Political Theory (Loosely Interpreted): June 2007 Archives

I've just finished Jorge Gracia's Surviving Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality: A Challenge for the Twenty-first Century, which I've blogged about briefly before. Overall, it's an excellent treatment of the metaphysical issues about race, ethnicity, and nationality. Gracia's primary focus is defending the existence of all three, explaining what they all are, distinguishing amongst them, and responding to objections against using such categories.

It's carefully argued and very clear. I can't see how someone can think through the ethical and political issues involving these three categories without having first thought about these more fundamental issues, and this is the best treatment of them that I've seen. It's treating an issue usually covered by continental philosophers but with the tools of analytic metaphysics, which is a breath of fresh air for me, since I'm trying to do the same thing.

I'm actually a little worried about what sort of positive view I'm going to end up with in my dissertation, because he's already come up with a similar enough view, and I think he's basically right. I'm sure I'll come up with something distinctive as I go, but this is the best discussion of the metaphysical status of race that I've seen yet, and I've been immersed in this literature for some time now. The other issues aren't my area, but I found his discussions of them helpful, particularly his arguments for what the differences are and why it's important to distinguish them.

I came across a nice little quote near the end that doesn't relate at all to my dissertation, but I found it both insightful and intriguing, and I thought readers of this blog might find it interesting as well:

The common idea that colonialism is responsible for the conflicts that afflict some parts of the Third World because colonial powers carved out states without regard to racial and ethnic differences assumes that it is a good thing to have states that are ethnically and racially homogeneous and divided along ethnic and racial lines. I am not going to defend colonialism, or the way colonial powers created states in the territories that once they controlled. I do not believe these are defensible causes, and their defense appears to be morally repugnant. It is quite clear that colonial powers created artificial states without nations. But their mistake was not neglecting ethnic or racial boundaries, but rather forming states without regard for nationality. Instead of helping to develop nations out of disparate ethnic and racial groups based on a common will to live under a system of laws with the aims of justice and the good of their members, they mostly drew lines on a map based on expediency and their own national or state interests.

I've always just accepted this argument whenever I've heard it. There really have been all manner of problems appearing in parts of the world where the boundary lines have been redrawn by colonial powers, separating ethnic groups down the middle and forcing them into states with other ethnic groups. But the solution wouldn't be making ethnic groups line up exactly with nations. That's a recipe for making every ethnic disagreement an international disagreement, and it makes outsiders of anyone who happens not to be in that ethnic group who is in the state. But as Gracia notes, the problem isn't arbitrary dividing lines, as if different ethnic groups couldn't form a nation and thrive. The problem is that those who colonized and drew the lines didn't engage in nation-building, i.e. they didn't work toward bringing these people to be part of a nation seeking a common system of laws to govern them for their own best interests.

Civil libertarianism is a general emphasis on individual rights as opposed to government interference in how people choose to live their lives. Some people hold to civil libertarianism purely as a political philosophy, and others base it in a kind of moral libertarianism about there being nothing morally wrong with most of the things they favor allowing people to do legally. Someone like Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, had better take the latter view when it comes to sex-related acts that he wants legal, at least unless he's going to admit to being a thoroughly immoral person. So I suspect that what's grounding his advocacy of first-amendment free-speech rights for the porngraphy industry that he's part of is a moral libertarianism. There's nothing wrong with what his magazine publishes, so there should be no laws against it.

What he doesn't like is social conservatives who speak out against sex-related acts of certain sorts and then commit acts privately that many of their constituents would disapprove of. This is what's called hypocrisy, provided that it's not just a moment of weakness but a regular pattern of saying one thing and doing another, with full realization that their words apply to themselves and just no willingness to let that affect their life. We just heard Flynt on the radio talking about his campaign to catch politicians doing this sort of thing by paying anyone a million dollars if they can come up with photographs of politicians in the act.

Something seems funny about the position Flynt is taking. He denies that this is revenge against those who have caused him legal trouble in the past. So what is his motivation? Would you expect a civil libertarian who thinks people should pretty much be able to do what they want to be concerned about what these politicians are up to? It's not as if he thinks those acts are immoral or anything. So it's not the acts that he has a problem with. The only things left that he could complain about are (1) their public stance and (2) the disconnect between their public stance and their private behavior. I'm not sure either justifies what Flynt is doing, at least not unless you add some additional moral premise that might move in the opposite direction of the moral libertarianism that often undergirds civil libertarianism.

Flynt has a legitimate complaint against the policy recommendations of social conservatives, given his civil libertarianism. On his view those policies are terrible. He objects to restrictions that prevent people from getting married to other people of the same sex, mutilating their fetuses to death, using chemicals (i.e. drugs) to destroy themselves and the kids in their neighborhood that they deal them to, taking advantage of desperate people in order to have sex with them (i.e. hiring prostitutes), taking advantage of desperate people in order to photgraph them nude (i.e. running a porn magazine), and so on. He wants people to be free to do those things, and he thinks he has a moral objection to stopping people from doing such things. So the views of social conservatives are, on his view, wrong.

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