Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Thomas Hobbes

A Response to Adam Tooze’s Piece about John Mearsheimer

I ran across this piece by Adam Tooze about John Mearsheimer. Mearsheimer is the University of Chicago professor who gave this controversial talk about Ukraine, which has gone viral:

I was at University of Chicago for my MA in 2014, when John started giving this talk. I took his American Grand Strategy class. I sometimes call him “John” because in his lectures he often refers to himself in the third person by his first name. John describes himself as a “realist par excellence.”

Tooze is an economic historian. Online, he’s become increasingly prominent for his economic analysis. He was a reader at the University of Cambridge while I was doing my PhD there. He’s now at Columbia. I often read his stuff. I like both of these people, and I like both Chicago and Cambridge. I want to talk a little bit about how they relate to each other.

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What I Think in 2020

Now that the Bernie Sanders movement is comprehensively failing, it is time for those of us who supported it to take a step back and reflect. We can only learn from defeat if we are willing to be honest with ourselves and recognise it as such. This post is more autobiographical than most of what I run here. The aim is to do some hard introspection about how I came to support the Sanders movement and where its downfall leaves me, politically.

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The Left Can’t Even Agree on What Politics Is

In helping my undergrads prepare for their exams the last few weeks, I’ve noticed something–one of the major obstacles to successful left-wing organising is the left’s inability to agree on what politics itself is. Different political theorists understand “politics” differently. You can broadly divide conceptions of the political into two realms. Some people think politics is about pursuing the truth and the good, and other people think that politics is about managing disagreement about the truth and the good. Then within those camps you can make further divisions on the basis of what strategy people prefer to use to pursue the good or manage disagreement. Here, let me chart this out for you:

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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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The Starks are Not the Good Guys: Morality and Game of Thrones

I’m a big Game of Thrones fan (both the books and the show), but there’s something that sets me apart from other fans–I hate the Starks. It’s my view that they are without question the most villainous family in Westeros, far worse than the Lannisters. This is a controversial view, but hear me out. I think I have a pretty strong case.

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