The Problem of Imaginary Agents

I have often pointed out to my students a kind of conceptual error endemic in the social sciences, a tendency to imbue names for large and complex processes with an imputed agency.  A familiar example is when we talk loosely about ‘neoliberalism’ or ‘globalisation’ being the cause of some result we decry.  For instance, ifContinue reading “The Problem of Imaginary Agents”

Marxists or Jacobins?

One of the most disconcerting things about public discourse these days is the running together of ideas of ‘marxism’ and ‘postmodernism’, as though they are equivalent, or that latter grows directly out of the former.  This can be found, for example, in statements by YouTube pundits Jordon B. Peterson (Prof. of Psychology at U. ofContinue reading “Marxists or Jacobins?”

The irreducible tension between technology and morality

My university has just announced the launch of a new Centre for Technomoral Futures.  The announcement lays out an agenda boldly.  The new centre “… focuses on integration of the technological and ethical … as a groundbreaking initiative to design more sustainable, just and ethical models of innovation. … that unifies technical and moral expertise. TheContinue reading “The irreducible tension between technology and morality”

Dignity and the Modern Nation

Two things primed me to write a blog about Francis Fukuyama’s new book Identity: Contemporary Identity Politics and the Struggle for Recognition. First, last week I gave a lecture to students on our MSc in Nationalism Studies on the key theoretical ideas of Liah Greenfeld.  I was explaining to them the central role of theContinue reading “Dignity and the Modern Nation”

The Letter and the Spirit of Democracy

As I begin to write this on 19 October, 2019, Michael Gove is speaking for the government in Parliament against the Letwin Amendment, which requires that implementing legislation be passed before the Prime Minister’s ‘Brexit Deal’ is approved by Parliament.  Once again, he gives the refrain that respect for democracy requires that Parliament support aContinue reading “The Letter and the Spirit of Democracy”

The UK Parliament and Instrumental Populism

In Jan-Werner Müller’s recent short study What is Populism? (2017, Penguin) he defines it as a form of politics characterised by anti-elitism, the imagined oneness of ‘the people’ and their representatives (regardless of the mechanisms of representation), and the categorisation of political opponents as ‘enemies’ outside the body of ‘the people’.  Müller calls populism ‘theContinue reading “The UK Parliament and Instrumental Populism”