Tag Archives: project

Project and system

There are two ways of seeing order in the world: as a spontaneous system or as an intentional project. Which way lies freedom?
By Paul Kahn – Once we are alert to the distinction of ‘project’ and ‘system’, we see that it is by no means unique to law. These two pictures dominate our accounts of order. Traditionally, those accounts extended into the natural order: is nature God’s project or a spontaneous system? Today, the duck/rabbit problem of ‘project’ and ‘system’ presents itself whenever we give an account of the human world, from the individual to the society. Do we make ourselves according to an idea or do we realize an inner truth of ourselves?

The social sciences approach society as system; the regulatory state imagines it as project.

The picture of a project offers the simplest explanation of the origin of order. Projects can extend from an individual artisan to a creator god; they can involve objects in the world (eg, a house) or social structures (eg, a corporation).

A legislature has law-creation as its project; a people can take up the project of creating a constitution. A project has a beginning in the action of a free subject. That subject explains his project by referring to his intentions. Those intentions can reflect a well-thought-out theory or simply the agent’s interests.

Projects are the way in which a free agent occupies the world. An animal will look for food, but it will not plan its dinner. A bird might build a nest, but that is not a project because the bird could not have decided to experiment with a new design. It could not have been other than it is. That ‘might have been’ is critical to projects and thus to freedom.

In a world of projects, we are always thinking of what we might do, what we might have done, and what we might do better. Projects are successful when they meet their goals; they are redesigned when they fail. Projects then, whether of law or anything else, put at stake not just an idea of order, but also an idea of freedom. Freedom ends where projects end.

Systems have the capacity for maintenance and some ability of repair. An injured organism can heal itself; a market in disequilibrium can return to equilibrium. Of course, some systemic disturbances are beyond these capacities: systems do die.

Projects, though, ordinarily have no such capacities of repair. When a watch breaks, we take it to the watchmaker for repair. When legislation fails, we go back to the legislature for a new plan. Today, artificial intelligence is challenging that distinction precisely to the degree that we can teach machines to learn and to respond. more>

From Europe-as-project to a real political community

By Marija Bartl – Seeing the EU as a ‘project’ echoes a longstanding preoccupation with Europe’s supposed destination—with its directionality. This is omnipresent in its constitutional documents (‘ever closer union’), its legislation (relentlessly oriented towards building the internal market) and the case law of its courts (a teleological interpretation of EU law), as well as in underlying political processes (‘more or less Europe’ as the central framing category of political discussion).

It is this preoccupation with directionality that so strikingly sets the EU apart from its member states. We do not query the ‘destination’ of Italy, or Poland—unless we have some cataclysmic event in mind. These political communities just are. Whatever direction they take, and whatever we think of that, is fundamentally a matter of politics.

Presenting the EU as a project frames it as something unfinished that needs further construction. It becomes an entity that is about policies rather than politics—which always needs to move forward and grow, to avoid Macron’s dread ‘status quo and resignation’.

The fact that we are as preoccupied with the EU’s directionality today as we were at its establishment six decades ago is something that should worry us—shouldn’t we know what we are by now?—but it should not come as a surprise. more>