Sunday, November 16, 2014

From behavior to belief...or the possible virtues of novel political participation

Analogous to the Pascalian prescription for acting as if one believes and has faith (‘Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.’), and akin to Confucian insight (at least with regard to the tradition’s concept of li), a contemporary social science description speaks to a (proven?*) strategy for indirectly prompting political actors to eschew a reliance on violent methods to achieve their aims:

“[T]he sustained participation of political actors in new institutional settings can trigger a reflexive and unconscious process of socialization variously described in the literature as ‘role playing,’ ‘mimicking,’ ‘copying,’ and ‘emulating’ prescribed norms of behavior. When political actors enter a new institutional environment, they are under pressure to conform with its established rules of speech and conduct. And once they adapt to such expectations, they must justify this adaptation to themselves and others. As a result, ‘they may later adapt their preferences to these justifications, in this way reducing cognitive dissonance.’ Changes in the behavior of political actors iterated over time, may thus produce changes in their beliefs. As Zürn and Checkel have argued, ‘Acting in accordance with role expectations may lead to an internalization of these expectations,’ a situation in which, to borrow an elegant phrase from Suzanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘the mask becomes the face.’ As Islamist actors have assumed new roles and responsibilities, it can be theorized that they have developed new competencies and skills and adapted their behavior to the norms and institutions of which they are a part.” – Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement (Princeton University Press, 2013): 11-12. 

This in one reason why, for instance, it was absolute folly to deny Hamas a realistic chance to govern in Gaza after its (democratic) electoral success, and it is sheer madness to repress the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, particularly given its earlier historic avowal of violence and more recent willingness to abide by the democratic rules of the game (such as they were or are in Egypt). 

* See, for example, Omar Ashour, The De-Radicalization of Jihadists: Transforming Armed Islamist Movements (Routledge, 2009).

Sunday, November 09, 2014

On the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

 For my post on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, please see here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Human Rights: A Bibliography

The latest draft of my bibliography for human rights is here.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Democratic Theory bibliography

The latest draft of my bibliography on democratic theory is here.

Torture Bibliography

The latest draft of my bibliography on torture is here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Punishment & Prison: A Bibliography

The latest draft of my bibliography for punishment and prison is available here

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Philosophy of Law & Legal Theory: Select Bibliography

The latest draft of my select bibliography for philosophy of law and legal theory is available here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Frederic (Fred) R. Branfman, March 18, 1942 - September 24, 2014

Lest we forget these egregious war crimes from our recent history: “...[I]nvestigations by Branfman and others showed that 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos from 1965 to 1973 — about one ton for every Laotian man, woman and child — in a relentless campaign to blunt the operations of the North Vietnamese and the allied Pathet Lao.

The planes came like the birds, and bombs fell like the rain,’ Branfman, quoting one of the refugees, wrote in the New York Times in early 1971 after leaving Laos and joining the antiwar movement at home.” 

 Frederic (Fred) R. Branfman, March 18, 1942 - September 24, 2014

[my bibliography for the Vietnam War

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Black Panther Party, 1966-1982: Suggested Reading

According to the Zinn Education Project, today is the anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party. What follows is my list of suggested reading toward assessing the radical legacy of the Black Panthers.

Suggested Reading: 
  • Alkebulan, Paul. Survival Pending Revolution: The History of the Black Panther Party. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2007. 
  • Austin, Curtis J. Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party. Fayetteville, AK: University of Arkansas Press, 2006. 
  • Bloom, Joshua and Waldo E. Martin, Jr. Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2013. 
  • Brown, Elaine. A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992. 
  • Carmichael, Stokely. Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism. New York: Vintage Books, 1971. 
  • Carmichael, Stokely and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. New York: Random House, 1967. 
  • Churchill, Ward and Vander Wall, Jim. Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret War Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. Boston, MA: South End Press, 2002 (1988). 
  • Cleaver, Kathleen and George Katsiaficas, eds. Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party. New York: Routledge, 2001. 
  • Davenport, Christian. Media Bias, Perspective, and State Repression: The Black Panther Party. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 
  • Dawson, Michael C. Blacks In and Out of the Left. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. 
  • Foner, Philip S., ed. The Black Panthers Speak. New York: Da Capo Press, 1995 ed. 
  • Forman, James. The Making of Black Revolutionaries (Illustrated Edition). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1997. 
  • Hilliard, David, ed. The Black Panther Party: Service to the People Programs (The Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundations). Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2008. 
  • Jeffries, Judson L., ed. On the Ground: The Black Panther Party in Communities across America. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2010. 
  • Joseph, Peniel E. Stokely: A Life. New York: Basic Civitas, 2014. 
  • Kelley, Robin D.G. Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2002. 
  • Lazerow, Jama and Yohuru Williams, eds. In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006. 
  • Marable, Manning. Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945-1990. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1991. 
  • Murch, Donna Jean. Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. 
  • Nelson, Alondra. Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. 
  • Ogbar, Jeffrey O.G. Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. 
  • O’Reilly, Kenneth. “Racial Matters: The FBI’s Secret File on Black America, 1960-1972. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989. 
  • Rhodes, Jane. Framing the Black Panthers: The Spectacular Rise of a Black Power Icon. New York: The New Press, 2007. 
  • Shelby, Tommie. We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.
  • Tibbs, Donald F. From Black Power to Prison Power: The Making of Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners’ Union. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 
  • Williams, Yohuru. Black Politics/White Power: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Black Panthers in New Haven. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008 (Brandywine Press, 2000).
 Image found here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Constraints, Structures, History...and the Reality of Freedom

From Simone de Beauvoir, Philosophical Writings (Edited by Margaret A. Simons, with Marybeth Timmons and Mary Beth Mader). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2004. I thought I’d share a small snippet from one of the essays, “Moral Idealism and Political Realism” (1945): 

…[U]pon closer examination, the lines separating utopianism from realism are less distinct than they may have appeared at first. In fact, we can prove that squaring the circle and perpetual motion are impossible, but man is not what he is in the way a circle is, whose radii remain invariably equal. He is what he makes himself be, what he chooses to be. Whatever the given situation, it never necessarily implies one future or another since man’s reaction to his situation is free. How can he decide in advance that peace, war, revolution, justice, happiness, defeat, or victory are impossible? When Lenin was preparing in Switzerland for the coming of a new order, he could have been taken for a great dreamer; and if no one had been so bold as to want the Russian Revolution, if Lenin and all the revolutionaries had thought of themselves as insane, they would indeed have been so, for the revolution would not have happened.

That is why, when reform is suggested, the first reaction of the political conservative is always to declare it impossible, because he knows that by declaring it impossible, he contributes to making it so. It was, no doubt, not enough, as French pacifists imagined it was, simply to declare ‘There will be no war’ for it not to happen. However, it is also true that the impulse through which we accept the advent of a certain future contributes to its formation. We therefore do not accept the collaborators’ excuse of having been victims of a simple intellectual error. They argue that they believed Germany’s defeat to be impossible. This means that they consented to her victory. In reality, they opted for the German supremacy that they claimed merely to have recognized. Furthermore, the word ‘recognition’ is itself ambiguous, because when we recognize a government, we make it exist as such. Gaining an awareness is never a purely contemplative process; it is engagement, support or rejection. In 1940 some Frenchmen accepted collaboration with Germany in the name of realism. But they are striking proof of the weakness of an attitude that mutilates and distorts the very reality on which it claims to base itself, since it refuses to make the fact of human freedom an integral part of this reality. If all nations had resigned themselves to accept Hitler’s triumph, Hitler would have indeed triumphed; but they could refuse and they did. It is this refusal that the collaborator was unable [or refused] to see. Anxious to give up his own freedom, he wished to be carried along on the great current of history, forgetting that history is made by men. To be sure, the occupation of France by Germany was a reality. But it was equally real that the French remained free to give the event the meaning they chose. If everyone had collaborated, Germany would have become an ally. If they resisted, she would remain an adversary. [….] The first mistake of the political realist is to underestimate the existence and weight of his own reality. This reality is not given. It is what he decides to be. The lucid political man who truly has a hold of things is also conscious of the power of freedom in him and in others.

Image: A group of French resistants at the time of their joining forces with the Canadian army at Boulogne in September 1944. Accessed at the Wikipedia entry on the French Resistance.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Toward a Theory of Human Motivations

What follows is a selection from La Rochefoucauld (Tr. Leonard Tancock). Maxims. London: Penguin Books, 1959 (1678):

“One of the reasons why so few people are to be found who seem sensible and pleasant in conversation is that almost everybody is thinking about what he wants to say himself rather than about answering clearly what is being said to him. The more clever and polite think it enough simply to put on an attentive expression, while all the time you can see in their eyes and train of thought that they are far removed from what you are saying and anxious to get back to  what they want to say. They ought, on the contrary, to reflect that such keenness to please oneself is a bad way of pleasing and persuading others, and that to listen well and answer to the point is one of the most perfect qualities one can have in conversation.”

“Our self-esteem is more inclined to resent criticism of our tastes than of our opinions.

“We all have strength enough to endure the troubles of others.”

“We often pride ourselves on even the most criminal passions, but envy is a timid and shamefaced passion we never dare acknowledge.”

“Greater virtues are needed to bear good fortune than bad.”

“Neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily.”

“Our promises are made in proportion to our hopes, but kept in proportion to our fears.”

“What makes us so unstable in our friendships is that it is difficult to get to know qualities of soul but easy to see those of mind.”

“Everybody complains of his memory, but nobody of his judgment.”

“To be known well, things must be known in detail, but as detail is almost infinite, our knowledge is always superficial and imperfect.” [This is virtually identical to a key proposition found in Jain epistemology and provides one part of the justification of a relativistic and pluralist theory of knowledge.] 

“Nothing is less sincere than the way people ask and give advice. The asker appears to have deferential respect for his friend’s sentiments, although his sole object is to get his own approved and transfer responsibility for his conduct; whereas the giver repays with tireless and disinterested energy the confidence that has been placed in him, although most often the advice he gives is calculated to further his own interests or reputation alone.”

“We are so used to disguising ourselves from others that we end by disguising ourselves from ourselves.”

“The glory of great men must always be measured by the means they used to acquire it.”

“The virtues lose themselves in self-interest like rivers in the sea.”

“Spiritual health is no more stable than bodily; and though we may seem unaffected by the passions we are just as liable to be carried away by them as to fall ill when in good health.”

“Virtue would not go so far without vanity to bear it company.”

“Nothing is so contagious as example, and our every really good or bad action implies a similar one. We imitate good deeds through emulation and evil ones because of the evil of our nature which, having been held in check by shame, is now set free by example.

“Not many know how to be old.”

“We should often blush at our noblest deeds if the world were to see all their underlying motives.”

“It is far easier to stifle a first desire than to satisfy all the ensuing ones.”

“In order to succeed in the world people do their utmost to appear successful.”

“Alone among the moralists, La Rochefoucauld offered something like a theory of human motivations. In fact, his views about unconscious motivation and unconscious cognition are probably more valuable than anything found in twentieth-century psychology. To some extent it is true, as Jean Lafond says, that ‘a certain verbal exuberance together with the exaggeration required for an original assertion turns the psychology into mythology.’ Yet…some systematic views can be extracted from what first appear as a random collection of diamond-like maxims.”

—Jon Elster, from the section on “the French Moralists” in a work that evidences his singular capacity to see with remarkable clarity both the forest and the trees: Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 1999). The four writers he treats in the part of the book—Montaigne, Pascal, La Rouchefoucauld, La Bruyère—“mark the beginning and the end of the greatest era in French intellectual and cultural history.” (Whether or not he intended it as such, we might read this, in part at least, as an indirect comment on the overweening infatuation with postmodern French philosophers among more than a few academic intellectuals.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The direct and indirect effects of the eudaimonistic community on the individual: from Godwin to Keynes

On the Facebook page for the group, Union for Radical Political Economics, which I recently joined, I read a wonderful 1930 essay from Keynes: “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren” (I’m not sure if this title is from Keynes himself). Keynes asks an uncommon question for members of his profession: “What can we reasonably expect the level of our economic life to be a hundred years hence?” I found his reflections on this question (in part II) pleasantly surprising and it prompted me to entertain the possibility that his membership in the Bloomsbury Group speaks in part to why he summoned the intellectual courage to indulge in such speculation, particularly insofar as it takes us beyond (capitalist) economics. It took some daring if only because, in his words,

“… [T]here is no country and no people, I think, who can look forward to the age of leisure and of abundance without a dread. For we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy. It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person, with no special talents, to occupy himself, especially if he no longer has roots in the soil or in custom or in the beloved conventions of a traditional society. To judge from the behaviour and the achievements of the wealthy classes today in any quarter of the world, the outlook is very depressing! For these are, so to speak, our advance guard – those who are spying out the promised land for the rest of us and pitching their camp there. For they have most of them failed disastrously, so it seems to me – those who have an independent income but no associations or duties or ties – to solve the problem which has been set them.”

Keynes’ essay moved me to think of the possible direct and informal influences on his thought that may have arisen from participation and fellowship in the Bloomsbury Group, a select circle of rather intelligent and creative individuals whose class status and social background provided them a tantalizing taste of what freedom from “economic necessity” (in the capitalist sense) might mean for individual and collective self-realization. Of course axiomatic concern for such freedom earlier motivated Marx’s critique of capitalism, as Jon Elster makes clear in his brilliant essay, “Self-realisation in work and politics: the Marxist conception of the good life.” In other words, membership in the Bloomsbury Group is provocatively emblematic (as both cause and effect) of that which afforded Keynes both the time and inclination to reflect seriously in a utopian key (the phrase used here in a non-pejorative sense*) of life beyond capitalism, to imagine what it means for “man” (anthropologically speaking) to fully (i.e., existentially if not metaphysically) confront and ponder the real possibility of how to use “his freedom from pressing economic cares,” that is, to initiate careful consideration of “how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well,” which I suspect will undermine most of the current claptrap of what we think is involved in the pursuit and attainment of “happiness.” However precipitous its fall from grace and despite the somewhat harsh retrospective judgments by its own members of the Bloomsbury Group’s shortcomings, it’s worth speculating on the memorable praxis of this remarkable group of individuals who, to some significant extent at least, used their privilege, even if unintentionally, to concretely demonstrate what it might mean to live “beyond” or after capitalism.

Indeed, Keynes and the Bloomsbury Group calls to mind an earlier instance of a similar cause and effect relation of such interpersonal group dynamics on the thought of another original thinker, in this case, the anarchist philosopher William Godwin (1756 –1836). It seems Godwin drew inspiration for his model of the plausibility of anarchist society and its conspicuous reliance on sophisticated individual judgment as a vehicle of rationality and benevolence from “the context of the social circles in which he lived, worked and debated.” These radical social circles in turn “were part of a larger middle class community which drew on a range of philosophical and literary traditions in developing critical perspectives on contemporary social and political institutions.” (Mark Philp) To be sure, Godwin drew upon the philosophes and British radicals, as well as the periphery of the early Liberal tradition (e.g., Paine), but especially the “writings, sermons, and traditions of Rational Dissent” when composing An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (first edition, 1793, later editions to 1798), but his belief in the veracity of his critique and vision was grounded in the daily life of the social circles of metropolitan radicalism in which he worked and spent his convivial and leisure activities. While this social and intellectual culture soon succumbed to government repression, it provides the intimate empirical evidence Godwin needed to confirm his belief (shared with Condorcet) in the “perfectibility” (which is distinct from perfectionism) of man and the necessity of an anarchist society as the soil of germination for same. Godwin was not a political activist (although he knew members of radical groups and organizations) but a philosopher, but the radical social circles in which he lived tempers our understanding and seasons our judgment of the more extravagant utopian tendencies of his great work, at the very least they demonstrate radical principles were incarnate in a group praxis, even if Godwin had insufficient appreciation of the greater and deeper socio-economic and political conditions that gave birth to and nourished such radical sentiment: “Given the assumptions and conventions of his background and his social circles” writes Philp, “his position could be rationally defensible.” Godwin’s seemingly naïve faith in the power of private rational judgment received strong empirical or experimental confirmation, in other words, in his experience of these social and intellectual circles. In Philp’s words,

“…[Godwin’s] membership [in] a literate and intellectual culture which cannot be identified politically, socially or intellectually with either aristocratic privilege or with the potentially violent and disruptive London poor. It is in this group that we find the politically unattached intellectuals and writers who had greeted the French Revolution and who had called for reform at home on intellectual and humanitarian grounds.

[While this group is] “diffuse and made up of heterogeneous social and intellectual currents…there seems to be no doubt that in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, there existed in both London and the provinces significant number of critical, literate, professional men and women who held often very radical views on social, political and religious issues who regularly met together for the purposes of discussion in a number of overlapping social and professional circles. [….] Godwin moves in the company of artists, portrait painters, engravers, grammarians, industrialists, writers, editors, publishers, antiquarians, librarians, actors, theater managers, playwrights, musicians, novelists, poets, classical scholars, scientists, dons, lawyers, mathematicians, doctors, surgeons, and divines—and this list is not exhaustive. We should also recognize that members of these groups sustained a commitment to radical thinking throughout most of the last decade of the century.”

“As both [Roy] Porter and [Marilyn] Butler stress,” the middling class radicalism of these men and women was not simply the product of a Dissenting background, the French Revolution, and the influence of the philosophes, for it required the warp and woof of a cultural experience of that type of sociability that formed the “basic fabric of late-eighteenth century intellectual life:”

“Once he had concluded his morning’s work Godwin’s day was free and he generally spent it in company—talking and debating while eating, drinking and socialising. His peers’ behavior was essentially similar; they lived in a round of debate and discussion in clubs, associations, debating societies, salons, taverns, coffee houses, bookshops, publishing houses, and in the street. And conversation ranged through philosophy, morality, religion, literature and poetry, to the political events of the day. Members of these circles were tied together in the ongoing practice of debate. These men and women were not the isolated heroes and heroines of Romanticism pursuing a lonely course of discovery; they were people who worked out their ideas in company and who articulated the aspirations and fears of their social group. Their consciousness of their group identity was of signal importance….”

It is the daily life of this social round which fleshed out the skeletal structure of Godwin’s anarchist ideal of a natural society that is fundamentally “discursive,” in other words, a society defined by “intellectually active and communicative agents, a society where advances are made through a dialectic of individual reflection and group discussion.” Reason and argument were the lifeblood of the radicalism that flourished in this kind of sociability:

“The rules of debate for this group were simple: no one has a right to go against reason, no one has a right to coerce another’s judgment, and every individual has a right—indeed, a duty—to call to another’s attention his faults and failings. This is a highly democratic discourse, and it is essentially non-individualist: truth progresses through debate and discussion and from each submitting his beliefs and reasoning to the scrutiny of others.”

The values of openness, rationality, and discussion or conversation that distinguished this sociability were likewise suffused with the norms and values that animated the literature of sensibility from this period:

“Sensibility provided a means for exploring new regions of emotional and social experience, and in so doing it helped generate an identity for an emerging social class. Sensibility was not a philosophical perspective based on a withdrawal from the social world and a solipsistic reflection on sensation; rather, it was a celebration of that social world and an appeal to the emerging self-understanding of members of that world. Sociability and sensibility combined with a burgeoning market for literature of all kinds to produce a public realm in which art, literature, science, philosophy, and morality appeared as commodities to be consumed, discussed and improved.  [….] The experiments in the possibilities of experience conducted in the literature of sensibility, the rationalism which with they laid open every dogma to criticism and the deep concern with the arena of politics from which many of this class were debarred by virtue of their religion or their incomes can all be seen as essential components of this socially, intellectually and politically critical and ambitious group. But these ambitions were less individual than group-oriented: it is as a group that they see themselves as the foundation for a new and equitable social order.”

I think it profoundly important to consider the indispensable role of “the group,” to tease out and trace the myriad causes and effects of such circles of convivial community and ethically robust sociability that we discover in the life and work of a Godwin or Keynes, particularly when we sit at our solitary desks and computers and imbibe on the more nourishing and exhilarating products of their fertile minds.   

* I introduce the substance and possible parameters of such utopian thought and imagination here and here.

References & Further Reading:
    • Bell, Quinton. Bloomsbury Recalled. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.  
    • Elster, Jon. “Self-realisation in work and politics: the Marxist conception of the good life,” in Jon Elster and Karl Ove Moene, eds. Alternatives to Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.  
    • Nicholson, Virginia. Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living, 1900-1939. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.  
    • Norton, David L. Democracy and Moral Development: A Politics of Virtue. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991. 
    • Philp, Mark. Godwin’s Political Justice. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986. 
    • Rosenbaum, S.P., ed. The Bloomsbury Group: A Collection of Memories and Commentary. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, revised ed., 1995.