John Bruton tipped for EU Presidency


‘Bruton for EU Presidency’, Croooked Timber, 29th  October, 2009

An item today in the leading political theory, and politics, blog Crooked Timber suggests that John Bruton will run for the ‘EU Presidency’, i.e the two and half year presidency of the European Council (council of minister of EU member states).


Bruton was Prime Minister of Ireland from 94 to 97s, and has served as Ambassador of the European Union to the United States.  He was leader of Fine Gael, a centre-right party which sits with the largest political group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party.


Why Bruton?  The connection with the EPP is a good starting point. He is an ideal anti-Blair, a centre-right figure from a small member state.  Blair’s candidature is not popular all over Europe, and the idea of a centre-right figure from a small country is the popular alternative.  Fine Gael is not as Euro-federalist as most of the EPP, it sat with the British Conservatives in satellite group  of the EPP before the British formed a new Euro=sceptic right group.  it would therefore not be so easy for the UK to veto him, and presumably would be an advantage in other less federalist countries.


Blair is unpopular for various reasons: could be too dominant, and out of control,  in a currently undefined position; did not take the UK into the Euro, did take the UK into the American invasion of Iraq using now discredited arguments; David Miliband (current UK foreign minister) is apparently a candidate (he denies it) to be High Representative for Foreign Affairs (which might turn out to be more important that the Presidency), and no one thinks two people from the same party in the same country could occupy two out of three of the senior posts in the EU (the other is President of the Commission).

UK Classical Liberals Commemorate Foundation of Turkish Republic



29 October 1923: Republic of Turkey is founded following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

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Government adviser: Ecstasy less harmful than alcohol

Alcohol worse than ecstasy – drugs chief.  Alan Travis.  The Guardian 29th October, 2009.

This article in (UK newspaper) The Guardian refers to the views of David Nutt, an Imperial College professor, a government adviser appointed by the government, and then ignored.  There was a time when British politicians were taking about evidence bases policy, here is the evidence that has been ignored.

(more detail in this article by Nutt,’Estimating drugs harms: a risky business?, link leads to pdf.  Amongst other things, Nutt points out the damage caused by ‘skunk’, strong cannabis, is grossly exaggerated.)


30 People die a year from ecstasy, 100 people a year die from horse riding accidents.

Alcohol is the 5th most harmful drug, ahead of heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone.

We could stop one case of schizophrenia, if we prevent 5 000 men aged between 20 and 25 from ever taking cannabis, i.e. the risk of mental illness from using cannabis is very small.


On a personal note I don’t find drugs other than alcohol attractive, and people who claim to have their mind expanded by drugs bore me, but the number of people harmed by alcohol far exceeds those harmed by illegal substances.


The issues raised here are not simply those of drugs policy, they refer to the role of reason and evidence in politics, and public policy, and disturbing evidence of their lack in those fields.

Link: Me on Milton Friedman, ‘Capitalism and Freedom’

Also available at

Barry Stocker’s Weblog ( with visual content

Bosphorus Reflections (Blogger)

Milton Friedman (1912-2006), Capitalism and Freedom (1962) at LiberalVision, 23 October 2009.

Looks at income tax, basic income, public goods and bads, business-government links, public housing, rent control, school choice in an influential book on public policy by a major economists.  There is an emphasis on how much Friedman was looking at improving the situation of the poorest, and government action in areas of public goods and bads.

And no the recession has not ‘disproved’ Friedman or ‘proved’ Keynesianism which continues to be a lot less influential that it was in the 60s and 70s.  And no Friedman, and those associated with him did nor ‘forget’  the ‘lessons’, of the Great Depression, about which Friedman was very well informed as shown in his book A Monetary History of the United States.  Most free market orientated economists do not accept his views on money supply in their pure form, but has a continuing influence on the nature of economics, and the political economy of public policy.

Milton Friedman: Progressive Social Justice Thinker

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Bosphorus Reflections (Blogger)

I’ll be posting a link soon to a summary I wrote of Milton Friedman’s book Capitalism and Freedom for LiberalVision.  I’d like to precede that with reasons why Friedman might not be the right-wing villain of much left-wing imagination, and indeed might not be what a lot of people on the right might want him to be, certainly the more socially conservative, authoritarian, national security-nationalist, and big business, orientated parts of the right.

Points listed below, mostly referring to Capitalism and Freedom, but some others as well.

Friedman argues that businesses are guilty of trying to rig markets and get economic favours from governments.  This increases inequality as economic resources are directed to those who are already rich and powerful.

Government should create an unconditional basic income, he teferred to as ‘negative income tax’, because the income information on tax forms would e used to establish a basic income for those with low or zero earnings.

Public housing is bad because it inevitably groups together a disproportionate number of the socially and personally dysfunctional, since some proportion of the poor have low income because of those kind of problems.  Friedman certainly did not suggest that is the only, or main, reason the poor are poor, but obviously it is a factor and Friedman thought that a very negative atmosphere would be created for the poor by concentrating such people together.

The poor should have a choice of schools, and not just those rich enough to afford private schools.  This is why Friedman advocated ‘education vouchers’ which can be used to purchase education at a number of schools.

Minimum wages are bad for the poor, because they make a few people better off while making others even poorer because they cannot find work at the legal minimum, depriving them of a chance to move up the ladder of income levels in the labour market.  This effects the poorest, most marginal, and most discriminated against groups the most.

Rent control is bad for the poor, because it reduces the incentive to rent out property, and build for rent.  Those who receive the benefits of lower rent are a minority and find that low rent leads to bad service from landlords who are not making money.  Everyone else loses out even more because less housing is available.

Government should provide public goods, which Friedman referred to as positive neighbourhood effects, that is generalised goods which cannot be charged for in any kind of practical way.

Government should act against public bads like pollution, bad neighbourhood effects, because the more individualistic reactions to them as in court action cannot hope to compensate everyone harmed.

Inflation control should be at the centre of economics.  This protects the incomes and savings of the poorest, the people who are closest tot he margin of destitution if the value of incomes and savings rapidly diminishes.

High income taxes for the richest entrench inequality and prevent social mobility, because if we lose most of every extra bit of income we earn as we move up the income scale incentives are strongly reduced to make it into the highest income brackets.  High social mobility evens out inequality over time, though it can increase it at any one moment, because over time individuals move between income levels.

These objections to high taxes on high income were recognised by two Democratic presidents who reduced such taxes: John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson.  LBJ was the most left-wing president in office after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and massively increased social spending in his ‘Great Society’ project.  Even under Reagan, one of the major tax cuts cam about through a bill co-sponsored by two Democrats: Richard Gephardt and Bill Bradley.

Highly regulated industries prevent competition, by making it more difficult for new and small businesses to enter the market, which raises prices for consumers and slows economic growth.  This had an influence on deregulation of airlines and road transport in the 1970s, sponsored by Senator Teddy Kennedy, one of America’s most famous left-liberal political figures in US history, and was supported from outside Ralph Nader, then a consumer rights activist, and now the most famous American politician to the left of the Democratic Party.

Friedman was a social libertarian who advocated legalisation of drugs and an end to military conscription in peace time.

Friedman, and free market ideas, have been adopted by the conservative tight,  but that does not tell you much about reality.  Friedman thought that some policies of Thatcher and Reagan were in line with his ideas, but definitely did not think that they had followed his position of a real break with the corporate-political  nexus, the way that regulation and intervention always suits entrenched interest groups.

A standard accusation thrown at Friedman is that he was connected with the dictatorship of Augosto Pincohet in Chile.  It’s true that some of Chile’s more market oriented policies were welcomed by Friedman, but he never endorsed the dictatorship.  It’s true that many regime economic advisers came from the economics department at the Pontifical Catholic University, where there was a partnership with the Chicago department where Friedman was a professor.  However, the Chicago department, then as now, was a large department with many big names in economics, so there is no way that links with Chicago could have turned the ‘Chicago boys’ in Chile into instruments of a Friedmanite plan. though they were certainly ell educated in his ideas.  Friedman visited Chile in the early years of the regime, and met Pinchet, but did not endorse the regime.   Advice is not endorsement.  The speeches Friedman gave in Chile mentioned the role of government in undermining centralised government, far from an endorsement of authoritarianism.  Later on Friedman made a explicit link between the economic advice he gave and the intended gaol of weakening the power of a strong state.  Friedman gave advice and lectures throughout the world in countries with every possible kind of government.  Though Friedman welcomed market oriented economic changes in Chile, how could he not welcome such changes in any country, some of Pinochet’s policies were in direct contradiction with his views, most obviously keeping the copper industry nationalised.  The massive corruption that Pinochet and his family were later found to have been engaged in, was exactly the kind of consequence of political intervention in the economy that Friedman warned against.

Foucault’s Two Perspectives on Liberalism: 75-76

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This is a somewhat delayed thought coming out of the Beyond Boundaries conference on European studies at Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul earlier this month (check blog archive for earlier posts).  In between leaving the conference, and giving my paper, a conversation came up about the relation between Michel Foucault’s 1975 book Discipline and Punish and what I said in my conference presentation about Society Must be Defended based on lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-6.  The books appear to overlap in time, though presumably Foucault did most of the work for Discipline and Punish before 1975.

Even if we take the two books as sequential rather than simultaneous, comparison between them suggests a dual attitude to liberalism, which illuminates his attitude to liberalism from 1975 until his sadly early death in 1984.

The political understanding of Foucault has on the whole been to take him as very left inclined, and as both Marxist influenced, and as establishing the grounds for a Post-Marxist radical left, maybe under the name of radical democracy.  There has been a gradual shift away from that in the understanding of his work from 1975 onwards, but the shift is far from complete. Discipline and Punish was the key text for most of this kind of understanding of Foucault as it puts sovereignty, power, law, and coercion at its centre, and could be taken to endorse a strategy of localised struggles against alliance between state power and economic power.  Even that has an ambiguity not noticed by many, which is that classical liberal/free market libertarian thought is also against that alliance.  Left wing Foucault followers are not likely to notice that, since like most left thinkers they assume market liberalism is about defending the corporate-state alliance.  This is partly because self-styled libertarians and classical liberals have often done that in practice, however, that is in contradiction with the principles of classical liberalism.  The most radical parts of that spectrum share with Marxists a utopian belief in the abolition of all state connections with economic interests, in a completely spontaneous socio-economic order.

At least one commentator noticed that the Foucault of that time was open to the free market kind of liberatarianism, Martha Nussbaum.  That’s a rather awkward example since Nussbaum has a very dismissive attitude to French ‘theory’, regarding Foucault as no more than the best of a bad bunch.  Still, she gives Foucault some credit, and sometimes the person outside the community of enthusiasts is better equipped to pick up on aspects of the thinker concerned.

There is a critique of liberalism in Discipline and Punish, but in retrospect that can be seen as critique in the Kantian style, that is the way that Kant thought of critique as establishing the foundations, and limits, of thought.  Here is a list of what we might regard as criticisms of liberalism in Discipline and Punish

Enlightenment concern for the sufferings of those exposed to torture and execution in the judicial process, is a step on the road to the greater coercion of long term imprisonment and attempts at inner ‘reform’ .

The struggle of the accused, and the convicted, with torture and execution, gave them more power to resist power, that the hidden process of the prison regime.

Public execution provide opportunities for popular revolt against sovereignty, which are eliminated in the world of ‘humane’ punishment.

The claims to rest punishment, and all laws, on internalised ‘norms’ of reason is a greater aggression and coercion than judicial torture, and public execution, on the body of those facing sovereignty.

The most direct critique of liberalism maybe in the account of the ‘panopticon’, the model prison designed of Jeremy Bentham, a major figure in early British liberalism.  The panopticon is analysed by Foucault as a diagram of modern power, which rests on the internalisation of norms.  All prisoners can be observed at any time from the central observation of tower, and them ‘internalise norms’ by following rules at all time and they could be under observation at any time.

Politics as war

The first thing to note here is that ‘liberalism’ has not necessarily ignored these issues.  The idea of the movement to universal social rationality was very much noticed by Max Weber, the great sociologist, who played a role in German liberalism.  He did not regard this as an entirely good thing, and Foucault’s account is dependent on Weber’s though I am not sure if this is directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously.  Confirmation can be found in David Owen’s 1994 book, Maturity and Modernity:  Nietzsche, Weber, Foucault and the Ambivalence of Reason, though I doubt that Owen would support the political conclusions I am drawing.

Society Must be Defended, and other books based on Foucault’s Collège de France lectures,  suggests that for Foucault, disciplinarity and other forms of modern power, like biopolitics, can occur in more despotic state and more moderate state systems.  It’s difficult to see any political project for a going beyond the moderate state, which can also be called the liberal state.  There are things going beyond liberal politics as previously understood, such as the self-creation of the self, or selves, and the interest in the rebellious actions of the most marginal groups.  Neither of these things are in contradiction with liberalism though, particularly as Foucault puts them in the context, respectively, of antique republican government and resisting state power as such, even where justified by Marxist and other radical left discourses.  Liberal thought contains accounts of the value of differing and varied personalities.

On war, Locke recognises that the state is always close to the point where it is war with the population, because it breaches natural rights and government by consent, Humboldt saw war as having value in he formation of independent personalities.  Weber emphasised the irreducibility of force and violence in the existence of the state.

In general, what emerges in Foucault’s 75 to 84 phase is a dual attitude to liberalism.

A strong critique of  any idealisation of abstract norms and universal laws; and any humanist ideal of a unifying ideal human direction in history.

A strong critique of all non-liberal politics, and the recognition of the value of a civil society which has a market economy at its core in limiting state power.

Link: Me on Humboldt, Limits of State Action.

This post is also available, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog

Also at Blogger, without visual content, Bosphorus Reflections.

Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835).  The Limits of State Action

LiberalVision, October 15th 2009

I use Humboldt’s life and friendships to set up a summary of his contribution to liberal political thought,

Topics covered include

Relations with Goethe and Schiller, Mme de Stäel and Benjamin Constant

War, Character, and Struggle with Nature

Negative and Positive Welfare

Liberty and threats to liberty in the ancient and modern world.

The value of freely chosen relations between individuals, the beauty of the society that grows out of this.

Contributions to linguistics

Classicism and Classical Scholarship

Political Career

Influence on Mill

Habermas: Humanitarian Schmittian?

This post available with visual content at Barry Stocker’s Weblog

Looking at Habermas’ paper in NATO intervention in Kosovo (‘Bestiality and Humanity: A War on the Border between Legality and Morality’, Constellations 6:3 1999: 263-227), I noticed an oddity in his way of dealing with Schmitt

Habermas partly expresses his position through condemning the authoritarian conservative political, and legal, theorist Carl Schmitt for reducing international relations to this constant war, which leaves no room for the just war that enforces international order. This criticism comes up in pages 266-7 of the cited article. What he emphasises in Schmitt is the idea that there is not basis for war in human rights or universal values. What Schmitt is opposing is the tradition in which state actions are prescribed and limited, by a hierarchy of laws, and norms, which is erected on the basis of the most universal ethical norms. Schmitt is largely attacking the Jurist and legal theorist, Hans Kelsen; and Habermas makes reference to a normative cosmopolitan tradition from Immanuel Kant to Kelsen in the fourth paragraph of the paper, favourably, which looks like a challenge to Schmitt, A challenge confirmed by remarks on 266-7, which include a quotation from Schmitt that humans are beasts,

Habermas is does not think this intervention can be fully justified by the international law as it previously existed. The UN charter strongly opposes interference in the internal affairs of member states. Habermas did not write to condemn the Kosovo intervention It is an intervention which refers to morality rather than existing law, it is the intervention based on acting as it there is a global civil society, though it does not yet exist. The intervention was not wrong, it was however a precedent that should not be taken as a precedent. Self-legislating improvement should not be accepted. Habermas talks about being between morality and law, but he is halfway between legalism and the sort of decisionism he criticises in Schmit. Some force took the decision to intervene rather than follow international law, and that itself is a welcome intervention. We might wonder if Habermas really has disposed effectively of the Schmittian arguments: there is an Enemy, so terrible that he must be defeated regardless of previous law. Where does that leave Habermas’ transcendental approach to the universalisation of norms? What Habermas is referring to in the article, is Schmitt’s denunciation of humanitarian wars, and prediction ideas of universal values lead to war, to impose them on those lacking sufficient universality . So he agrees with Schmitt that humanitarianism leads to war, and he agrees that we should sometimes break international law, if only in relation to an emergent cosmopolitan morality.

So is Habermas a Schmittian humanitarian?

Link: New Book from Robert Brandom

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog.

Reason in Philosophy: Animating Ideas by Robert B. Brandom, Harvard University Press, 2009.


Hat tip to Thomas Gregersen.

A book which looks more accessible than Brandom’s Making It Explicit, the central book in his work, and distinctly long and arduous text. However, Reasons in Philosophy still looks like a rather demanding read, though Brandom claims the second part is more accessible than the first part.

Brandom continues his work of look at reason as a matter of reasons as norms and as inferences used in argument, contributing to the emergence of a community of rational beings. Brandom is putting ideas about concepts, meanings, and judgements as abstract entities into the context of pragmatic communication, persuasion and sharing of norms. In this project he has integrated Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Frege, Heidegger, Wittgenstein and philosophical Pragmatism into a comprehensive theory of concepts and reasons as what exists in a space of persuasion, belong to a social context emergent from discussion of semantics.

A new book from Brandom is an event, and this broadens the project with an account of the place of American Transcendentalism, most associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson, a key cultural figure in 19th Century America, in broad political and social concerns as well as philosophy. Movements towards broader democracy and the abolition of slavery were often put in Transcendentalist terms, and had a great influence in literature through Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others.

Link: Book Review on Colbert, Knowledge, the State

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog

‘The Colbert Report’. David A. Bell on The Information Master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s Secret State Intelligence System by Jacob Soll, in The New Republic, 7th October, 2009.

Bell discusses one of the great figures of the early modern state, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the most distinguished minister of Louis XIV of Ftance, through his review of what appears to be a very admirable book by Soll.

Colbert had been working for a previous great figure in the emergence of the modern state, Cardinal Mazarin who dominated France while Louis XIV was a child king. France produced three great figures in the administration of the modern state, the other was Louis XIII’s Chief Minister Cardinal Richelieu. Despite the work of Richelieu and Mazarin, Colbert encountered a chaotic state of overlapping, and conflicting forms, of royal and local privileges and jurisdictions. Colbert had run Mazarin’s library, itself the core of what is now the national collection, and also inherited from Mazarin a belief in the secrecy of state knowledge. Colbert did massive work in gathering, and archiving, knowledge throughout France and in neighbouring states. Knowledge that was kept secret in the interests of state power, planning war with neighbouring states, and invasions of local privileges. The massive work of Colbert could not transform the essential incoherence of the state administration, which is why it was ready to collapse in 1789. In some ways Colbert contributed to this collapse with a proto-Utilitarian mentality of a state acting on behalf of a centrally defined national interest, rather than in accordance with aristocratic privileges. This encouraged a meritocratic attitude at odds with an aristocratic and monarchical state.

As Bell points out, many of these points seem close to the work of Michel Foucault. I won’t even try to outline the progress of Foucault’s work in this respect, which is somewhat more complex than Bell indicates. I will just mention that in his later work Foucault often sounds as if he is following on from Montesquieu and Tocqueville, and it looks as if Soll also does. Bell points out that Soll does not have much to say about Foucault, because Foucault;’s work is too rigid and schematic to be incorporated into empirical historical work, nevertheless such work can evidently benefit fro m absorbing Foucauldian notions.