Friday, 30 April 2010

Progress, Reaction and Liberalism

The current general election in the United Kingdom has a number of peculiar features and, despite taking place against a background of serious economic news, has the potential to remake the image of what political engagement can mean. There is, however, some resistance to this view amongst a broad spectrum of people, not least those who might be thought naturally to be most clearly disposed to adopting such a view.

In the UK the natural home of "progressive" sentiments has, since the end of the First World War almost a century ago, been the Labour Party. This should no longer be the case, not least because of many problems with the record of the last government, problems which alone should give serious pause to anyone. Even more should they give pause to anyone interested in the view of promotion of a "progressive" view of politics.

What are the reasons why I make this claim? Well, prior to looking at the details of specific policies or thinking through recent British political history, the central reason concerns a need to look again at what it means to describe a political position as "progressive". When Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997 he spoke of the need for a "progressive" view of politics and he, for at least a time, consolidated behind him a coalition of people who viewed him as embodying such a view. By the time of the last election in 2005 it was very difficult to see Blair in this way and, consequently, hard to view the party he led as the vehicle for progress.

But what went unasked in a general disillusionment that was illustrated in the fact that each of Blair's election victories produced a falling support in terms of percentage of electors, was the question of what was meant by the notion of "progressive politics". It is easiest perhaps to begin to define the notion by reference to what it opposes, the notion of "reactionary" politics. What is "reactionary" is not simply, as many dictionaries would suggest, resistance to change. Any political party or force wishes change. But there are different kinds of change. There are changes which reinforce injustice, deepen social divisions and entrench vested interests and there are changes which aim to reduce injustice, promote that which is just, reduce division and promote an enhanced view of the polity that is not at the service of a given interest. The former is a reactionary change, the latter a progressive change.

This general view of the division between progress and reaction does not emerge from nowhere in political history. It is grounded in divisions between groups that date back to the time of the Glorious Revolution in Britain. At that point monarchical power and vested privileges were broken in favour of a parliamentary system of representation. This victory was accomplished by a party of progressive change that defeated the Tory view, a view that can broadly be understood as legitimist and which took its last stand in 1745. The defeat of this view then produced a consolidated landed oligarchy that entrenched its own patterns of privileges that were challenged by a series of events in the 19th century including the Great Reform Act of 1832, Catholic and Jewish emancipation, the opening of the universities and the granting, after sustained agitation from the Manchester School of Liberalism, of manhood suffrage (albeit not a universal one).

This struggle continued in terms of movement to universal manhood suffrage and the final universal granting of suffrage to women also, something initially championed by John Stuart Mill. The universal opening of representation formulated the uniquely modern political system we term "democracy" and its advent was the result of sustained and continued struggle between those who advocated it and those who opposed it. The former were the "progressives" and the latter the "reactionaries". 

The twentieth century produced, however, new political forces that created confusion and articulated positions that did not easily fit this classical pattern. These forces included the labour movement and socialist and communist parties. This is the origin of the contemporary confusion that obfuscates the clarity required to recognise that the contemporary Liberal Democratic Party in the UK is the natural home of "progressive" sentiment. The view became consolidated in the 1930's and 1940's that labour movements were the ground of "progressive" demands and that liberalism had been left behind. 

There were, nonetheless, many peculiar elements to this view. One was that the economic doctrine that won most adherents in this period was not, despite much pressure to the contrary, a Marxist one. There were many reasons for this, not least that Marxism provides no positive economic model. Marxists are extremely good at providing critical attacks on economic models and economic systems but, in practice, have produced no sustainable economic model for governing a society other than totalitarian coercion, better known as the "command economy". Such a position has consistently failed to secure sufficient adherents in advanced Western countries to be adopted and this is certainly to the good. Some time ago Ludwig Von Mises exposed in detail the difficulties of such a view in his classic work Socialism.

Von Mises' own positive economic position was, however, not one that was adopted during the crisis years of the middle of the 20th century. Rather, at that time, it was the works of John Maynard Keynes that were turned to. Keynes' economic arguments provided the basis of much of what became orthodoxy in politics after the Second World War especially when combined with the welfare state proposals of William Beveridge. Despite being implemented by the Labour Party both these men and their ideas emerged from the Liberal political tradition.

The elements that were added to the positions of Keynes and Beveridge that came directly from within the labour movement were emphasis on sustained state intervention into running the economy, that is, nationalisation. The model of such nationalisation was what became seriously challenged in the advent of the newly globalising world of the 1970s. As economies became more inter-dependent so the insular models of labourism that supported the implementation of trade barriers of all sorts and underpinned unsustainable protectionist views of labour became undermined. 

This was the beginning of the end for the traditional Labour Party which, during the years of Conservative hegemony, was gradually destroyed such that Tony Blair could eventually emerge as the leader of a quite different force in the 1990's. The remaking of Labour was sometimes presented, by Blair himself amongst others, as a revival of "progressive" politics and that good things were done in many directions by Blair's government is clear enough. So civil partnerships were recognised, an equal age of consent for gay people was won and invidious forms of discrimination were removed. Similarly, the Blair government formulated and defended a view of the public services that enabled their expansion including an expanded higher education sector.

Blair, however, had no feel for much that is central to a serious "progressive" view of politics. Under his leadership there was little confrontation with inequality and, under Labour, inequality has increased such that their rule has led to a redistribution of wealth towards the very wealthiest. Similarly, deregulation of the finance sector of the economy gathered apace such that the unstable credit boom of the first decade of this century was allowed to emerge. In such respects, as in others, Blair's government moved in lock-step with the Bush regime in the US. 

Confrontation with finance, expansion of the productive base of the economy and concern with redistribution of wealth towards the poorest, did not feature in Blair's view. Similarly, Blair paradoxically also articulated a shift towards defence of religious privilege, as in his endorsement of faith schools and a privatised model of education that even allowed creationist academies to be given state funding. In these respects the Blair project represented something reactionary. Similarly, civil liberties were never related to by Blair's governments as anything other than a nuisance in a foreign policy that resolutely presented the fight against terrorism as the number one agenda. The hopes for an ethical foreign policy at the origin of the Blair government were lost.

It is time to realise that the Labour Party has no natural claim to represent "progressive" opinion and that what was most creative in its responses to the political crises of the last century in fact came from Liberal thinking. Once this is recognised it also becomes clear that liberalism is the philosophy that is progressive, not socialism. Liberalism has been re-born as something that incorporates the gains of social democracy but which also rests on a stronger connection to civil liberties and to an emphasis on individual freedom that socialists have always been loath to acknowledge.

The socialist force, such as is left, is itself now reactionary. It stands for out-dated positions, recognising sectional interests that cannot promote the renewal of politics. Further, in the context of economic crisis it suggests dangerous illusions concerning the nature of the state and its relationship to the economy. Conservatives, by contrast, have, unashamedly, revealed themselves once again to stand in the long tradition of basic reaction, standing only for vested interests of the super-rich that recognise little in the broader society. The leader article in The Guardian articulates this well.

Given these parameters it is the case that the moment has come to once again recognise that the basic force that represents the possibilities for progressive reform that exist are liberal (and Liberal). This is not a notion that many find easy to see but no other force can bring change that will respect the imperatives of social justice. If social justice is the guideline for what is progressive then it should include such matters as support for free education, emphasis on the need to re-build the economy by rebalancing it, increased and focused regulation of banking and finance, a proportional voting system that ends the shame of governments being formed that have no real majority and a serious commitment to the safeguarding of civil liberties. It should and must also relate to foreign policy through engagement with Europe and the US based on the pursuit of liberal ideals and internationalism. There is much that is problematic in the current Liberal Democrat platform, as I have stated in previous postings. It is, however, the case that only this party and only the general position of liberalism can represent the cause of progress. Given this situation it becomes a clear duty to support the Liberal Democrats and to engage with them in order to further the cause of democracy and to deepen the roots of liberalism. As Obama's struggles in the US have shown it is possible for progressive agendas to be presented successfully and for them to secure victories in the struggle with reaction. Such a struggle is a philosophically deep one and it is one to which this generation, like others before it, is called to engage with.

Secularism and Religious Rights

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has once again been intervening in public debate. The case in point concerned the dismissal of Gary MacFarlane who was dismissed from a job for the marriage guidance counsellors Relate due to his refusal to engage with gay couples. MacFarlane's appeal against this dismissal consisted in the claim that dismissal on these grounds violated his rights since, as a committed Christian, he could not endorse people living "in sin".

The tribunal that judged MacFarlane's case argued fiercely against the claim that there was a religious right here that had been violated but was even clearer in making a specific attack on Lord Carey. Carey had called for the case to be tried by a special panel of judges who had "proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues". This call, when coupled with Carey's support for viewing the case as one of religious rights led Carey to claim that the case was one of competing rights where the right of gay couples to equal treatment is one that needs to be balanced against the rights of religious believers.

Carey's arguments betray deep confusions concerning the nature of rights, confusions that partly grow out of the unfinished secularisation of the British state and partly reflect the pandering to notions of religious rights that have been reflected in the behaviour of the Labour government since 1997. The historic basis is the fact that Carey is a member of a state church that retains a specific place in the British constitution enabling its bishops to act as legislators in a manner not granted to other religious believers, its schools to receive unprecedented state aid and state ceremonies to be held in its buildings. This historic basis to a view that Anglican Christians have special rights has been buttressed by the promotion of "faith schools" on the part of the Labour Party.

Given this background it is less surprising than it would otherwise be that Lord Carey should have the view that he does. It is still the case however that his view is deeply and grievously wrong. The judge who presided in the tribunal Lord Justice Laws made many correct statements in striking down the appeal in the case. Laws states that the precepts of no religion or belief system have any special place in law as, if they did, those who did not have such convictions would be less than citizens under the law. In following up on this claim Laws stated that there is a distinction between the law's protection of the right to hold and express a belief on the one hand and protection of that belief's substance and content on the other. This distinction is the core of the argument. It is due to the fact that Lord Carey assumes that religious rights involve protection of the substance and content of belief that he believes there is a conflict of rights, a view that he has been given support in due to the government's promotion of faith schools. Should there be protection of the substance and content of belief then one of two impossible situations will result. Either the protection would support one religion or belief system or it would support all. If the former is the case then, as Laws rightly stated, the step towards theocracy would be very large. Should the latter however, be the case, then the contradictory nature of distinct belief systems would create an insoluble problem.

Further, Carey's specific request for tribunals based on tests of sensitivity to religious beliefs is intrinsically unjust. Such tests of belief would have to favour one view of such beliefs hence would be sectarian in nature and guided by an evaluation that had nothing to do with the possession of rights. Carey argues that the result of this case is to move Britain in the direction of a "secular" rather than a "neutral" state but gives no definition of the latter. By a "neutral" state one can only mean a state that is not guided by the promotion of a given belief system and is impartial with regard to all. This is precisely what a consistent secularism involves. Secularism does not mean state embrace of irreligion but instead lack of preference to any religion. Given that Britain has historically given preference to Carey's religion then it is true that the drift of law now is towards a notion of the state that is no longer sectarian as it historically was. This is also why it is plausible to speak of the head of state of Britain being something other than an Anglican. The logical thing is systematic and clear separation of church and state, the same as occurred in the founding of the United States. The head of the National Secular Society correctly stated that the judgment enforces the view that anti-discrimination laws apply to people not to holders of beliefs. There is no "conflict of rights" as there is no right to the substance and content of a belief being given any special status and Carey's arguments against betray a reactionary desire to maintain a special status for a state church whose time of dominance in Britain is due to end and whose special legal rights are not only an anachronism but an offence.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

More on Middlesex

Since the plan for the closure of the philosophy department at Middlesex was announced it appears that a storm of resistance has got moving. There is now a petition that can be signed in protest against this decision, an active Facebook group coordinating against the decision and, over at Leiter Reports a string of comments attacking the decision. See also one of the latest comments over at The Trent Philosophy Blog .

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Pressure on the Humanities

The news mentioned in the previous posting is part of a general trend in the UK and also in other countries in the world. The general notion that there needs to be any focus, support or attention given to the place of the humanities in contemporary education has been entirely lost. In the current general election here in the UK the manifestoes of all three major parties are silent concerning any significant role for the humanities, focusing all their attention on the place of STEM subjects. The Labour Party has been particularly bold in this emphasis, folding the Dept for Education into that of Business whilst the Liberal Democrats intend to merge the Higher Education Funding Council for England with the Skills Funding Agency in order to create a single Council for Adult Skills and Higher Education. Since HEFCE pioneered the notion of impact assessment before the Labour Party there are some senses in which its loss would not be as grievous as all that but merging it with a skills council speaks volumes for the general view of higher education assumed.

Whilst the political parties are adopting these blinkered points of view universities across the UK are closing or cutting their philosophy departments. Amongst others there are threats of cuts at the University of Sussex, King's College London, the University of Leeds and Gloucestershire University. It can hardly be expected that these attacks are likely, in a situation of increased budgetary constraint, to cease.

It is worth pausing, however, to question why it is that the humanities in general and philosophy in particular are particularly susceptible to these attacks. It is true that the justifications offered for the cuts are often framed in very narrow budgetary terms as appears to be the case at Middlesex. Such terms do not intrinsically prevent other types of subjects and subject areas being affected and, indeed, at University College London, it is the life sciences that are threatened. However, despite the correctness of this point, there is a particular pattern of assault on the humanities in general and philosophy in particular, that reaches beyond the narrow rationale of budgets.

In a new book Martha Nussbaum takes aim at a logic that generally views the humanities as of little contemporary significance, a view that we can see reflected in the general failure to view focus on them as any kind of political priority. The economic situation has led to an intensification of a trend visible for sometime. This is one in which the value of education is generally assessed in terms of the price of wage one can attract after having consumed it. It is the model of education in terms of preparation for work, as is particularly evident in the subsumption of education under business and the merging of higher education with training.

In this situation the central difficulty with providing a general rationale for defending the humanities in general and philosophy in particular is that alternative views of the point of education are thought to be of little relevance in straitened times. The intriguing thing about this, however, is that this does not apply equally to education that is based on fine art. Whilst this is hardly a season of rejoicing in the arts in terms of funding there is not the same antipathy towards arts that is expressed towards the humanities. The reason appears to be that performance can be guaranteed from art whilst little that is taken to be significant emerges from the humanities.

The central political question that emerges from this concerns how it is that a sustainable civil society is meant to develop without education that is concerned with the nature of civility itself. Politicians make much out of the conditions for civility but seem to think that civility is merely a matter of moral exhortation, not something that requires development of moral sensitivity. Similarly, the focus on instrumental gain from knowledge leaves aside any questions concerning the nature of knowledge itself and hence does not allow for serious engagement with the point of relations with others. The basic case for philosophy as an enquiry is that without it assumptions ossify and prejudice replaces judgment. A "culture" without philosophy is possible, just not desirable and the case for this looks like needing to be made again.

Middlesex Philosophy Department the Latest Under Threat

The story of the problems at King's College London has been put into perspective as part of a general onslaught on philosophy in the UK. The latest Department under threat is the Centre for European Philosophy at Middlesex University. It is intended that it be entirely closed. A letter from the members of staff there detailing the decision of the faculty and responding to it is reproduced over at  The Third Estate and some indications of a campaign against this are detailed over at infinite thought.

The Philosophy Dept at Middlesex is one of only half-a-dozen in the UK that specialises in European philosophy so its loss would, as such, be particularly significant.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The TV Debates and the Liberal Democrats

There are good reasons for readers of this blog to expect more postings on international affairs than on domestic UK politics but, since we are here in the midst of what is shaping up to be an historic change in the UK political scene, I am afraid there are going to be more postings on this election. At present, what is interesting me, is the response on the part of the traditional print press and mainstream political establishment, to the innovation (in UK terms) of television debates between the leaders of the three main parties.

There are a number of curious features both of the debates and of the responses to them. In relation to the debates themselves the focus of coverage has been less on the specifics of things said than on the instant opinion polls published afterwards. Whilst the general comment has focused on these there has also been a corresponding deprecation of the debates themselves as though they were simply a form of popularity contest like the entertainment show X Factor. So the media sets it up in terms of polls and then denounces the debates themselves due to the way they have chosen to report them!

This irrationality is then reinforced in terms of response to the main apparent beneficiaries of these debates: the Liberal Democrats, whose leader, Nick Clegg, has emerged as the most articulate of the three and easily the best at conveying both the policies of the party he leads and a sense of himself as capable of being a leader. Precisely because Clegg has come out of the debates as the popular favourite he has been greeted with the opprobrium the media has determined the debates in general deserve. So he has been cast as an "anti-politics" candidate due to his challenge to the previous two-party system, denounced by his opponents as immature and presented, most recently in the Financial Times, as the leader of a party that is not really ready for power, not least, according to the FT, due to opposing nuclear power and desiring a debate on nuclear weapons. The fact that nuclear power's safety record is, to say the least about it, dubious or that the very same newspaper reported only days before the need for debate about the future way to relate to Britain's nuclear deterrent? Apparently not relevant or "mature" responses to the situation.

Most bizarrely of all, the former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer from the years of the last Conservative government of John Major, Ken Clarke, has recently claimed that a "hung parliament" in which no party had a majority, would produce an intervention from the International Monetary Fund! In the course of claiming this, Clarke also went on to attack such new media sources as Twitter for, once again, making the election into a "popularity contest" as though winning enough votes was, in some sense, an unfair way for an election to be won! 

The bizarre and incoherent responses to both the debates themselves and the apparent surge in support they have given to the Liberal Democrats suggest a couple of responses. On the one hand, the fact of the debates is unsettling to the traditional media. Such media is compelled to report on them even though the means it does so is precisely through the medium of opinion polls rather than sustained analysis of the policies the debates have articulated. In focusing so consistently on the question of instant polls the media thereby both respond in a way that mirrors the new media they apparently wish to differentiate themselves from and yet also provide the basis of a reflexive backlash on their part to such media. All of which indicates a serious crisis in the form of media itself. Secondly, the apparent rise of a third force within British politics that does not fit into the mould of the previous political structure has further undermined the responsive model of the media itself. In Britain the print media is mainly favourable towards the Conservatives, to such an extent, in fact, that it is always worthy of comment that the Conservatives are so generally unsuccessful (or at least have been for the past 13 years). Those who oppose the Conservatives, by contrast, gravitate naturally towards Labour with the result that none of them are prepared for a possible powerful third force despite the evident greater coherence of the Liberal programme as revealed in the manifestos of the parties. Should the surge reported in the opinion polls be confirmed come election day there can be little doubt that the result of this will to be change British politics as the only basis for a deal between the Liberal Democrats and either of the other two parties would be electoral reform. Once grant electoral reform and there will be no return to the two party system. As I said earlier, this is surely shaping up to be an historic election after which, all could well be, "changed, changed utterly" though it remains to be seen whether or not "a terrible beauty" will thereby be born!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Kant's Birthday!

Today is the 286th anniversary of the birthday of Immanuel Kant! It is, as always, worth commemorating this day since, if nothing else, Kant enabled philosophy to secure an institutional recognition that had, prior to his day, been lacking given the subordination of philosophy previously to theology. The Conflict of the Faculties records his argument against the assumption that there is a ground for this subordination of philosophy to theology in either the nature of the university or in terms of what is best for state power. It also records, in its own way, some of the reasons for Kant's publishing record with regard to Religion with the Limits of Reason Alone, the work that had brought him into conflict with the political authorities of the day. At a time when professors are assaulted  by students from fundamentalist religious groups in Pakistan we should not forget the legacy of Kant's struggle against just such pressures.

Two Comments From Michael Walzer

In a recent interview there are a couple of comments made by Michael Walzer that bear some response. The first concerns a question that suggests Kantian ethics is better for personal situations whereas utilitarian ethics is preferable for a public environment. Before mentioning and responding to Professor Walzer's answer it is worth pointing out that the question implies a number of things difficult to accept, not least when being put to a political philosopher. Firstly, Kantian "ethics" is not the best rubric for discussion of politics it is true. But that is because Kant has a developed theory of politics, including international politics, through his investigation of right. If we contrast this with utilitarian accounts then it should be with similarly developed utilitarian notions of right and justice. Similarly, in more recent philosophy, it was the ambition of Rawls' Theory of Justice to set out a view that was as comprehensive as that of utilitarians, something that is not maintained in some respects in his late work but which is part of his intermediate notion of Kantian constructivism. Just as with Kant himself so with such a later "Kantian" as Rawls we find a view that is every bit as comprehensive as that of any utilitarian. 

Walzer's answer to this question, by contrast, refers to none of these points falling back instead on a basic contrast between "theory" and "real life", one that is hardly useful in the analysis of a political theorist. In the realm of "real life", whatever that may be, it is apparently a combination of approaches that is needed. As part of the rationale for holding this view Walzer refers to Kant's account of lying, neglecting, as is usual, to note that Kant's discussion of this is part of his account of "right" and has to be evaluated in that context and not presented in an absurdly absolutist one.

If this part of the interview with Walzer is deeply disappointing, the next comment on which I wish to focus is fascinating in the perspective it raises. On being asked whether the 20th century was "the best century" for philosophy Walzer robustly denies this pointing to the examples of Sartre and Heidegger in his support. The "century of Sartre and Heidegger" is equated with "a century of wilful obscurity and political idiocy". In making this remark Walzer conjoins two comments that are distinguishable. The notion that there is "wilful obscurity" in the work of either Sartre or Heidegger belongs to the old canard of a simple assumption of what clarity in philosophy means that I have objected to in a few previous postings. Why, amongst other things, pluck these two names from the century? Why not refer instead to "Frege and Russell", the former a racist and the latter someone whose later political attitudes, well summarized in the second volume of Ray Monk's excellent biography involved consistent support for totalitarian politics of the far left. Perhaps because the assumption that the latter two are somehow "clearer" than the former two is made so that the disastrous politics of the latter two are not thought so important. It could be said in riposte that neither Frege or Russell wrote philosophical works that were primarily political but in fact Russell, for one, traded heavily on his philosophical standing in the political stances he made and, furthermore, the philosophical works of Heidegger and Sartre are not primarily political either. This is not to defend the political positions of either Heidegger or Sartre, just to suggest that Walzer has, in this comment, made the usual move of attacking European thinkers for being, in some unclarified sense, characterized as "obscure" with this alleged obscurity connected in some sense to undesirable politics.

Walzer contrasts John Rawls with the figures he attacks hailing Rawls as a towering exception. This contrast is peculiar in the sense that Rawls was consistently engaged in political philosophy unlike the thinkers Walzer castigates. The suggestion that 20th century philosophy should be uniquely characterized in terms of disastrous political positions taken by philosophers is, in any event, hard to argue since there is a long tradition of philosophers adopting many political positions, including Aristotle's defence of slavery and Plato's apologia for tyrants. The quality of political philosophy is Walzer's specific concern in which case there is a good case for saying that those who gave political philosophy specific attention did include some who were of the first rank. Finally, when Walzer refers to previous centuries mentioning the era of Hume and Kant, amongst others, it is worth pointing out that even in such eras there were many poor philosophers and many capable of defending lots of things that are hardly defensible.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto

The manifesto of the Liberal Democrats is, in many different respects, the most attractive of the three main parties. Its layout is, for a start, much preferable to the other two. Whilst the Labour Party manifesto is divided into 10 sections and the Conservative Party into five, the Liberals, traditionally the "centre" party, have 7 sections! The cover, however, leads on 4 areas that are presented as central to the whole document and each of which includes the term that is meant to guide the overall understanding of the policies set out, the term "fair". So we have fair taxes, a fair chance for your child, a fair future and a fair deal. I'll say something about each of these but, first of all, let's record the contents page in terms of its seven divisions. Each of these is laid out with a stress on how they belong to us, the voters and citizens, so here we have your money, your job, your life, your family, your world, your community and, finally, your say. After all this the manifesto closes with a detailed costing of all the proposals made, something not included in either of the other two party manifestoes.

The four areas that are stressed on the cover and with which the manifesto opens are clearly indicative of a general stress that the party hopes will be remembered and also meant, in some sense, to provide orientation in the wealth of detail that follows. The key "fair tax" pledge is to take the first £10,000 earned out of income tax entirely. This has one good and one less obviously good consequence. The clear good side is that it removes the lowest earners entirely from consideration for income tax and also ensures that all lower-income earners have a large tax break. The less good element of it is that this tax break is extended to all so that it will be enjoyed as much by the wealthiest as everyone else. Since income tax is the most progressive tax this is, in some respects, a strange move though it is likely the thought behind it was one of not increasing means-testing in tax and benefits and so may be a price to pay for a generally worthy objective. Under the "fair future" area is included a pledge to break up the banks and get them lending again to businesses, both good objectives. The "fair chance" is indicated by focusing spending on struggling pupils, a pledge specifically costed. Finally, the "fair deal" includes a specific freedom bill. Since these headline areas are clearly meant to attract most attention it is notable that two of them (the tax pledge and the chance pledge) involve focus on lower income people. 

Going past the staged setting of the four areas the details of the general approach begin, as was the case with both the other parties, with focus on the economy. In addition to the removal of the lowest-income groups from taxation the response to the economy includes emphasis on reduction of tax evasion and taxing capital gains in the same way as income, both policies clearly targeted at the wealthy, as is the introduction of a Mansion tax. All of this amounts to the basis of a clear social democratic programme. Similarly, like the Labour Party, they pledge to wait before cutting spending programmes, delaying at least until 2011-12 on the assumption, shared with Labour, that cutting too soon will damage the recovery.

When it comes to tackling the budget deficit the manifesto also includes more specifics than are found in either of the other two programmes. Like the other two parties they will effectively freeze public sector pay and, like the Conservatives, will restrict the scope of tax credits (though, unlike the Conservatives, they do not say how they will restrict their scope). There is a mention of a specific Banking Levy so that banks pay for the support they have received, something not mentioned in the other two manifestoes. The basis of the cuts to come is assigned to the findings of a proposed review based on the findings of the National Audit Office and the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. The general response to the whole credit problem is, however, assigned to a Council of Financial Stability on which there would be all-party representation. These proposals effectively indicate that there is no specific plan going to be laid out in the rest of the manifesto over how to tackle the crisis and rather suggest the format of an effective National Government to deal with it.

One might think, after this has become clear, that there would be less left to say in this manifesto than in the others unless one recalled that neither of the main two parties said very much at all about the deficit. Some specific proposals are forthcoming, such as the notion of setting up a National Infrastructure Bank that would determine ways of directing investment for the general economy and is surely a good idea. Similarly the commitment to implement a version of Glass-Steagall by distinguishing between retail and investment is a clearly necessary requirement, surprisingly missing from the manifestoes of the other two parties. 

The first mention of higher education is, as with the other two parties, in terms of science budgets. This depressingly familiar picture is accompanied by proposals with regard to research that are less adventurous than the ones set out by the Conservatives. Unlike the Conservatives, who pledge to suspend the Research Excellence Framework until a review reports, the Liberal Democrats are very vague and merely state that research funding should be dependent on peer review though they do attack reliance on "narrow impact factors". Despite these disappointments the Liberal position on student finance is easily the boldest on offer, pledging, as it does, abolition of tuition fees, starting immediately for final year students. Like the Labour Party, however, they drop the notion of expanding higher education to 50% of young people, suggesting instead a balance of "college education, vocational training and apprenticeships", a policy, like that of Labour, that involves a clear devaluation of higher education. As with the other two parties nothing is said at all about the place of humanities and the social sciences. 

The discussion of foreign policy is fronted not by terrorism and the army as is the case with the other two parties but instead with suggestions concerning climate change and the environment. Reform of the World Bank and the IMF is mentioned but the principles of such reform and the mechanisms of achieving it are not spelled out. The claim that there should be an inquiry into allegations of torture carried out by British forces does, however, indicate a welcome commitment to an ethical foreign policy of a kind that was once expected to emerge from Labour. 

As with the other two parties immigration is primarily thought of as a problem with the argument advanced that there needs to be created a National Border Force and regional points-based systems in terms of migration instituted. This is, to an extent, off-set by the commitments on asylum which include ending detention of children and ending the detention of people for whom there is no imminent possibility of deportation unless there is substantial risk from them. Housing policy is focused on bringing a quarter of a million empty homes back into use, something eminently desirable and the mechanisms of grants and cheap loans are plausible ones. The pledge to introduce a Freedom Bill also makes this party the one with the most developed view of civil liberties.

This manifesto contrasts to a certain extent with that of the other two major parties. It is more accessible to the reader, being fuller of specific pledges and containing much less by way of padding than the other two and clearly it is expected that it will be read by both party members and independently minded people, unlike the other two manifestoes which are evidently not expected to be read by anyone other than journalists. The general feel of it is one in which there is an understanding of the scale of the problem although, disappointingly, most of the response to this problem has been pushed to the creation of large investigations to be carried out later. The priorities of the party are, however, clear. From reading it one definitely comes to the view that it is the most philosophically informed approach, guided by Rawlsian kinds of convictions. Whilst not all of its recommendations are different enough from the other two it is evident that this party is the only one open to ideas and debate of a sort that has any chance of reinvigorating politics. Although the Liberal Democrats are pretty much incapable of attaining a parliamentary majority, increase in their representation, on the basis of reading the manifesto, is certainly desirable.

The Conservative Party Manifesto

By contrast to the Labour Party manifesto, viewed in the last posting, the Conservative Party's version is organised not in 10 sections but only in 5. The basic emphasis on "change" that would be expected from an opposition party is rather heavily emphasised in the document as 3 of the 5 headings include the word: change the economy; change society; change politics; protect the environment; promote our national interest. As with the Labour Party, so the lead element of the manifesto is the economy. Unlike the Labour Party, the Conservatives stress a basic theme running through the whole document that is meant to knit them all together, the much touted notion of the "big society", a basic emphasis that accords with their traditional stress on shrinking the state, a shrinkage that, given their agreement with the Labour emphasis on cuts in state entitlement, is one they are better placed to put at the front of their vision of Britain than Labour is.

The Conservative manifesto is a lot better illustrated than the Labour one, with lots of nice graphs and pictures of people and places we are expected to empathise with (including Glasgow, Brighton and Manchester amongst the places, none of which are Conservative areas). When the outline of the specifics of the plan emerges however, it is less different from Labour than might be expected. Opening with a claim that we need to establish an Office for Budget Responsibility that would restore trust in the public's view of the government's ability to run things they generally hope to ride on public discontent with the state of the economy and the deficit in particular. In indicating they would stop paying tax credits to people earning more than £50,000 they also attempt to suggest that they are not simply the party of the wealthy. However, in pinning a great deal on reversing Labour's planned increase of National Insurance payments they quickly disabuse one that they are going to lay out any serious economic plan as the amount involved in this measure is, to say the least about it, paltry.

The Conservatives pledge to match Labour's spending plans for health and overseas aid allowing them effectively to cut all other programs with the exception of defence which will be allotted its own review. The first mention of universities, as with the Labour Party, is in terms of university-business links with concomitant shared emphasis on STEM subjects at the expense of humanities and social science. The next mention of higher education is in terms of a commitment to delay the Research Excellence Framework so that it can be reviewed in terms of a more robust methodology being developed. Whilst this is welcome in principle it doesn't look likely to amount to more than a stay of execution on plans to make universities generally more responsive to business as indicated in the earlier proposal. Like the Labour Party they refer to the planned review into student finance that is almost certain to recommend increasing fees students pay.

A distinctive idea that is welcome is the proposal to create a Consumer Protection Agency that would take over part of the powers of the discredited Financial Services Agency (unlike Labour which would leave oversight of everything to the FSA). There is at the heart of the assessment of the type of society the Conservatives would like to encourage a rather large emphasis on volunteering and civic engagement, a prospectus fitting with cuts in state aid. The Conservatives appear committed to a tougher immigration policy than Labour though the latter advocates a "Australian-style" points system and the former an annual limit on the number of non-EU migrants so the positions are broadly similar.

In relation to the banks the Conservatives say virtually nothing about increase of regulatory oversight, not matching the disentangling of protection of consumers from the FSA with some similar pledge with regard to preventing banks from engaging in the risky practices of the last decade. All that is given is a vaguely worded-pledge to seek international agreement which is hedged by warnings about protecting Britain's economic competitiveness. Like Labour, the response to housing is primarily set out in terms of encouragement for more home ownership, a view that, whilst shared with them, is bizarre in the current setting.

Unlike Labour, the Conservatives do include a section on civil  liberties including the welcome idea that there should be Privacy Impact Assessments with regard to data collection. Bizarrely, however, they also regard it as a priority that the ban on hunting should be put to another vote in the next parliament, hardly a key priority in the current situation.

The discussion of foreign policy is framed in terms of a discussion of national interest with specific focus on defence spending and anti-terrorism, again, much like the Labour Party view. A National Security Strategy is promised but the specifics of foreign policy include seeking greater engagement with China, pressing for an expansion of the Security Council of the UN and a great deal of demands for re-negotiation of various things with the EU.

Overall the peculiar thing about reading this manifesto shortly after reading the Labour one is how significantly similar the two are. The majority of positions are different only by a slight shade and, like the Labour Party, the Conservatives essentially say nothing about the degree and nature of the cuts they will make, eschewing the talk of "tough choices" and focusing instead on moving towards a "more engaged" society. Both indicate a general move towards a situation where the government will shrink and the Conservatives essentially make a virtue out of necessity but their general "big idea" is less than compelling.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Labour Party Manifesto

The launching of the current General Election in the UK has not been particularly inspiring, either in terms of the type of campaign that, thus far, the major parties have engaged in, or in terms of the quality of coverage provided by the mainstream media. Whilst it is hardly the principal point of this blog to comment in detail on British politics I have decided that it is worth while placing on record responses to the manifestoes of the three main parties indicating both the central areas each one addresses and some signal points made within them, not least in terms of the education policies offered and the type of foreign policy advocated, but also, a general sense of the idea of the party that is conveyed by the manifesto. 

The manifesto of the Labour Party is different from that of the two other main parties as it provides a defence of the record of the party in government in addition to indicating priorities for the period to come. There are 10 specific areas covered in the manifesto: growth, living standards, education, health, crime and immigration, families and older people, communities and creative Britain, Green recovery, democratic reform and a global future. After laying out the responses to these specific areas the document concludes with a list of the top 50 objectives that have been discussed within it, reiterating them.

The first point to notice, one that is hardly surprising in the current economic climate, is the opening stress on the economy. Here, in a form that is reminiscent of the days of Tony Blair, all the talk is of "tough choices" indicating how robust the party will be in dealing with matters that others would, naturally, just shirk. Looking beyond this point the emphasis in fact indicates that Labour would basically seek greater value for money from public services and is going to cut the majority of them. Additionally all those working in the public sector will have an effective pay freeze for at least 2 years, national assets will be sold off, there will be a raft of tax increases (albeit mainly directed only at the very wealthy) and there will be severe pressure placed on those on benefits to find work.

In relation to the banks, Labour pledges that new regulations will be put in place, albeit ones that will largely be administered by entities such as the Financial Services Authority which proved singularly poor at managing matters in the past. The first mention of universities in the manifesto occurs in the context of discussion of the economy with emphasis on the creation of innovation and capital funds to try and ensure that universities participate more in wealth-creation. Whilst in itself this is a reasonable enough notion it does tend to reinforce the general drift towards diminishment of the humanities in favour of emphasis on science and technology.

Labour indicates a welcome commitment to building up infrastructure, including in the area of transport and rail travel. Similarly, the commitment to the minimum wage being increased in line with earnings is a good one, as is the extension of responsibilities of the Low Pay Commission. Labour is, however, committed to finding ways to continue the expansion of home ownership, a somewhat strange obsession in a climate where an increase in private rented accommodation would make more sense for a lot of people.

Education policy is heavily skewed towards schools with very little detail on universities. One specific point that does come out is that Labour has dropped the 50% target for young people in higher education in favour of a new objective, one whereby 75% of people, by the age of 30, will have gone on to higher education or completed an advanced apprenticeship or technician training. This down-grading of the specific importance of higher education is followed by a commitment to follow the recommendations of a review body the government has set up on student finance, widely expected to recommend increases in student fees. Since this will hardly be likely to increase the allure of higher education for those from lower income backgrounds it is fairly safe to say that Labour has decidedly little interest in higher education. The increases anticipated in student intake in the sector are for two-year Foundation degrees and applied study so, again, downgrading of full-time higher education and little interest in anything from humanities or the social sciences.

On international affairs the manifesto makes a great deal of commitment to troop levels in Afghanistan with Strategic Defence Reviews and a National Safety Strategy following on. Clearly foreign policy is mainly thought of in terms of combatting terrorism though the party does indicate it is committed to the enlargement of the European Union. Commitment is made to the creation of a Palestinian state but, since this objective has been announced regularly within the last few years, it merits scepticism how vigorously a Labour government would push for this. A great deal is added in terms of an anti-poverty global agenda but a number of the other points mentioned are very vaguely worded. The claim that the UN should be subjected to radical reform is one that is hard to argue with but it is not clearly substantiated what it would mean. 

The general emphasis of the manifesto does not create the impression of a renewed party that is going, if re-elected, to make things really different. The general agenda of the manifesto is imbued with the same spirit as the government of the last few years so one's attitude towards the manifesto is likely to be coloured by how one views the achievements of those years. In some areas it is as noticeable what is not said as what is said. So, in education policy, in line with the general lack of attention given to universities, there is no mention of the REF, no discussion of the "impact" agenda and no account given of plans for national research strategies outside an overall view of thinking everything comes down to stressing the STEM subjects. Similarly, aside from indicating continued commitment to the EU, there is little in the foreign policy that indicates any specific thought of how to develop the UK's standing in the world.

This manifesto seems a somewhat tired document that lacks any clear overarching theme. The general idea is clearly that of helping out those on low-incomes though this is coupled with a stick directed towards the long-term unemployed. But little is said about the nature of the cuts that will come when those "tough choices" are made.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Philosophy and Public Reason

The majority of philosophers are employees of universities which ensures that their prime role, as such employees, is to act as official public servants who transmit an approved curriculum. It has been recognised, as long ago as Schopenhauer's famous essay on university philosophy, that there is something intrinsically paradoxical about this situation. Schopenhauer points out that the task of a philosopher is to think but the task of a teacher is not primarily to think or even, necessarily, to get their students to think, but rather to prepare students for assessment in regard to the approved curriculum, a task that might well involve something as unthinking as "drilling".

It is possible to be more optimistic than Schopenhauer concerning the possibility of the promotion of thinking through the teaching of philosophy whilst still recognising the point that there is something paradoxical about the role of such teaching. It is also paradoxical that the majority of philosophers should be engaged in such teaching when the activity of teaching is hardly, in and of itself, something that can help to progress enquiry in the discipline. There is, to put it bluntly, quite a different task for philosophers than this. The most general other task would be simply to do philosophy, that is, to write works that promote further philosophical reflection on the part of their readers. Within this general task of philosophizing should also fall the activity of engaging, in a general way, with public reason. Public reason is a broad arena, neither defined by teaching nor the university, nor by journalism or commentary or even by the activities of political activists. It should involve philosophers engaging more widely in public debate, seeking to clarify fundamental concepts in argument and enhancing general public engagement both with philosophy itself and with philosophical understanding of many matters, not least, matters moral and political. Rather than generally assuming the task of the philosopher is one that is mainly confined within the world of the university it would be very good if more would take it to be the point of philosophy to promote public engagement so that reasoning can be shown to be public and "the public" can be shaped by reason.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Philosophy and the Humanities (II)

In an article in Inside Higher Ed by Jason Stanley there are a series of assertions to the effect that philosophy is somewhat alienated from the rest of the humanities. Part of the problem with assessing Stanley's argument is that it seems to be based exclusively on evidence from the US and to assume that "philosophy" is identical with contemporary Anglo-American writing. Stanley also appears upset that many people not employed in philosophy departments might be thought of by some as "philosophers" though why the particular employment designation should affect serious evaluation of whether someone is engaging in philosophy is less than clear.

Later Stanley claims that there is a general perception that the debates of philosophers are antiquated though, in including debates about the nature of justice amongst those thought to be "antiquated" he is surely asserting something that is dubious. Stanley later claims that philosophy was, in any event, particularly responsible for shaping the nature of modernity though, in making this claim, says nothing about how such a philosophy-shaped modernity might end up alienated from the philosophy that formed it, something that one might think required a very specific theory, perhaps on the lines of Adorno and Horkheimer's dialectic of enlightenment thesis.

Rather than investigate in what sense a philosophical account of modernity can be ventured, however, Stanley instead asserts as if it were obvious that there is no room in the contemporary humanities for such grand theorising as was practiced by Kant and Spinoza. The basis for the general claim seems to be that there is no audience for philosophy outside the university. This claim is a very difficult one to evaluate and depends partly again on what is meant by "philosophy". Certainly, as Stanley indicates, fiction has more general influence than any specific element of the humanities on the culture as a whole. However, much fiction is shaped by philosophy in quite a number of ways, not just fiction avowedly philosophical either. Again, a number of philosophers are widely read outside the university, though not many contemporary Anglo-American ones are. And it is this that again seems to irk Stanley though when he argues that Saul Kripke is more part of the tradition of philosophy than Slavoj Zizek he is surely right. Hardly anyone, however, including Zizek himself, views Zizek as a philosopher!

The concluding comments in the piece argue that the basis of the alienation alleged to exist occurs due to the practice of philosophy in a way that bears little relation to historical questions. This is, again, a particular practice of philosophy. To seriously study Kant or Spinoza without attending to historical matters is pretty much impossible and to read even 20th century analytic philosophers without some historical sense is pretty odd. So, overall, it is possible that it is something to do with a certain construction of what philosophy is thought to consist in that leads to the conclusion that philosophy is alienated from the humanities.

Philosophy and the Humanities (I)

In a recent issue of the Times Higher there has been reported the results of a 2007 citation count in the humanities and social sciences that was carried out by Thomson Reuters. There are a number of interesting results from this. The most cited author is Michel Foucault, followed, depressingly enough, by Pierre Bourdieu. In the top group there are 15 philosophers and philosophers seem to be cited more within the general humanities that do representatives of any other discipline though sociology is not far behind. Somewhat surprisingly, there are no historians in the list at all.

Alongside these points the next interesting one is the the only author from the 18th century included is none other than Kant who comes in 13th in the list just below Gilles Deleuze but, gratifyingly, just above Martin Heidegger! Peculiarly all of these thinkers received fewer citations than Bruno Latour. There are virtually no Anglo-American philosophers in this list, however, since only John Rawls and Thomas Kuhn figure in it whilst quite a few 20th century French philosophers figure here suggesting that European philosophy has a wider general impact on the humanities than Anglo-American philosophy does, something not that surprising.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Cosmopolitanism, Coercion and Immigration

As I mentioned in yesterday's posting there has recently appeared a response from Tim Waligore to an earlier posting on this blog. Yesterday I tackled one aspect of Tim's response which concerned the reference I made earlier to the notion of the "social contract" and whether I could simply move from the general account of coercion in the "Introduction" to the Doctrine of Right to the discussion of the social contract that is specifically discussed under the heading of Public Right. However, the more important point Tim raised against my earlier published position concerned a cosmopolitan objection to the reasoning I gave when prescinding from the detail of an argument concerning immigration controls in the journal Political Theory.

First it's necessary to place this discussion back in context. The argument in Political Theory to which I was responding concerned the question of whether immigration controls are coercive. One of the parties to the debate argued that they are coercive whilst the other suggested that they are not but merely acts of "prevention". Basically the distinction is that some acts are ones that you can be prevented from doing without it following that you have been coerced. So if I refuse someone's request to marry me I haven't coerced them but I have prevented them from carrying something out. Similarly it may be that preventing someone from coming to a country by erecting an immigration barrier does stop them from carrying out their purpose without it following that this means that they have been coerced. Now, the reason I proceeded to prescind from the specifics of the debate was because it struck me that both parties to it effectively subscribed to a view of politics that was broadly informed by the views of Robert Nozick. On those views acts of coercion require some special justification as the nature of "right" is not defined in terms of coercion but rather more loosely by reference to something understood as "autonomy" where this notion appears to have some vague connection to the Kantian term but which Kant does not use in political philosophy. In response I was suggesting that a Kantian view is quite different since, on this view, right and authorization to use coercion are intimately connected, Kant even writing at one point that they "mean one and the same thing" (Ak. 6: 232). So my decision to prescind from the detail of the argument concerning immigration controls was based on an attempt to reach a more fundamental question of political philosophy.

However Tim's reply to my earlier posting raises a question which suggests that the response I made to the debate in Political Theory concealed a problem, a problem that, effectively prevents my being able, as easily as I thought in any case, from being able to prescind from the debate over immigration controls. There are two strands to Tim's challenge. The first concerns the way the "social contract" is referred to when Kant mentions it in his discussion of Private Right. This occurs towards the conclusion of Kant's discussion of acquisition when he writes that the problem of its justification requires reference to a notion of original acquisition before going on to write: "even if it is solved through the original contract, such acquisition will always remain only provisional unless this contract extends to the entire human race" (Ak. 6: 266).

This points to the first rationale Kant gives for a connection between the social contract and cosmopolitan considerations. To it can be added a second one to which Tim also refers. This is the very beginning of the discussion of Public Right where we find:

Since the earth's surface is not unlimited but closed, the concepts of the right of a state and of a right of nations lead inevitably to the idea of a right for a state of nations (ius gentium) or cosmopolitan right (ius cosmopoliticum). So if the principle of outer freedom limited by law is lacking in any one of these three possible forms of rightful condition, the framework of all the others is unavoidably undermined and must finally collapse. (Ak. 6: 311)
Kant's concluding comment here is fairly drastic but clearly indicates the importance of the connection he felt there was between the different elements of right. Cosmopolitan right and international right are here distinguished though the difference between them is not clear at this point of the text.

Tim's general point is that the will of a given state is, by reference to other states, still a specific will, the reasoning that Kant uses to suggest that the relationship between states constitutes a state of nature. In this situation the existent state appears to those not included within its boundaries simply as a power so that whilst the state needs no specific justification for coercion in regard to its citizens it does require some justification with regard to non-citizens who are not included in the will that was established when the state was set up. Further, to go back to the specifics of the question concerning immigration controls, there needs something specific to be shown concerning what it is that requires non-citizens to be limited and regulated in terms of their entry to the state, something that specifically relates to them as non-citizens concerning why they should be limited in this way.

A lot of separate issues are involved here. Firstly, Tim is quite right to bring out the problem of provisionality with regard to states prior to establishment of a cosmopolitan contract. This is the subject of the monograph of Elizabeth Ellis to which I have given some response elsewhere. It does importantly complicate questions of state of nature theory if the relationship between states is thought of as such a state of nature although it has to be added that this view of the existent state of play between nations is not held by, for example, Habermas who instead insists that the present relations involve a form of law that shows the state of nature has, to at least some extent, been superseded. From a strict Kantian point of view, however, Tim is right to draw attention to this point.

The second point is that the connection drawn between the right of the state, international right and cosmopolitan right at the beginning of the discussion of public right does not collapse the distinctions between them. Kant indicates an important relationship between them but he does not conflate them with each other. So there is some sense to right within the state, regardless of international right and cosmopolitan right although this sense is, as Ellis and Tim both correctly argue, provisional. The scope of such provisionality hence has to be worked through which I attempted in the article I wrote in response to Ellis.

However these points are not the core of the issue. The core is rather Tim's conclusion that we cannot abjure the provision of justification of coercive measures with regard to the non-citizens who wish to enter the domain of the state. Now, within the argument of the Doctrine of Right, Kant does not address this question. Kant only looks at the reasons why colonial settlement is problematic arguing for a need for specific contracts and against force. There is no specific discussion concerning what is required for those who would wish to settle within the domain of an existent state.

However surely the Kantian response is that the existent state has, by means of the constitutional measures it has set in place, defined the scope of agreed settlement within its borders? This would not merely include the need for new settlers to adhere to the laws already given but could well incorporate considerations the citizens of the state have made to the effect that they wish to decide whether to admit new citizens. This does not have to be based, as it so often is for existent states today, on grounds of ethnicity or on implied reference to considerations of "welfare". But part of the point of an established constitution is surely one of decision that the sovereign power can determine the basis of citizenship. After all, it is normal to be able to strip citizenship from someone if they perform certain acts deemed treasonous so, similarly, there could be grounds for determining whether or not anyone is allowed to begin life as a citizen. It is true that all this is, in the strict sense, provisional but no more so than any other ground of right. This doesn't prevent it from being the case that the non-citizen needs to be given justifications for why application for citizenship is turned down but the fact that there needs to be a process of such application would itself be a settled law of the land, like any law and as such the process would be in no more need of special justification than any other and in this sense I would continue to reject the view I took to be underlying the debate that took place in Political Theory.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Coercion and the Social Contract

In a recent posting Tim Waligore has replied to an earlier posting of mine. In that earlier posting I was myself responding to a debate in the journal Political Theory that had specifically focused on questions of whether immigration controls were coercive but my posting prescinded from the specific debate over immigration controls to raise what I took to be a prior question about the nature of political justification and in that posting I suggested a contrast between "liberal" views and "republican" ones. In some respects, although this is not the point of Tim's reply, I now think the contrast wasn't entirely correctly described in that posting. As I pointed out in that earlier posting there was a model of political authority derived from Robert Nozick at work in the debate in Political Theory so it would make more sense to describe it as a contrast between "libertarian" and "republican" views rather than "liberal" and "republican". As I will explore on some other occasion there are good reasons for thinking that libertarian views are very far from being "liberal" in inspiration.

In any event, the contrast I was intending in this earlier posting was between a view of political authority that regards coercion as requiring specific additional justification over and above the basic rights of states and one that instead sees coercion as built in to the very nature of the right of states and this was the basis for my claim that the views in the Political Theory debate shared an underlying commitment to the same kind of political notions despite disagreeing over the question of whether immigration controls constituted a "coercive" act or not.

Tim's posting responds to this earlier one of mine in effectively two different ways. The first is to suggest that I moved rather too easily from the view of the "Introduction" to the Doctrine of Right to the account of the social contract (which is part of "Public Right") whilst the second response concerned instead the specific question of whether I had not, in my earlier posting, left aside the justification by which states relate to each other, left aside, that is, an important question of cosmopolitanism in my desire to prescind from the debate concerning immigration controls. I will tackle this question concerning cosmopolitanism and immigration controls in the next posting, concentrating in this one merely on the relationship between coercion and the state contract.

Tim is right that I was drawing on the "Introduction" to the Doctrine of Right when I discussed coercion in the earlier posting. In the "Introduction" Kant makes clear that right is connected to authorization to use coercion arguing: "if a certain use of freedom is itself a hindrance to freedom in accordance with universal laws (i.e., wrong), coercion that is opposed to this (as a hindering of a hindrance to freedom) is consistent with freedom in accordance with universal laws, that is, it is right" (Ak. 6: 231). So the central message that coercion is understood as a basis of right provided it meets the conditions given here is allowed.  Subsequently Kant goes on to talk about this "reciprocal coercion" in terms of strict right, so much so that he writes: "Right and authorization to use coercion...mean one and the same thing" (Ak. 6: 232).

Tim's point, however, is that it is a long way from this argument to construction of Kant's view of the social contract since the opening of the Doctrine of Right proper is with private right and that there is only one reference to the notion of a "social contract" in the province of private right. The context of the discussion of the contract in private right is the penultimate paragraph of Kant's account of acquisition in which it is made clear that any acquisition that occurs in the state of nature is only provisional. Here Kant does also add: "even if it is solved through the original contract, such acquisition will always remain only provisional unless this contract extends to the entire human race" (Ak. 6: 266).

This point connects to the question of cosmopolitanism to which I will return in the next posting. However it is worth pointing out, as a general matter of political theory, that the basis of the notion of the state was already given in the argument of the "Introduction" to the Doctrine of Right on which I was drawing in my earlier posting. This is made specifically clear in paragraph 45 of the Doctrine of Right where Kant writes that "insofar as" the laws of the state "are a priori necessary as laws, that is, insofar as they follow of themselves from concepts of external right as such" then its form is "the form of a state as such", the state in idea, the state "as it ought to be in accordance with pure principles of right". Hence the concepts of external right as such are sufficient to give us the norm by which we can test the behaviour of actual states. This being so I don't take it to be the case that the move I made from the argument of the "Introduction" to the Doctrine of Right to the notion of the social contract was, in itself, one that involved a conflation of levels. It is, however, a different matter whether some legitimate cosmopolitan replies to the argument I made in the earlier posting are not, all the same, available.