Arkiv for ‘Historie’

Foucault and Liberalism

Friday, December 23rd, 2016


When the philosopher Michel Foucault died of AIDS in Paris in 1984, he was one of the world’s most famous intellectuals. In his native France, he had managed to obtain the special French superstar status, which is only granted to a chosen few, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.

Foucault’s works were read and discussed in most of the academic world. In the years after his death, his status has only grown, and today his scientific methods have long since spread beyond the narrow circle of historians and philosophers to every corner of the university. Foucault’s thoughts have managed become a sort of default in every branch of social science (except perhaps economics). At several Western universities, he is today the most cited social science theorist. It is hard to overstate his importance. The entire strand of philosophy known as ‘postmodernism’ or ‘poststructuralism’ owes Foucault something, and frequently quite a bit more than something.

Foucault also laid the foundation for one of the most commonly used methods in social science education: Discourse analysis. Here it is superfluous to mention that he is an obligatory part of every curriculum in the social sciences and the humanities, and even at some non-academic educations. Personally, I’ve seen instances of Foucault’s philosophy being peddled as mandatory for nurses and paramedics too.

If you read his works, it can be difficult to understand how they could have spread across the globe; how they could be read and purchased in the hundreds of thousands and discussed ad nauseam. His books are unbearably cryptic, incredibly difficult to decipher, and the insights you can squeeze from them are often contradictory and sometimes meaningless.

Foucault’s success is partly due to his timing. He wrote his works in the 1960s and 1970s, when the growing countercultural movement won more and more popularity within the intelligentsia. His anti-essentialism and rejection of Enlightenment thinking was well received by the greater part of a generation of European intellectuals that pined for a confrontation with established bourgeois truths, Western imperialism and the old authorities. These were to become the basis for what has since become known as the youth rebellion.

Among the many incomprehensible sentences found in Foucault’s books, one finds a particular anti-authoritarian message which has undoubtedly has swayed many people who felt a need to do away with the old standards. But this anti-authoritarian message is fettered to a totalitarian Siamese twin. And if the two should be separated from each other, they will both die.

Accepting Foucault’s theories of knowledge, power and man means that you will have to renounce to any belief in humanity’s ability to comprehend objective reality, as well as any belief that individual liberty can be achieved within the norms of established society. The notions that individual human beings have a personal responsibility for their actions has to go out of the window as well.

Foucault’s theories are some of the best and purest instances of culturalism one can find in modern thinking. If one gives pride of place to these ideas, one must also necessarily place the entire foundation for liberal democracy and human rights in the trash. To someone who has truly understood Foucault, such ideas are even more odious than straight up dictatorships. His philosophy is fundamentally incompatible with belief in democratic government and individual rights.

Today it is quite normal that the term ‘positivism’ is used as a slur. A ‘positivist’ is someone who lives within the established consensus. He is a naive, altmodisch figure. A ridiculous figure, who believe there is an objective reality which can be comprehended through formal and uniform scientific inquiries. These are beliefs that even today may evoke laughter from humanities students and faculty. No, they say, reality is not ‘objective’, it is created by power. It is the power structures in a given society that shape all our knowledge through linguistic, discursive processes. The only way to be able to establish any type of remotely credible knowledge, is through the critical analysis, in which we look at language and discourse and how they shape our way of thinking.

All of this is a legacy that can be traced back to Foucault. And it is actually an excellent means of critical correction. A good counterweight for theorists on a blind empirico-quanitative rampage. It is never a bad thing to be aware of the power of perspectives and linguistic, discursive processes surrounding one’s research.

But when this approach alone is dominant, instead of just a critical correction, it paradoxically becomes its own normative hegemony, and when that happens, we end up with a serious intellectual problem. It leads to every kind of vulgar social constructivism where university graduates think they can solve deep problems just by doing a bit of textual analysis. It leads to a new naivety, where one imagines that the underlying realities of the world can be changed if we just talk differently about surface signs and signifiers. But worst of all, it leads to the total rejection of any ethical universalism  and any common standard of knowledge, to a monstrous culturalism, in which the individual disappears in favor of large, collective, discursive currents, and the complete dissolution of the subject.

It is possible that Foucault did not intend for his work to end up being used in this manner, but if so, he never did anything to guard against this being the outcome of what he produced.

Foucault’s project was not particularly normative or ethical, but more philosophical, historical, and political. His primary aim was to break the spell of enlightenment thinking, which in his opinion, had created an implicit normativity in the modern social sciences, often leading scholars to deal with how everything should be in stead of how it actually is. He saw himself as carrying on the work of Nietzsche, where ethics is a lie that only weak-minded losers believe in.

It was this approach that Foucault adopted. He was interested in discovering how knowledge was created and how it could be converted into power in the form of discipline, which could again be used to control people. He went against the Popperian – and someone might mockingly say: ‘positivist’ approach to knowledge – where one methodically, soberly and rigorously embarks on a journey leading one closer and closer to the ‘truth’.

Foucault never wrote a line  about methodology. Yet it is his method, which has enjoyed the greatest acclaim.

The Contradiction in Modern Feminism

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

Watch as video here.

On New Year’s Eve of 2015/2016, mass sexual assaults took place against women in several cities across Germany. Most famous is the incident in Cologne, where 2000 men of Middle-eastern and North African descent sexually assaulted 1200 German women.

Coordinated mass sexual assaults by men against women should be a feminist cause if there ever was one. Yet to the surprise of most Europeans, many familiar feminist bloggers, pundits and writers across northern Europe did not come out to denounce the attacks. Instead, many talked about how these mass sexual assaults were no different from what white European men do to women every weekend at clubs, how there is rape in every culture so it would be irresponsible to just single out these Middle Eastern perpetrators, and so on.

How could we have come to a point where leading European feminists cannot bring themselves to speak out against mass coordinated sexual assaults against women? The answer has to do with what we call the contraction in modern feminism.

Feminism was originally a movement rooted in the broader values of the age of enlightenment. The foundation of classical feminism was the belief that all citizens should be treated equally by the state and be able to lay claim to the same rights, privileges and responsibilities, regardless of gender. At the time when feminism was conceived, the application of this principle meant expanding women’s rights to be on par with men’s.

The values of the enlightenment were universalist and went both ways: If men had somehow been the ones to be short-changed by society, then the same principle could have been applied to further men’s causes. Enlightenment feminism wasn’t about being a man or being a woman. It was about being equals as human beings. Enlightenment values were also individualist. If certain traditions, cultures, and religions mandated that men or women be treated differently, then these collectivist social structures had to be combated, since the individual’s free choice was unequivocally more important.

However, in recent years, feminism has also absorbed ideas from movements very different from the enlightenment. Some of the names used to describe this type of feminism 3rd and 4th wave feminism, intersectional feminism, and so on.

Where enlightenment feminism had been universalist and individualistic, many modern feminists regard the whole tradition of the enlightenment as suspicious, exclusively Western, and perhaps even imperialistic. If other cultures have different gender roles, then who are we to say they’re wrong?

In other words, the philosophy inherent in much of modern feminism has more to do with the philosophical responses and counter movements to the enlightenment, than they have to do with the enlightenment. Specifically, much of it is indebted to the philosophy of the romantic era, where it was thought that the individual’s values could not be formularized as a list of abstract rights and ideals, but were deeply rooted in culture, community, and personal identity.

In other words, where the enlightenment was universalist, rational, and impersonal, the philosophy of the romantic era was particularistic, experiential and personal. They are and were two completely different ways of viewing the world.

So where Western feminists used to be unequivocally opposed to traditions, cultures, and religions that stood in the way of their enlightenment values, the picture is now less clear cut. It is not that modern feminists don’t care about the plight of women outside of their own culture and ethnicity, as right-wingers often like to accuse them of being. Rather, it is that modern feminists tend to see the traditions, mores, and religious of individuals belonging to other cultures as vulnerable components of their identity. If these were steamrolled by Western pundits, this might result in an empowered majority culture subjugating a vulnerable minority. In the eyes of many modern feminists, lecturing people of other cultures about what values they should have can very easily border on cultural imperialism and be disempowering to minorities.

This is where the confusion comes in: Prosaically speaking, worrying about steamrolling minority cultures has very little to do with women’s rights and very much to do with an overall agenda of fighting racism, where modern feminists see themselves as the defenders of vulnerable minorities.

This is why leading feminist pundits all over northern Europe were left speechless when 2000 Middle Eastern and North Africa men stage a massed sexual assault on 1200 European women.  Obviously these men were trampling the rights of women underfoot. But they were also part of what many modern feminists perceived as a vulnerable minority culture. They wouldn’t risk being the enablers of cultural imperialism.

In this way we can see how modern feminism is trapped in a contradiction between two philosophical traditions that simply cannot be synthetized. The enlightenment one, that cares about equal rights and is rational, individualistic and universalist. And the romantic one, which places more stress on the personal, the particular, and on protecting minorities from cultural hegemony and imperialism. And this is what we call The Contradiction in Modern Feminism.

Roger Scruton i den danske idedebat

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Den britiske filosof Roger Scruton (1944 – ) fremhæves ofte som konservatismens mest indflydelsesrige nulevende filosof. Som forfatter til mere end 40 bøger, der behandler alt fra arkitektur og æstetik til seksualitet, græsk-romersk historie og britisk retspraksis kan Scruton lægge navn til  et vidtrækkende og komplekst livsværk, hvis facetter alle danner baggrund for hans politiske konservatisme. Scruton er imidlertid ingen doktrinær konservativ, men slår ofte til lyd for en forbrødring mellem konservative og klassisk liberale (mens han dog forsager de rene liberale, da de efter hans mening ikke har tilstrækkelig respekt for traditionelle værdier og den historiske proces).

Dette notat præsenterer en samling kortere essays fra borgerlige meningsdannere i Danmark, der hver skriver om Scruton på baggrund af deres personlige position i idedebatten herhjemme: Professor Nicolai J. Foss fra Copenhagen Business School vil nærme sig Scruton fra et klassisk liberalt perspektiv, der indeholder både liberale og konservative elementer. Teolog og formand for Trykkefrihedsselskabet Katrine Winkel Holm blev bedt om at vurdere Scrutons tænkning set med dansk-konservative øjne. Endelig tilfalder det antropolog og forfatter Dennis Nørmark at imødegå nogle af de Scruton’ske kritikker af den værdipolitiske liberalisme i sin rene form.

Samtlige skribenter finder tankegods hos Scruton, de er enige i, men også punkter, der mødes med reservationer og ægger til yderligere debat.

Scruton Notat Final


Sunday, February 14th, 2016

By Antonin Scalia**


I refer to the Chief Justice’s opinion for the Court in Myers v. United States,8 which declared unconstitutional congressional attempts to restrict presidential removal of executive officers….


What attracts my attention about the Myers opinion is not its substance but its process.  It is a prime example of what, in current scholarly discourse, is known as the “originalist” approach to constitutional interpretation.  The objective of the Chief Justice’s lengthy opinion was to establish the meaning of the Constitution, in 1789, regarding the presidential removal power.  He sought to do so by examining various evidence, including not only, of course, the text of the Constitution and its overall structure, but also the contemporaneous understanding of the President’s removal power (particularly the understanding of the First Congress and of the leading participants in the Constitutional Convention), the background understanding of what “executive power” consisted of under the English constitution, and the nature of the executive’s removal power under the various state constitutions in existence when the Constitution was adopted….


It may surprise the layman, but it will surely not surprise the lawyers here, to learn that the originalism is not, and had perhaps never been, the sole method of constitutional exegesis.  It would be hard to count…the opinions that have in fact been rendered not on the basis of what the Constitution originally meant, but on the basis of what the judges currently thought it desirable for it to mean.  That is, I suppose, the sort of behavior Chief Justice Hughes was referring to when he said the Constitution is what the judges say it is.  But in the past, nonoriginalist opinions have almost always had the decency to lie, or at least to dissemble, about what they were doing–either ignoring strong evidence of original intent congenial to the court’s desires, or else not discussing original intent at all, speaking in terms of broad constitutional generalities with no pretense of historical support….13


The principal theoretical defect of nonoriginalism, in my view, is its incompatibility with the very principle that legitimizes judicial review of constitutionality.  Nothing in the text of the Constitution confers upon the courts the power to inquire into, rather than passively assume, the constitutionality of federal statutes.  That power is, however, reasonably implicit because, as Marshall said in Marbury v. Madison, (1) “[I]t is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is,” (2) “[I]f two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each,” and (3) “the constitution is to be considered, in court, as a paramount law.”24  Central to that analysis, it seems to me, is the perception that the Constitution, though it has an effect superior to other laws, is in its nature the sort of “law” that is the business of the courts – an enactment that has a fixed meaning ascertainable through the usual devices familiar to those learned in the law.  If the Constitution were not that sort of a “law,” but a novel invitation to apply current societal values, what reason would there be to believe that the invitation was addressed to the courts rather than to the legislature?  …Quite to the contrary, the legislature would seem a much more appropriate expositor of societal values, and its determination that a statute is compatible with the Constitution should, as in England, prevail.


…If the law is to make any attempt at consistency and predictability, surely there must be general agreement not only that judges reject one exegetical approach (originalism), but that they adopt another.  And it is hard to discern any emerging consensus among the nonoriginalists as to what this might be.  Are the “fundamental values” that replace original meaning to be derived from the philosophy of Plato, or of Locke, or Mills, or Rawls, or perhaps from the latest Gallop poll?  This is not to say that originalists are in entire agreement as to what the nature of their methodology is; as I shall mention shortly, there are some significant differences.  But as its name suggests, it by and large represents a coherent approach, or at least an agreed-upon point of departure. . . .


Finally, I want to mention what is not a defect of nonoriginalism, but one of its supposed benefits that seems to me illusory.  A bit earlier I quoted one of the most prominent nonoriginalists, Professor Tribe, to the effect that the Constitution “invites us, and our judges, to expand on the . .  . freedoms that are uniquely our heritage.”25.  I think   it fair to say that that is a common theme of nonoriginalists in general.  But why, one may reasonably ask–once the original import of the Constitution is cast awide to be replaced by the “fundamental values” of the current society–why are we invited only to “expand on” freedoms, and not to contract them as well?  Last Term we decided a case, Coy v. Iowa,26 in which, at the trial of a man accused of taking indecent liberties with two young girls, the girls were permitted to testify separated from the defendant by a screen which prevented them from seeing him.  We held that, at least absent a specific finding that these particular witnesses needed such protection, this procedure violated that provision of the Sixth Amendment that assures a criminal defendant the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”27  Let us hypothesize, however (a hypothesis that may well be true), that modern American society is much more conscious of, and averse to, the effects of “emotional trauma” than was the society of 1791, and that it is, in addition, much more concerned about the emotional frailty of children and the sensitivity of young women regarding sexual abuse.  If that is so, and if the nonoriginalists are right, would it not have been possible for the Court to hold that, even though in 1791 the confrontation clause clearly would not have permitted a blanket exception for such testimony, it does so today?  Such a holding, of course, could hardly be characterized as an “expansion upon” preexisting freedoms….


Let me turn next to originalism, which is also not without its warts.  Its greatest defect, in my view, is the difficulty of applying it correctly….But what is true is that it is often exceedingly difficult to plumb the original understanding of an ancient text.  Properly done, the task requires the consideration of an enormous mass of material–in the case of the Constitution and its Amendments, for example, to mention only one element, the records of the ratifying debates in all the states.  Even beyond that, it requires an evaluation of the reliability of that material–many of the reports of the ratifying debates, for example, are thought to be quite unreliable.  And further still, it requires immersing oneself in the political and intellectual atmosphere of the time–somehow placing out of mind knowledge that we have which an earlier age did not, and putting on beliefs, attitudes, philosophies, prejudices and loyalties that are not those of our day.  It is, in short, a task sometimes better suited to the historian than the lawyer….


Research conducted years later by Professor William Winslow Crosskey would have been helpful to Taft.  Referring to the royal prerogatives as described in William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, which had been published in Philadelphia in the early 1770s, Crosskey noted that many–indeed, almost half–of Congress’ enumerated powers had been considered royal prerogatives under the law of England at the time of our Constitution’s adoption.42  For example, Blackstone wrote that the king had “the sole power of raising and regulating fleets and armies,”43 whereas, of course, these powers under our Constitution reside in Congress by virtue of article I, section 8, clauses 12 through 14.  The Constitution also expressly confides in the President certain traditional royal prerogatives subject to limitations not known in the English constitution.  Thus, for example, the king’s absolute veto of legislation became a qualified veto subject to override by a two-thirds vote of Congress,44 and the king’s ability to conclude treaties became a presidential power to negotiate treaties with a two-thirds vote of the Senate needed for ratification.45


It is apparent from all this that the traditional English understanding of executive power, or, to be more precise, royal prerogatives, was fairly well known to the founding generation, since they appear repeatedly in the text of the Constitution in formulations very similar to those found in Blackstone.  It can further be argued that when those prerogatives were to be reallocated in whole or part to other branches of government, or were to be limited in some other way, the Constitution generally did so expressly.  One could reasonably infer, therefore, that what was not expressly reassigned would–at least absent patent incompatibility with republican principles–remain with the executive….


…Taft’s opinion contains nothing to support that point, except the unsubstantiated assertion that “[I]n the British system, the Crown . . . had the power of appointment and removal of executive officers. . . .”  That is probably so, but the nature of the relationship between the Crown and the government in England during the relevant period was a sufficiently complicated and changing one, that something more than an ipse dixit was called for.48


….Nowadays, of course, the Supreme Court does not give itself as much time to decide cases as was customary in Taft’s time.  Except in those very rare instances in which a case is set for reargument, the case will be decided in the same Term in which it is first argued–allowing at best the period between the beginning of October and the end of June, and at worst the period between the end of April and the end of June. . . . Do you have any doubt that this system does not present the ideal environment for entirely accurate historical inquiry?  Nor, speaking for myself at least, does it employ the ideal personnel.


I can be much more brief in describing what seems to me the second most serious objection to originalism:  In its undiluted form, at least, it is medicine that seems to strong to swallow.  Thus, almost every originalist would adulterate it with the doctrine of stare decisis–so that Marbury v. Madison would stand even if Professor Raoul Berger should demonstrate unassailably that it got the meaning of the Constitution wrong. . . . What if some state should enact a new law providing public lashing, or branding of the right hand, as punishment for certain criminal offenses?  Even if it could be demonstrated unequivocally that these were not cruel and unusual measures in 1791, and even though no prior Supreme Court decision has specifically disapproved them, I doubt whether any federal judge–even among the many who consider themselves originalists–would sustain them against an eighth amendment challenge.  It may well be, as Professor Henry Monaghan persuasively argues, that this cannot legitimately be reconciled with originalist philosophy–that it represents the unrealistic view of the Constitution as a document intended to create a perfect society for all ages to come, whereas in fact it was a political compromise that did not pretend to create a perfect society even for its own age (as its toleration of slavery, which a majority of the founding generation recognized as an evil, well enough demonstrates).50  Even so, I am confident that public flogging and handbranding would not be sustained by our courts, and any espousal of originalism as a practical theory of exegesis must somehow come to terms with that reality.


One way of doing so, of course, would be to say that it was originally intended that the cruel and unusual punishment clause would have an evolving content–that “cruel and unusual” originally meant “cruel and unusual for the age in question” and not “cruel and unusual in 1791.”  But to be faithful to originalist philosophy, one must not only say this but demonstrate it to be so on the basis of some textual or historical evidence.  Perhaps the mere words “cruel and unusual” suggest an evolutionary intent more than other provisions of the Constitution, but that is far from clear; and I know of no historical evidence for that meaning.  And if the faint-hearted originalist is willing simply to posit such an intent for the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause, why not for the due process clause, etc.? . . .


Having described what I consider the principal difficulties with the originalist and nonoriginalist approaches, I suppose I owe it to the listener to say which of the two evils I prefer.  It is originalism.  I take the need for theoretical legitimacy seriously, and even if one assumes (as many nonoriginalists do not even bother to do) that the Constitution was originally meant to expound evolving rather than permanent values, as I discussed earlier I see no basis for believing that supervision of the evolution would have been committed to the courts.  At an even more general theoretical level, originalism seems to me more compatible with the nature and purpose of a Constitution in a democratic system.  A democratic society does not, by and large, need constitutional guarantees to insure that its laws will reflect “current values.”  Elections take care of that quite well.  The purpose of constitutional guarantees of individual rights that are at the center of this controversy–is precisely to prevent the law from reflecting certain changes in original values that the society adopting the Constitution thinks fundamentally undesirable.  Or, more precisely, to require the society to devote to the subject the long and hard consideration required for a constitutional amendment before those particular values can be cast aside.


I also think the central practical defect of nonoriginalism is fundamental and irreparable:  the impossibility of achieving any consensus on what, precisely, is to replace original meaning, once that is abandoned.  The practical defects of originalism, on the other hand, while genuine enough, seem to me less severe.  While it may indeed be unrealistic to have substantial confidence that judges and lawyers will find the correct historical answer to such refined questions of original intent as the precise content of “the executive Power,” for the vast majority of questions the answer is clear.  The death penalty, for example, was not cruel and unusual punishment because it is referred to in the Constitution itself; and the right of confrontation by its plain language meant, at least, being face-to-face with the person testifying against one at trial.  For the nonoriginalist, even these are open questions. . . .


Now the main danger in judicial interpretation of the Constitution–or, for that matter, in judicial interpretations of any law–is that the judges will mistake their own predilections for the law.  Avoiding this error is the hardest part of being a conscientious judge; perhaps no conscientious judge ever succeeds entirely.  Nonoriginalism, which under one or another formulation invokes “fundamental values” as the touchstone of constitutionality, plays precisely to this weakness.  It is very difficult for a person to discern a difference between those political values that he personally thinks most important, and those political values that are “fundamental to our society.”  Thus, by the adoption of such a criterion judicial personalization of the law is enormously facilitated. . . .


Originalism does not aggravate the principal weakness of the system, for it establishes a historical criterion that is conceptually quite separate from the preferences of the judge himself.  And the principal defect of that approach–that historical research is always difficult and sometimes inconclusive – will, unlike nonoriginalism, lead to a more moderate rather than a more extreme result.  The inevitable tendency of judges to think that the law is what they would like it to be will, I have no doubt, cause most errors in judicial historiography to be made in the direction of projecting upon the age of 1789 current, modern values–so that as applied, even as applied in the best of faith, originalism will (as the historical record shows) end up as something of a compromise.  Perhaps not a bad characteristic for a constitutional theory. . . .


The vast majority of my dissents from nonoriginalist thinking (and I hope at least some of those dissents will be majorities) will, I am sure, be able to be framed in the terms that, even if the provision in question has an evolutionary content, there is inadequate indication that any evolution in social attitudes has occurred.51  That–to conclude this largely theoretical talk on a note of reality–is the real dispute that appears in the case:  not between nonoriginalists on the one hand and pure originalists on the other, concerning the validity of looking at all to current values; but rather between, on the one hand, nonoriginalists . . . and pure-originalists-accepting for the sake-of-argument-evolutionary-content, and, on the other hand, other adherents of the same. . . approaches, concerning the nature and degree of evidence necessary to demonstrate that constitutional evolution has occurred.

© 1989 by Antonin Scalia.  All rights reserved.

* This address was delivered on September 16, 1988 at the University of Cincinnati as the William Howard Taft Constitutional Law Lecture.

** Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court.

8 272 U.S. 52 (1926).

13 Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, 628 (1935).

24 5 U.S. (1  Cranch.) 137,177 (1803).

  1. I..TRIBE, supra note 15, at 45.

26 108 S. Ca. 2798 (1988).

27 Id. At 2800.

42 See I.W. CROSSKEY, POLITICS AND THE CONSTITUTION 428 (1953); see also U.S. CONST. Art. 1 § 8.


44 Compare 2 W. BLACKSTONE, id. At 260,260-62 n. 30, with U.S. CONST. art, II, § 2,cl. 2.

45 Compare 2 W. BLACKSTONE id. At 257, 257 n. 21, with U.S. CONST. art. II, § 2, cl. 2.


50 See Monaghan, Our Perfect Constitution, 56 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 353 (1981).

51 See e.g., Thompson v. Oklahoma, 108 S. Ct. 2687, 2711 (1988) (Scalia, J., dissenting).




Rawls vs. Nozick på dansk

Monday, February 1st, 2016

En af det tyvende århundredes væsentligste filosofiske skærmydsler var striden mellem de to Harvard-filosoffer John Rawls (1921–2002) og Robert Nozick (1938–2002). Konflikten udfoldede sig især på baggrund af bøgerne A Theory of Justice (Rawls 1971) og Anarchy, State and Utopia (Nozick 1974).

1970’ernes USA var en tid præget af intellektuelt og politisk vemod. Den lange og opslidende Vietnam-krig (1955–1975) havde svært ved at mønstre folkelig opbakning, og Watergate-skandalen (1972) havde kastet smuds på præsidentembedet og fået den amerikanske præsident Nixon til at trække sig i vanære. Folk nærede mistillid til den bestående orden og ledte efter nye politiske løsninger.

Det var her, Rawls og Nozick meldte sig med to skelsættende bøger om politisk filosofi. Rawls bød ind med en socialliberal vision, hvor individuel frihed forenes med et mål om økonomisk lighed, mens Nozick slog til lyd for en libertariansk samfundsindretning, hvor økonomisk omfordeling opfattes som en krænkelse af den personlige frihed. Dog skriver de begge i en liberal politisk tradition, hvor individet kommer før fællesskabet, og hvor individuel frihed opfattes som det højeste politiske gode.

Selvom Rawls og Nozick ligger i hver deres ende af det liberalistiske spektrum, så tackler de begge spørgsmål om retfærdighed, fordelingspolitik og hvordan det perfekte samfund bør se ud. Det gør striden mellem dem til en frugtbar debat.


Piketty’s Critique of Capitalism

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

Thomas Piketty has caused a stir with his predictions about increasing inequality and private and inherited wealth growing at higher rates than incomes. This essay discusses the assumptions behind Piketty’s projections, which are far less certain than Piketty often implies. As this essay will show, even if private fortunes should continue to grow as predicted, Piketty is still unable to substantiate his “grand narrative” about the postulated threats to democracy. Furthermore, this essay will show that Piketty’s calls for steep increases in taxes on income and capital would have adverse economic effects – not only for savers, but wage earners as well. Like Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century,” this essay aims to be accessible to the general public.

Otto Piketty Essay

Et svar på Poppers ”Poverty of Historicism”

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Det kan synes mærkeligt at jeg har argumenteret for en anvendelse af falsifikationslignende metoder indenfor historiefaget eftersom netop historiefaget udpeges som uegnet for falsifikation i Poppers egen Poverty of Historicism (1957). Jeg mener imidlertid ikke, at der er nogen større modsætning mellem den brug af falsifikation i historiefaget som jeg har advokeret i dette essay og så Poppers tese i Poverty of Hisoricism. Poppers kritik af historicismen tager sig primært ud som en kritik af Hegel og Marxs historiske determinisme der opererer ud fra betragtningen om, at historien bevæger sig mod et mål. Det er rigtigt, at selve historicismen ikke kan determineres og falsificeres. Men det er heller ikke det jeg har argumenteret for i dette essay. Jeg har argumenteret for, at historikeren kan falsificere forskellige bestanddele af sit arbejde, og at man skal bruge falsifikation hvor man kan. Poppers tese er altså, at historisk kausalitet ikke kan falsificeres. Min argumentation er, at hjælpemidler såsom korrelationer, indicier og enkelte kildetekster kan falsificeres og bør falsificeres. Eller sagt meget sloganistisk, så har jeg i dette essay argumenteret for, at historikeren skal bruge falsifikation hvornår end han kan, vel vidende at historikerens konklusioner vdr. historisk kausalitet ikke er falsificerbare.

Så vidt jeg kan se er dette standpunkt kun i strid med Poppers præmis II fra afsnittet Common Inconsistencies in the Arguments of Historicists: Historicists are bad at imagining conditions under which an identified trend ceases.[i] Hertil vil jeg indvende (1) at hvis viden besidder sin egen immanente rationalitet, så vil effekterne af i sig selv vil være underkastet effekterne af falsifikation (2) at alle er sårbare overfor confirmation bias, hvilket blot gør applikationen af falsifikation hvornår end det er muligt den endnu mere nødvendig.

Popper her overså en af styrkerne ved sin egen epistemologi, nemlig hans videreudvikling af den Sokratiske metode stadige forfining af uperfekte fortolkninger.

Når jeg alligevel går på tværs af Popper i denne sag er det fordi hans analyse efter min mening er unødvendigt finalistisk: Jeg er enig i Poppers kritik af Platon-Hegel-Marxes historicisme i den forstand at historisk determinisme for nuværende må afvises på det kraftigste. Jeg er også enig med Popper i, at historiefaget for nuværende må benytte sig af en ”pragmatisk historicisme” afledt af observérbare korrelationer. Men hvor Popper mener, at historisk determinisme er umuligt, ”there is a barrier to what we can know about what we will know in the future” mener jeg, at vi endnu ikke ved om det er muligt at determinere fremtiden ud fra tilstrækkeligt komplekse studier af fortiden.

Jeg mener også, at Poverty of Historicism trækker linierne for hårdt op: Her er det vigtigt, at etablere, at der er forskel på determinisme og sandsynlighed via korrelation. Popper argumenterer for, at man bør introducere en ”pragmatisk historicisme” når determinismen er uopnåelig. Der mener jeg, at Popper skelner for hårdt mellem videnskab og ikke-videnskab: Selv hårde videnskaber som Fysik løber ind i problemer der ligner historikerens: Man observerer korellationer og ser mønstre gentage sig, men kan kun gisne om disses kausalitet. Historiefaget kan med andre ord kun komme et stykke ned af den Popper’ske epistemologis vej.

[i] Popper, Karl: The Poverty of Historicism section 28

Postmodernismen gennem Nietzsche: Forstået og misforstået

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Postmodernismen gennem Nietzsche: Forstået og misforstået

Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, Lacan og især Michel Foucault: Det tyvende århundredes fremmeste postmodernister taget alle afsæt i Nietzsche, enten direkte (Foucault), eller indirekte via Heidegger behandling og ”udvikling” af den niezscheanske filosofi (Derrida).

Den franske postmoderne bevægelse er undertiden blevet beskyldt for blot at være en ”overdrevet gentagelse” af tidligere tysk filosofi med en Nietzsche-Foucault-akse, en Heidegger-Derrida-akse, en Marx-Bordieu-akse og en Freud-Lacan-akse.[i] Jeg mener, at denne beskyldning på én gang er for simpel, og for kompleks: For kompleks fordi i hvert fald Foucaults, Derridas og Lacans fundamentale intellektuelle gæld er til Nietzsche, og for simpel fordi disse tænkere, så vidt jeg kan se, ikke har forstået Nietzsche til fulde.

Det fører os til dette afsnits første påstand som er, at mange af 60’ernes franske tænkere kun halvvejs har forstået Nietzsches projekt, eller alternativt, at de franske epigoner har gjort Nietzsche uret hvis de skulle have forstået ham. Når jeg hælder til den første udlægning; at der kun er tale om en halv forståelse, er det fordi jeg intetsteds i de franske skrifter, blandt de talrige henvisninger til Nietzsche i øvrigt, er stødt på en eksplicitering af forskellene mellem det postmoderne projekt, og så Nietzsches oprindelige ”stridsskrifter” og hans kulturkamp.

Her kunne man som læser få det indtryk, at min intention er at rehabilitere Nietzsche. Det er imidlertid ikke rigtigt i det min anden påstand er, at selv hvis man forstår Nietzsche og tillige udviser retfærdighed i sin filosofiske behandling af ham, så er Nietzsche grundlæggende set uegnet som videnskabs- og historiefilosof. Det skyldes Nietzsches udprægede og eksplicitte kamp mod sandhed, rationalitet og ideen om, at man på akademisk manér gradvist kan diskutere sig frem til større og større landvindinger, hvilket altså placerer Nietzsche i lodret opposition til ortodokse videnskabsfilosoffer fra Platon/Sokrates til Karl Popper. Dette er en central konflikt mellem hvad man kunne kalde de klassiske videnskaber på den ene side, og så ”viljernes narrativer” på den anden. Hvad angår Nietzsche bekendtgør han klart og utvetydigt sin vilje til magt, og sine narrativer, som han ganske åbent sætter over tanken om en empirisk sandhed. Hvad angår de postmodernister som fulgte i hans spor har de stort set overtaget denne indstilling og dermed arvet konflikten. Men så vidt man kan læse ud af deres værker lader de kun til at være halvvejs bevidste om det.[ii]

Nihilisme og anti-nihilisme

Jeg har altid, siden jeg først læste Niezsche som teenager, været på det rene med, at Nietzsches filosofiske projekt er lige dele nihilisme (nedbrydning) og antinihilisme (opbygning). For Nietzsche selv gjaldt denne opbygning konstruktionen af, eller en tilbagevenden til, en ”herremoral” som ville give plads til overmennesket og gardere dette mod at føle sig hæmmet i sine handlinger, eller synke ned i fortvivlelse. (“What is good? – All that heightens the feeling of power, thre will to power, power itself in man. / What is bad? – All that proceeds from weakness.”[iii]). Således må den anden halvdel – 50%, hvis ikke mere – af Nietzsches filosofiske projekt nødvendigvis bestå af et genopbygningsprojekt. Dette projekt er sværere at forstå, men ikke desto mindre tydeligt til stede i Nietzsches skrifter, som her i Moralens Oprindelse:

“Dette fremtidsmenneske, der vil forløse os fra det hidtidige ideal såvel som fra hvad der var nødt til at vokse ud af det, fra den store lede, fra viljen til intet, fra nihilismen, han, middagstimens og den store afgørelses klokkeslag, de ratter gør viljen fri, der giver jorden dens mål og mennesket dets håb tilbage, denne antikrist og antinihilist, denne besejrer af Gud og Intetheden – han må engang komme…”[iv]

Spørgsmålet trænger sig således på den nihilistiske postmodernismes dør: I det omfang I (postmodernister) identificerer jer med Nietzsche, og henviser til ham som en forudsætning for deres egen filosofi, hvad er så amor fati, doktrinen om den evige genkomst og ”bliv hvad du er”, hvis ikke genopbygningsprojekter?

Hertil ville en sådan postmodernist utvivlsomt indvende, at netop på grund af Nietzsches Moralens Oprindelse, er enhver diskurs nu et ”sprogspil”, og at det således er legitimt at ”hugge en hæl og klippe en tå” af Nietzsche, og af alt andet. (Hvilket var omtrent hvad Foucault sagde da han blev kritiseret for den yderst pletvise research som lå til grund for Madness and Civilization [1961].). Med dét udgangspunkt føler alverdens postmoderne Nietzsche-læsere sig kvalificeret til at tage Nietsche på alt andet end ordet.

Dette er et typisk problem for det postmoderne projekt i det hele taget: I French Philosophy of the Sixties (1985) viser Ferry & Renaut hvordan Foucault og Derrida præsenterer hver deres filosofiske læsning af den samme Descartes-tekst.[v] Symptomatisk for begge tænkeres filosofi i øvrigt mener Foucault, at den pågældende Descartes-meditation ikke giver mening med mindre den læses gennem periodens overordnedes videnssystem, dens episteme, mens Derrida mener, at det mest interessante ved teksten er de ”interne modsætninger” han finder i teksten, ud fra hvilke han gisner en ny, skjult betydning af Descartes ord. Vi ser altså, at mens postmoderne tænkere kan være indbyrdes uenige, så er det centralt for postmodernismens projekt, at man ”hugger en hæl og klipper en tå”; – at man ikke nødvendigvis føler sig bundet af selve det objekt man analyserer, og at man tilsyneladende uden problemer kan blive enige om, at det vigtigste ved en tekst nemt kan være filosofiske aksiomer og metoder som teksten end ikke beskæftiger sig med! Man kunne med andre ord sige, at begge tænkere er enige om, at det vigtigste ved Descartes tekst er omstændigheder der ligger udenfor selve teksten.

Her kan vi bemærke, at et sådant videnskabssyn ikke er kongruent med kriterierne for videnskab i øvrigt: Moderne, og såvel antik, videnskab opererer ved at studere et givent objekt og opstille plausible repræsentationer og teorier på området, ud af det studerede objekt. Kun middelalderens videnskabstradition søgte a priori at forklare et objekts natur som følge af et andet, urelateret objekt, nemlig Gud og guddommelig indgriben, eks. via engle. Som vist i bl.a. Anthony Gottliebs filosofihistorie, The Dream of Reason (2001), og mange andre bøger, kan middelalderens kriterier for videnskab på mange måder ses som et afbræk eller en væsensforskellig boble fra den tradition som startede i antikken og videreførtes med renæssancen.[vi] Som vist ovenfor mener jeg, at postmodernismens videnskabssyn minder mere om det middelalderlige, end det antik-moderne, og så er vi fremme ved dette afsnits anden påstand, nemlig at Nietzsches filosofi ikke er videnskabsfilosofi, og at de postmodernister som har ladet sig inspirere af Nietzsche også har overtaget hans fejl på dette område.

Nietzsches filosofi er ikke videnskabsfilosofi

Sokrates, som vi kender ham fra Platons dialoger, har i generationer stået som eksemplet på god behandling af viden: Via den dialektiske metode undersøges og spørges der ind til hvad vi ved om givne objekter, deres væsen, natur med videre. Med lidt god vilje kunne vi endda sige, at Sokreates i sine bedste øjeblikke forsøgte at udøve Popper’sk falsifikation af sine modstanderes argumenter: Mens de eksempelvis søgte at bekræfte deres påstande med henvisning til guderne, kunne Sokrates finde på at bringe tilsyneladende urelaterede eksempler ind i samtalen for dermed at udøve noget der kunne minde om en antik udgave af falsifikation. I moderne tid kender vi eksemplet med Sokrates der blev udråbt til helt efter Nelsons Die Sokratische Methode (1922) og Poppers The Open Society and its Enemies (1945), mens andre filosoffer, hvis filosofier fungerede pr. metafysik og/eller sikkerhed stod for skud (Hegel, Platon). I denne videnskabsteoretiske optik, som ikke nødvendigvis gør de historiske fænomener vedrørende det fjerde århundredes Athen retfærdighed,[vii] men i denne optik, med dens præmis om en evig, uperfekt viden som vi konstant forbedrer via rationalistisk dialektik er det ikke så underligt at vi i Nietzsches noter finder følgende:

“Everything about Socrates is wrong.”[viii]

“Socrates […] I am almost constantly doing battle with him.”[ix]

Eller at vi i Afgudernes Ragnarok (1895) finder et afsnit dedikeret til “Problemet Sokrates”. Videnskabsteoretisk skal dette problem forstås sådan, at hvis man gradvist kan destillere sig frem til sand viden, så kan man ikke mene hvad som helst. Så kan man f.eks. ikke mene, at verden fungerer pr. Evig Genkomst (Nietzsche), at videnskabelige teorier bestemmes ud fra sociale opgør (Kuhn), eller at Shakesphere og Batman kan betyde det samme (Barthes). Men det er, som vi har set, inhærent for Nietzsches filosofiske projekt at opløse rationalitetens bånd på vores viden, således at der kan blive plads til et nyt kulturprojekt, nemlig overmennesket og dets herremoral. Således ligger de franske postmodernister og poststrukturalister fint i forlængelse af Nietzsche med deres dekonstruktion af historien, herunder filosofihistorien.

Inspireret af Nietzsche, Freud, og i mindre grad Marx, var det nemt for blandt andre Lyotard og Boudrilliard at udråbe (filosofi)historien som død. Som et anfald af kollektivt selvbedrag og en naivistisk tro på rationelle kriterier for viden, varende fra Sokrates/Platon til Hegel. I dét regi udråbtes Nietzsches genealogiske metode som den væsentligste epistemologiske metode for den postmoderne bevægelse. Foucault og andre hylder eksplicit Nietzsche,[x] og det er nemt at se hvordan den overdrevne historisering af viden, herunder især kategorier af viden (man tænker her på det berømte postmoderne udsagn om, at Tutankamon ikke kunne være død af tuberkulose eftersom denne sygdom ikke eksisterede på Tutankamons tid), bedrevet af især Foucault og Baudrilliard peger direkte frem imod et epistomologisk landskab hvor der kun findes ”sprogspil, signaler og fortolkninger.”, eller som det direkte hedder sig i Heideggers videreudvikling af Nietzsche: Der findes ikke sandhed.[xi]

I den ånd har flere fremtrædende postmodernister bekendtgjort et vist åndsfællesskab med antikke nihilister som Gorgias, Thrasymakos og andre nominalister/ sofister (i den Platon’ske betydning af ordet – således er den tidlige Foucault uhyggelig tæt på Platons Gorgias når han siger, at ”nominalist dialectics form discoursive narratives in themselves”). Som nævnt kan man som postmodernist se filosofihistorien som en slags kollektivt selvbedrag; en forstokket parentes, strækkende sig fra ~380 f.Kr. til Hegels død i 1831, hvorefter bl.a. Nietzsche, Freud, Marx og Heidegger afslutter parentesen og igen åbner op for ”fri viden”, i postmoderne terminologi forstået som ”fri af kunstig rationalitets-metafysik”.[xii] – Overfor denne udlægning vil det være min indvending, at en opportunistisk, nihilistisk tilgang til viden er nemmere at praktisere som akademiker eller samfundskritiker, hvilket mange af den postmoderne bevægelses fremtrædende tænkere som bekendt var, og at der derfor til enhver tid vil være kandidater til at praktisere en sådan form for epistemologi, hvorimod den Sokratiske metode som videreudviklet af bl.a. Karl Popper og Leonard Nelson kræver et indgående kendskab til den hidtidige videnskabelige debat indenfor et givent område.[xiii]

Endelig kan vi som en historisk betragtning indvende, at der findes bedre kriterier for videnskab end de postmoderne, men disse kræver større arbejde og professionalisme at udøve og orientere sig i end de postmoderne. Således er det næppe heller tilfældigt, at sofisteri og nihilisme i den vestlige verden har vundet frem på de tidspunkter hvor store dele af befolkningen gennemgik uddannelsesforløb indenfor filosofi, det være sig visse dele af Antikken, og så masseuniversiteterne som slog igennem fra 1960’erne og frem.

Jf. bl.a. Nelson/Poppers falsifikationsmetode ved vi, at nogle ting er decideret usande. Tager man et idiosynkratisk dansk eksempel, nemlig Holbergs Erasmus Montanus (1731) så ved vi alle sammen, at morlille ikke er en sten osv. osv. – Altså: Det faktum, at vi kan falsificere visse udsagn må omvendt også betyde, at der sandsynligvis findes sande udsagn, det er blot, i sagens natur, sværere at etablere præcis hvad disse sande udsagn så er.

Således kan det ikke være rigtigt, at der ikke findes sandhed, eller at ”alt er sprogspil og fortolkning”. Men omvendt kan vi indvende, i postmodernisternes favør, at selv hvis der skulle findes sandhed, så har videnskaben ikke formelt demonstreret en fuldstændig, 100% modellérbar sandhed. Min konklusion vil således være, at sandheden findes, og at den kontinuerligt destilleres (a la Popper), men også, at videnskaben anno 2009 endnu er meget langt fra at have nået målet. Sandheden fungerer således for nuværende indenfor visse rammer, og at disse rammer helt af sig selv sætter grænser for hvad der kan karakteriseres som god videnskab.

[i] Ferry & Renaut: French Philosophy of the Sixties s. 19, 68, 122, 153, 185 / Dog er det rigtigt, som forfatterne påpeger, at postmodernismens egen selvforståelse som kvalitativt ny heller ikke er rigtig, men imidlertid er det heller ikke nødvendigvis rigtigt, at dens hovedpiller så kom fra den tyske filosofi, herunder Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Heidegger: Bevægelsen kan også ses som en genoplivning af de antikke sofister med hvem Platon/Sokrates havde deres hyr, og endvidere som en tilbagevenden til middelalderlige principper jf. urelaterede prima causae.

[ii] Især Derrida taler og argumenterer konsekvent på en made som bærer vidnesbyrd om, at han opfatter sig selv som værende på rationalitetens side. Eksempel: ”Therefore we will be incoherent, but without systematically resigning outselves to incoherence.” – Derrida: Writing and Difference, University of Chicago Press, 1978

[iii] Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm: The Antichrist 2

[iv] Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm: Moralens Oprindelse 2:24 / s. 103

[v] Ferry & Renaut: French Philosophy of the Sixties s. 82 ff.

[vi] Som også fremført af flere af Annales-skolens historikere.

[vii] Herunder kan nævnes den aktive diskrimination mellem borger og ikke-borger der foregik i det fjerde århundredes Athen; en arbitrær skeldnen som lader til at være det komplet modsatte af en gradvist destilleret sokratisk moraltet, og dog tog den historiske Sokrates tilsyneladende parti for denne skeldnen. – Hertil kan det dog indvendes, at da den sokratiske metode er gradvis, og aldrig fuldendt, så kan selv den historiske Sokrates handlinger underkastes kontinuær ”forbedring”.

[viii] Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm: Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks s. 13

[ix] Ibid. s. 13

[x] Ferry & Renaut: French Philosophy of the Sixties s. 6

[xi] Eksempel: Der findes ikke sandhed men kun skiftende foki. Kigger vi på et objekt i et givent lys kigger vi ikke på dette objekt i det lys der vil være den første optiks modsætning. Dette er omtrent det samme som Derridas ”klarlægning/tildækning”- diktonomi.

[xii] Nietzsches ekstreme nominalisme: ”Reason is Speech Metaphysics.”

[xiii] Nelson, Leonard: Die Sokratische Methode (1922)

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