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Patriotism and Other Mistakes

Patriotism and Other Mistakes

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    Patriotism and Other Mistakes
    Book Description:

    George Kateb has been one of the most respected and influential political theorists of the last quarter century. His work stands apart from that of many of his contemporaries and resists easy summary. In these essays Kateb often admonishes himself, in Socratic fashion, to keep political argument as far as possiblenegative: to be willing to assert what we are not, and what we will not do, and to build modestly from there some account of what we are and what we ought to do.Drawing attention to the non-rational character of many motives that drive people to construct and maintain a political order, he urges greater vigilance in political life and cautions against "mistakes" not usually acknowledged as such. Patriotism is one such mistake, too often resulting in terrible brutality and injustices. He asks us to consider how commitments to ideals of religion, nation, race, ethnicity, manliness, and courage find themselves in the service of immoral ends, and he exhorts us to remember the dignity of the individual.The book is divided into three sections. In the first, Kateb discusses the expansion of state power (including such topics as surveillance) and the justifications for war recently made by American policy makers. The second section offers essays in moral psychology, and the third comprises fresh interpretations of major thinkers in the tradition of political thought, from Socrates to Arendt.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13805-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxxvi)

    It is easy to think that few events or conditions in politics should unsettle the seasoned observer. Leaders and followers have all the familiar passions that drive people to pursue their interests and to use force and fraud when rules and conventions get in the way. What would one expect? Human beings are what they are. As the ancient Athenians put it, ‘‘The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’’ (Thucydides, V:81, p. 381). If the weak became strong they would do what is now being done to them; they would do what the strong always...

  5. Part 1. Liberty and the American Constitution

    • 1 Is Patriotism a Mistake?
      (pp. 3-20)

      Is patriotism a mistake? I think that it is a mistake twice over: it is typically a grave moral error and its source is typically a state of mental confusion. But the mistake of patriotism is an inevitable mistake. It cannot be avoided; almost no one can help being a patriot of some kind and to some degree. What is surprising and deplorable is that the mistake of patriotism is elaborated theoretically and promoted by people who should know better—that is, political theorists, moral philosophers, and theologians.

      The defense of patriotism by some, perhaps many, thinkers is surprising. More...

    • 2 Notes on Pluralism
      (pp. 21-40)

      Constitutional democracy exists in order to give people a chance to be individuals. You look around and what do you find? People—citizens of constitutional democracies—clamoring for their groups. They demand that they be understood as group-members, as representatives of their groups, not as freestanding individuals; and that their groups be regarded as substantial entities needing and deserving not only respect but encouragement and perhaps even state subsidy. In recent years, there has been a renewed rush to join up. There has also been a renewed theorization in favor of this tendency. But, of course, devoted attachment to groups...

    • 3 Undermining the Constitution
      (pp. 41-59)

      This essay was conceived, titled, and partly drafted before September 11, 2001. What I am about to say does not, for the most part, dealdirectlywith that awful day and the numerous consequences that have flowed from it, especially the American war in Afghanistan and the American invasion of Iraq. But as I go along, points that I make are relevant to our present situation, and some of them were actually prompted by September 11 and its continuing effects. The fact is that my main concerns are longstanding ones, but I am naturally affected by recent tremendous events and...

    • 4 A Life of Fear
      (pp. 60-92)

      We are caught up in a course of events that are nearly as opaque in motivation as they are dramatic and often tragic in their effects. The United States answered jihad by carrying the war on terror to Afghanistan, but then seemed to veer by invading and occupying Iraq. We cannot say now how the sequence will develop. The situation must change; it may change rapidly or seem to, and then change again. There will be not only new events but also new revelations about earlier events. Hunches about the future may be possible, but not predictions. Though predictions are...

    • 5 On Being Watched and Known
      (pp. 93-114)

      The disclosure by theNew York Timesin December 2005 that the National Security Agency has been conducting warrantless wiretaps and surveillance of email in the United States since right after the destruction of the World Trade Center shows how insubstantial the protection of privacy can easily become. The further intensification of surveillance and information gathering, joined to numerous cases of video surveillance by local officials of peaceful political demonstrations, has reached the point where U.S. authorities seem as if they are rehearsing the imposition of a police state. The government’s appetite for watching and knowing seems boundless. The worry...

  6. Part 2. Politics, Aesthetics, and Morality

    • 6 Aestheticism and Morality: Their Cooperation and Hostility
      (pp. 117-149)

      This essay grows out of a thought I have recurrently had, which is that human conduct often exhibits a stronger preference for many aspirations and attainments than for morality. People have always behaved as if morality had no relevance to them when they did certain things and pursued certain aims. Naturally I do not have in mind the obvious and overwhelming truth that

      people are deliberately, unthinkingly, or impulsively immoral because of selfinterest, selfishness, or viciousness. I mean, rather, that we are all caught up in, and carried away by, enterprises and undertakings that involve us in immorality in an apparently...

    • 7 The Judgment of Arendt
      (pp. 150-168)

      Death deprived us of the third volume ofThe Life of the Mind,the volume on judging that was meant to complete the project that already contained a volume on thinking and a volume on willing. Of course, we cannot say what Hannah Arendt would have offered us in the third volume. We do know thatThinkingandWillingcontained more detailed analyses than any found in her previous work on these two themes, and also some conceptual enrichment. Arendt, however, was not a writer ever to be taken for granted; she was always capable of surprising the reader. It...

    • 8 Courage as a Virtue
      (pp. 169-195)

      Courage is an impossible subject. No matter what anyone says, most people (including myself) will always respect, even admire, physical courage regardless of the purpose or the cause in which it is displayed. One of the worst reproaches in the world is to be called a coward—again, almost no matter what the purpose or cause. It is merely clumsy propaganda (though clever in intention) to label as cowards the suicide hijackers who destroyed the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It is, I suppose, the shocking element of surprise in the attack that unconsciously helps to spare such...

    • 9 Technology and Philosophy
      (pp. 196-212)

      Let us begin with a general definition of the wordtechnology.In its current meaning, it names the means or methods used to help people move from place to place, communicate, produce, construct, create, fabricate, but also destroy; to observe, to calculate, and to think. (This list is obviously not exhaustive.) Technology is thus made up of all kinds of equipment—tools, machines, and devices—that assist the work of human muscles, senses, and brains, and thus the realization of human purposes and ends. Our question is: Ismoderntechnology a subject of philosophical interest? Philosophers can make any subject...

  7. Part 3. The Adequacy of the Canon

    • 10 Socratic Integrity
      (pp. 215-244)

      The wordintegrityis derived from the Latin wordinteger,which means whole or wholeness and hence entirety or completeness and, by implication or extension, being unimpaired, uncompromised, and uncorrupted, and being blameless. Things and conditions as well as persons can have or lack integrity. We can say that a person has integrity, then, when he or she has a certain concentration or purity or consistency. We can spell out these meanings a bit by saying that one has or shows integrity when one is entirely present (episodically or over a whole life) in what one does; one is all...

    • 11 Wildness and Conscience: Thoreau and Emerson
      (pp. 245-271)

      In the United States, political theorists, whether housed in political science or philosophy departments, pay almost no attention to Emerson and only a little to Thoreau. Outside the United States, political theorists pay no attention at all to either. There are good understandable reasons for this neglect. The changes that have come over the United States and the world since the middle of the nineteenth century appear to make irrelevant all that Emerson and Thoreau say about political life. Then, too, what they do say is rather small in quantity and is not at all systematic.

      The changes in the...

    • 12 Prohibition and Transgression
      (pp. 272-297)

      In his ‘‘A Letter to Augustine,’’ William Connolly says that ‘‘you peer more deeply into this abyss than anyone before and most after.’’ The abyss is ‘‘the depths of the human condition’’ (Identity/Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox,p. 126; hereafterID). Connolly’s tremendous praise for Augustine’s power as a moral psychologist is all the more telling because Connolly himself is a subtle and resourceful practitioner of this mode of inquiry. (Assume with me that a principal part of reflection on the human condition is reflection on human nature.) I have no doubt that he was drawn to Augustine because...

    • 13 Hobbes and the Irrationality of Politics
      (pp. 298-333)

      It is commonly understood that concern with civil war dominates Hobbes’s political theory. A few years before the Restoration, he said: “all such calamities as may be avoided by human industry, arise from war, but chiefly from civil war.”¹ His work is held together by the effort to understand the causes of civil war and to offer proposals for its long-term prevention. InLeviathan,his one political work written in the midst of civil war, Hobbes also hints at the most expeditious way of ending it; namely, to accept the conqueror as the new ruler and to do so without...

    • 14 Ideology and Storytelling
      (pp. 334-360)

      One of the most striking features of Hannah Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism is the prominent role she gives ideology. Even before she added the chapter ‘‘Ideology and Terror: A Novel Form of Government’’ (first published in English in 1953) to the second edition ofThe Origins of Totalitarianism(1958), she had extensively discussed (in the first edition, 1951) the work that ideology did in making totalitarian movements and dictatorships successful, if only temporarily. In this book (in both main editions), her teaching is that we cannot make sense of the totalitarian phenomenon if we do not emphasize the hold, the power,...

    • 15 Can Cultures Be Judged?: Two Defenses of Cultural Pluralism in Isaiah Berlin’s Work
      (pp. 361-383)

      My contention is that in Isaiah Berlin’s work there are abundant elements for two defenses of radical cultural pluralism, even though he does not distinguish them. One is the aesthetic defense; the other is the anti-universalist defense. I begin with the aesthetic defense, which is not often discussed. I grant that I have assembled the aesthetic elements from various portions of Berlin’s work, and do not deny that Berlin himself might have dismissed my attribution and thought that I had taken improper interpretative liberties with his work.

      I should say at the beginning that my view is that the best...

    • 16 The Adequacy of the Canon
      (pp. 384-408)

      The impetus of this essay is the question, Is the canon of political theory adequate to the task of enabling readers in our time to take in and comprehend the awful events of the twentieth century? This question can be broken down into two questions. First, Does the canon up to the end of the nineteenth century make, or help significantly to make, these events intelligible, if not expectable or predictable? Second, Are there any political thinkers in the twentieth century, plausibly eligible for canonization, who offer this kind of help? I incline to the view that the canon up...

  8. Index
    (pp. 409-422)