I came to William James about 10 years after I came to a libertarian understanding of politics and the world. Thus, I know that the work of James did not lead me to libertarianism and doubt that libertarianism affected my subsequent appreciation of the works of William James. But since I’ve been a libertarian in political outlook for about the last 20 years, and I consistently fin William James to be one of the most edifying philosophers, I sometimes wonder if the two are congruent with each other.
On its face, it seems like there wouldn’t be. Libertarianism is a political ideology that puts human liberty at its core, and the type of libertarianism I subscribe to believes that political/social arrangements achieve liberty best when there is minimal government and the rest is left to voluntary arrangements (by markets or other means). William James was a philosopher/psychologist with a wide range of concerns, none overtly political; he spawned a (variation on) a pragmatic theory of truth, crafted a theory of experience called radical empiricism, and wrote on other topics. But never, from what I can tell, politics.
But there are at least two ways I can see the works of William James being congruent and fitting quite nicely with a libertarian worldview. First, as wide-ranging as James’s work was, his philosophic projects always placed individuality at its core. (more…)
Below is a passage I wrote for a PhD class in curriculum theory. The questions was “Who should decide what students learn?” particularly in regards to whether intelligent design should be taught in science classes. I post it here because I think it is a decent articulation of my view that families, parents, and children (rather than either education experts or democratically elected board members) should have the ultimate authority over what children learn.
The question is: who is to decide whether intelligent design or evolution (or both or neither) should be taught in schools. Of all the readings assigned for this week, my views allign most closely with McClusky. The problem is that we live in a society that is simulteneously liberal and democratic, while also talking about an institution (schools) that, in some sense, has as its role something neither liberal or democratic. As long as these three ideals are in conflict – and I think they are – one must simply choose which authorty they thinks trumps the other two: experts (nondemocratic and nonliberal), the majority (non-liberal and non-authoritarian) or each individual/family (non-democratic and non-authoritarian). I believe the best way to decide the issue is to leave the decisions in the hands of each individual/ family.
But let me first explain why I believe we are dealing with three incompatible ideals. As a liberal society, we are committed to the idea that individuals have a right to conscience. As a democratic republic, we are committed to the idea that disputes are to be settled by appeal to the vote (at least to vote in representatives whose own votes will reflect that of the majority). And, in the case of schools, we are also committed to the idea that there are certain things which SHOULD be conveyed to children regardless of whether they, their parents, or the majority concur. (In other words, we believe that curriculum is too valuable a subject to be left to non-experts.)
These three ideas, then, are in conflict and, I believe, irreducibly so. That is because recognizing the one negates the other two. (By example, leaving curricular matters up to majority vote abridges individuals liberty to decide educational issues for themselves, and also takes a stand against unelected experts deciding them.) Why do I choose liberalism over the other competing values as curricular guides? (more…)
Last night, my wife and I watched the BBC program The Dragon’s Den, where five venture capitalists listen to various pitches from struggling entrepreneurs, deciding whether to give them money in return for a stake in the business. Today, I read Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. Coincidence? Yes. Is there a connection? Yes! The former helps to prove the latter wrong by showing that, contra Marx’s assertions, capitalism functions reciprocally for mutual benefit rather than in a master/slave relationship.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx writes of the proletariat (the working class) as if they were slaves to the bourgeoisie (capitalists):
Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.
And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society.
Marxism sees employer/employee relations – and all other capitalist dealings – as a one way master/slave relationship; “I will pay you what I want and you will work for me regardless of whether you want to.”
The irony is that supporters of capitalism recognize that this is not at all the truth. In fact, defenders of capitalism (rightly) note that capitalism is the one and only economic system where employers may not enslave employees; in fact this is so by definition. A slave, to be a slave, is enslaved involuntarily. Her wishes are not taken into account, she is treated only as a means, and has no say in her fate. Capitalism, though, puts emphasis on contract; an employer cannot force unwilling participants into its employ, and employees are free to leave a job if they can find something better. The entire relationship is quite voluntary on both sides.
The further irony is that the same cannot be said about communism. Marx has it backwards: communism is the type of social structure that takes away choice from members by telling them that they will make what the government says they will make, will work where the government says they will work, etc.
How does this come back to BBC’s Dragon’s Den? (more…)