Population and the Outbreak of Peace

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 27/02/2020 - 3:02am in

By Max Kummerow

Adelyne More’s 1917 feminist pamphlet Fecundity and Civilization stated flatly that population stabilization “is the most effective way of ensuring the cessation of war.”[1] All species’ potential rates of reproduction enable exponential population growth. Population numbers are kept within environmental capacity by rising mortality as populations increase. Ecologists call this process “density-dependent mortality.” Many “group-selected” social species fight territorial wars as populations grow, such as chimpanzees, lions, wolves, hyenas, baboons, ants and humans.

Chimpanzee fight

Population density is a huge factor for fights among chimpanzees. The threat of losing territory and resources creates tension and physical confrontation until there is a standing winner. Sound familiar? (Image CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Chris Allen)

Writer Michael Balter concluded from a study of 100 incidents (in which chimpanzees inflicted deaths on rival bands) that population growth leads to violent conflict. Studies of hunter-gatherer cultures, as well as historical records of modern societies, show that wars, famine, and disease reduce life expectancy as populations push environmental limits.

Humans and many other species also “regulate” population, not necessarily intentionally, within environmental capacity through behaviors that reduce birth rates (“density-dependent natality”).

Scholars present multifaceted causes of violence and war. In Causes of War, Levy and Thompson describe how “Scholars disagree not only on the specific causes of war, but also on how to approach the study of war…psychologists generally emphasize psychological factors, economists emphasize economic factors, anthropologists emphasize cultural factors, and so on.”[2] Philosopher A.C. Grayling quotes I.A. Novikov on the purpose of war: “men fought…in order to obtain food, women, wealth, the profits derived from possession of the government, or in order to impose a religion or a type of culture…war is a means to an end.”[3]

In Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker cites The Civilizing Process (1939) in which Norbert Elias argued that progress in norms and institutions encourages settlement of disputes by law and negotiation.[4] The “do unto others” ethic and the development of altruism and empathy was slowly leading to the rejection of war, slavery, and subjugation of races, cultures, and social classes. In the place of dictatorial and genocidal behavior, more inclusive and pacifist patterns were starting to prevail.

Syrian War

Noted for being one of the deadliest wars of the 21st century, the Syrian civil war has killed thousands of people and spawned military conflicts outside of its borders. (Image source, Credit: Voice of America News)

Tragically, shortly after Elias’s civilizing book was published, barbarism re-emerged with the horrors of the Holocaust. Elias fled to the USA, but his parents fell victim to the genocide in Eastern Europe. Regarding this tragedy as well as the increase in threats of nuclear war and the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere, it is clear, as Pinker admits, that reduction in violence may not be enduring.







Population Regulation and Peace

Nothing in sociobiology, genetics, or cultural studies provides compelling evidence that war is absolutely inevitable or, on the other hand, can be thoroughly eliminated. That said, there is strong evidence that ending population growth facilitates enduring peace. I classified 150 countries into three violence categories.[5] The table compares fertility rates and population change. Total fertility rate (TFR) is a statistic summarizing numbers of births per woman.

Table 1: Violence and Fertility Rates

Violence Category

Number of Countries
Average 2013 TFR
2013 Population (billions)
% Population Change 1960-2013






Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators. Countries missing fertility data and countries with <1,000,000 population in 2013 and four oil sheikdoms with major in-migration were omitted.

TFRs averaged 1.6 in recently peaceful, formerly violent countries and 4.2 in recently violent countries. Using ANOVA or CHI2 statistics to test the null hypothesis of “no difference between group fertility rates” gave a p-value of 10-12, confirming what is obvious from casual inspection of the data: High fertility rates are strongly correlated with mass violence and low fertility rates with peace.

Life expectancy at birth was 23.4 years longer in the peaceful countries. Average 2008 infant mortality rates were 8.5 per 1000 people in peaceful, low-fertility countries versus 83/1000 in violent, high-fertility countries. Per capita incomes in high-fertility violent countries averaged 13.8% of the average per capita income in the low-fertility/peaceful countries—$4,155 versus $30,020.[7]

Low fertility rates are strongly associated with peaceful outcomes, even in formerly violent cultures whose neighbors are so-called “hereditary enemies.”[8] Declines in fertility rates nurture and enable peace.

Solutions to the Many Influences of Violence

United Nations generally assembly

United Nations representatives meet in yearly general assembly meetings hoping to find solutions for lasting peace. (Image CC BY 2.0, Credit: Basil D Soufi.)

Many other factors aside from population growth influence outbreaks of mass violence. Propaganda can increase hatred and foment violence. Incompetent or power-hungry leaders blunder into wars. But there are solutions our society can pursue: Institutions such as the United Nations can help maintain peace; peace treaties can resolve disputes; and cultural and institutional changes can reduce tendencies to violence.

The rejection (or adoption) of violence entails in-depth analysis and, often, the climbing of learning curves. Yet underlying all other factors is the fact that population growth creates rising competition for scarce territory and resources. Conversely, population decline reduces motivation and necessity for violent conflicts and fosters higher education levels, rule of law, and trust.

Peace and justice advocates should devote more attention to supporting family planning and the demographic transitions that have helped women and children enjoy longer lives. These demographic transitions also enable countries to remain above poverty levels and peacefully coexist with former enemies.

Why are so few peace and justice advocates talking about population stabilization?

[1] More, A. 1917. Fecundity and Civilization: a contribution to the study of over-population as the cause of war and the chief obstacle to the emancipation of women; with special reference to Germany. Allen and Unwin, London.

[2] Levy, J. and William R. Thompson. 2010. Causes of War. Blackwell Publishing, Chichester, UK.

[3] Grayline, A.C. 2017. War: An Enquiry. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA. This echoes Thucydides who summed up causes of war as fear, glory, and interest (desires for gold, territory, slaves, etc.).

[4] Pinker, S. 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature. Penguin, New York.

[5]“Violent” were roughly defined as “thousands killed in the past 40 years in war, civil strife, or genocide.” “Peaceful” were “peaceful since WWII.” Admittedly, this was a “quick and dirty” classification effort based on news accounts, historical reading, and general knowledge. I looked at deaths in war statistics and found them to be surprisingly hard to pin down. Estimates of deaths vary greatly depending on source. The “medium” category is really “not sure” in some cases.  Results are so clear that no change in the overall conclusion could result from a few misclassifications.

[6] Figures in Table 4 are averages of country statistics, not weighted by country population. Global average fertility weighed by population was around 2.5 in 2013.

[7] Statistics all from World Bank, World Development Indicators data.

[8] My relatives fought and died in the World Wars between France and Germany that killed millions. Now those countries share a common currency, lasting peace and low fertility rates.

Max Kummerow, Ph.D., is a retired business school professor and population activist who researches demography, ecology, and economic development. He has presented papers at ESA, PJSA, NCSE, PAA, and EAERE meetings showing the benefits of accelerating the world’s stalled demographic transition toward lower fertility rates.


The post Population and the Outbreak of Peace appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 24/02/2020 - 11:17pm in

Sometimes you are reading a novel and it is so extraordinary that you think, is this the best thing I have ever read? For me, that feeling probably comes on about once a year, so there are quite a lot of books that have evoked it. Still, that they do says something, and the latest to have sparked it is Anna Burns’s Milkman, the Booker Prize winner from 2018.

Milkman is, all at once, a tremendous linguistic performance, a triumph of phenomenology, am insightful account of sexual harrassment, a meditation on gossip and what it can do, a picture of the absurdities of enforced communitarian conformity, and a clear-eyed portrayal of what it is to live under the occupation of a foreign army and the domination of the necessary resisters to that army who are, at the same time, friends and family, sometime idealists but sometimes gangsters, bullies and killers.

Anna Burns’s sentences, the stream of consciousness of her 18-year-old narrator, loop back on themselves with further thoughts and reconsiderations. The voice is a combination of personal idiosyncracy and northern Irish English, i.e. comprehensible to speakers of other versions of English but sometimes odd or disconcerting. You can’t skim and get the plot. You have to hold on, read each sentence, and sometime start it again.

Very few of the characters or persons mentioned have real names (I count two). Instead we are treated to maybe-boyfriend, chef (who isn’t a chef), ma, da, wee sisters, eldest sister, third brother-in-law, longest friend, Somebody McSomebody, wrong husband (a few of those) and so on. The town or city is not named, though it would be surprising if it were not Belfast. There is a statelet, a state “over the water”, another “over the border”, the state forces and police, and the renouncers (locals who renounce the state in question) and the defenders (locals who defenders). The people in the enclave where the narrator lives are of one religion and the renouncers hold off both the state forces and those of the defenders, who are of the “opposite religion”. Many people have died, including nearly whole families, because of the political problems. Some are killed by state forcers or defenders, but others, suspected or accused of being informers, by the renouncers. The renouncers depend on the good opinion of the community who thereby exercise some constraint on their power. While the location is what it is, one imagines similar dynamic being played out on West Bank and Gaza, in parts of Syria, in Colombia, in Baghdad, in Kabul, in Kashmir.

I’ll not spoil the plot for those who haven’t read the book, beyond saying what we know from the first page, that the central theme is the unwanted and menacing sexual attention of Milkman to the narrator, who is not a milkman but a fairly senior figure in the paramilitary renouncers. Milkman does and says very little, but communicates, without saying much, what may happen if she doesn’t comply with his plans for her. The very depiction of that dynamic between them and how he gets in her head is chilling. You should read it for yourself but.

On Kramm & Robeyns On Needs and Wants & Pluralist Liberalism (and Limitarianism)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/02/2020 - 5:06am in



The lexical priority given in contemporary theorising to respecting pluralism concerning ideas of the good life in contemporary societies rather than views about what ‘the good society’ would look like, and the belief that this priority implies that the needs/wants distinction has become obsolete, implies that the authors’ arguments reviewed in this paper will be seen as distinctively illiberal and that they are therefore at risk of being regarded as no longer of much use when thinking about distributive justice for contemporary societies. Since these historical arguments are based on specific theories of the good life, natural/divine law or equality being derived from a divine decree, contemporary political philosophers may be prone to thinking that those ideas are incompatible with a liberal pluralist society. We wonder if that conclusion is premature; instead, we think this is a question that warrants further analysis. An historical awareness of proto-limitarian arguments should prompt scholars developing limitarianism as a contemporary systematic view to question the dominance of theories that deny the legitimacy of making the distinction between needs and wants and giving this distinction a central role in the development of theories of distributive justice, including the limitarian view. Matthias Kramm & Ingrid Robeyns "Limits to wealth in the history of Western philosophy"

The passage just quoted is from a concluding section of fascinating survey article (forthcoming in The European Journal of Philosophy) about engagement with limitarian ideas in the history of western philosophy. The implied audience is fellow scholars who may wish to develop limitarianism as a contemporary systematic view. But I think their argument, and this passage in particular, is worth reflecting on for those of us who care for the health and emancipatory promise of a liberalism worth having. 

For, it is not intrinsic to liberalism to find the needs/want distinction obsolete or to reject the very idea of a 'good society.' I suspect there are three worries lurking in the background here, and I address them in turn. First, one can be a genuine pluralist about fundamental ends and accept the needs/want distinction. Here's one way that would go: one may well think that human needs are objective features of the human condition even if the list of needs and the extent of their need-ness is in some sense culturally relative. (I think the previous sentence describes Adam Smith's and J.S. Mill's position just fine--they both had studied Aristotle carefully, of course.) To say this is not to deny that there will be cases of purported needs that give liberals pause or that the mixture of needs can generate serious tensions within various emancipatory projects. In fact, the fulfillment of needs are, in practice, the pre-conditions to emancipation or autonomous or happy or authentic lives (etc.); that is to say, rather than preventing pluralism the very possibility of a liberal pluralism may well require that needs are met (and so rely on some distinction between needs and wants). [Of course, Robeyns' own work on capabilities can be deployed here.] The old terminology between necessary goods and other less necessary (convenient/luxury, etc.)  good captured this insight nicely. Of course, needs/wants distinction can be used for illiberal ends, but that's true for other excellent distinctions worth having. 

Commitment to the good society is also compatible with a pluralist liberalism (recall this post on Lippmann and the references back to Grouchy and Smith). Yes, of course, there are versions of the good society that are neither pluralist nor liberal, but it is not intrinsic to the concept. It's true that a good society is incompatible with state neutrality. But neutrality is not required for liberalism. For, a state can be impartial in various desirable ways, without being, say, neutral about various liberal commitments and institutions (to due process, fair and equal elections, the rule of law, a free press, etc.) As the (agonistic) critics of liberalism never fail to say, these liberal commitments already presuppose non-trivial commitments and even an implied background consensus about what makes a life worth living (sometimes these commitments are inherited from religion or republicanism, so they all deserve scrutiny). I return to this point below.

Liberalism is not neutral about its own survival--if liberal procedures generate totalitarian societies, we think that a disaster. If liberal practices generate a dysfunctional public sphere, or pervasive criminality, or an epidemic of opiate or psychological problems, liberals recognize these as genuine problems not mere bugs. (Liberals pay more than mere lip-service to output legitimacy.) That is to say,the very idea of a 'public' (as in public opinion, public reason, and public sphere) presupposes something like a good society one that is flourishing in objective ways (public health, safety, life expectancy, etc.) Again, these will be characteristics that are presuppositions to liberal pluralism.  

Second, what the previous three paragraphs suggest is that there is a considerable grey zone between embracing a particular version of the good life, and embracing a good society or the needs/want distinction. I don't mean to deny that some versions of the good life are incompatible with liberal society. But as the critics of liberalisms correctly note, some profoundly illiberal versions of the good life are not welcome in liberal society (or at least ought not be welcome). As it happens liberalism can accommodate many illiberal life plans, but it is possible (in a genuine sense, not just on Mars) that imperial dictatorships can accommodate more illiberal life plans and even some liberal ones.  But this is not an objection to liberalism. The more important point is that in the evolving set of practices and doctrines that constitute liberalism, we always rule out some versions of the good life.  And we rule in lives worthy of citizens' "devoted allegiance."

Third, one may object that the previous paragraph misses the real point, what drives the rejection of the needs/want distinction and the good society  is not a concern over pluralism or ruling out of some illiberal versions of the good life, but misguided paternalism. This is a real risk, of course. Some libertarians may well worry about embracing needs/want distinction out of fear that it will invite paternalist policies. And these are often the very people who also worry that any concern with distributive justice  is a slippery slope to Stalinism (or limitarianism)! But this position is not widely accepted; when Hayek or Milton Friedman argue for some minimal safety net they often do so while relying on a need/wants distinction.* 

Of course, there is a sense in which the previous three paragraphs miss the worry, as Kramm and Robeyns imply, that modern post-Rawlsian liberalism has come to see that previous versions of liberalism illicitly smuggled rather substantive illiberal commitments into their justifications for the yery idea of a needs/wants distinction or a good society. That is, of course, possible in some circumstances and needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis. But while liberals reject veneration of antiquity or the tradition, in the great experiment of liberalism there is no requirement that those who come later are a fortiori more in the right than those who come before. To put the point I am hinting at polemically: if post-Rawlsian liberalism cannot embrace the good society,+ so much the worse for it.



*So, for example, Hayek recognizes that preventing starvation of the populace is a compelling state interest "in the Western world." (The provision of the need may be private, of course!)

+I think Rawls on justice actually presupposes a commitment to a good society (or, as he would put it, a comprehensive ideal). But this is not the place to offer a reading of the last chapter of The Theory of Justice.

This Is Your Brain on Religion

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 16/02/2020 - 12:48am in

The brain appears to be hardwired for religious belief, probably as a byproduct of our enhanced abilities to socially engage with other people.

Ibn Tufayl's Polemic with Ibn Bajja

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 15/02/2020 - 9:14am in



When I speak of the rationalists’ method—God raise you to the level of love!—I do not confine myself to their knowledge of the physical world, any more than I confine myself to the metaphysical when I speak of intuition. The two modes of apprehension are quite distinct and are not to be confused, but what I mean by the rationalist’s apprehension includes his understanding of the metaphysical—for example, that of Ibn Bājja. It is a necessary condition of what is reached by pure reason that it be true and valid. Thus the difference between the rationalist and those who enjoy intimacy is that while both are concerned with the self-same things, the latter enjoy a clearer view and far greater delight.
Ibn Bājja censured them for the pursuit of this joy. He claimed it was a product of their imagination and even promised a clear and distinct description of just how ecstasy ought to be enjoyed. Here is the answer he deserves: ‘Do not declare too sweet fruits you have not tasted, and do not trample on the necks of the saintly.’ The man did not, in fact, keep his promise or any such thing. What prevented him, perhaps, was that, as he himself says, he was pressed for time with the trouble of getting down to Oran. Or perhaps he felt that describing this state would force him to say something derogatory to his own way of life or at odds with his encouragement of amassing wealth and of the use of various artful dodges to acquire it. But I digress.--Ibn Tufayl Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, translated by Lenn Evan Goodman, P. 98

One of the "veils" or mysteries that surround Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is the meaning of the framing device which includes a rather cursory history of philosophy in the Islamic world and an even more cursory review of the state of learning in Islamic Spain. Included in these are the polemical remarks quoted above. These remarks are treated as a digression and are easy to miss because they occur just after a much more memorable and striking thought (recall) experiment in which Ibn Tufayl describes the joyful, transformative experience of suddenly seeing color after being born blind (which is meant to illustrate the nature of a kind of mystical, intuitive knowledge of the highest truth, or union with God). As it happens, some of the texts that Ibn Tufayl discusses in his historical survey anticipate versions of the thought experiment, and so one is invited (recall) to compare his version with those of his predecessors, including Al-Ghazali and Al-Farabi.  

Ibn Bajja (Avempace) is treated as a rationalist critic of those that claim (like Al-Ghazali, Ibn Sinna, and Ibn Tufayl--and later Spinoza) that there is an intuitive faculty beyond (and higher than) reason which can permit a certain kind of ecstatic union with the divine. Ibn Tufayl's response is rather polemical and ad personam suggesting that earthly attachments and the vices needed to accumulate them prevented Ibn Bajja from transcending his own rationalism. (This, too, anticipates Spinoza, see the Emendation of the Intellect.)

I like puzzling through the veils of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan with my students. And last fall one of my excellent undergraduate students, Astrid Ytre-Eide, called my attention to the following feature: that this very criticism of Ibn Bajja is echoed in an episode near the end of the book. In particular, it is echoed in the context of Hayy's failure to convert Absāl's friends, the political and intellectual elite of the island where Salāmān ruled (Salāmān being the one-time close companion of Absāl, who is now Hayy's only spiritual follower). On Hayy's analysis his failure to convert this elite is caused by their commitment to their earthly possessions and a conception of knowledge that leaves no possibility to transcend the material world: 

They had made their passions their god, and desire the object of their worship. They destroyed each other to collect the trash of this world, “distracted by greed ’til they went down to their graves.” Preaching is no help, fine words have no effect on them. Arguing only makes them more pig-headed. Wisdom, they have no means of reaching; they were allotted no share of it. They are engulfed in ignorance. Their hearts are corroded by their possessions.*

Hayy goes on to claim that in a culture in which intuitive knowledge is ruled out, the only possible function of religion is earthly: to regulate social life ("religion was for this world, in that it helped them lead decent lives without others encroaching on what belonged to them.") Now, (recall) Al-Farabi, Ibn Sinna, and (on more controversially, but on my reading) Al-Ghazali all agree that this is indeed one of the purposes of true religion (which they understand in a very broad Platonic sense as any truth-apt public image or ritual conducive toward flourishing in this world). But the other, more fundamental purpose is to generate eternal flourishing (recall also this post on the costs of Salman's rule). This more fundamental purpose is impossible when people embrace a religion (and prejudices) that have the same effect as Ibn Bajja's philosophy.

Now we should not let Hayy's own analysis of these matters be the last word because Hayy lacks understanding of rhetoric and history; he is incapable of further analyzing his own failure. And so he cannot learn (recall) from more successful prophets.

But even so, Hayy's failure does allow us to discern a further feature about Ibn Tufayl's polemic against Ibn Bajja. Ibn Bajja's philosophy is not just false, it is also wrong; the wide circulation of Ibn Bajja's philosophy, which appeals to prejudices of the thoughtful among the rich and powerful, will prevent the development of a more spiritual way of life. Of course, the more fundamental point, perhaps, is that where a philosophy like Ibn Bajja's is adopted, a religion very much like Islam is necessary to regulate social life. It's left to the reader to decide whether the necessity also goes in the other direction.  

*In his notes, Goodman calls attention to the quranic verses quoted here.

Oh Man, Dad's Showing Brain

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/01/2020 - 11:54pm in



On Sex Equality, Original Sin, Rousseau, and François Poullain de la Barre

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/01/2020 - 10:59am in



Even the wisest legislators found no interesting role for women when they founded their republics. All laws seem to have been made to keep men in their present position of power. Men we regard as fonts of wisdom have never said anything good about women. In fact, men’s behavior towards women in all places and at all times is so uniform that it seems to be part of an organized movement. Some people have even thought that men are impelled to behave this way through some hidden instinct ordained universally by the Creator of nature.
This view is all the more easily justifiable when we consider the way women themselves tolerate their situation. They see it as being their natural place. Either because they do not think at all about what they are, or because they are born and raised in a state of dependency, they share the male point of view. In all these things, both men and women tend to believe that their minds are as different as their bodies and that the distinctions that necessarily exist between them should be extended to all aspects of life. This opinion, however, like most of the ones we hold about custom and usage, is pure prejudice, and is dictated by superficial appearance rather than close analysis. We would certainly reject it if we took the trouble to go back to its origin. We could find many examples of things that were done formerly that we could compare with the things we do now, and we could weigh ancient customs against present-day ones. If we had followed this rule more often, we would have avoided a lot of mistakes. As far as women’s present situation is concerned, we would have realized that it is simply the rule of the stronger that has put them in such a subservient position, and we would understand that it is not through any natural deficiencies that they have been denied the advantages enjoyed by our sex.
Indeed, when we think honestly about human history, both past and present, we realize that there is one common denominator: reason has always been the weakest element in our decisions, and all stories seem to have been made up for the sole purpose of demonstrating what we see in any lifetime, that from man’s very origins might has always prevailed. The greatest empires of Asia owe their beginnings to usurpers and brigands, and the inheritors of the ruins of Greece and Rome were upstarts who thought they could resist their masters and dominate their equals. All societies exhibit the same kind of conduct. If men behave in this way towards their equals, then it is most likely that they behaved in the same way first of all towards women. Here, more or less, is how it came about.
Men, realizing they were the stronger and physically superior sex, imagined they were superior in all respects. This was of no great consequence for women at the beginning of the world, when a very different state of affairs prevailed from today. There was no government, no learning, no employment, no established religion; dependence was not considered irksome. I imagine that people lived like children, and winning or losing was part of the game. Both men and women, who were naive and innocent, contributed equally to the tasks of tilling and hunting as savages do today. A man went about his business and a woman hers; the person who made the greatest contribution was the most respected.--François Poullain de la Barre (1673) On the Equality of the Two Sexes Translation by Vivien Bosley, Part 1.**

I tend to ignore Poullain de la Barre because he lacks the biting satire I enjoy so much in Gournay or Mandeville, and because I find many of his arguments a bit cringe-worthy, especially because he is so sincere . But re-reading the passage -- made famous by Simone de Beauvoir (see also Marina Reuter here) -- above reminded me that it is quite amazing that Poullain de la Barre died of natural causes.  Beauvoir uses the passage in her argument that men "sought to make the fact of their supremacy a right." I don't disagree with Beauvoir, but there is more here worth noting.

First, the whole paragraph is structured around a contrast between what "some people" think and the truth (according to Poullain de la Barre). What most people think is that the male instinct to dominate, and to dominate in solidarity with each other, is part of human nature. And that this is part of God's providence. This view has a complex relationship to original sin. 

By contrast, according to Poullain people, are naturally cooperative, naturally embrace the division of labor, and more or less accurately track in their praise and blame people's contribution to group welfare. This natural sociability view comes very close to denying original sin altogether by suggesting that an original golden age was actually possible. 

Second, as it happens, our natural sociability is a bit like Locke's pre-political state of nature because there does exist some property. I mention Locke because Poullain de la Barre also associates this child-like friendly state of nature with really existing 'savages.' But, and this indeed anticipates Rousseau (as Reuter notes), it's when states are originated that (great) inequality and permanent gendered structures of hierarchy come into being. And, in fact, according to Poullain de la Barre all polities (I am avoiding the confusing use of 'societies') originate in acts of theft and overthrowing of basically pacific social orders.  This is not just true of all the great empires of the past, but "All...exhibit the same kind of conduct." He is essentially saying that all polities have illegitimate origins that they perpetuate in present conduct.

Third, this last point is a feature and not a bog of his argument because he thinks all (socially significant) gender inequality is grounded, ultimately, in a social order that is inherently violent (see also Reuter) and devalues reason and peace.  So, rather than seeing political society as a solution to the problem of violent or Hobbesian state of nature, it just is the Hobbesian state of nature. To be sure, Poullain is not an anarchist. He ultimately wishes to reform/re-order society on rational grounds in which peace and our true intellectual contributions (not just by women, but also women) are valued--but that is a normative ideal nowhere reality.*

Fourth, political dominance founded in violence and hierarchy always generates an ideology in which the superiority is projected onto other features of the dominant group. He associates the workings of such ideological projection with imagination. (For Poullain de la Barre reason seems both pacific and truth-apt in ways the imagination is.) 

Fifth, and most striking organized religion is itself one of the institutions that facilitate domination and is an exercise of such imaginative ideological projections.+ It only comes into being after polities come into being and then it is inevitably tainted by, if not a tool of, the violence of male hierarchy. 

Let me close with a modest moral. It is a recurring feature to situate Poullain in the Cartesianism of his age (see this excellent piece by Schmitter) That's not all false, and I will return to that link some time. But it also raises expectations about the philosophical nature of his work. In many ways, his evidential and conceptual arguments do not really make one think one is dealing with an especially promising Cartesian (natural philosopher or metaphysician). But unlike most of the Cartesians of his age (and here I am relying on Alex Douglas' wonderful book on Spinoza), who preferred to focus on medicine and science, Poullain did not shy away from very important political and theological issues and consequences of the Cartesian revolution in philosophy. And in so doing he landed in a place that is as radical and far-reaching as, say, Hobbes and Spinoza, and in some ways closer to enduring significance. 

*I call these true intellectual contributions because thinks much of what passes for learning is just rank prejudice. 

+In 1688 he converted from Catholicism to Calvinism and moved to Geneva. Perhaps he thought that religion could be less awful in more republican and egalitarian environment.

**I am  indebted to Katharine Gillespie and her students for prompting this post.

This Bird is Probably a Sinner

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/01/2020 - 12:04am in



That Lap was Two Seconds Slower

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/01/2020 - 11:43pm in