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Archive for the ‘political science’ Category

Social Covenants… by Seth Kaplan

In Africa, Asia, culture, ethics, Europe, human rights, political science, religion on January 12, 2014 at 00:57

From: Social Covenants Must Precede Social Contracts By Seth Kaplan, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

The differences between the two ideas are stark. Social contracts are written agreements entered into on the basis of self-interest for specific purposes. Social covenants, in contrast, are sustained not by the letter of any law or by self-interest. Instead, they depend on fidelity, trust, and loyalty. As moral philosopher and religious leader Jonathan Sacks writes,

Social contract creates a state; social covenant creates a society. Social contract is about power and how it is to be handled within a political framework. Social covenant is about how people live together despite their differences. Social contract is about government. Social covenant is about coexistence. Social contract is about laws and their enforcement. Social covenant is about the values we share. Social contract is about the use of potentially coercive force. Social covenant is about moral commitments, the values we share and the ideals that inspire us to work together for the sake of the common good.

In societies riven by divisions and lacking any organization that can be relied upon to adjudicate disagreements between competing groups effectively, such as the state, some form of agreement between important groups is crucial to ending conflict and dividing up power in a way that ensures a degree of common understanding on how the state ought to work. Such agreements—between different actors within society, not between the state and society—must occur before determining the nature of government, just as the U.S. Declaration of Independence preceded the U.S. Constitution.

The power of a social covenant flows less from its conception and implementation than, as Elazar points out, from:

The way it informs culture, especially political culture, endowing particular peoples with a particular set of political perceptions, expectations, and norms and shaping the way in which those perceptions, expectations and norms are given institutional embodiment and behavioral expression.

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

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Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures

In political science, religion, society, sociology, theory, writers on October 5, 2013 at 01:43

From: Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures: “Facing Gaia. A New Inquiry into Natural Religion”, Figure / Ground Communication, http://figureground.ca

Watch the lectures

Read full PDF of  Facing Gaia

“Bruno Latour is Professor at Sciences Po Paris and has also been Professor at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Paris and visiting Professor at University of California (San Diego), at the London School of Economics and Harvard University.

After field studies in Africa and California he specialized in the analysis of scientists and engineers at work. In addition to work in philosophy, history, sociology and anthropology of science, he has collaborated on many studies in science policy and research management, producing significant works such as Laboratory Life, Science in Action, The Pasteurization of France, and more recently Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor Network Theory.

He has also published an anthology of essays, Pandora’s Hope: Essays in the Reality of Science Studies, which explore the consequences of the “science wars” and has made a valuable contribution to the political philosophy of the environment with the book Politics of Nature. In a further series of books, he has explored the consequences of science studies on religion in On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods and Rejoice (the latter to be published by Polity Press).

There could be no better theme for a lecture series on natural religion than that of Gaia, this puzzling figure that has emerged recently in public discourse from Earth science as well as from many activist and spiritual movements. The problem is that the expression of ”natural religion” is somewhat of a pleonasm, since Western definitions of nature borrow so much from theology. The set of lectures attempts to decipher the face of Gaia in order to redistribute the notions that have been packed too tightly into the composite notion of ”natural religion”.”

Reposted with permission from: Figure / Ground Communication

Between Žižek and Wagner by Tere Vadén

In history, philosophy, political science, society, sociology on September 12, 2013 at 14:47

From: Between Žižek and Wagner: Retrieving the Revolutionary Potential of Music by Tere Vadén, International Journal of Žižek Studies, http://zizekstudies.org/index.php/ijzs

In his foreword to Adorno’s In Search of Wagner Slavoj Žižek intimates that Wagner contains a revolutionary potential that has not been spotted or fully brought out yet and that now, “after the exhaustion of the critical-historicist and aestheticist paradigms” (Žižek 2009a: xxvii), is the right, decisive time. Žižek sees the new phase as ideologico-critical, or, better yet, political. While Žižek’s determination to enlist even Wagnerian opera in revolutionary struggle is laudable, there are some reasons to suspect the grounds on which his view is based. Žižek’s conception of music inherits a tension that characterises his view on the subject, including that of the revolutionary subject, and this tension is, in fact, intensified when it is transposed to the description of music. The underlying question is, can music ever bear the revolutionary role envisaged for it by Žižek? The conception seems to lead to an unhappy choice (correlative to a more general double-bind in the notion of the subject). On one hand, if music is a symbolic form, can it find experiential purchase to move people into revolution? On the other hand, if it is has a direct lifeline to pre-individual experience, can it
point towards a revolution that is emancipatory in the Enlightenment sense?

In order to move closer to these questions, let us begin by noticing how Žižek approaches music in general and Wagner in particular. A recurring theme in the philosophy of music has been the polarization of musical sound either to a pure and direct non-symbolic part of life or experience itself (as in Schopenhauer’s notion of Wille) or to a corrupt twin of symbolic language introducing a tragic gap between experience and its expression. At the same time, it is precisely this symbolic function that makes possible the psychoanalytic and critical analysis of musical meaning. For Žižek, subjectivity is formed by the violent introduction of a person into a symbolic universe, which functions as the playground of psychological and ideological tensions. Consequently, the expressivity of musical drama, such as a Wagner opera, is dependent on the (inter-)subjective existence of the symbolic.

In order to emphasise his analytical approach, Žižek claims that in understanding Wagner, rather than consider the work in its historical environment, we should decontextualize it in order to grasp its universal potential. It is clear that this kind of decontextualization and abstraction needs access to a universal medium in order to work and to be intelligible. For Žižek, this universal dimension is formed by the symbolic and subjectual structures, which are strictly correlative: the subject is a structural feature of the symbolic universe and the symbolic is the structure created and upheld by subjects. Consequently, by identifying and analysing these structures it is possible to locate the
symbolic tendencies in a musical work in a process that is essentially critique of ideology, that is, a revelation of the unexpressed conditions of expression in the work. This is not to say that while talking about opera Žižek would focus exclusively on the libretti and disregard the music (even though he does argue against the absolutisation of music while interpreting opera). He does analyse the music itself, and that is precisely the point: in order for music to
be analysable, to be symptomatic of ideological dead-ends and emancipatory paths, music itself has to have a symbolic structure. Music has to have elements that correspond to the structures of subjects, whether symbolic, psychological, philosophical, ideological or whatever.

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Reposted with permission from: International Journal of Žižek Studies

Defending the People from the Professors by John P. McCormick

In government, history, law, philosophy, political science, politics, theory on January 8, 2013 at 00:23

From: Defending the People from the Professors by John P. McCormick, the art of theory, http://www.artoftheory.com

For some years now, while presenting parts of a book on Machiavelli and democratic theory across North America, I’ve been consistently surprised by the level of hostility it provokes among academics—even, or especially, among self-avowedly progressive or “radical” scholars. Machiavellian Democracy (Cambridge UP, 2011), traces previously neglected democratic strains in Machiavelli’s political writings: I elaborate his argument that the few, not the many, pose the principal threat to liberty in republics, and articulate his institutional prescriptions for empowering common citizens to constrain the behavior of elites and rule directly over public policy.

Averse to neither heated exchange nor polemical confrontation, I’m nevertheless seldom prepared for the anxiety and indignation that the idea of direct popular judgment provokes in friends and colleagues. The mobophobic reaction to Machiavelli’s ideas on popular government compelled me to reconsider more critically disparate contemporary literatures on democracy. Here, I want to reexamine some of the criticisms implicitly and explicitly leveled against the people as a political agent and democracy generally by writers before and after Machiavelli, as well as the Florentine’s own diagnosis of this scholarly antipathy to popular rule. I’ll also offer a concise recapitulation of Machiavelli’s case for the kind of popular government he thought most conducive to “the free way of life.”

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Reposted with permission from; art of theory

Power, Sociologically Speaking by Vincent J. Roscigno

In culture, economics, education, government, political science, politics, sociology, theory on November 19, 2012 at 22:42

From: Power, Sociologically Speaking by Vincent J. Roscigno, The Society Pages, http://thesocietypages.org

We in the social sciences typically think of power as persuasiveness, the ability to get what one wants—this is the essence of the classic definition attributed to Max Weber, and it’s commonly applied across a host of institutional spheres and interactions, from political parties to the power of consumers. But this view is a bit too simplistic—it obscures power’s fundamentally structural, cultural, and relational nature. This is to say, power is too often thought of as something that a particular leader or party has, rather than something rooted in institutional practices, cultural supports, and alternative pathways outside the usual political apparatus.

The problem of power, then, is a prime blind spot; the core, lower-level topics of political science—like individual voting behavior, party politics and alignments, and election outcomes—can direct us away from larger questions about the ends toward which political influence is directed. Sociology is uniquely equipped to look beyond the usual veneer of power, unpack the myths that reinforce it, and see the relational foundations upon which it ultimately rests. A sociological view indeed provides a much-needed corrective, offering a unique glimpse through the myths that veil power’s resilience, uses, and limits.

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Reposted with permission from: The Society Pages

Are You Smarter Than a Freshman? by Harvey C. Mansfield

In books, government, law, philosophy, political science, politics on November 17, 2012 at 18:22

From: Are You Smarter Than a Freshman? What political philosophy has to say about elections. by Harvey C. Mansfield, Defining Ideas, http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/

Aristotle’s Politics calls into question the assumption that elections are democratic. Democracy stands for living as you please, he says, which means as you choose. But choosing means taking better over worse, or a respectable life over doing menial tasks, the noble over the necessary. In choosing to have an election—the word for choice also means “election”—you give your support to someone or a party you admire or at any rate think better of. What is this preference but the choice of an aristocracy, literally, the rule of the best, or of the best in this situation?

Machiavelli believes that human beings are divided into the few who want to rule and the many who do not care to rule themselves but do not want to be ruled by others either. Then those who want to rule must conceal their rule from the many they rule if they wish to succeed. How can they do this? Machiavelli went about conceiving a “new mode of ruling,” a hidden government that puts the people “under a dominion they do not see.” Government is hidden when it appears not to be imposed on you from above but when it comes from you, when it is self-imposed.

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Reposted with permission from: Defining Ideas

Dan Ariely on the “Irrationality” of American inequality

In economics, political science, politics on May 20, 2012 at 09:49

 

Dan Ariely on the “Irrationality” of American inequality – radioopensource.org

Dan Ariely of Predictably Irrational fame, makes the arresting point that from the standpoint of fairness and equity in the distribution of wealth and power, the vast majority of Americans (90-plus percent) would prefer to be living in Sweden. Which is to say: Mitt Romney’s scariest nightmare, “a European-style welfare state,” may be just the briar patch that most of us Bre’r Rabbits long for.

Main roots of Judt’s and our own unease seem to pop right out of Dan Ariely’s experimental surveys — typically clever in their simplicity. First, when he asks his thousands of respondents to estimate the real division of wealth in the US, and then to propose an ideal distribution, we Americans confirm our sentimental attachment to a polite tilt of privilege. We cherish our mythic legacy of quasi-egalitarian social democracy, with no extreme concentrations of wealth or poverty. But what our answers really confirm is our delusion about the economy we live in now. The top 20 percent of the people in fact own 84 percent of the goods, and the bottom 40 percent of us, barely floating on a sea of debt, own less than half of one percent of the wealth of the nation. We live across roughly double the rich-poor gap measured in Germany, Japan and Denmark. By the standard “Gini coefficient” of wealth inequality, the US ranks with Turkestan and Tunisia, just a tad more equal than Chad and Sri Lanka.

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Tomgram: Noam Chomsky, A Rebellious World or a New Dark Age?

In economics, political science, society on May 9, 2012 at 03:50

 

A Rebellious World or a New Dark Age? – Noam Chomsky – TomDispatch.com

The fact is that, in a country whose security forces are up-armored to the teeth from the Mexican border to Union Square, just behind any set of marchers, you can feel the unease of those in power, edging up to fear.  And no wonder.  We remain in a “recovery” that’s spinning on a dime.  Let the Eurozone falter and begin to fall, the Chinese housing bubble pop, or the Persian Gulf go up in flames, and hold onto your signs.  Like Bloomberg in the Big Apple, many mayors sent in their paramilitaries (with a helping hand from the Department of Homeland Security) to get rid of the “troublemakers.”  Only problem: their real problems run so much deeper and when the next “moment” comes, Occupy could look like a march in the park (which, in many inspirational ways, it largely was).  In the meantime, the streets increasingly belong to the weaponized.  Americans who protest blur into the “terrorists” who, since 9/11, have been the obsession of what passes for law enforcement.

So the world is now indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat — in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1% and the 99%. Not literal numbers, but the right picture. Now, the plutonomy is where the action is and it could continue like this.

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Notes on Anarchism – Noam Chomsky

In philosophy, political science, writers on May 3, 2012 at 06:00

 

Notes on Anarchism – Noam Chomsky – chomsky.info

Humboldt’s vision of a society in which social fetters are replaced by social bonds and labor is freely undertaken suggests the early Marx., with his discussion of the “alienation of labor when work is external to the worker…not part of his nature…[so that] he does not fulfill himself in his work but denies himself…[and is] physically exhausted and mentally debased,” alienated labor that “casts some of the workers back into a barbarous kind of work and turns others into machines,” thus depriving man of his “species character” of “free conscious activity” and “productive life.”

Rudolf Rocker describes modern anarchism as “the confluence of the two great currents which during and since the French revolution have found such characteristic expression in the intellectual life of Europe: Socialism and Liberalism.” The classical liberal ideals, he argues, were wrecked on the realities of capitalist economic forms. Anarchism is necessarily anticapitalist in that it “opposes the exploitation of man by man.” But anarchism also opposes “the dominion of man over man.” It insists that “socialism will be free or it will not be at all. In its recognition of this lies the genuine and profound justification for the existence of anarchism.” From this point of view, anarchism may be regarded as the libertarian wing of socialism. It is in this spirit that Daniel Guérin has approached the study of anarchism in Anarchism and other works.Guérin quotes Adolph Fischer, who said that “every anarchist is a socialist but not every socialist is necessarily an anarchist.” Similarly Bakunin, in his “anarchist manifesto” of 1865, the program of his projected international revolutionary fraternity, laid down the principle that each member must be, to begin with, a socialist.

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Race and Violence, the European Way – Russell A. Berman

In political science, sociology on May 1, 2012 at 03:19

 

Race and Violence, the European Way – Russell A. Berman – A Hoover Institution Journal

As American as the Martin shooting was, it is worthwhile to look across the Atlantic and to consider the growing frequency and virulence of parallel events there. Race and violence—and their politicization—are by no means exclusively U.S. phenomena. On the contrary, contemporary European societies display similar troubling tendencies, marked by the fragmentation of ethnically-mixed populations, the spread of extremist ideologies, a growing willingness among radicals to engage in violence, and the propensity of politicians to instrumentalize racial and ethnic anxieties for electoral purposes.

Eriksen and Stjernfelt trace the history of the idea of “culturalism.” It began with particular schools of anthropology, eventually influenced policies by the United Nations, and led to divisive consequences for contemporary Europe. They suggest that current policies facilitate the segregation of immigrant populations. As a result, immigrant ghettos can incubate radicalism among disaffected youth, like Bouyeri, while the structural separation of majority and minority populations feeds the potential for populist resentment or even violent extremism, such as Breivik’s. Consider two recent cases in Germany and France.

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Mary Fonseca’s “Letter from Lisbon”: portents of plague

In news, political science, sociology on April 29, 2012 at 23:27

 

Mary Fonseca’s “Letter from Lisbon”: portents of plague – RadioOpenSource

More recently, people who know a bit more about Europe as a whole have pointed out that before the crise hit, the Germans were only too eager to buy the bonds that countries of Southern Europe put on the market, thus showering us with the money we needed to import the Mercedes and BMWs they wanted us to enjoy. Besides, our banks were indulging in the sexy new financial operations they learned about from Wall Street and the City of London.

There’s a lovely song by Stephen Foster, “Hard times, hard times come again no more.” I don’t know of one that corresponds in Portuguese, although the language has lots of expressions about hard times: years are either ones of “vacas gordas” or “vacas magras” (fat cows or thin cows) or “Quem nấo tem cấo, caҫa com gato” (“Who has no dog must hunt with his cat.”) Maybe the resignation of rural folk will have to do, for a while.

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