From the monthly archives:

January 2024

Remembering Tim Brighouse

by Harry on January 10, 2024

The text telling me Tim had died came through a few minutes before a series of meetings with students. After the feeling of sickness and dread that hit me I wondered whether to go ahead anyway, and then thought what a strange thought that was. But my stepmum told me later that when my dad learned of my grandmother’s death he proceeded with the talk he was about to give to a group of teachers. I am pretty certain that if I’d been about to teach a class I would have gone ahead with that. But knowing neither meeting was urgent, and worrying that the students would be horrified to learn, later, that I had met them in such circumstances, I postponed. And to be fair, whereas he knew he could drive to where my grandmother was straight after the talk, I knew that I had to decide very quickly, and get ready, if I was going to leave that day, or have to wait another 24 hours (which, in the end, I elected to do anyway).

(Note: this is very long and probably self-indulgent. But I know plenty of non-regulars will want to read it, and I think writing it has helped me some. There’s a lot below the fold. That’s sort of an apology, but of course you can just ignore it!)

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Okay, so we’ve talked about Bosnia and how that set things up for the Kosovo War. Now, what happened in Kosovo that made NATO want to get involved there?

Back when Serbia was part of Yugoslavia, Kosovo was a “special autonomous province” of Serbia. This meant that it had limited self-rule and its own regional legislature. Since the majority of Kosovars were ethnic Albanians, this means that under Communist Yugoslavia, Kosovo’s politics and its economy came to be dominated by Albanians. The Serbs — who were a majority in Serbia as a whole, but a minority in Kosovo — came to resent this. [click to continue…]

What if there were far fewer people?

by Chris Armstrong on January 8, 2024

One of the most common arguments in debates about environmental crisis is: “it’s the rising population, stupid.” There are just too many human beings, using up too much stuff, leaving too little space for everyone else. The next step is often to gesture towards some kind of population control, or just to leave the issue hanging.

Whatever you think of that position, I’ve been struck lately by the increasing prominence of its diametric opposite. This holds that the problem we face – or will soon face, anyway – is that there are actually too few of us. Consider this opinion piece from the New York Times back in September (only the latest in a series of pieces the NYT has published on the topic, often with much the same message. Here’s one from 2021, and another from 2022). The real problem, it suggests, is that the human population will not only peak in 2085, but that it will then decline, perhaps precipitously. Within a couple of hundred years, there might be only be 2 billion of us left. The claim is not, note, that population will fall in one country or other – we’re familiar with that idea. The claim is that the global population is set to decline, perhaps precipitously.

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Sunday photoblogging: murky night

by Chris Bertram on January 7, 2024

Hebron Road, murky night

The Kosovo War, 25 years later

by Doug Muir on January 6, 2024

We’re just a few weeks away from the 25th anniversary of the Kosovo War, which started in March 1999. So, I’d like to do a retrospective on the war’s causes.

This is a long story! It’s going to take at least three posts, and they won’t be short. I think it’s interesting, but it may not be to everyone’s taste, so the rest is below the cut.

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The gallon loaf

by John Q on January 6, 2024

I’ve been working a bit on inflation and the highly problematic concept of the ‘cost of living’ (shorter JQ: what matters is the purchasing power of wages, not the cost of some basket of goods). As part of this, I’ve been looking at how particular prices have changed over time, focusing on basics like bread and milk.

One striking thing that I found out is that, until quite late in the 20th century, the standard loaf of bread used to calculate consumer price indexes in Australia weighed 4 pounds (nearly 2kg). That’s about as much as three standard loaves of sliced bread. Asking around, this turns out to be the largest of the standard sizes specified in legislation like the Western Australian Bread Act which was only repealed in 2004, AFAICT.

Going back a century or so further, the Speenhamland system of poor relief in England specified the weekly nutrition requirements of a labouring man as a ‘gallon loaf” of bread, made from a gallon (about 5 litres) of flour, and weighing 8.8 pounds (4kg). Bread was pretty much all that poor people got to eat, so the amount seems plausible.

But why one huge loaf rather than, say seven modern-size loaves? And turning that question around, why are our current loaves so much smaller?
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American Gerontocracy, Explained

by Kevin Munger on January 5, 2024

2024 is here, the year of the election. As the world begins to tune in to the greatest show on X, the question on everyone’s lips is:

Why the hell is everybody so old??

In the summer of 2022, I published a book predicting this:

elite electoral politics will see a clear and extremely high-profile generational turning point in 2024. President Joe Biden begins his term as the oldest President in history; in 2024, he will be eighty-two years old. He at one point indicated that he intends to serve as a “transition” President, and that he might be the first President to decline to seek re-election in decades. If he does run, his advanced age will be a central issue throughout the campaign.

First, the facts: in 2024, either Trump or Biden would be the oldest person to win a presidential election. We have the second-oldest House in history (after 2020-2022), and the oldest Senate. A full 2/3 of the Senate are Baby Boomers!

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Creepy Parasite Stories; or, Bedtime for Daniel

by Doug Muir on January 4, 2024

I mentioned that parasite biology was one of my interests. It didn’t used to be.

When the children were smaller, we had bedtime rituals. The two oldest shared a room, so they would both get something at bedtime. Perhaps it would be a chapter from a book (Charlotte’s Web was a big hit, as was From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). Or it might be a story. Stories could be about anything, but history and science were particularly popular.

So one night, they asked for a science story. About… bugs!  *Creepy* bugs. Yeah!

Well. After a moment’s thought, I decided to tell them a little bit about wasps. I paused a moment, because wasps can get quite creepy… quite creepy indeed. But okay, they did ask, and I could avoid the most disturbing bits. [click to continue…]

Why is Political Philosophy not Euro-centric?

by Speranta Dumitru on January 4, 2024

In a recent post about unfair epistemic authority, Macarena Marey suggests that

In political philosophy, the centre is composed of the Anglophone world and three European countries…

One can think of “the center” in terms of people or of topics. Although Marey’s post is clearly about philosophers not philosophies, and I agree with her, one can also address the issue of “the centre” about philosophies.

For my part, I wonder the opposite: how come political philosophy is not Euro-centric? If Anglophone and European philosophers dominate the field, as indeed they do, why doesn’t European politics dominate political philosophy, too?

My point is not that European politics should dominate political philosophy, but that it is surprising that it does not. First, because philosophers often sought solutions to the political problems of their time (think of Montesquieu or Locke on the separation of powers; of Paine and Burke debating human rights during the French Revolution  etc.). Second, because the European Union is a political innovation on many respects; had a philosopher presented the project (“imagine enemies at war pooling their resources”), it would have been dismissed as utopian. Finally, because EU is a complex organization which deals with enough topics that it is hard not to find yours. Topical, innovative, and complex – but not of interest for European hegemonic philosophers: is this not puzzling?

You doubt. But how would political philosophy look like if it was Euro-centred? Certainly, renewed — by philosophical views tested at the European level or inspired by the European institutions. For example, there would be philosophical analyses of “new” topics such as:

  •  Freedom of movement – a founding freedom of the European union over the last 70 years. Surprisingly, there is not a single philosophical treaty on this freedom today (although freedom of speech, of assembly etc. are well represented); all philosophical studies reason as if it were natural to control immigration, as if open borders were an unrealistic utopia – in short, as if the EU did not exist (neither Mercosur‘s or African Union‘s institutions).
  • Distributive justice between states or within federal states – a political reality since the 1950s or earlier. But since the 1970s, philosophers have been praising Rawls, Walzer, and others who argue that redistribution between states is not a matter of justice (no reviewer have ever asked them whether the existing European/international redistribution was unjust etc.).
  • Justice of extending / fragmenting states and federations of states – today, cosmopolitanism is considered in opposition to nationalism, not to regionalism or federalism; secession/ unions are under-discussed in theories of justice or critical race theory; there are more philosophical studies on just wars than on peace etc.

Many other sources of philosophical renewal are not specific to the European Union but could have been be activated if political philosophy was Euro-centric. For example, international aid has been institutionalized since the WWII (as I have briefly shown here), but prominent philosophers reason about its justice as if it did not exist. Less prominent philosophers should adapt to the existing terms of the debate.

In short, if political philosophy was a little more Euro-centric, its questioning would be renewed and more realistic. If it is not, the problem of political philosophy is not “Euro-centrism” but “centrism” tout court: we tend to organize around a few “prominent philosophers” and their views rather than around originality, pluralism, and truth.

Hello World

by Doug Muir on January 4, 2024

Or, as the kids say these days, get gud noob.

Douglas Muir here, aka Doug M. Long time commenter, now given the keys. Native New Yorker, trained as a lawyer, work in development — USAID, UNDP, yadda yadda. Married to a German, so living in rural northern Bavaria.  Four kids aged high school / uni, and a dog. The work has taken us to live in a bunch of different places, from Kosovo to Tajikistan, and has taken me short-term to a bunch more, from Rwanda to the Solomon Islands.

Interests include history, development, energy, space, astronomy, demographics, the political economy of development, parasite biology, EU expansion, and American football.  _Alien_ is a perfect movie, magpies are elegant and admirable, the Johnny Cash cover of “Hurt” is the greatest piece of popular music the century has yet produced, nuclear power would be just fine if it wasn’t so damn expensive, Vermont is overrated, fight me.

The dog is a black Lab. 

More in a bit.

Welcome to Doug Muir

by John Q on January 3, 2024

As 2024 dawns, Crooked Timber has a new member for 2024. Doug Muir, formerly with A Fistful of Euros, and more recently an insightful commenter here at CT will be blogging here from now on. I’m looking forward to what he has to say.

New Year Gifts

by John Q on January 2, 2024

It’s still New Year’s Day in places, but the world of academia seems to be back to work, and sending me a variety of gifts, some more welcome than others. Coincidentally or otherwise, it’s also the day I’ve moved to semi-retirement, a half-pay position involving only research and public engagement.
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New year’s resolutions that are not about me

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 1, 2024

Happy 2024 everyone! May there be no more wars, no more avoidable suffering, and justice for all. That’s a steep wish-list, but then I am one of those who thinks that giving up is not an option, and that [almost] everyone has opportunities to contribute to make us move into that direction.

In that spirit, I made three resolutions for 2024: one for myself, one for a specific very vulnerable person, and one political resolution, for society at large.

I can already hear the cynic laughing: New Year’s resolutions don’t work! Resolutions are for weak people who could have solved their problems long ago if they were a little more decisive. With New Year’s resolutions we only fool ourselves. The cynic pours himself another drink, and has a good laugh at those who make resolutions. [click to continue…]

Geopolitics of knowledge is a fact. Only few (conservative) colleagues would contend otherwise. Ingrid Robeyns wrote an entry for this blog dealing with this problem. There, Ingrid dealt mostly with the absence of non-Anglophone colleagues in political philosophy books and journals from the Anglophone centre. I want to stress that this is not a problem of language, for there are other centres from which we, philosophers from the “Global South” working in the “Global South”, are excluded. In political philosophy, the centre is composed of the Anglophone world and three European countries: Italy, France, and Germany. From my own experience, the rest of us do not qualify as political philosophers, for we are, it seems, unable to speak in universal terms. We are, at best, providers of particular cases and data for Europeans and Anglophones to study and produce their own philosophical and universal theories. I think most of you who are reading are already familiar with the concept of epistemic extractivism, of which this phenomenon is a case. (If not, you should; in case you don’t read Spanish, there is this).

Critical political philosophy is one of the fields where the unequal distribution of epistemic authority is more striking. I say “striking” because it would seem, prima facie, that political philosophers with a critical inclination (Marxists, feminists, anti-imperialists, etc.) are people more prone to recognising injustice than people from other disciplines and tendencies. But no one lives outside a system of injustice and no one is a priori completely exempt from reproducing patterns of silencing. Not even ourselves, living and working in the “Global Southern” places of the world. Many political philosophers working and living in Latin America don’t even bother to read and cite their own colleagues. This is, to be sure, a shame, but there is a rationale behind this self-destructive practice. Latin American scholars know that their papers have even lesser chances of being sent to a reviewing process (we are usually desk-rejected) if they cite “too many” pieces in Spanish and by authors working outside of the academic centre. [click to continue…]