Cappadocia in the southern corner of Turkey is a region of unearthly beauty, far removed, so it seems, from the currents of modern life. But it has a turbulent past and perhaps even a message for our own day. Syria and the Kurdish areas of the Middle East are close by. Cappadocia was once a crossroads for conquerors, Hittites, Persians, and Romans, Seljuks and Turks. Early Christianity took roots here but eventually was forced to hide away in the caves that pockmark the region.
There were two hundred or so of us all united for a moment by our common desire to get to London as quickly and comfortably as possible. But as soon as we landed at Heathrow, we each went our own way, modern individuals propelled by diverging interests and purposes. From where comes this individualism that motivates and propels us? Have we achieved a richer and more unique form of human life than our forebears? Have we got to a higher understanding of what it is to be human? Or are we, with the whole baggage of our modern individualism, only the unwitting products of new circumstances, ready-made and type-cast by a newly individuating reality?
Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of the leading philosophical minds of the twentieth century and his thought remains of live interest. Twenty years ago, David Stern and I published the Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein which was intended to help readers of Wittgenstein along. We have now brought out a second edition of this work with some great new contributions and a completely updated bibliography.
We can distinguish three styles of political philosophy: abstract normative theorizing, political realism, and diagnostic practice. In this lecture I argue that diagnostic practice should be fundamental to political philosophy since it concerns the epistemological conditions of political thinking.
Here is an easily understood series of graphics on the state of the American economy. Put together by the Wall Street Journal, it shows that the wealth distribution in America has changed dramatically from 2004 to 2016. The top 1% now own 5% more of wealth and the bottom 90% now own 6% less. Look at the rest of the graphics and you get some idea of why this has happened.
Globalization is out and nation states are in, if you believe the agitators. The reality is, however, quite different. The nation state was never a happy construct and technological change has undermined it once and for all. But what comes next? Justified anxieties about where we are going and what globalization will bring us have cast the idea of the nation state in a new, unexpectedly rosy light. It's, however, a false and deceptive light. Rana Dasgupta has written a terrific article in The Guardian explaining the demise of the nation state, why it is unlikely to come back, and what to do about it. Don't miss it.
Conformism is a danger to any society, including democratic ones. The Americans, who pride themselves on their individualism, are, in fact, often quite conformist in their behavior. Look at the American cities or how people dress and what they eat, and you discover a great deal of conformity. Strangely enough, that conformism can go hand-in-hand with the belief that you are free, independent, and your own individual person.
Conformism is also a political problem and a political danger. Read this article, watch the embedded video, and decide for yourself. https://theconcourse.deadspin.com/how-americas-largest-local-tv-owner-turned-its-news-anc-1824233490
Michael Shirrefs, an Australian researcher and journalist, and his wife came to visit me for an interview. We talked about politics, America, European unity and disunity, and finally the question whether we still have a concept of the common good.
Last June a United Nations report predicted that the world's population - now at 7.6 billion - was likely to increase to almost 10 billion by 2050 and to 11.2 billion by 2100. Now a Vienna based group of demographers have calculated that by 2070 the world's population will reach ONLY 9.5 billion. This has been hailed as good news.
The rise of Xi Jinping has made Hong Kong democrats increasingly nervous. But the main threat to their goal to make Hong Kong more democratic does not even come from the authorities in Beijing; it comes from their own home-grown capitalists. The case of Hong Kong raises broad questions about the state of global politics and the future of democracy.
Hegel famously wrote that the owl of Minerva starts its flight at dusk. He meant to say that philosophy, far from being avant-garde, is, in some ways, always behind its time. For first comes reality and only then, belatedly, comes our understanding of it. Our words and theories are always chasing after the facts.
We can distinguish three styles of political philosophy: (1) abstract normative theorizing, (2) political realism, (3) diagnostic practice.
My claim is that abstract normative theorizing is a dead end and that normative political considerations have to be based on an understanding of the political realities. Normative political thinking thus presupposes political realism. But how well do we actually understand the political realities? And what are the epistemic constraints on political philosophy? Political thinking as a diagnostic practice sets out to examine that question. It is evident that an understanding of the political realities presupposes diagnostic practice.
Here is a piece from the South China Morning Post worth thinking about. Naturally, it is full of speculation of what may happen, but it raises some pressing questions about where China is going.
What is populism? The most serious mistake in trying to answer this question lies in the (usually unspoken) assumption that where we have a single word or term there must be a single corresponding concept and that the word will therefore refer to a singular definite phenomenon.
For those living in the United States the conditions of American politics will, for obvious reasons, be of some interest. But given the economic, political, and military power of the US it is not surprising to discover that American politics is scrutinized all over the world. When one looks at the International media one notices how much attention they pay to American affairs.
Does this mean that American politics also has a particular interest for political philosophy?
There are plenty of reasons why we should be interested in China. It is the world’s most populous country with more than a billion people and it presents thus (together with India) a singular challenge as to how a state of such magnitude can be governed.
Joshua Green, Devil's Bargain. Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising, Penguin Books 2017, republished with a new preface 2018.
Joshua Green's book has been somewhat overshadowed by the publication of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury but it adds significantly to Wolff's account and corrects it at some important points. It tells in fascinating detail the story of bad bargain the American people accepted when they elected Trump.
Philosophers have written copiously about politics. There is, moreover, no sharp dividing line between “philosophical” writings on politics and other kinds of writing on this topic. So there is no end to what one might read under the heading of “political philosophy”. Here is a list of 15 significant texts, some classical and some modern, some short and some long, some famous and some not so famous, some highly readable and some very demanding. The selection is, of course, mine; others might add to it or subtract from it. I will add some comments on what makes these writings interesting and important.