October 06, 2003
Note to Leo Strauss: Get a blog!
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Tyler Cowen notes that the MacArthur Genius Grants are out (half a million dollars, no strings attached), and like him, I don't know most of the people on the list. But, just out of curiosity I thought I'd look at the full list.
Poetry, I'm delighted to see, has gone to my current obsession-- Brad Leithauser, and also to nine other poets I've read at least a little of (including Robert Penn Warren) that's 10/34.
I'm a lot less well-versed in the fiction writers-- I know only Tom Pynchon and Ernest Gaines, and a nurse a high-school-fueled hatred for the latter. (Odd to me that Penn Warren gets the prize for poetry but not for fiction, but I guess that no other RPW novel stands up to All The King's Men, while his poetry's quality is more uniform, if slightly lower).
I'm just about as ignorant of the music winners. the two I know well are Ornette Coleman (who is to music what Gaines is to literature) and Max Roach (who always struck me as a sort of unexciting but high-quality drummer; I wonder what he did to warrant the prize).
The rest of the list is just darn bizarre-- like a funhouse mirror's reflection of greatness (though there are some truly deserving folk in there). I won't make my specific opinions too explicit, but isn't there something odd about a list that contains Harold Bloom, Richard Rorty, Anthony Amsterdam, Stanley Crouch, Susan Sontag, Stephen Wolfram, Stephen Jay Gould, Barbara McClintock, Matthew Rabin, and Danielle Allen, but not Richard Feynman, Amartya Sen, Richard Thaler, John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Jurgen Habermas, Richard Posner?
Yes, of course these sorts of lists have to leave a lot of people out, so you can always come up with deserving folk who really ought to have been tapped, and yes of course the MacArthur foundation practically relishes its unfathomable selection criteria, and yes, the foundation gives high marks to future promise, but still, couldn't a few grants a year have been spared for some of the hard-hitters in these fields who stay(ed) productive until their last years?
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Man Wants to Question Parrot in CourtMy tentative thought is that one shouldn't be allowed to demand that other people bring their parrots into court. A parrot should be thought of less as a human being (who can be forced to testify) than as a tape recorder, who probably can't in this circumstance. After all, suppose I had my video camera stolen, and then just saw you walking down the street with a camera that looked a lot like mine. Without some further evidence or probably cause or something surely I couldn't just drag you aside and make you play the tape inside for me to see if it was mine, could I?
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) -- A man claims a woman wrongly adopted his lost parrot -- and he can prove it if given a chance to question the bird in court.
Loulou, an 11-year-old African gray parrot, flew out of David DeGroff's apartment on April 12 after a guest who wasn't wearing her glasses accidentally walked into the screen door leading to the balcony.
On May 11, Nina Weaver, of Newburg, Pa., adopted an African gray from the D.C. Animal Shelter. DeGroff, convinced the bird is Loulou, filed a lawsuit seeking an opportunity to depose the parrot. He is seeking $15,000 for pain and suffering if the bird turns out to be Loulou.
According to DeGroff, Loulou's vocal repertoire includes whistling the theme song to ``The Andy Griffith Show'' and saying the phrase ``Daddy's gotta go to work.''
Immediately after Loulou left, DeGroff said, he started calling every animal agency in the area, including the D.C. Animal Shelter.
DeGroff said he again called the shelter in mid-May. A receptionist told him that an African gray had recently been adopted. DeGroff used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the adoption records.
DeGroff said he drove to Weaver's home, but no one answered when he knocked on the front door. He said he saw a bird through the window and felt a connection.
``She seemed like she tried to communicate with me,'' DeGroff said.
DeGroff was unable to determine if it could whistle the ``Andy Griffith'' tune. Frustrated, he returned home.
Weaver declined to speak with a Washington Post reporter who visited her house. ``We have no comment,'' she said. ``We're not going to fight this in the paper.''
UPDATE: Don't miss the update from Beldar, who has an interesting anecdote, a more complete analysis, and a question of his own.
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Speaking of hypothetical situations, this Maureen Dowd column brought to mind an interesting possible scenario about the recall. Suppose that Gray Davis gets recalled by a 70% margin or so, and then suppose Arnold Schwarzenegger wins, with a 35% share of the vote. Could Davis supporters recall Governor S. and replace him with Governor Bustamante? (Arnold would be forbidden to run in his own post-recall election). Of course, then Arnold supporters could turn around and recall Bustamante, and so on. Wouldn't that be fun? [This would require some odd preferences among the electorate, but not inconceivable ones. In particular, it would require some odd behavior from McClintock voters, who would have to vote to sack Arnold even though he's probably better for them than Bustamante is. They could do this out of spite, out of a hope to change Arnold's position, or possibly out of a belief that McClintock stood a chance against Bustamante in an Arnold-free election. Given the behavior of Nader voters, it's not inconceivable.]
The scenario could really get quite silly-- like a mockery of a parliamentary system with its votes of no-confidence and no stable equilibrium to acheive. Of course, I don't mean this to make fun of the recall process; I happen to think it's a splendid idea, in general. I just think the combination of recall and first-past-the-post election, with the fact that the recalled governor can't himself run, lead to some pretty silly possibilities.
And a note to California readers: please vote for anybody but Bustamante.
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Does Soldier Field look "rather good" or "like a Roman toilet"?
The answer, as all seem to ultimately agree, is that from the inside or above it's probably perfectly nice, but from the outside . . . well, it looks like space aliens have landed their mother ship and invaded the field (which might do wonders for the Bears chances of winning a game, but really ruins the Soldier Field aesthetics). I'm reminded of a saying I heard years ago visiting Warsaw, that the best view was from the big tower in the the middle of town, because it was the only place in Warsaw where you couldn't see the big tower.
Committed foes of Soldier Field should also dig up this May 5 piece by Richard Epstein in the Chicago Tribune (whose archives are sadly not free online). But I'll quote the opening:
Mayor Richard Daley's efforts to strong-arm the reconstruction of Soldier Field for the Chicago Bears received an undeserved shot in the arm when Cook County Circuit Judge John K. Madden flatly rebuffed the efforts of the Illinois Landmark Preservation Council and the Friends of the Park to stop the deal.
To many, the lawsuit might look like the never-ending battle between pro and anti-development forces. But the truth lies elsewhere. As a vocal defender of property rights, I (in the interests of full disclosure) have worked as the pro bono legal adviser to both preservation groups. Why these strange bedfellows?
Quite simply because the miserable financials of the Soldier Field deal tarnish it forever for any believer in limited government and private property. Usually, a defense of property rights starts with the takings clause of the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its analogous state provisions. These clauses allow our government to take property for public use upon payment of just compensation. That doctrine is complemented by the public trust doctrine, which places limitations on the disposition of public lands. Its best articulation provides: "nor shall public property be granted for private use, without just compensation."
Public assets, such as prime lakefront real estate, should not be given away for a song to private interests, any more than corporate assets should be transferred to the firm's president at bargain rates. No one individual or group should be allowed to run off with the lion's share of the profits from public activities, and governments at all levels should be discouraged from moving assets from higher- to lower-value uses....
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Well, it's not another U of C Nobel, but worth noting that today's medicine award also went to an Illinois scholar-- Paul Lauterbur of Urbana (he'll share the prize with Nottingham's Sir Peter Mansfield.)
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A riddle for the intellectual property buffs:
Does it make sense to allow a tea-manufacturer to protect the use of an author's name to support the sale of a product that's not actually that related to the author? At issue are the Jane Austen teas (discussed extensively by Austentatious). Now, as I understand it the legal issue here is relatively simple-- you can trademark the name of your product regardless of how sensible your product is. It doesn't matter whether Austen drank tea or whether your beer really is "maltifresh;" (false advertising not withstanding).
But this brings to mind a curious hypothetical problem, not at issue here. What if Austen were still alive and her works were still in copyright? Then wouldn't she have some right to keep her likeness from being used to advertise a product she didn't believe in? I'm not sure. My mind is fluttering with some law review article by Justice Brandeis, the idea of Jane Austen as a public figure, and the limitations of trademark law in both directions. Can Jane Austen trademark her name? If not, can somebody else trademark her name?
But suppose (which might not be the case) that there's some point at which Jane Austen is alive and well enough that she can stop Ms. Lund from slandering her name on a bunch of tea. At what point does that right to protect one's good name die? With Austen's death? With the expiration on the copyright of her work? Ever?
Sorry to fill a post with so many more questions than answers, but such are the limits of my education.
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In just a random bit of catch-up reading, I thought I'd plug this Slate piece by Dahlia Lithwick on the Do-Not-Call Registry. I thought at first I was going to be writing a scathing fisking of her piece (which starts by discussing the balance between the First Amendment right to speak against the Nth Amendment right to be left alone in one's home). But in fact, I agree with not just the law but also the presentation of the article, which might be because she devotes most of her time to shooting down arguments rather than building them up. It's a lot easier to do the former, but that's all right because it's often a lot more valuable too.
[One issue to flag for disagreement. Ms. Lithwick offhandedly lobs a shot at the Supreme Court's decision to uphold high school vouchers as constitutional:
It's simply not enough to say that individuals have privately chosen to sign up for the government registry—that's the sleight-of-hand the court has used to uphold school vouchers.
She's right to criticize the indvidual choice issue with respect to telemarketers (because the right to unplug your phone or turn off its ringer doesn't necessarily imply the right to wreak criminal based prosecutions on those callers who say things you don't want to hear-- even if you've given some vague prior notice). But the shot at vouchers isn't necessarily on target. Especially given a constitutional text which not only bans establishment of religion but also demands its free excercise, the line between what programs establish religion and what simply allow it to skip on its merry way should involve the question of individual choice.
I'll end the post there, but if anybody wants to tangle over the constitutionality of vouchers (I lack the instutitional capacity to tangle over their wisdom), let me know.
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Well, the first of my computer woes is solved-- I now have a functioning computer password, so I can use the real computers in the New Court Computer Lab rather than the crappy old things in the Internet Cafe. For reasons opaque to me, I have to wait three days before the internet connection in my room is approved . . . (exhibit number 741 in how Gun Control analogies don't apply sensibly to the internet).
What, you might ask, was wrong with my password? The answer's a little embarrassing but since blogging is exhibitionism (and since I'm still reading up before I can make a substantive post) I'll tell. The answer is that l+l does not equal 2. That is, what I mistook for numeral "one"s, were actually "el"s. Oops. The only consolation is that the local Trinity Computer Support folks couldn't figure that out either... I had to wander down to the New Museums Site to find a very helpful gent who sorted that out straightaway, but only on the condition that I sat around to listen to his pine tutorial (old-school U of C students will know that anybody from before the class of 2005 needs no help with pine).
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This week's 20 Questions victim is Volokh blogger, Chicago professor, and confessed comic book geek Jacob Levy. Read on for his opinions on multiculturalism, academia, and the X-Men.
1. You’ve gone on record in the past as being proud of U Chicago for its relatively uncompromising view that students have no right to be protected from hurt feelings. To what extent is this belief about free speech and academic freedom contingent on certain background assumptions about American campuses? That is to say, in your book The Multiculturalism of Fear, you approach issues of cultural pluralism with the goal of minimizing political cruelty and humiliation rather than upholding certain intuitive rights. Would a U. Chicago-style policy be appropriate in all countries, or could one possibly point to places where, due to particularly vicious inter-group conflict, the need to avoid a deeply felt sense of public humiliation pointed in the direction of speech guidelines and the like?
This is an excellent question, and one that to some degree I struggle
First, I'm a big believer in institutional diversity among institutions of
higher education. I'm glad that there's both a Brown (my undergraduate
alma mater, with a radically individualistic and unstructured,
spontaneous-order kind of curriculum) and a Chicago (with a Core Curriculum that, if anything, I would like to see strengthened a bit) in American academia. And much of that diversity comes from what one might think of as the different degrees and kinds of restrictions on student, and to some degree faculty, freedom within the institution. Chicago gives its students less freedom than Brown does to select their own courses. Baylor, BYU, and BU all give their students much, much less freedom in their personal lives than do Chicago, Stanford, or the Ivies, and Baylor and BYU give their faculty less intellectual freedom. Schools with speech codes offer both faculty and students less intellectual freedom than others, in order to create a certain kind of atmosphere and environment on campus. And so on. “Freedom” in this context does not mean “liberty that one has a right to.” People have the right to associate freely in institutions that have a variety of kinds of rules and institutional characters. “Freedom” is just a way of describing those institutional characters—more or less freedom along this or that dimension.
But one can believe that and still believe that there’s a best way, along at least certain dimensions. And I believe that the university is truest to itself, its mission, its unique status as generator of research and as the only major social institution of education that has adults as students, when it is committed to full, bracing, often-uncomfortable openness in the exchange of ideas. And so I talk about Chicago, a lot, because Chicago has both a culture and official institutional statements with quasi-constitutional status that embrace this ideal. And I think that’s part of what makes Chicago something like academia-squared.
And yet, and yet. That’s not the only value in the world. A university that is truest to its mission as a university pays certain other prices; there are other things that it is accordingly less good at. Soothing feelings of offense is certainly one of these. In the U.S. I think there’s entirely too much attention to soothing feelings of offense, and that it’s very desirable to have universities not be very good at it. But that partly rests on the assumption that things won’t go horribly wrong because of ruffled feathers. To take a pretty close analogy: the ability to march and have parades flaunting an ethnic identity and advocating even a repulsive political position is, in my view, part of the best understanding of the meanings of freedom of speech and assembly. Neo-Nazis ought to be able to march even through Skokie. But I have the luxury to say that, a) because American neo-Nazis aren’t actually capable of taking power or mounting a genocide, and b) because there’s no active Nazi-Jewish war on American soil. But I’m always torn about the issue of Orangemen marching through Catholic neighborhoods in Northern Ireland. Banning such marches because they’re “provocative” offends the civil libertarian in me—the moral burden is on the onlookers not to be provoked. But in a society that really does have paramilitary terrorist organizations running around, the mock-paramilitary feel of a parade might not be so harmless.
So—university speech codes, or limits on the intellectual freedom of students and faculty. Since Nigerian Muslims seem all too willing to be “provoked” into slaughtering thousands of Christians because someone publishes an insult to Mohammed, should the rector of a Nigerian university prohibit such insults? I think at least sometimes the answer has to be ‘yes.’ But now I’ll surround that with qualifiers. I don’t think it’s desirable for the university to ever be subject to greater limitations on speech and intellectual inquiry than are needed in the surrounding society. (That’s the university-as-such, not special-mission universities like religious ones or overtly ideological ones.) Universities ought to be the place where the envelope can be pushed at least a bit. And I distrust speech codes as what seems to be part of the permanent settlement in a society. If the paramilitary groups are ever successfully disarmed in Northern Ireland, if the province does acquire something like a just and stable peace, that peace should be based on liberal openness, not on consociational pluralist protection of the component groups. I think limitations on free inquiry ought to be viewed as something like emergency measures, and ought to be accompanied by restatements of the principle that, ultimately, the onus is on listeners and readers not to be provoked.
2. You’ve become a popular contributor to the lawyer-dominated Volokh
Conspiracy, and have taught classes on jurisprudence in the past, but your posts seem to have largely shied away from questions of legal theory. What are your own views on the question of legal formalism?
There are a couple of reasons for that relative silence. One is comparative advantage. I’m just not as interested in hearing myself talk about legal theory as I am in hearing Eugene, Randy, or Larry Solum do so. They’re far more knowledgeable about it than I am. I think I bring something different to the table. By contrast, I’m in a good position to bring legal theory to students—especially undergraduates, but now that Andrei Marmor has left Chicago I sometimes teach grad-level jurisprudence as well. (I should be better-equipped to do that, and less diffident about public commentary on legal theory, after my year as a Mellon Fellow at Chicago Law in 2004-05.)
The other is that, even within legal theory, my interests don’t quite run to judicial/ interpretive questions. The positivism-natural law debate is more interesting to me than the debate about formalism; I think it’s one of the weaknesses of certain American legal theorists that they try to reduce all questions of jurisprudence into questions of judicial behavior. (I emphatically don’t include any of the people named in the previous paragraph in that criticism.)
All of that said, I’ll give a short, enigmatic response. In my undergrad jurisprudence course I assigned Coke, Langdell, and Holmes on successive days. “The life of the law is[/has been]”: reason, logic, or experience, respectively. The formalism debate is largely conducted as a Langdell-Holmes debate; but my sympathies lie with Coke. There’s a difference betwen common-law reason and logic strictly understood, and that difference is enough that I don’t consider myself a formalist. But I’m more like a formalist than I am like most contemporary anti-formalists.
3. U. Chicago economist Robert Lucas once remarked that after one starts looking at the question of economic growth, its importance makes thinking about any other problem difficult. Do you think that political theorists take economic growth seriously enough—is there too much talk about cutting the pie, and not enough on growing it?
I’ve never seen that Lucas quote, but I like it a lot. I don’t know whether it was primarily about growth in poor countries, but I’ll assume that it was and proceed with my rant accordingly.
I very strongly think that most political theory and political philosophy about economic questions-- especially the literature on global distributive justice—needs to pay much more attention to growth and wealth-generation. The amount of ink spilled by philosophers about foreign aid budgets is vastly, disproportionately, higher than that spilled about, say, the rich-country protectionism that so badly damages poor countries’ ability to grow. I’ve heard that, at a major philosophy conference, there was a panel with Amartya Sen and a leading global justice theorist who I shan’t name. The theorist (according to the story I’ve heard) attacked Sen’s excellent book Development as Freedom for its attention to the rule of law, democracy, and microeconomic liberalization in poor countries, saying that was all a distraction from the real issues of global redistribution, and that Sen’s prominence meant that he had a special responsibility only to talk about such redistribution. I wasn’t there and can’t confirm (part of why I won’t name the other person). But the story is very plausible, and its plausibility is very telling.
Wealth is not the cause of poverty and poverty is not the cause of wealth; that’s a lesson that I think the global justice literature has had a terribly hard time internalizing. Sometimes there’s a causal link between the wealth of some and the poverty of others—but not automatically, and not usually. The wealthiest and the poorest societies in the world aren’t tied by bonds of exploitation; they’re not tied by any economic bonds at all, because the very poorest countries have vanishingly little trade, vanishingly little FDI.
I’m no economist. But I know enough economics, and enough comparative politics, to recognize decades-out-of-date assumptions when I see them. The resource curse is now one of the best-established results in development. But there are still theorists who treat the unequal distribution of stuff in the ground as the primary cause of inequality of wealth and income, people who think that povetry is caused by the not-having of oil and diamonds.
4. As you’ve reminded your fans recently, your status as an assistant professor means that your blogging has to take a back seat to tenurable activity. In some areas of academia and parts of the blogosphere, tenure itself has become the topic of heated debate. What are your own thoughts on tenure—is it still an important bulwark of academic freedom?
I’m really not in a position to say much about the economics of higher education—the adjunctification of the academic labor market that Invisible Adjunct provides such important information about. I’ve been very fortunate in terms of the institutional environments I’ve been in, and I lack any up-close-and-personal knowledge of the adjunct market. And I haven’t done the kind of studying that would make up for my lack of personal knowledge.
But I do, absolutely, think that tenure makes a difference in the ability and willingness to speak freely, without fear or favor; and that that intellectual independence is a major strength of American academia. Knock on wood, I’m looking forward to it...
5. Brian Leiter has spoken on his weblog of political science departments being home to bad philosophy. You’ve spoken before at length on the distinctions between political theory and political philosophy. Do you think political theorists don’t get enough respect from political philosophers, or is there a healthy relationship between the two?
Oh, boy. I wrote that post pretty carefully, and I’m not sure how much I can say that is both new and judicious. But let’s try.
I will note that Leiter is a scholar of jurisprudence and ethics, which puts him in the near the neighborhood of political philosophy but not quite in residence. His views don’t seem to me representative, in any general way, of how political philosophers as such view their counterparts in poli sci departments. And he has plenty of betes noirs who are appointed, trained, or both in philosophy departments, so I’m not sure why he keeps suggesting that it’s a poli sci problem.
Anyway, as I wrote in my posts last fall, there are noticeable differences between how political philosophers and political theorists, very generally, proceed. And any differences will occasionally elicit moments of bewilderment: “Why are you doing it that way?” These will occasionally turn into moments that seem like a lack of respect: “That’s a dumb way to do it.” Political philosophers will accuse political theorists of a lack of rigor; of slipping between levels of abstraction; of ignoring foundations; and of muddying the difference between an argument about what’s right and an argument about what some canonical thinker said. Political theorists will accuse political philosophers of playing fast and loose with made-up empirical claims and of, economist-like, assuming a can opener; of thinking that “history of ideas” means “early Rawls” (or maybe, maybe, HLA Hart); and of ignoring the social-theory assumptions behind their arguments. Any of these can sometimes be said in less-than-respectful ways. And that can go both ways, not just in the direction of theorists not getting respect from philsophers. There is a handful of people on each side whom one can count on to occasionally make these noises.
But that’s all actually extremely rare in my experience. It might be more common when political theorists are in front of philosophy-generally audiences, and political philosophers are in front of political-science-generally audiences, but that’s speculation on my part; I don’t have any examples in mind.
In general, the sense is that we’re engaged in a common enterprise in
slightly-different ways, but that that just offers more ability to learn
new things from one another in the common enterprise. At the meetings of
the American Society for
Political and Legal Philosophy, where theory/ poli sci papers are commented on by a lawyer and a philosopher, philosophy papers by a theorist and a lawyer, and law papers by a theorist and a philosopher, I’ve seen lots of disagreement, and it’s often been disagreement that takes the form “let me tell you something that we know in my discipline that you may not know in yours.” But it’s always extremely amicable and respectful and engaged, and I’ve never seen any panel break down into assertions of disciplinary superiority in the way that can often happen on interdisciplinary panels.
6. It’s fall again, and that means the start of another season of admissions. It seems safe to say that people are always looking for advice and guidance on the subject of graduate admissions. What would yours be to an aspiring political theorist?
On whether, or on how?
On whether: Do it if you really feel the calling for it, if you really think you’ll have something original and thoughtful to say, if you feel driven—and if you have some validation from some external source that you’re good at it. Don’t do it with confidence that you’re going to get a job that’s as good as you are, because the odds are that you won’t. Don’t do it if a few years of postdocs or temporary positions sounds unbearable to you.
Don’t do it just because you liked it as an undergrad and you’re good at being in school, you’re in the habit of being in school, and you’d like to keep it up a while longer. That last is among the most common reasons to go to law school, and is a terrible one. It produces many ex-lawyers with mountains of debt. But it’s an even worse reason to enroll in a PhD program, which lasts longer than law school, does much less to increase your earning potential, is less like undergrad, and at crucial points is lonely, isolating, and depressing. [Note to current grad students: It’s not just you who feels that way. Everyone does, at some point.] [Terminal MA programs are typically a much better fit for those who just like the habit of being in school. I think very well of MPA/MPP programs, which offer a very useful and flexible degree along with valuable skills. Something like Chicago’s MA Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS)-- and there are lots of equivalents elsewhere—offers a degree that’s almost certainly less useful on the job market, but it’s also more like an extension of a liberal arts undergraduate education and therefore might be more what many students are looking for.]
Students who aren’t scared off by any of that, because they’re really sure and really committed: have at it.
Your GREs matter more than you probably realize. Your letters and your support from undergraduate advisors matter a great deal. The precise fit between your planned research and a faculty member’s interests matters fairly little—and so the recurring question to prospective advisors “Will you be working on something like this in the next few years” is largely a waste of time.
You need to find a program that has people who will be sympathetic to, supportive of, and knowledgeable about your general intellectual approach, i.e. a Straussian shouldn’t go get a D.Phil from Cambridge History of Ideas. But political theory isn’t a field where you’re looking to co-author things with an advisor who’s working on exactly the same questions you are. It’s a field where you’re looking for an advisor who can intelligently read and comment on your work. You also need to remember that the request that you describe your planned research on the application is a funny thing. We want to see the kind of thinker you are, the kind of project that interests you, and that you understand something about the scope of a research project. But it’s not our expectation that you’ll actually do what you say there. If we thought that you were already fully-formed and fully-prepared to select a dissertation topic, why would we be wasting everyone’s time with 2-3 years of coursework?
Cold-calls and cold-emails to prospective advisors seem to me like an odd thing. (It never would have crossed my mind to do it as a senior, but the internet has made things different.) If they’re appropriate at all, which I’m not sure about, they should be very delicate. Unless there’s some special reason for some one professor to know you—she’s your undergrad advisor’s best friend, and your undergrad advisor has actively encouraged you to go meet her—tread very lightly, don’t demand a meeting, don’t call, and don’t ask anything that even suggests you’re trying to put the professor on the spot and force something like a commitment to advise when the professor hasn’t seen your application yet. If all goes well you’ll be in the driver’s seat soon enough, when you have acceptances from a number of schools. But before there’s an application, before admissions decisions have been made, tread lightly. Remember that there are hundreds of applicants to each PhD program. Ask yourself whether you’re asking the professor for a commitment of time or energy that couldn’t possibly reasonably be expected hundreds of times per autumn.
How, once you’re in grad school?
Take more courses than you thought. Take the time to learn one or more languages, or to significantly improve your language skills. Learn the basics of other intellectual approaches. This certainly means taking the grad-level intro to data analysis that your poli sci colleagues are taking, even if it’s not required. It could also mean taking a formal methods class. And, even if you can get away with designing special fields and taking fields outside your department, take at least one field (i.e. all the way through the exam if your department has exams) from among the three other canonical poli sci fields.
Take courses in philosophy or history or classics or economics or whatever’s appropriate as part of your specialization; these are especially good classes to audit after you’re through your poli sci exams. You’re rarely going to have the luxury of taking classes again, and there’s tremendous intellectual benefit to doing so.
And, of course: read, write, present, and publish. That’s the career that you’re in training for; learn to love it, and learn to structure your time to allow yourself to do it.
7. On a related note, it seems like one of the most frustrating aspects of the applications process is the difficulty in getting good comparative data about programs—standardized measures of selectivity, placement, and the like. Is there a need for something like a Philosophical Gourmet Report in political science?
Hmm. There are lots of rankings of departments and of subfields. Sometimes it seems like the journal PS is 50% made up of arguments about the best methodologies for ranking departments. But of course they’re all research-based, not grad-teaching based, and Leiter has an argument as to why those two can’t be conflated.
I dunno. I got very good advice from my undergrad advisor, and I think I’m well-informed-enough to give good advice now. More information in the hands of grad applicants is a good thing, and if someone asked me to express judgments as part of the reputational-survey part of a Political Science Gourmet Report I would. But the need doesn’t seem urgent to me.
8. You’ve spoken of mandatory service programs as the bad idea that never dies, and called the support of them something of a litmus test for whether someone thinks of citizens as individuals or as the state’s property. Does your hostility extend to state-funded but still voluntary programs, such as AmeriCorps? What about high-schools and universities requiring volunteer service for graduation?
This is as good an opportunity as any for a confession. In 1991 or ‘92, before Clinton was elected and created Americorps but when something similar was under consideration, I made a public prediction. I predicted that any Americorps-like program would become mandatory within ten years of its creation. We’re not quite at Americorps’ tenth anniversary, but I was clearly wrong. It seemed to me that so many of the advocates really wanted compulsory national service that a voluntary arrangement would certainly prove short-term. In a way that was a result of taking intellectuals too seriously. Charlie Moskos may provide intellectual cover for the creation of Americorps, but that doesn’t mean his ideas actually determine its shape. I’d also been made nervous by too many Democratic Presidential candidates during too many NH Primary campaigns calling for compulsory service. The idea may never die, but it’s also not inevitable in the way I said it was a decade ago.
Now I think it turns out that Americorps is just a spending program, not an incipient form of mandatory service; and so at least that particular hostility doesn’t extend to Americorps. Mandatory service (it’s no longer “volunteering” when it’s mandatory) in state high schools is almost as bad as mandatory national service, though at least students usually have some choice over what organization to provide labor for and they’re directly working in a non-profit organization, not directly working for the state as in the national service model. Still not acceptable.
If private universities require service that’s different. I’d oppose it at secular research universities, but wouldn’t consider it a gross offense; and at some religious or ideological colleges it might well be appropriate.
9. Is it difficult to be both a libertarian and a political theorist deeply concerned with ameliorating persistent evils rather than utopian reforms? That is to say, can one be a libertarian when thinking about political situations where libertarian approaches just aren’t in the cards?
It doesn’t seem difficult to me, but I guess I view libertarianism as a source of information about the risks, dangers, and evils of political life, not as a program of utopian reform. I don’t do ideal theory, don’t even quite believe in it. I’m concerned with “better,” not “best.”
10. You spent your year as a Fulbright scholar in Australia, and you spend some time at Oxford as well. Do you think that more academics ought to spend some time outside their home country? You remark in The Multiculturalism of Fear that “Americans talking about multiculturalism in America seem to have the luxury of a certain lack of gravity,” pointing at how much more serious the issues cultural pluralism poses are in many other areas of the world; do you think American thought about this issue and others might be sharpened by exposure to other places?
Well, it really is pretty common for academics to spend time elsewhere— research trips, leaves, and so on. Maybe it seems more common to me than it really is because a) I’m in political science, which includes a fair number of people who must do research in other countries and b) I’m at an elite research university with funding for that sort of thing. But, from that paradoxically parochial perspective, it looks to me as if there’s no crisis of academic parochialism in terms of not travelling. (See David Lodge’s Small World for a very funny, if out-of-date, look at the globetrotting conference-goers’ life.)
Of course, one can have a thoroughly parochial perspective even while globetrotting, and I do think a great deal of that goes on. But that swipe at American multiculturalism arguments in the beginning of my book was more aimed at a certain set of public intellectuals, columnists and commentators, and to some degree ed school people than it was at American political philosophers or political theorists.
11. What place do you see curricula like Chicago’s “common core” having in an ideal system of liberal education? Should every college student be taking Classics of Social & Political Thought?
I’m a pluralist; I think that there are a number (though not an infinite number) of ways to organize an undergraduate liberal arts curriculum. In particular I continue to have some real affection for Brown’s complete curricular freedom, while still believing tremendously in the Chicago core. What I think tends to work less well than either is distribution requirements. They generate the physics-for-poets problem. There are, because there have to be, de facto special courses whose purpose is just the filling of the distribution requirement, courses that waste professors’ and students’ time. The Chicago core, on the other hand, offers the same foundational education to those who are future professors of a subject as to those who will never look at it again. Classics of Social and Political Thought (or its peer sequences, such as Power, Identity, and Resistance) stand in place of any intro-to-poli-sci sequences for our concentrators, and so will not be dumbed down to cater to those who have no interest in politics or philosophy. This is to the benefit of that latter group as well; they take real courses in the subject, not silly time-fillers.
As to substance: I actually think it’s a shame that we can’t institutionally accommodate students taking multiple Core sequences in the same division. Taking CSPT and PIR—along with, say, Human Being and Citizen or Philosophical Perspectives, and a Civilization sequence—would offer one of the most impressive introductory undergraduate educations I can imagine. I’m a big fan of CSPT; I teach the Hobbes-Locke-Rousseau-Constant portion that I’m not on leave. But it’s not complete in itself, and I do hope that the students who take it have a chance to read more classics of social and economic theory (Smith, Durkheim, Weber, more Marx and Tocqueville than we cover in CSPT) sometimes.
This is kind of narrowcasting, but I’ll put in my plug anyways. I think it makes a big difference that our social sciences core sequences last all year. Under the revised curriculum, the civilization and humanities requirements have been cut to two quarters. I wasn’t at Chicago for that fight and have no view on it. But many of the sequences remain three terms long, with the third term being optional. I want to encourage Chicago undergrads to stick with both sequences all year long if they can; opt in to that third term. The Core is a tremendous asset, and it’s a great deal of why you chose to come here. Take full advantage of it.
12. Intellectual property has become a hot topic of late—certainly one that generates a lot of worthwhile commentary in the blogosphere. But IP is also a burning issue for many concerned with indigenous peoples and developing nations, most obviously in connection with bioprospecting and pharmaceuticals. In TMOF, arguing for alienability of land and a common law process for doing so, you speak about the necessity of having some formalized system to mediate disputes between parties for whom there is no shared understanding about use and meaning. Do you take a similar position with regards to indigenous genetic material, or the local knowledge of rainforest communities about the properties of plants?
Oy. As if I didn’t already know which Crescat Conspirator many of these questions were from, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that this came from the one who took the class on indigenous intellectual property last year...
IP is a topic that I simultaneously a) think is quite important and b) really don’t know what to think about. I’ve read serious, sophisticated defences and critiques of the idea of IP by people whose work I respect in other areas; I can easily find myself nodding along in agreement with either side. This is a very atypicaly intellectual experience for me. Someday I hope to get some resolution.
So anything I say about indigneous IP—or “cultural property”—is likely to be inadequately informed. The Elgin Marbles case, the attempt by some Australian Aboriginal activists to gain a form of copyright over traditional art forms, and so on—I find all this stuff interesting but have deliberately not written about it. I will say that I think such cases raise an even greater potential than does ordinary IP for the suppression of dissent, the freezing of a tradition, the violation of freedom of speech and of conscience. As compared with conventional IP, cultural IP has both greater costs (though costs of the same sort, i.e. to freedom of speech) and lesser future-looking benefits (since their point isn’t to stimulate research or creation).
Mix all that in with bioethics—about which I’m similarly at sea—and
the result is that I’m just not prepared to say. I’m pretty initially
skeptical of the idea that ethnic groups have property rights in their
members’ genetic material. Despite all my support for indigenous property
rights and self-government, my instincts here lie with Richard
Shweder in his review of Who Owns Native Culture? But I’m just not familiar enough with the arguments on the other side to say anything more.
13. Rational choice methodology is something of a hot topic in political science today. Supporters of the Perestroika movement see rational choice theorists as imperialists who want to take all the politics out of political science, while others, like David Laitin of Stanford, see the methodological aspirations of rational choice as crucial in accumulating real knowledge within the discipline. Where do you think political theory falls in all this—do theorists have something to learn from rational choice, or should they read more Montesquieu and leave the math to others?
I’m firmly, and happily, of the view that political theory is orthogonal to the dispute between the perestroikans and their opponents. That dispute is, at its core, about how to do good empirical research that successfully explians the phenomena it analyzes. That’s an important question. It’s not our question, at least not in a general way. Many theorists have lined up with the perestroikans, out of a general sense or fear that the dominance of formal and quantitative methods is bad for us as part of the discipline, that our sometimes-tenuous status within this social science discipline is made more tenuous the more scientific the discipline aspires to become. And, undoubtedly, there are qualitative and interpretive empirical people whose work is close to a kind of political theory, and critical and interpretive theorists whose work is close to some of the perestroikans’ empirical work. But there are also normative theorists who draw on the tools of game theory, formal decision-theoretic models, and so on. Many of these are utilitarians, but by no means all. A Theory of Justice has a great deal more formal modelling in it than it has interpretive empirical work on particular societies!
I encourage theory grad students to get a working familiarity with at least the basic concepts of formal and game-theoretic and microeconomic reasoning. And I think that a basic level of statistical knowledge is crucially important. One really needs to understand what’s wrong with selecting cases on the dependent variable—and to be able to immediately spot when it’s being done, which is much more often than one would like. There are big empirical claims made by political theorists, present and past, and some understanding of what makes for valid empirical claims and inferences is pretty desirable. But I don’t think all political theorists should invest years in taking advanced stats or formal theory, just for the sake of being taken seriously by some sections of political science. One should learn what’s appropriate for one’s work. That includes, of course, mastering enough material from rival approaches to see whether one’s work is obviously fallacious. But the emphasis has to be on acquiring the skills and knowledge to do one’s work in the affirmative, as it were.
To be much more concrete, on one of the questions that divides perestroikans and their opponents: it will often, even usually, be a better use of a marginal year of coursetime for a theorist to learn or improve a language than to take a second full year of formal methods.
14. What were the most important influences on your decision to pursue a career in academia, and what do you think you’d be doing if you had to choose an alternate path?
In college I knew that academia was my most likely career path, and my friends from college say it was always entirely clear to them that that’s what I would do. Lots of people now say that they can’t imagine me doing anything else, and it certainly tempermentally suits me. But I wasn’t sure, then, and so I tried other things pretty actively, to see. The three big ones: op-ed columnist (an itch that is now scratched with blogging and TNR-column-writing), radio news, and running for office (NH State Rep, to be precise). Running decisively cured me of any interest in active electoral politics. I wasn’t ever really cured of the op-ed itch, which is why I blog. But I also came to believe, and still believe, that it’s not desirable to set out on a career path of “opinion journalism,” that one should come to it either from news-journalism after one has acquired some expertise (Thomas Friedman) or from academia or another intellectual profession in which one has learned how to think thoughs of longer than 800 words.
Oddly enough, it’s radio news that was the really active alternative. I might well have delayed grad school and given it a try professionally. In the actual event, I ended up in management rather than news for my final year at the station, and that was necessary but a lot less fun, and interrupted my ability to build up the news credentials that would have been necessary.
15. In your introduction to The Multiculturalism of Fear, you talk about the difficulties America has in facing up to its race problem. Do you see much hope, here?
Some, but not much. It’s hard for me even to be sure what much hope would look like—which of course isn’t an excuse for despair or indifference. In that section I talk about two cases: American Indians and the black-white divide. With respect to the first I do have a strong sense of what justice would look like, and I’m perfectly confident that we’re not going to see it. With respect to the second... blacks and whites in America are members of a single, wretchedly dysfunctional, family that can’t and shouldn’t be broken up, a family with accumulated resentment, guilt, annoyance, misunderstanding-plus-understanding-all-too-well, injustice, overcompensation, and so on. In important institutional respects things are better than anyone could possibly have reasonably predicted fifty years ago. But in important political, economic, social, and cultural respects, things are vastly worse than anyone would have predicted given the change in institutions. I do think that if the economics improved, much else would follow; but the wealth gap means it’s hard to see how the economics could possibly improve enough.
But there probably couldn’t have been anything else. I wrote my first big undergraduate research paper second semester junior year on the Kymlicka-Kukathas debate and Wisconsin v. Yoder, then realized I wanted to write a senior thesis about issues that grew out of the paper, then realized I wanted to go to Australia to follow up on questions that grew out of the thesis, then... It’s not too hard to draw a direct path from that paper to most of what I still write on; I was seized by a set of problems and they still haven’t let go of me. Nor do I expect them ever to do so.
16. Some of your recent work has been on the tensions between advocates of centralized rationalization and celebrators of local diversity within the liberal tradition. How would you say that understanding the historical nature of the divide helps us come to grips with the issue today?
Three ways, and each requires a different kind of historical research. (NB: I don’t think any of this is limited to my own project. I think it’s very often true, which is why political theorists try to integrate the study of the history of political thought with explorations of concepts and normative questions.)
First, it expands one’s understanding. How did we arrive where we are? How contingent or accidental is the current array of institutions and social conditions? To the degree that they aren’t, why not? What historical and social trends are associated with them? What brought them about? In the introduction to Multiculturalism of Fear I talk about the tricky task of knowing what needs to be accepted as given and what should be treated as open to deliberate change and reform. I think that task has to be guided by historical knowledge. And here I mean history, not the history of political thought, though for certain social trends and events (e.g. centralization, revolution) people we now think of as political theorists (e.g. Tocqueville) are sometimes also crucial sources of historical analysis and insight.
Second, it expands one’s vocabulary and imagination. Part of my claim about centralizationn, uniformity, and diversity is that “autonomy” and ”toleration,” the dominant concepts in contemporary debates about the subjects, aren’t the only and probably aren’t the most important values at stake on each side. Certainly the arguments for uniformity, centralization, and imposing internal liberal democratic structures onto intermediate bodies haven’t typically proceeded in terms of autonomy before the last decade and a half; the kind of autonomy that’s talked about in that literature is far too high a standard. But there are better, partly because more modest, arguments that one finds—in Mill, in Tracy, in Condorcet and Voltaire. There are arguments either already there or there-awaiting-reformulation-and-reconstruction that one can get at with serious reading in the history of political thought.
Third, there’s the task of making the familiar unfamiliar, to get a fresh look at a topic. In my first book I mostly did this by not treating American cases until I had already worked out an argument and a view about analogous non-U.S. cases. That was an attempt not to just rationalize my initial homegrown policy views. And it worked in at least one instance; my argument in favor of an official apology for slavery, in the last chapter, was not my starting position. Now I’m moving in time as well as in space, and succesfully winding quite a lot to unsettle my initial assumptions.
17. What are your primary sources for news, and do you think citizens ought to be more informed than they generally are?
First question first. I effectively never watch or listen to any broadcast news (even though I used to be in radio news, back in college). I find it too frustrating that I can’t control story selection, and that everything manages to be simultaneously so short in content and so damn’ slow. By the time I watch a half-hour of CNN, I could’ve gotten through the NYT front-page section and made a start on the business section.
I don’t claim this as a special virtue. I like TV; I’m not an anti-broadcast snob. But I find broadcast a hopelessly inefficient and frustrating way to actually gather information. This means that there’s a lot of things I miss, or things I miss the emotional resonance of. I read the transcript of State of the Union and other major speeches, which I can do much faster than it takes to listen to them; but I misswhat the speech feels and sounds like. About the only exception I make—other than major real-time disasters—is for presidential debates.
So what do I use? NYT, every morning—front section, business section, usually at least one item in arts or world business, scan the Circuits section on Thursdays. Chicago Tribune sometimes, usually on Sundays. Economist, New Republic, National Review. (I’ll cut things off at biweekly in order to count them as news sources.) That’s the dead-tree selection. (I get the Chronicle of Higher Education on dead tree, but only because you can’t, as far as I know, subscribe only to the electronic version. By the time the physical paper gets to me on Mondays, I’ve read the whole thing in daily installments. The daily Chronicle headline feed is often my very first news of the day.)
The line between newsgathering and opiniongathering is of course a blurry one with blogs, so I’ll just describe my basic electronic habits. Washington Post online, everyday. Boston Globe and Manchester Union Leader, periodically check the headlines. (Ditto cnn.com .) Globe sports pages, every day during baseball season. The Australian, the Times of India, Le Monde, most days. Assorted other newspapers irregularly (Times of London, Jerusalem Post, Sydney Morning Herald)-- plus, of course, following links from blogs to specific newspaper articles. aldaily, every day. Then blogs: Crooked Timber, Volokh, Oxblog, Drezner, Drum, Yglesias, Solum, and Crescat are the ones I’m most likely to check lots of times in a day. Postrel, Kleiman, Hit & Run, Corner, &c, deLong, Instapundit, Easterbrook at least once a day. Used to check Julian Sanchez all the time, but less often now that he posts less often to his own blog.
18. What, besides read comic books and science-fiction, does Jacob T. Levy do for fun?
At least until Quicksilver came out, SF actually made up a steadily declining share of my fiction reading. (Now, of course, Quicksilver is all my fiction reading.) So: reading fiction, pretty broadly. Book-buying is also a major source of entertainment for me; I can spend endless hours in bookstores.
Running and biking and sometimes roller blading on the Lake Michigan path.
Opera—the Lyric Opera as well as listening to CDs—and theater. Currently watching very little TV besides the baseball playoffs, though that has varied wildly over the course of years. (I do still spend some time at televisionwithoutpity to ready the snarky reviews of shows I’ve stopped watching.) I also get out to fewer movies than I used to, but enjoy them when I can. These days I often catch up on my movie-watching on airplanes or in hotels with pay-per-view. I missed Hulk when it was out, but at some point in the next couple of months I’ll catch it on hotel PPV.
And blogging, which is a hobby, and so has to count as something I do for fun.
19. For an absolutely necessary follow-up, if Jacob T. Levy were an X-Man, which X-Man would he be, and why?
(Geekery ahead; be warned of possible unseriousness.)
I ‘ve always been more DC- than Marvel-oriented. My high school went in for Halloween in a big way, and the year that three of my friends dressed as Colossus, Cyclops, and Wolverine (complete with inordinately-impressive handmade spring-loaded claws) I dressed as a moderately obscure DC character instead.
And besides, part of the point of the X-Men is that one doesn’t particularly want to be one of them. The only ones who are really well-adjusted are Beast, Nightcrawler, and Shadowcat, two of whom have the disadvantage of being blue and furry and one of whom spent years trapped in her ghost form.
I’d want Cypher’s power, but wouldn’t want to be Cypher, as he’s dead. Personality-wise I’m most like Beast, I guess. I’d love it if I reminded people of Longshot, but that’s probably never going to happen.
20. And for a closely connected follow-up, if you were banished to a desert island and could only bring five books with you, which would they be?
What a dreadful thought.
Well, regardless of geeky how this makes me sound, one clearly has to be one of these new one-volume collections of the Lord of the Rings. There’s just nothing else I’ve reread and reread so many times, and remain confident that I would continue to reread and reread for decades without getting bored.
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