Republicanism and Nostalgia

My latest post at the group blog New APPS

The idea of a republic has been very tied up from the beginning with the idea of loss, even when linked with the hope for a new beginning. The first great political text of republican political theory may be the Funeral Oration of Pericles as reported (invented?) by Thucydides in The Peloponnesian War, where the defence of the Athenian form of self-government as tolerant and cultured, as well as heroic in war, is articulated in a speech of mourning. It is the loss of the lives of the citizen soldiers of Athens that provides an opportunity for putting foward the general greatness of Athens. So a rather immediate sense of loss is the moment for an imformal pit of republican theory. The speech itself is a model for later commentary on republics and democracy, including Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which echoes some phrases from Thucydides and is again a celebration of a republic driven in its rhetoric of passion but the immediacy of loss.

The model that Pericles, Thucydides, and other writers of Classical Greece, have for courage in war as a civic virtue, does not come from a republic though. It comes from the Homeric epics of the Mycenaean monarchs at war, kings and heroes from societies where those who rule states and command armies are close to the gods, and those commanded are from some lower order of life. Nevertheless Homer permeates the culture of classical Greece. Pottery surviving from Athens of that era suggests a fascination with the martial courage of Achilles, Ajax, and Odysseus, though many of Odysseus’ fights are wit mythical dangers rather than war in the most organised and politically defined sense. The broader nature of Odysseus’ struggles maybe give us an idea of a culture in which war seems to be part of a constant struggle with divine and natural dangers including fate and chance, along with the inevitability of death.

Now read on at this link

On Types of Republicanism

My latest post at the group blog New APPS

The academic literature on republicanism, in my experience, largely assumes one major distinction between kinds of republicanism. As I did not do conduct a major literature review just recently on the issue, I may have missed something, but it seems safe to say that the distinction I am getting onto is well established. That is the distinction between Roman and Athenian republicanism, with the two big names in the field, Philip Pettit and Hannah Arendt lined up on either side.

There are other distinctions between Pettit and Arendt, in the ways they approach political thouht but I will leave those aside here. In terms of general political thought, Pettit has a more individualised and reductive approach to rights, while Arendt refers to a lived experience of the political side of humanity. Pettit’s ‘Romanism’ is indeed a claim to avoid the supposed denial of individuality and the right to be free from the political sphere, apparently inherent in ‘Athenianism’. Arendt’s ‘Athenianism’ is a claim to deal with the role that politics has in the life of humanity, which can never just be ‘social’, so lacking the competition for power in a public space. There are ways we might try to equate those with differences in political position with regard to issues other than pure political structures, but I do  not believes that those really work out and that is again something I leave aside.

For the rest read on here.

The Enlightenment and Barbaric Republics

My latest post at the group blog New APPS

I’ve recently encountered a suggestion (in personal communication) that it might be difficult for an Enlightenment thinker to envisage republicanism in barbarian or even more savage peoples. While that makes sense with regard to the civility and legal institutions that Enlightenment thinkers are looking for in a desirable state, and saw in the ancient republics of Greece and Rome, there are some other sides to this. I cannot look into properly right now, but it is sometimes held that the founders of the American republic took some inspiration from the Native Americans with regard to the institutional arrangements they were designing, particularly the federal nature of the republic (preceded by a  period of confederation), which may have had some reference to the groupings and alliances of small native communities into nations. In any case, the dressing up in native garb during the Boston Tea Party certainly made some reference to the idea of a natural freedom.

Read on here.

Adam Smith on Colonialism and Republicanism, Antique and Modern. Paris Talk III (Final Part)

We should think of Smith’s work on colonialism and empire as including relations between England, Scotland and Ireland, and relations between the Anglo parts of Ireland and Scotland, and the rest. This is largely an implicit issue,  though he does have a lot to say about the injustice of not allowing equal trade terms to Ireland with Great Britain. Smith is silent on what he thinks about the Jacobite Uprising and the means used to put it down. It seems reasonable to assume that Smith preferred the Hanoverian cause to the Jacobite cause, the latter at least symbolically linked to a return to the more absolutist model of monarchy preceding the 1688 Glorious Revolution. Did he approve of the harsh measures used to crush the social basis of Jacobitism after Culloden? That seems at odds with his general emphasis on justice in the state and sympathy in ethics, but maybe he did see some violence against savages/barbarians as necessary to the emergence and preservation of civil and commercial society. He was deeply aware of the fate of ancient states based on some measure of liberty and commercial life, and their defeat by more barbaric peoples, as in the domination of the Greece of free republics by the Macedonian monarchy or the defeat of the Roman Empire in the west by barbarians. He sometimes seems deeply pessimistic about the survival chances of liberty and commercial society in the modern world, for example having a rather exaggerated view of the triumphs of Louis XIV, the model of absolutist monarchy, over the republican and commercial Dutch Republic. He also shows great pessimism about the prospect of republics progressing in liberty for all, suggesting that it is a republic of the greatest liberty for its citizens that is most unlikely to extend rights to non-citizens. He fears that slavery will never be abolished, partly because the freest republics, like the American colonies will be unwilling to emancipate slaves. Their system of liberty is embedded in the political economy of slavery, so how is it possible to hope the citizens benefitting from that system will take it apart? He looks at the Roman Republic in the same light, though oddly does not refer to the amelioration in the conditions of slaves during the Empire. Sometimes Smith seems caught up in a pessimistic acceptance of a Ferguson or Vico style of cyclical history in which savagery or barbarism (the divine and heroic ages in Vico) will keep returning, which may also reflect a fear that ethical and civil progress means a loss of natural strength.

The American colonies appear to be a model for the future, as a repetition of the Greek colonial system, if Britain grants the colonies independence as Smith hopes. However, that proposed birth of perfected liberty in American republics incorporates both a the slavery which Smith fears persists the more republican liberty exists, and the liberty in the American wilderness which cannot be incorporated into republican or any ‘natural’ system of of liberty. Colonisation of the New World produces a model of pure political absolutism and economic robbery in the Spanish Americas, and a model of liberty so pure it collapses in the British Americas. That fear that American liberty could be torn between despotism over salves and extreme disaggregation of individuals in the wilderness might explain some of Smith’s silence about the dark side of monarchical-republican liberty in Britain, as if that was the best that could be hope for, rather than the experiment in pure liberty that Smith hopes for and fears in the Americas.

Smith hopes for an end to colonialism, though as with other hopes, in a manner tinged with pessimism. He argues that Britain would benefit from giving up the colonies, so saving itself the expense of providing external security and the broader economic costs of distorted trade. Despite the historical precedents he identifies in the Ancient Greek model of relationship, between parental republic and descendent republics, he seems to despair of the possibility of a voluntary termination of colonialism. The advantages of free trade and friendship based on voluntary association between states may never outweigh the narrow self-interests behind mercantilism. The unspoken issue, is should the crown and the real source of power in the semi-republican oligarchy, not only give up overseas colonies, but also Ireland  and Scotland, or maybe just the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles and the Gaelic parts of Ireland along with the Welsh speaking parts of Wales? Smith envisages a European ‘Empire’, by which he means a free trading confederacy, maybe with some shared form of representative government. The trade element would bring great economic benefits, and some kind of shared representative government is Smith’s ideal model for overseas colonies. The lack of the representative principle in antiquity made republican government impossible in the imperial stage of the Roman Republic and the fully Imperial stage of the Roman state. The political and moral decline of the Roman Republic, after the imperial expansion associated with victory over the Carthaginian republic, was an issue in the late republic, in Renaissance republicanism and in the European Enlightenment thought of Montesquieu and Rousseau. This is presumably in the background of Smith’s thoughts about modern empire. The two approaches to modern empire, dissolving it or establishing a confederation through representative government is never fully presented as an option, though it is mentioned as what the Romans lacked. The implications for the three core kingdoms of the British monarchy (England, Scotland and Ireland) are not fully explored, or at least the issue of coercion in the interests of crown and mercantilist oligarchy is not dealt with perhaps because in some respects Smith believed in the justice of a coercive civilising state, an impression confirmed by his doubts about pure republicanism.

Adam Smith on Colonialism and Republicanism, Antique and Modern. Paris Talk II

The completely anti-republican nature of the negative models of colonialism is matched by the purity of the republican forms of the positive forms of republicanism, which are Greek and British in north America. The British in North America model even presents a kind of liberty beyond republican liberty. Smith refers to the solitary freedom of the settler in the vast open spaces of North America. This is a liberty unconstrained by government and laws, republican or otherwise. Forms of liberty outside republicanism as understood by Greeks and Romans was understood by them and referred to with reference to barbarians, or even in philosophical limit situations like the god or animal Aristotle thinks of outside the republic (polis). Smith and other Scottish Enlightenment thinkers themselves had ways of thinking about this with reference to the savage and barbarian stages of human history, which contain a kind of liberty of natural force not found in civilisation and which threatens civilisation. We can find this discussion in Hume as well as in Smith, and most richly in Ferguson’s History of Civil Society.

We can see these analyses at the background of Tocqueville’s understanding of the United States in Democracy in America, where the liberty of the ‘Indians’ is an important counterpoint to the growth of commercial and political liberty amongst whites, particularly in the non-slave states. The bondage of African-Americans in the slave states providing another counterpoint round despotic social relations, and the possibility of unlimited force erupting between whites and blacks in a race war.

In Smith, in an area of tension he shares with other Enlightenment thinkers, the isolated liberty of an individual in the wilderness, has an intensity of natural liberty lacking in the natural liberty Smith discerns in civilised commercial states and which he wishes to improve. The idea of natural liberty itself leads Smith into concerns about what can go wrong with trying to make natural liberty too  systematic and perfect. The idea of the isolated settler in the wilderness of North America presents another extreme aspect of liberty, where it disappears in the sense that Smith and others generally use it, of the liberty obtaining in a community under law.

The way that Tocqueville used the Enlightenment historical stages to analyse the America of the 1830s, should itself remind us of the way that Smith, Hume and Ferguson were referring to distinctions within Britain and Ireland. The formation of their thought coincides with the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, which largely ended with the victory of Hanoverian forces at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Charles Edward Stuart drew on support from clans in the Gaelic speaking islands and mountains of Scotland, where different laws, customs and authority structures prevailed in comparison to the Scots speaking lowlands. The Hanoverian victory in defence of the settlement of 1688 did not end of all those differences, which traditional landowners in the Highlands using a feudal style of authority over peasants well into the 19th century, but a major state offensive took place against the self-governing Gaelic communities on the north and west of the Highland line. Crown authority became complete beyond the line, with suppression of distinctive language, dress and custom to create subjects of the crown rather than of Highland chiefs. Before and after the crushing of the 1745 Uprising, social conditions in the Scottish islands and mountains could be defined as barbaric or even savage in relation to the Enlightenment centres of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, or Smith’s home town, the commercial centre of Kirkcaldy. A similar way of thinking could be applied to the Gaelic speaking rural parts of Ireland in relation to Dublin, the English speaking aristocracy, and the Presbyterians of Ulster, who made their own contribution to Scottish Enlightenment through Frances Hutcheson. These are crude distinctions, and Edmund Burke for one would not fit clearly into the category of Protestant upper class cosmopolitan remote from Catholic peasant culture. Many other qualifications can and should be made to distinctions between civilised English speaking moderate Protestant Enlightenment Britain and Ireland, and the ‘barbarian’ or ‘savage’ opposites. Nevertheless, there is some reality to them, enough to push Smith and others in the direction of a savage-barbarian-civil and commercial society understanding of history, where the civil and commercial communities are perpetually at risk from being overwhelmed by the natural strength of the less civil and commercial communities.

(to be continued)

Adam Smith on Colonialism and Republicanism, Antique and Modern. Paris Talk I

First of several posts of the parts of a paper presented at the conference Scotland, Europe and Empire in the Age of Adam Smith and Beyond on 4th July 2013, in the Guizot Ampitheatre of the University of Paris IV: Paris-Sorbonne. The conference was hosted by the Centre Roland Mousnier. It was organised by the Eighteenth Century Scottish Studies Society and the International Adam Smith Society.

Smith’s account of colonialism is in some dimensions an account of republicanism, differentiating between Greek, Roman, and modern models. The Greek model is one of overseas colonies that are independent of the original republic though tied to it by family type relations. The Roman model is one of the extension of the territory of the original republic, so that it is a case of that republic expanding in size rather than founding new republics in a loose family. In both cases, colonialism is a way of dealing with population that appears excessive in relation to the resources of the home republic. The modern model, or that aspect which Smith draws attention to, is the overseas commercial empire where colonies are largely founded to further mercantilist schemes which aim, if misguidedly, for the economic benefits of the home state. Modern colonialism is often undertaken by states of a monarchical character rather than a republican character, but the issues of a republic, and associated concerns with liberty and government by consent of the people arise, even in the most monarchical colonising powers. Smith does not present a clear commitment to republicanism as a principle of government, and certainly does not deny the legitimacy of monarchical governments, or deny the possibility of progress in liberty and prosperity under a monarchy. Nevertheless, there is a preference for republicanism, if more as an underlying assumption than an explicitly argued claim. The preference for republicanism emerges most clearly in his account of modern colonialism, since  it is here that the destructive effects of monarchy and of the political power of economic elites (what was classically known as oligarchy) are most clear to the people so governed.

The account of colonialism in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations is itself part of an account of mercantilism, which is the product of monarchical and oligarchic distortions of government, which try to reserve economic benefits for the politically privileged parts of the community. Mercantilism in international commerce and colonialism itself has levels of injustice combined with economically self-destructive action. The worst is the Spanish (and Portuguese) colonisation of South and Central America, a form of direct grasping of economic resources by the crown in the colonising country, with economically destructive effects all round except for the crown and those closest to it. The monarchical colonisation of what is now known as Latin America.

The best is the British colonisation of north America, which has allowed the formation of self-governing republics with no hereditary aristocracy, as Smith emphasises with considerable republican enthusiasm (though as we shall see there is a critical aspect in his attitude), and a relatively good deal with regard to trade rights, compared with the inhabitants of India under the domination of the East India Company. Smith certainly deplores the restrictions on trade that Britain imposed on its American colonies, but notes that the terms were more favourable to the colonies exempting them from tariffs imposed on goods imported into Britain from outside the Empire. Danish colonial activities in the Americas are held up as a counter example of the bad that results from restricting the imports and exports of colonies. Smith does not say so, but was presumably aware that Denmark was an absolutist monarchy at that time, and so has a point to make in comparing a republican leaning monarchy as in Britain with a more pure example of monarchy. .

Somewhere the absolutist and republican models of colonialism, there are the regulated companies and the joint stock companies. Regulated companies, like one for trade with ‘Turkey’ (the Ottoman lands) are recognised by the state, have monopolistic power and are dominated by the self-interest of individual traders in the company who are rarely concerned with the good of the company as a whole, which is essentially an aggregate of individual interests licensed by the state. Joint stock companies (not really understood as what we largely think of as joint stock companies now) pool the risks and benefits for individual traders and so are dominated by the common economic good of the enterprise. These work more like states than the regulated companies, and in Smith’s time the East India Company was administering a large part of India, as a kind of junior partner state, or sub-state, of the British state, a situation which prevailed until the mid 19th century. The joint stock company is a more effective economic unit than the regulated company, but is in that case all the more complicit with the injustices and economic disadvantages of mercantilist colonialism. The joint stock companies subject colonised peoples to an alien government which is not concerned with their interests, but with the interests of investors in the home country.

Political Judgement, Justice and Republicanism IV (Istanbul Talk on Hannah Arendt)

The political realm in antiquity was the realm of a kind of freedom which could not belong to everyone, as some have to labour, including the labour done by slaves. The political sphere was one of equality, but qualified by aristocratic suspicion of free labourers, an equality of liberty from coercion by a tyrant in every case, but ambiguous about how far those free relations could extend amongst the population. The sphere of the home was a place of non-freedom. Men ruled the home and themselves only became part of something where there was freedom on leaving the home to participate in public affairs. The suggestion is that even the male patriarchal ruler of the home was preoccupied there with business which had nothing to with freedom, managing the family, slaves and the wealth/property of the family.

In her understanding of antiquity, Arendt sees wealth as something separate from property. Property was not separable from the family and was essential to political elite status. Wealth refers to all the things owned by the family, and its income which be lost. That idea of the permanence of property was essential to how the ancients thought of what was proper to a governing class, and that assumption lingered into the 19th century, when capitalism undermined the idea that any kind of property could be separated from the world of exchange where it acquired a contingent status in relation to the owning family. The non-political sphere of household family affairs became the basis of polities, which moved away form discussion of matters of purely public interest to maximisation of everyone’s wealth. Equality and justice moved from being questions largely for the elite class in its awareness of itself, to the main concerns of politics in promoting the welfare of all.

This is part of Arendt’s picture of the emergence of economic and social goods for all as the centre of modern politics, a process she does not reject, but which inspires reservations about the loss of political questions within the political world. Again her supposed nostalgia for Athenian republicanism must be heavily qualified by her capacity for sketching out economic, social and political shifts since then. There is a desire for moments of political participation but this does not so much involve Athenian nostalgia as idealisation of the early stages of the American, French and Russian revolutions.The interest in both the virtues of participation and of aristocratic excellence draw on Tocqueville, whose work is part of the 18th and 19th century attempts to reconcile antique republican political liberty with modern individualistic commercial liberty. One of the sources for Tocqueville here is Benjamin Constant’s essay on the difference between the liberty of the ancients and the moderns, which draws on Athens as the most ‘modern‘ of ancient republics. The Pettit style of distinction between neo-Roman liberty and civic humanism, Athenian and Roman republicanism does not really account for this.

There is a drive in Arendt towards separating politics from the kind of welfare concerns that have absorbed politics since the 18th century, though this just as much as about hanging onto non-Kantian and non-Utilitarian notions of the good, so what hanging to what is normally called virtue theory, though she does not use that phrase. In other words, she defends a version of eudaemonism which is not just about immediate pleasure, but about excellence, distinction and becoming worthy of history. The being worthy of history establishes a political goal, the birth of political institutions and laws that will be remembered and last.  Arendt has a disruptive perspective here, since the agonistic element of her view of republicanism, the aristocratic struggle for excellence spread widely in the population, also undermines the Roman and Spartan, what Nietzsche called the Doric state, image of marmoreal permanence. The ancient aristocratic writers preferred the permanence and solidity of Rome and Sparta, that is the meaning of the rejection of Athens then and more recently, as in the criticisms of democracy by the Founders of the American republic, who in large degree tried to established an unchanging Lycurgian constitution, run by an oligarchy protected from the passions of the public. Though Pettit and Skinner would not define themselves in that way, they are positioning themselves in the same territory. Pettit’s work on Hobbes in which he implicitly finds the Hobbesian sovereign to be the centre of Rawls and Habermas style rational discourse goes even further in the direction of power for those who head the institution and make the laws which claim to be guided by reason, and what the people would want if they thought about it long enough under ideal conditions. That includes schemes of redistribution, of state enforced patterns of income and wealth which are in tension with the unplanned nature of the most productive economic activity. There is no such constraint on Arendtian political judgement, which makes judgement a matter of conceiving common goods and gaols without an inherent bias towards state power over the economy, in norms that demand government designed economic patterns.



Political Judgement, Justice and Republicanism III (Istanbul Talk on Hannah Arendt)

Hannah Arendt’s political theory, and broader account of the human world, amongst other things, shows a way that we can understand the movement from antique philosophical contempt for the slave, and the labourer, to political philosophies of human equality.   The broad point is that the kind of equality Marx sought for all who work is a product of capitalism itself. [Capitalism makes clear a distinction present, but only a very submerged way, in antique concepts between the labour of the whole body and the work of the hands. It is labour which is one of the things that distinguishes us from animals according to Arendt. Her capacity to assume an absolute opposition between the merely animal and the human, is not so widely shared now, but we can hold on to it as a form of ranking which is not reliant on absolute distinctions, including any absolute distinction between the animal and the human.] The modern commercial, or capitalist world, of production driven by trade across large areas unified as markets, is contrasted with production  by the household, for the household, at the centre of antique understanding. An understanding in which any kind of labour degrades, a labourer is a slave or only just above servitude in status, and can be tortured in judicial proceedings since that disgrace enacted on the body is just an extension of the disgrace of labour. Again these are no absolutes. We would have a very poor understanding of the antique world, and even of pre-historic human communities, if we do not appreciate that there was trade across large areas. The point is that the weight of trade across large areas compared with more self-contained forms of production and consumption increases, creating a sense of nationhood and of  humanity as unified by trade and by participation in production. That production for trade is what pushes in the direction of egalitarianism in ethics and politics, and then egalitarian ideas of income and wealth distribution

Arendt’s alleged nostalgia for ancient Athens provides a useful way of thinking about why income and wealth egalitarianism are not necessary outcomes of moral equality, other than reasons of economic efficiency. Arendt emphasise the antique Greek aristocratic pursuit of excellence, but not simply by going back to antiquity. It is something emphasised in the late 19th century by Jacob Burckhardt, the historian and cultural historian, so we might see an implicit attempt there to find something equivalent to economic competition in antique aristocratic competition. Burckhardt was a friend of Nietzsche, there is some common purpose and some benefit in framing Nietzsche’s political thought in relation to Burckhardt, but we cannot go into that right now.  Arendt does not suggest that aristocratic competition finds a direct equivalent in market competition, emphasising political competition. There as a distinct 19th century bourgeois tendency towards seeking dignity in antique and medieval heroic references, and this is open to charges of anachronism, if not outright absurdity. The point is that the political realm of competition provides the nearest equivalent to ancient aristocratic competition, which included the idea of political honour. We could take the economic  realm as something completely different, as if politics was heaven in relation to economic materialism. That is Marx’s critique of Hegel, and he was right in analysis if not so right in his offered solutions. There must be some spill over between economic efforts, which are efforts to find social status, ‘honour, as much as anything, and the search for political office, though hopefully with the  minimum of confusion between the political search to provide public goods, and the sectional work of economic self-interest. Back in antiquity, Pericles himself suggested in his famous funeral oration that poverty is not disgraceful, but a failure to struggle against it is.

Amongst other things, Arendt shows the broad history and conceptual transformation which led from an Ancient Greek understanding of equality, and inequality, in justice to modern assumptions regarding those issues. Arendt does refer to Ancient Rome as the most political of communities.  We can see that Arendt did not make an opposition between Athens and Rome in the way that Pettit does, though she certainly does note some differences. Arendt contributes to an already well established interest in law as fundamental to the difference between Athens and Rome. We can see such a suggestion in the philosophical idealist history of Hegel. The way Arendt understands the difference is that Greek law is a form of divine authority over humans, while Roman law is about contractual relations between individuals and at the basis of political institutions. That is a distinction that suits the idea that Rome was the most political of communities, since it is the possibility of freely held relationships, which is the meaning of politics in the ancient world. That is Arendt refers to politics as the realm of freedom, as distinct from necessity. The work at issue, is most obviously slave labour. Arendt notes ancient distinctions between slaves (presumably by birth) and conquered peoples who become slaves. That separation of freedom from work includes the work of free labourers, on the whole. Ancient democracies, including Rome though that democracy was rather rigged to the benefit of the aristocracy, gave political rights to free labourers but never lost the disdain for labourers. Both Plato and Aristotle assume that political leadership should be in the hands of an elite not concerned with work or money making, and even regard politics itself as non-serious and secondary compared with philosophy, an inevitably elite pursuit. Arendt does allow for the political vision of human life in Plato and Aristotle, but also makes us pay attention to the opposite drive in their thought, the thought that the polity is something for the philosopher to ignore as far as possible.


Political Judgement, Justice and Republicanism II (Istanbul Talk on Hannah Arendt)

There is distinct interest in aristocracy and competitive excellence in Arendt, which do not obviously lend themselves to egalitarian redistributionist projects, she is more Tocqueville and Burckhardt than Marx or even Thomas Paine. Arendt’s thought defends the existence and irreducibility of political community as part of any human community. There is no possible depoliticised utopia of rational (utlra-Rawlsianism) designers or (ultra-Hayekianism) of spontaneous orders, which evades the need for a political sphere. That is a sphere that mixes competition for power and the pursuit of political values, and that is an inevitable part of any human community. The political sphere is one of selection with regard to membership of political elites in different political currents, and in the overarching political elite of state institutions.

Arendt provides a framework for social justice which is much more engaged with the nature of politics as contestatory and as oriented towards the conquest of power, than the Rawls approach of public reason, or other approaches to political foundations such as discursive rationality in Habermas. The advantage of Arendt’s approach is that is does not need to presume a perfectly rational basis for distributing economic goods or a perfectly rational basis for political judgement. Even if we just take those rationalistic approaches as guiding ideals, they lead to theory unable to deal with the spontaneity necessary to a dynamic economic order, or the agonism necessary to pluralist political life.  It is not possible to make a strong enough distinction between questions of political citizenship and questions of distribution of economic goods on the basis of Aristotle’s approach, which leads him to limit economic inequality between citizens to a ratio of five to one. No one has created a society with flourishing political freedoms, strong individual rights, and a dynamic economy, on the basis of such restrictions, even if we allow for the limited number that Aristotle thinks of as citizens.  The Athens that Aristotle knew showed the ways that prosperity, democracy, and individual rights go together and grow, in an economy which is not constrained in the ways that Aristotle would like economic exchange and inequality to be constrained.  Arendt shows how there can be participatory and contestatory democracy, with elites approximately equivalent to Aristotle’s aristocracy, but based on choice and competition. The reaction to the intrusive economic sphere, and various dissatisfaction with distribution in modernity are the basis of the modern political sphere.  The dissatisfaction with distribution does not just take the form or resistance to inequality, but also of sectional demands for more economic goods, and complaints about misdirection of economic goods to others, along with attempts to define genuine public goods and forms of government action which do not create sectional economic advantages or undermine economic incentives. That is the James Buchanan public choice style of analysis of how political bargaining can undermine the provision of public goods is a better fit with the Arendtian themes of political judgement and struggle than redistributivist models. The public choice model does not exclude some redistribution where there satisfies some widely accepted public good, or moral impulse, to keep citizens out of poverty, but it tends to provide reasons for regarding attempts to define an acceptable income and wealth spread, and who gets economic rewards, as pretexts for capture of the polity by coalitions of sectional interest.

Arendt provides a framework in which politics is not depoliticised as in Rawls, something taken further by many libertarian thinkers, economics is not subordinated to political rationalism as in Rawls, and there is a stronger distinction between the economic and political spheres than in Aristotle. Political justice is partly established through the competitive means of selecting a genuine political élite, and detached from possession of economic goods. There cannot be a complete separation between political elites and economic elites. Members of the political elite are likely to be economically privileged as political actors, and have have advantages in becoming economic actors.  However, the relationship is much looser than Aristotle could envisage, as the modern economic sphere generates a level of economic goods for the most successful in the economic sphere beyond the goods of the political elite.  The complexity of modern society, the more varied nature of the economic world, the changes in the private-public distinction examined by Arendt, enable more distinction between distribution of political and economic goods.  She also understands that the complexity, the individualism, and the changeableness of modern societies, creates a need for an effective political elite able to shape the rules of the economic sphere to the public welfare, without eroding the autonomy, emergent complexity, and spontaneity of the economic sphere.

We should not seek a rationalistic determination of economic distribution or of the arguments of politics.  We should seek a framework that is both sustainable and adaptive, an evolutionary framework, where rules are clear and known but can be debated and changed. The political elite has been tested in the competitive nature of elections, and is not able to direct all economic goods towards itself.  Arendt shows how there can be a framework, rules, institutions and elite formation which are open to spontaneity and conflict, and thereby draw on the greatest Aristotelian insights into justice, politics, and judgement .


Political Judgement, Justice and Republicanism I (Istanbul Talk on Hannah Arendt)

There has not bee much blogging for a while as my attention has been taken by the political drama here in Turkey. I will post about that, but when I am ready to say something considered and reflective. I prefer to avoid instant reactions here or imitating the kind of media intellectual always ready with a reaction dressed  up in superficially theoretical, historical or philosophical terms. I am posting, in parts, the talk (original title: ‘Political Judgement and Economic Justice in Arendt: Renewing Athenian Republicanism). I recently gave in Istanbul on Hannah Arendt at the conference Pluralism and  Conflict: Distributive Justice Beyond Rawls and Consensus  (6th to 8th June). My thoughts about Arendt do have some relation to my thinking about the protest movement in Turkey, but I want to avoid an instant pseduo-Arendtian analysis, so have nothing to say about current politics in the paper. The text is very much a text for oral presentation rather than a finished piece of work, so is I think suitable reading for a blog. I also gave a talk on Adam Smith, which I will post here, possibly after commenting on politics in Turkey.

The suggestion that we take Arendt in terms of Athenian republicanism should not be taken too literally. There is a polemical context here which is to contest the kind of republicanism presented by Philip Pettit, and which draws on Quentin Skinner in its reference to Neo-Roman liberty. Pettit briefly suggests that Arendt is a nostalgic for Athens. That is part of Pettit’s own general distinction, used by others, between the proper kind of republicanism base on liberty as non-domination, and civic humanism which apparently enforces some kind of conformity to a completely political and communal life. The distinctions Pettit makes are peculiar. Why should we regard the Rome described by Polybius as more open to privacy and individualism than Athens as defined by Pericles, who explicitly defends the Athenian model with regard to what Pettit says it does not contain, that is respect for difference and individuality. The really distinctive thing about Pettit’s republicanism is that republicanism is distinguished from civic humanism, or Athenian republicanism by its emphasis on institutions and procedures. If we think of those characteristics as requiring laws, that is laws understood as civic rules distinct from divine order and archaic custom, then Rome does provide a better model. Arendt herself emphasises the idea that Roman law establishes a break with the Greek vision of law as divine authority. The republican impulse is one that Arendt traces back to ancient Greece in a rather idealised way, in terms of sticking to a tradition of great moments in European freedom and thought, but in a way which is very revealing. It is a way of thinking about republicanism in which there is renewal of the tradition interacting with the ways that republicanism itself refers to the hope of a new order, a new birth of freedom. Roman law is one part of that renewal. Arendt does look at Roman republicanism critically with regard to a loss of the autonomy of politics, which becomes identified with community in her view, though that is a process she sees as completed in the Latin Middle Ages. The drive in that non-political direction, which is the direction of freedom, freedom from the kind of necessity found in labour and economy as well as from a tyrant or oligarchy, is mitigated at least in the republic by the development of law in Rome as something other than the divine authority.

Pettit’s republicanism in its adherence to institutions and procedures is following on from Rawls and Habermas, where ideas of correct institutional arrangement and procedures are very entangled with a definition of justice as economic equality. The default   is that income and wealth should have a completely flat distribution, but that inequalities may be allowed as far as they benefit the poorest (through greater economic growth) or promote the viability of civil society (which I think is a background constraint for Habermas, poking up through his texts in indirect ways). These economic egalitarian principles are largely advocated as normative arguments rather than directions for government policy, but they are designed as constraints on government actions and so at some point come into contact with policy, and as such steer policy towards redistribution of the wealth and income distribution that emerges from the market.

There are no such redistributive schemes in Arendt, though her thought does not completely exclude that possibility. On the whole,  she thinks of politics as being about something separate from economy and society, though she gives a very compelling argument for how the modern political concern with economic welfare is a product of the way that early modern capitalism creates a public sphere entangled with markets, which take economics out of the household into national and international systems of trade and exchange. Arendt refers to the changing nature of the relation between public and private in the emergence of capitalism, with an analysis of how that process erodes older versions of the public-private distinction that rely on the idea of a self-contained family economy. Capitalism breaks up that self-containment as individuals become actors in integrated economies at national and transnational levels. That  expanding and invasive economic sphere is the source of a public sphere with the same qualities, a parallel that arises because the economic sphere depends on laws, and on the state that enforces those laws. Politics in the world of modern political economy is conditioned by the reality of that invasive public sphere, the benefits it brings and resistance to its more coercive aspects.