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December 13, 2007

Stasavage on polarization and deliberation

Abstract: Though openness in government has obvious benefits, recent scholarship has devoted less attention to the possibility that it might also have costs. I use a formal framework to investigate the effect of public versus private decision making on opinion polarization. Existing work emphasizes that public debate helps to reduce polarization and promote consensus, but I argue that when debate takes place between representatives the opposite may be true. When representatives make decisions in public, they face incentives to use their actions as a signal of loyalty to their constituents, potentially ignoring private information about the true desirability of different policies. Anticipating this, constituents will not alter their prior policy beliefs following a debate of this type. When representatives instead make policy decisions in private, they are more likely to allow private information to influence their actions. An important consequence is that even if constituents do not observe actions or statements of individual representatives, they can still use the final policy choice to revise their initial beliefs. I suggest that these conclusions have significant implications for both the literature on deliberative democracy and for discussions of polarization in American politics.

David Stasavage (2007), “Polarization and Publicity: Rethinking the Benefits of Deliberative Democracy,” Journal of Politics 69:59-72. Available here.

November 26, 2007

G.A. Cohen on a truth in conservatism

I have for decades harboured strongly conservative, that is, strongly small-c conservative, opinions, on many matters that are not matters of justice, and I here mount an exposition and defence of what I believe to be my widely, although perhaps not universally, shared, conservative attitude. (I do not have conservative views about matters of justice because what conservatives like me want to conserve is that which has intrinsic value, and injustice lacks intrinsic value (and has, indeed, intrinsic disvalue). I am a kind of conservative not only in that I have the strong small-c conservative attitude that I shall describe, but also in that I endorse certain conservative factual
assessments according to which a lot of valuable things have been disappearing lately. I join the ranks of the complainers down the ages who say: “Things ain’t what they used to be.” …

Please bear in mind throughout that I am trying here to describe, in an attractive light, one kind of conservative disposition, that is, my own. It is indeed my own disposition, and if I did not have it I would not have been motivated to write this paper, but I think that this disposition of mine is not an eccentric one: I think everyone who is sane has something of this disposition, even if the people that I am today calling conservatives have a stronger form of it than others do. … This is my first foray into this territory, and I have thus far been unable to place the several themes that I treat in satisfactory connection with one another. The themes include personal value, tradition, identity, acceptance of the given, slowing down the rate of change and the idea of conserving what is valuable, in opposition, for example, to maximizing value. I hope and believe that all or at least most of my themes are connected, and, indeed, that the idea of conserving what is valuable is intellectually foundational to all of the other themes, but I haven’t yet tried to establish all the connections (and disconnections).

G.A. Cohen, “A truth in conservatism: Rescuing conservatism from the conservatives,” unpublished paper. Available here.

October 30, 2007

Liebell on Dover, science and education

Abstract: Although the debate over teaching evolution in public schools is not new, the discussion changed significantly with the introduction of intelligent design. Unlike creationism, intelligent design does not ground itself in any biblical tradition or reject all evolutionary change. Instead, intelligent design claims that Darwin’s theory of evolution – particularly natural selection and random mutation – cannot account for the complexity and beauty of life, and, therefore, there must be an “intelligent designer” responsible for the creation of living organisms. In 2004, a small, predominantly Christian, white, and economically modest school district in Dover, Pennsylvania passed a mandate requiring biology teachers to read a statement to their ninth graders. When the teachers refused, administrators cautioned students that Darwin’s theory of evolution was a “theory” and there were gaps in the evidence. A text was available in the school library – Of Pandas and People – that presented a different approach to human development: intelligent design. The reading of the statement was challenged by eleven families on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion. The U.S. District Court’s ruling – that the statement did violate the establishment clause – has been understood by the media, public officials, and academics as a triumph for secularism and science over religion and fundamentalism.

Susan Liebell (2007), Rethinking Dover: The Role of Science and Education in Liberal Society, unpublished paper. Available here.

October 16, 2007

Brighouse and Swift on Parental Partiality

It is widely thought that people have morally weighty prerogatives to act partially toward particular others. Indeed, the permissibility of partial relationships between individuals is a touchstone of liberal – including egalitarian liberal - thinking. These relationships appear inegalitarian in deep ways. The parties to partial relationships may exclude others from the mutual benefits their association yields and have special responsibilities to one another that give them the right, and sometimes the duty, to further one another’s interests in ways that may interrupt equality. Our focus in this paper is the relationship widely thought to be the most powerfully protected of all: that between parents and their children. We do not believe that parents must be permitted to pursue their children’s best interests regardless of the inequalities that pursuit may induce between them and others. The behavior described is excessive, not legitimate, parental partiality. Our aim in this paper is to provide a normative account of the familial relationship that explains why.

Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift (2007), “Legitimate Parental Partiality,” unpublished paper. Available here.

August 08, 2007

Levy on Federalism and Liberalism

Abstract: Federalism, when it has not been ignored altogether in normative political theory, has typically been analyzed in terms that fail to match the institution as it exists in the world. Federations are made up of provinces that are too few, too large, too rigid, too constitutionally entrenched, and too tied to ethnocultural identity to match theories based on competitive federalism, Tiebout sorting, democratic self-government, or subsidiarity. A relatively neglected tradition in liberal thought, based on a separation of loyalties and identifiable in Montesquieu, Publius, Constant, Tocqueville, and Acton, however, holds more promise. If the purpose of federalism is to compensate for worrisome tendencies toward centralization, then it is desirable that the provinces large enough to have political power be stable and entrenched and be able to engender loyalty from their citizens, such as the loyalty felt to ethnoculturally specific provinces. Separation of loyalty theories and the bulwark theories of which they are a subset match up with federalism as it exists in the world.

Jacob T. Levy (2007), “Federalism, Liberalism, and the Separation of Loyalties,” American Political Science Review 101:459-477. Available here.

Callan on Love and Patriotism

Patriotism requires love of country. We all know that. Yet we do not usually consider patriotism seriously in relation to love, which is how I propose to consider it. In so doing, I try to throw some light on the question of patriotism’s moral status. I begin by sketching some claims about what is worthy of love, what might count as a reason to love, and what it is to love well or badly. These provide the basis for a contrast I draw between morally innocent and idolatrous love, which in turn yields a distinction between an innocent patriotism and its idolatrous mutations. But the moral innocence of one kind of patriotism does not mean that anyone has an obligation to be patriotic or that patriotism counts as a virtue. I reject the view that patriotism is obligatory by examining the contrast between patriotic love and the love between parents and children, where an obligation to love has been traditionally and plausibly imputed. To identify the conditions under which patriotism might count as a virtue, I turn to the conception of moral learning defended in Part III of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice. …

The case I make for the moral value of patriotism under some nonideal conditions is entirely consistent with the following reasonable surmise: whatever benefits come from honorable patriotism are outweighed by the harm done by its idolatrous counterparts, to say nothing of the consequences of still baser passions that masquerade as patriotism. If humanity could make a bargain with God to make patriotism disappear, so that all its harms evaporated along with its benefits, maybe we should take the deal. But no such bargain is on offer. We live in the midst of societies in which patriotism remains a potent force in many people’s lives. When their patriotism is implicated in tribal hatreds and delusions of national grandeur, we wish that it would simply go away. Yet the object of our wish will often be a worse outcome, and it will certainly in general be a less feasible option than enticing their patriotism in a morally better direction. After all, being told to give up what you love is a harder message for anyone to heed than being told that you should love it better. Unfortunately, blanket indictments of patriotism that refuse to make moral distinctions within the indicted category merely obscure the range of practical responses that are necessary to foster the good it enables and mitigate the evil it promotes.

Eamonn Callan (2006), “Love, Idolatry and Patriotism,” Social Theory and Practice 32:525-546.

July 23, 2007

Raz on Human Rights and Sovereignty

Following Rawls I will take human rights to be rights which set limits to the sovereignty of states, in that their actual or anticipated violation is a (defeasible) reason for taking action against the violator in the international arena. This is Rawls’s and my answer to the first of the two questions an account of human rights faces: while human rights are invoked in various contexts, and for a variety of purposes, the dominant trend in human rights practice is to take the fact that a right is a human right as a defeasibly sufficient ground for taking action against violators in the international arena, that is to take its violation as a reason for such action.

Such measures set limits to state sovereignty for when states act within their sovereignty they can, even when acting wrongly, rebuff interference, invoking their sovereignty. Crudely speaking, they can say to outsiders: whether or not I (the state) am guilty of wrongful action is none of your business. Sovereignty does not justify state actions, but it protects states from external interference. Violation of human rights disables this response, which is available to states regarding other misdeeds.

Joseph Raz (2007), “Human Rights Without Foundations.” Unpublished Paper. Available here.

Snippet and link taken from Larry Solum’s Legal Theory Blog.

June 28, 2007

Stow on September 11 and Public Mourning

Abstract: What does the choice of the Gettysburg Address as a eulogy for the September 11 dead reveal about public mourning in the polity that made it? Tracing the genealogy of the Address back to Pericles’ Funeral Oration, this essay argues that Thucydides provides two models of public mourning: one based on the Oration alone, the other on the rituals surrounding the Festival of Dionysia. Each generates a particular patriotic perspective: one unquestioning and partial, the other balanced and theoretical. Using Plato’s Menexenus to distinguish the models, the essay employs them as a lens to view two moments of American public mourning linked by the Gettysburg Address. Suggesting that 1863 saw a Dionysian approach; and 2002, one based on the Oration alone, it traces the beneficial impact of the 1863 choice for American politics, and considers the possible consequences of the 2002 reading in light of American and Athenian historical experience.

Simon Stow (2007), “Pericles at Gettysburg and Ground Zero: Tragedy, Patriotism, and Public Mourning,” American Political Science Review 101:195-208. Available (sub required) here.