Link to an article by Branko Marcetic:
Bonus link: “Hannah Arendt’s Challenge to Adolf Eichmann”
Link to an article by David Walsh:
There are some useful reader comments under this article, especially from Jason Kennedy (criticizing the typical class-reductionist argument style of WSWS). Trying to smear, shame and scapegoat the rich (including rich workers) undermines the effectiveness of the article by resorting to incoherent populist tactics — a problematic approach, lest Friedrich Engels‘ writings be dismissed on the same basis.
Bonus link: “Opposition Mounts to Sexual Harassment Witch-hunt” (“Under the blanket category of ‘sexual harassment,’ an extremely broad range of activity, including that which falls under the framework of normal interpersonal relations, is effectively being criminalized and associated with the horrific crime of rape. The effect is to create a situation where virtually anyone can be singled out and smeared with the charge of being a ‘sexual predator.'”) and “The Destruction of Matt Taibbi: How the Alt Right and Sloppy Reporting Smeared the ‘Rolling Stone’ Journalist”.
Link to an article by Jeff Kao:
Link to an article by Matt Bruenig & Ryan Cooper:
As is typical for writing in Jacobin, this article includes a section at the end that draws conclusions unsupported by the body of the article. For example, the authors state, “No political obstacle stood between President Obama and a better housing policy.” The article does not address political factors at all, so this is a bald assertion without support. It also is questionable. While certain other studies have established how the Democrats during Obama’s era have courted Wall Street and other banking/finance donors, if you follow (for example) Thomas Ferguson‘s “Golden Rule” theory about “investment” in elections, which holds (in greatly simplified form) that politicians are vetted by moneyed interests and masses are too poor to be able to influence the choices offered in an election, then the authors would need to establish that Obama could have raised the same or more money elsewhere (Bernie Sanders’ small donor approach seems like the closest and easiest comparison point). This also requires an assumption that Obama and the Democrats care/cared about long-term consequences, rather than limiting themselves to short-term thinking (e.g., sacrificing the future for a near-term win) — which is normative. That criticism aside, the linked article does do a good job illustrating how the problem discussed is fundamentally political in character.
I found this book to be quite trivial. It pulls together previous essays that Roediger has written with some new material, and focuses its attention on a selected history of pro- and anti-“identity politics” commentators, together with extensive personal anecdotes. The book’s major fault is that its central premises are disingenuous. Roediger claims in the introduction to have undertaken self-criticism. But on close examination that is not exactly what he does. Rather, he carefully frames his self-criticism in order to advance certain underlying ideological presuppositions, and to signal that he identifies with certain groups and not others. He claims that he is investigating the need to engage in both theory and action. Yet he ends up not really questioning his theoretical assumptions much, and dwells on action. So, for instance, he opens the book with a mild critique of David Harvey, only to immediately signal that his disagreements with Harvey and a few others are really minor and constructive and that they are really on the same side — by which he means they can both support “identity politics” and craft/trade union social democracy. He then mentions the anti-“identity politics” positions of Walter Benn Michaels and Adolph Reed, Jr., dismissing them as “simplistic”, and, later in the book, also dismissing Pierre Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant and others’ views. And yet, Roediger’s dismissal of these contrary positions actually reveals much more about his own simplistic frame of reference than it does to explicate the supposed flaws of these other thinkers. For example, Roediger argues from the vantage point that craft/trade union advocacy is of crucial importance, that “Marxism” is about “class” identity rather than universalism, that such groups tend to have substantially consistent/homogeneous internal cohesion, and, crucially, that “ideology” is not an important framework. Accordingly, his overview of the anti-“identity politics” position (which he clearly rejects) omits any discussion of many of the most prominent recent advocates of that position: Jodi Dean, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek, Sharon Smith, etc. While many of these other thinkers rely on psychoanalysis, it is psychonalisis of an entirely different sort than what Roediger occasionally relies on. This is significant. It is possible to disagree with Roediger’s flavor of “class” consciousness and on that basis alone arrive at a different balance of class and race (and gender, etc.) concerns. Much of the book explores a history of what amount to “tactical” considerations, without digging into deeper philosophical and theoretical underpinnings. While some of Roedinger’s statements ring true, I tend to think a better and more far-reaching formulation of the theory and action dialectic that Roediger professes to apply in this book is stated by Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, for example. Adolph Reed’s criticism of Roediger and his ilk (echoing Walter Benjamin), that they are part of “a strain of the professional-managerial class whose worldview and material interests are rooted within a political economy of race and ascriptive identity-group relations[,]” seems spot on — hardly something “simplistic”. This is evidenced by the extensive bloviating that Roediger puts forth about academic appointments and the trials and tribulations of various race-conscious academics seeking prestigious university positions. It all gets very tedious. I was left feeling that Roediger is furthering a debate in what I consider a cul-de-sac of increasingly irrelevant non-Marxist discourse that panders to craft/trade unions, the university appointment system, and defeatist sentiments that the “communist hypothesis” must be tempered if not rejected. While no doubt, “identity politics” has become hegemonic in academic departments of late, Roediger too easily relies on that hegemony to proffer very superficial criticisms of anti-identity politics positions. But, again, this is essentially a critique of the ideology that Roediger adopts, and Roediger is careful to bracket out ideology from his purview. He also makes some dubious characterizations of fact. For instance, in the introduction he claims that police unions actually have very little power. This is borderline laughable. Take for instance Minnesota, where in around 2011 the police union succeeded in having state law modified to shield them from disciplinary investigations by citizen boards. When Martin Gilens & Benjamin Page released their widely publicized study of the impact of ordinary citizens and unions on government policy, they concluded that unions, as interest groups typically aligned with ordinary citizen interests, have very little influence. These examples tend to show that police unions have considerably more influence than other types of unions, calling Roediger’s claim into doubt. In spite of his claim to be self-critical, he spends these pages mostly trying to rally allies to fend off criticism from the likes of Reed, Benn Michaels, and a host of others he doesn’t bother to cite — something that is fundamentally populist rather than Marxist, and is not a problem unique to Roediger. It is rather hard to see how this book is of any interest to anyone other than the “opposition” academics specifically mentioned, to the extent that they might wish to rebut specific claims Roediger makes. Though this book is best ignored.
Suja Thomas & David Lopez:
This article makes an excellent example of why nearly-correct commentary is dangerous. While it is helpful that the authors cite a 2015 study about a divergence between decisions made by a judge (from the bench) as compared to those by juries, that argument boils down to drawing a line in the sand as to how much judicial decisions must match those of juries. The authors clearly feel that juries agreeing with judges 75% of the time, in the study sample, is insufficient; they do not articular their minimum acceptable threshold: 80%? 90%? 99.999999999%? And they side-step the issue of bias in juries — perhaps the views of bigoted juries should be curbed by judges? Are juries selected in a way that is more fair than judicial selection (obviously, yes, though the article leaves the extent of that and limitations of jury selection unexplored). The study is limited to situations in which appeals judges overturned a lower court judge (in other words, the study of divergence between judge and jury views is limited to a sample in which judges disagreed).
Anyway, turning to the main thrust of the article, it has some troubling features. From a legal realist standpoint, it is clear that the authors are peddling a liberal “identity politics” platform, and are dredging around for facts that look like they support the authors’ preferred “identity politics” solutions. What do I mean by that? Well, for starters, the key to this article is its reference to “structural reasons”. This is invoked as the proper explanatory frame for judicial bias in a very specific way: the accusation is that judges are disproportionately white men, compared to the general population. While avoiding explicitly saying it, the authors are suggesting that if judges were made up of a racially/gender/etc. diverse base, then the problems they discuss would disappear. This is certainly better than the “implicit bias” framework. But nonetheless this approach has been tested in other contexts, and it fails. In particular, police departments have been exhorted to “diversify” for some time, and departments that have done so have not shown hoped-for reductions in discrimination. This is because the “identity politics” frame overlooks the role of ideology. Minorities can accede or succumb to hegemonic ideology, and thus act as collaborators in a biased system. Elaine Brown in her book The Condemnation of Little B referred to this as “New Age Racism” in a similar context. Walter Benn Michaels and Adolph Reed, Jr. have been hamming this point home for at least a decade too. Merely appointing more minorities to judgeships won’t solve the problem of a discriminatory ideology unless those judges are willing to challenge the hegemonic ideology. They might, or they might not — although more racial/gender/etc. fairness in such judicial appointments would undoubtedly be a good thing. The point is that the authors have offered an insufficient analysis. Their version of a “structural” analysis is flabby. To be sound, and come closer to being sufficient, it would need to take more account of power and something like ideology and class, though they do hint in that direction by saying that judges “may want higher positions in the judiciary or elsewhere, which can influence their decisions”, which is perhaps a passing reference to hierarchies of power, economic bases, and hegemonic ideology. A much more probing set of questions was raised in another article questioning how alternative dispute resolution arose to stifle discrimination suits — though this other article was offered by an independent scholar. Could it be that Suja Thomas and David Lopez themselves “may want higher positions in [academia] or elsewhere, which can influence their [theorizing]”, and therefore limit the scope of their criticism? Social science is only valid if it is reflexive and its intellectual weapons are also turned on those who create and wield them. Thomas and Lopez’ article does not seem to meet such a standard. It masks an adherence to a hegemonic worldview premised on inequality behind seemingly benign and well-meaning advocacy for minor technocratic improvements, thereby depoliticizing the underlying struggle and reinforcing the ideology that sustains bigotry at its very roots.
Link to a review by Ed Rooksby of Domenico Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History (2005; 2011 trans.). Losurdo’s counterpart book War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century (2015) should also be considered here, because it is arguably a better written (or better translated) book with a better exposition of its central argument.
“How do we make sense of this paradox at the heart of liberalism – the simultaneous invocation of liberty on the one hand and the justification and promulgation of severe forms of oppression on the other? The key to all of this, Losurdo argues, is to grasp that liberalism is founded on an implicit logic of exclusion. Only once we have understood this can we start to resolve the seeming inconsistencies. Liberalism has always pivoted, Losurdo argues, on drawing a dividing line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – those who are worthy or capable (morally, intellectually, biologically/racially) of the gamut of rights and liberties we associate with liberalism and those who are not. Liberalism was always, of course, centrally concerned with the condemnation and limitation of despotic power and the corresponding assertion of rights to self-government, autonomy and so on – but this struggle was always waged by, and on behalf of, an exclusive section of humanity – what Losurdo terms ‘the community of the free’. The history of liberalism is thus in great part a history of how the particular specification and location of the boundary line between ‘the community of the free’ and the excluded has evolved and shifted.
“With this exclusionary logic in mind we can make sense of the paradoxes of liberal slavery, liberal empire and liberal authoritarianism towards wage labourers and the poor. In each of these three apparent paradoxes we are, in fact, confronting particular instances of the opposition between the justly free and the justly unfree. It is not that the brutal world of slavery, for example, represented a failure or negation of proclaimed liberal values, or revealed the hypocrisy of contemporary liberals, it is that the ‘community of the free’ in which the sphere of liberal rights and freedoms applied did not, and was not intended, to encompass black people. Liberalism, for Losurdo, was never a doctrine of moral universalism. We can see now, how racism and class contempt operated as necessary ideological supports for this system of exclusion. Slavery and colonial expropriation and domination was justified on the grounds that non-white peoples were by definition uncivilised, in a condition of ‘nonage’ (Mill), not fully human or even ‘savage beasts’ (Locke) and were thus rightly excluded from the ‘community of the free’. Similarly, workers and the poor in the metropolis were not intelligent, morally developed or, again, human enough to be admitted into the sacred space of the free community of liberals.
“It is not just that liberalism was long characterised by exclusion for Losurdo – it is also that, to a great extent, the liberty of the community of the free has depended on the exclusion and oppression of the unfree. That is, the relationship between the community of the free and the excluded has been one of exploitation in which the privileges of the former have been rooted in the expropriation and coercion of the unfree. It is here that class relations come into play.”
Bonus links: Critical Moral Liberalism: Theory and Practice (“liberal theories often serve as ideological cover for oppression of one group by others.”) and Against Liberalism and “François Furet, 20 ans après”
Link to an article by Jim Kavanagh:
This is the best article I have yet encountered about gun rights vs. gun control.
Link to an article by Joseph Ramsey:
I find it much harder to look past the problems with Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine, but Ramsey offers some extremely interesting observations that don’t really depend on even seeing the film.
Bonus link: “When Liberals Go Wrong”