Decision Concerning MS “Democracy in America”// Author Monsieur A. de Tocqueville

Dear Monsieur DE TOCQUEVILLE, Alexis.

I am writing concerning your MS “Democracy in America”, recently submitted to Critical Review of Governments and States. I would like to thank you for considering the Journal as a publication destination. Certainly your topic is, on paper, a good fit. However, I regret to inform you that we will not be proceeding with publication. I outline the reasons for this decision below.

***

The principle problem with your MS is that it is unclear which disciplinary boundary it falls under. At times you appear to be engaged in an analysis of institutions; at others a sociology of American life; at yet others a political-theoretic examination of American democracy. Although CRoGaS encourages submissions from all these fields, and values and promotes an interdisciplinary research agenda, I felt that your MS was not clearly defined enough in any one of these categories. As a result it ended up being neither fish nor fowl (so to speak). Perhaps focusing on just one of these areas in an isolated and sustained manner would improve the focus. It would certainly help the reader.

Some more specific complaints:

If democracy really has been ordained by providence for over 700 years, are you not here merely stating the obvious at great length? What is the distinctive contribution of this work?

I found it difficult to follow the structure of the argument because your understanding of key concepts such as “democracy”, “liberty” and “equality” fluctuates at different points in your argument. In the case of democracy you imply on the one hand that it is an institutional mechanism, on the other that it is a social ethos. So which is it? Regarding liberty and equality, you tell us that Americans would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom. I do not follow your reasoning: how can slaves be equal? What *is* equality? Defining these terms at the outset would help.

Regarding liberty specifically, it is unclear which theory you subscribe to. At points I took you to be expounding a pure negative conception, at others some variant of republican non-domination theory. Clarifying your commitments on this point is essential.

I found it difficult to discern what the “mother idea” promised in your introduction was. Is it that democracy is the cure for democracy? That democracy eventually always saves itself from crisis? That democracy is the future, but only for Americans and not Europeans? Indeed is this even a book about America at all? You say that France has “always been in your thoughts”. If so, why not simply write a book about France? The revolution of your own country might make for a more fitting study: it would certainly have the added virtue of dispensing with the laborious and tedious discussions of American township democracy you attempt here.

Finally, I struggled to see how your Volume I was compatible with your Volume II. You close the first volume with optimism (for America, at least). Democracy’s apparent weaknesses are its hidden strengths, and in the long run it is the future of all successful commercial societies. By contrast, your second volume ends with the prediction that all democracies will degenerate into the worst forms of despotism. You are in manifest contradiction.

As an aside, I found your predictions for the future fanciful and unlikely. American democracy may well be on the rise. But a global confrontation with the backward barbarians of Muscovy and the Urals? Britain, surely, will have something to say about that! As for an American civil war over the rights of negroes, this is most improbable, and betrays a distinct lack of understanding regarding the nature of the union. In future you should stick to the present, and to the facts.

Regards,

The Editor.

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University of Edinburgh: Chair of Pneumatology and Morals

Dear Mr. Hume,

I am writing with regards to your application EB4856, ‘Chair of Pneumatics and Moral Philosophy’, at the University of Edinburgh.

The calibre of applicants this year was, as ever, very high, with twelve individuals being put through to the final round.

I regret to inform you that your application has not been successful. With such a high standard of candidates, we were forced to rely on recommendations from specialists in the field. Absence of support in this area, combined with recent public concern over some of your published theological positions (or lack thereof) contributed to this outcome.

I hope this does not deter you from seeking future employment with the University. The Advocates Library is currently recruiting a new Keeper, a position you might be interested in applying for.

Yours Sincerely,

Committee for Jobs
University of Edinburgh

Decision Concerning MS “On The Genealogy of Morality”// Author: Prof. F. Nietzsche

Dear Professor Nietzsche,

Thank you for considering The Journal of Morals and Ethics for your MS “On The Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic” submitted 2/14/87. As you may know, we are an international journal with a wide subscription base, currently servicing academics in both German-, French- and English-speaking universities. We receive a great number of submissions, and currently accept only c.5% of papers. I found your MS extremely interesting, and it contained much of value, but after considering referee reports have decided that on balance it is not appropriate for the Journal. Below I have appended reports from readers. I hope this does not deter you from seeking to publish with us in future.

Regards,

The Editor

[…]

Referee 2: Report for the Author

This MS proposes to uncover the “origins” of contemporary morality by investigating their “genealogical” development through and out of Christian and pre-Christain practices. The author seeks to displace several current strands in thinking about morality, albeit frequently by implication: utilitarianism and Kantian deontology appear to be central, if unnamed, targets. The argument proceeds by three sections: the first investigates the origins of putatively different concepts “bad” and “evil” and their relationship to “good”; the second the origin of something called “the bad conscience” which is the product of ethical socialisation and the victory of what the author calls “slave morality”; the third the role of “ascetic priests” in morality and the replacement of religion by the worship of science and the will to truth.

The author seems intent on needlessly denigrating scholars in the field: English “psychologists” (I assume the author means philosophers; he has a tendency to confusingly elide the two terms) are referred to early on as “cold, wet, boring frogs”. I do not see the value of this. Quite aside from the fact The Journal has a large number of English subscribers, it does not behove the author to engage in such ad hominem remarks. A German, one would have thought, would have learnt not to throw stones when sitting in such a large glass house.

As for the intellectual content of the MS, I found it mostly fallacious in reasoning or defective in point of fact. Take the author’s claim that the etymology of the words “good” and “evil” reveal their alternative origins and rival meanings. This is flagrant nonsense, as any basic grasp of their linguistic roots shows. I understand that the author is a former professor of philology: it is therefore difficult to conclude whether he is being wilfully disingenuous, or has simply taken leave of his senses.

The author claims that the origin of punishment is in a “creditor-debtor” relationship, and makes the unbecoming claim that “watching suffer feels good, making suffer feels better”. The first claim is a historical absurdity; the second, frankly disturbing. The author may feel this way, but he really ought not to presume to speak for well-bred and decent folk. More generally, I am unconvinced by the idea of a “slave revolt” in morality. The story presented is in itself incoherent. If “masters” lack culture and art, then the Roman Empire must have been one of slaves – and yet we are told that the paradigmatic example of the age-old battle of slaves versus masters is “Rome versus Judea; Judea versus Rome”. More generally, the historical story of a “slave revolt” originating with the Jews and inherited by followers of Christ beggars belief: is this meant as real history, the “grey” science the author promises in the Preface? Surely not. But if not, how is this a genealogy of anything other than fantasy? In which case, what can it possibly tell us that will be of use to contemporary scholarship?

As for the author’s debunking project, I fail to be convinced. This seems to me a clear example of the genetic fallacy. Even if what our authors says is true about the origins of morality (and I see no reason, not least as a Christian, to accept that), it would not follow that the light of truth revealed to us by our Saviour was in any way impugned. The project is thus a failure at both levels.

The third section is both incoherent and unconvincing. The long digression regarding the work of Richard Wagner is hardly appropriate; again, the author’s personal animosities are unpleasant to have to wade through. I would much rather see a return to the style of his earlier The Birth of Tragedy, which seemed to me altogether more sure-footed in its following of the transcendental achievements of Schopenhauer and Kant, which the author has sadly turned away from.

More generally, what are these “ascetic priests” introduced in the final treatise? Earlier we were told that mankind was either master or slave, and that a dialectic engagement between the two forged modernity. So what is this mysterious third class of persons? As for the suggestion that the Christian pursuit of truth undermined itself and now finds expression in the futile search for objective “truth” under the banner of scientific enquiry, I simply do not share the author’s sense of outrage. Perhaps it is because he appears to subscribe (though, again, it is difficult to be sure) to some form of “perspectival” theory of truth. If this is the case, then so much the worse for the author. I would be happy to introduce him to my physicist colleagues: they could set him right about the propositional content of the laws of natural mechanics!

[…]

Decision: Reject

CONFIDENTIAL: Referee Report for Mr. Aristotle, ‘Nicomachean Ethics’

I started reading this MS submission to the Academy of Athens press with high hopes. I know and very much admire the work of the author’s (A.) former supervisor and was expecting something in a similar vein. I’m afraid to say I was very disappointed. The topic, after all, is a good one. It is nice to see an attempt to flesh out some kind of account of human flourishing.

However, the format of the MS is not at all what your readers would expect. There is no drama or characterisation; indeed, I had the impression at times that some kind of conversational or dialectical background was being assumed but this is not at all marked in the text. In short, the constant direct mode of address was a chore. No one will enjoy having this read to them. What is more, the style is woeful. I hear that A. is able to write fluid and engaging prose when he wishes, but that was sadly not in evidence here. Sentences are concise to the point of obscurity. Topics are introduced only to be sketchily addressed and then left aside with a careless, ‘Well, that’s enough about X’. Very few clear and novel conclusions are reached.

I am afraid that I cannot recommend publication.

Some specific grumbles.

I am concerned that on the very first page A. presents a school-boy howler of a fallacy. A. infers from the claim that ‘All Xs aim at some Y’ that ‘There is some Y at which all Xs aim’. A. is, I am told, thought to be something of a logician. Oh dear.

The central sections of the MS seem to have been recycled from a previous project. (At least, they are very familiar and I think I may have refereed an earlier submission in which they appear.) This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I did not think they were well integrated into the new work. There are some infrequent references to previous scholars’ work (Solon, Socrates, Speusippus, Eudoxus) but the treatment offered is both at times overly generous (Is it really necessary to try to find some truth in Socrates’ outrageous denial of akrasia? Since the discovering of parts of the soul we have been able to move on from such silliness) and also excessively critical at others.

A. seems to be preoccupied with various topics without making clear their position in the whole project. Some 20% of the work is devoted to the analysis of friendship. This is a worthwhile topic but the coverage seemed rather disproportionate to me. What is more, the central notion of justice does appear but seems to me not to fit A.’s own preferred analysis of a character virtue.

Only at the very end does A. turn to address the essential topic of becoming like the divine. I had almost given up on this being mentioned at all and I think many readers will have given up long before the final pages. What is there is not particularly novel and I cannot shake the suspicion that A. recognises the importance of this topic but hasn’t succeeded in integrating it into his central analysis. So much worse for the preceding account of the good life, it seems to me. A major rethink is clearly in order.

In brief, this may well be a promising young scholar but he seems to have lost his way a little. Perhaps less time dissecting insects would have helped him to cultivate a proper understanding of the central ethical importance of intelligible reality.

This is a cross-posted contribution from Kenodoxia, with permission of the author (and is also the post which originally inspired this blog)

Missive from the General Editor

Dear Mr Hobbes,

I have now had time to contemplate your new MS, Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civill, and after receiving several readers reports, I am sorry to inform you that we will not be able to proceed with publication.

The principle problem is that too much material is repeated from your earlier De Cive (which has already gone through a second edition with added notes). I appreciate that the De Cive has sold well in Europe to learned audiences, and thus you might think that producing the same work in the vernacular for an English readership might have repeated success. I am afraid I do not share your confidence. Aside from your insistences that this book be taught in the Universities (something I think unlikely my distributors could ensure), it is often unclear who you are addressing. Portions of the work appear to be aimed directly at sovereigns, but at times you seem to be writing for subjects. If the latter, is it reasonable to expect those of low breeding and education to follow such a complex work?

Those with sufficient education will find your De Cive ample enough. Although Leviathan expands on your materialistic philosophy of matter in motion, I struggled to see how this was relevant to the bulk of your political argument. Indeed, the only material change I could detect in your thought was the introduction of the concept of ‘authorisation’ in Chapter 16. Although I can see the appeal of this with regards to the internal mechanics of your theory (the transition from the ‘multitude’ to the ‘unity’ of a people is more smoothly achieved, whilst reducing the problem of resistance rights for those harmed by sovereigns), it is simply not plausible. From whence this concept of ‘authorisation’? How does it gain such binding power? Can it reasonably be supposed that one owns another’s actions simply be agreeing not to be killed? I cannot see such an idea being taken at all seriously by readers (referee reports indicated as much).

As for the entire second portion of this book, which does amount to a new work, I’m afraid I cannot publish this either. Your doctrine of the Trinity is both heretical and (if I may say so) difficult to make sense of. Whilst I appreciate and share your distaste for the Popish religion, a serious work must do better than denigrate the Roman Church as the kingdom of the ‘fairies’ whilst making crude insinuations that priests are succubi.

Finally, your ‘A Review and Conclusion’ only serves to confuse. Whilst I appreciate that upon your return to Britain after your time in Royalist exile you must ingratiate yourself to our new Council of State, nonetheless this appears to come at the cost of coherence. Is obedience due only to those who protect? Is it due retrospectively? Doesn’t this readmit the problem of individual judgement you have all along sought to resolve? As for your twentieth law of nature, it seems to me that it does not fit your (already deeply controversial) model of natural law.

However, I hear that you have a new work on optics in progress. Please do consider publishing this work with us. The academic market for such books is currently a large growth opportunity, one in which we are looking to expand with regards to going forwards in the next cycle, and I would be happy to recommend you to my colleagues in that division.

With regrets.

The General Editor.

CONFIDENTIAL: Referee Report for Monsieur J.J. Rousseau, ‘Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes’

Dear Sirs,

I am afraid I cannot recommend for publication the MS Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes, (“Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Amongst Men”). Although compellingly written (indeed frequently bordering on the polemical), my objection to this competently composed study is two-fold: a lack of originality, and a lack of familiarity with relevant recent material and progress in the discipline.

The author takes as his starting point Hobbes’s proposition that man is not by nature sociable, but seeks to explore by a different route how he might nonetheless have come to attain society. This is done via a conjectural history which claims that man in his brute state was indigent and solitary, but over time became competitive and aggressive only after psychological change (Hobbes’s proposition about man’s natural condition drew the right conclusion for the wrong reasons; the analysis of modern society the right reasons with the wrong conclusions). This would be an impressive and original contribution – if it had not already been tried. Dr Mandeville’s 1728 The Fable of the Bees, Volume 2 explored precisely this attempt to get beyond Hobbes whilst starting from Hobbesian assumptions, but is widely considered to have been a failure. I see no evidence that the present MS gets beyond Mandeville.

Secondly, the MS indicates no familiarity with recent developments in the study of the passions, which identify the capacity for ‘sympathy’, ‘fellow-feeling’ or ‘contagio’ as crucial in explaining the progress of the moral sentiments and man’s capacity to form society out of natural materials. This research has been much advanced over the past two decades – in particular by Dr Hutcheson, Bishop Butler and Mr Hume – and any engagement with the issue of sociability demands that it be brought into consideration. The present MS makes some use of the notion of ‘pity’, but this is rudimentary and only a minor development of Hobbes, and hence is simply inadequate to the task.

More generally: is this a book, or an essay? The format is confusing: why is it divided into two sections? What is the connection between them? The unusual length of this MS is frustrating, as is the unclarity with which the author frequently leaves us: the progress ‘out of Africa’ following a postulated natural disaster appears incoherent, and the economic considerations regarding the division of labour and the advent of luxury are simply rushed. Items of such central importance need proper development, and should not be tacked on to the end, where generations of future scholars would simply overlook them.

Sadly, this work is simply too far behind the curve of contemporary scholarship, and too confusing in its composition as it stands, to be considered a sufficiently worthwhile contribution. I can therefore only recommend rejection.

A. Smith, Glasgow.

Decision Concerning MS “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”// Author: Mr J. Locke.

Dear Mr. Locke,

I read with great interest your MS “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”. It contained much that seemed to me of value, and something of originality. However, I regret to inform you that the Journal will be unable to consider publication. As clearly stated in our Guidelines For Authors, we expect contributors to make a clear and sustained contribution to the study and understanding of morals. Although your MS addresses moral questions, it does so in too scattered and indirect a manner to be directly relevant to our readership. Furthermore, although you assemble great evidence for diversity of moral practice, it does not follow that this leads to *denial of the innateness of moral ideas tout court*: why could not God’s chosen people (the followers of CHRIST in this post-Hebrew age) be possessed of such knowledge, whilst heathen savages and pagans denied it? Furthermore, you frequently assert in your MS that moral truths are susceptible to demonstration by reason, yet at no point do you offer or undertake any such demonstration. Finally, the MS is altogether too long. You entitle it an “Essay” on human understanding, but clearly it is a book-length project.

I hope this decision does not deter you from seeking to publish with the Journal in future.

The Editor.