‘Control over Taliban prisoners held in Bagram would provide Karzai with the power to give or withhold access to insurgent figures who might be pivotal to the negotiation process, allowing Karzai to play spoiler if he so wishes. And, if Karzai controlled Bagram, the Taliban would have an incentive to reach out more directly and publicly to the Afghan government, a step the Taliban has so far publicly shunned.’
I’ve heard that Karzai hasn’t always been a strong leader…
A few thoughts on the relation of philosophy, philosophy of science, and physics:
“Certainly Einstein spent a lot of time doing conceptual clarification in his own mind, leading him to general relativity and special relativity, and that played a crucial role. You can call that philosophy or you can call it deep thinking about physics. Quantum mechanics was born mostly without that kind of conceptual clarification, so it shows that you can get instrumental physics without clarifying the concepts – it can go both ways.”
“Sokal is very positive about philosophy’s potential to help physics with its conceptual clarification in principle, but in practice, there is a long pause when I ask him if he can give any examples of when this has actually happened.”
And of postmodern literary theory:
“I should make clear that I don’t think my parody article settles anything,” says Sokal. “It doesn’t by itself prove much – that one journal was sloppy. So it wasn’t the parody itself that proved it, it was the things that I and other people wrote afterward which I believe showed the sloppiness of the philosophy that a lot of postmodernist literary theory types were writing.”
So what’s going on with postmodernism…where can you trace its roots? Also, Sokal has use the following quote in his lectures:
“A German can look at and understand Nature only according to his racial character.”
“This of course is a quotation from Ernst Krieck, a notorious Nazi ideologue, who was rector of the University of Heidelberg in 1937-38. I was flabbergasted – well maybe not flabbergasted – when I came across it. This doesn’t show that postmodernists are Nazis or anything. What it shows is a kind of uncanny overlap of ideas between, on the one hand, left-wing postmodernists, and the other hand, extreme right wing nationalists, whether they’re German or Hindu nationalists.”
“Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards extreme relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism. The first was a “brutal” nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Marxist regimes. In On Tyranny, he wrote that these ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace them by force under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered. The second type – the “gentle” nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies – was a kind of value-free aimlessness and a hedonistic”permissive egalitarianism”, which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society.”
Perhaps, but didn’t De Tocqueville see the same thing?
Mead is still arguing that the old blue social model is unsustainable (I suppose the red would be too, to some extent, on this view). The government can’t prop up what has been lost with unsustainable spending and a vastly increased Federal project. Mead thinks we need a new liberalism now that the old has diffused itself upon the loss of manufacturing, private sector jobs, globalization etc. He finishes with:
‘We’ve wasted too many years arguing over how to retrieve the irretrievable; can we please now get on with the actual business of this great, liberal, unapologetically forward-looking nation.’
At the same time, perhaps more liberal attitudes are becoming more prevalent in American society, or at least perhaps there is a waning of religious conservatism and religion in the public square.
Epstein strives to clear the air from Jeffrey Sachs mischaracterizations of libertarianism, as the libertarian/liberal debate continues (libertarians may be enjoying a high watermark during such a liberal administration as they push back against modern liberalism on the shared turf of liberty):
‘Since Sachs does not offer a systematic account of what it is to be a libertarian, I shall try here to fill that gap in order to explain why his views are so deeply flawed.’
and to do so he makes a distinction:
‘I refer here to the continuous tension between the hard-line anarcho-capitalists and the adherents to classical liberalism. In the former camp is my friend and sparring partner Walter Block, perhaps the closest living successor to Murray Rothbard, who took the monochromatic position that the sole duties that individuals have to each other are to refrain from the use or threat of force and to honor their promises. The hard-line libertarian treats these duties as the entire sum of the obligations that one person owes to another.’
Modern American liberalism seems to have so desperately lost sight of old-school liberalism as it wanders down the garden path (following the logic of relativism, often pursuing diversity as the highest good…which is to say the threats that excessive individualism and excessive egalitarianism pose to individual liberty and our institutions):
‘But the classical liberal makes two conscious adaptations from hard-line libertarian thought that render it largely immune to the criticisms that Sachs and others lodge against it. The first deals with moral obligations. The second deals with issues of monopoly, taxation, eminent domain, and regulation.’
Modern liberalism does not have a monopoly on moral concern for others nor compassion (as much as some moral psychologists who dip into politics would like it to be so):
‘Nothing whatsoever in anarcho-libertarian theory makes it illegal for persons to show compassion or render assistance to those who are in need. The only sense in which they take a back seat (to the control of force and fraud) is that these imperfect obligations rely on a more diffuse set of sanctions to keep them in place.’
And as to monopoly, taxation, eminent domain and regulation, you’ll have to click through, as it’s likely worth your time. Epstein finishes with:
‘These two great systems of thought should be acquitted of all the charges that Jeffrey Sachs makes against them. We have here one of those sad situations in which Sachs’s weak and misconceived attack says more about the intellectual poverty of the author than of the systems that he hopes to undermine with a few deft strokes.’
‘The state appears in Pinker’s history only when it confines itself to the limited role that he believes is proper, and enlightenment figures as the rebellion of intelligent individuals against the state’s attempt to exceed its assigned role.’
Well, many Enlightenment figures went about creating the intellectual foundations of the modern State, yet most have vastly different ideas about what its size and scope ought to be, and just how we come to know what we know, and the limits of knowledge.
‘Following a long tradition that he associates with Thomas Hobbes, Pinker emphasizes the durable coercive state as the fount of social order. ‘
And if it’s the fount of social order on Pinker’s view, Snyder is arguing that it follows that the State has more dominion over the individual than Pinker might be willing to accept:
‘But the creation of states necessitates a second level of analysis in the book, one that Pinker does not really sustain. If the subject is violence, and states are in the picture, then the analysis requires a theory of interstate violence — war, in other words — as well as a sociological analysis of the development of pacific individuals within each state. After all, some of the very traits that maintain social order, such as the habit of obedience to authority, also make total wars and policies of mass killing possible. Instead of facing this problem squarely, Pinker conflates homicide and war. But as Pinker knows, states with low homicide rates have initiated horribly aggressive wars.’
Well, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany do stand out, as Snyder mentions. But Hobbes is a far cry from Hegel, Marx, and the journey of the German State to eventually arrive at the National Socialists’ rise to power, and Communism as it travelled from revolution to Stalin to the Eastern Bloc.
He goes on:
‘Pinker shows his libertarian hand when he casually claims that “economic illiteracy” causes redistributive policies and thus “class conflict.” Many have made this claim, of course, but as he notes without seeming to realize he is disproving his own hypothesis, today’s redistributive European welfare states are the most peaceful in world history.’
I suppose we’ll see about European welfare states being the most peaceful in world history. This is pretty much why I’m skeptical of Pinker and Snyder’s arguments.
‘Pinker’s natural experiment with history generates instead a selective rereading, in which his own commitments become the guiding moral light for past and future. But of course libertarianism, like all other ideologies, involves a normative account of resource distribution: those who have should keep. There is nothing scientific about this, although again, like all other ideologies, libertarianism presents itself simply as a matter of natural reason, or, in Pinker’s case, “intelligence.”
Snyder seems a little eager to attack the libertarian view, here, and I don’t know if I’d call Pinker a libertarian so much as a person erring toward liberty and something of a contrarian amongst moral psychologists/neuroscientists (though he does tend to focus on the freedom from violence, as many libertarians do). This must take some courage in some of the circles he moves around in at Harvard.
Pinker borrows heavily from Thomas Hobbes (how bad are people really, and is man’s state in nature itself, as Hobbes argued, requiring of the Leviathan?), which generally leads toward authoritarianism and a larger State, and yes, Pinker needs to make better and deeper arguments. But, does this necessarily invalidate libertarianism?.
Open markets (creative destruction, privatized gains and losses, lower barriers to entry into the marketplace) provide more individuals the opportunity to work, gain marketable skills, compete on merit and live much of their lives merely relying on the State only for securing them in their lives, liberty and property (a Lockean formulation, I know). It also requires people to participate, some basic moral behavior on their part and requires them to participate as citizens, voters, some as watchdogs etc. This also requires a legal framework. It’s open for debate how those laws are drafted and made, and how well made they are and by whom, and what powers over people’s lives they have.
Snyder finishes with:
“Pinker is to be praised for asking a crucial question — perhaps the crucial question — of modern history. But as he moves between the premodern world of violence and a postmodern style of discourse, he loses sight of the modern world in which we actually live. What he provides is less an answer to his question than a mode of reasoning that has little to do with the scientific study of the past and much to do with a worldview that happens to be his own.”
Agreed, Pinker doesn’t really get there, and what he does isn’t necessarily science, but science may not be the only measure of useful governance, nor perhaps, truth. Libertarians often assume there is a ground floor of individual responsibility, duties and freedom upon which civil society is built, and thus liberty conserved (libertarianism often has trouble with the moral arguments of many religious conservatives and the authority of the Church (not all do though)).
Libertarians also generally have trouble with the arguments put forth against the injustices of slavery which happens to be one of the core moral elements to big-state progressivism and the fact that some people’s freedom was abridged by that civil society through its laws. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily follow that what’s become of modern American liberalism and Statism is the necessary alternative (let alone the desire to be like old Europe with her problems).
‘There is general agreement in the United States on two points. First, an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is “unacceptable”, as both the Bush and Obama Administrations have put it; and second, we prefer getting to an acceptable outcome without using force.’
‘In any case, if the United States decides to attack Iran it should certainly look before it leaps and prepare itself for a hard landing. Above all, U.S. leaders should not underestimate the scope or misread the broad nature of war and should therefore organize the U.S. government in advance to prosecute it coherently.’
Perhaps they will collapse of their own weight before they get the bomb? Perhaps not. There’s more talk about conflict lately.
‘It is not that the average person is not concerned about the environment. Everyone weighs the balance of economic gain against a respect for nature. It is only the truly affluent, however, who can be concerned about the environment to the exclusion of everything else.‘
On this analysis, It’s the people who’ve benefitted most from industrial activity that are using their wealth and leisure to promote an ideology that is ultimately harmful to industrial activity, and the people who live by it. Tucker has been following how such ideas actually translate into public policy and political organization for a while. Tucker also invokes Thorstein Veblen, and highlights how environmentalism can make for strange political bedfellows:
‘But the Keystone Pipeline has brought all this into focus. As Joel Kotkin writes in Forbes, Keystone is the dividing line of the “two Americas,” the knowledge-based elites of the East and West Coasts in their media, non-profit and academic homelands (where Obama learned his environmentalism) and the blue-collar workers of the Great In- Between laboring in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, power production and the exigencies of material life.’
Aside from the political and sociological analysis, I would offer that there are many to whom environmentalism serves as a kind of religion. On this view, man has fallen away from Nature, and built civilized society atop it through harmful, unsustainable means. He must atone, and get back in harmony with Nature, as he has alienated himself from his once graceful state (tribal? romantically primitive? collectively just? equal and fair? healthy? “spiritually aware?” morally good?). This obviously gives meaning to people’s lives, a purpose, belonging and group identity as well as a political and secularly moral political platform. These folks are almost always anti-industrial (Tucker seems to be a pro-nuclear environmentalist), and it’s worthy of note how environmentalism has grown in our schools, marketplace, and in the public mind.
It’s often tough to tell where the sciences end (and they are often invoked to declare knowledge that is certain, or near-certain, and worthy of action) and where a certain political philosophy (usually more communal, politically Left, Statist…regulatory, centrally planned economically) begins.
‘While the probability of an imminent attack on Iran is likely low, one might view all of these signals as a prelude to a precision airstrike on Iran’s nuclear weapons program over the next several months.’