Interviews with Critical Review authors (audio links embedded)

Interview with Mark Pennnington, author of "Democracy and the Deliberative Conceit," Critical Review 22(2-3): 159-84.

Dain Fitzgerald (seminar of 2009) interviews Mark Pennington (seminar of 1996 ) on his recent article in Critical Review. Listen here.

In Dain's words: I spoke with Mark Pennington of the University of London about the application of Hayekian thought to deliberative democratic theory, in particular that of Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson (hereafter "G&T"), as elaborated in their book Why Deliberative Democracy?

"The interview is fairly brief for a topic that could be the basis of a days long conference, but brevity has its benefits. Pennington dissects G&T's arguments against the market and in favor of deliberative democratic methods, both (a) pointing out how markets are superior to their alternative in cases where substituting one for the other is a theoretical possibility, and (b) criticizing some of their other ideas as being undesirable altogether."

Mark Pennington is the author of Robust Political Economy: Classical Liberalism and the Future of Public Policy (Edward Elgar, 2011).

Interview with Chris Wisniewski, author of "Ignorance and Culture: Rejoinder to Fenster and Chandler," Critical Review 22(1): 97-115.

Dain Fitzgerald (seminar of 2009) interviews Christopher Wisniewski (seminars of 1999 and 2009) on his recent article in Critical Review on incorporating political ignorance into the study of culture and politics. Listen here.

In Dain's words: "I spoke with Chris Wisniewski - like Slavisa Tasic (interview below) of Critical Review Alumni "fame" - over the summer about his article in the current issue of CR on "Ignorance and Culture," wherein he makes the case, contra two scholars named Mark Fenster and Bret Chandler, that modern Cultural Studies cannot illuminate the reality of political non-participation on the part of what we colloquially refer to as "the masses." The article is actually a rejoinder to Fenster and Chandlerr's earlier critiques of Wisniewski, in which they make their case for what 20th-century Marxist-inspired Cultural Studies scholars dubbed "ideological reproduction." This theory posits that underclass political passivity is due to overclass hegemony in the realm of ideas, about, say, inequality. Or race. Or sex. Or WMDs in Iraq?

"Wisniewski doesn't actually confront the substance of such ideas, just whether the idea-peddling-from-on-high idea itself has any merit. He submits that it does not. Using the fact of public ignorance on all matters of politics as a springboard, he argues that if "neoliberal" elites are reproducing their agenda among the citizenry, they aren't doing a very good job of it, given the fact that few on Main Street would recognize the name "Milton Friedman."

"Wisniewski separates the Cultural Studies paradigm into (more or less) two camps: the followers of Antonio Gramsci and the followers of Pierre Bourdieu. Gramsci maintained the theory of cultural hegemony as an explanation for why the working class had not seized the reins of power, as predicted by Marx. The bourgeoisie had thrown its ideological wet blanket over the Italian rank and file, so what could they possibly know about how, or even why they ought, to emancipate themselves?  Gramsci represents the unreconstructed false-consciousness take on ideological reproduction. Bourdieu, on the other hand, is the seminal figure in the contemporary view of the concept of ideology among Cultural Studies scholars, with his subtle regard for multiple, overlapping elites and their quiet battles for the attention of the world's underlings.

"Wisniewski is partial to the Bourdieu camp, when forced to choose, but he criticizes both, and Cultural Studies as a whole, for assuming that capitalism ill serves the interests of the masses, such that without cultural blinders of one sort or another imposed on the masses, they would intuitively see that their interests would be served by engaging in political action to severely modify or overthrow capitalism. Thus, "culture" for them is inseparable from an exercise in class suppression, and Cultural Studies, following either Gramsci or Bourdieu, is premised on the by-no-means-self-evident assumption that the suppressed class--the masses--are harmed by capitalism, so that more political participation on their part would necessarily be good.

"I pointed out to Wisniewski how similar the Bourdieu perspective appeared to be to textbook pluralism in political science, but he responded that for Bourdieu, the practices embodied (the "habitus," as the French thinker would describe it) in the institutions intimately known to political actors are jealously guarded. For Bourdieu, and the mainline of Cultural Studies scholars, such habitus undermines the participatory potential of the modal citizen by keeping him or her separated-- intentionally or not (and for the relatively sophisticated Bourdieu, it is not)--from the knowledge needed to improve their lot. By contrast, for pluralists, interest groups are legitimate and sincere proxies in any properly functioning representative democracy.

"As Wisniewski highlights, the idea that more participation is a de facto good is simply assumed at the outset by his critics, which makes for the real normative crux of their disagreement. There is certainly a positive correlation between greater knowledge of political issues and participation in politics, but the question of  whether this is beneficial overall is open to interpretation. The pro-state inversion of libertarianism, which submits that as long as people get what they demonstrate a preference for all is well, won't do if you accept the idea of a fundamental disconnect between acting in the marketplace and acting in the political realm, a la Bryan Caplan (and countless others, quite obviously). I should point out that what Wisniewski is getting at should be distinguished from the obvious influence of the media on the views of ordinary voters on certain highly visible events such as the BP oil spill, Koran-burning pastors or, as mentioned above, Iraqi WMDs. The issue at hand for Wisniewski and his interlocutors is the extent to which full-fledged ideologies are being grafted onto the masses, by elites, to the former's detriment, and the latter's benefit.

"In any case, there's much to chew on in the interview, including a dig at hip-hop-as-politics, which is reminiscent of a John McWhorter argument.

"As an aside, I'll mention that Chris Wisniewski is a contributor to NYC-based Reverse Shot, a quarterly, independently published film journal."

Interview with Slavisa Tasic, author of "The Illusion of Regulatory Competence," Critical Review 21(4): 423-36.

Dain Fitzgerald (seminar of 2009) interviews Slavisa Tasic (seminar of 2009) on his recent article in Critical Review on the overconfidence of regulators. Listen here.

In Dain's words: "I met Slavisa Tasic, a Ph.D. candidate in economics a the University of Turin, last summer in San Antonio at a seminar sponsored by the Critical Review Foundation. Tasic takes a Hayekian perspective on government intervention informed by experimental psychology, using the work of two psychologists, Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil, who discovered what they call 'the illusion of explanatory depth' (IOED) – the 'belief that we understand the causes, effects and inner workings of complex mechanisms, events and processes much better than we actually do.' Rozenblit and Keil find that, more often than not, participants in their studies of competence and awareness on a variety of issues know far less about said issues (the working of a helicopter, etc.) than they initially thought. In Tasic’s words: 'The illusion occurs when we have a general, superficial knowledge about some obvious patterns, and confuse this with insight about the mechanics of a phenomenon.' Tasic then applies the IOED to regulatory decision makers, yielding 'the illusion of regulatory competence.'

"Also mentioned in the article (but not the interview) is the work of Dietrich Dorner, whose experiments are, on their face, more relevant to issues of state regulation. Dorner had subjects manipulate computer-simulated land use planning scenarios, with poor results manifest due to a lack of taking into account unexpected factor interdependence (competing goals and policy tools). The article did not go into any depth, so to speak, on the specifics involved, but only addressed the frustration of achieving a given goal in the model due to the ignorance that is Tasic’s theme.”


2008 Boston Conference on Political Ignorance and Dogmatism

On August 31, 2008, at the conclusion of the American Political Science Association convention in Boston, the Critical Review Foundation held its first-ever scholarly conference, at which Professors of Political Science John Bullock (seminar of 1999), Samuel DeCanio (1998), Tom Hoffman (1995), Michael Murakami (2001), Mark Pennington (1996), Ilya Somin (1997), and Nick Weller (2003) explored the implications of public ignorance with Profs. Scott Althaus (Political Science, U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), David Barash (Psychology, U. of Washington), Bryan Caplan (Economics, George Mason U.), Arthur Lupia (Political Science, U. of Michigan), George E. Marcus (Political Science, Williams Coll.), David R. Mayhew (Political Science, Yale), Russell Muirhead (Political Science, U. of Texas, Austin), Paul J. Quirk (Political Science, U. of British Columbia), Charles S. Taber (Political Science, Stony Brook U.), and Nassim Nicholas Taleb (author of The Black Swan). This was the first time all the CR seminar "alumni" who have become political scientists were brought together in one place to discuss their ideas with eminent scholars in political science and other fields, and according to the unanimous consensus of the participants, it was one of the few scholarly events they had attended where real dialogue, learning, and new thinking occurred.