Category Archives: politics

his honor wants more truck drivers

Our governor, bless his heart, has come out with his latest education-is-overrated statement:

“We’ve frankly got enough psychologists and sociologists and political science majors and journalists. With all due respect to journalism, we’ve got enough. We have way too many,” McCrory said to laughter from the audience.

He said we have too many lawyers too, adding that some mechanics are making more than lawyers.

“And journalists, did I say journalists?” he said for emphasis.

My favorite neocon friend/mentor/correspondent wrote me to ask:

What say you to your Governor about this? In fact, he is always partly right. In fact, your Univeristy [sic] Entitled Ones are always more wrong than right.

Here’s my answer:

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posner’s same-sex marriage ruling

The Seventh Circuit appeals court ruling on Indiana and Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage bans is out, and is of interest for several reasons. It is absolutely dispositive — really no ambiguity at all. It rests on Richard Posner and colleagues’ “law and economics” paradigm instead of the more traditional rights paradigm. And finally, it is written so clearly, and with significant humor, as to be a pleasure to read. I’ll paste in some of my favorite passages below the fold.

I’ve also got a question for law-and-society and social movements people. The question is this: the legal trend toward same-sex marriage, even in hostile environments, seems nearly a juggernaut. What explains this enormous change over the course of a very short time, in the context of a legal regime that is understood to be, in a certain sense, timeless? In other words, all the materials were available for the court to find this, say, 30 years ago, but that would have been unthinkable. This seems, also, to contradict the main finding of a political science classic, The Hollow Hope, which argued that courts rarely lead social change.

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sociologists statement on Ferguson

Last week, a group of 10 sociologists gathered at ASA to discuss the terrible situation in Ferguson.* Following that meeting, the group wrote up draft text for a statement. Here’s how they diagnose some of the larger problems:

Law enforcement’s hyper-surveillance of black and brown youth has created a climate of suspicion of people of color among police departments and within communities. The disrespect and targeting of black men and women by police departments across the nation creates an antagonistic relationship that undermines community trust and inhibits effective policing. Instead of feeling protected by police, many African Americans are intimidated and live in daily fear that their children will face abuse, arrest and death at the hands of police officers who may be acting on implicit biases or institutional policies based on stereotypes and assumptions of black criminality. Similarly, the police tactics used to intimidate protesters exercising their rights to peaceful assembly in Ferguson are rooted in the history of repression of African American protest movements and attitudes about blacks that often drive contemporary police practices.

If you are interested in signing the statement, you can do so here.

* I was not at the meeting, and thus cannot provide any details beyond what’s in these documents. Links to the petition were circulated by Alison Gerber, who can perhaps answer queries.

all persons are fictional

In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decisions, there have been renewed discussions of corporate personhood. The argument is relatively simple: the 19th century Supreme Court made a mistake when it created the legal fiction that corporations are persons. I don’t want to get into that argument here. Instead, I want to make a slightly different argument: all persons are fictions.

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american democracy

Perrin-AmericanDemocracy-2My new book on American Democracy is out (hooray!). I tried to write it as an accessible argument for understanding democracy as essentially a social and cultural achievement: the back-and-forth interactions among citizens and institutions of government, structured through rules, ideas, and technologies that foster the formation of publics. Below the break are a few points and ideas from the book – not so much a summary as some provocative claims to consider. I don’t consider these claims as proven or demonstrated, just interesting and hopefully generative.

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some thoughts on the american studies israel boycott

I do not agree with the American Studies Association (hereafter oASA, for “other ASA”) boycott of Israel, nor with the broader BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement of which it is a part. I say this recognizing that Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and especially Gaza is appalling; I believe the Israeli rejection of Palestinians’ human rights and national ambitions is a disaster, not just for the Palestinians but ultimately for Israel as well. I think it’s particularly telling that, a generation ago, defenders of Israeli policy argued that Israel was a bastion of democracy and freedom in the Middle East; now the party line has become: Israel is not as bad as Egypt. Or Syria, Saudi Arabia, China, etc. All of which is true, and relevant (more below)–but not exactly a standard to be proud of.

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free speech, kansas, and duck dynasty

Two big free-speech matters are making headlines today. First, Phil Roberts of the show Duck Dynasty made some truly ugly comments in an interview with GQ, which prompted A&E to suspend him from the show. Predictably enough, the right-wing meme has become “the left is tolerant of everything as long as you agree with them.” Second, the Kansas board of regents adopted an exceedingly broad policy on social media use that could provide authority for employees (presumably including faculty) to be disciplined for comments that harm or insult the university.

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some thoughts on mandela and apartheid

I don’t have anything as eloquent as Tim Burke to say about Mandela and the discourse around his death. Like many politically-active people of my generation, I found great inspiration not just from Mandela in particular but from the grand struggle against apartheid.

Apartheid was the great moral struggle of the late 20th century. In part the monstrous last gasp of European colonialism, and in part the oh-so-modern hybrid of capitalist extraction and scientific racism, it was impossible by the early 1980s to form a morally defensible claim for its support. Mandela became the international symbol of the struggle, and deservedly so, but his ANC was but one piece of the struggle that included allies in the trade union movement (COSATU) and the Communist Party (SACP). Remarkably, this coalition was multiracial and fostered a remarkable leadership including Mandela. An important rival was Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness movement, which looked from outside like a piece of the coalition but was in fact a crucial competitor for ways of thinking about racial justice in South Africa.

It is a huge moral failing of the United States, and an enduring shame, that the Reagan Administration, Congressional cold war hawks, and envoy Elliott Abrams became, de facto, the global sponsor of the apartheid regime. Thousands of people died and thousands more suffered and were brutalized because they considered Cold War geopolitics a priority so overwhelming as to write off the human rights of the subcontinent.

I spent a year or so in Namibia just after its independence, writing for The Namibian and working on my undergraduate thesis. I visited Johannesburg, Soweto (thanks Chris Benner), and Cape Town, as well as Angola, Zambia, and Zimbabwe while I was there, and came away deeply moved by the imagination, creativity, dedication, and commitment of the people who fought for an authentic vision of democracy and freedom. Mandela certainly was a great man, and the movement he led is one of the triumphs of the last century.

elysium and the fact/value distinction

I saw the new Matt Damon movie, Elysium, this summer. I loved the prior movie by the same director (Neill Bloemkamp), District 9, which is a dystopian alien-visitation movie wrapped up in an extended allegory for apartheid.  Like District 9Elysium has an explicit political message along with plenty of violence, action, and gore (all of which I confess to liking!).

To me, though, Elysium was disappointing in its political/theoretical content for one of the reasons I am troubled by Phil Gorski’s approach to transcending the fact/value distinction:

Social science is not (entirely) value free or ethically natural. Instead, it is axiologically committed to the realization of human flourishing and freedom. This is not to say that social sciences provide ready answers to policy questions like “is proportional representation better than first past the post?” Those are of a different order. Nor is it to deny that justice must be part of a social ethics, either.

WARNING: the remainder of the post contains a SPOILER, so if you haven’t seen Elysium but plan to you may want to stop reading here.

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don’t tread on my statehood dreams

"Taxation Without Representation" license plate on Presidential Limo

In case you’ve missed the news of of rural Northern Colorado, a number of counties there wish to secede from the state because those darn city slickers in Denver just don’t listen to their concerns. Although the chances are nearly impossible since it would require an amendment to the Colorado constitution and approval of Congress, nothing has deterred them yet.

One of the leaders of the movement, however, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway made a much more plausible case: admit the new state of “Northern Colorado” along with another state, either Puerto Rico or Washington, D.C. As some of you may or may not know (though I’ve mentioned before), residents of the District of Columbia do not have representation in Congress. In other words, they have taxation without representation.

The idea is pretty clear: admit one Republican-leaning state and one Democratic-leaning state. The action would have precedent: the Missouri Compromise admitted Maine and Missouri together in order to maintain the balance of free and slave states.

I was curious what the addition of D.C. and Northern Colorado would do to state Congressional apportionment if Congress maintained the current 435 seats in the House (the Senate would likely add two Republican Senators and two Democratic Senators, keeping the current balance, though breaking a filibuster would be even slightly harder because 63 votes — or 60.6% of the Senate — would be required rather than the current 60). I wrote a Stata script to implement the “Amazing Apportionment Machine.”
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anarchism in the academy

I’ve always liked Marx but hated Marxism. Growing up, I identified mostly with anarchism, and was moved particularly by its critique of power and hierarchy, and the violence that undergirds them. And where Marxism was severe and joyless, anarchism to me seemed playful and creative. In critical sociology, of course, Marxist and Marxian perspectives — I know, I know there’s a difference in the two — have been dominant, and the influence of anarchism has been marginal at best. I don’t write about anarchism either, and sadly don’t think of it very often, but I’m heartened to see that it’s finally making some waves in the academy. First, James C. Scott wrote the marvelous The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia and Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play. And now anthropologist David Graeber has been getting a lot of press for his work with Occupy, and for not getting tenure at Yale. See this piece in the New Yorker. (I don’t really know Graeber or his work, so I can’t say much about it). In any event, it’s nice to see scholars take this political philosophy seriously, both as a topic of study and as an analytic perspective (especially given that it’s been proven exactly right in its critique of Marxism over the years).

counterfactuals and historical logic

One of my favorite articles to teach in graduate theory is Richard Ned Lebow’s “If Mozart Had Died at Your Age,” (paywall, sorry) which very cleverly lays out a counterfactual theory in which Mozart not dying at 36 changes the aesthetic, thereby the philosophical, thereby the political, history of Germany and therefore the world.

Now we have another example, somewhat (though not a lot!) more pedestrian, in the question of what the world might have been like had the Supreme Court not taken Bush v. Gore. Sandra Day O’Connor has commented that perhaps the court shouldn’t have taken the case, and Mediaite dares to ask: how might history have differed? Check it out – parsimony or contingency? You decide.

the nas’s hundred great ideas

A couple of months ago, the right-wing National Association of Scholars pulled together and published a list of “100 Ideas for Reforming Higher Education.” The ideas are presented, one per contributor (with a few exceptions), organized alphabetically by the last name of the contributor, which makes the compilation seem even more haphazard than it is (and that’s plenty). Little information is presented as to who was asked to contribute, or how the contributions were solicited. The fact that each person gets one shot, though, implies that the problem each one targets is what that person sees as the biggest problem in higher education. There are some strange entries and some conventional ones. Many, though not all, are from conservative commentators. Below the break I’ve sorted them into categories, with some comments thrown in here and there. A few interesting points overall:

  • Given the NAS’s obsession, there is relatively little about liberal indoctrination.
  • There is virtually nothing about STEM at all: what to teach, how to teach it, whether to focus on it. This is particularly interesting given current conservatives’ focus on tying education to employment.
  • For a conservative organization, supposedly opposed to regulation, they’re really into requiring things!
  • Several of the suggestions are conservative in the oldest sense: seeking to reclaim a sense of privilege and exclusiveness that has (in the writers’ eyes) been lost. These include suggestions for student behavior and conduct as well as straightforward suggestions about keeping the rabble out.

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will $500 billion make america feel secure?

I am reposting an important analysis by my colleague, Charlie Kurzman. Original here.

On the subject of national security, two unexpected calms lie hidden amid the headlines of conflict. One calm is in Washington, where Republicans and Democrats pretend to debate the national security budget.

Republicans in Congress released a plan last month that insists “we are safe only when we are strong” and accuses the Democrats of sacrificing national security in the name of budget cuts. The Democrats in Congress countered last week with a plan accusing Republicans of wasteful defense spending and promising to achieve savings through “careful analysis of our security strategy.”

Yet the two plans offer identical figures for defense: $560.2 billion in the coming year and $6 trillion over the next decade.

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too much sociology…?

The magazine n+1 recently published an article about the rise and inefficacy of critical sociology. It’s a strange piece which, i think, accords sociology way too much influence. but it does have some salient points, particularly relating to the balance between structure and agency in sociological writing. The editors write:  “In spite of the strenuous attempts by sociologists to preserve some autonomy for the acting subject — Bourdieu’s “habitus,” Latour’s “actor-network” theory — popularization has inevitably resulted in more weight being thrown on the structuring side of things, the network over the actor.” I teach at Lehman College in the Bronx where the majority of students are working class. To put it simply, they are fed up with the overemphasis on structure, they find it deeply tiresome and profoundly disempowering. Continue reading


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