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The Massachusetts mess January 18, 2010

Posted by Sverre in : Uncategorized, United States , add a comment

The Democrats may lose their supermajority in the Senate. A serious problem for health reform. Several bloggers have opinions on what this may signal that way or the other, particularly since this is a traditionally Democratic seat. Dan Drezner has an interesting take on the real reason why the race has suddenly gotten interesting: Both candidates are apallingly bad.

I quote:

[…]the candidates are God awful.  Seriously, they stink.  Just to review our choices:  Democrat Martha Coakley has a prosecutor’s complex that would make Javert seeem like a bleeding-heart liberal.  She is a God-awful politician so out of touch with  reality that she accused Red Sox hero extraordinaire Curt Schilling of being a Yankee fan (Schilling’s blog response is here).  Based on the ads I’ve seen, her campaign has also been, by far, the nastier of the two.

This leaves Republican Scott Brown, who based on this vacuous Boston Globe op-ed, is an empty shirt with no actual policy content whatsoever.  He was in favor of health care reform before he was against it.  He can’t stand the run-up in government debt, and wants to cut taxes across the board to take care of the problem — cause that makes perfect economic sense.   The one thing he is unequivocally for is waterboarding suspected terrorists.

It would be true political irony if all Obama’s blood sweat and tears over health reform should go to waste because of a mess like this. But that’s politics for you. Part of the reason why it’s so interesting…

Does lack of rhetorical skills make you less deliberative? November 20, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science, My master thesis, Uncategorized , 3comments

I’m working on a master thesis about political deliberation, and I’m interested in finding a good method for measuring and evaluating the level of deliberation in a discussion. Two current methods I’ve been looking into, the Discourse Quality Index and pragma-dialectics, both seem to share the same validity problem: They register low rhetorical or logical skills for a lack of deliberative attitude.

Put simply, deliberation is a term that is used about discussion when people engage in a rational dialogue about something in which they are dedicated to the “forceless force of the better argument”. According to Jürgen Habermas, its most famous theoretician, it should be characterized by sincerity, inclusiveness, equality, reasoned critique, reflexivity, respect and be free from the influence of money and coercive power1 . In the more realistic conceptions of the term, we are willing to consider a discussion as more or less deliberative, realizing that a few real world discussions are likely to be perfect.

As I mentioned, I’ve been looking for methods to analyse discussion in order to determine how deliberative it really is. I’ve been trying to find a method that satisfies the criteria of:

  1. Significance – Must be a method we can expect a large portion of empirically oriented political science to accept.
  2. Usefulness – Must be a method that is suitable for comparative study of cases, preferably on a large scale and with a multitude of institutional arrangements.
  3. Completeness – Must be a method that is theoretically consistent with established theory of deliberation, for example Habermas’ discourse ethics.


  1. My rewrite of the rules presented in his book discourse ethics []

Obama and Cicero – what we should learn. December 1, 2008

Posted by Sverre in : Uncategorized , 2comments

Although I freely admit I might not be the best practicioner of good rhetoric, I’ve had a keen interest in the theory of rhetorics for years. I’ve read a bit of both Aristotle, Cicero and others and find it all to be extremely fascinating. Tore O. Sandvik’s blog highlights an article by Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian which I recommend to everyone.

obamaciceroShe discusses Barack Obama’s use of classical rhetorical tricks of the trade, linking it among others to the great Marcus Tullius Cicero. One of the points she discusses is the negative association the very word rhetoric has aquired. Rhetoric may indeed be used to cloud a subject and befuddle an audience, but I wonder how much important knowledge has been lost on account of bad rhetoric by scientists. I’m sure I have missed a lot of important insights because articles and lectures were just so damn boring I stopped paying attention.

So scientists of the world – read Higgins’ article, read Cicero, read Aristotle. Reinvigorate your style of writing and make sure your knowledge lives on.

Introduction July 24, 2008

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Welcome to the brand new blog on political science, “Nachspiel at Polemarchus'”. Here I intend to write on topics of politics and political science based on my academic work as well as personal thoughts and opinions. Some of the stuff will certainly be academically oriented, but I intend to try and present things in form that will be readable to anyone without a master’s degree in political science. If I need to go into more academic detail I prefer to do that in attached files.

So who am I?

My name is Sverre Midthjell, im 27 years old and a master (graduate) student of political science at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). I’m an active human being with diverse interests, usually juggling more balls than I can keep track of all the time. This is the latest ball – I hope it won’t go crashing to the ground too fast. If it does, I hope I’ll remember to pick it up again.

So why am I doing this?

I have two main reasons. Firstly, as a graduate student I continually produce a lot of written material. Each semester I put hundreds and hundreds of hours of work into something that usually only gets red by a couple of graders. And that’s on top of all the other thoughts I have throughout the year that never get put down on paper. What a waste! Well, that ends now.

Secondly, I think the feedback I get through my studies is rather limited. An ‘A’ or a ‘B’ on a sheet of paper helps me very little towards further developing whatever thought I’ve been writing about. If I manage to write somethign interesting, I hope this might make someone inclined to comment. And hopefully some of those comments will be comments that help me improve on arguments or otherwise help me learn something. Basically I want to become a better political scientist than I am today, and the more input I can get on what I do, the better.

So that’s it, really. I’m gonna share some of what I think with the world in the hope that the world can benefit from it. Hopefully the world will return the favour by giving me some useful feedback that I’ll benefit from.

So what’s with the weird title?

The well-read (or ‘nerdy’ if you prefer) reader might have caught the reference right away. It refers to Plato’s work The Republic, one of the most fundamental works of western political philosophy. If you haven’t read it, you can read it online for free hereThe Republic is written like a story of fiction, a discussion between Socrates and a number of other character. And this all plays out at something akin to a nachspiel at the house of a man called Polemarchus. In my dreams, the discussion created here will be as fruitful….

Well, so much for an introduction. The next post will cover a piece inspired by The Republic, about the Democratic Republic of (North) Korea, something I wrote for a class in democracy theory. Stay tuned!