Why are Britain, France, the USA etc intervening militarily in Libya and not other Arab countries?

There have many questions asked about why some NATO countries are intervening militarily to help the opposition in Libya and not in other Arab autocracies.  The latest I’ve seen is from a website news and discussion website associated with the political party in Britain to which I belong, and which supports the intervention.  The item focuses on disturbing news of torture of Syrian demonstrators and asks why we are not intervening militarily in that country.

It seems to me the reasons why there is intervention in Libya and not other countries, is fairly clear.  This is a completely separate issue from whether the intervention is correct.  Whatever view may be taken on that, it is clear why things have happened as they have.  Since this does not seem to as widely understood as it could be, I’m offering some clarification.

1.  The Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi does not control the whole country.  Oppositions forces control and administer a significant proportion of Libyan territory.  A state that does not control the whole of its territory has lost some of the reasons behind respect for national sovereignty.

2.  Opposition forces are very active in fighting the existing regime around the goal of a state with pluralist democracy, genuine representative institutions, which is under law, and which protects individual rights.  These gaols are in line with the general nature and principles of NATO states.  Those forces have requested intervention.  

3.  The Arab League has  given some recognition to the ideas that the Libyan state is lacking legitimacy and some form of intervention is justified.  Even if the Arab League does not support the full extent of intervention, it has given legitimacy to the fact of intervention.  Similar remarks apply to the UN attitude.  

4.  The Gaddafi regime been involved in various acts of murder and terror against citizens of the UK, France, the USA and many other countries, sometime on the soil of these countries, or in the skies over these countries.  

The above are objectively founded, and those who do not support the current intervention presumably recognise their reality.  If they do not I can only say they have lost touch with objectivity.  It is certainly the case that the four points above could be accepted by someone opposed to the intervention.  That person could oppose the intervention on the grounds of pacifism, uncertainty about the consequences of interventions, the belief that western countries should never ever intervene in a Third World country, a belief that national sovereignty exercised by an established regime can never ever be challenged from outside even when weakening in practice.

Those arguments, can be made, but I do not find them convincing.  Pacifism leaves bad people with a monopoly of force.  We know enough about the badness of the Gaddafi regime and the way that opposition forces have operates to have a good enough idea about the relative merits of the two sides, and the benefits of the better side winning.  The idea of absolute sovereignty should not automatically overcomes all other concerns in every circumstance, and the evident weakening of sovereign weakens the applicability of that argument.  There is nothing wrong with western interventionism where there are good reasons to think it will help.  Examples where it has worked include Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.  These countries have their problems, but they are better now than they would have been without interventions from abroad.  Countries which bear the costs of intervening bear considerable, if dispersed and long term, benefits from living in a world which one less autocratic government and one more government based on law and pluralism.  Oil is sometimes offered as the main reason for interventionism in Libya for those who oppose it.  The intervening countries were able to buy Libyan oil before and had commercial links with Libya, so this is a weak argument.  One problem with any intervention is that intervening countries are likely to claim economic and other privileges,  This does not in itself show interventionism is wrong, though we should certainly act to minimise this kind of activity.  

I will briefly mention some very weak arguments against interventionism which are sometimes offered by people who should know better.  Sarkozy’s support for interventions was motivated by Bernard-Henri Lévy, a rather preposterous  self-publicising writer and ‘thinker’.  It’s unlikely that BHL was the main reason for Sarkozy’s policy.  It is simply very obviously irrelevant that a major supporter of the policy is deeply irritating.  Some writers and thinkers essentially argue that supporting policies of existing western governments must be based lack of radical critical intellectual spirit.  This is really an argument from intellectual vanity (I must be cleverer than people who agree with the government) and at best an extension of the argument of the inherent evils of all interventionism, or all western interventionism, which I have already discussed.  These people appear inclined to believe that NATO countries were already planning the fall of Gaddafi and were involved in covert actions against him.  The evidence for this is very weak, but these sophisticated intellectuals are very prone to think that any tenuous association, any piece of evidence which might, or might not, be relevant is treated as final proof.  In any case, if these NATO countries were involved in such covert operations, that would be highly appropriate as a form of intervention below the threshold of system and open use of high level military hardware to assist rebels.  

Intervention in Syria, Bahrain, etc, would be a very good thing in my opinion, but should only reach the level of full scale military support for opposition forces when there is an organised armed opposition force requesting assistance.  Given the current lack of such conditions, the best thing is to offer support to democracy activists below the level of open military intervention.  Covert operations are a different matter.    

Early Modern Thought Online: Recommended Website

Early Modern Thought Online: The Blog caught my eye because a link was posted to my recent item ‘Political Theorists and Tragedians: Historians of the Early Modern State’, so I might be considered biased.  But after looking over the site I have put it my own RSS feeds tabs in my browser, as well as adding it to the links on the side bar of this blog.  Recent items include Renaissance rabbits, experimental reasoning in early modern chemistry,digital humanities and historical research.  A really interesting and useful sampling, which I think is going to help me keep in touch with a lot of very worthwhile activity in this field.  Items include images, links to pdfs, complete text of essays, links to websites and resources.   And if they they picked up on my obscure blog, they must be doing a really thorough job of scouring the netsphere.

This is how people at Early Modern Thought Online, describe the site.

“Early Modern Thought Online” (EMTO) is a database offering access to about 13.500 digitized source texts from early modern philosophy and related disciplines like history of science and history of theology provided by libraries in Europe and overseas. In the present stage of its development, EMTO presents mainly links to external resources.
This blog intends to show how to profit from concepts and methods of the digital humanities. It will give practical advice on how to use digitised sources. We will present digital collections relevant to our field, and discuss their relevance for early modern philosophy and history of ideas. But we want to do philosophy as well: present ongoing research related to sources present in EMTO. We hope that this blog, as well as EMTO as a whole, will be a helpful tool and provide a lively forum for discussion.
EMTO is on Twitter and Facebook.

Nietzsche Against the Egyptians: Politics and Tragedy

Looking through Birth of Tragedy, mostly thinking about the possible political meanings, I noticed a reference in Section 19 to Egypt.  The reference is negative, with regard to the idea that the Apollonian contains the Egyptian when unchallenged by the Dionysian.  Since this is a blog post, and not a paper for Nietzscheans, I will explain the relevant basic terms.  Nietzsche sees ancient Greek tragedy as born from the conflict and union of Dionysius, the god associated with dance, intoxication, death and rebirth, with Apollo, the god associated with architecture, dreams, clarity, and boundaries.  

Without the Dionysian element, which is essential to Greek culture, the Apolline becomes rigid and cold.  What Nietzsche is referring to is the timeless, unchanging and archaic nature of Egyptian civilisation compared with Greece in the time of the city states and the great Athenian tragedies.  His reference to Egypt is certainly tied up with nineteenth-century chauvinistic stereotypes, but is nevertheless still stimulating.  And it is true that there was something non-conformist, innovative and active, about classical Greece compared with Egypt at that time.  Nietzsche’s comments also contain an implicit recognition that a lot of classical Greek culture had Egyptian roots.  The most obvious place to see that amongst Ancient Greek writers is in Plato’s favourable references to Egypt, and Nietzsche is very possibly having a dig at Plato.  

What Nietzsche is also doing is having a dig at the ‘Doric’, which refers to the simplest order of classical architecture, and is used by Nietzsche to refer to Sparta.  Nietzsche is for Athens against Sparta, and being against the Egyptian nature of the purely Apollinian.   The purely Apollinian is a characteristic of the Doric state, that is Sparta in Nietzsche’s account.  We should note that in this respect Nietzsche is for democratic, individualistic and commercial Athens against oligarchic, traditionalist and autarkic Sparta.  That is not the end of the story of Nietzsche’s political inclinations, but we should not ignore this evidence of Nietzsche’s inclinations either.  

The context for the dismissal of the Egyptian/Doric/Pure Apollinian is the account of tragedy as a struggle against injustice, a highly ambiguous struggle since Nietzsche suggests that justice is Apollinian, and more implicitly that denial of justice is Apollinian, since denial of justice comes from a form of justice.  Apollo is also associated with individuation in Nietzsche; and he links tragedy with the struggle both against the suffering of individuation, and for the strong individual.  Gods and humans are unified in this struggle against the injustice of fate according to Nietzsche, which in terms of political symbolism looks like the unity of commoners and aristocrats (including kings).  

The idea of the Dionysian is tied up with barbarism and Plebian enthusiasms for Nietzsche, while as we have seen the Apollinian is linked with oligarchy-monarchy-aristocracy.  In political terms, tragedy is the unity of democracy with aristocracy etc, which is rather close to how Aristotle, Polybius and Cicero thought about a good and enduring constitution.  The idea of a republic as a unity of struggling opposites is something that is likely to have been in Nietzsche’s mind, somewhere, as we can see it in the Jena Romantic, in the late 18th century writings of Schlegel, Novalis etc on philosophy and literature.  

I’ve somewhat emphasised democratic and republican readings of Nietzsche, there’s a lot in Nietzsche that goes against this, though on the whole I believe the tendency in Nietzsche commentary has been to overemphasise the latter, and underemphasise the former.  On the less liberal Nietzsche, we should note that Birth of Tragedy includes a central elevation of the ‘Aryan’ (Indo-European) over the semitic, and at the time, Nietzsche was an enthusiast for Imperial German nationalism.  Fortunately his attitude changed on both points.  

Free Chocolate Easter Bunnies in Istanbul Supermarkets just after National Sovereignty Day

Went to the nearest supermarket to get stuff for dinner and so on.  To my great surprise a supermarket  employee was handing out chocolate Easter bunnies at the entrance, and very tasty they were too. Welcome comfort food for the tedium of shopping. This is the first time I’ve encountered such a thing after 14 years in Istanbul.  There has been increasing emphasis on ‘Christmas’, referring to the run up to New Year’s Day, with same kind of decoration,  card, party packs and presentation packaging to be seen London.  Handing out chocolate Easter bunnies is clearly nothing to do with indigenous Greek or Armenian Easter traditions, or even the Easter traditions of western residents in Istanbul who must outweigh the Greek and Armenian population.  Like ‘Christmas’, something that people know about through the American centred entertainment industry  becomes part of consumer culture, so traditions percolate in strange ways. One relevant issue is that 23rd April (yesterday) was National Sovereignty and Children’s Day in Turkey, which celebrates the first sitting of the Turkish National Assembly in Ankara in 1920.  There were some special events for children in the shopping mall as a result.  I don’t think many shops in Istanbul were handing out Easter chocolate though, and there is an iussue about which supermarket I used.  The shop where I had this experience, was Makro.  Makro is a part of Migros, a major supermarket chain in Turkey.  Makro is the high end branding, though the stock is mostly what can be found in the relatively low end branded Migros shops (Migros, Tansas, and most low end Sok).  At the margin there is more emphasis on the more expensive lines, but everything that is in Makro is in a big Migros supermarket.  Makro shops are in relatively small and are in shopping malls, and a Makro shop happens to be the closest supermarket to where I live.  I do not personally have a problem with consumer culture or the global entertainment industry, some related phenomena strike me as irritating though.  Why have chocolate Easter bunnies in Istanbul?  Will this spread to all supermarkets and food shops?  Is there going to be a growing confusion in Turkey between National Sovereignty day and Easter?  A very strange though.  Still I did enjoy my unexpected free chocolate.

Political Theorists and Tragedians: Historians of the Early Modern State

The impetus for these thoughts came from my reading (still in its early stages) of Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947, by Christopher Clark (Allen Lane 2006/Penguin 2007).  My attention was first drawn to this book by Tyler Cowen at his Marginal Revolution blog.  Cowen is an economist who blogs on a wide range of topics.

I can ‘t say much about this book right now, I will return to it when I finish.  But for now, it reads well, it seems very scholarly, and it deals with a major topic in European history.  What  stimulated this post were remarks about Samuel von Pufendorf (pages 36-37).  Sadly, not as many people known much about Pufendorf as should be the case.  He is not a name that could be known to everyone, but he should be better known to those with a serious interest in political theory.  Close to one hundred percent will know the name, but a small percentage will have read anything by him.  His texts are readily available online.  If you check major online bookshops, you can find very affordable scholarly editions from the same source, and some other editions.  The Whole Duty of Man, According to the Law of Nature looks like the essential text here to me, but some Pufendorf specialists might agree.  Even those with a more passing interest in political theory should really know the name and a few bullet points.  More below about this situation.

The context in which Clark introduces Pufendorf is the Thirty Years War (1618-48) which devastated Germany, Pufendorf’s presumably linked belief in the power of the state to enforce peace, and his role as historian to the Elector of Brandenburg in Berlin (he had previously undertaken the same role in Sweden).  There is no great revelation there to anyone with some knowledge of Pufendorf and the German history of the time, but what is generally lacking is all round discussion of why this matters.  Clark suggests that we see Pufendorf’s historiography as a continuation of his political theory and jurisprudence, in the justification of the absolute power of the state, preferably a monarchical state.  I should point out that it would be a great mistake to think of Pufendorf as simply an advocate of state brutality and actions unrestrained by law, or as a sycophant to absolute rulers.  He is a major figure in the development of the idea that the state is limited by law, and rules through uniformity and equality of laws.

It’s not just Pufendorf who did this kind of historiography for princes, a bit earlier, as G.W. Leibniz a bit later.  Leibniz is widely read for his general philosophy, but again could be better known as a political thinker.  If we go back to the fifteenth century, Machiavelli wrote a History of Florence for Pope Leo X, a member of the princely family of Florence, the Medici.  Writing legal and political theory in that time was associated with the writing of history for a ruler, as opposed to the current situation, where there is more prestige for a political theorist in engaging with the most fomalised aspects of social science and decision theory.  The writing of history by political theorists was not restricted to work for rulers, Grotius wrote on Dutch history, and was employed as diplomat by the Crown of Sweden; Spinoza wrote about the history of the Jews as part of commenting on the Torah/Old Testament, in the Theologico-Political Treatise; Hobbes wrote Behometh a history of the Civil War; Hume wrote a multi-volume History of England.

What is significant about these histories?  Not just the accident that philosophers and political theorists obtained financial compensation in this manner, or were pushed to serve a prince in this way.  As Clark suggests, this is part of the emergence of the idea that a state is part of a narrative over time, in which each prince tries to build on, improve and expand, what went before.  Is this just a justification of princely power, and its tendency to centralise and dominate?  In some part yes, but it is also an imposition and a constraint.  The prince represents the people because of a contract according to Pufendorf, and exists to guarantee the natural rights of citizens.  It’s part of the process in which as princes become more absolute, their personal power becomes more and more constrained by laws, institutions, bureaucrats, and apologists, necessary to their rule.

As the title of this post indicate, tragedians are part of this process.  There is only one clear case of a tragedian employed as historian I’m aware of, Jean Racine who was employed by Louis XIV, but a pretty major case.  Before that, Pierre Corneille had received patronage from Cardinal Richelieu (Chief Minister of Louis XIII).  In Spain, Pedro Calderón was employed by the royal court, as Shakespeare had been earlier.  Their tragedies refer to history and monarchical power, as seen by royal patrons,  but also see the king as a figure about to fall, as someone who is dangerous if unrestrained in the use of power, whose individual desire threatens the continuity of the state, whose life and rule is conditioned by grand errors, who is weak in relation to the playing out of destructive passions around him.

Literature and political thought are tied to writing history, or historical plays, often for the sovereign, but that process is part of the emptying out of personal power, even as princes become more grand and dramatic in the symbolism of power, and use personal discretion in extreme ways.  The best discussion I can think of in relation to this is Walter Benjamin’s in The Origin of German Tragic Drama, a remarkable and very difficult work of literary aesthetics and genre theory.  It’s not a secret that these early modern thinkers and dramatists were tied to state power, but it could certainly be discussed more, and certainly the relation between historiography and theory could be discussed more.

On the relative obscurity of Pufendorf, which also applies to Grotius.  Standard texts and courses on early modern political theory go through Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.  Political philosophers may overlook Machiavelli, which is terrible.  Hobbes was transmitted to continental Europe in large part through Pufendorf.  Locke was in the Netherlands for several years not long after Pufendorf had been there, but seems to have picked up his books in Paris, where he may have met him; and clearly Grotius was an influence on him.  Rousseau must clearly be understood in relation to Grotius and Pufendorf, as well as to Hobbes and Locke.  These are all topics informing scholarly endeavour, but they are not part of the standard courses, introductory texts, and common sense narrative in the field.  This is a loss.

Why this loss?  As far as I can see, the feeling that Grotius and Pufendorf were part of a continental natural law tradition appropriate to European polities, and not to British polity with judges and a legal system independent from monarchs, and making laws in the common law tradition through judicial precedence.  Continental states are seen as run by prince dependent administrative law, which connects with Grotius, Pufendorf and the most monarchist aspects of Hobbes.  These are highly dubious distinctions and generalisations, I believe, and I doubt that many specialists in the field would subscribe to them, but it is still a widely spread common-sense semi-conscious story, which still informs debate about law, human rights, and European structures in Britain.

The thoughts above are a bit long and variegated, but I believe they belong together to argue for the following points:

1.  Modern political and legal theory emerged in connection with historiography, and needs to be seen, at least part of the time, as inherently historical, taking historical processes as its subject, just as much as universalist arguments about principles.

2.  This emergence of political and legal theory in historical consciousness is tied to early modern tragedy.

3. Pufendorf (and Grotius) should move close to the centre of the introductory story, the common sense set of preconceptions, about early modern political theory. (Michael J. Otsuka is one of the few major figures in current political theory to give a big role to Grotius and Pufendorf, and this pure gesture anyway, see Libertarianism without Inequality, Oxford University Press, 2003).

4.  There is no absolute distinction between continental civil or administrative law tradition, and English common law.  The relation between these kinds of law and the foundations of jurisprudence and political sovereignty, is a single question, of a complex kind, with no discrete parts.

Camelot 4: Political Mythology, Moral Purity, Identity Crisis, Duty and Passion.

For me, even after just 2 episodes, Starz TV’s series Camelot was certainly the best current TV drama around.  I’ve saw episode 4 a few days ago and it maintains the standard.  No references to Cicero or Marcus Aurelius though.  I’ve got a lot to say, but here briefly are the themes, and below that a discussion of the action to explain how the themes appear.

The dangers and greatness of Merlin’s political idealism; the related issue of the invention of myth to cover violence; the value of moral purity and sacrifice of that purity; control of inner anger and power; the complex establishment of Morgan’ (Arthur’s half-sister) character and situation; Arthur’s inner tension between the aim of ideal kingship and his love for his champion’s wife.  

Starting with the issues I find most compelling, round Merlin, the character I find most compelling (though Morgan comes close and might even overtake Merlin as the series proceeds).  Merlin,  Arthur’s sorcerer, adviser, controller, and surrogate father, decides the find a sword fit for the king, and finds Caliban, a retired warrior, casting the best swords in obscure retirement. Merlin obtains Excalibur, the greatest sword for his King, but will not allow Caliban to deliver the sword personally, because he senses the blood still on Caliban, and fears his unintentionally corrupting affect.  Caliban has already provoked Merlin into showing his magical powers by producing fire.  A fight takes place in which Merlin accidentally kills Caliban with fire, confirming Merlin’s own fear of his own powers, parallel to Caliban’s fear of the blood thirsty killer inside him.  Caliban’s daughter, whose beauty Merlin admires, sees what happens and runs to a lake with Excalibur, and rows out into the centre.  Merlin uses his powers to freeze over the lake and retrieve the sword, but he fails to get Caliban’s daughter from out of the ice.  Merlin takes the sword but punishes himself by provoking two thuggish men in a tavern to beat him very badly.  When he returns to Camelot, he tells a version of the familiar story of the lady of the lake who offers Excalibur.  The idea that ideal romantic sounding mythology covers over a violent event is suggested here, and this is appropriate to Arthurian tales since they are in large part an idealisation of a culture of violence and robbery.  We see how the myths of a nation, and its political institutions, can be concealment of violence and grotesque contingencies.   Merlin himself is genuinely ideal, but we see the moral ambiguity around idealism.  Merlin’s own idealism is driven by magical powers he himself fears, and should fear, and which he is not strong enough to control.  The possibility is suggested here, and elsewhere, that political idealism, is dangerous as it means an attempt to impose an abstract vision on real people.  Camelot also shows good things about political idealism, justice triumphing over violence, so we can see too sides of idealism, including political idealism, as we see tow sides of Merlin, self-sacrificing idealist and dangerous control freak.  We also have the issue of moral purity for Merlin, the suggestion that sometimes it is right to sacrifice your own moral purity to a good cause, a dangerous idea, but not a dilemma that is easily avoided.

Morgan is still emerging as a character, constantly becoming more ambiguous.  The first two episodes suggest evil, though evil that grows from betrayal by her father, and a woman’s resistance to male power.  She forces King Lott into a mixture of political alliance and stormy romantic connection.  However, in the end she betrays Lott because of his cruelty and saves Camelot.  The third episode shows her casting aside the torture implements in her father’s dungeon, but using that dungeon as a centre of magic with power mad intentions.  A black associate from an background of slavery,  Vivienne is introduced, and there are strong suggestions that Morgan and Vivienne represent the attempts of the powerless, marginalised and oppressed to assert themselves.  In this episode, Morgan is visited by a nun, who is from a convent over the water (presumably Ireland), where she was educated.  Morgan first orders the nun out of the castle, but is afflicted with a mixture of physiological and psychological torments, which lead her to call in the nun.  The consequence of Morgan’s torments and the nun’s help include assuming the shape she had when she poisoned her father, and adopting the shape of Ygraine, who her and Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon married after disposing of Morgan’s mother.  Ygraine is Athur’s mother.  Adopting Ygraine’s shape appears to give Morgan insight into Arthur’s continuing adulterous desire for Guinevere which Ygraine observes.  We see Ygraine explaining to Arthur that though she is the beneficiary of Uther’s contempt for another man’s marriage, she will fight Arthur doing the same, because of the deaths that came from Uther’s actions.  This looks like a degree of justification for Morgan’s murder of her father.  By the end of this episode, Morgan is only defined by increasing ambiguity, she allows the nun to stay in the castle but at the other end of it, and we still do not know the source of the tension between them.  We are not sure about Morgan’s intentions towards Arthur and Camelot, and she does not know who she is judging by the spells of torment which undermine whatever identity she has.

Arthur is so far less compelling than Merlin or Morgan, he is a strong enough character and could develop in a very interesting way around the conflicts in him. Most obviously this conflict between the wish to be a good king who bring benefits to all his people, and his desire for Guinevere regardless of her marriage to his champion, Leontes, and her fervent protestations that she does not wish to repeat the night of intimacy she had with Arthur, the night before her wedding.  Both sides of Arthur seem extremely strong, and the force of the conflict is brought out when he is leading his knights in practise fighting and he urges them to defend what they consider to belong to them.  Gawain, who leads the training of the knights in fighting, has an important role as the figure who shows the knights the importance of fighting with passion and ruthlessness, even threatening to kill Arthur ti make his point.  It is Leontes who defends Arthur, again drawing our intention to the duty/passion tension.  

Me on Foucault and Antique Liberty in Manchester this Summer

Another academic event this Summer where I’m presenting a paper, and I’ve just finished the registration process (involving phone calls to my credit card company to get the online authorisation system to work for me).  The paper title is ‘Foucault and the Liberty of the Ancients’ (abstract at the bottom of the post) in the ‘Foucault and Habermas’ workshop at  MANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory 2011 at the University of Manchester.  I went to MANCEPT a couple of years ago to present on Hobbes, when the event was hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University.  Very good discussions within the workshop, not much interaction between people from different workshops though, so it would be good if that side was a bit better this year. I did not discuss ancient liberty in presentation on Hobbes but the contrast between Hobbesian sovereignty and antique republicanism was certainly in the background.  There is more continuity between my MANCEPT 2009 paper and the paper I’m giving on Rousseau in Bristol, I posted about yesterday.  Since that paper has connections with the Hobbes paper round the meaning of modern sovereignty, through a contrast with antique republicanism the three do all connect around overlapping themes.  

The workshop is divided between sections on: Foucault (including my paper), Habermas, Habermas and Rawls, Foucault and Habermas.  So I won’t be primarily take part in a ding dong between Foucauldians and Habermasians (which seems to have become an eternal conflict like Greeks versus Trojans, Montagues versus Capulets, Arsenal versus Spurs etc).  I am planning to be present in all parts of the workshop, as I hope everyone is, and I’m looking forward to the back and forth between Foucauldians and Habermasians, along with the back and forth about Rawls and Habermas, and possibly a ding dong with the other members of Team Foucault.  

In all the workshop will be covering thee major and distinct approaches to political thought, which have been touched on directly and indirectly by probably most people in the field in the last few decades, and still going strong.  Alasdair MacIntyre is mentioned in the paper titles, and there are references to system theory, materialist discourse, public secular and religious reason, democracy, law, truth, the self and so on.  

My own paper is part of continuing work in progress on Foucault in relation to ideas of liberty from the ancient Greeks to the present, the paper already exists, but I plan to be revising it a lot before presentation, and a lot after the presentation.  Something similar applies to my Rousseau paper in Bristol, though I am less clear to what bigger project it might belong.  It might be a pat of a discussion of the history of liberty, compared with Foucault’s own views.  



Foucault is very concerned with the distinction between ancient and modern understandings of individual liberty and political rights. Foucault thinks of ancient liberty as expressed through intensity of individual activity, and the ways in which that activity feeds into a communal will.  His writings on antiquity are an account of what kind of liberty, and ethical agency, there can be for a thinker who cast doubt on the notion of an integrated human individual.   His exploration of liberty and ethical agency in antiquity avoids the idea of an underlying true subjectivity, or transparent self-comprehension.  Subjectivity itself appears in an interaction of body and thought, nature and custom; claims to inner self-sovereignty belong to political discourse, and cannot overcome the plurality of experience or the divided nature of the self.  Foucault explores individuality in the ancient world with reference to the political sphere.  Foucault does not just think of the individual as part of the public sphere, but his view of ancient liberty does refer very much to the possibility of self-command, intertwined with rights of political citizenship; and of strength in public speech.  Foucault explores ideas of freedom, self-control, and political citizenship in the ancient world, as both mutually reinforcing, and as conflicting.   His historical and theoretical reflections, include the shifts in thinking on these issues in the Ancient world.  Those shifts comprise the movement between Greek and Roman societies, and within that the movement between Roman Republic and Roman Empire.  Foucault is concerned with the way that the original antique attitude is linked to ideas of self-government, with regard to the development of the self, and the impossibility of finding a way to consistently exclude the governed from governing.  Foucault is impressed with antique notions of regulating the passions in order to create a thriving self.  Here ethics appears without theology or state power to enforce it.  The ethics becomes a political principle of self-government. A distinctive aspect of Foucault’s interpretation is that he does not idealise either Athens or Rome in relation to each other, or in relation to modernity, as do many discussions of Athenian or Roman Republicanism.  The political theory which emerges from Foucault’s work on the liberty of the ancients emphasises:  commitments to the self, the self-relationship of the self, the self-invention of the self, the place of the self as the place where there is truth and ethics, struggle within the self, the active liberty of the self, the link between the self-related self and the self as political agent, the general value of agonism in the ethics of the self and in politics, technique of the self precedes law, juridification is not present in all societies, law may exist as part of an attitude of respect for customs and public laws, politics as the struggle of the self against political power.  

Oman: The Forgotten Revolution

As Simon Kerr points out in the Financial Times, the Arab peninsula nation of Oman is part of the democratic surge in the Arab world.  After two months of demonstrations the Sultan is conceding legislative powers for the Majlis al-Shura (an elected body which is currently consultative in nature), independence for the national prosecutor’s office, and an expansion of powers for the national audit office.  So laws to be made by an elected body, depoliticisation of public prosecutions, and greater accountability of the state.  This follows strenuous attempts by Sultan Qaboos to repress demonstrations.  The struggle and the promised results are to celebrated, though continuing civic action will be necessary to ensure the reforms are implemented.  

There is also a economic aspect I’m less inclined to celebrate, strikes over wages, and economic concession by Qaboos which to my mind buy off opposition rather than improve the economic prospects of the population.  That includes expanded public sector employment and a raised minimum wage.  Opposing minimum wages will seem to many like being mean to the poor, however, it is the poor who suffer from lack of jobs because of minimum wage legislation.  Anyway, people of many views on these economic issues, can unite in applauding the promised democratic changes, and the opportunity to keep debating the economic issues in a political system more accountable to law and public opinion.  

Me on Rousseau at the July ‘Rousseau’s Republics’ conferences in Bristol

My abstract has been accepted and my registration has been completed for the Seventeenth Biennial Colloquium of the Rousseau Association, Rousseau’s Republics.  

I have no claim to be a Rousseau specialist, but I hope to have something of value to offer as someone very interested in Rousseau, and who is working in political theory.  I tend to work in various things, but at present if I’m a specialist in any one figure, or aspiring to be in my current research, it would be Foucault.  Things I’m working on in Foucault will have some relevance to the Bristol paper, but I will only refer to him in passing.  Machiavelli, Montaigne, Pascal, and Hobbes will be my main references apart from Rousseau. These are not full discussions, other wise the paper would take hours to read, but aspects of their thought which illuminate Rousseau’s position on sovereignty and law in a modern republic, compared to an ancient republic   I should be speaking on Foucault at an event later in the Summer, more on that when everything is confirmed.  

The title and abstract are at the bottom of the post.  Broadly, I’m looking at Rousseau in the light of the contrast between ancient republics and modern republics.  The contrast was set up in the eighteenth century, though most famously by Benjamin Constant in the early nineteenth century (‘The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns’).  I consider the contrast to be illuminating buy question it in its sharpest forms.  The more rigid forms of this contrast tend to make Rousseau the modern enemy of modern liberty, on the grounds that he wanted to revive the total authority of the social body over the individual in the ancient republic.  That this is a brutal portrait of Rousseau would come as no surprise to Rousseau scholars, but I think there is more to be said about how Rousseau both idealises Ancient Republics particularly Rome, and how he is distant from them in important respects, largely to do with his view of law as will by a political sovereign rather than emerging from local customs, and the ways in which law comes from the divine and natural realms in antiquity.  That modern emphasis on the relatively arbitrary nature of law making, and its source in a political sovereign will connect with issues I looked at in a workshop paper on Hobbes from a couple of years ago (and which I have failed to work on since),  and in which I bring in Pascal on the paradoxes of law.  That is the way that human willed law lacks absolute justice, which it must claim, since it is historically contingent and dependent on political will.  Montaigne also comes in here with regard to the foundations of law, and Machiavelli with regard to a view of politics in ancient Rome which Rousseau draws on, but which is much less rationalistic and abstracted.  

As I am not a real Rousseau specialist, unsurprisingly most names at the conference were previously unknown to me, but I am looking forward to hearing all the papers, given the conference is organised round a clear theme, and all the paper titles look connected to me.  The only speaker known to me before as a Rousseau specialist is the conference organiser, Chris Bertram.  I recognised two other names, Charles Griswold and Ryan Hanley, with regard to their work on Adam Smith.  That is certainly an interesting connection for me (Smith and Rousseau) and brings up a major preoccupation for me, the relation between libertarian political theory/classical liberalism (emphasising individualism and voluntary cooperation in the economy and civil society ) and republican political theory (which emphasises the value of politics).  There is a widespread view that more of one means less than the other.  Though I agree that a lot of one excludes the other, I don’t believe that it is always a question of mutual exclusion, and within moderate limits more of one can mean more of the other.  If anyone finds this strange, for the moment I will just refer to: Ancient Athens, most democratic, most individualistic, and most commercial, of the Ancient Greek republics; Renaissance Italian city states; nineteenth century France, Britain and America (not to idealise any of these examples).  






Rousseau’s political thought is in large degree an attempt at a purified version of the Roman Republic.  Rousseau discusses the history of Rome, including Cicero’s account of the Republic, and engages in a more implicit discussion of Machiavelli’s understanding of Rome.  Rousseau finds that the Roman Republic is established on the basis of general will, and on his understanding of government under general will, but also deviates from the general will.  The Ciceronian understanding of the republic is of a mixed mode, a form of government rejected by Rousseau.  Though Rousseau is close to Machiavelli’s Discourses in some respects, e.g. praising the institution of dictatorship, he is also implicitly opposed to the value Machiavelli places on political conflict.  The distance of Rousseau from both Cicero and Machiavelli, is the outcome of the the emphasis on the ‘general will’.   The foundation of ideal republican law, on the purity of the general will, makes Rousseau distant from the Ancient republics he praises, since the laws they have are relatively impure, and do not rest on the purity of the ideal of the general will.  Rousseau looks for the work of the general will in the law codes of ancient legislators, and in this falls back into justificatory myth comparable with his view of religion as civic religion.  The kind of law Rousseau aims for has a universality, and fixity, lacking in ancient republics.  Ancient republics referred to the sanctity of supposedly unchanging law and tradition, but not of an unchanging formal set of laws decided by a deliberating sovereign body.   Cicero thought that the best republic was Rome, because Roman laws and institutions developed in stages.  Rousseau prefers to emphasise that law as given in a pure form by Numa, whom he equates with ‘nomos’.  Rousseau’s conception of law is distinctly modern rather than ancient, and comes from the difficulties early modern thinkers discussed in defining law, and the foundation of law, as purely just.  Montaigne, and then Pascal, gave particularly well defined accounts of the problem of equating state enforced law with justice.  The general will, in Rousseau, is an implicit answering claim that there can be law which is just.  Rousseau is also implicitly answering Hobbes’ suggestion that there is no republican liberty, except as an anarchic threat, because all states rest on law issued by the sovereign, which constrain all citizens.  The Hobbesian condition of being under law is a restraint on liberty in all states.  Rousseau needs to show how the sovereign must be the whole people, which is the general will, and that the people cannot delegate the general will to any individual or institution.  In this, Rousseau partly follows Hobbes’ account of how the initial compact is formed, but resists Hobbes’ next step of the creation of an artificial man as the law making sovereign.  Hobbes argues against the cogency of ancient republicanism.  Rousseau can only defend Roman republicanism by instituting a modern republicanism based on the purity, and inalienability, of law, distinct from ancient republicanism.  

Philosophy Events and Masters in Cognitive Science in Bucharest

I’ve received the following message from Professor Radu Bogdan of Tulane University, who I know from the years he was teaching philosophy at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.  Radu is a philosopher of mind of some distinction, and I’m sure anything he recommends is of great value.
I would like to ask you to be so kind and announce a new Master program in cognitive science at the University of Bucharest, combined with advanced workshops of general interest:
and two inaugural events (talks by Dan Dennett and a workshop) this coming June in Bucharest: