Monday, November 29, 2010

Us against them - Kinder & Kam (2009)

Kinder, Donald R., and Cindy D. Kam. 2009. Us against them : ethnocentric foundations of American opinion. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.

Probably it is true that Professor Donald Kinder is active and productive scholar whose works are widely acknowledged and cited. If you read the back of the book’s cover, there are very famous scholars’ recommendations for this book. For example, Samuel Popkin, Jack Citrin, Stanley Feldman. I am not sure how much attention the recommenders paid on this newest book authored by Donald Kinder, but I have to confess that this book is the most disappointing work among Professor Kinder’s great pieces.

To be honest, I was deeply moved by his previous book, titled Divided by Color (authored with Lynn Sanders). Divided by Color was, in my reading, very impressive and well written with provisions of many insightful arguments and straightforward and concise quantitative analyses with theoretically cogent descriptions. While later works of Paul Sniderman (e.g., Reaching beyond race) counterargued or doubted the conclusion, I truly believe that the book was, by itself, one of the greatest books written during 1990s.

This book, however, contains many parts with which I cannot agree. First, the measures of ethnocentrism were hardly related with ‘ethnicity’ that was popularly defined in social scientific research. Actually, the measure is nothing but ‘race-centrism’ because the measure is based on evaluation of own racial category against averaged evaluation of other racial categories. As far as I’ve remember, there were no discussion, or more precisely theoretical justifications, showing why racial category should be equated with ethnic category. The authors introduced two measures: one of them is based on traits of a group which is widely adopted to measure racial stereotype, and the other is based on feeling thermometer toward each racial category. If the authors replaced ‘ethnocentrism’ with ‘raciocentrism,’ my dissatisfactions would be reduced.

Second, relating to the first one, I cannot understand why evaluation of racial group comparison (ingroup minus averaged outgroups) predict international politics or other domestic issues. If one European American had relatively higher (i.e., more positive or warmer) evaluation on own racial group against other racial groups, then why he (or she) opposed foreign aids? I believe the results are clearly interpretable if the variable is truly an operationalization of ethnocentrism (Americans against Non-Americans). However, the measure (even if it was termed as ethnocentrism) compares white Americans against non-white Americans?

Third, among the theories introduced in the second chapter (if the introduction chapter is treated as the first chapter), the fourth one is highly misleading, I think, given the results are true. The fourth one is based on socio-biology (e.g., Edward Wilson). Personally, I have no opposition to genetic theories and their application in social behaviors. Since the graduation of undergraduate, I have no formal education of natural science, and thus I have no ability to judge whether sociobiology is true or not. The problem (probably the biggest one I felt, when reading the book) was the serious naïve measure of racial categories (ie., white, black, Hispanic, and Asians) which was wedded with genes that should be sophisticated and only can be measured through nano-technology. For example, imagine one Chinese and one Indian, and one Arabian. The three people are very different, in terms of genes. To be honest, an Indian might be closer to Europeans, rather than Mongolians or other races. Even if national origins can be traced, it is actually impossible to classify one person as ‘white.’ Sincerely, I believe that the fourth theory should be deleted from the list (1) because the authors do not provide any results or data that can support (or reject) the theoretical arguments, (2) because naïve racial category is convenient one, rather than scientific one, and (3) because the mismatch between racial category in opinion polls and scientific genes seriously erodes the quality of the interpretation of the results.

My reactions might be harsh. Probably, I felt disappointed because the previous book (Divided by color) was so wonderful that this book would maintain similar level of beauty and cogency and soundness and insights.

I am sure that lots of people (whether the reader was an academic reader or a general reader) may fully agree with the conclusion of this book (Us against them), but I am also sure that I cannot be one of such people.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Routledge Handbook of Religion and Politics - Edited by Jeffrey Haynes (2010)

Haynes, Jeffrey, ed. 2010. Routledge Handbook of Religion and Politics. London, New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Handbook is the great guide for the beginner of the field, like me who are recently interested in the relationship between politics and religion. My approach (not yet self-assured) assume that religion is a machine of ethical messages which regulate or guide people’s judgment over social objects; and also assume that politics is a symbolic process created by political actors whose messages combine materialistic interests, moral superiority, and constructed social knowledge over the natural and cultural world. With the message as the conceptual link, I believe (or assume) that religion and politics reciprocally influence (actually, nearly all social scientists know that they are under mutual influence).

Anyway, the coverage of the handbook is so huge. Except the introduction chapter authored by the editor, there are four parts, as follow:

Part I: The world religions and politics
Part II: Religion and governance
Part III: Religion and international relations
Part IV: Religion security and development

I skipped all the chapters, but I do want to make an index what chapters might be re-read in the future (if my interest is maintained in the near or distance future)

Chapter 2: Buddhism and politics (by Peter Freidlander): Why? 1) S. Koran has lots of Buddhists. 2) Mostly known as its non-violent tendency (compared with other religions).

Chapter 3: Christianity: Protestantism (by Paul Fireston): Why? 1) the traditional topic since Max Weber’s intellectual invention. 2) the religious majority in US

Chapter 4: The Catholic church and Catholicism in global politics (Allen Hertzke): Why? 1) the biggest religious institution in the world 2) in S Korea, Catholic’s social contribution is most prominent (pro-democratization)

Chapter 5: Confucianism, from above and below (Michael Barr): 1) is it religion? (I don’t think so) It seems more likely to be an ideology like Liberalism, Maxism, etc. 2) basically ambivalent, and under-developed political ideology which can be both progressive and recessive.

Chapter 7: Islam and Islamism (Andrea Teti & Andrea Mura): 1) I am very ignorant of Islam and its culture

Chapter 10: Secularisation and politics (Steve Bruce): 1) Interesting and also important topic in the relationship between politics and religion, 2) secularization, in my view, is contested concept. Not sure what is secular and not sure whether ‘secular’ is distinguished from ‘sacred’ in terms of spirituality or religiosity.

Chapter 11: Religious fundamentalisms (Jeffrey Haynes): 1) Rising political tendency

Chapter 15: Religion and civil society (David Herbert): Personally, I read this chapter with the biggest interest and fun.

Chapter 16: Religious commitment and socio-political orientations: Different patterns of compartmentalism among Muslims and Christians? (Thorleif Petterson) 1) Model paper dealing with the effect of religion on politics using quantitative data. 2) good study to counter-argue over-exaggerated differences between Christians and Muslims.

Chapter 23: Religion and women: Canadian women’s religious volunteering: compassion, connections and comparisons (Brenda O’Neill): Good study showing the ambivalent characteristics of religion and its role in civil society (positive because it educates females as connected and communitarian citizens; negative because its role is highly concentrated in family and other conventionally women’s roles).

Chapter 25: Changing the climate of religious internationalism: evangelical responses to global warming and human suffering (Noah J. Toly): Dealing with the connection between religious messages and environmental issues (global warming). Personally more interesting because of the re-modeling four rivers in S. Korea despite the majority’s opposition, especially led by religious leaders who are Buddhist monks and Catholic priests including only a few Protestant pastors.

What's Fair - Jennifer Hochschild (1981)

Hochschild, Jennifer L. 1981. What's Fair: American Beliefs About Distributive Justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Reading thick book -- to a student who is pressured to read lots of literature for a short time -- is not easy work, but fruitful labor for the future study. I believe Jennifer Hochschild’s book belongs to this category (reading all pages in the book is not easy, but fruitful).

There are -- I believe -- two purposes in this book: one is explicit, and the other is implicit. The explicit purpose of this book is academic investigation of the reason “why there is not socialism in American” asked by Sombart. The duopoly system of American politics does not allow the emergency of socialism, as many political observers agreed. While some extreme conservatives may consider Barack Obama as a socialist, this type of hyper-over-misperception among extremists exists in any society. As George W. Bush cannot be equated with Hitler, any Democrat party’s politicians cannot be equated with socialists.

Of course, Hochschild’s conclusion is not about American political institution(s) or systematic analyses. Her strategies are close to Antonio Gramsci’s analyses of civil society. Citizens feel, interpret and behave politically based on their experiences and (subjective) justice or principles. As many poor people would complain, make voice for better treatment, or revolts, American poor people do the same, but they give up dreaming alternative better world, or they just dream without any actions, or their voice or action seems so weak. Her findings are well summarized in the book. First, there are two principles -- equality vs. differentiation. Second, there are three parts in a society -- society vs. economy vs. state (politics). Third, people, in general, agreed on the use of equality rule in the two areas of society and state, but ask the use of economy rule in the area of economy. Fourth, people become ambivalent, and thus feeling frustrated, angry, or transcendent. Finally, people do not realize any thoughts that may be as similar as socialism observed in Western Europe.

The second purpose is implicit and more oriented to academic audience. As she consistently argued in the last two chapters, her project highly resembles that of Robert Lane’s in both theoretically and methodologically. The motivation for the second purpose might emerge because of the influential writing of Philip Converse, arguing that ordinary people cannot understand and/or judge political issues using ideological constraint. The debate is well summarized in the second last chapter (Ambivalence chapter), and I do not feel it is worth to summarize the two sides. Anyway, her conclusion is that people’s understanding of a society is well structured within each domain (here, the three parts of a society), but critical inconsistency or confusion emerges when contrasting principles between different domains clash.

When reading the book, I’ve met so-called ideal type people we might still encounter in any society. Among the interviewed people, Maria got most of my attention. Why are there so many people who are honest, good, and hardworking but poor and alienated? This question is the main question I have, but no answers, unfortunately, I have made.

By the way, her later books highly focuses on the community and school, race, and other issues that are rooted in the social skin, which is essentially ambivalent. Civil society (although she did not use the term in the book, as far as I remember) is both progressive and conservative. As she said in the book, individual ambivalence reflects social contradiction where many interests, principles, justices, and causes fight each other.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ralph Nader - Marcello (2004)

Marcello, Patricia Cronin. 2004. Ralph Nader : a biography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

To be honest, this book is not for a scholar, but the general republic. However, a reader like me (an international student from authoritarian political regime) might get much information from this kind of easily written book. Before reading this book, Ralph Nader is a person who has been running many presidential campaigns (that does not seem possible under the duopoly system in American politics), and a person who was a consumer activist who was also known as public spoiler.

Obviously, this book is very positive toward Ralph Nader (with only a few negative comments of critics on Nader’s achievements). Thus, a naïve reader like me should be more careful to say who Ralph Nader is (and was).

Chapter 1 is mainly about childhood and lives in Princeton and Harvard. Most of information does not seem attractive.

Chapter 2 is about his activity about consumer’s auto-safety. The first work seems very impressive to me because his initial political works start with legal works, rather than orthodox political ones or grass-rooted movements. Probably his previous careers as a muckraking journalist might be the seed for his entire career.

Chapter 3 is that his legal work became enlarged and was turned into a conventional political work, i.e., moving the congress by advising politicians.

Chapter 4 describes the enlarged human network of Nader, and how to extend his cause with other good men’s works. Chapter 5 is about the climax of Nader’s Raiders’ work and their influence in 1960-1970’s.

Chapter 6-7 describe the weakening influence or performance of Nader-like movements in American society, and his personal loss and his stepping back from the front of the movements.

Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 are about the rebounding of his causes and justice in 1980’s conservative period in American society. As known, the resignation of Nixon and the election of President Carter is the short time rebound of so-called Democratic spirit, but it suddenly turns to conservative minds symbolized as Ronald Reagan.

Chapter 10 and Chapter 11 are about his challenge (probably hopeless) for American presidency for disseminating his cause in American Society. Partly, this period is the new-Democrat period symbolized as William Clinton. Actually, he is not an orthodox Democrat (probably, that’s the reason why he succeeded with many and many obstacles and misfortunes). While not clearly noted, Nader’s challenges are an expression of despair over the weakly represented progressive idea in Democratic Party. In the system of duopoly, it is near impossible to be elected as President (and even Senator, less but still difficult for Congressman), whether a politician is Green party, Reform party, or Socialism party. Probably, the trial was to keep the fire of alternative progressive idea (e.g., environmentalism) being firing.

The last chapter is the close chapter that portrays Nader’s activities after the defeat of 2000 Election until 2003.

Good introduction to who Nader is, I believe.

As an international student who has very very ambivalent feelings toward American politics, I have to confess that the existence of Nader is the evidence showing American society is healthy and can be a light for other worlds (even if it is not the perfect light-rod). His action and causes, without no doubt, are for the social weak or weak things (like birds, wild lives) rather than the socially powerful or wealthy ones. In my belief, the good society (democratic society, if you want) is the society where any person can fight for voices of the weak without feeling to be hurt by governmental forces. My home country, in this respect, is still inferior to the U.S. Although the U.S. is not the ideal nation-state in my mind, she, in some sense, can give hope.

Friday, November 19, 2010

When atheism becomes religion - Chris Hedges (2009)

Hedges, Chris. 2009. When atheism becomes religion : America's new fundamentalists. New York: Free Press.

Actually the title of the book (originally, I don’t believe in atheists, in 2008) summarizes what the author wants to argue in the book. The core is clear: The arrogant pseudo-scientific atheism is actually the same as any arrogant religious fundamentalism. In other words, atheists and religious bigotry are the same because of their philosophical foundation, i.e., fundamentalism contaminated by violent utopian ideas.

Hedges argues that this pseudo-scientific fundamentalists are originated from the legacy – specifically bad legacy of Enlightenment in Western Europe. Blind obedience to the progress of human moral. As far as I’ve understood, this type of naïve optimism about the reality is the enemy that he wanted to accuse in the previous book. Specifically he mentions Harris, Dawkins, Wilson, Blackmore, and others as examples of pseudo-scientific atheists.

The biggest virtue of this book is the beautifully wedded couple of “common-sensical ethical arguments” and “ethics based on REAL experience of the author (as a war correspondent).” Scientists, especially arm-chaired scientists studying and researching in the library or office, are easily distracted or tempted by seriously abstract thoughts that are sometimes sur-real. Those arguments frequently are based on hypothetically assumed person, rather than a real person who is crying, sweating, or bleeding. Actually criticizing religious creeds is so easy because I believe any bibles (of course, including Christian Bible) have very very contrasting and conflicting teachings. In one page, it teaches endless altruism or self-sacrifice, but suddenly it orders its believers to kill others without any mercy. The evil teaching can be easily mobilized for the justifications of genocide, adultery, illegal polygamy and the like. However, it is also similarly easy to criticize bad consequences contrived by modern science (or scientific devices) like atomic bombs and MDW.

From the ordinary mind (at least my mind), it is not fair to compare good science with bad religion, as pseudo-scientists do. (the exactly opposite case would be true, either). I believe the author’s critic on pseudo-scientific atheists is not critics on all modern science. He, I assume, simply warns the arrogance of such atheists and the danger such arrogance would result, as blind religious fundamentalists do.

Some limitations are observed. First, this book is very thin, compared with the previous one (American Fascists). I assume the reason might be the author’s hastiness, in order to reply to people who may misunderstand him as one of such atheists. Second, his critics are mainly about the attitude or viewpoints of such atheists, rather than their over-interpretation of scientific findings (especially, evolutionary biology). While he mentioned Charles Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, and other so-called orthodox scientists, his study does not cover recent achievements in such field. Of course, it is not the author’s duty to do that because it is not his speciality. However, it is a little bit disappointing not to analyze why such writers show such seemingly arrogant “over-confidence” over the findings… Finally, when analyzing meme theory, I assume he seems to over-generalize the implications of meme theory. While it is actually true that meme theory is too much contaminated by misguided evolutionary biology, it is also true that it is simply a way to explain social or cultural phenomena, based on biological explanations. I have to disagree with some analyses about meme theory. All types of knowledge are inter-influenced by other types of knowledge. For example, is it true that Aristotelian philosophy influences St. Aquina’s theology?

Despite some limitations (actually my dissatisfactions), I am satisfied with the book (as one of the general and ordinary readers)

PS: As a ph.d student, this book taught me many lessions about knowledge, especially so-called scientific knowledge. At least, it tells that precise theory at the level of high abstraction is bad theory at the mundane level. Especially, social sciences… Society is not abstract, it is real. (Unless you live in a place of full anarchy).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ideology and discontent - David E. Apter (1964)

Apter, David E. 1964. "Introduction: Ideology and discontent." In Ideology and discontent, ed. D. E. Apter. New York: Free Press.

Geertz, Clifford. 1964. "Ideology as a cultural system." In Ideology and discontent, ed. D. E. Apter. New York: Free Press.
Converse, Philip. E. 1964. "The nature of belief systems in mass publics." In Ideology and Discontent, ed. D. E. Apter. New York, NY: Free Press.
Wolfinger, Raymond E., Barbara K. Wolfinger, Kenneth Prewitt, and Sheilah Rosenhack. 1964. "America's radical right: Politics and ideology." In Ideology and discontent, ed. D. E. Apter. New York: Free Press.

The edited book by David Apter is popular among students of public opinion because of the piece written by Phillip Converse, titled “The nature of belief systems in mass publics.” Frankly speaking, I am sure that the chapter is the most difficult text to understand with one or two times reading of the chapter. [Probably due to my lack of English proficiency, but not entirely] Most of the sentences are broken and I had lots of experience to lose the flow of reading in the chapter.

Probably the chapter’s findings or arguments are not so much complex. The mass publics are not cognitive sophisticated. Thus they hold no over-arching principles or ideologies or belief systems (Borrowed his terms, the centrality is low). There are only a few elite publics who are politically sophisticated might be called ideologue or near-ideologue. Elite publics are the main consumer of political information, and they have fixed and stable belief system. While other publics are flexible based on their own group interests or one or two issues with which they are particularly interested. These middle ranged sophisticated citizens are mainly influenced and changeable and flexible. However, extremely unsophisticated citizens are not also influenced because they have no such foundations or grounds of belief systems or centered concepts.

Anyway there are lots of other studies which support, criticize, or modify Converse’s findings and conclusions.

Partly because of dissertation writing, I recently read and re-read repeatedly the chapter. Additionally, I read other three chapters: Introduction by the editor; Clifford Geertz’s chapter; and Wolfinger et al.’s chapter. Why I select those three? Reasons are purely subjective and determined by recent my interest in politics and religion.

The introduction chapter seems interesting because it tells why the book is planned and why there are many many writers mobilized to fill the space from diverse perspectives. The role of ideology, according to Apter, is two-fold: Solidarity (between people and within a group) and identity (between a person and a group).

The Geertz’s chapter was also interesting in part because his good writing skills and persuasive examples buttressing the relationship between ideology and cultural system (or culture, simply). The main insight of Geertz’s piece is that realization of a ‘political’ ideology is highly dependent upon a society’s cultural expression of a world or understandings of cosmos.

Wolfinger et al.’s chapter, although I do not have any information about the author, draws my attention because it discusses ‘radical’ ‘right.’ In fact the findings and competing theories the authors introduced (e.g., status anxiety, alienation, ethnic hostility, cultural resentment, religious fundamentalism, and the like) are “still” debated when explaining the surge of evangelist Republicans in Southern states and also some observations in other Islamic or Confucian political regimes that are highly authoritarian and sometimes totalitarianism. The conclusion of the authors is clear (I think too much clear): “Whatever else they [=Anticommunism Crusaders] may be, they are not Democrats” Surprisingly correspondent with modern observation of Christian Fundamentalists….

Reading old books is not enjoyable, at least to me. However, it is very useful to observe undeniable thesis, which is, “history repeats itself.” Probably that would be the reason why we should go to the basic and start at the zero.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The clash of rights - Paul Sniderman (1996)

Sniderman, Paul M. 1996. The clash of rights : liberty, equality, and legitimacy in pluralist democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

I do not know why I started to read this book (I just picked it up by chance while looking at the shelf in library), but I finished reading it from the first page to the last one. The final thought is good, as I read his other books – Reaching beyond race (with Edward Carmines) and Scar of race (with Thomas Piazza).

The title of the book really well summarizes the whole messages in the book. The main problem in modern politics (if plural liberalism is the right summary of modern politics) is the conflict between two (or more) political rights or principles. The potential ambivalence due to the coexistence of conflicting political rights or different understandings of contestable concept (he mentioned equality as such example by calling it chameleon value) is the core of modern politics, and thus modern political process or institution has to be dynamic and changeable.

Most of his mobilized examples came from Canada. In the first chapter, he argues that findings in Canadian contexts can be generalizeable. In the second chapter, he summarizes previous academic arguments, i.e., democratic elitism. The agreement or consensus between competing elites is the backbone of modern politics, according to the thesis of democratic elitism. However, the author criticized its possibility because the agreement between conflicting elites cannot be justified. Instead, there is a huge gap between different elites, which causes the clash of rights. Figure 2-13 summarizes how the elites are divided and how mass politics mediate the clash of rights triggered by elites’ conflicts.

Other chapters are examples that show clash of rights with different topics and different formats. Equality, symbolic politics (race, Canadian residents, and language) are the examples that show how different rights or principles are conflicting and why the political system should be understood as dynamic.

The final chapter concludes that value pluralism is the key to understand modern politics and its dynamics.

Clearly written, based on strong message and nice examples. The writing style, I assume, is the model of well trained social behavioralist.

While good, some are disappointing. This is not about the criticism of his book, but just my reflection or subjective feelings after finishing his book.

First, too much space is given to justify that Canadian politics is also observed in the politics of the US. It is not bad, by itself, but I simply doubts that this thought shows – implicitly and unconsciously - the American Academic Imperialism (not implusive meaning, please). Frequently, the US situation is assumed as a standard (whether it is a good or bad standard), and other national politics is approached via particularized or localized theory, rather than generalized or universal theory.

Second, rights (or principles) are frequently assumed as norms that are a priori. However, they are mobilized to justify the things post hoc. For example, rule of equal chance could be a principle, but it becomes a ruling device if its proponent is the person who can enjoy his/her privilege in a society. Of course, the second dissatisfaction is nothing but my interpretation (while I assume that many others in a society can agree with me).

By the way, (and again) good and well-written book, I believe.

Friday, November 12, 2010

American fascists - Chris Hedges (2007)

Hedges, C. (2007). American fascists : the Christian Right and the war on America. New York: Free Press.

There are three shocks after reading this book. First, the arguments generated by so-called Christian fundamentals (evangelists) are much more serious than I expected and am heard from other sources. Second, the author got an academic degree (MA) from Divinity at Princeton University. In other words, this is a criticism from a person who has strong Christian backgrounds. Third, the problems (in a secular person’s eyes) are similarly or virtually the same observed in my home country, South Korea.

Recent interest in the relationship between religion and politics, actually, starts with my interest in so-called identity politics and new social phenomena that cannot be easily reduced to rational utility theory in political science. Previous books, in general, have to deal with very abstract arguments over the virtues or vices of the politics, and the potential influences of religious conservatives on political process does not seem so serious. However, this book starts and introduces with very vivid story which is based on personal narrative and specific arguments, and thus I think very readable and concretized and solid. Probably the reason may be found that the author is a journalist whose writings target at ordinary readers without having special backgrounds over expertise.

The conclusion is clear: Do not tolerate those who do not show any tolerance.

While very persuasive arguments, I have several questions. First, the relationship between poverty and religion. While I agree with the author’s analysis (see chapter 2. The culture of despair), the question is that how the poor can be delivered from the abject poverty? The author implicitly argues that saving the poor (precisely working poor, or people having no secure jobs) should be done by public sector or nation. However, the policy decision has to be based on so-called majority rule (at least in the US), and therefore it takes time to be effective. While I am less favorable towards ‘too much intervention of the church saving the poor,’ I have to think that the poor should be helped from anyone including the church (regardless their sections or denominations), if the nation does not help. If the salvation comes from intolerant religious conservatives, the first job for a society is ‘not to be starved to death.’

Second, how can normal Christians read Bible? The first chapter (faith) clarifies that the Christian Bible (including both Old Testaments and New Testaments) has very mixed messages. One page, it teaches people self-sacrifice, love, share, and others. But on the different page, it justifies killing, genocide, theft, or others (e.g., Holy Termination). So-called Holy City Plan – probably suggested by John Calvin and his followers in other places in the world – actually and literally ask pastors and believers to kill others in the name of God. How can ordinary people read the Bible and understand it? Too much ambivalence coexists, as the author admits. He points out this potential aggressiveness and intolerances taught by the Bible, but does not provide any solutions or recommendations. Of course, it is not an easy job and the author may have no obligation to do that. However, without this one, Christian religions (regardless of any sections or denominations) and Islam, and even Buddhists in many cases have to be given up because they are intolerant in some sense.

Third, what is the limit of religious conscience? This is somewhat dangerous, if the author is correct. The Rosa Parker case, or Martin Luther King, Jr case strongly showed that religious conscience helps society and democracy building. For example, in the war, how can we see a person who voluntarily rejects the gun in order to protect own religious conscience? I think this kind of religious conscience should be protected, even if the religion is conservative, Satanic, or highly intolerant towards other minorities. Probably, I assume that the author warns the danger of expansive or aggressive use of religious conscience, rather than a tool to protect a person’s world from external or secular politics or demands.

Anyway interesting book and thoughtful!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The enemy: an intellectual portrait of Carl Schmitt - Balakrishnan (2000)

Balakrishnan, G., & Schmitt, C. (2000). The enemy : an intellectual portrait of Carl Schmitt. London; New York: Verso.

Actually, Carl Schmitt did not (and does not) come to me as a name of respected man. As the common nickname (= Crown Jurist of Nazi), all writings of Schmitt have to be suspected regarding to the Nazi and all of its negative connotations.

However, my first impression of Carl Schmitt was very fascinating. When I was in Seoul (Seoul National University), I encountered his book, Political Theology, and I thought that the guy is very smart, provocative, thoughtful and radical. However, my enthusiasm at that time was easily changed into disappointment after I learned basic bio of Carl Schmitt.

After six years later, I re-picked up one more book which introduces the whole trajectory of Carl Schmitt’s writings. Although I am not much aware of the author (Gopal Balakrishnan, I infer this author as Indian because the first name is so familiar in India), I am sure the author has able enough to write Schmitt’s biography and writings. His writing is excellent and I believe the author’s evaluation is appropriate and valid

The first dimension of Schmitt’s academic career starts with dictatorship. Simply put, when the dictatorship starts and how it can be justified with whose decision? Actually, this question, I believe, goes beyond my ability because I have the slightest background of legal studies. The book, The Dictatorship: From the Beginnings of the Modern Conception of Sovereignty to the Proletarian Class Struggle, represents this stage.

The second is the religion and law. Put simply, the law is the secularized religious concepts. This thesis, while controversial, seems very valid intuitively to me. The book, Political Theology, represents this period.

The third point is critics of modern parliamentary democracy. Simply, the consensus building or majority rule based on popular representatives are not sufficient, realistic, or desirable. Very radical point, but valid argument. Probably, some modern political theorists who heavily relied on Carl Schmitt (e.g., Mouffe) are fascinated by this criticism. Whether this is right or wrong, his critic of parliamentary democracy explains many political or civil controversies clearly, and the fragile nature of modern pluralistic democracy. Probably, Roman Catholicism and Political Forms, and Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (The author prefers the directly translated title “The Intellectual: Historical Condition of Contemporary Parliamentarism”) represents that.

The fourth point is the meaning of “the political.” Personally, the birth of “the political” ranks the second in Western Political Thoughts (The first, in my view, is Machiavelli’s thought). “The political” is freed from any normative constraints, but finally goes to the strongest form of norm for any political action or behaviors. The political is distinguished from ‘politics’ but it makes politics ‘work’ and ‘meaningful’ (at least for Schmitt). This concept is powerful in modern ‘new’ politics, neo-Nazi, racism, religious politics, and others. There are many things in modern world which cannot be understood as utilitarian theory (e.g., Downs’s model). The book, The concept of the political, (I swear by myself) is a book that should be read and read several times, but with the greatest care. As G. Lukacs concluded (though I have no capability to agree or disagree), Schmitt’s intuition can be easily turned into intelligence of evil.

The fifth point is legality versus legitimacy. This question arises again in Harbermas and other modern thinkers. Legality and legitimacy can be distinguished (should be)..

Other dimensions are about his relationships with Nazi (esp. with Goering and other Nazi Scholars), and his readings of other classic thinkers (e.g., Hobbes, Machiavelli, Spengler, Weber, de Tocqueville, etc.). Especially, the chapter 16 (The Leviathan Myth) was interesting, but my knowledge over the Leviathan was not so deep… In the future, I should read Hobbes and de Tocqueville with more care.

Before closing, I think the title is So Great! The ‘enemy’ seems the best summary of Schmitt’s writings. The enemy is not evil, dirty, disgusting. The enemy is needed, respected, and warrants my positions. This is so realistic, but very dangerous….

Anyway, good book, interesting… As a final word, I think any readers should distinguish Schmitt from Schmitt’s messages. Personally, I believe Carl Schmitt was a dirty person like me and others who pursue self-interests (e.g., more publications, higher academic positions,…) However, his messages have some virtues that should be eschewed. Although his intelligence, probably some of his intelligence, comes from devil’s whispering, I believe it has something we can learn from the bad thing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sacred and secular (2004) - Norris and Inglehart

Norris, P., & Inglehart, R. (2004). Sacred and secular : religion and politics worldwide. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.

While the previous book (Religion and Politics in the United States, Wald & Calhoun-Brown, 2011) deals with the relationship between religion and politics in the context of one nation (i.e., USA), this book deals with the relationship in the international context.

The main argument is that secularization becomes important in developed countries, but religion becomes more and more important in under-developed (or un-developed) countries. The result is, according to Norris and Inglehart, interesting because the non-believers are decreasing (due to secularization in the rich countries) while believers are increasing (due to the emphasis of traditional values in religions in the poor countries).

Especially, new social controversies in Western European countries and the United States are about the paradoxical two trends (secularization and low fertility rate VS religious dominance and high fertility rate). For example, UK and France recently observe decreasing fertility rate and (have to) need new population from other countries (mostly non-European and non-traditional religion believers). New conflicts, thus, have to show multi-layered contradictions (“minority – foreign religions – poor” versus “majority – Christian – rich or was-rich”).

In general, the book is well-written (i.e., used easy and clear terms) by two great empirical positivists. Usually, empirical positivists’ writing, I believe, is easy to read. This is a great virtue of this book, unlike other books dealing with religion and politics authored by pure theorists. While some of the expressions seem redundant, I like the redundancy which makes the whole idea much clearer.

While the data sets and analyses of the relationship between religion and social values, political status, and other macro-level indices seem interesting (or clear, in the authors’ terms), the general impression on my brain was not so telling. First and foremost, Weberian and Durkheimian understanding of religion is too much simplified. Personally, I do not believe that those so-called classic sociological ideas can be tested via (relatively crude) survey polls or national indexes. This seems a kind of greed, I believe. I am not sure whether the operationalization does reflect what Weber or Durkheim wants to define… Actually, those big names were born and dead before the birth of hypothetical testing. Testing would be fascinating idea in some areas, but not always, in my poor thoughts.

My thought on this book …. Good book, but not the best book.

PS: What is the role of statistics when studying the relationship between religions and politics? Obviously, so-called liberal pluralism is mainly motivated by the number, but religion can be reduced into some operational (or statistical) measures? This question is not to criticize the authors’ position (actually, some of my research relied statistics or statistical justifications TOO MUCH), but to refresh my minds in order to be alive and not to be crunched by naïve inertia which is frequently called as ‘statistical or systematic research…..’

The Chosen Peoples (2010) - Gitlin and Leibovitz

Gitlin, T., & Leibovitz, L. (2010). The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Reading Todd Gitlin’s book – Although there is one more author - is always enjoyable, at least to me. Probably, anyone who completed communication theory course would know Todd Gitlin, as a main critic of so-called effect study which might be traceable to Paul F. Lazarsfeld’s work. Unfortunately, Gitlin’s work, as one of Annenberg students, is remembered as one of unhappy works because his main critic goes for Elihu Katz, the last Ph.D student of Paul Lazarsfeld.

However, as far as I’ve remember, Elihu Katz was – and probably am - very positive toward Gitlin’s criticism (while he does not want to fully agree with Gitlin’s punch-line). E. Katz praises his creativity, novelty, and activism. Probably due to the academic enemy’s praise, I started to read some of Gitlin’s books.

The newest book is the same, it is enjoyable and fun to read. The book comprises of four main chapters with one short chapter (ie, introduction). The main argument is well summarized in the subtitle. It deals with two religious tradition, Jewish and (evangelical) Christian tradition. So-called ‘Divine selection’ – The God choose one ethnic group to realize the God’s will on the earth – was one of main faiths in two religious traditions, which easily creates potential (including already realized) controversies or fights with other ethnic groups who frequently have different religious traditions.

The first chapter, “A stiff-necked people,” summarizes the history of construction of Israel in originally Palestine land. As the title implies, the authors seem to argue that the divine selection leads to its believers to be stiff-necked, i.e., arrogant and rude toward other groups who do not agree with the idea. The second chapter, “His almost chosen people,” summarizes the history of construction of the United States in originally Native Americans’ land. The title comes from Abraham Lincoln’s address that the US is the land to realize God will and Americans are God’s almost chosen people.

While the first two chapters deal with the stories of peoples who believe that they are chosen by the God, the third chapter deals with the other side of those peoples, mostly original Palestine residents. I think the contents are already introduced much in other literature or books (e.g., West Bank or Gaza).

The final chapter is about the fact why Israel and the US are so well wed in international politics. Probably, the most unique argument could be found in the last chapter because Gitlin and Leibovitz argue that there are something emotional bonds between two chosen peoples, and it is not enough (note that their arguments add something previous, not replace it) to consider the link as economical and/or political. Of course, the emotional bonds, according to the authors, can be traced to the idea of “Divine selection.”

I do not have full information and expertise to tell whether their conclusion is true or not. However, it is interesting idea with two reasons. First, the construction process of nation-building in Israel and the US highly resembles each other. Second, two nations emphasize importance of spirits in order to unite the intra-national differences, but two nations wield very secularized power in order to maintain their will or spirits in international conflicts.

Personally interesting because the authors showed the relationship between religions and politics with historical records and secular (i.e., without spiritual) reading of the religious texts. However, two questions remained and (I think) are not mentioned or addressed:

(1) Muslims are not chosen? I do not think so. Maybe they believe that they are chosen. Differently, other religion holders will think that they are chosen (e.g., Shinto believers in Japan). Personally I do not agree with the argument that the uniqueness of the idea of ‘Divine selection’ is special in Jewish and/or Christian traditions. The difference is the ‘self-esteem without despising others’ versus ‘self-esteem by ignoring others.’
(2) The “special friendship” between the US and Israel hit one question in my head. If Jewish thinks they are chosen and American thinks the same, then why they fight each other? According to divine selection idea that the authors introduced, (I assume) God selects only ONE people. If so, then one of two chosen peoples is probably wrong and hurts own identity and faith. Then natural question would be: why they do not fight each other?

PS: By the way, it would be ambivalently interesting to mention South Korea, as a comparable examplar nation of Israel in the US's relationship. For example, the authors said that "Neither the United States nor Israel parades any particular affinity with democratic India, say or South Korea. These nations are friends, but not special friends (p.187)"