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coreyrobin

Back in early January, I wrote:

Where all this will lead is anyone’s guess, but the most likely outcome is that Trump and the GOP will fall back on what Republicans know how to do best: tax cuts and deregulation.

It’s about to come to pass.

Schumpeter famously said that taxes are the “thunder of world history.” So what kind of history are the Republicans about to make?

Here I am in The Guardian, answering that question with four takeaways on the GOP tax bill.

Meanwhile, I just stumbled on this from last year: Paul Ryan, at CPAC, asking us to “take Obamacare—not literally, but figuratively.”

Never underestimate the philosophical impulse of the right.

Next he’ll be incanting, “A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.”

Read the rest of Ryan’s comments where he criticizes school lunch programs: fills the stomach, empties the soul.

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Libertarian Judges Rule!

by Corey Robin on December 9, 2017

Prominent libertarian jurist Alex Kozinski has been accused of sexual harassment by six women, all of them former clerks or employees. One of the women is Heidi Bond. In a statement, Bond gives a fuller description of Judge Kozinski’s rule, sexual and non-sexual, in the workplace.

One day, my judge found out I had been reading romance novels over my dinner break. He called me (he was in San Francisco for hearings; I had stayed in the office in Pasadena) when one of my co-clerks idly mentioned it to him as an amusing aside. Romance novels, he said, were a terrible addiction, like drugs, and something like porn for women, and he didn’t want me to read them any more. He told me he wanted me to promise to never read them again.

“But it’s on my dinner break,” I protested.

He laid down the law—I was not to read them anymore. “I control what you read,” he said, “what you write, when you eat. You don’t sleep if I say so. You don’t shit unless I say so. Do you understand?”


The demands may seem peculiar, but the tyranny is typical. Employers control what workers read, when workers shit, all the time.

But Judge Kozinski has the added distinction of being one of the leading theoreticians of the First Amendment. And not just any old theorist but a libertarian theorist—he has a cameo in the film Atlas Shrugged: Part II—who claims that the First Amendment affords great protection to “commercial speech.”

Where other jurists and theorists claim that commercial speech—that is, speech that does “no more than propose a commercial transaction”—deserves much less protection than political or artistic speech, Kozinski has been at the forefront of the movement claiming that the First Amendment should afford the same levels of protection to commercial speech as it does to other kinds of speech. Because, as he put it in a pioneering article he co-authored in 1990:

In a free market economy, the ability to give and receive information about commercial matters may be as important, sometimes more important, than expression of a political, artistic, or religious nature.

And there you have it: Watching a commercial about asphalt? Vital to your well-being and sense of self. Deciding what books you read during your dinner break? Not so much.

Government regulations of advertising? Terrible violation of free speech. Telling a worker what she can read? Market freedom.

The Political Theory of Trumpism

by Corey Robin on October 12, 2017

The magazine n+1 is running an excerpt from the second edition of The Reactionary Mind, which comes out next week but is available for purchase now. The n+1 piece is titled “The Triumph of the Shill: The political theory of Trumpism.” It’s my most considered reflection on what Trumpism represents, based on a close reading of The Art of the Deal (yes, I know he didn’t write it, but it’s far more revelatory of the man and what he thinks than even its ghostwriter realized) and some of his other writings and speeches, as well as the record of Trump’s first six months in office.

Here are some excerpts from the excerpt, but I hope you’ll buy the book, too. It’s got a lot of new material, particularly about the economic ideas of the right. And a long, long chapter on Trump and Trumpism.

IN THE ART OF THE DEAL, Donald Trump tells us — twice — that he doesn’t do lunch. By the end of the first hundred pages, he’s gone out to lunch three times. Trump claims that he doesn’t take architecture critics seriously. On the next page, he admits, “I’m not going to kid you: it’s also nice to get good reviews.” Trump says the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania is “the place to go” to become a great entrepreneur. In the next paragraph, he states that a Wharton degree “doesn’t prove very much.”

Inconsistency has long been Trump’s style. But while his critics seize on that inconsistency as a unique liability, yet another difference between him and his respectable predecessors on the right, a happy avowal of contradiction has been a feature of the conservative tradition since the beginning. Originally, that avowal assumed a tonier form,…

The consonance between Trump’s inconsistency and the right’s embrace of contradiction raises a deeper question: Is Trump really a conservative? For many of his critics, on the left and the right, the answer is no. Trump’s racism, irregularity, and populism, and the ambient violence that trails his entourage, are seen as symptoms of a novel disease on the right, a sign that Trump has broken with the traditions and beliefs that once nourished the movement. Yet while the racism of the Trumpist right is nastier than that of its most recent predecessors, it is certainly not nastier or more violent than the movement’s battle against civil rights in the 1960s and ’70s, in the courts, legislatures, and streets. The weaponization of racism and nativism under Trump intensifies a well-established tradition on the right, as studies of American conservatism from the 1920s through the Tea Party have shown. Likewise, the erratic nature of Trump’s White House, the freewheeling disregard of norms and rules, reflects a long-standing conservative animus to the customary and the conventional, as do Trump’s jabs against the establishment. There are important innovations in Trump’s populist appeals, but populism has been a critical element of the right from its inception.

In other words, conservatives have breached norms, flouted decorum, assailed elites, and shattered orthodoxy throughout the ages. Still, Trump does represent something new.

Yet there is an unexpected sigh of emptiness, even boredom, at the end of Trump’s celebration of economic combat: “If you ask me exactly what the deals I’m about to describe all add up to in the end, I’m not sure I have a very good answer.” In fact, he has no answer at all. He says hopefully, “I’ve had a very good time making them,” and wonders wistfully, “If it can’t be fun, what’s the point?” But the quest for fun is all he has to offer — a dispiriting narrowness that Max Weber anticipated more than a century ago when he wrote that “in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport.” Ronald Reagan could marvel, “You know, there really is something magic about the marketplace when it’s free to operate. As the song says, ‘This could be the start of something big.’” But there is no magic in Trump’s market. Everything — save those buttery leather pants — is a bore.

That admission affords Trump considerable freedom to say things about the moral emptiness of the market that no credible aspirant to the Oval Office from the right could.

This is what makes Trump’s economic philosophy, such as it is, so peculiar and of its moment. An older generation of economic Darwinists, from William Graham Sumner to Ayn Rand, believed without reservation in the secular miracle of the market. It wasn’t just the contest that was glorious; the outcome was, too. That conviction burned in them like a holy fire. Trump, by contrast, subscribes and unsubscribes to that vision. The market is a moment of truth — and an eternity of lies. It reveals; it hides. It is everything; it is nothing. Rand grounded her vision of capitalism in A is A; Trump grounds his in A is not A.

TRUMP IS BY NO MEANS the first man of the right to reach that conclusion about capitalism, though he may be the first President to do so, at least since Teddy Roosevelt. A great many neoconservatives found themselves stranded on the same beach after the end of the cold war, as had many conservatives before that. But they always found a redeeming vision in the state. Not the welfare state or the “nanny state,” but the State of high politics, national greatness, imperial leadership, and war; the state of Churchill and Bismarck. Given the menace of Trump’s rhetoric, his fetish for pomp and love of grandeur, this state, too, would seem the natural terminus of his predilections. As his adviser Steve Bannon has said, “A country’s more than an economy. We’re a civic society.” Yet on closer inspection, Trump’s vision of the state looks less like the State than the deals he’s not sure add up to much.


Again, read the whole excerpt here, and then buy the book!

I’ll be doing a bunch of interviews about the book, including one with our very own Henry, so keep an eye out at my blog for more information on that.

When Political Scientists Legitimate Torturers

by Corey Robin on August 25, 2017

The American Political Science Association, which will be meeting next week in San Francisco, will be featuring John Yoo on two panels. Many political scientists are protesting this decision, and will be protesting Yoo at his panels. I am not attending the conference this year, but I wrote the following letter to the two program chairs of the conference.

Dear Professors Jamal and Hyde:

In his celebrated diary of daily life in the Third Reich, Victor Klemperer writes:

If one day the situation were reversed and the fate of the vanquished lay in my hands, then I would let all the ordinary folk go and even some of the leaders, who might perhaps after all have had honourable intentions and not known what they were doing. But I would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest; they would be left hanging from the lamp posts for as long as was compatible with hygiene.

The reason Klemperer reserved such special contempt for the professors and intellectuals of the 1920s and 1930s was that professors and intellectuals played a special role in bringing on the horrors of the Nazi regime, as Claudia Koonz and other historians have documented. Not only did those professors and intellectuals provide some of the leading arguments for the rise of that regime, but they also served in that regime: as doctors, population experts, engineers, propagandists. And lawyers.

We now come to the matter of John Yoo, Emmanuel S. Heller Professor of Law at UC Berkeley, who has been invited to address the annual conference of the American Political Science Association, which will be meeting in San Francisco next week, and whose speech acts while serving as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Bush administration did so much to bring about the torture regime of that era. While there is no need to rehearse all of those speech acts, we might recall that in his lengthy memo of 2003, Yoo claimed that detainees of the US military could be legally stripped of their clothing “for a period of time” and interrogated naked. If you have trouble visualizing what that might mean, have a look at these photographs from Abu Ghraib. In that same memo, Yoo mooted the possibility that actions ordinarily considered illegal—including gouging an eye, dousing a prisoner with “scalding water, corrosive acid, or caustic substance,” or biting—might well be legal in time of war: the president’s powers as commander in chief were that broad.

When it comes to torture, our minds often drift to the torturer or his higher-ups in the Pentagon and the CIA. But as Jane Mayer documented in The Dark Side, the torture regime of George W. Bush was very much a lawyers’ regime. As one of Yoo’s colleagues told Mayer, “It’s incredible, but John Yoo and David Addington were running the war on terror almost on their own.” Yoo’s memos were not the idle speculations of a cloistered academic; stamped with the seal of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Justice Department, they had the force of law, issuing binding interpretations of existing statutes that could only be overturned by the Attorney General. As Mayer explains, “For Yoo’s allies in the White House, his position at OLC was a political bonanza. It was like having a personal friend who could write medical prescriptions.” Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith, who headed the OLC in 2003, adds that Yoo-type memos were essentially “get-out-of-jail-free cards.” That is why former CIA head George Tenet has written:

Despite what Hollywood might have you believe, in situations like these [the capture, interrogation, and torture of Al Qaeda logistics chief Abu Zubayda] you don’t call in the tough guys; you call in the lawyers.

That’s how powerful John Yoo was.

Since the election of Donald Trump, we have heard much from our profession about “norm erosion” and the ways in which an ostensibly democratic society like our own can devolve into an authoritarian or even fascist society. While the history of the Trump ascendancy has yet to be written, it will be difficult, when the time comes, for future historians to neglect the role of John Yoo in preparing the way for that devolution. As Duke Law Professor Walter Dellinger, who headed the OLC under Bill Clinton, said of the vision of “the embodiment of power for the executive” that lay at the heart of Yoo’s memos: “it’s like Mussolini in 1930.”

I fear that with this invitation to Yoo to address our profession, as if he were simply the author of controversial and heterodox opinions rather than the architect of a regime of torture and barbarity, the American Political Science Association has written itself a chapter in those future histories.

Sincerely,

Corey Robin

Professor of Political Science

Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center

I have a piece in The Guardian on the meaning of Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House:

Once upon a time, conservatives plotted a path that began with the magazines and ended in the White House. With Steve Bannon’s departure from the Trump administration on Friday to head the Breitbart News Network, we seem to be witnessing the reverse: an unspooling of history that begins in power and ends in print.

In 1955, William F Buckley launched National Review, declaring war against liberalism and the Democratic party but also, and more immediately, a civil war on the right.

Since Charlottesville, pundits and historians have wondered whether we’re headed for a civil war. With Bannon’s exit, it’s clear that we are. Only it won’t be between North and South or right and left. It will be within the Republican party itself.

The question is: will it be like the war Buckley launched, a purgative struggle as a prelude to a new era of conservative power and rule? Or will it mark the end of the Reagan regime, unveiling a conservative movement in terminal crisis as it strives to reconcile the irreconcilable?

In the wake of the Charlottesville controversy, Bannon laughed at liberals and leftists who called for taking down Confederate statues. “Just give me more,” he told the New York Times. “Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it.”

As he explained to the American Prospect, “the longer [the Democrats] talk about identity politics, I got ‘em. I want them to take about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

Ironically, as the Republicans flounder in their attempt to get anything done – much less enact a program of economic nationalism – Trump emits tweet after plangent tweet about “the removal of our beautiful statues.” It is the Republicans, in other words, and not the Democrats, who are saddled with identity issues, while their economic program (on healthcare, the debt, and taxes) remains stalled.

Before he left, Bannon’s parting words to Trump were to resist the siren calls of so-called moderates, who were pushing him to soften his stance on things like Charlottesville. Moderation would never win over Democrats or independents. The best thing was to appeal to the base: “You’ve got the base,” Bannon said. “And you grow the base by getting” things done.

But appealing to that base is precisely what is preventing things from getting done. As one top Republican strategist told the Wall Street Journal: “By not speak out against” Charlottesville and the white supremacy of the Republican party, “it is bleeding into the party, and that is going to make it far more difficult to pass anything.”

The right-wing racial populism that once served the conservative cause so well is now, as even the most conservative Republicans are acknowledginggetting in its way. Whatever the outcome of the civil war Bannon intends to fight, it’ll be waged against the backdrop of a declining rather than an ascendant movement, with the tools of yesterday rather than tomorrow.

That is why, having had seven months in the White House to prosecute his populist war on the Republican establishment – something Buckley and his minions could only dream of in 1955 – Bannon now finds himself staring into the abyss of a website, hoping to find there a power he couldn’t find in the most powerful office of the world.


And don’t forget to buy the second edition of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump (yes, you read that subtitle correctly), now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French leftist leader who I was hoping would beat Macron in the last election (as Chris knows, I’m really not a fan of Macron), sullies himself with this comment about French collaboration with the Holocaust. Responding to Macron’s speech in which Macron said France needed to take responsibility for its role in the roundup and extermination of the Jews (long a touchy subject in France), Mélenchon succumbs to the worst nationalist impulses to defend the honor of the French people.

Never, at any moment, did the French choose murder and anti-Semitic criminality. Those who were not Jewish were not all, and as French people, guilty of the crime that was carried out at the time! On the contrary, through its resistance, its fight against the [German] invader and through the reestablishment of the republic when the [Germans] were driven out of the territory, the French people, the French people proved which side they were actually on.

There’s an argument to be had (and one could see why in republican France some would want it to be had) about the relationship of the people to a collaborationist government under foreign occupation. Had Mélenchon simply said, look, the French people were divided, it’s hard to generalize, many collaborated, some resisted, Vichy wasn’t the official representative of the French people, let’s have a more textured understanding of history—that would be one thing. But that’s not simply what he says. (I’m not a reader of French, so I’m relying on the translations here. I’m also an outsider to French politics, and by no means an expert on all the local nuances and subtleties of this engagement. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) He goes further. With that last line in particular, he does more than try to remove the stain of collective guilt. He tries to claim collective innocence: what the Resistance did, that was France. What Vichy did, that wasn’t France. That was those evil ministers, forever betraying the French nation and the French people, who proved by the actions of the resisters who they really are.

Not only is what Mélenchon said an offense against the historical record, but it evinces all the worst features of nationalism that I loathe: the special pleading, the knee-jerk impulse to defend one’s own (with the implicit acknowledgment that the Jews aren’t thought of as one’s own), the retrograde identity politics (one might say the original form of identity politics), the offshoring of evil (though in this regard, Mélenchon ties himself in knots, saying, according to that Haaretz report, that Vichy wasn’t really France; France was off in London), the tribalism and groupiness. Even worse, this desire to assert and insist upon the purity of one’s group: deep down, we’re really good, it was those evil politicians, who weren’t really French in their hearts, who did the bad things. That kind of thinking is just the flip side of Bush-style axis of evil talk. The left should defend collectives, yes, but for God’s sake, let them be collectives based on justice rather than purity, and let them be collectives other than the French—or any other—nation.

This whole episode brings me back to a moment more than 25 years ago.

It was after my first year in grad school. I was spending the summer in Freiburg, learning German. At the language school where I was studying, I made a group of friends from Italy, France, Britain, and elsewhere. One guy, Pascal, and I really hit it off. He was from France, the south of France I think, and a hardcore leftist. Super sweet guy, with a German girlfriend named Claudia. I really liked them both.

One night, around the end of the summer, Pascal and Claudia had me over to dinner. They lived pretty far outside of the city, in the country. It was a lovely evening. We all spoke German (our one common language), with Claudia gently helping Pascal and me along when we needed help. There was a lot of wine.

Toward the end of the evening, the topic turned to French politics. Mitterrand in particular. This must have been some time around his second term as President. I don’t remember what prompted this, but at some point in the discussion, through my wine-sodden haze, I heard Pascal hissing that Mitterrand was a Jew. Everything bad that Mitterrand did—and Pascal really hated Mitterrand, from the left—was because Mitterrand was a Jew. It was a tirade: Jew this, Jew that. I think Pascal even began slipping into French: Juif, Juif.

(Mitterrand, incidentally, also liked to pull this line that France wasn’t responsible for the roundup of the Jews, that it was this alien, un-French presence called Vichy that did that.)

After a few minutes of this, I gathered myself, and said, as calm and composed as I could be (why is it so hard to assert one’s dignity in these situations?): Mitterrand is not a Jew, but I am.

It was a terrible moment: a wonderful summer’s friendship, across the barriers of language and nation, poisoned by this sudden extrusion of anti-Semitism. From the left.

I said I wanted to leave. They drove me home (as I said, we were way out of town). Claudia, the German, was scandalized by what her boyfriend, the Frenchman, had said and told him so. She couldn’t stop apologizing to me, up until the minute I got out of the car. He just drove, silently. That was the last I ever saw of them.

I’ve traveled a lot, have lived abroad, and have been friends with people from all across the globe. I’ve been involved in all kinds of anti-Zionist politics here in the US, with Jews, Muslims, Christians, Arabs, and atheists. But it’s only been among Europeans—I talked about my experiences in Britain here—that I’ve ever felt someone look at me and see: Jew Jew Jew.

The Jewish Question has always been, for me, a European question.

On China Miéville’s October

by Corey Robin on June 21, 2017

I just finished October, China Miéville’s turbo-charged account of the Russian Revolution. Think Ten Days That Shook the World, but in months: from February through October 1917. With each chapter narrating the events of each month. Just some quick thoughts here on what has been one of the most exhilarating reading experiences of my recent past.

1.


I don’t think I’ve ever read such an Arendtian account of revolution as this. I have no idea if Miéville has read Arendt or if he counts her as an influence. But if you want a purely political account of revolution, this is it.

There are workers, there are peasants, there are soldiers, there are parties, there are tsars, there are courtiers. Each of them bears his or her class position, his or her economic and other concerns, but it is the political field itself, how it hurls its protagonists into combat, combat with its own rules and norms, its own criteria for success and failure, that is front and center here. This may be the most textured, most concrete, account of what political contest and political combat, literal and metaphoric, feels like. Or what an event-driven account (Arendt was big on events, as is Miéville; it’s nice to see a writer like Miéville prise narrative and events from the hands of Simon Schama) might look like.

While people on the left, particularly the Marxist left, have a big distrust of Arendt, she did get at something about the revolutionary experience itself, which the best Marxist historians have always understood, but which isn’t always well conveyed in Marxist histories of revolution. This book shows you what those accounts are missing.

2.


There’s a famous public dialogue, I can’t remember when or where, between Arendt and a bunch of her readers, in which Mary McCarthy says something like: Okay, I get it, you think politics shouldn’t be about economics or the social question. But aside from war and diplomacy, what would politics in your world be about? It’s one of the big questions that has always haunted Arendt scholars. What should politics in the Arendtian vision be about? What would it look like? (E. M. Forster has a line about Virginia Woolf: “For it [Woolf’s writing] was not about something. It was something.” That’s not a bad approximation of, on some interpretations, Arendt’s view of politics.) Read Miéville. You’ll find out.

3.


I love Miéville’s portrait of Kerensky. His Kerensky seems like a brilliant knock-off of Tony Blair. Vain, vainglorious, fatuous, infatuated, though lacking Blair’s ability to translate his conviction in himself into world-historical action.

4.


The first chapter, the pre-history of the Revolution, is written in the present tense. From Peter the Great to Nicholas II, it reads like one of those newsreels they used to run in theaters before the main show. Then, as the countdown from February to November is launched, and the subsequent chapters begin, the book shifts to the past tense.

It’s a brilliant and counterintuitive use of syntax: as if the preceding centuries were a powder keg waiting to explode, always pregnant with possibility, forever situated in the grammar of the now, only to shift into the past tense once the revolution begins, as if the revolution is the inexorable working out of history, the thing that had to happen.

While Miéville never loses a sense of contingency—making a mockery of all those historians who go on about contingency (or in the case of Niall Ferguson, counterfactuality) as a way of countering the alleged determinism of Marxism—he manages nonetheless to capture a sense of inexorability, of fate, of possibilities that weren’t ever really possible, except in the imagination of Kerensky and his minions.

5.


One element in the book that resonates with our current moment is the inability or refusal of both liberals and the left to lead, where leadership means destroying the old regime. Power is there, waiting to be exercised, on behalf of a new order: the soldiers demand it, the workers demand it, the peasants demand it, but all the parties of the left, including the Bolsheviks, just hesitate and vacillate, refusing to take responsibility for society itself. It feels like we’re in a similar moment, and it could last much longer than the interregnum between February and October 1917. Not because of the power of the old regime—quite the opposite, in fact—but, as in moments throughout 1917, because of the weakness and incoherence, the willed refusal, of the parties that might bury it.

6.


As Jodi Dean has said, the real hero in October is the revolution itself. Trotsky’s there, but mostly in the wings. There’s the familiar tussle between Zinoviev/Kamenev and Lenin, and between Lenin and everyone else. And while Miéville honors and recognizes Lenin’s tactical genius, his antenna for the mood and the moment, Miéville mostly portrays a Lenin who is struggling to keep up and who often gets it wrong. It’s the revolutionary process that has the last word; it is the protagonist.

7.


That said, Miéville’s chapter on April—that’s the chapter where Lenin arrives in Petrograd, having developed his revolutionary theses in exile, far from the crucible of the revolution itself—is sublime. It has this wondrous feeling of condensation, as if the revolutionary precipitant is taking shape right then and there. It’s the perfect counterpoint to the chapter on June, where all that’s solid, and much else, melts into air.

8.


Buy the book. You can read it in a few days. You won’t be sorry.

Update (11:30 pm)

I should add, another Arendtian note: the keyword of the Russian Revolution, in Miéville’s telling, is freedom. It’s the word that keeps recurring throughout the tale. That’s what the revolution is after: freedom.

Also, just listened to this great interview that Chapo Trap House did with Miéville, and he’s got some things to say that are worth listening to.

On liberals, the left, and free speech

by Corey Robin on April 27, 2017

When I was in college and in graduate school (so the 1980s and 1990s), the dividing line on free speech debates was, for the most part, a pretty conventional liberal/left divide. (I’m excluding the right.) That is, self-defined liberals tended to be absolutists on free speech. Self-defined leftists—from radical feminists to radical democrats to critical race theorists to Marxists—tended to be more critical of the idea of free speech.

What’s interesting about the contemporary moment, which I don’t think anyone’s really remarked upon, is that that clean divide has gotten blurry. There were always exceptions to that divide, I know: back in the 1980s and 1990s, some radical feminists were critical of the anti-free speech position within feminism; some liberals, like Cass Sunstein and Owen Fiss, were more sensitive to how power differentials in society constrained speech, and thus were more open to more regulatory approaches to speech; some Marxists were always leery of the critiques of free speech. Even so, there was a divide. That divide hasn’t now reversed, but it’s no longer the case that it maps so easily onto a simple and clear divide between liberalism and the left.

From what I see online, a lot of mainstream liberals today are far less absolutist in their defense of free speech, particularly on campuses; indeed, that absolutist position increasingly seems like the outlier among liberals. And parts of the left are now taking the more absolutist position. Once upon a time, a Jonathan Chait would denounce leftist campus critics of free speech, and it all made sense. Today, when he does that, he seems completely out to lunch: a lot of the people he’s talking about are conventional liberals just like him.

(On a related note, there was a funny moment on Twitter yesterday, when the ACLU defended Ann Coulter’s right to speak at Berkeley. Twitter liberals freaked out in surprise: the ACLU, defending Ann Coulter’s right to speak! How could that be? None of them seemed to remember or realize that once upon a time, back in the late 1970s, the ACLU defended real Nazis—as in members of the American Nazi Party—marching in Skokie, a Chicago suburb whose residents included many Holocaust survivors.)

Just so we’re clear. Nothing in this post is meant to be normative or prescriptive; I’ve tended to stay out of these debates of late, in part because they mostly don’t speak to my experience of campus free speech. Our challenge at Brooklyn College has never really been how to keep speakers off campus; it has almost always been how to get them on campus.

All I’m doing here is making a simple, and I believe non-normative empirical observation: that something new is happening on the divide between liberalism and the left over the question of free speech. Unlike the recent past, the free speech argument now cuts right across that divide. And to that extent, it takes us back to an earlier moment, in the 1930s and 1940s, when American liberals and the left were also in dialogue, and taking a mixture of cross-cutting positions, on the question of free speech.

As We Near the 100-Day Mark of the Trump Regime

by Corey Robin on March 27, 2017

Despite having taken a long break from social media and blogging after the election—partly due to having gotten the election so wrong and wanting some time to reflect; partly due to exhaustion—I have written a bunch of pieces on the political situation that may be of interest to folks, particularly as we near the proverbial 100-day mark of Trump’s regime.

Back in December, I wrote an essay for Harper’s on how we ought to think of opposing Trump, of not falling into the trap of resting our politics on the intractable evil of his regime. I trace that kind of thinking back to the liberalism that emerged at the end of the Cold War (really, it extends back further), a liberalism that refuses to posit a good and, instead, grounds its claims on a feared evil or ill. One of the consequences of that way of thinking is this: [click to continue…]

Viva Las Vegas!

by Corey Robin on November 6, 2016

As we head into the final days of the election, some thoughts, observations, rants, speculations, and provocations—by turns, cantankerous, narrow, and crabby, and, I hope, generous, capacious, and open to the future.

1.


One of the things we’ve been seeing more and more of this past decade, and now in this election, is that state institutions that many thought (wrongly) were above politics—the Supreme Court, the security establishment, the Senate filibuster—are in fact the crassest instruments of partisan politics, sites of circus antics of the sort the Framers (and their hagiographers) traditionally associated with the lower house of a legislative body.

This, I’ve argued before, has been increasingly the case since the end of the Cold War.

Think of the Clarence Thomas hearings, impeachment over a blow job, Bush v. Gore, the manipulation of the security establishment and intelligence (and the sullying of national icon Colin Powell) going into the Iraq War, the rise of the filibuster-proof majority, the comments of Ginsburg on Trump that she had to retract, and now, today, the revelation of possible FBI interference in the election.

Let’s set aside the question of how new any of this is (I’ve argued that most of it is not). What is new, maybe, is an increasing brazenness and openness about it all, as if it simply doesn’t matter to the fate of the republic if our elites reveal themselves to be the most self-serving tools of whatever cause they proclaim as their own.

And here I think there may be something worth thinking about. [click to continue…]

Below are six causes for optimism. But I should stress, as I have since The Reactionary Mind, that the reason I think the right has not much of a future is that it has won. If you consider its great animating energies since the New Deal—anti-labor, anti-civil rights, and anti-feminism—the right has achieved a considerable amount of success. Either in destroying or beating back these movements. So the hopefulness you read below, it needs to be remembered, is built on the ruins of the left. It reflects a considerable pessimism and arises from a sober realism about where we are right now. [click to continue…]

Trump the Ringmaster and His Unwitting Clowns

by Corey Robin on October 11, 2016

Back in July, I wrote a post about the amnesia of the Vox generation of journalism.

This was about the time when young journalists were claiming that no presidential candidate in modern American history ever posed the kind of threat to American democracy that Donald Trump did. I went through the specific claims, and cited example after example of comparable threats. I concluded thus:

So many of them seem to lack the most basic gut impulse of any historically minded person: if you think something is unprecedented, it’s probably not. Check your amnesia, dude.

I know this is nothing deep or fancy, but it does make me wonder if today’s generation of commentators, raised as so many are on the assumption that the biological sciences and social sciences—with neuroscience as the master mediator—are the source and model of all knowledge, are somehow at a deficit.


By amnesia, I was thinking of these journalists’ failure to remember events from the Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan campaigns.

Little did I expect that only three months later they’d be forgetting events from…the Trump campaign. [click to continue…]

In August, I blogged about a New York Times story on a corruption investigation of City College President Lisa Coico. On Friday, the Times reported that Coico abruptly resigned. Today, the Times has a long piece on the corruption and potential criminality that led to Coico’s resignation (upon threat of firing).

On the one hand, the piece paints a portrait of a college president so fantastically corrupt, it’s almost comical.

Ms. Coico, who had an annual salary of $400,000 at that point [2011], was using the college’s main fund-raising vehicle, the 21st Century Foundation, to pay tens of thousands of dollars for housekeeping, furniture, seasonal fruits and organic maple-glazed nuts, among other items….By August 2011, according to an email between two school officials, the college had begun to itemize more than $155,000 of her spending in three categories — “college,” “personal” and “iffy.”

On the other hand, it’s just one blood-boiling outrage after another, where the criminality flows, like lava, from the mountain of largesse that Coico was legally allowed in the first place.
The Times also questioned whether Ms. Coico had repaid a $20,000 security deposit for a rental home, or kept the money for herself….Ms. Coico had a housing allowance of $5,000 per month when she was hired, which was increased to $7,500 per month in July 2010.

We have adjuncts at CUNY who can’t pay their rent. Mostly because the pay is so low, but sometimes, as occurred at Brooklyn College last month, because CUNY can’t be bothered to get its act together so that people are paid on time. Yet a college president, who’s already earning a $400,000 salary (and remember that was in 2011; God knows what she was raking in upon her resignation) plus a housing allowance of $7500, gets additional help to put down a $20,000 security deposit on a rental home in Westchester? [click to continue…]

Sex, Dice, and the Trump Tapes

by Corey Robin on October 9, 2016

Yesterday, the Washington Post revealed that it had obtained a videotape featuring Donald Trump bragging, in the most graphic and ugly terms, about women he’s groped, harassed, demeaned, and more. Within 24 hours, the tape seems to have transformed the political landscape, with legions of Republican leaders now calling on Trump to step down from the ticket.

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Across social media, people are wondering why this particular story has proven so explosive for Trump. Given that everyone already knew the vileness of his views on women and the viciousness of his behavior toward them—not to mention Muslims and Mexicans—what’s so different about this story? [click to continue…]

Harvard in Theory:

“Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are…to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged….an excessive rate of saving must on balance mitigate the burden of those bearing this hardship.” (Rawls, A Theory of Justice, §46)

Harvard in Practice:
When dining hall workers ask a university with $36 billion in savings to pay them $35,000 a year plus health benefits, they’re forced out on strike.