2 May 2000




Political Philosophy

Today has been an amazingly productive day!

I had a marvelous lunchtime conversation with someone who, for fun, shall remain nameless tonight.

I had a great email conversation with my mom in which I discussed some personal issues that had been misunderstood or misinterpreted in the past. 

I exchanged a number of emails with Don, who has joined in on the message boards.  Don prompted me to think of something I was too tired to write about last night on the message boards.  Some will recall the Murray/Herrnstein book The Bell Curve.  In focusing narrowly on the methodology (unfairly, in many ways), critics of the book missed the major point of the authors, which was:  If indeed we are becoming more and more stratified as a society by intelligence, if indeed the most intelligent people (say, in the third standard deviation and beyond of IQ) are increasingly talking to each other, working with each other, marrying each other, and living with each other, and if IQ is significantly heritable (please let's not have a debate on this -- in psychological circles there is little debate that intelligence is heritable to an extent, which is what Murray/Herrnstein claim; the only debate is the extent, which will likely never be proven satisfactorily because of the near impossibility of true experimental design), then isn't that going to produce even more stratification, and what shall be the consequences of that stratification?  Joe Bell, my favorite econ prof -- indeed, one of my very best profs -- contended over beers at Ebbets Field he thinks they overstated the stratification argument, that the brightest people DO still interact with others in society.  However, some of Kaplan's observations in An Empire Wilderness could be read as evidence of the very stratification they talked about.  Fascinating stuff.

I chatted with my old grad school buddy Pete Adams, whose enthusiasm for the study of important ideas distinguished him from 90% of the graduate students in political science at UH while I was there.  Indeed, I spontaneously used the following phrase in speaking to Mr. Adams about my fortunate discovery of so many bright people:  "Perhaps it is not coincidental that the more distant I have become from the Department, the brighter people I have started finding!"  I was and am still amused with myself.

Tonight I was highly productive, ripping through Eldon Eisenach's magnificent work, The Lost Promise of Progressivism.  My dissertation argues that Progressive political theory found its way into constitutional law over time -- and shows this in the area of police powers.  Progressive legal theorists rejected the longstanding classical police powers doctrine of "neutrality" as hopelessly biased towards the status quo -- the Founders' notion of the law as neutral arbiter was, the Progressive legal theorists would argue, not neutral at all, but instead promoted a certain political view.  Where did they get that notion?  From Progressive Political Theory.  As Eisenach helpfully points out, "Indeed, the Progressives [here he is speaking of the intellectual movement broadly, NOT the later legal movement] claimed that the rights-based regime of nineteenth-century America specifically privileged narrow, conformist, and ignoble ways of life under the guise of neutrality and fairness" (29).  BEAUTIFUL!  My task is to show the legal incorporation of this broad theory, and Eisenach helps with some of the preliminary heavy lifting.   Thank you for helping me out, Professor Eisenach! 

He helps out a little bit further later on.  Ross Lence always asks these questions before beginning to analyze any piece of writing: "What does it say?   What does it mean?  And what difference does it make?"  What difference SHALL my completed dissertation make?  Eisenach writes this:   "We have had a revolution in constitutional law such that even its most liberal component, the Bill of Rights, no longer appears to limit Congress and certainly does not limit the president.  Since the 1950s constitutional law has become an engine of nationalization, imposing what are, in effect, modified Progressive and cosmopolitan standards on states and localities" (217).  Indeed!

After getting through that fine tome during my fine stay at Diedrich's on Montrose, I turned my attention finally to a recent book on Strauss entitled Leo Strauss, the Straussians, and the American Regime.  Those who are not students of political philosophy probably will find the book quite boring.  Those of us who are -- and who are quite interested in the issues of textual analysis to which Strauss was so devoted -- cannot help but find it fascinating, I think.  I write "I think" because I've only made it through the first two essays, but I'm hooked.  I think I'll get back to it!


Copyright (c) 2000, Kevin L. Whited