We have come to the end of this little series of observations and reflections on the Resistance. Perhaps a little retrospect is in order, before concluding with Socrates.
Every so often our politics produces something relatively new, something worth watching and thinking about.
Marco Rubio demonstrated keen political instincts during one of the primary debates when he used his opening remarks to argue for an end to the stigmatization of vocational training, handily linking the stigmatization to the minimum wage and America’s flagging economy.
The thoughtful and meticulous analysis by our friend Joseph Knippenberg got me thinking about civic engagement. Well, that’s not quite true. I was already thinking about it while trying get a book done on the technocratic threat to higher education (which is greater than the politically correct threat to higher education, although the two are not unrelated).
There is an expert-driven trend in higher education–facilitated by foundations, the American Political Science Association, professors of political science and professors of education–to transform the teaching of political science through civic engagement. The literature on this is full of jargon and otherwise depressingly low in its cognitive pay grade. The consensus seems to be the need for a third way of studying politics. One approach, allegedly rigorously scientific, is the nonpartisan detachment of the behaviorist. Another is the textual approach of political philosophers, who talk about what Plato said Socrates said while hanging out in the marketplace but never actually take students to such a public forum. The third way is for students to learn through actually participating in political life.
Here and at Volokh, Ilya Somin and Mike Rappaport have been conducting a fruitful exchange over the extent of individuals’ moral obligation to obey the law, but the debate should not obscure the deeper and important philosophical ground on which they apparently agree: a shared assumption that the duty arises from something like an individual utility function. Their dispute seems to pertain to whether the individual should deploy his or her moral calculus at the personal (Somin) or systemic (Rappaport) level. The tougher question is whether any society so conceived and so dedicated—namely, one in which individuals calculate their moral obligation to obey the law as atomized individuals—can long endure.
Plato’s Laws is a neglected work. For this, there are many reasons. A large book, it cannot be read at a single sitting as an entertainment. It is also an exceedingly sober book—a dialogue between three elderly men, none of them exceedingly frisky. Two are Dorians, reared, respectively, in Knossos on Crete and at Sparta in the Peloponnesus with an eye to war in circumstances quite rigorous, and, as one would expect, neither is light of heart. Moreover, as one would also expect, this dialogue between old codgers lacks the drama that makes the Symposium, the Gorgias, the Protagoras, and…
“The Boston Strangler was one of my students. Or so it seems.” “How,” distinguished law professor Ronald Rotunda asks, “would DeSalvo [aka the Boston Strangler] have been able to talk his way into places where women lived in fear of the rapist-killer?” Rotunda accepts blame: My class in rhetoric offered an answer. When giving a speech, the speaker's goal should be to win over the audience. He must try to be charming and seem genuine. Best of all is to possess that ineffable characteristic known as charisma. None of these qualities can be taught. DeSalvo had them all. He was someone you…