civilian resistance in Ukraine, revisited

In February and March I posted about prospects for nonviolent resistance in Ukraine and in Russia and then about what I called “civilian resistance,” where the latter category includes violent as well as nonviolent actions by people who aren’t organized in military units. Well before the war, I had met many Ukrainian activists for democracy who had demonstrated exceptionally strong expertise and networks for civilian resistance. Besides, I am a proponent of nonviolence, which is the focus of the last third of my new book.

However, at that time, I accepted the conventional wisdom about the military situation, which has proven wrong. I assumed that Russia would quickly occupy substantial portions of Ukraine, perhaps all the way to the Dnipro. I thought that Russia’s challenge would then be to maintain control at relatively low cost and with some degree of perceived legitimacy–at least as perceived by Russians. Russia would use violence, but I guessed that the occupiers would want to win hearts and minds to some extent. Those factors would make the occupied territories a promising location for civilian resistance.

Instead, Russia seems to have occupied not much more than the ground where their troops are currently stationed. They have taken many more casualties than expected and committed more atrocities. Their losses in no way excuse the massacres of civilians, but they may help to explain them. Discipline has broken down; Russian troops may be looking for revenge. Russia has lost the contest for legitimacy among Ukrainians, Europeans, and many others, which means they don’t benefit from exercising restraint. Inside Russia, “amid a growing police crackdown, public expressions of opposition to the war have slowed to a trickle — singular acts of defiance amid a wider silence.” Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military has accomplished far more than I, for one, expected.

For these reasons, civilian resistance looks less relevant, more dangerous, and less necessary than I had thought. Yet it remains a worthy topic, for two reasons.

First, the war could play out as Katherine Lawlor and Mason Clark predict:

Russian President Vladimir Putin likely intends to annex occupied southern and eastern Ukraine directly into the Russian Federation in the coming months. He will likely then state, directly or obliquely, that Russian doctrine permitting the use of nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory applies to those newly annexed territories. Such actions would threaten Ukraine and its partners with nuclear attack if Ukrainian counteroffensives to liberate Russian-occupied territory continue. 

This is by no means inevitable, but if it happens, then a combination of an armed partisan insurgency plus civilian resistance inside the occupied portions of Donetsk and Luhansk might be Ukraine’s best option.

Second, civilian resistance has been important to the war effort so far. For instance, Sergey Mohov offers an excellent thread on “a hyper-informal cross-continental network of volunteers” that has been delivering specific items (“from food to tourniquets to UAVs to cars and ambulances”) to front-line Ukrainian military units. This is one of many decentralized, self-help efforts that support the official military effort. They are not completely new. When I was in Lviv in 2015, I saw civilians collecting boots for soldiers in Donbas, who were suffering (in part) from the Ukrainian’s government corruption. Ukrainians have a lot of experience organizing around their own state, which comes in handy when their government is well led and well motivated but overstretched.

It’s important not to draw sharp lines between violence and nonviolence or civilian and governmental actions. Consider these examples: A Russian military unit refuses orders, not out of idealism but in fear. Ukrainians willingly line up to enlist in the army. A small Ukrainian military unit acts effectively without receiving orders. Residents of eastern Donetsk and Luhansk protest forced mobilizations. Pro-Russian military bloggers circulate strongly critical assessments of the campaign that undercut official propaganda, albeit with a nationalistic flavor. A Russian citizen relocates to a decent job in a foreign country out of disgust with Putin. A Russian citizen goes into exile without a job, for political reasons. Ukrainians in the diaspora send ammunition to the front. Ukrainians in the diaspora send bandages to the front. The Ukrainian government uses facial recognition software to identify dead Russian soldiers and notifies their next of kin. Ukrainians in EU countries advocate for banning oil purchases. Non-Ukrainians in EU countries advocate for boycotts. Chinese companies cancel Russian contracts out of concern for EU relationships.

These examples do not belong to two categories: nonviolent civil disobedience versus war. They fall along several continua, from violence to nonviolence, from decentralized to hierarchical, from idealistic to self-interested, and from pro-Ukrainian to Russian-centered. I presume that similar continua arise in all conflicts. My own value commitments are not simple. For instance, I am not a rigorous pacifist or a radical opponent of hierarchy, although I would make a case for nonviolence and self-help. Perhaps the best approach in a situation like this is a diverse mix of strategies.

FCSS 2022 Annual Conference Now Accepting Proposals

Well, our theme is The Pursuit of Happiness: Reigniting the Social Studies Spark. And we know it’s going to be fantastic. Check out the keynote speaker!

So get those proposals in, and help us, and your colleagues, reignite that spark!

Proposals are due no later than June 8, 2022. If you have any questions, please contact Terry Davila-Alexander and Lauren Samoszenko at conferenceproposals@fcss.org. You can submit your proposals at this link.

don’t name things Western but call out imperialism

The word “Western” is often appended to ideas and institutions, sometimes to praise them and sometimes to bury them. I almost always find this terminology fuzzy and unhelpful. On the other hand, imperialism and colonialism are evils that are important to name and combat.

Two of the topics that I follow regularly these days are education and Ukraine. Both supply examples of problematic uses of the term “Western” and real examples of imperialism.

A manuscript that I read recently described the radical Brazilian educator Paolo Freire as a critic of “Western” approaches to education, meaning hierarchical and authoritarian pedagogies. When I searched Freire’s major works, I did not find the words “West ” or “Western” used in relevant ways, but I did find articles that concur in describing Freire’s pedagogy as an alternative “to the traditional Western ‘banking’ model of education in which an authority ‘deposits’ knowledge into a student” (Bhargava et al 2016). I also found some articles that decry the “North American and Western appropriations of Freire’s work and thought,” which ostensibly ignore Freire’s “anti-colonial and postcolonial” agenda (Giroux 1992). Finally, I encountered a burgeoning recent literature that criticizes Freire’s “Western assumptions” and argues that “the Freirian approach to empowerment is really a disguised form of colonization” (Bowers & Appfel-Marglin 2004, p. 2). In some of this literature, Freire is described explicitly and critically as a “Western” thinker.

There is a parallel debate about how to classify Freire’s influences. Sol Stern complains that “Freire isn’t interested in the Western tradition’s leading education thinkers—not Rousseau, not Piaget, not John Dewey, not Horace Mann, not Maria Montessori.” Douglas Kellner classifies Freire and Ivan Illich as “critics of classical Western education.” But many other analysts trace pervasive echoes of Rousseau and Dewey in Freire. Insofar as Freire was a Marxist–well, Karl Marx was a Western thinker.

Meanwhile, the Russian right-wing theorist, Alexander Dugin (who apparently inspires Putin) writes, “We need to unite all the forces that are opposed to Western norms. … Therefore, we must create strategic alliances to overthrow the present order of things, of which the core could be described as human rights, anti-hierarchy, and political correctness – everything that is the face of the Beast, the anti-Christ or, in other terms, Kali-Yuga.”

For Dugin, to oppose natural hierarchy in a classroom or elsewhere is “Western”–and that is a very bad thing. Dugin is willing to make alliances with Jihadists, Hindu nationalists, European neofascists, and anyone who will stand against the hegemonic liberal norms of “the West.” This a justification for the Russian war in Ukraine.

Note how “Western” is used as a token of appraisal (Stern) or condemnation (Dugin), and how many meanings it takes on.

What does it actually mean? Plato was “Western.” He lived in Europe; his name comes first on many syllabuses for “Western philosophy.” He advocated (possibly with irony) a radically authoritarian educational system. He proposed various dualisms and believed in objective truths. He has been at least as influential in Islam as in Christianity and Judaism, and therefore as influential in Tehran and Dakar as in New York and Moscow.

Dewey was also “Western.” He was a White man from Vermont. He opposed all dualisms, wanted to make education radically democratic, and saw truth as co-constructed. He had a fruitful sojourn in China.

Freire was born even further west than Dewey and wrote in Portuguese. His influences were mostly European writers. The three men share some vocabulary and had similar roles as teachers, writers, and political advisors, but many other people whom we could also classify as Western thinkers did not. The West has generated aesthetes, engineers, hermits, mystics, revolutionaries, and reactionaries. People who figure on canonical lists of Western thinkers have lived and written in places like Damascus and Alexandria, Rio and Mexico City, and Moscow and Kolkata as well as Paris and London. It is impossible to draw a border around the West on any map.

We should say what we’re for and against, and why. It rarely adds any value to append the adjective “Western” to these things. However, the concepts of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism are much sharper, and they reflect the global trauma of European conquest after 1492. Colonialism has been a highly concrete, material experience, not a set of abstract ideas. Indeed, the colonizers have been intellectually diverse and have sometimes shared ideas with people who resist colonialism.

Importantly, Russia was a major participant in European imperialism and exploitation, not a victim of it.

Sources: Bhargava, Rahul, Ricardo Kadouaki, Emily Bhargava, Guilherme Castro, and Catherine D’Ignazio. “Data murals: Using the arts to build data literacy.” The Journal of Community Informatics, 12, no. 3 (2016); Giroux, Henry A. “Paulo Freire and the politics of postcolonialism.” Journal of Advanced Composition (1992): 15-26. Bowers, Chet A. & Appfel-Marglin, F. (eds) Re-thinking Freire: Globalization and the environmental crisis. Routledge, 2004. See also: to whom do the ancient Greeks belong?Jesus was a person of coloravoiding the labels of East and Westwhen East and West were oneon modernity and the distinction between East and West; who says that binary thinking is Western?; two cheers for the West; etc.

who protested in 2020?

In “Who Protests, What Do They Protest, and Why?” (NBER Working Paper 29987), Erica Chenoweth, Barton H. Hamilton, Hedwig Lee, Nicholas W. Papageorge, Stephen P. Roll and Matthew V. Zahn uncover some highly unexpected and challenging findings.

Their data suggest that the people who participated in Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 substantially overlapped with those who protested in favor of reopening schools and businesses during the pandemic. “Attendance at a BLM protest strongly predicts attendance at a Reopening protest.” This finding challenges assumptions about polarization. It also suggests that my local observations in Cambridge, MA were unrepresentative. Here, the most prominent advocates of racial justice were also proponents of closing schools and requiring strong social distancing, but the opposite seems to be closer to the truth across the country.

Chenoweth and colleagues find that “the median protester is white, middle class (measured by income), employed, and a parent.” African Americans are slightly overrepresented in both kinds of protests; but once the authors control for other factors, being Black is correlated with not attending a BLM protest as well as with attending a “reopening” protest. (These associations are small but statistically significant.)

Being “young, low income, [having] young children at home, working in-person, positive beliefs about life, partisanship, higher beliefs of COVID infection, and higher levels of available protests and voter participation predict attendance” at both BLM and reopening protests. Protesters are significantly more likely to vote, which challenges an assumption that protesting and participating in official politics are rival options.

I have quickly explored similar issues using the Tufts Equity in America dataset. It has limitations, and a major one is that we didn’t ask about participation in protests to reopen schools. But we did ask about protest in general, about many opinions regarding COVID-19, and about support for Black Lives Matter–as well as scores of other measures. I used attendance at a protest as the dependent variable in an Ordinary Least Squares regression and chose variables comparable to those in the study by Chenoweth et al. Being female, more educated, and hopeful about the future and knowing someone affected by police violence emerged as positive predictors.

Only a small proportion of our sample was asked about school COVID-19 policies that affected their own children. (They had to be current parents of school-aged children in our 2020 wave). In a very simple regression model, feeling that the school’s policies had been academically detrimental was associated with protesting (where the protests could be on any topic).

See also: Differences in COVID-19 responseTwo-thirds of African Americans know someone mistreated by police, and 22% report mistreatment in past year

abortion as a multi-dimensional issue

As many have noted, surveys that present Roe v Wade as a binary choice simplify public opinion. One reason is that people may not be very clear about what Roe says. In addition, individuals hold diverse views on a whole set of questions, of which these are examples:

  1. Why have some societies sometimes prohibited some abortions? Are restrictions and bans evidence of patriarchy, of partisan political strategy, of specifically religious values, or of hard choices and disagreements about conflicting values?
  2. To what extent should we think of the pregnancy rate and the abortion rate as outcomes of free individual choices; of social structures, pressures, and inequities; or of violence and coercion? Do the answers vary systematically by social class and race/ethnicity?
  3. Is is possible to have better or worse–more or less ethical or valid–views about issues like abortion, or are such views simply personal opinions?
  4. Presuming that there are better and worse views, who has the standing to form views about which cases? Specifically, whose business is it to reflect on whether abortion in general, or any specific abortion, is OK?
  5. Presuming that someone–perhaps only the pregnant person–reflects about abortion in a particular case, which considerations are relevant? Among other possible considerations, what about the circumstances of the pregnancy, the health and circumstances of the pregnant person, or the stage of fetal development?
  6. As a general rule, who do we want to make laws: courts, Congress, state legislatures, or citizens through referenda? Does our general stance about how to make laws apply to the definition and limitation of individual rights? If we want courts–more than voters and elected representatives–to define rights, which rights do we want courts to define?
  7. If one thinks that in some cases or circumstances, abortion should be prohibited, what should happen to the people involved in violating such prohibitions? Who should enforce such rules, and which penalties (if any) should apply?
  8. What does one think about other closely related policies, such as health insurance and child welfare? Would changing policies on those matters change one’s stance about abortion?
  9. What is the metaphysical status of a fetus? When does human life begin, and–a distinct question–when does personhood begin?

If you are pro-choice, as I am, and you are interested in political strategy and messaging, then my sense is that you should hammer away on #7. Public opinion will break favorably when citizens think about possible penalties for women and doctors. I would not emphasize #1, #3, or #9, because I suspect that many Americans see abortion as an authentically difficult issue due to the status of the fetus.

But let’s resist thinking about everything in terms of political strategy, especially if we are not actually political strategists. For the rest of us, all of the above questions (and more) may be relevant, and I’d wager that most groups of people will encompass diverse views on many of them.

defining capitalism

I find the most prominent online definitions of “capitalism” unhelpful. Although I lack sufficient expertise in political economy to define it reliably, this is what I’d offer:

Capitalism is an economic system with a large market for investing in enterprises.

  • A market is a system for exchanging things of value, whether it uses money or not. A few scattered exchanges do not constitute a market; the telltale sign is the emergence of prevailing prices due to many exchanges. Markets emerge in all kinds of systems, including within state communism. The participants in a market may be individuals, states, families, monasteries, firms, or other entities. Things, labor, land, ideas, and people can be exchanged on markets, or not.
  • An enterprise is a relatively durable, specialized, and large organization that produces goods. A company is an example, but so is a state-owned factory, a big farm, or a large family of weavers.
  • Investment can take the form of lending money or goods or purchasing a stake or share.

In capitalism, enterprises are numerous and important–they make most of the society’s goods. (This is in contrast to systems where individuals or families and kinship groups make most goods.) Furthermore, in capitalism, there are markets where people and groups can purchase and sell investments in enterprises. We call these investments “financial capital,” or sometimes just “capital” for short.

In European history, the medieval period offers many prominent examples of markets and a gradual growth of enterprises like guilds, big sheep farms, mines, and trading ships. For instance, the oldest enterprise still active in Poland is the Bochnia Salt Mine, active continuously since 1248. As far as I can tell, it belonged to the king at first, but that didn’t make it any less of an enterprise.

In the late Middle Ages, a market developed for investing in such enterprises, and there were even physical locations where people could make such investments, such as the Beurse in Bruges, built in 1246, which gives its name to stock exchanges in several countries today. However, I think the medieval investment market was dominated by family banks. The Medici and their competitors invested in monarchies, farms (notably, those belonging to monasteries), mines, and ships. It was possible to deposit money with the Medici or the Fuggers and thus reap some of the profits of their investments. (Likewise, today you can deposit funds with Deutsche Bank, which lends to Trump.) But there wasn’t yet a true public market for investments.

The emergence of a full capital market is exemplified by the first truly public corporation, the Dutch East India Company (founded on March 20, 1602), which began to sell both stocks and bonds on the Amsterdam exchange. (Notably, its profits came from slavery and conquest as well as trade.) Soon derivatives were also for sale in Amsterdam, because people sold and resold their investments. Many other public companies formed on the Dutch model.

Capitalism (the exchange of investments in enterprises) developed along with Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation (1944): the shift to a “market society” in which all kinds of goods, including labor and land, have prices and become fungible.* We could call this process “commodification.”

Capitalism and commodification are analytically distinct and may not have to go together. But it was presumably no accident that they arose in tandem. First, commodification allows well-capitalized enterprises to become highly profitable and increases incentives to invest in them. Second, if everything is subject to market exchange, why not investments? A certain mentality and set of routines and skills develops that is useful for financial markets as for other markets.

By this definition, the Soviet Union was not capitalist. It had many enterprises (often with brand-names and organizational charts not completely unlike US corporations) that bought and sold commodities on international markets. Prices were driven by global supply and demand. But no one except the state could invest in a Soviet enterprise. Sweden, however, is capitalist (notwithstanding relatively high rates of taxing and spending), since Volvo, H&M, Spotify, etc. are listed on stock exchanges. (IKEA belongs exclusively to a nonprofit foundation, which is an interesting anomaly).

If you favor free college or socialized medicine, it doesn’t mean you are against capitalism. Many capitalist countries offer these services. Capitalist countries also vary dramatically in measures of economic equality and mobility, from Slovenia (GINI 24.6) to South Africa (GINI 63.0). The question is whether you favor or oppose having a major market for investments in enterprises.

*Polanyi has current detractors, and I am not competent to assess his argument. Also, he writes surprisingly little about capital markets. His main relevant discussion concerns what he calls haute finance, dating to “the last third of the nineteenth and the first third of the twentieth century” (pp. 10 and following). See also: the Nordic model; the neo-feudalism thesis; how a mixed economy shapes our mentalities; the Dutch secret.

Who protested in 2020?

In “Who Protests, What Do They Protest, and Why?” (NBER Working Paper 29987), Erica Chenoweth, Barton H. Hamilton, Hedwig Lee, Nicholas W. Papageorge, Stephen P. Roll and Matthew V. Zahn uncover some highly unexpected and challenging findings.

Their data suggest that the people who participated in Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 substantially overlapped with those who protested in favor of reopening schools and businesses during the pandemic. “Attendance at a BLM protest strongly predicts attendance at a Reopening protest.” This finding challenges assumptions about polarization. It also suggests that my local observations in Cambridge, MA were unrepresentative. Here, the most prominent advocates of racial justice were also proponents of closing schools and requiring strong social distancing, but the opposite seems to be closer to the truth across the country.

Chenoweth and colleagues find that “the median protester is white, middle class (measured by income), employed, and a parent.” African Americans are slightly overrepresented in both kinds of protests; but once the authors control for other factors, being Black is correlated with not attending a BLM protest as well as with attending a “reopening” protest. (These associations are small but statistically significant.)

Being “young, low income, [having] young children at home, working in-person, positive beliefs about life, partisanship, higher beliefs of COVID infection, and higher levels of available protests and voter participation predict attendance” at both BLM and reopening protests. Protesters are significantly more likely to vote, which challenges an assumption that protesting and participating in official politics are rival options.

I have quickly explored similar issues using the Tufts Equity in America dataset. It has limitations, and a major one is that we didn’t ask about participation in protests to reopen schools. But we did ask about protest in general, about many opinions regarding COVID-19, and about support for Black Lives Matter–as well as scores of other measures. I used attendance at a protest as the dependent variable in an Ordinary Least Squares regression and chose variables comparable to those in the study by Chenoweth et al. Being female, more educated, and hopeful about the future and knowing someone affected by police violence emerged as positive predictors.

Only a small proportion of our sample was asked about school COVID-19 policies that affected their own children. (They had to be current parents of school-aged children in our 2020 wave). In a very simple regression model, feeling that the school’s policies had been academically detrimental was associated with protesting (where the protests could be on any topic).

See also: Differences in COVID-19 response; Two-thirds of African Americans know someone mistreated by police, and 22% report mistreatment in past year

defining capitalism

I find the most prominent online definitions of “capitalism” unhelpful. Although I lack sufficient expertise in political economy to define it reliably, this is what I’d offer:

Capitalism is an economic system with a large market for investing in enterprises.

  • A market is a system for exchanging things of value, whether it uses money or not. A few scattered exchanges do not constitute a market; the telltale sign is the emergence of prevailing prices due to many exchanges. Markets emerge in all kinds of systems, including within state communism. The participants in a market may be individuals, states, families, monasteries, firms, or other entities. Things, labor, land, ideas, and people can be exchanged on markets, or not.
  • An enterprise is a relatively durable, specialized, and large organization that produces goods. A company is an example, but so is a state-owned factory, a big farm, or a large family of weavers.
  • Investment can take the form of lending money or goods or purchasing a stake or share.

In capitalism, enterprises are numerous and important–they make most of the society’s goods. (This is in contrast to systems where individuals or families and kinship groups make most goods.) Furthermore, in capitalism, there are markets where people and groups can purchase and sell investments in enterprises. We call these investments “financial capital,” or sometimes just “capital” for short.

In European history, the medieval period offers many prominent examples of markets and a gradual growth of enterprises like guilds, big sheep farms, mines, and trading ships. For instance, the oldest enterprise still active in Poland is the Bochnia Salt Mine, active continuously since 1248. As far as I can tell, it belonged to the king at first, but that didn’t make it any less of an enterprise.

In the late Middle Ages, a market developed for investing in such enterprises, and there were even physical locations where people could make such investments, such as the Beurse in Bruges, built in 1246, which gives its name to stock exchanges in several countries today. However, I think the medieval investment market was dominated by family banks. The Medici and their competitors invested in monarchies, farms (notably, those belonging to monasteries), mines, and ships. It was possible to deposit money with the Medici or the Fuggers and thus reap some of the profits of their investments. (Likewise, today you can deposit funds with Deutsche Bank, which lends to Trump.) But there wasn’t yet a true public market for investments.

The emergence of a full capital market is exemplified by the first truly public corporation, the Dutch East India Company (founded on March 20, 1602), which began to sell both stocks and bonds on the Amsterdam exchange. (Notably, its profits came from slavery and conquest as well as trade.) Soon derivatives were also for sale in Amsterdam, because people sold and resold their investments. Many other public companies formed on the Dutch model.

Capitalism (the exchange of investments in enterprises) developed along with Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation (1944): the shift to a “market society” in which all kinds of goods, including labor and land, have prices and become fungible.* We could call this process “commodification.”

Capitalism and commodification are analytically distinct and may not have to go together. But it was presumably no accident that they arose in tandem. First, commodification allows well-capitalized enterprises to become highly profitable and increases incentives to invest in them. Second, if everything is subject to market exchange, why not investments? A certain mentality and set of routines and skills develops that is useful for financial markets as for other markets.

By this definition, the Soviet Union was not capitalist. It had many enterprises (often with brand-names and organizational charts not completely unlike US corporations) that bought and sold commodities on international markets. Prices were driven by global supply and demand. But no one except the state could invest in a Soviet enterprise. Sweden, however, is capitalist (notwithstanding relatively high rates of taxing and spending), since Volvo, H&M, Spotify, etc. are listed on stock exchanges. (IKEA belongs exclusively to a nonprofit foundation, which is an interesting anomaly).

If you favor free college or socialized medicine, it doesn’t mean you are against capitalism. Many capitalist countries offer these services. Capitalist countries also vary dramatically in measures of economic equality and mobility, from Slovenia (GINI 24.6) to South Africa (GINI 63.0). The question is whether you favor or oppose having a major market for investments in enterprises.

*Polanyi has current detractors, and I am not competent to assess his argument. Also, he writes surprisingly little about capital markets. His main relevant discussion concerns what he calls haute finance, dating to “the last third of the nineteenth and the first third of the twentieth century” (pp. 10 and following). See also: the Nordic model; the neo-feudalism thesis; a darker As You Like It; the Dutch secret; etc.

abortion as a multi-dimensional issue

As many have noted, surveys that present Roe v Wade as a binary choice simplify public opinion. One reason is that people may not be very clear about what Roe says. In addition, individuals hold diverse views on a whole set of questions, of which these are examples:

  1. Why have some societies sometimes prohibited some abortions? Are restrictions and bans evidence of patriarchy, of partisan political strategy, of specifically religious values, or of hard choices and disagreements about conflicting values?
  2. To what extent should we think of the pregnancy rate and the abortion rate as outcomes of free individual choices; of social structures, pressures, and inequities; or of violence and coercion? Do the answers vary systematically by social class and race/ethnicity?
  3. Is is possible to have better or worse–more or less ethical or valid–views about issues like abortion, or are such views simply personal opinions?
  4. Presuming that there are better and worse views, who has the standing to form views about which cases? Specifically, whose business is it to reflect on whether abortion in general, or any specific abortion, is OK?
  5. Presuming that someone–perhaps only the pregnant person–reflects about abortion in a particular case, which considerations are relevant? Among other possible considerations, what about the circumstances of the pregnancy, the health and circumstances of the pregnant person, or the stage of fetal development?
  6. As a general rule, who do we want to make laws: courts, Congress, state legislatures, or citizens through referenda? Does our general stance about how to make laws apply to the definition and limitation of individual rights? If we want courts–more than voters and elected representatives–to define rights, which rights do we want courts to define?
  7. If one thinks that in some cases or circumstances, abortion should be prohibited, what should happen to the people involved in violating such prohibitions? Who should enforce such rules, and which penalties (if any) should apply?
  8. What does one think about other closely related policies, such as health insurance and child welfare? Would changing policies on those matters change one’s stance about abortion?
  9. What is the metaphysical status of a fetus? When does human life begin, and–a distinct question–when does personhood begin?

If you are pro-choice, as I am, and you are interested in political strategy and messaging, then my sense is that you should hammer away on #7. Public opinion will break favorably when citizens think about possible penalties for women and doctors. I would not emphasize #1, #3, or #9, because I suspect that many Americans see abortion as an authentically difficult issue due to the status of the fetus.

But let’s resist thinking about everything in terms of political strategy, especially if we are not actually political strategists. For the rest of us, all of the above questions (and more) may be relevant, and I’d wager that most groups of people will encompass diverse views on many of them.

See also: what if people’s political opinions are very heterogeneous?; views of abortion by gender; support for abortion rights: a generational story; and notes on the social role of science: 1. the example of fetal ultrasounds.

what republic means, revisited

Basic political words (including the word “political”) tend to be appropriated by diverse movements and parties over time, which causes them to accumulate diverse and even opposite meanings. “Liberal” is a great example.

Another example is “republic,” which is now millennia old and appears in the official names of major parties as well as 110 sovereign states (by my count), ranging from the Laos People’s Democratic Republic to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and including such odd couples as both of the Koreas.

Some would say that any real republic is a regime with a popular or majoritarian element that is limited by checks and balances and restraints on the powers of government. These limits distinguish it from a democracy. That usage is not wrong, but it doesn’t necessarily track the terminology of the US founders. For instance, Jefferson defined a republic as a “government by its citizens in mass, acting directly and personally, according to rules established by the majority; and … every other government is more or less republican, in proportion as it has in its composition more or less of this ingredient of the direct action of the citizens.” As the image shows, many of Jefferson’s contemporaries agreed that a republic was a democracy.

For others, a republic is a system in which the people own and control the most important goods. That is why communist states have generally named themselves republics. One justification may be etymology. The Latin phrase res publica means the public’s thing (or good, or wealth, or interest). Thus, if you believe that things like factories and farms should be public property, you may be inclined to use the word “republic.” In addition, the French revolution has often inspired communists and other left radicals. That revolution called itself “republican.” There is also a less prominent tradition of radical commonwealth thought in English; and “commonwealth” is a direct translation of res publica.

For some political theorists of the last 30 years (e.g., Philip Pettit, Ian Shapiro) republicanism means opposition to domination, which is arbitrary power over others. A republic is a regime that successfully combats domination, and modern republicans debate the necessary and ideal tools for that end. Rule of law, popular participation and responsive government, civil liberties, and checks and balances are among the options.

A different school of modern theorists see a republic as a regime that expects a particularly high degree of virtue from its citizens. For instance, Hannah Arendt defines a republic as a community that allows and expects participants to display civic virtues in public forums.

Until recently, I would have held onto one fixed point. I would have proposed that any definition of republic should cover the regime that governed Rome between the overthrow of the kings and the reign of emperor Augustus and his successors, because the word first arose to name that system. In analyzing the Roman republic, we might prefer to emphasize its appreciation of civic virtues, its empowered populace, its mixed constitution with limited popular power, its defense of private rights, its public property (the forum, the army), or its commitment to rule of law and other protections against domination (for free men)–but one way or another, we would have to tie our definition to the ancient regime. And a monarchy would be incompatible with a republic, since the Roman republic is what we call the interlude between the era of kings and that of emperors. Today, most of the countries that do not call themselves republics are monarchies.

But then I read Anthony Kaldellis, The Byzantine Republic: People and Power in New Rome (Harvard, 2015). Kaldellis shows that almost all Romans believed that their republic persisted under the emperors. The structure of its government changed, but Rome remained a republic–indeed, until 1453. To call a limited period of Roman history “the republic” is to impose modern terminology on the past.

I suspect that one reason that many moderns have believed that the emperors ended the Roman republic is Tacitus. He is a superb author, enormously valuable and timely, but he does have an ax to grind. As a senator and a member the hereditary senatorial class, Tacitus views the emperors’ usurpation of the Senate’s powers as a fundamental blow to liberty. In modern times, his account has been a powerful inspiration for anyone who wants to defend representative legislatures against tyrants. But the Roman senate was never representative; it was oligarchical. Other Romans could disagree with Tacitus that weakening the Senate really undermined the republic. For many of them, the defining feature of a republic (per Kaldellis) was its coherence as a community. Some Romans viewed emperors as good guardians of their community, in which case the republic could thrive under Augustus or his successors. Their main concern was whether a given monarch really served the public good; if not, he was illegitimate.

The conclusion, for me, is that “republic” can mean many different things, and no one should assert that it has only one true meaning. I am interested in anti-domination and civic virtue and prefer to use the word “republican” for combinations of those ideas. But mainly, one should define and clarify one’s terms.

See also: do we live in a republic or a democracy?; civic republicanism in medieval Italy: the Lucignano council frescoes; The French Republic denounces the French State; citizens against domination; James Madison in favor of majority rule etc.