Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"America has two great traditions: love of nature and love of the conquest of nature.  Feminism is especially related to the latter.  It is very American in its love of the conquest of nature.  The pill is an example of conquest over a nature which tied women to the family and dependence on males.  What is difficult is to respect nature and at the same time have the passionate desire to conquer it.
So I see the liberation of women as part and parcel of the American tradition.  It's the specific ideology of contemporary feminism -- of abstract equality and the notion of a very specific female essence unrelated to the male essence that I find problematic...
Its partisans argue that all literature antecedent to the feminist movement is sexist, from Plato to the Bible to Huck Finn.  If all literature is sexist then, of course, it can't be taken seriously.  Sexism has become the absolute evil.  You hear kids today saying, 'Well, you know Aristotle had this weakness of not taking women into account' -- already knowing it all and judging it unworthy before knowing anything!  Aristotle's very definition of a barbarian is one who treats a woman like a slave.  Nature is his standard, and it was his first standard which grounded equal treatment of women.  I have yet to find a better one."

(Allan Bloom in interview, p194 "Essays on Closing of the American Mind, by Robert L. Stone)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

JF Stephen on the limits of morality

It is obvious that controversies of the most fundamental character upon many of the subjects of thought which permanently interest mankind are rapidly approaching. The questions, for example,
which are suggested by the consideration of the chief political topics of the day involve principles which are imperfectly understood, and which have not as yet been even stated with any approach to fulness.

Such phrases as " progress " and " civilization," which pass so glibly over our lips, have a very vague meaning. We are not only ignorant of the course which we are steering, or which it would be desirable for us to steer, but we have not distinctly made up our minds that we are to steer, and not to drift • wherever the waves may carry us. This makes all our domestic politics indefinite and unsatisfactory. In foreign politics, questions arise of hardly less importance, involving principles of which we know, and affect to know, very little. Are we to take a side at all in the domestic affairs of foreign countries, and, if so, to what extent? Are we to remain absolutely neutral unless our own immediate safety is involved, and if so, on what principle?

 Perhaps the most embarrassing questions of this order which recent events have brought to light are those which relate to the government of India. We, who at home are the upholders of something approaching to political Quakerism, and who affected to condemn as an atrocious crime the attempts of Russia to extend its limits or its power by aggressive warfare, are regarded throughout the whole of the East as the greatest conquerors that the world ever saw; and notwithstanding all that is to be said on the subject, it would be vain to deny that, in our inmost hearts, we cherish the recollection of the wonderful achievements which have won for us the Indian Empire with feelings of pride and satisfaction which are not consistent with the estimate we usually express of the conduct of many of our neighbours. It is needless to advert expressly to the religious questions raised by our position in India, as they will naturally suggest themselves to every reader.

All such problems, infinite as their variety may be, will be found to depend in a great measure upon some of the oldest of the great standing controversies which have exercised the intellect of mankind ever since it first woke to consciousness of its powers. An age almost entirely absorbed in the pursuit of mechanical results may deride them as merely boyish speculations, but they are in reality matters, not only of vital, but of immediate practical importance. They are such as these,—What is the ideal of human life? What do we really wish to do and to be? Are we in earnest when we say, as we sometimes do, that a life spent in the discharge of Christian duties is the highest form of life, and, if so, how do we extract the Indian Empire from Christianity? What place do the duties and aspirations of a citizen and a patriot find in our ideal, and upon what warrant are they to be included in it? Questions so vast and intricate cannot be handled here with any approach to fulness, but it is possible to make one or two suggestions as to the mode in which they ought to be viewed and discussed.

The most important of these suggestions is that the mere morality of actions is not the only standard to which they may be referred. The highest, or nearly the highest, point which morality can reach is innocence. Like all other laws, the moral law is almost always negative, and its commandments almost universally run in the form of prohibition—" Thou shalt not kill," "Thou shalt not steal." Socrates' demon always forbade, but never exhorted. When morality goes further than this, it introduces us to an order of things which lies beyond and beneath it. Thus it is a great general principle that love is the fulfilling of the law; but if love involves, as it unquestionably does, a wish for the welfare of that which is the object of love, it pre-supposes a knowledge of the elements on which the welfare of that object depends, or at least an opinion on the subject. And this brings in a whole class of considerations which are entirely foreign to mere morality; for "welfare" is a large word, and includes the perfection of every part of that to which it is applied, and thus it implies a knowledge of the constituent elements and ultimate destiny of human nature itself. It follows that moral considerations alone will not enable us to solve practical moral problems, because there is an enormous class of subjects of the highest importance which are not described either in an exhaustive or even in a satisfactory manner by the words " right" and " wrong." It would, for example, be a strange abuse of terms to say that art, that literature, that national greatness, that the general vigour with which men seek the common objects of human desire—a condition which varies immensely in different nations, and has more to do with national prosperity than almost any other —are in themselves either right or wrong. A man naturally feeble, lethargic, and irresolute may be either worse, or better than, or as good as, a person of the opposite temperament. Morality may be compared to the dams and floodgates which regulate the flow of the stream of life; but the quality and volume of the stream itself are independent of them, and morality was neither intended to furnish—nor can it possibly furnish—any test as to its character. To attempt to derive from morality an answer to questions which lie beyond its province is one of the commonest of the proofs of the all but universal ignorance which exists amongst us as to its limits.

These considerations assume in practice the most definite concrete forms. What are we to think, and how are we to act, in relation to national enterprises like the establishment and maintenance of our Indian Empire? Is our position there radically right or wrong? The answer depends entirely on our conception of national existence, and on the degree of importance which attaches to the different objects which nations propose to themselves. The question as to what it is right or wrong for a nation to do depends upon the further question as to what a nation is, and for what purposes it exists. And this is a matter of which we know exceedingly little, and on which our present habits of thought do not encourage speculation. A single illustration will perhaps throw some light upon the depth of the ignorance in which we are involved upon it . One of the principal subjects which excite the attention and draw forth the enthusiasm of almost every modern observer of national affairs, is the diminution of crime. Tacitly or expressly, it is constantly assumed that there is no better test of the goodness of a nation; and that to produce a state of things in which no overt acts of wickedness should take place would be the highest aim which philanthropy could propose to itself. It is certainly true that every crime which is committed diminishes all that every good man would wish to increase, and produces a train of consequences which, as far as we can trace them, are simply detestable. Good does not come from evil, and evil can never be the subject of any other feeling than anger and sorrow; but there is another truth which lies beyond this. It is that, though there is no assignable connection between crimes—still less between vices—and goodness in general, or any good thing in particular, the most innocent men and nations are not the greatest, and therefore not the best or most admirable. A baby who dies at a month old, an absolute idiot, a man who has been shielded by circumstances from all knowledge of either good or evil, are not the types to which one would wish to see mankind at large conformed. It is said that the Icelanders never commit

crimes, and that the same is true to a great extent of the Esquimaux; but even if this is the case no one would really wish to see England and France converted into a larger Iceland and a larger Greenland. It would seem to follow from this, that greatness and crime are each in some way traceable to causes winch lie deeper than the distinction between right and wrong, and that there must be something more valuable than blamelessness—something higher than innocence. We call that something by a variety of names of which "progress" and "civilization" are perhaps the most in vogue, but it is remarkable that we never apply to individuals the rule which we all apply to nations. We are all willing to put up with the extreme wickedness of a few as a sort of concomitant of the greatness of the nation to which they belong, but no one would expressly advise an individual to do wrong acts for his own advancement. If it were put to the vote, no one would sacrifice the history of this country for the sake of a history of unbroken inoffensiveness, varied by no incident and exalted by no greatness. Yet no one would say that a man ought to tell a lie or commit a murder for the sake of any conceivable advantages to himself or to his friends.

It is entirely impossible to solve such questions as these—at least in the present state of our knowledge. Yet it is wise to weigh them, to turn them over in the mind, and to attempt to realize the fact of their existence, and obtain some conception of their relations to the great interests of life. As a matter of fact, they usually solve themselves in practice. There are acts of which the justice and the virtue cannot be disproved, which no one ever ventures to propose to a nation. An unexpressed conviction pervades mankind that the ordinary rules of morality do not quite reach the case of national acts; and it is by no means true that this conviction is altogether wicked or altogether unfounded, though it may be made the excuse for detestable wickedness. In the same way, there are persons who have been guilty of great crimes whom nevertheless the common verdict of mankind does not utterly condemn. The man after God's own heart was a murderer and an adulterer; but those two words would not be an adequate description of David. Like all other things, morality has its limits. They are dim and mysterious in the highest degree—but they exist, and their existence should be admitted.

January 28. 1860.
(p107, in "Essays by a Barrister", by James Fitzjames Stephen)

HLA Hart's reply to JF Stephen

This was the core of Hart's response to Stephen's argument that the government could fruitfully regulate moral culture:

"in any full investigation of the part played by legal prohibition in sustaining the conviction that conduct is morally wrong, we should have to distinguish between various types of immorality.  Some, like fornication, though they may be quite sincerely condemned morally, represent temptations to a majority of men; others, such as incest or homosexuality, are practices for which most men may feel aversion and disgust.  In relation to the latter it would be very surprising if legal prohibition were a significant factor in preserving the general sense that the practice is immoral." (HLA Hart, "Law, Liberty, and Morality", 1962)

It's pretty clear that this has been proven false.

Dostoyevsky was a better psychologist:  "man gets used to everything, the beast!"

Schattschneider on the Electoral College

"the success of the Democratic party in disenfranchising the Negro in the South has been due in part to the fact that the Republican party has given up the contest in these states as hopeless and unprofitable...
It is extremely doubtful if the monopoly of the white Democrats in the South could survive a series of determined attacks by an opposition party that did not need to get 50 plus per cent of the vote in any Southern state to make its invasion profitable.  Moreover, confronted by this renewal of party competition, the Democratic party probably could not afford to insist on the exclusion of the Negro from the franchise.  It might find itself competing for the Negro vote.  The main prop of the Solid South thus appears to be the electoral college."

(p122-123, "Party Government" by E.E. Schattschneider)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kolakowski on the socialist world-view

"Look at the horrors of the world and see how easily we can get rid of them once we make a peaceful revolution toward the new socialist logic. The Middle East war and Palestinian grievances? Of course, this is the result of capitalism, just let us make the revolution and the question is settled. Pollution? Of course, no
problem at all, just let the new proletarian state take over the factories and no pollution any more. Traffic jams ? This is because capitalists do not care a damn about human comfort, just give us power (in fact, this
is a rather good point, in socialism we have far fewer cars and correspondingly fewer traffic jams). People die from hunger in India? Of course, American imperialists eat their food, but once we make the revolution, etc. Northern Ireland ? Demographic problems in Mexico ? Racial hatred ? Tribal wars ? Inflation ? Criminality ? Corruption ? Degradation of educational systems? There is such a simple answer to everything and, moreover, the same answer to everything!"

AJ Ayer on Edmund Burke

"For a long time now, it seems to me, theoretical principles have played a very small part in English politics. There have been conflicts of interest, at different times setting country against town, landowners against manufacturers, protectionists against free-traders, employers against labout, Anglicans against Roman Catholics and Dissenters, the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh against the English, even men against women, and of course always the rich against the poor, but in the main these battles have not been waged in ideological terms. There is often a coating of theory but the arguments in which it is deployed have been mostly ad hoc; they have not stemmed from different theoretical systems. Conservatives, on solemn occasions, will still appeal to Bruke, but Burke's is a second order theory; its moral is that one should not have any theory of the first order. 'Politics is the art of the possible; to find out what is possible you have to feel your way; if you tamper with ancient institutions, you will open the floodgates to a tide which you may not be able to control; no human institution is perfect, but if one has stood the test of time it is better to leave it alone; what is entrenched is likely for that very reason to be good.'"

(Philosophy and Politics, by AJ Ayer)

Lecky on Henry George and Single Tax movement

"Another doctrine which, in different forms, has spread widely through public opinion is that of Mill about ‘the unearned increment.’ Starting from the belief that the value of land has a natural tendency to increase through the progress of society, and without any exertion or sacrifice on the part of the owner, Mill proposed that this ‘unearned increment’ should be steadily intercepted and appropriated by the State in the form of taxation. It was true, Mill acknowledged, that men had long bought land, which brings a smaller return than almost any other form of investment, through a belief that their income would gradually increase, and with an implied assurance that they would only be taxed in proportion to other incomes. Mill, however, very honestly met this objection by maintaining that the confiscation of the increment should only take place from the present time and with due notice, and that the landlord should have the alternative of receiving from the State the present market value, which includes the present value of all future expectations.

In the long period of agricultural depression through which England and most other countries have passed the doctrine of ‘an unearned increment’ wears an aspect of irony. For many years the market value of agricultural land, instead of rising, has been steadily falling, and history clearly shows that the same phenomenon has taken place in many long periods and in many great countries. If the State takes from the owner by exceptional taxation the normal rise in the value of his land, it may very reasonably be expected by exceptional legislation to compensate him for its fall.

No statement can be more palpably untrue than that ‘unearned increment’ is a thing in any degree peculiar to land. The growth of population and the development of civilisation exercise exactly the same influence on the shares of a railway or a dockyard; on the wages of the labourer; on the fees of the professional man; on the masterpieces of art; on the value of innumerable articles of commerce. In countless cases property is increased, or industry and ability reap larger rewards in consequence of changes which do not lie within themselves, and to which they have contributed nothing, but which are wholly due to extraneous and surrounding circumstances. Ask any rich man which of his investments, without any sacrifice or exertion on his part, have doubled or trebled in value, and you will find that in the great majority of cases they have no connection with land. What reason is there, therefore, for selecting for exceptional and penal taxation the single form of property which usually produces the least return, and which is associated to the greatest degree with the discharge of duties that are eminently useful to the State? And this proposal is made in a country where so large an amount of money has been sunk in land by many generations of proprietors that the actual rent would represent, in very many instances, nothing more than the lowest interest on the outlay; in a country where the value of personal property enormously exceeds that of land, and has been, during the last century and a half, advancing with a vastly greater rapidity. According to Sir Robert Giffen, land in England constituted in 1690 about 60 percent. of the national wealth, and in 1800 about 40 percent. In the United Kingdom it constituted, in 1812, 44 percent.; in 1865, 30 percent.; in 1875, 24 percent.; in 1884, only 17 percent.49

The true explanation of such proposals is political. It is to be found in that almost rabid hatred of the landed interest, growing out of political antagonism, which has characterised large bodies of English Radicals, and which, in a time when the deep agricultural depression forms probably our most serious national evil and danger, makes the increased taxation of land one of the most popular of Radical cries.

One argument, upon which much stress has been put, but which has now, in a great degree, lost its force, is that the land of the country is the source of the food on which its people depend, and that special legislation ought therefore to prevent it from being in the uncontrolled power of the few. As I have already said, I believe that, if any clear case of public welfare can be established, the Government has the right to take complete or partial possession of the land, on condition of compensating the owners. If England were surrounded by a brass wall, and if its people depended for their subsistence on the crops raised within that wall, severe restrictions should undoubtedly be placed on the use of great portions of the soil for parks or sporting purposes. But the situation is much modified when the main supply of food for the people is not derived from English soil, but comes from the United States, from the Colonies, from India, and from Russia, and when this supply pours in with such abundance and at such prices that the best English land is almost crushed by the competition, while the inferior lands have become, as food-producing land, almost useless.

The unreality, however, of the speculation that would separate landed property by a sharp generic distinction as an object of spoliation from all other property speedily became apparent. The same class of reasoners soon found that similar or analogous arguments may be applied to other branches of property, and to defence of other forms of dishonesty. It is a significant fact that while Mr. George in his first book only proposed to rob the landowner, in his second book he proposed equally to rob the fundowner, being now convinced that the institution of public debts and private property in land rested on the same basis. In nearly all the Socialist programmes that are now issued on the Continent the ‘nationalisation of land’ is included, but it is always coupled with proposals for the nationalisation of all capital and means of production, and for the repudiation of national debts."

(Democracy and Liberty, by WEH Lecky)

Allan Bloom on Frank Knight

"I mentioned the University of Chicago professor Frank Knight earlier.  I knew him fairly well -- he obviously was not my teacher; I would know a lot more if he had been.  But I saw him a great deal -- I remember his coming to my doctoral exam.  He was somewhat different from most economists.  In the first place he was always a professor of philosophy and economics.  Philosophy came first, I think, for Frank Knight.  Even if it did not, one thing is certain: he was God-obsessed.  He spent his life thinking about God.  As he got older it became ever more apparent -- he would be seen at every session or lecture that might deal with that question.   My understanding of this is as follows: He was an old Voltairean and somehow he knew that this was the crucial issue.  He was an atheist very explicitly, but he was an atheist who was not sure.  That is not the same thing as an agnostic.  He knew he had placed his chips, but he did not know where the wheel was going to stop.  In a way his economics depended upon God not existing; if God did exist, there was something outside, and this meant conduct could be shameful and sinful.  And he knew this wasn't so clear.

I remember the first time I saw him.  Arnold Toynbee (who was a kind of pious fraud, he was so famous) was visiting, and everyone was sitting there, so thrilled to see the great man.  Frank Knight came stalking in late and sat down noisily.  Toynbee was saying, "Now, we men are all brothers and that's because there is the fatherhood of God."  Finally, Knight said -- just loudly enough for everybody to hear -- "Where do you get that shit?"  He really cared about the issue, whereas Milton Friedman is indifferent to it.  To Friedman, whether to believe in God or not to believe in God is a preference.  For Frank Knight it clearly was the question.  Somehow I feel a little of Frank Knight in Professor [James] Buchanan."

(p198, in "From Political Economy to Economics -- And Back?", 1990)

Hobbes and Rawls on consumption tax

"To equal justice appertaineth also the equal imposition of taxes; the equality whereof dependeth not on the equality of riches, but on the equality of the debt that every man oweth to the Commonwealth for his defence. It is not enough for a man to labour for the maintenance of his life; but also to fight, if need be, for the securing of his labour. They must either do as the Jews did after their return from captivity, in re-edifying the Temple, build with one hand and hold the sword in the other, or else they must hire others to fight for them. For the impositions that are laid on the people by the sovereign power are nothing else but the wages due to them that hold the public sword to defend private men in the exercise of several trades and callings. Seeing then the benefit that every one receiveth thereby is the enjoyment of life, which is equally dear to poor and rich, the debt which a poor man oweth them that defend his life is the same which a rich man oweth for the defence of his; saving that the rich, who have the service of the poor, may be debtors not only for their own persons, but for many more. Which considered, the equality of imposition consisteth rather in the equality of that which is consumed, than of the riches of the persons that consume the same. For what reason is there that he which laboureth much and, sparing the fruits of his labour, consumeth little should be more charged than he that, living idly, getteth little and spendeth all he gets; seeing the one hath no more protection from the Commonwealth than the other? But when the impositions are laid upon those things which men consume, every man payeth equally for what he useth; nor is the Commonwealth defrauded by the luxurious waste of private men."
(Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan)

"it is worth noting that a proportional expenditure tax may be part of the best tax scheme.  For one thing, it is preferable to an income tax (of any kind) at the level of common sense precepts of justice, since it imposes a levy according to how much a person takes out of the common store of goods and not according to how much he contributes"
(John Rawls, "A Theory of Justice", p246.)