Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Democracy

Why the French Take to the Streets

One of the things I’ve noticed about the coverage of the Gilets Jaunes or “Yellow Vests” protests in France is this tendency to think of the French taking to the streets as a cultural phenomenon. People in the Anglosphere think the French protest because that’s the way the French are. So whenever there’s a commotion in France of any variety, everyone wants to make all sorts of callbacks to the French Revolution, and invariably the takes on the new protests will resemble the takes on the old protests. You’ll have some people write pieces asking “why can’t we be like the French”, but the undertone will be that the French are the way they are because they’re French, and that while we might wish we could be like the French we never will. I hate cultural explanations, because they’re lazy. State institutions produce different kinds of incentives in different contexts, and these different incentives give rise to different behaviour. We attach that behaviour to peoples, but it is the product of particular institutional configurations. If the French had different institutions, they wouldn’t do what they do.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Zuckerberg Should Not Run For President in 2020

This is an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg. He’ll probably never read it, but I think my readers might get something out of it all the same.

Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Vote for the Tories: They Provide Weak, Unstable Leadership

British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced plans for a snap election on 8 June. She’s way ahead in the polls, and the Conservatives may win–they may win by a lot. But they shouldn’t. So I’m continuing a blog series called “Don’t Vote for the Tories.” Each post gives you a new reason to reject the Tories at the polls this June, grounded in research and data. I aim to do at least one of these each week until the vote. Today we’re talking about political stability.

Read the rest of this entry »

There are 2 Kinds of Strikes

Since the election of Donald Trump, there’s been some renewed interest in striking as a form of political resistance. Just this week, many women participated in A Day Without a Woman, a strike during International Women’s Day, and a general strike was held on February 17 to oppose Trump. These strikes have divided the left, with some arguing that they are not true strikes because the participants are primarily members of the professional class rather than the working class, while others argue that they play an essential role in mobilizing dissent regardless of which classes primarily participate. This debate over strikes is muddled because the two sides are using the word “strike” to refer to two very different kinds of political action.

Read the rest of this entry »