"Woodstock Kids," Aug. 18, 1969 © Ric Manning | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysSex & GenderThe Left

Further Reflections on Feminists and the Left

A response to Ann Snitow and Victoria Hattam

“The Women Did It?” by Ann Snitow and Victoria Hattam correctly argues that we need to understand the conflicts and splits of the late nineteen sixties if we are to build a New Left today. Today’s Left is rooted in the decisions and turning points of that time, and it will be hard to build something new until we come to grips with our past. However, Ann and Vicky (for we are all friends) frame the issues wrongly in that they are essentially concerned with blaming and defending. They reiterate that the men of the New Left really were sexist, and that the women of the New Left really had not meant to destroy the New Left in creating women’s liberation. This is not the way to think about it.

To be sure, I would be fool indeed to “blame” women for the demise of the New Left, as Ann and Vicky suggest I do. The women’s movement of the late sixties was akin to a natural force, a great river of emotion and eloquent power; who would blame a river? …

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Woman casts her ballot in Egypt's 2014 constitutional referendum as child looks on © Bora S. Kamel | Flickr
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Egypt’s Constitutional Mess and Solutions from South Africa

Of the many important lessons the Egyptian people might take away from their 2014 constitutional referendum, three certainly stand out in stark relief: first, that the military owns the product of the plebiscite and must also own the political consequences; second, that no constitution or government will enjoy true legitimacy without a national reconciliation effort; and third, that the pathway out of Egypt’s transitional morass might in fact begin at the other end of the continent in South Africa.

When the government of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi sent its constitution to a public referendum in December 2012, it would have been a tall order to find a more emblematic case study in how not to establish a democratically legitimate national charter. In a desperate effort to jam through a constitution that would ensconce its role in governance, the Brotherhood made several strategic blunders that virtually ensured the showdown that led to Morsi’s ouster: …

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Book cover of Theocratic Democracy: The Social Construction of Religious and Secular Extremism © 2010 Oxford University Press | Amazon.com
EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionTheory & Practice

The Social Condition: Religion and Politics in Israel

Once I commit myself to a new theoretical project, I start realizing how my reading can illuminate it. Sometimes this involves a concerted effort. Thus these days I am re-reading Georg Simmel with an intuition that he can be a key theoretical guide in understanding the social condition. But sometimes this is just a matter of reading something of general interest and realizing that it contributes to my project.  Thus I thought of my exploration with Iddo Tavory of the unresolvable dilemmas built into the social fabric when I was reading Nachman Ben Yehuda’s  book, Theocratic Democracy: The Social Construction of Religious and Secular Extremism.

Ben Yehuda, my old friend and colleague, is studying in his book Jewish extremism in the Jewish state. He investigates deviance in the religious community as a way to analyze the conflict between the religious and secular in Israel. …

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1969 Cornell Conference on Women exhibit poster © Mann Library | Flickr
EssaysRace/ismsSex & GenderThe Left

The Women Did It?

A reply to Eli Zaretsky

We are living through dark times. Many lament the decline of a vibrant Left in American politics; why the right has been ascendant for the past quarter century is a matter worth extensive exploration. Zaretsky’s “Rethinking the Split Between Feminists and the Left,” however, both underestimates the deep roots of the American right and overestimates the power of feminism (Perlstein, Lowndes). In doing so, Zaretsky makes it difficult to rethink the possibilities and obstacles for the Left now. Zaretsky’s account of feminist politics runs amuck because of the ways in which he links feminism with madness and distances it from radicalism and race. Let us untangle the ways in which Zaretsky puts these elements in play in ways that distort past, present, and future.

Let us begin at the beginning — with madness. Zaretsky starts with a fine recognition of Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012), and her work as a radical feminist thinker (The Dialectic of Sex) and activist. …

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Global crisis  © Alexskopje | Dreamstime.com
CapitalismEssays

The Politics of Public Debt

Neoliberalism, capitalist development, and the restructuring of the state

This is the text of the Heuss Lecture (with audio of the Q & A below), delivered as part of the General Seminar series in the Wolff Conference Room of The New School for Social Research at 6 E. 16th. St. in New York on December 11, 2013. 

From the 1970s on public debt increased more or less steadily in most, if not all, OECD countries, as it never had in peacetime. The rapid rise in public indebtedness was a general, not a national phenomenon, although in some countries, especially ones with low levels of inflation like West Germany, it began earlier than in others (Streeck 2011). In this essay I will emphasize the cross-national commonalities rather than the national specifics of the transformation of the “tax state” (Schumpeter 1991 [1918]) into a debt state and from there, at present, a consolidation state.[1] My argument focuses on the family of countries that adopted a regime of democratic capitalism, or capitalist democracy, after the Second World War, …

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Euromaidan in Kiev. Hrushevsky street riots, January 23, 2014 © Аимаина хикари | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

EuroMaidan Politics

Friends and Enemies in Ukraine

“The following video contains graphic content, which may be disturbing for some viewers,” says NYTimes.com about a video of the protests in Ukraine. Yes, politics — if by “politics” we do not mean debates of “experts” and TV celebrities who represent political parties — is disturbing, and not only in Ukraine.

Yet, in Ukraine, politics has come back. Hundreds of thousands of people have been on the streets for two months already protesting the government. What started in November 2013 as a protest against President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision not to sign the Association Agreement with the EU has very quickly turned into a protest against the entire regime, the whole system of power from the President to a local police officer.

The first violence used against the protesters on November 30 showed that the government hates to see the faces of those who do not like it. After two months of mass protests, …

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White-haired and white-bearded wizard © Twice25 | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysThe Left

Autonomous Politics and Liberal Thought-Magic

In response to Nancy Fraser

Anarchism is often dismissed as incoherent, naïve, and ineffective. This is Nancy Fraser’s position in a recent article called “Against Anarchism.” Fraser’s criticisms are worth engaging not because they’re particularly perceptive or unique, but because they’re exceedingly common: these are some of the reasons that people dismiss anarchism all the time. What is it about anarchism that’s so threatening to people like Nancy Fraser? I think Fraser (and many others) are actually threatened by what I’ll call “autonomous politics,” which is both narrower and broader than anarchism, encompassing currents of Marxism, indigenism, queer politics, feminism, and anarchism. My suspicion is that Fraser hates autonomous politics not because it’s ineffective or undemocratic, but because it undermines her whole worldview and political project. Autonomous politics destabilizes liberalism, opening up more productive ways of thinking and relating. …

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Super Bowl Gallery 
at the Pro Football Hall of Fame © 2010 Matt McGee | Flickr
EssaysSex & Gender

Sex and the Super Bowl

Gender caricatures,

Every year the issue of gender and sexual stereotyping is highlighted at the Super Bowl and in the minutes of well-famed commercials surrounding the game. Be it macho-football players, sexy cheerleaders, slick, yet still, macho-men in fancy cars, sexy Danica Patrick, macho-beer drinkers, sexy female beer drinkers, static femininity and masculinity are displayed suggesting to us all what kind of men and women we should be.

Following this grand display of gender duality, there is an annual critique of femininity, generally in response to the halftime show, with camps divided between female sexuality as an autonomous choice of empowerment and female sexuality curtailed in consumerism, thus objectifying the participants. …

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Use of cell phones prohibited © Public Domain | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysMedia & Publics

The Interruptive Society

A seismic shift in social behavior has occurred over the last decade that to the best of my knowledge was not forecasted by futurists.

While in the early 80s we wrote and read about telecommuting, the evolution of Arpanet, the workings and impact of smaller, less expensive, more mobile computers, the progeny of CB radio, the future of what was then known as videotex and teletext, and the commercial beginnings of satellite communication, no one forecast a radical change in Western social behavior.  The change has been dramatic.

We have become the Interruptive Society – interrupting and interrupted.

Elevators have become phone booths.  The preface to almost any public event, sacred or profane, is an announcement to shut down the beepers, pagers, and cell phones. …

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Paul Cézanne: Pierrot and Harlequin (1888, Oil on canvas) © Public Domain | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysTheory & Practice

Humor and the Social Condition

In a series of posts, Jeff Goldfarb and I have been sketching an outline for the study of the social condition — the predictable dilemmas that haunt social life. We argue that one of the core intellectual missions of sociology is to account for the ways in which social patterns set up these dilemmas that actors experience as crucial for their lives and how they define themselves.

Social life, as anyone who is in the business of living knows, is riddled with ambiguities and contradictions. But these contradictions and dilemmas are not only the stuff tragedies and epics are made of. As importantly, they include materials from which comedy is crafted. If we attend to the structure of humor, we can see that jokes work precisely because they shine light on dilemmas that are built into the social fabric. Thus, one of the core insights of the study of the comic is that it depends on telling two stories at the same time (what Arthur Koestler called “bi-sociation”). …

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