EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionTheory & Practice

Hannah and Me: Understanding Politics in Dark Times

Contrary to the suggestion of my informal title, I did not study with Hannah Arendt, nor were we ever colleagues, although I missed both experiences only by a bit. I was a graduate student in the early 1970s in one of the universities where she last taught, the University of Chicago, and my first and only long term position, at the New School for Social Research, was her primary American academic home.

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

What Changes and What Remains the Same in Brazil

The electoral setting vs. the political-institutional setting in the 2014 presidential election

Until recently, candidate Eduardo Campos was playing a supporting third-place role in the Brazilian presidential race. His tragic death in a plane crash has revolutionized the Brazilian electoral setting, where the first round of presidential elections is scheduled for October 5, 2014. Despite this change, and the consequent rise of Marina Silva, the political-institutional setting remains unchanged in the country, regardless of what will be the outcome of elections.

Brazil, the largest democracy in Latin America, has been undergoing one of the most hotly contested presidential elections of its recent history. This intensity is due to an unusual event: the death of the third place candidate Eduardo Campos (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party) in a tragic plane crash on August 13. …

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EssaysThe Psyche

Are We Really Such Beasts?

There is a relentless barrage of narratives about our supposed beastly nature and conduct. Since childhood, we have all watched animals routinely tear off each others’ limbs in countless nature documentaries meant to show us that survival at any cost is the natural order of life. We are fascinated by House of Cards, from which we infer that only suckers play by the book and uphold standards of decency. Many of us stumbled across the political theory of Thomas Hobbes in school; he told us that man is a wolf to other men and that the only way to reign in the beast is to resign to a larger beast — the Leviathan. We also recall that Adam Smith advised us not to rely on the charity of the butcher and the grocer for our meal, but on their self interest. We watched Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street or Costa-Gavras’s Le Capital, and they confirmed that self interest knows no bounds. …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

In Support of PODEMOS

One of the most appalling and discouraging outcomes of the recent European elections has been the rise and affirmation of a number of far-right, xenophobic, and populist electoral parties in East and Northern Europe and in France. This has been largely the outcome of years of austerity policies and crisis, which have deteriorated the conditions of life for millions of people across the continent. In this discouraging scenario, the most promising novelty has been, in addition to the Syriza’s electoral victory in Greece, the birth and astonishing affirmation (7.9%) of a new organization: Podemos (Spain). Podemos was created only a few months ago, in March, by leftist activists associated with the 15-M movement, and inherited the spirit and organizational methods of the Indignados movement. It opposes austerity policies and defends the welfare state and social rights from the neo-liberal attack supported by both center-left and center-right coalitions across Europe. …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionMedia & Publics

Banning the Minarets in Switzerland

The limits of the liberal public sphere and the dark side of monstration

There is no problem with Islam in Switzerland. At least, there was none until 2009. But then, confounding poll predictions, and stupefying the Swiss political institutions, religious organizations, as well as mainstream media, 57.5% of the citizen voted a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets. Yet, less than half a million of Muslims lives in the country. The majority of them (90%) comes from Turkey or Central Europe. They amount to eight per cent of the Swiss population. And out of the two hundred Muslim centers in Switzerland, only four mosques had a minaret.

Nonetheless, a Constitutional amendment was necessary, according to the Egerkingen Committee, the promoters of this federal popular initiative. The bill was framed as a preventive strike to stop the “Islamization” of the nation. Western — read “Judeo-Christian” — civilization and women were under the threat of Islam. Thus went the argument. …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Conceptions of Corruption, Its Causes, and Its Cure

This is a very brisk walk through a topic that should be taken slowly and treated in depth, but inevitably therefore at much greater length. Not the least of the reasons for engaging with it so briefly is that the institutions, if not always the practice, of Britain, the United States, and other liberal democracies today reflect efforts to rein in corruption that began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but which drew on very ancient arguments about the individual and institutional failings that rot individual character and bring about the downfall of states by weakening their ability to resist foreign attack, or by turning accountable republican government into some form of tyranny. More recent arguments focus on the economic cost of corruption, leading some writers to distinguish quite sharply between political and economic corruption. …

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CapitalismEssaysTheory & Practice

Has Capitalism Seen Its Day?

There is a widespread sense today that capitalism is in critical condition, and more so than ever since the end of the Second World War. Looking back, the crash of 2008 was only the latest in a long sequence of political and economic disorders that began with the end of postwar prosperity in the mid-1970s. Successive crises turned out to be ever more severe, spreading more widely and rapidly through an increasingly interconnected global economy. Global inflation in the 1970s was followed by rising public debt in the 1980s, and fiscal consolidation in the 1990s was accompanied by a steep increase in private sector indebtedness (Streeck 2011; 2013a). For four decades now, disequilibrium has more or less been the normal condition of OECD capitalism, both at the national and the global levels. In fact, with time, the crises of postwar capitalism have become so pervasive that they are increasingly perceived as more than just economic in nature, in a rediscovery of the older notion of a capitalist society: …

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EssaysThe Left

Ernesto Laclau, 1936-2014

It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Ernesto Laclau, the outstanding Argentinean political philosopher, at the age of 78. Ernesto had a heart attack in Seville where he was giving a lecture. He was the author of landmark studies of Marxist theory and of populism as a political category and social movement. In highly original essays and books he demonstrated the far reaching implications of the thought of Antonio Gramsci, probed the assumptions of Marxism and illuminated the modern history of Latin America, rejecting simplistic schemas linked to notions of dependency and populism.

After studying in Buenos Aires Ernesto came to Britain in the early 1970s, where he lectured at the University of Essex and later founded the Centre for Theoretical Studies. The Centre ran a very successful postgraduate programme, attracting students from around the world. In the 1970s Ernesto made his mark with his critique of the so-called “dependency school” of Latin American political economists such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso. …

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