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coreyrobin

My Sunday column in Salon uses the latest campus controversy—the Duke student who refuses to read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home—as an opportunity to take a second look at what these students with their trigger warnings and sensitivities are trying to tell us:

No one knows the power of literature better than the censor. That’s why he burns books: to fight fire with fire, to stop them from setting the world aflame. Or becomes an editor: Stalin, we now know, excised words from texts with about as much energy and attention as he excised men and women from the world. As Bertolt Brecht archly noted of the East German regime’s efforts to control what he wrote: “Where else in the world can you find a government that shows such interest and pays such attention to artists?”

This week, as I head back to the classroom amid controversy — from Columbia toBerkeley to Duke — over what college students will or will not read, I’m mindful of Brecht’s observation. Could it be that the men and women who most appreciate what we, professors of the humanities and social sciences, have to offer are the students who’ve been vilified as coddled and cosseted, demanding trigger warnings on syllabi or simply refusing to read the books we’ve assigned them because those books make them uncomfortable? Could it be that they, like the censor, are the ones who truly understand the power of the books we teach?

That’s why I’m less bothered than some of my colleagues are by today’s students. I see in their fear a premonition of what a book — and an education — can do. We live in an age, we’re often told, where reading has become rote or has simply disappeared. Half our students don’t do the reading; the other half submit dutiful book reports, barely registering the effect of what they’ve read.

Yet here are students who seem to understand, however faintly and problematically, what the literary critic Alfred Kazin called “the raw hurting power that a book could have over me.” They seem like throwbacks, these students: not to the Midwestern evangelism of Elmer Gantry but to the urban hothouse of the New York Intellectuals, those anxious and oversexed minds of mid-century for whom a Henry James novel or Walt Whitman poem was a holy fire. “Writing Was Everything“: that’s how Kazin titled one of his memoirs. In their refusal to read a book, in their insistence that professors warn them of the trauma it may contain, that is what students are running away from: writing that consumes them, writing that’s everything.


Even so, there’s a greater threat to reading and readers, to education itself, than trigger warnings or students objecting to a text. And that is the downsizing administrator, the economizing politician, who refuses to believe there’s any value in reading a difficult text at all. While the media debates Mr. Grasso’s refusal, I, as chair of my department, anxiously scrutinize our daily enrollment reports, knowing I have to defend courses with 12 students from administrative economizers — simply because the intimacy, attention and focus of a senior seminar doesn’t register as a value to men who can only see value when it is expressed as a number on a spreadsheet. Given the choice of defending a book to an aggrieved student or a course to a phlegmatic accountant, I’ll take the student any day: at least she and I agree that the book in question has power, and the experience of reading it, reality.

In this age of the neoliberal university, these students may be our best allies, for they seem to be among the few who understand that what we do matters. The administrator and the politician, the trustee and the pundit, think that we professors are worse than subversive; we’re useless. These students, by contrast, think we’re dangerous. Rather than dismissing them, maybe we should say: Thank you, we thought no one was listening, we thought no one cared. And then turn around and figure out how to use this as, ahem, a teachable moment — about the radioactivity of books and the fact that radiation has its uses.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates: Three Not-So-Easy Pieces

by Corey Robin on August 21, 2015

I’ve spent the past few days reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and posting about it on Facebook. Rather than rewriting those posts as a single piece here, I thought I’d take some screen shots, and share them with some additional commentary. A shout-out to my friend Lizzie Donahue, whose queries to me on our daily walk this morning prompted the last and lengthiest post.

Here’s the first post.

Post 1

And here’s a short addendum to this post, where I comment further on the theme of education and Coates’s discussion of his time at Howard University.

Addendum 1

I say here that breaking with the mytho-poetic view of a heroic African past was the second great trauma of Coates’s life. I should be more precise. I mean disillusionment. But it was a disillusionment that was immensely productive. More than the loss of a specific view of things, the break with black nationalism made Coates suspicious of all master narratives, all collective platforms of totality. As an alternative, he turned to the specificity and concreteness of poetry, “of small hard things,” as he says: “aunts and uncles, smoke breaks after sex, girls on stoops drinking from mason jars.” And in that specificity “I began to see discord, argument, chaos, perhaps even fear, as a kind of power.” The “gnawing discomfort, the chaos, the intellectual vertigo was not an alarm. It was a beacon.” This is a writer for whom the struggle to see what is in front of his nose is a lifelong effort, a hard-won right to see things as they are, without mediation or adornment or chastising authority. So much so that it has made him, as we’ll see, suspicious of all collectivities, all platforms. [click to continue…]

Family Values Fascism: From Vichy to Donald Trump

by Corey Robin on August 16, 2015

On Meet the Press this morning:

Donald Trump would reverse President Obama’s executive orders on immigration and deport all undocumented immigrants from the U.S. as president, he said in an exclusive interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd.

“We’re going to keep the families together, but they have to go,” he said in the interview, which aired in full on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.

Pressed on what he’d do if the immigrants in question had nowhere to return to, Trump reiterated: “They have to go.”


What is it about these voices calling for national purification via the elimination of alien elements that makes them think they can soften the blow by promising to kick out parents along with their children? Trump is hardly the first.

In 1942, as the Vichy regime began handing over the foreign-born Jews of France to the Nazis, it made the decision to deport their children (about six thousand) with them. Mostly, it seems, to fulfill the Nazis’ quotas—but also, Vichy proclaimed, to keep the families together.

At the time, Robert Brasillach wrote, “We must separate from the Jews en bloc and not keep any little ones.” Defending that position from his prison cell, after the liberation of France had begun, he explained: “I even wrote that women must not be separated from children and that we must arrive at a human solution to the problem.” A month later, he doubled-down on the notion that family values might somehow soften his fascism: [click to continue…]

In a stunning turn of events tonight at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the chancellor who hired the professor, then fired the professor by claiming he had never been hired in the first place; who resigned in the wake of an ethics scandal over her use of a personal email account (and destruction of emails) in order to hide evidence related to pending litigation over the firing of the professor; whose resignation was rejected by the UI Board of Trustees so that they could formally fire her instead (and thereby avoid paying her a $400,000 bonus previously agreed upon), is now resubmitting her resignation to UIUC and consulting with lawyers in order to consider her legal options and to protect her reputation from the very university that, under her leadership, systematically destroyed the reputation of the professor she fired by claiming he had never been hired in the first place.

Let’s back up. [click to continue…]

John K. Wilson has examined all of the emails that were released this past Friday: not merely the emails regarding the Salaita case, but also the emails dealing with two other cases, which Wilson makes a strong argument are related to the UIUC’s handling of the Salaita case. Wilson’s piece is long and well worth reading, but lest readers overlook three astonishing quotes that Wilson has uncovered, which together comprise a rough definition of what academic freedom at UIUC might mean, I thought I’d highlight them here.

First, education professor Nicholas Burbules, a real piece of work as far as I can see, has emerged in the last few days as one of Chancellor Wise’s close confidants on the faculty. He seems to fancy himself, in these writings at least, as a kind of Machiavellian consigliere. But where Machiavelli’s counselor knew how to mould the prince to his own purposes, Burbules reminds one of nothing so much as those hapless Cold War intellectuals who thought they were taming and influencing the American state—only to discover, after it was too late, that it was it that was taming and influencing them. Christopher Lasch aptly characterized the farce of these buffoons more than a half-century ago:

In our time intellectuals are fascinated by conspiracy and intrigue, even as they celebrate the “free marketplace of ideas”…They long to be on the inside of things; they want to share the secrets ordinary people are not permitted to hear.

What drives these courtiers of knowledge “into the service of the men in power,” Lasch concluded, is “a haunting suspicion that history belongs to men of action and that men of ideas are powerless in a world that has no use for philosophy.”

Enter Professor Burbules. On February 14, 2014, Burbules advises Wise:

A related policy might address the question of “controversial” hires—this is murkier, because people’s ideas of what is controversial will differ. But a crude rule of thumb is, if you think someone’s name is going to end up on the front page of the newspaper as a U of I employee, you can’t make that decision on your own say so. You need to get some higher level review and approval.

Notice that Professor Burbules doesn’t question the notion that controversial hires are bad or problematic hires. The only question he’s willing to entertain is how to define controversial. It’s a tough question. So he comes up with the front-page rule. But since universities are often quite happy to have their faculty on the front page of the newspaper—when they’ve made a new scientific discovery or are serving on gubernatorial task forces or advising presidents—Professor Burbules recommends that the controversial cases be kicked upstairs. The higher-up’s will decide who is and is not safe to teach in the academy. Not on the basis of a candidate’s scholarship or talent, but on the basis of whether or not the higher-up’s are comfortable with the amount and type of controversy she might bring to the university.

But, as if aware of what a craven standard this in fact is, Burbules decides to look for “a more principled statement of what the U of I stands for.” Here we come to our second astonishing statement:

We welcome the widest possible range of viewpoints and positions, but not all positions. And that there are some things that are not consistent with our values.

Notice that Burbules doesn’t say that the university should exclude positions that have been proven to be fraudulent or false (e.g., the earth is flat, the sun revolves around the earth, etc.) No, what Burbules thinks is excludable are viewpoints and positions “that are not consistent with our values.” Now, you might instantly get suspicious here: one would have thought that if what marks a university is the freedom to pursue multiple and conflicting viewpoints and positions, it would be tough to get a more than thin consensus on what “our values” are.  What are those values? Who gets to define them? Burbules doesn’t say. So we’re left with that “kick it upstairs” standard: the higher-ups get to define our values.

So let’s now go to the higher ups. And here we come to our third and final astonishing statement. From about as higher up as it gets: Chris Kennedy, chairman of the UIUC Board of Trustees.

The University, as the state’s public university, needs to, in many ways, reflect the values of the state.

So that’s it: at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, academic freedom is the freedom to pursue the widest possible range of viewpoints and positions, except for those that are not consistent with our values, which must reflect the values of the state.

This the marketplace of ideas from which Chancellor Wise was buying her wares.

The Chicago Tribune reports today that UIUC was forced to release 1100 pages of emails from Chancellor Wise, many of them from her personal email account, many of them related to the Steven Salaita case. According to a statement from UIUC:

A desire to maintain confidentiality on certain sensitive University-related topics was one reason personal email accounts were used to communicate about these topics. Some emails suggested that individuals were encouraged to use personal email accounts for communicating on such topics.

The statement may be referring to this email from Wise, on September 18, 2014. [click to continue…]

Big news out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign today.

First, a federal judge firmly rejected UIUC’s argument that it never hired Steven Salaita because the Board of Trustees hadn’t yet given its final seal of approval at the time of his firing last year. According to Judge Henry Leinenweber of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (a Reagan appointee):

If the court accepted the university’s argument, the entire American academic hiring process as it now operates would cease to exist, because no professor would resign a tenure position, move states, and start teaching at a new college based on an ‘offer’ that was absolutely meaningless until after the semester already started.

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Capitalism Can’t Remember Where I Left My Keys

by Corey Robin on August 2, 2015

My column in Salon this morning is about left v. right and why time—history, tradition, past, present, and future—is not what divides left from right. With the help of two new books by Steve Fraser and Kristin Ross, I discuss the bloody civil wars of the Gilded Age, the Paris Commune, Marx’s archaism, and how the memory of pre-capitalist society can fire the anticipation of a post-capitalist society.

Ever since Edmund Burke, founder of the conservative tradition, declared, “The very idea of the fabrication of a new government, is enough to fill us with disgust and horror,” pundits and scholars have divided the political world along the axis of time. The left is the party of the future; the right, the party of the past. Liberals believe in progress and the new; conservatives, in tradition and the old. Hope versus history, morrow versus memory, utopia versus reality: these are the stuff of our great debates.

In “The Reactionary Mind,” I argued that this view of the political divide is incorrect, at least as it pertains to the right. Beginning with Burke, conservatives have been less committed to tradition or the past than to a hierarchical vision of society. In Burke’s case, it was aristocrats over commoners; in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it would be masters over slaves, employers over employees, husbands and men over women and wives. And so it remains: the most consistent feature of contemporary American conservatism is the GOP’s war on reproductive freedom and worker rights.

But if the right’s window does not open onto the past, must the left’s open onto the future? Not necessarily, claim two fascinating new books: Steve Fraser’s “The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power” and Kristin Ross’s “Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune.” When it comes to past and future, they show, the left can be as ambidextrous as the right. What’s more, it may be the left’s ability to look backward while marching forward that explains its most potent moments of power and possibility.

What Fraser shows, with vivid set pieces drawn from the nation’s most violent battlefields, is that far from presenting itself as the enemy, the past was viewed by workers and farmers as a resource and an ally. In part because the capitalist right so heartily embraced the rhetoric of progress and the future (no one, it seems, was content with the present). But more than that, historical memory enabled workers and farmers to see beyond the horizon of the capitalist present, to know, in their bones, what Marx was constantly struggling to imprint upon the mind of the left: that capitalism was but one mode of economic life, that its existence was contingent and historical rather than natural and eternal, and that because there was a past in which it did not exist there might be a future when it would cease to exist. Like the nation, capitalism rests upon repeated acts of forgetting; a robust anti-capitalism asks us to remember.



In his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” Burke is supposed to have given voice to the conservative dispensation by describing society as “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Yet who in and around the Commune had greater sensitivity to the delicate and mutual dependencies of past and future: The anarchist Kropotkin, who spent an entire week in prison tapping out the history of the Commune to his young neighbor in the next cell, lest it be forgotten? The Communard geographer Élisée Reclus, who called for solidarity “between those who travel through the conscious arena and those who are longer here”? Or the reactionaries in charge of the French regime, who spent the better part of the 1870s forbidding anyone who managed to survive the Commune from carving any mention of it on their gravestones?





On the New York Intellectuals

by Corey Robin on July 26, 2015

I first read Irving Howe in college, in Andrew Ross’ seminar on intellectuals. We read Howe’s ”The New York Intellectuals.” I don’t remember what I thought of it. What I remember is that Howe was an object of great attraction for someone like me, the epitome of the independent left intellectual.

At some point in graduate school, I grew less enamored of the New York Intellectuals as a whole: in part because of their compromises or collaboration with McCarthyism, in part because the ideal of the independent left intellectual lost its allure for me. Howe’s star fell somewhat. Which is ironic because Howe was one of the few anti-Stalinist intellectuals who managed to keep his bearings during the McCarthy years.

This past year, I’ve been re-reading Howe. His literary criticism, which I used to love, now leaves me cold (I’d add to my list of resentful essays I discuss in that post his bitchy reassessment of the battle between Virginia Woolf and Arnold Bennett.) But to my great surprise I’ve been newly impressed by his political criticism. When he’s not obsessively whacking Tom Hayden or the Berkeley radicals, he can be astonishingly keen and prescient about the weaknesses of the American Left, the contradictions of the welfare state, and the long-term impact of McCarthyism. Free of that crabbiness of spirit that so often mars his judgment and makes his voice so grating, he can see what’s moving and what’s stagnant in the American current.

This morning, I re-read “The New York Intellectuals.” It first appeared in Commentary in 1969. It has two weak moments: when he’s rehashing his critique of the Stalinism of the American Left of the 1930s and 1940, and when he’s gnawing on the “new sensibility” of the counterculture and its spokepersons (Marcuse, Mailer, Norman O. Brown, even Susan Sontag). They feature that pugilism that Howe is so often celebrated for but which now seems so tiresome and familiar. When he’s not rehearsing his case for the prosecution, Howe can really rise above the material.  [click to continue…]

Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas:

What she remembered most vividly, however, was the way [Clarence] Thomas woke up each morning. He had a theme song which he would play at high volume in his room at the start of every day, “kind of like a mantra.”

“What’s that?” she remembered asking [Gil] Hardy [Clarence Thomas’s roommate] when she was first rocked out of bed by it at an early hour.

“Oh, that’s just Clarence,” Hardy replied with a laugh. “It’s his theme song.” The song, “The Greatest Love of All,” was a pop anthem celebrating self-love rereleased by Whitney Houston.


Clarence Thomas, My Grandfather’s Son:
I’d heard the song many times, but it had never meant more to me than it did now…I took heart from George Benson [who originally performed the song]: …No matter what they take from me/ They can’t take away my dignity.

Clarence Thomas, Obergefell v. Hodges, dissenting:
The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

 

Thoughts on Charleston

by Corey Robin on June 21, 2015

So much excellent stuff has been written on the murders in Charleston, I hesitated to weigh in. But one part of the story that I thought could use some amplification is the politics of safety and security in this country, from the backlash of the GOP through 9/11 and today, and how that intersects with the politics of racism. So I took it up in my column for Salon. I’m not sure I said exactly what needed to be said or what I wanted to say: for some reason, the precision and specificity I was aiming for here proved to be more elusive than usual. So if you find that the article misses its mark, I’ll understand.

Here are some excerpts:

In response to Wednesday’s murder of nine African Americans at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, President Obama said, “Innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”

I’ll admit: When I first read that statement, I thought Obama was talking about the police. Unfair of me perhaps, but it’s not as if we haven’t now been through multiple rounds of high-profile killings of African Americans at the hands of the police.

Indeed, until Wednesday’s murders, it seemed as if the national conversation about public safety had dramatically and fruitfully shifted. From a demand for police protection of white citizens against black crime—which dominated political discussion from the 1970s to the 1990s—to a scrutiny of the very instruments of that presumed protection. And how those instruments are harming African American citizens.

It’s tempting to seize on this moment as an opportunity to broaden that discussion beyond the racism of prisons and policing to that of society itself. In a way, that’s what Obama was trying to do by focusing on the threat posed not by the state or its instruments but by private guns in the hands of private killers like Dylann Roof.

But that may not be the wisest move, at least not yet.

So long as the discussion is framed as one of protection, of safety and security, we won’t get beyond the society that produced Dylann Roof. Not only has the discourse of protection contributed to the racist practices and institutions of our overly policed and incarcerated society, but it also prevents us from seeing, much less tackling, the broader, systemic inequalities that might ultimately reduce those practices and institutions.

To assume that the state can provide for the safety and security of the most subjugated classes in America without addressing the fact of their subjugation is to assume away the last half-century of political experience. If anything, the discourse of safety and security has made those classes less secure, less safe: not merely from freelance killers like Dylann Roof or George Zimmerman, who claim to be acting on behalf of their own safety and that of white society, but also from the police. As [David] Cole writes, the proliferation of criminal laws and quality-of-life regulations that are supposed to make poor and black communities safer often serve as a pretext for the most intrusive and coercive modes of policing in those communities.


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Hannah Arendt and Philip Roth: Parallel Lives

by Corey Robin on June 9, 2015

In the second half of the twentieth century, a writer of uncommon gifts travels to Israel. There, the writer, who is Jewish and fiercely intellectual, attends the trial of a Nazi war criminal. When the trial’s over, the writer writes a book about it.

No, it’s not Hannah Arendt. It’s Philip Roth.

Arendt and Roth led oddly parallel lives. [click to continue…]

How Corporations Control Politics

by Corey Robin on June 7, 2015

In my Salon column today, I look at new research examining how corporations influence politics.

Money talks. But how?

From “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” to Citizens United, the story goes like this: The wealthy corrupt and control democracy by purchasing politicians, scripting speech and writing laws. Corporations and rich people make donations to candidates, pay for campaign ads and create PACs. They, or their lobbyists, take members of Congress out to dinner, organize junkets for senators and tell the government what to do. They insinuate money where it doesn’t belong. They don’t build democracy; they buy it.

But that, says Alex Hertel-Fernandez, a PhD student in Harvard’s government department, may not be the only or even the best way to think about the power of money. That power extends far beyond the dollars deposited in a politician’s pocket. It reaches for the votes and voices of workers who the wealthy employ. Money talks loudest where money gets made: in the workplace.


Among Hertel-Fernandez’s findings:
1. Nearly 50% of the top executives and managers surveyed admit that they mobilize their workers politically.

2. Firms believe that mobilizing their workers is more effective than donating money to a candidate, buying campaign ads, or investing in large corporate lobbies like the Chamber of Commerce.

3. The most important factor in determining whether a firm engages in partisan mobilization of its workers—and thinks that that mobilization is effective—is the degree of control it has over its workers. Firms that always engage in surveillance of their employees’ online activities are 50 percent more likely to mobilize their workers than firms that never do.

4. Of the workers who say they have been mobilized by their employers, 20% say that they received threats if they didn’t.


My conclusion:
When we think of corruption, we think of something getting debased, becoming impure, by the introduction of a foreign material. Money worms its way into the body politic, which rots from within. The antidote to corruption, then, is to keep unlike things apart. Take the big money out of politics or limit its role. That’s what our campaign finance reformers tell us.

But the problem isn’t corruption. It’s…


Read more here.

Fight Racism. Confirm Clarence Thomas. (Updated)

by Corey Robin on May 25, 2015

I’ve been reading Jill Abramson’s and Jane Mayer’s Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, the definitive account of Thomas’s confirmation battle, which came out in 1994. Here are eight things I’ve learned from it. Among the many surprises of the book is how men and women who were connected to the confirmation battle, or to Thomas and/or Anita Hill, and who were little known at the time, would go on to become fixtures of and issues in our contemporary politics and culture.

1. Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004, was Clarence Thomas’s classmate at Holy Cross. They had long conversations.

2. Clarence Thomas was head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for eight years. When Bush nominated him to the Supreme Court, Strom Thurmond proudly declared, “I’ve known Clarence since he was head of the Unemployment Commission.”

3. Gary Bauer and Bill Kristol vacationed together at the beach each summer, along with their families. In the summer of 1991, at the Delaware shore, they planned the Christian right’s campaign to get Thomas confirmed to the Supreme Court.

4. Citizens United was formed by Floyd Brown in 1988 in the wake of the failed effort to get Robert Bork onto the Supreme Court. Brown helped make the Willie Horton ad. Getting Clarence Thomas confirmed by the Senate was one of the organization’s first missions. In 2010, Thomas was part of the slim majority that ruled in favor of Citizens United in Citizens United v. FEC. Though several arguments for his recusal in the case were brought up at the time, no one mentioned Citizens United’s contributions to his confirmation.

5. One of the ads pushing for Thomas’s Senate confirmation to the Court featured a photo of Thomas with the headline “To the Back of the Bus!” The copy read:

As the left strives to keep Judge Clarence Thomas from his seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s like forcing blacks to take a seat in the back of the bus. Fight racism. Call your U.S. Senators and urge them to confirm Judge Clarence Thomas.

6. Angela Wright, one of Thomas’s accusers whose testimony was buried by the Senate Judiciary Committee, worked for Charlie Rose when he was a Democratic congressman from North Carolina. [Update: Actually, the congressman Charlie Rose whom Right worked for was not the Charlie Rose of TV fame. My mistake! Thanks to Steve Hageman and Rick Perlstein for the correction.]

7. Kimberlé Crenshaw was part of the legal team advising Anita Hill.

8. Thomas liked to say that his favorite character in Star Wars was Darth Vader.

Updated (May 26)

9. One of the charges levied against Thomas in the hearings was that he had once spoken favorably about the views of Steve Macedo, the Princeton political theorist, who was at the time a conservative (and a professor at Harvard). There was an extended colloquy during the hearings between then Senator Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Thomas—Utah Republican Orrin Hatch also got in on it at one point—about whether and why Thomas was attracted to Macedo’s views on natural law and property rights.

10. Along with Kimberlé Crenshaw, Janet Napolitano, Obama’s former Homeland Security Secretary, was also part of the legal team advising Anita Hill. Now she is the President of the University of California, where Crenshaw is a professor.

11. One of the leitmotifs of Mayer’s and Abramson’s book is how much Biden botched the Thomas/Hill hearings. From beginning—when Hill’s allegations first came to light—to end, when the Senate voted to approve Thomas, Biden got played, was cowed, caved into pressure from the White House and the Republicans, or simply didn’t care or understand enough of the issue to push for a fuller and fairer investigation of the facts.

12. When Howard Metzenbaum, also on the Judiciary Committee, found out the specifics of Anita Hill’s allegations about Thomas, the Ohio senator said, “If that’s sexual harassment, half the senators on Capitol Hill could be accused.”




Arendt, Israel, and Why Jews Have So Many Rules

by Corey Robin on May 13, 2015

For more than five decades, readers of Eichmann in Jerusalem have accused Hannah Arendt of being a self-hating Jew. In the current issue of The Nation, I turn that accusation on its head. Eichmann in Jerusalem, I argue, “is a Jewish text filled not only with a modernist sense of Jewish irony…but also with an implicit Decalogue, a Law and the Prophets, animating every moment of its critique.” The reaction against Eichmann in Jerusalem, on the other hand, often coming from Jews, ”has something about it that, while not driven by Jew-haters or Jew-hatred, nevertheless draws deeply, if unwittingly, from that well.” What explains this reaction from Jews? Perhaps, I go onto write, it has something to do with the jump, within a relatively short period of time, “from the abject powerlessness of the Holocaust to the mega-power of the modern state” of Israel. That jump “not only liberated the Jew from his Judaism but also allowed him to indulge the classic canards against it.” Arendt was one of the earliest to spot that jump; the half-century-long campaign against her, which shows no signs of abating, is but one register of its consequences.

Along the way, I talk in my piece about the banality of evil, that moment in the 1960s when Norman Podhoretz wasn’t a fool, negative liberalism, the argument last fall between Seyla Benhabib and Richard Wolin, why Jews have so many rules, Matthew Arnold, and what the wrongness of Eichmann’s readers reveals about the rightness of its arguments.

Read it here.