[lit-ideas] Re: Philosophers of Empire

  • From: "Walter C. Okshevsky" <wokshevs@xxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 2 May 2014 13:24:18 -0230

Quoting dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx:

> What is a philosophical analysis of the concept of 'empire'?

I would think that the first aim of such a philosophical analysis is to show
that the question as rendered is woefully(very poorly) formulated and as such
does not admit of a cogent or even intelligible answer. 


Q: So what is the point of learning philosophy anyway?

A: Apart from other things, philosophy teaches us how to ask clear and cogent
questions and to *only* ask clear and cogent questions. And this across
disciplinary and professional lines. 

This pedagogical ideal, with its corresponding subjective maxim, of course only
holds for communication and argumentation in the space of what Kant calls
"public reason" in differentiation from "private reason." 

How you go about asking and answering questions in the "privacy" of your church
or military organization is your own affair. 

Walter O

> L. Helm's position seems to agree with that of Hanson, as cited in 
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_imperialism
> "Classics professor and war historian Victor Davis Hanson dismisses the  
> notion of an American empire altogether, mockingly comparing it to other  
> empires: "We do not send out proconsuls to reside over client states, which
> in  
> turn impose taxes on coerced subjects to pay for the legions. Instead, 
> American  bases are predicated on contractual obligations — costly to us
> and 
> profitable to  their hosts. We do not see any profits in Korea, but instead 
> accept the risk of  losing almost 40,000 of our youth to ensure that Kias can
> flood our shores and  that shaggy students can protest outside our embassy in
> Seoul.""
> Philosophy of Empire.
> L. Helm raises an interesting topic or point -- how to define 'empire' and  
> how to make sense of allegations such as "The United States of America 
> is/was an  Empire'. 
> What interests me about L. Helm's stance on the topic is methodological,  
> and McEvoy should feel free to add his view on 'stipulative definitions'.  
> Rather, I should take a 'Griceian' account. After all, Grice repeatedly said 
> that philosophers are into 'conceptual analysis' -- never mind the concept 
> of  what. And what they do is to provide definitions which display necessary
> and  sufficient conditions for the analysis of the concept chosen for 
> philosophical  inquiry.
> Here they keyword is indeed POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, but the addition of  
> "United States of America" brings historicity into an otherwise theoretical
> or  
> abstract question. So let's revise.
> In a message dated 5/1/2014 4:22:37  P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, 
> lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx writes:
> Various  “assertions” have been made alleging that the U.S. is an empire,
> but I’ve seen  no “arguments” in the sense that you produce evidence
> and 
> then draw a conclusion  from the evidence that comprises the end point of an
> argument; ergo the U.S. is  an empire.   I think of Niall Ferguson asserting
> that the U.S. is an  empire, just not a very good one since it doesn't do 
> any of the things that  earlier empires did allows him to get away with a
> very 
> soft definition,  something along the lines of “the U.S. is the most 
> powerful nation in the world  therefore it is an empire.”"
> I like the idea of some definitions of  'empire' being soft. This has 
> various sides to it. For one, 'empire' WAS the  keyword in mainstream
> political 
> philosophy. I read from 
> "Political Theory of Empire and Imperialism"
> in the Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 13: 211-235 -- available  
> online:
> "The study of empire," the author writes, is 
> "a theme in the history of political thought" and was 
> "pioneered by a few scholars working with a broadly Cambridge-school  
> approach, most prominently Anthony Pagden, James Tully, J.G.A. Pocock,
> Richard  
> Tuck, and more recently David Armitage."
> "Pagden's early, seminal studies explored debates over the legitimation of  
> Spanish rule in the New World, debates conducted in language borrowed from  
> Aristotelian psychology (natural slave and child) and Roman legal and 
> political  thought (imperium, dominium, orbis terrarum)."
> "In illustrating how empires generated new states and political forms, and  
> shaped modern political ideologies such as democratic republicanism, Pagden 
> made  a powerful case for the centrality of empire to political theory. His 
> most  recent books, written for more popular audiences, stress the possibly 
>  “insuperable future dilemmas” facing the polities created in the wake of
> formal  empires (Pagden 2001, p. 160) and, controversially, the “perpetual
> enmity”  between Europe and Asia (Pagden 2008)."
> "Tully placed questions connected to empire at the heart of both LOCKE's  
> thought and modern constitutionalism, as I discuss further below. Pocock 
> (2005,  ch. 2 [1973]) insisted, from a professedly “antipodean”
> perspective, 
> that  British history and political thought must be understood in imperial
> and 
> global  terms. More recently, his magisterial volumes exploring 
> Enlightenment thought by  way of a study of the contexts of Gibbon's Decline
> and Fall 
> of the Roman Empire  have emphasized the global orientation of the 
> enlightened histories that were so  prominent a feature of the intellectual
> landscape 
> (Pocock 1999–2005). Pocock  explores the wide range of meanings of
> “empire” 
> at the time, as well as what he  calls the era's “crisis of the seaborne 
> empires” (Pocock 1999, Vol. 4, p. 227)  and the anxieties on the part of so
> many political and social thinkers of the  time about the disorders of the 
> global commerce that was supposed to succeed the  age of conquests. As Tuck 
> (1999) has argued, early-modern theorists of  subjective rights conceived the
> sovereign individual in terms of the sovereign  state and vice versa. They 
> worked out their theories, with “often brutal  implications” for
> indigenous 
> and non-European peoples, partly in response to two  key practical problems 
> arising from European commercial and imperial expansion:  struggles over 
> freedom and control of trade and navigation in Asia, and states'  efforts to
> legitimate their settlement colonies in the New World (Tuck 1999, p.  108)."
> It seems that after Locke, Mill figured large in justifying empire. We are  
> then talking about mainstream political philosophers concerned with a 
> crucial  concept, and no doubt struggling with a conceptual definition of it.
> It should be granted that Locke and Mill are notably British rather than  
> American, even if the study, within political philosophy, or analysis of the 
> concept of 'empire' may have been practiced by American political 
> philosophers  as well. 
> The centrality of the task DEFINING 'empire' I also found,  especifically, 
> at 
> http://www.protevi.com/john/Empire.pdf
> who cares to refer to this set of 'necessary and sufficient conditions'  
> which may relate to L. Helm's idea of some definitions of 'empire' being 
> 'soft',  while what we need is a 'hard' one that does rely on some sort of 
> 'reductive' if  not 'reductionist' analysis of 'empire' to its basics.
> The author writes:
> "Is the United States on the verge of becoming an  empire?"
> "There is no finite set of characteristics for, say, “empire”  that serve
> as necessary
> and sufficient conditions for membership in that  category."
> What we need is what Grice would call a "CONCEPTUAL" analysis  (vide his 
> "Conceptual analysis and the province of philosophy", in "Studies in  the Way
> of Words" -- this essay is particularly apt, since Grice sees the role  of 
> the philosopher as that of providing conceptual analysis not necessarily for 
> his own clarification. A philosopher can engage in philosophical analysis 
> for  the sake of helping others. He grants that his main motivation has to do
> with  questions of defining concepts HE finds troubles with). 
> The author of the above link goes on:
> "To start, the concept of empire belongs to a group of other concepts  for 
> ancient systems of geo-sociopolitical order, including nomadic warrior bands
>  (with a leader who is first among equals -- primus inter
> pares -- and who  divvies up the booty they plunder from other groups); 
> central place cities (with  large
> scale slave-based agriculture and tending to mixed regimes w/  monarchial 
> elements); and gateway cities
> (tending to commercial republic;  expansionist democracy; forming leagues 
> and allies)." 
> "These cities  tended to have interludes of tyranny – one-man absolute rule
> – on their way from  aristocracy to
> democracy or mixed regimes."
> "Finally, there is an important concept, developed in the ancient  world, 
> for inter-state relations,
> “hegemony”, which is leadership by one unit  of other units formally
> equal 
> in “rights” but materially
> unequal in  power."
> "When we talk about the concept of "empire" we must at first  distinguish 
> the geopolitical and civic political
> senses of the  term."
> "Geopolitically, empire is the domination by one group of a large  number 
> of other
> groups spread over a large territory. In civic political  terms, we talk 
> about imperial rule as absolute
> monarchy, large bureaucracy,  elaborate regulatory codes: “big gummit” in
> other words. On the side of
> the  people, an empire tends to be composed of a few influential rich 
> families and a  mass of isolated and
> relatively powerless “citizens.”"
> The author is concerned with what after Locke we may term 'nominal' versus  
> 'real' definitions. A real definition, however, has the risk of relying on 
> an  obscure idea of 'essence'. But it seems that any reference to a 
> condition being  both NECESSARY and sufficient may always be criticised as 
> 'essentialist' if not  'stipulative'. 
> The author goes on:
> "(Now if you insist that I answer the essentialist question at this  point, 
> I would have to say the US for the
> most part works hegemonically  rather than imperially – the threats are 
> enough to so constrain other
> states’  options in both domestic and foreign policy that we exert 
> effective control over  large parts of the
> world – but to show we mean business, an invasion is  sometimes necessary,
> in which case we shift to
> imperial action. The long  history of our control of Central and South 
> America shows this: was
> fomenting  the Pinochet takeover in Chile – that other September 11 – an
> imperial or  hegemonic act?
> What about the IMF’s role in Argentina in past  years?)"
> "As soon as we talk history, these conceptual distinctions are  
> problematized."
> "Rome forms an interesting case where these ideal  distinctions are 
> finessed on the ground.
> Most of the geopolitical expanse of  what we call the Roman Empire was 
> gained when its civic
> political structure  was that of a republic."
> Back to Helm's post. He goes on:
> "To assert as some do that “empires  operate differently nowadays” is an
> assertion in search of an argument. 
> To  put it another way, if Rome, Britain, Spain, France and the Netherlands 
> were at  one time empires but the U.S. is “a different sort of empire,” 
> then where do we  find in this a definition of what an empire is? And if you
> reply that the new  definition is merely whatever the U.S. happens to be, 
> then how is that a  definition of “empire”?"
> Well, indeed, definitions can be intensional  (the ones I prefer) or 
> EXtensional, as per by enumeration. I would think in  terms of set-theory,
> the 
> idea would be. Let "E" be the class we call "Empire"  (as per a Venn diagram,
> say). We then define "E" extensionally:
> E =  {Rome, Britain, USA}
> I'm sure there is an extensional way to proceed to  represent the fact that 
> Rome, Britain and USA, while they HELP to define,  extensionally, the 
> 'set', "Empire", do not yet provide the set's full extension.  Extensional 
> definitions avoid dealing with INTENSIONS. IntenSionally, one could  define 
> "Empire" without reference to members of the set. This leads us to  _analyse_
> "Empire" in terms of more basic characteristics which, jointly, should 
> provide 
> _necessary and sufficient_ conditions for the appropriate use of  "Empire" 
> in utterances like, "... is an Empire". E.g.: "Rome is an Empire",  "Britain
> is an Empire". And so on.
> Helm goes on:
> "For the above  reasons and many others, those who think about the modern 
> era in mega-terms,  especially Fukuyama and Huntington do not apply the term
> “
> empire” to the  U.S.  Fukuyama doesn’t see the U.S. as being unique, 
> merely the best  example of a Liberal Democracy.  He sees all nations
> becoming 
> Liberal  Democracies in the future.  A state needs to become on if it is to 
> succeed  economically.  In fact, the most successful nations already are, 
> either  wholly or partly.  Think of the nations which aren’t successful
> today 
> and  the common explanation for why they are not is that they are not Liberal
> Democracies and do not have modern economies that participate in the “world
>  economy.”  Huntington, without addressing economies, as I recall, argued 
> that wars will continue between Civilizations (using the common definition 
> of  “civilization” which he references in Clash of Civilizations)
> occurring 
> along  “fault lines,” those being the borders where a nation of one 
> civilization is up  against that of another, as in the case of Pakistan and
> India 
> for example.   He also uses the term “core state.”  Within most 
> civilizations there is a  “core state.”  The U.S. is the “core state”
> in the “West”  
> civilization.  Russia is the “core state” within the Eastern Orthodox  
> civilization.  In Huntington’s terms, the U.S. is the most powerful nation 
> in “
> the West.”   Things have indeed changed, and there are no more  empires in
> the sense that Britain, Spain, France and the Netherlands were  empires up 
> until WWII the end of WWII.  Now you have “core states” and  spheres of 
> influence.  The problem with the Middle East isn’t that their  states
> aren’t in 
> the world economy as Liberal Democracies; it is that they don’t  have a
> “
> core state.”"
> Interesting. If one disallows extensional  definitions, which tend, 
> granted, to look pretty 'unclarifying', we should look  for those basic 
> characteristics, in geopolitical terms, which will help us  define 'empire'.
> Helm is 
> right that other notions play an interesting role, such  as 'state', and 
> 'liberal democracy', and these ideas are developed in the second  link
> provided 
> above. 
> On top of all that, a rather side issue, which seems to have some sort of  
> 'lingustic effect'. The phrase 'American empire' IS used, when it comes to  
> architecture! So one has to be careful!
> Cheers,
> Speranza
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Empire_(style)  informs us that 
> "American Empire" is a classical style of American arts and  architecture"
> "It gained its greatest popularity in the U.S. after 1810  and is 
> considered a robust phase of the classical style."
> "As an  early-19th-century design movement in the United States, it 
> encompassed  architecture, furniture and other decorative arts, as well as
> the 
> visual  arts."
> "The Red Room at the White House is a fine example of American  Empire 
> style."
> I guess Jacqueline Kennedy knew all about it!
> "A  simplified version of American Empire furniture, often referred to as 
> the  Grecian style,"
> not to be confused with the Griceian  style,
> "generally displayed plainer surfaces in curved forms, highly  figured 
> mahogany veneers, and sometimes gilt-stencilled  decorations."
> "This Americanized interpretation of the Empire style  continued in 
> popularity in conservative regions outside the major metropolitan  centers
> well 
> past the mid-nineteenth century." 
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