Why I Dislike the Word Illiberal

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Was the Tea Party movement a manifestation of “illiberal democracy” or “undemocratic liberalism”? (2009/public domain)

I want to expand a bit on my recent comments on why I dislike the word “illiberal” and the phrase “illiberal democracy,” terms that appear to be nearly ubiquitous in contemporary popular political discourse.

In part, this is because I’m delighted to discover that there is an existing debate over this that I was entirely ignorant of. It seems that there is a cadre of political scientists—at least according to Wikipedia—who question the use of a phrase that seems simply to mean “undemocratic democracy.” Continue reading “Why I Dislike the Word Illiberal”

Haunted by Churchill: Civic Nationalism and Churchill-Philia

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Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, here addressing the British House of Commons in 1940.

Winston Churchill wasn’t a saint—he was anti-labor and pro-imperialism, and responsible for a famine in India and an ethnic cleansing in Kenya. But I don’t need to tell you this. Since the latest Churchill biopic, Darkest Hour, began earning accolades and awards in late 2017, plenty of columns have been written to remind us that Churchill is not worthy of our veneration.

These columns are worth your time if you are not familiar with Churchill biography. But for cultural critics to write solely about what gets left out of our present day American conversations about the British prime minister is to perform a kind of critical dodge. We should be asking: What is it that makes this moment ripe for a renascent Churchill-philia? What is it about the story that is being told about Churchill that seems to be resonating with American audiences and critics? Continue reading “Haunted by Churchill: Civic Nationalism and Churchill-Philia”

Let Them Eat Logan Lucky

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Adam Driver and Channing Tatum plan to rob the Charlotte Speedway in Logan Lucky (2017).

The 2017 film Logan Lucky opened with some relatively good reviews, but I’m surprised at the degree to which the film has been ignored in critical circles. I found the film refreshing, fun, and warm, and I recommend everyone watch it—it’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime. It’s tightly scripted, and has some great performances by Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig, and even Dwight Yoakam shows up.

But more than all this, I think the film offers a kind of counter-script to a trend in popular culture that is exemplified by the overrated, misanthropic, and lazily written Three Billboards. Logan Lucky is what literary scholars call a carnivalesque—a genre in which hierarchy is overturned as the bottom of society gets to subvert traditional order, often in bawdy and revelrous tones. And the characters of the film do the subverting in the pursuit of a vision of justice that is wholly positive, in contrast with the negative, retributive vision of justice at the heart of Three Billboards. Continue reading “Let Them Eat Logan Lucky”

Illiberalism or Postliberalism?

It’s the turn of a year, and something of a turn in my career at the moment too, so this is going to be another ruminative one.

This past semester I taught a course in a new discipline at a new institution for me: one of the core humanities classes at University of North Carolina Asheville. The outline of the class is firmly established so I followed its course much as my students did, uncovering its twists and turns as the semester progressed. Soon I realized that the class, “The Modern World,” was essentially teaching students the dialectic of enlightenment. It follows liberalism, its discontents, and its wreckage, from the seventeenth century to World War II. Continue reading “Illiberalism or Postliberalism?”

Should I Throw Out My Gradebook?

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Turns out this is where your grades should go. (pexels.com)

Since I started writing on my little blog three years ago, I haven’t been in the classroom. So I haven’t had any occasion to write about pedagogy (even though as an alt-ac, I did a fair amount of thinking on the topic). Now that I’m back to teaching, I think I might start writing on my classroom exploits here.

Over the past semester, I’ve been reading quite a bit here and there about “throwing out your grades,” “ungrading,” and “contract grading.” All of them are more or less variations on the same ideas, that grading (as distinct from providing feedback) can feel like a lot of work for minimal returns, and that grades themselves aren’t instructive means of feedback. Continue reading “Should I Throw Out My Gradebook?”

The Enlightenment Philosophy of “Hillbilly Humanism”

Last week on my favorite radio show, On the Media, Nadine Hubbs appeared to talk about the scholarship on class, politics, and country music. On of the things she and the host discussed was the theme of “hillbilly humanism,” the persistent trend in country music that pays attention to the lives of lower-class and non-elite Americans, and insists on their “dignity” and their worthiness for “compassion,” as Hubbs writes in Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music (76-78).

I took a brief detour into studying the politics of country music a few years ago—that research project is now on indefinite hiatus I suppose—and I’ve been thinking a great deal about humanism, so this gave me some food for thought. I haven’t read Hubbs’s book, so take any of my ruminations not as a questioning of any aspects of her book, but a way to frame some of my own thoughts in a new light offered by her brief appearance on the radio. Continue reading “The Enlightenment Philosophy of “Hillbilly Humanism””

The Antimodern Misanthropy of mother!

*spoilers will follow*

Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, mother!, is a thrilling movie. Several actors give excellent performances, including a wonderful Michelle Pfeiffer. But for all of the commentariat’s hemming and hawing over what the film is supposed to be about, and its alleged provocativeness and innovation, I believe one thing is quite clear: the film is profoundly conservative. mother! uses the trope of human nature as inherently fallible and sinful to forward a story about how the appropriate response to modernity is nothing but pious and dutiful suffering. Continue reading “The Antimodern Misanthropy of mother!”