24. In Defense of Politics

today last class I had on the syllabus I think it was called globalization and political theory or something something to that effect and I guess since writing that I've changed that the theme of this final lecture a bit and I want to I want to talk about defending politics or in defense of politics and I'll try to explain what I mean by that is kind of a wrap-up and exhortation for this last class in 1962 an English political scientist and journalist by the name of Bernard Crick wrote a short and very polemical and influential little book called in defense of politics and by politics Crick meant a distinctive type of human activity where conflicts of interests among groups are adjudicated by discussion persuasion and debate rather than by force or by fraud a political society as Crick understood it is one where individuals and groups played by certain agreed upon rules that will determine how conflicts of interests are to be decided in Crick called this little book very lively and still definitely worth reading he called his book in defense of politics because he regarded the proper understanding of politics is being distorted by certain current currents of thought and practice in his own day among which were for example the highly ideological style of politics found for example in the Soviet Union in its client state the kinds of nationalist politics emerging in the developing world and even in some aspects of the conservative politics of contemporary Britain of his time where that meant a kind of unreflective deference to customs and tradition I think today it's important to try to reprise Crick's plea for a defense of politics although in a slightly different way politics again as Crick understood it is something that takes place within a certain territorially defined unit called a state this may seem almost too obvious to bear repeat repeating for centuries what is called the wrist p├║blica has been regarded as the proper locus of the citizen's loyalty and it was thought to be the task of political philosophy or political science in its original sense to teach or to give reasons for the love of one's own country classical political philosophy regarded patriotism as an ennobling sentiment consider just a few of the following passage passages that I had asked Justin to put on the board from Cicero from birth from Machiavelli from Rousseau and from Lincoln writers from the ancient in the modern world from many different countries in tough times all make important expressions some more extreme than others like Machiavelli's what what else would one expect from an extremist like Machiavelli's just simple too simpler and more dignified statements like that of Burke or Lincoln but anyway all expressing the view that politics has something to do with providing reasons for the love of country today however the idea of patriotism at least among philosophers seems to have fallen upon hard times this isn't to say that patriotism as a phenomenon of political life is likely to disappear to the contrary go drive 20 miles or so outside of any urban area and one is likely to see flags being waved bumper stickers on car's proclaiming the drivers love of country country music stations playing music that tells us to support our troops and keep driving our SUVs or signs of American patriotism to be sure but the it but the issue seems quite different in universities and in educated circles might say where patriotism has come to appear to be a morally questionable phenomenon tell someone at any Ivy League university that you are interested in patriotism and you will be treated as if you have just expressed a kind of interest in child pornography raise the issue and one is likely to hear very quickly repeated Samuel Johnson's famous barb that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel or you might even hear if the person's read a little bit more 'i'm Foresters famous statement that if he had to choose whether to betray his friend or his country that he forced her wished he had the courage to betray his country Forster you know the famous and English novelist authors and authors of Howard's and in other important books Foster presents the choice between friendship over country of private over public goods as a kind of tragic and even noble decision that one has to make but Foster Foster in some respect has given us I would suggest a false dilemma loyalty is a moral habit just as betrayal is a moral vice people who practice one are less likely to indulge in the other consider the following example a few years after Forster made his statement at Cambridge I believe three young Cambridge undergraduates in the 1930s by the names of Kim Philby Donald MacLean and guy Burgess I don't know if those are names that are familiar to people here any longer they were very very famous names at one point they chose to betray their own country that is to say they acted for many years as Soviet agents and for years passed on vital secrets English secrets to Moscow as they all ascended up the ladder of British intelligence services until they were finally exposed in the 1950s and it was not long after they were exposed and they had all fled to Moscow that they began to betray one another loyalty it seems like betrayal is not a bus that one can simply get off at will rather people who betray others in one area of life are likely to do so as well in others so foster has given us a false destroys between choosing friendship over country or country over friendship and in most matters I think it probably makes greater sense to examine the problem through the lenses of Aristotle who tells us everything we need to know about most questions in the Nicomachean ethics Aristotle taught us that all virtues that is to say all excellences of mind and heart are best understood as means as a mean along a continuum of excess and deficiency it is a matter of finding a balance the proper balance between extremes so it might be useful to regard patriotism in this light if patriotism is a virtue and I say I ask the question if it is it would be important to see it between as a midpoint between two contending extremes two contending vices what are these vices you might say that obscure from us the meaning of the proper meaning of the political today on one side you could say the excess of patriotism is a kind of nationalistic zeal that holds absolute attachment to one's country one's way of life is unconditionally good this is the kind of loyalty expressed in sentiments like my country right or wrong but was given powerful expression perhaps the most powerful expression in a short book another short book in this in this case by a German legal philosopher of the early 20th century named Karl Schmitt Karl Schmitt wrote a short book called the concept of the political in 1921 and here Schmitt drew extensively on Hobbes but rather not to defend a view of the political but rather than tying the state of war Hobbes a state of war to a pre political state of nature Schmitt saw war and also which includes the preparation for war is the inescapable condition of human life of political life man he believed is the dangerous animal because we can kill one another in individuals and more importantly groups of individuals stand to one another in a virtually continual state of conflict and war Schmitt believed Hobbes was right in many import crucial respects but where he fell down was in believing that the social contract could create a sovereign state that would put an end to war quite the contrary he thought the inescapable political fact is therefore the distinction between what he called friend and enemy those who are with us and those who are against us to misunderstand that distinction distinction that goes all the way back to Paula Marcus's view in the Republic where he talks about justice being doing good to friends and harm to enemies but might obviously go on much deeper further than that for Schmitt that distinction was central to what he called the political the political he says and he uses that word as in down we tend to think of political largely in its edge of tile form but in Germany you can often use it as a noun as well the political he wrote is the most intense and extreme antagonism become becomes that much more political the closer it approaches to the extreme point that of the friend enemy grouping he says friend and enemy are the inescapable categories through which we experience what he calls the political life consists of that fundamental distinction Athens and Sparta Red Sox and Yankees Harvard and Yale these are fundamental groupings enemies friends and friends and enemies all humanitarian appeals he believed appeals to the concept of human rights to free trade or so on all of these are as it were attempts to avoid the fundamental fact of conflict in the need for a politics of group solidarity the politics of the future he hoped would be determined by those who have the courage to recognize this fundamental distinction and to act upon it at the other end however of the continuum of excess and deficiency the defect you might say of patriotism comes to light as a kind of today what we might call trans political cosmopolitanism present-day cosmopolitanism is to very large degree a product of another German philosopher named Immanuel Kant writing at the end of the 18th century Khan stressed on the other hand that our moral duties and obligations respect no national or political or other kinds of parochial boundaries whatever boundaries such as race class ethnicity political loyalty and the like on this view unconcealed that is we owe no greater moral obligations to fellow citizens then to any other human beings on the face of the planet citizenship if I can use language that is not exactly console but is largely sort of identified with the kind of content move in philosophy citizenship is simply an arbitrary fact conferred on individuals through the accident of birth but since birthright citizenship is an artifact of you what you might call pure sort of genetic lottery there are no moral or special obligations attached to it the continent emphasis on universality that is to say that there is a moral law that that can be universalized and held to be true for all human beings stressed for Kant that we are all parts of what he called a kingdom of ends a universal kingdom of ends where every individual is do equal moral value and respect because simply of their humanity alone that idea of a cosmopolitan ethic of humanity Kant believed could only be realized in a Republican form of government today what we might call a democracy or to speak more precisely what Kant believed it could only hold true in the Confederation of Republic's overseen or ruled by international law Kant was perhaps I don't know if he was the first but he gave the first he gave the most powerful early expression to the idea of a League of Nations a League of Nations that would put an end to war altogether between states for the sake of achieving what he called perpetual peace the title of a famous essay of his Hobbes and Locke he believed were wrong in attributing sovereignty absolute sovereignty to the individual nation state for Kant the state the individual state is merely a kind of developmental stage along the path to a world Republic a world republic of states organized around the idea of international law and peace only in he believed ally League of Republic's would peace among the nations finally be realized and would individuals be able to treat one another as ends rather than means if you don't if you want just some indication of how influential Kant's view has been you can think that his idea for an International League of Nations came to fruition over a century after his life in Woodrow Wilson's famous 14 points issued after the first world war and elaborated more fully in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 all of which bear the unmistakable imprint of a manual condom now neither of these views let me argue either either of these views Schmitz or Kant's really captures the nature of the political let me start with adequately so at least let me start with return to Schmitt again Schmidt's view is rooted I believe in a very important human truth namely the world is a dangerous in fact very dangerous place like in many ways Hobbes or Machiavelli Schmitt takes the extreme situation that is to say the situation of war in mobilization for war and turns it into the norm turns it into the normal situation an extreme situation is one where the very survival in fact the very independence of society is at stake and for Schmitt every situation is potentially a life-and-death struggle against a kind of existential enemy where one must decide to choose to choose up sides between friends and enemy politics for him is a kind of endless struggle for power guided by national self-interest alone and yet it would seem to me a politics of unremitting war and preparation for war would be have to be self-defeating even in Schmidt's own terms for example why should the struggle between friend and enemy be exclusively what we might call an inter and interstate rivalry wouldn't competition between individuals and groups just as easily become a feature of domestic politics as well why is war something that takes place exclusively between states rather than within them is the logic of bitter rivalry and competition and friend and enemy cuts all the way all the way down so to speak the logic of Schmidt's argument at least as I understand it points not only to war between states but ongoing civil war and civil conflicts within states within it between rival groups expressing their own desire for power and their own loyalty to their individual groups the result of this logic of conflict it seems to me would be the negation of politics that is to say the destruction of the sovereign state as the locus of political power why should again the choice of friend and enemy be as choice between States rather than individuals but let me then turn to Conville cosmopolitanism because if the effect of Schmidt's distinction between friend and enemy is to make politics identical with war the effect of Conte and cosmopolitanism is to confuse politics with morality Kant and his present-day followers wish to transcend the sovereign state and replace it with known international rules of justice if Schmitt believed that man is the dangerous animal Kant believes man is simply the rule following animal but cuts desire it seems to me to transcend the International to transcend the state with a kind of international forum is both naive and anti political if Hobbes was right when he said that covenants without the sword are but words the question is who will enforce these international norms of justice Kant's conception of a kind of global justice is a wish is to wish a world without States a world without boundaries a world in short without politics international bodies like the United Nations have been notoriously ineffective in curbing or restraining the aggressive behavior of states and international courts of justice like that in the hague have been highly selective in what they choose to condemn it would seem that reliance on such bodies would have the further disadvantage of uprooting people from their traditions from their local arrangements that most people find as a source of reverence or aw there seems to be little room for reverence in the sake or the sacred in the cosmopolitan ideal the logic of this view the logic of khonsu for perpetual peace necessarily leads to a world state world government even can't admit that a world state would be what he called a soulless despotism he was opposed to the idea of a world state but the logic of his argument leads him inescapably in that view in that in that vein the under the idea underlying perpetual peace is that human life as such human life independent that is of the kind of life one leads is an absolute good such an idea I think can only lead in the long run to moral decay that is to say to a kind of inability or unwillingness to dedicate one's life to ideals to the relatively few things that give life wholeness and meaning the cosmopolitan state would be the world state would be the home of what Nietzsche called the last man a world where nothing really matters where there is nothing really of importance left to do a world of entertainments a world of fun a world void of moral seriousness so these two extremes nationalism and cosmopolitanism are today the two doctrines or tendencies that tend to obscure the true nature of the political each of these extremes contains at best a part of the truth a partial truth the nationalist is surely correct in some respect to see that politics is always a matter of the particular particular States particular people and traditions for the nationalists the particular stands for something infinitely higher and more noble than the cosmopolitan or the universal we enter the world as members of a particular family in a particular neighborhood in a particular state in a particular part of the country and so on we are a composite of particularity in these attachments these particularity ZAR not something extraneous or accidental to our ident to our identities they are what make us who we are the demand that we give up our particular identities and assume a kind of Cosmopolitan point of view would be the same thing to ask us at least to those who are English speak native English speakers to give up speaking English and adopt Esperanto the artificial false language I would ask who is the Shakespeare or Milton of Esperanto in other words everything great derives from something rooted in particular this is the morality of what you might call common ties but there is also some truth on the cosmopolitan side on the other hand are we simply determined or condemned by the accident of birth to live by the traditions of the particular nation in which we happen to have been born doesn't this deny what it seems to be highest in us that is to say our capacity for choice to to detach ourselves from our surroundings to determine for ourselves how we will live and who we will be this idea of choice of being able to choose for oneself is I think at the bottom of our experience of human dignity we experience our moral worth as human beings through our ability to choose how we will live with whom to live and under what conditions this kind of ideal this cosmopolitan ethic has the virtue of allowing us to stand outside of our particular situation and view ourselves from what you might call the standpoint of the disinterested spectator from a higher or more general point of view and clearly such a morality gives us a kind of critical distance or vantage point on how we can judge ourselves and our society from this point of view our local and particular attachment to family friends fellow citizens again carries no overwhelming moral weight we must view them as we would view any one or anything else just interestedly objectively and this one might call the morality of cosmopolitanism each of these ethics the ethic of communal ties the ethic of cosmopolitan individualism express again an important piece of the truth of politics although neither is alone complete in itself how to combine them or what should we do in many respects I think these two ethics leads to these two forms of ethos are very much combined already in the American regime and how the American Way of life should be properly understood consider the following American regime is the first truly modern nation that is to say a nation founded upon the principles of modern philosophy our founding document the Charter of American liberties the Declaration of Independence is dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal it is fair to say that the American regime requires more than loyalty that is to say it requires understanding it requires understanding of that founding principle or that proposition in the various texts and debates in which that proposition was later articulated as well as the range of responses and alternatives to it to believe for example as you all now know to believe that all men are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights requires us to consider the opposite proposition contained in books like Plato's Republic or Aristotle's politics that believe that human beings are not equal and that the best regime is one governed by a philosophical aristocracy so to consider our regime means in some ways to consider it in the light of these Universal alternatives but ours is also a regime that contains elements of both the universal and the particular again the American regime is one founded on what Jefferson called a self-evident truth the truth that there are certain unalienable rights that these principles are not simply true for Americans but believed to be good for all human beings always and everywhere consider Tom Paine in the rights of man where Paine writes the independence of America was accompanied by a revolution in the principles and practice of government government founded on a moral theory he says on the indefeasible hereditary rights of man that is now revolving from west to east in other words far from suggesting a traditional form of communal morality American politics is pain suggests there requires a commitment to the highest most universal moral principles that seems to be the cosmopolitan dimension upon which the very nature of the erican regime rests but the regime but the question does not end there the principles of Jefferson and Payne once again did not arise soui generous anyone knows Jefferson's principles about equality and rights have their profound source their profound source in the philosophy of John Locke and particularly in his Second Treatise of government recall that Locke occupies a central moment in the development of the modern state and his new idea of a kind of industrious and rational citizen Locke's philosophy emerged not only in conversation with the other great founders of modernity like Machiavelli and Hobbes but in some important sense it emerged in opposition to the tradition of the classical Republic whose greatest representatives were Plato Aristotle Cicero and polybius it would seem then in other words to be an American citizen in a fullest sense of the term requires an immersion in the philosophical tradition because only in America of all the countries in the world I believe does the philosophical tradition remain most deeply and truly alive and yet at the same time the American regime requires an understanding and appreciation not only for a set of abstract philosophical ideas and debates but for a constitution its history and a distinctive way of life a regime is obviously more than a catalog of philosophical doctrines and abstract propositions but is embedded within a particular set of moral legal political constitutional practices that give it color and distinguish it from all others a proper understanding of the particular regime requires today or it requires at any time in immersion in history not only philosophy but in history and I mean by history not social history economic history or even cultural history but history in the proper sense of the term that is political history political history presupposes the centrality of politics of how the Constitution and of any society and its most fundamental laws shape the character and choices of its citizen body political history concerns the struggle of individuals and groups for power it concerns the political uses of power or maybe to speak a little more clearly of the to great ends to which power can be put namely freedom and Empire political philosophy is related to political history in fact political history or political philosophy presuppose one another in the same way in the same relation of the universal to the particular well the political philosopher studies the principles the underlying principles of the regime the political historian examines the way those principles have been applied in practice or the philosopher is concerned with the best regime the regime that is best according to unchanging principles the historian is concerned with what is best for a particular people at a particular time and place Athenians Frenchmen Americans and so on and this is what the greatest political historians through Syd ''tis Theodor Mommsen Lord Macaulay Henry Adams this is what they have done they have examined how different regimes both express but also depart from fundamental principles when atoms for example examines in painstaking detail the acquisition of the Louisiana territory under the Jefferson administration he does so always against the backdrop of Jeffersonian ideals about America about democracy and limited government but that leaves us to the final question that I want to end with is the proper understanding and appreciation of the political is not something we inherit but obviously something we must be taught like anything that must be taught it requires teachers but where are such teachers to be found at least today it appears it would seem only very rarely in universities and rarer still in departments of history political science or economics excuse my polemic modern professors of history for example often appear to teach everything but a proper respect for tradition one would get the impression from many classes that America alone among the nations of the world is responsible for racism homophobia the despoil ation of the planet and every other evil moral evil that one can imagine in my own field political science that once designated the skill or art possessed by the most excellent statesman or politician civic education has been replaced by something called game theory that regards politics as a marketplace where individual preferences are formed and utilities are maximized rather than thinking students rather than teaching students to think of themselves as citizens as these members individuals did the new political science treats us as something called rational actors who exercise our preferences but the question is what should we have a preference for how should rational choice be exercised on these questions that is to say the most fundamental questions our political science is sadly silent it has nothing to offer and nothing to say by reducing our politics to choice and all choice to preference the new political science is forced to Accord legitimacy to every preference however vile base or indecent it may be that kind of value neutrality towards preferences is akin to the philosophic disposition that we know as nihilism that is to say the belief that I deepest principles and convictions are nothing more than blind preferences so the purpose of political science is not to stand above or outside the political community as as an entomologist you know observing the bantam ant behavior but rather to serve as a civic minded arbiter and guardian of disputes in order to restore peace and stability to conflict ridden situations we are in danger today of losing touch with those questions and those insights that are the original motivation for understanding politics in place of these questions has arisen a kind of narrow-minded focus on methodology often at the expense of the life and death issues that make up the substance of political of the political so I end with this question what where should the study of political science be now you have sat through 13 weeks of an introductory course where do you go from here to ask a question posed brilliantly by Karl Marx he asked who will educate the educators the best question he ever asked how can we begin a comprehensive re-education of today's political science the only answer and the best answer I can give you today is simply to read old books these are our best teachers in a world where real teachers are in short supply in addition to what you have read here I would include front and center in your future reading books like plato's laws Machiavelli's discourses on Livy and Montesquieu's incomparable spirit of the laws and of course the Federalist Papers to read these books in the spirit in which they were written is to acquire in education in political responsibility this of course or these should be supplemented by a study of the deeds and writings of the most important American Statesman from Jefferson Madison Lincoln through Wilson and Roosevelt and these in turn should be should be supported by the study of our leading jurisprudential thinkers from Marshall Holmes Brandeis and frankfurter and finally this should be completed by an examination of the most important statesmen and leaders from world history from around the world from Pericles to Churchill once you have completed those readings once you have done that and I would say only when you have done that can you say that you are living up to the highest offices of a Yale student aptly summarized on the memorial gate outside of Branford College which says for God for country and for Yale thank you for your time and patience over this semester and good luck to you in the future you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *