Part of my college essays series: This is one of the essays I wrote during the political theory general exam for my PhD. The exam was an approximately 15-hour marathon session, involving 6 out of 12 essay questions, for a final total of 33 double-spaced pages written without access to any notes or sources.

The cycle of decline from the best regime to the worst is an important aspect of Plato’s Republic, and not merely for the mundane purposes of history and political science. In elaborating the logic of this decline, Plato couples his discussion of the rank order and decline of the five regimes with five corresponding types of man. For this reason it is necessary to understand the philosophical anthropology underlying Plato’s political philosophy as well as the anthropological principle, i.e., that the city is man writ large. Additionally, and perhaps of equal importance as a clue to Plato’s primary purpose in writing the Republic, we are shown (purposefully?) in the discussion of the cycle of decline the utopian nature of Plato’s “city in speech.”

The five regimes in order of best to worst are kingship or aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. The corresponding types of man are the kingly or aristocratic man, the timocratic man, the oligarchic man, the democratic man, and the tyrant or tyrannical man. Before delving into the cycle of decline and the natures of these different types of regimes and men, it is necessary to briefly explicate Plato’s philosophical anthropology.

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First installment in my new college essays series: This is one of the essays I wrote during the political theory general exam for my PhD. The exam was an approximately 15-hour marathon session, involving 6 out of 12 essay questions, for a final total of 33 double-spaced pages written without access to any notes or sources.

In Thoughts on Machiavelli, Leo Strauss wrote that “Machiavelli does not bring to light a single phenomenon of any fundamental importance which was not fully known to the classics.” I have not yet read Strauss’s book, so I cannot speak for him regarding what precisely he meant by this statement but I suspect that what he meant bears some similarity to a growing sense within me that the ancient Greeks developed, at least in essence and prototypical form, every or most major philosophical positions that have been advocated at one time or another in modernity. If anything is fundamentally new about modern political philosophy, I think that it lies in the sheer predominance and popular acceptance of certain of these philosophical positions: namely, those related to the positivist-empiricist-historicist paradigm of our age. Modernity is plagued by a host of artificial dichotomies, reified abstractions such as realism-idealism, rationalism-empiricism, mind-body, Self-Other, subjective-objective, science vs. philosophy and foundationless value-judgments, and so forth. Classical or premodern political philosophy might be characterized by the search for right order, modern political philosophy by the search for order simplicitor, and postmodern political philosophy by giving up on the search for order altogether (moral, immoral, or amoral) (but perhaps this last is starting to change?). I find that these are dominant trends only, however; exceptions abound.

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I wrote a ton of essays in college, both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. My degrees are in political science, philosophy, and history, after all. They range in length from one single-spaced page to five double-spaced pages and beyond.

I’m going to start putting some of these online as part of a new series of posts. There’s some good content in these essays that I think others might find interesting, even if I was a student when I wrote them. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in them now and they aren’t always as radical as I would like them to be now or as I could have written them then. They were written for a grade after all and often rather quickly the night before they were due. Nevertheless, I was often bold  — perhaps too bold. Luckily, I had tolerant professors, though they generally didn’t share my (ir)religious and political views.

I’m going to kick things off with the essays I wrote for my doctoral general exams (political theory and international relations) and then follow up with the short reaction papers from my philosophy and political philosophy graduate seminars. Then I’ll see what else I can dredge up that might be worth posting. I’ll be collecting all of these posts in a list on a new College Essays page. There’s a new category and tag devoted to this series as well.

I found this brief restatement of what I take to be Ayn Rand’s epistemological argument against God in my files. I had jotted it down years ago  in college.

Existents have identity.                                                       E + I
Identity constitutes specific characteristics.             I + S
Infinity denotes unspecifiable characteristics.         N + ~S
If God is infinite, then God has no identity.                 G + N > G + ~I
God is infinite.                                                                          G + N
Therefore, God has no identity.                                        G + ~I
Something has identity or it does not exist.                I v ~E
Therefore, God does not exist.                                          G + ~E

Basically, in her view, God is an invalid concept. He is indefinable, described by what he is not, by way of analogy, unique and therefore not within the conceptual realm (a concept involves reference to two or more concretes in reality). Infinity in the metaphysical or ontological sense used above (as opposed to its epistemological meaning, say in mathematics) is another invalid concept, since something that is infinite would not be limited by anything, would have characteristics that are unspecified; it is everything and therefore nothing (or, the concept omits everything and is therefore nothing); it is not definable.

I wrote this in a strong, rebellious Nietzsche phase in Nov. 1999:

Human, All Too Human

What beast is Man!
Cruel and mean-spirited
Conformity is the master plan
Individuality has faded

To be different is to be outcast
Mindlessly follow the herd mentality
The disease spreads fast
Don’t deviate from the herd morality!

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Last week I launched a new website called Prometheus Unbound.  I aim for it to be a sort of online “magazine,” a libertarian review of fiction and literature. The site will feature reviews, news commentary, articles and editorials, and eventually (I hope) interviews, from a libertarian perspective. I’m entertaining the possibility of publishing original fiction in the undetermined future, but won’t be doing so anytime soon.

I’ve already got a number of posts up, some old and republished from other sites, some new. I’m hoping this won’t be a one-man show, so I’m looking for some regular writers as well as submissions from irregular or part-time contributors. There are already a few others on board, so you should start to see posts from them before long. If you’re interested in contributing a review, news commentary, or the like, contact me.

You can learn more about Prometheus Unbound, my reasons for creating it, and what I’m looking for in submissions by starting with my introductory post. I’m particularly interested in science fiction and fantasy prose fiction, but Prometheus Unbound will be open to submissions dealing with just about any genre or medium, including film, tv, comics and graphic novels, and poetry.


Cross-posted at The Libertarian Standard.

Watch this political ad (below) promoting Washington State’s Initiative 1098, which seeks to dedicate $2 billion per year to fund education and healthcare for children. It’s always for the children! It’s not about soaking the rich! even though this other Yeson1098 video makes a point of demonizing the greedy rich. The slogan is “the wealthy pay more, the rest of us pay less.” Bill Gates, Sr., is presented as a grandfatherly figure sacrificing his comfort for the sake of childrens’ enjoyment while he explains the reasonableness of this new scheme to legally plunder the rich.

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I’m hearing reports that nearly $1 billion has already been spent on US House elections alone. Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics predicts “$3.7 billion will be spent on this midterm election.” That’s 30% more than last time. It’s no surprise that the more legal plunder government is able to redistribute, the more people are willing to spend to gain control of the state. Obama is making Bush the Younger look thrifty and the next president will likely do the same for him. The increase in electoral spending will continue apace.

Such a distraction and waste of money political elections, especially national elections, are. As I explained in Voting, Moral Hazard, and Like Buttons: “The very existence of [a] centralized voting system for deciding public matters of moral importance encourages citizens to focus their energies on this formal democratic process, which is to say that it encourages the wasting of time and money on vote getting (or buying), at the expense of getting anything actually productive done in a timely fashion.”

Republicans distracted their base from important issues, for example, by whipping up ignorant, bigoted hysteria and rage at Muslims and the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” Fellow TLS blogger Matt Mortellaro recently discussed their latest gambit, an attempt to defund NPR (and PBS), ostensibly saving $608 million dollars next year, under the guise of defending the 1st Amendment rights of a liberal political pundit (Juan Williams) because he said something they like about Muslims. Political theater.

So let’s see… $3.7b spent (by Demopublicans) vs. $608m saved. Nice.

Well, at least all that spending is stimulating the economy… Oh wait.

Imagine what could be accomplished with all that wasted money, manpower, and brain power if only it were spent on — nay, invested in — something other than electoral politics. New companies started, existing ones expanded, more actually productive jobs created. Productive innovation in business models, manufacturing, science, technology. Socio-economic problems solved by direct action.

But forget all that. I guess it’s more important to get the “right guy” elected so we don’t have to be “fearful of the state” for a few years. Good luck. I suspect the Tea Party Congressional candidates and the next Republican president will prove just as disappointing to Republicans as Obama was to Democrats though.


Cross-posted at The Libertarian Standard.