The Constitution of No Authority

Rather, a husband exercises authority over his wife in a different way because he shares that authority with his wife and allows her to participate in his own deliberations, taking her judgment and advice into account. The husband’s rule is comparable to political rule because he not only rules, but is also ruled; he does not make all of the important decisions on the basis of his own deliberation alone, but engages in cooperative deliberation with his wife. The wife exercises a degree of rule over her husband because her own deliberative contributions can shape the decisions that are the source of the household’s collective actions.

David J. Riesbeck, Aristotle on Political Community, p. 152

Average conversation in the Khawaja-Bowles household:

Irfan: I don’t think we should let Hugo go out on the deck unattended.
Alison: Who cares what you think? Right, Hugo?
Hugo: Meow.

Hugo remains on the deck unattended.




Droning On

I’m teaching the issue of drone warfare and targeted killing in one of my ethics classes, the fifth or sixth semester in a row I’ve taught this material, via Kenneth Himes’s 2016 book, Drones and the Ethics of Targeted Killing. It’s been a frustrating, even despair-inducing experience: Of the 90 or so students enrolled, only half attend. Of the 45 of who attend, 40 are utterly indifferent to the material, unmoved even by the most shocking finding, revelation, or video I can throw at them.

My students–whether rich or poor, urban or suburban, black or white–simply do not care whether drones increase or decrease the incidence of terrorist attacks, much less whether their use is in any sense morally justified. Whether drones kill innocents or kill “bad guys,” whether the targets are justified in resisting U.S. policy or obliged to lie down and take it: none of this is nearly as important as whatever they’re doing on their phones. Continue reading

Teaching Machiavelli in Palestine

Here’s a draft of the paper I’m giving at the 25th Annual Conference of the Association for Core Texts and Courses a few weeks from now in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Comments welcome.

Anyone who teaches Machiavelli’s Prince in a college setting faces a daunting set of pedagogical problems, among them the apparent anachronism of the examples that Machiavelli adduces in support of the advice he gives the prince. Few political philosophers are trained to discuss the political histories of Greco-Roman antiquity, the Ottoman Empire, or Renaissance Europe, and fewer students can endure reading or hearing about them. Yet such examples clot the text of The Prince, jeopardizing its accessibility and relevance to twenty-first century students. Continue reading

“Naila and the Uprising”

For scheduling reasons, as usual, I missed my chance a few weeks ago to see Julia Bacha’s documentary film, “Naila and the Uprising” at the UN, where Bacha, the director, was in attendance to discuss the film at a pre-showing event. In case you were wondering, Julia Bacha is a filmmaker with Just Vision, an independent film company dedicated to “rendering Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders more visible, valued and influential in their efforts.” And “Naila” is the story of a young Gazan woman’s participation in the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada, of 1987-1993. Unless you’re a connoisseur of things Palestinian, you’d probably never have heard of director, film, or company. And if ordinary experience is any guide, American connoisseurs of things Palestinian are in pretty short supply. Continue reading

Perpetual Peace

I wonder what anyone out there thinks of this issue, especially from a libertarian-type property rights perspective:

I live out in the country—granted, the countryside of New Jersey, but still, in a semi-rural area. The town I live in, Readington, is quite large (48 sq miles), and contains a fair bit of open space, along with a bunch of large-scale property holdings.

One of the owners of one of these larger plots owns a plot large enough to accommodate a small jetport—which is what he wants to build on it. The plot in question already has a small airport on it, intended for private propeller-driven planes, but the owner wants to upgrade the existing airport to the equivalent of a regional jetport for some of the smaller commercial airlines. Continue reading

Testify: Conscientious Refusal to Plea Bargain (1 of 2)

I spent a few hours in municipal court the other day fighting a traffic ticket. Of the several dozen defendants in court that day, I was the only one to demand a trial by pleading not guilty. In insisting so conspicuously and anomalously on my innocence–annoying even my attorney–I began to wonder about the guilt or innocence of the other defendants in court. No doubt some were guilty as charged, but I found it hard to believe that all of them were. What, I wondered, was the point of driving to court in a Mercedes or BMW, hiring a high priced attorney, and wasting hours to cop a plea in a case that had “reasonable doubt” written all over it? But lots did. Continue reading

R. Kelly and Mob Justice

I was on spring break last week, so I made the mistake of sitting down and watching some TV for the first time since Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s just my ineptitude with a remote, but aside from Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism, the only topic that seemed up for discussion was R. Kelly and the charges made against him. (I also made the mistake of watching Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” quixotically expecting a Spike Lee movie to rise above the level of a comic book, but alas, wrong again. More on that fiasco some other time.)

Here’s an obvious point about guilt and innocence when it comes to criminal charges: if you’re going to try someone for a criminal allegation in the court of public opinion–a very big and very dubious if–you have to distinguish clearly between four mutually exclusive things:

  • the case against him,
  • the case in his defense,
  • the set of known facts that don’t easily fit either of the first two categories, and
  • the unknowns.

The least you can do is to try to do justice to the facts in all four categories, rather than fixating on, say, the case against him to the exclusion of everything else. There are complications here about how broadly or narrowly to understand each category, but even if we set those aside, there’s more than enough complexity here to keep a competent journalist busy for awhile. Continue reading

Je Diffame: The Case of Ilhan Omar

Here’s the text of a letter I sent to Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) on the Ilhan Omar controversy and (then) pending legislation intended to censure her. I sent a similarly-worded letter to my own congressional representative, Tom Malinowski. I’ve listed some useful readings on the controversy after the text of the letter. Here is a useful backgrounder to the controversy, from The New York Times. Here is the draft of the congressional resolution I had in front of me as I wrote the letter below. This is the IHRA “Working Definition of Antisemitism” referenced in the draft resolution, and criticized in the fourth paragraph of my letter.  Continue reading

The Weaponization of Anti-Semitism

Here’s an informative podcast interview with my friend Steve Shalom, a political scientist at William Paterson University (Wayne, New Jersey), and an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace of Northern New Jersey. You have to scroll down a few clicks past the bio and the Banksy visual for the podcast itself.

What Steve says in the interview about anti-Semitism strikes me as one instance of many of the over-emphasis on race in American political discourse–not only to the exclusion of other sorts of identity, like gender and class, but to the exclusion of a straightforward focus on ethico-political issues as such. In other words, we not only have a tendency to focus on race above all other things, but to use our focus on race to distract attention from equally important things. It becomes easy to forget that sometimes an issue is just an issue. Continue reading

“It’s What We Do”: Film Screening and Pot Luck Dinner

For the many, of whom each individual is but an ordinary person, when they meet together may very likely be better than the few good, if regarded not individually but collectively, just as a feast to which many contribute is better than a dinner provided out of a single purse, especially if one of the many is bringing biryani and naan from Nirala’s of Elmwood Park.  –Aristotle, Politics, III.11

Continue reading