Revue de Presse: July 26

26 July 2020

H-Diplo brings together a roundtable featuring four reviews of Iain Stewart’s book, Raymond Aron and Liberal Thought in the Twentieth Century. Aron is often characterized as a “Cold War liberal,” but Stewart adds nuance to this label by reading Aron’s oeuvre though the lens of “liberalism” in general and the French liberal tradition in particular. Joshua L. Cherniss praises Stewart’s distinction between “Cold War liberalism” and the later, more triumphant neoliberalism. Sophie Marcotte-Chénard notes Stewart’s command of the French interwar and postwar period, as well as Stewart’s recovery of Aron’s sustained interest in illiberal strands of German intellectual thought.


In the Atlantic, Rachel Donadio summarizes how the Black Lives Matter movement is reshaping longstanding debates over admission to France’s grandes écoles. Is it possible to achieve educational diversity in a nation that does not collect data on race? While many defenders of France’s color-blind policies admit that the grandes écoles must encourage socioeconomic diversity and say the state must do more to ensure low-income students have the resources to succeed on entrance exams, a younger generation of activists argue that such measures evade important conversations about racial injustice.


As the world’s journalists, writers, academics, and intellectuals remain stuck at home during the pandemic, the debates over free speech and “cancel culture” rage on, largely in response to a letter published in Harper’s “On Justice and Open Debate.” On the Verso blog, Asad Haider provides a unique Marxist-Spinozist perspective. For Haider, the liberal defense of free speech fails not only because it unwittingly “extend[s] the logic of the capitalist market to the realm of ideas,” but also because it can do nothing but call for some “good” speech to combat the “bad.” The marketplace of ideas consists of individual speakers hawking one form of expression in competition against another. Like many critics on the left, Haider believes it is essential to account for the material inequalities underlying debates over “free” speech. But more than that, the only end to interminable shouting matches over the limits to debate and discourse is to understand the individual and the collective together. Only through such a framework can we escape the “sad passions” (in the words of Spinoza scholar Hasana Sharp) fostered by an ultra-individualized social media landscape.


Meanwhile, Thomas Chatterton Williams, an American writer who was one of the main organizers behind the Harper’s letter, went on France Culture to explain the concerns behind the project. Williams explained to his French audience that a “moral panic” has broken out threatening freedom of expression—a panic that risks being “exported” across the Atlantic. In contrast, his debating partner, the philosopher Manon Garcia, viewed the letter as another iteration of the calls for politeness and civility which the powerful have so often used to silence those locked out of institutional power and stifle their demands for justice.


Mike Konczal sets out to demolish the myth of the “populist” alliance between left and right. Politicians on the right from Josh Hawley to Marco Rubio have adopted pro-worker rhetoric in recent years, while some in left-wing media have warned of—or at times celebrated—the rise of a “post-left” populism with mass appeal. But for Konczal, the theory that pro-worker, anti-immigrant, family values politics outlined by the “populist” right is a winning formula is empirically absurd. Proposals by Hawley and his allies do nothing to raise wages for workers, entrench the power of US corporations (in the name of fighting “globalism” or foreign interests), and recycle outdated culture war talking points. The urge to see these ideas as novel is tempting, he concludes, but should be resisted.


The environment was supposed to be the “new path” for Emmanuel Macron’s leadership. But as Fabien Escalona and Romaric Godin explain in an article for Médiapart, the political rhetoric under the new government of Jean Castex has shifted sharply to the right on all things écologique. Casting all environmentalists to their left as partisans of “de-growth,” Macron and Castex are attempting to condition the public to view serious climate action as a threat to their economic interests. As Tocqueville 21 contributor Eloi Laurent remarks to the authors, the strategy is essentially to suggest—as France comes out of the first wave of Covid-19 lockdown—that the green opposition seeks “a form of perpetual confinement.” The president of en même temps has apparently cast aside his love of analytical nuance, Escalona and Godin conclude, for a simplistic theory according to which capital holds the solution to every social and ecological problem.



Photo Credit: Philip Strong, via Unsplash.


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