Enlightening About the Enlightenment

Kenneth Minogue reviews Anthony Pagden’s The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters. He notes that Pagden stresses tolerance, forward-thinking, secularism, cosmopolitanism, and optimism as themes.

Minogue makes several pertinent criticisms.


One problem … is the difficulty of deciding who, from the founding period, counts as belonging to the “club” of the enlightened.

Should the club include Robespierre, the Marxists (and hence Stalin or Pol Pot)?

One might ask whether the Enlightenment is a period or a party, an era or a faction.

Second, Minogue rightly objects that intellectual progress is much older. The growth of reliable knowledge long precedes the 18th century.

Mr. Pagden’s basic take on the Enlightenment is locked into secularist legendry—as if intellectual progress only began when philosophers questioned religious authority. … Our Western civilization is indeed remarkable, but the reason is that, well before the 18th century, it had been the only culture in the world exploring the possibilities of free inquiry and intellectual rigor.

Third, Enlightenment political ideologies were not all nice.

We do indeed owe some of our tolerant openness to the writers of the Enlightenment, but we also owe to them the nightmarish passion to meddle with human life and to attempt to create utopian societies…. the fashion for ideological enthusiasms to improve our world keeps on generating surprises. The thing about light is that it casts shadows.

That seems about right. The Enlightenment gave us some fine features, but also some annoying bugs.



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Chagnon at Edge

Edge.org has a special event on anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon. He’s in conversation with these luminaries:

Chagnon et al

L-R Daniel Dennett, Napoleon Chagnon, David Haig, Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham, and John Brockman of edge.org

There are also comments on Chagnon’s ideas from anthropologist Lionel Tiger, economist Paul Seabright, international relations scholar Dominic Johnson, historian Azar Gat, and linguist Daniel Everett.

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Combination, Unevenness, and the Riddle of the International

Thanks to a tip, I’m directed to a new paper by Justin Rosenberg proposing “combined and uneven development” as the solution to the riddle of … well the riddle of history, to be sure, but not just that. Also the riddle of the international, or the

question of why ‘the international’ exists in the first place – why there are multiple societies (191)

The answer is “C&UD” (the initiates acronym), or

the intrinsically uneven character of socio-historical development per se. (193)

This encapsulates his idea:

multiplicity itself is seen as an expression of the intrinsic unevenness of historical development and change. (225)

I applaud Rosenberg’s willingness to raise basic questions. But, I am not convinced by his answer.

You can find “combined and uneven development” among ant colonies. If one colony’s population grows greater than the next’s (uneven development), it is then able to kill the smaller colony and take over its territory (combined).

Maybe C&UD could serve as a shorthand description of this, but it does not explain what is going on. It does not explain why there is “multiplicity” or “the international” ie many separate ant colonies that cooperate within the colony but compete with, and sometimes fight with, others.

Logically, unevenness could lead not to multiplicity but to unity: if one society got such an advantage that it took over all the rest. (Arguably the peculiar uneven and combined development of China and the steppe led to unity, not multiplicity, there.)

I have a better theory of “the international.” It’s a product of two ultimate factors: human evolution (especially group selection) and the peculiar social evolution of Europe. But I’ll save it for another time.


Rosenberg, Justin (2013) Kenneth Waltz and Leon Trotsky: Anarchy in the mirror of ‘uneven and combined development’. International Politics, 50 (2). pp. 183-230. doi:10.1057/ip.2013.6 I cannot see an ungated version. Gated version here.


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What Went Wrong in Sweden?

Once Sweden looked like the closest thing to a real utopia. How did it turn into a dystopia of burning cars?

Tino Sanadaji looks at the problems that led to the recent riots. Sanadaji, by the way, knows whereof he speaks: he’s a Kurdish immigrant in Sweden.

First: Islam is not the main problem.

Radical Islamism is a problem, but it’s not related to this unrest. Most rioters appeared to be secular, even atheist. Some were Christian Assyrians. Frankly, most young immigrants in Sweden today do not care much about Islam. A far more potent influence than Islam on the Swedish ghetto is American gangster rap.

One problem is the generous welfare state:

In addition to free health care and other services, a family of four in Sweden is entitled to around $3,000 in welfare benefits each month.

Hence many immigrants, lacking the strong work ethic of Swedes, never enter the labor market.

Partly it is the sheer scale of immigration.

Non-Western immigrants were 1 percent of Sweden’s population in 1980 and have since increased to 10 percent of the population. Today, 60 percent of total welfare payouts in Sweden go to immigrants.

Partly the low human capital of many immigrants.

Partly multiculturalism.

Resentment toward the West makes integration harder. Immigrants learn — and make use of — the message of victimhood, which fosters hostility toward their host society. And claiming victim status is appealing from a psychological perspective, as it confers moral superiority.

Partly it’s the globalization of US ghetto culture:

Immigrants who wish to integrate and adopt a Swedish identity are accused of “acting white” or being “an Uncle Tom.” The latter is not a translation from Swedish; the American phrase “Uncle Tom” is the actual term of abuse.

Partly too the high cohesiveness and high social capital of Swedish culture.

Keep in mind that Sweden was never an easy country to integrate into culturally. Swedes tend to be reticent, solitary, and reserved. Theirs is a complex culture, full of subtle rules and opaque codes of conduct. Lutheran Sweden is defined by strong behavioral norms enforced through social pressure. Swedes are conformist and quite intolerant of deviation from group norms, whether it’s immigrants or Swedes who break with protocol. Immigrants who do not conform to expected behaviors are looked down upon and often sense low-level hostility in their private encounters with Swedes.

That social capital made the social democratic experiment work well in Sweden, but the multiculturalist experiment is not working.

Icy Scandinavia was never a particularly well-chosen testing ground for the multiculturalist experiment.

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Raymond Geuss on Realism vs Non-realism

One of the great clashes among political theories is between realism and non-realism.

Raymond Geuss thinks so, regards non-realism as ascendant, but argues that realism is better. Here is how he distinguishes the two:

  • Non-realism: it starts from, and is mostly concerned with, what people ought ideally or rationally to do, or to desire, or to be. Non-realism is an “ethics-first” approach: for Rawls justice comes first, or for Nozick rights come first.
  • Realism: it starts from and is mostly concerned with “what really does move human beings” (9) and how institutions operate. A realist will “start from our existing motivations and our political and social institutions” (59). (Geuss mentions Lenin, Nietzsche and Weber in connection to realism.)

I would add one thing. That thing that really does move human beings, that set of existing motivations — it is human nature. Realism starts from human nature. Geuss really did not make this clear enough. This implies that realism is or should be Darwinian or evolutionary, for the best account of human nature by far is Darwinian.


Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton University Press, 2008).

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Linkage: Geopolitics of China

I used to think that geography explained why Europe was politically divided while China was politically united. Europe had more fragmented geography, giving it more fragmented politics. China the reverse. Simple.

Now, I have had to think again. Scholar’s Stage demolishes the idea. For one thing, China is by no means unified geographically. Its political unity came in spite of rather than because of geography. For another thing, China was frequently politically divided. It remains ethnically divided in the mountainous parts of Southern China.

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War Made States, States Made War

“War made states and states made war” is a great slogan of Charles Tilly’s – but it is not universally true. War long predated the state. And it looks like the state is thriving while war is in perhaps terminal decline in much of the world. So it applies from about 5000BP to about 1945 or 1989. But that’s not bad coverage!

If you step back and ask what kind of theory is Tilly’s non-unilinear, relational, bellocentric theory, it looks very much like a special case of group selection theory.

The theory of group selection aims to account for the trend of upscaling in social cooperation: essentially, the less cooperative were selected out. Likewise, Tilly aimed to account for a particular upscaling in cooperation from the petty states, cities, and tribal chiefdoms of the early middle ages to the national states of European modernity. He invokes a similar mechanism: competition selected out the less cohesive.

(Meanwhile, Asian states in same period Tilly covered (medieval-early modern) went through a greater upscaling into large empires. Why? They were in striking range of nomadic horsemen. There was nowhere to hide from the fierce selection power of nomad geopolitics.)

As a zillion sci-fi stories have correctly pointed out, a further upscaling of cooperation to a world government is most likely when an alien military force appears.

Currently, in the belt going from the Sahara to Afghanistan, we are seeing a case of “war made clans and clans made war.”

In short, Tilly’s largely right, but his approach is form of group selection theory.

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