Corey Brettschneider on The Glenn Show, Public Ethics Radio, and more

Political and constitutional theorist Corey Brettschneider has been busy doing a number of interviews to promote his book, When the State Speaks, What Should it Say: How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality. His book looks at the quandary often faced by democracies when they are forced to choose between protecting the right of its citizens to engage in hate-related speech, or violating freedom of expression. Brettschneider argues that the state should protect the right to express discriminatory beliefs, but that it should actively engage in democratic persuasion, publicly criticizing or giving reasons to reject such hate-based views. Check out his first interview on Bloggingheads about his book, and his second, a discussion of race and public / private distinction. Corey  also appeared on Public Ethics Radio  (sponsored by Carnegie Endowment) with Christian Barry  to discuss his book, and took part in a New Books in Philosophy interview with Robert Talisse.

For a detailed look at When the State Speaks, What Should it Say, check out the online symposium on Publicreason.net, an ongoing chapter-by-chapter discussion of his book, with contributions by an array of prominent scholars.

 

 

 

Airport Paranoia and the De-humanizing Agendum it Stems From

A great number of things have changed in American airlines since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Newer, “safer” procedures have been introduced, and seemingly outdated processes have been cast aside. What’s questionable, however, is if these new procedures really hold much of a benefit or any advantage at all. With the creation of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act on November 19, 2001, airlines no longer contracted with private companies for airport screening. The federal government has taken over airline precautions in the form of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA has implemented a number of policies to make the airports and airlines safer places to go. A more watchful eye now oversees our airline’s customers.

Long gone are the days when passengers could enter the cockpit at free will. Flight decks now include bulletproof doors made with heavy duty materials, such as ballistic aluminum armor unified with composite armor laminates to prevent unauthorized access by terrorists or anyone wishing to do harm. While procedures like these seem to bear little negative repercussions in regard to travel safety, there are certainly some security actions on the social side of the spectrum that could be categorized as socially questionable.  Tallying off the list of possible missteps in airline security policy prompts many experts in sociology, law, and philosophy to dissect the newer airline security model. Perhaps there should be some consideration given to the fact that certain regulations have “pushed the envelope” a little too far.

Take for example the case of Nick George, as reported by PBS NewsHour. George was passing through security in a Philadelphia airport on his way back to college in California. While going through the security checkpoint, George had been carrying some 200 flashcards written in Arabic. Around ten of the flashcards had ‘alarming’ vocabulary written on them, such as “bomb” or “terrorist.”

George was using these flash cards for his Arabic language course and had merely been trying to study more about the Arabic media. George’s offered explanation did not prevent him from being meticulously questioned by the FBI and TSA for hours on end. The vocabulary words were not in fact used for sadistic doctrine, as the airport security officials’ actions might have suggested. This raises the question as to whether or not George’s First and Fourth amendment rights were violated. A suit had been filed on behalf of The American Civil Liberties Union and has since been dropped by the federal defendants and is now “proceeding to discovery,” which means further investigation is underway.

So, are basic human rights being violated by some of the more radical regulations instituted by today’s airlines? Harvey Molotch, author of Against Security believes there is a case to be made. Molotch addresses some of the most controversial policies that have sparked heated debates across human rights and political forums across the nation. When it comes to de-humanizing individuals, Molotch believes the movement to ban public restrooms is at the paramount of humiliation and degradation aimed toward the human species. To deprive people of such a basic human function is frightening to anyone who values their freedoms and constitutional rights.

Read more about airport security and what we can do to make travel in our country safer without sacrificing our dignities and the right to live life peacefully:


bookjacket


Against Security:
How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger
Harvey Molotch

PUP author E.J. Dionne Jr. is mentioned as a noteworthy intellectual of liberal Catholicism in a New York Times op-ed

In last weekend’s NY Times, Molly Worthen laments the caricatured, politically right-wing version of Catholicism portrayed in the U.S. Presidential campaign, and argues for increased attention to an all-too-often ignored and ill-understood social justice orientation of liberal Catholicism. The tradition of liberal Catholicism, which is incompatible with the Ayn Randian visions of Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, remains alive and well, and is discussed and defended with eloquence in a recent Princeton University Press book by EJ Dionne Jr. policy making:

If the Democratic Party is not listening to liberal Catholics, it is partly because they are not in a position to speak very loudly. They are dodging the sights of a Roman hierarchy more preoccupied with smoking out left-leaning nuns than nurturing critical thinking.

“Is liberal Catholicism dead?” Time wondered a few years back. The answer is no: in some regards, liberal Catholic intellectuals are flourishing. They are writing and teaching, running social justice initiatives at the church’s great universities, ensconced in professorships around the Ivy League. Yet a cozy academic subculture can be as isolating as it is empowering.

The handful of nationally known Catholic political thinkers who might be called progressive, or at least compassionate and cosmopolitan — like the journalist-scholars Garry Wills and E. J. Dionne Jr., blogmeister Andrew Sullivan, or the feminist nun and blogger Sister Joan Chittister — are far outnumbered by the ranks of prominent Catholic conservatives in the trenches of activism and policy making.

Read more over at the NY Times op-ed pages.

bookjacket

Souled Out:
Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right
E. J. Dionne Jr.

 

 

Jason Brennan on Why We’re Dumb at Politics

Jason Brennan‘s recent book The Ethics of Voting challenges the common assumption that everyone who can vote, should vote, arguing instead that uninformed voters are to blame for everything from bad laws, to wars and disastrous economic policies. In an ongoing series of popular posts for Election 101, (check here, and here, and here), Brennan takes the view that it’s no wonder things are in the state they’re in when the average voter heads to the polls armed with more personal biases than real information, and no ability to tell the difference. With so much at stake, why aren’t we all a bit smarter when it comes to politics? Are we indulging our irrational beliefs at the risk of our own futures? Where does the turf war end and real assessment begin, and why is it so hard for any of us to actually get to that point? Read his new post here:


Why We’re Dumb at Politics

Jason Brennan

 

Smart Doesn’t Pay

            You cross the street only when you think it’s clear. If you’re wrong, you die. So, you have every incentive to form beliefs about whether the street is clear in a rational way.

Now suppose you are about to vote. What happens if you make a mistake? Alas—not much.
Suppose Obama credibly promises me $10 million from the treasury if he is re-elected. If so, then from a selfish standpoint, having Obama win is worth $10 million more to me than having Romney win. However, that doesn’t yet show it’s worth my time to vote for Obama. My vote is just one of many. I have a better chance of winning Powerball than changing the outcome of the election.

People are fairly rational about checking for street traffic—and they’re not perfect about that—because irrationality is punished. They are irrational about politics because rationality does not pay and irrationality goes unpunished.           

When you go to a new restaurant, you probably spend some time looking over the menu. Maybe you ask the waiter which dishes are best. Maybe you deliberate about pasta or pizza. You put in the effort because you get what you choose.

Imagine a restaurant with a hundred million customers. Each customer places an order. However, customers don’t automatically get the meal they order. Instead, everyone gets the same meal—the most popular item on the menu. In this restaurant, if you order pizza, this has almost no chance of helping you get pizza. You are more likely to win Powerball than to place a tie-breaking order for pizza. In a restaurant like that, you might not even bother to look at the menu. You might not even bother place an order. Putting in effort to make a good choice seems pointless.

Now you know why so many citizens are ignorant and irrational about politics. Regardless of whether we care about others or just ourselves, most of us don’t invest in political knowledge because political knowledge doesn’t pay. We are ignorant because we lack the incentive to be well-informed. We are irrational because we lack the incentive to correct our biases.

Dumb Pays

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says, ”Reasoning was not designed to pursue truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments.” Robert Wright concurs that the human brain evolved to be “a machine for winning arguments,” that is, for seeking victory, not truth.

Motivated reasoning occurs when the brain tries to arrive at beliefs a person finds pleasing. According to the theory of motivated reasoning, we have preferences over beliefs. We enjoy some beliefs. We tend to believe what we prefer to be true. Motivated reasoning occurs when the brain tries to arrive at beliefs that maximize good feelings and minimize bad feelings. Our beliefs are determined by emotions, not evidence. For example, I might prefer to think I am smart, I might prefer to think Democrats are good and Republicans are selfish, or I might prefer to think God created the earth 6,000 years ago.

Psychologist Drew Westen performed a famous experiment in which he scanned committed Democrats’ and Republicans’ brains as they engaged in motivated reasoning. One scary finding: As the partisans denied and evaded evidence right in front of their faces, pleasure centers in their brains lit up. Our brains reward us for intellectual vice.

In politics, dumb is fun. It’s fun to think my coalition is made up of all the good guys. It’s fun to feel superior to the other side—to imagine they are all ignorant and corrupt. It’s fun to allow our political beliefs to form an essential part of our identities. It’s fun to treat the Democrat-Republican rivalry like the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry.

We can afford to indulge pleasurable but grossly irrational political beliefs. And, so, most of us do.

The News Once Again Indicates I Was Right All Along

When we first begin thinking about politics, we don’t start as agnostics. That is, we don’t start with the attitude, “Oh, I don’t know anything, so I will withhold judgment until I first study a whole bunch.”

Few of us form our original political beliefs after first weighing the evidence. Instead, when we first start thinking about politics, we come to the table with groundless political beliefs. We begin with bents to believe some things and disbelieve others. For no good reason, each of us starts off left or right, libertarian or authoritarian, market-friendly or anti-market, and so on.

Our political beliefs are at least moderately hereditable. You genes dispose us to vote one way rather than another. Early childhood experiences also push you one way rather than another. By sheer accident, you might come to associate the Democrats with compassion or the Republicans with responsibility. For you, for the rest of your life, the word “Democrat” will automatically conjure up positive emotions. For the rest of your life, you’ll have a bent—based on no evidence at all—to vote one way rather than another.

When people first start thinking about politics, they come to the table with (often strongly held) pre-existing beliefs. That’s already a worry. Yet if we were really good at assessing evidence and changing our beliefs in light of evidence, then our non-rational bents would not be so bad. Sure, we’d start with groundless, baseless beliefs, but we’d end up with well-grounded beliefs. Young people would start as hacks, but end up as sages.

Alas, we are bad at assessing evidence. Most of us stay hacks.

In politics—but not only in politics—we exhibit strong confirmation bias. This means we tend to pay strong attention to and accept evidence in favor of beliefs we already hold, and tend to ignore, reject, or be bored by evidence against beliefs we hold. We tend to be impressed by evidence that confirms our pre-existing beliefs. We tend to ignore or be suspicious of evidence that this confirms our pre-existing beliefs. We are bored by evidence that tends to confirm views we reject. We cannot even be bothered to evaluate it. We give every benefit of the doubt to arguments and to people who support our views. We are quick to dismiss arguments and people who reject our views.

Confirmation bias means we don’t act like good scientists when thinking about politics. Instead, it means we act like highly corrupt scientists. We don’t care about the truth. We care about defending our turf.

Confirmation bias explains how we consume news. Thanks to the Internet, information is cheaper and easier to get than ever before. Why isn’t everyone much better informed and much less biased, then? Here’s the problem: People seek out news sources that identify and promote their own points of view. Libertarians read libertarian blogs. Left-liberals read left-liberal newspapers, such as the New York Times. Republicans flock to Fox News. People who consume news want to be informed—they want to be informed that they were right all along.

Jason Brennan is assistant professor of ethics at Georgetown University. He is the coauthor of A Brief History of Liberty.

David Runciman on Crisis Elections

Political theorist at Cambridge and British journalist David Runciman has offered us some of the most thought-provoking takes on the problems that plague modern politics. Author of The Politics of Good Intentions as well as Political Hypocrisy, his  forthcoming book, The Confidence Trap, a history of democracy and crisis, is due out in Fall of next year. Here he discusses the idea of crisis elections: Certainly we faced one in 1932, 1980, and 2008, but are we facing one now? Peggy Noonan thinks so. What has been the historical impact on elected governments during times of crisis, and what makes election 2012 different?  Read Runciman’s post here:

 


Crisis Elections

David Runciman

 

Major economic crises make it very difficult for elected governments to hold on to office.  During the first four years of the Great Depression, every democracy around the world, from Australia to Austria, from Brazil to Bulgaria, changed government at least once.  Many of them gave up on democracy altogether and reverted to some form of military rule.  It was a sobering fact, much noted at the time, that when the world’s states gathered in London in June 1933 for the World Economic Conference, only two countries were still being run by the same people who had been in charge when Wall Street crashed in October 1929.  They were Mussolini’s Italy and Stalin’s Russia (and Stalin didn’t even bother to send a delegation to London).  It added to the impression that crises suit dictatorships, not democracies.

The global economic crisis of the mid-1970s also proved a very tough time for democratic leaders.  They found themselves being forced from office just about everywhere, either though defeat at the ballot box or driven out by scandals.  Almost the only one to hold on was Indira Gandhi in India, and she only managed it by using emergency powers to suspend Indian democracy altogether in 1975.  When she relented twenty-one months later and finally allowed elections, the voters kicked her out too.

This crisis has been different.  Plenty of elected leaders who were in charge when Lehman’s went under nearly four years ago are still there now.  Manmohan Singh in India, Angela Merkel in Germany, Stephen Harper in Canada and Recep Erdogan in Turkey have all been in office for well over the duration.  This reflects the widely varying impact of the crisis on different parts of the democratic world.  These four countries have all had relatively benign crises and their economies have proved fairly robust.  The same is true of Australia, which has changed leader from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard, but only because of an internal party coup; the same party is still in power.  In fact, of the members of the G20, ten have had the same government since 2008, and only two of these are straightforwardly undemocratic (China and Saudi Arabia).

The result is that no clear pattern for democracy has emerged in this crisis.  In some places, including Southern Europe, democracy has looked very fragile and in Italy and Greece there have been temporary suspensions; elsewhere, democracy has looked strong.  The patterns of earlier crises were much clearer.  The Great Depression was very bad for democracy and nearly destroyed it.  The 1970s, in retrospect, were good for democracy.  Countries that were able to change governments found an outlet for popular discontent.  Authoritarian regimes that lacked a comparable outlet either fell apart (as in Greece and Portugal) or were forced to suppress the symptoms of the crisis (as in Eastern Europe) with disastrous long-term consequences.  The democratic tendency to switch horses in tough times was a weakness in the 1930s.  During the 1970s it was a strength.

The lack of a clear pattern this time round makes it hard to know where to place the US election of 2012.  Is it even a ‘crisis’ election?  The election of 2008, which took place two months after the Lehman’s debacle, definitively was.  That was what helped Obama win.  He inherited the crisis.  In four years he has neither fixed it nor has he allowed it to spin out of control.  He has surfed along with it.  He doesn’t ‘own’ it, for better or for worse.  That means there is still scope for competing narratives to take hold before November.  Is it time for a change or time to stay the course?  Either line might stick, depending on how well the candidates can deliver it.

But there is also still scope for the crisis to take another turn.  This crisis differs from previous ones in being more inconclusive.  It simply drags on, unresolved, unfathomable, and littered with false dawns.  Though Europe has stabilized for now, it is not hard to imagine another lurch later this year, triggered by a Greek default or a political meltdown in Italy or a bank run in Spain, which takes the crisis to another level, and sweeps away another raft of elected governments, including in Germany and perhaps further afield.

Will the next wave hit before November?  Who knows, but at the moment it seems unlikely.  Obama has always struck me as a lucky politician.  In crisis politics, as in comedy, the key to success is timing.

 

David Runciman teaches political theory at the University of Cambridge and is a fellow of Trinity Hall. He is the author of The Politics of Good Intentions and Political Hypocrisy, and writes regularly about politics for the London Review of Books.

 

 

ELECTION TUESDAY

FACT: “A feature of the ‘great compromise’ between the North and the slave-holding South was the provision for electing two senators from each state. That arrangement has given those chosen to represent small, sparsely populated states—then Rhode Island and Delaware, now Vermont and Wyoming—equal power with the most populous. In 1790 Virginia had ten times the population of Rhode Island; California now has more than seventy times the population
of Wyoming.”

Reading Obama:
Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition

by James T. Kloppenberg
With a new preface by the author

Derided by the Right as dangerous and by the Left as spineless, Barack Obama puzzles observers. In Reading Obama, James T. Kloppenberg reveals the sources of Obama’s ideas and explains why his principled aversion to absolutes does not fit contemporary partisan categories. Obama’s commitments to deliberation and experimentation derive from sustained engagement with American democratic thought. In a new preface, Kloppenberg explains why Obama has stuck with his commitment to compromise in the first three years of his presidency, despite the criticism it has provoked.

Reading Obama traces the origins of his ideas and establishes him as the most penetrating political thinker elected to the presidency in the past century. Kloppenberg demonstrates the influences that have shaped Obama’s distinctive worldview, including Nietzsche and Niebuhr, Ellison and Rawls, and recent theorists engaged in debates about feminism, critical race theory, and cultural norms. Examining Obama’s views on the Constitution, slavery and the Civil War, the New Deal, and the civil rights movement, Kloppenberg shows Obama’s sophisticated understanding of American history. Obama’s interest in compromise, reasoned public debate, and the patient nurturing of civility is a sign of strength, not weakness, Kloppenberg argues. He locates its roots in Madison, Lincoln, and especially in the philosophical pragmatism of William James and John Dewey, which nourished generations of American progressives, black and white, female and male, through much of the twentieth century, albeit with mixed results.

Reading Obama reveals the sources of Obama’s commitment to democratic deliberation: the books he has read, the visionaries who have inspired him, the social movements and personal struggles that have shaped his thinking. Kloppenberg shows that Obama’s positions on social justice, religion, race, family, and America’s role in the world do not stem from a desire to please everyone but from deeply rooted—although currently unfashionable—convictions about how a democracy must deal with difference and conflict.

“James Kloppenberg, one of America’s foremost intellectual historians, persuasively argues that [there is] a broader shift in American philosophy away from appeal to general principles, valid at all times and in all places, toward a reliance on local, historically particular values and ideals. Kloppenberg’s own endeavor, in surveying the work in political and legal theory that seems to have shaped President Obama’s thinking, is to argue for the coherence, the Americanness, and the plausibility of Obama’s approach to politics and to the Constitution.”—Kwame Anthony Appiah, New York Review of Books

We invite you to read the Introduction here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9277.pdf

Be sure to check in every Tuesday for a new tidbit from our great selection of politically-minded books.

New 2012 Political Science & Law Catalog and #APSA2012 Announcement

We invite you to check out new and forthcoming books in our 2012 political science & law catalog at:
http://press.princeton.edu/catalogs/polisci12.pdf

We are sorry to say we will not see you at the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting in New Orleans. Due to Hurricane/Storm Isaac we decided to play it safe and not attend. Is everyone going to Vegas now? Yes, we’re following the #APSA2012 tweets.

Even though you won’t find our booth at APSA, you can still order PUP books using the conference discount. Because we could not make it to the meeting, we are offering 30% off when you order at press.princeton.edu. Please enter code P05129 in the Catalog Code box when you check out. Your discount will be applied when the order is processed. This special offer expires October 31, 2012. You can also order by phone at 1-800-777-4726, just make sure to mention the special offer code P05129.

You can start browsing the catalog, or start browsing these great new and forthcoming titles below (just to name a few):

The Unheavenly Chorus:
Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy

Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba & Henry E. Brady
Read chapter one online.

The Spirit of Compromise:
Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It

Amy Gutmann & Dennis Thompson
Read the introduction online.

How to Win an Election:
An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians

Quintus Tullius Cicero
Translated and with an introduction by Philip Freeman
Read the introduction online.

Creating a New Racial Order:
How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics, and the Young Can Remake Race in America

Jennifer L. Hochschild, Vesla M. Weaver & Traci R. Burch
Read the introduction online.

Solomon’s Knot:
How Law Can End the Poverty of Nations

Robert D. Cooter & Hans-Bernd Schäfer
Read chapter one online.

And of special interest – two chapters available for free download:
The Gamble
by John Sides & Lynn Vavreck

The Hand You’re Dealt and Random, or Romney?

We hope everyone stays safe. We’ll see you next year at APSA!

To learn more about new political science and law books, you can sign up for our new book e-mail announcements at:
http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/

Will the bad voters please step forward? More from Jason Brennan

Jason Brennan, author of The Ethics of Voting created quite a stir here yesterday with his post on why most people shouldn’t vote, so I asked him to sound off on some of the comments he received, including the question of how to identify what some called the all-too-subjective “bad voter”. The burning question seems to be, how do you know if you’re a bad voter? Well, as Jason argues, you probably are. But read on for some interesting findings from political psychology that explain his views, as well as some practical advice on improving cognitive biases and becoming a good voter.

 

How Do I Know if I’m a Bad Voter

Jason Brennan

 

In The Ethics of Voting, I argue that most people have a moral duty to abstain from voting. See my previous posts, “Bad Government is Our Fault” and “Most People Shouldn’t Vote” for part of my explanation why. (Note that in “Bad Government is Our Fault”, I explain why I focus on bad voting even though bad voting is not the only thing that causes bad government.)

Here’s a problem: the people I describe as bad voters are unlikely recognize that they are bad voters.

To confirm this in at least one instance, as an unscientific experiment, I discussed my thesis with a person whom I believe exemplifies bad voting.  He agreed that other people should not vote.

More scientifically, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger have shown that incompetent people systematically overestimate their own knowledge, competence, and mental acuity, while they systematically underestimate others’ competence. The less incompetent people know, the less they know it. In contrast, more competent people tend to be more modest about their abilities. They know much, but they also know how much they don’t know. They overestimate how much others know. (This is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.)

In chapter seven and in the afterword of The Ethics of Voting, I give an overview of some findings from political psychology, as well as other studies in voter rationality and knowledge. The upshot of those findings is, in my opinion, that any random person should assume she is politically incompetent until she has good reason to think otherwise. The issue is not “How do I know I’m a bad voter?”—you probably are.*

Instead, the issue is “How could I possibly become a good voter?” In the afterword to the paperback edition, I give some practical advice about becoming a good voter. Becoming a good voter takes significant knowledge of the social sciences and of some current events, but that’s not the first step. Getting information is not only useless, but downright harmful, unless you have disciplined your mind to process information in a dispassionate, scientific, unbiased way. So, in the afterword, I outline some of the main cognitive biases we suffer from, and describe practical steps one can take to overcome those biases.

Now, I freely admit that most bad voters do not recognize they are bad voters. If so, one might object, how can they have a duty not to vote? They do not know they are bad voters, so how can they have a duty to abstain?

I don’t find this objection persuasive. Here’s an analogy. Suppose Bob beats his children for any minor infractions. He refuses to educate them, holding that education corrupts the soul. He verbally abuses them because he thinks this builds character. Bob does all of this because he thinks it’s best for his children, even though it’s clearly not. Now, suppose Bob isn’t crazy. Rather, he’s just in the grip of some false, bad beliefs about child rearing. In this case, most of us would hold Bob responsible for his actions. Sure, he thinks he’s doing the right thing, but he should know better. He’s a bad parent and should act better.

I have often compared bad voters to drunk drivers—they are like people steering the state while intoxicated. Suppose I am driving drunk and a child is crossing at a crosswalk.  Because I am so drunk, I am unable to see the child, and so I am unable to recognize that I have a duty to stop.  Still, even though I don’t know that the child is there, I have a duty to stop. Though I am unable to know I have a duty to stop, I am not relieved of that duty, because I had a responsibility to make sure I only drove the car while competent to do so. Similar remarks apply to voters. Many of them are too biased and irrational to make wise choices. But it’s their fault that they’re like that in the first place. So, they aren’t excused when the vote badly.

*However, people reading the Princeton University Press blog are much more likely to be good voters than randomly selected US citizens. I’m not saying that to suck up to readers, but because it’s true. The demographic factors that positively correlate with reading this post are also positively correlated with being a good voter, as I define the term.

ELECTION TUESDAY

FACT: “In his farewell address of 1797, George Washington warned against the dangerous ‘spirit of Party,’ which he said ‘serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public Administration. It ignites the Community with ill founded Jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot & insurrection.’ Yet in opposing the formation of political parties, Washington was voicing a vain hope. During Washington’s first term as president, his treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, had already formed the Federalist Party and his secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, had founded the opposition Democratic-Republic Party.”

The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American
Political History

Edited by Michael Kazin
Rebecca Edwards & Adam Rothman, associate editors

With 150 accessible articles written by more than 130 leading experts, this essential reference provides authoritative introductions to some of the most important and talked-about topics in American history and politics, from the founding to today. Abridged from the acclaimed Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, this is the only single-volume encyclopedia that provides comprehensive coverage of both the traditional topics of U.S. political history and the broader forces that shape American politics–including economics, religion, social movements, race, class, and gender. Fully indexed and cross-referenced, each entry provides crucial context, expert analysis, informed perspectives, and suggestions for further reading.

Contributors include Dean Baker, Lewis Gould, Alex Keyssar, James Kloppenberg, Patricia Nelson Limerick, Lisa McGirr, Jack Rakove, Nick Salvatore, Stephen Skowronek, Jeremi Suri, Julian Zelizer, and many more.

Entries cover:

—Key political periods, from the founding to today

—Political institutions, major parties, and founding documents

—The broader forces that shape U.S. politics, from economics, religion, and social movements to race, class, and gender

—Ideas, philosophies, and movements

—The political history and influence of geographic regions

We invite you to read the Preface here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/p9518.pdf

Be sure to check in every Tuesday for a new tidbit from our great selection of politically-minded books.

‘Free Market Fairness’ author John Tomasi discusses economic liberty and social justice with Glenn Loury on Bloggingheads.tv

John Tomasi, author of Free Market Fairness, was interviewed by his Brown University colleague Glenn Loury on bloggingheads.tv. He discusses his new book, the philosophies of John Rawls and Friedrich Hayek, and whether or not the two might have agreed on certain fundamental principles of justice. Watch the video here or embedded below.

Hélène Landemore on why we’re all in this together

When it comes to elections, much worry goes into whether or not voters are truly ‘qualified’ to head to the polls. According to Jason Brennan, many are simply as bad as drunk drivers. But do we make “smarter” decisions politically as a group than as individuals? Hélène Landemore thinks the answer is yes. An assistant professor of political science at Yale university, she is also the author of Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence and the Rule of the Many, forthcoming in January 2013. Recently she took part in a Q&A about her book, explaining the concept of collective intelligence, its superiority over individual decision-making, and why democracy is the best way to make decisions for the common good. Read her interview here:

 



What is “democratic reason”? How does it relate to the concept of collective intelligence in your title?

I call democratic reason the collective intelligence of democratic citizens as it is expressed through various democratic mechanisms. In my book, I study the collective intelligence of the people as it emerges from public deliberation and voting on issues of common interest, but it could also be channeled through other venues for democratic participation that I’m not considering. The concept of collective intelligence is broader than that of democratic reason and has been conceptualized and studied by various disciplines since at least the 1980s. I am simply extending it to politics.

The term “democratic reason” itself was meant as an echo to the famous Rawlsian concept of “public reason.” Democratic reason is distinct from John Rawls’ public reason in at least two ways. First, democratic reason is a descriptive, rather than a normative concept. Whereas Rawls’ public reason is meant to serve as a standard of public justification, a filter for what can be said in the public sphere, democratic reason is an ideal-type of the collective intelligence of the people as it emerges in the political domain. Second, to the extent that both concepts have a descriptive content, democratic reason is meant to be more inclusive than public reason. For Rawls, the people who typically voice public reason are representatives, official candidates, or judges. By contrast, any citizen or group of citizens can be a part of democratic reason.

Your book argues that democracy is a smart decision rule. Can you explain?

My conception of democracy is that it is a collective decision procedure combining two mechanisms: deliberation and majority rule. Deliberation allows the group to identify problems and come up with potential solutions. Majority rule maximizes the chances of picking the better solution. I argue that democracy, understood as such a collective decision procedure, can turn the lead of individual judgments into something like gold: a collective output that no individual within the group could have come up with on his own.

The argument is also comparative. At the heart of the book is the claim that the inclusive nature of democratic decision-making—giving everyone a voice on matters of common concern—ensures that our decisions are probabilistically smarter than if we delegated them to a dictator or a group of oligarchs. I make that claim assuming that the dictator and the oligarchs would be both smart and benevolent, which certainly stacks the deck in favor of these non-democratic forms of rule. And yet, in my theory, democracy still comes out on top, in terms of producing good political outcomes more often than these alternative rules.

Can you explain how the inclusiveness of democratic procedures ensure their superiority over less inclusive ones, such as a dictatorship or an oligarchy?

Here I need to introduce the work of Scott Page, on which I build. In his book The Difference (2007), Page argues that there are two components to collective intelligence: the individual intelligence of the members of the group and the cognitive diversity of the group. This concept of cognitive diversity is crucial. It refers to the difference in the ways in which people see the world and interpret it. Page shows that when it comes to collective problem solving, it is more important to have enough cognitive diversity in the group than to have very smart people in it. In other words, if you want to maximize your chances to solve a given problem, you are better of with a group of moderately smart but diverse thinkers, rather than a homogeneous group of even very smart people. That’s what he calls the “Diversity Trumps Ability Theorem.”

What I do in my book is build on this theory to argue that to the extent that politics is about problem solving, the great advantage of democratic decision-making over alternative decision rules is its inclusiveness, which naturally maximizes the cognitive diversity of the group of problem-solvers. That’s what I call the “Numbers Trump Ability Theorem.” The more people you include in the decision process, all things equal otherwise, the smarter the group is likely to be.

What do you mean by “smart” outcomes or “right” political choices?

I think everyone would agree that some political decisions are better or worse. By “right” choices, I mean that democratic decisions tend to be better rather than worse in at least that minimal sense. The domain of questions where such better or worse answers can be assumed to exist—what I call the “epistemic” domain—can be contrasted with the domain of coordination issues and the domain of pure value or interest conflict. Coordination issues, such as “Should we drive on the left or on the right of the road?,” do not have better or worse solutions. The right or left side of the road will do as long as we all agree on the same side. As to pure value or interest conflict, it is the domain of questions where we estimate that the point is not to seek the truth but simply to settle disagreement fairly. Epistemic questions, by contrast, are questions where disagreement is a result of ignorance. Examples of such epistemic questions could include: Is austerity the right policy to solve the economic crisis? How do we lower crime or the number of college dropouts? Was going to war in Iraq a mistake? More controversial epistemic questions, which some would perhaps phrase as pure value conflicts, would be: Should same sex couples be granted the right to marry? Should euthanasia be legalized?

Assuming your theoretical claim about the superiority of democratic regimes lends itself to an empirical test, what do you make of the success of autocratic or oligarchic regimes like China or Singapore?

Here you have to remember that my argument is probabilistic. I claim that on average and all things equal otherwise, democratic decision making can be expected to perform better than non-democratic decision making. But in some cases, non-democratic decision making will do better. So one or even a few exceptions (assuming that your examples are well-chosen) do not refute my view. I’m not denying that, occasionally, an oligarchy will outperform a democracy or that some autocratic decisions will turn out to be better than democratic ones. I’m just arguing that the probability of something like this happening is lower than the reverse probability of a democracy outperforming an oligarchy. The safer gamble is democracy.

 

Hélène Landemore is assistant professor of political science at Yale University. She is the author of Hume: Probability and Reasonable Choice.

David Vogel at the LSE

David Vogel was in London earlier this month and gave a public lecture at the London School of Economics where he discussed the issues he raises in his new book The Politics of Precaution.  A podcast of the event is now available to listen to.