Thursday, December 10, 2009

Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Chapter 9, "The Elusive Optimal Mix of Exit and Voice"

In general, organizations do not respond equally well to voice and exit. This is not a problem, as long as an organization is responsive to some form of pressure to which it likely to be subjected. The pathological cases -- where exit is available but not responded to, or when voice is exercised but still nugatory -- call for reform, both by introducing institutional changes to make organizations more responsive to existing forms of pressure, and by persuading members and customers to try the alternative form of pressure.

Hirschman demurs from offering an optimal mix of exit and voice. He thinks that a stable, optimal mix is impossible. The effectiveness of any given recuperative mechanism can decay (just as organizations themselves do). Moreover, recuperation methods suffer from a feedback loop that makes whichever method is primary in a given context more dominant over time and makes the other increasingly neglected and even underestimated.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Chapter 8, "Exit and Voice in American Ideology and Practice"

Central place of exit in American history and self-conception: immigration (exit from former land), the frontier (exit from settled part of America), individual social mobility (exit from lower status groups, even in location).

Emerging black political movements have departed from individual mobility as the ideal -- seen as weakening the ability of the group to advance by depriving it of talented advocates.

Short discussion about why option of exit from the country or from its government seems so stunted despite its otherwise central role. At first cut this boils down to positing high entry costs of immigration. Not very compelling -- most Americans are not immigrants, even if their ancestors were. Then more discussion of peculiar factors that may suppress exit from government positions. the key suggestion is that one's role in government could be seen as especially important and consequential because the country is so powerful, and the consequences of it going astray absent one's influence could be so dire.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Chapter 7, "A Theory of Loyalty"

Question: under what conditions can exit and voice coexist? That is, when will voice still be used even when exit is available?

Answer: when individuals are (1) willing to trade off the certainty of exit for an uncertain prospect of recuperation of the product and (2) confident of their ability to influence the defective firm or institution.

Loyalty -- the attachment to the institution -- comes into play in the first case, but in fact both factors reinforce one another. People who care about an institution will tend to put themselves into a position where they can influence it, and people with influence will feel like they have more at stake.

Loyalty isn't an absolute barrier to exit. It is similar in its effect to a significant transaction cost.

Loyalty is most useful when (1) the use of voice is not straightforward but will require ingenuity and creativity (2) when the deteriorating product has close substitutes. The second case is paradoxical -- it seems irrational not exit when close substitutes are available -- but firms in this condition would have no chance to recuperate were it not for loyalty. Since products, institutions, and social groups are typically unevenly distributed on a scale of quality and prestige, with greater density on the lower end, the second case also means that loyalty is more useful at the lower end of the scale.

In using voice, the loyalist's most effective tool is the threat of exit. So we have the following seeming paradox: ease of exit makes voice less likely, but possibility of exit makes voice more effective. The conclusion which can be drawn from this is that voice will be most likely to be both used and effective when exit is possible but not too easy.

Notes on model of loyalist behavior:
  • voice increases with deterioration of quality, and curve bends up at points where there would be exit without loyalty and where there is threat of exit with loyalty
  • once loyal customers exit, they will not return until at least the quality associated with exit without loyalty is restored; the demand curve for exit is separate from the demand curve for return

Leaders of organizations and firms want to reduce both exit and voice. Will use high entry fees and high penalties for exit to make exit more difficult and to promote unconscious loyalist behavior. However, high entry cost induced loyalist behavior will ten to suppress the initial use of exit, but to make it more vigorous once it has started. If the cost of exit is high as well, however, the loss of threat of exit will make voice less effective. On the other hand, organizations where exit is difficult or impossible but entry cost is automatic (e.g., family, country) may actually sustain the most vigorous use of voice because members will see it as their due.

A special case of loyalty among influential members of organizations is brought into play under the conditions that (1) their departure would result in a further decline in quality and (2) they would continue to care about the quality even after exit. The first condition presumes that the departure of influential members has the opposite effect of the exit of market makers in monopoly or monopolistic competition; this is possible because the members play a part in the production of the good as well as its consumption. The second condition is rational under the assumption that full exit is impossible, which is the case for public goods. (Examples: Public schools, political parties, government administrations)

In such cases, members may be even less likely to depart as an organization gets worse, because they feel more strongly that is their responsibility to stick around to prevent things from getting yet worse. (With tongue only halfway in cheek, Hirschman uses the term spinelessness for this behavior). On the other hand, a member who does decide to exit under these conditions is more likely to use their exit as a tool of protest that will initiate continued use of voice from outside of the organization. Hirschman laments, however, that this use of exit by disgruntled public officials has fallen into disuse, replaced by officials treating their exit as a private matter -- one thinks of the stock "spending more time with my family" excuse.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter 10, "The Fall of Rome"

Heather begins by distinguishing local from central Romanness. Central Romanness -- a central court, bureaucracy, and system of law that responded to the interests of the landowning class, and a professional army to protect this order -- died in the 470s. With its demise the great centripetal force drawing the peoples of the west to Roman cultural identity disappeared. But local Romanness -- the cultural and ideological attachment to being Roman -- was slow a-dying. For more than a century after the end of the empire in the West, there was a significant section of elite population who were culturally and even legally Roman.

Heather takes a synoptic view of the three stages of the fall of central Romanness -- 1) the invasions of the late 4th and early 5th centuries; (2) progressively more debilitating carving out of domains within the empire by barbarian groups in the first three-quarters of the 5th century; (3) the final seizure of fully independent kingdoms by the barbarians when the empire was no longer able to stand up to them. He argues that the Huns drove the initial invasions, that their presence helped prevent further invasions in the 5th century and helped the Romans to control the previous invaders, and that the Hunnic collapse threw the balance of power decisively in favor of the barbarians.

The end of the Roman state did take away the incentive for local elites to maintain classical literary education, local civic life, and the other aspects of local Romanness. Military service rather than Romanness became the path to getting ahead.

Although Heather's rejects Gibbons' thesis that internal factors alone were the cause of Rome's fall -- pointing to the survival of the Eastern Empire as a decisive refutation -- he does acknowledge that the military, economic, and political limits of The Roman Empire interacted in decisive ways with the external invaders who brought down the Empire. Militarily, the Romans ability to contain the barbarians was limited because the Sasanian front required a quarter of the Empire's armed force. This military force could not simply be further expanded because there was no way to generate more revenue -- agricultural production was already at its maximum. Politically, the empire was brittle in the face of barbarian invasion because local landowning elites -- the bulwark of imperial support -- had to swing their support behind any new power in their region to retain their property. Moreover, the Empire was beset by demands from a vast breadth of local elites, and to satisfy these demands it had to resort divided imperial rule. It was never possible to really settle the division of power or the management of succession, however, so this dual system was subject to prolonged bouts of instability during which the barbarians were able to press their advantage.

The external factor in the fall of Rome -- the powerful groups of invading barbarians -- depended on integration of Germanic tribes into larger coalitions. This process was driven by fear and opportunity: fear of the power of the Roman state against isolated opponents and the opportunity to seize enormous wealth if sufficient force could be mustered. These factors had actually been at play (along with the increasing wealth of Germania itself) in consolidating Germanic political units for centuries before the invasions.

A couple of notes on the text: (1) There is a fair bit of repetition of ideas and even phrases in the last three chapters -- it could have done with more editing polish. (2) Throughout the work, the maps fail to provide enough detail. There are many significant features referred to in the text (example: the passes over the Haemus mountains) which cannot be identified in the maps.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter 9, "End of Empire"

Heather starts by batting down suggestions of neglect by the Eastern Empire. He argues -- look at those Sasanians over there! and those Huns! -- that Constantinople had a full ledger already, and did well to spare what they could when they could for the West.

That done, Heather recounts the East's final attempt to shore up the West, starting with the installation of a new emperor on the Western throne. (Sidonius is still the main source for events in the West in this period.) The Western general Ricimer had fallen out with his original partner Majorian and then found no support forthcoming for his hand-picked replacement, Severus, so he had to settle with the the Eastern emperor Leo. As a result, the well-connected Eastern general Anthemius was promoted to the purple.

The first order of business was taking out the Vandals in North Africa. Majorian had already given this a go in 461, but the Vandal king Geiseric had destroyed his fleet in Spain. In 468, the combined Empire put together another army and fleet for a landing near Carthage, but the Vandals caught the fleet in an unfavorable wind and defeated it with the use of fire ships.

With the failure of the expedition, the Western Empire had run out of options. There weren't enough resources left to contain the barbarians in Western Europe. The Visigoths seized most of Spain and Southern Gaul, the Franks occupied northern Gaul, and the Burgundians and other tribes picked up smaller slices.

Heather examines the process of collapse though two examples -- one, Noricum, at the periphery, and the other, Gaul, in the core of the empire. In Noricum, the archaeological and literary evidence (the latter coming from the Life of Saint Severinus) shows that for several decades before the final collapse there had been a withering away of the army garrisons, and the abandonment of scattered estates for walled Roman refuge towns. Over time, the refuge towns consolidated and moved further away from the river frontier as security deteriorated.

In Gaul, literary evidence (from the letters of Sidonius, in particular) shows that the conquering Visigothic and Burgundian kings sought and often got support from the Roman landowning elites. The new barbarian rulers needed the Roman landowners to maintain the estates (and possibly provide taxes) and they needed skilled bureaucrats from the landowning class to administer their states. In return, the kings were willing to let cooperative Romans keep at least some of their land.

In Italy, Ricimer fell out with and deposed Anthemius, setting off a further round of musical chairs with the imperial throne. In the meantime, the mostly barbarian Roman army of Italy was getting restive over not getting paid; Odovacar, a general of Sciri birth, took matters into his own hands by deposing the last emperor and distributing land to the soldiers in lieu of pay. (I gather from the notes that Heather's main source on these events is Procopius.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter 8: "The Fall of the Hunnic Empire"

The main source describing the demise of the Hunnic Empire is (the freagmentary remainder of) Jordanes' Getica. Jordanes, a Byzantine writing in the mid 6th century, claimed to have drawn his narrative from the Goth Cassiodorus' history from earlier in the century. This is likely true, but it is the source of a main concern in using evidence from the Getica: it is too centered on the Amal-led Goths (who were later Ostrogoths) and biased in favor of the ruling dynasty of those Goths. Heather concludes from reading between the lines of the Getica and pulling in other fragmentary evidence that the Huns suffered a slow bleed of subject peoples from the time of Attila's death, with peoples asserting their independence as they settled on internal leadership. The Gepids seem to have been the earliest to break away (and they confirmed their independence with victory at the battle of Nedao); the Amal-led Goths apparently didn't secede until Valamer had attained internal supremacy in a series of battles. As the Huns lost tribute and military manpower from more and more subject peoples, their position deteriorated to the point where they fled the Hungarian plain altogether for refuge in the Eastern Empire south of the Danube.

Heather argues that the Hunnic coalition was unstable from the beginning. The subject peoples were enrolled in the Hunnic Empire against their will and often treated harshly, but administered largely though their own native leadership. The Huns depended on intimidation and the distribution of the tribute from predation on the Roman Empire to keep the subject rulers in line. The Huns seem to have run into the limit of their ability to extract money from the Romans, however, and the defeat of successive invasions diminished perception of their power and probably reduced their revenue as well. This left the Attila's sons without the wherewithal to keep their vast empire intact.

Heather points out three significant consequences of the Hunnic collapse for the Roman Empire. First, it complicated the situation on the Danube frontier. The Romans now had to manage many frequently conflicting German tribes. Both the victors, who could be strong enough to exact tribute, and the losers, who often invaded or sought refuge in the Roman Empire, created challenges for Roman policy.

Second, the end of the Hunnic threat put Aetius in a precarious position. Power brokers in Roman politics judged that they could now do without his generalship. In fact, the emperor Valentinian assassinated Aetius in 454, only to be struck down in turn by co-conspirator Petronius Maximus the next year. (Petronius lasted for even less time.)

Third, the Huns could no longer be used as a mercenary counterweight to the barbarian groups already established within the Empire. Since the Western Empire itself no longer had the resources to contain them, either, barbarian groups had to be bargained with. From now on, they would play a leading role in the politics of the empire and the imperial succession. Thus Avitus, with the backing of the Visigoths, succeeded Petronius.

Here Heather has some fun taking apart the propaganda of Avitus' son-in-law Sidonius. Sidonius did his best to convince the Romans in Italy that Avitus was in control of the Visigoths rather than the other way around, and that the Visigoths were fine fellows anyway. The senators weren't buying, however, and Avitus was soon deposed by the Italian generals Majorian and Ricimer. From this, Heather draws the further conclusion that there were now too many factions to satisfy in the Western Empire: with the barbarians directly involved, no stable regime could be established

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Peter Heather, The Fall fo the Roman Empire: Chapter 7, "Attila the Hun"

Heather starts out with the Huns' attacks under the leadership of Attila and his (soon-to-be-traduced) brother Bleda in 441. The big shock was the Huns' mastery of siege warfare -- unlike earlier barbarians, they were able to overcome Roman fortifications. The origin of this skill, like most else about the Huns, remains obscure -- our best source, Priscus, survives only in chronologically scrambled fragments from a topical tenth century digest, so even the narrative of the invasion must be reconstructed from other sources.

The main source for the chronology of the Hunnic invasion is the Byzantine chronicler Theophanes. Heather's discussion of the criticism of Theophanes lacks coherence, however. According to Heather, Theophanes says that there were two invasions of the Balkans after 441-442, in 443 and 447. But then Heather says that Maenchen-Helfen's work shows that Theophanes put all of the doings of the Huns in the 440s into an entry for the years 449-450. It's not clear to me what to even make of this criticism. Has it been previously misunderstood what years Theophanes was talking about? Moreover, on the basis of the criticism, Heather claims that we are able to deduce that there was only one invasion -- the one in 447 -- without it at all being clear how he arrives at this conclusion.

In any case, Attila's Huns defeated two Roman armies in 447, and exacted an onerous peace from the Eastern Empire.

Heather turns his attention at this point to the nature of Hunnic society and the sources of its transformation into a military force rivaling Rome. He starts with the figure of Attila, the king of the Huns' empire. Looking through the lens of Priscus' description of his ambassadorial mission to Attila in 449, we get a picture of a shrewd leader: he carefully cultivated his image and exercised power with a deliberate and studied balance of aggression, brutality, and diplomacy.

One key political change in Hunnic society was the very existence of a single king like Attila. Heather points out that evidence from earlier contacts with the Huns, such as Olympiodorus' embassy in 411, shows that such centralization was a break from tradition -- the Huns of previous times had a ranked series of kings. Moreover, he notes, the anthropology of nomadic societies generally leads us to expect dispersed power, since the population is rarely concentrated in one place. Heather argues that winnowing the ranks of kings must have been accomplished largely through violence, as was the case with Attila's killing of his own brother Bleda. Moreover, he notes that the issue of refugee Huns in the Roman Empire that was such a major preoccupation for Attila sheds light on this process, for these refugees seem to have been the survivors of other royal lines.

In addition to eliminating rivals, however, Heather argues that the newly exclusive Hunnic kingship demanded a way to win the loyalty of the rivals' former followers. Heather speculates that this loyalty was essentially bought with the proceeds from an increasingly predatory relationship with the Roman Empire.

The other key transformation Heather points out in the Hunnic Empire was its Germanization. By the time of Attila, the Empire was certainly linguistically heavily Germanized -- even the names of Attila and his key lieutenants seem to have been Germanic. Furthermore, descriptions of Hunnic military campaigns make it clear that they had always included large number of Germanic or other non-Hunnic warriors. Moreover, the archaeological evidence from the area of Hunnic domination shows a much larger number of rich burials that were characteristically Germanic than Hunnic. Heather argues that all this was due to the incorporation into Hunnic control of a great proportion of the Germanic tribes who had not already invaded the Roman Empire. This massively increased the military manpower at the disposal of the Huns.

In 451 and 452, Attila turned this force on the Western Empire. Heather isn't able to do much to clarify the motive for the attacks. None of the grievances noted in the sources appear to be more than pretexts. Moreover, he kept alive a number of similar disputes with the Eastern Empire until settling them just before the invasion, apparently to secure his flank.

A Roman-Gothic coalition led by Aetius beat back Attila's invasion of Gaul in 451. Attila's invasion of Italy in 452 fizzled out under the stress of repeated sieges, harassment from Aetius' forces, and a flank attack into Hunnish territory by Marcian, the new Eastern Roman Emperor. Heather suggests that both campaigns were hindered by common logistic problems. The Huns lacked the wherewithal to supply large armies so far -- in the neighborhood of a thousand kilometers -- from their base in Central Europe. Hunger, disease, and the dispersal of forces to seek food and forage greatly diminished the Huns as a fighting force when they ventured so far afield.

Heather concludes that the Huns' invasions did not directly damage the Western Empire seriously enough to cause its fall, but they did prevent Aetius from containing the barbarians already within the Empire. North Africa, Spain, and Britain all slipped to barbarian control. Combined with the damage that had been done to the remaining provinces in Gaul and Italy, this perilously reduced the revenue of the Western Empire.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter 6, "Out of Africa"

Heather begins by describing the political maneuvering that, complemented by able generalship, secured Constantius' ascent to power. The goal of such high imperial politics was to eliminate rivals, but this, crucially, left the empire without a clear line of succession when Contantius died unexpectedly in 421 (given that his son was too young to rule). Twelve years of conpiracy and war ensued, from which the general Aetius emerged as the ruler (not as the emperor, but as more or less a regent for Theodosius, Constantius' son with Galla Placidia). Although the succession struggle was fairly normal by imperial standards, the situation was not: there were unsubdued barbarians in the empire who had a more or less free run while the rivals battled for control of the Western empire.

During this time, the Vandals and Alans crossed the Mediterranean to Africa and assaulted the rich Roman provinces near Carthage. The sources on the barbarian invaders thin out during the struggle to succeed Constantius, so all the details of why and how they got there are somewhat a matter of educated guesswork. Heather fills in a plausible story: seeing that Africa was relatively safe from Roman counterattack, the Vandals made the short passage to the far western provinces of Roman Africa, and then made a beeline for Carthage. The badly outnumbered and outclassed Roman forces in Africa were powerless to stop them.

At this point, Heather takes an excursus into a description of the importance of Roman North Africa, drawing on a range of sources. The remains of the port facilities of Carthage and Ostia bespeak the volume of shipping between North Africa and Rome. The ruins of the city of Carthage and provincial centers throughout its hinterland show how much the region profited from it. The trade was above all in staples like wheat and olive oil, but archaeology shows a variety of other goods, including wine and pottery, were also exported around the empire. Documentary evidence shows that Rome gave easy leases on public lands in North Africa, thus partially accounting for the size and profitability of agriculture there. The profitability of a larger range of cheap exports depended on low-cost transport, which Heather deduces was a result of the documented combination of compulsion and subsidy for the shipping profession.

Returning to Aetius, Heather lists the profusion of challenges facing the new Western leader -- besides the Vandals in Africa, the Suevi in Spain, the Visigoths and rebel local elements in Gaul, and various Germanic tribes along the frontier were all threatening the integrity of the empire -- and describes his response to them. Heather notes that the source material for the era is mostly bare chronicles, but for the European campaigns this is supplemented by a surviving palimpsest of parts of two panegyrics by Aetius' subordinate Merobaudes. From these sources, we know that Aetius secured two key alliances to deal with his challenges during the 430s. He got Constantinople to send an army to Carthage that compelled the Vandals to come to a deal for a peripheral slice of North Africa. He used an alliance with the Huns to subdue the rebels and contain the Visigoths in Gaul (Heather argues that he bought off the Huns with a slice of Pannonia to gain their help.) Finally, he was able to pressure the Suevi in Spain to come to an accommodation.

In 439, the Vandals under Geiseric took advantage of the opening provided by Aetius' preoccupation elsewhere to attack and capture Carthage and the key provinces of Proconsularis and Byzacena. A joint expedition with the Eastern Empire to reconquer the lost territories was called off in 441, and costly peace was made with the Vandals instead. Between the complete loss of revenue from the territory lost to the Vandals and greatly reduced take from what remained in Roman hands, a huge hole was opened in the Roman budget. Literary evidence reveals that this gap could not be filled even by eliminating all the perks granted to the privileged landowning class, and Heather infers that the army must have been drastically cut back as a result. Heather argues that there must have been a compelling reason to accept such a serious blow, and deduces from the sources that the reason was a new Hunnic threat that required the attention of the Empire in both East and West.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter 5, "The City of God"

After a little scene-setting account of the sack of Rome, and a brief note on original sources (Olympiodorus' history is the best narrative, but it is mostly preserved only in partially garbled extracts by later historians), Heather plunges into describing the new wave of barbarian invasions from 405-410: Radagaisus' Goths over the Danube bend and into Italy in 405/406, the Vandals, Alans, and Suevi across the Rhine into Gaul in 406, Uldin's Huns across the middle Danube in 408, and the Burgundians just across the Rhine around 411. Literary sources arguably suggest that all of these peoples can be placed in Central Europe in the period immediately before the invasion. They also report that these invasions were movements of large numbers of people, including many who were not warriors. Archaeological evidence shows a contemporaneous disappearance of the existing barbarian material culture in these regions. The invasion routes, the barbarian groups involved, the size of the movements, and the disappearance of existing cultures together points to a thoroughgoing displacement of the peoples of the Central European plain as the source of the invasion.

Heather admits that the motive for such a huge, rapid displacement can only be speculative, but he comes down on the side that they were pushed out rather than attacking of their own accord. Invading the empire was a huge risk. Roman hostility could be counted on, and success was far from certain -- a point which could only have been reinforced by the defeat of the first of these invasions, led by Radagaisus, in 406. Moreover, we have a plausible propelling force in the Huns, who had caused large scale movements before, and who are known to have occupied the lands of Central Europe from a time fairly shortly after the invasions.

The Vandals, Alans, and Suevi looted their way across Gaul for three years before moving on to Spain, where they finally settled down and replaced Roman rule with their own. During these barbarian peregrinations, the armies of Britain and Gaul revolted against central rule and settled on Constantine III as their schismatic emperor -- a development which was likely related to the failure of the hard-pressed Roman government under Stilicho to come to their aid.

Stilicho's hands were full not just because of Radagaisus, but even more because the Goths in the empire's Balkan provinces had revolted in 395. These Goths were now united under a single leader, Alaric. Their core concern was extracting a more binding guarantee of their permanent status in the empire. Having failed to extract such an agreement from the Eastern Empire, Alaric turned west, invading Italy in 401-402. But Stilicho was no more amenable to a settlement, and succeeded in fending the incursion off.
But in 406 Stilicho changed his tack, and sought out an agreement with Alaric for an alliance against the Eastern Empire. This would seem to be adding another course to an already overfull plate, but Heather argues that Stilicho's plans show that the real interest was a permanent alliance which would supplement the Roman army in the West with Gothic warriors to deal with the emerging threats to Gaul. The key point for Heather is that Stilicho's aims were limited to bringing all of Illyricum under Western control. This was a scaling back from his previous ambition to rule in the East, but it makes sense in terms of coming to a permanent disposition of the Gothic problem in the Balkans, since it would give him the authority to settle the Goths there.

In the event, the crisis erupted in Gaul before Stilicho could deliver on his promise to send Roman legions to join Alaric in the Balkans. Once barbarians were rampaging across Gaul and Constantine was in revolt, the legions could no longer be spared. Alaric, left in the lurch, moved his Goths to the Alpine passes to extort payment from Stilicho. He got it, but the Roman bureaucrat Olympius' conspiracy overthrew Stilicho soon after, and Rome adopted a policy of open hostility to the Alaric.

The extension of that hostility to Goths within the Roman army, however, led many to defect to Alaric. Supplemented by these forces and (probably Gothic) revolted slaves, Alaric invaded Italy again, laying siege to Rome itself in order to secure a deal. In the end, no deal was forthcoming, and Alaric's Goths finally (albeit respectfully) sacked Rome.

Following up on his description of the sack, Heather notes its profound ideological consequences. It led to a vigorous debate between Christians and pagans -- pagans claiming that the sack happened because Christian Rome had been abandoned by the Gods, while Christians argued that pagan Rome, too, had suffered sack and defeat in its history. Augustine followed through with this argument quite radically in The City of God, arguing essentially that there was nothing special, permanent, or divine about the Roman Empire -- that it was just one state among many others.

In contrast to Augustine's indifference, Heather leads into his account of the recovery of the Western Empire over the next decade with Gallo-Roman writers, Christian and pagan, who held fast to the Roman ideal.

The Roman recovery started with the supply-starved Goths departure from Italy to Gaul in 411, under Alaric's successor Athaulf. This freed the new Roman military commander in the West, Constantius, from concerns about leaving Italy uncovered, so he was finally able to take on the rebel emperor Constantine and his successors in Gaul. Against the last of these successors, Jovinus, Constantius had the assistance of Athaulf's Goths. But Athaulf had larger ambitions of his own -- he even married the Western emperor Honorius' captive sister Galla Placidia -- which got in the way of a more permanent settlement with the Goths. Constantius applied pressure by blockading supplies to the Goths in southern Gaul. By 415, the Goths had had enough: they overthrew Athaulf and came to terms with the Romans. In 416-418, Constantius marched into Spain with his new allies and put paid to the Alans and Siling Vandals (leaving just the Hasding Vandals and Suevi in the northwest to survive) before settling the Goths across the Pyrenees in Aquitaine.

As impressive as Constantius' successes were, the Western Empire was still substantially weaker than it had been fifteen years earlier. Britain and parts of Spain had never been recovered, and the tax revenue from much of Italy and Gaul must have plummeted due to the ravages of the invasions. A contemporary army register shows that half of the first-line units of the Western army had been lost, and only about half of the lost units were replaced with new first-line formations. Events of the last two decades had also shown the political fragility of the empire -- local landed elites were quick to cut deals with barbarian invaders to preserve their status.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Peter Heather,The Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter 4, "War on the Danube"

The Huns disrupted the 4th century order of barbarian kingdoms in southeastern Europe. Their attacks seem to have persuaded many of the Goths to try their luck at gaining entrance to the Roman empire. The Huns' key weapon was the very long, asymmetric, composite bow. The bow's asymmetry was the real innovation -- it allowed a longer bow, and thus one with more range and power, to be used from horseback.

Goths -- Tervingi and Greuthungi -- arrived on the Danube en masse in 376, and crossed into the empire. Contemporary sources make it out that this was welcomed, at least initially. Heather decides that this calls for extensive source criticism. In the first place, he notes, contemporaries' accounts tended to reflect imperial ideology, which could not accept the idea of barbarians having the advantage over Romans. But in this case there are reasons to think that the Romans were unsettled. The emperor Valens had committed most of his forces to an Eastern campaign, so the Romans did not have the military superiority at the frontier which had been a prerequisite for previous voluntary receptions of barbarians into the empire. The decision to admit only the Tervingi (the Greuthingi crossed the Danube later when the defenses were stripped) and the apparently rapid appeal for military assistance from the Western emperor shows there was a high level of concern. The precautionary securing of food supplies in fortified cities similarly demonstrates that the emperor thought things might go wrong. The apparent terms agreed for the settlement of the Tervingi (which allowed them to settle only in Thrace rather than in a more scattered way) shows that the situation had given them an unusual amount of leverage.

In any case, neither the Tervingi nor the Romans trusted the other side, and both apparently double-crossed the other -- the Goths by joining up with the Greuthungi, the Romans by attempting an assassination of the barbarian leadership. Things turned out badly for the Romans first with a scratch force at Marcianople in 377 and then with a full imperial army at Hadrianople in 378, where Valens attacked the Goths before additional forces from the Western emperor Gratian could arrive. Heather devotes a few pages to explaining the pressures behind Valens impetuousness. The apparent sophistication of the barbarians appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of the Roman army seems just as notable, however. They understood that the summer heat would take a greater toll on the heavily armored Romans, and maximized their advantage by setting large wildfires too boot.

The Romans proved unable to subdue the Goths in the field, but wore them into a peace by attrition. Still, the terms left large intact settlements of Goths within the boundary of the empire -- an unfavorable situation for the Romans, but one they could hope to erode through the pull of Romanization over time.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter 3, "The Limits of Empire"

Heather starts with the story of a corruption scandal in Lepcis Magna in the late 4th century -- a Roman general refuses to protect the town without bribes, an imperial delegate sent to investigate is suborned, with his own corruption used as leverage against him. This sort of thing, Heather says, is often taken as evidence of late Roman decline. But he casts doubt on this interpretation, citing sources which show that self-aggrandizement and advancement through connections were endemic and even expected in Roman government going back at least to the late Republic.

He draws another lesson from the story: because of the scale of the empire and the limits it imposed on communication, imperial rule was always episodic and superficial. Most of the empire was always several weeks journey away from an imperial court, so the emperor would have few points of contact with or sources of information from distant provinces (and even if more information had been available, the filing system of Roman officials wasn't up to the task of making it usable). Heather reiterates this point with documents from the journey of the early 4th century Roman bureaucrat Theophrastes from Egypt to Antioch demonstrating the slow pace of travel and the limits in regular contact between officials in different provinces.

Heather then takes up the question of whether late Roman society was overburdened by the costs of the 3rd century military buildup. Until a few decades ago, this was the settled view, supported by a broad collection of evidence: decline in inscriptions, decreased willingness to serve in local offices (flight of the curials), laws binding agricultural workers to estates, appearance of references to empty lands in texts.

Heather says this conflicts with recent archaeological evidence (starting with George Tchalenko's investigations of Antioch's hinterlands in the 1950s) that show rural settlement reaching or sustaining its peak level throughout most of the empire in the 4th century (with Italy being the most significant exception). He proceeds to explain away the evidence for a decline: the empty lands cited in documents may never have been settled, restrictions on the mobility of agricultural workers were only enforceable when population density was high, and the fall off in inscriptions and local political participation reflect a shift in the location of interesting positions to the imperial bureaucracy.

After this, Heather looks at the case, put forward most famously by Gibbon, that Christianity diverted resources from productive use and sapped allegiance to the empire. He notes that pre-Christian religious cults also absorbed a lot of resources, so that it isn't clear that this issue was any more significant in a Christianized empire. Moreover, Christianity quickly adapted to ideologically supporting the legitimacy (and even the divine blessing) of imperial rule. The state's ability to entice elites to Christianize in order to advance in official posts shows that the influence of the center had not, in fact, been diminished.

Heather concludes with a discussion of some limitations of imperial Roman government (riffing off the Senate's reception of the Theodosian code). Foremost among these is the added instability and tension from the logistical and administrative requirement for two relatively equal emperors, especially since no firm system of succession was ever worked out. Heather points to ideological conformity as another weakness, although it is not clear why he thinks this is an actual source of weakness of the state rather than just something unpleasant. Finally, he points to the effective restriction of political engagement to a small landed elite and the concomitant focus of the state in serving the needs of that elite. He suggests that this left the vast laboring agricultural majority indifferent to the Roman state, and the allegiance of the landowning elite up for grabs when the state failed to offer protection for their property.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter 2, "Barbarians"

Heather starts with the story of the massacre of Varus' legions by the Germans under Arminius in 15 AD. This incident became the focus of nationalistic German scholarship in the 19th century, which saw in it a key moment in the struggle for German unity and independence. Heather points out that it would be an anachronism to attribute a sense of national unity to the Germanic tribes of this period -- they were just as prone to fight each other as the Romans. Heather also argues that this kind of German resistance did not keep ancient Germania out of the Roman empire. Rather, he argues, the low level of development made the conquest unattractive (although the logistical convenience of the Rhine barrier for garrison resupply was also a factor in favor of using it as the frontier). I think Heather overargues the case here -- the fierceness of German resistance, after all, also affected the balance between the costs and benefits of conquest.

Heather goes on to argue that the main pressure on the Roman frontier in the 3rd and 4th centuries came from the Sasanid Empire in Persia, which he calls a second superpower of the ancient world. A series of defeats at the hands of the Sasanids in the 3rd century pushed Roman emperors to reform the army and increase its size by at least a third. They needed to raise taxes to pay for a larger army, and they also expanded central administration to better manage the increased revenue.

Heather moves on to a discussion of Roman ideology concerning barbarians, introduced by a few anecdotes concerning the Romans relish for slaughtering them. A remark by the 4th century Roman orator Themistius leads in to what Heather sees as the key Roman view about barbarians -- that they were completely driven by desire, and thus irrational. Civilized Romans, on the other hand, were supposed to exercise rational control of their desires. This led Roman intellectuals to view their society as totally distinct from and superior to the barbarians, and even divinely favored.

The earlier anecdotes, however, suggest that loathing for barbarians was a mass phenomenon, too, and that in fact seems a requirement of mobilizing the resources of Roman society to resist barbarian incursions. But Heather's discussion of ideology doesn't explain how this popular disdain was was generated -- I wouldn't expect that the elitist ideology could simply carry over, since in some way it was also involved in justifying elite rule over common Romans.

This expectation of total superiority over the barbarians created difficulties for official propaganda, however, since the results of conflicts were often not so clear cut (or even favorable at all). Heather returns to Themistius throughout the chapter to show the problems he had providing the official spin on a number of different encounters with barbarian adversaries.

Heather brings up Athanaric, the Gothic chief, and Ulfilas, the Gothic Christian religious leader, to demonstrate that the Gothic world was not, in fact, sharply divided from the Roman one. Athanaric understood the Romans well enough to play off factions against one another in attempt to improve the conditions of his relationship with Rome. Ulfilas, a Gothic Christian leader who was actually the son of Roman captives, weighed in on the controversies besetting Christian doctrine as it was officially specified in the Nicene era.

Heather extends his discussion of Roman-barbarian interdependence with a discussion of the alternating aggression and clientage of Germanic kingdoms along the Roman border in the late imperial era. He takes this high degree of interdependence as a jumping off point into a discussion the revolutionary changes in barbarian society.

Heather notes that the Germanic tribal names appearing in Roman texts both changed and diminished in number in the 3rd and 4th centuries. He cites this as evidence of political consolidation. He uses the archaeological findings from German settlements and industrial sites to argue that German agricultural and economic production exploded from the 1st to the 4th century. He adduces archaeological evidence of increasing stratification in burials to argue that Germanic society was becoming similarly stratified. He takes the evidence of large-scale consumption at palace centers to show that political leaders were able to support increasingly large retinues, and he suggests that the power conferred by large collections of armed followers would explain the ability to consolidate larger political units and extract a larger proportion of the economic surplus for a social and political elite. Heather believes that Germanic society was still far short of feudal society in its stratification, however, because even the legal documents from the successor kingdoms show the existence of a very significant class of freemen.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter 1, "Romans"

Heather starts with the story of a massacre of one and a half second-line Roman legions by the Germanic Eburones in 54 BC. Despite being ambushed in a terrible position by a larger force, the Romans held out all day and fought to the death. This illustration of toughness and prowess, even in defeat, leads into a discussion of the characteristics -- training, cohesion, morale, engineering -- that made the Roman army so formidable. Heather notes that the Romans supplemented military might with prudent diplomacy, and these built and sustained one of the most extensive states in history for half a millennium.

Given the duration of the empire, it is not surprising that Roman society and political institutions changed a great deal. Heather dissents from the scholars who conclude that these changes significantly weakened the empire and led to its fall.

Heather's discussion of the nature of the empire begins with the late imperial rhetorician Symmachus. His relentless networking -- some 900 of his letters survive -- illustrates the workings of an elite Senatorial class. This class was distinguished by a canonical literary education which they believed made them mentally and morally fit to lead -- an outlook which stretched back to the Republican era.

Heather uses the story of Symmachus' embassy to the imperial court in Trier to elucidate some further points. First, as the very existence of such a mission shows, Rome was no longer the political and administrative center of the empire. Military exigency required rule from bases nearer the frontier. (Just one base generally did not suffice because of the length of the frontier, and Heather argues this is the key factor behind the emergence of joint imperial rule.) Nor were Roman senators any longer the pre-eminent political class. This role had been taken over by military commanders and bureaucrats.

Furthermore, Heather uses the city of Trier as an example of the thoroughgoing Romanization of the empire. He points out that the archaeological remains of Trier and other towns of the imperial hinterland show that they had adopted Roman building models and acquired the full panoply of Roman public buildings. Heather argues that this amounts to more than a mere imitation of style; it points, he says, to a wholesale adoption of Roman customs that gave point and purpose to the kinds of private and public buildings they constructed. Heather points to Ausonias, a rhetorician of Gallic birth who rose to the summit of both the scholarly and political world, as an example of the breadth and depth of cultural Romanization.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: Introduction

Heather suggests that he will explain the fall more in terms of external than internal causes. In other words, Rome did not simply fall: it was conquered.

He's not a historian who sees no use in poststructuralism. He points to two salutary contributions of contemporary critical approaches: (1) challenging the stereotype of unsophisticated and unchanging barbarians and (2) understanding the source texts as laden with agendas (although I might have expected historians to understand that already).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Chapter 6, "On Spatial Duopoly and the Dynamics of Two-Party Systems"

By considering changes in quality not as absolute but as a trade off between preferences of different sets of consumers, Hirschman is able to analyze two-party political systems in terms of voice and exit.

In a monopolistic situation, where its share of the market can't be changed by exit, an organization will seek to produce a contested good at a quality that minimizes discontent.

In a situation where consumers at one end of the quality continuum have no substitute product, but the consumers at the other end are highly likely to defect to a substitute, voice is likely to be exercised only by the customers with nowhere to go. In this situation, profit (or market share) maximization would lead an organization to satisfy the volatile consumers no matter how great the discontent at the other end. But since minimizing discontent does come into play, a party will actually pursue a program at some distance from the desires of voters at the center of a two-party system.

Hotelling model of two-party system: parties will tend to move to the center, leaving voters on the outlying ends of the spectrum poorly served. Despite its pre-eminence, this thesis has not generally been borne out by the behavior of American political parties, which have positioned themselves at some distance on either side of the political center. One way of accounting for this failure lies in the model's neglect of elasticity of demand -- once a party moves far enough away from its base voters, it could begin to lose some of them. (To me, reduced turnout seems the most likely mechanism for this). Hirschman, however, does not find this criticism compelling, and offers a different explanation: the "captive" voters at the extreme ends of the continuum bring their parties closer to them by use of voice.

Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Chapter 5, "How Monopoly Can Be Comforted by Competition"

Economists' usual concern about monopolies is exploitation: they can limit production to maximize profit. Competition is an effective remedy for this problem. But another issue with monopolies is their potential for slack and decay. In this case exit may comfort a monopolist by relieving it of ts most burdensome customers (thus defusing the potential of voice to remedy the monopolist's deficiencies).

"Lazy" monopolists who welcome exit are found frequently when their market is based on location and a significant disparity in mobility exists between the majority of customers and the more quality-sensitive minority.

Sometimes monopolies can even promote selective exit. Hirschman's example here is from autocratic South American governments which encourage exile for political dissidents. He notes the consequences of this situation by comparing the autocratic politics of Latin America with the consensus-driven politics of Japan, where exit has been made more difficult by geography and a lack of destinations in which an exile could easily assimilate.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Chapter 4, "A Special Difficulty in Combining Exit and Voice"

In some cases, ease of exit entrenches poor quality . Institutions that are relatively impervious to the effects of exit (nationalized Nigerian railway, public schools, corporate management with respect to stockholders are given as examples) are less likely to restore quality if their most active and resourceful customers leave, because these are the customers who could most effectively exercise voice.

Hirschman makes an analysis of exit as a function of consumer surplus. Consumers with a large surplus -- those for whom the product actually holds much greater value than the market price -- exit most quickly when quality declines. A price increase has the opposite result -- consumers with a small surplus are the first to exit.

Hirschman identifies consumers who have a large surplus with those most concerned with quality, and also with consumers who can most effectively exercise voice, or at least have the most to gain by doing so. (This is key to the analysis of the result of a decline in quality).

Consumers concerned with quality will be most willing to exit when better quality (although probably more expensive ) good is available. Price-sensitive consumers will be most willing to exit when a cheaper (although lower quality) good is available. As a result, quality-conscious consumers will be quit to exit in response to deterioration when a better, albeit more expensive, good is available but slow to exit when inferior, although cheaper, goods are available.

Since quality conscious consumers are most likely to exercise voice, this has an important impact on a large class of "quality of life" public services which depend heavily on voice for the maintenance of quality: the gap in the quality of these services between the high and low end will tend to increase. This is especially true in societies with a high level of social mobility. Where exit upward to superior service regimes is restricted, however, consumers have more at stake in improving the quality of their existing services, and the gap will not grow as wide.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ernst Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy: Chapter 4, "The Subject Object Problem in the Philosophy of the Reniassance"

(I) Background -- the self in ancient and medieval philosophy. Plato -- soul as capacity to grasp both ideas and sensation. Aristotle -- empirical soul as capacity to direct an individual life to its ends, but also a general soul , nous, as the capacity to understand pure thought. In expressing these concepts, both Plato and Aristotle tend towards reifying and thus mythologizing the soul. Neoplatonism takes up the notion of the soul as a thing, and assigns distinct places in its hierarchical order of being for the general and individual soul. Averroism erases true individual subjectivity from this picture by arguing for the unity of thinking; in this view the individual thinks by unifying himself with the absolute intellect. Scholasticism rejects this effacement of the individual subject for reasons both religious -- an individual subject is a requirement for personal salvation -- and methodological -- we experience thought only through individual thinking selves.

Petrarch's assertion of intellectual individuation is essentially aesthetic -- a delight in multiplicity.

For Cusa, intellect can only exist in relation to the sensible. Intellect consists in defining and distinguishing experience. It not the fact of thinking but its distinct content resulting from different concrete circumstances which provides the principle of intellectual individuation.

Ficino's variant of Neoplatonic thought is centered on eros. The traditional Platonic (and also Neoplatonic) conception of eros consists in a striving on the part of the sensible for the ideal -- it is the driving force of all becoming. For Ficino, however, this striving is reciprocated -- God also strives and cares for man and the world. All intelligences in fact take care for the sensible as well as striving for the ideal.

This opens the possibility for true Neoplatonic theodicy -- matter is not pure evil, not the opposite of form, but the necessary concomitant of form in which form is realized. Eros unifies matter and form.

Ficino's doctrine is applied to the philosophy of knowledge by Patrizzi -- knowledge and love both seek to overcome the separation of the ideal and sensible -- knowledge as a stage or aspect of the work of eros.

The doctrine of eros also becomes an explanation and justification of the work of the artist -- unifying form and matter.

Common to these and other recourses to eros by Florentine Platonism is a new awareness of subjective consciousness. This individual consciousness is portrayed, however, as having its basis in a soul which is independent of the body. The revival of Aristotelian psychology by the Paduan school presents, starting with Pompanazzi, a counterpoint to this spiritualism.

Pompanazzi contends that the individuation of consciousness depends on the inseparability of souls from individual bodies. He argues that the soul is a function of the body, namely the function which gives order and direction to the body. In this he does not divide an intellectual soul from an animal soul -- intellect is not separable from life.

(II) Both schools conceived of matter in spirit as substances, and tried to reduce or subordinate one substance to the other. Modern view relates spirit and nature functionally. The models provided by scientific research and a new conception of art both contribute to this shift, because they take thought as a creative act which gives structure to nature which nevertheless remains independent.

Petrarch is an early precursor to this shift -- his poetry recovers nature from the medieval view that it is fundamentally evil -- but this ultimately serves the end of self-contemplation rather than investigation.

A nearer antecedent is the trend toward empirical observation of nature in the Quattrocento and Cinquecento. This is taken up in Renaissance philosophy by Telesio's naive, purely deductive empiricism (which is essentially the same as Francis Bacon's empiricism). But this kind of empiricism does not succeed in providing real order to thinking about nature. Even Telesio's followers -- Pico, Campanella, Giambattista della Porta -- seek order within nature by reference to magical or occult causes. (This tendency is fostered by Renaissance philosophy's conception of knowing a thing as a matter of becoming unified with it, which depends in the end on a commonality of substance.)

151-152: "The theory of nature of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries laid the foundation for exact description and exact experimentation; but closely connected with this, we find also the attempts at the foundation of an 'empirical magic'. The difference between 'natural' and 'demonic' magic lies in that the latter is based on the acceptance of supernatural forces whereas the former wants to remain completely within the framework of nature and of its empirical uniformity, claiming for itself no method other than inductive observation and the comparison of phenomena. But, this form of 'induction' does not yet recognize any kind of analytical-critical limitations, such as are presupposed and lie at the base of every genuine 'experiment'. Thus, the world of experience here borders on the world of miracles, and both constantly overlap and merge with each other. The whole atmosphere of this 'science' of nature is filled to the brim with miracles."

152: "To conceive of experience itself as a mere aggregate, to define it, with Campanella, as experimentorum multorum coacervatio, means that there can be no analysis of its elements and no evaluation of the role played by each individual element in the systematic construction of 'nature'. Such an analysis and evaluation could only be made after a separation of the basic elements of experience had been achieved elsewhere -- after an 'inner crisis' had taken place in experience itself. This separation of the 'necessary' from the 'accidental', this distinction between that which obeys laws and that which is fantastic and arbitrary, was brought about not by the empiricism and sensualism of the philosophy of nature but by the intellectualism of mathematics."

Leonardo takes two key steps towards a modern conception of knowledge. He accords honor to sciences according to their achievement of certainty rather than their subject matter. And he views experience not just as something given, but something that can be analyzed and given order to by thought, and particularly by mathematics. Still, Leonardo retained a bias towards conceiving order or form in terms of vision. His notebooks are a combination of close observations and visual thought experiments (which Cassirer, following Goethe, calls 'exact fantasies') -- which aim at truth as a perfection of seeing. Artistic vision is not differentiated from mathematical analysis.

The theory of science in the Renaissance is linked to the theory of art by a focus on the problem of form. The conception of form in the new theory of art exemplified by Leonardo was just as decisive as the use of mathematics for the formation of a new science of nature. Leonardo insisted that artistic creation was not an imposing of form on nature, but a discovery of order and form in nature, and this view of form in nature was taken up directly Galileo and Kepler.

Cassirer considers the historical analogy between the change in ancient thought produced by Plato and the emergence of new theory of science in the Renaissance. In both cases, an earlier attempt at a direct, superficial empiricism is overtaken by a turn to the ideal and mathematical. The earlier natural philosophy of the Renaissance understood knowledge as a unification with the object. The new art and science both sought to establish a distance between subject and object, and furthermore to analyze nature itself into particulars.

The Platonic account of sensibility, however, saw its significance only as a prompting to knowledge of pure form. The new art and science give a different valence to the relationship between formal knowledge and experience. They expect theory to be applied to and validated by experience.

Significantly, for Galileo even movement became an object of knowledge.

(III) Movement is also at the core of Aristotelian philosophy of nature. But movement involves fundamental qualitative differences, since location itself has a substantial meaning for Aristotle. Just as bodies have fundamental qualities which make them what they are, so do places, and movement depends on the harmony or disharmony between things and places. Modern physics, on the other hand, thinks of location strictly in terms of their measureable relation to other places.

Cusa is the key figure in introducing a relativistic conception of movement and place. This conception has its roots in his view of knowledge as measurement and his argument that measurement requires the positing of fixed points. Seeing fixed points as posited necessarily excludes the possibility of any absolute place or movement. But it opens the possibility of thinking about rules which govern the relative change in location between things. Moreover, these can be universal rules, applying the same way to all parts of the world, because the world is conceived as having uniformity.

Aristotelian conception of space is just the conception of a boundary between a bodies and what encloses them. But these boundaries are mutual boundaries with other objects within their own spaces (except the external boundary of the world itself). So empty space is meaningless in Aristotelian terms. The totality of space is an aggregate, not a systematic condition of individual spaces.

The first step towards a systematic conception of space was to look at space as homogeneous. This is the principle which was grasped by Cusa, but only found its realization with Galileo. For Galileo, this homogeneity is a consequence of understanding space geometrically -- looking at nature as a mathematical order rather than as a collection of substances. In fact, there is a reversal of the Aristotelian dictum that activity follows being. Since our knowledge of motion has a perfectly general, mathematical form, which applies the same way to all physical phenomena, all matter must have the same substance.

Not only did mathematics and geometry shape a new view of motion, but motion reciprocally shapes our understanding of mathematics and geometry. Particularly notable is Kepler's analysis of geometrical solids as a product of the motion of curves. Furthermore, the analytic geometry of Descartes and Fermat, with the use of a system of coordinates whose center is strictly conventional, depends upon the prior overcoming of the Aristotelian conception of space.

Parallel to this, we have Bruno's conception of an infinite, homogeneous world. He arrives at not through physics, however, but through his views of the incontainability of human feeling and the human intellect.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Chapter 3, "Voice"

Voice and exit are both optimally effective when exercised by only a portion of the clientele. If expression of dissatisfaction becomes too widespread, it hampers the ability of a firm or agency to respond. (This is not as obviously true to me as the debilitating effect of a too extensive use of exit.)

For any organization, one of these forms of response to deteriorating quality will dominate, and this keeps the other response from ever reaching a debilitating level. For firms in competitive markets, exit is dominant, so a firm would already have been destroyed by exit before voice could create a burden.

Voice can be understood at first approximation as a residual of exit. Voice gets exercised inversely to the proportion of customers who leave: it depends on the inelasticity of demand with respect to quality.

In undeveloped economies with few substitute choices of goods, there is more use of voice. In deeper markets with more choices, exit tends to prevail.

Where exit is the dominant response, any use of voice will be beneficial. The optimal combined response to a decline in quality is an initially elastic decline in demand -- rapid exit -- followed by by an inelastic decline that gives scope to the use of voice.

Voice can also be conceived of as an alternative to exit. In this case, voice is a primary response to declining quality, and exit is only resorted to if voice fails as a remedy. This pattern of response requires that the product or service is originally superior in quality. If it is originally perceived to be very close in quality to its alternatives, then substitutability is high and exit is a stronger option. It also depends upon the perception that voice can be effective in restoring the original superiority in quality.

Exercising voice also takes relatively greater effort than exit. For this reason, voice is not as likely to be exercised by consumers of a large number of different products -- the cumulative cost becomes prohibitive. It is more likely to be used by members of organizations, because the number of groups people belong to is not generally too large, or for bigger purchases, where the cost of using voice could be justified by the expected gain.

The efficacy of voice is also limited in competitive markets with many actors. This makes voice more likely to exercised by members of organizations or participants in markets with few significant participants -- venues where the expectation of effective influence is greater.

Recognition of voice as an available corrective mechanism can prompt efforts to create institutions and mechanisms to make its user easier. This shows an important difference between exit and voice: exit requires nothing more than the availability of a different choice, while the exercise of voice requires creativity. (Hirschman calls it an art.) This creates a bias in favor of exit, because decisions about which option to use are based on past experience. But since the use of voice needs to be adapted for each circumstance, there will likely be exactly fitting past exercise to draw upon.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ernst Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy: Chapter 3, "Freedom and Necessity in the Philosophy of the Renaissance"

Renaissance philosophers often present ideas through image and myth (Bruno in particular saw this as a requirement of human reason, but Valla and others also take this approach). Cassirer sees this literary form as a key to understanding the way Renaissance philosophy deals with the problem of necessity and free will. It does not offer any new solution or even new conceptual frame to the problem. It shows more interest in leaving the problem in tension than it does in a resolution. Cassirer's suggestion seems to be that the softening of the concepts and distinctions through literary form contributes to the ability to maintain the problem in tension.

There is also an insistence on addressing the problem without reliance on dogma, relying only on human reason. (I think the the modern philosophical tradition would find a tension between the reliance on reason and the use of myth.)

In Pompanazzi, at least, the precision of the Scholastic distinctions used to analyze freedom and necessity is maintained -- even enhanced by insisting on fidelity to original Aristotelean conceptions -- but there is no attempt to reconcile dogma with reason. Pompanazzi does follow Valla, however, in insisting that there is no conflict between foreknowledge of events and human freedom of action, since it is the events themselves which are determined and not their causes. Pompanazzi also resists drawing any ethical consequence from pre-knowledge; he severs metaphysics from ethics.

Pico della Mirandola's Oration on the Dignity of Man distinguishes man from every other being by his freedom to create his own nature through action. For everything else but man, being determines action: what a thing is, what it's place is in the order of things, determines what it does, how it acts. For man, on the other hand, his own free action determines what he is. Pico's theme -- that freedom defines man's nature -- is drawn from humanist thought, but he introduces a new element to that tradition by portraying man as a microcosm (a concept developed in the thought of Cusa and Ficino). Man, according to Pico, actually contains the possibilities of all other things in himself, and thus be can become like any of them.

In this, Pico distills the tension characteristic of Renaissance thought -- man must be open to the entire universe, to knowledge of all the world, but hold himself apart from it. The distinction made here between man and world, mind and nature, subject and object is not absolute, because the opposed pairs are also defined by the relationship between them. That relationship is found in acts of willing and knowing. (Cassirer sees this as following the true sense of Platonic philosophy -- both transcendence and participation).

Charles de Bouelles professes a division of the world into levels which illustrates the centrality of this theme -- the simultaneous distinction and involvement of subject and object -- in Renaissance thought. The highest level -- self-reflective knowledge -- also requires the most basic level -- simple being -- as the object of its knowing. (Cassirer sees an influence from Cusa's thinking on the trinity in this, where final unity depends on a process of development.) This metaphysics is also an ethics: man isn't simply given self-reflection, he rises to that level by virtue of his own effort and action.

Allegory of Adam as an expression of Renaissance thought: portrayal of primordial man that focuses on his freedom. Merging with Prometheus myth, focus on man's power to create. Boccaccio: Promethean creation as a second creation of man, which gives him not existence, but his specific character as a creator -- Renaissance philosophy moves away from this trope in increasing seeing man's creativity as a result of his own free action.

98: Cusa and Bruno. For Cusa, ideal of humanity is realized in Christ. For Bruno, ideal of humanity requires idea of autonomy, but this pulls it away from religion.

In the second section of this chapter, Cassirer examines the significance of Renaissance thought's struggle with astrology. Astrology was not vanquished by medieval thought, but it was tamed. Medieval medicine and natural science in particular were saturated with astrological thinking. But astrology was only permitted to be a secondary force, like demons or evil spirits, subordinate to God. Faith kept it in check in systems of medieval thought.

With the strengthening of a worldly outlook in the Renaissance, however, astrological thinking comes more to the foreground. Ficino holds that the stars can influence the bodies of men but not their minds, which I think Cassirer suggests was a respectably conventional view. But concern for the power of the stars remained foremost in his thinking anyway. His ethical work stresses directing ones life in accordance with the possibilities allowed by the constraints of that power. This amounts to a new challenge to human freedom that was characteristic of the trend of Renaissance thought. As the regnum gratiae (rule of grace) wanes, the regnum naturae (rule of nature), which makes its own claims on human freedom, waxes. Since astrology and magic were woven into the early Renaissance conception of natural science, and this fabric was only slowly unwoven and reassembled upon different principles, the struggle for asserting human freedom became for the Renaissance largely an intellectual struggle with astrology.

Pompanazzi grapples with the astrological view by trying to reshape it, to make it methodologically strict. So Pompanazzi accepts as given many reports of miraculous or apparently magical events. But he insists that they are not the result of any special personal or spiritual powers. Instead, they can all be systematically explained by the same forces which shape more ordinary events, and that these regular shaping forces are astrological. Even divine action only occurs through the mediation of the heavenly bodies. In fact, our knowledge of the divine through revelation is itself subject to astrological causality, because the intellectual realm is just as thoroughly within the bounds of systematic natural causes as the physical world.

104: "Here, a logic is operative seeking to deduce a priori the form of astrology as the only one adequate to our knowledge of nature. Astrological causality becomes, to use a modern phrase, the 'condition for the conceivability of nature'. For Pompanazzi, it does not signify a surrender to the world of miracles but actually the only salvation from that world, the only sure guarantee for the unconditional validity of the laws of nature. Though it may seem paradoxical at first glance, we are dealing with a thoroughly 'rational' astrology." (This brings to mind Veyne's study of 'rational' Greek mythology.)

Renaissance philosophy brings forth both a new conception of knowledge, in which everything can be explained in a unified way from natural causes, and a new sense of human freedom; but these conflict. Microcosm motif used as a way out, a way of balancing the demands of both. Ficino's takes up this motif to portray the world as organic, hierarchical, emanatistic. But emanationism and hierarchy are undermined by new cosmological thinking founded by Cusa, which denies that the cosmos is graduated or even centered. So the motif of microcosm is taken up as one of correspondence between man and heavens rather than dependence. So with Paracelsus we have an account of a harmonious correlation between man and the heavens, without either side being strictly superior or uniquely determinative. So there is room for ethics, since man's action has influence, too. This is actually taking up a theme of Ficino's astrology. Ficino held that the influence of the stars circumscribes the life possibilities of an individual, but it leaves choices of direction within the set of possibilities. Man can still choose the direction of his life -- whether he strives for the intelligible or the sensible.

Pico, on the other hand, attacks astrology directly (although is own thought is fairly saturated with magical and astrological thinking). While Neoplatonist-influenced medieval thought gave transcendence a spatial as well as spiritual dimension, and thus portrayed the world as having a hierarchical order, Pico recognized no spatial priority. The hierarchical systems lent themselves to acceptance of stellar influences though occult causation; Pico rejects causation that is not proximate and experienced, and thus demonstrable and verifiable.

The ultimate roots of Pico's objection to astrology are not metaphysical, however, but ethical. The claims of astrology would limit man's scope for self-determination, which Pico insists on in face of all else. He attributes great and even seemingly unfathomable human achievements to human genius rather than external astrological influences. Thus, the Renaissance achievement in breaking the power of astrology (and Pico influences Kepler in particular on this path) was the result of the assertion of human freedom in Renaissance thought.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Chapter 2, Exit

How does exit lead firms to repair lapses in quality? When customers leave, the firm loses revenue. If this loss is large enough, the firm will try to correct the failure. If the loss is too large, however, it will be unable to act. So for exit to work optimally there must, paradoxically, be some inert customers -- ones who will not respond quickly to a deterioration in quality.

In a situation where all producers in an industry produce flawed goods, exit may actually create an equilibrium in which firms do not lose money from lapses in quality. Customers are effectively exchanged between the competing firms as they leave one and buy from another. Exit wastes effort (looking for competing goods) that would be directed more usefully through voice if there were no competition. Effectively conceals the systemic failure in quality.

This assessment (collusive competition obscures poor quality and frustrates improvement in conditions) can be applied to non-economic institutions. Examples: multiparty democracies, competing trade unions.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Chapter 1, Introduction and Doctrinal Background

Fundamental question: how do organizations recover from lapses in efficiency? Options for clients of lapsed organizations roughly break down into exit (withdraw from interaction) and voice (remain but apply pressure).

Key premise: perfect competition is a poor model for organizational behavior, because slack is pervasive in organizations, including businesses. Slack tends to increase entropically until corrected.

Exit: economics. Voice: politics.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ernst Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy: Chapter 2, "Cusanus and Italy"

Cusa's influence on Italian philosophy must be looked for not in academic philosophy, but in the thought of key practical men and artists, particularly Leonardo and Alberti. His key influence was not in doctrines but in goals and methods. Cusa propels a tendency in Renaissance thought which insists on giving priority to knowledge based on experience. Cusa creates the methodological basis for this direction in thought by portraying measurement as the foundation of knowledge.

With his mystical embrace of nature, St. Francis led the way to a revaluation of the sensible world. The key image which comes out of the resulting mystical tradition is that of the world as a book written by God. Campanella and other natural philosophers looked at this as a matter of sympathetic reaction to nature, so that things in the world are capable of being understood as signs of God as a result of an immediate feeling. Cusa and the scientific thinkers after him looked for truth in mathematically expressed systematic relationships in nature. The success of this scientific development depended on two innovations. First was the use of the vernacular as a means of expression (is this plausible? Descartes, Leibniz, and Newton wrote in Latin.) The second was the emphasis on technical applicability.

The Platonic philosophy of the Florentine academy represents something of a retrogression from Cusa. Cusa sought to reconcile philosophical and religious thought in a single system with neither having superiority. Florentine Platonists -- Ficino and Pico --gradually retreated to restoring primacy of theological interest. However, it still represented a continuation of the theme of the problem of knowledge that had been opened by Cusa.

Beauty central link between God, man, and world for Florentine Platonists. God created world with harmony and order. The mind of man is constituted to judge and know beauty.

Common ground with Cusa’s idea of man as a microcosm of the world. The soul, because it is able to know beauty in all of nature, is an intermediary element between god and the world for Ficino. And this is a dynamic intermediation for Ficino as much as Cusa. For both, man becomes an intermediary by acts of knowing. For Ficino, these acts have the specific character of giving form to nature and acting to improve upon the given form. (This notion was well suited to adoption by the artists of the Renaissance.)

Man is representative of all nature for Cusa, so his redemption implies the world’s redemption. Incarnation for Ficino redeems nature as well as men because it guarantees through man’s redemption that man always has the ability to give nature form.

For both Cusa and Ficino, work of the mind has no end. This infinite seeking for more perfect knowledge is not a defect, but what relates man's efforts to God.

For both Cusa and Ficino, Christ has a similar position -- as humanity in general (Cusa) or the idea of humanity (Ficino). Similar philosophy of history in relation to Christianity -- not seeing a sharp polarity between Christian truth and preceding error, but seeing all religions as having a share of legitimacy in that in some sense they worship God.