For more information on this topic see Philip Pettit’s article from 2012 on “A Question for Tomorrow: The Robust Demands of the Good” [pdf]. Extract:
Humphrey Lyttelton, the English jazz musician, was once asked where he thought jazz was going. He replied that if he knew where jazz was going, he would be there already. I feel the same about being asked about the questions of tomorrow in the moral and political philosophy. If I knew what they were,
I would be there already. Which raises an interesting thought. Perhaps the best indication of what I think that the questions are is where I am already. And, following that thought, there is a clear path to follow, however narcissistic it may seem. This is to describe a question that I think important — indeed a question that is something of a personal hobby-horse — despite the fact that it is not currently much discussed. Induction from past evidence suggests that it is unlikely to become a question of tomorrow. But I live, as we all must do, in hope.
In thinking over a long period about the various ways in which freedom may be conceptualized, I came to see that it is, as I came to put it, a robustly or modally demanding value.
This year (2013) marks the 300th anniversary of Swift becoming Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral (he was installed on 13th June, 1713). The picture above is from the title page to Jonathan Swift’s Works of 1735. Beneath Swift’s feet lies a figure, probably Mr. Wood, with his brass half-pennies strewn below. Ireland kneels before Swift to thank him. The Latin inscription, from Horace, says, “I have made a monument more lasting than brass.” This all refers to Swift’s work that combines political philosophy with rhetoric, the Drapier Letters,
Drapier’s Letters were a series of pamphlets, supposedly written by a Mr. Drapier, a draper by trade. They were written in response to the decision in 1722 to allow Mr Wood to create new copper coinage for Ireland up to the value of £180,000, a right obtainedafter payment of £100,000 as a bribe to the Duchess of Kendal, mistress to King George I. New coinage was needed in Ireland but this measure was imposed on Ireland without the consultation or control of the Irish government.
The first Drapier’s Letter was A Letter to the shopkeepers, tradesmen, farmers and the common people of Ireland concerning the brass halfpence coined by Mr. Woods (1724) . His analysis of the faults of the inferior coinage and its probable effects on the Irish economy due to hoarding of good quality coinage triggered an enquiry, which advised reducing the number of coins. It also produced a report by Isaac Newton, head of the Mint arguing that the coins were good.
Swift continued on the offensive, however. In A Letter to Mr. Harding the printer, he criticised the assay process and urged that the Irish people should refuse the coins. Mr Wood, “Drapier” says, will force the coins onto a nation who do not want them, and profit greatly thereby. Who “with the figure of a man can think with patience of being devoured alive by a rat?” In this way, Swift widened the field of the controversy: the question of the patent is framed by the wider question of the lack of freedom of the Irish, whose indifference “Drapier” can scarcely credit. As a result of this letter, a group comprising bankers, merchants and tradesmen gathered together to declare they would not accept Wood’s coins. However Walpole’s government pressed on with the plan, despite a noticeable lack of support from the Irish parliament.
Continue reading “Swift Crowned”
This episode of philosophybites features Richard Bourke of Queen Mary, London University, putting Edmund Burke into his historical context and outlining his key ideas. More here including abstracts of articles by Richard Bourke on Edmund Burke.
Particularly interesting are his comments towards the end of the nine minutes on where Burke was shown empirically to be wrong, and on where Burke is relevant today.
Edmund Burke, Speech to the Electors of Bristol, 3rd November, 1774 (Full text available from University of Chicago).
A man who would not have approved by government by kite-flying, focus group and opinion poll. The whole piece is short and worth reading. The quote in context:
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Burke’s hatred of the French revolutionaries was not, at root, reactionary. He opposed them not so much because he disagreed with their political views, though he certainly did, but because he thought those views spelt the death of political society as such. For Burke, the French revolution was an assault on the very conditions of possibility of political culture, a kind of transcendental error, because in destroying, as he saw it, the institutions of civil society, it did away with the very medium by which political power is tempered and rendered tolerable.
Burke’s conservative colleagues were quick enough to endorse this criticism when it came to France, but hardly when it concerned the miserable colony on their own doorstep. His animus against autocrats was indeed in one sense conservative: he feared that they would breed mass disaffection, and so threaten the status quo. The British, by failing to extend the blessings of the Whig settlement to their Irish colonials, were obtusely driving this traditionalist religious nation into the arms of an unholy revolutionism, just as they did with their American dependents. If Burke did not approve of Irish republicanism, he saw precisely how the British were responsible for creating it.
Terry Eagleton, Saving Burke from the Tories
Magazine article from New Statesman (1996), Vol. 126, No. 4341