22 March 2010

The Prince, Part 8 (Chapter 8)

The Prince chapter 8: “Of Those Who Have Attained the Position of Prince by Villiany"

Ol’ Nick, to refer to our author by his demonic nickname, finds villainy* somewhat problematic, but not terribly so. His appraisal seems to lie more in how one applies villainy, rather than whether one is a villain or not. As he’s shown before, his concern seems to be with outcome rather than method. The praiseworthy outcome is maintaining control over one’s territory, and method is judged by how well it promotes that end. Because villainy, properly used, contributes to maintaining the principality, Machiavelli cannot simply condemn it, but because done badly it makes it impossible to maintain one’s position, he cannot simply condone it either.

An example makes clear what Machiavelli means by villainy:

21 March 2010

The Prince, Part 7 (Chapter 7)

The Prince chapter 7: Of New Dominions Acquired by the Power of Others or by Fortune."

This chapter, in any normally partitioned work, would not be separate from the prior one. Chapter 6 discussed dominions won both by one’s own ability and via the powers of others, with examples of the former. This chapter discusses the same thing, but with examples of the latter. The structure is somewhat unusual, but it works well, at least for me.*

However this particular chapter doesn’t work.

The Prince, Part 6 (Chapter 6)

The Prince, Chapter 6, "Of New Dominions Which Have Been Acquired By One's Own Arms and Ability."*

Today we come to a change in focus, essentially a new section, in The Prince. The first 5 chapters focused on the different types of principalities and how they can be established and held. The answer to the last question seems to be, "ruthlessly wipe out every possible claimant to princehood. In this new section Machiavelli focuses not so much, as the title of this chapter would lead one to believe, on the new dominion/territory itself, but on the person who has acquired it, and the means of acquiring it. In this chapter the focus is on acquiring territory through one's own skill, chapter 7 is about acquiring territory through luck or through the assistance of the real conquerors, chapter 8 is about acquiring territory through "villiany," chapter 9 discusses those coming to power though "the favour of his fellow citizens" in a civic principality, 10 is a sidestep to compare the strength of different types of principalities, 11 discusses ecclesiastical principalities, and that completes the second section (as I would divide it, anyway), because after that he changes focus to discuss different types of armies.

02 March 2010

On the Defense of 2nd Class Citizenship

Still reading Fred Clark's "world's longest book review" of the Left Behind series (now on book 2, Tribulation Force), I appreciated this footnote.

John Howard Yoder noted that that idea of the priesthood of all believers is often misunderstood as -- or is accused of being -- an attempt to abolish the clergy. Actually, he said, the opposite is true. The priesthood of all believers requires the abolition of the category of laity.

That's interesting. It illustrates a pattern, I think. Try to abolish serfdom, declaring that everyone is a lady or gentleman, and you'll likely be accused of trying to abolish the aristocracy and to destroy all the finer things in life. Try to extend any privilege into a universal right and you'll likely be accused of attempting to destroy that which you're trying to expand while those who seek to keep it restricted, limited and tightly controlled will pose as its defenders. I wish I could think of some other example ...

01 March 2010

The Prince, part 5 (chapter 5)

The Prince chapter 5: "The Way to Govern Cities or Dominions that, Previous to Being Occupied, Lived Under Their Own Laws."

Back in chapter 1, Machiavelli divided states into two types, republics and monarchies, then subdivided monarchies into two types, ancient and new, further subdivided those new monarchies into their own two sub-subtypes, entirely new ones or ones grafted onto existing possessions, and then, finally, made one more subdivision of those grafted-on territories into a final two sub-sub-subtypes, those previously ruled by another prince and those that were self-governing republics. This is, I think, truly a case of a picture being worth a thousand words, so a diagram is helpful.

Fundamentalists' Fragile, Fearful, Faith

Over the past several months I've been reading Fred Clark's critique of the Left Behind series, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, on Slacktivist (and don't we all wish we'd thought of that pun?). It's slow going because he has literally hundreds of posts devoted to it (and here's a handy index to all of them). I've enjoyed them for many reasons. Clark's an excellent writer (unlike LaHaye and Jenkins), often laugh-out-loud funny, and has great insights into just why these books are more of a crap-fest than any randomly chosen set of Harlequin romances. Like this:
While trying to find some way home from the airport, Rayford Steele checks his mail and finds an in-joke between the book's co-authors:
Besides a pile of the usual junk, he found a padded envelope from his home address. Irene had taken to mailing him little surprises lately, the result of a marriage book she had been urging him to read. ...

That's probably a reference to one of these books by Tim LaHaye. He's written several books on the subject, which is interesting coming from a man whose own key to marital bliss was to convince his wife to get a job 3,000 miles away.

Or this, when a doctor hanging around the airport's first-class lounge after the rapture which has caused numerous planes to crash at the airport, injuring hundreds, decides to help out--by patching up another first-class passenger who's got an owie on his head.
Nothing to do in the airport except to sit around in the "exclusive Pan-Con Club" and stare out the window watching the rescue workers and EMTs below scurry from plane crash to plane crash. It's kind of amusing for a while, seeing them set up a desperate triage there among the smoke and the broken bodies, separating the gravely wounded from those in need only of First Aid and those merely suffering from shock after the loss of their loved ones. But it gets old eventually, just sitting there, so what the heck -- why not patch up that rich guy's bleeding scalp over there?

But I've enjoyed them also because he's a Christian (although not an Real True Christian (RTC)--read his posts to get the joke), and so provides a Christian critique of the "strange 19th-century heresies that L&J peddle as biblical truth" (aka, premillennial dispensationalism). Any non-Christian (or, like me, lapsed one) could mock their version of the faith, but there's a special insightfulness that comes from someone who still believes, that the others just can't match. Another day I will probably comment on some of Clark's critique of LaHaye and Jenkins' theology, but today his critique of fundamentalism's essential fragility is what caught my eye. It's spot on.
Working with other churches is perilously ecumenical. Ecumenism -- cooperation among disparate Christian churches in recognition of our underlying unity -- is not considered a Good Thing by people like Billings, or Lahaye and Jenkins. Even the most harmless-seeming forms of cooperation, such as taking turns providing shelter through a local interfaith hospitality network or some such, are too dangerous. It's a slippery slope from there to syncretism, the collapse of absolute standards, moral relativism, one world religion,...

The fundies' white-knuckled anxiety -- their barely repressed doubts and their fear that their faith may be a house of cards that would crumble if exposed to the wider world -- seems to be spreading to other branches of the evangelical movement. That's the predictable result of adding weird mythologies to one's faith. The fundies convinced themselves that if the world is any older than 10,000 years then Jesus doesn't love them. Thus they have to avoid all exposure to science. Evangelicals are trying to convince themselves that homosexuality is a choice and that the invasion of Iraq was God's Will. Like the fundies, they have welded these ideas to the bearing walls of their faith, so that if they are not true, then nothing is true. They thus find themselves, like the fundies, having to avoid exposure to an awful lot of the real world around them.

The irony, of course, is that fundamentalists believe in an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and eternal God, yet they don't believe in a God big enough to have created a 6.5 billion year old world or to have allowed evolution by natural selection to occur over the course of billions of years. It's not just that they don't believe the science--they believe that the science and God are mutually exclusive, which makes their faith exceptionally brittle. Even worse, while they will talk about the mysteries of God, about his knowledge that surpasses human understanding, they flatly reject the mystery of God both knowing the end and allowing it to unfold naturally, rather than supernaturally, precisely because it surpasses their understanding. Their talk of mystery is just empty words because their vision of God is not truly big enough to encompass mystery.

And for that they are to be pitied, for mystery, with its attendant wonder, is one of the sublime experiences of life. As Edmund Burke wrote, sublimity inspires fear, and "[i]nfinity fills the find with that sort of delightful horror which is the truest test of the sublime." But that sort of delightful horror is a terror to the fundamentalist, who, in a fearful desperation, seeks the certainty that comes with clarity. Burke, again, provides an insight:
To make anything very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary, for a great deal of apprehension vanishes when we are able to see the full extent of any danger. Night adds to our dread of ghosts; ... Clearness, on the other hand, is not the same as beauty; it is one thing to make an idea clear, and another to make it affecting to the imagination.

And there is the great failing of fundamentalism. By emphasizing absolute clarity, so that they do not have to experience the horror of sublimity which they so fear, they have created an ideology--not a faith, which does not require clarity, whereas ideologies do--that cannot truly affect the imagination. Which is to say that it cannot truly touch the heart, or the soul, which are always and ever stirred by the imagination.

Alex Tabarrok Critiques Obamonomics

Okay, I probably shouldn't join in with the crowd that attaches President Obama's name to any and every noun/adjective, but his name just lends itself to it so well. Anyway...

Obama has plans to pressure companies with government contracts to increase wages. According to the New York Times article about 25% of Americans work for such companies, and Obama sees this as a means of lifting American incomes.

My first thought was that this was very much like Hoover encouraging companies to keep wages and prices up during the Depression, and Tabarrok's first criticism is right along that point.
At a time of 10% unemployment when real wages need to fall this is bad business cycle policy.*

But he has another, more serious, concern as well.
I am more worried, however, about the long term consequences of creating a dual labor market in which insiders with government or government-connected jobs are highly paid and secure while outsiders face high unemployment rates, low wages and part-time work without a career path...

Moreover, once an economy is in the insider-outsider equilibrium it's very difficult to get out because insiders fear that they will lose their privileges with a deregulated labor market and outsiders focus their political energy not on deregulating the labor market but on becoming insiders... Many European economies found themselves stuck in the insider-outsider equilibrium and as a result unemployment levels in places like France and Italy hovered at 9% or more for decades.
Officially, President Obama has a Council of Economic Advisers, which at this point sounds about as influential as a Council of Ethical Advisers would have been for Uncle Joe Stalin.

*Brad DeLong disagrees with this point, arguing that instead demand needs to rise. Of course cost and demand are pretty closely related, eh?