David Conway reviews for Law and Liberty Keith Lowe's significant account of the aftermath of World War II in Europe, Savage Continent. Conway opens his assessment of Lowe's book of by observing that Savage Continent should force us to reassess much of what we think about this period. If the past is another country, some history books revisit periods so harrowing they should carry a health warning: ‘Not for the faint-hearted; ‘To be opened only at the reader’s peril’, they should declare on their dust-jackets. If any book merits bearing such a warning, Keith Lowe’s epic survey of Europe during the years…
Archives for September 2012
As I thought more about my post yesterday (that discussed views that recognize tradeoffs and those that do not), I realized that it related to an excellent book by Thomas Sowell. His book, A Conflict of Visions, discusses two visions of the world that has some relationship to the two that David Sloan Wilson discusses. Sowell labels his two visions the Constrained and Unconstrained Visions. Charles Murrays describes the two visions as follows:
The Left holds an unconstrained vision: Given the right political and economic arrangements, human beings can be improved, even perfected. Success is defined by what people have the potential of becoming, not by people as they are. The Right holds a constrained vision: People come to society with innate characteristics that cannot be reshaped and must instead be accommodated. Success in political and economic policy must be defined in light of those innate characteristics.
Clearly, the constrained and unconstrained visions resemble the visions that recognize tradeoff and those that do not. Like the visions that recognize tradeoffs, the constrained visions holds that we cannot have a perfect world – that there are inherent limits on our ability to improve things.
It is a logical fallacy and a clinical delusion, and the body politic is suffering from both: magical thinking—the false linkage of causal events, in this case between the president and, well, everything. Hence the claim—literally childish, as will be seen—that the president personally as well as his policy in the Middle East are somehow to blame for an eruption of rioting against American targets in that region. The concomitant argument from the Romney camp is that were their man president, the riots never would have happened: a claim that is patently absurd except to those who seriously believe enraged rioters en route to a demonstration halfway around the world actually pause first to ask themselves whether the President of the United States frowns upon their actions.
Robert C. Koons, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has written a piece titled “Dark Satanic Mills of Mis-Education: Some Proposals for Reform” in Humanitas. The problems at Behemoth State University (here Koons self-consciously borrows from Russell Kirk) did not begin, Koons writes, “with Sputnik or the G. I. Bill.”
Instead, Koons—with help from Irving Babbitt and C. S. Lewis—identifies two principal foes, neither one a twentieth century progressive: Francis Bacon and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He writes,
We can best understand the modern university by seeing it as built on the synthesis of these two tendencies, Baconian and Rousseauan. We now justify the hard sciences almost entirely in pragmatic and utilitarian terms, as the incubators of technology, not as observatories from which to behold and contemplate the music of the spheres. In contrast, many in the humanities, as well as most in the new fields of “communications” and “education,” have abandoned the hard road of fact to become the playgrounds of “values.” Since all value is the arbitrary projection and construction of liberated egos, there is no true hierarchy of value to be learned and internalized and to structure the course of learning into a true curriculum.
This work is a continuing development of Koons’s earlier reflections on what he calls the uncurriculum that dominates the landscape of research—and many would-be research—universities. Basically, an uncurriculum is the system of distributive requirements that universities demand from students, for the benefit of the professors, under the guise of giving students choices. The result: Professors get to teach whatever they want to teach that furthers their research interests, and students are required to take those classes, independent from their interests or how such classes could help or develop them.
David Sloan Wilson is an interesting biologist. He is most known as a strong advocate of group selection and favors employing evolution to understand human behavior.
Wilson has a piece up where he seeks to explore the reasons why Paul Ryan, who he terms a religious fundamentalist, was attracted to Ayn Rand’s atheistic approach. While Wilson argues that religious fundamentalism and Randianism seem to be radically different views, they have more in common than at first appears.
Wilson argues that both views do not recognize tradeoffs. They see their recommendations as good for everyone. Wilson writes:
Rand created a system of thought that is just like religious fundamentalism in portraying a world without tradeoffs. This begins to explain her enduring appeal. She offers a world that has been simplified to the point where the only choice is to head toward glory (the pursuit of self-interest) and away from ruin.
There is one group that is not protected from hate-speech: the rich. Of the rich it is permissible, and in some circles de rigueur, to speak disparagingly or hatefully. This, I imagine, is because it is widely supposed that if you hate the rich you must love the poor, and love of the poor, at least in theory, is the highest virtue. Unfortunately hatred is a much stronger political emotion, and vastly more effective in practice, than love was, is or ever will be.
That the rich are not protected from hate-speech proves that the one thing that speech codes are not designed to reduce or prohibit is hatred: for it is a distinctly moot point whether race hatred, or hatred of the rich, has been responsible for the more mass murders in the past century or so. The crimes of egalitarianism have been enormous; and so denigration of the rich is as disreputable, permissible or impermissible, as the denigration of many other groups I could name.
But who are the rich, apart from those shallow and grasping people with more money than I?
As predicted, Germany’s Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court, or “FCC”) has blessed (link no longer available) the European bailout fund (European Stability Mechanism, or “ESM”) as compatible with Germany’s Constitution, with several provisos, qualifications, and restrictions.
Much as I’d like to take credit for my crystal ball, the outcome was foreordained at least in its broad outlines. By institutional design, the FCC is much closer to the political branches than our Supreme Court. Especially with respect to European affairs, there’s a mutual understanding that the government won’t force the Court’s hand; in return, the Court won’t say anything that seriously derails the government’s policies and commitments. (When the players are uncertain about their counterpart’s tolerance, they pick up the phone and ask in advance.) The FCC’s rulings are best understood as part of a signaling game. So what are the signals in this case, and what are they worth?
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Akhil Amar has a long post on freedom of speech. Akhil takes issue with the post by Richard Posner that had criticized Scalia and Garner for not following the narrow Blackstonian understanding of freedom of the press as the original meaning. Readers will remember that I had criticized Posner on the same grounds. As I did, Akhil relies in part on Eugene Volokh’s scholarship on the original meaning of the First Amendment. Akhil raises a separate issue, which he and others have discussed before: While it is possible that freedom of the press was intended to…
Our new book, Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights and Policy, is the first law-school textbook on the subject.
It appears at an opportune time. It has been four years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to keep and bear firearms for the purpose of self-defense, and two years since the Court held in McDonald v. City of Chicago that the Second Amendment right protects against infringement by state and local governments, not only the federal government. State and lower federal courts are now grappling with the implications of the newly affirmed right to arms in cases involving the right to carry a handgun for self-defense, the validity of bans on certain types of rifles and magazines, and other issues.
Our introductory chapter gives students the background needed to engage the law in this area by first explaining basic facts about firearms terminology and current gun laws in the United States. The book then proceeds in a broadly chronological order. It begins with classical Western and Asian sources on the law and morality of arms-bearing and self-defense, and continues through the English background of the American right to arms. We address in detail a range of sources from the revolutionary and ratification eras of U.S. history. The rich nineteenth-century legal discourse on the right to arms, before and after the Civil War, is covered in detail.