A Slap in the Face

The United States has just spent the last two decades fighting a series of ruinous wars, has created a million-person refugee crisis in Afghanistan, and is now fixated on the prospect of supporting a proxy war in Eastern Europe that might well go nuclear. So what, in the midst of all this, has genuinely engaged the country’s moral attention? The sight of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock during the Academy Awards. The idea of endless warfare, even the elevated risk of nuclear warfare, is righteously taken for granted. Meanwhile, Will Smith has become the poster boy for deranged, untethered violence. That moral inversion, it seems to me, is a more consequential slap in the face than the one Smith planted on Chris Rock’s cheek. But try to get anyone to notice.

London Calling: H.L.A. Hart on Place Names

H.L.A Hart devotes chapter 10 of The Concept of Law to international law, and in particular to the question of whether international law counts as a genuine case of law. Though I’m open to persuasion on the topic, I’m somewhat skeptical of the idea that international law is genuine law, and find Hart’s arguments in favor of its validity as law rather confused. That said, this post is devoted to a small and all-things-considered inconsequential confusion in Hart’s discussion, not the larger issue at the center of the chapter. So the point I’m making is a semi-pedantic one, but I’m going to make it anyway.  Continue reading

Hart, Nationalism, and the “Invention of Tradition”

After a hiatus of a few months, we’re back to discussing H.L.A Hart’s The Concept of Law in our MTSP Discussion Group, so I thought I’d throw out some ideas I’d had on the past few discussions on chapters 8 and 9 of the book, “Justice and Morality,” and “Law and Morals,” respectively. This post is on chapter 8. I’m hoping to revisit chapter 9 at some point. Continue reading

Ukraine: After the Last Sky

In a post back on February 26, I recommended a pair of lectures and an article by John Mearsheimer, going on to make a series of inferences from them about the aims and character of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. On reflection (and under some fair criticism), I’ve now come to think that Mearsheimer’s claims, though essentially right, were overstated and misleading, as were my inferences from them. Hence this follow up to that post, intended to clarify what I still think is right about Mearsheimer’s thesis, what I now regard as wrong, and what I take to be as-yet unclear.

I’ve also added links to material on the invasion that I found worth reading, mostly (though not entirely) in confirmation of my own views. I encourage others to post other readings, videos etc. in the comments, regardless of how those readings square with anything I say. I also encourage PoT authors to post anything they find worth posting, again, regardless of how their claims square with mine. Continue reading

A Birthday Thank-You to My Mother

Today would have been my mother’s 96th birthday.  (She died at 91.)

The other day, while indulging in my usual frustration over how my college students are so often ignorant of so many things that I was familiar with well before high school, it occurred to me that a substantial portion of those things were material I learned not in school or even through my own reading, but from my mother – not in any didactic setting, but informally.  For example, I first learned about Versailles and Pompeii through my mother’s recollections of her own school projects on those topics; the mnemonic “SPA” (to recall the chronological order of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) she likewise recalled from her school days.

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Cancelling China (2)

In part 1 of this mini-series, I mentioned David Potts’s comments on China from an earlier post, promising to respond more directly to them. DP’s comments on China fall into three parts: a condemnation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on grounds of its systematic disrespect for human rights; an accusation of hypocrisy against activists for their relative indifference to China’s human rights record; and a skeptical shrug of the shoulders about collective action against China.

I put my summary response to his argument this way in part 1:

Either his remarks are meant to rebut my claims or not. If they are, I don’t see how they do; if they’re not I don’t see why they’re there.

I’m going to focus here on the first of these conditionals, assuming that his remarks were intended to rebut my claims, and arguing that they don’t. Continue reading

Mearsheimer on Ukraine

Though I realize that this lecture is currently in vogue among people on the extreme Right of American politics, I highly recommend it anyway. I’ve previously cited Mearsheimer and Walt’s work on Israel, and Mearsheimer’s now-famous lecture on Ukraine has the same clear-eyed quality about it. It is not a defense of Putin, and not to be construed as apologetics for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But it puts things in context far, far better than anyone is doing in the mainstream media. The title is a little misleading, and probably best interpreted as asking, “What is the explanation for the part of the Ukraine crisis that is not Russia’s fault?” The lecture was given in 2015, hence doesn’t directly address the 2022 invasion. But if you listen carefully, you’ll hear Mearsheimer predict and explain the invasion in the same breath. (Here is the print version of Mearsheimer’s lecture in PDF.)  

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