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Friday, Feb 25, 2005

founding fodder

"We were discussing notions of individual and group rights, and how defending the rights of the former can involving infringing upon the reigning conceptions of the latter. But where does that leave the group out from which the rights-bearing individual emerged in the first place? (The specific context of the discussion was Iraq, and whether one can coherently speak of fighting against some portion of the population of a state in the name of providing "rights" to another, in some ways indistinguishable portion of the population.) With a little bit of guidance from Rousseau, we gradually came to talking about the political problem of beginnings. Figuring out how to legitimately initiate a political project is a central, perhaps the central, preoccupation of political theorists, and takes us far beyond Iraq; it haunts Locke's theory of property rights, is echoed in the fears of ancient Roman republican thinkers, and animates the argument in Plato's Republic, the touchstone of all philosophical literature in the West. The crux is always the same: as Juvenal (and then Alan Moore) put it, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchmen? Or, more relevantly, who makes the rules for the rule-makers?"