Relaxing to think on a Sunday afternoon.
Reason TV sat down with Georgetown Law's Randy Barnett to talk about his new book "Our Republican Constitution" and a number of other issues.
Relaxing to think on a Sunday afternoon.
Reason TV sat down with Georgetown Law's Randy Barnett to talk about his new book "Our Republican Constitution" and a number of other issues.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 04/10/2016 at 09:06 AM in American Culture, Barack Obama, Books & Media, Congress, Constitution, Current Affairs, Film, Georg Thomas, History Lessons, Liberty Laid Bare, Media/Media Bias, Presidency, U.S., Pure Politics, Republicans, Social Philosophy, State/Nebraska Politics, Supreme Court, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (0)
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The black-and-white aspect of politics also encourages people to think in black-and-white terms. Not only do political parties emerge, but their supporters become akin to sports fans, feuding families, or students at rival high schools. Nuances of differences in opinions are traded for stark dichotomies that are largely fabrications. Thus, we get the “no regulation, hate the environment, hate poor people” party and the “socialist, nanny-state, hate the rich” party—and the discussions rarely go deeper than this.
No doubt, partisanship can be exaggerated to the point of becoming dangerous and destructive. I am not going to repeat what I said above about political dichotomies being the very rationale (among other rationales) of practising politics, and the many features of a modern political order dedicated to attenuating the most detrimental effects of radical antagonisms. My purpose is not to reject out of hand the authors misgivings about politics, but to show that in their criticism they are looking at only one side of the overall story.
We tend to indulge in a rationalistic perception of politics, which is natural as we are apt to assess most political arguments in as rational a way as we are capable of. For this reason, we may not feel particularly inclined to recognise "the sense in the nonsense" that much of politics may bring about, the symbolic, ritualistic and sublimational functions of politics which help build and structure, maintain and develop multi-ideological communities.
Symbols and rites can serve the function of ordering society, i.e. keeping it in a working condition especially by preventing violence and oppression. The symbols and rites of bipartisanship may well serve the purpose of a war dance that replaces the need for outright war.
I believe, it is necessary to focus far more than is customarily done on the spontaneous order of politics and the state, which may well contain features that turn politics into a valuable part of modern civilisation without anyone intending the system to work and have effects as it does, thanks to overall results achieved by human action but not by human design.
As in the spontaneous order of the economic world, ignorance is a key challenge that needs to be met by the political order for a modern civilisation to emerge. We are hugely ignorant vis-à-vis the countless topics that tend to occupy the political mind. Some of that vacuum of ignorance can never be filled with secure knowledge. We resort to unreliable, woolly, and non-scientific ways of filling the void. Sure, we begin to tell one another stories that may be well on their way to scientific respectability, but many of them may have no hope to ever become more than just-so stories.
Politics like this is no better than arguments between rival sports fans, and often worse because politics is more morally charged. Most Americans find themselves committed to either the red team (Republicans) or the blue (Democrats) and those on the other team are not merely rivals, but represent much that is evil in the world. Politics often forces its participants into pointless internecine conflict, as they struggle with the other guy not over legitimate differences in policy opinion but in an apocalyptic battle between virtue and vice.
Again, in human communities, especially in large ones, we cannot help but face fundamental differences of some kind or other in our views and objectives. We shall hardly be able to ever get rid of that phenomenon. In fact, freedom encourages diversity of opinion and vision.
I cannot see how anyone, including us libertarians, should be able to determine for the rest of us what counts as legitimate differences in policy opinion - it is part of politics to compete over this question. Also, I cannot see that we libertarians refrain from an apocalyptic battle between virtue and vice. We are part of the symmetric pattern that is being formed by opposing discussants. Political opposition has an experimental side to it. We need to find out, what it is that we disagree about and what avenues may open up to resolve differences. Furthermore, political opposition has a ritualistic side to it (see also my remarks under section 8 above). There are a number of powerful reasons to form partisan groups (see below), and if a population is divided among two or three major, traditionally viable camps, this may be a sign of stability, especially if being part of a camp means that (a) one's strongest convictions and political feelings are powerfully represented in the political system and that (b) therefore there are overwhelming incentives to keep the competition non-violent, non-oppressive, and open for challenges and new developments. Being part of a very strong camp can be a "relaxing" experience, i.e. encouraging trust in the prospects of non-violent negotiations, alternating preeminence (in government) and compromise (on the level of the operative bureaucracies in which political fiat is ultimately hammered out).
So what matters is how we deal with antagonisms. The principles of liberty are one of the means by which we attempt to keep the level of tension reasonably low among millions of people with different and even incompatible preferences.
Why do we become partisans? A political agent that is powerful - intellectually and in the exercise of influence - can be helpful in reducing (subjectively experienced) rational ignorance and strengthen one's sense of responsibility and engagement - "alone I cannot do anything about outrage X, but as member of a larger group, I can." In that way, partisanship creates leverage that people will always seek, for better or worse. Having said that, we should expose such leverage to criticism where it malfunctions, but we should also be sensitive to instances of success, which certainly exist - a partisan community improving ones's knowledge and furthering a worthwhile cause. Also, there are natural and legitimate reasons to feel drawn to this group rather than that one, and thus there is a expansive need to manage legitimate partisan differences.
As for "politics like this is no better than arguments between rival sports fans:" I happen to support the soccer team of my hometown. I am pretty sure, had I been brought up in a different town, I would be supporting a different team than today. Social outlooks and political affiliations too are often a matter of upbringing and, in principle, no less worthy of tolerance than other core elements of a person's socialisation that - like her religious faith - appear to be largely determined by location/accident of birth.
How can this be? Republicans and Democrats hold opinions fully within the realm of acceptable political discourse, with each side’s positions having the support of roughly half our fellow citizens. If we can see around partisanship’s Manichean blinders, both sides have views about government and human nature that are at least understandable to normal people of normal disposition—understandable, that is, in the sense of “I can appreciate how someone would think that.” But, when you add politics to the mix, simple and modest differences of opinion become instead the difference between those who want to save America and those who seek to destroy it.
The authors make a distinction between two fundamentally distinct worlds:
For reasons explained above, such a complete separation of political views and the world of politics is unconvincing. However, this artificial dichotomy is rather characteristic of the libertarian view of politics, which latter is deemed to be essentially an admixture of malice and evil.
This behavior, while appalling, shouldn’t surprise us. Psychologists have shown for decades how people will gravitate to group mentalities that can make them downright hostile. They’ve shown how strong group identification creates systematic errors in thinking. Your “teammates” are held to less exacting standards of competence, while those on the other team are often presumed to be mendacious and acting from ignoble motives. This is yet another way in which politics makes us worse: it cripples our thinking critically about the choices before us.
Research shows clearly that we live in a far more peaceful world than our ancestors, and that the movement toward open access societies with their avenues for mass political participation is a movement toward less violence and more peace. The big challenge that needs to be dealt with successfully before modern civilisation can unfold are violence and trust. We need to reduce violence and increase trust to such an extent that people can become productive, immensely productive compared to most of mankind's history. We achieve this by a co-evolution of (a) economic relations and (b) conducive political structures. Politics is also a grown order, yet adapted to different tasks than the economy. It would seem to me that a presumption in favour of the civilising function of politics is a more promising hypothesis (to be challenged in a thousand ways) than the preconception that politics is the big spoiler of advances in our civilisation.
Psychologists have shown for decades how people will gravitate to group mentalities that can make them downright hostile. They’ve shown how strong group identification creates systematic errors in thinking.
That may well be. But the story does not end here. Civilisation is all about finding ways around dysfunctional kinds and levels of hostility. Civil society is one big complex set of arrangements to challenge tribal uniformity and foster individualism, pluralism, and a permanent and multi-pronged onslaught against strong group identification. Practicing group identification in a free society is a totally different exercise from what it used to be in closed access societies or tribal formations. Politics is the driver behind the dynamism that constantly challenges what shapes of group identification may be forming at a certain point in time. We are witnessing tremendous fragmentation and turn over of group identification thanks to our pluralistic political order. Group identification can succeed best in a stable world with strong taboos against or simply an absence of critical challenges, such as they are being organised by modern politics. It would seem that the great distinct paradigmatic blocks in politics are more like tectonic plates that grate one another, rather than one plate slipping over and thereby subduing the other plate.
This is yet another way in which politics makes us worse: it cripples our thinking critically about the choices before us.
Taken altogether, I have great difficulty to see how the political culture of a free society can be characterised as predominantly, even essentially crippling our thinking critically about the choices before us.
The human ability to think critically, express dissent and positive opinion, advertise one's own view and challenge adversaries, along with the means that support critical analysis (like the internet) has never been surrounded by a more friendly and conducive environment than today's pluralistic democratic political order.
The issues that politics must deal with are often extremely difficult and many can never be resolved harmoniously, but why should we feel entitled to indulge in a stabilised harmony?
What’s troubling about politics from a moral perspective is not that it encourages group mentalities, for a great many other activities encourage similar group thinking without raising significant moral concerns. Rather, it’s the way politics interacts with group mentalities, creating negative feedback leading directly to viciousness. Politics, all too often, makes us hate each other. Politics encourages us to behave toward each other in ways that, were they to occur in a different context, would repel us. No truly virtuous person ought to behave as politics so often makes us act.
It would be helpful if the authors explained more fully what they mean by politics. What I read suggests that to them politics is exhaustively described as the business of fomenting hate between human beings.
Also, it is not uncommon even for people who live or work together for long periods of time to feel strong antipathy for certain traits and habits in another person, without ending up in a radical conflict. When playing the game "being a soccer fan," I do not appreciate my brother-in-law cheering for the opposing team, but when playing a different game like "exploring the cultural treasures of Barcelona," we get on like a house on fire.
My impression is that in general people are quite capable of making a distinction between political divergence and other modes of human interaction. In fact, it is rare that people hate me for my political convictions; some of my friends think of me as a right winger and, notwitstanding that ugly wart, go on having a great time with me.
Again, I feel that our political culture tends to encourage tolerance and the avoidance of extreme and pointless confrontations, both among the broader population and among activists, the more confrontational among which being too easily mistaken for the larger numbers of reasonable participants in politics.
While we may be able to slightly alter how political decisions are made, we cannot change the essential nature of politics. We cannot conform it to the utopian vision of good policies and virtuous citizens. The problem is not bugs in the system but the nature of political decision-making itself. The only way to better both our world and ourselves—to promote good policies and virtue—is to abandon, to the greatest extent possible, politics itself.
The last two sentences have merit in that they give us an incisive summary of the wrongheaded approach to politics that is unfortunately predominant among libertarians, even defining the libertarian.
But do we really want to live in a world where politics is so important to our lives that we cannot help but be politically involved? Many, both on the left and the right, answer yes. A politically engaged citizenry will not only make more decisions democratically but also be better people for it. From communitarians to neoconservatives, there’s a sense that civic virtue is virtue—or at least that individually we cannot be fully virtuous without exercising a robust political participation. Politics, when sufficiently unconstrained by crude individualism and sufficiently embraced by an actively democratic polity, makes us better people.
If I grew up and lived a life facing no prospects of punishment and other forms of resistance constraining my behaviour, it would be rational and natural for me to steal, kill, and lie, just when it suits me, and do a lot of other things that under the real circumstances of my life I find abhorrent and would never engage in. Politics is about organising, defending, enforcing, and changing the constraints that we must observe while living with other human beings. Sure, tradition and other evolutionary processes play an important role, but man is always faced with the challenge to establish by conscious effort which values and taboos are to count as socially preeminent. People cannot take a permanent holiday from working on the normative frame by which to live.
There are no super-markets with products on their shelves like a can of "being nice to everyone" or a bottle of "total mutual agreement in America."
The forms of political participation are multifarious (especially in a civil society), they can be expected to be shaped by tendentially efficient structures such as a division of labour among more or less politically active members of the community, and, most importantly, political participation ought to be free for every citizen inclined to join the competition for political influence. It is not unreasonable to assume that an open access political order is an important prerequisite for conditions that induce and constrain people to treat each other as if by this they have become better people than in a society less concerned with the individual's desire to be represented or otherwise effective in the political world of her community.
It is mankind's lot to live in a world where politics is so important to our lives that we cannot help but be politically involved. We cannot change that condition, but we can hope that he who has a need for it will be free to get involved in politics. No less than the free market, politics is all about competition; you must get engaged and fight hard to get your objectives recognised and acted upon as intended. If you want something of a political nature to happen, there is got to be someone who cannot help but be politically involved.
Too many terms are used as if they had only one meaning, when, in fact, they can be used to point at very different situations. Political apathy is one such term. Some of the political apathy that people remark upon may indeed be regrettable, but a lot of it is to be welcomed, as it is an indication that the political system works reasonably well and that there are hard workers at it, so called politicians, that practice political participation in a way that leaves us more content than we are willing to concede. The political division of labour works - tolerably well.
It is intrinsically difficult to seek for a political system where (a) high levels of active mass political participation are not required, leaving people free to pursue other goals, AND (b) expect that politics must be free from decisions that any given non-participant among that huge majority may feel not to be representing her. In a word: you cannot have suitably low levels of mass political participation without systematic and chronic attacks on the fairness and effectiveness of the political system - which is one of the lasting imperfections in politics. More direct democracy has limits of feasibility that make themselves felt quickly as a study of the counterproductive outcomes of direct democracy in the Greek polis reveals.
Yet, there is a huge difference between both systems.
Yet the increasing scope of politics and political decisionmaking in America and other Western nations has precisely the opposite effect. It’s bad for our policies and, just as important, it’s bad for our souls. The solution is simple: when questions arise about whether the scope of politics should be broadened, we must realistically look at the effects that politics itself has on the quality of those decisions and on our own virtue.
We might need a new epithet to describe the partisan propensity to regard an instance of what appears to them an important political defect as being part of a chain reaction that inexorably leads to a dystopian state which is bad for our souls.
How about the domino illusion?
True, there are dominoes that fall, but they do not fall in a perfect and fatal cascade, some remain errect, some are being picked up again, and new ones are set up as well. In paragraph 3 above, I have already tried to convince my readers that the increasing scope of politics and political descisionmaking in America has aspects to it that no one of us would wish to miss. So this is a real option, too: politics may increase in scope and the world is getting better for it. It is not helpful to ignore this important fact. Indeed, there can be no good political theory that does not take cognizance of the full range of significant effects achieved by politics.
the effects that politics itself has on the quality of those decisions and on our own virtue
I have noted in paragraph 4:
an open access political order is an important prerequisite for conditions that induce and constrain people to treat each other as if by this they have become better people than in a society less concerned with the individual's desire to be represented or otherwise effective in the political world of her community.
Politics takes a continuum of possibilities and turns it into a small group of discrete outcomes, often just two. Either this guy gets elected, or that guy does. Either a given policy becomes law or it doesn’t. As a result, political choices matter greatly to those most affected. An electoral loss is the loss of a possibility. These black and white choices mean politics will often manufacture problems that previously didn’t exist, such as the “problem” of whether we—as a community, as a nation—will teach children creation or evolution.
I am tempted to coin another term - the ice-berg fallacy, i.e. for the full picture one must dive deeper, the top of the ice-berg is not the whole story. Politics is concerned with political scarcity, meaning: it is about coping with the socially destructive potential of mutually exclusive partisan positions. In other words, the discrete outcomes that the authors claim to be the unwarranted product of politics are often residuals of social tensions that cannot be resolved by other means, such as market transactions. I am in favour of nuclear energy. And you are not. What next?
Admittedly, politics can be used to create discrete outcomes of a deplorably reductionist kind, reducing for instance the competitive processes in the world of management to an artificial either-them-or-us-issue as in decreeing a female quota for executive boards. But then, I challenge any comer to show me, how free markets can get rid of such inordinate politicisation. Again, we need to enage in politics to keep politics within reasonable bounds. There is no escaping politics.
Also, what appear to be binary choices (either him or her, either this or that policy) are often better understood in view of the large hidden ramifications that qualify and counterbalance such either-or: Each candidate must take into consideration the multifarious views and interests of the electorate; her programme and actual politics will reflect a wider spectrum of constraints, ambitions and demands than fit into a neat dichotomy. The politician appears dishonest precisely because she must try to do justice to differing and competing positions within the electorate. Before and after being elected, the politician will have to take into account other institutions of the democratic culture (apart from the elective mandate): authorities, courts, all kinds of associations, all sorts of committees etc whose purposeit is to expose her to wider efforts at exercising influence and exerting control over the politically powerful incumbent. In a society with democratic mass participation in politics, people are influencing each other all the time through exposure to debate, changing and competing views, and practical encounters in the processes of political competition and cooperation. The truly dichotomous choices are embedded in an environment of permanent mutual control, adjustment, and compromise - everyone is free to enter the competition and seek out her opportunities to contribute to supervising, shaping the visions of and cooperatively participating in the political processes. The system creates winners and losers, but they are not always the same people; sometime this party wins, sometimes it loses; such competition certainly does not leave a gilded trail of neat solutions happily endorsed by everyone, but it does produce a trust ultimately recognisable by the public's general peaceful tolerance of the political system.
Oddly, many believe that political decisionmaking is an egalitarian way of allowing all voices to be heard. Nearly everyone can vote, after all, and because no one has more than one vote, the outcome seems fair.
But outcomes in politics are hardly ever fair. Once decisions are given over to the political process, the only citizens who can affect the outcome are those with sufficient political power. The most disenfranchised minorities become those whose opinions are too rare to register on the political radar. In an election with thousands of voters, a politician is wise to ignore the grievances of 100 people whose rights are trampled given how unlikely those 100 are to determine the outcome.
We have just seen that far more opinions and interests have been taken into consideration in a complex process that leads among other things in the end also to a number of dichotomous choices (say, abortion or pro-life).
While the very rationale for engaging in politics is to handle intransigent antagonisms, of which no society can be free, in order to do so politicians - in a resilient democracy - must of necessity be open to compromise and middle-of-the-road-positions, and much of their work before and after getting elected will be heavily constrained by the rule of law and other institutions of a democratic open access society. In fact, it will be in the interest of the politician to comply with and support such institutions, rather than undermining them all of the time. So the authors' general assertion is not true: Once decisions are given over to the political process, the only citizens who can affect the outcome are those with sufficient political power. Democracy as an entire culture of practices and institutions has evolved to protect people with highly differential degrees of political power. To make this point, I like to remind people that Mr. Obama is far from being the richest man in America, and Bundeskanzlerin Merkel is so weak - thanks to our democratic culture - she cannot even dispossess a small baker by political fiat to have her bakery-chain (if she had one) take advantage of his shop's good location and attractive clientele.
But outcomes in politics are hardly ever fair. Can there ever be a world where it is not possible or not endeavoured by any one to reproach others for being unfair?What world do the authors propose to establish, where outcomes are hardly ever unfair? Are they not really coquetting with the nirvana fallacy? "Fairness" - that is one of those infinitely stretchable words. Again, politics is called upon to manage human affairs precisely when people find it hard to achieve congruency of opinion, as when there are diverging ideas of what may count as "fair."
As for minorities, one can certainly observe very small groups achieving disproportionate political influence, while other minorities may be lacking any clout. There are countless reasons for that. By the end of the day, in an open political order, however, impact is ultimately a matter of resolve, perseverance, skill - and luck - but not primarily a function of the number of activists hoping to attain political weight.
As Chris Berg writes poignantly:
Democratic institutions ensure that if you want to alter policy, you have to convince your fellow citizens that change is desirable.
And, because any single vote will not change an election outcome, you have to convince a very large number that your cause is so important they should make an expressive, personal, "irrational" stand at the ballot box.
The futility of voting means that democracy resists sudden radical change. This is a good thing.
So many people who complain that the "system" is rigged are in truth complaining that most other citizens don't agree with them.
The reason why many minorities, and indeed, majorities, may not feel to be represented as they would wish, is not that people are being oppressed, i.e. denied the exertion of political influence, but the fact that they judge the opportunity costs of political engagement far too high to give up alternative preferences. Which, in turn, I would tend to interpret as indicative of a broad popular concurrence with the present political division of labour among population and political activists.
To be continued.
On 10/06/2013 I posted these ideas on the death of the Republican party.
I wonder whether what is happening in America parallels the social democratisation of the dominant parties long prevalent in Germany. If the below author is right, cannot what he argues be interpreted to mean that the political system of the US is effectively shedding the non-social-democratic fringe? Democrats and Republicans are vying for support by the social democratic majority. That, of course, assumes that the author's statistical estimates of the number of anti-establishment Republicans are exaggerated:
The Republican Party died during the struggle over Obamacare. Its most vital elected officials chose to represent their voters. This left their erstwhile leaders to continue pursuing acceptance by the ruling party, its press and its class. The result is a new party that represents the roughly three fourths of Republican voters whose social identities are alien to those of the ruling class and whose political identity is defined by opposition to the ruling party. These voters are outsiders to modern America’s power structure. Hence the new party that represents them is a “country party” in the British tradition of Viscount Bolingbroke’s early eighteenth century Whigs, who represented the country class against the royal court and its allies in Parliament. The forthcoming food fight over the name “Republican” is of secondary importance. [...]
This has been a long time coming. Obamacare was a trigger, not a cause. While a majority of Democrats feel that officials who bear that label represent them well, only about a fourth of Republican voters and an even smaller proportion of independents trust Republican officials to represent them. [...]
Rather than defending their voters’ socio-political identities, they ignore, soft-pedal, or give mere lip service to their voters’ concerns. It chooses candidates for office whose election only steadies America on a course of which most Americans disapprove. [...]
The issue groups’ joint endeavor to de-fund Obamacare, their joint rejection of the Republican Party’s leadership, and the collaboration of Republican legislators who had been endorsed by some but not others of these groups, effectively forms a new party. The question is not what the Republican Establishment will do with these dissidents but what the dissidents will do with the Establishment.
Make sure to read the entire article.
I started the Reprise series with this post here.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 03/20/2016 at 12:42 PM in A Climate of Changes, American Culture, Barack Obama, Books & Media, Congress, Current Affairs, Electoral Prospects, Georg Thomas, Grassroots Activism, Health Care, History Lessons, Media/Media Bias, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Pure Politics, Republicans, Social Philosophy | Permalink | Comments (0)
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While the affordability of immigration may be waning in the recipient countries, it is increasing precipitously among the people prone to emigrate.
When a poor country starts to become richer, its emigration rate soars – until it’s a middle-income country, like Albania. Only then does extra wealth mean less migration. [...]
‘As the benefits of economic growth are spread in Mexico,’ Bill Clinton once assured Americans, ‘there will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home.’ When José Manuel Barroso led the European Commission, he made the same argument, saying that third world development would tackle the ‘root causes’ of migration. In fact, the reverse is true ... [...]
[G]lobal poverty has halved over 25 years. The poor world is becoming richer, so people are on the move. War acts as a catalyst; far more of those affected by violence have the means and inclination to flee. But globally, there is less war and less poverty than at any time in our history. The Great Migration should be understood as the flip side of the greatest triumph of our age: the collapse in global poverty.
Study after study shows this to be the case. When aid was given to poor rural Mexican villages in exchange for occupants attending school and health clinics, it led to them leaving rather than staying.
Theresa May is right in saying that when middle-income countries become richer, the migration rate falls. But even the politicians who make this caveat talk as if this process a short-term thing. In fact, it takes generations.
In 1948, the UK government passed the British Nationality Act allowing all 600 million of Commonwealth subjects to live and work in Britain. Here’s Andrew Marr, in his superb History of Modern Britain:-
“It was generally assumed that the Black and Asian subjects of the King would have no means or desire to travel to live in uncomfortable, crowded Britain. Until the fifties, so few black of Asian people had settle in Britain that they were often treated as local celebrities. Officially, it was not even considered worth while trying to count their number.”
Indeed, hardly anyone took up this offer; even during the partition of India, which claimed a million souls and displaced ten times as many, there was no clamour to seek refuge here. The Indians and Pakistanis were far, far poorer than they are today – but that’s the point. They were so poor that not many could afford to come to Britain, not many had means of finding out that a better life was available. Why go to this cold, wind-battered island – which itself was losing people to the New World?
In 1951, the UK signed the UN Refugee Covention saying that we’d shelter anyone–anyone!—with a well-founded fear of persecution. Such offers were easy to make, then, because no one really had been showing up [...]
The entire article.
Writes Dan Hannan:
Official policy in Europe is based on a misdiagnosis. The migrants are treated as refugees, [they hail] from countries that we never bombed — except with aid money.
Vast as the numbers are, this is just the start. More than a million settlers — some estimates say a million-and-a-half — entered Germany in 2015. [...]
The European Commission says that 60 percent of those entering the EU illegally are economic migrants rather than refugees; but it has no idea how to return hundreds of thousands of sans-papiers — or where to return them to. Sweden admitted 163,000 entrants last year. Its interior ministry now says that more than half of them are not genuine refugees.
The entire article.
See also Immigration and Freedom (6/10).
Posted by Georg Thomas on 03/17/2016 at 02:57 PM in A Climate of Changes, American Culture, Books & Media, Congress, Current Affairs, Economics, Georg Thomas, History Lessons, Media/Media Bias, National/International Affairs, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Social Philosophy, Supreme Court, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (0)
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The above image might be entitled "The Innocence of the Dinosaurs". Are the times always so kind as to march lock-step with us? We live in an era so free and therefore so dynamic that we are just as prone to be ahead of the curve on some issues as we are likely not to keep pace with the times on other matters. A circumstance not to be taken personally. After all, it is unexpected, and not rarely unpleasant, things that remind us of the need to adapt, to change, to rebuild. I am in no way suggesting that the political protagonists discussed below deserve support when I simply recognise that they are instrumental in expressing and bringing about changes that affect all of us.
However unpalatable the candidates in question may appear to some of us, it is more helpful to analyse the conditions that make them catalysts of changing times, than to focus on the scandal of their holding views wildly different from ours.
Recently, I have written:
Say what you may, it strikes me as a healthy sign that the American political system remains prone to be shaken up thoroughly every once in a while by outsiders like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Do not jump to conclusions as to how I think about the mavericks in question. Having said that, I feel the below thoughts are well worth reading:
Yet if nothing were politicized, there would be no civilization. Precisely because we live together, there are issues on which policies must be adopted that will affect us all, even if satisfying everyone perfectly is impossible. Examples include national defense, controlling epidemics, and traffic rules. On such matters, finding the best balance among many tradeoffs requires everyone to be open about their knowledge, aspirations, apprehensions, and expectations. Disappointments are easier to accept if everyone has been heard and conflicting agendas have been reconciled through meaningful compromise. When these ideal conditions are met, the imperfections of adopted policies will be viewed as the costs of accommodating diverse constituencies fairly. Even individuals who dislike specific policies will consider the political process legitimate.
Politics loses legitimacy insofar as it excludes from consideration certain preferences and thoughts. When the fear of being ridiculed, belittled, and stigmatized makes certain groups censor themselves, disappointing policies are no longer acceptable. Yes, open conflict may be avoided, at least for a while. It may seem to groups with a voice in the political process that social problems are being solved through the triumph of superior ideas. In certain cases, the apparent harmony might even become genuine over time; absent public support, the concealed preferences may wither away. The American “melting pot” is replete with examples of old-world preferences that gradually lost appeal after disappearing from public view under pressures to appear “American.” To fit in, immigrants grudgingly gave up authenticity; their children would not even contemplate living differently from their native peers. For the second generation, authenticity meant living like an American, not clinging to ancestral customs.
But when core economic and social interests are involved the truncation of public discourse is unlikely to end as happily. Consider jobs, government subsidies, or wealth redistribution. On such matters, preferences are far more resilient, and disappointments are felt far more deeply than on those involving ancestral customs. Because perceived indignities and injustices are relived repeatedly, excluding them from public discourse breeds sustained anger, and political insiders draw growing resentment. Conspiracy theories that demonize some conception of the “establishment” start to circulate more or less clandestinely, usually through media that the politically connected scorn as backward, reactionary, and misinformed. On the surface, politics will seem relatively calm, but this situation cannot last forever. At some point, the frustrations will spew out, like lava from a long-dormant volcano. When that explosion occurs, the elites accustomed to ignoring the masses will be unprepared to counter the populist leaders who emerge to fill the void. The fates of many so-called establishment candidates in the 2016 Republican primary illustrate the point. So does the degree to which establishment candidates in both parties have had to pander to newly energized constituencies.
As Sean Trende notes, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are not the first American presidential candidates to champion outsider causes. If they have been far more successful than their predecessors, this is partly because they have gone much farther in dissociating themselves from the establishment.
Continue to read the entire article.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 03/16/2016 at 12:23 PM in A Climate of Changes, American Culture, Books & Media, Congress, Current Affairs, Electoral Prospects, Georg Thomas, Grassroots Activism, History Lessons, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Pure Politics, Republicans, Social Philosophy | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Most striking of all, he disdained the hedges, doubts, and qualifications that are the common fare of academic debates.
Richard Epstein in Antonin Scalia, A Most Memorable Friend.
Writes Sean Collins at Spiked:
Scalia was driven by a belief that the Supreme Court had become too powerful and political. He was deeply concerned about judges usurping the role of elected legislators. With respect to issues of morality in particular, he wanted the American people to decide for themselves. ‘If you believe in democracy, you should put it to the people’, he told Georgetown University law students in November. To me, this was his most important insight.
In his dissent to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in favour of same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, Scalia argued it was anti-democratic that five judges could decide such a major change in public policy. It is worth quoting him at length:
‘Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact — and the furthest extension one can even imagine — of the court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.’
Scalia was not saying that same-sex marriage should be illegal. He was saying it was a matter for legislatures to decide, not courts. Essentially, Scalia was defending the right for all to have a voice in a public debate about a moral issue. As he noted in his dissent in United States v Virginia (1996), a ruling that ended a men-only admissions policy to the Virginia Military Institute: ‘The virtue of a democratic system with a First Amendment is that it readily enables the people, over time, to be persuaded that what they took for granted is not so, and to change their laws accordingly. That system is destroyed if the smug assurances of each age are removed from the democratic process and written into the constitution.’
See also I'm Clarence.
John Stuart Mill was a passionate believer in public debate, and felt with Spinoza that
the "collision" of ideas sharpens the minds of all parties, yielding suggestions no one would have lit upon in isolation and producing decisions more adequate than any proposal presented at the outset. Public opinion is a progressive force only when it is formed in a free-for-all public debate. Without institutional inducements for public criticism and opposition, in fact, political unanimity is likely to be a sign of irrational conformism.
Thus writes Stephen Holmes in his masterly Passions and Constraint. On the Theory of Liberal Democracy.
Beneath these political claims lies an epistemological principle that later came to be known as fallibilism.
[See also Socrates - Understanding Understanding]
Often there is no simple correspondence between reality and the perceptions of our minds.
So how can we know if our beliefs are true? Mill's trenchant answer was that "the beliefs which we have most warrant for, have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded." [...]
The Political Representative - Delegate or Trustee?
This fallibilist epistemology inspired many of Mill's political proposals. Consider, for example, his support of a trustee as opposed to a delegate theory of representation. A delegate is a mere agent, sent to parliament to express the opinions of his constituents and subject to immediate recall if he deviates an iota from his mandate. A trustee, by contrast, has ampler room for maneuver. He can vote as he thinks best, using his discretion, disregarding occasionally, if only temporarily, the opinions of his electors.
The delegate model is objectionable, according to Mill, because it implicitly rejects the epistemology of fallibilism. It implies that a representative has nothing important to learn from an uninhibited give-and-take with fellow deputies. But this assumption is unrealistic: "If he devotes himself to his duty," a representative "has greater opportunities of correcting an original false judgement, than fall to the lot of most of his constituents."
The decisive superiority of deputies over citizens lies not in higher intelligence, virtue, or education, therefore but in the unusual nature of the legislative situation itself, a situation which, according to Mill, fosters self-correction. Voters are parochial. They are seldom exposed to the clashing viewpoints of fellow citizens which live in remote parts of the country. No one is ever invited to prove them wrong or rewarded for disclosing their follies. Voters should defer to representatives, therefore, although only in the short-run, not because members of an elected assembly are likely to be especially virtuous, but rather because representatives enjoy the eye-opening benefits of exposure to stinging criticism and relentless debate.
A modern legislative assembly is a machine for public learning because it guarantees that rival political proposals will be "tested by adverse controversy." Deputies are encouraged not only to uncover each other's errors but also to change their own minds whenever they become convinced that they have been laboring under an illusion. If recanting is intelligent, then it can be justified publicly, even to the voters back home, at least eventually. Accountability requires that deputies explain their decisions to their constituents. Because explanations of difficult issues take time, however, a system of immediate recall would make a mockery of government by discussion. Far from being antidemocratic, the trustee theory of representation simply recognizes that public learning, or the collective correction of collective mistakes, can never be instantaneous.
(p. 180 - 182)
Thomas Sowell's dictum may be overly trenchant, but the point he is trying to make is cogent.
Also, I do not condone the insult expressed at time mark 02:25, but otherwise Rushdie's argument strikes me as sound.
Writes Richard Larsen:
America has a rich history as a melting pot of cultures, ethnicity, and religion. Those who have come here over the past couple hundred years have sought a better life through the freedoms and liberties assured by our Constitution and the free enterprise system that fosters their “pursuit of happiness.” They’ve brought their culture, customs, and language with them, but they became Americans: learned English, learned our customs and conventions, and became encultured into the American way. America is great in large part because of the diversity of our people, and the richness of our cultural elements brought here. But multiculturalism has become much more than that, and is now more destructive than ameliorative, to American culture.
Make sure to read the entire article.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 12/17/2015 at 10:42 AM in A Climate of Changes, American Culture, Anti War libertarians, Barack Obama, Congress, Constitution, Current Affairs, Film, Georg Thomas, History Lessons, Liberty Laid Bare, Media/Media Bias, National/International Affairs, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Pure Politics, Religion, Republicans, Social Philosophy, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Posted by Georg Thomas on 12/01/2015 at 04:49 PM in A Climate of Changes, Anti War libertarians, Barack Obama, Congress, Current Affairs, Film, Georg Thomas, National/International Affairs, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Pure Politics, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)
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