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Political Tussle Between Raila and Uhuru Goes Back to 1963

By: David O. Monda

Over the 60 years of Kenya’s independence, Kenyan politics has been portrayed as a rerun of a historic battle between the Odinga and Kenyatta families. I think this perspective is an oversimplification of a very complex array of political, social and economic tensions that faced Kenya at independence 1963.

Independent Kenya was tossed directly into the vicissitudes of Cold War politics. The United Kingdom and the United States were concerned with the spread of communism around the globe. In East Africa in the late 1960’s most of Kenya neighbors were communist leaning and the concern was that a Jaramogi Odinga government would move the country into a pro-communist mode of economic and political organization directly threatening the corporate and strategic interests of the West in Kenya.

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Tolerance

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

“Be tolerant” is today’s oft-heard moral imperative. This principle of tolerance sounds good, but careful thinkers should ask: Is it sound?

Answer: No, and yes.

It turns out that there are two senses of “tolerance.”  Let’s call them Tolerance 1 and Tolerance 2. (If my labels seem to lack imagination, blame Dr. Seuss.)

Tolerance 1 is the contemporary popular understanding of tolerance. On this understanding, all views or identity claims and expressions are accepted as equal and true and good.

“It’s all interpretation” or “it’s all perspective” or “it’s all feeling” or “it’s who I am,” so a view/ identity/ expression may be “true for you, but not for me” (and vice versa).

According to Tolerance 1, you are intolerant if you disagree with someone’s ideas or self-identity or self-expression/ conduct. To say someone is actually mistaken or wrong violates Tolerance 1. Such intolerance is a “sin.”

But, sin or no sin, Tolerance 1 is false.

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Trump & the Politics of Conscience

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

In this month, twenty-four years ago, Vaclav Havel wrote a speech entitled “Politics & Conscience,” a speech he intended to deliver on the occasion of receiving an honorary degree from the University of Toulouse that spring in 1984, a speech he was unable to deliver due to the fact that the Communist government of Czechoslovakia had revoked his passport. The piece opens with Havel recalling the sight of a factory that scored his boyhood walks to school:

“It spewed dense brown smoke and scattered it across the sky. Each time I saw it, I had an intense sense of something profoundly wrong, of humans soiling the heavens. I have no idea whether there was something like a science of ecology in those days; if there was, I certainly knew nothing of it… Still that ‘soiling of the heavens’ offended me spontaneously.”

This indignation, registerable even to a child, is based on the intuitive knowledge that some things constitute an affront to our nature, and cannot be covered up or explained away with any political justifications – not economic growth, modernization, job creation, the “greater good,” etc. For there is a natural ethic upon which all politics is founded, and then there are the ideological moralities that attempt to map themselves onto it. You can demonstrate this using any number of examples. Take, for instance, an abattoir: it is a house of death, designed for the sole purpose of slaughtering living creatures. Whether you believe the abattoir should be owned privately, or by the state, whether its employees should be paid fifteen dollars an hour, or twenty-five, whether those employs deserve to be unionized or not; or whether the abattoir deserves to be powered by clean sustainable energy or by coal – none of it changes the essential moral ugliness of its existence.

Just shy of ten years after writing this speech, Havel would become the first democratically elected president of the newly formed Czech Republic, a country I have been a temporary resident of for the last ten months. At the moment, I am in my attic apartment, overlooking a rank of factories that lie north of the Vltava river, their blinking candy cane stacks a distant feature contained within the segment of my skylight. I spend an inordinate amount of time with my head out this window, observing this scene, but my thoughts are not on smoke plumes or killing floors. These days, my thoughts are on the first year of the Trump presidency, now in the books, and the three years that are still ahead. These thoughts, however, are driven by the same indignation imbued by a floor full of hanging carcasses. Which is to say that Trump, and the cultural phenomenon that brought him to power, represents not just a corrosion of democratic politics (as if that weren’t bad enough) but a corrosion of moral conscience. It also represents the ascension of virtually every bad human quality to the level of power. The disgust I feel towards the Trump presidency, therefore, is not political, it is human. He is not merely offensive to politics, he is offensive to nature.

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Foreign Envoys’ Statement on Democracy in Kenya Lets an Undemocratic Government off the Hook

By: David O. Monda

The recent media statement titled “Kenya’s Democracy is at Crossroads” by a number of envoys from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and Canada, among others, attempted to equally castigate the Jubilee government and the opposition NASA coalition for the lack of a National Conversation on a range of political issues. The envoys spent significant diplomatic capital trying to maintain a neutral stance between condemning the brinkmanship of Jubilee and that of NASA. At the end of the statement, the status quo was maintained. Neither side is compelled to negotiate. As a result, Kenya’s democratic gains continue to erode. Having been constitutionally elected into office, the onus is on the Jubilee Administration to reach out and initiate dialogue to move the country forward. The envoys’ statement on democracy in Kenya let an undemocratic government off the hook. It is a sad day for democracy in Kenya.

The onus to initiate dialogue needs to come from the victorious party. In this case President Kenyatta and his coalition. It will not be possible to repress the discontent from the half of Kenya that rejected the Uhuru presidency on August 8th. A measure as simple as the president visiting opposition strongholds would be a good first step to bring the nation together. This is a measure lacking in the envoy’s statement.

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The Malaise of Liberalism

Alex Knepper from New American Perspective looks for a defense of liberalism in the face of the revival of nationalism and socialism.

By: Alex Knepper

There are few things clearer in contemporary politics than the need for an alternative vision to homo economicus, in both its liberal and socialist manifestations — man with neither roots nor telos but content merely with animalized comfort — and the right’s proposed flight back into the inadequate and unbelievable claims of the ancestral. It is also clear that there is no faction in American politics which can obviously serve as a vehicle for this alternative.

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The Absence of the US in Asia: A Power Struggle Between China and Japan

By: Adritho Zaifar

Introduction

Since Donald Trump took office in 2016, the US has been reluctant to play a very active role in maintaining harmony in global politics and security. Unlike Obama, Trump takes a more nationalist and protectionist approach when dealing with global affairs. He vowed to put ‘America First’ and leave matters of regional security to regional players. By this, he meant that he believed much of the spending related to the affairs of other countries to be bad, and he criticized his predecessors for spending too much of American taxpayer money to arm US allies. While this nationalist policy has kept many conservatives in the US happy, politicians and security experts throughout the world are worried that an American absence in the global political theater will lead to regional power struggles.

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“To Art Its Freedom”: Right-Wing Arts Policy in the New Austria

Art of Politics, Politics of Art, A Series By: Jeanette Joy Harris

In this series, Jeanette Joy Harris looks at how artists around the world are using public and participatory art forms to describe and analyze contemporary politics. With an eye to the intersection of politics and aesthetics, Harris looks to art as a type of political action and a means of understanding ourselves as political animals.


Art can be a challenge to power, or be power’s instrument. Sometimes it can even end up being both. This last is what happened recently in Austria, where a new, right-wing government has adopted the motto of an art movement that formed in Vienna in 1897, precisely in opposition to conservative leadership.

Here’s how things have taken shape. In December 2017, a coalition between the far-right Freedom Party and the more center-right People’s Party, took control of the Austrian parliament. Their win, representative of the increasingly conservative EU political landscape, was based on an anti-immigration platform. Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz has already promised Austrians stricter immigration policies and has recommended the creation of militarily-backed “safe spaces” where immigrants can stay before entering into the EU. This is a strong statement coming from the leader of the country that will hold the European Union Presidency from July to December of this year. [i]

Andrea Mammone, a historian of modern and contemporary Europe at Royal Holloway, University of London, talks about Austria’s new government as “nationalism in action,” providing examples of its ethnically-based politics in an article for Al Jazeera earlier this year.[ii] In 2017, the “Integration Law” was passed, which requires immigrants to read and speak German and forbids Muslim women from wearing a face veil.[iii] With this law as an example, culture seems to be a high priority for the new Austrian government, which has further claimed, in its public agenda, that common heritage “contributes significantly” to national identity. [iv]  But the power of nationalism, as a widely-held cultural value in Austria, cannot be evaluated strictly through policy and legislation. Consideration should also be given to the ways in which the government might use cultural institutions to more subtly define and refine what it means to be Austrian.

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Lorde’s Crusade

By: Caleb Mills

Here’s a story whose cast of characters couldn’t be more odd: The Washington Post, “America’s Rabbi”, and Lorde. Even though it may sound like the beginning of a bad joke your uncle would tell (The Washington Post, a Rabbi, and the ‘Lorde’ all walk into a bar…) the spat between the singer and the rabbi is actually a perfect encapsulation of a serious problem in contemporary political discourse.  

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Kenya Slides Precipitously Towards a De Facto One-Party State in 2018

By: David O. Monda

In 2018, Africa is littered with governments that function constitutionally but remain authoritarian, undemocratic, and de facto one-party states ruled by strongmen. The gains made by the Jubilee coalition in Kenya at the national and county level during the 2017 elections, increased the number of seats the party had in the legislature. With the opposition hopelessly divided on a strategy to confront Jubilee, this threatens the hard fought multi-party system developed in Kenya since the introduction of multi-party politics in 1991. Post 2017, Kenya is sliding precipitously towards a de facto one party state.

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