Friday, January 30, 2015

Condorcet’s “inner resolve”

“High priority for the regime was Condorcet’s liquidation. Sentenced to death as an outlaw on 2 October 1793, he asked his wife to divorce him to protect her and save his assets for their daughter. Despite repeated searchers, he eluded his foes and during many months successfully hid with Cabanis’s help, alternately at Mme. Helvétius’s residence and Garat’s. Later he transferred to another hiding place in Paris’s southern fringe, remaining concealed until March 1794. Fending off their depression, Sophie—who according to Hébert had had an affair with Ducos—labored at translating Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Condorcet at his Tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain. As the Terror engulfed them in his last months, he refused to give up the courageous optimism infusing his early efforts throughout the revolutionary years. If anyone persevered indomitably under Robespierre’s menace, it was Condorcet.
‘Shall we believe the opinion interpreting equality not as equal access to enlightenment, or equal development of moral sentiments purified and perfected by reason, but instead as equality of ignorance, corruption, and ferocity, can permanently degrade a nation? Shall we believe these men [Marat and Robespierre] fostering this stupid opinion, whose ambitious and jealous mediocrity renders enlightenment odious and virtue suspect, can maintain a durable illusion? No, they can make humanity weep over the loss of some rare and precious men that are entirely worthy of her, they can make their country sigh over the irreparable injustices they wreak, but they will not prevent the Enlightenment’s advance, even if it is checked temporarily; it will resume and accelerate. Certainly it is possible to deceive peoples and mislead them—but not permanently brutalize and corrupt them.’ 
Such a valiant profession of faith required great inner resolve at a time when elimination of the intellectual bloc who forged the Revolution was unrelenting, and paralleled by stringent measures emasculating all political debate, the city sections, clubs, and departmental administrations.—Jonathan Israel, from his chapter on “The Terror” in Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre (2014): 534-535.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jacob Lawrence & the Book of Genesis

Some readers of Ratio Juris might enjoy this post by yours truly over at Religious Left Law: Jacob Lawrence: Eight Studies for the Book of Genesis (1989).

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Proper Dining Etiquette

I’m reading Kimberley Brownlee’s Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience (Oxford University Press, 2012) by way of taking a brief break from Jonathan Israel (!) and so as to say some halfway intelligent or at least provocative things in a forthcoming blog post about civil disobedience. I think the book is quite good (‘thank God’ for ceteris paribus clauses and universal pro tanto moral judgments). Here’s a taste: In her analysis of “sincere moral conviction” by way of the “communicative principle of conscientiousness,” Brownlee discovers four conditions for this principle, in short: consistency, universality, non-evasion, and dialogic. In a discussion of the “non-evasion” condition, she states that

“It requires that we bear the risk of honouring our convictions, which means that we do not seek to evade the consequences and, in some cases, take positive action to support our convictions. It is through our consistent non-evasion of the costs that we signal we are neither inconstant nor hypocritical. This condition is, of course, broadly context sensitive. It is often important to stand up for our beliefs in a public forum. But, for reasons of respect or sympathy [or, as we used to say, good manners!], it’s not usually important to stand up for our beliefs when we’re invited over to someone’s house for dinner.”  

 
Images: Wallace Shawn and André Previn in My Dinner with Andre (1981) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), with Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton, Beah Richards, and Roy E. Glenn.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Human Capacity for Repentance and Redemption

In support of assumptions regarding the “alterability (and redeemability) of people” in her philosophically important Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience (2012), Kimberley Brownlee quotes a passage from Avishai Margalit (The Decent Society, 1996) in a footnote: ‘Even if there are noticeable differences among people to change, they are deserving of respect for the very possibility of changing. Even the worst criminals are worthy of basic human respect for the very possibility that they may radically evaluate their past lives and, if they are given the opportunity, may live the rest of their lives in a worthy manner….’ There is always a chance, writes Margalit, ‘no matter how small, that she will repent.’

I agree with Margalit—and Brownlee—on this score, and further believe that this possibility is an assumption or presupposition (perhaps ‘buried’ in the form of an unrecognized or under-appreciated premise) of some human rights norms and intrinsic to or an implication that follows from, some conceptions of human dignity, as a moral principle enshrined in various municipal and international legal instruments (e.g., human rights documents or constitutions). It may also be an assumption or premise of some fundamental propositions in criminal law. In any case, and however formally recognized in principle and occasionally evidenced in practice, I suspect most people do not actually subscribe to this belief. In other words, their thoughts on human nature, such as they are, lead them to deny the possibility, in principle, of repentance or redemption (for Christians, ‘conversion’ may be a condition for same) for those otherwise labeled “evil,” morally repugnant, chronically or heinously criminal, and so forth. I suspect this is one and perhaps the most significant reason that few people outside of some moral philosophers, cranks (in a non-pejorative sense), and legal practitioners, especially defense attorneys (in particular ‘cause lawyers’) express little (let alone an abiding) concern for clear violations of due process (a pillar of many domestic legal systems), which includes but need not be limited to, habeas corpus (and more widely if not deeply, procedural justice), be it, for example, in criminal procedures and proceedings involving terrorist suspects, or criminal suspects of a certain “race” or class accused of horrific crimes. A basic criminal law proposition, the presumption of innocence, already poorly understood and often ignored, has taken an Orwellian turn in the national security state’s war on terror: guilty until proven innocent. And to make matters worse, there are no standards or clear means whereby one might even do that (i.e., prove one’s innocence)!

Suggested Reading:
  • Bravin, Jess. The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay (Yale University Press, 2013). 
  • Cole, David. No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System (The New Press, 1999).  
  • Cole, David and James X. Dempsey. Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties in the Name of National Security (The New Press, 3rd ed., 2006). 
  • de Londras, Fiona. Detention in the ‘War on Terror’Can Human Rights Fight Back? (Cambridge University Press, 2011). 
  • Denbeaux, Mark P. and Jonathan Hafetz, eds. The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law (New York University Press, 2009).
  • Freedman, Eric M. Habeas Corpus: Rethinking the Great Writ of Liberty (New York University Press, 2001). 
  • Hafetz, Jonathan. Habeas Corpus after 9/11: Confronting America’s New Global Detention System (New York University Press, 2011).
  •  May, Larry. Global Justice and Due Process (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Smith, Abbe and Monroe H. Freedman, eds. How Can You Represent Those People? (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). 
  • Wagstaff, Robert H. Terror Detentions and the Rule of Law: US and UK Perspectives (Oxford University Press, 2014). 
Images: Two panels (sans captions), nos. 14 and 22 respectively, from Jacob Lawrence’s series, The Migration of the Negro (1940-41).

Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: A Nonstandard Celebration


I think Dr. King would have understood if now and again, we celebrate his achievements, aims, and aspirationsincluding recognition of those who preceded him with the same ends, as well as those who worked alongside him or otherwise actively supported the civil rights movement or Kings wider moral values and political goals (e.g., an end to the Vietnam war, the fight against poverty, support of unions, and so forth)in a nonstandard way which is nonetheless in harmony with his legacy. At least one reason to do this is to avoid a mindless ritualistic invocation of his words or actions so as not to merely whitewash, absurdly reduce, or crudely canonize the life and work of the man. We might also do this in the spirit of Kings ability to challenge us: our ideologies and worldviews, our passions and prejudices, our self-deceptions and states of denial, much of which is deeply rooted in our individual and collective fears and insecurities.

So...with that in mind, I proffer the following for your consideration, in the hope that you, in turn, will likewise choose a unique way in which to celebrate this federal holiday: please see here.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

From the Radical Enlightenment to the French Revolution’s “genuine republicans and democrats”


“If no political party in the modern sense, the Brissotins [also known as the ‘Girondists’] represented more than a mere faction pursuing power or personal goals. Montagnard rhetoric has often led modern historians to suppose they really adhered to a modérantisme or fédéralisme. They have been sometimes styled ‘the Revolution’s right wing,’ the ‘party of businessmen and merchants.’ But if more tolerant of different views than their Montagnard opponents, and defenders of economic and personal freedom, they were not liberals or moderates. Rather, they were the first to envisage tackling economic inequality and attempting to create a fairer society by constitutional, legal, and nonviolent means, especially tax and inheritance laws combined with financial assistance for society’s weakest. The Revolution’s first republicans, they were also far more genuine republicans and democrats than the Montagne, and the real framers of both versions of the Declaration of Rights of 1789 and 1793. They were, in fact, the founders of the modern human rights tradition, black emancipation, women’s rights, and modern representative democracy, though some Montagards, it must be remembered, like Desmoulins, Romme, and Cloots, were sincere democratic republicans too. Prime defenders of the Revolution’s core values, Brissotins and Dantonists formed the essential link connecting the Revolution to the Enlightenment in its radical, secular, democratic form and thus the first organized champions of democratic, rights-based, secular modernity.”—Jonathan Israel, Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History from The Rights of Man to Robespierre (Princeton University Press, 2014): 478 

Image: Statue of the Marquis de Condorcet, created by Jacques Perrin in 1894, destroyed in 1941, erected again in 1991.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

To explain, or the attempt to explain, is not the same as proffering a justification, rationalization, or an excuse

I thought it should go without saying, but the attempt at explanation of why someone behaves a certain way (at the individual level, what motivates action) is not equivalent in any way to a defense of the proposed reasons that motivate an actor and that are part of said explanation, nor does it amount to any sort of apology (or ‘excuse’) for the behavior under examination. Rather, it helps those on the outside looking in, as it were, to make sense—insofar as we can make sense—of such behavior (along the lines of ‘nothing human is foreign to me’). So, for example, when a FB friend linked to a speech by Egypt’s president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi calling for a “revolution” within Islam, I wrote the following: He’s a tyrant, in large measure responsible for crushing the Revolution (such as it was) in Egypt, evidencing no respect for legal due procedure or basic human rights. His indiscriminate crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood or other—more avowedly—radical Islamists (in addition to members of the Left) only serves to plant the seeds for radicalization of young Muslims, alienating them from their own society. He’s speaking more for the benefit of a “Western” audience (especially the elite decision makers at the helm of its most powerful countries) so as to blunt criticisms of his regime (in particular, its growing catalogue of egregious human rights violations). I am not thereby endorsing the political program of the Muslim Brotherhood (in fact, there is no one such program insofar as there are well-known conflicting positions and tendencies within the group),  nor attempting to excuse the behavior of radical Islamists or self-identifying “jihadists” that Sisi is ruthlessly crushing in Egypt. I am interested in what makes these radical Islamists “tick” (no pun intended), what makes the actions they decide in favor of, in their minds, palatable or otherwise indispensable to achieving their aims (some of which may be irrational or repugnant) or living out their commitment to (their understanding of) an Islamic worldview. I am also interested in why discrimination against and the ruthless suppression of such groups only tends to backfire, in other words, prepares the political and social psychological soil propitious for sowing the seeds of further radicalization among a new generation of Muslims. 
It’s not so much a “revolution” in Islam that is needed (after all, the vast majority of Muslims around the world are perfectly reasonable and peaceful*), but an understanding of the social-psychological and political conditions that make radical Islamist ideology or “jihadist” Islamist ideology an attractive or compelling “option” for some Muslims. For an exemplary illustration of this, see Scott Atran’s book (as well as several of his articles), Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values, and What It Means to Be Human (Allen Lane, 2010). As for the political variables that help account for abandoning the reliance on violent if not terrorist methods among these radical Islamists, see Omar Ashour’s The De-Radicalization of Jihadists: Transforming Armed Islamist Movements (Routledge, 2009). Nothing said here amounts to a defense of or an apology for how these radical Islamists behave (they still need to be held legally and morally accountable for their actions), but is rather part of an endeavor to understand why they in fact find the choice of indiscriminate or terrorist violence a viable option (i.e., why does it appear ‘rational,’ in an instrumental sense, for them). Another work that exemplifies this “sense-making” endeavor is the aptly titled volume edited by Diego Gambetta, Making Sense of Suicide Missions (Oxford University Press, 2006). Jon Elster reminds us, “It is usually easier to change people’s circumstances and opportunities than to change their minds.” In the first instance, this is no doubt true, and I would only add, for our purposes, that a change in circumstances and opportunities may indeed serve as a necessary condition for the sort of change in mind (with regard to interests, passions, beliefs, values) that prompts a favorable change in behavior. 
Another FB friend who happens to model the virtues of “cause lawyering,” expressed frustration if not incomprehension in a comment thread on the recent terrorist events in France when someone attempted to articulate (more or less) the conceptual and practical difference between social scientific explanation and moral-political and legal defense or justification (what was defensively termed ‘excuses’ by those who disagreed with him). So, for instance, if one knows something about the life of recent Muslim immigrants in France (or other European countries for that matter), about the history of colonialism and post-colonialism, and so forth and so on, facts and events that might serve as background variables (part of the set of real, felt or imagined constraints, i.e., the ‘opportunity set’) central to any such endeavor, one is heading down a slippery slope of rationalization or excuse-mongering. If one further attempts to combine an appreciation of this opportunity set with a peak (so to speak) into the mind of a person who is willing to or actually does commit terrorist acts, this is not tantamount to an endorsement of the putative or proposed individual motivational (hence causal) reasons (for the actor: desires and beliefs as interests, passions, commitments, etc.) that make for the proposed explanation and thus enhanced understanding (bearing in mind that a causal explanation of mechanisms has a finite number of links). Our lawyer appears to understand such causal explanations on the order of “necessitation,” in other words, in our endeavor to explain the causal mechanisms of behavior we are at the same time saying the actor in question had no choice in the matter, he or she was forced or compelled by circumstances or situation to act as described in our hypothetical or suggested explanation, and so we are, in effect, offering an apologia, an excuse, a (moral or political or legal) rationalization for the behavior in question. But that is a blatant non sequitur.
The endeavor to explain and understand in such cases is not unlike what Erich Fromm tried to do in his pioneering study of the Weimar working class, a project in which he and his colleagues tried to explain (in particular, as a species of a ‘social psychological’ explanation) why an ostensible identification with “the Left” was swiftly abandoned in favor of an ascendant populist fascist ideology. This, in turn, is related to the larger political concerns and psychoanalytic praxis of Freudian psychoanalysts in post-World War I Europe as told in Elizabeth Ann Danto’s important book, Freud’s Free Clinics: Psychoanalysis and Social Justice, 1918-1938 (Columbia University Press, 2005). The Viennese psychoanalysts of the 1920s and early 1930s justifiably believed that “psychoanalysis had an implicit political mission.” In sum, an understanding of history, situations, circumstances, and psychology is essential to the long-term struggle to undercut the causal variables that create the social psychological conditions necessary for the cultivation of fanaticism and extremist ideologies, ideologies like those of jihadist Islamists who believe they possess sufficient justification for their resort to indiscriminate violence.
 * I take this piece on Muslims in Germany to be fairly representative of Muslims in Europe and North America: “Despite rising racism, European Muslims embrace democratic values.” As for Muslims around the rest of the world, they may not all be “democrats,” but the vast majority of them clearly do not subscribe to the sorts of radical Islamist ideologies that legitimate indiscriminate or terrorist violence.

     Further Reading:
    • Elster, Jon. Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989. 
    • Elster, Jon. Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

      Saturday, January 10, 2015

      Social Security & The Welfare State: Essential Reading

      Here is a comparatively short compilation (hence ‘essential reading’) on “Social Security and the Welfare State.”

      Friday, January 09, 2015

      From the archives: Simone de Beauvoir in Harlem

      On the occasion of her birthday, I have re-posted (albeit altered, with a little additional material) my piece from this blog several years ago on Beauvoirs visit to Harlem (as recorded in her diary) over at Religious Left Law: Simone de Beauvoir in Harlem, 1947.

      Simone de Beauvoir in Harlem, 1947

      Sunday, January 04, 2015

      Toward Red-Green Socialism: A Basic Reading Guide


      “The problem with capital accumulation, then, is not only that it is unbalanced and crisis-ridden, but also that its underlying form of growth [emphasis added] as marked by runaway productivity that neither is controlled by the producers nor functions directly to their benefit. This particular sort of growth is intrinsic to a society based on value; it cannot be explained in terms of misdirected views and false priorities alone. Although the productivist critiques of capitalism have focused only on the possible barriers to economic growth inherent in capital accumulation, it is clear that Marx criticized both the accelerating boundlessness of ‘growth’ under capitalism as well as its crisis-ridden character. Indeed, he demonstrates that these two characteristics should be analyzed as intrinsically related.”—Moishe Postone 

      “…[A]ny attempt to respond fundamentally, within the framework of capitalist society, to growing environmental destruction by restraining this society’s mode of expansion would probably be ineffective  on a long-term basis—not only because of the interests of capitalists or state managers, but because failure to expand surplus value would indeed result in severe economic difficulties with great social costs. In Marx’s analysis, the necessary accumulation of capital and the creation of capitalist society’s wealth are intrinsically related. Moreover, …because labor is determined as a necessary means of individual reproduction in capitalist society, wage laborers remain dependent on capital’s ‘growth,’ even when the consequences of their labor, ecological and otherwise, are detrimental to themselves and others. The tension between the exigencies of the commodity form and ecological requirements becomes more severe as productivity increases and, particularly during economic crises and periods of high unemployment, poses a sever dilemma. The dilemma and the tension in which it is rooted are immanent to capitalism; their ultimate resolution will be hindered so long as value remains the determining form of social wealth. [….] The particular relation between increases in productivity and the expansion of surplus value shapes the underlying trajectory of growth in capitalism. This trajectory cannot be explained adequately in terms of the market and private property, which suggests that, even in their absence, economic growth would necessarily assume the form marked by increases in productivity much greater than the increases in social wealth they effect—as long as social wealth ultimately remains a function of labor time expenditure. Planning in such a situation, however successful or unsuccessful, would signify a conscious response to the compulsions exerted by the alienated form of social relations expressed by value and capital; it would not, however, overcome them.”—Moishe Postone

      “For me Marxism is a quarry.”—Rudolph Bahro

      “There has to be a change in our whole system of production, for technology in the present-day world carries the capitalist mode of production within itself.”—Rudolph Bahro

      “More important than the quality or quantity of consumer goods, in my view, is the need for a new consumption pattern geared to the qualitative development of the individual, so that the length of young people’s education, for example, becomes a higher priority than the addition of one more piece of clothing to my wardrobe. [….] [W]e have not yet succeeded in breaking through the horizon of capitalist civilization to reach the vision of a world-wide alternative. It is true that the peoples of the world are at different levels of development, but one has to make use of the concrete possibilities where the civilization is not so overdetermined. [….] The point of the concept of cultural revolution is that man has to rise above the level of capitalist reproduction process for the satisfaction of life’s necessities. We cannot wait until we are sated with material goods. A level of basic needs has to be defined, and a standard of living may be achieved in underdeveloped countries that may be more rational than our own.”—Rudolph Bahro


      • Bahro, Rudolf. From Red to Green. London: Verso Books, 1984. 
      • Benton, Ted. Natural Relations: Ecology, Animal Rights and Social Justice. London: Verso, 1993. 
      • Benton, Ted, ed. The Greening of Marxism. New York: The Guilford Press, 1996. 
      • Burkett, Paul. Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. 
      • Carter, Alan. A Radical Green Political Theory. London: Routledge, 1999. [More anarchist than Marxist in orientation]  
      • Foster, John Bellamy. Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000. 
      • Foster, John Bellamy. Ecology against Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002. 
      • Foster, John Bellamy. The Ecological Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009. 
      • Foster, John Bellamy, Brett Clark, and Richard York. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010. 
      • Gorz, André. Ecology as Politics. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1980. 
      • Gorz, André (Chris Turner, tr.) Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology. London: Verso, 1994. 
      • O’Connor, James. Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism. New York: Guilford, 1998. 
      • Pepper, David. Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice. London: Routledge, 1993. 
      • Postone, Moishe. Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993. [See in particular, ch.9, ‘The Trajectory of Production,’ 307-384.]
      • Ryle, Martin. Ecology and Socialism. London: Radius, 1988. 

      Friday, January 02, 2015

      Sullied (Natural & Social) Sciences: A Basic Reading Guide

      From the introduction: This compilation endeavors to help us appreciate where, when, how, and (especially if only hopefully) why the practice of science has gone (or is in danger of going) awry, egregiously failing to modestly conform to or at least sufficiently approach our ideal or best conceptions or models of what constitutes science as a form of intellectual inquiry and field of knowledge praxis. Not unrelated to this aim, is the desire to provide titles that enable one to better understand the pitfalls of “scientism,” as well as arrive at a nuanced if not sophisticated grasp of the methodological distinctions between the natural and social sciences (without assuming the former are ‘hard’ and the latter are ‘soft,’ in effect, failing to properly emulate the most putative exemplar of the former, namely, physics). I share the late John Ziman’s belief that “In less than a generation we have witnessed a radical, irreversible, worldwide transformation in the way that science is organized, managed and performed.”

      The bibliography on “sullied (natural and social) sciences” is here.

      Sunday, December 28, 2014

      Jon Elster on the emotions



      Yet more vintage Elster:

      “…[W]ith respect to an important subset of the emotions we can learn more from moralists, novelists, and playwrights than from the cumulative findings of scientific psychology. These emotions include regret, relief, hope, disappointment, shame, guilt, pridefulness, pride,* hybris, envy, jealousy, malice, pity, indignation, wrath, hatred, contempt, joy, grief, and romantic love. By contrast, the scientific study of the emotions can teach us a great deal about anger, fear, disgust, parental love, and sexual desire (if we count the last two as emotions). [….]

      I believe…that prescientific insights into the emotion are not simply superseded by modern psychology in the way that natural philosophy has been superseded by physics. Some men and women in the past have been superb students of human nature, with more wide-ranging personal experience, better powers of observation, and deeper intuitions than almost any psychologist I can think of. This is only what we should expect: There is no reason why one century out of twenty-five should have a privilege in wisdom an understanding. In the case of physics, this argument does not apply.”—Jon Elster, Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 1999)

      * Elster defines “pride” as an emotion triggered by a belief about one’s own action and “pridefulness” as triggered by a belief about another’s character.