Regards from Israel: I'm traveling this week, so I won't have the chance to blog very much. On the drive from from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this afternoon, we had the strangest weather I've ever seen. I've watched ominous, green and purple skies driving through Kansas, stopped for white-outs in Colorado, waded through floods in southern Virginia, and even bunkered down for a serious hurricane in Biloxi. But today the sky was darkened with sand, with a hot wind blowing, and then it rained. When we stopped, our car was caked in mud. I've never seen it rain in Israel after Passover. But that alone might not have been so unusual. The really crazy part was that it rained in the midst of a sand-storm. Strange things are happening in this country. Is any one superstitious?


Taking Strauss (less?) Seriously: I've been following the recent flare-up about Strauss from a distance. I thought I would cobble together the major posts for people who might be interested but haven't had the time or the patience (understandably) to look for this stuff. If you're new to this debate, the recent discussion was kicked off by a spate of articles about how neoconservatives in the Bush administration have been influenced by the political philosopher Leo Strauss. There are articles by Seymour Hersch in the New Yorker, James Atlas in the New York Times, Jeet Heer in the Boston Globe, Jim Lobe in Asia Times, William Pfaff in the International Herald Tribune, and Alain Frachon and Daniel Vernet in La Mond (happily translated in the link provided). Peter Berkowitz has published an apology for Strauss in the Weekly Standard (with thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for spotting it).

Leiter v. Cherniss: In a scathing letter, Brian Leiter lambasted the New York Times for perpetuating "the mainstream media's long-standing fraudulent portrayal of Leo Strauss, and his acolytes like Allan Bloom, Francis Fukuyama, and Harry Jaffa, as serious political philosophers and scholars." Josh Cherniss (at Balliol) has replied to Leiter and others in a remarkable series of posts available (in chronological order) here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. (Whoever your supervisor is, Josh, for your sake, I hope s/he's not reading this post--unless, of course, you're planning to include a chapter about Strauss in your thesis. In which case, more power to you!)
Other bloggers: Ted Hinchman posts some valuable commentary here, here, and, on the new Diachronic Agency page, here. (Hinchman's last post also includes my favorite line of the month: "If my own head had a job opening, I don't think I'd even get an interview." Anyone who can write a line like that should automatically get an interview--even in his own head!) Chris Bertram has a measured response to all this here; following Eric Tam's lead from here; the Invisible Adjunct is here and here, and Eddie Thomas here. Lastly, I've drawn some of the links above from Daniel Drezner, who has some excellent posts here, here, and here.

For what it's worth, I think the political hype about "Leo-cons" has blown things way out of proportion. I don't have much sympathy for the Straussian project, but I do think Straussian arguments are worth discussing. This is one place where a proper journal article (or two) would probably be of more help than the blogger's rant. I'll let the Straussian experts suggest a good reading list--it would be very helpful for someone who is sympathetic to Strauss to put together a short-list. (I'm sure such lists exist, but point us in the right direction.) If you're looking for a critical essay, I'd recommend a short article by Charles Larmore originally published in the New Republic (July 3, 1989). It's reprinted in his The Morals of Modernity as "The Secret Philosophy of Leo Strauss."

Bloggered: it appears Blogger is migrating old blogs over to a new format. At the moment, I don't have access to my template to update my blogroll, etc. There are so many pages out there deserving of recognition . . .


The good life: some folks in this town must be living it. I can't believe I spent four years in England and never went to Hay-on-Wye. Maybe it's because most of the bookstores there have put their inventories on-line. At any rate, I'm planning to correct my mistake next week. I'm hoping to be in Hay for the last day of its literature festival. The sheer amount of programming for the week-long festival is incredible. (Does anyone know of anything like this is the U.S.?) Of particular interest to political theorists are talks by John Gray, Michael Lind, A.C. Grayling, Mary Warnock, and Richard Sennett, among others. If anyone's been to Hay and has a favorite book store, let me know.

Update: maybe next year in California for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Or maybe I'll just stay right here in Charlottesville.


Seldon v. Swift: as Chris Bertram points out, the latest issue of Prospect has an excellent exchange between Anthony Seldon and Adam Swift about the social justice of private education. For more on Swift's book How not to be a Hypocrite, see my earlier entries on "Political theory for everyone" and "Education and hypocrisy." Permalinks are bloggered, but both are archived at 3/23/2003.


The Cool Name Theory: in the social sciences, good theories are supposed to have (i) parsimony and (ii) explanatory power. So how about this: to make it into the canon of great political philsophers, your name has to be amenable to a suffix like "ism," "ist," "ian," "ite," "an," etc.

Consider: Plato(nic), Hobbes(ian), Locke(an), Hume(an), Kant(ian), Hegel(ian), Burke(an), Marx(ist/ism), Milli(an), and Rawls(ian).

There are two additional corollaries. First, the common-name corollary says that common names are fatal to cannonization. So I've got some bad news for Charles Taylor, David Miller, and Jerry/Josh Cohen. A second and related corollary says that already-taken names are also fatal. It'll be hard to break through as Marx II. Humble apologies if your last name is Smith.

Of course, having a cool name is not a sufficient condition. But you have to wonder about some could-have-beens: Sidgwick(?), Hobhouse, Oakeshott--and there's probably some bad news on the way for Ackerman, MacIntyre, and Kymlicka. On the flip side, Gaus and Strauss are looking good. The theory would probably also predict success for Raz. Razian works, right?

As I see it, there are three fairly strong objections to CNT:

First, there are good counter-examples: Aristotle isn't easy to assimilate to the theory; Tocqueville is also a challenge. Are they exceptions that prove the rule?
Second, the boundaries of the canon are obviously flexible. Does Wittgenstein count? People do say "Wittgensteinian." But that doesn't make it cool--nor does it make Wittgenstein a political philosopher. CNT can probably withstand this objection . . . but what about all those Continental philosophers? Is CNT anglo-centric? Gadamerian might pass the test. Heidegger probably not. Foucault? (I'm going to count on Russell Arben Fox to help out here--even though he's doomed on this account. I think Fox is probably taken.)
Third, although I think this formulation of the theory is somewhat original, the theory is doomed unless it takes off under its descriptive name. Because Schwartzmanian isn't going anywhere.

Philosophical lexicon: so Jack Balkin and Larry Solum have a gigantic, jurisprudential argument going back and forth. In the midst of it all, Tom Runnacles has this noteworthy comment:

The almighty battle between Professors Balkin and Solum, over the merits of the 'neo-formalist' view of judicial decision-making, proceeds apace. In his latest post, Larry is momentarily dismayed when the argument takes a turn he didn't quite anticipate:
I thought I had Balkin, but now, at the very end, he pulls a Dworkin on me. What I am supposed to do now. I could Raz Balkin, but there is no way to Raz someone in a blog. It takes way too long.
Indeed, but that's only the half of it. The real problem is that when a Razzing has been successfully carried through, the affected party may well not notice what's happened to him for some time afterwards; in fact, even then it may take him a considerable while to determine the nature of his injuries.
Folks, let's hope this fight stays clean. They're both taking some tremendous hits out there, but one can certainly say that each is showing a lot of Hart, and that this one ain't Finnis-ed yet.

If you've never seen Dworkin or Raz in action, then all of this will be something of a mystery. But that's where the Philosophical Lexicon comes in. Except that Solum and Runnacles aren't helping out the uninitiated by using the "standard" definitions. According the Lexicon, "to dwork" means: "To drawl through a well prepared talk, making it appear effortless and extemporaneous. "I bin dworkin on de lecture circuit" - old American folk song." Looks like Solum is using an alternative, unsanctioned definition. And, unfortunately, the Lexicon seems to be missing altogether a definition for "Raz". In the "Preface to the Eight Edition," Dennett extends his "apologies to all the illustrious members of the profession who deserve to be included but have so far failed to inspire a suitably pungent definition." I think with some refinement, Solum could supply the requisite one-liner. Then maybe we can move on to Hart and Finnis--since jurisprudes seem to be rather under-represented in the Philosophical Lexicon. For what it's worth, my favorite entry is:

buber, v. To struggle in a morass of one's own making. "After I defined the self as a relation that relates to itself relatingly, I bubered around for three pages." Hence buber, n. one who bubers. "When my mistake was pointed out to me, I felt like a complete buber."

There are certainly times when blogging feels like bubering. Hence my hiatus. Here's to getting back into the saddle.


Hart is out: although he was never fully "in," Hart's decided not to run. Wish I had more time to comment, but last exam is around the corner.


Rorty in Oxford: never thought I'd see the day. Well, actually, I still haven't. But some friends of mine have been attending lectures that Rorty is giving this week in Oxford. The schedule is available here. It's also great to see that the Oxford Research Seminar in Political Theory is up and running again. I had the privilege of helping to organize that seminar for a couple years. Looks like they've got a good line up this Trinity term--including, I've just noticed, Chris Bertram.