Monday, May 26, 2008

Communitarianism vs. liberalism debate

Drawing on Aristotle and Hegel, Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor & Michael Walzer disputed Rawls' assumption that the principal task of government is to secure and distribute fairly the liberties and economic resources individuals need to lead freely chosen lives. Few accept the label "communitarian" w/o caveat.

Methodological claims about the importance of tradition and social context for moral and political reasoning

Liberal universalism vs. communitarian particularism.

Universalist presuppositions of Rawlsian liberalism, tempered in Political Liberalism & The Laws of the People.

Taylor and MacIntyre: moral & political judgement depend on the very interpretive dimension Rawls wants to abstract away from.

Walzer: such abstraction, even if metaphysically unproblematic, will fail to resonate in any thinking about actual distributions.

Recent East Asian "cosmopolitan-communitarian" arguments: cultural factors can affect the priority of rights; the justification of rights (cf. Walzer); & can provide foundations for distinctive political institutions & practices.

Taylor: overlapping consensus on human rights (agree on norms while disagreeing about why they are the right norms)

Debate over the self

Taylor and Sandel: Rawls' overly individualistic conception of the self. Self constituted in ties & commitments.

Unfair to accuse Rawls of endorsing atomism, though perhaps he does not give proper weight to constitutive non-chosen attachments etc.

Appearance of Heideggerean motifs. Background of everydayness.

"It is only when things break down from the normal, everyday, unchosen mode of existence that we think of ourselves as subjects dealing with an external world, having the experience of formulating various ways of executing our goals, choosing from among those ways, and accepting responsibility for the outcomes of our actions. In other words, traditional intentionality is introduced at the point that our ordinary way of coping with things is insufficient."

Cf. Habermas's lifeworld & (??).

Ought moral outlooks to be the product of individual choice?

Tacit social world orients individuals in moral space?

Conditions for autonomy rest on self-determination w/r/t what we value? Relationship b/w tacit "value" (?) & judgement disclosed in consciousness -- cf. ideology, false consciousness, critical theory, the human.

Autonomy = choice w/i unchosen framework.

Choice not intrinsically good? Deliberation not intrinsically good? Liberal answer (Dworkin?): principle of autonomy strengthens community; individuals following community-determined norms possess different moral & psychological content depending on whether they have the choice not to.

Constitutive attachments?

Policy-driven communitarian critique of de facto atomisation

"[...] political communitarians blame both the left and the right for our current malaise. The political left is chastised not just for supporting welfare rights economically unsustainable in an era of slow growth and aging populations, but also for shifting power away from local communities and democratic institutions and towards centralized bureaucratic structures better equipped to administer the fair and equal distribution of benefits, thus leading to a growing sense of powerlessness and alienation from the political process. Moreover, the modern welfare state with its universalizing logic of rights and entitlements has undermined family and social ties in civil society by rendering superfluous obligations to communities, by actively discouraging private efforts to help others (e.g., union rules and strict regulations in Sweden prevent parents from participating voluntarily in the governance of some day care centers to which they send their children), and even by providing incentives that discourage the formation of families (e.g., welfare payments are cut off in many American states if a recipient marries a working person) and encourage the break-up of families (e.g., no-fault divorce in the US is often financially rewarding for the non custodial parent, usually the father) [...]"

Habits of the heart. Communities of place. Communities of memory. Pyschological communities.

Et cetera.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Held on pluralism and Dahl

Key features of pluralism: government by minorities, constitutional resistance to faction.
  • Citizenship rights: one-person-one-vote, freedom of expression and association.
  • Constitutionalism, checks and balances, division of powers.
  • Competitive electoral system.
Classical pluralism vs. neopluralism

Who has power? Classic: diverse overlapping groups; neo: bias to corporate interests.
What is the state? Classic: a mediator; neo: the state, and even individual departments, have their own interests.
What is the nature of political resource? Classic: various, distributed, and fluid; neo: endogenously unequal.
Involvement of the citizenry? Classic: minimal enough to ensure stability; neo: goverment is not permeable to most citizens, apathy is compulsory.
Role of the international? Classic: by and large helps to uphold pluralist, free market societies; neo: dominated by multinationals and the particular interests of powerful states.

Early Dahl (1956)

For many contemporary societies, Dahl claims a deep underlying consensus, which effectively winnows down "politics" into an area of technics and details.

Dahl abstracts the constitutional form of so-called liberal democracies as "polyarchy." But for Dahl, the formal polyarchic constitutional content is trivial compared with the substantive social prerequisites of democracy. Early Dahl claims that these criteria are more or less met de facto.

Criticism: Dahl is surrendering "the rich history of the idea of democracy to the existent."

Criticism: Empirical research drew the idea of an underlying consensus into question. There seemed to be systematic ideological differentials with a significant class structure. The political polarisation during the 60s and 70s in Europe and the US was difficult to account for within the classical pluralist framework.

The classical pluralist analysis of power, as influence by A over B's action, was also criticised. Power was assigned a role previously belonging to representation. Cf. Henry Parker (the people and their parliament both are sovereign) vs. Thomas Hobbes (the body politic is so much a fiction it cannot even contract with the sovereign, only constitute itself as a fiction by contracts among its members). Cf. perhaps Sieyes, representation as constitutive of social relations. For the classical pluralists, de-juridified power in a well-behaved polyarchy could tick some of the same boxes because of overlapping membership, and the diversity, fluidity and transitivity of that power. Cf. balance of powers.

Bachrach and Baratz (1962): A's power may mobilise bias to establish / defend structures ("social and political values and institutional practices") of political process which exclude any issues whose resolution may frustrate A's interests. Cf. triangulation, social choice theory, Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, agenda setting, saliency theory (competition of emphasis), hegemony, transforming positional issues into valence issues, politics conducted in a register of morality (Mouffe).

Late Dahl

Dahl (1985): threat to liberty is not from equality (as Tocqueville suspected it would be) but from liberty of a certain kind - namely, liberty to accumulate unlimited economic resources and organise production in hierarchically governed enterprises. INEQUALITIES.

Corporate capitalism produces sharp inequalities in social and economic resources sufficient to undermine political equality and therefore democracy.

Furthermore: the capacity for Western goverments to act in the ways desired by many groups is systematically constrained by the requirements of private accumulation. Governments must ensure the prosperity of the private sector.

Democracy is embedded in a socioeconomic system which systematically privileges business interests. Dahl now argues that the normative content of democracy demands the priority of the right to self-government over the right to private property.

Political liberty requires democratisation of the workplace and a widespread system of cooperative forms of ownership.

Sectors of the state are locked into the interest structures of private corporations.

Some neo-Marxist theories of the state

Miliband (1969): the state is a crucial instrument in the maintenance of the structure of power and privilege inherent in capitalism, which routinely separates itself from ruling class factions.

Poulantzas: Miliband is humanist and subjectivist, reproducing bourgeois categories of thought. Direct participation of the capitalist class in government is unnecessary. The state is a condensation of class interests. It participates in class contradictions. It is nonetheless the subsystem which oversees the organisation of class fractions, and the political disorganisation of the working classes. It regroups the economically and politically marginal. The state bureaucracy and electoral leadership involuntarily construct national unity and simultaneous atomise the body politic.

Offe: the state is constitutively contradictory. The arbitration of interests is key to its legitimation, and tax revenue from a particular interest (accumulation), key to its material reproduction. Intervention in the economy is inevitable, yet it risks challenging the traditional basis of liberal social order.

The liberal democratic capitalist state (a) is excluded from accumulation; (b) is necessary for the function of accumulation; (c) is dependent on accumulation; (d) functions to conceal a, b & c.

The state is a reactive mechanism. Contra Miliband and Poulantzas, it is not functionally interlocked (in the long term) with the needs of capital. The manouevres of constellations may benefit the working class. The most vulnerable suffer.

Cf. Habermas in Legitimation Crisis.

Schmitter (theorist of corporatism) argues that at the very least, the validity of an unspecified number of voluntary self-determined categories is deeply questionable.

Some more on corporatism:
Financial liberalisation
Labour market liberalisation
Professionalisation and bureaucratisation of large sections of the labour movement
Contemporary corporatism: a system of interest representation organised into limited "singular, compulsory, hierarchically ordered" & functionally differentiated categories, licensed by the state to a representational monopoly.
Tripartite relation between state, employees and labour
Is tripartism displacing traditional political representative institutions? Extraparliamentary policy origins?
To be fair, it's mainly macroeconomic policy so far
It's also limited by the degree to which the trade unions produce a legitimate elite that is both amenable to corporatism

Final thoughts

Non-Marxists have come to appreciate the limits placed on popular sovereignty by massive concentrations of ownership of productive property. Vulgar marxism is marginalised, with few Marxist theorists arguing for the reduction of state activity to class categories.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Chantal Mouffe on pluralism and democracy

Liberal democracy is a regime, a distinct symbolic organisation of social relations. It results from the articulation of political liberalism (rule of law, separation of powers, individual rights) with democratic tradition of popular sovereignty.

Emphasising the fact of pluralism (Rawls) tends to obscure how pluralism constitutes the political dimension in modern democracies. It is an axiological principle we should celebrate and enhance.

Mouffe's postmodern gloss: "difference" must be construed as the condition of possibility of being. Then a radical democratic project informed by pluralism can be formulated.

Main forms of liberal pluralism start with de facto difference and look for procedures to make those differences irrelevant.

Valorizing all differences - anti-democratic, because it doesn't recognise that some (!) differences are constructed as relations of subordination.

Extreme pluralism, by refusing a "we," partakes in the liberal evasion of plurality.

After Derrida: social objectivity has "constitutive outside," traces of the acts of exclusion. Cf. Schmitt. Every identity purely contingent.

No social agent therefore can legitimately claim mastery of the foundation of society. Relations among agents are democratic only inasmuch as they (1) "accept" the particularity of their claims; which is also (2) "recognising" ineradicable power in their mutual relations.

Tacit institutional elaborations of these epistemological interventions? Or to do with subject formation, i.e. these "recognitions" are those of a subject for whom the Friend/Enemy distinction is an ineradicable feature of democracy, & who are reconciled to moderate viciousness as civic virtue?

"To negate the ineradicable character of antagonism and to aim at a universal rational consensus" -- this, supposedly, is the real threat to democracy. Mouffe ascribes it to Habermas. But cf. Habermas's (a) call for the defense of the lifeworld against systems; (b) sophisticated fallibilism (consensus, even were it "universal and rational," would not be incontrovertible); (c) rather impressive collection of rationality concepts (systems vs. lifeworld rationalization), whose qualitative distinctions rule out the kind of dogmatic idealism Mouffe is hinting at. Habermas's concepts for the analysis of rationality encompass greater difference than Mouffe's appeal to difference.

Cf. Hart: assume that each party has the discretion to provide “perfunctory” rather than “consummate” performance – we refer to this as shading – and that such behavior cannot be
observed or penalized by an outsider (e.g., a court).