I’ll be making a series of posts on Bernard Williams’ essay “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory.” (David R. and Derek B. and I have read and discussed this recently.) My purpose is pretty narrow: to get some idea of the content (and normative status) of what BW calls the basic legitimation demand (BLD). According to BW, when a state, in addition to adequately solving the “Hobbesian” problem of providing basic security (“the first political question”), meets BLD, it is legitimate (it comes to be permitted to make and enforce laws within some range of possible laws).
Of note, in contrast to Rawls’ liberal principle of legitimacy, BLD is supposed to apply generally – not just to liberal states or to states in conditions that are ripe for liberal constitutional democracy. According to BW, at least in principle and in some historical contexts, non-liberal states can be legitimate and BLD is meant to explain how this could be (or is or was) so. I don’t think Rawls denies this, but neither does he formulate or justify a general principle for state legitimacy. I’m interested in BW’s attempt at doing so. I have some thoughts. Continue reading
Consider two countries, X and Y.
X and Y sign an agreement. X unilaterally pulls out of the agreement at will, then attacks Y through the imposition of sanctions. Y insists on complying with the original agreement.
X then imposes secondary sanctions on any countries that do business with Y. Y insists on complying with the original agreement.
Time passes. X attacks Y again with more sanctions. The sanctions begin to take their toll. Y still complies with the original agreement.
Eventually, Y, the weaker party, decides to attack a third party, Z, which X had (unilaterally) pledged to defend. Y’s rationale: in attacking this third party, Y pulls X into a conflict where it, Y, enjoys a certain advantage that it doesn’t enjoy in a direct, frontal attack on X, which Y cannot win. The attack creates physical damage but no human casualties. Continue reading
In June 1963, when Nathaniel Branden published a piece on “Inherited Wealth” in The Objectivist Newsletter, he was still the beloved disciple of Ayn Rand, who reprinted his piece in her 1966 collection Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, and continued to include it in subsequent editions despite her break with Branden in 1968. As Rand famously did not allow opinions deviating even in the slightest from her own to appear in journals or books that she edited, we can assume Branden speaks for Rand when he writes:
From a Bret Stephens column on the “Gulf of Oman” crisis:
Trump might be a liar, but the U.S. military isn’t. There are lingering questions about the types of munitions that hit the ships, and time should be given for a thorough investigation. But it would require a large dose of self-deception (or conspiracy theorizing) to pretend that Iran isn’t the likely culprit, or that its actions don’t represent a major escalation in the region.
How many fallacies do you see there? I was at first tempted to count two.
The first is a begged question: the U.S. military’s version of the event is true because the U.S. military doesn’t lie.
The second is either a poisoned well or two of them: if you don’t believe the U.S. military’s version of the story, you are (1) self-deceived or (2) engaged in conspiracy theorizing. Continue reading
They started down the shallow trench behind the crest of the hill and in the dark Andre smelt the foulness the defenders of the hill crest had made all through the bracken on that slope. He did not like these people who were like dangerous children; dirty, foul, undisciplined, kind, loving, silly and ignorant but always dangerous because they were armed. He, Andres, was without politics except that he was for the Republic. He had heard these people talk many times and he thought what they said was often beautiful and fine to hear but he did not like them. It is not liberty not to bury the mess one makes, he thought. No animal has more liberty than the cat; but it buries the mess it makes. The cat is the best anarchist. Until they learn from the cat I cannot respect them.
–Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls, ch. 36 (decades before Jordan Peterson)
I’ve previously written two posts on the Scot Peterson case under the title of “The Premature Demonization of Scot Peterson.” Here’s the first post, and here’s the second. Here’s background on the criminal case.
Having revisited and followed the case for the last few weeks, and having had a couple of conversations both with Peterson and with one of his colleagues, I’ve decided to turn this into an ongoing series. But there’s no need at this point for the overly cautious title I initially used. The demonization of Scot Peterson isn’t just “premature”; it’s an act of collective irresponsibility verging on hysteria. I so far have not been convinced that Peterson deserves to be called either a “failure” or a “coward,” much less a criminal. It seems more apt to describe him as the unfortunate victim of a society addicted to loose talk and unrestrained vindictiveness. As I see it, even commentators properly skeptical of the criminal charges against Peterson have bought too easily into the claim that he “failed” to stop the shooter out of “cowardice” (and have irresponsibly repeated those claims). Continue reading
Stoicism, particularly in its ethical and political aspects (a defense of individual self-mastery on the one hand and commercial society on the other – for the latter, see, e.g., Cicero’s De Officiis), has been enormously influential throughout western history. During the Roman period it took on something like the character of a mass religious movement; Stoics were also statistically overrepresented among assassins or attempted assassins of Roman emperors. (One third of all Roman emperors died by assassination, so that’s not an insignificant number.) Later on, philosophical thinkers as diverse as Augustine, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Adam Smith, and Kant would draw on Stoic ideas (though always selectively) in crafting their own ethical and political views.
Nay, the extent of ground is of so little value, without labor, that I have heard it affirmed, that in Spain itself a man may be permitted to plough, sow and reap, without being disturbed, upon land he has no other title to, but only his making use of it. But on the contrary, the inhabitants think themselves beholden to him, who, by his industry on neglected, and consequently waste land, has increased the stock of corn, which they wanted.
–John Locke, Second Treatise, sect. 36
“Is the land there owned by the peasants?”
“Most land is owned by those who farm it. Originally the land was owned by the state and by living on it and declaring the intention of improving it, a man could obtain title to a hundred and fifty hectares.”
“Tell me how this is done,” Agustin asked. “That is an agrarian reform which means something.”
Robert Jordan explained the process of homesteading. He had never thought of it before as an agrarian reform.
“That is magnificent,” Primitivo said.
–Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls, ch. 16.
Phil Magness has performed a great service for the history of individualist anarchism by tracking down and publishing some of Lysander Spooner’s hardest-to-find works, in two volumes:
Two Treatises on Competitive Currency and Banking
“Available for the first time in over 140 years, these two ‘lost’ treatises [What Is a Dollar? and Financial Imposters I-IV] by libertarian legal philosopher Lysander Spooner present his vision for a radically decentralized monetary system rooted in privately issued competitive currencies and free-banking. …
Once presumed to have been destroyed in a turn-of-the-century fire, these writings contain Spooner’s most extensive foray into economic theory and reveal new insights into his distinctive and uncompromising free-market vision. …
Spooner’s articulated theory of radically decentralized competitive currencies might be seen as something of an intellectual grandfather to the rise of cryptocurrency in the present day.”
Public Letters and Political Essays
“This collection brings together the political writings and short essays of Lysander Spooner for the first time in a single volume. Spooner’s editorials span topics ranging from abolitionism and the Civil War, to free banking and currency, to the trial of President Garfield’s assassin, to government corruption in Massachusetts during the Gilded Age – all with biting wit and an uncompromising disdain for politicians.
Containing over 40 years of newspaper editorials as well as the complete set of Spooner’s contributions to the magazine Liberty, many of these essays have been out of print for over a century. For any fan of Spooner’s political philosophy, and the idea of human liberty generally, this collection is essential reading.”
Below the fold, I’ve reproduced (with permission) the text of a letter regarding the P Is for Palestine controversy by Michael Lesher of Passaic, New Jersey, addressed to the Trustees and Director of the Highland Park Public Library, in Highland Park, New Jersey. More on the controversy from Jewish Link of New Jersey: Rochelle Kipnis (May 9), Elizabeth Kratz (May 17). From the Newark Star Ledger: Rachel Kleinman (May 9). From ABC News. From Fox News.
The library will be holding a public meeting on Wednesday, June 5th at 7:30 pm to discuss the matter. Continue reading