Saturday, February 01, 2014

"Taking Politics Less Seriously"

My talk at an Institute for Liberal Studies seminar on rejecting the fiction that the political world reflects one's will or one's soul is now online. Politics is something that happens to us, something we have to manage and live with as best we can; it has no natural tendency to reflect our wills or our consent, and the insistence that it does only empowers the people who want to falsely impute consent to us and claim to be harming us in our own name.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Center for Ethics in Society Post Doctoral Fellowships

For 2014-2015, we seek up to three new post doctoral fellows. We welcome candidates with substantial normative research interests from philosophy, the social sciences, and the professional schools. We are especially interested in candidates with research interests in inequality, education, international justice, and environmental ethics, but we welcome all applicants with strong normative interests that have some practical implications. Scholars with a JD but no PhD are eligible to apply. Fellows will be involved in teaching, interact with undergraduates in the Ethics in Society Honors Program and help in fostering an inter-disciplinary ethics community across the campus. The appointment term is September 1, 2014 - August 31, 2015; however, the initial term may be renewed for an additional year. Applicants must have completed all requirements for their PhD by June 30, 2014. Candidates must also be no more than 3 years from the awarding of their degree (i.e., September 2011). The application deadline is January 9, 2014 (5:00pm Pacific Standard Time). Stanford University is an equal opportunity employer and is committed to increasing the diversity of its faculty. We welcome applications from women and members of minority groups, as well as others who would bring additional dimensions to the university's research and teaching missions. Salary is competitive. Please submit a CV, a writing sample (no more than 25 pages), three letters of recommendation, and a one-page research statement. For information on how to access the online system to submit your application material, visit our website https://ethicsinsociety.stanford.edu/postdoc-fellows/application-process. Contact person: Anne Newman arnewman@stanford.edu. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Center for Ethics in Society Post Doctoral TEACHING Fellowships For 2014-2015, we seek up to two new post doctoral teaching fellows. These teaching fellows are offered in conjunction with Stanford's new general education requirement, which requires all Stanford undergraduates to take at least one ethics course. Teaching fellows will assist in one class per quarter and will be asked to run up to two sections per quarter. The Ethics Teaching Fellows will be fully integrated into the programming of the Center. This fellowship provides an opportunity to work with great students in a variety of disciplines and develop ethics expertise across the curriculum. The appointment term is September 1, 2014 - August 31, 2015. Applicants must have completed all requirements for their PhD by June 30, 2014. Candidates must also be no more than 3 years from the awarding of their degree (i.e., September 2011). The application deadline is January 9, 2014 (5:00pm Pacific Standard Time). Stanford University is an equal opportunity employer and is committed to increasing the diversity of its faculty. We welcome applications from women and members of minority groups, as well as others who would bring additional dimensions to the university's research and teaching missions. Salary is competitive. Please submit a CV, a writing sample (no more than 25 pages), three letters of recommendation, and a teaching portfolio. For information on how to access the online system to submit your application, visit our website https://ethicsinsociety.stanford.edu/postdoc-fellows/application-process. Contact person: Anne Newman arnewman@stanford.edu.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Small but stubborn"

I think I should adopt "small but stubborn" as my personal motto, to be emblazoned on the home page of the blog, my business cards, and eventually the coat of arms of my Game of Thrones-style noble house. It works, donchathink?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The world is too much with us.

Zimmerman. Snowden. Dhaka. Taksim Square. Tahrir Square. Lac-Megantic. Oklahoma tornadoes. West, Texas. Syria. This is starting to feel like one of those novelistically awful long-hot-summers.... as if it's building up toward a blackout-riot on a global scale, or to the revelation that the neighbor's demon-possessed dog has been orchestrating the whole thing, or to a wrath-of-god thunderstorm in which Batman returns after ten years of retirement. This seems like an appropriate summer for Superman to start snapping people's necks.

In the novel that's set in this summer, Jenny McCarthy, Anthony Weiner Colin McGinn, and Elliot Spitzer will provide the dark comic relief--bad, and in some sense too bad to be funny, but not immediately* fatal, and so implausibly ridiculous that they let you laugh for a few pages in between the long stretches of tension.

*Yes, giving Jenny McCarthy a platform for her views will lead to more deaths. I said "immediately."

Monday, July 01, 2013

A note to the NSA

The gentleman on the left has "free" earlobes whereas the other guy's earlobes are attached. Please also note the difference in pigmentation spots on the neck and cheek. I would greatly appreciate it if you would direct your field agents to check earlobes and moles carefully before taking action.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Come to Montreal: IPSA, July 2014 International Political science Association World Congress, Montreal, July 19-24 2014 Congress theme: Challenges of Contemporary Governance Political scientists are often seen not merely as analysts of political matters, but as something akin to engineers sculpting the organisation of power. Globalisation has profoundly altered the work of political scientists, intensifying communication and exchange on issues pertaining to the way in which communities, societies, nations and the world itself are governed. The ambition of this international political science congress, to be held in Montreal, is to reflect upon contemporary evolutions in governance in the face of numerous challenges: Political, economic and social systems have become increasingly fragmented, rendering global strategic initiatives ever more complex The variety of values, attitudes and behaviours exhibited by individuals and groups makes for a greater and more diverse demand for inclusion and participation As the structures through which these interests are represented continue to expand, systems of governance become increasingly complex, more difficult to interpret and understand and less responsive to the uninitiated citizen There is a growing risk that the democratic quality of our political systems will deteriorate as a result of the rising influence and decision-making capacity of technical-administrative and technocratic experts For a given sector or type of organisation, comparative analysis and an experimental methodological approach should help better evaluate the performance of different forms of governance It may also be fruitful to focus on the various competitive strategies and means by which models of governance are promoted, or even imposed (in the name of ‘good governance’ demanded by international institutions, for example) Faced with these challenges, the multi-faceted phenomenon of governance requires a global, comprehensive and multi-tiered approach: from the local association or political party up to the international community, via regional integration or the national regulation of an economic sector. Adopting an approach to political science which is resolutely open to the opportunities offered by interdisciplinary collaborations, we must also support the circulation of theoretical frameworks and empirical approaches which are applicable in the northern and southern hemispheres, to the most developed nations and the panoply of emerging and developing countries. The main focus of this congress will be to generate the greatest possible number of concrete, innovative answers to the questions of citizens, their political, associative and socio-economic representatives and the policy makers who are working constantly to improve the quality of governance. The principal themes covered by this congress will be: International Political Economy International Relations Public Policy Analysis and Administrative Science Comparative Politics and Institutions Political Theory, Gender and Politics Urban and Regional Politics and Policies Political Attitudes and Behaviour Deadline for open panel proposals: July 1, 2014 Deadline for paper proposals (and closed panel proposals): October 7, 2014

The living constitution

[The Voting Rights Act's] "Section 4's formula is unconstitutional in light of current conditions." Roberts for the majority (including Scalia) in Shelby County. Scalia in oral arguments on the DOMA case: "I'm curious, when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage? 1791? 1868? When the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted?... Well, how am I supposed to how to decide a case, then, if you can't give me a date when the Constitution changes?" I'm curious, Justice Scalia: when did the evolving standards of the living constitutional text of Amendment 15 section 2 change to make the VRA Section 4 unconstituional? Can you give me a date on that?

Quick reaction: Adoptive Couple vs Baby Girl

Thomas' concurrence in Adoptive Couple vs Baby Girl is shocking. He manages to concoct a story whereby the Constitution granted Congress *less* power relative to the states than the Articles had when it came to Indian affairs. He claims that the Indian Commerce Clause only applies to tribes in the unorganized west, outside state boundaries altogether. This is very nearly backwards. Madison very deliberately *removed* the restriction in the Articles limiting Congressional authority to "Indians, not members of any of the States."

(I discuss this in this paper. http://www.academia.edu/422868/Indians_in_Madisons_Constitutional_Order ).

Thomas is right that the Indian Commerce Clause should not be read in the Lone Wolf/ Kagama way to grant plenary power over all Indian affairs. But he's so utterly wrong about the jurisdiction to which the clause applies that the conclusion ends up backward: he would grant plenary power *to the states*, and declare the clause a dead letter now that there is no part of Indian Country that lies outside state boundaries. There is simply no evidence that the Founders envisioned the extinction of Indian Commerce Clause jurisdiction and a complete transfer of power to the states.

It's worth saying that I don't actually have a clear view about the merits of the case. ICWA cases are hard, and require knowing not only federal Indian law but also family law. I know essentially nothing about the latter. (I suspect that this is true of some of the justices, too-- ICWA cases are about the only family law cases the Court ever has to hear-- but they have clerks.) Indeed, Thomas' outlandish view here is (on his own telling) irrelevant to the case. I have sometimes admired his urge to make his points about the Constitution's original meaning even when he was clearly on his own. But in this case he has got it the wrong way around.

Update:
See more here (and in comments), and here (from longtime friend of the blog and former Supreme Court clerk Will Baude) (and in comments.) I also strongly recommend Gregory Ablavsky, "The Savage Constitution," forthcoming Duke Law Journal.

Another update:
Michael Ramsey says
I'm not sure Professor Levy is reading Thomas right. Off the top of my head, I can't see anything in the Constitution's text that would limit Congress' Indian Commerce power to tribes beyond state boundaries. Nor is it obvious why that limit would be assumed -- at the time, some of the tribes within state boundaries were extremely powerful, and relations with them seemed to call for a national approach. But I don't read Thomas as imposing that limit; all he says is that Congress' power is only to "regulate trade with Indian tribes — that is, Indians who had not been incorporated into the body-politic of any State", which (I would think) could include Indians living in tribes either within or outside a state.


To which I reply with a quotatiom from Thomas' opinion:

"The ratifiers almost certainly understood the Clause to confer a relatively modest power on Congress — namely, the power to regulate trade with Indian tribes living beyond state borders."

To this I'll add one more:

"It is, thus, clear that the Framers of the Constitution were alert to the difference between the power to regulate trade with the Indians and the power to regulate all Indian affairs. By limiting Congress' power to the former, the Framers declined to grant Congress the same broad powers over Indian affairs conferred by the Articles of Confederation."

This claim-- that the Constitution gave Congress less authority than did the Articles with respect to Indian affairs-- can't survive reading the text of those two documents and Madison's commentary on the change between them. My piece linked to above, and Ablavsky's far more comprehensively, provide the evidence; and the claim should startle even readers who don't know or care about the Indian power as such, given the relationship between the Articles and the Constitution.

Even if Natelson is right that Congressional and state power run concurrently (and I don't think that he is), Thomas' view goes implausibly far beyond that.

Stanford Ethics Center: Associate Director position

McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society PhD position The McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society seeks a full time associate director to supervise our post-doctoral fellowship program, implement programming for graduate students, and in general support the Center initiatives. Our Center, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, is committed to bringing ethical reflection to bear on important social problems through research, teaching, and engagement. We have a core group of highly respected faculty and a robust post doctoral fellowship program with talented young scholars. In addition, we have a strong undergraduate honors program that attracts students from throughout the University. For more information about our Center, please visit http://ethicsinsociety.stanford.edu/. Direct the Center’s post doctoral fellow program (50%) Coordinate and supervise all aspects of the Center’s post-doctoral fellow program, including advertising, recruitment, and participation in selection of fellows; coordinating appointments of postdocs and arranging for entry into Stanford life; manage the post doc workshop, work with fellows to develop excellent teaching skills, mentor fellows on best practices for advising students; coordinate post-doc mentoring with undergraduate honors students. Attend weekly workshops, review and comment on works in progress. Handle the appointment process for the post-doctoral fellows and all financial transactions related to the fellow (e.g., salary, reimbursements, and research funds) Programming for graduate students (25%) Working closely with the Director, Center staff and campus partners, develop and implement programming for graduate students. Responsible for implementation of all graduate student programming. Support Center initiatives (25%) Research, write and submit grants for Stanford and outside funding to support Center initiatives, work closely with Stanford faculty interested in promoting ethical reasoning and the discussion of ethical issues in their courses, support the Center’s research, explore development opportunities, and perform assorted tasks as needed to meet broader Center goals. Responsible for keeping working papers section of the website up to date and for assisting with the connection of Center research to the broader public. Qualifications A Ph.D. in a Humanities, Social Science, or related discipline with significant focus on ethics and/or political philosophy. The ideal candidate will have a PhD in Philosophy, Political Science or a Law degree with extensive teaching experience and a track record of publishing on ethical topics. Commitment and ability to foster appreciation and understanding of ethics across the curriculum and ability to work with diverse constituencies. The job will involve strategic planning, academic programming, committee work, and grant writing. Proven ability to be a team player (with a wide range of people including faculty, administrative staff, and students), as well as demonstrated leadership ability with excellent communication and organizational skills. Familiarity with university requirements, fellowship opportunities, and academic resources is a plus. This is a 3 year fixed term position (with possibility of renewal). http://stanfordcareers.stanford.edu/job-search?jobId=10077843

Monday, June 24, 2013

Strauss Prize winner: Alin Fumurescu

Alin Fumurescu, PhD Indiana University, has been awarded the 2012 APSA Leo Strauss Prize for the best dissertation in political theory, for “Compromise and Representation: A Split History of Early Modernity,” now adapted into a book from Cambridge University Press.

Friday, June 21, 2013

2012 Journal Citation Reports

... for however little such things are worth (see here for the latest on how poor a measure IF is), but for various bureaucratic purposes it's sometimes useful to be able to check them quickly.  An assortment of theory-friendly journals:

American Political Science Review, Impact Factor 3.933, #1 in Political Science
Perspectives on Politics, 1.963, #10 in Political Science
Philosophy and Public Affairs, Impact Factor 1.958, #3 in Ethics
Journal of Political Philosophy, 1.609, #5 in Ethics, #19 in Political Science
Journal of Politics, 1.577, #22 in Political Science
Ethics, 1.372, #11 in Ethics
Political Studies, .917, #54 in Political Science
Political Theory, .703, #77 in Political Science
Social Philosophy and Policy, .630, #27 in Ethics
Polity, .422, #104 in Political Science
Journal of Applied Philosophy, .373, #35 in Ethics
Politics,  Philosophy, and Economics, .351, #36 in Ethics
Contemporary Political Theory, .237, #137 in Political Science
Journal of Moral Philosophy, .235, #41 in Ethics

Still not included in the JCR: Review of Politics, History of Political Thought, Journal of the History of Ideas, European Journal of Political Theory.

PT's Impact Factor has rebounded a long way after spending a number of years in the low .400s.  But JPP has continued to climb in impact-- I think this is its first year in the Poli Sci top 20, and its highest IF ever.  I think it's been more than ten years since PT outranked JPP on these measures.

[NB: I have published in PT and not in JPP.  I'm noting, not celebrating.]

Monday, June 17, 2013

Visiting Fulbright Chair, 2014-15

Visiting Fulbright Chair in the Theory and Practice of Constitutionalism and Federalism at McGill University, 2014-15. 

The Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in the Theory and Practice of Constitutionalism and Federalism at McGill University in the Department of Political Science and the Research Group on Constitutional Studies is open to established or emerging scholars in political theory and political science, and open with respect to methodology. The Chair will pursue research in constitutionalism broadly construed; an interest in federalism in particular is desirable but not necessary. The ability to engage with scholars and students across methodologies—normative, empirical, intellectual-historical, jurisprudential, and formal, for example— is more important that particular areas of emphasis. The Visiting Fulbright Chair takes an active part in the intellectual life of RGCS and normally delivers one public lecture as well as one research paper to a works-in-progress workshop.

The stipend is $US 25,000 for a one-semester or one-year stay in 2014-15. Open to US citizens who do not reside in Canada. Application deadline is August 1, 2013; application information is here: http://www.fulbright.ca/programs/american-scholars/visiting-chairs-program.html Those interested in applying are welcome to contact Jacob Levy jtlevy@gmail.com and Caitlin McNamara CMcNamara@iie.org .

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

APT Book Manuscript Workshop

Association for Political Theory First Book Manuscript workshop: Call for Applicants

The Governance Committee is soliciting applicants for a First Book Manuscript Workshop. The workshop will take place at the 2013 APT conference on the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 10. The aim of the workshop is to provide critical feedback on a penultimate draft of a book manuscript; the chosen author will work with the Governance Committee to identify senior scholars to comment on the work. Please note that the commentators for the workshop would need to receive the manuscript no later than September 15. The workshop will be open, by prior registration, to APT conference attendees; only those who have registered for the workshop would receive the draft of the manuscript.

Because we would like to ensure that applicants have revised manuscripts based on dissertation work prior to the workshop, applicants should have received their Ph.D. no later than 2011, with a preference for those who received their Ph.D. after 2006. Though we welcome applicants from all institutions (and from independent scholars), we are especially interested in manuscripts from scholars at institutions outside of the "RU/VH" category, and at less-selective colleges and universities more generally.

If you wish to apply, please submit a CV, a dissertation abstract (no more than one page), a paragraph describing the current state of the manuscript, and a paragraph providing other pertinent professional information (e.g., a tenure timeline) to Mark Rigstad, chair of the Governance Committee, at rigstad@oakland.edu, with First Manuscript Workshop in the subject line.

Applications are due by June 15. A committee of Governance Committee members will identify a short list and the co-presidents of APT, Andy Murphy and Melissa Schwartzberg, will make the final selection. Applicants will be notified no later than July 15.

If you have any questions, please contact Melissa Schwartzberg at maschwar@gmail.com.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Going to live forever, for real.

People who live on the Greek island of Ikaria are known to have remarkably high life expectancies, and researchers have been studying them carefully to learn why. Now a new report suggests that one reason may be the coffee they drink.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Add it to your calendar: IPSA, Montreal, 19-24 July 2014

No CFP yet, but information is here.

Call for abstracts: Workshop for Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy


This is the final call for abstracts for the first annual Workshop for Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy to be held Oct. 17-19, 2013 in Tucson, AZ at the Westward Look Hotel and Resort. Abstracts in all areas of Political Philosophy are welcome.

The web page for the workshop is here: http://oxfordstudies.arizona.edu/
To submit an abstract, you must first go to the above web page and register. Once your registration is accepted, you will be able to login at that page and upload an abstract. Abstracts should not be e-mailed to the editors. Abstracts of between 250-500 words are due no later than April 15th . Submission of an abstract will be taken to imply that the paper is not under submission for publication elsewhere as well as implying an agreement to include the paper in the resulting volume of Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, if accepted. There is a limit of one submission per person. We expect to be able to inform those whose papers have been accepted no later than May 15th, 2013.
The authors of all accepted abstracts will be expected to provide drafts of their essays for distribution to the workshop’s attendees three weeks prior to the workshop, present their ideas at the workshop, and submit the paper for possible inclusion into the inaugural volume of Oxford Studies in Political Philosophyby January 15th, 2014. It is important to note, however, that acceptance of an abstract for the workshop in no way guarantees that the paper will be accepted for publication.
The workshop is free and open to the public. We regret that we are unable to provide any financial support for those whose abstracts are accepted.
The keynote speakers for the 2013 Workshop are:
Charles Larmore, Brown University
Philip Pettit, Princeton University
A. John Simmons, University of Virginia

Hope to see you in Tucson,

David Sobel, Peter Vallentyne, and Steve Wall (editors)

Monday, March 04, 2013

RIP Allan Calhamer

RIP Allan Calhamer, inventor of the greatest of polisci-gamer games, Diplomacy. 

CFA for editorship of JOP


Southern Political Science Association Invites Nominations and Applications for Editor of the Journal of Politics

Larry Dodd, President of the Southern Political Science Association, has appointed a Search Committee to select a new Editor for the Journal of Politics.  The incoming Editor will succeed Jan Leighley and Bill Mishler, whose editorial term will end on December 31, 2014. The new Editor will serve an initial four-year term, from January 1, 2015 through December 31, 2018.

The members of the Search Committee are: Carol S. Weissert, Florida State University (chair); Jon Bond, Texas A&M University; Josh Clinton, Vanderbilt University; John Geer, Vanderbilt University; Bill Jacoby, Michigan State University; Jan Leighley, American University; Cherie Maestas, Florida State University; Jim Johnson, University of Rochester; Adam Sheingate, Johns Hopkins University, and Lee Walker, University of South Carolina.

The Search Committee seeks nominations and applications for the Editorship. Both individual and group candidates are equally welcome for consideration. Nominations and applications for the Editorship of the Journal of Politics should be sent to Carol S. Weissert, cweissert@fsu.edu.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Going to live forever...

Haven't posted one of these in a while.
The National Institutes of Health study, published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicated that caffeinated and decaf coffee drinkers were less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections.
In an interview published this week in the Journal of Caffeine Research, Neal Freedman — with the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the NIH National Cancer Institute — said his study is among the most comprehensive to date of the health benefits of coffee and has significant implications for java junkies. Researchers tracked 500,000 U.S. men and women — ages 50 to 71, all members of the American Association of Retired Persons — for about 12 years. 
Not only did the results show a clear association between coffee and longevity, Freedman said, but they also indicated people who drank the most coffee tended to have greatest health benefits. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Freedom of complex associations

The Tennessee legislature is renewing its attempt to override Vanderbilt's freedom of association in the name of the freedom of association of religious student clubs.  Disappointingly, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education seems to have forgotten its traditional commitment to universities' own freedom of association, and seems to endorse the selective withholding of state benefits (so selective as to creep into bill of attainder territory!) in order to force Vanderbilt to change its policy... a policy of withholding benefits from student clubs that don't admit all comers, in order to get them to change their policies.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Postapocalyptic hellscape

[I think that this hasn't previously found any home on the google-able internet, though I've shared most of it on fb at one time or another.  I wrote most of it up last year (oddly) in a reply to a BBC reporter who was thinking about a decades-debate, but that fell through.]

I no longer worry about cultural decline.  It is my considered judgment that the world already ended, right around mid-2000.  We live in a postapocalyptic hellscape now.  There's nothing that, say, reality TV or Glee can throw at us to make me say "the world is going to hell in a handbasket."  It already went.  I find this tremendously liberating.  Any day at the end of which I can say "the zombies didn't eat my brain today" counts as a win, even if that day also saw the release of Transformers vs. the Human Centipede.

As Todd Seavey has long noted, the matrix inside 1999's The Matrix seemed to be set in the then-current day.  In other words, when Agent Smith told Morpheus that the matrix was set in "the peak of [human] civilization" it seemed to be 1999 that he was talking about. And then it all went so terribly wrong...

Why mid-2000?

On the non-cultural side, by the end of the 90s the internet bubble combined with some longer-term social trends to really make American society feel brighter than it ever had before.  Unemployment was at a generation-long low; US median income was, IIRC, the highest it has ever been in any large country.  (That is, in inflation-adjusted terms that peak still hasn't been matched in the US, though places like Singapore have surpassed it.)  Crime had been falling for the whole decade and people were coming to realize that American big cities had generally become very safe; and population was flowing back into them.  Teen pregnancy down, welfare down, massive unexpected budget surpluses creating competing fantasies of what to be done with it all, productivity growth up, etc.  The bubble popped in the first quarter of 2000, but it took a while for the consequences to fully reverberate through the whole economy.  The contrast in mood from, say, December 1999 to mid-2001 even before 9/11, was, as I remember it, just huge-- and then 9/11 began a chain of dominoes for a much darker decade-- two wars, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and then the financial collapse. In Europe, the end of the Kosovo war brought the violence of the long breakup of Yugoslavia to a close, Russia wasn't yet resurgent, and I think there were as good of grounds for optimism as there had ever been: a peaceful and united Europe looked to be at hand.  So, as with memories of the 1890s and 1920s, memories of the culture of the 1990s are partly also memories of the decade in a broader social, political, and economic way.  The popping of the bubble and the election of George W. Bush do seem like a good way to date the end of an Era of Good Feelings.

That said, my view of television is that the 2000s saw possibly the best scripted television ever-- with tiny niche audiences that were generally sustainable on pay cable, mostly not on the networks.  The Wire and The Sopranos did fine on pay cable.  Arrested Development and Firefly did not, on networks.  But the tidal wave of reality TV awfulness that hit starting in mid-2000 lowered the quality of what the average watcher was watching at any given time precipitously-- I'm willing to say to its lowest point ever, lower than in the Three's Company era or the Beverly Hillbillies era of dumb sitcoms.  

And that's the kind of consideration I have in mind overall.  It's not that there aren't gems after 2000.  Human creativity and genius don't disappear.  In the most barbaric times of the Middle Ages the monks were still producing some beautiful manuscripts for an audience that might total dozens over the following centuries. In the 2000s we haven't had the same combination of quality and creativity with broad markets and general cultural impact that we had in the late 90s. Instead, we've had Fear Factor (launched 2001) to set new lows, and American Idol (2002) to celebrate the aspiration to do cover songs of middlebrow hits of bygone days, and eventually Glee to turn American Idol into a middlebrow scripted show.

Plus: Mid-2000 saw Dawn introduced on Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and once we got to the season that started in 2001, that once-great show went far, far off the deep end.  Mid-2000 saw Mulder leave the X-Files, and that once-great show went off the deep end.  Hell in a handbasket, I tell ya.

In movies, the indie explosion of the 90s was absolutely wonderful for creativity.  In 1999, we had The Sixth Sense, Blair Witch, Being John Malkovich, and the first Matrix (in which Agent Smith showed video of what seemed to be real-world 1999 and referred to it as "the peak of your civilization" while interrogating Morpheus).  I think those four added up to as robust a sense that anything-is-possible in a commercial artform as I've ever seen-- maybe something like it was true in the early post-studio days of New Hollywood in the 1970s, but I'm too young for that.  There was plenty of dreck, of course, with Phantom Menace at the top of the list.  But: The Iron Giant, Girl Interrupted, All About My Mother, Run Lola Run, Office Space, Fight Club, The Straight Story, ExistenZ, and even the South Park movie-- it was an absolutely extraordinary last year to the decade that Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, and Harvey Weinstein helped usher into being.  Now, it's Michael Bay's world; we just live in it, if you can call that living.

The 2000s have been the golden age of fantasy and comic book movies.  That's not a complaint from me; loved the Lord of the Rings, loved the new peaks of the superhero genre from X-Men 2 and Spider-Man 2 through Dark Knight and Avengers.  But, along with other franchises good (Harry Potter) and bad (Transformers),  they've sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the rest of the movie business. "Anything is possible" now means "what we can make with CGI," not "what kinds of movies we can make."

The Oscars are  a separate problem from movies in general-- but if the Best Picture win for A Beautiful Mind in 2001 wasn't a sign of the end of the world, I don't know what would be-- except for the 2005 win for Crash.  After those two, I wouldn't even have blinked had the loathesome Avatar won (though of course, like all good people, I'm glad that it didn't.)

I think that by '99 music mass-market was a couple of years past its peak-- the era of Britney, Christina, Backstreet Boys, and N'Sync was upon us.  And year-for-year I prefer the music of the 80s.  But there was something special in the early/mid 90s, when alternative went mainstream (or the mainstream went alternative), when the barriers between hip-hop and rock started to weaken and grunge provided a new infusion of energy, and the huge commercial rock bands were REM and U2.  

Impressionistically-- I'm less confident here-- I think English-language literary fiction has lost a lot of its cultural reach, too.  Here the peak is a little bit later: 2001 was when both The Corrections and Atonement came out, and they had really significant cultural reach between them.  The rest of the 2000s had gems (Kavalier and Klay, Fortress of Solitude, Oscar Wao, On Beauty, Middlesex, Never Let Me Go, Oryx and Crake) but I'm not sure they ever added up to that 2001 level of impact.  Just today [NB: this was written in April 2012] the Pulitzer committee declined to award a prize in fiction for last year; and I'll bet that this is not received as a scandal. 

1999's Booker was won by Coetzee's Disgrace-- the most recent great novel by the most recent person to win the Nobel Prize in literature for work in English that was done in recent memory.  (Lessing and Pinter were recognized for much older work.)  Maybe that's as good a measure as any.  Of the other Anglophones at all likely to win it, DeLillo, Rushdie, and Updike did their best work decades ago; only Cormac McCarthy still seems to be producing major work.  

Upshot: The late 1990s into very early 2000 were at least a local peak... and then things went to hell.  Once one accepts that things went to hell, all surprises are pleasant ones, and one doesn't have to worry that Honey Boo Boo is a harbinger of things getting any worse.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Philip Pettit, On the People's Terms

Now available:

Philip Pettit, On the People's Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy, Cambridge University Press 2013, The Seeley Lectures

This looks like a full companion to and completion of Pettit's Republicanism, and an attempt to seriously engage with an important line of criticism of that book.  Looking forward to reading it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

CSPT: "Political Thought and Historical Imagination"

Political Thought and Historical Imagination 



CSPT Annual Conference
March 1-2, 2013
Luce Auditorium, Yale University
The historical imagination – how we understand history and place ourselves in relation to it – cannot help but shape and be shaped by the theoretical imagination – how we understand politics and its problems. This conference explores the ways in which our imagination of history influences the theoretical questions we ask, and the ways in which our political theories lead us to retell stories about the past.
Panels:
Roman History and 18th Century Political Thought, Interpreting the French Revolution, Haiti: Theoretical Implications of Slavery and Emancipation, Historiography as Political Theory: Foundings, Inheritance and Critique, Narrative and Genre in Political Theory, Beyond World History: Political Trajectories Outside the West
Participants:
Danielle Allen, Keith Baker, Robin Blackburn, Richard Bourke, James Ceaser, John Dunn, Sibylle Fischer, Jason Frank, Patrice Gueniffey, Wang Hui, Kirstie McClure, Iain McDaniel, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Michael Mosher, J. G. A. Pocock, Andrew Sabl, Rogers Smith, Steven Smith, Brandon Terry, Shatema Threadcraft, Richard Tuck, and Elizabeth Wingrove.

Organizers:


Bryan Garsten and Karuna Mantena, Yale University


[NB: see too this introductory note from, I take it, Garsten and Mantena on the occasion of their succeeding to the CSPT leadership.  Congratulations both to them and to the society on the transition.  CSPT has been an important organization in our field, and I'm happy to see it in such good hands.  JTL]

Monday, January 28, 2013