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Wednesday, April 17, 2024


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Hi, Bill. Coincidentally, I read Quinton's article a few days ago. (I've been gradually working through Volumes 1 and 2 of the massive A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy.) I noticed that Quinton's definition is similar to Robert Paxton's:

"Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal constraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion." (The Anatomy of Fascism, 2004, p. 218)

Paxton proceeds to note that fascists cultivate "a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solution," support the primacy of the group over the individual, desire "authority by national chiefs (always male)" and a "national chieftain who alone is capable of incarnating the group's historical destiny." (p. 219)

Hi Elliot,

Is it in two vols now? The big stomping tome I bought in 2005 is one volume heavy enough to kill a cat.

Bill, the 2017 edition includes 55 chapters in two volumes. It's a behemoth.

The tome covers many interesting topics, including a chapter on the problem of dirty hands, which we discussed back in November 2023.


Thanks, Elliot. My ed. has Coady's article on Dirty Hands, about 9 pages long. Is that what yours has?

My stomper has 41 chapters, your 2 vols 55. There's a whole lotta scribblin' goin' on. And yours is Blackwell Publishing?

Just now clicked on your link, which answers my questions.

There is indeed a whole lotta scribblin'. Political philosophy is a fascinating field with many important topics and interesting areas of overlap with moral philosophy and even metaphysics.

For example, you wrote: >>Quinton also mentions the 'organicism' of fascism whereby it appeals to those "ready to submerge their individuality" in the national life and to find thereby their whole raison d'etre in "the service of the state," in the way that the function of a particular organ is to contribute to the well-being of the body of which it is a part.<<

Significant moral questions arise: What are a person's moral obligations to the state? The state's moral obligations to the person? Is it morally wrong for a person to "submerge" his individuality in service to the state? Is the state obligated to protect the individuality of its persons? Is Locke right that the primary purpose of the state is to protect the natural rights of its people and that the authority of the state is limited to this (and perhaps some other related) end(s)?

And metaphysical questions: What is a person? What is a person's individuality? What is the state? What is a nation? What is the difference between a state and a nation? What is a "national life"? How does it relate to the life of a person? What are the relations between a state and its parts?

Right you are, Elliot.

At the moment the question of political legitimacy is bugging me. There is an article in the Blackwell Companion on legitimacy that you might want to discuss. Brian Bosse and I have been reading and discussing N. T. Wright and M. F. Bird, *Jesus and the Powers* in which the authors invoke Romans 13 in support of the notion that the authority of the state (and presumably also its legitimacy) derive from divine authority, but they also want to combine that with the Founders' notion that legitimacy is 'bottom-up' from the consent of the governed. Not clear to me how these two cohere. Of course, authority and legitimacy might be different in ways I have not considered.

Bill, the question of political legitimacy concerns me as well. I haven't read the book by Wright and Bird, but I will review Flathman's article on legitimacy and see if there might be something relevant to discuss. I'll check back in a day or two.

Thanks, Elliot.

Just the first two paragraphs of Flathman's article will give us plenty to chew on and raise a number of hairy questions.

Bill, you’re right that the first two paragraphs give us plenty to consider. I’ve reproduced them below.

Flathman, “Legitimacy,” In A Companion to Political Philosophy, p. 687

"Together with its kissing cousins ‘authority’ and ‘obligation,’ legitimacy is a notion that should arouse apprehension. Governments that are legitimate have the ‘right to rule,’ to demand obedience from their citizens or subjects. It is at least partly correct to say that this authority is independent of the content of the laws or commands issued by those invested with it (Hart, 1961), that the authority of a law or command is a reason for obeying it regardless of its content or their merit. As widely construed, reasons of this kind are conclusive in that they leave those subject to authority with but two choices: either obey the command or disassociate from the political association of which authority is a constitutive feature. Theories of ‘passive' and ‘civil’ disobedience add the third option of disobedience to commands judged to be unjust but on condition of peaceful submission to the penalty assigned (King, 1968).

To concede the legitimacy of government is to accord some number of persons a right that we otherwise reserve to ourselves, the right to conduct our own lives and affairs as each of us deems appropriate."

Consider the second paragraph. Let’s suppose that each rationally mature and morally responsible adult has the moral right to conduct his own life and private affairs as he deems appropriate, such that the “as deemed appropriate” includes proper respect for and responsiveness to the demands of reason and morality. Let’s also assume that, in general, in the private sphere, other persons have no right to command or coerce an adult who is rationally mature, etc. I take it these are reasonable assumptions that many or most in the West accept, if not explicitly, then implicitly in the way they live their individual lives.

For example, within reason, an adult has the right to decide what career to pursue, what to read or study, how to use his money, what to eat and drink, what to say and with whom to speak, what friendships to form, etc.

Why then, when the matter turns to public affairs, does the state, via its agents (who are other persons) have a right to order and coerce the same rational adult? What is the precise factor (or set of factors) which makes the difference between the private and public spheres such that coercion is morally unacceptable in the former but acceptable in the latter?

If, every April 15, my neighbor were to knock on my door and demand that I hand over 24% of my income from the previous year, I'd laugh because I'd conclude he's joking, or perhaps in a nasty and brutish (Hobbes, Leviathan) time I'd slam the door and prepare to defend my property if necessary.

Why, then, is it obligatory to hand over the 24% if "suddenly there comes a tapping, a rapping, rapping at my door" (Poe, The Raven) and I open it to find neither my neighbor nor Poe's Raven but a corvinely dressed agent of the state prepared to force my hand?


Thanks for reproducing the two paragraphs.

I take it we agree on Flathman's understanding of 'legitimacy.' A legitimate gov't is one that has the right to command and be obeyed on pain of severe penalties for disobedience. Thus a legitimate gov't, via its agents -- who are fallible and flawed humans like the rest of us -- has the right to do things to the governed that the governed have no right to do to one another. For example, the gov't has the right in certain circumstances to take you prisoner, but I have no such right. (So-called 'citizen's arrest' is a possible exception.)

It follows that a legitimate gov't can and indeed must in certain circumstances be COERCIVE. This goes together with the difference between a command and a suggestion. I might suggest that you reproduce two paras of F's article, but I have no right to command you to do that.

Given that we agree on what legitimacy is, the problem arises: whence the moral legitimacy of gov't?

This, I take it, is the fundamental problem of political philosophy.

I am assuming that gov't = the state. Yes or no? Sylvan in his article questions this equation.

I am also assuming that the legitimacy question is a MORAL question, which seems to imply that pol. phil. presupposes moral phil or ethics.

Corollary to the foregoing: Might does not make right.

We should sweat a little over the semantic polyvalence of 'right' and other words in the neighborhood such as 'law.' Moral law or positive law. And where does the moral law come from?

From God? Next stop: the Euthyphro Dilemma.

Elliot @ 2:06. Yes, that is the question.

What is the difference between a 'shakedown' operation such as the mafia and the gov't?

There is no way to get the bottom of this -- if that is possible -- without a deep dive into metaphysics. Nietzsche: "The world is the will to power and nothings besides!" If so, no gov't is legitimate.

So metaphysics rules! Or does epistemology lord it over metaphysics?

Bill, I agree that there is no way to settle such questions of pol. phil. without dealing properly with the underlying metaphysics.

>>So metaphysics rules! Or does epistemology lord it over metaphysics?<<

Good question. We need to dive into the metaphysics. But metaphysics can be done more or less effectively. Epistemological questions arise: how do we know what metaphysical answers are true? Do we have any knowledge, strictly speaking, of metaphysics? Does such knowledge require objective certainty? Is mere reasonable belief re: metaphysics enough for us to do pol. phil. effectively? Don't we need truth? Is mere true belief sufficient? Shouldn't we have rational justification as well?

Suppose we have justified true beliefs about matters metaphysical, but these items of JTB fall short of objective certainty? Do we need certainty before we can reasonably accept such things as coercive action?

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