Saskia Sassen…Willem Sassen…Adolf Eichmann

by Corey Robin on December 7, 2014

Marc Parry has a poignant, almost haunting story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Saskia Sassen, the Columbia sociologist and urban theorist, whose father was Willem Sassen. If you’ve read Bettina Stangneth’s Eichmann Before Jerusalem—or are a close reader of Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem—you’ll know that Willem Sassen was a Dutch Nazi who joined up with the SS. More important, he was part of a circle of Nazis in postwar Argentina, where he led a series of interviews with Adolf Eichmann, in which Eichmann outs himself as a committed anti-Semite and firm believer in the Final Solution. The Sassen interviews have always been a part of the Eichmann/Arendt story, but they have become especially important in the last few years with the publication of Stangneth’s book.

I bought and read the book back in September, and it was then that I realized that Saskia, who I’ve met and been in touch with over the years, was the daughter of Willem. I had no idea about the connection. But then I looked up Willem Sassen’s Wikipedia page, and there it was, for anyone to see. I asked a bunch of fellow academics, all of them readers or colleagues of Saskia. None of them knew about the connection either.

At one level, this is much of a muchness. There’s an entire generation of children, now grandchildren and great grandchildren, of Nazis and their fellow travelers, and they’ve all had to come to terms with the actions of their parents and grandparents. Saskia’s career and contributions have nothing to do with her father. Nor should they. I can certainly identify with her desire to be known on her terms: she was but a child when her father was conspiring with Eichmann to rehabilitate the latter’s reputation and that of the Nazis more generally.

What’s interesting to me about the story—in addition to the sheer and sad drama of any of us having to confront who our parents are and what they may have done in the past—is, given Saskia’s stature, how few of us knew about this story. Particularly with its cognate connection to Arendt. As I’ve been writing over these past few months, the Arendt/Eichmann story is of perennial interest, and the Sassen chapter of that story has become increasingly important. What’s more, Saskia’s husband—Richard Sennett—was a student of Arendt’s. And Saskia was part of a circle around Susan Sontag, who was also connected to Arendt in the 1960s, and who shrewdly cornered Saskia one day in the 1980s and asked her, “So what is your story in Argentina?”

As Stagneth documents, in the 1950s, it was common knowledge among government sources and agents, from Germany to Israel, that Eichmann was hiding out in Argentina. Everyone knew it, yet no one really seemed to know it. There’s a similarly purloined letter quality to this story about Saskia Sassen. In addition to the Wikipedia page, Saskia has given some interviews about her father over the years. Yet few people, even her closest friends, knew about it. As Parry reports in one of the most moving parts of the article, the urban sociologist Susan Fainsten has known Saskia since they were colleagues at Queens College many years ago.


Fainstein considers Sassen a good friend. She even had Willem Sassen to dinner (a “charming elderly gentleman,” as she recalls). Yet Sassen didn’t tell her about his history. Only later, in part through reading about Eichmann Before Jerusalem, did Fainstein, who is Jewish, come to appreciate its significance. “I wish she had told me,” Fainstein says, “and given me the option of inviting him to dinner or not on that basis.”

To me, this is really a story about secrets that aren’t secrets, fugitive knowledge that’s hiding in plain sight.

Update (11 pm)

Just because, judging by some of the initial comments, I feel like we’re heading into a major clusterfuck of a comments thread, even by Crooked Timber standards, I want to make clear what I’m saying here and what I’m not saying, and why I posted this. As anyone who’s been reading my posts here these past few months knows, I’ve been fairly obsessed with the Stangneth book and the larger issues of the Arendt/Eichmann controversy. The Sassen file in that archive is hugely significant. So merely to find out about the filial tie between Saskia Sassen and Willem Sassen is of interest. But that’s not why I wrote this or what draws me to the story. What fascinates me—aside from the near universal quality of the story itself, insofar as it is about children confronting and coming to terms with the mystery and otherness of their parents, something that very few of us manage to do with any kind of grace or equanimity; again, a topic I’ve written about here before—is that this was a story that wasn’t hidden yet few people knew about. And it’s not an incidental story, insofar as the players are pretty big deals in their various worlds. Again: Arendt, Eichmann, Willem Sassen, Saskia Sassen. And the reason that that doubly fascinates me is precisely that it doesn’t seem as if Saskia actually kept it a secret. As I mention, and the article discusses, she gave interviews on the topic; it was on Wikipedia. That said, I don’t think she was obligated to tell people about this; I’m more struck by the fact that she did, yet so few people, even her close friends, knew. So for me this whole story is really about a puzzle: about how certain things can be in plain sight, yet not seen or known. The purloined letter, as I mentioned.

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The real problem with The New Republic

by Corey Robin on December 6, 2014

The New Republic is coming to an end. And the autopsies have begun. So have the critiques. But the real problem with The New Republic is not that it was racist, though it was. It’s not that it was filled with warmongers, though it was. It’s not that it punched hippies, though it did. No, the real problem with The New Republic is that for the last three decades, it has had no energy. It has had no real project. The last time The New Republic had a project was in the late 1970s/early 1980s, when it was in the journalistic vanguard of what was then called neoliberalism (not what we now call neoliberalism). That is what a great magazine of politics and culture does: it creates a project, it fashions a sensibility. The Spectator did it in the early 18th century, Partisan Review in the 1930s did it, Dissent in the 1950s did it, and The New Republic in the 1970s/1980s did it. I’m not saying that I like that last project; I don’t. I’m just saying that it was a project, and that it was a creation. Love them or hate them, great magazines gather the diverse and disparate energies of a polity and a culture and give them focus. They shape assumptions, they direct attention, they articulate a direction. The New Republic hasn’t done that since I was a teenager. (That’s the irony/inanity of Stephen Glass’ famed—really, fabled—fabulism: there was nothing fabulistic about it at all. His lies weren’t stretchers. They were social truths: they played to, repeated, every conventional assumption of the age of which the magazine was capable.) That’s why virtually every obituary for the magazine that’s been written by people of roughly my age opens or closes with a memoir of one’s high school experience; the entire constituency of the magazine seems to be suffering from a Judd Apatow-like case of arrested development. In the last three decades, The New Republic has generated controversy, clickbait, talk of the town. It’s sponsored solid journalism, smart criticism, bad policy and bloody wars. God knows, it has not suffered for talent or intelligence. But what it hasn’t done is create a sense or sensibility, a deep style in the Nietzschean sense. It has instead been living off the borrowed energy and dead labor of its past. It has long ceased to be the place where the intellectual action is. To mourn its demise now is to mourn something that disappeared years ago.

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More News on the Steven Salaita Case

by Corey Robin on December 5, 2014

1. Thirty-four heads of departments and academic units at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wrote a scorching letter to the University of Illinois’s new president. With some startling information about the effect the boycott is having on the University:

More than three-dozen scheduled talks and multiple conferences across a variety of disciplines – including, for example, this year’s entire colloquium series in the Department of Philosophy – have already been canceled, and more continue to be canceled, as outside speakers have withdrawn in response to the university’s handling of Dr. Salaita’s case. The Department of English decided to postpone a program review originally scheduled for spring 2015 in anticipation of being unable to find qualified external examiners willing to come to campus. Tenure and promotion cases may be affected as faculty at peer institutions consider extending the boycott to recommendation letters.

Most troubling of all, the ability of many departments to successfully conduct faculty searches, especially at the senior level, has been seriously jeopardized. While the possible negative effects on even junior searches remain to be seen, the Department of History has already abandoned a previously authorized senior search in U.S. history this year in recognition of the bleak prospects of attracting suitable applicants in the current climate. An open rank search in Philosophy attracted 80% fewer applicants at the rank of associate or full professor than a senior search in the same area of specialization just last year.


I had no idea about these canceled or crippled searches and the postponement of a program review. That is a major development, as anyone who’s ever been part of a search or program review knows, and it shows just how pervasive the opposition to the university’s handling of the case has been—or, if not outright opposition, how corrosive to the university’s reputation the case has been. What’s more, that sense of the university’s contamination shows no signs of easing up. If anything, it’s getting worse. [click to continue…]

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Wonder Woman

by Harry on December 3, 2014

I just finished reading Jill LePore’s amazing book The Secret History of Wonder Woman (which, as you can see, is unlikely to be a #1 bestseller because it lacks the requisite paragraph-length subtitle). I’ve no idea why I wanted to read it—I was a Marvel [1], not a DC, reader as a kid, and before reading LePore’s carefully planted trailers most of what I knew came from the Lynda Carter series which I watched as a kid. So pretty much everything in the book was a revelation.

[click to continue…]

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Marion Fourcade, Etienne Ollion and Yann Algan’s forthcoming piece on the ‘superiority of economists’ is a lovely, albeit quietly snarky, take on the hidden structures of the economics profession. It provides good evidence that e.g. economics hiring practices, rather than being market driven are more like an intensely hierarchical kinship structure, that the profession is ridden with irrational rituals, and that key economic journals are apparently rather clubbier than one might have expected in a free and competitive market (the University of Chicago’s Quarterly Journal of Economics Journal of Political Economy gives nearly 10% of its pages to University of Chicago affiliated scholars; perhaps its editors believe that this situation of apparent collusion will be naturally corrected by market forces over time). What appears to economists as an intense meritocracy (as Paul Krugman acknowledges in a nice self-reflective piece) is plausibly also, or alternately, a social construct built on self-perpetuating power relations.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of economists are reading the piece (we’re all monkeys, fascinated with our reflections in the mirror). Equally unsurprisingly, many of them (including some very smart ones) don’t really get Fourcade et al’s argument, which is a Bourdieuian one about how a field, and relations of authority and power within and around that field get constructed. As Fourcade has noted in previous work, economists’ dominance has led other fields either to construct themselves in opposition to economics (economic sociology) or in supplication to it (some versions of rational choice political science). Economists have been able to ignore these rivals or to assimilate their tributes, as seems most convenient. As the new paper notes, the story of economists’ domination is told by citation patterns (the satisfaction that other social scientists can take from economists having done unto them as they have done unto others, is unfortunately of limited consolation). Yet if you’re an economist, this is invisible. Your dominance appears to be the product of natural superiority. [click to continue…]

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Fly Air Gini

by Kieran Healy on December 1, 2014

The other day at OrgTheory, Beth Berman had a very nice discussion on “inequality in the skies” about how much of space on planes is given over to different classes of passenger. Using seating charts, she calculated some rough Gini coefficients of inequality on board. For example, on a transatlantic flight in a three-class configuration with fancy lie-flat beds up front,


if we look again at how the space is distributed, we now have 21% of the people using about 40% of the plane, 27% using another 20%, and the final 52% using the last 40%. The Gini index has now increased, to 25.

She also noted in passing that, as unequal as that is, it’s “still nowhere near the inequality of the U.S., or the world.” I found myself wondering what a plane with seating laid out on the basis of the U.S. income distribution would look like. So, following Beth’s lead, I decided to get into the aviation business and launch Air Gini, America’s most American airline.

[click to continue…]

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Family Values

by Harry on December 1, 2014

family values

Its been a long time coming, but we, at least, feel it’s been worth the wait. My book with Adam Swift, Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships, was published earlier this Fall. The book originated in conversations we started having many years ago when I was living in the UK, and we found not only that we were both planning to write books about the place of the family in liberal egalitarian theory, but had similar enough views, and different enough habits of mind, that a book written together would be better than either of us would write separately. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

The family is hotly contested ideological terrain. Some defend the traditional two-parent heterosexual family while others welcome its demise. Opinions vary about how much control parents should have over their children’s upbringing. Family Values provides a major new theoretical account of the morality and politics of the family, telling us why the family is valuable, who has the right to parent, and what rights parents should—and should not—have over their children.

Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift argue that parent-child relationships produce the “familial relationship goods” that people need to flourish. Children’s healthy development depends on intimate relationships with authoritative adults, while the distinctive joys and challenges of parenting are part of a fulfilling life for adults. Yet the relationships that make these goods possible have little to do with biology, and do not require the extensive rights that parents currently enjoy. Challenging some of our most commonly held beliefs about the family, Brighouse and Swift explain why a child’s interest in autonomy severely limits parents’ right to shape their children’s values, and why parents have no fundamental right to confer wealth or advantage on their children.

Family Values reaffirms the vital importance of the family as a social institution while challenging its role in the reproduction of social inequality and carefully balancing the interests of parents and children.

You can read more about it, too, at the p. 99 test.

A good number of the ideas have been tested at some point or another on Crooked Timber, and we’re grateful to commentators for taking us to task. In fact we’ve been lucky in having been able to publish, and get feedback on, some of our ideas along the way – among the many reasons it’s taken us a while is that our ideas have evolved in response to the feedback we have gotten (this is my way of saying that the book is not a simple repackaging of the best-known papers we’ve published on the subject, but a wholesale rethinking with substantially different arguments and, in some cases, conclusions).

Since the book is about the family, I thought I’d share two of my children’s reactions when I first brought a copy of the book home. My 8 year old (boy) said “Oh you wrote a book, that’s interesting. Its a bit strange having that huge dead chicken on the cover, though”. The eldest (girl, whose friends were still frequenting the house in great numbers when the first copy turned up, just before she left for college) was less excited. “My friends are really impressed that you’ve written a book. But I’m not really. I mean, it’s just part of your job, isn’t it? It’s just what you’re supposed to do. I mean….its not like you taught a third grader to read, or something like that“.

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Bit late, but a family-oriented, all-American blog like Crooked Timber should have a Thanksgiving-themed post.

This semester I was teaching ‘topics in aesthetics’ and we ended up doing a unit on fakes and forgeries. I read a bunch of stuff on the history of famous cases. Lots of fascinating material, of course. I like the story of Lothar Malskat and the Turkeys In The Schwahl, entertainingly retold in Jonathan Keats, Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age [amazon]. (That subtitle doth protest too much. But fun read.)

Long story short: this guy Malskat was a fake and a fraud! He was supposed to restore the painting in this here 13th Century church cloister but it was, basically, like, gone. Nothing left. So he made it up! Here’s an excerpt: [click to continue…]

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PD James has died

by Henry on November 27, 2014

Guardian story here. Harry is, I think, the official Crooked Timber PD James aficionado, and likely has far more interesting things to say than I do. Obviously, I disagreed with her politics, and I disliked her main character, Adam Dalgliesh, in direct proportion to the tender regard that she lavished on him. But she was excellent in describing disagreeable but interesting characters, and especially disagreeable but interesting women. She also had an astute sociological eye for the distinctive worlds that middle-class women in certain vocations and professions (viz. nursing in Shroud for a Nightingale) created amongst themselves in the interstices of the workplace before feminism. While she was unsentimental about the dynamics of mutual dislike and competition among women in these worlds, I felt that she missed them, and I sometimes wondered how much of her conservatism was grounded in a positive sense of loss.

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PR to PM, not much of a stretch

by Maria on November 26, 2014

PR Strategy: “TECH COMPANIES MUST DO MORE

The problem:
Britain has declining ability to get US Internet companies to share information they’re not legally obliged to.

The cause:
Snowden revelations mean US companies keen to dissociated themselves from close and informal intelligence cooperation; first to go is the UK. Also, they are using more encryption.

The media narrative:
‘Tech firms must do more in the fight against terror’

TIMELINE
The Warm-up Phase
30 September
Home Secretary tells Conservative Party conference of ‘outrageous irresponsibility’ of Liberal Democrats in blocking greater surveillance powers for the police and security services, and says Britain will ‘face down extremism in all its forms’. Also, children’s lives put at risk by the Lib Dems.

Late October
Security minister James Brokenshire meets Google, Microsoft and Facebook in Luxembourg to ‘discuss ways to tackle online extremism’.

4 November
New head of GCHQ, says on front page of the FT: Web giants such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp have become “command-and-control networks… for terrorists and criminals”. They must do more to co-operate with security services.

14 November
Prime Minister addresses Australian Parliament before G20 Summit: Facebook, Google, Twitter must live up to their social responsibilities and do more to take down extremist material from the internet.

All Systems Go

Sunday 23 November
Home Secretary does the softening up – goes on television to say the terror threat is greater than ever and the “time is right” to give police and intelligence agencies greater powers to require tech firms to give more data to the government.

Monday 24 November
ISC releases its heavily redacted report on the Lee Rigby murder. It finds operational failings in the intelligence agencies:
•MI5 delays investigating Adebolajo following his arrest for suspected terror offences in Kenya;
•Failure to scrutinise his phone records – which showed contacts with overseas jihadists;
•GCHQ failing to report evidence linking Adebowale to extremists;
•Police failure to arrest Adebolajo just before the attack – on suspicion of drug-dealing – after they “lost his address”

ISC’s Chair ‘accused internet companies of providing a “safe haven” to terrorists – an unnamed tech firm had failed to recognise and hand over radical postings by Adebowale to the government – but said despite a string of failings by the security services, which had repeatedly monitored both men before the attack, there was nothing they could have done to prevent the murder of Rigby.’

Lib Dem committee member, Ming Campbell, says “It is a remarkable coincidence, some might say, that the home secretary should have chosen to make public her further proposals on the eve of the publication of the ISC report. No doubt the purpose of doing so was to link her proposals to the committee’s conclusions. The committee never considered those proposals.”

Tuesday 25 November
Prime Minister to ISC: ‘Tech firms must do more to fight extremism’
Leader of the Opposition agrees. (Well, he can’t be soft on terrorism, can he?)

Wednesday 26 November
Sun headline: FACEBOOK - BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS

To be published later today: draft bill extending police and agency powers of data access ‘to tackle extremism’.

Or you could just re-read: ‘Why this Army Wife Says ‘No’ to the Snooper’s Charter

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Ferguson

by John Holbo on November 26, 2014

Conservatives are wringing their hands. “There is no indication that the [grand jury] system worked otherwise than as it should. Nonetheless, almost immediately protesters — soon become looters — were throwing rocks at the police and then setting ablaze police cars and local businesses.”

This ‘nonetheless’ seems to indicate confusion. To review.

1) The law heavily tilts in favor of cop defendants in a case like this (by design). The law sides with cops. The law trusts cops.

2) In Ferguson, the police are (by design) an outside force imposed on the community, not really a community force. Citizens don’t trust the cops, and rightly not.

What follows is that, in a case like the Brown/Wilson tragedy, if the justice system works ‘as it should’, citizens’ already weak faith in the system will tend to be shattered. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: Oslo opera house

by Chris Bertram on November 23, 2014

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Scabs, Scantrons, and Strikes at the University of Oregon

by Corey Robin on November 22, 2014

From the Department of You Can’t Make This Shit Up…

Grad students at the University of Oregon are about to go out on strike.

Last year, we talked here about how the faculty at the University of Oregon were trying to negotiate a fair contract with the administration. You’ll recall that the administration wasn’t doing itself any favors with its outlandish efforts to deny faculty privacy and encroach on faculty autonomy outside the university. Because of the pressure we managed to put on the administration, we helped to get the faculty a good contract. Now we need to stand with the grad students and their union fight. Only this time, the administration is being even more outlandish.

At the heart of the dispute is a demand by the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTTF) for two weeks of paid leave for illness or childbirth. The city of Eugene, which is where the University is located, mandates that all workers in the city get sick leave benefits. But university employees are exempted from the policy, so the GTTF has to bargain for the benefits.

Now it just so happens that the university’s interim president, Scott Coltrane, is a sociologist who’s a leading national spokesperson for the importance of…good family leave policies. He’s been featured in The Atlantic and on NPR. He was even at the White House last June to speak about how important these policies are. Well, he certainly wouldn’t be the first academic who talks left and walks right.

But here’s where things get really delicious. [click to continue…]

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Love Come Down

by Belle Waring on November 21, 2014

I have all these songs cued up and stuff I wanted to say about The Dazz Band (it’s literally disco jazz! What is not to love?!), but then I listened to this track five times in a row today, and I thought, ‘Belle, old bean,’ I thought to myself, ‘why are you being so aintry with “Love Come Down” and bogarting this when you could be sharing it with everybody at Crooked Timber? Why?’ Readers, there is no good answer to this question, so here is Evelyn Champagne King. The first time I listened to this song about a month ago I thought I had a problem with the tinkling synth descent that opens the song and runs behind “ooh you make my love” in the chorus. Then I listened to it again. Then, I listened to it a few more times. Then I realized I loved those tinkling synth chords.

You might think I could be sharing this with one John Holbo, but there is a huge area of non-overlap in the Venn diagram of our musical tastes, and this falls right out there in the “Patrice Rushen, huh? Meh” area of John’s non-overlapping section. I can’t share it with my children because they don’t super go for this either, although, being young, they have frequently widening tastes. I introduced our older daughter to Sufjan Stevens the other day and she likes him a lot; our younger daughter objected after the first 30 seconds of listening to a purely instrumental section, “this is too sad.” I was like, “there’s a happy part here for a bit! Oh, God, no.” What is unquestionably one of the saddest songs ever recorded comes next. Violet: “is she dying? I told you it was sad! Turn it off!” OK, fine. The one verse in that song that truly pains me is “In the morning in the winter shade/ On the first of March, on the holiday/ I thought I saw you breathing.”

My brother and I were with my grandmother when she died, my father’s mother. He had finally gone upstairs to sleep, at two or three a.m., I convinced him. He had been up for so long, at the hospital, and then fighting to get her back home. My brother and I were just sitting in the room with her, with the TV on, talking, and I was holding her hand, and suddenly we fell silent and my brother said, “look.” It seemed as if she were dead, but the fan in the room was strong enough that her thin cotton nightgown was still fluttering on her chest, tiny sine waves I hoped were breaths. I had ordered ten of those nightgowns custom-sewn for her three years before she died. She only had a few she liked: all cotton, and opened all down the front and closed with snaps. But she had gotten so much thinner they gaped at the neck in too-deep a curve, and she was cold, and got chills that gave her back-spasms. I took one to a dress-maker in Savannah to have it reproduced and she sniffily told me to go to Sears, and I told her I had tried everywhere. I asked how much fabric she would need for each and I went and bought cotton by the yard, white with thin blue stripes, tiny pink polka dots, pale blue squares. And lace. The lady at the dress store didn’t even want to do it, she told me it’d cost more that $100 a gown for the work. I said my grandmother was a proud woman and this was all the clothes she was ever going to have for the rest of her life, and they should be just how she wanted, and they should take the damn money and make them. They weren’t done till after I left town and my dad was mad at me for spending too much money at my grandma’s (N.B. he was, separately, quite right, just not here); I found out later he was appalled by the cost also and had cut back on the nightgowns from ten to eight. I don’t know when I have been so mad in my life. So seeing the cotton tremble I told my brother he was wrong, and we sat in the stillness for a while longer before I really tried to check properly, because I wanted not to know just even for a few seconds more. Now Sufjan Stevens has probed a vein of sadness beneath the sheer pleasure of sharing “Love Comes Down” with all of you, but I invite you to enjoy it in a spirit of good cheer anyway. I think we would all be happy to die at 83, at home in our beds, taking liquid morphine, and with our family around us. Love does not, in fact, conquer all, but surely it snatches a kind of victory from the jaws of inevitable defeat.

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