Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Link: Elections in Germany, Liberal Progress

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog .

‘Germany’s Shift to the Right’, Dennis Nottebaum. 28th September, 2009 in OpenDemocracy.

An article in the left leaning democracy and human rights website OpenDemocracy. Nottebaum points to the surge for the FDP (Free Democratic Party), a liberal party which emphasises free markets, a limited state, and civil rights, led by the first open gay to lead a major German party, Guido Westervelle. The FDP came third in German elections, which is evidently a limited kind of success, but it’s the biggest third party vote ever in the Federal Republic, the biggest FDP vote ever, and marks a big shift in power.

I don’t entirely endorse the notion of a shift to the right. It could also be descried as a shift away from social conservatism to social liberalism, and from monumental dominant parties to a more varied political scene in Germany freed from political machines linked with the churches, trade unions, and businesses seeking corporate welfare. The main parties, SPD (social democrats) and CDU-CSU (Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union), fell back from what was already a historically low share of the vote.

The Greens and the Left increased their proportion of the left inclined vote, and the Greens were co-lead by a German of Turkish origin, Cem Özemir.

The FDP matched the SPD in the youth vote.

The FDP ran on a platform of reducing regulation and taxation, showing that the current economic down turn is not leading to an automatic inexorable move to more regulation of the financial sector. And quite rightly so, it’s a big myth that the decline in value of financial assets was due to deregulation, seeing as the deregulation is a myth.

The existence of the FDP, and its success, shows that civil liberties, human rights, and social pluralism, are not the sole possession of the left; it shows that free market policies go with social tolerance and limitations of the security state.

Links:Thomas Gregersen. PoliticalPhilo/Political Theory

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

Thomas Gregersen of Copenhagen is running two great online sites in political theory and philosophy.

PoliticalPhilo is a primarily a Twitter service, but also exists as a website with an RSS feed, which is how I keep up with it, as I do not use Twitter. Great selection of links to books, interviews, blogs, articles, news item etc in political philosophy. Alright, it did link to my first ‘Liberal and Libertarian Foucault’, which is how I know about it, but great links in general.


Political Theory - Habermas and Rawls A blog devoted to news and items relevant, broadly defined, to those two recent giants. Not favourite thinkers of mine, but certainly thinkers who cannot be ignored and who continue to inspire important discussions. I particularly recommend a recent item, with links to articles in the German press, about a dispute in German newspapers between Peter Sloterdijk and Habermas’ student Axel Honneth, referring to Sloterdijk’s Nietzscheanism and leanings towards cutting down the state, including the social state.

O Fortuna: Foucault, Rawls, Habermas, Nussbaum

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

In Security, Territory, Population, Michel Foucault is concerned, amongst other things, with the way that the early modern state tries to master fortune and chance. I’m not sure if Foucault quotes Machiavelli’s rather notorious suggestion in The Prince that fortune is a woman who needs to be beaten, but he brings The Prince (but unfortunately not The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy) into his discussion on the early modern state, and the issue of the state controlling chance is a persistent one. As Foucault suggests in Lecture II, there is a tendency from the Renaissance to Napoleonic times, to think of nature and history containing uncontrollable fortune of a rather personified, something that could be traced back to earlier ideas of a wheel of fortune. and the work of the fates.

Yesterday I posted on Foucault and the Physiocrats, which really approaches the issue of new attitude to fortune, fate and chance, in which allowing the market to work ends the repetition of famines which had seemed like the results of harsh fortune. Chance of one kind is limited by allowing chance of another kind.

A contrast can be made with John Rawls’ concern with minimising chance in A Theory of Justice. Chance is limited in these ways, and possibly more: the initial situation and veil of ignorance attempt to eliminate chance from the rational design of principles of justice; theoretical equilibrium between intuitions and reasoning aims to ensure that the optimal principles will be revealed; the attitude to inequality is that it should be compensated and eliminated where it is the result of chance, which must be an unfair outcome.

I would not want to reject all that Rawls says, but this urge to minimise and eliminate chance is unsatisfactory for various reasons, including the way it must allow extremes of state intervention in the emergent outcomes of market, and other voluntary, networks of actions and decisions. There could be a strong case for wanting to modify some outcomes, some kind of state supported social minimum is something I would support, but Rawls’ approach inevitably leads to a gigantic and ramifying apparatus of intervention and rectification from above.

It is is important that Jürgen Habermas, though more Marxist than Rawls in his formation, shows concern with this possibility, though not while discussing Rawls. I don’t see that Habermas has a solution, but at least he recognises the problem.

Martha Nussbaum’s case is interesting here. She pushes further than Rawls in an interventionist rectifying direction than Rawls, or further than Rawls mentions in A Theory of Justice where Rawls is trying to accommodate neutral comparison between many designs for justice. In that respect, Rawls does allow chance in, through accepting many possible outcomes of the initial position.

However, in Nussbaum’s ethics, certainly as presented in The Fragility of Goodness, she is very concerned with arguing that strong rational control of chance is not the best option for ethics as it lacks sensitivity to chance and the passions. Something argued largely against Plato, or some moments in Plato, with reference to Aristotle, tragedy, poetry and some moments in Plato.

As far as I can see Nussbaum has failed to apply the lessons of her ethics to her political theory. I think she would probably reply that the complex kind of welfarist interventionism she favours is necessary to respond to the complexity of different kinds of human, and human situation, and she would want to add the complexity of allowing for animal rights as well.

I claim that Nussbaum has overlooked the dangers of too much control of chance in the socio-political sphere. It would be a good idea to reflect on what she has written with regard to her ethics, and with regard to Habermas and Foucault.

O Fortuna. Not in the rigid sense of fortune as an agent, but in the sense of pure chance and indeterminacy in the natural and social universes.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Liberal and Libertarian Foucault III: Physiocrats

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, Lecture Two (page 207)

Actually, we can say that thanks to these measures, or rather thanks to the suppression of the juridical-economic straitjacket that framed the grain trade, all in all, as Abeille said, scarcity becomes a chimera.

The context of this quotation is a discussion of the impact of Physiocrat doctrines in 18th Century France. Quesnay, Turgot and others argued that grain shortages could not be cured by the measures the French monarchy had been using, that is measures of state coercion to keep down prices and prevent hoarding. The measures of the absolutist French monarchy to prevent farmers from storing grain and pricing it according to demand, are still the kind of things a lot of people find immediately convincing. Many states in the United States now, have laws against ‘gouging’, that is charging high prices for goods in an emergency which causes shortages. The issue of hoarding is linked, since those selling grain, or any other good, will not hoard it unless they expect to charge high prices for it in some future shortage. A reaction popular now, shared by despotic French monarchs is that shortages arise from hoarding, and shortages arise from sellers charging too much during an emergency.

Foucault endorses the Physiocratic policies, which anticipate Adam Smith who met the Physiocrats in a visit to France. As Foucault points out, it’s the Physiocrats who coined the phrase ‘laisser faire’ (letting it happen) in economics, and linked phrases like ‘laisser aller’ and ‘laisser passer’; and as Foucault implies, that policy worked. Allowing farmers and merchants to ‘hoard’ and ‘gouge’ ensures that enough grain is produced, and stored, to mean that there is no starvation even in times of relative shortage. As Adam Smith pointed, France was much more prone to hunger than Britain with less measures to restrain prices and prevent large scale storage ‘hoarding’. As Foucault recognises, the starvation of the poor was alleviated by following English style policies, which allow prices to go up. That benefits the poorest, since such market incentives mean there will still be grain available in times of relative shortage and much more cheaply at those times, than if the price of grain has previously been restrained.

In these lectures, Foucault is as much describing, or analysing, as judging or evaluating. The evaluations often have to be inferred, nevertheless the context really does not allow any interpretation other than that Foucault thought that the Physiocrat policies were an improvement on Mercantilist regulation. The quote above makes it clear that Foucault thinks such policies limit the power of the state in a desirable way.

It would be wrong to present Foucault as simply celebrating the market policies of 18th Century governments; he is constantly concerned with the way that limits on the ‘juridical-economic straitjacket’, or more generally sovereignty, biopolitics and disciplinarity, are consistent with their expansion. The French monarchy accepted Physiocratic policies in order to keep its power. That does not change the reality that Foucault recognises a preferable kind of power where state regulation is limited.

On a more general note, I ma titling this series of notes ‘liberal and libertarian Foucault’. Making this more precise, I would not link Foucault with those who insist that Classical Liberalism, or Libertarianism, means the end of all welfare and all regulation; and certainly not with those who think the state should be abolished or turned into a nightwatchman only, minarchist entity. Somewhat earlier, when Foucault was in contact with Maoists was the time he was closer to anarchism. Later text display anarchistic tendencies, but are overall disposed to look for a reasonable limitation on state power, and more dispersed forms of power, rather than abolition.

Foucault was always a man of the left, but I would argue on the basis of his later texts, that he was moving closer to an earlier sense of ‘left’ or ‘radical’ which regarded state intervention on behalf of sectional interests, or increased statism in general, as the enemy of liberty and of opportunities for the poorest to improve their living standards. Again, we must recognise the critical side of this; Foucault also points out that the original radicals, along with later socialists and anarchists, had attitudes based on ‘race war’, that is identifying the state and privilege with a non-national entity. I also doubt that Foucault thought all the forms of growth in state intervention since the early Nineteenth Century could, or should be, terminated. Extrapolating from these late texts, what others close to him have said, and so on, I would say that Foucault moved towards a position where he was in broad culture and allegiance on the left wing of politics, but in details on the left, or more moderate, side of free market libertarianism, allowing for state welfare but suspicious of the consequences of allowing state activity beyond very strict limits. I should also add that his concerns with disciplinarity and the dispersed nature of power, precludes a position in which the presence or the absence of the state is the definitive issue.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Nietzsche’s Positive Ethics (Not his Genealogy)

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

In Ecce Home, Nietzsche refers to a distinction between his no-saying philosophy and his yes-saying philosophy. The book which has been most discussed in recent years, On the Genealogy of Morality, is listed as no-saying and we cam take it that genealogy is part of his no-saying philosophy. Three books are listed as part of his yes-saying philosophy: Dawn, Gay Science, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. There’s certainly nothing wrong with studying the Genealogy or the wave of work concentrating on it, but we should be wary of taking that book as definitive of Neitzsche’s ethics. It might be definitive of his diagnosis of ethical illusions, but not of the ethics he is offering. Recent studies of the Genealogy may sometimes recognise it as a diagnostic work with regard to previously existing, but tend to stop there rather than move onto any kind of fully considered positive ethics in Nietzsche. Where Nietzsche is considered as an ethicist with a positive ethics, this often becomes Nietzsche as moral élitist or Nietzsche as aesthete of life. Neither position is necessarily wrong, but there could be more work on the details of what Nietzsche has to offer.

One problem is that at least some of the time, Nietzsche is saying that ethics, or morality, as such is an illusion, and a barrier to life. With that in mind, it could be said that Nietzsche has a philosophy of life rather than an ethical philosophy. However, I don’t think it is necessary to do this, as Nietzsche sometimes distinguishes between better and worse ethics rather than denouncing ethics as such. If we do resort to talking about ‘enhancement of life’, we risk talking about ethics, while calling it something else. In any case, ‘enhancement of live’ sounds like ‘virtue ethics’, though in that context the phrase ‘flourishing of life’ is more normal. It’s useful to discuss Nietzsche in the context of ‘virtue ethics’, and he fits better into that category than the other normal categories of moral theory, nevertheless Nietzsche should also be seen as challenging virtue theory, as it has normally been defined with reference to Aristotle, or maybe Plato, or the Stoics. A complete discussion of virtue theory would bring in (Saint Thomas) Aquinas, certainly complicating things. That’s not something I can go into now. What I do have is a list of points about Nietzsche’s ‘yes-saying ethics’, largely inspired by a recent reading of The Gay Science, Book III.

Virtues are something we should learn to be sceptical about, with regard to defining ourselves with regard to courage, generosity etc.

Virtues begin with adaptation to herd living in the earliest stages of human existence. Later stages of human existence break up the herd, and lead to more individualistic moral systems, or systems of virtues.

The separation of individuals from each other is progress in the human species and leads to progress in ethics. Growth, abundance and variety and signs of natural strength.

Ranking, and comparative evaluation, are necessary and admirable activities. It is important to say what or who, is better or worse than some other thing or person.

We can expect a future in which art, science and ‘practical wisdom’ are unified to create something which would make current law givers, doctors artists, and scholars, look petty (Gay Science 2nd edition, 113). The reference to ‘practical wisdom’ looks like a reference to phronesis in Aristotle, which includes ethics, an impression reinforced by Nietzsche’s reference to law givers, who by Aristotle’s standards are engaged in phronesis, or practical wisdom.

The loss of the world of God based ethics, particularly ethics based on Christianity, creates a sense of being lost in an ocean, and being on the verge of the infinite (Gay Science 2nd edition, 124).

The sense of moral scepticism advocated by Nietzsche partly comes from Christianity because of its scepticism about Ancient virtues. The sceptical work is taken further in Enlightenment’s scepticism about Christian virtues.

Christianity gives use the sense that Ancient virtues of courage, generosity etc, conceal sin, or in Nietzsche’s terms undermine any idea of perfection in a personality dominated by any one virtue (Gay Science 2nd edition, 122).

Nietzsche does not advocate a return to Ancient ethics, he says that it looks childish to us now, and as we have seen thinks Christianity has done a useful job of undermining Ancient ethics.

One criticism Nietzsche has of Ancient ethics is that is morality based on mores (der Sittlichkeit der Sitte), which was challenged by Plato and others, when they tried to introduce new moralities. Nietzsche criticises any ethics which is just a following of existing customs. (Gay Science 2nd edition, 149)

Nietzsche regards the different moralities of different nations as evidence of illusion about the nature of ethics. He also advocates new ethics, and the multiplication of ethical views. This apparent contradiction can perhaps be resolved by thinking about the value Nietzsche gives to the integration of multiplicity and conflict into one organism, or one work of art.

Every experience, and every judgement, is moral, because always embedded in our sense of honesty and justice (Gay Science 2nd edition, 114). This is one reason why Nietzsche is not arguing overall that we can abandon ethics, even if we try to expose ethical illusions. We are always concerned with what justice and honesty are.

One thing that justice requires is to see that different people are not the same and are not equal. Presumably different morality, or different virtues, are good for different people.

I don’t see that Nietzsche is saying that some people should be denied rights, though he does think some people are better others. These are two distinct points in any case.

Nietzsche is against altruism, we should not do something because it is good for someone else, and we should not wish to sacrifice ourselves for that reason. Some of what comes about through altruism may still come about through a self-interested desire for strength, growth and health. Individual health may be associated with generosity and indifference to injury.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Mill:Liberty/Socialism, Principles of Political Economy

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

Returning here to a topic I addressed on September 9th. The ways in which Mill seems to depart from On Liberty in Principles of Political Economy, though he was working on it at about the same time. The several editions the Principles went through somewhat confuses that interpretative issue.

More ways in which Mill departs from the On Liberty perspective, in Book II on Distribution (which does not appear in all versions currently in print).

Wages are at least to some degree determined by custom rather than markets. Mill here seems to be referring to those upper professions which tend to be linked with the upper classes and have social power, law, medicine and so on. One might expect Mill to suggest that that non-economic power had enabled members of these professions to increase their welfare through restricting entry, monopoly of practice of that profession through compulsory member of a professional body, and so on. Adam Smith had already made similar points. However, Mill seems to regard these examples as evidence that distribution of income can generally be separated from supply and demand in the market.

The previous point feeds into the consideration he gives to the possibility of communism, which I have already mentioned. In connection with what he says on custom determining income, he suggests that income distribution could be flattened and there would still be an efficient economy.

The last point itself connects, if indirectly, with the suggestion that there could be a static economy, with no further development. It might be easier to conceive of a state reallocation of income, of the economy has reached some kind of plateau, in which case rearranging who gets what income might not seem like to harm the economy. Mill thinks such a state could be reached if existing materials and technology have been exploited to the full. This ignores the tendency to innovate with regard to the use of materials, technological innovation and the possibilities of innovation in the organisation of labour.

There may be societies which have reached some stasis. I would guess irrigation based agricultural communities in Pharonic Egypt, or pre-Columbian Guatemala. In both cases, a despotic political system presided over, and was reinforced by control of irrigation. In both cases, the political and economic stasis killed innovation and I believe led to a lack of adaptation which led to catastrophic collapse in the face of climate change or over use of fixed resources. Mill’s hypothesis of a static economy would be the product of political despotism, and a connected killing off of incentives to innovate. If that is part of Mill’s argument for the possibility of socialism, then it’s a rather dark picture, counteracting Mill’s growing tendency to believe over time that personal liberty might co-exist with communism.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Link: Return of Jefferson’s Deism in the US

Primary version if this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

Steven Waldman, ‘Deism: Alive and Well in America’, Wall Street Journal

Waldman refers to the Deism influential among the Founding Fathers of the United States, particularly Thomas Jefferson. That is a position according to which religious scriptures are regarded as unreliable, but God is accepted, along with aspects of religious teaching falling short of complete acceptance of the standard dogmas of religious tradition. Waldman could also have mentioned that Abraham Lincoln had Deist inclinations, though was also inclined to think of God as a providential force in history in late life. Deism in its strictest sense may exclude all intervention by God in the universe he created, but as Waldman points out, a kind of impure Deism was what Jefferson and others of that generation followed. The main contemporary point is that as the more conservative forms of religious belief are declining in the US, Deism is on the increase along with complete non-belief.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Liberal and Libertarian Foucault II: The Bosphorus

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog

Michel Foucault

Security, Territory, Population. Lecture Two. 18 January 1979

To tell the truth, this structuring function of space and territory is not something new to the eighteenth century. After all, what sovereign has not wanted to build a bridge over the Bosphorus or move mountains? Again, we need to know the general economy of power within which this project and structuring of space and territory is situated. Does it involve marking out a territory or conquering it? Is it a question of disciplining subjects, making them produce wealth, or is it a question of conquering something like a milieu of life, existence, and work for a population?

(page 29)

The Bosphorus stands here for chance which government attempt to overcome. For Foucault, a major feature of the period from the 16th to the 18th centuries is the growing awareness of chance, and the need for an art of government which can master it. This is embedded in the rise of commercial life, and its analysis through ‘economy’. and with the growth of interest in chance and the analysis of probability. Foucault notes the 16th century rise of books of government, advice on how to control chance in affairs of state. Machiavelli’s The Prince is taken as the main example. Foucault seems to ignore the republican aspect of Machiavelli, which would have suited his argument perfectly well. He treats Machiavelli’s book as guide on how the Prince can maintain, and extend his estate. What he fails to note, as far as I can see, is that Machiavelli is also referring to a notion of public interest which the Prince ought to serve, as well as failing to note Machiavelli’s wish to recreate Roman republicanism. This fits with Foucault’s analysis because he sees the move to state control as fitting with the growth of some forms of freedom. The interest in state control for thinkers like Francis Bacon and thinker-statesmen like Richelieu, or even writers of tragedy like Jean Racine, arises from the growing sense of uncontrollability. The people are always inclined to rebel, as is the upper class. Attempts to subordinate the economy to state edicts, as in price controls on wheat, prove to be counter productive: enforcement of a lower price for wheat reduces supply and causes starvation.

In the reference to bridging the Bosphorus, Foucault may have the story of the Persian King Xerxes, recorded by Herodotus, bridging the Hellespont (Turkish Straits) during his attempted invasion of Greece. Xerxes succeed in the building the bridge, but not in subduing Greece. The point of the permanent desire to bridge the Bosphorus (which now has two bridges), is that dramatic efforts to master nature may sometimes produce great results, but this may create an illusion of complete mastery of fortune. Xerxes could not conquer Greece, and the mighty absolute monarchs of early modern Europe could not guarantee sufficient bread for all by attempting to conquer the forces of markets and prices

Liberal and Libertarian Foucault I: Overview

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

Michel Foucault is often taken as emblematic of radical leftism, but it is also well known that from about 1975 he showed considerable interest in ideas of limited government and the role of market economies in limiting government.

In 1975, he published Discipline and Punish, which famously refers to the forms of punishment as a way of understanding social power in general. Also famously, he suggests that there has been a movement from spectacular punishment (public execution) to disciplinarity (confinement in prison). In explaining disciplinarity, he seems to be targetting liberal thought at various points.

As is very well known, he illustrates disciplinarity with Jeremy Bentham’s design for a model prison, the panopticon, In bringing this up, Foucault was not just commenting on the history of prison architecture, he was referring to a whole phenomenology of the relation between visibility and surveillance. In the panopticon, the prison authority can observe all prisoners at all times, so even if they are not being observed at any one time, their behaviour is modified by the constant possibility of being under observation.

This is how power in general works, as all institutions have such an architecture in their buildings which make strategies of power visible. This is also a strategy which conceals itself behind talk of reforming prisoners, and more generally of the movement from coercion to norms as the social foundation.

The targetting of liberal thought can be seen in the apparent unveiling of Bentham’s panopticon. Jeremy Bentham was associated with early British liberalism and was the godfather of John Stuart Mill, a very big figure in mid-Nineteenth Century liberalism, and liberalism since. The reference to norms as new ways of coercing people, but without manifest violence, could be taken as a dig at Max Weber, the sociologist closely associated with German liberalism. There is critical discussion of Enlightenment thinkers who exaggerate the offence to humanity of torture and death, as compared to long periods of imprisonment. This might be taken as a dig at Montesquieu, a major influence of liberal political thought, though Montesquieu does refer to the ‘inhumanity’ of all forms of extreme punishment including long prison terms.

In general, Foucault has appealed to a kind of left wing thinker who regards ‘liberal’ as a purely negative terms for a way of thinking which denies real relations of power behind formal appearances. The other aspect of this way of thinking about liberalism is to associate it with ‘humanism’, something criticised by Foucault. Foucault did criticise the idea of ‘humanism’ in at least two senses: taking humanity as an ideal, taking the individual human as an undivided agent which is completely aware of itself and is the same over time. However, humanism in either sense is not a necessary aspect of liberalism. Who criticised the idea of a undivided agent, unchanging over time? Most famously David Hume, usually taken as a liberal thinker, though perhaps at the more conservative end of the spectrum. It would be a travesty of the thought of Montesquieu and Weber to talk as if they thought any society had, or ever could, end coercion and allow the completely spontaneous development of human essence. I can think of someone who did think like that though, Karl Marx.

Even given these apparent digs at liberalism in Discipline and Punish, the text does not fit neatly into any left wing classification. If claims to emancipation lead to new forms of power, where does that leave radical left wing claims to emancipation? Why should we think that the socialist revolution, or any socialist transformation, will be less prone to violence and coercion than the liberal state? In Discipline and Punish, Foucault comes close to a rather anarchist position, in which all power should be resisted, though he does nor provide an anarchist program of how a society could exist without coercion. His assumption that power has a positive constitutive aspect could just as well be taken to support the view that society rests on the existence of coercive power.

In introducing the themes of anarchism and constant resistance to power, we have introduced libertarianism. This is itself a highly ambiguous word. It was originally associated with French anarcho-communists but from the 1950s was used in the United States to refer to pure free-market anti-state ways of thinking. In general this sense of libertarian has become dominant, so that in political philosophy, libertarianism is usually taken to refer to the kind of minimum state property rights society advocated by Robert Nozick. Even here there is some ambiguity since there are left-libertarian political theorists who aim for redistribution of wealth in a minimum state context. The other aspect of that ambiguity is the way that libertarian is often used as a another word for conservatism.

It would offend less people to call Foucault a libertarian rather than a liberal, since the left Foucauldians certainly appreciate the idea of liberation from authority, though strictly speaking they should be just as sceptical about that as they are about liberal calls for a society purely based on law, individual rights, and representative institutions. It seems consistent with the kind of Marxism proposed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in the early 70s, with which Foucault associated himself for a while; and with the ‘Italian Marxism’ of Giorgio Agamben, who provides a dominant perspective on Foucault for many. We might see Discipline and Punish as a flowering of that anarcho-marxism. Politically Foucault had Maoist leanings for a while and you cannot get more radically Marxist than that. This Maoism was based on illusions that Foucault later rejected. It’s a strange reality that Maoism, a version of Stalinism that was every bit as nasty as Stalin’s original, appealed to those who wanted liberation from all forms of state authority. Mao’s claims to be challenging bureaucratic authority in the Cultural Revolution were amazingly successful at convincing large numbers of educated leftists that some kind of liberation movement was going on in China, rather than the violent and sadistic destruction of anyone, and anything, independent of Mao Zedong, or which might possibly weaken his power in any way.

However, since Foucault’s sadly early death in 1984, his weekly lectures at the College de France have been published going back to 1974. It’s certainly interesting to compare Discipline and Punish with the lectures of 1975-6, published as Society Must be Defended. Anyone who sees the lectures as justifying a Marxist, or post-Marxist or neo-Marxist reading of Discipline and Punish is engaged in tortuous interpretation. Any kind of Marxism in power is referred to with the greatest of suspicion in the book, and the book does what the title suggest. It concentrates on the idea that society could be independent of the state, and that the role of government should be limited. A distinction is made between more absolute and more limited forms of government. Left wing politics is given a history linking it with ideas of race war against a supposedly foreign ruling class. The overall direction of the book is to establish some value for liberty in the sense used by liberal thinkers, before liberal started to mean left wing and statist; and in the sense used by libertarians when the word is not a synonym for a kind of right wing conservatism rebelling against the liberal state.

Later lectures develop ideas of governmentality, as limited government (in the spirt of Montesquieu’s idea of moderate government), against the absolute power of the state, rooted in ideas of the sovereign as shepherd of the people. Foucault does not lose his sense that apparent freedoms are tied up with coercion, but he emphasises the reality of those freedoms. He emphasises the superiority of Physiocratic free market solutions to wheat shortages in 18th Century France over Mercantilist attempts to regulate prices. In doing this, he is essentially repeating arguments mades by Adam Smith. He emphasises he the role of Ordo liberalism, that is a very free market liberalism, in the intellectual opposition to Naziism. He examines the work of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, the Austrian economists and political thinkers who have had a major impact on Classical (free market limited government) Liberalism and Libertarianism. He emphasises the way state power has been extended through biopolitics, the ways in which the state takes on the role of improving and extending life.

We do not even need to read Foucault’s lectures. A lot of this is apparent in the three volumes of the History of Sexuality which Foucault was able to write before his death. Extensive discussion of antique attitudes reveal a strong inclination towards the idea of the self-creation of character, in a kind of self-mastery strongly linked in the antique world with ideas of citizenship and political rights, what we would not call republican virtues. So Foucault’s later work is deeply influenced by ancient and modern notions of individualism and limited government.

Of course there are those who prefer to find some way of taking this up in terms of Marxism, or some kind of radical left thinking at least partly rooted in Marxism. However, even among the left Foucauldians there are those who recognise and regret his shift towards ‘neo-liberalism’. Amongst those associated with Foucault, Jacques Donselot has referred to liberal aspects of Foucault’s thought. His assistant at the Collège de France, François Ewald, has worked on the rise of state welfarism from a liberal point of view.

More to come, expanding on the points above.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

FNS 09: War and Liberty; Aristocracy and Liberalism

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

In my first post (three posts ago) on the Friedrich Nietzsche Society 2009 conference, I mentioned a point I made in the discussion after Brian Leiter’s presentation. I suppose this might be making a big deal out of a question, but I was dealing with some things I find important and have been working on for some time.

My point was in response to two claims from Leiter

Nietzsche links fighting in war with liberty, and no other philosopher has done so. Therefore Nietzsche cannot be linked with political liberalism.

Nietzsche attributes different moral worth to different kinds of individuals. Therefore Nietzsche cannot be linked with political liberalism.

My counter claims

Kant refers to war fought according to the laws of humanity as sublime in the Critique of the Power of Judgment. The experience of the sublime is way, for Kant, in which we encounter out transcendental self which stands outside natural determinism. This is our free self. This itself connect with remarks in the Metaphysics of Morals about the positive freedom, with reference to a will to perfection in following moral law which goes above mere minimal obedience, and again refers to our freedom in the most perfectionist way of rising above mere impulse and determinism. This clearly connects with Kant’s view of politics as a kind of perfectionist liberal republicanism, that is citizens rise to the highest levels of human personality in respect for law, as the basis for freedom in a state based on political participation. It also feeds into discussions about the liberty of the moderns and ancients in Benjamin Constant, and Wilhelm von Humbldt’s discussion of positive and negative welfare, two great figures of liberalism. Humbold also linked war with liberty saying that power of the state was less dangerous to liberty in the Ancient Greek states because constant war enhanced independence and strength of character. This is in Humboldt’s great contribution to political philosophy, The Limits of State Action.

Various major liberal thinkers have not been purists with regard to moral equality between humans. Before Alexis de Tocqueville they mostly assumed that only the propertied classes should have political rights. Tocqueville accepted the inevitability, and desirability, of democracy but with reservations and thought it would require a new kind of aristocracy in the legal profession and political leaders. John Stuart Mill thought the educated should have more political rights and that backward peoples should have no political rights until educated to the necessary level. Mill even suggests that some people are just lacking in moral character, suggesting that universal education would not make everyone equal. In politics, William Ewart Gladstone, the great British Liberal Prime Minister, and symbol of democracy and liberty throughout Europe, explicitly believed in aristocracy in the political system rather than pure democracy. As Tocqueville pointed out, representative government under law tends to produce its own aristocracy in any case. These liberal thinkers were picking up, though also revising, ancient republicanism in Aristotle, Cicero, Tactitus etc, which was rooted in the belief that liberty required an aristocracy proud of its rights and national independence. This continued into early modern republicanism, and then fed into Classical Liberalism.

FNS 09: The Italian Job. Nietzsche Texts and Studies

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

One interesting thing I noticed at the Friedrich Nietzsche Society 2009 Conference (see last two posts) was the contribution of Italian commentators, who were present in greater numbers than from any nation after the USA and UK, more than Germany. One distinctive aspect of this is Nietzsche editions, and associated work in philology, and thoughts about Nietzsche on language, philology and rhetoric.

This was most apparent through the participation of Paolo d’Iorio, who directs NietzscheSource (see list of favourite sites in another section of this blog). This is itself supported by the European Union backed Discovery Project: Digital Semantic Corpora for Virtual Research in Philosophy. Discovery supports projects to put reliable digitised versions of the complete archives of major European philosophers online.

D’Iorio spoke at a special session of the conference about the work to digitise the standard Colli/Montinari edition of the complete works of Nietzsche and to put the complete Nietzsche archive online, including his written manuscripts. D’Iorio passed round stunning editions of printed versions of this, which were an extraordinary pleasure to examine. Now everything will be online and far more complete, and freely available through European Union support. This builds on the extraordinary fact about Nietzsche editions, the role Italians have played. Giogio Collini and Mazzino Montinari produced the standard print edition of Nietzsche in German and now D’Iorio is working with Italian collaborators to have very complete Nietzsche texts and archives online. This is not a purely Italian project, D’Iorio himself works in Paris and Oxford. This is not just philology for its own sake, D’Iorio gave a paper on ‘From dissolution into dead matter to the artistic construction of reality. Mind and nature in Nietzsche’s notebooks of Summer 1881’, which combined his research on texts and manuscripts with a major theme in Nietzsche’s philosophy. Another Italian working on the NietzscheSource project through Discovery was present at the conference, Benedetta Zavatta and gave a paper on ‘Nietzsche on mind and language: rhetorical reasons and embodied knowledge’, again combined the philological work with philosophical questions connected with philology.

Most of the Italian participants were not working on NietzscheSource and there was a broad spread of interests, so a really interesting scene there. A bit of that might be due to the time Nietzsche spent in various Italian cities. In Turin his final collapse of 1889 is commemorated and I have found an image online, but unfortunately not complete enough for me to post here.

Monday, 14 September 2009

FNS 09: Leiter versus Gemes, An Epic Duel

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog


There was an unexpected bit of drama down at the Friedrich Nietzsche Society conference (see last post) on the Saturday. Brian Leiter’s plenary presentation in the Chapel was enlivened by a man who leafleted conference delegates with a photocopied sheet of quotations, headed CONTRA LEITER, and sprang to his feet after the talk to challenge Leiter, at some length on his denial of free will in Nietzsche’s philosophy. Who was this man? I did not recognise him during a long argument. It turns out it was Ken Gemes of Birkbeck College, London and the University of Southampton, well known figure in Nietzsche circles, in addition to a number of quality publications in philosophy of science and epistemology. Gemes is known, to me and most conference participants, as a good philosopher and a calm personality.


It certainly provided a fun topic of conversation in the college bar at the end of the day. Did the organisers feel the conference needed a bit of incident to make it particularly memorable, and put Gemes and Leiter up to it? Gemes and Leiter have been friends and collaborators in Nietzsche publications and events. They were seen chatting in a friendly way after the event. Was it some quarrel between friends which got particularly intense because they are such great mates? The context is obscure to me, but I appreciated the drama. Can we look forward to a rematch at the next FNS conference, preceded by insults and provocations in philosophy blogs? I do hope so, that would be wonderful. More please.

Friedrich Nietzsche Society Conference 2009 I

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Website.

Friday to Sunday I was at the Friedrich Nietzsche Society’s 2009 conference at St Peter’s College, University of Oxford. Plenary sessions and one quarter of parallel sessions took place in the chapel, which was an entertaining choice. The chapel was also used for a recital of Nietzsche’s piano music given by Michael Krücker. The chapel has great acoustics for music and it was a great opportunity to hear Nietzsche’s music in live performance. I don’t value his music highly, but it was a fine hour of live music.

The event was organised by Manuel Dries and Peter Kail. Many congratulations to them on a great job. A very happy, well organised conference with no real problems. Everyone I talked to thought it was a really good event in terms of the sessions and the social atmosphere.


I presented a paper, but I won’t go into that much as posts on Nietzsche over the Summer cover the same ground. Just a brief remark here. The session chair, Christine Lopes, asked me to clarify my position in comparison to the two other papers from Eric Nelson and Marie Fleming which touched on the issues of art and science in nature. I fell between the other two in advocating continuity in Nietzsche between the role of art and science as part of experience and inquiry into truth, but not a complete identity. On of the other speakers advocated something close to complete identity, and the other advocated a discontinuity, or a break. I’m disposed to the view that Nietzsche regards art and science as sharing the inquiry into truth, with the activity of inquiry regarded as more valuable than any goal of a final system of truth. I’m also disposed to the view that they offer different perspectives: a perspective in art of creating, and communicating through, forms; and a perspective in science of creating instruments which have value in prediction and in action.


Bernard Reginster

‘The Genealogy of Guilt’

Reginster concentrated on Genealogy of Morality, Essay II. He was corned with the relation of guilt to debt. Bad conscience seems to be an intermediate stage between guilt and debt leaving open the question of whether guilt is something other than debt plus bad conscience. Maybe it is the move from prudential obligation to categorical obligation. Will to power was defined as overcoming resistance, which Reginster defined as the source of pleasure in bringing about punishment, emphasised by Nietzsche as a major source of punishment. We should not see denial of instincts as necessarily self-directed cruelty, since prudential denial is a liberatory becoming indifferent to the instincts. Christianity is a distortion of previous guilt into a reason for self-abasement. Humans as sovereign individuals enjoy the pleasure of power in promise keeping, which is the source of promise keeping rather than fear of pain. Reginster takes the sovereign individual at the end of Essay II as an example of free will, which is also reflected in Christian guilt. Christian guilt is a rational passion motivated by responsiveness to reasons. As Reginster admitted, there is an elephant in the room with regard to this argument, how to account for the account in Essay I of free will as the illusion of salves seeking to claim that they choose slavery rather than admit they are slaves because they are weak.

Peter Poellner

‘Nietzsche’s ethics and the philosophy of mind: the case of ressentiment’

There is a problem with Nietzsche’s account of ressentiment: the Christian values that emerge from ressentiment are in contradiction wit hatred and desire for revenge. This means that the ‘slave’ who has a psychological structure of ressentiment, must both hate and not hate. This raises the problems that Sartre addressed to Freud, of how there can be unconscious motives. At some point, these motives must have conscious affects creating a contradictory situation. Ressentiment has a double purpose: self-vindication and object mastery, that is of making people feel better about themselves, and seeking to conceptually master objecta hostile external world. It has an instrumental purpose of harming the ‘masters’. Poellner argued that a not making explicit is enough to explain how we misunderstand ourselves with regard to ressentiment, and with no need to assume unconscious motivations and hidden mental processes. Despite the instrumental value of ressentiment, it has the self-harming consequence of promoting a divided self. Poeller had difficulty in defining the ‘not making explicit’ criticising Phenomenological accounts, and admitting during questions that his illustratuve example of playing tennis was inadequate.


‘Nietzsche on soul in nature: an ecological perspective’

Parkes gave a short talk on ecology and Asian (Daoist and Buddhist) philosophy in relation to Nietzsche, with regard to the wish to find perceptions of nature which are not human centred and do not impose human concepts. He showed a film (in the Quicktime video application on his MacBook Pro computer, I would guess created in the Keynote presentation application and then exported to Quicktime) about Nietzsche’s relation to nature, mostly focusing on Sils Maria. Sils Maria is a mountainous lakeside resort often visited by Nietzsche. The video referred to the meditative rhythm of Nietzsche’s walks round Sil Maria which he found conducive to composing aphorisms, and the investments he had in the landscape. There were various scenes of natural beauty and briefly of industrial ugliness. During the discussion, Parkes conceded that it is unsatisfactory to oppose a purely beautiful nature to a purely ugly industrial world.


‘Who is the “sovereign individual”? Nietzsche on Freedom’

Leiter criticised any idea that Nietzsche favours free will in any form. He concentrated on the ‘sovereign individual’ at the end of Genealogy, Essay II. He rejected the idea that this is an example of free will. The phrase is only used once by Nietzsche, and is only used ironically to refer to a business person who can remember debts. Where Nietzsche refers to freedom and free will in apparently favourable ways, he is engaging readers so that that Nietzsche’s text will have an impact. Leiter shifted from freedom in the sense of free will to the political sense of political liberalism, arguing that nothing in Nietzsche can be taken as support for political liberalism. His views on the different moral value of different people, and the freedom created by participation in war, are in contradiction with political liberalism, according to Leiter. I intervened in the discussion period on the political issue, more on this and a bizarre confrontation between Leiter and Ken Gemes in a later post.


‘Nietzsche’s metaphysics’

Strawson presented an argument for seeing Nietzsche as supporting the kind of metaphysics that Strawson himself favours. That would be a very Spinozistic metaphysics, which Strawson believes is confirmed by 20th Century physics. He mentioned Einstein’s Relativity theory, particularly with regard to four dimensionality and the equivalence of mass and energy; and Quantum mechanics particularly with regard to entanglement. Anyone seeking reliable introductions to these topics can go to these entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Jeffrey Bub, ‘Quantum Entanglement and Information’; Francisco Flores, ‘The Equivalence of Mass and Energy'; Robert DiSalle, ‘Space and Time: Inertial Frames’. Strawson presented his metaphysical theses in a hard out and here they are: no persisting and unitary self; no fundamental (real) distinction between objects and their properties/propertiedness; no fundamental (real) distinction between basal properties of things and power properties of things; no fundamental (real) distinction between objects or substances on the one hand and processes and events on the other; reality not truly divisible into causes and effects; objects not governed by laws of nature ontologically distinct from them; no free will; nothing can happen otherwise than it does; reality is one; reality is suffused with–if it does not consist of–mentality in some form or sense; everything is ‘will to power’. All delivered in Strawson’s habitual quirkily charming style.


‘Consciousness, language, and nature. Nietzsche’s philosophy of mind and nature’

A comprehensive account of Nietzsche’s view if mind, language, and knowledge with regard to Analytic philosophy, philosophical naturalism, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science, since W.V.O. Quine, by way of Putnam, Fodor, Dennett and others. The comprehensive nature of the presentation make sit particularly hard to remember particular points. The main theme was that language and mind are unified in knowledge of the natural world, and belong together in the context of the natural world.


‘Nietzsche’s value monism. Saying yes to everything’

Richardson looked at the implications, and difficulties, of Nietzsche’s call to affirmation of all of life. One difficulty is how we can say yes to everything however terrible, and however much suffering it creates. Another difficulty is that the affirmation must include the moments of life in which someone says no to life. Richardson suggested that these difficulties can be reduced by also referring to Nietzsche’s commitment to resisting value oppositions. He clearly rejects the opposition of good to evil. He appears to replace this with an opposition between good and bad, but Richardson argues that what is really happening here is the elaboration of a purely comparative evaluation of the difference, between the better and worst, rather than an opposition between absolute opposite.

I didn’t make notes on the parallel sessions I went to, but I would like to briefly indicate the names of speaker in those sessions and what themes I learned about from attending those sessions.

Nietzsche and Darwin: Alessandra Tanesini, Peter Sedgwick

Nietzsche on Rhetoric and language: Benedetta Zavatta

Nietzsche on Language and Consciousness: Mariano L. Rodriguez

Morality and Naturalism: Mario Brandhorst, Maria Fornari, Rogério Lopes

Nietzsche on Science and Nature: Babette Babich, Christian Emden, Paolo D’Ioro.

Posts coming on the bizarre Leiter-Gemes confrontation and the Italian contribution to Nietzsche editions and studies.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Philosophy and Literature: An Investigation

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

I’ve had a bit of feedback, off the blog, on yesterday’s post, ‘Philosophical Beginnings of Early Modern Literature’. A few clarificatory remarks in response to that.

I’ve certainly no intention of suggesting that French or British literature should be given a starting point that is primarily contained in early modern philosophy. The literature emerged from various sources, including a history of canonical literary works, as well as philosophical texts. The history of French literature certainly requires reference to Rabelais and Ronsard, as well as Montaigne and Pascal.

The point about the remarks on philosophy and literature in Britain is not simply to refer the emergence of the ‘realist’ novel, the novel of psychological and social plausibility, to the empiricist (experience based) nature of British philosophy. Ian Watt’s 1957 classic, Rise of the Novel addressed that issue. Of course there is plenty that could be changed, or added to in Watt, but more than that i am concerned with how philosophical texts from Bacon to Hume are to be read as literary in a number of senses: their stylistic qualities, the narrative elements of their philosophical investigations, the concern with the tension between humans as part of nature and the natural development of human society. The last item refers to a tension where literature, and thought about literature, looks particularly relevant.

I think what I was saying yesterday is really addressed more against philosophers than against literary critics, if it is against anyone, Literary historians are aware of the links between ‘pure’ literary texts and other forms of literature, and are very aware of how recent current categories of literature and forms of writing were developed. Philosophers tend to look at texts as non-literary. Where philosophers or literary critics look at philosophy texts as literature, I think there is a tendency for this to be become philosophy as rhetoric and persuasion, or the collapse of philosophy into literature in general. I want to look at how philosophical texts develop arguments through literary means, and how literary texts use philosophical argument, and I want to look at the texts where both are clearly present. While there is no complete originality in looking at philosophical texts and literary texts together, I see a need to further the enterprise of looking at a unity of literary construction with philosophical claims about morality. identity, knowledge, and so on. Particularly with regard to taking literature into the philosophical texts, and reflecting back on the literature. It looks to me as if most relevant publications come from the literary side.

Roughly speaking I would say that in France there were very obvious ways in which philosophical texts were literary texts, and major contributions to literary writing. I don’t think this is so apparent in British literature, though there is some comparison to be made. Bacon does not have the status of Montaigne as a literary figure. I think it is noteworthy that Hume and Smith had difficulty with La Rochefoucauld, referring to him as an immoralist. There is something about the paradoxical and ironic approach in the French writers that cannot be easily absorbed by the British writers. Hume and Burke have many things to say which connect with the complexity of sentiments and passions in literature, but there is system, or at least a drive towards system, not matched in the French writers I have been referring to. Even Descartes explores the possibility of fiction, delusion, and insanity, entering philosophy in a way absent in a any direct way from the 17th and 18th Century British philosophers.

It is important that Montesqueiu and Rousseau wrote literary fictions while Hume, Smith and Burke did not. Descartes wrote an autobiographical account of how he came across truth, not something to be found in Bacon or Hobbes.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Me on Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations in LiberalVision

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

‘Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations’ Liberal Vision, 10th September, 2009. A summary direct towards Smith’s relevance to liberal political thought.

Philosophical Beginnings of Early Modern Literature

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

If we look at the emergence of modern literature in France and Britain, we could just as much talk about its origins in works of philosophy, and moral commentary, as in the historical development of literary genres.

Does any ‘purely’ literary figure contribute more to the emergence of French literature than Montaigne, Descartes, Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère? A case could be put for Rabelais, but in any case we cannot talk about French literature without talking about these philosophers and moralists. In the case of la Rochefoucauld, we could even see the relations between moral reflections and literature through his private relationship with Madame de La Fayette and his friendship with Madame de Sévigné. The most significant thing is that we can see a big contribution in La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims towards literary style and towards an informal theory of the passions which establishes the themes of French literature.

Literature and philosophy seem less obviously entwined in Britain, if critics put Shakespeare in a philosophical context, they tend to bring in Montaigne. But let us consider the following.

The contribution made to English style by Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke.

The sense in Bacon and Hobbes the existence of the arts depends on the existence of sovereignty, law and the state.

Bacon’s use of utopian fiction in New Atlantis. Bacon’s emphasis on an orientation of the self towards the truth in nature and away from distracting idols. That seems to lead in the direction of an anti-rhetorical abstract philosophical language, but it is also the story of a dramatic struggle of the self with distraction. There is a historical and personal account of the orientation necessary for nature to reveal itself. That account includes the supremacy of law, instituted by a state.

For Hobbes, the existence of the arts depends on the existence of the covenant and the artificial man of the state. He believes in the truth of pure reasoning, but finds it necessary to resort to rhetoric to communicate his truths (as Quentin Skinner has pointed out at considerable length). The covenant and the artificial man is explain in the picture of the giant man made up of smaller people, and discussion of personation in drama and law.

In Hume, Smith and Burke we get theories of taste which incorporate permanent physiological sensation and changeable sociable agreement. Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, has a rhythm governed by the moves from sensation to sociability and back again. Hume offers a theory of the mind as passions, and a theory of taste in which passions are understood as physiological and as formed by the evolution of social agreement. These ambiguities about sensation and sociability enter into Smith’s discussion of taste, of moral sentiments and his discussion of natural and non-natural order in the development of different forms of wealth (as I discussed in a post of 16th August 2009). These are ambiguities about the sentiments, how they affect each other and how they are affected by the external social and natural worlds. Al very germane to the literature of the time.

We might look at early modern British philosophy, as more than the establishment of an epistemological tradition, theories about how ideas of things relate to sensations of things and those things themselves, in which Locke on knowledge of physical is the defining discussion. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but there is a lot to be said for considering other frames, and placing Locke himself in that frame.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Link: Philipe Legrain’s Blog: For Open Immigration

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

Philippe Legrain, a blog largely devoted to defending the merits of immigration, and associated phenomena such as free trade. Issues he has spoken about and published on extensively. Various people for various reasons may wish to deny the association between the two, but arguments about free movement of goods and free movement of peoples have common moral and economic aspects. The worst tyrannies have always strongly restricted both, something opponents of open immigration and of free trade might like to ponder.

Legrain, now London based, has worked in financial institutions, financial journalism, academia, book writing, thinks tanks, transnational institutions and think tanks. He describes his outlook as economically and socially liberal, and as far as I can see he takes that in a centre-left direction. For example, he is associated with the magazine Prospect which is very oriented towards New Labour. The kind of social democrat who has classical liberal/libertarian tendencies.

Mill: Liberty/Socialism in Principles of Political Economy

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

Since I worked out that John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy contains ideas in contrast with those of On Liberty I have obtained two copies of the book. Getting a definitive edition of the Principles is more difficult than I realised. I bought the OUP Oxford World’s Classics edition before realising that it had left out the first two books, though it did add Chapters on Socialism which were written at the time of the 7th edition of the Principles. The OUP edition is based on the 7th edition, and I suppose the original 7th edition left out the first two books, but I’m not sure. If that is not the case then OUP’s behaviour is very poor. The only way, I am aware of, for getting a definition version with all variations from all editions is the to get the Liberty Fund edition in two volumes. Liberty Fund editions are very cheap but not widely distributed. Their edition is also freely available online at the Online Library of Liberty.

I am looking now at a rather interesting edition a friend lent to me. It is edited by J. Laurence Laughlin and published by D. Appleton and Company of New York in 1901, though as Laughlin’s preface is dated 1884, I presume this is a reprint. The notable thing about Laughlin is that he was the founding chair of the Department of Economics at Chicago University. That means he founded one of he world’s great economics departments, associated most famously with Milton Friedman. Other major economists associated with the department include Hayek, Robert Lucas (the biggest figure in Rational Expectations), Gary Becker (the biggest figure in Behavioural Economics) and many other significant figures.

Laughlin provides a bridge between Mill and those figures, and seems to have been a major figure in market orientated thinking in his own time. Laughlin edits Mill’s Principles as part of the cycle in which the book was a major economics text book. Laughlin’s appropriation is somewhat crude, he adds an essay on the history of economic thought. interpolates his own comments, maps and charts, mostly referring to the United States. On some occasions he says he has deleted comments by Mill and replaced them with his own. It wouldn’t happen now, fascinating to see how it happened then.

The main points I have picked up from my reading so far, and checking through the online version is that Mill is less of what we would now call a free market libertarian in his economics than in On Liberty. This is surprising, at least by present standards, because on the whole economists are much more inclined towards free market thinking than other social scientists. Surveys show most academic economists to be left of centre, but nevertheless favour market mechanisms over collective and state solutions in ways which would startle most of the left inclined.

What I’ve noticed so far is that Mill does explore socialism, or even communism, favourably as a hypothesis, and became more influenced by this hypothesis over time. He never abandoned a belief in markets but thought distribution of income could be detached from the market mechanisms of prices. What I also notice is the élitism and anti-liberalism compared with On Liberty. In the Principles, Mill suggests that labourers cannot regulate their own lives and expenditure competently and that there should be laws to prevent the poor from marrying early and producing too many children. Mill’s socialist side is very patronising, arrogant and tends to deprive workers of freedom. It fits into the criticisms that classical liberals/libertarians make of socialists. It’s quite close to what Hayek accuses socialism of leading towards in The Road to Serfdom, The even greater irony is that Hayek was a real Mill fan in his earlier years, following Mill’s journeys and editing some of his letters.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Link: Philosophy and Literature Podcast

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog

‘Philosophy and Literature’ with Lanier Anderson on Philosophy Talk presented by Ken Taylor and John Perry. Ken Taylor and John Perry of Stanford University are regular presenters of podcasts on Philosophy Talk which are also broadcast on Sunday mornings by the San Francisco Unified School District radio station KALW.

In this podcast from 9th August 2009, they take a very user friendly approach to discussing links between philosophy and literature. The podcast starts with the Monty Python sketch in which someone comments on Thomas Hardy writing a novel like a sporting event. Amongst a lot of informality and jokes, Taylor and Perry have a conversation with Anderson about philosophy as literature and literature as philosophy. The user friendly emphasis does break down the topic in to some clear points, which I find very helpful even after many years of thinking about philosophy and literature. The topics that come up are literature as mental simulation, literature as pretense, how we can have emotional reactions to pretense, imagining ourselves as characters, the psychology of morality including the psychology of evil, philosophical communication through genres like dialogue and aphorism, humans as narrating creatures, how philosophy now is less literary than a lot of the philosophical classics.

Monday, 7 September 2009

On Hayek’s Road

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

I’ve recently been re-reading Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, but I’ll start with a point about Hayek’s name. Hayek was entitled to use the aristocratic style ‘von’, however he preferred just ‘Hayek’ to ‘von Hayek’. I’m rather tired of people who refer to him as ‘von Hayek’. He was right to drop the use of aristocratic style in names, an obvious anachronism in an age lacking in feudal aristocracy, and everyone should follow his good example.

Hayek and The Road to Serfdom, for many conjure up a nightmare of the most extreme pure capitalism, with no welfare for the poorest and no public services; on the other hand libertarian ultras and anarcho-conservatives are often happy to take his name as part of their camp. The fact is Hayek never suggested that the state, could or should, shed all provision of basic public services and assistance to the poorest; and he certainly never suggested that the state could be abolished, or reduced to a mere nightwatchman. Hayek did lean more towards strongly right wing conservative-libertarian fusionism in later years, and made some political decisions that do not delight me,, but he still never accepted the labels of conservative or libertarian. More about that on another occasion perhaps, and on how Hayek’s thought remained interesting and original over time.

I will concentrate today on the 1943 (published in 1944) book The Road to Serfdom which is his most widely read book. It is a book about of 180 pages in the first edition (1945 reprint) copy I have. Not a very short book, but not a very long book, and written in a more direct and less specialised way than Hayek’s major contributions to economics, political theory, psychology, and the philosophy of science. Nevertheless, it does serve as good introduction to those texts.

The simply expressed thesis of the book is that socialism leads to totalitarianism, like Naziism and Stalinism, and means it is the road to serfdom in the sense that it necessarily turns everyone into serfs, or slaves, of the state. This tends to offend the left inclined and over excite the right inclined. In order to temper such reactions, I would like to point out what Hayek does not argue in the book.

Hayek does not argue that all state welfare measures for the poorest should be abolished.

Hayek does not suggest that the state should stop providing public services.

Hayek does not suggest that democratic rights should be limited in favour of property rights.

Hayek does not argue that there should be no laws to protect workers in their place of employment.

Hayek does not suggest that moderate measures for social protection will lead to totalitarianism.

Hayek does not suggest that democratic socialists have bad intentions.

Some people find Hayek’s denunciation of a evolutionary democratic socialism hard to take and confuse it with a denunciation of all welfarism. Some important points about why Hayek denounces the stronger forms of evolutionary democratic socialism

One of the main figures in the Labour Party, as a thinker and a leader (head of the National Executive Committee), was the LSE Professor Harold Laski. Before and after Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom, Laski had very openly suggested that a Labour government might not give up power if it lost an election, and was involved in proposals to limit parliamentary powers to scrutinise, amend and delay legislation. Laski’s antics eventually resulted in the Labour leader Clement Attlee suggesting that a period of silence would be welcome from him, that is he politely told Laski to shut up.

He provides very ample evidence of the growth of state socialist measures under conservative governments in the German Empire before World War One, and their expansion in the Weimar Republic, making it easier for the Nazi’s to propose an anti-bourgeois anti-capitalist ideology and take over the economy when they came to power.

He provides very ample evidence of that way in which revolutionary socialists became Fascists Nazis and Nazi collaborators in the Europe of the 20s, 30s, and 40s, and held onto a very large part of what they believed before with regard to opposing individual rights, pluralist democracy, and market economies.

He makes a very clear case that Fascist, Nazi and Communist regimes had shared measures of coercing individuals with extreme violence in their attempts to impose a completely planned economy.

I will list the major arguments, which I find successful in The Road to Serfdom before a list of less successful arguments.

State planning of the economy harms workers because it undermines their freedom to choose work.

State planning of the economy harms workers because it undermines their freedom of choice in consumption, i.e. it undermines their freedom to spend wages as they choose.

State planning of the economy necessarily and inevitably contains a small fragment of the total information in the economy distributed between many different agents.

State planning of the economy necessarily and inevitably rests on less information about any individual economic situation than that available to the actors in that situation.

State planning of the economy, if it goes beyond the most general issues like the stability of the currency will inevitably and necessarily impose solutions worse, and based on less information, than the relatively spontaneous solutions of the market place based in the information encoded in prices and informal forms of knowledge.

State planning of the economy will increasingly restrict individual liberties and political freedoms if it goes beyond moderate measures to provide the most basic services and prevent destitution.

Hayek refers briefly to the political theory of Henry Sidgwick. Sidgwick is well known as a Utilitarian ethical theorist (maybe the best), but much less as a political thinker. I must admit that I have not read the political texts, but my guess is that if they are half as good as the ethical texts, they deserve to be read.

Hayek advocates federation between democratic European nations and federation between all democratic nations as a way of providing a barrier to war, and restrictions on the movements of individual and goods.

Less successful arguments.

Hayek’s choice of major 19th Century liberal thinkers is unbalanced. He refers to John Morley, now only remembered as a Liberal Party politician and as the original biographer of William Ewart Gladstone. He refers to (Lord) David Acton, now known to most people as a second rank political theorist (a few would put him higher) very attached to the Medieval Catholic Church and the Confederate States of America as defenders of liberty. Hayek does also refer to Smith, Hume, Mill, Tocqueville and Humboldt, far better choices though some aspects of Humboldt are a bit eccentric. Kant is strangely absent.

The omission of Kant, brings us to another problem, Hayek’s sweeping denunciation of German Idealist philosophy as totalitarian, presumably referring to Fichte and Hegel. The image of Fichte and Hegel as proto-totalitarians, prophets of Fascism and Stalinism, was very popular but you would struggle to find a reputable commentator now who would accept such an interpretation.

Hayek gets the legal and political theorist Carl Schmitt wrong. He exaggerates his status as a Nazi thinker, though Schmitt brought that on himself by enthusiastically grasping the post of head of the Nazi legal association on the nazi seizure of power, until radical Nazis pushed him aside in 1936. Still Schmitt was a very important thinker about law, politics and international relations, with important insights about the relation between these three elements. He claims that Schmitt argued for a totalitarian fusion of state and society, but Carl Schmitt argued for the opposite, for a clear distinction between the political and social sphere. This is very clear in The Concept of Politics for example. Schmitt condemns Harold Laski there for undermining the distinction, so Hayek and Schmitt had a common enemy. Schmitt regarded the expansion of the state into society as highly undesirable, he refers to it a sa bad tendency not as something to be welcomed. Schmitt was a conservative authoritarian nationalist, but the state which he appreciated most was Franco’s Catholic ultra-conservative state in Spain which absorbed the Falangist Fascist party but was less of a radical totalitarian movement than the fascist states. That is not to excuse Franco, but honest analysis must make some distinction between Franco and Hitler, and even between Franco and Mussolini, with Franco as the more moderate traditional conservative figure.