Category: Uncategorized

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day

My colleague at Crooked Timber, Eszter Hargittai, has this chilling, almost unbearable, post for International Holocaust Remembrance Day. You should read it. Jason Stanley also has some very moving posts on FB that I recommend. The day, which marks the liberation of Auschwitz, makes me think of that scene in Shoah where Lanzmann is moving through a Polish village as his guide, a local, points out the different homes where Jewish families once lived. If memory serves, the guide recites the names of the families and then, with some prodding from Lanzmann, gives the names of the Polish families who live there now. Or maybe it’s vice versa: the guide recites the names of the Polish families, and Lanzmann prods him about the Jews who used to live there. Regardless, you get this […]

Gleichschaltung

On Hugo Chavez… John Kerry: “Throughout his time in office, President Chavez has repeatedly undermined democratic institutions by using extra-legal means, including politically motivated incarcerations, to consolidate power.” New York Times: “A Polarizing Figure Who Led a Movement” “strutting like the strongman in a caudillo novel” Human Rights Watch: “Venezuela: Hugo Chávez’s Authoritarian Legacy” On King Abdullah… John Kerry: “King Abdullah was a man of wisdom & vision.” New York Times: “Nudged Saudi Arabia Forward” “earned a reputation as a cautious reformer” “a force of moderation” Human Rights Watch: “Saudi Arabia: King’s Reform Agenda Unfulfilled”

On Public Intellectuals

I’m ambivalent, as I’ve said before, about the category “public intellectual.” It’s precious and pretentious, and unfairly denigrates the virtues and vocation of talented scholars who devote themselves to obscure questions no one else is asking, questions that may not interest broader audiences at the time but that may, one day, be of vital importance to more than a narrow few. Or that may, regardless of people’s interest, simply advance our understanding of some small part of the universe. But if we are going to hold onto and repeatedly invoke the category, I wonder if there may not be a fundamental problem at the heart of it. Public intellectuals are thought of as not only generalist writers speaking to non-academic audiences about issues that matters, […]

NYPD Goes Full Mario Savio

Mario Savio, on the steps of Sproul Hall, 1964: There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all! From today’s New York Times: One arraignment courtroom instead of two. Clerks watching “Batman” on their computer screens and playing with their cellphones as they […]

The Age of Acquiescence

My friend Steve Fraser has a book coming out called The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power. Comparing our contemporary Gilded Age to the original, Steve asks why in the late 1800s, the concentration of wealth and extremes of inequality sparked an explosion of mass rebellion that lasted well over a half-century, whereas today, with some isolated and episodic exceptions, we see, well, acquiescence. Not consent, not apathy, but acquiescence. It’s a word that makes me shudder. As Steve says, the men and women of the nineteenth century witnessed the violence of capitalist development and managed, out of that hellhole, to conjure and wage war on behalf of an entirely different […]

Baghdad, Yesterday, Jerusalem, Tomorrow

I’ve just begun reading Baghdad, Yesterday, an engrossing memoir by Sasson Somekh, an Iraqi-born Jew who, like many Iraqi Jews, left* Baghdad for Israel in 1951. Somekh is now a professor emeritus of Arabic literature at Tel Aviv University. It reads likes a series of dispatches from life in Baghdad in the 30s and 40s. But one thing that surprised me—Somekh only mentions it in passing—is that after Saddam’s regime was ousted with the American invasion of 2003, “Iraqi Jews in exile, along with their descendants, were invited to participate in the elections that took place in Iraq at the beginning of 2005.” I didn’t know anything about this, but it’s apparently true. The tragedy and injustice of Jews who were […]

Even the liberal New Republic…

…supports third party challenges that would forcing the Democrats to lose a presidential election in order to produce a change in the party’s ideological direction: In the spring of 1983, the magazine ran a cover story…declaring that the Democratic Party needed to lose the 1984 election. Longtime liberal subscribers recoiled with horror. But Fairlie wanted a defeat that would shock a sclerotic party into reform and recovery, not a Republican triumph. In fact, the essay did a good job laying out the path that Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council would follow on the way to the election of 1992. When The New Republic makes this argument from the right, TNR-style liberals like David Bell, writing in the LA […]

From Galicia to Brooklyn: Seven Generations of My Family

This is a photograph of the Jewish cemetery in Rymanów, a town in southeastern Poland about two hours from Krakow. To the east is Ukraine, to the south, Slovakia. The entire area was part of the Galicia region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from which so many Eastern European Jews came to the US and elsewhere. Rymanów’s Jewish population dates back to the fifteenth century; the town had a distinguished line of Hasidic rabbis. After the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, they set up a POW camp near Rymanów, where after 1941 they killed about ten thousand Soviet soldiers. They then used the camp as a transit camp for the area’s Jews, who were sent to various extermination camps to be […]

Golda Meier Saw the Future

During the lead-up to the Eichmann trial, Attorney General and chief prosecutor Gideon Hausner was bombarded by requests from Ben Gurion and his cabinet as to how the case ought to be tried and framed. Though she wasn’t much listened to, Golda Meier proved to be the most far-sighted of all, providing politically shrewd advice that showed she was keeping her eye on the prize about how the Holocaust could be used on behalf of the State of Israel: Don’t go after the Allies for not doing enough for the Jews during the war; Link the Nazis to the Mufti and to the Arab states that harbored Nazis (never mind Germany or the US); and Above all else, connect the plight of the […]

Lenin Loved the New York Public Library. Why can’t we?

Lenin loved the New York Public Library. (h/t Joanna Bujes) I have before me the report of the New York Public Library for 1911. That year the Public Library in New York was moved from two old buildings to new premises erected by the city. The total number of books is now about two million. It so happened that the first book asked for when the reading-room opened its doors was in Russian. It was a work by N. Grot, The Moral Ideals of Our Times. The request for the book was handed in at eight minutes past nine in the morning. The book was delivered to the reader at nine fifteen. In the course of the year the library was […]

The Labor Theory of Value at the University of Illinois

In case you were wondering why conservatives worked so hard, historically, to scrap the labor theory of value… Robert Easter, the president of the University of Illinois who helped do in Steven Salaita, was just given an outgoing bonus by the Board of Trustees, who did do in Steven Salaita, of $180,000. Which will bring his final year of salary to $658,558. Just cause.

A Palestinian Exception…at Brooklyn College

Next week, I’m proud to announce, the political science department at Brooklyn College, of which I am chair, will be co-sponsoring two events. The first, which is being put on by the Wolfe Institute of the Humanities at Brooklyn College, is a talk by Nation columnist, poet, and essayist Katha Pollitt. Katha has just published a book called Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, and that is the title of the talk she will be giving next Tuesday, November 18, at 2:25 (yes, 2:25), in Woody Tanger Auditorium at Brooklyn College. The second, which is being put on by the Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College, is a conversation between Steven Salaita, who needs no introduction on this blog, and Columbia […]

Contemporary liberalism: minimalism at home, maximalism abroad

So Kurt Andersen devoted a segment of his show Studio 360 to ISIS’s destruction of various cultural shrines and monuments in Iraq and Syria. It sounds beyond awful. As did the Taliban’s destruction of all those Buddhist monuments back in 2001. But here’s what I don’t understand about these types of reports from western journalists. When NYU destroyed Edgar Allan Poe’s home, did Kurt Andersen publicly say a word? That was an assault on our cultural heritage that he might have helped avert, but there’s no record of him, at least not that I can find, saying a thing. Yet here he is having a good old time with some State Department flack, calling for “archaeological boots on the ground”—presumably […]

Sign Petition for Princeton to Divest from Companies Involved in the Israeli Occupation

A group of Princeton faculty, staff, and students are circulating a petition calling on the university to divest from companies that are contributing to or profiting from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. If you’re a member of the staff or faculty, an undergrad or grad student, or an alum or member of the community, please sign. Whether you’re or pro- or anti-BDS (but especially if you’re anti-BDS on the grounds that it targets the entire State of Israel rather than the occupation itself), this is a good statement to support, and one that all of us in both sides of that debate can unite around. The petition reads as follows: We, the undersigned members of the Princeton University […]

Multicultural, Intersectional: It’s Not Your Daddy’s KKK

So I know I wrote this in The Reactionary Mind: Beyond these simple professions of envy or admiration, the conservative actually copies and learns from the revolution he opposes. “To destroy that enemy,” Burke wrote of the Jacobins, “by some means or other, the force opposed to it should be made to bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit which that system exerts.” This is one of the most interesting and least understood aspects of conservative ideology. While conservatives are hostile to the goals of the left, particularly the empowerment of society’s lower castes and classes, they often are the left’s best students. Sometimes, their studies are self-conscious and strategic, as they look to the left for […]

Thoughts on Migration and Exile on the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Over at Crooked Timber, Chris Bertram writes: Yesterday I was listening to BBC Radio 4, and they were remembering the people who died, shot by East German border guards. It doesn’t seem to occur to our official voices of commemoration that there are parallels today with the thousands who die trying to escape tyranny, war or poverty and who drown in the Mediterranean, perish from thirst in the Arizona desert, or with those who the Australian government turns back at sea or interns offshore. He’s right. Years ago, I reviewed two books on migration, immigration, and exile—one by Caroline Moorehead, the other by Seyla Benhabib—for The Nation. Here’s a factoid from that review: Between 1994 and 2001, at least 1,700 […]

Send in the Couch Brigades: A Palimpsest of Freud, Phillip Rieff, and the Sandinistas

In my first two years of college, I was very much under the spell of Freud and Hofstadter/Weber. I was convinced that all political and social conflicts could be reduced to questions of sex and status. (Actually, I was probably much more under the spell of high school than anything else.) Anyway, my roommate David Hughes, who was more political and more of an activist than I—as in, he was political and he was an activist, whereas I was neither—summarized my worldview thus: “In your eyes, Nicaraguans don’t need the Sandinistas [this was the mid-80s]; we should just send in the couch brigades.” Sometimes I think the entirety of my intellectual career has been little more than an extended attempt […]

Adjunct Positions at Brooklyn College

Now that I’m chair of the political science department, I have the dubious privilege of hiring adjunct instructors to teach some of our courses. I say dubious privilege because the use and abuse of adjuncts in higher education, especially at CUNY, is a scandal. In our department, we do our best to make it not such a scandal–our classes are small, we push for the highest rates possible, we try to minimize uncertainty — but that’s just putting lipstick on a pig. Anyway, here are the positions that we have available in political science. Undergraduate Courses 1. The American Presidency, Thursday, 6:05-8:35 pm 2. The Politics of Incarceration, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:40-5:20 3. Moot Court, Friday, 9:30-12 pm 4. Writing […]