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Chris Bertram

Book Note: Erin Pineda, Seeing Like an Activist

by Chris Bertram on June 22, 2022

I’ve just finished Erin Pineda’s Seeing Like an Activist: Civil Disobedience and the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford University Press, 2021), and it is a very welcome addition to the literature on both civil disobedience and the history of the US civil rights movement that anyone interested in either topic should read. Pineda is keen to push back against a particular liberal constitutionalist theory of civil disobedience, associated with Bedau and Rawls that purports to draw on the US civil rights movement but which, according to her, ends up both falsifying the history and provides succour to a narrative about civil rights that is used to discipline subsequent movements (such as Black Lives Matter) as failing to live up to the standards set by the activists of the 1960s. That narrative and theory also supports what we might call a form of soft white supremacy, according to which a nearly-just republic composed largely of white citizens was already in place and the task of civil disobedience was to communicate the anomalous exclusion of black Americans from the polity, so that white citizens, apprised of this injustice and stricken by conscience, would act to rectify things.

This standard liberal narrative around civil disobedience has fidelity to law and an acknowledgement of the basic justice and legitimacy of the established order at its heart. The task of civil disobedients on this view is to act non-coercively and non-violently but to break the law (a bit) only to raise the awareness of citizens considered as fellows who are thought of not as themselves implicated in the injustice but as basically good people who would act if only they knew. The civil disobedient on this view submits willingly, even eagerly, to punishment in order to testify to injustice whilst also accepting the shared framework of law. The tacit framework here is also a nationalist one (or at least a statist one) of shared co-operation among fellows who want to establish a just order on national territory together.
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Some thoughts on the French elections

by Chris Bertram on June 20, 2022

The results of the second round of the French legislative election are, despite some elements of respite, close to a disaster. The key element of that disaster is the advance of the far-right Rassemblement national to a total of 89 seats, by far the most significant representation for the extreme right under the 5th Republic. The position does not look markedly better if we look at vote shares, where the RN (plus other far-right parties such as Reconquête gathered in the first round 22.92%, up from 13.5% for similar parties in the comparable contest five years ago. A brighter sign was that the left-wing alliance NUPES gained 142 seats, though the domination of the NUPES by its figurehead, the left-nationalist Eurosceptic Jean-Luc Mélenchon opens the probabilty that its constituent elements will fragment in all directions quite early on.

That Emmanuel Macron and his right-centrist Ensemble group have not got a majority is hardly a bad thing in itself, but it is likely that far from seeking a compromise with the left (if one were really on offer) he will rely on the support of the right-wing Gaullist Les Républicains party, and so we can expect right-wing austerity coupled with ideological competition with the far right around an anti-immigrant and Islamophobic agenda.
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Sunday photoblogging: steps, Bristol

by Chris Bertram on June 19, 2022



Monday photoblogging: Llandudno

by Chris Bertram on June 13, 2022


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Sunday photoblogging: Clevedon

by Chris Bertram on June 5, 2022


Sunday photoblogging: Llandudno

by Chris Bertram on May 29, 2022


Monday photoblogging: Ortygia

by Chris Bertram on May 23, 2022

I’ve been travelling, so wasn’t able to post the customary Sunday photo yesterday. But here’s one that I found I’d discarded a few years back.

Courtyard in Ortygia

Sunday photoblogging: Rose

by Chris Bertram on May 15, 2022

The garden at Cropston- rose

I was reading a book on migration ethics recently – I may write a review later 1 — and it reminded me how a certain picture of the normal liberal state and its place in the world figures in a lot of political philosophy. Although the normative arguments are supposedly independent of historical facts, history is to be found everywhere, but only in a highly selective version that reflects the dominance of the United States within the discipline and the prominence of prosperous white liberals as both the writers of the important texts and as the readers and gatekeepers. 2 Their assumptions about the world and the US place in it shine through and form a "common ground" that is presupposed in much of this writing.3

In this vision, all the world is America 4 — though not one that corresponds to the actual history of the US — and the rest of the world mostly consists of little proto-Americas that will or should get there in the end (thereby echoing Marx’s dictum that the more developed country shows the less developed one a picture of its own future). This imaginary, but also not-imaginary, state is a sort-of cleaned-up and aspirational version of the actual one, cleansed of embarrassing details that are mere contingencies that detract or distract from what US liberals suppose to be its real essence or telos. Crucially, it is also considered as a basically self-contained entity, where all the important relationships are ones among people on the territory.5 It is an association of free and equal persons that has simply arisen on virgin soil. Both the actual United States and other countries fall short of this model, of course, but with time and good will wrinkles and carbuncles will be removed. 6

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Sunday photoblogging: Horse in a flooded field

by Chris Bertram on May 8, 2022

Pézenas - horse in flooded field

Boby Lapointe centenary rehearsals in Pézenas

Sunday photoblogging: Positano

by Chris Bertram on April 23, 2022

I was thinking about this shot from ten years ago the other day, so I dug it out. A little bit early for Sunday, but needs must.


Sunday photoblogging: Bristol reflections

by Chris Bertram on April 17, 2022

Corn Street, Bristol

UK abandons refugees

by Chris Bertram on April 15, 2022

Yesterday was a terrible day for anyone seeking refuge in the United Kingdom, a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Obsessed by a small number of people arriving on its south coast from France, the UK government has signed a memorandum of association with Rwanda under which people deemed inadmissible to have their claim for asylum assessed by the UK will be transferred to Rwanda to be dealt with under the Rwandan refugee system. Boris Johnson, for whom this announcement conveniently deflects attention from a finding of criminality against him, expects that tens of thousands of people will be sent to Rwanda. One of the claims made in support of the deal is that Britain’s capacity is not unlimited, but the proposed solution is to dump people in a much smaller and poorer country.

As usual ministers are trumpeting the lie that the UK has a “proud record” of refugee protection, whereas in fact the UK takes a very small number of refugees compared to neighbouring countries such as France and Germany. The UK recently set up bespoke schemes for Ukrainians, Afghans and Hong Kong Chinese. Hardly any Ukrainians have arrived and many have faced formidable bureaucratic obstacles in getting a visa; Afghans cannot apply from Afghanistan and those that arrived in the evacuation following the fall of Kabul are now languishing in poor conditions in overcrowded hotels. As a performative measure to show how much he cared about Ukrainians, Johnson apppointed a new minister for refugees, whom he then neglected to inform about the deal with Rwanda.
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French election update

by Chris Bertram on April 14, 2022

As Crooked Timber readers are probably aware, the first round of the French election ended with sitting President Emmanuel Macron in the lead, followed by crypto-Fascist Putin-fan Marine Le Pen in second place, narrowly ahead of left-wing anti-globalist Jean-Luc Mélenchon in third place. Everyone else was pretty-much nowhere, although ultra-right Pétain fan Eric Zemmour won the vote among French citizens living in Israel, which is, er, interesting. With the field down to two, the big question is whether Mélenchon voters will transfer in sufficient numbers to Macron rather than going to Le Pen or not voting at all. Mélenchon himself has called for his supporters not to vote for the far right, but has not recommended a vote for Macron instead. This is a continuation of his stance in 2017, although in the past he backed right-winger Jacques Chirac against Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The anxiety, stoked by every journalist who has a story to write (since it is really the only “angle”) is that Le Pen might win because of Mélenchon transfers and abstentions. The polling doesn’t really support it, although it is worryingly close for anyone with memories of Trump and Brexit. Many journalists think that there is a sufficient hatred of Macron on the far left for Mélenchon’s voters to abstain. Well, what’s rational and what people will do are two different things, but my view is that such a refusal would be quixotic. The revival of the left in France – if such a thing is possible – relies on the opposition to Macron coming from the left, and in terms of numbers, Mélenchon has laid a foundation for that. But if Mélenchon supporters sit on their hands and Le Pen does well in percentage terms, coming as close as, say, 48 per cent, then the effective anti-Macron opposition will be identified with the nationalist right. So, paradoxically, the best prospect for a left-leaning opposition to Macron over the next five years comes from him defeating Marine Le Pen as decisively as possible.