Nicholas Troester is a PhD candidate in political theory at Duke University. He received his BA in Philosophy and Political Science from the University of Michigan in 2004, and his MA from Duke in 2006. He is working on his dissertation - currently entitled Rethinking International Law: Hugo Grotius, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Intervention - which uses Grotius' De jure belli ac pacis to critique contemporary understandings of international law. He blogs on topics related to his dissertation, and politics and culture more generally, at Anti-Climacus.
Why do you blog? > For generally the same reasons everyone does: to try and work out larger issues that take some time to think through, and to amuse my friends, online and otherwise. Also, at this point, because it's something I do - I've had my blog for over six years, and though the volume of posting fluctuates wildly, I have no conception of what it's like to not have a blog.
What has been your best blogging experience? > The lead-up to the Iraq War. For most people in academia who are also bloggers, I've gathered, the scholarship comes first, and the blog much later. That period in 2003 was my first exposure to a number of arguments about sovereignty, intervention and humanitarian motivation. I couldn't quite let go of those arguments, especially in their more theoretical forms. All this led, though with other intervening factors, to my dissertation topic.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Aside from a brief period in 2004, I've never really had an interest in being famous as a blogger, so I'd be no good for advice on that topic. However, I will say that the best thing about a blog, as with many other things in life, is the chance to get to know interesting people. The blogging world has plenty of those, and it doesn't require massive traffic to get to know them: just write what you want to, and link to what interests you.
What are your favourite blogs? > mgoblog, a fine example of what monomaniacal obsession on the internet can do; Cigarette Smoking Blog, which runs a nice gamut of political, social, and aesthetic issues; and Stuff Christians Like, which manages to perceptively critique Evangelical culture while still being humorous.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > Hugo Grotius first, and by a wide margin; Francisco de Vitoria, Augustine; amongst the more contemporary, Jeremy Waldron and Robert Nozick, less because I find them convincing and more because I find them continually interesting.
What are you reading at the moment? > Dead Souls by Gogol and G.G. Fitzmaurice's The General Principles of International Law Considered from the Standpoint of the Rule of Law.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > The Great Gatsby.
What is your favourite poem? > 'Separation' by W.S. Landor.
What is your favourite movie? > Barcelona.
What is your favourite song? > Any properly slow version of 'Embraceable You'.
Who is your favourite composer? > J.S. Bach.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > The place of international law and institutions. For a long time, I was a sceptic (in international relations terms, I was a Realist) who believed international law was something of limited effect which powerful states followed when it suited them. I'm still not sure that's wrong. But I am now quite convinced that if you have any interest in defending the dignity of the human person, or supporting human rights more generally, international law and institutions are the path one must go through.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > That humanitarian justifications can be something other than a kind of double-talk for national interest.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > That what happens elsewhere in the globe is none of our business, especially if it occurs within the sphere of influence of another state.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > Hilary Bok's Freedom and Responsibility, which I read in my senior philosophy seminar at Michigan. It solidified my commitment to compatibilism, which is the reason I am both a bad Calvinist and a bad Arminian. It also says a number of quite useful things about what it means to practically live in the world and try to make some moral progress in one's life.
Who are your political heroes? > Trotsky after he gets kicked out of the Soviet Union, Hubert Humphrey (for the 1948 Democratic Party convention, if nothing else), and Calvin Coolidge.
What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > 'Ab homine enim nihil humani alienum est.'
What would you do with the UN? > Granted broad dictatorial powers? Rewrite Articles 2(4), 2(7) and 51 to include a right to humanitarian intervention outside of the Security Council's Chapter VII powers. It'd never work, politically, but a guy can dream.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > Neither. So long as the primary agents of history are human beings, there will always be a mix of good and bad. However, though I don't believe in 'best', I do believe we can make differentiations between better and worse. Humanity does have a track record of choosing the better options, if half-heartedly and reluctantly.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > Yes. A commitment to interpretative charity matters a lot more to me than most political positions. So long as people who disagree aren't evil or stupid, we'd be fine.
Do you have any prejudices you're willing to acknowledge? > I think less of people who spell idiomatic phrases phonetically.
What is your favourite proverb? > 'For with wise council you shall make your war, and in a multitude of counsellors there is victory.'
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Running. If you're doing it as part of a sport, that's one thing. But to do it on its own just seems ridiculous.
What, if anything, do you worry about? > Whether I'll ever get a job.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > If eventually finding an academic job weren't an issue, Winchester, Virginia.
What would your ideal holiday be? > Very similar to the one I just took: reading during the days, evenings with a few close friends or family, and watching a baseball game or two. Location is somewhat less important.
What do you like doing in your spare time? > Reading fiction, playing guitar, conversation with friends, and pub trivia night.
What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > I'll be honest and say I landed in the only line of work for which I'm temperamentally suited.
Which football and baseball teams do you support? > Michigan football, with the New York Yankees a distant second.
If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > A tenure-track job my first time on the market; whether that's realistic is harder to say.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of all the profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]