Mark S. Weiner

Posts Tagged ‘Telos’

In Search of the Political

In Legal Philosophy, Uncategorized on December 19, 2020 at 1:14 am

The latest issue of Telos includes my review of Fred Siegel’s book The Crisis of Liberalism: Prelude to Trump (Candor, NY: Telos Press Publishing, 2020). A protégé of Irving Howe at Dissent, Siegel is one of the last vital links to the world of the New York Intellectuals. David Pan’s introduction to the issue, titled “Race, Russia, and Rights,” can be found on the Telos blog here.

Pan writes of my contribution: “The affirmation of rational discussion and legal institutions over all substantive morality leads to its own forms of blindness and intolerance, which Mark S. Weiner discusses in his review of Fred Siegel’s The Crisis of Liberalism: Prelude to Trump. As Siegel argues, the establishment of the policies of a liberal technocratic managerialism represented the triumph of rational discourse, but rather than solving the problems of the world, this victory led to the growth of an underclass that accepts the victim status attributed to it by elites. Siegel links this technocratic approach to the Rawlsian attempt to set aside substantive moral commitments, leading to the de-valorization of middle-class values. Rather than conceiving of virtue and justice as moral concerns that must be grounded in the beliefs of the entire population, the attempt to replace moral commitments with rational discourse and legal institutions ends up undermining the popular basis of such institutions.”

The journal is behind a paywall, but many university libraries hold a digital subscription.

More on Trumpism and Historical Consciousness—and an Announcement

In Constitutional law, Germany, Video on March 27, 2018 at 11:33 am

This video includes my reflections on Trumpism and historical consciousness at the 2018 Telos-Paul Piccone Institute conference. The talk was part of a panel about U.S. political movements, with fellow panelists Tim Luke, David Pan, and Russell Berman. My remarks begin at about 13:50.

At the end of the talk, I had a bit of a slip of the tongue and referred to Bernhard Schlink, author of The Reader, as Prof. Carl Schmitt—which he most definitely is not!

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I am very pleased to share the good news that in 2018-19, I will be the Fulbright Uppsala University Distinguished Chair in American Studies. I’m looking forward to getting to know my new colleagues and students in Sweden!

Odds & Ends

In Conversations, Rule of the Clan on April 10, 2014 at 1:45 pm

5 Nuts

Five odds and ends today:

1) My discussion “The Legal Foundations of Individualism,” which I presented as a talk at the annual Telos conference in January, is now available on TELOSscope. As I explain at the start of the piece: “I’ll be addressing two questions about democracy raised by our conference description: first, ‘the reasons for its rarity and volatility’; and, second, ‘the factors that are essential for its stability.’ For each question, I’ll try to provide a concise, mildly provocative answer from my perspective as a writer and scholar about constitutional law and comparative legal history.”

Regarding the first question, “why is democracy so rare and volatile,” I write: “I think one answer we could give to this question is that democracy is volatile because the modern self is a legal achievement. There is nothing outside of law, including individual subjectivity.”

2) ICYMI (in case you missed it): the forum last month about The Rule of the Clan on Cato Unbound was really interesting—and great fun. I was very fortunate to have three thoughtful commentators from different parts of the political spectrum engage with my work: libertarian blogger Arnold Kling, American Conservative editor Daniel McCarthy, and Yale Law School professor John Fabian Witt. There were also many lively comments from readers. The editor of Cato Unbound, Jason Kuznicki of the Cato Institute, posted his own very interesting response on the website Ordinary Times, speaking to some debates within libertarian theory.

3) There were a number of responses to the Cato Unbound forum in various corners of the blogsphere, including an especially interesting discussion on The Sweep, which published another post today that comes into dialogue with my work.

4) My lead essay on Cato Unbound is now available in Spanish on La Tercera Cultura. There seem to be a number of interesting comments en español. To the translator and editors: abrazos!

5) This coming week I’ll be speaking at the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues at Dickinson College. My fellow panelists will be Prof. Carol Horning of the U.S. Army War College, Prof. Erik Love of the Sociology Department at Dickinson, and Prof. Andrew Wolff of the Dickinson Political Science Department. Earlier that day I’ll be speaking to one of Prof. Horning’s classes on international development at the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute.

6) Totally apropos of nothing I’ve discussed above: I’m looking forward to spending the weekend at a course on wilderness first aid sponsored by the Appalachian Mountain Club. If any of my readers have taken one of SOLO’s wilderness first responder courses, do let me know. See you on the trails!

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Beginning

In Individualism, Rule of the Clan on February 17, 2014 at 12:52 pm

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This weekend, I began work on my next non-fiction book by giving a talk at an excellent conference hosted by the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute. The title of the conference was “The Difficulty of Democracy: Diagnoses and Prognoses.” I gave the following remarks as part of an evening discussion about “The Individual and the Collective,” which included fellow panelists Ulrike Kistner, Timothy Luke, and Frances Fox Piven (though because of much stimulating back-and-forth, I actually delivered my remarks the following morning). This is what I said:

As the final speaker after a fascinating day of talks, I’ll keep my comments brief. I’ll be addressing two questions about democracy raised by our conference description: first, “the reasons for its rarity and volatility” and, second, “the factors that are essential for its stability.” For each question, I’ll try to provide a concise, mildly provocative answer from my perspective as a writer and scholar about constitutional law and comparative legal history.

So why is democracy so rare and volatile? I think one answer we could give to this question is that democracy is volatile because the modern self is a legal achievement. There is nothing outside of law, including individual subjectivity. Instead, the modern self that lies at the center of liberal democratic practice developed only after a long historical process of dialectical negation and synthesis. In that process, a handful of societies, beginning in western Europe, transcended what in my most recent book I call the “rule of the clan.”

The rule of the clan is a form of governance that unites a radically decentralized constitutional structure with a culture of group honor and shame. In doing so, it makes the extended family the constitutive unit of society, politics and law. Under the rule of the clan, an individual’s legal rights and obligations depend significantly on his or her place within the kin group—his or her “status” within the extended family, to use the language of the nineteenth-century legal historian Henry Maine. As a result, personal autonomy is radically circumscribed, as exemplified by constricted life possibilities for women.

Modern individualism could develop only once central governments were capable of vindicating the public interest over the power of extended families—only once they could supplant the rule of the clan with a form of socio-legal order animated by what Maine called the principle of contract. Modern selfhood requires the existence of public institutions that protect persons as individuals, not as cousins. Thus if we look to the laws of Alfred the Great in Anglo-Saxon England, we see that the public-regarding notion of the King’s peace grew alongside the monarch’s extension of special protection to persons without kin, most notably monks and traveling merchants.

From this historical perspective, individuals didn’t create the state; the state created individuals. In loosely Hegelian terms, the growth of modern subjectivity depended on the development of a neutral state dedicated to principles of universal as opposed to particular altruism. This view naturally cuts against theories of social contract. It also points to some of the challenges democracy faces to its emergence and stability.

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