From the monthly archives:

January 2021

Twigs and branches

by John Q on January 31, 2021

Another open thread, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!

Sunday photoblogging: Reims cathedral

by Chris Bertram on January 31, 2021

Reims- Cathedral

Freedom from the Market

by Henry Farrell on January 26, 2021

Mike Konczal has a new book, Freedom from the Market ( locator, Amazon). I’ve been wanting to write about this book for a while, but first had to wait for it to come out, and then had my working life banjaxed by the madness of the last few weeks. But it is a great book that looks to remake the American debate about freedom and largely succeeds. Full disclosure: Mike is a friend of the ‘see very occasionally but like very strongly’ variety; I also read an early version of the mss and commented on it. [click to continue…]

Branching points

by Chris Bertram on January 23, 2021

Thinking back over the past two decades, which of the following events that took place since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) are the important moments when something different could have been done that might have saved us from being in the situation we are in? How might history have unfolded differently? Are there key events to notice in Asia, Africa and Latin American that ought to be on the list? What is cause and what is merely symptom? Please suggest additional key moments in comments.

  • The decision of the US Supreme Court to award the Presidency to George W. Bush instead of Al Gore (2000)
  • The attacks on the Twin Towers (2001)
  • The decision by Bush, supported by Blair, to invade Iraq (2003)
  • The failure of policy-makers to anticipate and avert the financial crisis (2008)
  • The failure of European leaders to manage the Eurozone crisis so as to avert mass unemployment etc (2009- )
  • The Arab spring (2010- )
  • The “migrant crisis” in Europe (2015-)
  • The Brexit vote (2016)
  • The election of Donald Trump (2016)

Another Covid book, this one about the digital context

by Eszter Hargittai on January 22, 2021

I’m joining John in going all in on Covid research. In the Fall, I signed a contract with The MIT Press for a book about the digital aspects of the pandemic’s early weeks. Scoping is tricky with an ongoing event not just in terms of topical focus, but also time span. I imagine we’ll be trying to make sense of what happened and how people experienced the events with what long-term implications for quite some time. I’m taking on the digital aspects of the first month or so. I’m basing the book on survey data I collected in April and May in the US, and in April in Switzerland and Italy.

It’s a digital inequality story whereby people in more privileged positions were able to pivot to online resources better, which may not be shocking, but worth exploring in detail given the extreme reliance on virtual communication in these times and many assumptions that such resources are readily available to all. There are also interesting nuances. Not all groups that one may expect to experience the circumstances negatively necessarily did so. For example, people with disabilities were more active on social media discussing the pandemic than those without disabilities. Whether this was a good thing or not is, of course, another question, one I plan to dig into through looking at knowledge about the pandemic and also people’s feelings of social connectedness. (This being a cross-sectional study, however, will limit my ability to comment on changes concerning survey participants’ specific circumstances.)

After explaining why a focus on the digital is relevant and giving some general social context as well as digital context of people’s situations, chapters focus on communicating during lockdown, how people used social media to connect about the pandemic in particular, what information sources people used for pandemic content and how this related to their knowledge about the virus, and who was able to pivot to working from home and what types of online learning people engaged in during this time. The book is about adults only so I will not be addressing things like how children’s homeschooling worked out.

This may be putting the cart before the horse, but I’m not sure how to think about the title. I’ve been playing with different ideas and would appreciate input. I started with Digital Survival: Who Thrives in Unsettled Times, but some reviewers of the proposal thought “digital survival” was too extreme. I’m not ready to abandon it as I do think digital connectivity has been very important and survival is not always used as a life-death distinction, but perhaps in this context it doesn’t work. What do you think? Or should I just go with Digital Inequality directly? I’m concerned that’s a bit jargony. (The book will be an academic trade publication.) Regarding the second half of the title, another approach is to foreground Covid instead of referring to unsettled times, but the idea is that the lessons learned would apply to other situations as well (e.g. political upheavals, natural disasters) so I don’t want it to sound narrower than necessary. I welcome your thoughts on this.

Benjamin Constant looks at Brexit

by Chris Bertram on January 21, 2021

If Crooked Timber readers have not had enough of Brexit reflections from me today, there are more over at the LRB blog where I use Benjamin Constant’s distinction between the liberties of the ancients and the liberties of the moderns to illuminate, I hope, the false promise that with sovereignty Brexit brings freedom.

Globalism and the incoherence of Tory Brexit

by Chris Bertram on January 21, 2021

I recently finished reading Quinn Slobodian’s excellent Globalists, which, for those who don’t know, is an intellectual history of neoliberalism focused on the “Geneva school”. As with all good history, the book did not contain quite what I expected it to. I expected to read of the European Union as a kind of realization of Hayek’s ideas from the 1930s aimed at putting economics (and private property) beyond democratic control, a reading that gives some support to “Lexity” narratives about the EU. But the picture that emerges from Slobodian’s story is much more complex than that. In fact, the Common Market emerges as a messy compromise between German neoliberals who did want a rules-based order putting economics beyond politics and French agricultural protectionism and neocolonialism. This results in a split within the neoliberal camp between those who see EU’s regional governance as a partial step towards the legal insulation of economics from the folly of economic nationalism and those who see the EU as economic nationalism writ large, with the latter camp putting their faith in international protections for markets, competition and capital embedded in the WTO.
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Twigs and branches

by John Q on January 18, 2021

Here’s the second of the regular open threads, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!

Sunday photoblogging: Novi Vinodolski, 2009

by Chris Bertram on January 17, 2021

Novi Vinodolski

Luck and fate in politics

by John Q on January 16, 2021

There’s a lot of luck[1] in politics. If a handful of events had gone differently in 2016, we’d probably be discussing President Clinton’s second term right now. If the Brexit referendum had been held a few weeks earlier, Remain would probably have won, and David Cameron might still be PM. A few lucky breaks and Labor would have won the 2019 Australian election. And if things had gone slightly differently in Georgia (with the Repubs falling just short in the first round, then losing both runoffs), the prospects for a Biden Administration would be greatly worse than they are.

The first three of these events were unexpected wins for the Trumpist right. And while nobody much pays attention to Australia, the first two were interpreted by Trumpists as much more than lucky breaks. They fed a whole set of beliefs which built up to an expectation that, no matter how bad things looked, their side was destined (for a lot of Trumpists, divinely ordained) for victory.

It’s not surprising then, that Trump’s supporters expected victory in November, and were willing to believe, without any evidence that their victory had been stolen. But as it became more and more evident that the election results were not going to be overturned, cognitive dissonance started to set in. The options were to accept that, fairly or not, they had lost, or to embrace the apocalyptic vision of QAnon and the far right, manifested in the Capitol last week. From the polling evidence, it looks as if the Republican base split down the middle on this.

Now that the insurrection has failed, and Biden’s inauguration is about to take place, the choice gets even sharper. As those who rejected the election result and tried to overturn it are increasingly ostracised and increasingly forced to recant[2], there’s no middle ground between accepting defeat, at least this time around, and going all the way down the insurrectionist rabbit hole and into rightwing terrorism.

From the politics as usual viewpoint of someone like Mitch McConnell, the advisability of the first course of action is obvious. But to the extent that the energy of the Trumpists was built on faith in inevitable victory, that may be difficult to sustain[3].

As for rightwing terrorism, it’s bound to keep on happening. The history of events like the Beer Hall Putsch shows that clownish initial failure does not guarantee defeat (no inevitability, again). We have to hope that, having been directly and personally threatened by the terrorists, the Democrats won’t shrink from the responses necessary to suppress them and the Republicans won’t be willing to defend them.

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The four horsemen of the pandemic

by John Q on January 13, 2021

That’s the headline[1] for my latest piece in the Canberra Times. It doesn’t appear to be paywalled, but I’m including the text over the fold.

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On gender equality, the pandemic, and liberal feminism

by Gina Schouten on January 12, 2021

I wrote this for Public Ethics, addressing one of the theses from Feminism for the 99%, which claims that “liberal feminism is bankrupt.” That thesis reduces liberal feminism to corporate feminism or lean-in feminism. Against that reduction, I suggest that: “Properly understood, liberal feminism is radically egalitarian feminism—both as feminism and as liberalism. Properly situated, the values it espouses demand structural reform to redress economic disadvantage. That’s why, as a liberal feminist, I agree with the manifesto’s criticism of lean-in feminism.”

I then consider why, if liberal feminism properly understood is radically egalitarian, so many liberal feminist seem to be more focused on the women “breaking the glass ceiling” than on the women left to “clean up the shards.” One part of the answer:

“Liberalism offers a strong evaluative grounding for demands of justice on behalf of women across the social hierarchy—and indeed for demands that that hierarchy be demolished. The social subordination to which we subject the women sweeping up the shards is unjust on grounds of the freedom and equality that liberalism celebrates. Precisely because I think liberal feminism furnishes compelling diagnoses of these injustices and illuminating prescriptions for rectification, it strikes me as important to address the hard cases that it faces. These are cases wherein apparent choice seemingly shields inequity from censure—the cases that have long been regarded…as poison for liberal feminists. Redeeming liberalism’s promise as a radical evaluative framework requires addressing the cases wherein deference to choice appears to be justice-undermining. For liberal feminists, this notably includes cases of apparently voluntary compliance with gender norms, including gender norms about caregiving.”

I conclude that “liberalism can be a tool for building the movement this catastrophic moment demands—and it’s a tool the movement should be slower to cast aside.”


Twigs and branches

by John Q on January 10, 2021

As prommised, here’s the first of the regular open threads, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!

Sunday photoblogging: robin

by Chris Bertram on January 10, 2021

Robin at Alderman Moore's allotments

January 6

by Henry Farrell on January 8, 2021

Elizabeth Saunders and I have a piece in the Washington Post. Behind a paywall, but the nub of the argument below the fold. [click to continue…]