Getting Round Difficulties in Obtaining the Book of Foucault’s Louvain Lectures

On 7th September in this year of 2012, Presses universitaires de Louvain published a lecture series, Foucault gave in Louvain in 1981.  The book title is Mal faire, dire vrai: fonction de l’aveu en justice (Doing bad, speaking truth: the function of the confession in justice), and is published at the price of € 30.     Attempting to buy it from Amazon France results in the chance to buy one (presumably second hand) copy for € 70.  Attempting to buy it from Amazon UK results in the information that the book is unavailable.  

In frustration I went to the website to Press universitaires de Louvain, and succeeded in ordering the book, with an additional charge of €13.60 for delivery to my work address in Istanbul.  The book is now apparently on its way to me.

I don’t know if the difficulty of obtaining the book through Amazon is due to PUL or Amazon, shame on one side or on both.  No doubt many who are interested in the book will give up after finding through Amazon that the book is not available, or is only available at more than twice the published price from a private seller.  So this is terrible for Foucault studies.  I can only hope that the problem will be resolved and this post might just help get a copy of  Mal faire, dire vrai into the hands of a few readers of Foucault, maybe even commentators.

The book will be published by The University of Chicago Press, December 2013 under the title of Wrong-Doing, Truth-Telling: The Function of Avowal in Justice The Chicago edition will include an e-book version so far lacking from PUL.  I would expect a Chicago book to be fully available on Amazon USA immediately.  There is a risk of it not being so readily obtainable from other Amazon national sites, I can only hope not.

I will post something on the PUL edition as soon as it arrives, and I have had a few days for at least one quick read through.

Adam Smith on the Decline and Rise of Ancient Liberty

Smith is known as the founder of economics, but he was so much moıre.  Just one of many examples can be found in his discussion of colonialism in Part IV, Chapter VII of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

Smith distinguishes between Greek colonialism and Roman colonialism, in an analysis that becomes an account of the end of political liberty in antiquity, for reasons tied political economy (which is the sphere of natural liberty if handled correctly).

Smith suggests that Greek colonialism was the transfer of ‘surplus’ population to new political communities which were free from the originating in trade as in political matters.  Roma colonialism though was a means of expanding the sovereignty of Rome, by transferring land to the ‘surplus’ population of Rome in areas which were to be incorporated into Roman lands, or where Roman sovereignty would be reinforced by settlers with new land.  

The new landholdings of Roman colonies were in Italy during the history of the Roman Republic, and this became the basis of the Social Wars, which were resolved by giving citizenship rights to colonists in Italy. However, this apparent generosity ruined the Roman Republic, so that republicanism came to an end.  Republicanism comes to an end because it was participatory in the ancient world, that is relied on citizens gathering together.  Once Roman citizenship spreads beyond those resident in the city, then there are too many people who live too far away for participatory republicanism to work.  Adding to the problems, gangs of Italians could be introduced into the city for deliberation manipulation of republican politics.  

Smith regrets the end of antique republicanism, but does not regret it entirely.  He links the power of Emperors with the improved rights of slaves, commenting that slavery is stronger where there is political liberty, since government cannot make citizens treat property in any particular way.  Roman Emperors did give slaves protection from abuse. 

Political economy problems led the Ancient Roman Republic to find a colonial solution which destroyed republicanism, but allowed some extension of the protection of ‘natural liberty’.  So we see a complex interaction between natural liberty, political liberty and political economy in Smith.   hHe writes in the hope of situations in which good political economy, natural liberty, and republican liberty can be aligned.  

Brutus and Hamlet: Two Tyrannicides in Shakespeare.

I don’t claim any originality in this comparison, I am sure something like it can be found in the vast corpus of Shakespeare commentary, but I think there will be something specific about my way o expressing it.

In Shakespeare, we have two plays around the character who murders the tyrant, Brutus in Julius Caesar and Hamlet in the play of that name.

Brutus kills Caesar, dealing the decisive blow during the historically based account of senators murdering the Roman leader.  Caesar was a father figure to Brutus in the play, and in real life.  What the play does not mention is that Caesar had an affair with Brutus’ mother, and he was even rumoured to be the father of Brutus, though that seems to be very unlikely.  The play shows Caesar’s special horror when he sees that Brutus is striking him.

Hamlet kills the tyrant Claudius, who unlike Caesar is only a tyrant in the sense that he may have come to his position unjustly, not that he has created a new power in the state which undermines previous limitations on the powers of one man.  Claudius is the paternal uncle of Hamlet, who inherits the throne when the king his brother died.  Claudius marries the king’s widow, Gertrude who is also Hamlet2s mother,  very soon after the death.

Both Hamlet and Brutus kill father figures, who are not the biological father but who are very powerful symbolic fathers.

Hamlet sees the ghost of his father early in the play, who tells him that Claudius killed him.  Very near the end of Julius Caesar, Brutus is reported to have seen the ghost of Caesar, preceding Brutus’ suicide which results from his military defeat by the followers of Caesarist party.  Hamlet’s father says that Claudius poured poison into the porches of his ear.  Just before the death of Brutus, Messala refers to thrusting this report into his ears which will be as welcome as piercing steel and envenomed darts, because it refers to the death of Cassius.  So the idea of thrusting  something poisonous into the ears (a possible play by Shakespeare on his own name) appears in relation  to the father who was killed by the tyrant-substitute father in Hamlet, and in relation to the killer of the tyrant substitute-father in Julius Caesar.  Verbal patterns seem to link the victim of tyranny/the avenger murderer of the tyrant with a poison in the ears which links them to the name of the author.   The real father and the substitute tyrant father appear in dreams to the tyrannicide.

The death of both tyrannicides is marked by eulogy, for Brutus the eulogy come from Brutus’ enemy Mark Anthony, while for Hamlet the eulogy comes from his friend Horatio, but then right at the end from the invading Norwegian prince Fortinbras.  Both are recognised as great leaders by those who were their rivals, though Mark Anthony is the most intense rival, who is competing with Brutus for control of the memory of the joint substitute father.

The two plays appear to have been first performed in 1599 (Julius Caesar) and 1602 (Hamlet), so are close together and unsurprisingly elements from the earlier one are reused and rearranged in the later one.  The interest in writing plays about the murder of tyrants at this time is rather peculiar, since Shakespeare was living under a monarch, Queen Elizabeth who might feel sensitive on the issue.  She may have felt excused from accusations of tyranny on the grounds that she recognised Parliament as the source of laws and taxes, and that even in her executive function she ruled through a council.  Nevertheless she was a monarch with serious powers, who had the politically dangerous executed including her own cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.  In 1601, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex attempted to overthrow the government,  and the uprising in London was inaugurated by a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard II, which refers to the overthrow of that king by Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV.  As Carl Schmitt points out in Hamlet or Hecuba, Hamlet could have been a very troubling play for James I, since it refers to a queen married to the man who murdered her husband, which looks like a reference to James’ mother, Mary Queen of Scots.  The play was first performed before James, already James VI of Scotland became James I of England, but it was widely understood towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign that James would be offered the throne on her death.

There is no reason to believe that Shakespeare ever fell from royal favour, or even came close, so he was very successful in separating his plays about the overthrown of bad rulers from any criticism of his monarch, even if others chose to use them in that way.  The plot of Julius Caesar is not as immediately applicable to events of Shakespeare’s own time as Hamlet, but the topic of republican plots against a monarchical figure, and Caesar was the model for Roman emperors, and then subsequent European kings and emperors.  The educated at that time, if educated enough to study Latin, would have read Cicero a political theorist of republicanism, an outspoken enemy of Mark Anthony in the Senate, and a friend of Brutus. Cicero was the model of Latin composition under the Roman Emperors, so the separation of Cicero from the radical application of his political ideas goes right back almost to his death.  It all seems a bit extraordinary that Shakespeare could have played with this on stage, but I think that the English monarchs of the time were so invested in the idea that their use of power was wise and moderate, in line with national custom and law, that they did feel alarm at stories of  tyrannicide and certainly did not want to be seen to have a negative attitude, even after Devereux had used a Shakespeare play in his own coup.  Even in the late 17th century Charles II, whose father Charles I was executed under the English Commonwealth (Republic) did not feel moved to repress plays about tyrannicide.

Elizabeth was a member of the Tudor dynasty, and her grandfather Henry ‘Tudor’ VII had overthrown Richard III, so perhaps felt that justified tyrannicide had to be recognised even if only in acknowledgement of past events.  Poking about in the realms of psychological speculation, she may have believed her father Henry VIII (portrayed positively by Shakespeare in his play of that name) was an evil tyrant for executing her mother, Anne Boleyn (another reason why Gertrude in Hamlet might be an awkward figure) and found the idea of killing off tyrannical father figures rather cathartic, a feeling James VI/I may have had in relation to his own own mother’s third husband (James was the son of the second husband).



A Libertarian Duty for Participation II

After a rather long post yesterday on a tendency within libertarian thinking towards ant-politics and a minimisation of the importance of democracy, some more positive thoughts .  Let’s clarify where the ‘libertarian’ tradition stands on this.  ‘Libertarian’ itself has an odd history, originally a designation used by anarchy-communists in France, it was taken up in America in the 1940s by those who wanted to continue the liberal tradition as it existed before the word was taken up by those who wanted a compromise between liberalism and socialism.  So liberalism of the kind that anticipates libertarianism is classical liberalism though really that is usually considered to have reached an end in John Staurt Mill writing between the 1850s and 1870s.  Mill’s 1859 On Liberty is often taken as the final great moment.  Those writing between the 1850s and 1940s on classical liberal model continued to just call themselves liberal, and some like Hayek, never too to the libertarian label.  They used the liberal label, recognising liberal thought from Locke to Mill as classical and seeing themselves as after the classics.   The biggest influence on the libertarian scene, certainly from  a popular point of view, was and is Ayn Rand (unfortunately to my mind) did not like the libertarian label at all, and condemned ‘libertarians’.  It’s all very strange.  Anyway, the person who probably really entrenched ‘libertarian’ as a label was Murray Rothbard.  I’m not a fan of his writing or his version of libertarianism, but he certainly had titanic energy which led him to be  a major (the major?) influence on the founding of the Cato Institute (the most influential libertarian body of that kind), before splitting with it and dominating the Mises Institute ,which continues to represents  Rothbardian libertarianism, sometimes known as paleo- libertarianism.

So let’s go through the classical liberal, and  post-classical liberal pre-libertarian (there  is some overlap here) attitudes to politics and democracy.  Are these thinkers anti-political, scornful of political participation and regarding democracy as either unnecessary to liberty, or as no more than a background  condition to be given minimal attention?  This is very definitely not the case with Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, Smith, Constant, Kant, Tocqueville and Mill, so most of what is taken as the classical liberal tradition.  Montesquieu requires some particular explanation since some regard him as the promoter of monarchy, without any representative political institutions, in the modern world.  His idealised vision of antique republics, at least before corruption sets in, and his favourable attitude towards modern Britain which he regarded as a disguised republic suggest something else.  The post-classical pre-libertarian scene is represented for most people by Hayek, whose career heavily overlaps with the emergence of a libertarian scene.  There are two strands of Hayek: a leaning towards antique republicanism and the grandeur of politics; a leaning towards nomocracy, a depoliticised sovereignty of law as emergent from communal standards of justice, developed by judges through a ‘discovery procedure’ of applying principles to cases.  Other writers from that time include the other Austrian Economists, Menger, Böhm-Bawerk and Mises.  Mises had the most to say about politics, though less than Hayek.  He leaned towards a mixture of high minded 19th century parliamentarianism and political minimalism.  The Freiburg School, of whom Wilhelm Röpke was the best known representative, had a major influence on the economic policies of the Federal Republic of Germany as it emerged from the allied zones of occupation after World War II, so does become part of politics.  Joseph Schumpeter, the economist, did write about politics, and gives it some importance though mainly as a matter of consumer choice between two basic platforms (which is still more importance than that given by the anti-political libertarians).

So who were the anti-political liberals/libertarians.  Wilhelm von Humboldts’ 1792 Limits of State Action certainly belongs there, but is in contradiction with his own political career.  Really anti-political liberalism-libertarianism gets going in the 1840s and ’50s in with minimal state thinkers like Herbert  Spenser and Frédéric Bastiat, and anarcho-capitalists like Gustave de Molinari, Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker.  An interesting list, but not outweighing those on the political duty side at all, quite the opposite.  There are interesting cases I’ve left out, because of research I have yet to undertake.  I hope to have more to say about Germaine de Staël and Hyppolite Taine before long, for example.

There’s no reason to regard classical liberalism as anti-political, though it suits a perverse coalition of ‘republicans’ and ‘libertarians’ in to give another impression.  That is something I frequently discuss and will again, soon. That means the Robert Nozick style libertarians (Nozick here purely referring to his book Anarchy, Stare and Utopia, not other stages of this thought).  That is best represented now by Chandran Kukathas.  The anti-political side of libertarianism is now best represented by Jason Brennan who is not a strict Nozick/Kukathas style minimal state thinker, so the anti-political aspect of anarchy-captalist/minarchist thinking had spilled over into more moderate forms of libertarianism, which has been on the rise academically at least for a few years now.  Apart from Brennan, there is his doctoral adviser David Schmidtz, Schmidtz’s Arizona University colleague Jerry Gaus, John Tomasi and Jacob Levy to name a few of the most notable figures.  That covers a range of views about politics, Gaus and Levy are certainly  a lot less anti-political then Brennan, and give what looks like a positive aspect to the political sphere to me.

My reasons for supporting duty to political participation as part of libertarianism follow.  Duty  certainly does not mean legally enforced obligation, but does mean an ethical preference for participation, which is at least at the level of voting and making some effort to follow political news.  There is no way of justifying such activities as inevitably always the best use of spending a particular segment than engaging in any other activity.  In the same way that there is no overwhelming requirement at any particular moment to be a good friend, family person, or work colleague, all things we would all recognise as necessary to a properly functioning society.  The libertarian political sceptics tend to rely on an argument for there always being something better we could do which would in practice stop us from doing anything.  There is always a good argument for saying that whatever we are doing, we could be doing something morally preferable.  We can only resolves these issues by considering what we find preferable for the flourishing of individuals and societies in their activities as a whole.  Concern with the laws and institutions which define our public life, and the political process necessary to laws and institutions is  part of such flourishing.  No one denies that individual flourishing requires involvement with others and the community as a whole, we can only separate out public concerns and political processes from this in a very arbitrary way.  The existence of all developed societies where liberty, prosperity and human welfare are all growing, is tied up with the existence of a public sphere and a political process.   The societies like that in the world now are democracies.  The major exceptions touted by the anti-poliitcs crowd are Singapore and Hong Kong both of which are moving towards more political life, as the dominant party in Singapore has been losing support, and as Hong Kong slowly moves towards democracy as part of the legacy of the last phase of British administration.  Lack of substantive democracy in Singapore has also been associated with lack of civil liberties and element of social engineering which are not acceptable from a libertarian point of view anyway.

Since the anti-politics gang tends to resort to an individualistic calculation of advantage to criticise democratic participation, it is important to note that where there is participation there is what anti-politcal libertarians want.  The other prong of that political scepticism tends to be that political participation means demanding that the state does something to serve some particularistic interest, so that the state keeps growing to satisfy an increasing aggregate of demands few of which serve the common good.  This is a recognisable process, but exactly how to we define common good and the criteria for limiting state action without some democratic participation by those who live under that state?  The libertarian anti-politics tends to end up as anarchism, a highly implausible view, from the radical end of libertarianism and becomes paternalism in the Brennan style of more moderate libertarianism.  Returning to anarchism for a moment, anarchism supposes that we can have laws without a state, and that people living in the same are can live under different legal regimes, or that human society can be an aggregate of micro-regions with their own legal regimes, between which we can easily move.  These would challenge basic classical liberal concerns for integrated markets, equality of rights, transparency of justice, and the means to prevent gross violations of justice within small communities which try to contract out of widely recognised standards of justice.  The classical liberal-libertarian orientation towards individual rights and individualistic pride is better served by political rights for individuals of the kind that exist in a democratic regime, the opportunities for  competition in ideas and  in the pursuit of elected office, that are to be found in democracy.  Democracy means competition between individuals and testing of new ideas.  Both need participation in the public sphere, ideas in public policy come from people who want to contribute to the public sphere.  Brennan type arguments in which only the cognitively better endowed should participate could only lead to a a smug paternalistic elite.  No  one has complete knowledge, no one can understand all that is going on, including the cognitive elite.  The cognitive elite benefits from having to deal with explaining ideas to the less elite and the feedback that comes through the political process from the cognitively  less elite.  A cognitive elite isolated from participatory democracy will suffer from group think and create paternalistic solutions against libertarian principles.  Libertarianism means dethroning the rule of experts, not reinforcing it.  The market is one way of disrupting elite group think, participatory democracy is another.  There are problems within participatory democracy, but these should be solved within the democratic framework, not through a resort to what in practice can only be disguised benevolent despotism, whatever other motivations political sceptics may have.   Participation by a cognitive elite only is an endless process, since the arguments for a cognitive elite are arguments to keep narrowing that elite to find the most elite elite possible, and then insulate them from democratic ignorance.  Democratic ignorance is better countered by democratic education, than handing over institutions to an elite.  The more cognitively able always have more influence in practice anyway, so no need to make that cognitive elite intellectually flabby by convincing them and everyone else that they shouldn’t need to listen to the non-elite.


A Libertarian Duty for Political Participation

I feel moved to react to  body of work which I have yet to study properly, which seems perverse, but it’s in the air in libertarian influenced parts of the Internet, it represents an already existing strand in libertarian thought, and a blog is the opportunity to process thoughts which may appear in a more academic venue later, after further study, thought, discussion and writing.   Another issue is that the recent literature relies on a mixture of formal social science and analytic style political theory (also known as normative theory) which is not what I do, but clearly I need to engage with it in some way.

The position to which I am reacting is that there is no duty for political participation from a classical liberal/libertarian point of view, and even a duty to do something else if you are better at something else.  The end logic of this  is really that no one should bother with voting or political participation at all, though there is some variation among purveyors of that point of view about how far they wish to go down that road.  One reaction to this from the non-libertarian is that it is all mad libertarian nonsense not worth bothering about from any other point of view.  Much I object to the anti-political participation line, and I do object to it  very seriously, people who are highly competent in political economy, political science and political theory have put forward this point of view, and it deserves to be seriously debated.  I find it valuable from a devil’s advocate, contrarian, let’s test our basic assumptions point of view, but that is not the way the supporters of this view mean their view to be taken.  Clearly they believe this should be a positive belief of libertarians, and have some success with this, though not complete success.  This level of success is enough to confirm my feeling that the libertarian scene often looks like a grab bag of views which are marginal for very good reasons, and that is not me.  Given that I cannot identify with social democracy, socialism, conservatism or anything like these points of view, for reasons which are distinctly libertarian, I’m nevertheless rather stuck with the libertarian label.

The anti-political element in libertarian thought which writers like Bryan Caplan and Jason Brennan expresses itself in enthusiasm for ‘sea steading’, a quite serious belief, and I am  not making this up, that  pure libertarian communities, outside what Patri Friedman calls the ‘technology of democracy’ can be best created on deep sea platforms outside international waters.  There is linked interest in charter cities, linked amongst other things in personnel, since Patri Friedman move from directing a sea steading institute before surprise surprise any seaborne communities were created to directing a charter city project which attracted interest from the government of Honduras but was recently thrown out by the supreme court of that country.  Charter city refers to a city created on national territory which has been given extra-territoriality and is governed by a non-national law code, probably borrowed from a relatively ‘libertarian’ jurisdiction.  The idea is that people will want to move to a place where such a beautiful legal structure is entrenched though they have no right to change it.  This is all largely modelled on Hong Kong as it developed under British rule after mainland China became communist.  The context of people fleeing from Maoist tyranny and economic disaster is obviously lacking, and the highly accidental way Hong Kong emerged as a successful city state while still a British colony cannot obviously be replicated.  The Charter City project in practice means law of some US state being applied in some part of some Latin American state.  Well there is plenty of experience of Latin America of countries copying the US constitution, of US direct intervention to ensure the interests of influential corporations with extreme disregard for national sovereignty, international law, and any sort of basic decency.  Not surprisingly the left inclined in Honduras were really venomous in opposing the Charter City project, and well I don’t share all their venom, I certainly don’t reject all their criticisms.  The problem is that Charter Cities looks lie a polite version of the Chilean coup of 1973 which overthrew a Marxist government and introduced radical  market oriented economic changes.  The claim by many of the left inclined that the coup was itself designed to allow an experiment in Chicago School economics is misguided, the movement from coup to Chicago influenced economics was much more accidental.  Nevertheless, I can agree with the left inclined that after events like the Chile coup, that no one should be looking to introduce free market economics through any kind of abridgement or evasion of, or alternative to representative democracy.

I’m not aware of any support from Caplan or Brennan, or their fans, for charter cities or sea steading, but it’s hard to see how they would object to them.  I should also say that Caplan is anarcho-capitalist/individualist anarchist in orientation, and as far as I known Brennan is not, but is more inclined to a pragmatic politics of reducing state power without any ideal libertarian end state in mind.  When I say their anti-political views are well represented on the internet, I include the way that Bleeding Hearts Libertarians, a group blog for libertarians with a social conscience has at least half become a vehicle for Brennan, or to put it another way he does more posts for the blog than anyone else.  This means it is very easy to find brief presentations and links related to Brennan’s ideas, just visit BLH.  One thing I find a bit peculiar about Brennan’s style at BLH, and in various other fora, is his resort to a way of speaking which is that of the parodic Ivy League left-liberal academic, everything he says is apparently backed by some academic consensus with the implication that anyone who disagrees with him is rather lacking in academic credentials, and does not need to be taken seriously.  In general, he does not appear to be very interested in replying to, or acknowledging,  suggestions of errors in his reasoning or textual understanding.  Look at the first comment at this link (OK my comment) and the lack of a response. Anyway, it is surely peculiar to keep referring to how mainstream your views are when advocating libertarianism in general, and anti-politics in particular.

After more contextualisation than I expected, I’ve arrived at the moment of summarising the anti-political arguments.  You can also find a pro-Brennan summary by Katherine Mangu-Ward at Reason Magazine.  Since Man-Ward is the managing editor of Reason which is one of the major libertarian institutes in America, and the world, probably in  a class that it shares only with the Cato Institute for influence, I have to say that Brennan style views are  mainstream for libertarians (though certainly mot unanimous), which I find deeply disappointing.  Again, there is nothing wrong with discussing these ideas, there is something most unpleasant about such a minimal attitude to democracy being put forward as a core belief in the libertarian scene.   Brennan it must be acknowledged can tap in a idealistic way about civic duty, but this appears to include keeping people who aren’t very smart or well informed from voting, by argument not force or legislative restriction, still I find it very creepy.

After all the scene setting some brief points.  Expanded versions of much these can be found in previous posts and will be in future posts.

Brennan/Caplan style arguments

1.  General level of information about politics is very low

2. General understanding of areas of knowledge connected to politics, particularly economics is very low.  The kind of point being made is that even most left leaning economists think free trade is very good thing, and the opposite view is held by most voters according to opinion surveys.

3. Time constraints do not allow most to gain knowledge about politics.

4.  Mostly voters do not vote according to self interest, but according to their idea of the common good.  Therefore voter ignorance is not compensated by the consideration of taking everyone’s interests into account.

5.  Time spent on voting could be  be better spent morally on personal commitments or on other forms of civic engagement such as blogging (hey I must be a real civic hero).

6.  The chances of any individual vote affecting the outcome of a national election are infinitesimally small and are not at all to be taken into account.

7.  Driving to the place where votes are cast increases the chance of road death.

8.  It is better for the cognitively more competent and information rich to vote than others ,which means the rich and educated.  The rich apparently do not vote in their own interest (reverting to point 4).

9.  Democracy does not increase the knowledge of citizens.

10.  Voting can be affected by non-rational and irrelevant associations (including weather and success of favourite sports teams) with the candidate/party.  This is a view I had previously only heard as something to be ridiculed with regard to British electoral history.

11.  Notions of popular will and majority will are themselves highly misleading since all kinds of different reasons enter into voting, and votes for the unsuccessful disappear from the account.

My counter points (not replying directly to individual points above)

1. While it would be wrong to accuse Caplan/Brennan etc of being racist and of being nostalgic for the segregation era in America (though Caplan it has to be said can come up with some weird stuff which could be interpreted in unpleasant ways, e.g. it is good that there is racism in America in as much as it reduces support for welfarism), the arguments deployed have some resemblance to those used to disqualify blacks and ‘white trash’ from voting in the segregation era South, when literacy tests and ‘medical’ diagnoses of hereditary degeneracy were systematically used to keep citizens from voting.  One really should think a hundred,  a thousand, a hundred thousand times before getting anywhere at all close to such territory.

2.  There is no  general evidence that democracy with wide voting participation undermines good law making and government.  The general evidence is certainly that democracies work better than non-democacies and that the survival of democracies benefit from participation.

3.  There is evidence that civic trust, democracy and economic development go together.

4.  Exactly what is proved by showing with great precision how little chance there is of any one vote influencing a national outcome.  Everyone knows that, so why is it important to labour the point so much?

5.  With regard to 4, the point is to reinforce a reductive kind of individualistic understanding which makes democracy look irrelevant.  Of course if you give weight to a discussion of the chance of the individual deciding any outcome, then you steer the argument against participation.

6.  Road deaths resulting from driving to elections is an argument that could be used against anyone ever taking the car out of the garage, or allowing private motorised transport at all.  How many activities can justify the risk to life that undoubtedly increase every time someone drives?  Anyway, this is an argument against driving, not  voting.

7.  Of  course if we base the merits of voting on the chance of affecting outcome, we will find just find just about any morally justifiable activity to be preferable to voting.  This could however exclude the cognitive elite Caplan/Brennan thinks are more justified in voting.  Wouldn’t it be be terrible shame if they lost an hour of work on an important text in political theory because they voted?  Though on this basis, I question the morality of Caplan and Brennan having a sit down meal instead of snacking while working on their very important thoughts which ought to be shared with the world?

8.  With regard to various points above, arguments against voting, instead of doing something else, could be used against engaging in a very wide range of activities and would cripple the chance of what most people would consider a full and satisfying life.

9.  If you use an economic opportunity cost (that is a calculation of lost opportunities balanced against opportunities realised) model applied to individual actions then voting can easily be represented as wasteful.  This is the absurdity of taking a method too far, some account must be taken of the individual’s overall idea of a good life and a good society, how parts of those goods connect and unify, which can never be explained in opportunity cost terms.  No way of life, no political principle is  justified by opportunity costs, which is a a method of evaluation not the source of values,  and itself rests on endless background assumptions and contextual factors.

The questions of the value of democracy and its place in liberal tradition will have to wait for another post, as this one is already much much longer than anticipated.  This post has been the negative critical part of the argument, next the positive affirmative part.

Enlightenment, Nature, Liberty, Violence and Loss

So Enlightenment is the one sided celebration of historical progress and reason?  A widespread view but a parodic one.  The eighteenth century movement ideas did establish the idea of a direction in human history, of the increasing role of reason, law, civil government,  manners, culture, sympathy, morals, and so on.  It was also a movement of the growing awareness of loss.  If history has a direction, then the past stages are lost.  Previous ways of thinking sometimes referred to a lost golden age, of some form of innocent humanity, but also though history as a continuous present or as a cycle, so that the past is never completely lost.  It is with us in some way, and will come back in its purest forms, maybe as a moment of apocalyptic redemption which ends all historical changes, or as the renewal of the cycle of history.  

Even at the most superficial level of discussion of Enlightenment, it is ‘known’ that Rousseau wanted a return to natural man.  While this is misleading, it does refer to the reality that Rousseau has a critique of the present, full of history, from the point of view of prehistorical  ‘nature’ and an interest in ways of reducing the gap between historical communities, and natural man which partly expresses itself in a concern with how the historical community first appears.  There is always a sense that a more natural state has been left behind, in ways that can refer to various points in history as well as pre-history.  Ancient republics have more in the way of natural man, without artifice, hypocrisy and self-cpnsciousness, than modern states.  

Montesquieu is sometimes taken as the celebrator of modern monarchies and modern commerce, but this famously ambiguous thinker is just as much concerned with republics which rest on virtue (democratic republics) or moderation (aristocratic republics), and admires them, using them as an implicit point of reference for evaluating modern monarchies based on competition for honour and commercial wealth.  It is honour he emphasises with regard to defining monarchy, so implicitly suggesting that they appeal to antique aristocratic-heroic values of valour in war, even if in a more polite and pacific dress.  

If we think of the two most famous thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume and Adam Smith, there is a consciousness of the strength, courage and self-relaince which can be found more in states of ‘barbarism’ and ‘savagery’, and in ancient republics then in the world of refined moral sentiments.  There is discussion of the passionate friendships of antiquity and their absence in the modern civll world, and of the attachment of citizens to their republic. 

Even Kant, often taken as a moralising, rationalistic pedant, only concerned with following rules of pure reason, regrets the decline of war, and finds that war fought according to laws of humanity is sublime, and the sublime in Kant is necessary to the reconciliation of historical humanity with nature.  

The Enlightenment writers who focus most on these issues are Giambattista Vico in the Kingdom of Naples and Adam Ferguson in Scotland.  Both are now secondary figures in Enlightenment compared with Rousseau, Montesquieu, Hume, Smith and Kant.  Vico precedes the other Enlightenment figures with the first edition of The New Science, and even the third edition of 1744 is early in the history of Enlightenment.  Ferguson comes later in 1767 with the History of Civil Society.  Both think of history as cyclical and that is maybe one of the reasons that they are not taken up very often as central to Enlightenment.  The combination of the detailing of cyclical history with an interest in the more progressive Enlightenment aspects of history, also makes their arguments particularly difficult to summarise and follow.  

In Vico there is the account of moving from the age of gods through heroes to men, which is the progress from social relations based of force to social relations based on law.  The relations of law, however, become weaker with the lessening of force, so that state sovereignty cannot maintain itself, and there is a consequent collapse which starts the cycle of history again.  The end of the Roman Empire in the west was one such moment of collapse and return.  Chronologically Vico could have influenced Rousseau, Montesquieu, Smith, Hume and Kant.  I’m not aware of clear evidence that he directly influenced any, but I believe there are good reasons to think that his ideas diffused across Europe, maybe in part through time Rousseau and Montesquieu spent in Italy, and then through Germany, Britain and so on, conditioning the climate of ideas even for those who had not read him, and did not have the Italian to read him soon after publication.  

Ferguson comes late enough to have been influenced by Rousseau, Montesquieu, Hume and Smith and could have been aware of Vico from foreign visitors to Britain, particularly Germans where there was an early awareness of Vico, even if he is not discussed by Kant or Hegel.  For Fergson there is a Hume-Smith type of faith in historical progress towards commercial and civil society, but there is a marked anxiety about the loss of natural liberty, of the greater risk of subordination to tyranny where humans have lost habits of military valour, survival from the land, and general characteristics of toughness and independence.  

Vico and Ferguson establish Enlightenment as regret for natural liberty, courage and self-reliance.  We should just as much read the other Enlightenment thinkers and immediate successors to Enlightenment, like Hegel, from this point of view, as from the point of view of polite manners and legal fastidiousness.  If we look forward to Nietzsche as a key critic of Enlightenment, we can see what he he was drawing on in Enlightenment in order to expose its origins and its violence.  

Taking Foucault’s 80s idea of the Self Back to 1970

One of the hoary clichés of the discussion of Foucault, is that his later work on the self is a break with earlier work on structures of discourse, knowledge and disciplinarity.  Foucault’s best known work on disciplinarity, Discipline and Punish (Surveillir et Punir), which appeared in 1975 was preceded by lectures of 1970 and 1971 which deal with the self.  That is lectures which will be published next year in English as The Will to Know, and which have already been published in French as Leçons sur la volonté de savoir.  That is a lecture series that begins one year after Foucault published Archeology of Knowledge, according to some a work of the subordination of subjectivity to impersonal discourse.  It seems to me that if we go back to 1961, that we can the importance that Foucault attached to subjectivity or the self, in History of Madness (also known as Madness and Civilisation and Folie et déraison), where we can see both categorisations of madness and the importance of the self encountering its limits.  It’s certainly not the case that Foucault was saying the same thing throughout his career, but we should avoid assumptions that there are complete breaks.

The 1970/71 lectures also show that Foucault was deeply engaged with Ancient Greek history and thought at that time, preceding and anticipating books and lectures that deal with antique sexuality, care of the self, government, free speaking and subjectivity.  In the 70/71 lectures Foucault is concerned with knowledge rather than those topic, but in any case they all intertwine.  The last part of the 70/71 lectures is concerned with the Sophocles tragedy, Oedipus the King, and the ethical-political issues around kingship which turn up later, when Euripides is more at the centre of discussion.  The discussion of knowledge in the earlier lectures in the 1970/71 series is tied up with the individual as speaker in ethically and politically charged situations as well as an investigation of ways in which truth and falsity are distinguished, along with Aristotle’s approach to judgement.  There is a concern with the possibilities and paradoxes of speaking truth, which anticipates the role Foucault later gives to truth telling in free speaking.  The nature of law, and conflicts about the nature of law, the relation between the divine and human worlds, the place of an image of ‘Oriental’ kingship in relation to ‘Greek’ ideas about limits on power are all at work.

Political economy also enters into the discussion in ways which anticipate governmentality and the mergence of bioethics in the later work.  Foucault discusses the liberatory role of money in antiquity, as what unfreezes relations of servitude and debt, what enables the poor and powerless to have a way out of infinite obligation in the possibilities of finding a finite amount of money to compensate  those with claims on them.  In this part, Foucault could be Adam Smith or Friedrich Hayek celebrating the emancipatory aspects of markets in economic and political terms.  He quotes Marx on fetishism in a money based economy, but this itself becomes what looks like a celebration of the disruption of ‘natural order’ by markets  We should balance that with the interest that Foucault also shows in distributive justice in the ancient Greek cities, where the market is balanced with notions of fair shares of wealth, which limit inequality.  At this point, Foucault looks less close to market oriented thinkers, though we should also note that from a market liberal point of view, some forms of inequality can be see as the result of state power distorting market processes.  Anyway he offers both the discussions of money and of distributive justice, leaving it a rather open question how they can be combined.

The discussion  of Oedipus the King itself suggest a way of dealing with the relation between the self and structures of discourse.  Foucault suggests that the play refers to the excessive nature of Odeipus, who vanishes between the human and divine forms of law. The point is that Oedipus is there, and that the reduction of ethical-political issues to structures excluding the self and its capacities, will always be disrupted by the excessive figure of the king who break taboos, crosses boundaries and challenges laws.  Foucault did not lie talk of his thought being Structuralist at any time, and that is why.

Minarchy in Europe: The Non-Politics of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Council of Europe

The European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights, as part of the Council of Europe is periodically in the news in Britain for mostly negative reasons.  Most recently this has been about a Court judgement which demands that the United Kingdom allow some prisoners to have voting rights in parliamentary, and other, elections.  I do not have any problem with the idea myself, but the possibility that Britain could be pressured to legislate on these lines, with no evidence of popular support for  such a measure has been a disaster for the credibility of the Court and the Convention in Britain.  The Council of Europe is not the same thing as the European Union, though membership of the Council is  a prerequisite for membership of the EU to be considered.  Nevertheless, there is clearly confusion in many people’s minds on this point, and sometimes among people who should known better, who use the prisoners’ voting rights decision to bash the European Union.

There is a very high degree of Euroscepticism in Britain, and at present most Conservative activists and politicians would probably welcome British withdrawal from the EU.  If the Conservatives stay in government, particularly if they don’t need to form a coalition again, there could be a referendum coming on membership and an attempt to persuade the EU to allow Britain to withdraw from large parts of EU treaty obligations.  The possibility of  a referendum on membership would be a threat to pressure the EU to negotiate on this issue, and if there was a vote there is at present little reason to assume that  Britain would stay in, though public opinion can change during a campaign on such an issue.  That is exactly what happened the last time there was  a vote on British membership in 1975, following on from unfulfilled claims by the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson that he would renegotiate membership.  Allowing member countries to withdraw from established agreements is very much not what the EU institutions like, and there are already indications of an EU core which would pursue integration without the participation of on-core members, particularly Britain.

As pointed out above membership of the Council of Europe is not the same as membership of the EU.  The Council includes all European democracies including at least three countries which may not qualify as genuine democracies, Azerbaijan, Russia and Ukraine, though there are certainly democratic forms and elements of democratic practice in those countries.  The only country excluded is Berlarus, though I can’t see it has much less of a case to be a member than the three countries just mentioned.  Some  states with contested legitimacy (e.g. Kosovo) are  not members.  The Council originally separated European democracies from dictatorships, particularly those of the Soviet bloc, though it has now stretched its definition of democracy to the limit in the hope of integrating some marginal countries into a cross European democratic culture.

Opposition to the Convention, lie opposition to the EU, largely comes from the right in Britain, though this has not always been the case.  One of the most notable events in the history of Britain in relation to the Conventi0n was a 1981 decision to ban strict enforcement of closed shops, that is agreements between employers and unions for all workers to belong to a designated union.  By then Margaret Thatcher was already Prime Minister, and the closed shop was on the way out, but that Court decision certainly aided the process.  Memories on the British right are short, and there is a clear drift to seeing the Human Rights Court, lie the EU, as an ‘undemocratic’ intrusion on British sovereignty, with the intention of imposing socialism and political correctness.  This concern with  supposed non-democracy was not evident when the EU/ECHR were seen as capitalist institutions maintaining defences against socialist inclined governments.

The European Convention on Human Rights has a democratic origin, in the Council’s Consultative Assembly in 1949 which was not directly elected, but did represent the European democracies of the time.  It has has a British origin, as the chair of the relevant committee was David Maxwell-Fyfe.  The highly Eurosceptic conservative British journalist, Peter Oborne, has pointed all of this out, and is an advocate of the Convention, though not the EU.  However, that is not the majority  or trending view on the British right.  The arguments about democracy and European institutions have been highly opportunistic in Britain, as on the whole left or right complains about this issue depending on whether European institutions are seen as pulling Britain to the left or the right.

There are problems.  The EU has given more power to the European Parliament, but the relationship between Parliament and other institutions is very unclear to most people, and voting figures keep dropping.  The Council of Europe poses a different problem.  The Convention can be amended by its own parliamentary body, still not directly elected, and in practice a coalition of governments could force change.  However, sufficient agreement on change never exists and the existence of these procedures for  political led change is little understood, as is the very existence of the Council’s parliament.

What in practice we have with the Human Rights Court is a trans-European minarchist agency.  Minarchy means minimal state, and is taken to mean a state that only provides national defence, law courts, and police to bring people to courts of law.  The Human Rights Court fits with the second aspect.  It is not democratic, except in a very indirect and obscure way, and that fits well with minarchist thought which from Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Limits of State Action (1792) to Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974) has looked at democracy with some scepticism, preferring an agency which is not appointed in a representative way to uphold and enforce laws, and keep the state within its narrow limits.  That minarchism is part of  free market libertarian approach which has had some influence on the British right, though not as much as on the American right.  Anyway, why the horror on the right (and from most American libertarians) with not very democratic minarchy in Europe then?  Part of the answer is that libertarianism is a much smaller influence on the right than rhetoric sometimes suggests.  Libertarianism is a source of convenient policies and language for when the right finds it convenient to reduce the role of the state in some way, which is never anything like that favoured by libertarians, and certainly falls a long way short of a minarchist project.  It also suits some on the left on believe that such a project is in progress.  The American libertarian reaction has a distinct undertone of sneering at Europe, and fear of a stronger Europe in the world system.  No one ever says this directly, but the need to look down on Europeans and treat a unified Europe as a threat is present as a constant undertone.

The British right does not favour democracy for the EU or the Council of Europe, it favours their weakening and abolition, with British withdrawal if major weakening is not possible.  Behind all the hypocrisies, frequently expressed in very obsessive ranting on the issue, for some reason Eurosceptism attracts aggressive obsessive ranting personality types in Britain, there is a genuine point which is that most Europeans are not much concerned with the affairs of other European countries, or what goes on in European institutions.  That deserves another post, for the moment I just want to sketch out some peculiarities.

The Sorry Story of the West’s Alliance with Saudi Tyranny and Fundamentalism

Though there is nothing secret about the nature of Saudi Arabia and its relations with the west, particularly America, there is a remarkable lack of discussion and outrage. Saudi Arabia has the following unlovely and well known aspects (a random and very much incomplete list): Sharia law (that is Muslim religious law) is dominant; possession of the Bible is banned; women cannot drive cars; education and state ideology is based on extreme religious conservatism; Osama bin Laden was a product of that education and ideology; the Saudi authorities put very considerable effort into spreading their kind of state-religious ideology in the region and the broader Middle East; political power is passed between the increasingly aged and uncounted (seriously no one knows how many there are, it seems to be over 40) sons of King Abdulaziz, who founded the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and died in 1953; the regime rests on an alliance between religious fundamentalists and oil rich princes, many of whom (including Kings) have been known to indulge in behaviour that many non-believers would find depraved. That’s just a random selection of different kinds of obnoxious fact.

What is amazing is how little reaction this all gets. Angry ring wing pundits in America are willing to assault Barack Obama for any slight perceived weakness in relation to Iran, or Al Qaeda, never mention Saudi Arabia despite bin Laden’s well known origin in a rich and well connected family in that country.  Friends of Israel always ready to denounce the Arabo-Muslim threat have little to say about Saudi Arabia, though no bigger support exist for fanatical anti-Semitic versions of Islam in the Middle East.  Right now Salafist success post Arab Spring elections in Tunisia and Egypt comes from funding and general support from Saudi Arabia for this version of fundamentalism.   Right now the revolt against Assad in Syria is being debased by Jihadist militias supported by Saudi Arabia, which is trying to create a region dominated by those who hate liberty and democracy.  So the United States and its European allies hope for a secular democratic transformation in Syria while continuing close relations with the Saudi tyranny, which is working with all its strength for the triumph of theocratic authoritarianism.  In Bahrain, the local version of the Arab Spring was terminated by state terror, which to large degree was imported from Saudi Arabia, which treats Bahrain as a protectorate where the Shi’ite majority can never be allowed to have influence, and where democracy cannot be allowed to prevent Shi’ite, amongst other reasons.

The western alliance with Saudi Arabia goes back to the 1920s, when British governments decided that the emergence of Saudi Arabia out of the fragmented political structures in the centre of the Arabian peninsula served colonial interests. America became the senior western power in the region during the 1950s, and before that the state of Israel was founded in 1948, making a major difference to the region ever since.  Faced with Nasser’s pan-Arabism in Egypt, and movements influence by Nasserism and other strains of secular Pan-Arabism, Israel found it preferred Saudi Arabia.  There appears to have been a de facto alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia to prevent a Nasserist model republic  emerging in Yemen during a period of armed conflict between royalists and Nasserites.  More recently there was a de facto alliance between the same  two countries in relation to Hamas in Palestine, with both seeking to undermine Al Fatah, which is Nasserite Arab nationalist in origin.  Evidently this had bad consequences for Israel when Hamas controlled Gaza became the base for attacks on Israel.

The other ideological motive for America treating Saudi Arabia as a favoured country was the idea that religion, including Islam, was the antidote to Communism.  Another idea that backfired, again and again, in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan etc.  The relationship with Saudi Arabia is a large and ugly stain on the claims of America, and other western countries, to be spreading human rights and democracy.  It is a relationship which is used haters of the west to denounce the west, the alliance with saudi Arabia is supposed to serve western interests to compensate for that resentment, and so on in a very nasty vicious circle.

In terms of economic interests, Saudi Arabia’s purchase of large amounts of military it from America, and other western countries, gives it lobbying power through the arms industry.  Its production of oil creates links with an oil industry which is a pillar of the Republican Party in America, and generally has a lot of political weight..  That is the same Republican Party which is strongly influenced by conservative Evangelical Christians who are the major source of support for Israel in America (more than any ‘Jewish Lobby’).

The other major pillar of support for Israel in America is the neo-conservatives who want an American dominated world where the United States has the military force to invade at will and regime change any government it finds uncongenial .However, the Neo-Cons stand out from all the other lobbies and pressure groups, since they do at least sometimes argue for regime changing  Saudi Arabia.  Some were apparently arguing that Saudi Arabia should be next on the list after Iraq for the invasion and regime change package, before the failure of the Iraq invasion to win hearts and minds became too obvious to ignore.  I congratulate the Neo-Cons on their consistency, though not their judgement about the use of America’s overwhelming strategic power disregarding negative consequences.

It seems there is nothing Saudi Arabia can do to disappoint its loyal allies in secular democracies (not disappointment of a kind that makes a difference to public policy anyway), so long as it remains opposed to secular nationalism in the Arab world and remains opposed to open attacks on the west and on democratic ideas.  The fact that the regime in practice abuses human rights, tries to export fundamentalism, and is locked into a ghastly symbiosis with Wahabbite religious fanatics who promote fundamentalism in the region, and beyond, is apparently a small price to be paid. And American conservatives wonder why the rest of world hates Aö

When will this destructive policy end?  How will future generations understand that western democracies could talk about spreading democracy while treating Saudi Arabia as a member of the home team?

Foucault, Bernard Wiliams and Hegel: Ethics against Moral Theory

Some of what Michel Foucault says about ethics and moral theory seems close to what the British philosopher Bernard Williams says.  Williams read Foucault but does not say much about him.  I would say that Willams’ criticisms of moral theory flow out of his work on ethics from the late 50s until his death in 2003, which was rooted in Anglosphere academic tradition in philosophy (Conceptual-Analytic), including a critical discussion of Utilitarianism.  An increasing awareness of Continental European style philosophy (Historical-Interpretative) had an influence on him, but probably confirmed and modified his emergent views rather than bringing them about.  

In books like Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Williams criticises the view that ethical philosophy should be primarily concerned with moral theory, theories of the right and the good, of their meaning and their applications.  He argued instead that moral/ethical philosophy is defined institutionally rather than through pure analysis, that is it has a history in which there is an evolving set of norms about what morality is and where it’s philosophical discussion can be found.  A similar discussion aesthetics can be found in Arthur Danto’s writings, who lie Williams was an ‘Analytic-Conceptual’ philosopher with some ‘Historical-Intepretative’ interests.  

Williams prefers talk about ethics as a concrete field in which we are concerned with ethical situations and behaviour rather than pure definitions in moral theory.  This parallels Foucault’s concerns with ‘ethos’, a Greek word equivalent to  ‘mores’ in Latin, and related to the idea of ‘custom’ in English.  For Foucault, ethos is distinct from concerns with natural reality,  referring to the possibilities of aesthetics, style, and care of the self, for the individual.  That could sound individualistic to the extreme, but on Foucault’s understanding includes the need for reciprocity and respect for others’ individuality if there is to be a really successful ethos.

In distinction from Williams, Foucault is less concerned with exact boundaries and illustrative thought experiments.  Though Williams pushed at the limits of the conceptual-analytic mode in philosophy, he always revolves around it in his work.  Concern with exact limits and hypothetical definition challenging is not so much in Foucault’s mode, though he was certainly concerned with the experience of limits of various kinds.  The difference between a concern with subjective experience and a concern with experiments in philosophically charged hypothetical situations is a distinction between the two philosophical approaches.

Hegel also favoured a distinction between morality and ethics to the advantage of ethics.  Though in morality he was just as much concerned with moral imagination and experience as with theory.  Hegel saw morality as based on subjectivity in thought and experience, so self-referring and collapsing into a concern with the purity of that individual and the superiority of that individual, rather than the life of the ethical community.  Foucault differs from this in that he sees an ethical community as much more fragmented and divided by different ways of living for which Hegel can allow; Williams differs from this in his concern with the role of luck and external influences in ethics, which Hegel always tries to resolve through some display of inner necessity.