Thursday, November 12, 2009

Panel discussion by Plato, Thomas Paine and E.E. Schattschneider

Scene: Heavenly seminar. Panel discussion by Plato, Thomas Paine, and E.E. Schattschneider [a 20th century political scientist with an even weirder name than deLespinasse]:

Plato: E.E., did you ever meet that fellow Charles Tilly while you were alive?

E.E.S: I don’t think so. I didn’t get into New York City very often. What do you think of his essay, “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime”?

Plato: Perhaps he is too blunt. Why, his very first sentence reeks of contempt for government:

“If protection rackets represent organized crime at its smoothest, then war making and state making---quintessential protection rackets with the advantage of legitimacy---qualify as our largest examples of organized crime.”

E.E.S: But don’t you think he is on to something? As I pointed out in my 1969 book, “Philosophers have beguiled us with tales about the origins of government about as convincing as the fables we tell children about where babies come from . . . . In the literature of political science and political theory there is no serious theory of the formation of governments or the cause of government.” Professor Tilly is certainly trying to give us such a theory.

T. Paine: I must agree with E.E.. Only it seems to me that I beat Tilly into print by nearly two hundred years. This is what I said in my Common Sense:

This is supposing the present race of kings in the world to have had an honorable origin; whereas it is more than probable that coujld we take off the dark covering of antiquity, and trace them to their first rise, that we should find the first of them nothing better than the principle ruffians of some restless gang, who savage manners or pre-eminence in subtlety obtained him the title of chief among plunderers . . . .”

E.E. S. Oh, my, that was well-put. I’m afraid when I spoke so derogatorily about philosophers, I was not thinking of you as a philosopher.

T.Paine: Under the circumstances, I am forced to interpret that remark as a compliment. I was always a practical man, not a woolly-minded theorist.

Plato: I beg your pardon! Mao Tse-tung and I were having tea together recently, and he confided that he is more convinced than ever that there is nothing so practical as a good theory. And he was “practical” enough to control a huge country for several decades. With all deference, Thomas, you couldn’t even persuade the French Assembly that it would be folly to execute Louis XVI!

T. Paine: I did my best, but it wasn’t good enough. It is never easy to talk sense to Frenchmen. As General DeGaulle has said, how can anybody hope to govern a country that has so many different kinds of cheese? But at least I talked sense about how governments originate well before Charles Tilly.

E.E.S. Plato is a modest man, and may hesitate to blow his own trumpet. So let me do it for him. Thomas, he beat you into print by over two thousand years. I grant you, he didn’t come right out and say that government originates as organized crime. But he did speak of the two things in the same breath and in a very suggestive way. After what happened to Socrates, we can’t blame him for not being more explicit. But you don’t have to be a Straussean to see what he was getting at:

“Do you think that a city, an army, and band of robbers or thieves, or any other tribe with a common unjust purpose would be able to achieve it if they were unjust to each other?”
“No, indeed.”

“When we speak of a powerful achievement by unjust men acting together, what we say isn’t altogether true. They would never have been able to keep their hands off each other if they were completely unjust. But clearly there must have been some sort of justice in them that at least prevented them from doing injustice among themselves at the same time as they were doing it to others. And it was this that enabled them to achieve what they did.” [Plato, The Republic]

Plato: How can I disagree?

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