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Jacob T. Levy

Jacob T. Levy

Jacob T. Levy is the Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory at McGill University. He writes on federalism, freedom of association, indigenous peoples, constitutional theory, and Enlightenment political thought.

Articles by Jacob T. Levy

The Neo-Right's Preoccupation With the Leftist Enemy Is the Real Road to Serfdom

December 2, 2021

It is well-known that the classical liberal economist F.A. Hayek dedicated The Road to Serfdom to “socialists of all parties,” and wrote the book “as a warning to the socialist intelligentsia of England.” I suspect  we now understate the importance of these facts. After decades of the Cold War and self-conscious conservative-libertarian “fusionism” in both the U.S. and Britain, what sticks in our memory of The Road to Serfdom is its defense of liberal open markets against economic planning and regulation of the sort advocated on the left. That is of course how it was wielded in the post-2008 surge in interest in it, in the wake of the financial crisis and the subsequent bailouts and stimulus packages: as a weapon of the right.But if Hayek’s argument characterized socialist planning and

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A few sundry things

April 8, 2020

Now published in The European Journal of Political Theory, April 2020 issue: “Contra Politanism.” Abstract

This article diagnoses and critiques pervasive forms of teleological thought about basic structures of political organization in modern and contemporary political thought: arguments that the sovereign state, the nation-state, or some variant of a cosmopolis both represents the unfolding of history’s moral logic and offers us full moral personhood, agency, and maturity. Despite the received wisdom that modern political thought broke with teleology, I argue that early modern social contract theory was deeply teleological. The emergence of the normatively self-contained sovereign state from the state of nature represented both decisive historical-moral progress from the

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On liberalism and democracy

August 21, 2019

I have a new podcast discussion with our friends at the Institute for Liberal Studies here. The new ILS podcast, “The curious task”, is hosted by Alex Aragona and its overall site is here; previous guests include Nigel Ashford and Peter Jaworski.

Published on: August 21, 2019August 21, 2019Author: Jacob T. Levy

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That newfangled “pod-casting” all the kids are talking about

May 13, 2019

It’ll obviously never replace blogging, which remains the cutting-edge format of the 21st century.

Likeville podcast with John Faithful Hamer: “Post-apocalyptic hellscape”

Free Thoughts podcast with Trevor Burrus and Aaron Ross Powell, “The politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe”

Political Philosophy Podcast with Toby Buckle, Part 1: “Justice in a fallen world”

Political Philosophy Podcast with Toby Buckle, Part 2: “Politics without guarantees”

Published on: May 13, 2019May 13, 2019Author: Jacob T. Levy

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“Nothing ever ends, Adrian.”

April 3, 2019

Vox organized a symposium on the question “What do we do now that will be considered unthinkable in 50 years?” — not as an exercise in speculative fiction and futurology but a way of letting people make claims about being on the “wrong side of history.”When they asked me to take part, I said I really couldn’t, because I rejected the premise, and the only thing I could write would be a critique of the idea of history having, in that moralistic sense, sides. To my pleasant surprise, they asked me to write that, then. And I did.

If you enjoyed 600 words about that, maybe you’ll enjoy 11,000. (I’m an academic, after all.) See: Contra Politanism, European Journal of Political Theory.

Published on: April 3, 2019April 3, 2019Author: Jacob T. Levy

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Academic freedom conference at Emory

March 19, 2019

March 21-23.

Join Emory University for its conference Academic Freedom and Free Speech on Campus March 21-23, 2019 to discuss what academic freedom and free speech mean in the life of higher education institutions today.

The conference is an opportunity to showcase how public and private institutions of higher education continue to be on the forefront of debate, deliberation, and knowledge creation. Emory University is committed to this through its strategic framework, which states that “we practice the values of intellectual rigor, integrity, risk taking, and collaboration. Our faculty and students pursue open inquiry across disciplines—guided by evidence, committed to critical inquiry, fueled by the creative spirit, and dedicated not only to discovery in its own right

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“Populism’s Dangerous Companions”

December 14, 2018

I have a new piece up at Cato Unbound, responding to Stephen Davies’ lead essay on ideological realignment, an essay that explicitly envisions a convergence between market liberalism and the cosmopolitan liberalism of a part of the left in a way that’s pretty congenial to the BHL way of thinking.

Published on: December 14, 2018Author: Jacob T. Levy

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“Populism’s Dangerous Companions”

December 14, 2018

I have a new piece up at Cato Unbound, responding to Stephen Davies’ lead essay on ideological realignment, an essay that explicitly envisions a convergence between market liberalism and the cosmopolitan liberalism of a part of the left in a way that’s pretty congenial to the BHL way of thinking.

Published on: December 14, 2018Author: Jacob T. Levy

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Neither retaliation nor restraint

December 11, 2018

In the New York Times I make the case that rebuilding democratic norms in the face of Republican attacks on them can’t be done either by trying to lead by good example or by a spiral of escalation. It will take a partisan and political effort– which also happens to be in Democrats’ interest for the next two years.

Published on: December 11, 2018Author: Jacob T. Levy

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Neither retaliation nor restraint

December 11, 2018

In the New York Times I make the case that rebuilding democratic norms in the face of Republican attacks on them can’t be done either by trying to lead by good example or by a spiral of escalation. It will take a partisan and political effort– which also happens to be in Democrats’ interest for the next two years.

Published on: December 11, 2018Author: Jacob T. Levy

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Any BHL readers in Amsterdam?

November 16, 2018

If so, hope to see you here.
Jos de Beus Lecture 2018 by Prof. Jacob T. Levy (McGill)
Date & time: Monday 19 November 2018, 17.00-19.00 hrs.
Location: VOC-room, Bushuis, Kloveniersburgwal 48, Amsterdam
Entrance is free, registration not required.
‘Justice in Babylon: Political Norms and Ideals in an Unjust World’
The Jos de Beus Lecture 2018 is made possible by the research group Challenges to Democratic Representation of the Department of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam.

Published on: November 16, 2018Author: Jacob T. Levy

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Bombs, rhetorical and otherwise

November 5, 2018

Political speech inspires belief, and action.
This shouldn’t be controversial, but it is. Assassination attempts against public figures who have been singled out for abuse by President Trump, and the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, have refocused attention on Trump’s incendiary rhetoric. He dismissed the idea that he might have any reason to “tone down” his language amidst the violence, suggesting that he might “tone it up” instead. And he has continued to attack some of those targeted by the mail bombs, including CNN, George Soros, and Tom Steyer. The president’s apologists have duly returned to their mantra that the president’s rhetoric is just a sideshow. Extremist political violence is written off as either radical evil or sociopathy, having no causes, and the president’s

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Winning isn’t everything

October 11, 2018

I have a new essay up at Niskanen on what elections, and confirmations, do and don’t settle.

Published on: October 11, 2018October 11, 2018Author: Jacob T. Levy

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Cambridge Handbook of Classical Liberal Thought

August 27, 2018

While this volume edited by Todd Henderson (Chicago law) will apparently not be out in hard copy for a couple of days, it’s now available electronically for those whose university libraries subscribe to Cambridge Core.
BHLers include:
Jason Brennan, Back to the future: New classical liberalism and old social justice
Fernando Téson, The bourgeois argument for freer immigration
and me: Political libertarianism. This is a companion piece to my Toward a non-Lockean libertarianism” that appeared in Jason and Bas’ coedited Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism. It’s also the paper I gave at the special meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society on “The Populist Threats to the Free Society, and is part of my ongoing attempt to think about how classical liberalism has, and how it could, respond

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Two new podcasts

August 20, 2018

The evolution of the ideas of liberty” and “Libertarian conceptions of order”, both recordings of talks I gave at a Cato University event this month.
There’s also a Mike Munger session, “Tomorrow 3.0: Transaction Costs and the Sharing Economy,” on that same page, which is to say it was a Cato event in August, though it wasn’t part of the same event.

Published on: August 20, 2018Author: Jacob T. Levy

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Law and Border

July 26, 2018

I have a new piece up at Niskanen on lawlessness and immigration policing.
On another note, if any BHL readers are in attendance at next week’s Cato University, please say hi.

Published on: July 26, 2018Author: Jacob T. Levy

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New piece on Judith Shklar

July 16, 2018

I have a new piece on the ongoing relevant of Judith Shklar in Foreign Policy.
Toward the end I talk a bit about learning from both Shklar and Hayek. I say much more about what that would mean in “Political Libertaranism,” a chapter in >Todd Henderson, ed., The Cambridge Handbook of Classical Liberal Thought, out in a few weeks (which in turn drew on the paper I gave at the Mon Pelerin Society’s special meeting on ‘The Populist Threats to the Free Society and the Reconstruction of the Liberal Project’ last fall).

Published on: July 16, 2018July 16, 2018Author: Jacob T. Levy

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“The weight of the words,” and some talks

February 9, 2018

Uncategorized

I have a new essay up at Niskanen: “The weight of the words.”
A few talks and workshops on the west coast:
Today, Stanford, Political Theory Workshop: “Justice in Babylon”Monday 2/12, UCSD, “Irregular Liberty”Tuesday University of San Diego (through the good graces of BHL team captain Matt Zwolinski), “Justice in Babylon”Wednesday 2/28, Mont Hamilton/ Bastiat Society of San Jose, 11:30 am, TBA (the announcement has borrowed the same title as my evening lecture but as I understand it that’s not the actual plan).Wednesday 2/28 5:15 pm, San Jose State University, Black Liberty Matters

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A few links

August 22, 2017

Uncategorized

John Holbo at Crooked Timber on Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom: “Thinking About Groups”
Eric Schliesser on Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom: “On the role of Systematicity in an Impure Theory of a (Pluralistic) Liberalism worth Having” (try saying that three times fast).
Posts on freedom of speech on campus from Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, both making some use of this old BHL post of mine. See also Sigal Ben-Porath’s excellent new book Free Speech on Campus
The European Journal of Political Theory is promoting my “Contra Politanism” by making it available ungated and free for three months.
The Economist, “The misplaced arguments against Black Lives Matter”
John Quiggin

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Contra politanism, Against solidarity, and other things

July 3, 2017

Uncategorized

Two of the major pieces of my new “Justice in Babylon” research project are now available. (Both links gated, I’m afraid.)
“Contra politanism”, European Journal of Political Theory.
“Against solidarity: Democracy without fraternity,” in Keith Banting and Will Kymlicka, eds., The Strains of Commitment: The Political Sources of Solidarity in Diverse Societies, Oxford, 2017
(See also There is no such thing as ideal theory, Social Philosophy and Policy, which is also a part of this project.)
———-Some other promotional links while I’m at it.
The $30 paperback edition of Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom is coming out on July 13. To refresh your memory, the BHL symposium on the book

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Hypocrisy and shamelessness

February 8, 2017

Uncategorized

A recurring argument here and in our circles on Facebook has concerned how much to make of Democratic hypocrisy on limits of power in the course of allying against the Trump administration. In this morning’s LA Times I make the case that hypocrisy is far from the greatest worry about political morality, and that there’s something to be welcomed in the out-party’s usual rediscovery of liberal norms. The bigger concern is the rejection of norms altogether.

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