Illustration of Hannah Arendt "Hannah-Arendt3" ©  Ben Northern | Flickr
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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Democracy in Crisis © Vazzermag | Dreamstime.com
CapitalismEssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Democracy’s Crisis

We are currently experiencing a major crisis of democracy. What is at stake here is the specifically political dimension of a broader, multifaceted crisis, which also has other important dimensions — for example, economic, financial, ecological, and social. Taken together, all of these aspects, including the political dimension of democratic crisis, add up to a “general crisis.” It is at bottom a crisis of capitalism — or rather, of our current, historically specific form of capitalism: financialized, globalizing, neoliberal capitalism. …

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Citibank mirrors HSBC © Jay Aremac | Flickr
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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Polish Round Table Talks in Warsaw, Poland, on February 6, 1989. © Erazm Ciołek | Polska: sierpień 1980–sierpień 1989
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Reflections on a Revolutionary Imaginary and Round Tables

The new always appears in the guise of a miracle

This is the prepared text answering the question “What do we really know about transitions to democracy?” for  the General Seminar of The New School for Social Research, March 19, 2014.

It was a quarter of a century ago, in 1989, that a new kind of revolutionary imaginary emerged, one that promises a new beginning, and demonstrates the possibility of comprehensive systemic change without bloodshed. Velvet or otherwise un-radical, this kind of revolution has become a site of tangible hope, a site in which words have power, where people regain their dignity, and realize their agency through instruments other than weapons. Negotiated revolutionis not an oxymoron, but it is still an extraordinary event, as dictatorships are by definition opposed to any spirit of dialogue and compromise. …

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Family of African American slaves on Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, circa 1862. © Timothy H. O’Sullivan | learnnc.org
CapitalismEssaysRace

Slaves: The Capital that Made Capitalism

Racialized chattel slaves were the capital that made capitalism. While most theories of capitalism set slavery apart, as something utterly distinct, because under slavery, workers do not labor for a wage, new historical research reveals that for centuries, a single economic system encompassed both the plantation and the factory.

At the dawn of the industrial age commentators like Rev. Thomas Malthus could not envision that capital — an asset that is used but not consumed in the production of goods and services — could compound and diversify its forms, increasing productivity and engendering economic growth. Yet, ironically, when Malthus penned his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, the economies of Western Europe already had crawled their way out of the so-called “Malthusian trap.” The New World yielded vast quantities of “drug foods” like tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar for world markets. Europeans worked a little bit harder to satiate their hunger for these “drug foods.” …

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Cover art from The Later Works of John Dewey by John Dewey, edited by Jo Ann Boydston © Southern Illinois University Press | Amazon.com
CapitalismEssaysThe Left

John Dewey’s Encounter with Leon Trotsky

The 1930s was one of the one eventful and productive decades in Dewey’s life. He published more than a half dozen books including Logic: The Theory of Inquiry. It was during this decade that he sharpened his understanding of radical democracy and a renascent liberalism. He interrupted his scholarly work to travel to Mexico as the Chair of the Trotsky Commission — or to give its full title, “The Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials.” …

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Detail of the main gate at Dachau concentration camp in Germany, displaying  "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Makes You Free") slogan. © 2007 Dorsm365 | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Have Europeans Learned from the 20th Century for the 21st?

This is a lightly abridged version of the keynote address to the conference of the Europe for Citizens Forum in Brussels on January 28th, 2014. Goldfarb was asked to address the question of the title. Siobhan Kattago, Irit Dekel, and Anna Lisa Tota also contributed to the Forum. The latter two are forthcoming.

Open up the newspaper, even in the U.S., and almost every day there is evidence that many Europeans have not learned from the horrors of the 20th century. Although there are powerful forces working against this, the politics of racial and religious hatred is still very much with Europe.

There are alarming manifestations of both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on a regular basis in Europe, east and west, north and south. The latest include the antics of the anti-Semitic “humor” of Dieudonne M’bala M’bala and his popularization of the “quenelle,” and the attempts of the French authorities to control this latest fad. Thus, as I composed this lecture, I read in my morning New York Times that a French appeals court ruled to uphold bans on Dieudonne’s performances. …

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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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The Supreme Court of Israel - The Courtyard of the Arches © shifra levyathan | PikiWiki - Israel free image collection project
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Hannah Arendt, Constitutionalism and the Problem of Israel/Palestine

The following was the keynote lecture at the XXVII Encuentro Internacional de Ciencias Sociales in Guadalajara, Mexico, December 5, 2013.

On October 3, 2013 the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that there is no Israeli identity, since there is “objectively” no Israeli ethnicity. The 21 litigants will have to continue having the designation “Jewish” in their official files (coded into their identity cards!), instead of “Israeli” as they desired. Against their own wish, they will not be able to share a common citizenship identity with Arab citizens of Israel, in a state that continues to be identified as that of an ethnicity, the Jewish people. Some of the consequences of that identification are well known. Thus, for example, if I wished to ask for Israeli citizenship and membership in the citizen body to which the state is said to belong, namely the Jewish millet, I would be able to do so, though I have never lived in Israel and practice no religion. Many who have lived all their lives in that country would not be able to do the same, unless they converted to Judaism…

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Golden City, 1984 © Jan Sawka
Arts & DesignEssays

Jan Sawka: The Power of the Not So Powerless

The following lecture was prepared for delivery at the symposium “Jan Sawka: The Artist’s Role in Changing the World” presented by The Paul Robeson Galleries, Gallery Aferro and the Newark Arts Council, Saturday, November 16, 2013, in conjunction with the exhibition at the Gallery Aferro, “Reflections on Everyman: the work of Jan Sawka.”

I have crossed paths with Jan Sawka three times, although only one of these times did we meet.

It was at a low moment in Polish history, the early 80s. It was in his small apartment on 58th street in Manhattan, in very cramped living quarters, with Sawka, constantly working, drawing and painting, even while the family entertained guests. In the midst of the domestic, he created his own world, responding to life’s public and private absurdities, and tragedies, with his imagination and craft. The intensity of the moment, during the weeks after the declaration of martial law in Poland, the repression of the first nationwide popular social movement in the former Soviet bloc, a labor movement of workers moving against the workers’ state, …

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