Romsons tårar är hedrande

Det är många som har kommenterat och häcklat Romsons tårar. Jag må vara oense med Romson om en del saker, både vad gäller lägesbeskrivning och normativa avvägningar, men att Romson fäller tårar när hon fattat ett mycket svårt beslut, det är inte bara förlåtligt – det är hedrande.

(Att tårarna kom precis när hon nämnde miljöpartistiska kommunalråd ser jag som en tillfällighet – det var självklart hela situationen och beslutet i sig som var orsaken.)

Jag misstänker dock att denna inställning, som grundar sig på resonemanget nedan, med stor sannolikhet inte hade präglat Romson själv ifall hon stod utanför regeringen. Men vem vet.

Här är Mark Philp i Political Conduct:

Men and women in public office and political life, by virtue of their powers and responsibilities, are sometimes required to take (or order) actions that ordinary citizens and everyday morality would condemn. In particular, the connection of political office to violence, emphasized by Weber, is such that politicians must sometimes set in motion actions that will harm or kill others, and must do so if they are to fulfill their political office. It is because of the special responsibilities associated with their office that they have to act in this way; whereas, because politicians must, ordinary citizens need not and should not. This means that they (politicians) are expected to act (or commit others to act) in ways we find repugnant and, in that sense, they are being asked to do something we think wrong in itself, even if it is the right thing for them to do as someone holding that office. The problem of dirty hands is not simply that politicians are placed in this situation and must make such decisions and take such actions if they are to be true to their office and associated responsibilities, but that they should nonetheless recognize that in doing so they have done something regrettable. […]

Unlike strict consequentialism, in which actions are right if they result in a balance of good (and in which there is no place for regret, which would be morally self-indulgent), we can hold on to the idea that doing the best and responsible thing may nonetheless impose moral harms and costs (not just on the victims but also on the perpetrators) that it is rational to regret. Someone who acts in this way does not simply dismiss the moral costs imposed once the decision to act has been made; rather, part of what it is to act conscientiously is to recognize those costs, to regret that they have to be paid, to see them as costs that are in part paid by the agent, and to recognize that the choice is, in some sense, a tragic one. Political leaders are sometimes required to act in ways that on some dimension diminish them as human beings, not just to others (since they may never know) but to themselves. Their regret is not self-indulgent — it is their bad luck that they faced a particular situation, and so had to act in ways that on some dimension are repugnant to them. […]

With such a take on political ethics one must see political agency and decision making as a matter of judgment about what the political situation demands and of having the character to make those judgments, to see them through, and to accept responsibility for them. As politically committed people we need to address the basic question of what it is in (political) life to we should struggle to achieve. We should regret, in undertaking that struggle, that it cannot be achieved wholly without cost to others. To be incapacitated by regret would be inappropriate and self-destructive, but to count these costs as wholly cancelled by the benefits would be to lack a true sense of the price that conflict and human frailty and evil impose upon the world and a true sense of the worth of the human goods for which we strive. It would be to claim immunity to certain facts to which we, as human beings as well as politicians, should remain open. Consequences and costs as well as norms and principles must inform the agent’s judgment but it remains a judgment about what it is right and appropriate for the politician to do in that situation and with the reponsibilities he or she has.


If it is inevitable that politicians will sometimes have to make hard choices that impose tragic costs on some people with the aim of avoiding something worse, then it is crucial both that we have people in power who can make such decisions and that these people do not take such decisions lightly. As Williams has pointed out, “fruitful thought should be directed to the aspects of a political system which make it less likely that the only persons attracted to a profession which undoubtedly involves some such (disagreeable) acts will be persons who are insufficiently disposed to find them disagreeable.”

Philp, Mark. 2007. Political Conduct. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, s. 92–94.

Shklar till Arnstad: ”Get your dates right!”

I sin bok och andra artiklar har Arnstad kritiserat begreppet totalitarianism. Jag tycker begreppet är värt att diskutera. Men Arnstad kritiserar det inte bara på intellektuella grunder, utan hela hans presentation av det präglas av att idén skapades och lanserades i propagandasyften (Arnstad 2013: 27–30). Det konkreta ursprunget till begreppet anger Arnstad är amerikansk underrättelseforskning under 40-talet. Det var denna forskning som sedan blev ett effektivt slagträ under kalla kriget. I en artikel skriver han:

Efter 1945 hade Sovjetunionen ett försprång i propagandan och nådde framgång med budskapet att fascism saknade egen ideologisk identitet; fascism var enbart en våldsam yttring hos kapitalismen. Men under 1950-talet gick väst till motoffensiv genom att i princip använda samma metod, att jämställa fiendens ideologi med fascism. Teoretikernas tanke var att spänna ett gemensamt ideologiskt paraply över kommunism och fascism. Arbetet utfördes av intellektuella som Carl J. Friedrich and Zbigniew K. Brzezinski, liksom den av Kramár nämnda Hannah Arendt (Arnstad 2014).

Att begreppet var kontroversiellt och utgjorde en analys som ledde i anti-kommunistisk riktning är otvetydigt. Men det gäller att skilja frågor om ett begrepps giltighet från frågan om vilka som tar det i bruk och med vilka syften. Det är dock uppenbart att Arnstad så gärna vill avfärda begreppet totalitarianism att han inte drar sig för att göra en historieskrivning som bara fokuserar på dess roll under kalla krigets propagandakrig och helt felaktigt beskriver dess ursprung. Han förtjänar därför en liten uppläxning av Judith Shklar:

It is important in the history of political ideas to understand the circumstances under which specific conceptions were developed. It is often said that totalitarian government, as an ideal type that embraced the practices of both Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, was the creature of the Cold War. It was, it is charged, a crude effort to transfer the hatred aroused by Nazism to the new enemy, Soviet Communism, and that this was done simply by amalgamating two quite different regimes. As for the uniqueness of their practices, that was just mystique, an ideological plot to integrate the intellectuals into the capitalist order.

There is much to be said for getting one’s dates right. The fact is that the idea of totalitarian rule as a unique and new phenomenon arose among social democrats, who realized that Marxism had nothing to contribute to their understanding of Nazi Germany especially, as well as Soviet Russia, and they did so long before the Cold War, by 1940 to be exact. It was not Djilas, but Rudolf Hilferding who discovered “the new class” just before he was killed in 1941. He then wrote two essays about what he called “state capitalism” and the new buraucratic class that ran it for its own benefit in both the USSR and Nazi Germany.

Socialists found this idea hard to accept. In his Behemoth in 1941, Franz Neumann, still orthodox, rejected Hilferding and insisted that Nazi Germany was a capitalist state and that there was no hope, the regime was omnipotent, and inner resistance futile. In this he was just like Orwell. However, he also asked the crucial question: Was the Third Reich a state at all or was it something else and quite new? After all, it did not have a legal system or rules of legitimization. Clearly the ideal type that Weber had proposed was out of date, and a new and unique formation was recognizable. This was not the old despotism either, as Orwell saw just as clearly. Eventually, Neumann came to accept the primacy of politics and his cry was that of an entire generation of social democrats: “Machiavelli’s theory now becomes really true for the first time”. That was a thought he had long resisted and it came to him entirely out of his growing understanding of the Nazi episode.

Orwell was there before him because he had chosen to speak the truth about Spain, long before the Cold War. Corrupt and inefficient as it was, Hitler’s new order had closed the space between government and civil society. Behemoth had replaced Leviathan. It was obviously so in Soviet Russia as well. […] Orwell helps us recreate the intellectual groans of democratic socialism in its darkest hours when it was compelled to recognize totalitarianism.


  • Arnstad, Henrik, 2013. Älskade fascism. De svartbruna rörelsernas ideologi och historia. Stockholm: Norstedts
  • Arnstad, Henrik, 2014. “Fascismens föränderlighet 1919–2014. De svartbruna rörelserna i ett kontextuellt perspektiv”, Historisk tidskrift, 134(2), s 259–266.
  • Shklar, Judith N., 1998b. “Nineteen Eighty-Four: Should Political Theory Care?”, s 339–352 i Hoffman, Stanley (red), Political Theory and Political Thinkers, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kieran Healy: abstraktion vs nyans

Nuance is not a virtue of good sociological theory. Sociologists typically use it as a term of praise, and almost without exception when nuance is mentioned it is because someone is asking for more of it. I shall argue that, for the problems facing Sociology at present, demanding more nuance typically obstructs the development of theory that is intellectually interesting, empirically generative, or practically successful. […]

Abstraction is a way of thinking where “new ideas or conceptions are formed by considering several objects or ideas and omitting the features that distinguish them” (Rosen 2014). Abstraction means throwing away detail, getting rid of particulars. You start with a variety of different things or events—objects, people, countries—and by ignoring how they differ you produce some abstract concept like “furniture”, or “honor killing”, or “social-democratic welfare state”. […]

It is difficult to participate in seminars or attend professional meetings in contemporary Sociology and not hear an audience member say to a speaker that their theory or research is missing something, or has ignored some dimension, or neglected to adequately address some feature of social reality.

That is the kudzu of nuance. It makes us shy away from the riskier aspects of abstraction and theory-building generally, especially if it is the first and most frequent response we hear. Instead of pushing some abstraction or argument along for a while to see where it goes, there is a tendency to start hedging theory with particulars. […]

The blocking that nuance causes is not just a matter of practical or strictly empirical utility. It also has an aesthetic aspect. This is most obvious with the nuance of the connoisseur. Connoisseurs call for the contemplation of complexity almost for its own sake, or remind everyone that things are more subtle than they seem, or than you just said. The attractive thing about this move is that it is literally always available to the person who wants to make it. Theory is founded on abstraction, abstraction means throwing away detail for the sake of a bit of generality, and so things are always “more complicated than that”—for any value of “that”. Connoisseurship gets its aesthetic bite, and a little kick of symbolic violence, from the easy insinuation that the person trying to simplify things is, sadly, a bit less sophisticated a thinker than the person pointing out that things are more complicated.

Referens: Healy, Kieran, 2015. “Fuck Nuance”,

Gellner och Khalduns förklaring av stamsamhällen

Jag hade idag nöjet att fika med Per Brinkemo. Kom då att tänka på en briljant artikel av Ernest Gellner där han i Ibn Khalduns anda ger en funktionalistisk förklaring till uppkomsten av stamsamhällen.

Säga vad man vill om förklaringen, men Gellner är exceptionell i sin förmåga att skriva samhällsteoretisk prosa.

There is one point at which the conventional Hobbesian and the Ibn Khaldunian visions of the basis of social order are diametrically opposed. On the whole, the advantage lies with Ibn Khaldun.

The Hobbesian problem arises from the assumption that anarchy, absence of enforcement, leads to distrust and social disintegration. We are all familiar with the deductive model which sustains and re-enforces that argument, but there is a certain amount of interesting empirical evidence which points the other way. The paradox is: it is precisely anarchy which engenders trust or, if you want to use another name, which engenders social cohesion. It is effective government which destroys trust. This is a basic fact about the human condition, or at any rate about a certain range of real human conditions. It is the basic premise of Ibn Khaldun’s sociology, which happens to be the greatest and most accurate analysis of traditional Muslim society.

The argument is that anarchy engenders trust and government destroys it; or, put in a more conventional way, that anarchy engenders cohesion. In this case, we have both an argument and an empirical illustration. The claim that anarchy engenders cohesion is well sustained empirically, but it can also be sustained by theoretical considerations. There is a powerful model which lends support to this contention. The model is constructed with the help of a number of factors actually corresponding to the realities prevailing in an important part of the world.

To begin with, assume the absence of any strong central authority. Secondly, add the ecological conditions which prevail in the arid zone, and which impel large and significant proportions of its inhabitants towards pastoralism. Thirdly, acknowledge the diffusion of a certain level of expectation concerning what life is meant to be like. The importance of this will emerge in due course. One might even reduce these factors to two, in so far as weak government can itself be seen as a corollary of pastoralism. Shepherds are hard to govern, because their wealth is on the hoof and they can easily escape authority. Their mobility makes it possible to avoid taxation, to raid, and to elude oppression.

If you take these three points and work out the implications, the result is that those living on such terms cannot manage without cohesion. The argument runs: pastoralism implies that the major part of wealth is on the hoof. This means that it is easy to move it, but it also makes it easy to perform acts of robbery. Pastoral work is not labour intensive. Looking after 400 sheep is not very much harder than looking after 200 sheep. But pastoralism is defence intensive. What the shepherd does is protect the flock from jackals, hyenas, wolves, and above all from other shepherds. And the prospects of economic growth are very remarkable: all a shepherd needs to do in order to double his wealth is ambush another shepherd.

This is quite different from the relationship between agricultural sedentary producers, who can steal the harvest but cannot easily steal the fields. If they wish to enslave the people they defeat, they land themselves with grave problems of labour management. So the appeal of aggression for agricultural producers is much less, unless they are effectively centralized and can monopolize the means of coercion, and possess the machinery for controlling the subjugated population. But for a shepherd, the temptation to rob is very strong, immediate and unconditional, and there is only one effective means of protecting oneself against this kind of aggression.

This method is to gang up in a group, which in effect hangs up a notice saying: anyone who commits an act of aggression against any one of us must expect retaliation from us all, and not only will the aggressor himself be likely to suffer retaliation, but his entire group and all its members will be equally liable. And this notice is in effect posted by the very culture which pervades pastoral societies. It constitutes the code of honour which is familiar to all. So the gangs themselves do not need literally to put an announcement in the press or even on their tent. The culture, or specifically the obligation of feud which is inherent in it, does it for them.

To recapitulate: because these groups are mobile and live in difficult terrain, they are very difficult to tax. Consequently there is no government, there being no resources to sustain it. Because there is no government, the groups have to look after themselves: hence they are strong, and government is weak or absent. The argument is a kind of circle, but it reflects a self-perpetuating social reality. Once this kind of system is established, it manifests itself as the highly characteristic arid zone pattern of strong, self-policing, self-defending, politically participating groups, generally known as tribes. They defend themselves by the threat of indiscriminate retaliation against the group of any aggressor. Hence they also police themselves and their own members, for they do not wish to provoke retaliation. Inside each such group, order is maintained by a similar mechanism: the group itself divides into sub-groups which each exercise restraint over the others.

Referens: Gellner, Ernest, 1990. “Trust, Cohesion, and the Social Order”, s 142–157 i Gambetta, Diego (red), Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, s. 143–46.