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Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Jared Del Rosso on the Torture Debate and the CIA Report

Jared Del Rosso

“The report offers, at last, a peak at the CIA’s own documentary record. What we find is what critics of the program have long known we’d find. Not the mastery or enhancement of violence, but torture.”—Jared Del Rosso

The following post is by Jared Del Rosso, author of the forthcoming Talking About Torture: How Political Discourse Shapes the Debate:

On Tuesday, December 9, 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the executive summary of its report on CIA interrogations during the war on terror. The Committee’s investigation began in 2009. The report, more than 6,000 pages in total, was completed in late 2011 and approved by the Committee in December 2012. For the better part of the last two years, the Committee has been negotiating the release of the summary with the CIA. The Agency provided a response to the investigation in 2013, and the Committee incorporated some of that response into its report. Since then, the Committee and the CIA have been hashing out what would be redacted in the summary. The negotiations were frequently bitter, and they delayed the release of the document for several months.

All this is to say that the report is long overdue. It’s been over a decade since the release of the Abu Ghraib photographs inaugurated the “torture debate.” Since then, public attention to torture has come in fits and starts with the release of investigations, memos, emails, an interrogation log, and, of course, photographs.

In Talking about Torture: How Political Discourse Shapes the Debate, I show that U.S. politicians are especially responsive to the release of documents produced by the country’s own interrogators and soldiers. This includes the Abu Ghraib photographs, which military police at the facility in Iraq took with personal cameras. The impact of the photographs is well-known. But other documents also influenced the debate. In December 2004, the Bush administration released FBI emails describing military practices at Guantánamo. Earlier in the year, military officials and investigators had assured Congress that serious instances of detainee abuse were isolated to Abu Ghraib and that there had only been a few, minor instances of abuse at Guantánamo. The emails, however, undermined this claim. One described an agent’s observations of detainees “chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours, or more.” One detainee “was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night.” The release of the FBI emails and, later, the military’s interrogation log of Mohammed al Qahtani directly contradicted what high-ranking military officials had said about interrogations at Guantánamo and emboldened congressional democrats, who had previously treaded carefully around the facility and the administration’s role in promoting the abuse and torture of detainees.

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Monday, December 8th, 2014

Video: Slavoj Žižek and Srecko Horvat on What Europe Wants

The following is a public debate from earlier this year between Slavoj Žižek and Srecko Horvat that considers the issues raised in their just-published book What Does Europe Want?: The Union and Its Discontents

In the book, Žižek and Srecko Horvat argue that instead of being a peace-project, the European Union is increasingly turning into a warzone: whether it be the expulsion of immigrants or riots in Paris and London, or European interventions to bring “more democracy” to Libya or Syria. But instead of leaving Europe to the enemies, Žižek and Horvat reflect on the fight for a different Idea of Europe.

For more on the book you can also read the chapter “Breaking Our Eggs Without the Omlette, From Cyprus to Greece,” by Slavoj Žižek:

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

The Seven Things Obama Can Do to confront the New Censorship

Joel Simon, The New CensorshipThe following post is by Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom:

The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media covers events and trends from an international perspective. But some of the questions I’ve gotten from audience members at recent events have to do with the Obama administration and its policies. Below I will look at what Obama has done so far and what still needs to be done.

1. Advocate for the rights of individual journalists. One the simplest and most effective strategies that the Obama administration can implement is to raise the cases of persecuted journalists in bilateral meetings, public statements, and through diplomatic channels. In fact, the administration has a good record of doing this. Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciordone repeatedly spoke out about the imprisonment of Turkish journalists, much to the annoyance of the government in Ankara. U.S. officials have also raised the cases of imprisoned Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai (who was recently released and is now in the United States), the so-called Zone 9 bloggers in Ethiopia, and the Al Jazeera journalists currently imprisoned in Egypt. How’s the administration doing so far in this area? Reasonably well. I would give it a B+.

2. Formulate policies that clearly articulate the balance between U.S. strategic interests and the promotion of human rights. The limitation of advocating on behalf of individual journalists is that the administration has not clearly articulated how far it will push the human rights agenda when it clashes with national security interests. For example, in Turkey, while the embassy and the state department spoke out, President Obama did not, and this was interpreted in Turkey as a signal that U.S. strategic interests would take precedence. The same is true in Ethiopia, which has been a key ally in confronting Islamic militantism in the Horn of Africa; and in Egypt, which despite its unbearable repression is seen as a bulwark against growing regional instability. These countries have effectively resisted U.S. pressure on protecting journalists because they view human rights and press freedom as something that can be negotiated. In other words, the more valuable you are as a strategic ally of the United States the more repression you can get away it. How has Obama done so drawing the line on press freedom violations? I would give him a C.

3. Limit surveillance. The staggering revelations made by Edward Snowden blew the lid on NSA program global surveillance, which we now know operates on scale that is difficult comprehend. Much has been made of the implications of surveillance in a domestic context, and the questions regarding the legality of U.S. spying need to be urgently addressed. But it is important to keep in mind that there are no legal restrictions on surveillance outside the United States, and as a former NSA official recently told me, a non-U.S. journalist speaking to a confidential source would make an ideal target for NSA spying. The scope of the NSA surveillance effort not only has a chilling effect on journalists around the world, it normalizes the efforts of country’s like China and Iran that routinely surveil both domestic critics and their perceived international adversaries (including journalists). When it comes to spying on journalists, the U.S. needs to put in place policies that carefully balance intelligence needs with the negative impact they might have on global freedom of expression. How’s the administration doing far? Poorly. I give it a D.

4. Defend the Internet. The Internet was developed by U.S. computer scientists and even though it is now a global system much of the core infrastructure that makes the Internet function is still based in the United States. For the most part, the U.S. has been a responsible global steward, and the administration has actively promoted the “right to connect” as a form of freedom of association. However, the political environment now requires that the U.S. modulate its role in Internet governance as a means of countering challenges from countries like China that seek to put the global Internet at service of state interests. China’s most compelling argument is that the U.S. is exploiting its privileged position to undermine rival powers by pumping in destabilizing information and carrying out massive surveillance. This is why the best way to ensure that the Internet remains a viable, shared global resource is for the U.S. to further internationalize governance. To its credit, the administration has been seeking to do this in the least few years. How is the administration doing on this critical front? Pretty well. I give the administration an A-.

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Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Marc Lynch on the Arab Uprisings and Their Aftermath

“The pan-Arab revolutionary unity of early 2011 has long since given way to sectarianism, polarization between Islamists and their enemies, and horror over the relentless images of death and despair in Syria, Iraq and Libya.”—March Lynch

The Arab Uprisings Explained, Marc Lynch

In The Arab Uprisings Explained: New Contentious Politics in the Middle East, edited by Marc Lynch, leading scholars and observers of the Middle East examine the causes, dynamics, and effects of the Arab uprisings. Marc Lynch discussed some of the conclusions from the book in a Washington Post blog post from this summer and also discusses the failure of political scientists to predict the uprisings in the first place.

In a follow up, Lynch examines how experts, including himself, responded to and analyzed events that occurred during the Arab Spring and its aftermath. Lynch’s article comes out of a recent study in which he asked the contributors to The Arab Uprisings Explained to write short memos assessing their contributions after having another year to reflect on what has transpired since they wrote their original pieces. (free PDF available here)

In summarizing the contributors critiques of their own work and their failures to understand some of the dynamics of the Arab Uprisings, Lynch writes:

We paid too much attention to the activists and not enough to the authoritarians; we understated the importance of identity politics; we assumed too quickly that successful popular uprisings would lead to a democratic transition; we under-estimated the key role of international and regional factors in domestic outcomes; we took for granted a second wave of uprisings, which thus far has yet to materialize; we understated the risk of state failure and over-stated the possibility of democratic consensus.

Lynch admits that he and his colleagues might have become “too emotionally attached to particular actors or policies. Caught up in the rush of events, and often deeply identifying with our networks of friends and colleagues involved in these politics, we may have allowed hope or passion to cloud our better comparative judgment. That’s a fine quality in activists, but not so helpful for academic rigor.”

Lynch also revisits some of his own positions and analyses from the past three years since the Arab Spring. Specifically, he looks at the destabilizing effects of U.S. and Allied intervention in Libya, an action Lynch initially supported. Lynch concedes:

It is impossible to look at Libya’s failed state and civil war, its proxy conflict and regional destabilization, and not conclude that the intervention’s negative effects over the long term outweigh the short-term benefits. Moammar Gaddafi’s fall, combined with the prominence of armed militias, left Libya without a functioning state and little solid ground upon which to build a new political order. The likelihood of such an outcome should have weighed more heavily in my analysis.

(more…)

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Sex and World Peace: What’s Next

“Empower women and you enhance security in all its dimensions. Disempower women, and you undermine that security.”—Valerie Hudson

Sex and World Peace, Valerie Hudson

The following post if from Valerie Hudson, co-author of Sex and World Peace.

My co-authors and I are very grateful that Gloria Steinem found Sex and World Peace to be an important read. How the insecurity of women creates insecurity for the broader collective, whether at the local, national, regional, or international levels, is a vital topic of concern not only to scholars, but to policymakers and policy advocates as well. In a very real way, whether we speak of food security, economic security, demographic security, security and governance, security and health, or any one of a numbers of interlocked aspects of collective security, women are the great pivot. Empower women and you enhance security in all its dimensions. Disempower women, and you undermine that security.

We are often asked what will follow Sex and World Peace and its initial efforts to demonstrate those linkages that are often invisible in our security discourse. To date, we are engaged in two research projects, one nearing completion and one just getting underway.

Scheduled for publication in June 2015 by Columbia University Press is the forthcoming volume, The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy. In that book, journalist Patricia Leidl and I examine how attention to the situation of women has become, in the words of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “a cornerstone of our foreign policy.” Certainly women have not been seen as such until very recently. How as a nation did we come to the point where a Secretary of State could openly claim “the subjugation of women is a direct threat to the security of the United States”? We call this new understanding “The Hillary Doctrine” after its most eloquent exponent.

Furthermore, what then did the United States do, as a nation, to implement that vision through foreign policy? How did the White House, State Department, Defense, USAID, and other elements of the federal government craft policies and programming to attend to the Hillary Doctrine? And what was the result? What can we learn from the track record of successes and failures that would be of use to an incoming presidential administration?

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Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Gloria Steinem on “Sex and World Peace”

Sex and World PeaceAs part of her Reading Our Way to the Revolution, Gloria Steinem has selected Sex and World Peace as the book of the month. In the coming days, Steinem will be featuring the book and you can follow #GloriaReads for more updates. Here’s Gloria Steinem on the book:

Sex & World Peace is a rare book that could and should change everything from our behavior toward each other to our foreign policy. Ever since it was published in 2012, I’ve been carrying it with me to quote wherever I speak, and urging it on anyone working against or worried about violence, whether in our own homes and streets, in our militarism toward other countries, or in the terrorism that’s directed at us.

This well-written, well-documented, and very readable book by Valerie M. Hudson—plus three other scholars, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett—proves that violence in macrocosm happens wherever and whenever violence has been normalized in microcosm.

To cut to the bottom line: The biggest determinant of violence within a nation, or the willingness of one nation to be violent against another nation, is not poverty, not natural resources, not religion, and not even degree of democracy. It’s violence against females.

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Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Interview with Andrew Nathan on the Hong Kong Protests

“The protests reveal that Hong Kong young people are much more pro-democracy than we had any way of knowing. It’s fascinating to see the youth, who have grown up under this system, demonstrate how little they believe in the Chinese government.”—Andrew Nathan

China's Search for Security, Andrew NathanIn the following interview, originally published in Columbia News on October 8, Andrew Nathan looks at recent events in Hong Kong and the possible future of the protest movement there. Andrew Nathan’s China’s Search for Security, co-authored with Andrew Scobell, is now out in paperback:

Q: What is at the root of the Occupy Central demonstrations?

Andrew Nathan: When China took over Hong Kong in 1997, it agreed that Hong Kong could preserve its way of life for 50 years. The Chinese government also agreed to provide universal suffrage for the election of the Hong Kong chief executive at some point. China recently announced that in the next election, which will take place in 2017, all eligible voters will be able to vote. But it turns out that the nominees for the post will be chosen by an election committee appointed by the Chinese government. The people in Hong Kong had expected real democracy. The Occupy Central protests are the result.

Q: Is there any chance the demonstrators will prevail?

AN: Most of us have long believed that most of the Hong Kong population is pragmatic and passive, because they know what they’re up against with China and they can’t afford to be terribly political. As soon as the Chinese government decision was announced the students—many in high school—jumped in and they were ahead of the adult leadership who had been planning a protest. But it’s very unlikely Beijing will yield on the core question. China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, has an image of being tough and inflexible. And China has a lot at stake in keeping control of the situation in Hong Kong. The more they sense opposition there, the less they are likely to allow democracy.

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Friday, October 10th, 2014

Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald discuss the idea of a learning society

Creating a Learning Society

In a recent event at the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University, Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald discussed the ideas from their recent book, Creating a Learning Society: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress. You can read the Heyman Center’s description of the panel and view a video below.

It has long been recognized that an improved standard of living results from advances in technology, not from the accumulation of capital. It has also become clear that what truly separates developed from less-developed countries is not just a gap in resources or output but a gap in knowledge. In fact, the pace at which developing countries grow is largely a function of the pace at which they close that gap.

Thus, to understand how countries grow and develop, it is essential to know how they learn and become more productive and what government can do to promote learning. In Creating a Learning Society, Joseph E. Stiglitz and Bruce C. Greenwald cast light on the significance of this insight for economic theory and policy. Taking as a starting point Kenneth J. Arrow’s 1962 paper “Learning by Doing,” they explain why the production of knowledge differs from that of other goods and why market economies alone typically do not produce and transmit knowledge efficiently. Closing knowledge gaps and helping laggards learn are central to growth and development. But creating a learning society is equally crucial if we are to sustain improved living standards in advanced countries.

The Disciplines Series: The Idea of Development The Learning Society with Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald from Heyman Center/Society of Fellows on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Interview with John Roberts, author of Photography and Its Violations

“Photography violates, precisely, because social appearances hide, in turn, division, hierarchy and exclusion.”—John Roberts

John Roberts, Photography and Its ViolationsThe following is an interview with John Roberts, author of Photography and Its Violations:

Q: What do you mean by photography and its violations? How is photography violated?

John Roberts: Well, the title is deliberately ambiguous. By violation I do not mean the capacity of photography to objectify its subjects, nor am I referring directly—although it is implied—to those cultural and political forces lined up against its interests. Rather violation refers here to what photography is able to do in an expressly productive way, given what I call in the book, its social ontology or “unquenchable social intrusiveness and invasiveness.” By this I mean, what makes photography worth returning to as a philosophical and political problem is, in fact, the thing that has always threatened its desire to be thought highly of as an art or would be “objective” medium: namely its unstable and destabilizing character. That is, photography is not just a medium of report or an aesthetic transformation of the world, but a specific act of disclosure, in which its rebarbative powers—of disruption, denaturalization and the ruination of self-identity—secure photography’s infinite capacity for truth telling.

Hence when I talk of violation I’m addressing how photography’s intrusive “pointing to” opens up a space of conceptual reflection on the relations between the photograph’s subjects and objects and the social world in which they are embedded. As such, my understanding of violation takes an interrelated form: violation is what the act of photography does in the world as a consequence of the fact that photography’s relationship to its depicted subjects and objects is an effect of power relations and material interests external to the act of photography itself. The truth-claims of photography, therefore, are a condition of this conceptual articulation. As I say: “Photography violates, precisely, because social appearances hide, in turn, division, hierarchy and exclusion.”

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Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Making Sense of Afghanistan’s Electoral Crisis — A Post by Noah Coburn and Anna Larson

“While Kerry again has brokered a deal between feuding candidates, there is no reason to believe that this deal will ultimately hold and it is the candidates who will ultimately determine whether there is a peaceful transition of power or not.”—Noah Coburn and Anna Larson on the recent elections in Afghanistan

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan, Noah Coburn and Anna LarsonThe following post is by Noah Coburn and Anna Larson, coauthors of Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape:

Following the last minute intervention of John Kerry, the elections in Afghanistan to replace Hamid Karzai as president, have entered a chaotic period of counting, re-counting and accusations of fraud and corruption. How do we make sense of the power plays that are going on on both sides? Often forgotten in the mainstream press, these elections are actually the fifth in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001, and turning to look back at some of the lessons from these elections can help us think about the current process. We’ve spent much of the past six years tracking candidates, officials and voters in Afghanistan and our book, Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape, provides some important lessons.

First, elections are shaped by the cultures and history that they are held in. Too often local forms of democracy are ignored and we recount the long history of democratization (and sometimes de-democratization) that Afghanistan has experienced since its first elections in the 1950s. Clearly there is no evidence to suggest that elections or democracy are somehow incompatible with Afghan culture. Despite this, a group of former commanders and the political elite, have manipulated elections over the past decade to consolidate their own power. This has created more skepticism about elections on the part of many Afghan voters. The high turnout in the 2014 elections suggests that most Afghans want to see a new direction in the government away from some of the nepotism of the Karzai regime. However, the current wheeling and dealing between Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai, and Kerry points to the fact that it is the political elite alone that control the resources in the country and this vote is unlikely to change that.

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Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Interview with Steven Cohen, Author of Understanding Environmental Policy

Steven A Cohen

“You can’t build a gated community to keep out bad air.”—Steven Cohen

In a recent interview with Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Steven Cohen discussed the second edition of his book Understanding Environmental Policy.

In the interview, Cohen considers the distinctively interdisciplinary nature of environmental policy and how that is both a positive and a negative:

One of the things that has always struck me about environmental policy is that it’s very interdisciplinary. It incorporates law, politics, environmental science, engineering, and more. At the same time, most of the experts only know one field: economists consider the environmental problem one of market failure and engineers think of environmental protection as an issue related to pollution-control technology. I wanted to develop a framework that explicitly looked at all the factors I considered important to environmental policy—the underlying values, science and technology, economics, public policy and management.

Cohen also offers a fascinating overview of how studying the environment has changed over time and the ways in which Bloomberg’s policies in New York underscored these developments:

The environment as an issue has evolved. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries [in the United States], it was Teddy Roosevelt preserving the west, preserving wild areas, and creating national parks. In the 1960s and ’70s it became an issue of public health. People like Barry Commoner and Rachel Carson talked about the spread of toxics through the ecosphere. By the time I got to the EPA in the late 1970s the health aspects of the environment were starting to dominate. And in the last decade, the field of economic development and the environment seem to have combined; we talk about sustainability and protecting the environment because it’s the source of our [collective] wealth.

You can look at [former New York City mayor] Mike Bloomberg as an illustration of this. He’s didn’t enter office as an environmentalist. But in the middle of his first term, his planners said the city will gain a million people by 2030. He quickly understood the impact of that growth on our quality of life and insightfully asked: How does that kind of growth affect the city’s use of energy and water? How will it affect traffic? So Bloomberg developed PlaNYC 2030 [which took these factors into consideration]. A lot of environmental policy is about preserving scarce resources, and in New York City one of the scarcest resources is surface space on streets south of 59th Street.

The field has really morphed over the years. I use the word environment and sustainability almost interchangeably now. We have to preserve the planet because we’re all biological creatures. You can’t build a gated community to keep out bad air.

(more…)

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Sharing Jerusalem: On the Geneva Initiative and the Jerusalem Old City Initiative

Jerusalem Unbound

This week our featured book is Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy City, by Michael Dumper. Today, for the final day of the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the final chapter of Jerusalem Unbound in which Dumper discusses two “very different but partially overlapping propositions” on ways that the city can be shared peacefully in the future: the Geneva Initiative and the Jerusalem Old City Initiative.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Jerusalem Unbound by 1 PM TODAY!

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Michael Dumper on Reparation and Restitution

Jerusalem Unbound

This week our featured book is Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy City, by Michael Dumper. Today, we are happy to present a 2013 lecture by Michael Dumper given at the First Palestinian Conference on Forced Population Transfer, hosted by BADIL. In his lecture, Dumper discusses the history and future of reparations, particularly as they apply to Palestinians.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Jerusalem Unbound!

Part 1:

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Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Introducing Jerusalem Unbound

Jerusalem Unbound

“Thus at the heart of the study of Jerusalem lays the peculiar conundrum of the city–it has little military or strategic value but, at the same time, it is sought after and contested by many.” — Michael Dumper

This week our featured book is Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy City, by Michael Dumper. Today, we are happy to present Michael Dumper’s Introduction to Jerusalem Unbound, in which Dumper explains why he felt that he needed to write a third book on Jerusalem and lays out the themes that he intends to explore throughout his book.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Jerusalem Unbound!

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Jerusalem Unbound, by Michael Dumper

Jerusalem Unbound

This week our featured book is Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy City, by Michael Dumper. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Jerusalem Unbound. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, June 13th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Piketty and the Pope — A Post by Santiago Zabala

“Although Piketty will probably continue to teach economics in France instead of moving into the Vatican, the Pope now has an economist whom he can rely upon when he pontificates from Rome, regardless of all accusations of Marxism.”—Santiago Zabala

Santiago Zabala, Hermeneutic CommunismOver the past couple of years, Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and Pope Francis have become two of the most high-profile critics of the current capitalist economic system. As Santiago Zabala, co-author of Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx, points out, this has brought them condemnation from conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, who have accused Piketty and the Pope of Marxism.

In his essay Piketty and the Pope, and why Marx is back, Zabala argues that being labeled a Marxist is “simply a sign that Marx has returned from the remnants of communism to invite academics, activists, and even clerics to seek in his thought solutions to the ongoing global recession.” Zabala goes on to examine the ways in which Piketty’s economic analysis and his call for a progressive global tax on capital or wealth address some of the concerns Pope Francis has about the growing economic inequality and the current economic system. Zabala writes:

Piketty seems to have provided both historical and economic justification for the Pope’s concerns over an “economy of exclusion” and a “financial system which rules rather than serves.” If capitalism has become such an economic system it is not simply because of its natural drift toward high inequality, which the author demonstrates through detailed historical analysis, but also because capitalism permits the concentration of wealth to perpetuate from one generation to the next.

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Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst Debate Tolerance

The Power of Tolerance: A Debate was inspired by a conversation between Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst. In the the debate the two discussed different discourses of tolerance, their normative premises, limits, and political implications. The main focus was on social and political conflicts over the recognition of differences in civil societies, national politics, and transnational relations.

Here are some clips from the event with Brown and Forst:

Wendy Brown on the power of tolerance:

Rainer Forst discusses the dialectics of tolerance:

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

The EU: A Dictatorship of Freedoms (Part 2) — Albena Azmonova

Albena Azmanova

The following is part two of a post by Albena Azmanova, author of The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment. You can read the first half of the post here.

“The grievances against austerity that are now being expressed in street protests and in voting booths are the grievances of distressed consumers; not of citizens demanding structural changes to the political economy of democratic capitalism.”—Albena Azmanova

THE STATE: MORE POWERFUL, LESS RESPONSIBLE, INVARIABLY LEGITIMATE

Albena AzmanovaHow has the coup d’économie managed to transform Europe into a Dictatorship of the Four Economic Freedoms? Above all, by altering the role of political authority in Europe. Public authority (at all levels of governance) has undertaken ever more policy action to intensify wealth-production, but less and less action to manage the social costs of growth-generating public policy. This is particularly evident with regard to social policy in the European Union.

EU integration has reduced the policy-making powers of member-states in welfare provision, while EU institutions, over the past decade, have increasingly started to taken action in this field. This shifting balance between member-states and the EU in itself is not alarming; it is not even interesting. The important question is not where policy-making authority is allocated, but what type of social policy ensues from the re-allocation of responsibility between states and EU’s central policy-making bodies. In this regard, three elements are noteworthy.

First: in the course of shifting responsibility from state to EU level, there is less and less public authority in charge of welfare provision. This is the case because the retrenchment of the state is not matched by an equal increase of policy action at EU level. In other words, what the states are losing in terms of capacity to secure social rights is not matched by an equal increase in the responsibility of the EU to safeguard these rights.

Second: since the adoption of the Single European Act, economic integration within the EU has been invariably interpreted in the terms of free-market capitalism (while in principle open markets are not synonymous with free markets).

This has resulted in a radically liberal form of welfare provision: one marked by subordination of social policy to free-market policy priorities, a race to the bottom in social protection.

Overall the range and nature of the responsibility of public authority has changed, which has affected the style of governance. At both state and EU level, public authority is undertaking ever more action to enhance market efficiency (for the sake of global competitiveness), with dramatic increase in social risk, but this same public authority has ceased to assume responsibility for the generated risk. Rather than a retrenchment of the state, we have the new phenomenon of increase in the power of governing bodies (and their capacity to inflict social harm), while their responsibility for the social consequences of policy action decreases. This discrepancy between power and responsibility is damaging for societies, as the exercise of power becomes ever more autocratic, even if all rituals of democratic politics are meticulously performed.

Arguably, the discrepancy between power and responsibility should be eroding the authority of states, as Richard Sennett has argued. This, in turn, could be expected to trigger a legitimation crisis of the system, and massive revolts. Yet, no such crisis has so far ensued, apart from the wave of largely peaceful popular protests in the course of 2011-2012 whose main theme is resistance to the politics of austerity, rather than change of the political economy of Europe away from neoliberal capitalism.

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Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

The EU: A Dictatorship of Freedoms (Part 1) — Albena Azmonova

Albena Azmanova

The following is part one of a post by Albena Azmanova, author of The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment. We will post part two tomorrow. Azmanova will be speaking at The New School tonight at 6 pm.

“This almighty raison d’économie leaves no options: it is policymaking without politics, without ideological choices, it allows no alternatives”—Albena Azmanova

Albena AzmonovaJudging by this poster advertising the play “Europe Today,” something is amiss in Europe.

The European Union’s fate has been, of late, rather more bewailed and bemoaned, than celebrated. The most ominous pronouncement of Europe’s sorry fate have centered on the rise of technocratic rule riding high on the will of markets in what Margaret Thatcher called the TINA logic (borrowing from Herbert Spenser)—There Is No Alternative. The emergency appointments by EU authorities of two heads of European governments (Lucas Papandreou in Greece and Mario Monti in Italy) in November 2011, and tasking the newly appointed leaders to enforce (rather than negotiate) policies of austerity in their countries, does add fresh credence to the idea.

We seem to thus have lost our basic right to politics—that is, to the reasoned contest among alternative ideas about the shape of our present and the contours of our future, sacrificing it at the altar of the hegemonic common-sense of free markets aided by bureaucracies, while altogether preserving the democratic institutional order.

THE MISSING CRISIS OF CAPITALISM AND THE “NEW DEAL”

What is the evidence that something is amiss in the nature of European politics? The broadly proclaimed, yet missing, crisis of capitalism can serve as an empirical entry point into a diagnosis of Europe’s current malaise. In the midst of the recent global financial meltdown, we have heard much emphatic talk about the crisis of capitalism. However, what narratives about this crisis tell us is no more than that the financialization of the economy has created a crisis for capitalism—some difficulties in the creation of profit (such as deficient credit) which have been by now been overcome. Moreover, these difficulties, and the social misery they have inflicted, have not triggered a crisis of the system’s legitimacy. “We are not against the system but the system is against us,”, announced a slogan of the indignados—the peaceful demonstrators that who occupied public spaces across Spain in the early summer of 2011. Yet this cry of protest is ambiguous—it is more an appeal to tame the system, make it more inclusive, rather than to subvert or overthrow it.

Like the protests of the Spanish indignados, the citizens’ outrage in Greece against the conditions that the EU and the IMF imposed for the financial bailout of the government, the Occupy Wall Street movements, and the looting that ravaged English cities – all in the summer and autumn of 2011 – have signaled a growing popular discontent with the outcomes of the socio-political system – mainly with the dramatically uneven allocation of wealth and increasing social exclusion. However, while these movements express, in their distinct ways, public frustration with the socio-economic system of neoliberal capitalism, they rarely put into question its validity or evoke an alternative. These calls are at their best appeals for ‘fixing’ the system and making it more inclusive, and, at their worst, – exasperated cries of frustration and fear. If democratic elections are any indicator of prevailing preferences, the most recent round of national elections in Europe have confirmed that capitalism has considerable popular support. In the midst of the rampant economic crisis, the vote in Europe has gone to the right;, support to left parties has been at a historic low, while support to xenophobic populism is rising.

Most importantly, what is absent is a broad societal, cross-ideological coalition of forces mobilizing to protect society from the market, similar to the counter-movement against free markets that Carl Polanyi, in his The Great Transformation, observed to be taking shape in the early twentieth century. At the time, a consensus between the left and the right emerged on the need to constrain markets, a consensus which propelled the post-war welfare states. Instead, we now have governments, irrespectively of their ideological allegiance, running to the rescue of financial capital and big business, and implementing austerity programs to reassure capital markets, while society bears this with relative equanimity, despite the increasing price it is paying in terms of cuts to social insurance, to basic services for the most disadvantaged, general impoverishment and growing precarity. Social frustration is, instead, directed mainly into xenophobia. How can this be explained?

While we have been busy debating the crisis of capitalism, capitalist democracy (as a system of social relations and political rules) has metamorphosed itself into a new form, which the most recent economic meltdown consolidated, but did not cause. This new form is marked by a “new deal”—a new social contract (or legitimacy relationship) between public authority and citizens, which enables a particular style of rule, which I will attempt now to elucidate. Before I proceed, let me clarify the concept of a legitimacy relationship between public authority and citizens, which will be a focal point in the subsequent analysis of Europe’s political health.

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Friday, March 14th, 2014

“Do you believe in fate, Neo?” Law, Freedom, Representation, and Identity in THE MATRIX

Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation, Paul W. Kahn

Happy Friday, everyone! But before we continue on with the University Press Roundup, we’d like to conclude our week-long feature of Paul W. Kahn’s Finding Ourselves at the Movies. In the except below, Kahn illuminates the underlying philosophies of the Wachowski siblings’ The Matrix. Drawing from Kant’s delineation of the noumenal and phenomenal worlds, Kahn examines the ways in which the matrix, as an absolute manifestation of representation through law and code, separates itself from identity. This act eradicates any opportunity to “freely give the law to ourselves,” prompting violence, here the sole remaining performance of human freedom.

And of course, don’t miss Morpheus’s explanation of the matrix–troubled with the same issues that disturbed Descartes almost four hundred years ago.

Here’s your last chance to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Finding Ourselves at the Movies!