My name is Mark Hoipkemier, and I am a PhD Candidate in Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. My intellectual interests cover the whole historical range of political theory as well as a variety of contemporary issues. On the historical side, I have written and/or presented about Aristotle, Machiavelli, and the American Founding, as well as Rawls and contemporary critics of liberalism. On the analytic side, I study how politics and economics are intertwined, immigration, and the built environment. I am also interested in religion and politics, especially Islamic and Christian political thought. Political theory is a wonderful field for making connections between past and present, and between ideas and their effects.
Before studying at Notre Dame, I worked for Congressman Joe Donnelly and in a house for undocumented immigrants in Texas, called Casa Juan Diego. Contrary to some of my fellow-scholars, I am a big booster of the city of South Bend. It is a wonderful, humanely-sized and extremely affordable place to live, work, and raise a family. Because it was built before 1950, it has “good bones” that a more prosperous postwar city could not duplicate. Nowhere else could I , as a graduate student, have afforded the land to build my own dissertation cottage.
My dissertation makes a relatively un-moralized (and so rather novel) argument that the concept of common good is useful and even necessary for sound political and economic analysis. At its best, the common good is not the broad, vague norm it is often taken to be. The core notion, in both Aristotle and the tradition, is rather that communities are real agents in the political world with their own goods and goals, which emerge from interaction. The common good of a community is simply its flourishing, much like the good of a single person. Considered empirically the common good of a community is the embodied vision of its own excellence, of the telos to which it is directed. Social teleology shapes the members of any community—what they can do, want to do, and ultimately who they are—in ways that need to be both empirically studied and politically debated. As “political animals” we cannot entirely get away from common goods, since part of our own flourishing is bound up with them, but we can reject this or that view of the common good as unjust or undesirable. Social directedness is no less real for the fact of conflict.
The latter chapters of my dissertation build a framework for applying this notion of common good to three key players in our political economy: liberal politics itself, corporations, and markets. None of these are arenas in which the common good is traditionally thought to find a purchase. Liberalism often purports to aim at the freedom and rights of individual citizens and so to lack a real notion of common good. Still, a liberal polity, in order to survive, must display an inner life and enforce its claims to authority; thus it must be seen as an emergent community and so as concerned with common goods: its own flourishing and the character of its citizens. But just because liberalism tends to deny the relevance of common goods, it heightens the tensions around common goods in the political economy that it governs. The most powerful institution in our economy, the business corporation, is an authority-structure and so a common good-oriented community in some formal sense, but its legally and politically legitimated goal is to turn a profit for individuals, irrespective of any social outcomes. There is an incoherence between the form and ends of the corporation that can only be practically resolved by recognizing (as is done in practice without being legitimated politically) that the flourishing corporation is more than a profit machine. Between the polity and the firm stretches the great mechanism of the market, paragon of freedom and efficiency for all. But markets as economists see them, whatever their benefits, do not give rise to common goods, because of the non-social character of the exchanges that constitute them. Without emergent community, market exchange simply does not fall under the rubric of the common good. On the other hand, when we consider with Karl Polanyi that space for markets must be cleared by political action, then we can appreciate that markets, which lack their own common goods, are an expression of liberalism’s prioritizing of the individual over the common.
My dissertation tries to break ground along two different fronts: the application of Aristotelian thought in contemporary politics, and the growing literature on political theory and economics. Aristotelian thinkers who take the common good seriously often reproach liberal thought and institutions for ignoring virtue and making the common good irrelevant. I agree that liberalism should take common goods more seriously, but for intellectual rather than moral reasons. If liberal political institutions are inescapably oriented towards common goods, the fruitful question is not “Should politics aim at a common good?” a question to which liberals would like to answer, “No”; the right question is rather “At which common good should we aim?” which cannot be evaded so easily. My inductive-empirical approach to common goods also helps to render political economy more tractable as a topic for political theorists. The economy is not (in supposed contrast to politics), a value-free and community-free realm that is adequately captured with atomistic rational choice models. An account of the common good that is relatively free of high-caliber metaphysical claims is a suitable and productive tool for investigating economic realities that both value-laden and politically-shaped.
In addition to this historical and systematic work on the common good, my research falls in two tracks, on Machiavelli (and the history of republicanism more broadly) and on political economy. I have a series of studies on Machiavelli’s account of political institutions and culture as these compare to the early American tradition. Out of these have appeared several conference papers as well as a research article and book chapter (both under review); I hope to develop this line into a book-length argument. The last chapters of my dissertation only scratched the surface of political economy, but my research convinced me that there is a fertile and neglected field for political theory, both analytic and historical, in explaining the mutual influence of politics and economics, with their respective traditions of discourse. The research to be done on and with such humanistic economic thinkers as Karl Polanyi, Thorstein Veblen, E.F. Schumacher, and Albert Hirschman is as exciting as it is interdisciplinary. I would like to do a study on how republican thought on the necessity of human scale illuminates the possibilities and pitfalls for flourishing local economies in a political world dominated by giant states. I am also planning a study of the concept of debt, both personal and public, from an Aristotelian perspective. Why do we typically think of debt not in terms of social engagement or participation, but as an abstract duty that follows you around. Why, in a mundane financial example, are one’s rights and responsibilities in owning a company’s bonds (just lending them money) categorically different than they are in owning equity stock in the company (lending them money and becoming a member)?
Behind all my research is the question of the different communities that promote human flourishing and the way that politics affects and is affected by them. Aristotle and modern social theory clarify the ontology of communities in institutions, virtues, and culture. But the economy is a world of communities no less than are politics and art. Following this question and this impulse will lead my research, I expect, to many of the central topics of politics and theory today: citizenship, political economy, federalism, and the character of the state.
The importance of engagement in local communities is both a theme of my research and a method in my
classroom. Whenever possible, I include some out-of-class element such as a field trip to a mosque (in a course on Islamic political thought) or a service project at a local Hispanic community center (in a course on immigration). Dry or abstract issues in the lecture hall take on life out “in the wild.” At its best, community engagement prompts the students to use theory the way political actors do, as whole persons rather than detached minds.
In the classroom, I try to vary the ways in which students are asked to approach the texts and ideas at hand. There is an important place for lecturing and for the expert voice, but all my class sessions allot time for exchange with students, often focused on reading response questions and small-group discussion. I also like in-class debate as a way of focusing competitive energies on political principles. My “Intro to Political Theory” course (Fall 2016 syllabus here) recreates some historical trials, e.g. the trial of Nathan Hale to illustrate Locke’s arguments for the right of revolution. Likewise, my course on “Radical Islam and Islamic Political thought” of (Spring 2017 syllabus here) invites students to enter in, in a somewhat dramatized way, to the debates between Traditional, Modernist, and Salafi positions in Islamic politics.
I am prepared to teach courses in ancient and modern (including American) political thought, political economy, constitutional law, citizenship and immigration, and Islamic political thought. In all these areas, I deploy a variety of methods and experiences to help students engage political theory in a more profound and full-bodied way.
If you are interested in the “tiny house” I built for writing my dissertation, go to my Hermitage page.