This course explores main answers to the question "when do governments deserve our allegiance?" It starts with a survey of major political theories of the Enlightenment—Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the social contract tradition—through classical formulations, historical context, and contemporary debates relating to politics today. It then turns to the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking. Lastly, it deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking. Practical implications of these arguments are covered through discussion of a variety of concrete problems.
Professor Shapiro explains the format and structure of the class during this opening session. He reviews the syllabus, and asks the central question of the course: What makes a government legitimate? He briefly explains the five ways to answer this question that he will focus on throughout the semester. The first three traditions are those of the Enlightenment: utilitarianism, Marxism, and social contract theory. The fourth and fifth overarching ways to answer the central question in this course are the anti-Enlightenment and the democratic traditions. Professor Shapiro then introduces the topic for the next lecture, the Eichmann problem.
The trial of Adolf Eichmann, as presented in Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, is the topic of discussion. Professor Shapiro asks students what made them uncomfortable, not only about Eichmann's actions as a Nazi officer, but also the actions of Israel in capturing, extraditing, trying, and executing him. This begs the questions, what makes a government legitimate? And more specifically, was the Third Reich illegitimate and was Eichmann breaking some kind of higher law? After class discussion, Professor Shapiro frames the five traditions that were introduced in the previous class as ways to answer this question of governmental legitimacy, and introduces John Locke, the topic of the next lecture, as a backdrop for these traditions.
Before exploring the three Enlightenment traditions in particular, Professor Shapiro examines the Enlightenment holistically, using John Locke as the foundation for the discussion. The first tenet of the Enlightenment is a commitment to science as a way of ordering politics, and Professor Shapiro introduces the Cartesian philosophy of science and segues into an elucidation of the workmanship ideal, a central feature of Enlightenment thinking. Corollary to the workmanship ideal, the second tenet of the Enlightenment is the equality of men, ergo an emphasis on individual rights. Does this latter tenet give the basis for the resistance of authority? Throughout the lecture, Professor Shapiro uses a number of primary sources to depict the foundations of Enlightenment thought. Although Locke's thinking is deeply rooted in theology, these topics will reemerge time and time again in different contexts during the course of the semester.
Jeremy Bentham's formulation of classical utilitarianism is the first Enlightenment tradition that the course will cover in depth. In his Principles of Morals and Legislation, Bentham outlines the principle of utility; that is, the principle that all men are pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding. Professor Shapiro presents the case that classical utilitarianism has five characteristics: (1) it is comprehensive and deterministic, (2) it is a pre-Darwinian naturalist doctrine, (3) it is egoistic but not subjectivist, (4) it is highly consequentialist, and (5) it is based on the idea that utility is quantifiable and that one can make interpersonal comparisons of utility. As for the role of government, Bentham believes that it is to "maximize the greatest happiness of the greatest number." The class discusses the merits of utilitarianism through examination of Robert Nozick's hypothetical experience machines, the implication of public goods, and "the tragedy of the commons."
Professor Shapiro continues his examination of Jeremy Bentham's formulation of classical utilitarianism, with a focus on the distributive implications of the theory of "maximizing the greatest happiness of the greatest number." He engages students in a discussion of a guiding principle of classical utilitarianism, the principle of diminishing marginal utility, and some traditional critiques of this principle. Professor Shapiro examines the capacity of classical utilitarianism as a radically redistributive doctrine. Bentham himself tried to avoid this consequence with his argument that the rich would burn their crops before giving them away, and he differentiated between "absolute" and "practical" equality. Professor Shapiro connects all of these concepts to Reagan's tax cuts of the 1980s, pre- and post-apartheid South Africa, and contemporary debates about economic stimulus.
In this economics-oriented lecture, Professor Shapiro introduces neoclassical utilitarianism as it was formulated by economist Vilfredo Pareto and further described by Francis Edgeworth, examining such concepts as indifference curves, transitivity, the Pareto principle, and the Edgeworth box diagram. It is revealed that the main departure of neoclassical utilitarianism from classical utilitarianism was that it did away with Bentham's troublesome interpersonal comparisons of utility. However, Professor Shapiro explains that, if classical utilitarians didn't take the differences between individuals seriously enough, neoclassical utilitarians take these differences hyper-seriously. If classical utilitarianism can be interpreted as a radically redistributive doctrine, neoclassical utilitarianism becomes the exact opposite-that is, a doctrine that is quite friendly to the status quo.
John Stuart Mill's synthesis rights and utility follows naturally in the vein of neoclassical utilitarianism, and it attempts to compensate for many of the shortcomings of Bentham's classical utilitarianism. In the end, it turns out to be a doctrine that does not look very similar to Bentham's at all. An important component of Mill's doctrine is his harm principle, which states that the only purpose for which one can interfere with the liberty of action of another individual is self-protection. He also emphasizes free speech because he believes that through the process of argument, one can arrive at truth, which amounts to utility for society. A significant departure from the early Enlightenment, Mill believes in fallibility, and his philosophy of science closely resembles the modern conception. However, there seems to be inconsistency in his application of his libertarian theory where he seems to ignore some types of harm to others. Professor Shapiro reconciles for this by advocating a different, two-step reading of Mill.
Although the harm principle as introduced in the last lecture seems straightforward at first glance, today Professor Shapiro discusses its ambiguities. If it "must be calculated to produce evil to someone else," who will be doing the calculations? Second, what does "calculated" mean? Does committing harm imply mens rea, or should strict liability be observed? The class discusses such issues as prostitution, free trade, same-sex marriage, statutory rape, Good Samaritan laws, marital rape, discrimination, and tort adjudication (specifically the 1950s case on thalidomide). Professor Shapiro concludes that in calculating harm, one must make political choices, which places the Enlightenment ideal of replacing politics with science in jeopardy.
Today, Professor Shapiro continues his discussion of Enlightenment theory of Karl Marx, focusing on the foundations of his theory of capitalism. The central question is, how is wealth created under capitalism at the micro level? For Marx, Adam Smith's invisible hand is not entirely benevolent. His labor theory of value stipulates that living human labor-power is the only way to create new value, and therefore capitalists who shift toward capital-intensive production cannot actually create new value. Marx also assumes wages are at the level of subsistence, and that capitalists turn a profit by exploiting the surplus labor time of workers. Professor Shapiro also explores some corollary concepts to Marx's mode of production: the class-for-itself/class-in-itself distinction, socially necessary labor time and surplus labor time, and the extent to which workers are other-referential.
Exploitation is an important technical-not normative-concept in the theory of Karl Marx. Although we are dealing with voluntary Pareto transactions, under capitalism, exploitation occurs whether or not an individual is better off. Capitalism is destined to fail, says Marx, because of (1) the possibility for liquidity crises, (2) the nature of capitalist competition inducing declining marginal profit on the industry-wide level, (3) the fact that capitalist competition eliminates competitors and promotes monopolies, (4) weak demand, as workers could not pool their money and buy all that they produce, and (5) the fact that "workers will come to realize that they have nothing to lose but their chains." However, communism (that distribution should be "to each according to his needs") can only arise from socialism ("to each according to his work"), which in turn can only arise from superabundance created by capitalism. However, scarcity is very much a reality, which makes superabundance impossible; this, Professor Shapiro points out, is the major weakness in Marx's theory.
We previously established that the reality of scarcity invalidates Marx's core idea of superabundance, and mortally wounds his theory. Certainly, his historical predictions about worker-led socialist revolutions around the world were off-mark. Today, Professor Shapiro presents more of the shortcomings of the Marxian tradition. These include Marx's failure to account for the ability of the state to buttress capitalism and stave off the conditions needed for its self-destruction, the lack of a declining tendency in the economy-wide rate of profit, and the incoherence of a labor theory of value. It becomes clear that the Marxian theory is riddled with holes. However, Marx does leave two important legacies in his wake: a good critique of markets as distributors of either good or harms in society, and a power-based argument about freedom.
The final Enlightenment tradition left to be explored in this course is social contract theory, for which we must return to Locke and somehow secularize his views and reconcile them with the refutation of natural rights. Modern social contract theorists replace natural rights with Kant's categorical imperatives, and accept the Aristotelian notion that there is no such thing as pre-political man. They approach the social contract as a hypothetical thought experiment, asking, if there were no state, what kind of state, if any, would people like you and I create? The first modern social contract theorist Professor Shapiro introduces is Robert Nozick, whose theory derives from the voluntary entry of individuals into mutual protective associations in the absence of a state. But he also makes two important points about force: (1) for coercive force to be a good, it has to be exercised as a monopoly, and (2) there's no other natural monopoly. Therefore, a dominant protective association will come out on top and resemble the state. But one problem remains: the incorporation of independents into this state.
Professor Shapiro dives more deeply into Robert Nozick's theory of the minimal, or night watchman, state. This formulation is not redistributive, nor does it consider rights as goals, but rather as side-constraints on what we can do. In other words, Nozick's is a deontological, not teleological, approach. However, the Achilles' heel of this formulation is the incorporation of independents, based on a system of compensation. Some people will opt not to enter into our hypothetical social contract, but for the dominant protective association to protect its members from the fear of these independents, they must be forced to incorporate. Nozick thinks that if members could compensate the independents for this rights violation, it would legitimize the state. Unfortunately, no one has ever solved the puzzle of compensation without some interpersonal comparison of utility. But another way to salvage Nozick's account is with the Kantian dictum "ought entails can," meaning that since independents cannot be tolerated, it cannot be an obligation not to violate their rights. But what if the independents could compensate the members for their fear? And couldn't this compensation model be used to justify the welfare state as well? Isn't the value of consent, in which Nozick's account is rooted, completely violated here?
The class's examination of Nozick's minimal state has raised a number of important questions, most of which are rooted in his troublesome model of compensation. Nozick would respond with his threefold account of justice: (1) justice in acquisition, (2) justice in transfer, and (3) rectification of past injustices. Nozick brilliantly demonstrates that "liberty upsets patterns"-even though we can originally start off with any just distribution, allowing voluntary transactions creates an unequal distribution of wealth. At some point, transactions actually stop being voluntary, however, when some would say the government should step in. But Nozick argues that because there is a deep pluralism of values and since we cannot agree on what this point should be, we must keep this redistribution to an absolute minimum so as not to impose anyone's views on anyone else. This is how he distinguishes between redistribution and compensation. His model of compensation is backward-looking and doesn't require us to agree on a pattern. It asks what is necessary to make the harmed person whole again. Although addressing individual harms is easier than looking for a pattern applicable to society as a whole, Nozick fails to address the question of how far backward we must look in compensating for past injustices.
The next and final Enlightenment tradition to be examined in the class is that of John Rawls, who, according to Professor Shapiro, was a hugely important figure not only in contemporary political philosophy, but also in the field of philosophy as a whole. The class is introduced to some of the principal features of Rawls's theory of justice, such as the original position and the veil of ignorance, two of Rawls's most important philosophical innovations. Rawls channels Kant's categorical imperative because he asks individuals who would hypothetically be making choices about the structure of society to consider what would be desirable regardless of who they turned out to be-high IQ or low IQ, male or female, black or white, rich or poor. Rawls does not want to consider utility or welfare, but rather something more concrete: resources. And for him, these resources are liberties, opportunities, income and wealth, and the social bases of self-respect. The first of these leads to Rawls's first principle of justice, which states, "Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all." Professor Shapiro animates this principle by asking, "Should there be an established religion?" For Rawls, the approach to answering this question is from the standpoint of the most adversely affected person.
The main focus of today's discussion is Rawls's third and most problematic principle, the difference principle, which states that income and wealth is to be distributed "to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged individual." This stems from the logic that what is good for the least advantaged individual will be good for the second-least advantaged, and the third, and so on. But what if slightly benefiting the least advantaged person comes at a huge cost to others? Professor Shapiro explores Rawls's defense. It is important to note that Rawls is not trying to give marginal policy advice, or even determine whether socialism or capitalism benefits the least advantaged (which he leaves to empirics), but trying to determine the basic structure of society. However, Professor Shapiro shows that the difference principle is not necessarily radical in the redistributive sense when compared with Pareto or Bentham, but it is radical in a philosophical sense. Rawls argues that the differences between individuals are morally arbitrary-it's moral luck that determines the family one is born into, what country one is born in, or one's capacities. However, some of the consequences are unsavory. Although Rawls tries in vain to exclude what one chooses to make of one's capacities, could not effort, or capacity to work, fall into this sphere as well? What is to be said of two equally intelligent people, one of who works hard and gets A's while the other lies on the couch and watches ESPN all day?
The mature Rawls departed quite a bit from his earlier theory of justice, choosing instead an overlapping consensus, or political, not metaphysical approach. Professor Shapiro argues that this is a significant departure from the Enlightenment tradition. In a wrap-up of the class's examination of the Enlightenment, Professor Shapiro charts its evolution from Locke to Bentham to Mill to Marx to contemporary theorists. As for the Enlightenment commitment to science and reason as the basis for politics, the early Enlightenment identified science with certainty, while the mature Enlightenment beginning with Mill emphasized the fallibility of science. But how rational are individuals after all? As for the second Enlightenment normative ideal of individual rights, the efforts to secularize the workmanship ideal after Locke were very problematic, culminating in the numerous and sound critiques of Marx and the intuitively disturbing radicalism of Rawls's moral arbitrariness. Professor Shapiro then introduces the backlash of the at-times unsatisfying consequences of the Enlightenment tradition, the anti-Enlightenment.
Edmund Burke was an English politician who wrote his Reflections on the Revolution in France to express his disdain for the destructive havoc wrought by the French Revolution. As a traditionalist-conservative, he thinks about social change in a cautious and incremental way and characterizes the social contract as binding on those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born. Studying the anti-Enlightenment differs from the study of the Enlightenment because traditional conservatives of the Burkean school reject the idea of formulating a theory upon which to base society. Their views can be more accurately characterized as attitudes or dispositions. Social change is possible, but it must reflect the thinking of "the man on the Clapham omnibus." Thinkers like Burke and Devlin place individuals as subordinate to society and its traditions. Therefore, the anti-Enlightenment is a rejection of both of the central tenets of the Enlightenment that have been covered in the course until now-the commitment to individual rights, and to science and reason.
In addition to the traditionalist-conservative view covered last time, the other anti-Enlightenment school the course explores is contemporary communitarianism. While Burke and Devlin appealed to tradition as the basis for our values, communitarians appeal to the community-accepted values as the basis for what should guide us. Communitarian Richard Rorty criticizes the Enlightenment endeavor of justifying philosophy from the ground up from indubitable premises as a fool's errand and a dangerous mug's game. The main focus of this lecture is the communitarianism of Alasdair MacIntyre. Professor Shapiro introduces this school by exploring the symptoms of the problem wrought by the Enlightenment. One is the rise of emotivism and complete moral subjectivism-that is, the abandonment of the instruments for making moral judgments as a consequence of trying to justify philosophy from the ground up. The second symptom is the triumph of instrumentalism and the rejection of teleology, which is actually a coping mechanism for society's deep pluralism of values. Professor Shapiro discusses MacIntyre's two symptoms, as well as introduces his conceptions of practices and virtues.
In this lecture, Professor Shapiro delves into the nuances of MacIntyre's argument, focusing specifically on his Aristotelian account of human psychology. It has two features: (1) man's nature is inherently teleological or purposive, and (2) human behavior is fundamentally other-directed, in that a person's happiness is conditioned upon the experience of others as it relates to him, particularly on the feeling of being valued by someone he values. MacIntyre's account of human psychology highlights the malleability and the contingency of human nature. There is the untutored, or raw, condition, and there is the condition of having realized one's telos. Ethics are how one evolves from the former to the latter, but MacIntyre notes that ethics are designed to improve behavior, not to describe or aggregate it. Therefore, ethics cannot be deduced from true statements about human nature (like Bentham's pain-avoidance/pleasure-seeking principle): this is his criticism of the Enlightenment project. But he does concede the Enlightenment notion that human beings are capable of thinking critically about purposes and goals. However, in order to have an effect on the people it is intended to influence, this critical reflection should originate from within the system of norms that people believe in and operate in. Thus, the anti-Enlightenment story subordinates the individual to the practice, to the group, and to the inherited system of norms and values.
Professor Shapiro transitions to the third and final section of the course, an in-depth look at democracy and its institutions. According to him, democracy is the most successful at delivering on the mature Enlightenment's twin promises to recognize individual rights as the ultimate political good and to base politics on some kind of commitment to objective knowledge. And interestingly, democracy as a tradition was not made famous by its champions, but rather by its critics. Professor Shapiro guides the class through the writings of Plato, Tocqueville, Madison, and Dahl. He zeroes in specifically on American democracy and such concepts as tyranny of the majority, factionalism, and checks and balances.
Majority rule and democratic competition serve as the focus of this second lecture on the democratic tradition. What is it about majority rule that confers legitimacy on collective decisions? Is there any validity to a utilitarian justification, that catering to the wishes of the majority maximizes the happiness of the greatest number? Does majority rule reflect what Rousseau called the general will? What is the general will? Does Arrow's paradox indicate that the results of voting are arbitrary? Is majority rule just an exercise in realpolitik? Professor Shapiro makes the point that crosscutting cleavages discussed in an earlier lecture are the key to unlocking majority rule and limiting the possibility of domination. Although one may be in the majority today, the possibility of being in the minority tomorrow prevents tyranny. Several models of democracy are discussed: the public choice model of Buchanan and Tullock, Rae and Barry's critique of this model, Schumpeter's marketplace model, the Hotelling-Downs median voter theorem, and Huntington's two turnover test.
Professor Shapiro takes up again Schumpeter's minimalist conception of democracy. When operationalized as a two turnover test, this conception of democracy proves far from minimalist, yet people often expect other things from democracy, like delivering justice. Although people experiencing injustice under other types of governments often clamor for democracy, they become disillusioned with democracy when a particular regime fails to ensure greater justice for society. However, societies are also unwilling to swoop in with a scheme of justice that has not been democratically legitimated. Professor Shapiro proposes an approach that synthesizes both democracy and justice and pursues them together. His theory of democratic justice has several features which he outlines: (1) it rests on a broad conception of politics, (2) it is semi-contextual, (3) it distinguishes between superordinate and subordinate goods, and (4) embodies two dimensions of democracy, which are (a) collective self-government grounded in the principle of affected interest, and (b) institutionalized opposition and presumption against hierarchy.
Professor Shapiro guides the class through some practical applications of his theory of democratic justice. As applied to governing children, a sphere in which power-based hierarchy is inevitable, he circumscribes the role of the state as the fiduciary over children's basic interests and the role of parents as the fiduciaries over children's best interests. In other words, the state ensures the provision of the resources necessary for survival while the parents provide the resources to enable children to thrive as well as possible. Although some tensions will develop, such dual hierarchies enable a system of checks on these power relationships. These hierarchies are self-liquidating once the child reaches adulthood, and because of self-determination, the child can no longer be disenfranchised. Professor Shapiro also examines hierarchy in the workplace. If exit costs are high, what he calls a Dickensian nightmare, then increased regulation is justified, but if we are living in a surfer's paradise, with low exit costs and a high social wage, then the firm's pursuit of efficiency should not be impeded. How regulation is applied depends on where the society falls on this continuum. In closing, Professor Shapiro offers his remarks about the staying power and legacy of democracy.