Mad, bad or just plain stupid?

You’re a sensible person. I can tell. You’re smart, well informed and decent. When you take a stand on an issue you’ve got good reasons. If only everyone was like you.

But sadly, no matter how patiently you explain yourself, some people can’t or won’t see the light. It’s like pounding your head against a wall of b©ton brut. With some folks it’s a complete waste of time. So why do they behave this way? Are they mad, bad or just plain stupid?

When economist Andrew Leigh fronted an ABC studio audience to explain the benefits of merit pay for teachers, some of the audience hissed at him. I’m guessing these audience members also believe that they are smart, well informed and decent. And since they know that merit pay is wrong they probably decided that immorality was the most likely explanation for Dr Leigh’s outrageous proposal.

I once saw the same thing happen to Andrew Norton. I was sitting in the back row of the lecture theatre while Andrew was talking and two women in front of me starting hissing. It was as if General Pinochet had arrived to deliver a lecture on democracy. These women obviously thought Andrew and his opinions were morally disgusting. In a recent blog post, Andrew argues that left wingers tend to see their opponents as immoral while right wingers are more likely to see theirs as irrational or ignorant.

I think there’s something in Andrew’s theory but it might be more complicated than left and right (or mummy and daddy). There certainly seems to be a difference between people whose political beliefs rely heavily on empathy and emotion and people who rely more heavily on argument and evidence.

Adam Smith was the first kind of thinker. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments he argued that moral judgment relied on our ability to imagine ourselves in another person’s place. As Eamonn Butler puts it, "morality is the product of our nature, not our reason". Of course Smith acknowledged that reason had a place in generating general rules of conduct– but the ability to empathise came first. Without empathy we wouldn’t know which rules were right and which were wrong.

From this perspective, badness can stem from consciously overriding feelings — from shutting down emotional reactions and refusing to empathise. To be hyper-rational is not a good thing. If you think that your opponent is doing this, you will not want to hear more arguments or see more data.

In contrast, Ayn Rand was the second kind of thinker. She argued that reason is the most fundamental value. Once a human being had consciously discovered their values — their standards of judgment — their emotions would follow. "An emotion is an automatic response," she said, "an automatic effect of a man’s value premises. An effect, not a cause." Friedrich Hayek also tended to privilege reason. He was deeply suspicious of our innate moral sentiments.

From this perspective, emotional appeals are a sign of sloppy thinking — a lack of discipline. If your opponent urges you to get in touch with your emotions rather than thinking things through you’ll probably treat this as an invitation to join them in their swamp of confusion. Either that or you’ll think they’re trying to manipulate you.

There are also people who see morality as obedience to God, tradition or some other source of revealed knowledge. If you think this way, you will first attempt to enlighten your opponents by informing them of their errors. But if they persist in rejecting self-evident truths then they must be evil.

Naturally people from each of these groups think of themselves as smart, well informed and decent — just like you! So it seems that judging people’s opinions against standards is the easy part. Justifying your standards to other people who don’t share them is a lot harder.

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Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
14 years ago

“I was sitting in the back row of the lecture theatre while Andrew was talking and two women in front of me starting hissing. It was as if General Pinochet had arrived to deliver a lecture on democracy. These women obviously thought Andrew and his opinions were morally disgusting.”

Though as I recall it, I had told a bunch of social science research students that their topics were mostly trivial and not worth the research effort being put into them. That could hurt. Interestingly, a woman whose topic I had actually mentioned (because Miranda Devine had in a recent column) came up to me afterwards and said that she disagreed with the prevailing assumption in the room that they should not have to justify their research topics. So the old intellectual culture of rational justification wasn’t completely dead – but her belief in it was something she had to keep private.

Andrew Leigh
14 years ago

Don, I think you’ve put your finger on something here. I’m quite used to getting hostile questions from audiences, but it’s only when I speak at conferences with significant numbers of teachers in the audience that the hostile question gets a round of applause. (I’ve been tempted to say something like “oh, how cute – this is like Jerry Springer”.) Your immorality explanation makes sense in explaining it. Though of course, the other explanation that is consistent with the facts is that audiences really don’t like speakers named Andrew.

Patrick
Patrick
14 years ago

I would just point out that many conservatives (like myself) who would not in a pink fit be called ‘lefty’ also believe in the appropriate use of ’emotion’.

spog
spog
14 years ago

The hissing is because their preconceptions have been punctured.

The Devil Drink
The Devil Drink
14 years ago

Exactly what is wrong with being simultaneously immoral, ignorant and irrational? Seems like a hardy set of political virtues to me—the Yeltsin trifecta. Ah, Boris Nicolayevich, we’ll never see his like again.
Though if you cut out the ignorance and just went with the irrational and immoral, you’d wind up with someone like Lord Byron, who being mad, bad and dangerous to know, should be an inspiration to all who aspire to the great precursor to modern morality and reason in thinking about the nature of the universe: sentiment. C’mon, it’s not as if sentiment doesn’t continue to live healthily in the hearts of everyone who has pet perfect solutions that sound reasonable and fair to to them.
And, now, I’ve got to get attend to the General’s parrilla.

vee
vee
14 years ago

I’m wondering, if this emotional outburst is isolated just to young people.

My most recent collection is the 2004 election Insight Youth vote topic. All the Labor/Green lefties had been propounding their thought non-stop but then a Liberal rightie got up to speak. He barely got a sentence out of his mouth and jeered down before he could explain why. If I recall correctly he didn’t get a word in again. Personally I wanted to know what he had to say so I could make my own judgment.

More directly on the issue, you are not going to sway anyone if you cannot see the emotional reaction and be able to counter it.

The fact of the matter is we’re not Vulcans.

And the conclusion we’ve all seemed to have reach is “If I was going to x I wouldn’t be starting from here” which is why “Justifying your standards to other people who don’t share them is a lot harder.”

al loomis
14 years ago

i’ll be damned, a useful post from a self styled righty. these matters should not be any great mystery, psychology and biochemistry have been loosely integrated to sociology for some years.

yes, less successful people have been surviving by bonding for a long time and analytic people have been prospering by using nature and social structures for personal advantage. the war between these two strategies may reach a climax soon, as ecological disaster causes mass famine.

be kind to teachers, they can’t help it. it is a profession which does not require great intelligence, particularly in primary school. it does need empathy and nurturing inclination. they are, however, smart enough to know ‘hissing’ is their best strategy.

if you don’t enjoy being hissed, speak elsewhere, or not at all.

http://gilmae.myopenid.com/

I would love to have posted this comment on Andrew Norton’s site, but some aspect of my connection is preventing it from opening, so:

When the Right refers to Iraq war opponents as objectively pro-Saddam or pro-Terrorist, I tend to parse that as the Left being called immoral, not simply irrational.
It’s not as if that is even a isolated cases like Currency Lad, JC and GMB on Catallaxy – for example, I just came from a Catallaxy thread so it was the first that came to mind – it is almost the raison d’etre for large numbers of Right-aligned blogs. It’s particularly prevalent in comment threads, which perhaps supports Don’s statement, “emotional appeals are a sign of sloppy thinking —

http://gilmae.myopenid.com/

Urgh, you guys absolutely need to have a short note on the comment form notifying OpenId users that they have to log in *before* posting their comment.

The shorter version of the comment I lost is that the Right may very well be perfectly civil in person, but on the internet there is no detectable difference in the civility of the Right or Left. Accusing opponents of the Iraq War, particularly those on the Left, of being pro-Saddam or pro-Terrorism doesn’t strike me as referring to them as irrational or ignorant; it is an explicit accusation of immorality. Such accusations are hardly isolated cases, they are as prevalent as the Left calling George Bush stupid or evil.

Matt
14 years ago

I’d argue that to a significant degree the immoral/irrational left-right divide seems to have broken down completely over the Iraq issue, if it ever existed in the first place.

Examples:

Many on the right view the left as immoral for their defacto backing of the incumbent regime of Saddam and their apologist history towards Mao, Stalin etc and many on the left view the right as completely irrational in thinking they could go in and turn Iraq into a democracy overnight.

Many on the right who are religious see the left as completely immoral over a raft of social issues while many on the left see religious conservatives as irrational for believing in god.

Iraq and religion are two topics it is simply almost impossible to ever engage in a calm, “academic” discussion on. Ten minutes on any blog site, cable news show or radio show will confirm that, however do we necessarily want to have a sterile, cold debate about matters of life, death and faith? I suspect most of the public would say no and I think it is simply something that we all must adapt to if we have not already.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
14 years ago

Why the assumption that politics is about consensus?

Isn’t politics about conflict, conflict between friends and enemies? Doesn’t the latter understanding of politics (that of Carl Schmitt)explain the partisan nature of politics in Australia since 1996 much better than the consensus one of a certain kind of liberalism.

Bill Posters
Bill Posters
14 years ago

In contrast, Ayn Rand…

Stopped reading right there.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Gary – I’m getting worried about how often I’m seeing greens and leftists quoting from Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss.

I don’t see politics as a about consensus at all. Liberalism is a strategy for coping with differences over values and ways of life. It’s not a claim that all values are equally worthy or that there’s no truth about the best way to live.

Politics isn’t about belief, it’s about behaviour.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
14 years ago

Don,
What is there to worry about with Schmitt? He makes much more sense on the nature of the political than do those market economists who reduce it to the economy, or those social liberals who reduce it to ethics.

Sure ‘liberalism is a strategy for coping with differences [and conflicts] over values and ways of life'[between friends and enemies] as you say. I would add what is in the brackets.

I would argue (with Schmitt to worry you even more)that liberalism’s basic strategy (or principle for Schmitt), around which all else hangs, is that truth can be arrived at through the unfettered conflict of opinions. The political will is supposed to emerge from the process of confrontation of opinions.

What is in that to get worried about? Isn’t it how Parliament is supposed to work? Isn’t it all about public deliberation and public discussion?

Jason Soon
14 years ago

I thought Smith was making a positive claim rather than a normative claim? Hayek and Smith’s theories of morality are usually lumped together so I don’t know that you can fairly characterise Smith as an ’emotional’ thinker. It’s just a matter of evolutionary science and emprical reality that morality is based on some sort of fellow feeling. That doesn’t mean it *should* be based on feeling.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Gary – No I don’t agree that liberalism’s basic strategy is that “truth can be arrived at through the unfettered conflict of opinions”.

The reason liberalism is a good idea is BECAUSE people cannot agree on these issues — no matter how rationally they argue about them

Politics is about solving problems in practice that cannot be solved in theory.

You and the neconservatives seem to want to start a war. I don’t want one.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Jason – Why do you think that Smith was making a positive rather than a normative claim in TMS?

Gary Sauer-Thompson
14 years ago

Don,
I’m not starting a fight. The fight–a very partisan one–already exists in our political system–it is part of its logic, so to speak. Schmitt’s work helps to make sense of ‘the fight’as it exists in the political, as distinct from the economic or the ethical. Your example of the ABC forum can be interpreted as being constituted as a conflict, which you frame as between emotion and reason. Schmitt offers another account— the conflict is between friends and enemies.

I agree with Jason –Smith is different from Hayek, even if both drink deeply from Hume, who held that sentiments are the basis of moral judgement. Such sentiments for Smith are innate and are what nature has given to us human beings. (God is in the background making sure the clockwork mechanism functions.

Smith is different in that, as an ethicist, he reaches back to the classical ethical tradition with his talks of two sets of virtues: ie.,the commercial virtues, such as self-interested ones and include prudence, justice, industry, frugality, constancy; and the more noble set of virtues, such as benevolence, generosity, gratitude, compassion, kindness, pity, friendship, love, etc.

Virtues are more than individual emotions or feelings as they are classically understood as particular ways of conducting oneself in a particular form of life.

Ken Parish
Admin
14 years ago

I can’t help coming back to Chantal Mouffe’s concept of “agonistic pluralism” as a description of realistic goals for democratic discourse. In contradistinction to Habermas’s utopian fantasy of consensus-seeking deliberative democracy, she argues that the goal of democratic discourse is not to achieve consensus but to convert political enemies into peaceful adversaries thereby facilitating stable compromise agreements between opposing groups and thus a peaceful society.

Libertarians will still frequently disagree with social democrats, but civil democratic dialogue should allow them to understand why their differences exist and to hold each other’s views in at least grudging respect rather than believing that anyone who disagrees with us can only be stupid, evil or heartless (or all three). Don’s post makes a useful contribution to the agonistic pluralist project, in that we can all see that whether a person starts from a rationalist or intuitionist perspective in responding to arguments with a moral dimension can tell us quite a lot about her receptiveness to particular types of argumentation.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
14 years ago

Ken,
You are right. We do have to come to terms with the dimension of conflict and antagonism in the political under a liberal democratic regime, instead of trying to negate it. Politics if, you like, is the attempt to ‘domesticate’ the ‘us and them’ of the political.

What I would add is that there is a need to recognize that every attempt to reach a consensus in a pluralist democracy in the form of a workable compromise is based on an exclusion.

For instance, the very nature of a secular liberal democratic regime leaves out the religious opponents of liberalism—ie., Christian and Islamic fundamentalists–and so is premised on exclusions ‘us and them.’ We do need to recognize the violence that this entails, which is often experienced as a form of coercion.

How would you manage that kind of exclusion? It’s much deeper than the conflict between libertarians and social democrats.

My guess is that one kind of response in your agonistic pluralist democracy to this situation is to establish the hegemony of democratic values and practices.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Gary – Since we both seem to agree with Ken maybe it’s worth finding out where we actually disagree.

I don’t understand why you keep talking about liberalism as consensus. I don’t think philosophy is able to settle the question of how we should live. Nietzsche was horrified when he discovered this. He shouldn’t have been.

People like Strauss take philosophy far too seriously. They expect too much of it. What I call ‘politics’ does not depend on philosophy.

Of course I understand that there are people who would rather die than tolerate a liberal social order. They find the ‘last men’ so appalling that they would rather destroy everything. They think that they are superior because they believe in something so passionately they would die for it. There’s no arguing against this.

But I don’t see why I should feel conflicted about preventing fundamentalists or nihilists from murdering people or attempting to take over the country — “Oh dear! What if I’m being ethnocentric?”

Is this the kind of violence you had in mind?

Gary Sauer-Thompson
14 years ago

Don,
I’m not arguing that philosophy should decide how we should live. I accept that liberal democracy is pluralistic and how we should live is deeply contested.

There is a very strong recent strand of liberalism called ‘political liberalism’—Rawls, Dworkin,Lamore, Ackerman, Habermas—that seeks consensus, by excluding devisive issues from the public sphere. So do the utilitarians with their ideal legislator working to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

The political liberals idea of consensus based on mutual understanding is one form of political unity, which a democracy requires. However, this consensus often takes the form of homogeneity that leaves little space for dissent and contestation. The pressure for homogeneity is all around these days and it comes from liberals as well as conservatives.

On the other matter, our liberal democractic regime is based on, and is constituted by, a system of relations of power.Those excluded are those conservative Christians who do not accept the separation between church and state and who hold that Australia is a Christian nation and that our constitution is founded on God and Christianity.

Isn’t this a contemporary frontier of friends and enemies and what is excluded? Isn’t this kind of church and state frontier in liberal democracy under challenge by our conservative politicians in response to the threat posed by a fundamentalist pre-modern Islam?

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Gary – This is interesting.

I know a little about Rawls so maybe we can start there. As I understand it, Rawlsian consensus is a consensus over rules of conduct rather than goals. The point of the original position is to agree about how to live constructively with other people who share radically different values.

Naturally Rawls doesn’t assume that “the essential nature of persons is independent of and prior to their contingent attributes, including their final ends and attachements, indeed their conception of the good and character as a whole” (Political Liberalism p 27).

But it’s fair to ask whether your religious fundamentalists would agree to imaginatively enter the original position. They might say that entering the original position is like imagining themselves as a different person (PL p 31). They might even say that they’d rather die than give up their beliefs.

So let’s say that Rawls’ strategy fails at this point. There’s nothing liberals can say to the fundamentalists that compels them to enter into a consensus on rules of conduct.

If you’re a liberal do you throw up your hands and say “Well I guess we better put the fundamentalists in charge and let them set up their theocracy”? After all, if they don’t aren’t they behaving in an unliberal way?

But from a liberal’s perspective is there really any good argument for giving in to theocracy? Liberals will resist fundamentalist reform — but in a liberal way. They won’t stone the fundamentalists or send them re-education camps. They won’t stop them writing books and giving sermons about how theocracy is the only moral form of government. They just won’t let them make government more theocratic.

So — if I have the gist or your argument — you’re saying that liberals need to recognise that the fundamentalists are their enemies.

Let’s say that they do. Now what? What will the liberals do now that is any different to what they were doing before?

Gary Sauer-Thompson
14 years ago

Don,
Note that even a more communitarian Rawls understands the political as a rational process of negotiation among individuals and so sidelines the whole dimension of power and antagonism which is the political. the political is not a neutral domain insulated from all the divisive issues that have relegated to the private realm. Religion is no longer safely domesticated in the private domain as a personal preference or choice.

The conservative religious folk see the rules of the game of a liberal democratic regime that excludes them as coercion and repression and their violence response reintroduces antagonism and conflict.

If we accept that the political is about conflict and antagonism, then how does a liberal democratic regime handle it.It’s more than freedom of speech etc as we are talking about relations of power. Why isn’t that power used by the state to slowly blur the private public divide, give a greater role to religion and the churches in the public domain and reinvent Australia as a Christian nation.

In other words liberalism is rolled back and conservatism steps in.

What to do? That was the problem I posed to Ken. I asked: ‘How would you manage that kind of [religious] exclusion? It’s much deeper than the conflict between libertarians and social democrats.’

i said that my guess is that one kind of response in your agonistic pluralist democracy to this situation is to establish the hegemony of democratic values and practices.

So I go for democracy at the expense of liberalism.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
14 years ago

I think Gary is over-stating the objections of religious fundamentalists to the church-state divide. Historically, the doctrine of toleration emerged from religious conflict, and the slow realisation that it was better to live and let live than to keep fighting (Judith Shklar wrote a good paper called ‘The Liberalism of Fear’; tapping into a far more primal set of emotions than required for rational discussion in the original position).’Fundamentalists’ have far more to lose than to gain from changing the basic status quo, which is why they are not seriously trying to.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Andrew – I agree. Where is the crisis of liberalism?

Gary- I can’t help wondering if you’re projecting your own objections to liberalism onto religious fundamentalists. It’s almost as if you want violent conflict to break out. As if you need a crisis in order to offer your solution.

What is the “hegemony of democratic values and practices” and what problem does it address?

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

I think Don and I have had a version of this argument in a Sydney pub, perhaps not as coherently as might be wished. I’m with Gary, but I want to emphasise that I read Schmitt not as a normative theorist (to a certain degree he is – he doesn’t like liberalism at all – and he does seem to regard violence as a good) but as someone practising sociological description of what the political is. The fact that there can be violent and almost existential conflicts between parties who don’t really have much ideological difference (think about the extreme partisanship of the Clinton era) is evidence of this. That’s why I think Habermas, Rawls and other “political liberals” and advocates of “deliberative democracy” are pipe dreamers and dangerous ones because the question of who and what topics are excluded in the search for consensus is downplayed.

Schmitt was a student of Weber (of sorts) and while there’s no doubt that he has normative commitments (which shift quite radically which is part of my thesis) he is an exceptionally astute order of the nature of things as they are. To the degree that Mouffe wants to soften him, with agonism as opposed to antagoinism, as Ken says, she constructs a normative theory I can accept.

Don, of course, sounds a Weberian note by in effect equating politics with the “administration of things” – something which filled Weber with deep despair. And with good reason, in my view.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

Should read “an extremely astute observer”…

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

The other obvious point from a Schmittian perspective is that liberalism didn’t come into existence or indeed form any sort of “hegemony of democratic values and practices” without unleashing both rhetorical and actual violence. The notion that the Enlightenment was some sort of coming to be of the rational is Whig history at its worst. The Enlightenment – in a political sense – was an act and a process imbued with violence. You didn’t make the liberal omelette without breaking an awful lot of ancien regime eggs.

Liberalism, however, has a constitutive necessity to deny its own violence.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty is well worth reading on this.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Mark – Why should we be filled with despair when politics is reduced to administration?

It sounds like you’re saying that liberalism prohibits people from pursuing a way of life that would really give life meaning. Presumably this involves ‘politics’ but not necessarily the violent domination of enemies.

I really know nothing about Schmitt so I’ll need help to understand whether you’re disagreeing with me about something.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

It’s really a clash between the ancients and the moderns, Don. The ancients believed that politics was about debating how we are to live, and in wrestling with existential issues, we learned prudence, judgement and indeed – how to live. Aristotle’s claim that “man is a political animal” was a normative claim as well as an empirical observation. The assertion is that through collective action and debate humanity finds its truth and its meaning, not in privatised lives. Weber despaired of the fact that in modernity meaning would be increasingly be hard to come by as we were caught by the “iron cage of rationality” – passion would be eviscerated by administration. And in the process genuine choices, and debates about choices, are lost because alternatives are not presented and the emotional and ideological underpinnings of “rational” policy formulation go unexamined.

The final result of political action often, no, even regularly, stands in completely inadequate and often even paradoxical relation to its original meaning. This is fundamental to all history, a point not to be proved in detail here. But because of this fact, the serving of a cause must not be absent if action is to have inner strength. Exactly what the cause, in the service of which the politician strives for power and uses power, looks like is a matter of faith. The politician may serve national, humanitarian, social, ethical, cultural, worldly, or religious ends. The politician may be sustained by a strong belief in ‘progress’–no matter in which sense–or he may coolly reject this kind of belief. He may claim to stand in the service of an ‘idea’ or, rejecting this in principle, he may want to serve external ends of everyday life. However, some kind of faith must always exist. Otherwise, it is absolutely true that the curse of the creature’s worthlessness overshadows even the externally strongest political successes.

Politics, for Weber, necessarily involves a decision as to how to live and that decision is an ungrounded one – one of faith rather than a rational calculus.

http://www2.pfeiffer.edu/~lridener/DSS/Weber/polvoc.html

I think Gary is getting at this when he refers to religion and church/state debates as they are played out now. If we look for instance at debates over the Hijab in schools, a French secularist liberal will say “this law does not discriminate, it merely forbids the public display of private religious symbols”. But the Muslims – and the Catholics – will reply – “this is an existential issue for us”. It’s something of a limit case because the logic of liberal secularism is rarely pushed to those limits in Australia – but note controversies over say, school prayer in the USA.

If I want to assert that the state should not interfere with women’s reproductive choices, I am making a liberal argument. But my Christian interlocutor will reply “why am I prevented from working for a law to embody my view that abortion is murder?” – that’s an argument that has been put to me and you’ll find it made by a lot of folks – it’s not at all a hypothetical. I have to respond – you are free to do so but the liberal state cannot embody your beliefs because others are free to disagree. But this brings to attention the fact that liberal values are just as much grounded in belief and worldview as religious ones. The clash between the two can really not be composed through a rational settlement.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

As a bit of a footnote, where violence comes in to it in Schmitt’s thought is a radicalisation of Weber – Schmitt poses the political battle between friends and enemies as a fight to the death. He’s speaking about war, but he’s also arguing that politics is a continuation of war by other means. What he means by this is clearer in Strauss, Heidegger and Kojeve (and latterly taken up by Fukuyama with his concept of Thymos – life only has meaning if you’re prepared to sacrifice it for a cause. There’s an obvious Nietzschean origin to all this as well.

Interestingly, as a sort of sociological aside, it’s interesting to look at studies of soldiers’ attitudes from the “Anglosphere” in various wars – often they’ve not been at all keen to fight. The close historical relationship between latter 19th century liberalism and nationalism (after the pacifist element in liberalism was occluded – though it lasted longest in Britain where the Great War destroyed the Liberals) was motivated in part by the need to inspire people to lay down their lives in war for a “cause”. “Constitutional nationalism” as Habermas wants to have it doesn’t seem to do the trick. Of course that may not be a bad thing at all, but it’s a problem when world politics is hardly violence and threat free.

I have a sort of working paper on some of this I wrote last year I could email you if you like. Most of it I wrote off the top of my head so it’s not too academically abstruse in style.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

I really know nothing about Schmitt

Wikipedia isn’t the worst place to start for a bit on Schmitt:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Schmitt

Gary also has lots about him on his blog.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

Where I differ from Gary (and from Schmitt) is that I don’t agree that democracy shouldn’t be tempered with a dash of liberalism (neither does Mouffe). I think Merleau-Ponty’s political theory which is really an anti-teleological theory of contingency but which does partake in the decisionism that I agree with Schmitt and Weber is necessary makes an interesting contrast with Schmitt, and I’m working on that at the moment. As part of the hoped for goal of actually finishing TEH PHD!

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Interesting reply.

I agree that it’s important to talk about how to live. And not in a superficial way, but about the really profound questions — about what makes life meaningful.

But what I call politics isn’t that conversation. Instead it’s an imperfect framework that enables people to get on with what’s really important in life — what THEY think is really important.

The need for politics stems from the fact that people can’t pursue the ways of life they really value without coming into conflict. There’s no way to make this problem go away.

So liberalism is a set of practices that have emerged in our particular culture that manage the conflict in a way that most of us can agree on most of the time. Any higher ambition than that is deluded.

Someone might argue that people’s values don’t emerge out nowhere and that liberal practices reshape traditional religious and cultural ideals into something that can be more easily managed.

And I’d say that this gets close to the more interesting and difficult questions for liberalism. Institutions do shape values and ideals so choices about institutions are to some extent choices about prevailing values and ideals.

But in short – some things are too important for politics.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

I was replying to 31. You posted the others while I was typing.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

In other words, Don, you’re a liberal :)

But how do you react when liberalism itself is threatened? That was a real choice people had to make between the wars when Schmitt was writing.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

And I’d say that this gets close to the more interesting and difficult questions for liberalism. Institutions do shape values and ideals so choices about institutions are to some extent choices about prevailing values and ideals.

Yes, precisely, but liberalism has ruled most of the possible choices out of the equation through seeking to “manage the conflict in a way that most of us can agree on most of the time”.

Which is why the liberal resistance to conservative (or Marxist, it doesn’t matter) attacks on that putative consensus is often quite weak. Howard really does want to reshape many fundamental practices and values and institutions in an illiberal direction. Bush even more so.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

Anyway, bed time beckons. Nice to chat! :) We don’t do enough virtual seminars in political philosophy in the blogosphere these days!

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

Just before I go, let’s consider an analogy from personal life – you can often express your love for someone precisely by confronting them and shaking up their views and behaviours when you judge it necessary out of that love. Profound questions about “how to live” are often also not best settled by conversation and the search for maximum agreement.

Jason Soon
14 years ago

The need for politics stems from the fact that people can’t pursue the ways of life they really value without coming into conflict.

Libertarians (a particular species of liberal) try to persuade people that the best way they can pursue this is by property rights and persuasion. The libertarian obsession with keeping the State as limited as possible and its dislike for things which seem commonsensical to left-liberals like anti-discrimination law (applied to private property) can best be understood in that context.,

Jason Soon
14 years ago

The ancients believed that politics was about debating how we are to live, and in wrestling with existential issues, we learned prudence, judgement and indeed – how to live. Aristotle’s claim that “man is a political animal”

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Jason – Are libertarians REALLY a particular species of liberal? ALL libertarians?

I don’t think Hans Hermann Hoppe is a liberal. Not unless liberalism is compatible with feudalism.

Jason Soon
14 years ago

HHH comes unstuck when he tries to translate his thinking to what you should do in the transition to his Utopia. However I would not describe his utopia as feudalism anymore than David Friedman’s utopia is feudalism. In feudalism certain parties thought of themselves as having divine rights and certain parties thought of themselves as subjects to kings and others as serfs. Under private property anarchism people are just contracting with each other. There is a great difference.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Jason – I’d say that Hayek is a liberal. He argued that freedom "presupposes that the individual has some assured private sphere, that there is some set of circumstances in his environment with which others cannot interfere" (CoL p 13).

For Hayek freedom is about whether a person:

…can expect to shape his course of action in accordance with his present intentions, or whether somebody else has power so to manipulate the conditions as to make him act according to that person’s will rather than his own (p 13).

Libertarians like Hoppe and Walter Block strongly objected to this.

Jason Soon
14 years ago

And so they should. It is a weird, vague and unnecessary definition in TCL. Does that mean people on individual contracts are not free and wage slaves are?

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Jason – When you said “the Greeks had slaves and limited suffrage and could engage in endless windbaggery all day” did you have any sense of… hmmm… Irony?

What time is it?

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

It’s 1.12 am in Brisvegas. A respectable hour for late night blogging on a school night – not for you slaves to daylight saving fashion though!

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

Sheesh! Don’t you Troppodillians know the party’s over at Catallaxy tonight!

http://catallaxyfiles.com/?p=2372

Jason Soon
14 years ago

just trying to wrap up some work so I don’t have to do so much more to it tomorrow, Don. My occasional commenting here is my taking a break.