Hey, PoPo–Leave Those Kids Alone

Is the behavior described in this story immoral? Yes. Stupid? Yes. Punishment-worthy? Maybe. But the appropriate subject of a police investigation? No.

We’re all justifiably outraged when someone calls the cops on black people engaged in some innocuous activity–be it barbecuing, babysitting, or whatever. But calling the cops to “assist” in a school investigation into fascist speech is no better than that, and fundamentally, no different. It’s a misuse of the powers of the police, and yet another illegitimate broadening of the scope of their activities. Continue reading

My Mom Chose Life

I was having lunch yesterday in the university cafeteria with a priest who teaches a course on ethics. Predictably, the priest was doing what we all do, namely, complaining about his students–complaining, in particular, about their susceptibility to pro-choice propaganda. “You know,” he said in dismay, “I asked them when human life begins, and they all think it begins when the child exits the womb!” Not everybody at the table knew quite how to respond to this, but I told the priest I sympathized with his dismay. Obviously, I said, human life doesn’t begin when the child exits the womb. It begins when the child exits the house.

I somehow feel like I learned this lesson from Judith Jarvis Thomson, but I’m probably misremembering her argument.

John Dewey, Philosophy, and the German Aggression

(This is a paper I wrote in 2013. It has accumulated about 1650 reads at Objectivism Online, where I posted it. I imagine readers come across it there by the link to it and other articles of mine in “About Me” in my Profile there. // Irfan saw the link to it I posted on FB today, a century after WWI Armistice, and thought it might find interested readers here. So here I’ll try to post it now.)


Dewey and Peikoff on Kant’s Responsibility

Part 1 – Transcendental Idealism v. Experimental Pragmatism

John Dewey delivered three lectures in February 1915 that were published later that year under the title German Philosophy and Politics (GPP). Dewey attempted in this work to trace the contribution of some abstract philosophical ideas to the currents of German thinking that had contributed to bringing the world to its present situation. The Great War had been on for seven months. Hundreds of thousands had died already. Eight and a half million would die, and twenty-one million would be wounded, by the end of the war. Continue reading

Character-Based Voting and Leadership Effects (1 of 3)

Here’s yet another post from my project on character-based voting (CBV). It’s the first of three posts on CBV and leadership effects, and one of many on CBV.

As I’ve said in previous posts, “character-based voting” is voting for or against a political candidate on the basis of what the voter takes to be his traits of character. That contrasts with “policy-based voting,” which is voting for a candidate based on the expected consequences of the policies the voter expects the candidate to pass.

Continue reading

The downsides of Brennan’s verbally consequentialist standard

In the first chapter of AGAINST DEMOCRACY, “Hobbits and Hooligans,” Jason Brennan (JB) endorses the idea, from John Stuart Mill, that we should institute whatever form of government produces the “best results” [p. 1-2].  He lists the following among the important good results that a government might produce: (a) respecting liberal rights, (b) promoting economic growth and (c) promoting intellectual and moral virtue among the citizenry.

Because he includes [a], JB is clearly thinking of consequences or outcomes or results in a very broad way that includes adherence to deontic constraints or requirements.  Though at one very general level this is all fine and well, part of the evaluative picture here is supposed to be that some form of government other than democracy might turn out to be best.  This picture makes sense if we are examining results or consequences narrowly construed (such that adherence to deontic constraints does not count as an outcome). It also makes sense if we suppose that democracy is merely a way of discovering, formulating and enforcing liberal rights (say, on some Lockean conception). Continue reading

Felician Events: Policing, Deportation, and Immigrant Rights

Three event announcements for people in the New York/New Jersey metro area (this announcement amends and supersedes an earlier one I put up):

Policing from a Cop’s Point of View
Thursday, November 8, 2018, 1-2:15 pm
“Ray’s Place,” Main Auditorium, Education Commons Building
Felician University’s Rutherford campus
227 Montross Ave.
Rutherford, New Jersey 07070

We live in a climate of opinion that is highly critical of the police: charges of racism, brutality, procedural irregularity and the like abound. But what is the experience of working police officers? How do they experience what they deal with on the job, and what do they think about the criticisms commonly made of them?

We’ll hear answers to these and other questions from four local police officers: Louis Mignone, a former detective for the West Orange Police Department (now an adjunct in Felician’s Department of Criminal Justice); Julie Ann Zeigler, a sergeant for the Rutherford Police Department; John Russo, Chief of Police for the Rutherford Police Department; and John Link, former Chief of Police of the Clifton Police Department (and an adjunct in Felician’s Department of Criminal Justice). The event is free and open to the public.

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What Friends Are For

…if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country. Such a choice may scandalize the modern reader, and he may stretch out his patriotic hand to the telephone at once and ring up the police….Love and loyalty to an individual can run counter to the claims of the State. When they do–down with the State, say I, which means that the State would down me.

E.M. Forster, “What I Believe

How are you dear friend?

Did you hear about the closing [of] the American consulate in Jerusalem that provide[s] services for Palestinians?

This means a lot for us as Palestinians because this denies our presence as if there are no Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West [B]ank. Imagine that my son wants to travel and study in the USA, where can he apply for his visa? I am very disappointed my friend. My dream is that my son will study English literature in the USA. Now, it’s impossible.

What Trump is doing against us is unbelievable! He is contributing [to] making our life harder.

Please dear friend we need your support to stop this.

A Palestinian friend of mine from the village of (Arab) Tekoa, outside Bethlehem, not to be confused with the nearby Israeli settlement of that name

Continue reading

Consent to State Legitimacy vs. Voluntary Obedience to Law?

Sorry to be so convoluted about the attributions and citations here, but Brandon Christensen over at Notes on Liberty drew my attention to this post by Arnold Kling on Yoram Hazony’s recent book on nationalism. I haven’t read Hazony’s book, but Kling’s post is meant to be an explication both for readers and interested non-readers alike. Here’s what he (Kling) says:

A long post, below the fold, offering my [Kling’s] charitable interpretation of what he [Hazony] is saying.

1. We have three options for government, two of which are very unpleasant: anarchy; repression; or legitimate government. With anarchy, people don’t obey the law. With repression, they obey with great reluctance and only if carefully watched. With legitimate government, they obey the law voluntarily.

2. Legitimate government means that people willingly make sacrifices, such as paying taxes and serving in the armed forces, to help sustain that government.

3. Contrary to the theories of John Locke and others, legitimacy does not come from consent. It first requires that people have a sense of commonality. This comes from common traditions and cultural focal points. These might include language, religion, holidays, moral codes, social narratives, etc. Without this sense of commonality, a state has to default to anarchy or repression.

I don’t understand this. Does anyone? Not a rhetorical question. Maybe it’s laid out in the book, but at face value, this set of claims makes no sense to me.

Claim (1) says that if we put aside anarchy or repression, we’re left with a legitimate government whose laws we obey “voluntarily.” That sounds to me as though the laws of a legitimate government are consented-to. If the government’s constitution is law, we would, presumably, consent to that, too.

Claim (2) says that if our government is legitimate, we “willingly” make sacrifices for it. That seems to imply that the sacrifices we make are consented-to along with the laws.

But claim (3) says that legitimacy does not come from consent. It seems to imply that consent is not a necessary condition for legitimacy, either. To avoid tangles about such jargon as “legitimacy,” “authority,” and the like: it says that no one need consent to a government before that government can justly or permissibly govern those it governs.

Maybe there’s no overt contradiction there, but the claims obviously do not cohere. If we obey the laws (including the constitution) by consent, and sacrifice for government by consent, why wouldn’t we consent to the legitimacy of government itself? What rationale is there for saying that people who consent to the constitution of a government don’t consent to the government itself? At a minimum, why wouldn’t we consent to the legitimacy of a government that does all and only legitimate things, or at least approximated doing so? Without an answer to such questions, it’s hard to see how claims (1)-(3) make even minimal sense.

Nothing in Kling’s explication of (3) addresses the relevant issue. You could reject Lockean consent theories and still endorse the claim that consent was a necessary condition for legitimacy. Rejection of Lockean consent isn’t rejection of consent. You could say that consent requires ethno-national “commonality” and still think that consent was a necessary condition for legitimacy: X’s being a necessary condition for Y doesn’t imply that Y can’t be a necessary condition for Z. So my bafflement remains.

Coming the other way around: People could have a sense of ethno-national “commonality” but fail to consent to the state. For instance: lots of Jews have lots of things in common without consenting to the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Is the legitimacy of the state then underwritten by ethno-national commonality sans consent? Does the state govern people simply because they belong to the same ethno-national group, whether they consent to it or not?

Questions in the same vicinity: a majority of the people on some territory might have a sense of commonality and, invoking that, consent to the state while leaving an ethnic or other minority outside of that perceived sense of ethno-national commonality or consenting cohort. Does the state then have the right to govern the minority community that fails to consent? Supposing they do, what did consent have to do with anything? How can it be said that a minority community that happens to live in the same territory as an ethno-national majority “willingly” obeys the laws of the state and “willingly” sacrifices to the state even if it actively refuses to consent to the state and actively rejects the functional equivalent of that state’s constitution?

This isn’t the first time I’ve read Hazony and been baffled, not just by what he says (or in this case, is understood to say) but by others’ reactions to it. I guess the first time was when Hazony brought Meir Kahane to my undergraduate institution, had Kahane defend the proposition that the Palestinians of the West Bank be driven out or killed in the name of “the virtue of nationalism“–and then defended him as the audience nodded in agreement and laughed at Kahane’s jokes. I’m disinclined to show such a person “charity” of any kind even thirty years after the fact, and don’t really see why anyone should. Cruel, I know. But in the world we currently inhabit, prudent.

(Apologies, couldn’t get the “Continue reading” tag to work on this post.)

What About Bob?

I teach a cross-listed course, Phil/Crim 380, called “Criminal Law: Theory and Practice,” intended as what I call a “citizen-philosopher’s” perspective on criminal law and criminal procedure. It complements Crim 220, Criminal Law, taught by Professor John Link, a former police chief. As one of my students so aptly put it, “Professor Link teaches criminal procedure from the perspective of the cop, but you teach it from the perspective of the criminal,” a statement apparently intended to suggest that she found my class the more practically relevant of the two.

One of the assignments I have my students do is “a short paper (around 3 pages) describing and analyzing an hour-long visit to a criminal court in session.” Alternatively,

Many law enforcement agencies and independent agencies put on informational events designed to engage in community outreach. In the past the Bergen County Prosecutors Office has done so, and the Independent Monitor of the Newark Police Department frequently does so. If you’d prefer, you can attend one of these events instead of visiting a criminal court session. But ask me before you attend one of these.

A student raised her hand in class today to do just that. “My dad is friends with someone at the Bergen County Prosecutors Office, so I was wondering if I could go to something there?” Sure, I said.  Continue reading