Tag Archives: Politics

A democratic biopolitics, anyone?

The notion of biopolitics – democratic or otherwise –often enough proceeds from the assumption that there really is no such thing as a jurally-delimited “public interest” that the state is supposed to pursue; such delimited public interest recognizes that there are a great many human responsibilities/relations/communities/associations that are outside the sphere of the political, and that are ontologically distinct from that occupied by the state.

Leftist/Marxist accounts of the state begin by expressly rejecting any notion of a telos for the political, only to proceed with a critique of the state that implicitly assumes there is such a thing. Dooyeweerd calls this “a state without a state-idea.”

Just consider the deployment of the democratic as a proposed curtailment of biopolitics.

In any case, a jurally delimited notion of the public interest would critique biopolitics as a reductionist, if expansive, sphere of the political (defined as state power). In reformational philosophical terms, the human is not/cannot be defined by any of its relations; the human transcends all of the aspects of reality. The human is only defined by its relation to the Origin.

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Filed under Agamben, Carl Schmitt, COVID-19, legal theory, political theology, Politics, Principled Pluralism, Public Interest, reformational philosophy, State

A common good constitutionalism?

Here’s a libertarian originalist response to Adrian Vermeule’s catholic integralist common good constitutionalism, which may be summarized in the following lines of the essay –
“That’s why a constitution in a pluralist society should be limited to provisions that gain a supermajoritarian consensus. Vermeule’s essay should remind left-liberals that abandoning originalism permits judges to impose policies they will hate, should the ‘wrong’ judges get in power.”

I for one do not believe in a theory-less constitutional interpretation;the constitution is a battleground of ideas of the ideal political ordering on many levels.  The very question of what constitutes the common good invites a clash of perspectives.

Our constitution itself is an interesting mishmash of liberal, social, and Christian ideas of constitutional ordering.

Yet it is true that more often than not, theory only goes to the foreground in the big order questions (the “construction zone” referred to in the essay); otherwise, constitutional interpretation is run-of-the-mill textual reading in the “zone of interpretation”– and this doesn’t mean theory is not involved in the deliberations. It is, but only in the background (though I won’t consider the issue of whether the President can make midnight appointments a simple textual exercise).

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The True Politician according to Max Weber

Here is H.H. Bruun, in his book Science, Values and Politics in Max Weber’s Methodology (1972) writing of how a true politician would conduct himself according to Weber:

…[T]he precondition which Weber establishes for action in conformity with the ethic of politics is the fundamental willingness to let oneself be guided in certain cases by the value axioms of other spheres than the political one. Only those who can have “Beruf zur Politik” who do not only have this “Beruf”, who in particular situations are able and willing to submit to other value systems.

This precondition again implies that the political ethic as defined by Weber does not only demand knowledge of the laws and regularities of the political sphere; in other words, the “true” politician must not only be aware of the teleological system
surrounding his political goal, but also of the axiological (value or ethical system) one.

But this awareness again destroys the possibility referred to above of a relative harmony inside the political sphere. The possibilities of axiological conflict which were in the first instance absorbed by the definition of power as an instrument of politics, are resuscitated by Weber’s demand that the politician should be aware of the relationship between political calculation of ends and means and those of the non-political value spheres.

Axiological value analysis becomes necessary to the politician. On the one hand, Weber’s description of the responsible ethic of conviction means a rejection of the pure ethic of conviction, where the axiological analysis is the only relevant one: the acceptance of the responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions demanded by the responsible ethic of conviction implies a knowledge of the consequences for which the responsibility is taken, i.e., a need for teleological value analysis.

A person committed to the responsible ethic of conviction, whether his actions be guided by the axioms of the political or of other value spheres, i.e., whether they be guided by the teleological or by the purely axiological considerations, should know the “cost” of these axioms (in the form of tensions arising in relation to other spheres).

He has to make it clear to himself what ethical (religious,aesthetic, etc.) norms he is violating by, for instance, declaring war in the name of (political) national interest; and conversely, he must know what political demands he neglects by refusing on (for instance) ethical grounds to declare war or to use force at all in the situation. Since he is a politician, it is natural to assume that his starting point is political, i.e., that he is striving to attain a supraindividual goal.

But even inside this chain of ends and means, he must constantly try to supplement the teleological relations, i.e., that he is not justified in assimilating the axiological  system to the teleological one;  this acknowledgment will force him to examine the intrinsic axiological value of the means, the side effects and the goal according to the value system or systems to which he also remains committed outside the political sphere; and finally, he must recognize that his knowledge cannot reach beyond a certain point: that the paradox of consequences attaches to both end and means.

Only after having elucidated all these points may he decide whether he can still accept working within the political sphere and submitting to its demands; only then can he take the responsibility for his decision and claim to have fulfilled the demands of the responsible ethic of conviction ( italics in the original, pp. 284-285)

Well, sounds like a Dooyeweerdian modal analysis of the intersection of the political with other spheres, right? (with some amendments because of sphere sovereignty)

*inset photo of Weber from this blog.

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