Revue de Presse: August 18

18 August 2019

Welcome to Tocqueville 21’s weekly revue de presse, where we recap some of the most thought-provoking articles we’ve seen on democracy and politics in France, the US, and beyond. As always, the articles we relay here do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and interns that put this list together, just what we think is worth reading.


In a symposium published by Syndicate Theology, four scholars respond to Gary Dorrien’s new book on social democracy in Europe, with responses in turn by the author. As the symposium Aaron Stauffer editor puts it in his introduction, Dorrien’s Social Democracy in the Making has the ambitious aim of placing social democracy and democratic socialism at the heart of the history of political theology, in the attempt to challenge the controversies between Carl Schmitt and his critics as the defining debate in the field.


In a thoughtful piece for the New York Review of Books, Joseph O’Neill reflects on what it means to be an American. First, by discussing Jill Lepore’s recent history These Truths, O’Neill considers the distinction between the “United States of America” and “America.” America, O’Neill argues, is the “buried, residual homeland”—it is the so-called real nation, white, Christian, and English speaking. O’Neill then takes up a book by Suketu Mehta and the possibility of changing this xenophobic American nationalism through mass migration and a vision of radical redistribution.


On the flip side of the same coin is Nikole Hannah-Jones’ essay for New York Times Magazine, “America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black Americans Made It One.” Expanding from a personal narrative to a national one, Hannah-Jones tracks the role of black Americans from slavery to today, focusing in particular on their role in the military. She argues, from a perspective complementary to Joseph O’Neill, that America was fundamentally and ideologically built on slavery, an origin that has been tirelessly fought against by the very group that has suffered from it the most–and, in the process, has brought the nation ever closer to what it has claimed to be all along.


In this illuminating article for Aeon, Rachel Scarborough King explains that the origins of journalistic reporting had a lot in common with online forums—rather than featuring articles from career-writers, these early publications were more like collections of “letters to the editor,” with new developments coming from a variety of viewpoints and presented with obvious bias. King also tracks the historical development of our media culture’s obsession with objectivity and closes on a reminder that personal bias can never truly be removed from a system where humans will always “want to exchange gossip and scandal as much as – or perhaps more than – rational, enlightened debate.”


American political debate has a tendency to treat the prospect of “socialism” rather vaguely—what exactly do we mean by this proposal other than a general overhaul of the neoliberal status quo? In his detailed analysis for Médiapart, Romaric Godin enumerates the specific problems contemporary socialist discourse seems to target (a sweeping inability to address climate change under capitalism, for example), and proposes that the socialism we can’t stop invoking is actually much more free-market-friendly than the authoritarian interpretation so popular 30 years ago. Godin argues that the definition of socialism we’ve carried with us into the 21st century is much more about democratic identification of common needs and the governmental intervention required to achieve them.


While protestors in Hong Kong have not been going so far as to demand socialism in any form, their struggles to obtain greater independence from China have been making waves in world news. As protestors mobilize, Chinese officials have developed strategies to fight back against the rebellious wave, as Sebastian Veg outlines in this opinion piece for the Guardian. From organizing loyalists through patriotism-promoting campaigns, to infiltrating groups of protestors with plainclothes officers, dissenters in Hong Kong will be facing serious threats to their movement in the days and weeks to come.


You may not have heard of Mike Gravel’s presidential bid—he didn’t qualify for the Democratic Debates due to low polling—but plenty of internet-literate high-schoolers have. In this article for The Baffler, Ross Barkan profiles the 89-year-old former Alaskan senator whose PR campaign, run by two teenagers, became a viral success and provided a virtual megaphone for Gravel’s unapologetically radical views on the military-industrial complex. As Barkan writes, there’s a fundamental message lying underneath the “absurd camp” of Gravel’s meme-stuffed twitter page, a message that seems to have resonated strongly with a youth culture that has become disillusioned by the Democratic Party’s dutifully neoliberal bent. That message is simple and exhausted: “we can’t go on like this.”


As exasperation with today’s political climate has mounted, some have called to simply leave it all behind, such as those who declared in the aftermath of the 2018 election that they were moving to Canada (and subsequently crashed Canada’s immigration website). For those who have experienced feelings to the same effect, Catherine Rollot’s article for Le Monde Magazine might provide some vicarious comfort. In it, she describes the home of Xavier Marmier, a man who for the past eight years has been living in an unlicensed treehouse in a protected forest. While he managed to escape the world for a while, the legal battle over his self-made abode has brought the legal world straight to his front door—after it climbed the 7 meter ladder, of course.


Writing in Le Monde, the noted French scholar of religion Olivier Roy pronounces the death of the “Manif pour tous,” the mobilization of devout Catholics in French politics which began with a movement against gay marriage in 2014. While for a brief moment Catholics became more comfortable loudly supporting strict social conservative policies—in open rebellion against the values of Mai 68—and backing politicians further and further to the right, today they have settled once again for the more moderate right of Emmanuel Macron’s République en Marche. For Roy, earlier predictions of the retour du religieux have turned out to be misplaced. In an age where the exclusion of religion has remained far more prominent, the French Catholic right will be unlikely to see its conservative vision play out.


Abraham Socher, a professor of religious studies, offers his take on the libel verdict involving Oberlin College and a small town grocery. In addition to musing on the state of campus politics, Socher’s Commentary article asks about the larger “town and gown” dynamics of the case and sees the Oberlin administrators and local Ohioans defending very different definitions of community.


Photo Credit: Françoise Foliot, Kiosque à journaux, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.


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