So political philosophy should become more historical, or, rather, it should recognise explicitly that it has always had an important historical dimension that, to its cost, it has tried its best to ignore. "All individuals obviously have rights; let's see what follows from that" is not a good starting point for philosophical reflection. However, some historically more specific questions are good starting points. These include the following: "Is it possible to organise a 'complex modern' society without the use of the concept of a 'right,' and if it is impossible, why is it impossible?" or "What is it about our specific form of society that makes 'individual rights' so convenient and plausible? What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of this?" or "If we find it hard to imagine a society without subjective rights, or hard to imagine that we could live a full and rich life in such a society, why is that the case? What exactly puts us off?" This is not reducing philosophy to history, but replacing a rather useless set of questions with a potentially more interesting and fruitful set. It is not that [Robert] Nozick got something wrong by specifying the wrong set of rights or making mistakes of argumentation, but that he does not ask the right questions, and by presenting "rights" as the self-evident basis for thinking about politics, he actively distracts people from asking other, highly relevant questions. It is not that there is some other foundation for all thinking or even all "normative" thinking about human society, namely, some foundation that does not appeal to "subjective rights." Rather, why assume that one can begin to think at all systematically and to any effect without being critical about the assumption that politics needs foundations of this kind? Being appropriately critical about this requires that one be historically informed.
Note from KBJ: Geuss's questions are good ones, but so are Nozick's. There is a disposition among philosophers to bracket off certain questions as "uninteresting" or "unfruitful." What that means, invariably, is that the philosopher in question finds them uninteresting or unfruitful. I find Nozick's question—namely, what sort of state, if any, is compatible with individual rights?—interesting and fruitful, as do many other philosophers. Geuss seems upset that this is so.
The editorial board of the New York Times has one solution for every problem: raise taxes. Did it ever occur to the board members that most of the problems we now confront were caused by high taxes, and that raising taxes will only make things worse? Americans are tired of the Nanny State. They want the type of government envisioned by the founders, namely, limited government.
Here is the start list for the 2010 Tour de France, which begins Saturday in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Just for fun, pick a winner other than Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, and Cadel Evans. My pick is Luis Leon Sanchez.
All the riding, running, brisk walking, and softball playing I've been doing is paying off. My resting heart rate this morning was 43. The lowest I've seen, in a quarter century of taking my pulse, is 42 (most recently on 4 July 2007).
Barack Obama won a historic election victory, then followed George W.
Bush into the quagmire of Afghanistan. We have turned our backs on the
victims of the economic catastrophe and are becoming the land of lost
opportunity. As the world’s most greedy consumers of energy, we still
have no coherent, responsible energy policy. We are a world leader in
weapons sales and prison population per capita.
If what’s left of our greatness is not to disappear, then all of us need
to do some soul-searching and act like responsible, humane citizens of
Theodore S. Voelker
Copake, N.Y., June 22, 2010
To the Editor:
Bob Herbert is correct when he states that the government has “lost
sight of how to build and maintain a flourishing society.” But the
solution is not more government intervention, more regulation and
It is not government that makes our nation great—it is the people
within the nation, the decisions they make, the products they produce,
the ideas they generate. The government should allow these people to
live relatively unimpeded, so they may develop solutions to the problems
our nation faces.
If the nation is to again achieve greatness, it must come from
individuals and not the government, which, as Mr. Herbert observed, is
“good at destroying things.”
Shorter version of thisNew York Times editorial opinion: "Many criminals use guns; therefore, there is no constitutional right to own firearms." The editorial board would howl in rage if this sort of reasoning were applied to the First Amendment right to freedom of the press.
This year's Tour de France, which begins Saturday, could be one of the most exciting in memory. Seven-time winner Lance Armstrong will try to dethrone two-time winner Alberto Contador. There are other possible winners as well, such as Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans, and Ivan Basso. Lance Armstrong has announced that this will be his final Tour.
John Sullivan took me to task for criticizing Patton. He says it's a biographical movie, not a war movie. I say that it fails on either score. If it's a war movie, then it fails to depict the ugly reality of war. There is lots of death, but no dying. Not once did I see someone scream in agony. Not once did I see blood spurting from a wound. This was cartoon war, which is to say not war at all. If it's a biographical movie, on the other hand, then it's awful. We learn nothing about Patton's education, family, experience, or background. His motives, values, and character are undeveloped. He comes across as shallow and fragmented. I told Katherine that if this is a realistic portrayal of Patton, then he was a vainglorious prick. By the way, the acting was terrible.
Thomas Sowell weighs in on yesterday's Second Amendment case. Sowell is right that if the American people don't support a right to private ownership and use of firearms, they can amend the Constitution. He is wrong, however, when he implies that the only relevant consideration in deciding whether to allow individuals to own and use firearms is whether it increases or decreases the crime rate. There is a principle at stake here, just as there is in the case of speech. We don't decide whether to allow people to speak based solely on the consequences of their speaking. We say that people have a right to speak even if it offends others and even if it fails to maximize the good. This is the price we pay for the right to speak. By the same token, individuals have a right to own and use firearms even if it results in a higher crime rate. This, by the way, is the difference between consequentialism and deontology. To a consequentialist, all that matters are consequences. Rights are merely rules of thumb, to be dispensed with when they fail to produce the best overall consequences.
I read just the other day that a city in California has banned McDonalds from giving out toys with their happy meals because it unfairly targets minors. At first I thought this was a joke, but it is apparently real. What's next, the little mazes on the back of cereal boxes will be taken off? What about Tony the Tiger? Or films that endorse fast food restaurants? Chester Cheeto? etc. Will they all be banned in the future? What right does the public have to limit the advertising of companies? My son has grown up in the same world and he does not cry to me for a happy meal (in fact, he has never had one and will refuse to eat it if you even try to give it to him!). I think this is another case of parents trying to get the state to take care of their kids. Do they not have the capability to tell their children what to eat on their own? It is the parents' responsibility to take care of their kids' health and teach them about propaganda. How sad.
Note from KBJ: The goal of progressives is to destroy all institutions that are intermediate between the individual and the state. This includes the family, churches, fraternal organizations, and the commercial marketplace. These institutions inculcate values, beliefs, and practices that thwart the state's attempts to indoctrinate individuals.
Of course this feel-good maneuvering is done in the name of bolstering
students’ self-esteem. But I’m afraid that these practices actually have
a very detrimental effect: teaching young people that they can get (and
therefore expect) things they didn’t actually earn.
Unless students graduate with the identical highest grade point average
in their class, they are not really a “valedictorian.”
In the real world, these same kids will often not even get what they do
deserve, whether that’s a pay raise, a promotion or the trust of
another person. Better to start toughening them up in high school. Then
they’ll be able to rise above the slights and adversity that come to
everyone and have a shot at enjoying true success in life.
Grand Rapids, Mich., June 27, 2010
To the Editor:
The emerging trend of recognizing multiple valedictorians is an ominous
sign for our educational system and the nation.
Spreading the traditional academic honor may well reduce competition and
pressure. But it will hardly motivate students toward academic
achievement or prepare them for the realities of post-graduation life.
With luck, this flawed “feel good” experiment will be abandoned before
it becomes the norm.
Fairport, N.Y., June 27, 2010
To the Editor:
As a history teacher for 45 years, I was led to speculate about the
percentage of those valedictorians who benefited from another
educational fad: the awarding of extra time to certain students for the
taking of tests and completing assignments.
In American schools, grade inflation is so out of control that a B minus
is a classroom teacher’s best and safest choice for indicating an
actual grade of F. One Harvard professor, obviously a warrior on the
front lines of academic excellence, assigns two grades. The first one is
the “Harvard grade” and the second one is the “actual grade.”
In a class discussion of the desirability of the extra-time option, a
young man turned to the class and asked everyone to raise his hand if he
wanted a heart surgeon to operate on him who had been awarded extra
time on his exams. Not a single student raised his hand.