Criticizing Capitalism

by Henry Farrell on May 9, 2005

An unexpected follow-up to my last “post”: ; Brad DeLong “reacts bitterly”: to Guenter Grass’s op-ed in the _New York Times_, which is itself apparently the transcription of a radio talk given in Germany. Grass is harshly critical both of the all-devouring market and of the current state of German democracy. Brad finds that it can’t be an accident that Grass never mentions the words “Jew,” and concludes by describing Grass as “crypto-Nazi scum.”

To put it mildly, Brad’s critique of Grass is misconceived (he’s already gotten a lot of remarks to this effect, a couple of which are themselves a bit over the top, in his comments section). “Crypto-Nazi scum” are extraordinarily harsh words to use to describe anyone other than the David Irvings of this world, and they don’t fit here. Grass’s talk was about Germany’s post-war record. He doesn’t use any of the code-words that Holocaust revisionists or sneaking regarders use. Grass states directly that Germany can never get away from its historical burden. He also makes it clear that Germany’s acknowledgment of its dreadful past is one of the few things worth being proud of in the post-war period (Brad notes this, but by some logic that I can’t quite follow, sees this as further evidence of Grass’s crypto-Nazism). Grass’s leftwing nationalism-that-has-harsh-words-to-say-about-Germany-as-a-nation is complicated, but I don’t know of anyone who believes that Grass is even slightly sympathetic to Nazism, given Grass’s own eloquent excoriations of the Nazi era. Even in this article, one of Grass’s indictments against Germany is its swiftness in rehabilitating former members of the NSDAP, and giving them high government positions.

A fair amount of Brad’s animus seems to be aimed at Grass’s description of capitalism as a new totalitarianism _in potentia_. But this is an entirely respectable view with long historical antecedents among democrats as well as authoritarians. Was Karl Polanyi, for example, a crypto-Fascist? Nor is Grass’s disquiet with the current state of a parliamentary government beset by lobbyists and special interests evidence of Nazi leanings. Again, it’s an entirely respectable political position – and one shared by a wide variety of people on both the left and the right of the democratic spectrum. Grass is quite evidently an old-style social democrat, with a hankering for a more radical version of the Soziale Marktwirtschaft that’s responsive to social needs as well as the profit motive. It’s a position with which one can very reasonably disagree, but it certainly doesn’t make him a Nazi.

Update: In a revision to his post, Brad seems to be withdrawing his criticism of Grass’s claim that Germany has had a better record of dealing with its past than some other countries. However, he still seems to believe that Grass is “crypto-Nazi scum.” As best as I can make out, this is because Grass doesn’t explicitly mention the particular Nazi animus against the Jews in his talk. Given that Grass’s talk was very clearly about the post-WWII German state rather than the Nazi era, and that he spoke clearly and unambiguously about Germany’s continuing historical burden, I can’t see that this helps Brad at all. It seems to me that Brad has made, and is continuing to make an extremely strong claim (and a claim that implies that Grass should be shunned by right thinking people) on the basis of extremely weak evidence. I’ve enormous respect for Brad – but I simply don’t see how he can stand over the claim that Grass is “crypto-Nazi scum” given Grass’s track record, and the evidence that he (Brad) has provided to date.

Update 2: It appears that Brad has indeed modified his position on this, and has struck out his reference to Grass as “crypto-Nazi scum,” but the strikeout doesn’t appear in Firefox due to a formatting problem. Thus, his restatement is considerably more generous than I first thought, and most of the above update is thus entirely redundant.

Oppose the Blacklist of Israeli Academics

by Eszter Hargittai on May 9, 2005

Jeff Weintraub has posted a petition calling on all academic and scholarly associations to join the AAUP in condemning the boycott of Israeli universities and academics. The American Sociological Association and the American Political Science Association are singled out as associations that should endorse the AAUP’s statement. You can add your signature to the petition here.

Last Days

by Eszter Hargittai on May 9, 2005

Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – was just a few days ago. I thought I would post a note about one of the most difficult films I have ever seen: Spielberg’s “The Last Days”. It documents the final stages of the war when it was clear that Hitler was going to lose yet the Nazis did all that they could to continue to kill as many Jews as possible managing to annihilate over 400,000 Hungarian Jews in just two months. The movie looks at the lives of five Hungarian Jews who escaped to the U.S. and revisits the locations of their past with them. One of the people featured is California Congressman Tom Lantos. The movie is very effective. Although it is impossible to understand fully what these people experienced, this film brings you very close to the events. I did have one problem with it though. It completely ignores the plight of the thousands who returned after the war and had to start their lives over in the country that had taken everything away from them. I am surprised that the movie is rated PG13. Some of the images are among the most disturbing ones I have ever seen, certainly not for the faint of heart.

For some more personal thoughts on Yom Hashoah, check out this post over at Is That Legal?. (Be forewarned: difficult images.)

Matt Welch Can’t Be Faded

by Belle Waring on May 9, 2005

Matt Welch, LBC patriot, has had enough of these expansion-minded Angelenos, and he’s not going to take it anymore. Nativists at an LA radio station (in response to some flap about Californian billboards in Mexico) have erected a billboard reading “Just To Clarify, You Are Here: Los Angeles, CA; Gracias KFI AM 640.” The thing was, they put it in Long Beach. And that was where they made their fatal mistake:

That’s right, Juan y Ken, I’m on to your game, amigos. You and your kind have been trying for a century to effect a reconquista of the LBC, just like you successfully gobbled up weaker port-side sisters like San Pedro and Wilmington. We let you take advantage of our open borders every day, abuse our infrastructure (the 710 looks like freakin’ Mexico City), and now you’ve even stolen the name of what by all rights should have been the Long Beach Angels.

Well, this time you’ve gone too far, angelitos. We’re drawing a line in the asphalt, a bit to the north of the 91 (where the offending billboard stands, like a slap in our mothers’ faces). And you best not mess with our Minutemen — they’re not lard-asses in lawn chairs, they’re the G-funk crew with a gangsta twist. Mr. KFI, tear down this billboard!! Or else you’re gonna learn a new meaning for the word “regulate.”

Now, I’ve never met Matt Welch, but I figure it’s a safe bet all the Reasonistas are packing heat, so, watch your back, KFI AM 640. Watch your back.

Questions and answers re the AUT boycott

by Chris Bertram on May 9, 2005

Over at Left2Right, David Velleman “has posted in opposition”: to the AUT boycott. I’m largely in agreement with him, but in comments (and by email) he and Ralph Wedgwood ask a few questions. Since others less familiar to the UK university scene may want answers to the same ones, I’m posting them here. By the way, the current state of play is that AUT activists opposed to the boycott “have garnered the 25 signatures”: of Council members needed to trigger an emergency session of Council to reconsider the boycott, this will take place on the 26th of May. Below the fold I append the text of a resolution I’ve co-authored for my local association, which we’ll debate on the 18th.

What is the AUT? Do all university teachers belong to it? Are there other organizations representing university teachers, or is the AUT the only (or main) one?

The AUT is the main trade union representing university teachers (and librarians and other “academic-related” staff) in the “old” universities (i.e those that weren’t polytechnics pre-1992). It does have some membership also in those universities I believe. I’ve heard varying estimates of the proportion of eligible staff who belong to the AUT, it seems to be just under a third of academic and related staff at my own university. The other union, representing the same sort of people but in post-1992 universities, and in colleges of further education is NATFHE (National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education). This is much bigger than the AUT, there is a merger proposed, and, by the way, NATFHE currently has a more aggressive anti-Israel policy than the AUT. The policy of any merged union on this has yet to be determined.

Does the AUT tend to have a political affiliation or complexion? For example, does it tend to attract membership from left-leaning academics rather than others?

Not as such, though local meetings tend to attract a higher proportion of activists than are present in the general membership and, of course, left-wing people tend to attach more importance to being a member of a union.

How was the vote conducted? What was the turnout? Is this one of those cases in which a relatively small number of activists takes advantage of low turnout to push through a resolution?

The vote was conducted at the annual AUT Council, its sovereign body. Each local association sends one representative per 150 members, and I think there were about 200 representatives in all. The specific issue of the Israel boycott was not discussed or canvassed in most local associations in advance, the representatives mostly voted their own personal opinion without reference to the views of their members. (I have so far, despite efforts, been unable to get a reliable idea of how all our representatives voted.) The vote was narrow, and, allegedly due to time constraints, only one side of the argument was properly put before the motions were put to the vote.

Will British academics be bound by the AUT boycott? Are there sanctions for those who break the boycott?

No, they will not be bound. A key question here is whether local activists who try to implement the boycott will be disciplined by university management and whether the AUT will then try to defend them, and whether the AUT membership would be willing to act in their defence. I’m sceptical, given the AUT’s inability to secure collective action on basic questions of pay and employment over the years. I’m certain that those who don’t observe the boycott will face no negative consequences whatsoever.

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