Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Category: Pure Theory

Why I Like Thomas Hobbes and You Should Too

People are sometimes surprised to discover how much I love Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes is the political theorist who wrote Leviathan. He presents a pretty grim account of human nature–for him, people have conflicting desires in a world of scarcity, they don’t know each other’s intentions, but they do know that they can hurt other people and that if they do so other people will be intimidated and might not hurt them. We can’t share thoughts and feelings because each of us is stuck in a different body and words are vague and unreliable, so we’re always alienated from each other and always prone to conflict. Hobbes wants to live, and he wants everyone else to live too, so he proposes that we solve this problem by submitting to the state. The state protects us from each other, and once we’re protected a space for trusting other people opens up.

Most left-wing people hate this. They hate that Hobbes even presents an account of human nature in the first place, much less one so grim as this. They especially hate how powerful Hobbes makes his state–he only allows people to defy the state when it threatens their own lives, and while he’s willing to tolerate a sovereign parliament Hobbes certainly prefers monarchy, because in his view it’s less likely to lead to conflicts about where the sovereignty is, which could end in civil war and death.

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Three Failing Movements and the One that Can Succeed

One of the key things I always like to remember about politics is that there are no political systems or political organizations which are wholly elitist or wholly populist. All regimes and all organizations are mixed. Autocracies and aristocracies still need their peoples to recognise them as legitimate and cooperate with their decisions. If they ignore legitimacy, their peoples will destroy them. Democracies still rely on elite professional civil servants, politicians, lawyers, and economists to design and implement policies that address the interests of the people and the subgroups which comprise it. If they ignore those elites, they won’t be able to govern effectively and they’ll disappoint the people they set out to help.  It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And yet, despite this, there are always political movements which operate dogmatically from an elitist or populist standpoint, ignoring the need to find the right mix of both. I want to describe three such movements, and the alternative path we can take to avoid their mistakes.

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Obviously Oprah Winfrey Should Not Be President

A number of pieces have come out suggesting that Oprah Winfrey should run for president on the strength of the speech she delivered last night at the Golden Globes. It’s very obvious that this is wrong, and it’s disturbing to me that it needs to be said. This is not to say that she didn’t give a nice speech–it was a fine expression of empathy for some groups that are hurting badly. But the ability to give speeches like this has nothing at all to do with governing a country, and the Trump presidency ought to have long since made this very clear.

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Barack Obama’s Role in Giving Us the Trump Presidency

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is remembered as a great philosopher and successful military commander, but he is also remembered for picking his feckless son Commodus as his successor, an emperor who infamously cared more about making showy performances as a gladiator than he did governing the empire. Barack Obama is still a popular president–his favorability rating is +10 and his job approval rating is +8. In recent months many pieces have been written lamenting his imminent departure, and many more will likely be written before January. But no matter how likeable Obama is or how well Obama governed while in office, the fact that he could not ensure the election of a competent successor counts against his legacy. How did Barack Obama end up giving us a Commodus? What, if anything, could Obama have done to avoid this?

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The Electoral College is a Distraction

There are some people who feel that because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, Donald Trump’s victory in the electoral college is illegitimate. This is a very poor argument–there are many much more interesting grounds for challenging Trump’s legitimacy than the electoral college.

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