Tag: History

One Year Later: Reflections on #MeToo

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

Social movements, like revolutions, tend to follow a similar cycle in the process of rewiring certain beliefs and norms of behavior. This was perhaps best diagramed by Crane Brinton in his book The Anatomy of Revolution (1938), a study of the English, American, French and Russian revolutions, respectively––and how all of these revolutions (with the American being the perennial outlier) echoed one another in their stages of development. The same pattern can be mapped onto intellectual life during any period of cultural change; for moments of cultural upheaval are themselves soft revolutions, in a way, smaller in the order of magnitude than revolutions that demand a renovation of state power. This cycle goes as follows: right-to-centre, centre-to-left, left-to-far left, back to centre, back to right. Or, put differently: exposure of tyranny, modest demands, modest demands not good enough, rise of the radical left, reign of terror, reaction to the terror. What happens after that can vary.

We’ll come back to that in a bit though. At the moment, the #MeToo movement has reached its first anniversary: the Harvey Weinstein exposé turned one-year-old this past weekend, Bill Cosby has been through a court of law and will see the inside of a jail cell in this life, and the Preminger-esque drama that was the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh has come to a close (we’ll return to that soon as well). Even as we are living in this, the second year of his highness, Donald J. Trump the first, the #MeToo phenomenon has been arguably the most journalistically exhausted subject in the Anglosphere, with scarcely a side of its episodic saga gone unexamined. (I say this because at the moment I am living in central Europe, and talk of it here has been, so far as I can tell, peripheral.) Thus, one’s proverbial two cents feel even less asked for than usual, but a few things are still discoverable, and need to be pointed out.

In relation to the cycle sketched above, the #MeToo movement continues to tarry (one hopes for not much longer) in the Terror phase. If you think that sounds hyperbolic, or unduly harsh, try to come up with another word that describes a) the vigilance with which accusers are rooted out and brought forward, b) the limpid motivation to destroy careers and eliminate transgressors from public life, and c) the fear (however unfounded) that men may have about their pasts and their behavior in the future. This is not to say there can’t be legitimate and just censure of sexual assault and misconduct during the Terror phase. The Kavanaugh case is certainly one of them. One more disclaimer (just in case): I support the #MeToo movement and believe it is long overdue. The reason I add this disclaimer is precisely that a feature of the Terror is the way in which even a modicum of criticism is perceived as opposition or treachery––the discourse at this point having all the nuance of a cudgel.

If #MeToo has followed the revolutionary cycle, then the first two phases (exposure of tyranny and modest demands) were short-lived. Signs of unthinking started to appear as early as December 2017, when Matt Damon reasonably suggested there is, “a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation,” and that both, while reproachable, should not be conflated. The response to this was what you would expect: You don’t respect women’s pain. What gives you, a man, the right to say that? You simply can’t understand what it’s like to be a woman. Really? Seriously? Seriously?
Yes, seriously.

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Cultural Anglicanism: A Pleasing Illusion

By: Glen Paul Hammond

The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything.G.K. Chesterton

Sonia Maria Pavel, in her recent article on Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, examines the way the 18th century Irish statesman, author, political theorist and philosopher, expressed concern for the dismantling of the old decent draperies of life by what he saw as the “new conquering empire of light and reason” (Pavel). Pavel’s article focuses on two dimensions of Burke’s argument: The first is his historical and anthropological account of both the origin and function of “pleasing illusions” within a culture, and the second is his justification for the intentional revival of those illusions, which he saw as necessary for the establishment of social cohesion. Pavel’s two-dimensional perspective is offered as a lens for the examination of political deception and what Burke saw as the instrumental value in having a politically beneficial fiction. In my view, however, this approach also serves to highlight a part of Burke’s argument that is most necessarily applicable for the maintenance of free societies today, and one that Pavel does not address in her article. Namely, that human beings are religious animals by their constitution and that, in the case of the West, without the Christian religion there would be a void left in the minds of people that would soon be filled by some other more pernicious superstition. Ultimately, this would undermine the existence of Western liberal democracy (Burke 75). Recently, this opinion has even been reasserted by the most unlikely of sources: the intellectual atheist, Richard Dawkins.

According to Pavel, Burke defended the necessity of prejudices, and the conventions that they generate, as a means to produce “a common moral heritage that engendered stability through feeling of familiarity and belonging.” She argues that such pleasing illusions “surrounding power” were “not designed as ways of deceiving people into obeying authority,” but rather evolved alongside a mechanism of mutual obligation that produced a societal system of functional requisites. Through an investment in the requisites of the community, a cultural ethos was produced that was gentler and more liberal than any system could be if the same behaviors were enacted through a set of laws, enforced by an authoritarian agency. Prejudices such as these, which evolved not through calculated planning for any particular end, but rather “emerge and develop historically,” provided individuals with a means to negotiate the world that, in their absence, would leave members of a society “alone and afraid” with nothing but what Burke called their “naked shivering nature” (Pavel).

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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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Memory and History

Memorialization and politics in Germany seventy-two years after the Second World War

By: Aditya Adhikari

Today the Holocaust stands as the epitome of political evil. The German people’s effort to renounce and atone for their past is often held up as exemplary. “Never again” – these words first appeared on handmade placards put up by inmates at the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after the Nazi defeat in 1945. In the following decades, the slogan radiated out into the world and was repeated in Cambodia, Argentina, Rwanda, Bosnia. The trials of war criminals in post-war Germany, the reparations provided to victims and the memorials erected in their name have become lodestars for what is now called ‘transitional justice’.

I participated in a seminar organized by the Robert Bosch Stiftung on Truth, Justice and Remembrance in late 2016. During our excursions in Berlin and Nuremberg, I had the sense that Germany’s sites of commemoration did not just evoke the horrors of the Holocaust but also showed how German attitudes had evolved in the post-war period.

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Women Rule – How They Took Down a King

By: Elizabeth Larkin Bouché

As inauguration day approaches and women ready themselves for the Women’s March on Washington, I am reminded of Europe’s most remarkable uprising of women against tyranny—The Women’s March on Versailles in 1789.

It was a major, dramatic event on a par with the storming of the Bastille. A food riot in Paris, led seven thousand women, transformed into an armed march to take flour from the king’s stores 12 miles away in Versailles. Revolutionaries seized the opportunity to join the women and forced the king to sign the recently composed “Declaration of the Rights of Man,” so ending his absolute rule.  The king and his entourage were dragged back to the capital as prisoners. It was a turning point in history, signaling a shift in power from the nobility to the common people.

The Women’s March on Versailles is a reminder of the power of popular protest movements. Following the election of Trump, and spurred by growing unease with our own Versailles-like oligarchs, similar protests are now cropping up at grassroots level in the United States. The Paris women were driven by famine; they and their children were hungry. Women today are mobilized by threats to hard-won advances made since the Enlightenment. The ordinary women who have organized the March on Washington are unleashing what is perhaps a primal and formidable maternal fury once again.

The comparison between revolutionary France and current events is not so far-fetched. Civil unrest in Paris was fueled by paranoid plots in the press and fake news. It was also the result of basic needs becoming unaffordable, market deregulation, widespread distrust of government, huge national debt, and deeply divided political opinions. One key factor was the staggering inequality of the ancien régime, in which the clergy and nobles, or first and second estates, held vast wealth and paid no taxes, while the third estate, or 97 percent of the population, were heavily taxed for foreign wars. The parallels did not escape the notice of “Time” magazine. Its person of the year cover featured Trump seated on a tawdry carved chair decorated with a fleur-de-lis, the symbol of the French monarchy. Indeed, Trump draws the comparison himself when he chooses to be interviewed while seated in a gilded throne in his French Rococo-style dwellings.

Considering all this, and with large numbers of women taking to the streets, it is interesting to look at what drove French women to insurrection at a powder keg moment in history.

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Ulysses S. Grant, Trump, and Fascism

Howl of the Day: May 10, 2016

On December 17th, 1862, Ulysses S. Grant, then a Major-General in the Union Army, ordered the expulsion of all Jews in the military district under his authority. The now infamous General Order No. 11, very quickly became controversial. Jewish groups and others protested it, Grant’s own staff in the military objected to it (noting, amongst other things, that there were Jews serving in their own ranks), Congress raised a stink, the press had a field day at Grant’s expense, and President Lincoln insisted that the order be revoked.

Fast-forward about 150 years into the future, and we see Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, vowing to create a “deportation force” to round up and expel illegal immigrants from the United States and musing aloud as to whether a database should be created to track Americans of the Muslim faith. There is a school of thought which holds that Trump’s plans are not so different from Grant’s General Order No. 11. The horrified response from the press, political establishment, and many public interest groups, is certainly analogous to what followed in the earlier case.

Comparing Trump to Grant is an instructive exercise.

On an optimistic note, Grant’s example offers some reason to hope that a President Trump, should he be elected, may not be as bigoted as Candidate Trump has been.

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Silence as Speech: Reading Sor Juana’s Primero Sueño in the Light of her Final Silence

By: Rich Frontjes

Speakers and Listeners in Public Discourse

American public discourse is theoretically founded on the freedom of speech.  This freedom to speak, however, in no way guarantees entry into conversations where the common good is considered, assessed, or decided.  Free speech is the freedom to speak publicly—but participation in public discourse requires inclusion.  And inclusion is variously brokered: depending on the conversation, its participants, and the power dynamics at work, any given stream of public discourse involves a boundary.  On one side are the participants, and on the other side are the listeners—or, frequently, those whose attention is focused elsewhere.

In contemporary society, the boundary between participants and listeners exists partly as a function of access to media.  Individuals or groups with the (financial or other) power to gain access to media increase their chances of entering the public discourse.  The powerless, of course, are typically also voiceless.  But financial power has not always been the key that opened the door to participation in public discourse: various epochs and cultural moments have likewise had various modes of adjudicating participation in public discourse.

The present power of media outlets to perform this boundary-keeping function once resided largely within other institutions.  The Roman Catholic Church and its functionaries exercised considerable control over public discourse for centuries of European history and cultural development.  Exploring how participation in public discourse has been adjudicated in a specific past instance elucidates a dynamic which clarifies the nature of contemporary public speech.  In the example of the Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695), we discover a turn of events in which ecclesial power brokers attempted to enforce silence upon an otherwise astoundingly prolific poet.[1]

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Sullivan, Trump, and Tyranny in America

Howl of the Day: May 3, 2016

Veteran political commentator and online media all-star, Andrew Sullivan, emerged from semi-retirement yesterday, firing broadsides. In an article for New York Magazine, Sullivan mounted an impassioned defense of elitism in America, arguing that the ever-greater democratization of American society and politics has made the nation ripe for tyranny.

Beginning with a reading of Plato and culminating in an assault on Trump, Sullivan warns against the rise of populist anti-establishment politics. To him, Trump is a demagogue, a tyrant-in-waiting of the type that Plato identified as particularly likely to emerge in excessively democratic regimes.

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