Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dahl and Kahn

By DOUGLAS MARTINFEB. 7, 2014 - Perhaps Professor Dahl’s best-known work was one of his earliest: “Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City” (1961), which examined the political workings of New Haven. In contrast to the view that power in American society was concentrated in a business elite, he depicted a multitude of groups competing for influence. “Instead of a single center of sovereign power,” he wrote, “there must be multiple centers of power, none of which is or can be wholly sovereign.”

New Haven, he argued, had experienced a historical progression from patrician rule to a more contested form of government in which political parties and candidates of different ethnic and economic backgrounds competed.

Professor Dahl initially defended pluralistic competition as inherently democratic, but in later books he theorized that powerful, politically agile minorities could thwart the will of other minorities and, indeed, majorities. He particularly worried that corporate managers could dictate the direction of their companies, often without reference to shareholders. He advocated giving outsiders, including government and interest groups like consumer representatives, a greater role in corporate governance.

He also wrote that citizens in recent years have had less influence over the political process, even as they have demanded more of it. He pointed to growing economic inequality as a threat to the political process. And he criticized the Constitution as undemocratic, saying it disregarded population differences in guaranteeing at least one representative and only two senators to each state.

Professor Dahl saw no way of changing this, because the Constitution specifically prohibits it. But he suggested reforms, like term limits for senators and representatives and runoff elections so that the winner of every race could claim a majority. Continue reading the main story
“He punctured our smug self-satisfaction that what we have is so great,” Professor Fishkin said.

A polyarchy is a modern representative democracy w... Throughout On Democracy, Dahl emphasizes the importance of words and their definitions. To illustrate their importance Dahl looks to Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass where he says 'When I use a word, it means what I want it to mean-- neither more, nor less. According to this everyone is free to call any government a democracy, even a despotic one.

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Interview with Paul W. Kahn, Author of Finding Ourselves at ...

Jan 29, 2014 - “Plato may have done philosophy, but he wrote dramas.” That is one of the first lines in Paul W. Kahn’s new book, Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation (buy from Columbia UP or Amazon). Kahn points out that many of us get little exposure to philosophy in school or elsewhere in our lives. In his book, he makes the case for the value of philosophy and argues that one of the best venues for exposure to it is popular culture: the movies, specifically.

First of all, Paul, one of the first statements in your book is the following, “philosophy begins with narrative, not abstraction.” Could you give us some examples from both ancient times and our own day?
While there are fragments preserved from the pre-Socratics, Western philosophy begins its written tradition with Plato. Plato, however, wrote nothing that we would identify as a philosophical text. He wrote something that looked considerably more like drama. They were dialogues that addressed particular questions in a dramatic context.
Finding Ourselves at the Movies
Finding Ourselves at the Movies
The tradition of writing dialogues continued for some time in classical thought. Cicero and Seneca, for example, wrote dialogues. In modern philosophy, David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion may be the most famous. The narrative form of reflective inquiry is rooted for Westerners in Christ’s use of parables. Modern philosophers have sometimes used a narrative form – most famously in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In popular culture, I am reminded of the very successful work Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

Could you tell us what you mean by the idea that the defense of philosophy is the practice of philosophy?
Philosophy is not a means to some other end. I cannot prove the usefulness of philosophy by showing you that it will improve your job prospects, find you a partner, or make your life easier. We engage in philosophy because we are drawn to self-reflection. We not only act, we think about what we are doing. At times, we think about our entire lives, what we are committed to and why. Everyone, in some way or another, is drawn to these reflections. That is part of what it means to be a person. Philosophy is only a more sustained effort to engage in this sort of self-reflection. The importance of that experience in one’s own life is the only ground upon which philosophy can be defended.

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