an enormous success. That russia was the most democratic society on earth. That the purges were not show trials, but legitimate executions of looters and wreckers. And so on. these things were maintained, mind you, for decades after the events in question.

By contrast, in 1941, hitler had killed fewer than a 1000 people, and his eugenics laws were not much more radical than what Keynes and Margaret Sanger were advocating for. But there is a very easy way to test my case, please show me an author, besides Hitler, who claimed that Hitler would kill millions. Not that hitler was a thug, not that he was a war monger, but that he would execute millions. Because I am not aware of anyone who did. I suggest you need to check yourself for presentism.

67

John Quiggin 05.18.15 at 10:20 pm

Actually, Cassander my problem is the opposite to the one you imagine. There are hardly any Stalinists or Maoists, or even notable fellow travellers, whose thought I find particularly interesting today. Eric Hobsbawm is the only example that comes immediately to mind for me. Keynes and his successors, along with the architects and theorists of the social democratic welfare state were almost uniformly anti-Stalinist.

But why I’m even bothering to argue with an apologist for Hitler supporters I don’t really know.

68

cassander 05.18.15 at 10:47 pm

@John Quiggin

>Keynes and his successors, along with the architects and theorists of the social democratic welfare state were almost uniformly anti-Stalinist.

Complete nonsense. And while Keynes was never outright pro-stalin, his successors almost all spent years as, at the very least, fellow travelers. And again, anti-stalin is not enough. To have clean hands, one must also have been anti lenin, anti mao, etc. After all, Pinochet killed fewer people than every single communist dictator.

>But why I’m even bothering to argue with an apologist for Hitler supporters I don’t really know.

Funny, I ask myself the same thing about apologists for stalin supporters.

69

js. 05.18.15 at 11:23 pm

I ask myself the same thing about apologists for stalin supporters.

Why, cassander, why? What’s the answer? We’re all dying to know!

70

jake the antisoshul soshulist 05.18.15 at 11:52 pm

Hitler vs Stalin, reminds me of the old Three Stooges bit about choosing between execution by either being burnt at the stake or beheading.
We could add J*H*W*H. If you believe the Old Testament, the pile of skulls would shame all of the above, even discounting the slaughter done in its name. Possibly not in raw number, but certainly as a percentage of the population.

71

John Quiggin 05.18.15 at 11:53 pm

Cassander, despite my pointing out much earlier how silly this is, you seem to be interpreting this as some kind of pass-fail purity test, with failures to be have their books burned. I’m simply making the point that in interpreting political theorists it’s important to keep their actual political commitments in mind.

In this context, the fact that Cripps was an enthusiastic supporter of the Popular Front for a few years during WWII doesn’t seem to have much bearing on his views on the welfare state.

By the way, which Hitlerites are you trying to defend here? Mises and Hayek were both anti-democratic authoritarians, but they were impeccably anti-Nazi, and Pareto died when Hitler was still just a barroom brawler.

72

John Quiggin 05.19.15 at 12:49 am

Chris @ 56 Thanks for this link. I posted this response

Coming in very late, this seems to be an argument about partisanship, rather than activism. Suppose, for example, that your political philosopher rigorously avoids all engagement with public policy issues, but instead spends her entire career on polemics for or against, say, consequentialism. Won’t all the adverse effects you describe be present? Won’t they come to share the prejudices of their allies, and dismiss as worthless the ideas of their opponents?

Conversely, it seems to me strange to suggest that a political philosopher studying slavery in the 19th century should avoid the contamination that might arise from joining and writing in support of the abolitionist movement. What would be the point of such a person?

73

cassander 05.19.15 at 12:55 am

@John

>In this context, the fact that Cripps was an enthusiastic supporter of the Popular Front for a few years during WWII doesn’t seem to have much bearing on his views on the welfare state.

and I would say you, that the fact that that Hayek and Mises spent a similar amount of time on the opposite side of that fence have roughly the same bearing on their views of the welfare state. I just want pots and kettles that are equally black to be judged equally black. Condemn them all, or forgive them all, I don’t much care, as long as you’re consistent.

>were both anti-democratic authoritarians,

At worst, they were anti-democratic libertarians, not authoritarians. The nice thing about the libertarian man on a horse is that once he takes over, he leaves everyone alone.

74

js. 05.19.15 at 1:06 am

I think the prescription in the post is too strong. I don’t think that anyone’s political philosophy can float quite free of their political predilections, so I do think the two are connected and that it can be useful to study the two in tandem. This is all more than fair.

Still, I don’t but that one must keep the politics in view in order to get a handle on the philosophy. Or perhaps, if one is doing scholarly interpretative work, then one must. But otherwise, I’m really not convinced. And the relevance of the practical import becomes weaker and weaker the further away one is, temporally, from the writing of the text. But even leaving that aside, I’m I guess particularly interested in various kinds of readings against the grain, the ways that a text can outgrow or defy its author’s intention, etc. (E.g., I think Hobbes is absolutely fantastic, whereas JS Mill is somewhat pedestrian, although politically speaking of course, I find Mill much more congenial.)

And I do see a lot of value in what Phil is talking about re deep reading. Tho, to me, this isn’t a matter of fastening as well as one can on the author’s intentions—whether political or philosophical. (I’m not saying that Phil was meaning to be such.)

75

js. 05.19.15 at 1:09 am

Which “Popular Front” are we talking about, exactly? Because this sort of thing is hardly a black mark on one’s CV.

76

SamChevre 05.19.15 at 1:12 am

It seems to me that everyone–at least, every significant party in modern politics in any state–agrees that “political liberty” needs to be limited. Whether it’s the conservatives advocating for laws known in advance, or the left advocating for immigration and environmentalism, or liberals advocating for orgasms–everyone agrees that “there’s no way this gets a majority vote” means “this shouldn’t be decided by majority vote”.

To put it more bluntly, I haven’t noticed a significant left/liberal movement in favor of populist immigration law.

77

engels 05.19.15 at 1:18 am

“As long as a writer is regarded as having any personal authority, the weight of that auhtority must be assessed in the light of their actions as well as their words.”

Maybe, but qua philosophers writers are not supposed to have personal authority. You are supposed to read and evaluate their arguments on their own merits. Otherwise you’re not engaged in the study philosophy but some kind of quasi-legal or theological enterprise (I’m not saying this isn’t common!)

78

js. 05.19.15 at 1:22 am

OK, “somewhat pedestrian” is maybe a bit harsh on Mill; it’s still not a quarter as interesting as Hobbes.

79

Tabasco 05.19.15 at 1:33 am

Are we supposed to read Chomsky’s linguistics in the light of his vehement denial of the Khmer Rouge’s genocide (when the contemporaneous evidence was in plain sight) or are his scholarship and political activism so distant that there are in effect two separate Chomskys?

If that’s the case, how distant does distant have to be so that there are two Hayeks or Russells or whomever?

80

Donald Johnson 05.19.15 at 2:26 am

Have you read Chomsky’s “vehement” denials, Tabasco? I’ve read what he wrote–it was skeptical, while acknowledging that the KR had committed gruesome atrocities–he clearly thought they were more likely in the 100,000 range.

After the squabbles between Iraq Body Count and Lancet defenders about a nearly order of magnitude difference of opinion about the Iraqi death toll, and having seen how estimates of Stalin’s death toll range over an order of magnitude as well, I’m a little less impressed these days by arguments that this or that person is an apologist because they didn’t get the numbers right.

81

Donald Johnson 05.19.15 at 2:33 am

But supposing Chomsky was this actual defender of the Khmer Rouge, as opposed to someone who due to ideological slant was inclined to think the press was overstating the level of killing. It wouldn’t have a thing to do with his linguistics. That seems obvious. Heisenberg might (or might not–I don’t know) have tried his best to make a Nazi bomb, but nobody questions his contributions to quantum mechanics.

82

Donald Johnson 05.19.15 at 2:38 am

I should think of all these points at once. My third point is that I agree with geo, who is making a different point. One should try to be charitable in reading people like Marx and Hayek, not necessarily because they as people deserve it (maybe they don’t), but because their ideas might have some validity even if others misuse them or even if they misuse them as well. To take a different example (one where I have no sympathy), there could be an argument that one could make for state’s rights that was first made by some slaveowner in order to strengthen the institution of slavery, and yet the argument itself might be interesting. (I have no interest in state’s rights, but as someone raised in the South that’s the sort of example that comes to my mind. )

83

Donald Johnson 05.19.15 at 2:40 am

I really shouldn’t be typing things this late–not that I’m the clearest writer to begin with, but the preceding posts were poorly written even by my standards. Sorry about that.

84

Kurt Schuler 05.19.15 at 3:08 am

I commend to your reading this paper, based on research into the primary sources: “Friedrich Hayek and His Visits to Chile,” by Bruce Caldwell and Leonidas Montes:
http://hope.econ.duke.edu/sites/default/files/Hayek%20and%20Chile-version11%20%282%29.pdf
The authors present evidence that “whatever Hayek’s hopes may have been, his ideas had either no, or if any, only minor, influence on the course of Chilean politics before the 1980 Constitution.” (p. 53).

85

Plume 05.19.15 at 3:31 am

Cassander,

At worst, they were anti-democratic libertarians, not authoritarians. The nice thing about the libertarian man on a horse is that once he takes over, he leaves everyone alone.

If you’re talking about left-libertarians (like Chomsky), yeah. I can agree with you. But not right-libertarians. Not propertarians. Not the Mises and the Hayeks and their progeny. They are all, by definition, authoritarians. They are strident supporters of an economic system which is inherently authoritarian, on the individual level and systemically. Capitalist business itself is autocratic, and when you group autocratic entities together, link them, network them, further hierarchies form, with more authoritarianism in place, more concentration of wealth and power, more political, social and economic consolidation, etc. etc. Anyone who is in favor of such a system is, by definition, an authoritarian — whether they realize it or not.

And that’s not even factoring in what it would take to get to the propertarian promised land, the massive amount of theft involved, the further eradication of the commons, the further destruction of public space and access, which means the further reduction in freedom for billions of human beings. Billions of humans will have to pay for things they once received as a part of being a citizen within a society, and they will now be locked out of a multitude of things like public parks, museums, schools, etc. etc. No more health care, unless a person can afford it. Safe environments only for those who can afford them, etc. etc.

Sorry, but it is “authoritarian” to decide for the masses that they no longer can have those things, those commons, that public space, etc. etc. In short, both from the economic mode itself, to the right-libertarian’s desire to strip it of all democratic checks and balances . . . . the root is deeply authoritarian . . . and it will obviously lead to Dickensian hells, Social Darwinian selection, with more powerful authoritarians lording it over less powerful authoritarians and the rest of us.

86

LFC 05.19.15 at 3:44 am

Though I tend to agree with JQ’s general point that a theorist’s political commitments are relevant to reading and interpreting his/her work, a problem may arise when those political commitments themselves are less than completely clear. I think Tocqueville might be one example. (I’m not going to elaborate on this, b/c T. is not going to come up in JQ’s book, although T. did write a tract on ‘pauperism’ (Memoir on Pauperism is the actual title.))

87

John Quiggin 05.19.15 at 3:49 am

@84 I’ll read the link with interest. Enthusiasm followed by polite disregard is the par outcome ever since Plato went to Syracuse. Dictators welcome applause from philosophers. Advice, not so much.

You might be interested in Farrant and McPhail’s work, for example

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09538259.2014.932063?journalCode=crpe20#.VVqyLudimIx

88

Sebastian H 05.19.15 at 4:19 am

The problem is that people who articulate new insights (or old insights in particularly useful new ways) tend to take them too far–and at the extremes they are silly. Sometimes the authors themselves go to the silly extremes. Sometimes someone else runs with their silly extremes. It is certainly worth noting when certain insights tend to lend themselves to followers who take them to silly extremes (see libertarians and Marxists). But even that doesn’t necessarily mean that the core insights are wrong.

For example:
The basic libertarian insight–that government power needs to be kept in check or everything just becomes a corrupt war over who controls the government power is good. The idea that this means that nothing should be done by the government is silly.

The basic insight that positive thinking will give you a healthier overall attitude and make you generally happier is great. Taking it to mean that anyone who gets sick wasn’t thinking positively enough is silly.

The basic insight that treating workers as interchangeable commodities tends to make lots of people miserable is good. Taking it to mean that letting everyone work on whatever they feel like will allow for a functioning economy isn’t.

89

Neel Krishnaswami 05.19.15 at 5:56 am

OK, “somewhat pedestrian” is maybe a bit harsh on Mill; it’s still not a quarter as interesting as Hobbes.

Even granting your point[*] on who is a more interesting thinker, Mill has one great advantage over Hobbes: he got basically everything right. Sure, today he’d be just another moderate social democrat, but you know how you can troll libertarians and communists by asking them how actually-existing versions of their preferred socities worked out? You can’t troll social democrats that way — actually existing social democracy is pretty great! And Mill figured that out in the nineteenth freaking century!

[*] I don’t grant your point, though: Mill figured out how to make utilitarianism non-insane, which is honestly one of the most impressive intellectual feats I have ever seen.

90

John Quiggin 05.19.15 at 6:05 am

Neel K @89 Agreed!

91

Chris Bertram 05.19.15 at 6:33 am

NeelK:

“Mill has one great advantage over Hobbes: he got basically everything right. Sure, today he’d be just another moderate social democrat…”

Would he? Or would he, with his writing on the stationary state, be a Green?

92

Magpie 05.19.15 at 6:47 am

Prof. Quiggin,

Although there are a few things I can’t fully agree with — and perhaps you should have argued them in more detail — overall, that’s a very thoughtful, insightful piece.

However, what you built up with one hand, you destroy with the other — or at the very least, greatly contradict — with this:

“Eventually, of course, ideas outgrow their creators to the point where original intentions, and the texts in which they were expressed, cease to be relevant.”

Your replies (#6 and #10) illustrate that.

93

reason 05.19.15 at 7:10 am

Sebastian H. @88
A very good and sensible comment. Please remember it when you comment in future.

94

ZM 05.19.15 at 8:12 am

MPAVictoria,

“The comment at 40 can’t possibly be real right?”

I have never been more convinced of your thesis that all CT commenters are Belle Waring in disguise. “In 2015 The Propertarian Institute thundered about John Quiggin’s threat to the self determination of the peoples of the steppes and levant – who are known chiefly for their rational cooperation”

95

Curt Doolittle 05.19.15 at 8:24 am

ZM, MPAVictoria

(a) Unfortunately it’s ‘real’. Unfortunately it’s a profound criticism. Unfortunately it’s a bit much for the layman – or the mainstream economist – to grasp the depth and pervasiveness of fallacy of justificationism. Most of us specialize. The work of specialists is often inaccessible. But it is the work of specialists that least diverges from correspondence with reality. In this case, just as in that of Rawls, the justification is achieved by careful selection of costs and benefits, and intentional ignorance of others.

As such, I think (I am quite certain really) my point stands.

There is one law of cooperation: cooperation is beneficial, only if it is indeed beneficial to the individual. One cannot aggregate these as if they are quantities.

“Utils” don’t exist.

96

Curt Doolittle 05.19.15 at 8:25 am

We all justify our priors.

97

reason 05.19.15 at 9:09 am

ZM,
it is always rather difficult to tell if CD has been drinking or not, but as far as I can tell he is real and his views are every bit as nasty as they seem (probably more so – because he also indulges in justificationism).

98

David 05.19.15 at 9:35 am

I continue to believe that the question “was Hitler a bigger monster than Stalin?” is a fatuous one, and a diversion from the real question here, and that the answer is anyway obvious. (Would you rather have been a Pole under Soviet occupation in, say, 1945-50, or under German occupation? Hint: in the latter case you would probably be dead or a slave.)
But, to return to the point of the OP, these are actually deeply political questions, and not only political theorists but also historians can be legitimately criticised for the way they have posed them. For example, there was the famous “Historikerstreit”, the quarrel among German historians about precisely this issue. Ernst Nolte famously claimed that the Nazis’ “race murders” were simply a “defensive reaction” to Stalin’s “class murders”, and that Auschwitz was a direct consequence of the Bolshevik Revolution. The general theme was taken up by politicians in many countries, anxious to rehabilitate the old enemy Germany, and smear the current one, the Soviet Union. The British politician Tony Benn, for example, was violently attacked around that time simply for pointing out that the majority of those who died in WW2 were Russians, and that it was the Red Army that one the war. The theme of “Stalin as bad as Hitler” was a useful delegitimization device, not only for the Soviet Union, but more importantly in domestic politics. If you were in favour of mild social reform, you were therefore close to people in favor of more radical social reform, who were in turn close to radical revolutionaries who were in turn close to Communists, who had supported Stalin, so believing that the rich should pay higher taxes meant you approved of Stalin’s mass murders. Crude, but nonetheless effective at the time.
Of course few people at the time had much idea what “Stalin’s crimes” actually were, not least because of the lack of historical material. They’d just been told that millions, or maybe tens of millions had died, although quite when and how was never very clear. Fortunately, the KGB kept good records, and we know (see Lewin, “The Soviet Century”) that between 1921 and 1953 (the year of Stalin’s death) just over 4 million people were arrested for crimes which were partly or entirely political. Almost 800,000 were sentenced to death, most of the rest imprisoned, and about half a million banished. The rest is effectively speculation, based on estimates of excess deaths over natural deaths.
Indeed, most of what people think they know about the “great crimes” of the twentieth century is essentially guesswork. Most of the Nazi crimes were deliberate killings, and they are generally well documented, but both of those characteristics are unusual. In the Congo, for example, we read that 3-5 million people died as a result of the Ugandan/Rwandan invasions of 1996 and 1998. But very few were actually killed outright. The figures are calculated from records of deaths in various communes, compared with the number of deaths in the same communes in peacetime. (This is essentially the same methodology used in the Lancet study on Iraq). Obviously, the answers are critically dependent on the accuracy of pre-1996 figures, and it’s been argued in fact that the actual number of excess deaths is much smaller.
Most of the “crimes of Mao” for which various intellectuals are being summoned to apologize here come in the same category. Many of the charges are based on estimates of figures for the total Chinese population at certain dates. Critics have pointed out that for years millions of young men were conscripted into labour units, away from home, and so could not produce any children. Births went sharply down, while deaths stayed fairly constant. But whoever is right, the “crimes of Mao” is a good stick with which to beat the non-Stalinist Marxists, and anyone who might be alleged to possibly agree with them.
Which prompts the thought: which intellectuals do we hold responsible for the millions of “excess deaths” since the end of the Soviet Union, brought about by lower life expectancy and a falling birth-rate? Which liberal free-market economist should be charged with being an accessory to the “crimes of Yeltsin?”

99

Curt Doolittle 05.19.15 at 9:38 am

Thanks (William, all),
The difference between scientific morality (criticism) and rational morality (justification) is clearly over the heads of this group. And distraction, rallying and shaming is evidence enough of confirmation. But thanks for the opportunity to post.
-Cheers

100

reason 05.19.15 at 9:44 am

ZM
Oh I forgot, he is arrogant as well.

101

Mdc 05.19.15 at 10:50 am

What did Hobbes get wrong?

102

engels 05.19.15 at 11:02 am

“The basic insight that treating workers as interchangeable commodities tends to make lots of people miserable is good. Taking it to mean that letting everyone work on whatever they feel like will allow for a functioning economy isn’t.”

Sebastian, you are a dialectician! Apropos though:

As a motivation technique, Google uses a policy often called Innovation Time Off, where Google engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their work time on projects that interest them. Some of Google’s newer services, such as Gmail, Google News, Orkut, and AdSense originated from these independent endeavors.[251] In a talk at Stanford University, Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President of Search Products and User Experience until July 2012, showed that half of all new product launches in the second half of 2005 had originated from the Innovation Time Off.[252]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google#Employees

103

lurker 05.19.15 at 11:38 am

‘By contrast, in 1941, hitler had killed fewer than a 1000 people’ (Cassander, 66)
Remember, kids: Poles and Czechs are not people, they are untermenschen.

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Phil 05.19.15 at 11:56 am

Not to mention the Einsatzgruppen – IIRC the first country in Europe to be declared Judenrein was Estonia. But now we really are doing Cassander’s homework for him.

105

David 05.19.15 at 12:05 pm

Not to mention Polish, Norwegian, Belgian, Dutch, French and British military and civilian casualties, which comfortably exceeded a quarter of a million. And even if by “people” we mean “Germans”, well, the Germans themselves suffered tens of thousands of casualties, as tends to happen in war. Wasn’t Hitler a teeny bit responsible for them?

106

Collin Street 05.19.15 at 12:13 pm

his ideas were right in all respects but their practical implications were misunderstood, including by him, .

A person’s “ideas” have no existence except as that person understands them; you can’t misunderstand your own ideas any more than you can be heavier than yourself.

The nearest you can get to what you suggest is “being wrong”.

107

reason 05.19.15 at 12:23 pm

Collins Street @106
It seems your quote contradicts your point (it was the practical implications not the ideas that were misunderstood).

108

Lee A. Arnold 05.19.15 at 1:05 pm

Political engagement ought to be the rule rather than the exception?

It strikes me that one of the most useful political theories was developed by someone who did not, so far as I know, declare a position: the Grid-Group cultural theory of risk, by Mary Douglas.

It has two axes, hierarchism/ egalitarianism (“grid”, the amount of control-structure accepted by the members) and individualism/ collectivism (“group”, the amount of an individual’s loyalty or commitment to the group). This came out of her anthropology and it has maintained a constant resonance.

Nazis? I would imagine they were hierarchist/collectivist. This is not incompatible with capitalism, and indeed the Nazis were careful to rally the small shopkeepers against both labor and big banks on their way up. Essentially it is Spenglerian “Prussian Socialism” — reading that will show you why the Nazis called themselves “socialists”; they just wanted to expunge the Marxism — though privately Spengler, a German neoconservative who disliked Weimar, thought that Hitler was not the required “great man of history” and condemned the Nazi racism and terror, writing in his private papers, “Only through continuous murder [can] the domination over the German people be maintained.”

So there’s one who predicted the fruits of Nazism, though he didn’t live long enough to get outside Germany and tell the world. And there were others in Germany who also saw that the writing was on the wall.

The present-day Western left? Something like individualist/egalitarian. They want freedom for all with a much flatter economic structure, and I imagine they are going to get there. Much of classical economics seems to believe that it cannot happen, though I suspect that technological change is going to be an “exogenous variable” and the deciding factor here, and computers especially are already starting to flatten the outlines.

Classical liberals? Someone like Hayek, for example, was hierarchist/individualist: a strong individualist & moderately hierarchist, because he insisted that the “market order” was both 1. spontaneous and 2. therefore it marks an ordering which although unequal, must be the best way to do things (and his admirers are unable to see that this is a matter of faith on both points, perhaps because Hayek could go on to write 700 pages of comfy-cozy blabber that is based on both points without first proving that either one of them is true. I am referring to the book, Law, Legislation and Liberty, some sort of high water mark of not proving your priors).

Douglas herself did not make any political statements that I know of, though it appears to be her belief that no one can fall outside the grid-group quadrants.

109

Collin Street 05.19.15 at 1:59 pm

It seems your quote contradicts your point (it was the practical implications not the ideas that were misunderstood).

How a person understands their ideas includes what they understand the “practical implications” to be. It’s not possible — not meaningful — to separate the two: people think what they think they think.

If a person thinks “X, which has the practical implication Y”, then their “idea” is the entirety of that, not just X alone.

110

reason 05.19.15 at 2:02 pm

Collin Street @109
No it’s not at all. Newton can have ideas about Gravity without working out all the implications for Astronomy. A programmer can write a program without being even aware of all the potential applications.

111

Zamfir 05.19.15 at 2:23 pm

@engels, last I heard was that Google abolished the 20% program.

112

MPAVictoria 05.19.15 at 2:28 pm

“Unfortunately it’s ‘real’. Unfortunately it’s a profound criticism. Unfortunately it’s a bit much for the layman – or the mainstream economist – to grasp the depth and pervasiveness of fallacy of justificationism.”

Nope. Not buying it. No one is that pompous in real life.

113

LFC 05.19.15 at 2:37 pm

Mdc @101

What did Hobbes get wrong?

To start with some obvious, low-hanging fruit:
All states are in the posture of gladiators (Leviathan, ch. 13). That’s why Obama has just ordered that another ten armored divisions be sent to the Canadian border. It’s too bad that the “limited” nuclear exchange the other day wiped out both Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, and sent radioactive fallout throughout the region, but hey, that’s life (er, death… whatever).

114

engels 05.19.15 at 3:25 pm

#111 Yeah I heard that too.

115

Plume 05.19.15 at 4:02 pm

Sebastian,

For example:
The basic libertarian insight–that government power needs to be kept in check or everything just becomes a corrupt war over who controls the government power is good. The idea that this means that nothing should be done by the government is silly.

Here again we have the difference between right and left libertarianism coming to the fore. On the left, libertarians want to check (democratically) all forms of concentrated power — public and private — and believe in full democracy in both realms holding all power accountable. To the left libertarian, there is no knee-jerk assumption of “government eeeevil, business goooood,” which is basically the right libertarian’s foundational premise. The left libertarian assumes that the concentration of power itself is the problem, and that those who have it, be they individuals or institutions, must prove to all of us that they deserve to hold that power, and that democracy is the ultimate arbiter of this. Democracy, in essence, merely leases that power, temporarily, and can remove it at any time ”
we the people” feel institutions and individuals can no longer justify their leases.

Propertarians, OTOH, don’t believe private power, especially business power, ever needs to prove anything whatsoever, and especially not to any democratic body or process. They see government as pretty much the sole obstacle to “freedom and liberty,” by which they really mean “freedom and liberty” for business owners and the capitalist system, not for workers, consumers or the health of the plant.

Ironically, they worship an economic system that must have massive government support if it is to continue to function. As in, the very thing they despise — Big Gubmint — is the only thing keeping the capitalist system afloat. Without that massive government and its globalized web of those endless supports — see The Making of Global Capitalism — capitalism would have died long ago, and never would have overthrown feudal forms without it in the first place.

In short, right-libertarianism is ridiculous, even using its own “logic.” It’s always been ridiculous, and a major con.

116

engels 05.19.15 at 4:13 pm

117

TM 05.19.15 at 9:12 pm

Several mentions of the Khmer Rouge and their supposedly “leftist” supporters, and no mention of US support for the murderous regime? No mention of Kissinger???

118

Collin Street 05.19.15 at 9:17 pm

Newton can have ideas about Gravity without working out all the implications for Astronomy.

If I write “If a person thinks X, which has the practical implication Y, then their ‘idea’ is the entirety of that, not just X alone”, talking about situations where people’s mental formulations don’t include any practical implications is not responsive.

119

js. 05.19.15 at 11:03 pm

Mill figured out how to make utilitarianism non-insane,

Well, we just disagree about this. In fact, I almost think you could make the case that before Mill (and perhaps after him), utilitarianism was just obviously wrong, and boringly so, and Mill made it both more interesting and (hence) also incoherent. We also disagree re how much Mill got right, but clearly “basically everything” is a stretch. In any case, I think he got a lot wrong—utilitarianism aside, chap. 5 of On Liberty isn’t exactly a high point in the history of moral philosophy (either philosophically or politically), and it to some extent colors the rest. Subjection of Women is good, but quite inferior to Wollstencraft’s Vindication (tho I’ll give him the hothouse flower—that bit is lovely). Etc.

120

engels 05.19.15 at 11:15 pm

“On the level plain, simple mounds look like hills; and the imbecile flatness of the present bourgeoisie is to be measured by the altitude of its great intellects.” [Marx, in reference to John Stuart Mill in Chapter 16 of Capital]
https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mill-john-stuart/index.htm

121

js. 05.19.15 at 11:15 pm

All states are in the posture of gladiators (Leviathan, ch. 13).

Well, the language is a little florid, but he’s saying something non-insane there I think. Unless I’m misremembering, this point comes up as a sort of response to the objection that the state of nature is a fantastic conception with no basis in reality. And one of the things Hobbes points to is the relation between states as being (roughly) like in a state of nature. Now fully spelling this out would take too long (plus I’d have to look back at the text and am frankly feeling a bit lazy just now!), the basic idea that states have no “common power” over them and that, perhaps anyway, this is the source of certain kinds of systematically recurring conflicts they get into (at least in the context of Hobbes’ world)—this doesn’t strike me as all that insane.

Typing this out, it also occurs to me that the bit you reference should probably be read alongside his definition of a state of war, so that for what he’s saying to be true, open hostilities aren’t at all necessary.

122

geo 05.19.15 at 11:15 pm

Subjection of Women is good, but quite inferior to Wollstencraft’s Vindication

And to what else?

123

ZM 05.19.15 at 11:56 pm

“a person understands their ideas includes what they understand the “practical implications” to be. It’s not possible — not meaningful — to separate the two: people think what they think they think.”

But depending on the form often times people are thinking out their ideas as they write them, and they do not necessarily ponder on all the possible implications before publishing them. Essays are meant as tries . When I wrote an assignment on Foucault I found that later in his life he wished he had not written his work after all. But he did and the implications of his work outlive him.

124

LFC 05.20.15 at 1:15 am

@js.
You’re right, it isn’t insane. And you’re also right that open hostilities aren’t necessary in the Hobbesian ‘state of war.’ But they are always a real possibility — which means that as a guide to *some* parts of current intl politics, it’s less than great. I was being flippant, however, I’ll confess. (Plus this goes off-topic, which is my fault.)

Btw, there’s a somewhat interesting piece on Hobbes in AmPolSciRev of a few years ago, which argues that the more consequential piece of Hobbes’s ‘realism’ was not his depiction of interstate relations in Europe but his depiction of the peoples of the New World as being in a state of ‘savage anarchy’ — indigenous societies that couldn’t form ‘sovereign’ states at all. This notion gets into the early versions of modern intl law, e.g. Vattel (and, among other things, helps justify the extension of imperial control over ‘native’ societies, if not in Vattel than elsewhere). I’m simplifying, obvs. The article is P. Moloney, “Hobbes, Savagery, and International Anarchy,” APSR v.105 n.1, Feb. 2011.

125

LFC 05.20.15 at 1:21 am

P.s. Phrase “int’l law” didn’t exist until Bentham coined it in the late 18th cent. With Vattel it’s still “the law of nations”.

126

Z 05.20.15 at 3:15 am

That’s where his ideas ended up, so, whatever merit they may have, either
(a) they were wrong in crucial respects; or
(b) he didn’t understand and act on his own ideas.

I think a fair way out of this uncomfortable dichotomy (uncomfortable because everyone is wrong about everything all the time with respect to the big picture and in the particulars, especially in one’s own area of expertise) is to judge thinkers on the questions they raised rather than on the answers they provided. So Marx was (in my opinion) dead wrong on the role of class in the shaping of history and on his account of alienation as a by-product of the labour theory of value couple with declining rate of profit. Nevertheless, his introduction of the question of the role of class in the shaping of history and of the nature of social relations embedded in modes of production is incredibly valuable. Ditto for Hayek, with respect to procedural justice and markets as information finding device.

127

js. 05.20.15 at 3:42 am

geo @122:

I don’t have a good answer to that. Look, I like Subjection of Women, I think it’s a powerful argument. I just don’t like Mill’s overall framework (classical liberalism + utilitarianism) all that much. So of course that colors how I read individual texts by him.

LFC @125:

Sure, it’s not a good guide to perhaps most of contemporary international politics, but international law is also a very different thing now than it was when Hobbes was writing, no? I mean, you would know much more about this than me, but I do think it makes some difference to how we apply what Hobbes says to the current situation. (I’m no more than dimly aware that Hobbes is kind of a big deal in the study of int’l relations still.)

128

reason 05.20.15 at 7:21 am

Collin Street @118
“talking about situations where people’s mental formulations don’t include any practical implications is not responsive.”

??? But I wasn’t. Just situations where people’s mental formulations are incomplete. Look I’m bored with this, I think you are wrong and provedly so, why don’t you just move on. I won’t reply again.

129

reason 05.20.15 at 7:27 am

P.S. As a general point, error is just as likely to come from incompleteness as from falsehood, a point that really plagues economics. Often people seem to think that because their model is logically consistent, it must in some sense be true. The “Austrians” are by the far the worst at this, but not the only ones.

130

Collin Street 05.20.15 at 8:47 am

> Just situations where people’s mental formulations are incomplete.

Enh. From the thinker’s perspective, their mental formulations are what they are; the “incompleteness” comes from your perspective, that they “should” contain elements that they don’t.

[I don’t think there’s a huge substantive difference between our positions: I’m pretty sure that most of what we’re seeing is just differences in language. Some of it isn’t, but working out exactly what that is? Not worth it.]

> error is just as likely to come from incompleteness as from falsehood,

Agreed.

131

engels 05.20.15 at 1:39 pm

Mill on income tax:

Both in England and on the Continent a graduated property tax (l’impôt progressif) has been advocated, on the avowed ground that the state should use the instrument of taxation as a means of mitigating the inequalities of wealth. I am as desirous as any one that means should be taken to diminish those inequalities, but not so as to relieve the prodigal at the expense of the prudent.To tax the larger incomes at a higher percentage than the smaller is to lay a tax on industry and economy; to impose a penalty on people for having worked harder and saved more than their neighbours. It is not the fortunes which are earned, but those which are unearned, that it is for the public good to place under limitation.

Mill on intervention:

There seems to be no little need that the whole doctrine of non-interference with foreign nations should be reconsidered, if it can be said to have as yet been considered as a really moral question at all… To go to war for an idea, if the war is aggressive, not defensive, is as criminal as to go to war for territory or revenue; for it is as little justifiable to force our ideas on other people, as to compel them to submit to our will in any other respect. But there assuredly are cases in which it is allowable to go to war, without having been ourselves attacked, or threatened with attack; and it is very important that nations should make up their minds in time, as to what these cases are… To suppose that the same international customs, and the same rules of international morality, can obtain between one civilized nation and another, and between civilized nations and barbarians, is a grave error…

Mill on barabarians:

…The sacred duties which civilized nations owe to the independence and nationality of each other are not binding towards those to whom nationality and independence are either a certain evil, or, at best, a questionable good. The Romans were not the most clean-handed of conquerors; yet would it have been better for Gaul and Spain, Numidia and Dacia, never to have formed part of the Roman Empire?

To characterize any conduct whatever towards a barbarous people as a violation of the law of nations, only shows that he who so speaks has never considered the subject. A violation of great principles of morality it may easily be, but barbarians have no rights as a nation, except a right to such treatment as may, at the earliest possible period, fit them for becoming one. …

132

reason 05.20.15 at 1:42 pm

Collin Street
one more try
“Enh. From the thinker’s perspective, their mental formulations are what they are; the “incompleteness” comes from your perspective, that they “should” contain elements that they don’t. ”
Not it doesn’t come from my perspective, it comes from reality. Models have implications that will be significantly at odds with reality if
1. the model has errors in it
2. the model is missing important things.

But to get back to the original point – the idea can be correct but the practical implications of that idea can be perfectly reasonably and innocently be not understood at the time, including by the person who first had the idea. I really have no idea what you are thinking in saying that the “PRACTICAL implications” of an idea are only in the mind of the originator (or anybody else’s mind for that matter).

133

LFC 05.20.15 at 3:31 pm

js. @127

(I’m no more than dimly aware that Hobbes is kind of a big deal in the study of int’l relations still.)

No, not really, not at any rate as “the study of int’l relations” is practiced in ‘leading’ U.S. pol. sci. depts. If you’re a grad student interested in war-and-peace stuff (conflict, security, whatever label), you have to have read certain contemporary works, but prob. no one much cares whether you’ve read the ‘classical’ theorists outside of a few very short snippets, unless you’re directly working on them (which our hypothetical grad student almost certainly isn’t). The situation is somewhat different outside the U.S. and outside the ‘elite’ depts. In recent decades there has been a revival of interest in ‘classical int’l theory’ and ‘the hist. of int’l thought’ (but again, stronger outside the U.S.).

134

Neel Krishnaswami 05.21.15 at 9:24 am

js @ 119:

Well, we just disagree about this. In fact, I almost think you could make the case that before Mill (and perhaps after him), utilitarianism was just obviously wrong, and boringly so, and Mill made it both more interesting and (hence) also incoherent.

I think rule utilitarianism identifies really something really important, which is the tremendous power the ability to make binding agreements confers. Eg, if the players in the prisoner’s dilemma can make binding agreements, then they can simply make a binding agreement to cooperate.

This is a point that most of Mills’ utilitarian critics failed to appreciate, though ironically it’s one that Hobbes would have picked up on right away! You can (ie, I do) read Hobbes’s central problem as how to build a civic order which everyone has made a binding commitment to participate in, with the English Civil War having concentrated his mind on the awful consequences of failure.

It’s just that Mill was more right about how to actually accomplish this than Hobbes: a representative democracy which controls the technocrats who make the low-level regulations is just a better idea than an absolute monarchy with adoptive succession (which is just a recipe for more civil wars, honestly).

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Collin Street 05.21.15 at 10:03 am

Not it doesn’t come from my perspective, it comes from reality.

If you’re talking about reality then you’ve ceased talking about the person’s ideas considered as-such.

A person can’t be mistaken about the contents of their own head, because what a person thinks they think is what they actually think. Same thing: different layers of indirection to the same underlying object. Even if what they think they think is incoherent or wrong: it doesn’t mean that they don’t think it, it just means that what they do think is incoherent or wrong.

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mdc 05.21.15 at 10:59 am

“It’s just that Mill was more right about how to actually accomplish this than Hobbes: a representative democracy which controls the technocrats who make the low-level regulations is just a better idea than an absolute monarchy with adoptive succession (which is just a recipe for more civil wars, honestly).”

According to Hobbes, a representative democracy, just as much as a monarchy, must have absolute sovereignty, derived from the consent of the governed. Mill is still living in Hobbes’ house, so to speak.

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reason 05.21.15 at 12:37 pm

Collin Street @135
I take “practical implications” to imply the mapping of the ideas into the real world.

I really sort of wonder what you mean by “practical implications”.

Given that the real world moves on, it would even be unusual for the practical implications to all be knowable at the time the idea is generated. That is not to say, that the person generating the idea may not have some idea of the practical implications of an idea, or even that they might be mistaken. But the practical implications, are definitely something separate from the idea itself.

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Collin Street 05.21.15 at 1:39 pm

> But the practical implications, are definitely something separate from the idea itself.

For sure. And being separate from the idea do not form part of the idea.

A person’s understanding of what the practical implications of their ideas are, though, forms an integrated whole with their “ideas” “proper”.

Either way, no “incompleteness”; in the first case, the two things are separate and so neither can complete the other; in the second case, thoughts-about-practical-implications don’t have to be there and their absence doesn’t mean that the ideas that are there are “incomplete”, in any useful sense missing things they should have.

Mostly I’ve been talking about the latter; talking about the actual rather than the believed real-world implications is stepping outside of people’s heads, beyond the limits of what can be called their “ideas”.

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js. 05.22.15 at 1:52 am

LFC @133:

That’s helpful. Thanks.

NK @134:

(1) What mdc said @136. (There’s actually a much longer comment I could make here, about how thinking through what a Hobbesian democracy—an avowed possibility—would like is really constructive and really revealing. Basically, I think Hobbes was formulating the axioms of the modern state.) (2) I’m not actually convinced that Mill was a rule-utilitarian. For what it’s worth, neither was JJC Smart so convinced. (This isn’t to say that I would endorse rule-utilitarianism—I wouldn’t. But still.)

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js. 05.22.15 at 2:07 am

I should maybe clarify my response to Neel Krishnaswami a bit. When I said that Mill made utilitarianism both more interesting and incoherent, I didn’t have in mind rule-utilitarianism. I find there are bits in Utilitarianism where Mill trying to shoehorn proto-Aristotelian insights about human flourishing into this horribly crude Benthamite framework that he can’t quite leave behind, and it’s this bizarrely captivating train wreck. (I think!) The discussion of “higher vs. lower” pleasures is probably the most obvious case, but there’s a bit of this in his discussion of “virtue” as well. Anyway, that’s the sort of thing I had in mind.

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Neel Krishnaswami 05.22.15 at 11:05 am

. When I said that Mill made utilitarianism both more interesting and incoherent, I didn’t have in mind rule-utilitarianism. I find there are bits in Utilitarianism where Mill trying to shoehorn proto-Aristotelian insights about human flourishing into this horribly crude Benthamite framework that he can’t quite leave behind, and it’s this bizarrely captivating train wreck. (I think!) The discussion of “higher vs. lower” pleasures is probably the most obvious case, but there’s a bit of this in his discussion of “virtue” as well. Anyway, that’s the sort of thing I had in mind.

Actually, I pretty much completely agree with you. Virtue and the distinction between higher and lower pleasures is really critical for Mill, and he really, really didn’t manage to work out a justification for it. For example, his defense of free speech based on the harm principle depends on not counting (say) outrage at blasphemy as a harm, which means he depends on having a notion of only counting sufficiently morally justified pleasures and pains in the utility function.

This is (a) obviously nowhere nearly a tightly worked out approach, but (b) to my mind, it’s also the only approach to ethics that has any chance of success. Virtue-based ethics are “clearly” (ie, not clearly) the right approach for an individuals, but society as a whole needs something more consequentialist, and the ability to make binding commitments (in practice, deontological rules) can push you into better overall equilibria.

When I was a college student first encountering Mill, I really disliked him because he was always adding qualifications and and waffle to his claims, but nowadays I really appreciate that.

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ragweed 05.22.15 at 4:30 pm

Cassanders absurd figures on when the Nazi’s became officially evil brought to mind another question – when did the Nazi policies become worse than, say, the Jim Crow US south? In a sense I guess they started out that way, or at least as evil as the imposition of Jim Crow after the US Civil War, in that they were taking away rights from a group that was largely integrated into the larger society and had substantially equal rights. But when did being Jewish in Germany become worse than being black in Alabama? 34? 36? From the getgo (because the writing was on the wall for genocide, rather than long-term subjugation)?

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js. 05.24.15 at 4:21 am

Virtue-based ethics are “clearly” (ie, not clearly) the right approach for an individuals, but society as a whole needs something more consequentialist

I don’t quite get what’s going on with the “clearly”/clearly distinction, but otherwise I have quite a bit of sympathy with this thought (even if I’m not a 100% in agreement). I will though note that Mill at least clearly thought that his doctrine applied to individual actions as as much as to (macro) social policy.

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