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Archive for the ‘political philosophy’ Category

Over at Learn Liberty, I take up the question of what the rest of the world should do if Catalonia’s referendum on independence on October 1 succeeds, as is expected. I apply some straightforward assumptions about justice and individual freedom to the case. Secession is hard because it always involves violating some people’s rights — but then, so does stopping secession. The question has to be about how to preserve the greatest degree of freedom.

“Working from the premise that it is more just to allow people to live under a government they prefer, we can see the attraction of deciding controversies over sovereignty with a referendum. If more Catalans prefer to live under a Catalan state than wish to live under the Spanish state, then it is better to allow independence. If fewer do, then it is better to forbid it.”

I then take up some common objections to this formula and conclude that they do not apply to the Catalan case:

“In conclusion, the more Catalonia does to guarantee respect for the rights of all its citizens after independence, the more confident we can be that Catalonia’s independence should be recognized following a successful majority vote.”

More here.

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My latest Learn Liberty blog post is on the topic above and can be found here. Excerpt:

Kant’s moral philosophy justifies extremely strong individual rights against coercion. The only justification for coercion in his philosophy seems to be defense of self or others. His ideal government therefore seems to be extremely limited and to allow for the free play of citizens’ imaginations, enterprise, and experiments in living.

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I’ve started a new blogging gig at Learn Liberty, a project of the Institute for Humane Studies. I’ll be putting links to these posts here. My posts there will have the benefit of an editor, which is probably something I need.

The first is on partisan rationalization and why epistocracy may not save us after all – a suitable topic after this election, no? Here’s the lede:

Highly informed voters are also highly biased. That’s a serious problem for democracy, but also for any other system of political decision-making in big groups.

Two new books, Against Democracy by Georgetown moral philosopher Jason Brennan and Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government by Princeton University political scientist Christopher Achen and Vanderbilt University political scientist Larry Bartels, deal intellectual hammer blows to the political system so many of us take for granted: democracy.

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New at e3ne.org, I discuss my conversations with high school students about the moral legitimacy of border restrictions:

We started our discussion with a little bit of improv theatre. I played a foreigner trying to get into the United States without documentation. Students volunteered to play a border guard trying to keep me out. Between us lay an invisible line, the border. I engaged them in a conversation about the moral justification of keeping me out.

To my surprise, the students were more confidently pro-immigration than I was! I played devil’s advocate some and tried to get them to appreciate the nuances of immigration policy.

My view is that borders are morally illegitimate because the state is morally illegitimate. Nevertheless, it can be permissible to use force to stop someone from settling in a particular area when doing so is necessary to safeguard public order or to preserve the minimal conditions for effective political autonomy for the existing communities in that area. For instance, I think it would be permissible for the U.S. government or an American state to prevent a large group of totalitarians from settling on their territory, provided the law does not provide a means for preventing them and their immediate descendants from obtaining citizenship. In a similar way, it would be appropriate for the Israeli government to prevent radical Arab nationalists from settling in their territory en masse. It’s also appropriate to exclude violent criminals, suspected terrorists, invading foreign armies, and, in the context of a welfare state, those unable or unwilling to work.

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How can one group of human beings come to enjoy a right to enforce its authoritative commands on other human beings? In other words, how does government come to enjoy a right to rule, and how do citizens come to incur a duty to obey?

I consider the answer over at e3ne.org. The reasoning depends heavily on Michael Huemer’s book, The Problem of Political Authority, which I have reviewed here at Pileus. As a moral Lockean, my own view is that the U.S. government is illegitimate because it does not have a valid social contract with its citizens. That doesn’t mean the U.S. government is evil, or that we should try to overthrow it, but it does mean that the government doesn’t have any rights that ordinary citizens don’t also have. The U.S. government and its citizens are in a state of nature.

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I have a “nutshell” summary and critique of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty now up at e3ne.org. Excerpt:

Mill thus defends freedom of conscience, speech, and lifestyle on completely “practical” grounds, but he leaves some significant loose ends in On Liberty. For instance, there are lots of examples of “harms” that the government shouldn’t regulate, like breaking up with a longtime boyfriend or girlfriend. It may cause emotional damage to break up with someone, but there’s no justification for forcing someone to stay in a romantic relationship. So the Harm Principle may establish a necessary condition for government regulation but not a sufficient one (in other words, the government should regulate nothing but harms, but not all harms).

Read more.

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My paper on the political philosophy of secession is now out in Public Affairs Quarterly, an open-access journal. Read it here. Teaser:

The United Kingdom currently sets the gold standard for management of secessionist politics. The British and Scottish governments negotiated in good faith over the terms of the independence referendum that Scotland held on September 18, 2014. If Scotland had voted to secede, the British government would have recognized its independence, thus affirming that the United Kingdom is a free partnership among its peoples.

Spain presents a different scenario altogether. Catalonia intends to hold its own “consultation” on independence, but the Spanish government has denied its right to do so, thus denying that Spain is a free partnership. The Catalan government has repeatedly sought to hold negotiations on the self-determination process, but has been rebuffed. What ought the Catalan government to do? By the criteria set forth in this paper, Catalonia has tried to conform to a just institutional regime for regulating secessionist politics, while Spain has not. Catalonia would be justified in using all proportionate means to secure a just outcome.

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