Arts & DesignEssaysFeatureMedia/Publics

Walking with Disaster

In a summer filled with news of the election in the United States, global terrorism, and Brexit, the swift resignation on July 24th of Nepal’s Prime Minister, Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, hardly made the headlines. The only two news sources reporting on the event outside of Asia — Al Jazeera and the New York Times — also produced somewhat dissimilar commentaries. The New York Times framed the resignation in the context of party politics, the challenges of running a multi-coalitional government, growing demands for federation, and geopolitical tensions with Nepal’s powerful neighbors, India and China. The Al Jazeera report also associated the resignation with demands for constitutional reforms and federalization, but the commentary largely focused on the numerous street protests that had been disrupting daily life in Kathmandu since Oli’s ascent to power in October 2015. …

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EssaysFeatureIn DepthThe Left

Antifascism as Political Passion in the Life of Cristina Luca

Far-left politics and radical universalism (including its Stalinist variant) seduced countless intellectuals during the twentieth century. Yet, this absorbing subject still needs to be deciphered and recalled. In a similar vein, the topic of apostasy, that is to say, the awakening to what Immanuel Kant once called “dogmatic slumber,” …

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EssaysFeatureLiberal Democracy in Question

For Ressentiment: An Alternative to Trumpism

Donald Trump’s campaign of anger may have jumped the shark this past week, and I am afraid that may lead my friends on the Left (whether you like Bernie, Jill, or Hillary) to mistake the lessons of this electoral cycle. It is tempting to believe that the collapsing Trump campaign signals something larger, a triumph of optimism over fear, but that is precisely the lesson we should not draw. Trump’s successes draw on the well of despair and rage in the American voter, but his failure would not mean that despair and rage have lost their political salience. It is high time we on the Left learned to embrace instead of reject ressentiment — the feeling of impotence that leads to anger directed against enemies we blame for our suffering — as a means of mobilizing voters. Ressentiment is a potent political weapon, as Friedrich Nietzsche knew so well, but for the last forty years it has been almost the exclusive provenance of the Right. …

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EssaysFeatureLiberal Democracy in QuestionThe Left

How the Sanders Agenda Can Move Forward in a Hillary Presidency

Everyday political discourse commonly reduces the significance of elections to individual personalities: one candidate wins, another candidate loses. In legislative elections, this way of assessing an election is perfectly legitimate.

Matters are more complicated, however, when considering executive branch elections, whether at the mayor, governor or presidential level. The executive branch itself is a large army of people: administrators, program managers, analysts, researchers and all the other people who do the everyday work of government, and who turn broad policy priorities into concrete action steps.  …

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EssaysEventsFeatureLiberal Democracy in Question

Pre-Coup, Coup and the Media Intellectuals in Turkey

There are many unknowns about the July 15th coup d’état attempt in Turkey. Putschists, instead of taking down the leadership or shutting down communication, ineffectually closed off some roads, attacked government buildings including the Parliament, and killed many innocent civilians without clear operational objectives. The level of confusion and disorder among soldiers was mind boggling. It is hard to believe that these putschists were part of the “one of the most powerful NATO armies.” The sloppiness of this military operation raises a lot of questions; who gave the orders? What was the network diagram of this operation? Did they have a plan B? What was going to happen if the coup was successful? Who are the political collaborators? Even after two weeks, none of this is evident. …

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EssaysFeatureLiberal Democracy in Question

Are EU Exit Referenda Good for Democracy?

Referenda are important instruments of democratic politics. They have been used since the late eighteenth century in various circumstances of political life, most often in relation to constitutional change or issues of self-determination. In contemporary democratic societies, there is pressure to submit contested political questions to popular vote, in order to reduce tensions between popular will and governance. Even democratic governments which are not constitutionally obliged to do so now feel compelled to consult the people directly. 

Brexit, the UK’s referendum on whether to stay in the EU, reflects this tendency. It is not the first referendum on EU matters. And yet, there is novelty here: the people were deciding directly whether to leave an organization of democratic states, …

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EssaysFeatureLiberal Democracy in Question

At DNC Obama Reaffirmed Central Vision: Why it Matters for Democratic Politics Today

One of the things that Barack Obama delivered in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, which has to rank among his truly great speeches, was a powerful restatement of his central orienting vision of political community and democratic citizenship, which he first presented during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2007-2008. After all the trials and tribulations of his presidency, it’s clear that he still remains committed to that vision, like it or not. In fact, anyone who follows Obama’s speech closely and compares it with some key speeches he gave in 2008 will notice that he went out of his way to emphasize some of the continuities. …

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EssaysFeatureLiberal Democracy in Question

No-Rule: Thinking about Obama v. Trump Through Hannah Arendt and C.L.R. James

Barack Obama delivered a rousing speech at the recent Democratic National Committee Convention in support of Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Presidency. At the crescendo of the address, Obama exhorted: “We’re not a fragile people. We’re not a frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don’t look to be ruled.” Let’s think through this understanding of ruling for political leadership.

Obama argues that Donald Trump, Clinton’s primary opponent for the nation’s highest elected office, embraces an elite conception of leadership grounded in a sovereign leader ruling over a mass. Trump is not only mendacious according to Obama; …

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CapitalismEssaysFeatureLiberal Democracy in Question

The 1950s, American Greatness, And Trump’s Brand Of Nostalgia

If you’re unfamiliar with the advertising firm of Ogilvy & Mather, consider this: What James Madison did for the US Constitution, Ogilvy did for advertising. Ogilvy was a champion of pragmatism and a fierce romantic, a combination that made for advertising that reflected the cultural fantasies of the moment while remaining accessible to consumers. Ogilvy built an empire on giving consumers precisely what his advertising made them want: “In the modern world of business,” he proclaimed, “it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

If we analyze historic ad campaigns to discover why they were successful, we probably would hear the Marlboro Man speaking to us from beyond the grave (though quite likely through a voice box). …

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EssaysFeatureIn Depth

A Kurdish Paradox in Turkey’s Wine Country

It is June and I’m in Elazığ, a city of just over a quarter of million in eastern Turkey. Streets bustle with families and packs of young men clutching their tespih or prayer beads. It is a modern city, but at its height in the 1930s and 1940s, Elazığ served as an important administrative center for Turkish Republican rule in the east. In the last sixty-five years however, much of the city’s historical role of governance has evaporated. Hardly a single vestige of the city’s Ottoman or Republican past remains. Elazığ, I am told, has suffered much.

I am picked up from the airport by a colleague of mine, Bora, who knows the city well. He’s jovial and Kurdish, originally from a small village in between Mardin and Diyarkbakır, two large cities to the southeast of where we stand. We get in his car and drive into the countryside. …

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