Hume's Politics provides a comprehensive examination of David Hume's political theory, and is the first book to focus on Hume's monumental History of England as the key to his distinctly political ideas.
How should politicians act? When should they try to lead public opinion and when should they follow it? Should politicians see themselves as experts, whose opinions have greater authority than other people's, or as participants in a common dialogue with ordinary citizens? When do virtues like toleration and willingness to compromise deteriorate into moral weakness? In this innovative work, Andrew Sabl answers these questions by exploring what a democratic polity needs from its leaders. He concludes that there are systematic, principled (...) reasons for the holders of divergent political offices or roles to act differently. Sabl argues that the morally committed civil rights activist, the elected representative pursuing legislative results, and the grassroots organizer determined to empower ordinary citizens all have crucial democratic functions. But they are different functions, calling for different practices and different qualities of political character. To make this case, he draws on political theory, moral philosophy, leadership studies, and biographical examples ranging from Everett Dirksen to Ella Baker, Frances Willard to Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King Jr. to Joe McCarthy. Ruling Passions asks democratic theorists to pay more attention to the "governing pluralism" that characterizes a diverse, complex democracy. It challenges moral philosophy to adapt its prescriptions to the real requirements of democratic life, to pay more attention to the virtues of political compromise and the varieties of human character. And it calls on all democratic citizens to appreciate "democratic constancy": the limited yet serious standard of ethical character to which imperfect democratic citizens may rightly hold their leaders--and themselves. (shrink)
Liberal or democratic virtue theories have successfully spread the idea that liberal democracies cannot flourish unless their citizens have certain qualities of mind and character. Such theories cannot agree, however, on what those qualities are. This article attempts to explain and solve this problem. It proposes distinguishing between core virtues, necessary for the actual survival of liberal democracies, and ideal virtues, which promote "progress" according to a given conception of what liberal democracies ought to be about and which values they (...) should most embody. Beyond this, it portrays the relevant virtues as pluralistic (not everyone need have the same ones) and episodic (different virtues are relevant at different times and under different circumstances). It then applies this framework to some key issues of political action and motivation: acts of loyalty and dissent express different aspects of a common response to moral pluralism, and the virtues of citizens differ fundamentally in origin and nature from those of professional politicians. Finally, it suggests more briefly that questions of civil religion, patriotic mobilization in times of war, civic courage, and selfish versus altruistic motives for public action can profit from being seen in this new way. (shrink)
David Hume’s position on religion is, broadly speaking, “politic”: instrumental and consequentialist. Religions should be tolerated or not according to their effects on political peace and order. Such theories of toleration are often rejected as immoral or unstable. The reading provided here responds by reading Hume’s position as one of radically indirect consequentialism. While religious policy should serve consequentialist ends, making direct reference to those ends merely gives free reign to religious-political bigotry and faction. Toleration, like Hume’s other “artificial virtues” (...) (justice, fidelity to promises, allegiance to government), is a universally useful response to our universal partiality—as established uniformity, however tempting, is not. This implies that toleration can progress through political learning, becoming broader and more constitutionally established over time. A sophisticated Humean approach thus shares the stability and normative attractiveness of respect- or rights-based arguments while responding more acutely and flexibly to problems the former often slights: antinomian religious extremism; underdefined political agency; and internationalized, politicized religious movements. (shrink)
The love of fame is a common theme in republican thought. But few, historically or now, have examined with rigor this sentiment's nature, purpose, and worth. The work of David Hume is an exception. Hume, this paper argues, dialectically took up not only all the classic reasons for loving fame--as spur to useful effort, motivator of virtue, consolation to virtue unrewarded, and safe harbor in the midst of historical flux--but the skeptical reasons for doubting that fame is attainable or that, (...) even if it is attainable, its pursuit motivates good actions. The theme pervades not only his systematic moral works but his essays and letters, his autobiography, and "History of England." Hume's subtle, ambivalent arguments suggest reasons to value the love of fame in spite of modern, or postmodern, doubts regarding the nature of true fame or even its existence--and perhaps to regard such love as unavoidable. (shrink)
I salute the careful attention these three distinguished scholars have given Hume’s Politics, and I am flattered by their compliments. That these scholars from different disciplines all value my work speaks well of their broad-mindedness. It also illustrates my hopes for the book, which avowedly aims to build bridges among different social sciences, as well as between empirical social science and normative political theory. The three scholars’ criticisms are also sharp and important, though I believe they can be met. This (...) response will, unavoidably, restate theses and arguments that appear in the book. But it shall also aim to re-cast some of those theses and... (shrink)
A constitutional democracy is characterized by "governing pluralism": there is no single source of sovereignty and no single consensus on what political life should look like. Starting from this premise, and using the United States as the example of such a democracy, the work treats the ethics of three kinds of political leaders in American politics. The work examines the offices of senator, moral activist, and community organizer, in each case trying to identify the distinctive purpose of the office or (...) the contribution it makes to the democratic regime; a distinctive mode of action or set of habits conducive to fulfilling that purpose, and a set of dispositions or regime-relative virtues that people must have in order to engage in such actions consistently. ;The work concludes that a senator should focus on accommodating but restraining public opinions with a view of making possible his own consistent pursuit of public-spirited projects; that a moral activist should aim to extend the democratic principles of equality, liberty, and majority rule more widely, and towards this end must be able to mobilize a moral or religious association around a cause while speaking about that cause to a larger public in more widely accepted democratic terms; and that an organizer should promote civic self-assertion and the enlightened pursuit of interest by bringing together, and developing the capacities of, ordinary citizens through face-to-face contact. ;This plurality of ethics goes along with a single, consistent theory of democratic politics and democratic character rooted in the work of Aristotle, Tocqueville, and the authors of the Federalist. The work takes from these authors a theory of "democratic continence" under which the proper political aim for both leaders and ordinary citizens is not the good life, rational justified standards of right, or the highest virtues of human beings, but qualities of perseverance, self-restraint, individual and collective discipline, dogged self-assertion, and the enlightened pursuit of interest. Democratic politics does and must reject high moral aspirations for the sake of realism, toleration, and sympathy for the lives of ordinary people. (shrink)
The arts of rule cover the exercise of power by princes and popular sovereigns, but they range beyond the domain of government itself, extending to civil associations, political parties, and religious institutions. Making full use of political philosophy from a range of backgrounds, this festschrift for Harvey Mansfield recognizes that although the arts of rule are comprehensive, the best government is a limited one.