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Posts from the ‘politics at the core’ Category

Four contradictions in government

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. But. Klein does not and indeed cannot give a solution to these problems. Why is that?

There are four contradictions in American government (and the 3rd and 4th are true of all Western democracies).

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The first contradiction is between constituted and constituting power. Or in less legalese terms, between the constitution as a written document and the government which must enforce that document in ever-changing circumstances. We have amendments in theory, but given our polarization they are impossible. How can we continue to hold to this document with so few modifications even though everything has changed? The uniquely American legal theory of Constitutional Literalism, which is so clearly bankrupt at its core, cannot help us if there are no modifications to the text. For example, that we have the Senate is the result of the Great Compromise which got small states to sign the new constitution; but the founders ideally did not want some small states to have more representation. They wanted the elite ruling class to ignore everyone equally, and make decisions independent of the popular policy will. But we cannot change this part of the Constitution to accommodate our new needs or values. The tension here can be summarized as Constitutional Literalism + no new amendments = a broken and forever breaking system.

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The second contradiction is between local representation and the whole will of the democracy. If we want local representation, then we need individual politicians, but to have individual politicians requires FPTP voting (apparently, I guess, because America). Here we find the root of the 2 party system which is always a poor caricature of the actual will of the people. Here we also find the difference between American legislatures and the European parliamentary model. However, if we want to have their more broadly representational model, we have to leave localism and conceive of ourselves strictly as one nation, which is the opposite of our current direction. We cannot make this move as long as our poor political representation model is in place, because it itself reinforces these localistic tendencies. So, since neither will budge first, this remains a contradiction.

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The third contradiction is between the values we hold dear as Americans, and the goals we have for our government in realizing those values. According to David Labaree, and he is talking about education here, we want “1. democratic equality (“education as a mechanism for producing capable citizens”), 2. social efficiency (“education as a mechanism for developing productive workers”), and 3. social mobility (“education as a way for individuals to reinforce or improve their social position”)”. However, these goals are immediately in tension, and nobody has yet to devise a political philosophy that achieves all three. This is why our dismal education system always resembles our equally dismal political system: they reflect the same value trade-offs, which are always a lose-lose. This is even the title of Labaree’s book, “Somebody Has to Lose,” which seems to be permanently true in all Western democracies.

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The fourth contradiction is between our nation as a biopolitical body and as one that “recognizes” “all people’s” equal status under the authority of the State. While we pride ourselves on multiculturalism and the inclusion of minorities, these are only included insofar as they assimilate (which the majority gets to decide). For example even though African Americans are 15th or whatever generation Americans, they are treated as equal to or less than 1st generation immigrants by the biopolitcal majority. This is also true of all immigrants. We paper over this reality with stock phrases like “all men are created equal” or “We the people” but we cannot define who the “all men” or the “We” are. Per Agamben, this is because the basic function of national sovereignty is the production of biopolitical life, and so homogeneity is required. To constantly add to the racial diversity of the nation is to undermine the idea of a nation, which requires racial differentiation. If you are only an American insofar as you are not Mexican, then what happens when Mexicans become a part of America? etc. for all nationalities. Thus the problem of nationalism is unsolved and indeed unsolvable.

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These four reasons are why Klein does not provide an answer to the issues he points out.. We can tinker with the current arrangement all day long (e.g., for #2, state-grouped parliamentary representation). But until we re-conceive of what we want from government, and so then create a new politics from scratch, we will never solve these problems.

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The Sky Garden in London but also urban policy and land use

london sky garden

The Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street occupies the top three floors of the “Walkie-Talkie” building. Designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly in the early 2000’s. The project was delayed for years because of concerns that the building’s ugly construction would ruin the visual appeal of nearby spaces. In retrospect, this concern was certainly true. The building also has numerous flaws, the worst being an Archimedes Heat Ray effect on the neighboring buildings and roads that shoots temperatures up to 196 degrees Fahrenheit and earned the tower the nicknames “Scorchie-Talkie” and “Fryscraper.” The Daily Express reported at one point that the building causes dangerous wind-tunnel effects on the surrounding streets, raising concerns over public safety and working conditions for public sanitation workers.

Not the least criticized is the Sky Garden itself. While sky is acceptable, does garden describe this space? The view of London is blocked by steel support beams at every angle. Is it truly a public space if only open by appointment, for 1.5 hour slots, until 6:00 pm, at which point the public is carted away for the “paying clientele to enjoy the twinkling lights over cocktails?” These issues, writes Oliver Wainwright in a review for The Guardian’s architecture section, make the experience feel more like “an airport terminal, jacked up in the air.” For my part, I felt similarly out of place in somewhere that claims to be “a unique public space” and “an open and vibrant place of leisure” (per the building’s website).

The mere existence of the Sky Garden, however, betrays a deeper tension felt in all public (or “public”) spaces in a hyper-capitalized environment. To Wainwright, the Sky Garden is “the “public park” used to justify building such a vast office block on the edge of a conservation area,” and yet even then is “not the public park that was promised, but another private party space.” He claims that the purpose of the space is to provide a justification for otherwise non-public spaces, the offices taking up floors 1-34. Worse yet, it is only “the catering concepts which make the whole thing viable.” In other words, the space does not exist for, and does not continue to operate because of, the public space that it provides.

Conversely, Peter Rees, the city’s then-chief planner, thinks that the space is designed for socializing. The lurid imagery in his comments are worth quoting in full:

“The secret of the City’s success is having places to gossip,” he told me [Wainwright], describing the financial capital as “a cluster of beehives on a compost heap.” “The honey is the gossip,” he said. “It’s how business gets done: the result of the bees rubbing up against each other by chance. So it’s very important for business that people can party as close to their desks as possible. We are taking every opportunity to create the party city in the sky.”

To Rees, the Sky Garden has nothing to do with money, or maneuvering through otherwise- impassible red tape, or successfully completing another project for the architect’s portfolio and future commision prospects. Social space! It’s how business gets done!

These are the tensions of place in a corporate-capitalist environment: that no spaces can exist without business interest, and that nobody will unilaterally take on the cost to provide those spaces, even if they are “how business gets done” on a macro level. Who is incentivized to do this? The companies that refuse will have more capital on-hand and will survive as the fittest. Non-excludable and non-rivalrous goods are the orphaned children of the free market, picked up, much like actual orphaned children, by government and taxpayer dollars. The essential tension is that we need what Rees describes, but in the market only have what Wainright describes.

This is at great odds with the pre-industrialized world and indeed the pre-industrialized West for thousands of years. But before we mourn the loss of the Greek areopagus or the Roman Forum, we should recognize the great opportunity at present for land conservation and the expansion of public parks. This can only happen by reunderstanding, at a conceptual and a policy level, the idea of use and of land use in particular. Cities that could benefit from a new understanding of land use — Hong Kong, San Fransisco, Zurich, Sydney — will have to overcome major incentives hurdles that have for decades created an economic environment doomed to housing policy failure. To create spaces like what Rees envision for the Sky Garden, cities will need to rezone land for housing (thus also slowing urban sprawl), expand public transit, create new business corridors for the widening of the urban job density, and so on.

However, even if all these problems were to be solved at once, and Ross’s ideal urban policy world was created, it would not be enough. The more foundational question that has to be asked is, do we, not corporations, but do we value common, unowned spaces enough to give of ourselves to preserve them? Not through taxes, but through time, energy, and the humility to pick up trash left by others? This type of civil service, rather than the power politics that consumes churches today, is the truly Christian route to replacing Sky Gardens with a hospitality in place.

On being in London during the Royal Wedding

roayl wedding

The best view of the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was ours. Because the couple decided to host their ceremony in St. George’s Chapel, in Windsor — rather than the traditional venue, Westminster Abbey — there was little to no activity in the city of London concerning the wedding. To the extent that I paid attention at all, the most I noticed was a single, sad t-shirt booth selling clothes with “I was in London during the Royal Wedding!” printed across the chest. To be in London during the wedding, as we were, is indeed the best view because it is no view at all.

To be my wedding-watching grandmother, or any average American, is to have a worse view. Why do Americans, in particular, have such a fascination with the Royal Family? I assert that the British Monarchy is a mediating image, propelled by a larger culture rooted in Spectacle — to draw from Guy Debord’s 1967 seminal work The Society of the Spectacle. To live vicariously through the social images of another culture is to experience, in an even more American sense than normal, the malaise of modern industrialized life.

So, the wedding. While I thankfully cannot describe it firsthand, I find from other sources that the total cost was around 32 million pounds sterling. Meghan Markle’s dress was a “double- bonded silk cady cushioned by an underskirt in triple silk organza,” not to mention the 16-foot long veil, the gold jewlery, a diamond tiara, etc. William wore military attire to reflect his membership in the British Army, and his time served in Afghanistan in the early 2000’s. The Archbishop of Canterbury — whose parents met while serving as personal secretaries to Winston Churchill during the war — presided over the ceremony.

In the 1980’s, the wedding of Princes Diana and Prince Charles was a superbowl-level event for television; after Diana’s tragic death in 1997, her funeral was similarly publicized. Tabloids have for decades sprung upon the Royal Family’s youngest new additions, the birth of royal babies, as was the case in 2013 with Prince George and in 2015 with Princess Charlotte. We can expect the same for the forthcoming child in early 2019. One professor of history in a CNN interview even claimed that the American fascination with British royalty “has been alive pretty much since 1776,” and that almost “as soon as we severed ties, we were back to being fascinated — captivated really — by the royal family.”

Such events as the recent royal wedding image the good life for American audiences in a different way than British audiences. The key difference is the American folk narrative where anybody could wind up at the top of society. While this was not confirmed by the recent wedding, where Meghan Markle, though of mixed race, was raised in an upper-class Los Angeles family… it was confirmed in 2013 with Kate Middleton’s entrance into the family, who was essentially a social nobody before accidentally and unwittingly beginning to date Prince William. I remember at the time hearing the comparison made all day between Kate Middleton and “any of us that it could have happened to!” though of course that is nonsense. Where the British from their youth understand the strong role that socioeconomic Class plays in deciding your ultimate role in this world, Americans pretend that Class does not exist and so fantasize of elaborate weddings, grand receptions, life in a fairy castle, and so on.

The fascination with British royalty does not begin or end with the American Dream. Though propelled by The Dream, it exists in another social space divorced from The Dream by the malaise of everyday under- and middle-class life in America. This is the space where, as Debord claimed, “passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity” because our relations to one another are mediated by images rather than just existing in their own right. In this transition, which is only possible after the rise of a nation-wide media culture, nothing is authentic and everything that we consider real is a symbolic representation of what lies behind it. Famous actors become sex symbols, important musicians attain cult-status, Royal Family members are stars of a soap opera, and politicians are reduced to boogeymen.

This smokescreen effect extends not just to politicians, but even to politics itself, where no true debates happen in the 21st century, only minor tinkering among policy wonks. True change is impossible in a system where R&D does not mean research and development but rather Republican and Democrat, parties with major incentives to race to the center and thereby eliminate any possibility for radical change of the system that they sustain and which in turn sustains them. In a world where we are defined by our relationship to brands, to parties, to celebrities and generally to symbols, we all have a bad view to the Royal Wedding.

Biopolitics and Race

The difference between European countries and the US on race is that the former do not have it.

racism shades

At least, not in the same way that we do. Where European countries — say, Romania, as was the case in a conversation I had today over the book scanner at the library with a Romanian — have nationality, this does not mean the same thing as nationalism in the US. What we call Nationalism in the US is not really nationalism.

In Romania there is a strong identity, (“being Romanian”), that is understood biologically. My friend Jon. He has a Romanian face. Romanian blood. Romanian DNA. In this way, his very nature, his biological life itself, is bound up with a group of other people into the nation of Romania.

Importantly, the nation of Romania and the State of Romania are not the same thing. Within the boundaries of Romania there is another group of people called the Roma — he used the term Gypsy, although someone told me once that that is a really loaded word. The Roma are another group. A person in that group could be said to have a Roma face, Roma blood, Roma DNA. Yet they live within the State of Romania, not the State of Roma, which does not exist.

These two separate concepts — (1) the nation and (2) the state — refer to (1) a group of people who are associated together by common biology, and (2) the governing structure that occupies a certain territory within really, really specific boundaries. Like, wars happen if those boundaries get crossed. The boundaries are really important. The land too.

But something strange has happened in the course of history. I’m not sure when it happened, or if it was destined to happen. But at some point these two separate concepts blended together and became the same thing. This is called the nation-state. Clever name. The nation-state is when a state gives up the territorial definition and instead tries to define itself by the biological life of its people. Instead of saying, “Romania is this land mass,” the governing authorities began to say, “We, the ethnic Romanians, are Romania.”

The connections to Thor: Ragnarok are too obvious to pass up. Loki takes the set of antlers from the death god (whatever his name was) and resurrects him. Death-god comes back to life, fights a massive 1v1 against Hela, destroying the entire city of Asgard. Then, repeatedly, at least five times — a truly nauseating number of times to hear the same sentence in a film — the lead protagonists all declare that “Asgard is not a place; it’s a people.” Of course, they have to say that, because the place has been destroyed. But in their minds, if all the citizens of Asgard got onto a ship and landed somewhere else to plant a new city, that would be Asgard. The nation-state defines itself not in terms of its territory, but its people.

The same is true of all the European countries. The bloodiest century in recorded history was the 20th century for exactly this reason. States were able to mobilize their young men to war because those young men believed that they are their State, biologically.

volk recruitment poster

What is the problem with all this? Why is this not the best system? Better put, why does this always spiral out of control into a ghastly, totalitarian death-machine? Because biological identity is not flexible, but who lives under the jurisdiction of a government is very flexible. A Roma person cannot change their face, their blood, their DNA. But their location can change. And they are the minority in the place they live now.

Key today is immigration and refugees. Refugees cannot decide their biology. That isn’t flexible. But the place where they live is, clearly, something that can change. Especially when their country descends into war-torn Failed State chaos. They can run away. But the problem with running away is that the State in whose jurisdiction they will later arrive has defined itself in terms of the nation, the biological life of its people. And so the refugee cannot truly assimilate. They cannot actually “become” a part of that new State, because they cannot possibly become a part of the Nation that resides there.

You can change states. But you can’t change nations. Sounds pretty 50-50. Except that there are no states anymore. Only nation-states. So, it’s really 0-100, and everyone living outside their home nation-state loses.

Enter the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave. A nation of immigrants. While European states can define themselves in terms of the nation, and so can group themselves by face, blood, and DNA collectives… The US doesn’t seem to have much going for itself in terms of nationhood. Is there a “nation” to the US? Is there anything physiologically or biologically that can be called “American?” What would that look like? I can sort of tell you if someone is German, but can a German tell if someone is an American?

This is because, again, the US is a nation of immigrants. The British came over, also the French, also the Dutch, latter Germans and Italians, and even later Polish, Ashkenazi Jewish, Russian, Slavic, and so on. And over time everyone mostly integrated with each other and now I have no idea what my ethnic heritage is. I’m probably German, maybe some Irish? Am I British? I usually tell people that I am Swiss, but I made that up. Who knows? 23andMe has probably already collected data from some relative of mine and is now creating a probabilistic map of my entire Genome. Wonder if they could just tell me without my paying the $129 fee…

And yet, this has not really forged much of a common American identity. It has almost totally excluded the African-American population from the integration process. Plus all Native Americans. And it has led to us using terms like “White” and “Black” instead of “British,” “German,” or “Italian,” “Gambian,” “Ghanan,” or “Cameroonian.” We have a general sensation that the US is “mostly white,” but what is whiteness? Is it just having light skin? Because many, many people in Europe have light skin but would recoil at being tagged together with similarly-skin-colored Europeans of other national backgrounds. Meanwhile, white Americans are the descendants of those same groups, and have no issue with it.

To put the problem shortly. There is a deep contradiction in the way that the American State defines itself. It has abandoned the land-based understanding of statehood. So, you would think that the other option is to have the understanding of statehood be some biological national identity. But, alas, there really is no way to understand American identity biologically.

Not that our country hasn’t tried!

eugenics photo burden

This is the same problem facing all Nation-States. The US just tries really, really hard not to resolve the tension. Want an example of a country that has tried to resolve the tension? Let’s go with the most obvious one. Germany in WWII. Definitely a nation-state. Defined itself explicitly in terms of the nation, the biological life of its people. The term they used for this was Volk, which just translates to “People.” But it could not be avoided that Volk cannot be everyone, or it would be a meaningless term. To define who is the nation is also to define who is not the nation.

So, they had to define Volk, and this definition did not include the Jews. They did not share in the same face, blood, and DNA as the Germans. So, they were not included in the Nation-State. Which is really, really bad if the German government has labeled you The Problem. As someone who is not a member of the nation-state, you have no citizenship within its jurisdiction. And since you have no citizenship, i.e. you have no part to play in the national scene, you do not “exist” in the same way that a German does. You are not “alive” in the same way that a German is. In the eyes of the Nation-State.

(All of this comes from Agamben, by the way, not me. Here is a primer video).

So, the United States is not returning to the land definition of the State. But it also doesn’t have much of anything to go on as far as defining who, biologically, is in the nation. So that decision remains capricious and arbitrary. Don’t get me wrong — that decision is made every day when the Black body is deemed outside the nation, and thus expendable. This racism is palpable. There is an Us-vs-Them mentality in the minds of many of my also-white friends. While my friends would never say something as forward as “Black people do not deserve life,” there is certainly an underlying mentality that sees the Black body as different and therefore incompatible with (white) American life. That same mentality, transposed from my normie friends to a police officer with a gun and 0.4 seconds to respond, leads to death.

why is color separating us

The United States absolutely has the power to make arbitrary and capricious decisions about whose life is on the inside and whose life is on the outside of the American body. And while European governments may have the semblance of national-biological identity to them, they are just as arbitrary and capricious. Every country in Europe besides Portugal has a separate national identity somewhere within its jurisdiction. Should the gun be drawn and Camps be built again, these national-others would be the first to experience the destructive force of the now-militarized police. Nobody really has any basis to decide who, biologically, is “in” and who is “out.” That is legal fiction used by atrocious rulers to keep their power. And anyways, when one of these countries invades another country and sets up shop, everyone in the occupied country faces this fate.

Something like “race” was necessary to develop because it mirrors the European concept of “nation.” In the biopolitical nation-state, whoever holds power must decide who is in the nation. Without some construct like a common identity based on the people who had always lived on that land (Hence Nazi “blood and soil“), a new identity had to be formed, somehow. For most Americans this is probably as simple as “my ancestors have always lived here.” But African Americans, and certainly Native Americans, have been here just as long if not longer than your white ancestors. Than my white ancestors. Yet, they are excluded from being considered part of the nation-state. They are seen as a thorn in the nation’s side. And so the biopolitical machine will seek to remove them.

What are Rights?

What are “rights”? What does it mean to “have” a right?

Are rights physical objects, so that I could go find a right by bumbling through the forest until I stubbed my toe on one? Rights are not physical objects that can be observed with the five senses… and for the record, nobody claims that they are.

If they are not physical, then are rights a property of some thing? Like how having gills is a property of all fish? But this too seems unlikely; what thing? Being human? This only pushes the problem back one layer to “human rights,” which still lacks a definition. Could we somehow objectively identify which humans “have” a certain right? Clearly being a human does not assure you the ability to free speech, for example, because there are millions of humans across the world without free speech. (Not to mention that nobody means that rights are properties of a category when they say “I have a right to X”)

Rights are neither physical objects nor properties of categories, so then, what are they? Could they be supernatural? But nobody claims that rights “exist” in a supernatural way, like that they have a personality or they permeate the material word in some electromagnetic field -like way. Besides, in the absence of some type of religious proof (I see no concept of rights in the Bible), if you take that to be a legitimate method of proof, there is no way to discuss or identify these rights.

So rights aren’t natural, properties of categories of things, or supernatural. What are they? They don’t “exist” in the same way that most things exist. They “aren’t real” in the same way that most things are real.

As far as I can tell, when someone says “I have a right to freedom of association” this means that their ancestors have managed to arm-wrestle the government into agreeing never to violate their ability to freely associate. So there is a rule on the books about free association, and we the people are going to take full advantage of that rule on the books, and file lawsuit after lawsuit against any government official that tries to stop us from freely associating.

The same is true of all rights. They do not “exist” in the sense that they are physical objects, or supernatural objects, or properties of categories of things… but they do “exist” in the sense that rights describe a relationship between two agents, A and B, with B = Government.

That A has the right to X means that A cannot be prevented from doing X by person B. (Or in a slightly more obnoxious formulation of positive rights, A must be given the opportunity to do X by person B; this is how the “right” to healthcare and education works).

So “where” is the right in this situation? It is no where! It cannot be found, it is not a phenomenon, and independent observers with no access to the national political rhetoric would not notice it. They would notice that the US government really never steps in to block free assembly. They would notice that. But they would not notice a “right” anywhere in the process.

A radio host I used to follow once called this “the Deadly Superstition of Human Rights,” because by claiming that some new thing is a right, we open the door to more taxation, less freedom in that topic, and the slow crawl of bureaucracy. Before claiming as a “right” some expectation that you — in this moment, in this cultural context, facing the current economic pressures you now face, on the front end of the enforcement of the law — currently have, at least consider the consequences of forever enshrining that provision into law.

Noahpinion on race, homogeneity, assimilation and diversity

Today a blogger posted the best essay I’ve seen in rejection of the idea that diversity is inferior to homogeneity, or put more charitably, that the alt-right’s message of “diversity + proximity = war” is not sound.

View the post here.

This ties together everything I’ve been saying about immigration politics the past year or so. You can see bits and pieces of my thought process in this post and this post, but I never got around to an outright refutation. That would have been against the rules I set forth in this post.

It’s not worth trying to summarize his points because 1. Finals week is coming up and 2. he already said everything better than I can.


Flagged Paragraphs on Globalization

A few months ago I decided to start a giant project on Globalization over the semester break. It was going to be Very Thorough, and I was going to finish it Super Fast because my productivity would be Excellent.

So anyways, I only read one of the books, it took forever, I gave up on the project because the new semester started and suddenly I had /actual/ work to do, and the library books were due. The mission is thus passively euthanized, and I have signed the DNR with the best handwriting I could manage.

The one book I dependently sludged through was Malcolm Waters, “Globalization,” Melbourne: Routledge, 1995. Insightful commentary I write not, but mega quotepost you here will find.




7-8 – Globalization is traced through three arenas of social life that have come to be recognized as fundamental in many theoretical analyses. They are:

  1. The economy: social arrangements for the production, exchange, distribution and consumption of goods and tangible services.
  2. The polity: social arrangements for the concentration and application of power, especially insofar as it involves the organized exchange of coercion and surveillance (military, police ), as well as such institutionalized transformations of these practices as authority and diplomacy, that can establish control over populations and territory.
  3. Culture: social arrangement for the production, exchange and expression of symbols that represent facts, affects, meanings, beliefs, preferences, tastes and values.


13 – Industrialization carries with it more general societal ramification. It induces the pattern of differentiation to other areas of social life as these areas increasingly become functionally articulated with the industrial core – families specialize in consumption, schools teach differentiated skills to the labor force, specialized units of government provide economic infrastructure, the mass media sell appropriate symbolizations, churches promulgate supporting values, and so on. These structural changes induce value shifts in the direction of individualization, universalism, secularity and rationalization. This general complex of transformations is called “modernization”. As industrialization spreads across the globe, it carries modernization with it, transforming societies in a unitary direction. Imitating societies may even adopt modern institutions before effectively industrializing.


27-29 – the snooker table as being overlain by a cobweb of relatively fragile connection between the balls – when the balls move gently (diplomacy) they are guided by the strands, when they move violently (war) they disrupt them. The networks that Burton identifies are patterns based on such factors as trade, language, religious identification, ethnicity, ideology, strategic alliance, communication links, and legal and communications conventions. In a formulation that clearly prefigures true globalization theory he argues that we should replace a simplistic geographical notion of distances by one based on what he calls ‘effective distance’ (1972: 47). Here the more dense the systemic linkages between locations, effectively the closer they are. If we were to take Burton’s argument to its extreme we would indeed have a genuine globalization theory – if the entire world is linked together by networks that are as dense as the ones which are available in local contexts, then locality and geography will disappear altogether, the world will genuinely be one place and the nation-state will be redundant. However, for Burton, as for many other political scientists, this position remains much too radical because it denies the saliency of the state as a prime organizing principle of social life. He wants to insist that the world is dualistic, integrated at the substate level but still organized as segmented nation-states. Burton is not alone – dualism remains the bottom line for political science and International Relations versions of globalization. Bull (1977), for example, insists on the continuing saliency of what he calls the states system, a pattern of international relations in which there is a plurality of interacting sovereign states that accept a common set of rules and institutions. Bull identifies the clearest threat to the states system that he values so highly as the emergence of what he calls a ‘new medievalism’, a system of overlapping or segmented authority systems that undermines the sovereignty of states. He analyses this threat as four components that are generally consistent with the argument being offered in this book. They are:

  • A tendency for states to amalgamate on a regional basis (e.g. the EU);
  • The disintegration of states into constituent nationalities;
  • The emergence of international terrorism;
  • Global technological unification

However, Bull asserts that there is no evidence for the emergence of a world society that displaces the states system but his criterion for the emergence of a world society is too severe by most standards embracing: ‘not merely a degree of interaction linking all parks of the human community to one another but a sense of common interest and common values, on the basis of what common rules and institutions may be built” (1977: 279). No self-respecting globalization theorist would subscribe to such a straw-person condition … It does allow Bull happily to conclude, in the face of a great deal of evidence that he adduces to the contrary, that: ‘the world political system of whose existence we have taken note in no way implies the demise of the states system’.”


29 —  Rosenau’s analysis of emerging global interdependence is another example of what might be called a dualistic approach to the current transformation. [note 10]. Rosenau’s early work (1980) concentrates on what he calls ‘transnationalization’. This is a process by which inter-governmental relations at an international level are supplemented by relations between non-governmental individuals and groups. Here Rosenau is a technological determinist much in the fashion of Kerr and his colleagues or Bell:

Dynamic change, initiated by technological innovation and sustained by continuing advances in communications and transportation, has brought new associations and organizations into the political arena, and the efforts of these new entities to obtain external resources or otherwise interact with counterparts abroad have extended the range and intensified the dynamics of world affairs. (1980: 1-2)

So the proper study for a political science of world affairs is no longer simply ‘international relations but ‘transnational relations’ involving complex extra-societal relationships between governments, governmental and non-governmental entities. Non-governmental interaction rebounds onto states to produce an increasing level of interdependence between them and a disintegrative effect as it promotes intra-societal groups to the world stage. This involves: ‘a transformation, even a breakdown of the nation-state system as it has existed throughout the last four centuries’ (Rosenau 1980: 2).


41 – he [Robertson] no longer speaks of an international system of states but of globalization at the cultural level. He begins by giving a two-part definition of the concept:

Globalization as a concept refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole … both concrete global interdependence and consciousness of the global whole in the twentieth century. (Robertson 1992:8).


45 – he [Robertson] claims that globalization, for example, is neither necessarily a good nor a bad thing – its moral character will be accomplished by the inhabitants of the planet.


46 – Not all theorists accept Robertson’s view that the cultural cleavages that might prevent globalization have now been closed. Kavolis (1988), for example, would argue that such a view represents a peculiarly Western version of culture in which religion is conceived to be an increasingly subordinate subset of it. Rather, under Islam, for example, culture is enclosed by and is subordinate to religion. To the extent, then, that religions offer differential moral codes we can identify separated civilizational structures that constrain individual action. World culture is, for Kavolis, divided into at least seven such incommensurable civilizational systems: Christian, Chinese (Confucian-Taoist-Buddhist), Islamic, Hindu, Japanese (Shinto-Buddhist-Confucian), Latin American syncretist, and non-Islamic African (Kavolis 1988: 210-12).


47 – The burgeoning development of international organizations during the twentieth century does not, Giddens insists, imply a loss of sovereignty for the nation-state but rather the securitization and institutionalization of that sovereignty. The reflexive system of international relations affirms the territorial and ethnic integrity of individual nation-states. Indeed, it provides a secure environment in which new states, however small and weak, can emerge and to some extent prosper.


53 – The contemporary order, Lash and Urry argue, is therefore: ‘a structure of flows, a de-centered set of economies of signs in space’. Insofar as these flows of symbols are undermining nation-state societies we can identify a process of globalization. This involves (1994: 280-1):

  • The development of transnational practices (see Chapter 2 on Rosenau);
  • The development of localized sites, ‘global cities’ that originate transnational practices (see King 1990b);
  • A decreasing effectivity of state policy instruments (see Chapter 5)
  • An increasing number of inter-state connections (see Chapter 5);
  • The embryonic development of global bureaucracies (see Chapter 5);
  • The emergence of new socio-spatial political entities (see Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 on ethnic nationalism);
  • An overall decline in the sovereignty of the state. [note 2]


54 – Giddens is notable within the current upsurge of interest in general social change for his insistence that current transformations constitute a continuation of rather than a break with modernity. While such postmodernists as Lyotard (1984) would point to current uncertainties as the consequence of the collapse of foundationalist meta-narratives that previously attempted to provide comprehensive answer to questions of human existence, Giddens argues that there is nothing new in this. Modernity has always created uncertainty and as the juggernaut gathers speed the incapacity of knowledge systems to tell what to do becomes chronic. Giddens characterizes the contemporary period as a high or radicalized modernity in which concerted action on a global scale is increasingly probable, although linked to processes of dispersal and localization. Postmodernity is for him a utopian condition in which human beings have resolved their problems within each of the four organizational clusters of modernity. A postmodern society would incorporate: a post-scarcity economy; multilevel political participation, especially at the local level; the humanization of technology; and global demilitarization (Giddens 1990: 164).


55 – We might argue that if people in Tokyo can experience the same thing at the same as others in Helsinki, say a business transaction or a media event, then they in effect live in the same place, space has been annihilated by time compression.



Taken together, the above arguments represent a new sociology of globalization that has emerged over the past five to ten years. In summary, it proposes the following:

  1. Globalization is at least contemporary with modernization and has therefore been proceeding since the sixteenth century. It involves processes of economic systematization, global culture or consciousness. The process has accelerated through time and is currently in the most rapid phase of its development.
  2. Globalization involves the systematic interrelationship of all the individua social ties that are established on the planet. In a fully globalized context, no given relationship or set of relationships can remain isolated or bounded. Each is linked to all the others and is systematically affected by them. This is especially true in a territorial sense (i.e. geographical boundaries in particular are unsustainable in the face of globalization). Globalization increases the inclusiveness and the unification of human society.
  3. Globalization involves a phenomenology of contraction. Although commentators often speak of the shrinking of the planet rather than a literal truth, that is, the world appears to shrink but (pretty obviously) does not materially do so. The particular phenomenological registers that alter the scalar appearance of the world are time and space. Because space tends to be measured in time [note 4], to the extent that the time between geographical points shortens so space appears to shrink. Insofar as the connection between physically distant points is instantaneous, space ‘disappears’ altogether [note 5]. A more recent phenomenon is that localizations of time disappear – if, for example, a Korean house-spouse can watch with an America FA-18 pilot as she bombs a chemical factory in a Middle East war, their time frames become synchronized. Globalization implies the phenomenological elimination of space and the generalization of time.
  4. The phenomenology of globalization is reflexive. The inhabitants of the planet self-consciously orient themselves to the world as a whole – firms explore global markets, countercultures move from an ‘alternative community’ to a ‘social movement’ action configuration, and governments try to keep each other honest in terms of human rights and dash to commit military assistance to the maintenance of world order.
  5. Globalization involves a collapse of universalism and particularism. The earlier phase of unaccelerated globalization had been characterized by a differentiation between arenas in which general and rational standards could apply and others in which the particularities of relationships and the qualities of individual persons were paramount. This differentiation is registered in the well known sociological distinctions between life chances and lifestyles, gesellschaft and gemeinshaft, public and private spheres, work and home, and system and lifeworld. The separation was largely accomplished by boundaries in time and space but because globalization annihilates time and space the distinctions can no longer apply. Each person in any relationship is simultaneously an individual and a member of the human species – they can say ‘I am myself’ and ‘I have rights’.
  6. Globalization involves a Janus-faced mix of risk and trust. In previous eras one trusted the immediate the knowable, the present and the material. To go beyond these was to run the risk of injury or exploitation. Under globalization individuals extend trust to unknown persons, to impersonal forces and norms (the ‘market’, or ‘human rights’) and to patterns of symbolic exchange that appear to be beyond the control of any concrete individual or group of individuals. In so doing they place themselves in the hands of the entire set of their fellow human beings. The fiduciary commitment of all the participants is necessary for the well-being of each individual member. A fiduciary panic (e.g. the ‘Black Monday’ stock market crash of October 1987) creates the risk of global systematic collapse.


66 – the original and continuing fundamental of economic globalization is trade. Trade can link together geographically distant producers and consumers, often establishing a relationship of identification as well as interdependence between them… Under current circumstances, wearing Armani fashions or grilling food on a Hibachi barbecue (itself a polyglot phrase) provides an opportunity for commonality of lifestyle across the globe… Overall in the period since industrialization, world trade, understood as the exchange of commodities and services between nation-states, has expanded very rapidly. One indicator is the positive ration of growth rates in trade to growth rates in production throughout the nineteenth century and second half of the twentieth. Only during global conflict and associated economic depression that marked the first half of the twentieth century did that ration turn negative. Even then global trade continued to grow except in the twenty years following the Great Depression (Gordeon 1988: 43).


68 – the inter-war period saw a return to protectionism as national governments strived to restore their shattered economies by curtailing imports and subsidizing exports. However, the emergence of the USA as the post-Second World War political, military and economic hegemon game it an opportunity to establish a trade system that suited its interests. Insofar as much of the rest of the industrialized world had been exhausted or devastated by war, the USA was well placed to take advantage of a liberalized trade regime.


76 – Until recently it was also possible to offer the more moderate critique of MNEs that they had grown so large and powerful that they undermined the legitimate and often democratically established sovereign authority of the nation-state but in the current context of the delegitimation of the state the debate has become polarized.


79-80 – We consider in an earlier section the liberalization of world trade. Emmott (1993: 8) argues that in a completely liberalized trade environment and where the marginal costs of transportation are low, MNEs would cease to exist. This is because firms would obtain the best cost advantage by producing in one place so as the maximize the economies of scale and licensing offshore production where such economics failed to offset transportation costs. In a truly globalized economic context then, the MNE would disappear in favor of local producers marketing globally.


82 – More importantly there has been a process of global cultural transmission to which the Japanese version of the best way has been carried around the world as a system of ideas. This transmission occurs in three arenas: in the popular mass media Japanese production systems are represented as a highly generalized but somewhat ambivalent ideal, discussed in terms of both fear and admiration; in universities, business school academics and organization theorists conduct comparative research on the Japanese advantage and these results are both published and incorporated into organizational design courses for potential managers; and third they are written up as easily digestible popular books that can be peddled to managers as manuals for organizational transformation.


86-87 – In the post-Second World War period, the key treaty in the so called Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944 established the IMF. The IMF’s brief was to maintain stability in rates of currency exchange by providing temporary loans to carry states through periodic balance-of-payment deficits without massive structural readjustment. For some 25 years the IMF thus effectively returned American balance-of-payment surpluses to countries in deficit, although in chronic instances it did demand readjustment, and in many cases states simply went ahead and devalued. An important stabilizing factor was the linking of the dollar to a specific price of gold… the key event that signaled the collapse of the Bretton Woods system was the withdrawal of the US dollar from the gold standard, because the relationship could no longer be maintained in the face of dollar inflation. Already the IMF had supplemented gold by so-called Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), the rights to borrow from the IMF as necessary, as the fiduciary support for the dollar and other currencies. Now SDRs have replaced gold, sterling and the US dollar as the global standard of accounting and are constituted as a weighted mix of five currencies ($US, £Stg, DM, FFr, ¥). However, the SDR has not become global currency.


101 – the excuses of politicians for their failures have taken on a global hue: our economy is failing because of the recession in the USA or Europe or Japan or somewhere else; our currency is declining because of the activities of unidentified international speculators; our air is dirty because someone else has had a nuclear meltdown; we cannot solve the problem of urban crime because it is fed by international drug syndicates; or, we cannot feed our people because the level of international aid is not adequate. Insofar as politicians deflect blame on to the global arena, collective political actors will focus their attention on that arena and the nation-state will progressively become an irrelevance.


111 – The redefinition of social problems as global problems undermines the sovereignty of the state in three ways:

  • It redirects individual political preferences;
  • It delegitimizes the nation-state as a problem-solver;
  • It sets up new international organizations to which some elements of state sovereignty are progressively surrendered [note 4]


111 – to speak of a globalized polity can invoke the image of a world government, a single unitary and centralized state similar to contemporary nation-states or even a world empire. This need not be the case. A globalized polity can have the characteristics of a network of power centers, including nation-states, coordinated by means other than command. In principle such power centres might be coordinated because their controllers shared common norms and common interests and sought to move towards consensus on such issues. Such a view is not as romantically optimistic as it may appear. Regional groupings of states, such as the EU, and a wide range of specialized interest associations already coordinate their activities on just such a basis. However, such an outcome is less likely than a polity organized as a market, or more precisely as multiple markets. Here process of allocation (e.g. of welfare, economic development, peace and security, pollution, cultural performances) would be governed by competition between power centres much in the same way that global flows of finance or of information are the consequences of multiple complex decisions.


113 – [NGOs] constitute a complex and ungovernable web of relationships that extends beyond the nation-state.


117-118 – Certainly, such developments indicate that in many instances national interests are becoming merged into global ones.

There are three possible theoretical interpretations of these developments. The first suggests the emergence of a ‘new world order’, a liberal construct that implies the disappearance of the superpowers and the emergence of a highly differentiated yet relatively consensual family of nations that punishes the deviant and protects the defenseless. This is clearly an ideological conception that seeks to obscure very real differences of interest and military power. The second is the suggestion that the USA won the cold war and that the world is dominated by an unchallenged hegemon. Curiously this view appears to be the property both of leftist critics and rightist triumphalists. If fails in the light of American impotence in Vietnam, Iran and Somalia. The USA succeeded in Kuwait but only with allied military support, UN legitimacy, tacit Russian acceptance, and European, Japanese and Arab financial assistance. This suggests that a third interpretation, that of the emergence of a multipolar world, has much to offer as a realistic assessment. The domination of the superpowers has disappeared to be replaced by a fluid and highly differentiated pattern of international relations that exhibits much of the chaos and uncertainty that is also found, for example, in financial markets.


121-122 – A shift is under way towards a culture described by Inglehart (1990) as the rise of post-materialist values. The traditional focus of politics in liberal democracies was material values, issues to do with the distribution and redistribution of goods and services. The typical division in this politics was between a ‘right’ or conservative side that stressed the preservation of property ownership and freedom of contract in markets, often coupled with a paternalistic welfareism, and a ‘left’ or social democratic side that stressed the redistribution of property and income on a more egalitarian basis, a state-interventionist welfare system and the regulation of markets. Post-materialist values emphasize community, self-expression and the quality of life. Here a political value division emerges between a ‘new right’ which stresses individual autonomy, the right to consume and governmental minimalism and a ‘new left’ that stresses the empowerment of minorities and a mutuality of interests among human beings and between them and their environments. Inglehart estimates that by 1970 post-materialists outnumbered materialists in the core group of liberal democracies in Western Europe, North America and Japan.

The question now arises as to why this value shift should be regarded as a globalizing trend. The answer is that it contributes to many of the developments discussed above. In materialist value-conflicts the key issue is the role of the state and the way in which it represents the interests of one class or another. Here the state is the focus of political attention and its structures will be extended insofar as political parties can enhance their support by so doing. In post-materialist politics the state is problematic: the new right regard it as a transgressor on individual freedoms, and a distorter of markets; the new left views it as an agency of rampant materialism and a means for the juridificational control of populations and their minorities. More importantly post-materialism focuses political attention on trans-societal issues, the planetary problems discussed above. It indicates such phenomenologically globalizing items as ‘the individual’, ‘life’, ‘humanity’, and ‘the earth’ that indicate the universality of the condition of the planet rather than the specific conditions of their struggle with an opposing class about the ownership of property or the distribution of rewards.


125 – the current accelerated phase of globalization does not refer to the triumph and sovereign domination of any one of these ‘metanarratives’ (Lyotard 1984) but rather to their dissipation. A globalized culture is chaotic rather than orderly – it is integrated and connected so that the meanings of its components are ‘relativized’ to one another, but it is not unified or centralized.


136 – globalization does not necessarily imply homogenization or integration. It merely implies greater connectedness and de-territorialization.


144-145 – It might be argued that consumer culture is the source of the increased cultural effectivity that is often argued to accompany globalization and postmodernization. Insofar as we have a consumer culture the individual is expected to exercise choice. Under such a culture, political issues and work can equally become items of consumption. A liberal-democratic political system might be the only possible political system where there is a culture of consumption precisely because it offers the possibility of election. But even a liberal democracy will tend to be McDonaldized, that is leaders will become the mass mediated images of photo-opportunities and juicy one-liners, and issues will be drawn in starkly simplistic packages. Equally work can no longer be expected to be a duty or a calling or even a means of creative self-expression. Choice of occupation, indeed choice of whether to work at all, can be expected increasingly to become a matter of status affiliation rather than of material advantage.


170 – Fordism was indeed paradigmatic and idealized rather than generalized. It never accounted for more than 10 percent of manufacturing labor, even in the US (Crook, et all. 1992: 172).


171 – Although Soros has been mentioned widely in academic circles as an example of a capitalist who can move governments, he did so because he speculated against their currencies and not because he ruled or controlled them. Soros cannot be regarded as a traditional industrial capitalist located in a class struggle with a proletariat. He is simply a market speculator on a grand scale.

— end book —

Repost: Augustine: What is Government without Justice?


[Repost from this link]

St. Augustine states that kingdoms without justice are mere robberies, and robberies are like small kingdoms; but large Empires are piracy writ large (5th C)


St. Augustine (354-430), in Book IV of The City of God, relates the story about the pirate who had been seized and brought before Alexander the Great. The cheeky pirate asks Alexander what is the real difference between a pirate and an emperor apart from the scale of action

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

  1. HOW LIKE KINGDOMS WITHOUT JUSTICE ARE TO ROBBERIES.Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”


    I shall not therefore stay to inquire what sort of men Romulus gathered together, seeing he deliberated much about them,—how, being assumed out of that life they led into the fellowship of his city, they might cease to think of the punishment they deserved, the fear of which had driven them to greater villainies; so that henceforth they might be made more peaceable members of society. But this I say, that the Roman empire, which by subduing many nations had already grown great and an object of universal dread, was itself greatly alarmed, and only with much difficulty avoided a disastrous overthrow, because a mere handful of gladiators in Campania, escaping from the games, had recruited a great army, appointed three generals, and most widely and cruelly devastated Italy. Let them say what god aided these men, so that from a small and contemptible band of robbers they attained to a kingdom, feared even by the Romans, who had such great forces and fortresses. Or will they deny that they were divinely aided because they did not last long? As if, indeed, the life of any man whatever lasted long. In that case, too, the gods aid no one to reign, since all individuals quickly die; nor is sovereign power to be reckoned a benefit, because in a little time in every man, and thus in all of them one by one, it vanishes like a vapor. For what does it matter to those who worshipped the gods under Romulus, and are long since dead, that after their death the Roman empire has grown so great, while they plead their causes before the powers beneath? Whether those causes are good or bad, it matters not to the question before us. And this is to be understood of all those who carry with them the heavy burden of their actions, having in the few days of their life swiftly and hurriedly passed over the stage of the imperial office, although the office itself has lasted through long spaces of time, being filled by a constant succession of dying men. If, however, even those benefits which last only for the shortest time are to be ascribed to the aid of the gods, these gladiators were not a little aided, who broke the bonds of their servile condition, fled, escaped, raised a great and most powerful army, obedient to the will and orders of their chiefs and much feared by the Roman majesty, and remaining unsubdued by several Roman generals, seized many places, and, having won very many victories, enjoyed whatever pleasures they wished, and did what their lust suggested, and, until at last they were conquered, which was done with the utmost difficulty, lived sublime and dominant. But let us come to greater matters.


    Justinus, who wrote Greek or rather foreign history in Latin, and briefly, like Trogus Pompeius whom he followed, begins his work thus: “In the beginning of the affairs of peoples and nations the government was in the hands of kings, who were raised to the height of this majesty not by courting the people, but by the knowledge good men had of their moderation. The people were held bound by no laws; the decisions of the princes were instead of laws. It was the custom to guard rather than to extend the boundaries of the empire; and kingdoms were kept within the bounds of each ruler’s native land. Ninus king of the Assyrians first of all, through new lust of empire, changed the old and, as it were, ancestral custom of nations. He first made war on his neighbors, and wholly subdued as far as to the frontiers of Libya the nations as yet untrained to resist.” And a little after he says: “Ninus established by constant possession the greatness of the authority he had gained. Having mastered his nearest neighbors, he went on to others, strengthened by the accession of forces, and by making each fresh victory the instrument of that which followed, subdued the nations of the whole East.” Now, with whatever fidelity to fact either he or Trogus may in general have written—for that they sometimes told lies is shown by other more trustworthy writers—yet it is agreed among other authors, that the kingdom of the Assyrians was extended far and wide by King Ninus. And it lasted so long, that the Roman empire has not yet attained the same age; for, as those write who have treated of chronological history, this kingdom endured for twelve hundred and forty years from the first year in which Ninus began to reign, until it was transferred to the Medes. But to make war on your neighbors, and thence to proceed to others, and through mere lust of dominion to crush and subdue people who do you no harm, what else is this to be called than great robbery

Globalization research project

Today I start a research project on Globalization that I’ve been procrastinating for at least a few months now.

I bought five books from the nearest HPB and checked out two from my university library.

They are:

  • Malcom Waters — Globalization
  • Magdish Bhagwati — In Defense of Globalization
  • Mangers B. Steger — Globalisms, 3rd edition
  • George Soros — On Globalization
  • Koichi Iwabuchi — Recentering Globalization
  • Tang Suit Chee and Allong Wong, ed. — The Challenge and Impact of Globalization- Towards a Biblical Response
  • Stephen Kinzer — Overthrow

My goals for this project are:

  1. Read all seven books
  2. Write summaries of all seven books
  3. Write a 17,000 word minimum research essay
  4. Discover five new things in favor of globalization and five new things against
  5. Convert the research essay into a series of bit-sized, easily digestible blog posts
  6. From the book bibliographies identify fifteen new books for further study

I plan to do all this, limiting myself to eight hours a day, before I leave for a missions trip on January 3rd. I also will be gone a few days here and there, notably Christmas but also some other events as well.


A few years ago I ordered James Davison Hunter’s book To Change The World.

He offers some tidy categories to understand how Christians interact with the world, he analyzes each, and presents his solution. I read this as a high school sophomore and it was a few years out of my comfort zone; I spent nearly 50 hours on the 286 pages.

I won’t try to re-articulate Hunter’s thesis- I can’t do it- just buy the book- or listen to this– but one smaller idea from the book recurred to me yesterday.

So I decided to return to JDH’s book for further reading. I’m collecting quotes as support for a future argument, but I’m posting them here, along with some current events commentary, for the public good.

I scanned the index for “politicization” and found these quotes, given in full paragraphs for context.

Politics has become so central in our time that institutions, groups and issues are now defined relative to the state, its laws and procedures. Institutions such as popular and higher education, philanthropy, science, the arts, and even the family understand their identity and function according to what the state does or does not permit. Groups (women, minorities, gays, Christians, etc.) have validity not only but increasingly through the rights conferred by the state. Issues gain legitimacy only when recognized by law and public policy. It is only logical, then, that problems affecting the society are seen increasingly, if not primarily though the prism of the state; that is, in terms of how law, policy, and politics can solve them. (103)

JDH has just asserted that modern American society defines almost everything relative to the State (and those things not included are quickly becoming included), rather than relative to some other category, or just in and of itself. How do we see this effect in society?

Politicization is most visibly manifested in the role that ideology has come to play in public life; the well-established predisposition to interpret all of public life through the filter of partisan beliefs, values, ideals, and attachments. How does this come about? My contention is that in response to a thinning consensus of substantive beliefs and dispositions in the larger culture, there has been a turn toward politics as a foundation and structure for social solidarity. But politicization provides a framework of expectations and action and very little substantive content. In a diverse society, ideological politicization is a natural expression of the contest to provide that content. (103)

Politicization impacts not just system-level factors, but individuals and the way they generate solutions to public issues:

My purpose here is not to suggest that the outcome of any particular issue is good or bad but rather to observe the historical tendency, in recent decades, toward the politicization of everything. This turn has brought about a narrowing of the complexity and richness of public life and with it, a diminishing of possibility for thinking of alternative ways to address common problems and issues. (106)

This narrow focus on politics as the solution to all public issues leads to coercion, or more often the threat of coercion.

The politicization of everything is an indirect measure of the loss of a common culture and, in turn, the competition among factions to dominate others on their own terms. Our times amply demonstrate that it is far easier to force one’s will on others through legal and political means or to threaten to do so than it is to persuade them or negotiate compromise with them. (107)

Later in the book JDH makes the argument (in many words) that democracy and the State, while related in many obvious ways, are fundamentally different. This has some implications: chiefly that the state is usually not subject to the popular will, but more interestingly that

there are no political solutions to the problems most people care about. Politics can provide a platform for dissent and procedures for establishing public order and, as just noted, the state can address administrative problems. This is what it is designed to accomplish, but this only happens through accommodation, compromise, and conciliation. The state can also address some of the legal and administrative aspects of these problems and in this way either help or hinder the resolution of value-based problems. Laws that prohibit discrimination against minorities are one important illustration of the constructive influence of the state. And while politics can only do so much, it is also true that bad politics can do truly horrific things. These are all good reasons to be involved in the work of creating and maintaining good government. The issue is really one of the appropriate expectations one should have of the state and its instruments. (171)

So after conceding that the State is itself amoral, he acknowledges its limitations:

What the state cannot do is provide fully satisfying solutions to the problems of values in our society. There are no comprehensive political solutions to the deterioration of “family values,” the desire for equity, or the challenge of achieving consensus and solidarity in a cultural context of fragmentation and polarization. There are no real political solutions to the absence of decency or the spread of vulgarity. But because the state is a clumsy instrument and finally rooted in coercion, it will always fail to adequately or directly address the human elements of these problems; the elements that make them poignant in the first place. As a rule, when the state does become involved in such matters, its actions can often create more problems through unintended consequences, not fewer. (171)

At best, the state’s role addressing human problems is partial and limited. It is not nearly as influential as the expectations most people have of it. It is true that laws are not neutral. They do reflect values. But laws cannot generate values, or instill values, or settle the conflict over values. The belief that the state could help us care more for the poor and the elderly, slow the disintegration of traditional values, generate respect among different groups, or create civic pride, is mostly illusory. It imputes far too much capacity to the state and the to the political process. (171)

The central problem underpinning all of the above limitations:

Values cannot be achieved politically because politics is invariably about power- not only power, but finally about power. For politics to be about more than power, it depends on a realm that is independent of the political sphere.  It depends on moral criteria, institutionalized and practiced in the social order, that are autonomous from the realm of politics. The problem is that the impulse toward politicization extends to the politicization of values. This means that the autonomy of moral criteria on which a higher practice of politics depends is increasingly lost. Today, most of the ideals and values that are discussed in public have acquired political content and connotations. Fairness? Equity? Justice? Liberty? These have come to have little or no meaning outside of the realm of politics. The other ideals and values that are discussed in public have been largely reduced to instruments for one side or another in the quest for power. Decency, morality, hope, marriage, family, and children are important values but they have become political slogans. (172)

I don’t think that JDH’s book argues for decentralized government, although that isn’t always bad either. Instead, it argues (specifically to Christians) we ought to see the public sphere as more than just the political sphere, and find other ways outside of the coercive structure of the State to solve public problems.

The thought that prompted this delve back into To Change The World was that perhaps the problems of structural racism displayed by current events involving black civilians and white officers do have a structural origin, but the structure isn’t a political one. JDH contradicts this hypothesis with his concession that “Laws that prohibit discrimination against minorities are one important illustration of the constructive influence of the state,” so maybe political solutions do exist specifically in the category of racial tension and resolution.

But problems like gentrification, street gangs in all-minority neighborhoods, legacy college applications, entrenched subconscious perceptions of other races, and more are all problems that, while having a political solution, can mostly be solved only though social or moral campaigns, individualized incentives, private charity, or other apolitical means.

So I remain skeptical that the main solution to questions of race require political consideration at all. We all know that, in the coming months, pundits will try to politicize even further questions of race and policing (oh wait, they already have), and the solution to that is definitely not political.