Political Economy is Political

by Henry Farrell on May 27, 2014

The best explanation of the current Piketty-Financial Times brouhaha was “written by Mike Konczal”:http://www.bostonreview.net/books-ideas/mike-konczal-thomas-piketty-capital-studying-rich a few weeks before it actually happened.

As Foucault argued, the ability of social science to know something is the ability to anthropologize it, a power to define it. As such, it becomes a problem to be solved, a question needing an answer, something to be put on a grid of intelligibility, and a domain of expertise that exerts power over what it studies. With Piketty’s Capital, this process is now being extended to the rich and the elite. Understanding how the elite become what they are, and how their wealth perpetuates itself, is now a hot topic of scientific inquiry.

Many have tried to figure out why the rich are freaking out these days. Their wealth was saved from the financial panic, they are having a very excellent recovery, and they are poised to reap even greater gains going forward. Perhaps they are noticing that the dominant narratives about their role in society—avatars of success, job creators for the common good, innovators for social betterment, problem-solving philanthropists—are being replaced with a social science narrative in which they are a problem to be studied. They are still in control, but they are right to be worried.

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Let me begin by saying that The Ethics of Immigration is a wonderful book and that it is a terrific pleasure to participate in this celebration of its publication.  This is exemplary political theory: it addresses issues of fundamental importance to democratic societies and does so through clearly reasoned and provocative challenges to widely held positions.  Partly because of Carens’s unusual ability to sort through complex terrain in ordinary language, the book is a fantastic example of the way that political theory can clarify and contribute to democratic debate.


Although Carens’s work is best known for its defense of open borders, I have discussed those arguments at length elsewhere and, so, will use this space to raise some questions about the first part of the book.  There, Carens works under the assumption that the state has the right to restrict immigration and asks about the appropriate treatment of newborn children, permanent residents, temporary workers, and undocumented migrants.
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When Intellectuals Go to War (updated)

by Corey Robin on May 27, 2014

On the recommendation of my colleague Shang Ha, I’ve been reading Alex Ross’ The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. There I came across this letter from Arnold Schoenberg to Alma Mahler, dated August 28, 1914. Ross only quotes a snippet, but here’s a lengthier excerpt:

Meanwhile, you have certainly already heard of the glorious victory of the Germans against France, England, and Belgium. It is among the most wonderful things that have happened. But it does not surprise me: it is not any different from the war of the Greeks against the Persians….My friends know it, I have often said to them, I never had any use for all foreign music. It always seemed to me stale, empty, disgusting, cloying, false, and awkward. Without exception. Now I know who the French, English, Russians, Belgians, Americans, and Serbians are: barbarians! The music said that to me long ago.[…] But now comes the reckoning. Now we shall send these mediocre purveyors of kitsch back into slavery.

Schoenberg was hardly the only artist to support his team during the First World War. But what strikes me in his stance here is something you often see when intellectuals go to war: [click to continue…]