Politics and Ontology in Thucydides’ story of Alcmaeon

By Borden Flanagan of American University

Flanagan-PullQuoteThe story of Alcmaeon, in an emphatically unnecessary digression, frames Periclean imperialism in terms of the cosmological themes of motion and rest, thereby suggesting how ontological questions are disclosed in fundamental political problems.

Thucydides’ Archaeology and war narrative are cast in terms of motion and rest. (Human community begins in constant motion, settles into a cycle of motion and rest; Athens the city of motion/empire, Sparta of rest/devotion to law, etc.) The Alcmaeon story begins with a description of motion and rest as expressed in the interplay of earth and water in the river Achelous, before turning to Alcmaeon himself. Condemned by Apollo to ceaseless motion for having murdered his mother, Alcmaeon settles finally on the Achelous river delta, land created by the motion of the river. It is unclear whether Alcmaeon circumvented Apollo’s curse by finding land that did not exist when Apollo declared all ground polluted for him, or settled there by Apollo’s direction. The former possibility suggests that divine commands are less powerful than natural processes, much as the Athenians argue that natural compulsion renders their empire blameless before gods and men. The latter suggests divine patience/forgiveness for human weakness and longing. Both possibilities undermine hope for justice, and call into question whether justice has a natural ground, yet without debunking it. Apollo recedes from the story.

Alcmaeon’s crime, matricide, suggests hubris by denying or forgetting one’s subordination to the order of generation, an order protected by divine and human law. It is to treat oneself as sui-generis and self-sufficient, free of the cycle of growth and decay, as if immortal. His punishment is to be homeless, without origin or end. This makes him miserable, suggesting that happiness requires accepting one’s rootedness in generation and mortality. Alcmaeon finds a home only by acknowledging his need to ground himself on the interplay of motion and rest, on the land created by water, and on this acceptance of his subordination to flux is thereby able to generate his own line and patrimony.

Several textual clues suggest a connection to Pericles. Thematically, Pericles’ imperial project resembles Alcmaeon’s hubris. Demoting the ancestors in his funeral speech, Pericles promises immortal glory for civic devotion, sums up Athenian virtue in the word autarkes or self-sufficiency, and treats Athens as subject to no principle above her own excellence. He never mentions the gods, and promises, through Athenian motion, a rest that is beyond all motion, abstracted from motion. The demotion of the ancestors suggests that ambition seeks self-sufficiency lest one’s glory be reduced to a reflection of another’s. One must deny one’s beginning as well as one’s end, because the former implies the latter; one must deny that one has been caused, that one is implicated in the process of motion and rest. Otherwise, glory would fail to assert one’s selfhood against the flux. The demotion of the ancestors is part and parcel of Pericles’ denial of the salience of the gods, for the apotheosis that is the promise of the empire requires subordination to neither. (In the last speech, where Pericles declares the irrelevance of the divine, imperial glory is cast as an escape from nature.)

The illusion of ontological self-sufficiency is the heart of matricidal hubris and love of glory. This is reflected in Pericles’ description of Athenian virtue, whose central theme is freedom and self-sufficiency. Easy courage, daring and deliberation, and autarkes or self-sufficiency all characterize Athens as a calm axis at the center of whirling motion, a rest from which motion flows but which is herself unmoved. Pericles presents Athens as cause par excellence, both as force compelling enemies and as school of Hellas.

Thucydides thus suggests that a core political passion, the eros for glory, has a transpolitical goal; politics seeks apotheosis. To understand politics one must understand the transpolitical character of its longings. Framing this longing in terms of motion/rest likewise reframes the soul. Eros is akin to motion, a seeking of what is beyond or absent, of a rest that is apontos. In eros for glory the soul seeks to be a self that is flash-frozen in the moment of maximal virtue, static but without an inside, beyond time and causality. The soul however is both motion and rest, is caused and is a locus of causes. It therefore cannot be thought of apart from its mortality; our longing to transcend our limits teaches us our limits. This prepares us for Alcmaeon’s acceptance of his rootedness in flux, the basis of his recovered happiness and sanity. But this education of eros requires its transformation, from a longing for immortality to a consideration of what that means to a reflection on its own character, and on what it has in common with the cosmic order whose permanence it wishes to assimilate.

Following out this hierarchy of questions raises, finally, the question of Being, in two ways. First, the dyad of motion and rest appears as a paradox; each is neither separable from nor reducible to the other, they cannot be understood separately, and so their being remains mysterious. Dialectic points beyond itself, must be resolved on a higher plane than the dialectic itself. If nature is motion and rest, by virtue of what? Second, toying with the problem of whether justice is precluded by natural necessity (the claim made by the Athenians about their empire) and whether motion/rest precludes divine authority and law (the same problem as captured in the Alcmaeon story) raises questions of ultimate grounds. Thucydides neither endorses nor debunks the Athenian Thesis on Justice. He successfully casts the question of justice in terms of nature but without offering an answer to that question.  Human nature needs and destroys justice, supports and undermines it. The questionable character of justice thereby suggests the questionable character of nature. By virtue of what is nature the way it is? If the problem inherent in the surface of Alcmaeon’s story is Apollo’s strange withdrawal from that story, the heart of it is the question of Being.


MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearch

About the Author: Borden Flanagan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at American University. His research “Alcmaeon’s Islands: Motion and Rest in Thucydides was recently honored with the Review of Politics Award for the best paper in normative political theory.

 

Why the 2020 census shouldn’t ask about your citizenship status

File 20180220 116343 uhaykf.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A naturalization ceremony, in December 2015.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

Jennifer Van Hook, Pennsylvania State University

“Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

On March 26, the U.S. Commerce Department announced that a citizenship question would be added to the 2020 census. This question, originally proposed by the Department of Justice, would ostensibly help enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When it was first proposed in December 2017, census experts, over 100 national scientific and civil rights organizations, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Democratic senators and House members protested vehemently.

I am a social scientist who studies immigration. I have used census data on immigration and citizenship in my research for over two decades, and I have urged government statistical agencies before to collect more data about immigrants. But I don’t think it’s wise to collect citizenship status in the 2020 census. Doing so would not only raise the risk of collecting inaccurate data, but also reduce public confidence in the census itself.

Tracking citizenship

On the one hand, data on citizenship is valuable. In any modern democracy, statistical data is essential for informing policy debates and guiding the implementation of governmental programs. Without it, decisions would almost certainly be too easily shaped by anecdotal evidence and personal biases.

Citizenship data has been used to track political participation and inclusion of immigrant groups. Citizenship is strongly associated with access to public assistance, health care and jobs. Social scientists and policy analysts rely heavily on survey items on citizenship to understand immigrants’ well-being and their impact on host societies.

What’s more, the U.S. Census Bureau has successfully collected confidential information on citizenship status in the past. The citizenship question was first introduced in the 1870 census and was part of all censuses from 1890 through 1950. It was included in the “long” form of the census – administered to 1 in 6 households – as late as 2000. It’s also asked in the American Community Survey, a survey that Census Bureau conducts every year.

Immigrants tend to be willing survey respondents. In a 2010 study, Hispanic immigrants were more likely than U.S.-born Hispanics to agree that the census is good for the Hispanic community. They were also more likely to correctly understand that the census cannot be used to determine whether a person is in the country legally, and that the bureau must keep their responses confidential.

In another study I published in 2014 with two colleagues, James Bachmeier and Frank Bean, we found that nearly all immigrants answered questions about their immigration and documentation status. These response rates are on par with or better than typical survey questions on health or income. Moreover, immigrants’ responses to these questions appeared to be fairly accurate.

A 1910 census population schedule.
U.S. Census Bureau

Harming the data

However, the political climate surrounding immigration has changed in the last year.

Not all immigrants have been cooperative respondents in the past. Those who are more likely to be undocumented have been undercounted in past censuses and were more likely to incorrectly report themselves as U.S. citizens.

The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy may have increased mistrust among all immigrants, not just those who are undocumented. During focus group interviews conducted by the Census Bureau roughly six months into Trump’s presidency, immigrants appeared anxious and reluctant to cooperate with Census Bureau interviewers. They mentioned fears of deportation, the elimination of DACA, a “Muslim ban” and ICE raids. One respondent walked out when the questionnaire turned to the topic of citizenship, leaving the interviewer alone in his apartment. Respondents even omitted or gave false names on household rosters to avoid “registering” with the Census Bureau. Interviewers remarked that it was much easier to collect data on immigration and citizenship just a few years ago than it is now.

It’s not yet clear whether the fears seen in the focus group interviews are widespread or how such fears would affect response rates if the citizenship question were added to the 2020 census. Additionally, researchers haven’t yet worked out a way to ask the citizenship question so it’s not perceived as threatening.

Unfortunately, there’s not enough time to find out. A finalized questionnaire must be submitted to Congress by the end of March.

What to do in 2020

I served on the Census Advisory Board from 2008 to 2011 and have personally witnessed the time and effort it takes for the Census Bureau to develop questions for the census. Officials must pay meticulous attention to the exact question wording, response categories, ordering and questionnaire layout.

I believe adding a citizenship question without adequate testing could severely reduce participation in the 2020 census among the country’s 44 million immigrants and the additional 32 million U.S.-born people who live with them.

The social and economic consequences of a low response rate for the 2020 census would be severe. Even small errors in coverage could shift the distribution of political power and federal funds, as well as reduce the effectiveness of public health systems and other government functions.

Perhaps even worse, high coverage error in the 2020 census could undermine the public’s trust in the census as the nation’s source of information on the size, growth and geographic distribution of the U.S. population.

This occurred a century ago, as historian Margo Anderson described in her book, “The American Census.” The 1920 census revealed dramatic shifts in population from rural to urban areas, as large waves of Eastern and Southern European immigrants settled predominantly in American cities. Congress, fearing the political ramifications of these changes, rejected the results of the 1920 census and voted not to redistribute the seats of the House according to the most recent census data. A similar rejection of the results of the 2020 census would likely result in a constitutional crisis today.

Citizenship data would be valuable. But the risks of poor data quality – or the erosion of public trust in the census and other governmental institutions – far outweigh the potential benefits. Given that there are other current data available on citizenship, why take unnecessary risks when the stakes are so high?

The ConversationThis is an updated version of an article originally published on February 22, 2018.

Jennifer Van Hook, Roy C. Buck Professor of Sociology and Demography, Pennsylvania State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Politics in the Trump Era – A Curated Guide to MPSA 2018

by Chana M. Solomon-Schwartz 

Politics in the Trump Era – A Curated Guide to MPSA 2018

In less than a month, scholars from more than 50 countries will congregate at the 2018 MPSA conference to present research, connect with one another, and eat deep-dish pizza. With more than 80 sections represented, there are panels, roundtables, talks, posters, and working groups for whatever topics catch your fancy.

One question being asked in different formats is whether—and if so how—Donald Trump’s campaign, election, and presidency have impacted politics. Has Donald Trump as candidate or president been impactful for groups in the United States or policies at home or abroad? Have institutions constrained President Trump and is the sense of his power overblown? At MPSA 2018, scholars approach this basket of questions from different angles.

If you’re interested in learning more about lessons from political science research about politics during a Trump administration, here’s a curated guide to some relevant sessions.

On Friday, April 6, presenters on the “How Race and Ethnicity was Experienced in the 2016 Election” panel will examine how different groups experienced and responded to the 2016 election. Danvy Le, Maneesh Arora, and Christopher Stout argue that discrimination against Asian Americans in the wake of the election has triggered feelings of linked fate and alienated Asian Americans from the Republican party. Brian Patrick Tilley’s paper demonstrates that during his campaign, Donald Trump used racially-charged language at a greater rate than comparable US Republican candidates. Two other papers on this panel example the impact of the 2016 election on mobilization within minority communities: within Native American communities and within Latinx and Muslim community organizations.

On Thursday, April 5, the Caucus for LGBT Political Science is hosting a roundtable entitled “LGBTQ Politics in the Trump Era.” Join participants from a diverse set of subfields including public law, public opinion, and political theory for the eponymous roundtable.

Other scholars address whether the 2016 presidential election weakened democracy. Simon Stacey and Carolyn B Forestiere ask whether the election reduced general support for democracy within the United States or just specific support for the Trump administration. They present a survey which suggests only the latter, and that contemporary concern about American democracy is unfounded. Damon M. Cann and David Magleby use exit poll data to show that Trump voters from a state with a strong third-party candidate were less confident their ballot would be counted correctly than Clinton or third-party voters. Join these authors and their co-panelists for the session “Trust in Democratic Institutions” on Friday, April 6.

Other papers examine specific issue areas during the Trump era. Michelle Allendoerfer’s paper on the “Human Rights, Political Leadership, and Domestic Politics” panel asks whether U.S. public opinion favors human rights-based lenses or security-based lenses. In “Christian Nationalism and Anti-immigration Attitudes in the Trump Era,” Allyson Shortle, Eric L. McDaniel, and Irfan Nooruddin use original national survey to show that religious nationalism explains restrictive immigration attitudes above and beyond other religious factors. Shortle et al.’s research will be presented on Friday afternoon at “Civil Religion and the Convergence of God and Nation”, a session sponsored by MPSA 2018 program chairs.

Questions about the so-called “Trump effect” are also addressed from political theory perspectives. Naomi Scheinerman presents “Anti-Vaccination in the Trump Era: Mistrust of Experts and the Promise of Democracy” at the “Sympathy, Respect, Trust, and Liberal Citizenship” panel on the afternoon of Saturday, April 7. In this paper, she argues that democratic participation can restore trust in experts by allowing disillusioned and abandoned voters to be heard and to hear.

On Saturday morning, lightning talks will be presented at the “Media, Fake News, and the Information Environment” panel. Jerry L. Miller and Ryan Severance categorize the types of tweets posted by candidate and President Donald J. Trump as acclaim, attack or defense. Other presenters on this panel address broader patterns of fake news consumption outside the United States. Mathias Osmundsen, Dimiter D. Toshkov, and Michael Bang Petersen use surveys administered to citizens in three Eastern European countries to demonstrate that individuals selectively accept and reject “fake news” in patterns that reflect perceptions of zero-sum conflict between Russia and their own country. Mariana Sanchez Santos’ paper examines the sources of trust and distrust in news and social media using the 2017 general election in the UK as case study.

Please join the conversation!

About the Author: Chana M. Solomon-Schwartz received her Ph.D. in political science from the George Washington University in January 2018. Her dissertation, “The Strong Power of Weak Commitment: Treaty Ratification and Reservation Removal in the Service of Human Rights,” examines why (some) countries increase their level of commitment to multilateral conventions protecting the rights of women and racial minorities. She will be blogging for MPSA 2018 covering Teaching Panels and Roundtables and can be reached at cmss@gwu.edu.

When the elite abandon democracy – A Warning from Belize?

By Harold Young of Austin Peay State University

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As always, my first full day in Belize starts in my barber’s chair. The “trim” (haircut) is accompanied by spirited conversations with other barbers and clients. The topics run the gamut. Sports, weather, sex and, of course, domestic/international politics merge and intertwine at various junctures highlighted with grand gestures, fist bumping and laughter. In the middle of a particularly animated discussion about the latest corruption revelation, a young man walks in and starts grooming his beard in the mirror. Half under his breath he says, “Barrow di teef franh di poa” (Prime Minister Barrow is stealing from the poor).

This statement reflects the perception that he, a poor individual, is being acted upon or taken advantage of by the elite represented by the Prime Minister. The term “elite” is grounded in a long history of study in political science. It springs from the Greek notion of the “guardian” class of rulers or the best among us to govern. This minority forms the leadership in a society and is studied in political science as elite theory. Elite theory, therefore, can be defined as the perspective that a small minority of people are arguably best suited to handle public affairs and that this arrangement is inevitable in modern societies (Maloy). Lasswell and Lerner point out that understanding the role of the elite is indispensable to understanding politics and the processes by which we are governed. We should also note that the term “elite” includes those with political, economic/business, educational, law enforcement, faith/religious, national defense and bureaucratic power and/or influence.

The elite, therefore, should serve the source of its power and authority while working against democracy because it has faith in the rule of the few. It rejects the idea of rule by the people in general (Johari, p.104). Therefore, Maurice Duverger suggests that “government of the people and by the people must be replaced by another formula, a government of people by an elite sprung from the people” (p. 425).

At the expense of being an alarmist (or offending), I suggest that Belize is teetering on the precipice of being a failed state.

The Fund for Peace developed the Fragile States Index which includes twelve distinct conflict risk indicators. Based on these indicators, Belize rates 115th out 177 countries. Worsening from 2007 to 2017, we are one stage below “Warning” (but not in “Stable” category) and one step in front of Guatemala, which is in the Warning stage. Further, the Belizean elites are more factionalized according to Index declined from 5/10 in 2007 to 4.3/10 in 2017.

Source: The Fund for Peace

Further, the Global Policy Forum  defines a failed state as follows:

Failed states can no longer perform basic functions such as education, security, or governance, usually due to fractious violence or extreme poverty. Within this power vacuum, people fall victim to competing factions and crime, and sometimes the United Nations or neighboring states intervene to prevent a humanitarian disaster. However, states fail not only because of internal factors. Foreign governments can also knowingly destabilize a state by fueling ethnic warfare or supporting rebel forces, causing it to collapse.

With all this in mind, Belize is not a failed state (yet) but the elements are present. Arguably, nothing is inevitable, but I suggest the current course is unsustainable without change, or the likely outcome will be at best be a contained intrastate conflict or, at the worst, adsorption by Guatemala (or the former followed by the latter).

That these scenarios are raised in disparate social groups is serious enough for concern. In Belize, the elite blames the poor for being poor. They view the poor as lazy and unambitious disregarding the inequities in society and institutional indifference and neglect that frames the lives of many of poor and mostly working strata of society. While I did see some people idle, most were working or hustling in some fashion. Second, on more than one occasion the use of government-sanctioned extrajudicial executions (a la the Philippines) is a viable crime-fighting alternative to keep them safe found support in elite discussions. They assume that they will be exempt from such a measure. Third, those in Belize’s upper echelons are overtly suspicious of any foreigners who are not Caucasian, or wealthy. Fourth, the wisdom of universal adult suffrage was questioned. The basis is that much of the voting public is stupid and/or corrupt. Fifth, it is widely believed the government needs to be more authoritative with a strong leader enforcing law and order at the expense of civil rights and freedoms. This is reminiscent of the “big man syndrome” which where one person or group exercises absolute control over others and ultimately leads to instability, further neopatrimonial corruption and increased disparities (Shawa 2012). Sixth, people do not feel safe unless walled in at home. The rise of private security is an indictment of public law and order institutions. The irony (if you want to call it that) is that those employed to secure are guarding the very ones who care little about their interests. Seventh, general disgust with politicians (part of the political elite) and blaming the very people who secure the interest of a portion of the elite. Eight, I was shocked at the resignation to the notion that independent Belize has failed. This seems to open the door to accepting dismemberment of the country within the realm of possibility (even acceptability).

The big question: how do all citizens (the voting public) ensure that the public’s interests are not ignored, and democracy is not undermined? There is no silver bullet. I humbly suggest that a part of the answer rests with the elite. What is expected of the elite, therefore, is that men and women who see beyond self-interest step forward in their respective spheres of interest and influence (not everyone can run for office) to champion the general welfare. Countries like Belize (and the U.S.) have no dearth of politicians but a shortage of statespersons, which means campaigning never transitions to governing after an election cycle. Policy development with consistent and equitable implementation must focus on the most good for the most people. None of this is to say that individuals or some civic groups do not do good works, but Belize is at the point where it must be more widespread, coordinated and focused to address the systemic problems of accountability, corruption, and disparities that drive societal problems. Though easier said than done of course, let us start with a public discourse of the real underlying issues and our failures to hold the political elite accountable. Does this account sound familiar?

P.S. At my last visit to the barber three weeks later, I was told that the young man was seriously injured in a shooting a few days earlier.

About the Author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research focuses Public Law and examines an American and international perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision-making. Previously, he works as a health communications manager, a social worker and practiced law.

MPSA in 2017 – Accomplishments Worth Celebrating (video)

 

This year was confusing at times and exhausting at others, but it also had its high points. As we say goodbye to 2017, we welcome you to join us for the MPSA highlight reel. Our thanks to everyone who played a part in making these projects a reality, including our program chairs, council members, committee chairs, program partners, donors, volunteers, and members. May the new year welcome only the best to you both personally and professionally! – MPSA Staff