The “Regime” of the Global Callipolis and its relation to Justice(Commentary and Critique of Prof Smith’s Yale lecture series on”Political Science”): Lecture one

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Professor Smith’s Yale lecture-series/course “An Introduction to Political Science” begins thus:

“It is important to note that although the empirical imagination may imagine an infinite number of possible regimes, the actual political field does not present us with an infinite variety of different forms–the field is structured and ordered into a few regime types. A corollary to this insight is that regime is always a particular structure and stands in opposition to other regime types. That is, the very structure of politics entails the possibility of conflict, tension, and war. The regime seems then to need to be partisan and consequently may need to install loyalties and passions. These passionate attachments even take place within government structures where different partners contest for power. Henry Adams claimed that Politics is simply the organization of hatreds. He did not also say, yet it is true, that Politics is also an attempt to direct these hatreds and animosities to the common good. One wonders whether it is possible for such a process to end in friendship, in fellowship? Can we replace conflict with harmony? This gives rise to a major political theme which is echoed in the question: “Is it possible to transcend regimes and organize ourselves around international law and justice?” This cannot be ruled out. But such a world would no longer be a political world.”

This is an excellent opening of an excellent course which I can recommend to anyone interested in deepening their knowledge of Politics.


There are suggestions that obliquely evoke thoughts of the Socratic healthy city which would not require politicians or Philosophers to regulate a community built upon the virtue or excellence of work and specialization. One supposes that apart from the passion for what one has chosen to work with, this healthy regime is relatively passion free. Plato’s Republic is certainly a passionate fevered regime being partly run by the auxiliaries. Their concern for the beauty of a well-ordered state is erotic and passionate but the idea of the form of the good is meant to suggest a non partisan universal idea which can unify the perfect city or Callipolis into a regime which to the extent that it is being run in accordance with this idea of the Good must be a kind of universal city: i.e. the logical consequence would appear to be that a cosmopolitan world must be organized in terms of this universal idea. There is also the suggestion of Aristotelian ethics and its transformation of the spirit of Platonic Eros into a rational community of souls freely choosing the life of a fellowship in a kingdom in which each treats the other as fellows and ends in themselves. Those symbols of war, the auxiliaries have disappeared from the more important political structures. Yet the connection to our human personalities are unmistakably present in Smiths conceptual reflections upon what a regime is:

“A regime is more than a set of formal structures, institutions. It consists of the entire way of life of a people: the moral, religious, habitual, customary and sentimental. The regime constitutes an ethos, a distinctive character that nurtures distinctive human types. Every regime shapes a character type with distinctive traits and qualities. So the study of politics is the study of distinctive natural character types that constitute a citizen body….The regime describes the character and tone of the society and focuses on what the society finds praiseworthy. One cannot understand a regime unless one understands what its people praise.”

This quote evokes the position of Plato in the Republic which argues that justice in the soul is mirrored by justice in the city and that the way in which the parts of the soul and the city interact with each other will constitute a human character type and the ethos of the city. It also evokes the pluralistic vision of Aristotle which sees a multiplicity of kinds of state established for the sake of the common good. For Aristotle, these kinds of state or regimes are the natural outgrowth of those natural processes which gather men together in communities,e.g. families, villages, cities. This is an approach which suggests that the history of the development of the regime will be important for understanding its present and final form. It is also the case here that the empirical imagination could very well imagine an infinite array of species but here too the history of the development of different species has managed to actualize only a finite number(though perhaps a very large finite number).Species which fail to survive are extinguished but have probably played their part in the creation of the new species which do manage the mammoth task of survival. No animal, however, leads a flourishing life unaided by humans for whom the idea of this flourishing life is a real possibility. In the same vein, families have been extinguished and even villages and perhaps the occasional city and state have also failed the survival test. Survival or security then is a ground for praise of a grudging kind. For the task of the city according to Aristotle is not merely to guarantee life but rather to promise the good life. The idea of the common good, then, obviously implies not just a secure life as such but a life filled with eros, esteem, the cognitive and aesthetic values. But if this idea of the common good is indeed universally praiseworthy then it can perhaps create in the imagination an idea of a world which is truly cosmopolitan in which pluralistic differences abound (but only such differences as can be united in one common cosmopolitan regime). There is nothing in Aristotle to directly suggest this line of thinking but it does seem to be a logical consequence of his idea of a regime, the common good and the fellowship of men.

Professor Smith makes a very important observation in lecture one concerning the fact that the different regimes will in virtue of their differences be in conflict with one another. Now there is certainly a psychological reason to believe that this is inevitable, namely that differences that are perceived as small in accordance with the idea of the common good can be perceived as great when eros and amour propre are not regulated by reason and its manifestation in practical premises and practical conclusions which are acted upon.Eros unleashed can be envious and jealous and become hypnotized and subjugated by the twin of Thanatos, thus unleashing the hate that could kill 6 million European Jews who were as European as any German. Freud explored this complex alliance of eros and amour propre in his work “Group Psychology and the Ego”
Professor Smith also claims:
“It is as Aristotle and Plato believed, an aristocratic regime in which the few best rule..”

Aristotle in the Politics certainly believes that one form of ruling in accordance with the common good could be a constellation of a few aristocrats but he also specifically talked about two other equally excellent alternatives, namely the monarch ruling in the name of the common good and the many ruling in accordance with the same principle.

If personality is defined in terms of its differences, then different regimes will produce different kinds of human character, different kinds of personality. Kant, however, does not define personality in such terms. He rather defines it in terms of the characteristic that we all ought to possess if we are to live in a kingdom of ends where the fellowship of men is such that everyone treats everyone with respect, as an end in themselves. The question raised by Professor Smith’s introduction is the interesting one of whether we can, in fact, call a cosmopolitan kingdom of ends a regime. I do not, however, believe that it matters whether we can or cannot call such a world a regime. I see no difficulty with calling a cosmopolitan state of affairs a “regime”.
Professor Smith appears to agree and says:

“Whatever is the case, a regime will always favour a certain kind of human being, with a certain set of character traits: the common man found in democracies or the man with acquired taste and money in aristocracies, or perhaps even the warrior or the priest one finds in theocracies.”

So, if the cosmopolitan state of affairs is a “regime”, what kind of character will we find dwelling in such a kingdom? Here we come to my first major complaint about the lecture series: it does not pay enough attention to Kantian political Philosophy, especially in relation to the magnificent “Greek introduction” we are treated to in lecture one.It would have been very interesting to experience the presence of Kant in the political Philosophy out of which Kant’s ethical and political reflections emerge. Stoicism emerged spontaneously and naturally from Greek Philosophy and there does seem to be a clear connection to Kantian ethics and the work on “Anthropology” in which it is clearly suggested that there is an important distinction to be made between what the world makes of man and the ethical process of what man can make of his world. Kant’s claim is that it will take one hundred thousand years for the kingdom of ends to emerge (because reason is needed to meaningfully change the world). Such a use of reason is not actualised fully in the individual but only in the species over a long period of time. The lack of the presence of reason in the individual character will leave the emphasis involved in changes caused by world-events on what the world makes of man rather than on the freedom man has to change the world in accordance with the practical laws of reason.The Stoic is patient, however, and is in the game of life until its end, until it is finally lost. The emphasis in this character-type is on duty but if most events fall in the category of what happens to man then duty will for the Stoic tend to be heterogeneous and relate to some external authority rather than one’s own reason or the moral law within me.
Professor Smith ends his opening quote with the claim that were political organisations to centre on international law and justice such a regime would no longer be political. I think this is a correct diagnosis. What would this reveal? Only what we and Kant already knew, namely, that politics is grounded upon an ethical imperative and this in its turn would justify almost every student demonstration since 1968 that has taken place in an ethical spirit.

Professor Smith ends his lecture in a thought-provoking quote echoing Freud’s “Civilisation and its Discontents”:

“The good human being will have something philosophical about him/her and may feel fully at home only in the best regime. But the best regime lacks actuality–it does not exist! This fact makes it difficult for the philosopher to be a good citizen of any actual regime. He could only be loyal to what is best. This raises a question of loyalty and friendship. This tension between the best and the actual makes political philosophy possible.In the best regime philosophy would be redundant–it would wither away. This is why it is a potentially disturbing activity–because it may transform you! The ancients had a word for the political quest and the quest for knowledge–Eros. The best regime must be driven by Eros. This may be the highest tribute one can pay to love.”

Freud would have pointed to Thanatos and his twin Hypnos and perhaps suggested that Stoicism is the only rational attitude for the hundred thousand year wait for a Global “regime”.