Category: Theory (Page 3 of 5)

Locke and the Right to (Acquire) Property: On the Philosophical Basis of Progressive Liberalism

By: Richard Oxenberg

I. Introduction

Do the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes? How do we determine this “fair share”? Does the government have the right to tax some in order to provide services for others? What is the basis of this right? Is redistributive taxation a form of theft, as some on the political right claim, or might it indeed be mandated by the fundamental principles upon which a free society is founded? These are some of the questions that are up front and center for us in this political year.

The purpose of the following essay is to explore the philosophical basis for answering such questions. In particular, I wish to  examine the philosophical underpinnings of what might be called “progressive liberalism,” by showing its derivation from the basic principles of classical liberalism – especially as these are developed by John Locke, whose theory of natural law and natural rights was instrumental in providing the ethical framework for the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  I argue that a careful analysis of the right to property as developed by Locke shows that this right is neither absolute nor unlimited. Indeed, analysis shows that, considered in the light of modern capitalist society, to honor this right will demand a fairly robust and ongoing program of progressive taxation, aid to the poor, and social programs sufficient to bring the distribution of property into accord with the “difference principle” articulated by John Rawls. This principle implies that a just economic system must be such as to garner the freely proffered consent of its least advantaged members.

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Georgetown and Slavery: Catholic Redemption in Contemporary Political Time

By: Justin R. Harbour, ALM

Georgetown University is currently engaged in an attempt to research, understand, and repair its role in the perpetuation of slavery in 19th century America. Georgetown University is not the first American university to undertake such an uncomfortable and disheartening reflection. Some of these institutions preceding Georgetown, Harvard and Brown University included, arrived at such a reflective moment through a natural desire to confront their relationship to this most sordid institution of American history. Others have been delivered to this moment through student demands (Yale, Princeton, and Oxford, for example). Georgetown’s deliverance is more of the former than the latter. As MIT historian of slavery Craig Steven Wilder recently observed to the New York Times, Georgetown’s attempt at reconciliation “recognize[s] the humanity of the problem they’re dealing with, [and are treating] it as more than a public relations problem.”  Yet the fact that Georgetown has gone further than any of its peers with respect to research and suggestions for repairs should not be surprising. In the foregoing I will argue that Georgetown’s reconciliation with its relationship to slavery today is the result of a historical development of Catholic Jesuits at a unique place in historical time that makes their contemporary institutions of higher learning an obvious and predictable introspective exemplar amongst its secular peers, and one that should be celebrated.

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Antithesis in Federalist Number One

By: Nicholas Napolio

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Number One” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”16″]It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.[/perfectpullquote]

This is how Alexander Hamilton poses the great question of what kind of government is best to the people of the newly formed United States.  Federalist Number One, the first of eighty-five essays written by Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, is the introductory essay in which Hamilton frames the debate surrounding the ratification of a new Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation, which the nation saw as ineffective.  Hamilton frames the debate in favor of ratification and introduces several ideas important to ensure the prosperity of the United States—ideas that are still discussed and debated today, such as federalism, individual liberty, and the separation of powers.  Much contemporary commentary on The Federalist Papers analyzes the authors’ political theories, critiques the ideas they present, or seeks to apply their ideas to current issues. Fewer commentators analyze the ways in which the authors’ ideas are presented and of their rhetorical strategies, which is the focus of this article. The Federalist Papers will be seen here less as a work of doctrinal political theory, and primarily as a rhetorician’s political attempt to persuade its contemporaneous readers of the rightness of its cause.

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Liberal Values in Market Society

By: Jeremy Kingston Cynamon

Much of political philosophy concerns itself with devising a priori systems (derived purely from theory) for organizing society. However, in doing so it tends to overlook many extant structures – particularly those of the economic sphere. In this piece I examine what it is that these a priori systems overlook, as well as the ways that the existing structures alter the institutions haphazardly placed on top of them. I devote the bulk of my attention to the frequent attempts made to overlay liberal values into our market society.

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Heart-Mind Cosmos: Panentheism in Mahayana Buddhism And Early 19th Century German Idealism

By: Stefan Schindler

In the late 17th century, Isaac Newton synthesized the European scientific discoveries of the previous two hundred years. This scientific revolution had been built on the scientific method formulated by Francis Bacon, who insisted that nature’s secrets could be unveiled through a combination of rational theorizing and rigorous empirical testing.  This was called the experimental method.  All previous knowledge was thrown into question in what Descartes called “methodical doubt.”

The point was to establish science on a firm foundation.  Assumptions and superstitions were to be replaced with certainties.  Accordingly, mathematics was the language for the formulation of the laws of nature.

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Was Nietzsche an aristocratic elitist?

By: Ippolit Belinski
An earlier version of this article appeared on Paradox of the Day.

Nietzsche is often portrayed as an aristocratic elitist, whose main concern was with higher morals and who strongly opposed any type of herd mentality. This is generally true, albeit very crudely formulated (and indeed oversimplified). But it does not mean—as is often claimed—that Nietzsche was also an elitist aristocrat in his political views.

It is often claimed that, because Nietzsche was concerned with higher morals, he therefore disavowed any sense of egalitarian community. By this reading, he staunchly opposed democratic principles, or any form of politics which aims towards equality.

I believe this account is highly problematic.

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What Fascism Is Not, What It Is, and Why It Matters

Howl of the Day: May 31, 2016

Fascism, as a term, has become almost synonymous with injustice. And this common view of fascism is a good place to begin understanding the phenomenon. Once the term is scrutinized just a bit, however, fascism becomes a more difficult thing to understand. This is despite the fact (and to certain extent, because of the fact) that the media is saturated with loud speeches and vivid images on the subject.

Fascism is so familiar to us as a shorthand for injustice that it is hard to see beyond that surface impression. But fascism cannot simply be the same as injustice. However objectionable it is, there are surely other political ills.

For example, the use of force to implement political policies is often referred to as fascistic. The same with political commonplaces, such as declarations of war and the existence of inequity. But force is employed in every type of regime, both good and bad, and inequities of some kind are ubiquitous. Without recourse to some standard of justice, there is no way to distinguish fascism from liberalism, or tyranny from democracy.

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Judge Posner on Meta-Ethics and Rational vs. Nonrational Argumentation

By:Jeremy Kingston Cynamon

Moral theory is like a system of mathematics that has never gotten beyond addition.R. Posner

Introduction

In his book, Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory, Judge Richard Posner offers a serious critique of the professionalization of moral philosophy that has gone largely ignored by that social milieu. More broadly, his meta-ethical views explaining the nature of morality, which I will reconstruct in this piece, are quite incisive. I generally agree with Posner’s skepticism towards moral realism, and will not attempt to problematize his arguments in this regard. However, in his attempt to delineate different types of moralists (“moral entrepreneurs” from “academic moralists”) he draws some dubious distinctions.

Particularly concerning is his distinction between rational and nonrational argumentation.[1] In my view, it is political rather than philosophical; a sort of social artifact without internal logic. There is, of course, such a thing as a bad argument, but this is not equivalent to a nonrational argument – at least in Posner’s schema, and in academic parlance more generally. Rationality/Nonrationality can be a marginally useful distinction of style, but I argue that it is often misused to track content and thereby unreflectively weaken the normative weight of radical arguments.

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Silence as Speech: Reading Sor Juana’s Primero Sueño in the Light of her Final Silence

By: Rich Frontjes

Speakers and Listeners in Public Discourse

American public discourse is theoretically founded on the freedom of speech.  This freedom to speak, however, in no way guarantees entry into conversations where the common good is considered, assessed, or decided.  Free speech is the freedom to speak publicly—but participation in public discourse requires inclusion.  And inclusion is variously brokered: depending on the conversation, its participants, and the power dynamics at work, any given stream of public discourse involves a boundary.  On one side are the participants, and on the other side are the listeners—or, frequently, those whose attention is focused elsewhere.

In contemporary society, the boundary between participants and listeners exists partly as a function of access to media.  Individuals or groups with the (financial or other) power to gain access to media increase their chances of entering the public discourse.  The powerless, of course, are typically also voiceless.  But financial power has not always been the key that opened the door to participation in public discourse: various epochs and cultural moments have likewise had various modes of adjudicating participation in public discourse.

The present power of media outlets to perform this boundary-keeping function once resided largely within other institutions.  The Roman Catholic Church and its functionaries exercised considerable control over public discourse for centuries of European history and cultural development.  Exploring how participation in public discourse has been adjudicated in a specific past instance elucidates a dynamic which clarifies the nature of contemporary public speech.  In the example of the Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695), we discover a turn of events in which ecclesial power brokers attempted to enforce silence upon an otherwise astoundingly prolific poet.[1]

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Sullivan, Trump, and Tyranny in America

Howl of the Day: May 3, 2016

Veteran political commentator and online media all-star, Andrew Sullivan, emerged from semi-retirement yesterday, firing broadsides. In an article for New York Magazine, Sullivan mounted an impassioned defense of elitism in America, arguing that the ever-greater democratization of American society and politics has made the nation ripe for tyranny.

Beginning with a reading of Plato and culminating in an assault on Trump, Sullivan warns against the rise of populist anti-establishment politics. To him, Trump is a demagogue, a tyrant-in-waiting of the type that Plato identified as particularly likely to emerge in excessively democratic regimes.

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