a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Category: Democracy Page 1 of 11

How Should We Understand NIMBYism?

In this post, Travis Quigley (U. Arizona) discusses his article recently published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy  about the issues at stake and justifications for and against restrictive zoning policies.

You might think that zoning policy should be politically boring. Instead, there is a high-stakes and high-intensity debate between defenders of restrictive zoning regulations, which currently set aside huge swaths of land for single-family houses, and those who wish to abolish most such restrictions. Defenders of restrictive zoning often are called NIMBYs, for Not In My Backyard; reformers are then called YIMBYs, for Yes In My Backyard. As such things go, each term can be an insult or a point of pride, depending on who’s speaking. In the housing context, the rationale of increasing supply to decrease prices is pitted against neighborhood preservation; the climate context pits ecological conservation against large-scale climate change mitigation projects. The two issues intersect: new, dense housing is far more energy efficient. I focus especially on residential zoning here.   

Taking political education out of families

Political education can be defined as the process by which people come to form political judgments – how they evaluate different political parties and issues of public policy, basically. The primary context of political education is the family. It is in this environment that people are first exposed to political judgments and inculcated with political values. It should come as no surprise that, as a result, many (if not most) people remain faithful to their parents’ political orientations, as research in political sociology often reports. Fortunately, though, political education is not reducible to family transmission. As they grow up, kids become more and more exposed to different political views, be it in school or within their social network, and they can be influenced by all sorts of people and events in this process. It remains true, however, that in the absence of a strong countervailing educational process, families are the main driver of political education in most if not all countries. Should we be happy with this situation?

Slow boring or endless weeding? Metaphors for politics

It’s easy to get sick of politics. So much wasted effort. So many stillborn schemes and plans that go nowhere. So much running to stand still. But if you’re running to stay in place on a treadmill, and you stop running, you go backwards. And the same is true in politics. Seemingly wasted effort is often not really waste, because without it your political opponents would have gained (even more) ground. Of course, some forms of activism are more effective than others, and some may even be counter-productive. But the mere fact you have not achieved anything concrete does not mean you’ve been ineffective: your achievement may instead have been to hinder your opponents.

One of the most celebrated political metaphors comes from Max Weber:

Max Weber

Visions of desirable futures for Iran after the Mahsa revolution

This post is part of a series entitled: “The Mahsa revolution: a political philosophy and futures studies perspective”

The goal of this series is to offer readers reflections on the on-going grassroots, women-led revolutionary movement in Iran, to be continued until its completion or the mutual exhaustion of readers and author. I will analyze, for non-Persian speakers, debates and initiatives regarding the future of Iran from a philosophical and futures studies perspective. Every revolutionary moment unlocks the space of the politically and socially conceivable and enables the hopeless to exercise their rusted capacity for imagining better futures. It also reveals normative disagreements on desirable futures, inclusion and exclusion from those futures, and strategies suitable for realizing them. Although I am not an Iranologist, my hope is to give readers a candid glimpse of the burgeoning forward-looking democratic life of Iranians in Iran and the diaspora. 

(Image: Touraj Saberivand)

Introduction to “Visions of desirable futures for Iran after the Mahsa revolution

What visions of a post-Islamist future Iran animate the Mahsa revolution? Its slogans are clear: secularism, gender equality, and democracy. Aren’t these aspirations dull compared to the anti-imperialistic and Islamist ideologies of the 1979 revolution? Four decades of life under totalitarianism have immunized Iranians against radical ideologies. Yet Iranians have aspirations that deserve to be heard and engaged with. Based on what I have informally gathered from discussions on social media, independent Iranian news outlets, countless videos of Gen Z demonstrators who elaborate on their anger and desires, I see four frequent visions of the future of Iran. 

Confucius’s Mistake, and Plato’s

This year I decided to put some Chinese philosophy on our curriculum, and I’ve been enjoying getting to know that tradition. But there’s something frustrating about classical Chinese political philosophy. It’s the same thing I find so irritating about Plato.

The wisest should rule. This is the core of Plato’s political philosophy. It’s an idea shared by Confucius and indeed most of the classical Chinese tradition. But I think it’s largely meaningless.

The ancient philosophical beard: who wore it better?

Plato presents rule by the wise as the answer to a question of constitutional theory. Who should rule? Ancient Greek thought gives a menu of options such as:

Defending Science Deniers

In this post, Alex Davies (University of Tartu) discusses his recent paper in the Journal of Applied Philosophy where he urges caution when the conclusions of political psychologists tempt us to blame the audience for failures in science communication.

A slew of newspaper articles were published in the 2010s with titles like: “The facts on why facts alone can’t fight false beliefs” and “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds — New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason”. They promoted a common idea: if a person doesn’t conform to the scientific majority, it’s because she forms beliefs on scientific questions in order to achieve social goals (to fit in with people of her kind, to make her social life more comfortable) instead of engaging in an earnest hunt for the truth. Rational persuasion doesn’t work with her. To change her mind, science communicators must become more paternalist. They must adopt methods of persuasion that bypass her awareness—the arts of the marketeer, the ad man. Drawing upon ideas from my recent paper, I want to convince you not to take these articles so seriously.

From the Vault: Journal of Applied Philosophy Collaboration

While Justice Everywhere takes a short break over the summer, we recall some of the highlights from our 2021-22 season. This post focuses on our ongoing collaboration with the Journal of Applied Philosophy.


In 2019, Justice Everywhere began a collaboration with the Journal of Applied Philosophy. The journal is a unique forum that publishes philosophical analysis of problems of practical concern, and several of its authors post accessible summaries of their work on Justice Everywhere. These posts draw on diverse theoretical viewpoints and bring them to bear on a broad spectrum of issues, ranging from the environment and natural resources to freedom, empathy, and medical ethics.

For a full list of these posts, visit the JOAP page on Justice Everywhere. For a flavour of the range, you might read:

Stay tuned for even more from JOAP authors in our 2022-23 season!


Justice Everywhere will return in full swing on 1st September with fresh weekly posts by our cooperative of regular authors (published on Mondays), in addition to our Journal of Applied Philosophy series (published on Thursdays). If you have a suggestion for a topic or would like to contribute a guest post on a topical subject in political philosophy (broadly construed), please feel free to get in touch with us at justice.everywhere.blog@gmail.com.

An interview with Philippe van Parijs (Beyond the Ivory Tower Series)

This is the latest interview in our Beyond the Ivory Tower series (you can read previous interviews here). For this edition, Diana Popescu spoke to Philippe Van Parijs, Hoover Chair of economic and social ethics at the University of Louvain. Van Parijs is the author of several books, including Real Freedom for All and Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World. He is a founder of the Basic Income Earth Network, and chair of its advisory board. In May 2012, an article he published, ‘Picnic the Streets’, triggered a movement of civil disobedience which led to the decision to make Brussels’ central lanes car-free

How to kill a democracy in 10 easy steps (spoiler alert: exhaust your citizens)

This month we will be publishing a series of posts on the topic of fatigue. Two years after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, constant fatigue characterises the lives of too many of us. Here we think about some of the political and social consequences of fatigue. In this first post, Lisa Herzog writes about the dangers of fatigue for democracy.

How to kill a democracy in 10 easy steps
(spoiler alert: exhaust your citizens)

1) Make sure people work hard, so that there is time for little else in their lives. For the poor, that’s simple: low wages mean more hours. For the rich, make sure people desperate seek status. Let them think that to be respectable, they need to have an expensive house, an expensive car, that fancy holiday far away. By the way: don’t allow long holidays. It helps if people think that their God dislikes idleness. Time spent working is time not spent on politics!

2) Deny childcare. In fact, deny any form of support, for any form of care! It’s better for children to be with their mothers, isn’t it? Make childcare so expensive that people understand that. And for the elderly, it’s so much better if they are looked after by family members! Make sure any affordable homes for the elderly are just gross – put them in ugly concrete buildings with leaking roofs, somewhere near motorways. Time spent caring for children and the elderly is time not spent protesting.

3) Make all forms as complicated as possible. No matter whether it’s taxes or health insurance or an application for a driving license. You can rely on businesses to help you with this: let them include pages and pages to prevent liability. Keep people anxious about making mistakes in forms, so they will spend more time on them – that’s time they won’t spend calling their representatives!

4) Divide people into ideological camps early on. Make education competitive, so that people internalize that competitive gaze onto others that undermines solidarity. Keep them busy with competitive bickering in all areas of life, to the point of exhaustion. That will distract them from any questions of how the system should change!

5) Provide distraction. Endless, inexhaustible distraction, of the kind that makes people spend their free time in that strange zone where you can switch off from work, but not really relax. You wouldn’t want people to come to work truly rested and with fresh ideas, let alone an urge to ask deeper questions, would you? If you give them too much time to think, they just realize how shitty their working conditions are. You friends, the business owners, wouldn’t like that!

6) Abolish all institutions to which people could turn for help. Even better: convince them that it’s shameful to turn to them. Consumer associations, tenants’ associations, unions – those are socialist institutions, for losers not winners! Winners fight only for themselves! Don’t tell them that fighting only for themselves will just leave them more exhausted. For you, it means: divide and conquer!

7) You can do more to divide and conquer. Reduce social contact at work. Or better, abolish the workplace. Give people gig work, or home office (didn’t they want that “flexibility” all along?). They won’t trust colleagues whom they only know as little heads on screens. And they will be too tired to socialize with them anyway.

8) Destroy any habits of serious reading of news. Isn’t it much easier to just swipe through a “feed”? Reading a newspaper while having two coffees in the morning? Make sure the commute is too long to allow that, and that trains and subways are so crammed that nobody in their right mind would dare to unfold a real, paper newspaper. Also, if the news continues to be bad, that’s good for you. Your citizens get tired of reading the same old crap all the time. At some point they’ll just stop. Good for you!

9) Tell people protest is clicking on a link. Discourage any form of more sustained protest or engagement. Make sure that followers of social movements will be quickly exhausted, by following steps 1)-8) above. If followers are exhausted, so will be the leaders. It’s just too hard to keep going, isn’t it?

10) Always remember: exhausted citizens are submissive citizens. Or no citizens at all – at some point of sleep deprivation, they turn into subjects. That’s when you know you’ve won.

Essay by  Lisa Herzog

Why We Can’t Have It All When It Comes to the Future of Work

This is a guest post by Deryn Thomas, PhD Student in Philosophy, Benjamin Sachs, Senior Lecturer, and Alexander Douglas, Senior Lecturer, at University of St. Andrews. It discusses their recent research on a future with fair work for all and some of the trade-offs it involves. 

Two years into a world turned upside down by lockdowns, travel restrictions, and viral mutations, the way people work and make a living has changed dramatically. New challenges are being presented by rising childcare costs, increases in automation, the digitisation of the workplace, and the gig economy. So we need to ask: how do we make the future of work better for everyone?

At the Future of Work and Income Research Network, we’ve been thinking hard about this problem. As part of these efforts, we recently participated in a consultation for the Scottish Government on its Fair Work Goals, set to be implemented by 2025. The consultation document and stated goals offer an optimistic vision for the future of work in Scotland. But it risks being too idealistic: many of the stated goals conflict with each other.

We noticed at least four sets of incompatible goals. As it stands, the documents say nothing about how these compromises will be decided. But we think this leaves out an important step in the process. Therefore, we offer some reflections from philosophy about how to weigh up the values at stake.  In the end, we think that decisions like these need to be made in the context of a national conversation about the trade-offs surrounding work.

Page 1 of 11

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén