Thursday, 31 January 2008

Nietzsche's Friend Jacob Burckhardt: How a Conservative 19th Century Historian Anticipated 'Poliitcally Correct' views of Antiquity.

I've just started reading The Greeks and Greek Civilization by Jakob Burckhardt. Burckhardt was a friend and colleague of Friedrich Nietzsche at the University of Basle. Unlike Nietzsche, Burkhardt was a native of Basle. He turned down the chance to succeed to Leopold Von Ranke's chair in Berlin. Ranke was a great historian, who preached objectivity and the importance of archives, but also wrote history from the point of view of the Prussian dynasty. Burckhardt rejected Ranke's Prussian-German nationalism, but from a conservative point of view. In this he followed the precedent of Goethe. The emphasis Burckhardt puts on the individual above national state ideology also gives him a liberal aspect, like Nietzsche. They were both suspicious of democracy and mass culture, from the point of view of an individualism which stands above conservative tradition, particularly in its religious aspects. At the very least Nietzsche and Burckhardt turn conservative tradition into an instrument of individualism, and Nietzsche certainly found it possible to take the same view of democracy. Both of the Basle Professors shared an early enthusiasms for the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Both were attacked by the brilliant but narrow minded philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Mollendorf.

I was previously familiar with Burckhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, which looks at the individualism of the Renaissance as a movement in politics and statecraft as a well as art, and which clearly bears comparison with Nietzsche. In fact both books by Burckhardt are essential companions to Nietzsche's philosophy (that is not to say they are the same in all respects).

The focus of today's post is the way in which Burckhardt anticipates attitudes to antiquity from a 'politically correct' point of view since Martin Bernal's Black Athena. I do not have a firm view right now of Black Athena, or any text influenced by it. I may return to this in the future, all I have to say for now is that I am sure that Bernal addressed issues that need to be addressed about the place of Greek antiquity in the broader antique world. It may or may not distort history for political reasons. It may or may not mix such distortions with valid points.

The issues that are associated with Bernal and his followers that matter regardless of the value of what they wrote: the Greek polis (city state) follows the example of earlier states in the Near East; there are ways in which aspects of Ancient Greek thought that take things from the Near East: some aspects of Near Eastern culture and thought were in advance of Greek culture and thought in antiquity.

Where does Burckhardt come in?
1. The Greek polis, to some degree, was preceded by Phoenician city states in which the supreme power of rulers was limited by an aristocratic council.
2. Ancient Greek culture took many things from the Ancient Assyrians and Egyptians.
3. Ancient Greek culture seemed immature to the Ancient Egyptians due to its faith in immediacy and lack of any real transcendence of perception.
4. Ancient Greek culture had an instrumental attitude to truth and oath taking whoch shocked other Antique peoples and this is not just a case of seeing the worst in another culture.

Burckhardt emphasised other things that undermine the idealisation of Ancient Greece, particularly the view of the polis as the goal of human existence. Burckhardt emphasises that the polis emerges from extreme violence on villagers. A polis was formed by forcing inhabitants in a group of villages to leave their homes and live within fortified walls. The reasons for this were militaristic. The process in which villagers were forced to live in a polis in constant military conflict with rivals is what lies behind Greek myths of sacrifice (voluntary and involuntary) to the interests of the state and the harsh punishment of critics of the state. Villagers had the cruel experience for Ancient Greeks of being torn from the graves of their ancestors. Legal codes were designed for the aristocracy who struggled to protect original laws against amendment and addition by the people. 'Democracy' was based on one group forcing itself on other peoples and subordinating them to itself. This could happen because citizenship excluded slaves and those of foreign origin, as well as women. Greek gods were immoral and this limited Ancient Greek moral understanding, which included obsessions with revenge, though this was mitigated to some degree by philosophy. However, even philosophical ethics was primarily concerned with the health of the individual self, not obligations to others.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Carl Schmitt on Classical Liberalism

Continuing from recent posts about Schmitt's Nomos of the Earth, I'm addressing the issue of a possible liaison between Carl Schmitt and Classical Liberalism. Schmitt's membership of the Nazi party and attempts to become a prominent jurist during the Nazi period may make this look like a bizarre claim, and no one I know of claims that Schmitt takes Classical Liberalism as a foundation. Political Romanticism certainly contains some strong criticism of German Classical Liberals.

The supposed Classical Liberal link comes from moments at which Schmitt suggests some respect for private property and the market economy. In Nomos of the Earth, he certainly seems nostalgic for the highpoint of European interstate order in which war and state appropriation of territory did not interfere with private property. Property remained in the same hands, business and commerce carried on as before, in a successful bracketting of war from normal order within, and between, states. In general Schmitt limits his interest in politics as struggle with the enemy to the political sphere and favoured liberal economics.

On the other side, we must note the following points. In Nomos of the Earth, Schmitt also refers to the impossibility of making economics an absolutely neutral sphere in relation to politics. The market economy rests on property. Property rests on appropriation. Appropriation is an act of violence which implicitly contains the political construction of a sovereign who distributes property. The distribution of property is always a political act, something that Schmitt traces back to Aristotle's comments on distributive justice and even further back into Ancient Greek mythology. Even when he refers to the triumph of the market economy at the high point of the European inter-state order, he includes protectionist economic policies and the forcible opening up of markets, as when Commodore Parry forced Japan to accept trade with the United States. Fir Schmitt, the market economy is something organised by the state and that is not in contradiction with some aggressively interventionist acts of the state. It must also be noted that Schmitt refers to Britain's maritime empire as a failed 'catechon'. The catechon refers to the power which resists the premature coming of the Anti-Christ, but is given a wider role by Scmitt as the force which resists disorder. From Schmitt's point of view the original theology may be implicit in the secularised understanding. Though Schmitt often likes to adopt a pose of Olympian detachment with regard to political ideas, it's clear that he finds the sea lacking in the capacity of the earth to ground appropriation and sovereignty. The sea is disorder, the place which escapes law. In The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes, it is clear that Schmitt's respect for Hobbes is limited by Schmitt's respect for individualism under the leviathan -state and that Schmitt links that liberal aspect of Hobbes with Britain as power infected by liberalism resulting from its maritime role. In Nomos of the Earth, Britain is featured as a disruptive power within European order, due to its ambiguous position in relation to Europe: both belonging and not belonging. The maritime power cannot belong to Europe in the same way as a 'Continental' power. This is supported with somewhat strained arguments to deny France and the Netherlands maritime power status.

The reading of Schmitt may help liberals of various stripes to give more emphasis to political conflict and the necessity of the state. Schmitt's articulation however emphasises contradictions between liberalism and the real concepts of politics, and must be seen as resulting in the limitation of liberalism within an economic sphere subject to the political as the superior instance.

Monday, 28 January 2008

The growth of a Liberal Democratic European party?

European Liberal and Centrist Politics
This contributes to a topic I've posted on once before 'Greens Join Bayrou: A New Movement in the French Political Centre Takes Shape', the progress of a broad liberal/centrist space in European politics. That post referred to the small political incident of a French Green micro-party joining the Mouvement democrate in France. The significance was that it suggested the new political party is more than just the fans of its founder and leader, Francois Bayrou. I'm getting into some rather detailed discussions throwing party names and acronyms around. I believe this irritating looking detail is important in evaluating the state of play for the liberal and centrist forces in the European political space. The strength or weakness of such forces is important for European politics, and can only be evaluated through looking at the national variations and changes.

European Democratic Party
In terms of European political alignments MODEM belongs to the European Democratic Party. The 'party' here refers to what are really transnational alliances of similar parties in different countries of the European Union. The party label for these alliances comes from the wish of the European Union to have all European politics. These EU 'parties' are inevitably rather loose compared with the constituent national parties, though if we think of the relatively loose structure of the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States, the 'party' label may make more sense.

European Democratic Party and the European Liberal Democratic and Reformist Party
The EDP includes the main Basque party in Spain EAJ-PNV which according to the website is autonomistic rather than separatist, and which is no a socialist or conservative party. It also defines itself as 'non-liberal', which looks like the rejection of purely free market economics. The other components are rather small: Alleanza Popolare (San Marino), Cesta Zemeny (Path of Change, Czech Republic, party programme in English), European Party (Republic of Cyprus), Mouvement des Citoyens pour Le Changement (Belgium/Wallonia). These are all rather small forces. What they have in common is an interest in European integration, democratic reforms, and a communitarian attitude emphasising that the market economy should be guided by social and environmental concerns, and emphasising the importance of trustful relations between citizens. The last part mentioned, MCC, is part of a larger grouping Mouvement reformateur which has the historic Francophone Belgian liberal party at is core, allied with Francophone and German speaking communal rights parties. MR as a whole does not belong to EDP, it belongs to the ELDR (European Liberal Democrats and Reformers) party, which groups European political parties belonging to the liberal tradition. The Reform part of the label was adopted to satisfy French Radicals (small party rooted in Jacobin reformism now a satellite of the main right wing party in France). At present probably just the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia finds the label necessary. As a whole ELDR is more free market/classical liberal than EDP though there are distinctly social (left) liberal parties in ELDR which would not define themselves in that way. EDP and ELDR are grouped together in ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe).

A New Major Party in Italy
I've left out one party from the EDP list, because as in Wallonia (Francophone Belgium) parties within the same national political space belong to EDP and ELDR orientations. What is most notable is that the space itself is changing in one of Europe's larger countries. The Italian formation in EDP is Democrazia e Liberta-La Margaherita, a grouping of former Catholic centrists, moderates and liberals (there used to be three Italian liberal parties: Liberal, Republican, Radical. Recent fracturing and coalitions would make it difficult to give a number now). The party seems to exist between being and nothingness, it has a website listed at EDP but has folded into the broader centre left party Partito Democratico. The DP merges the Margehrita with other centrist and centre left groups (some of which are part of ELDR), and with a party descended from the Italian Communist Party, which became the Party of the Democratic Left, and then Democrats of the Left. Most of DL is joining PD but a dissenting minority has established Democratic Left.

Italian Democratic Party: Centrist or Socialist?
This bizarre series of splits, mergers and realignments has left Italy with a centre left party, PD, so far undecided between the Party of European Socialists and the EDP, and which contains a significant proportion of people who at one time wanted a socialist rupture with capitalism, and belong to a party founded by Leninist revolutionaries. Comparisons have been made with the United States Democratic Party, and that also applies to EDP. That comparison does not really say much accept that there is broad based party defining itself as non-conservative and as non-extreme left. In terms of numbers in the European Parliament, PD's choice is interesting.

European Democrats and European Liberals
If PD joins EDP, it will be the only really major national party unless we count EAJ-PNV as the majority party of the Basque nation in Spain (though it also claims to represent French Basques). In EDP, PD will be allied through ALDE with limited state liberal free marketeers and others in the liberal tradition, and some components are still listed as part of ELDR. The ELDR/EDP distinction is hard to maintain. Centrist Basque autonomists belong to EDP; centrist Catalan autonomists belong to ELDR, and so on.

Towards a Unified Liberal European Party?
The ultimate logic is surely a unified Liberal Democratic European Party, though the liberal label is hard to accept for centrists in countries where liberalism has strong suggestions of an upper class party with pure free market limited state ideas. Where those countries used to have large liberal parties, those parties have shrunk to nothing, or almost nothing, and the gap is being filled at the level of European alliances by centrist parties with a communitarian (often Catholic) heritage, parties which are definitely not socialist but also definitely see the market as something that needs restraint and balance by communal values implemented by the state. The strong localist and regionalist nature of those parties, and the emphasis they put on reforms of constitutions and political processes, and to use the market where it serves social needs or makes public services more efficient, may also provide a basis for convergence with those close to classical liberalism through the desire to restrain the central state and encourage those parts of the economy outside state direction.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Schmitt on Universality and Particularity in International Law

Schmitt casts doubt on the idea of international law, and all corresponding theories about perpetual peace and global authority. While I am an enthusiast for what Schmitt criticises,l his criticisms are very well formulated and cannot be completely rejected. They must be taken up within theories of conflict, agonism, antagonism and paradox in the foundations of law and politics.

Schmitt makes some historical arguments. He suggests that notions of international law comes from notions of European centred order. This begins with Ancient Greek notions of relations between Greeks, then Roman notions of relations within the Empire, then Medieval notions of a Christian Commonwealth. All these cases rest on a distinction between rights and obligations within the order and relations with external enemies.

Looking at the history of concepts in International Law he argues that they come from concepts applied by Spanish Catholic thinkers to the conquest of the Americas. In particular, some of this thinking refers to the equal rights of Europeans and American Indians, however it would be an error to universalise this. The equality is clearly ab equality within the Christian order established by the conquest and has nothing to with the rights of heathens to resist conquest, or any restriction of the right of Catholic countires to spread the faith through conquest. International law in its origins in Grotius and Pufendorf does universalise these concepts. The possibility of universalisation goes back to Aquinas and before that Augustine. Nevertheless Scholastic thinking can only be grasped within the concrete situation of the Christian commonwealth and its basic concepts of struggle against Anti-Christ and against the enemie sof Christianity.

The idea of Christian commonwealth itself rests on a paradoxical unity of the Eurocentric spatial order of Christendom and the universalistic aspects of Christianity, though it is not this paradox that Schnitt emphaises but rather the paradoxes of secular thought in universalising Medieval concepts. Schmitt's blind spot here is that the paradoxes Schmitt attributes to secular thought are already there in Scholastic thought. Schmitt's thought itself is conditioned by the tension between his Catholic thinking which takes Medieval Christendom as a model and the univeralistic secular frame he adopts, evne if he coined the phrase 'political theology'.

The conquest of the Anericas itself disturbs the Scholastic unities. The reality of the western hemisphere disturbs the Eurocentric spatial order of Medieval Christendom. The appropriation of land in the Americas itself strong influences ideas in Hobbes and Locke or property rights and the origins of society. The New World becomes the place where what were Eurocentric concepts become more pure in application, and then a transformation of the original concepts is effected. The growth of United States power, particularly after the Unionist victory in the Civil War, strengthens notions of domestic sovereignty and or the international rights of the US. This power, including the domination of central America and the Caribbean where states follow the US foreign policy, destabilises noyions of Intetnational Order and Peace, even while the US emphaises such ideas. The ideas of intenrational law were developed with regard to relations betwen European states. The mergence of other powers including Japan as well as the US creates a conflict between Eurocentric spatial order and a global order divided between hemispheres and great powers appropriating Africa and Asia. International order both means Eurocentric order and an an order whoch can ignore or even over power Europe. The history of the League of Nations shows the inherent instability of such a contradictory order. The US both refused to join the League and had the power to influence the League, a clear contradiction exposing a contradictory structure.

The other structural contradiction is that projects for world peace rest on states identifying and annihilating enemies of world peace, which creates a necessary contradiction within peace between peace and the enforcement of peace. Projects for world peace create the potential for the most bloody wars against the supposed enemies of world peace, who must therefore be enemies of humanity.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Carl Schmitt and the Origin of Law

Continuing my discussion of the The Nomos of the Earth by Carl Schmitt. Schmitt refers to mythical material on the origin of law, going from Homer to Giambattista Vico's 18th Century investigations of myth. His account is of the origin of law in the earth.

Earth contains an innate justice in that it rewards the farmer according to productive effort. This is in contrast with the sea which lies outside law. The Greek word equated with law is Nomos. As Schmitt points out, it does not exactly correlate with law, which is why he uses the Greek word in his title. The Greek word equates with custom and in an even more basic way with appropriation. Schmitt argues that the opposition between Nomos as law or custom and phusis as nature comes later than the sense of appropriation, division and taking.

Schmitt compares this with the fundamental definitions of property in social contract theory. He argues that Social Contract theory is essentially about the definition and division of property. The original Ancient Greek sense of property is linked to the home as in the word oikos divide and protect land. which is at the origin of the word economy, which in Ancient Greek times is concerned with management of the home rather than with cash exchange or a market economy, or a national economy of any kind.

The original appropriation/division of property brings in sovereignty, since it is the state which establishes ownersip rights and the division of labour, and furthermore it is the state which carves out land for a people, and it is states whichThe state and sovereignty exist through land and through the possibility of working on the land.

In an appendix Heidegger suggests that we should abandon appropriation, but this is presumably an ironic way of agreeing with what he takes to be the liberal and Marxist approach to appropriation. Both want to replace the violence of appropriation, with a self-governing of the world of economic things without violence, where wealth is produced through socialist planning or liberal spontaneity, with no need for a political order, or at least the minimisation/separation of liberal order . For Schmitt his still always leaves the problem of division, I presume that at the non-ironic level he thinks that distribution is part of appropriation and that both liberal and Marxist approaches are utopian.

Schmitt conjoins sovereignty, law, labour, land, property, division of property, in an ironic struggle with Marxism and Liberalism which both try to eliminate the struggles within politics.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Carl Schmitt The Nomos of the Earth

I've just finished reading The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europeaeum. Unfortunately the English edition is not very easy to find. It's published by Telos Press Publishing (New York NY 2006: ISBN 978-0-914386-30-8). I found it on, but it's not available on, and it could only be delivered to me via a UK address, not directly to Turkey.

A remarkable book. Many thoughts inspired. Some brief non-theoretical thoughts for now.

I learned for the first time that the the French Foreign Minister Aristide Briande proposed a European Union for the first time in the late 1920s.

Belgian neutrality was a cornerstone of the European inter-state system until Germnay violate it in 1914, leaving the question of how the German government of time could have thought it was worth invading Belgium with the inevitable result of alienating European public opinion. This act certainly had a major influence on the British Liberal cabinet of the time which was not eager to enter into a general European war.

The League of Nations recognised the western hemisphere as off bounds, confirming the Monroe doctrine in which the US had forbidden foreign intervention in the Americas. This recognition was despite the the non-membership of the US in the League.

Schmitt a German Catholic Nationalist has no doubt whatsover that not only was the Ottoman Empire part of the European Concert of States, but that it was part of the European legal and political space in the fullest way. This despite the nostalgic tone Schmitt adopts towards the Crusades and the era in which he believes Europe/Christendom established political institutions as a barrier against the premature appearance of the anti-Christ, and excluded all non-Christians from international law. Schmitt's suggestion that the state system was a a barrier against the Anti-Christ is not an abstract Catholic claim, it is a judgement of what the legal and political foundations of Empire and Papacy were at that time. Schmitt is suspicious of the abstractions of Augustine and Aquinas, it is the concrete choice of enemies that he he focuses on, following his analysis in The Concept of the Political.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Joss Whedon and Libertarianism

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has a complex relation with Libertarianism. His political views appear to be standard left-liberal Hollywood. Together with most of the cast of Angel (a spin off from Buffy), he endorsed the John Kerry/John Edwards Democrat ticket in 2004. Whedon's normal views appear to be pro-civil liberties for all. In creating a positive lesbian character, Buffy's best friend Willow, he signalled a committment to equality for gays.

Buffy was designed as a feminist hero, tough and independent though also distinctly feminine. She has been referred to as 'Buffy the patriarchy Slayer' and though the character does not tend to be overtly politicla or ideological in any way, there are signals of her attitude. This culminates at the end of season 7 when she pulls an Excalibur type weapon out of its place, only the Slayer is destined to do this. This also allows an emphasis on Buffy the Post-Feminist. The woman who was watching her Excalibur weapon appears, and it turns out that she belongs to a female order that has been watching the male dominated watchers (trainers and supervisers of slayers). Buffy is rather different from the stereotypical earth mother type feminist. Buffy's fashionable style and immersion in popular culture contrasts with the grand prophetic tone of her new protector. The new protector cannot believe that Buffy is called Buffy, signalling the distance between them. Significantly the woman is killed a few minutes after she appears on screen, she is part of what is passing away. Whedon's shows refer to pornography and male fantasies abut women in a jokey way which distances them from the kind of feminism which looked with extreme aversion on such phenomena, and which resorts to a mixture of moralising condemnation and a reductive account of power through representation. Though many commentators on Whedon maintain a condemn male fantasy stance, it's clear that Whedon regards that attitude as a distraction from central issues of power, violence and equality.

Political Correctness and Libertarianism
Libertarianism may take political correctness as a target. That particularly applies to Libertarianism of a kind which mixes social conservatism and capitalist free markets, essentially the constituency that Ron Paul is appealing to in his current run to be Republican candidate to be elected President of the United States. Such people may look askance on feminism and gay rights as 'politically correct' impositions of a left-liberal elite which dominates the state and education, in their view. Sometimes they seem to think big corporations are dominated by such people conspiring with the state elite, though sometimes they seem to think private corporations are necessarily beyond criticism. Conservative libertarians say they do not favour discrimination, but do not believe that the central state has the right to impose non-discrimination on local communities. Strangely enough I'm rather suspicious of the line, 'I'm not a racist/homophobe but I do not think anyone should be forced to respect blacks and gays and it would be wrong to force communities to give them equal rights, therefore I will vote in congress against any such rights' which as far as I can see is an accurate representation of Paul's views. One of the Whedonverse actors is a Paulite, Emma Caulfield who plays Anya in Buffy. Appropriately her character is a parodic capitalist who puts money before people, and enjoys the dance of capitalist superiority when closing the Magic Shop at nights. It would be wrong to represent capitalist libertarians in that way, evidently they believe free markets are the instrument of liberty, but it's still funny.

There is a comparatively liberal progressive kind of Libertarianism at the Cato Institute, or even the Ayn Rand/Objectivist groups, though I struggle to take seriously anyone who follows Ayn Rand (fifth rate philosopher, fourth rate novellist, third rate screen writer and first rate grotesque destructive egomaniac). While these people are generally closer to the Republicans than the Democrats, unlike Paulites they tend to respect Lincoln and think the right side won the Civil War, so conceding that there are times when use of central state power for a liberatory object maybe a lesser evil than just letting communities deny basic liberties to certain community members. These people tend to more careful about distancing themselves from social or national conservatism. It must also be said that Paul has left-libertarian fans who support a return to weaker federal government.

X-Files Libertarianism
That leads us to what I will very unkindly and unfairly label X-Files left-libertarians. X-Files
is of course a reference to the TV series (some of whose writers have worked with Joss Whedon) in which two FBI agents unravel many layers of a conspiracy of the central state to allow aliens to take over the world. For those who have not seen the show, it must also be said that the show is very funny and self-parodic, and that one of the FBI agents in particular can be read as a delusional obsessive. The show deals very acutely with fears of central government and fears of hidden forces, and often refers to quite real ways in which power may become secretive and unaccountable. The show lacks a direct political message but on the whole I would say it is most consistent with a left-libertarianism that is critical of corporations, the state and social conformism.

Joss Whedon: Statist or Libertarian?
As was indicated above, Whedon is comfortable with Democrats of a kind who wish to preserve the and expand New Deal big state, which has been the major function of the Democratic Party since F.D. Roosevelt. That New Deal big state is tied up with an Imperial Presidency which commands vast military resources and has an interventionist foreign policy trying to shape every region of the world. Whedon is rather neutral about foreign interventionism. Buffy's one serious non-vampire boyfriend, Riley Finn, leaves her to join a covert military squad destroying demons in Central America. The associations with regional American intervention of a very aggressive kind, leaning towards authoritarian right right wing governments and paramilitary groups are left unremarked. The political tone of Buffy and Angel is standard left-liberalism. The death penalty is implicitly rejected, very pro-capitalist views are seen as amusing, large companies tend to be represented as operating in a sinister way. It must also be said that left wing political correctness is parodied, most obviously in the episode Pangs in season 2. What we also get is an interest in insurrectionism. This becomes most obvious in the penultimate episode of season 4, which ends on an X-Files tone. A hidden man of power refers to Buffy and her allies as 'civilian insurrectionists', and notes that in the end they were correct to resist a secret government demon fighting initiative and fight demons in their own way. This hint at the justification of insurrection has rich American associations. The right to rise up and resist the central state was recognised by the Founding Fathers, particularly Thomas Jefferson. It is Jefferson who favoured self-governing rural communities under a very loose central government and who is often invoked by libertarians. That role for Buffy and her allies is paralleled in Angel by Angel's unlicensed detective agency. In both cases, the aim is to uphold law in ways the state cannot, but certainly there is an emphasis that law rests on basic action by individuals.

The libertarian tendencies in Joss Whedon come to the fore in the science fiction series Firefly. The series takes place in the aftermath of a failed rebellion by Independents against the central authority of the Alliance. The central character Mal leads a gang which makes a living from smuggling, illegal salvage and robbery, along with legal work. There is some connection with stores of the James gangs, Confederate guerillas turned bandits. However, the series also clearly distances the Independents from the slave holding aristocratic Confederacy. They are seen as west coast libertarians, poor but self-reliant people struggling to hold on to their free wheeling individualistic society. Mal is the spokesman for the view that governments exist to get in the way, that they interfere without helping. Whedon says that he does not share all of Mal's views, but he created a series which makes Mal the hero and the spokesman for world view which is clearly Whedon's own: anti-religious, anti-transcendent, an individualism of tough self-reliant characters. The series is quite explicitly an anti-Star Trek. Star Trek features an earnest liberal technological interventionism even though at the explicit level the Federation the space ship serves is anti-interventionist. The Federation is socialistic, and capitalistic characters, particularly the Ferengi in Next Generation, are presented as morally questionable.

The series and the spin off film Serenity certainly impressed libertarians. The film received a Special Award from the Libertarian Futurist Society. LFS is devoted to libertarian science finction, which is a major part of the libertarian canon. The write Robert A. Heinlein is the most famous in a large group of capitalist libertarian and anarcho-capitalist writers. Joss Whedon belongs with Ayn Rand and Heinlein in the receipt of an award from Heinlein, and has produced a TV and cinema classic of futuristic capitalist libertarianism, though the emphasis is still on the poor small entrepreneur.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Moral Personality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Many examples exist in Joss Whedon's TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of the ambiguities of moral personality. Characters move between extremes of good and evil which make it difficult to say what moral personality they have, though they are very recognisbaly the same people.

Many examples exist, but here we will concentrate on one example which has been particularly popular with fans and for good reasons. The vampire Spike is the second of two morally ambiguous vampires who appear on the show. Spike, played by James Marsters, appears fro the first time in season 2, episode 3 'School Hard'. The character was originally written s a brief appearance, but grew and grew. The fascination of Spike can traced back to his first appearance where we see him as a a swaggering evil bad boy, but then see his vampire face disappear when his then girlfriend, Druscilla, appears. Spike instantly becomes the concerned sensitive boy friend. The first time he sees Buffy produces a similarly striking effect. Though sincerely in love with Driscilla, when he sees Buffy for the first time looking very innocent dancing with her friends at a club it looks like Spike is instantly in love. This confusion about whether he is in lovw with Buffy or Druscilla is typical of the confusions Buffy and other characters deal with in the series. The demonic threats, and the fight against evil, are ways of making sense of inner lives full of contradiction.

Spike's first appearance is as a vicious killer devoted to merciless destruction. Nevertheless he shows noble qualities. He keeps a deal to turn a human into a vampire, though the deal produces bad consequences for Spike. He always puts Druscilla first in his concerns, though there are growing suggestions that he is obsessed with Buffy. The obsession frefers to killing her, but Druscilla clearly finds the obsession discomforting. In season 5 Spike will realise he is in love with Buffy. In season 2, he just finds it necessary to work with Buffy to undermine his ove rival Angel, who is also trying to destroy the world. In a memorable speech, Spike explains to Buffy how attached he is to the world, referring to love of football, dog racing and humans even if what he wants from humans is to eat them. The alliance with Buffy is recoded at a later point as a brief fling he has to excuse to Druscilla, 'I told her I was thinking about her all the time'. Druscilla who has precognitive powers is not fooled and realisies that Spike is in live with the Slayer even if he hides from this reality.

In season 4, Spike is captured by government demon hunters and escapes. Before he escapes they give him a behaviour modification chip which gives him great neurological pain he harms, or tries to harm, a human. Spike fights this restriction, but bit by bit he is drawn into humanity and its moral standards. It is Buffy who provides the motivation. At one point Spike is sheltering with Buffy's watcher Giles. Conflict between Spike and Buffy acquires flirtatious aspects, and the story line draws attention to this when accidental consequences of a magic spell turn them into fiances for few hours. Giles tells Spike he may have been given a new purpose, and Spike rebuffs him. Giles never seems to forgive him for this. Spike does start to find new purpose in season 5, when he does realise after a dream about Buffy that he is in love with her. This does not lead him to be clearly good, it does lead him to try to impress her which includes doing the good things she approves of. Buffy does not notice Spike's feelings at first and is horrified when she does. Nevertheless, it is clear that she has begun to accept Spike as a friend and ally and that she has her own ambiguous obsession with him. The ambiguity leads her to great and excessive cruelty to Spike even when he has helped her, and raises the question of he rown moral development.

Later in Season 5, a particularly self-sacrificing act leads Buffy to accept Spike as an ally and friend. She dies through mystical means at the end of the season 5. At the beginning of season 6, we see Spike looking after Buffy's younger sister and helping Buffy's friends to fight demons. We see that he has progressed from wanting to impress Buffy to wanting to do things he know would please her if she was still alive. However, after Buffy is revived, he reverts back to a more shadowy lifestyle, where though he will do anything for Buffy, he also unconcerned with being morally right except where it directly affects Buffy. The tension between them revives and increases until a fight leads to love making. Buffy feels she has to hide he affair and feels ashamed. She breaks it off when Spike repeals his continuing immoral side. At first she is friendly with Spike but the old ambiguity returns in which she expresses her feelings for Spike by being cruel to him. When he realises that she still has feelings for her, he tries to 'make her feel' by starting a sexual assault in her bathroom. She fights him off and he leaves her alone when he realisies that his violence is unacceptable to her. This extreme low point morally, is followed by Spike disappearing from the town. Buffy's extreme ambiguity continues as she is willing to let her younger sister stay with Spike and seems disappointed when she realises Spike has disappeared. This might seem to contain the disturbing insinuation that Buffy is attracted to someone who started to rape her, though she finds the act unambiguously horrific there is no doubt she still feels drawn to Spike (though commentators who want to make Buffy into a one dimensional feminist icon find this hard to admit). The end of the series shows that Spike disappeared in order to get his soul back after a series of physical and psychological torments. He was feeling torn between the demonic and the human, now he wants to be just human which he thinks will make him good enough for Buffy.

In season 7, Spike turns up again in town maddenned by his conscience, particularly by the memory of his attempt to rape Buffy. Buffy is clearly sorry about his condition, she accpets his help and eventually gives him shelter, first at a friend's house and then in her own home which is by then very full of friends seeking to fight the big evil of that season. Spike is penitent and accepts that Buffy cannot love him, but this moral renewal is questioned in episode 7, 'Conversations with Dead People' when Buffy realisies that Spike is maybe killing and creating new vampires. She is not happy with this realisation, does not want to believe it and shows her depth of feeling for Spike in this way. It turns out that Spike is under the control of a mind trigger mechanism. Various events show Buffy wanting to help Spike and Spike wanting to resist the power of the mind control. The issue reaches a crisis when Buffy arranges for Spike to have an operatoin to remove his now malfunctioning chip. Her friends are concerned but the connection with Spike has become the important thing for her, though they have not resumed intimate relations and are apparently just friends.

Spike justifies Buffy's trust by overcoming the trigger in a fight which results from 2 of Buffy's friends wishing to eliminate Spike. However, we have also seen that Spike can be very dangerous and has been hovering between his noble moral intentions and the external demonic influence. Spike is faces with the further ambiguity that he wanted to make himself fully human for Buffy, but she needs him to be a demon when fighting on he side.

All the confusions are resolved in the last episode, 'End of Days'. Spike sacrifices himself to save the world, and has clearly saved Buffy from a relationship which creates pain and uncertainty. Spike' s death is sad but necessary to rescue Buffy's life from the confusion and pain.

Spike becomes the perfect moral hero, but that heroism is premissed on the demonic. Buffy herself finds that her strength has demonic sources. Spike's heroism rests on his unstable and dangerous personality. As Buffy said when rejecting him' he is in love with pain. Spike's moral journal is a redemptive story in which a personality lacking in morality, gains moral guidance from love, and then some grasp of the moral as a good in itself. That up lifting redemption can only rest on Spike's outside status in which he has never completely trusted and can never be sure that he will remain good. The fight for the good resorts to evil of some kind to win the fight. Spike is an outcome of that reality, and the reality that good can never be passive. The fight for the good takes Spike to the same rage and destruction he has as an evil vampire. Buffy ends her outsider stauts by sharing her slayer powers, Spike can only exist as an anomaly, as what does not deserve to exist. Spike does evil in his violence against himself but turns that into an act of giivng, or pure generosity. He is individuality as pure evil, the danger Hegel warned of and which Kierkegaard tries to overcome.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Philosophy and Literature: Thomas Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge

A recent rereading of Thomas Hardy's novel The Mayor of Casterbridge has inspired a view thoughts about philosophy and literature.

It is a novel which is particularly close to tragedy, as define dby Aristotle in The Poetics, a hero falls in the world and endures suffering as the result of an error of judgement. As a novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge repeats the situation in a structure more complex than tragedy. An Aristotelian terms. a repeated tragedy within an epic. The tight structure of tragedy is repeated across a work with the episodic associational structure of epic.

The tragic falls: Henchard sells his wife while drunk and angry with her; Henchard ruins himself later when he is a wealthy farmer and a mayor, by engaging in a reckless attempt to win a commercial battle with his ex-friend and manager Donald Farfrae; he misses the chance to marry his ex-girlfriend before Farfrae wins her over; he misses the chance to tell his step-daughter Elizabeth-Jane that he is not her biological father when he finds out himself: he misses the chance to tell the truth to Elizabeth-Jane and her biological father. He goes through many little falls due to his self-destructive character leading to our next topic.

The hero Michael Henchard has many 'anti-hero' qualities. He is a loner and is disposed to arbitrary destructive and self-destructive acts. He is a Dostoevskian character in this sense, and has some resemblance with the heroes of Knut Hansun, themselves presumably drawing on Dostoevsky. Like Dostoevskey's characters he tends to promote scandal. One memorable example is his attempt to welcome a member of the Royal Family to Dorchester after he has fallen from being mayor and is a rather disreputable laboourer.

The anti-hero, I believe, receives its classical description and theorisation in Lukacs' Theory of the Novel. Lukacs refers to the growing contradiction in the novel between the hero and the world. The hero does not see herself in the world and cannot follow the laws of the world. There is an opposition between subjectivity and the world. The hero can increasingly only exist as insane or criminal. In this argument, the anti-hero is the necessary hero of the novel since Cervantes.

The Dostoevskian aspects of Henchard, irritability, irrationality, self-destruction, provocation of scandal, excessive pride coexisting with excessive humility, draw us towards Bakhtin"s discussion of the novel through Dostoevsky in Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. Bakhtin emphasises all these aspects of Dostoevsky in a discussion of what he takes to be the ideal form of the novel in Dostoevsky. The most Bakhtinian concern is the provocation of scandal and that leads us to the preoccupations of Rabelais and his World. Famously Bakhtin there dwells on the carnivalesque as an important moment in popular culture until recent times, referring to festival moments where social hierarchy is inverted, and power is mocked. The rise of Henchard from labourer to mayor and rich farmer, and his subsequent fall to labourer again has this structure in general. One moment in the novel particularly suggest the Carnivalesque. This is the 'skimmity ride' in which disreputable local characters humiliate a couple in the novel. In general the Skimmity Ride is a rural practice of mocking a couple where the wife does not 'belong' wholly to the husband. In this case they the locals parade large dummies of Henchard and his ex-girlfriend Lucetta. The intention is to humiliate Lucetta and her husband Donald Farfrae. The consequence is that Lucetta miscarries and dies. This is the Carnivalesque as a festival of resentment, rather then the neo-Marxist reading of Bakhtin in which the Carnival is the release of popular radical energies. In this case, the mocking of power is clearly an example of evil, and is described in terms of every kind of economic, social and psychological resentment coming to the surface. It very much suggests Rousseau on self-love and imagination, and Nietzsche on ressentiment.

In its tragic aspects, Hardy's novel seems to confirm Hegel and Kierkegaard's analysis of the difference between Ancient and Modern Tragedy. Ancient Tragedy refers to the burden of fate carried by a family or a nation , it refers to pollution that afflicts the hero which comes from an unconscious or inherited transgression of boundaries. In Modern Tragedy, the hero bears all this alone from deliberate willed decision. Henchard demonstrates a strong sense of unbearable guilt not just at his actions, but at his who,e existence. The novel ends with his desire to be forgotten. Elizabeth-Jane is left to reflect in a more measured novellistic way on the burdens of existence, so tragic elements are modified by the novellistic which presents a whole world or varied fortunes. The tragic elements also have to be seen in terms of Schopenhauer, whose philosophy Hardy knew,a s did many literary writers of the time. Henchard's sense of the futility of existence is like Schopenhauer. The role of tragedy relates to Schopenhauer, as does the role of music. Henchard is partly destroyed because he normally lacks the music which communicates with his inner self, a view of music clearly taken from Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Representation.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

South Africa on the Road to One Party Kleptocracy: ANC ready to Disband Anti-Corruption Police

It's come to my attention that the recent ANC conference which elected Jacob Zuma as its leader also decided to disband the Scorpions anti-corruption force. The Scorpions report to the state prosecution service and stand aside from the police as a special force to fight corruption and illegality in high places. It was something that made South Africa different from a large number of countries in rest of the continent, a country where government is under the law and where government serves the nation instead of looting the nation. Zuma himself was investigated for corruption due to Scorpion actions, but was cleared. Since then he"s been cleared of rape and corruption charges but continues to be investigated for corruption. Jacob Zuma who has now been appointed President of South Africa in waiting, since the leader of the ANC is guaranteed to win the state post. Zuma has been elected head of the ANC in a mood of resentment that wealth is held by whites. Underlying this is disappointment that the benefits of economic growth have not been widely felt. A creeping process is underway of transferring economic assets to ANC connected business people in the name of social justice. These are the wrong solutions to some real problems. The problems are been taken up to feed a mood of resentment and the feeling that no law or ethics restrains the urge for rectification.

South Africa and Africa do not need a growing state monopoly party system in Sotuh Africa, especially not in the mood of resentment and of immunity for the popular champion of the moment. It needs a split in the ANC to allow genuine political competition. It is widely acknowledged that the ANC has a social democratic wing and a more radical wing round the Communist Party of South Africa and the trade unions. South Africa needs these wings to evolve into parties competing for power with each other, instead of competing with each other within the ANC on how to carve up state patronage. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, is a worthy liberal party rooted in white parliamanetary opposition to Apartheid, but it looks stuck as the party of white voters and Cape coloureds. Waiting for it to acquire larger Black support 's likely to be slow process. The ANC as a movement of liberation should have split into parties sooner, a movement of liberation that becomes government is particularly likely to regard opposition to its policies and to the privileges of its movement as anti-liberation. We see this in practice when we see this disturbing move to eliminate the Scorpions. What next in the search to eliminate constraints on the ANC?

Friday, 18 January 2008

Kierkegaard and the Danish-Norse Context

Kierkegaaad includes regular, if not very frequent, references to the old pagan Nordic world. Ragnarok, the end of the word and the Norse pantheon, and Loki, the trickster god, feature for example. Loki seems very appropriate to Kierkegaard's own sense of constant irony. Ragnarok is appropriate to the sense of melancholy and anxiety. References to Danish literature are frequent in Kierkegaard, particularly Heiberg, and sometimes Hans Christian Anderson. There is a great sense in some of Kierkegaard's texts of the physical geography of Copenhagen and its surroundings, as in the coach journey featured in the preface to Either/Or I. The criticisms of Hegel establish a Danish perspective on the issues discussed by Hegel. Danish subjectivity is contrasted with German objectivism, though in an indirect way. Kierkegaard certainly creates the sense that Danish Christian thought is marked by the earlier pagan Nordic world. Kierkegaard belongs to the 'Danish Golden Age' which included the institution of Danish as an academic language instead of Latin and as the literate and literary language instead of German. Kierkegaard's texts are full of a struggle with German idealist universalism, and the irreducibility of subjectivity and of particularity to objectivity and universality. Kierkegaard is taking up Germanic tradition: Luther in religion; Kant, Ficthe, Schelling and Hegel in philosophy and creating something focused on individuality. We see Kant from the perspective of Loki and Ragnarok.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Envy in Rawls: Rousseau, Nietzsche and Resentment

Rawls versus Nietzsche
Chapter 81 of Rawls' A Theory of Justice addresses 'Envy and Inequality', with passing reference to Nietzsche. Nietzsche appears on three occasions in the book, and is the representative of what is bad. H eis lined with Aristotle as Perfectionist, a follower of the morality of self-perfection. Nietzsche is presented as giving an egomaniac version of perfectionism. Aristotle's moral ideal is an emotionally controlled slave owning aristocrat who regards himself as superior to slaves, labourers, foreigners and women. That does rather leave a question mark over any assumption that Aristotle is morally preferable to Nietzsche, but our main concern here is the comments on envy. Nietzsche turns up as the bad philosopher who finds envy everywhere. Rawls quite rightly observes that Nietzsche places envy at the centre of social relations and psychology.

Ressentiment, Envy and Egalitarian Liberalism

Structure of Ressentiment in Nietzsche
Rawls does not think that envy is an intrinsic part of human relations. For Nietzsche, envy as ressentiment, is at the heart of all psychology and social relations. Consciousness itself is constituted in the pain of the denial of instinct, and that denial is repeated in the origins of society. Those structures of ressentiment are given another form in the relation of master and slave, which reduces the slave to ressentiment in the powerlessness which prevents the execcution of revenge against the master. Ressentiment clearly translates from French as 'resentment' and as it contains the word 'sentiment' brings in strong overtones of feeling itself. Nietzsche regarded the animal which can feel consciously as the animal which has a consciousness structured by ressentiment. In Nietzsche, that refers to the desire for revenge frustrated and turned into an impotent obsession with imaginary punishment. It is suggested that time itself produces such a reaction, as time places the past outside the power of consciousness. The realisation of the relation is a major dramatic and structural element of Thus Spoke Zarathustra; and is discussed in On the Genealogy of Morality in a relatively discursive manner.
Eliminating Envy in Rawls
Rawls refers to envy as the product of inequality that cannot be justified to those who have less. The idea of justified inequality is a pillar of Rawls' thought. It is expressed in his famous 'difference principle'. That principle is presented as the product of a rationality that precedes actual social relations, that is the 'veil of ignorance' which allows the design of a political system without regard to the place of the designer in any hierarchy in that system. Difference, that is inequality, is justified where it benefits the worst off in that society, where it increases the living standards of the poorest. The point of the chapter is that following the difference principle eliminates envy. Where the poorest can find that inequality raises their living standards, the inequality does not result in envy. That envy avoidance requires special measures to compensate for unjustified inequality, e.g. disadvantage that results from disability. Rawls' liberalism here seems rather utopian, envy will be eliminated by sufficient public spending judiciously targeted.
Philosophy of Envy in Rousseau and Nietzsche
Rousseau is one of the main positive references for Rawls. Strangely he omits the account of envy in Rousseau's discourse on inequality. Rousseau thinks of envy as emerging after the institution of property where individuals compares themselves with each other, and imagine how they appear in the imagination of others. This is the negative opposite of the sympathy Rousseau thinks humans feel for each other by nature. The possession by any person of more than other people will result in this envy. Rousseau sees envy as the inevitable result of inequity, All that can avoid envy is complete equality between individuals.

A Silence in Rawls
Rousseau exists in Rawls in a rationalised form, as a theorist of contract. The more extreme and disturbing aspects of Rousseau are silently excluded in Rawls. Instead we get a framework for rationally limiting envy. There is a lot of scope for intervening against unjustified inequality through compensation, but no scope for eliminating inequality. Rousseau accepted that large states will have social inequality, but is guided by the ideal of an autarchic community of small property owners. No such state can exist for Rawls. The Rtawlsian society is not driven by the energies of envy, or passion of any kind.

Rawls imagines a system of political justice which excludes passion. Envy itself is based on a depersonalised comparison between individuals. Rousseau's citizens are driven by political and social passions, Rawls' social actors are driven by a rational conception of society detached from individual interests and passions. Both Nietzsche and Rousseau deal with the human animal separated from nature, Rawls imagines a purely rational agent abstracted from any individual desires.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Private Companies in Iceland rush to use Euro: What's that British Euroscpetics say about the EU as USSR II? How disgusting is that anyway.

A story in today's Financial Times refers to companies in Iceland that are rushing to adopt the Euro as an internal accounting device. The central bank there is putting on the brakes to avoid an unthoughtout lurch into a dual currency economy. Icelandic companies do so much business in the Eurozone that internal accounting is more conveniently conducted in Euros than krona.

So much for the claim of many prominent Eurosceptics that the European Union is like the old USSR. I don't recall companies in Iceland, or any other nation, rushing to adopt the old rouble as an accounting currency. According to other reports, there is now a greater volume of Euros held in the world than US dollars. The Euro is the official currency of a greater population than the population of the United States, the total economic output of the Eurozone is greater than the United States, though the average income is somewhat less. What is happening in Iceland confirms that the development of the European Union, including the instrument of the EuroEuro is not the USSR II.

Exactly how can anyone make such grotesque comparisons. How many people are political prisoners in the EU? Where is the Euro-Gulag? Which newspapers have been closed by the Commission? The EU needs many reforms, but how can a commentator of sound mind and mature years compare the political union of an increasing number of European democracies with Soviet totalitarianism? Criticism of the EU is fine, like any institution it needs to be held up to continuous harsh criticism, but the Britsh Eurosceptics are not harshly criticising, they are letting European leaders of the hook with their ravings. If they stuck to promoting the free market policies they claim to put at the centre of their political beliefs, they could make a difference in pushing the EU in that direction. But why engage when you can live in a fantasy bubble land of British nationalism in which all problems come from outside targeting immigrants and Eurocrats. These people usually like to wrap themselves in the garments of Libertarianism and Classical Liberalism. Funny how 'Libertarianism' and 'Classical Liberalism' turn out to mean social conservatism and nationalism. I just cannot remember the relevant passages in Locke and Smith, Tocqueville and Mill, Paine and Kant. Maybe that's because they do not exist.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Firefox 3 Beta 2, ready to download despite Mozilla's caution

Something I haven't logged a comment about before, making the most of computers. Though I have no technical knowledge whatsover, I am on an upward curve in terms of how to make the most of computers and the options on offer. I've recently downloaded the latest beta version of Firefox (Mozilla Firefox 3 Beta 2) from here

Mozilla have not greatly publicised this, and refer to it as a Beta edition only suitable for their testing community. However, Beta seems like a meaningless description given the amount of generally available stuff designated in this way. Why is any of it more 'beta' than the non 'beta' stuff which replaces it but is periodically updated?

I urge everyone with a Firefox browser to download. I currently have Firefox 2 button on my side bar, but if Mozilla don't make the 'beta' a general release soon I'll try to make my own button for Firefox 3.

  1. Amazing, even while working up this post, and posts on the Facebook Firefox community,an updated British English dictionary downloaded. A point that was going to be listed as a disadvantage is now resolved. If things are moving this quickly Mozilla really should put this on general release very soon.
  2. Very integrated feel, tabs seem to be part of a continuous surface (matching the best aspects of Safari and Opera).
  3. Very clearly designed icons and lettering mean that they are smaller but legible, and the bars can take up less space and the general window is larger, which also creates an uncluttered feel. Also window in browser bar is very wide, even when like me the user activates nearly all the icons.
  4. All webpages now perfectly match the window, irritating sideways scrolling a thing of the past (which used to be a distinctive feature of Opera).
  5. Even now there is some choice of themes, some for Windows XP, but not Vista yet though there is at least one Fox2* theme for Vista, and at least one for Mac. I chose MicroFox which accentuates the feature of small icons and lettering and is still very clear. Also very cute icon of a fox which is activated while downloading. Great attention to detail, every icon and feature gets creative design attention.
  6. Browser bar now include book marking function
  7. Restore closed tab feature works better for me than on the last version of Firefox 2.
  8. Pointing towards an url now includes a very clear indication if that url has been visited before with a quick link.
  9. Live bookmarks now includes 'Smart Bookmarks' feature which lists: Most visited, Recently, visited, Recent tags.
  10. Holding mouse pointer over url now gives a more clear and attractive legible little window.
  1. At present Facebook plug in/tool bar does not work. Attempts to substitute with Google and Yahoo desktop widgets have proved very unreliable.
  2. After the end of downloading the X icon in dialogue box does not delete download from the box. However, clicking on the download does give working options to delete that download or all remaining in there.
  3. Google accelerator not compatible at present. The accelerator speeds up browsing and turns the main Google site in California into a proxy site. I found this very useful for accessing very respectable websites, which are affected by libel actions brought in Turkey against sites sharing the same server. Oddly the block does not work on university servers. The accelerator does not completely solve the problem, interactive functions are still a problem. I now use a website proxy which is less convenient and seems to be mainly aimed at sleazebags blocked from MySpace (a motive of no relevance to me, honest). Nevertheless, it feels like browsing is now faster rather than slower.
Really, the verdict is clear. If you have Firefox 2*, download Firefox 3 now, from the icon above. If you don't use Firefox, try it and you won't be disappointed. Very few who start using Firefox turn back. It really does download very quickly and on any OS still in widespread use, even on Microsoft/Windows computers which will not download Explorer 7. You don't lose anything with Firefox and you gain a lot in aesthetics, choice, flexibility, and general user friendliness. For example, the last time I tied to save passwords on Explorer, I had to download an application which was highly disruptive and annoying to use. Saving or not saving paswords of your choice in Firefox is very very easy. It's clear evidence that Microsoft are now a dinosaur company that it's easier, and better, to use Firefox on their computers than MS's own Explorer browser. I still normally only use MS computers, but that should be changing later this year, as I am now a full convert to the Bill Gates is Darth Vader school; that claim is certainly becoming more and more true over time. More on this in a later post I hope.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Foucault for Chance Against a Transparent Civil Society

Foucault famously suggested a historical movement from spectacular punishment to disciplinary punishment. he was referring to the transition from public humiliation, torture and execution to the hidden routine of prison For Foucault that transition from one mode of punishment to another was the indicator of a general historical movement to institutions based on the visibility of everyone in the institution, the apparent depersonalisation of power and the movement of discipline in society as a whole from moments of excessive cruelty to long periods of routinised petty cruelty.

The vision of a society dominated by the disciplinary was modified soon afterwards in a move which becomes on of the dominant issues of Foucault's work up to his death in 1984. He became interested in the security pursued by sovereign power which is not the detailed planning of society from above. In the disciplinary, we can see power trying to dominate chance and eradicate it through planning. In security, also associated with 'governmentality', and with antique notions of selfhood, Foucault finds that power may bow to chance A key example is the emergence of the Physiocrats in Eighteenth Century France. They moved away from the idea of the king's servant trying to control the economy through protectionism, state monopoly and state control of high prices. The Physiocrats displaced the Mercantilists as the leading advisers to the Crown. The mercantilists aimed to prevent tangible wealth leaving the country in exchange for goods. The effect of their policies was to hold down living standards of the majority in order to guarantee the strength of the state measured by its holdings of gold. They tried to prevent rural famine trough state intervention. Physiocrats thought fear of famine was exaggerated and that the best way of guaranteeing enough food for everyone was to keep prices down.

The Physiocrats appear in Foucault as the opposite of the schemes of the French early modern monarchs, and other European monarchs, to plan new cities and organise the lives of the inhabitants in every detail Physiocrats thought allowing people to be free and to develop their own responses. was the best prevention for famine. Allowing the price of grain to go up would prevent famine as it would create an incentive for farmers to grow more of the crop concerned.

It's in the market as something driven by chance that Foucault saw an antidote to rationalistic planning. Quite how far Foucualt was going in the direction of the capitalism of spontaneous human action is a matter of debate. What definitely comes through is not only opposition to state dominated economics but to the idea of unified transparent civil society or public sphere. With the decline of Marxism, a lot of leftist thought has resorted to notions of public sphere and civil society in opposition to capitalism Civil society is understood as defined by state administrators and actors in favour of state intervention against the looming chaos of market economics. Jürgen Habermas is the most obvious representative of such a view, and Habermas has gone beyond his Marxist background in influencing the discourse of social democracy and liberalism. His view of rational consensual civil society expresses itself in admiration for the constitutional state, which includes the European Union. Sometimes Habermas seems like the official philosopher of the EU and of Atlanticist democracy. To the disappointment of many Marxist fans, Habermas supports some US and European military operations. That shows how far he was from revolutionary Marxism, but also how a kind of low level Marxism, appealing to a rational unified ordered public sphere and civil society, guided by a constitutional state beyond passions, comes to the fore as the necessary means to resist the supposed chaos and cruelty of unrestrained capitalism. It's a convenient doctrine for academics, NGO activists and state employees across Europe and across the Atlantic world.

Foucault certainly said that society should be defended, he meant that the state should be limited, and that even the state guided by intellectuals and acting for benign motives constrains freedom and administers every detail of society in a disciplinary way. Habermas recognises a tension between the liberal goal of a state resting on general law and the welfarist pracitce of administrative action outside general law. His solution is more and more rational discourse, which in practice will be structured by the state and by intellectuals in the broad sense. Foucault's interest in what has been kept out of official and intellectual discourse leaves him with a much better sense that the willfulness of individual behaviour and the spontaneity of uneducated human behaviour in the economy is waht gurantees freedom. His account of he role ofGerman free market economists in the Odo group in opposition to the Nazis and playing a large role in the early post-Nazi German political and economic thinking, certainly suggests so.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Neo-Nietzschean Democratic Theory

The rather verbose phrase in the title of this blog is something I came up with while planning next semester's MA course on 'Contemporary Political Theory'. As the course is an elective following on from a required course in political philosophy from Plato to Nietzsche, I've stretch Contemporary to refer as far back as the early part of the Twentieth Century.

Neo-Nietzschean Democratic Theory is something I came up when thinking how to label the part of the course dealing with Foucault and Derrida. The section of Carl Schmitt is labelled Conservative Authoritarian, the section on Rawls is Egalitarian Liberalism, the section on Nozick is Libertarianism, the section on Sandel is Communitarianism, the section on Pettit is Republicanism, and the section on Habermas is Neo-Marxism I was struggling for a while for a label to apply to Foucault and Derrida. I was very eager to avoid the term 'Post-Modern'. Foucault strongly rejected the term, and Derrida distanced himself from it. It carries to many associations with a lazy kind of relativism and social constructivism.

Why Post-Nietzschean Democratic Theory? Both Foucault and Derrida were deeply impressed by Nietzsche and gave him an important place in challenging idealist abstraction, teleology, and any belief in neutral facts unconditioned by perspective. They both shared Nietzsche's resistance to social homogenisation and Nietzsche's concern with paradox. Both drew on the idea of a 'genealogy', a history of concepts in which concepts do not have an abstract existence separate from social and historical forces.

Nietzsche does not look like a Democratic theorist, nevertheless his critical remarks on democracy can be taken as showing a concern for the subordination of individuality to majoritarianism in democracy. Such concerns come to the force in Derrida in Politics of Friendship, where amongst other things he is concerned with Nietzsche's account of friendship and its relation with accounts of democracy and friendship. The constant interest of Foucault in the resistance of singularity to universality has a Nietzschean element. Both Foucault and Derrida are concerned with Democracy. It's Derrida who took this view consistently, while Foucault in much of his work is suspicious of all power. After about 1976, he had more to say about different forms of state regime, and the desirability of a strong civil society to restrain the state. Both avoid the kind of consensualist rationalism about democracy that can be found in Rawls or Habermas. Derrida is more the average social democrat/egalitarian than Foucault, while Foucault focused more on the individual and the singular resisting the universal. Both are also concerned with the trauma of the individual constrained by social structures, and the paradox of sovereignty must bases itself on laws and rights which it is supposed to ground. Both though that violence must enter into that paradoxical moment, as Nietzsche himself thought.

Whatever anyone might think about the credentials of Nietzsche as a democrat, he certainly greatly influenced the two democratic thinkers Foucault and Derrida. He brings out the difficult side of modern liberal democracy, as it movers away from Classical participation to liberal representation, and as it rests on the coercive power of the state.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Nozick Alone Among the Libertarians

I've been researching Nozick and his commentators for the MA course I'm giving next semester on Contemporary Political Theory (details on my university web page, see right hand column). The most vicious critics of Nozick are certainly his fellow Libertarians, including Murray Rothbard who Nozick refers to as important in converting him to a Libertarian point of view. Libertarian in this context means the capitalist version in which if the state exists at all, it should only exist to uphold property rights based on voluntary contract, and protect individuals from violence. In the Anarchist, or near Anarchist version, of which Rothbard is the best example, these laws emerge in a voluntary way without any need for a state.

Though I was already acquainted with the idea that Capitalist Libertarians/Anarcho-Capitalists are a quarrelsome lot and that most of them are on the fringe of the academic world, I was startled by the response of Libertarians to Nozick. Nozick is by some way the most distinguished representative of that point of view in academic philosophy. No one has replaced him in that role since his death, and Nozick may himself have stopped filling that role. Though he did not say much about political philosophy after his Libertarian masterpiece Anarchy, State and Utopia, there are indications he pulled back from his claims in that book to a softer form of Libertarianism (presumably heading towards the kind of welfarist liberal/capitalist libertarian crossover I favour). The Libertarian response is to sneer that he turned into a social democrat. Anyway they did not like his book in the first place, and were probably relieved that he could be later labelled as an apostate .

Murray Rothbard, and his followers, express great jealousy of Nozick's success, claiming that Rothbard's Ethics of Liberty (click for pdf download) is a more important book. The book can be found via as can a great deal of other relevant material. I certainly don't fault the Misess Insittute people for failure to use the Internet properly. Anyone who compares Rothbard's book with Nozick really ought to feel embarrassed for Rothbard, and his followers, that they could be so self-deceiving and foolish as to think Rothbard's book is better. His method of argument is constant restatement of the view that the state is unnecessary, and that left to themselves, people will create better voluntary arrangements. His method of dealing with different points of view is to insult them and to fall back on an analogy between the state and a supplier of goods or services in a market economy based on rules of a kind which have always been enforced by the state. Just like Anarcho-Communists, Rothbard relies on natural intuitions of Natural Law to substitute for the role of the state. Again the universality of these intuitions is asserted rather than argued for. The fact that Nozick's book is composed from a variety of detailed arguments for his position is used against him by the Rothbardians, apparently people just read those arguments separately which is supposedly easier than reading Rothbard's book through. There is nothing difficult about Rothbard's book apart from the boredom resulting from his constant under argued assertions.

Other criticisms of Nozick from team Rothbard, and other Libertarian crews, include outrage that Nozick finds paradoxes at the foundations of Libertarianism he has to try to answer, essentailly the classic paradox of explaining how people consent to a common set of rules without force. In their zeal Libertarians are shocked by the possibility of paradox in the foundations of their ideal system, though one might think the whole point of political philosophy is to deal with the paradoxes that human reason throws up and which every inquiry into the heart of a subject always throw up.

Jealousy is never far from the surface. The feeling that famous universities are dominated by cliques of elite left-liberal academics excluding the knights of Libertarianism is a constant theme. It is not possible that the left-liberals (also Neo-Conservatives and Conservative Paternalists) could be doing honest work of high quality. The fact that Rothbard never had a job at a famous institution clearly embittered him and his followers. Rothbard appears to have been a generous and inspiring person in some respects, but somewhat lacking in a sense of proportion about his importance and the quality of his essentially polemical work. Nozick was a professor at Harvard, and even worse is very generous about the work of his famous left-liberal colleague John Rawls. Generosity to non-Libertarians is not widespread in Libertarian culture; they find it hard enough to be generous to each other. Nozick appears to have been a sensitive, understanding and well rounded individual who did not try to dominate other people or establish a clique of loyal followers. He was certainly a misfit on Planet Libertarian