I’ve gotten in the habit of writing about some of my essays here when they go live, so I thought I’d share some random thoughts about my latest, “‘Sometimes a Bee Can Move an Ox’: Biblical Epics and One Man’s Quest to Promote Jewish Values in Blacklist-Era Hollywood,” now online at the journal Modern American History (MAH), which, in a reflection of the paper’s provenance, still sits in my computer in a folder labeled “Hail Caesar Project.” I like to write these postmortems just to get some of my thinking on the record, so to speak, but if you’ve already read the essay and might like to know a little more, please do read along. Continue reading “Postmortem on My “Hail Caesar Project””
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”
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”
Against “the Worker”
For a number of voices on the left, one of the chief concerns about the basic income movement is that appears to obviate a historical locus of class struggle: the workplace. Such a concern is understandable, particular in the context of the recent calls for basic income that deny the agonism necessary for political change and power dynamics involved in the occlusion of such change. As Peter Frase writes, we need to make sure that “politics” and “class struggle” are included in discussions of utopian societies.
It is not my intent to deny or elide the historical and still-relevant place of workplace struggles in the cause of social justice, and am delighted by the most recent organization being done by groups such as Fight for Fifteen and National Nurses United. We can take on a more expansive version of class than that which is presumed by discussions of industrial work, however. And in doing so, we can understand struggles in the workplace to be means to an end, rather than ends in themselves. Continue reading “Universal Basic Income Vs. the Left, Part Three”
Can I Still Get Filthy Rich?
It seems to me that the crux of the debate around Universal Basic Income is the following question: Can I still get filthy rich after UBI is implemented? The short answer—I hope—is hell no. And this is in direct opposition to >the Silicon Valley libertarian conception of Basic Income.
I’m continually struck by the degree to which mainstream discussions of UBI avoid the discussion of redistributive tax policy, nevermind wealth ceilings. Consider an essay written by one of UBI’s most prolific advocates, Scott Santens, in which he lays out the case for why a universal basic income would not cause inflation. His tortuous avoidance of the word “tax” is nearly comical: Continue reading “Universal Basic Income Vs. the Left, Part Two”
Something strange has occurred lately, where the embrace of the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been adopted by libertarians, and particularly by Silicon Valley luminaries, and in response the backlash to the idea has grown more furtive on the left. This is not to say that there hasn’t always been some leftists cynical of the idea of UBI. It’s been a perennial punching bag at Chapo Trap House, for example. But it strikes me that now more than ever the question has to be “what kind of UBI do we want?” rather than simply if its a good or a bad idea.
So here I thought I might put down some words in defense of a particular kind of vision of UBI, or at least in defense of the intellectual project of imagining UBI. But before I get into my particular my points, I want to lay out a single axiom for the discussion. Continue reading “Universal Basic Income Vs. the Left, Part One”
Following the Georgia special election in which Karen Handel, a Republican, defeated Jon Ossoff, a Democrat (as expected in the heavily Republican district), the hand-wringing over the direction and strategy of the Democratic Party has begun anew. I’m particularly struck how the discussion has become suddenly narrower this time. Whereas before the debate might have centered around whether or not the party should focus on long term strategy versus short term tactics, now it is solely revolving around the question of how to best win elections. And I think this is worth teasing out a bit.
To be certain, not every circle after the election was arguing for a reorientation of the Democratic Party (or its progressive wing). But there was some talk of what Gramsci called a “passive revolution,” a battle for cultural hegemony that would play out in the world of ideas and discourse. The analog to a hypothetical left war of ideas is of course that which the libertarian right began soon after World War II. Out of organizations like the Mont Pelerin Society and the Heritage Foundation, neoliberals believed that in order to win elections, they couldn’t so much as find or target the voters that they needed. They had to create them. Their decades long war bore fruit slowly. (And yes, they called themselves neoliberal.) Continue reading “Gramsci Again”