Author Archive | Jacob Levy

Imperialism and Colonialism

Chris Brooke is plugging Sankar Muthu’s excellent book Enlightenment against Empire. I’ve mentioned it before, as well, but thought I’d take the occasion to mention the upcoming conference “Colonialism and Its Legacies” I’m cochairing with my colleague Iris Young April 23-25. (That’s the same weekend that APA Central is in Chicago– philosophers coming to town for that conference should feel free to walk the couple of blocks to our conference as well. Muthu is among the presenters; as are most of the other leading historians of political thought about empire and colonialism.

With the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy meeting out of the way, the colonialism conference becomes my next full-time preoccupation. But speaking of the ASPLP, the newest volume of its Nomos series is out: Secession and Self-Determination, coedited by Stephen Macedo of Princeton and Allen Buchanan of Duke. I think it’s an especially good one, with contributions from Donald Horowitz, Wayne Norman, Margaret Moore, Mark Brandon, and Buchanan himself, among others (where, yes, “others” includes me.) [...]

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Bye for now.

I’ve been putting off writing this post, thinking that I was going to have one last burst of blogging– about the Red Sox or APSA, most likely, since I’ve certainly got nothing useful and original to say about either the current, unpleasant, stage of the presidential election or the current, worse than unpleasant, state of things in Iraq. But I think it’s time to bite the bullet:

I’m taking a leave of absence from blogging, to correspond to my academic leave of absence over the next year. I’m very excited about the fellowship I’ve been given for the next year; but it increases rather than decreases my workload in my final year before tenure. I want to focus energies on the fellowship and on my ongoing research projects. They have to be my priorities, but they’re also what I want to be spending my time on. Accordingly– no more blogging, no more New Republic.

Some of you will notice that there’s little to notice here, because I’ve blogged so little over the past three months anyways. I guess that’s been due to four things. One, I’ve really thrown myself into the history of political thought part of my research. Unlike when I’m writing about multiculturalism or constitutionalism, that material doesn’t generate spillover bloggable ideas. Two, the world in general and politics in particular has been preoccupied with things I had no specialized knowledge about and no real desire to spend my days thinking about. Three, I got tired of hearing myself talk (or whatever the electronic equivalent is)– I’d gotten into the habit of blogging about lots of stuff whether I had anything original to add or not, something that I’d told myself I would avoid when I first started blogging. And, four, the blogosphere has seemed like a less [...]

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Yesterday was a very good day.

Much of my day was taken up with two long, fun, and very intellectually productive conversations.

I acquired the fancy new computer I’m getting to use for the duration of my fellowship over the next academic year– my first flat-screen ever!

My wife and I got to meet the beautiful new Drezner baby.

It was a lovely low-70s clear summer day.

And then it got capped off by two truly lovely pieces of news… [...]

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Newly posted:

The paper I’ve been writing this summer instead of blogging (where are my priorities?) is now online (DOC, PDF.) [UPDATE: Links fixed.]

“Beyond Publius: Montesquieu, liberal republicanism, and the small-republic thesis”

Abstract: The idea that republicanism as a form of government was only suitable for small states, given its definitive 18th-century formulation by Montesquieu, rested in that formulation on three major pillars: the difficulty of sustaining public-spirited virtue in the face of diversity of interests and inequality of fortunes; the problem of knowing the public interest when citizens’ circumstances varied; and the danger posed to republican government by a large state’s large armed forces. The first two worries declined as republican theory changed from classical and civic to modern and liberal, a change associated with Hume’s and Publius’ re-understanding of faction and interest in large republics. But Publius did not offer the only, or the final, defense of large republics. Other liberal republicans understood the problems differently, or denied that there as a problem at all. The intertwined problems of executive-legislative and civil-military relations, the worry that republicanism in large states would end in military rule à la Caesar, Cromwell, or Bonaparte, stimulated continuing work in constitutional theory decades after The Federalist. Accordingly, even among those who endorsed the new logic of faction, institutional remedies for the problems facing large republics remained, with particular dispute over federalism, the makeup of the executive, and the creation of a neutral or conservation-preserving power. This paper aims to broaden our view of the shift in republican constitutional thought beyond Hume and Publius; to bridge the Atlantic gap in our understanding of late 18th-century constitutional thought; and to show the breadth of the rejection of civic republican assumptions as well as the range of thought about institutional design in the era.

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Minor parties:

This John Quiggin post at CT revisits the perennial question of why minor parties fare so poorly in the U.S.

I can’t model this in a convincing way, but looking at the comparative cases– much stronger two-party dominance in the US than in federal Australia or Canada or Germany, unitary France or (until recently) Britain, to say nothing of PR systems, it has always seemed to me that analyses in terms of either first-past-the-post voting or federalism/ centralism failed the at-first-blush test.

What marks the US as really distinctive in its political structures is complete presidentialism. The US has a separately elected unitary executive at both the federal and each state level; no other major developed liberal democracy does. The rest have prime ministers or their equivalents, or in France a pres-PM hybrid. And minor parties can credibly aspire to balance-tipping control of the determining house of the legislature, and hence to inclusion in coalition governments and a share of executive power, in a prime-ministerial system, even one elected on FPP. In the U.S., a share of executive power is effectively out of reach, and a share of federal executive power is completely out of reach.

And therefore the U.S., which seems like it should be a natural candidate for at least regional parties given its size and federal structure, doesn’t do what’s done in Canada or the UK and send regional parties to the national legislature. One occasionally gets a third-party governor, but never(*) a Senator and effectively never a Representative, even from the states with third-party governors. That’s anomalous, and I suspect has something to do with the strong executive-legislative separation and the impossibility of coalition governments.

(By the way: as far as I’m concerned an answer like “ballot access laws” is probably question-begging. Why do the two [...]

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Czeslaw Milosz

Other than Michael Young over at Hit & Run, very little blog-reaction so far to the death of Czeslaw Milosz at 93. (One of the century’s great anti-Communists, democrats, defenders of intellectual freedom, and poets seemed like a natural candidate for an outpouring of blog-obits: Oxblog? Crescat? MR? Eugene?)

So instead of reading the pieces I’d expected to be reading right now, I’ll write a bit of my own.

The Captive Mind is certainly Milosz’ most important prose work. Not only is it powerful and compelling; it was also importantly early, a fact that I think has been underappreciated in the past couple of decades. This 1953 book was so long before The Gulag Archipelago or Vaclav Havel’s essays or Solidarity’s demonstrations or John Paul II’s and Ronald Reagans speeches, so long before the fall of Communism itself, that it has been a bit obscured in our retrospective sense of history. But Milosz understood, and explained, the relationship between Communist states and art and ideas just a handful of years after Poland had become one. For this he received considerable scorn from the French intellectual elite who surrounded him after his defection in Paris. And, as a poet with early sympathies for socialism rather than an economist or theologian or politician, he never acquired the kind of natural constituency in the west who would keep the memory of his contribution alive.

For idiosyncratic reasons, I was even more affected by his extraordinary autobiography, Native Realm. It does a remarkable job at evoking the polyglot world of eastern Europe before the age of nation-states, and of the swirling intellectual waters of the interwar years, as nationalism, religion, and ideology competed to provide the organizing disciplines of thought and belief in the region. It excels as a way to help the [...]

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Hey, look at that.

A big NYT article about my hometown, and one of my favorite places, Portsmouth, NH. And, unlike most mentions of Portsmouth in the national press, it’s not about the presidential primary, and so it gets to write about Portsmouth at its summertime best rather than in the bleak midwinter.

It’s a good article that hits many of the highlights. It mentions the downtown grease-shrine, Gilley’s (where I ate an awful lot of hot dogs and hamburgers as a kid), though not the downtown sub-shrine, Moe’s Sandwich Shop.

Unforgivably, the reporter, faced with the problem that “Although it’s not difficult to find a good place to eat in Portsmouth (it has more than 100 restaurants), it may be difficult to select just one, with choices ranging from fish joints to French bistros,” opts to leave town entirely. Instead visitors should try The Dolphin Striker, Cafe Mirabelle, The Library Restaurant (where my brother had his wedding reception), or The Oar House. Stop in for a microbrew at the excellent and atmospheric Portsmouth Brewery (smoke-free without legislation!) A new development since I moved away is the arrival of a good sushi place, Sakura, downtown in a space that used to be my grandfather’s auto-parts store.

A less-welcome change is that you now need an appointment to physically visit the Portsmouth Bookshop, with one of the best collections of old and rare maps I know of in the U.S., and a very fine used book collection as well. But they’ve retained their (lovely) physical store in the Buckminster mansion despite shifting much of their business to the web– so, with an appointment, you can still go see the selection. When I was a kid Portsmouth had really surprisingly good used bookstores; but of my two favorites, The Book Guild closed entirely last year [...]

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Keyed Up:

So it looks like Barack Obama (disclaimer I’ve disclaimed before: my state Senator as well as a University of Chicago faculty colleague) will have a Republican opponent after all; Alan Keyes is reportedly going to run. An out-of-stater who denounced Hillary Clinton’s carpetbag run as an assault on federalism, a very, very religiously conservative black Catholic, and the banner-carrier for an Illinois GOP that has been shattered by corruption, electoral collapse, and 7-of-9, Keyes starts with a smaller natural base of voters than any major-party candidate I’ve ever heard of. Moreover, he shores up one of Obama’s great strengths: his appeal to white ethnic working-class voters who wouldn’t vote for a candidate who they think is really black. Keyes’ Catholicism and his party make him unappealing to black voters, but he looks all too really black to those white voters.

As everyone knows, Keyes also comes with two major assets: his mind and his voice. When he doesn’t go off the deep end (which he does with some frequency, and has done more as time goes on– his 2000 run for the presidency sounded loonier more often than his 1996 run), Keyes is is very smart, a great speaker, and one of the best debaters around. Of course, all of that’s true of Obama too. There’s a chance that Keyes-Obama debates could make for the political television of the year, with Lincoln-Douglas parallels getting drawn by the media: the two best debaters in the country are running for Illinois Senate, and this time, instead of debating slavery, they’re both black! You get the idea. Hype notwithstanding, they could be really marvelous debates– again, assuming Keyes doesn’t go off the deep end and start screaming at Obama for being a baby-killer or moshing or something.

Anyway, I dug around and found [...]

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Obama vs the rest

A number of commentators have linked this passage from Barack Obama’s speech:

t’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America — there is the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and have gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

with a number of other themes from the convention: Bill Clinton saying that Republicans “need” Americans to be divided and Democrats don’t; Howard Dean’s call to “take back” America; John Edwards’ claim that there are now two Americas but there can be one; and Kerry’s “Let America Be America Again.”

I don’t see it. Obama’s statements seem to me different in kind.

First, and most importantly, this portion of Obama’s speech was symmetrical with respect to partisan, cultural, and religious divides. It’s [...]

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Trade news

A very reassuring post from Matthew Yglesias on Laura Tyson’s convention discussion of Kerry on trade. Relatedly, see his post at the Prospect’s convention blog (“We still need to know which advisors will have Kerry’s ear if he gets into the White House. So far, most indications I’ve seen indicate that the free traders have the upper hand.”) and Ryan Lizza’s “Rubinomics Redux” post at the TNR blog. All sounds like pretty strikingly good news. (No, I don’t expect Kerry to be perfect on trade. But he does, at the moment, seem to get that Clinton’s way is better than Gephardt’s– or Bush’s.) [...]

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Thoughts on Day 1 of the Convention:

1) Y’know, a speech isn’t any less negative just because the convention organizers leak the information that they’re not allowing any negative speeches– or, for that matter, because the speaker tells us that it’s not negative.

2) … but man, can Bill Clinton make you believe that it does. His speech was hardly if at all less of an attack than Carter’s; it was more of an attack than Gore’s or Hillary’s. (See Ramesh Ponnuru, David Kusnet.) But it didn’t feel that way. He’s simply a brilliant, masterful speaker. I can’t offhand think of a particular speech he’s given that’s memorable and enduring, like Kennedy’s inaugural or Reagan at Westminster or the Berlin Wall. His speeches are in important ways banal, of the moment, and always nakedly partisan and political. But he’s so damn good at them, and he’s gotten better over the years. (He’s outgrown the singling out of token audience members, for example.) He’s the only currently active political speaker I’d rather watch give his speech than read the transcript later.

3) Still, I’m curious to see whether the mainstream press actually buys the claim that last night wasn’t loaded with Bush-bashing. Even Clinton’s wasn’t hidden; it was just coated in his honeyed voice. Carter’s would have been astonishingly nasty, if I still had the capacity to be astonished by Carter. (Much of the bashing was effective. Some of it was right. And bashing the incumbent is what a challenger’s party does. But I dislike the sanctimonious pretense that “As long as we don’t repeat Michael Moore’s theories, we’re running a positive, ‘choice of visions’ campaign.”)

4) It seems like the pure-play bloggers were too busy getting interviewed yesterday to do much actual blogging. The magazine group-blogs are, so far, the sites to be reading: The New Republic, [...]

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Bleg to Volokh-reading lawyers

I’m looking, on a tight deadline, for Oregon lawyers with expertise in both criminal law and civil rights/ racial bias litigation, whether private practitioners or public interest/ non-profit attorneys. Any leads or contact information would be much appreciated; further details can be discussed via e-mail. [...]

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Too much:

Can we please not put all this weight onto the performance of Catwoman?

The first African-American to win an Oscar for best actress — for the 2001 film “Monster’s Ball” — [Halle] Berry has now become the first African-American actress to headline an expensive, effects-laden production, this one about a meek graphic artist who turns into a vigilante with feline powers.

In the zero-sum calculations of the movie industry, Ms. Berry’s bankability as a star will be judged largely on whether she can “open” “Catwoman,” a Warner Brothers film — meaning whether she can make it a financial winner. If it succeeds, it will place her among a rarefied group of top-paid female stars, only a few of them established box office draws, and signify yet another achievement for African-American actors.

And so, if Catwoman flops, I guess that’ll mean that either Berry in particular or black women in general can’t be banked on to “open” a big-budget action movie, leading to both Hollywood decisions not to attempt such things and an indictment of the American moviegoing public.

But, of course, Catwoman might flop because it’s going to suck. I don’t know that for sure, of course; but it certainly looks unpromising. Cringe-inducing, actually. That has nothing to do with Berry’s acting ability (cf Monster’s Ball or Gothika) or her talent at action (cf Die Another Day). It has to do with the sort of dialogue that I’d hoped the Spider-Man and X-Men movies had cured superhero movies of. It has to do with the costume, and the impression that the movie’s only purpose is to pour her into it.

The apparently-aborted Bond spinoff movie might have been a much better test for the “Halle Berry, summer action hero” hypothesis. So might a Storm-focused X3. So might a Catwoman movie [...]

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Square Root Camp:

This week’s New Yorker has a mostly very good article by Burkhard Bilger about the summer residential academic camps run by Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth– “nerd camp,” as he calls it in a move that would be cute two or three times but becomes kind of odd when he uses it every time. (The article’s not online, but there’s an online-only Q&A with Bilger about the article here.)

Unavoidably, I suppose, the article at least worries a bit about yuppie super-parents forcing their kids to become super-kids and try to get into CTY, and self-reinforcing social stratification. But Bilger has what seems to me the right attitude toward that worry.

I’m sure that some kids go to nerd camp just to please their parents. And for them the experience must be mind-numbingly boring: six hours a day in a classroom, in the glory days of summer, trying to cram a semester’s worth of work into two weeks. But I didn’t see many bored kids at Vanderbilt or Johns Hopkins. Most of them have what Ellen Winner, a psychologist at Boston College, calls a “rage to master.” They were just naturally curious about the world and had an inner compulsion to use their minds. It’s almost impossible to force that kind of focus and diligence on a kid—just try getting the average ten-year-old to practice piano for half an hour a day.

(From the Q&A, not the article, but the article expresses the same thought at greater length.)

In retrospect, my admission to and financial aid for CTY (math, 1984) provided a pretty tranformative experience for me, and one of the major mechanisms for my own social mobility. The other major mechanism was my scholarship to Exeter. CTY made me realize how desperately I wanted to go to [...]

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