EssaysThe LeftTheory & Practice

On the Academic Calls to Boycott Israel, Part II

The Jewish Question and the debate over the Israeli academy

After summarizing Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip and dispossession of Palestinians from land and livelihood, the pro-boycott petition’s signatories declare: “As employees in institutions of higher learning, we have a particular responsibility to oppose Israel’s widespread and systematic violations of the right to higher education of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line.” Pointing out the ways in which Israeli authorities, including institutions …

EssaysThe LeftTheory & Practice

On the Academic Calls to Boycott Israel, Part I

The Jewish Question and the debate over the Israeli academy

This post is the first part in a three-part series, which will be posted over the remainder of the week.

If Israel is a contentious topic of conversation in mainstream and alternative news media, in everyday exchanges at the grocery store or the dinner table, it comes with at least as much vitriol when discussed in academia. Recent calls by members of professional associations such as …

EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionMedia/Publics

Diagnosing American Politics

What the rise of Trump says about American democracy

I have a morbid fascination with Carl Schmitt. Morbid, because he manages to condense, in his political theory and philosophy of law, pretty much everything I find repulsive about the radical right. His pessimism about “human nature” is raw and simplistic and, unlike Hobbes, whom he superficially resembles, he is uninterested in clamping down on sin-infected humanity by way of a social contract that invests all sovereignty in an …

EssaysSex & Gender

Affirmative Consent and Neoliberal Bodies

The individual yes vs. the social no

I am writing this with great relief as the “crisis” of sexual assaults on college campuses in New York State has finally been addressed through affirmative consent, or “yes means yes” legislation from Governor Cuomo. Having worked for years as the director of a college-based women’s center, having helped write a university policy to address sexual assault on campus, and having counseled many students who were victims and at times …

EssaysRaceThe Left

And Yet It is Round!

Untimely thoughts on Europe, Migration, and the State

Untimely thoughts on Europe, Migration, and the State

As I do every year, I have spent most of this summer on the Italian coast, in the region around the Gulf of Poets. This summer, as soon as I put my head underwater, I am struck by the beauty of the sea: the water is so blue that, at times, it turns violet; there are fish everywhere, sea urchins, sea stars, and seaweeds of such amazing sparkling colors as I have never seen in the region. People around me speak of a “tropicalization of the Mediterranean.” …

EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Real Friends of Brazil

The democratic promise of the movement for impeachment

An army revolt against vanishing communist forces brought back Constitutional order, halting the march toward totalitarianism, and was celebrated in Brazilian streets like a football victory. “Brazil,” The New York Times believed in 1964, “is a desperately sick country. The present struggle is simply to see who is going to get possession of the unhappy patient. Whoever the victors, a long period of economic and political convalescence is in order.” The truth, however, was very different.

Brazil was then a rapidly …


Insurance Companies, Health Care, and You

Coming to terms with the corporatization of health care

I recently filled out a “Health Assessment” form for my employer and insurance company.

I was queried not only about my diet, exercise, and existing medical conditions. I was also asked about how happy I was at work, if I approved of my boss’s performance, whether I worried about money, and if I had received any recognition from my community in the past year. The computer — the computer! …


Slaves: The Capital that Made Capitalism

A re-post

This post, adapted from a lecture in the team-taught course “Rethinking Capitalism” at The New School for Social Research and first published last year, is being reposted today to provide critical insight into today’s headlines. Slavery was central to the development of the American political economy. Ott reviews the recent scholarship that shows how it came to be that Black lives haven’t mattered. -J.G.

Racialized chattel slaves were the …

EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionPower and CrisisReligionTheory & Practice

The Ethics and Politics of Responsible Belief

On liberalism and faith

Prior to his death in June 2007, Richard Rorty turned his attention to religious belief and its place in the public sphere. Rorty had long been presenting himself as the “village atheist” in the domains both of academic philosophy and public intellectualism: he viewed religious belief as the most pervasive form of false metaphysical comfort, and as a political “conversation stopper” that is ineluctably at odds with the sort of foundationless liberal democracy he championed. But late in his career …


Growing up under Different Skies

Reflections at the Einstein Forum

I stand before you with more questions and contradictions than answers. I have chosen to speak of growing up “under different skies” because that was my destiny. What I don’t know is whether such a biographical accident sheds a very different light on growing up or whether it is more of the same with just greater geographical movement than in most young lives.

When I wrote a quarter of a century ago my intellectual autobiography …