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

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.

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Character-Based Voting: The Case of Joseph P. Ganim

This story, about the current gubernatorial campaign in Connecticut, offers a near-perfect exemplification of the criticism that I’ve made in the past of Jason Brennan’s critique (in The Ethics of Voting) of character-based voting. “Character-based voting” is a vote for or against a candidate based primarily on considerations concerning the candidate’s moral character, as contrasted with considerations concerning the policy positions he promises (or can reliably be predicted) to make. Brennan argues (or more precisely, asserts without argument) that character-based voting is only legitimate insofar as it functions as a proxy for predictions about policy, adding (or half-adding) that it usually doesn’t.

One of my objections to Brennan’s claim is that it assumes without argument that future-oriented considerations are the only ones that matter to deliberations about how to vote for political candidates. But (I suggest) elected office comes with rewards, and it’s plausible to think that considerations of moral desert are relevant to the distribution of rewards. Moral desert is a past-oriented consideration. Absent an explicit discussion of the role of moral desert in voting, and an argument that it’s somehow outweighed, defeated, or made irrelevant by future-oriented considerations, the role of moral desert can’t be dismissed. Since moral desert can’t be dismissed, a candidate’s past can’t be dismissed, insofar as it reveals relevant considerations of moral character. But if that’s right, the case for character-based voting is stronger than Brennan makes it out to be.    Continue reading

Author-Meets-Critics Session: Vicente Medina’s “Terrorism Unjustified”

The Felician Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs will be holding an Author-Meets-Critics session on Vicente Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified: The Use and Misuse of Political Violence (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015). The event takes place on Saturday, April 21, 2018, 1-4:30 pm, in the Main Auditorium (“Ray’s Place”) of the Education Commons Building on Felician University’s Rutherford campus (231 Montross Ave., Rutherford, New Jersey 07070). Light refreshments will be served.

Presenters include Theresa Fanelli (Criminal Justice, Felician; previously, FBI Counterterrorism Division), Graham Parsons (Philosophy, West Point), and Irfan Khawaja (Philosophy, Felician), with a response by Vicente Medina (Philosophy, Seton Hall University).

The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available onsite, and the Rutherford campus is easily accessible by mass transit from New York City (New Jersey Transit Bus #190 from Port Authority, at 42nd St). Continue reading

Neutrality Loathsome

God will have all, or none; serve Him, or fall
Down before Baal, Bel, or Belial:
Either be hot, or cold: God doth despise,
Abhorre, and spew out all Neutralities.
–Robert Herrick (1846)

Robert Nozick, on Locke’s theory of acquisition, in 1974:

Why does mixing one’s labor with something make one the owner of it? Perhaps because one owns own’s labor, and so one comes to own a previously unowned thing that becomes permeated with what one owns. Ownership seeps into the rest. But why isn’t mixing what I own with what I don’t own a way of losing what I own rather than a way of gaining what I don’t?…Perhaps the idea, instead, is that laboring on something improves it and makes it more valuable; and anyone is untitled to own a thing whose value he has created….Ignore the fact that laboring on something may make it less valuable (spraying pink enamel paint on a piece of driftwood you have found). Why should one’s entitlement extend to the whole object rather than just to the added value one’s labor has produced? (Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 174-75).

From an article in The New York Times on the judgment in the 5Pointz graffiti case a few days ago:

Ruling that graffiti — a typically transient form of art — was of sufficient stature to be protected by the law, a federal judge in Brooklyn awarded a judgment of $6.7 million on Monday to 21 graffiti artists whose works were destroyed in 2013 at the 5Pointz complex in Long Island City, Queens.

In November, a landmark trial came to a close in Federal District Court in Brooklyn when a civil jury decided that Jerry Wolkoff, a real estate developer who owned 5Pointz, broke the law when he whitewashed dozens of swirling murals at the complex, obliterating what a lawyer for the artists had called “the world’s largest open-air aerosol museum.”

Though Mr. Wolkoff’s lawyers had argued that the buildings were his to treat as he pleased, the jury found he violated the Visual Artists Rights Act, or V.A.R.A., which has been used to protect public art of “recognized stature” created on someone’s else property.

So whatever the added value of pink enamel paint, the added value of multicolored enamel paint turns out to have a pretty specific dollar amount. Continue reading

Reason Papers 39:2 Out (Winter 2017 Issue)

The latest issue of Reason Papers is now out–Volume 39, Number 2 (Winter 2017). The issue includes a symposium on Tara Smith’s Judicial Review in an Objective Legal System, as well as Part II of a symposium on Den Uyl and Rasmussen’s newest book, The Perfectionist Turn. There’s also a revised version of a piece I posted here at PoT on teaching Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to the Americans” (scroll all the way down to “Afterwords”). And other stuff as well–psychological egoism, Nozick on patterned theories of justice, interviews with Nazi filmmakers, commentary on a theatrical production of Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. Enjoy.  Continue reading

Zyrtec-D and “Express” Consent

So I go to CVS with a stuffy nose, hoping to land something strong to clean it all out–some good shit, like Zyrtec-D. I know I’m going to have to run the regulatory gauntlet, but I need a hit. So I go.

When I get there, there’s a line three deep in front of me, and within minutes, three deep behind. Finally, I get to the counter.

Khawaja: Hi, I need some Zyrtec-D. That’s available behind the counter, right?

Pharmacist: Yes. I need to see your driver’s license.

Khawaja (handing it over): Here.

Pharmacist (scanning it): Thanks. I’ll go get it.

A few minutes pass.

Pharmacist: That’ll be $19.99. But first you’ll need to sign this agreement on the screen. Once you click “agree,” and sign it, you can pay.

I glance at the long agreement on-screen, browse through it without understanding it, look nervously over my shoulder at the line behind me, click “agree,” sign it, and hand over $20.  Continue reading

The Color of Rights: Malheur, Standing Rock, Palestine

About a year and a half ago, having spent a summer in Palestine and a week on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I ventured the observation on Facebook that three political disputes I’d “recently encountered” (in a loose sense of “encountered”) struck me as fundamentally similar in nature, and yet attracted fundamentally different constituencies. For brevity’s sake, let’s call them “Malheur,” “Standing Rock,” and “Palestine,” taking those as  shorthand designations for more complex things. Continue reading

“Permission to Innovate”: A response to Michael Munger

Here’s a comment I wrote in response to an article by Michael Munger, “Permissionless innovation: the fuzzy idea that rules our lives” (Learn Liberty, Sept. 19, 2017). The quoted passage at the beginning is drawn from Munger’s article, but I’d suggest reading the whole article first to get the context. (I’ve slightly edited one phrase in the version below without changing the meaning.)

There are two kinds of obstacles to permissionless innovation: requiring permission from regulators and requiring permission from competitors.

How about requiring permission from your boss, or the administrative hierarchy above you in your organization? That’s not what’s usually meant by the word “regulator,” but even apart from cases where admin functions as a proxy for external regulators, a boss is the most obvious and proximate source of regulation and of the requirement to get permission to innovate. Continue reading

The Balfour Declaration: 100+ Years of Ethno-Nationalist Apologetics

Some food for thought, in “commemoration” of the Balfour Declaration, drafted 31 October 1917, adopted by the British Government 2 November 1917.

(1) Lord Arthur Balfour, speech to Parliament on the need for the British to retain control of Egypt (1910)

First of all, look at the facts of the case. Western nations as soon as they emerge into history show the beginnings of those capacities for self-government…having merits of their own…You may look through the whole history of the Orientals in what is called, broadly speaking, the East, and you never find traces of self-government. All their great centuries–and they have been great–have been passed under absolute government. All their great contributions to civilisation–and they have been great–have been made under that form of government. Conquerer has succeeded conqueror; one domination has followed another; but never in all of the revolutions of fate and fortune have you seen one of those nations of its own motion establish what we, from a Western point of view, call self-government. (Quoted in Edward Said, Orientalism, p. 33)

(2) Balfour Declaration, Zionist Draft (July 1917)

  1. His Majesty’s Government accepts the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people.

  2. His Majesty’s Government will use its best endeavours to secure the achievement of this object and will discuss the necessary methods and means with the Zionist Organisation.

(3) Balfour Declaration, Final Draft, (finalized 31 October 1917, adopted 2 November 1917)

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. (Both drafts quoted in Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents, 8th ed., p. 94)

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