Monthly Archives: February 2015

Professor Clifford Orwin, expert in Thucydides, Rousseau, and everything in between, has written a fantastic editorial opposing the ban on veils during the taking of the Oath of Canadian Citizenship. Here’s the link:

Prof. Orwin taught me while I was at U of T (as he has thousands of other students). I recall reading (or hearing, I can’t remember) him admit that he was too liberal to be a conservative, and too conservative to be a liberal. This editorial demonstrates this self-description perfectly well. And look at the “veiled” criticism of PM Harper after praising him highly in the first two sentences. Not only is Harper “New Agey” he is revealing himself to be downright cowardly in his lack of confidence in Canada’s laws, institutions, customs, and conventions. Canada is a commonwealth of recognition. There is absolutely no threat posed to anything or anyone if a Muslim woman who wears a veil over her face as an expression of her identity does so while taking the Citizenship Oath. Harper did a legitimately good thing by founding the Office of Religious Freedom (and Andrew Bennett has long been respected in the world of religious scholars and practitioners, from what I am made to understand). Why has this courage and vision disappeared? Because of the looming election? Because of demagoguery? Because Harper thinks so little of Québec voters that he’s willing to pander to the lowest common denominator amongst them?

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Interests in Affect, Emotion, &c., eventually puts you into the orbit of some interesting literature in neuroscience.  I’m thinking especially here of the work of people like Antonio Damasio, Jonathan Mercer, and Rose McDermott.  But more interesting is the critical work on neuroscience from people like Ruth Leys, and Patricia Clough, and in a different way William Connolly.  Jan Slaby and the Critical Neuroscience project have produced some mind-bending yet spot-on philosophical critiques of the state and aims of neuroscience and politics (cf. Personhood v. Brainhood).  But none of this work really, truly, meets the challenge of neuroplasticity.  If our brain does change itself, if our biological structures are a result of our environment, then culture and politics have a much more important role than this work realizes (and anatamo- / bio- politics is even more powerful than Foucault might have anticipated).   In short, let’s listen to this interview with Norman Doidge at The, who is the pioneer in Neuroplasticity.

[Norman Doidge] started out as a poet and a student of philosophy, before moving into psychiatry. He authored guidelines for the practice of intensive psychotherapy, before working to integrate new discoveries in neuroscience with existing psychiatric, psychological and psychoanalytic knowledge.

In 2007, he published the best-selling book, The Brain That Changes Itself, and has just written the follow-up, The Brain’s Way of Healing.

Interview here.

Lawrence Serewicz has written an incredible commentary on the first half of Howse’s “Leo Strauss: Man of Peace”. The commentary must be 10,000 20,000 words and has ~50 footnotes, and he’s only halfway done. There are many points of disagreement that I have with his treatment of some of Howse’s points (the use of transcripts, for one), some of his interpretations of Strauss (the status of Socrates v. Aristotle, for example), and whether these constitute a refutation of Howse’s project as a whole. But, overall, the quibbles are with details rather than intention. This is a serious treatment of a serious book, that takes no question for granted. Professor Howse is lucky to have such a thoughtful critic, a testament to the quality of his book. I will add one point, in the event I don’t get to writing a longer response. Serewicz’s review has convinced me (and I’m not sure what his intention is, here) that people like him and me are not the intended audience of Howse’s book. Readers capable of the care that he demonstrates in his review would never have been seduced by the popular narrative of Strauss-as-immoderate-neoconserative-imperialist. In a way, debating Howse on the particulars implicitly grants Howse the big picture. This happens to be a big picture I agree with, though one that is for the moment on shakier ground thanks to Lawrence’s review. You should follow him on twitter (@lldzne) and the debate he’s currently having with Rob Howse about this commentary:

Philosophical Politics

Leo Strauss Leo Strauss (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prefatory remarks.[1]

Professor Howse has written an ambitious book to make the case for Leo Strauss as a man of peace and to defend him from his critics. That he has to meet both charges is indicative of the state of American politics and academics. In these prefatory remarks, I want to sketch my limited and indirect relationship to Leo Strauss’s students and by extension Leo Strauss before commenting on Professor Howse’s book.

In the early 1990s, I studied at Claremont Graduate School. At the time, a number of Strauss’ students and students of his students were associated with the School. Leo Strauss had taught at Claremont McKenna College for a year in the early 70s. [Correction LS was at CMC in 1969] Since I left, the School became University. However, my time at Claremont had a lasting impact on me. Even though my…

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I’m struggling with how to “introduce” my dissertation, now that it is finally, officially, the end game for writing. Looking through notebooks and old files I found my preparatory work for my Proposal defense. It isn’t quite appropriate for the dissertation itself, but it’s always nice to revisit the clarity with which one thought about a project at its beginnings, as opposed to the layers upon layers of literature that obfuscate at the end of it. Here’s what I had to say, then:

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If you’ve found your way to this space, then you’re likely already familiar with the work of Sergei Prozorov.  The depth of his thought on International Relations as Political Philosophy is hard to match.  I’d say that he has, more explicitly than any other writer, taken up Rob Walker’s call in 1993 to do IR as Political Theory.  After all, that is all that “international relations” is, and it is certainly all that the discipline of IR theory is. We have not benefited one iota from the separation of Political Theory proper from IR Theory, in the academic world or outside of it.  I have taken to describing my self as a “political theorist” whose area of concentration is “IR”, and I think that this descriptor would fit a great many.   But the occasion for this post is the review of both volumes of Prozorov’s Void Universalism (the first volume is Ontology and World Politics, the second is Theory of the Political Subject) that appeared today in Contemporary Political Theory, written by my friend Dr Robert Oprisko.  You can read it here.  I will pull out only one quote from the first volume of Void Universalism that picks up some of my favourite themes:

In this classic article Wight (1960, ‘Why is there no International Theory?’) famously distinguished between ‘domestic’ political theory, whose object was the territorially delimited state, as the theory of ‘good life’ and ‘international’ theory, whose object was the relations between these state with no overarching authority above them, as the theory of ‘mere survival’… More important for our purposes is Wight’s constitution of the domain of international theory by the subtraction of all positive content of ‘good life’, reserved for political theory proper, which leaves ‘international theory’ reduced to a theory of mere survival.  International theory is thus from the outset conceived in the privative mode as ‘political theory minus’.

This is exactly right.  I don’t say that often, so it’s important to do so when appropriate. Now is such a time.  I’ve tried to make this point in a different and much more inelegant way by arguing that sovereignty and security are one-and-the-same concept, and the question of the good life, ‘how must one live?’, is answered with one word: securely.  But I will restate this formulation of mine, which I have yet to improve on: the logic of inside/outside is made possible by the noetic heterogeneity of the good.  Prozorov destroys the intellectual borders and boundaries of IR by giving IR a more important role in the enlightenment of the human race than we usually accord it, or than it usually allows itself.  That is no small feat.  Read the books.  Both of them.  I am.

One writes as one reads. Few are the things I like reading more than a great review. Take Samuel Moyn, recently, in the Boston Review on Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism:

Yet there is little insight in this book into how liberalism in the past half century has risked becoming illiberal precisely in response to external threats that, its political theorists insisted, demanded a return to basics. In response to Communism, Isaiah Berlin did not so much defend as deform the liberal tradition, which to that point had focused less on the fight against ideological enemies (except Christianity itself) than on the institutionalization of freedom and equality. Siedentop’s conviction that radical Islam prompts the West to respond with moral clarity about what it represents is the continuation of Berlin’s project: the reinterpretation of liberalism in the face of presumed enemies. Siedentop dallies in the Middle Ages in implausible reaction to anxiety and worry, distorting the history of liberalism and omitting how much further it had to go—still has to go—to take individual freedom and equality seriously.

That is an amazing paragraph. I think a good review should give the reader as sense of 1) the original text as it understands itself and 2) the unvarnished judgment of the reviewer. Judgment is the key, because often academic journals are littered with faint praise and faint criticism, or superficialities that teach us nothing. I don’t care if you liked the book, or hated it. How do you judge the work, in your capacity as a learned individual, with some expertise in the area?  This is what matters.  I don’t want compassionate reviewers but humane ones, who know who to praise and blame.  The modern ur-text here is Miguel Vatter’s review of Paul Kahn’s Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty:

First, I wish to say something about the book in terms of its exegesis of Schmitt. I don’t think Kahn is claiming to be saying anything “new” about Schmitt, either in general or on Political Theology in particular. Since there exist by now hundreds of books and articles on Schmitt and his political theology in German, French, Italian, Spanish (and, since the late 1980s, English), and since Kahn’s thin book lacks even a basic bibliographical treatment of this material and one that does not go beyond secondary literature in English, one would have to assume that this text is not really intended to contribute to the scholarly literature on Schmitt.

This is how you review a book.  If you have a better example I’d love to read it.

I’ve never re-blogged anything in this space, but this post on book annotations and marginalia from the JHI blog is worth it. Especially since John Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity” is on my desk, in preparation for class this week!


by guest contributor Frederic Clark

The history of reading has recently witnessed an explosion of interest, doing much to transform and reinvigorate the practice of intellectual history. Although recent histories of reading range across every conceivable genre and period, early modern Europe has played a starring role in the rise of this field of study. This is due above all to the fact that many early modern readers were prodigious annotators.

But we, with our taste for self-reflexive inquiries, are hardly the first to contextualize the acts of readers. Early modern annotators often obsessively detailed the circumstances of their reading—recording where and when they read their books, what other books they owned, and in turn what other books the authors themselves had read. Such annotations wove together an elaborate web, linking multiple books and readers to one another, while fixing each respectively in space and time. These meditations on reading…

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