Revue de Presse: May 2

Tocqueville 21
3 May 2020

 

Does Joe Biden have a political ideology? Bernie Sanders has been likened to European socialists, while Donald Trump has similarities with Europe’s populist right. But, when it comes to Biden, Carlo Invernizzi Accetti wonders whether Biden might be an American incarnation of Christian democracy. In a piece for Foreign Policy, Invernizzi Accetti notes that Biden’s message, unlike recent Democrats, is not one of technocratic social progress. Instead, if Biden stands for anything, it’s the relatively conservative goal of restoring civility and unity. Invernizzi Accetti’s assessment is perhaps an optimistic one: if Biden is anything like the Christian democrats of postwar Europe, perhaps he too will preside over the construction of a welfare state, justified as a condition of reestablishing social cohesion. At the same time, what Biden shares with the Christian democratic tradition may simply reflect a “conservative pragmatism” that will leave him unable to channel a successful campaign against Trump.

 

What does the COVID-19 crisis spell for Italian politics? Writing for Books & Ideas, Alessandro Mulieri notes that Italians, who are famously skeptical of technocracy, are now hearing quite a bit from experts. Italian TV shows suddenly “feature virologists, doctors, epidemiologists as well as economists, financial experts, [and] statisticians” for advice on surviving the emergency. It’s not clear how long this authority will last, but Mulieri hopes the crisis will prompt a healthier relationship with the EU. On the Talking Politics podcast, Tocqueville21 contributor, Lucia Rubinelli, also discusses developments in Italy. Rubinelli explains that politicians in the North and South are placing conflicting demands on Rome, and Italy’s relationship with the EU is as fragile ever.

 

The Talking Politics podcast has a new series: History of Ideas. Working forward from Hobbes’s Leviathan, David Runciman will offer overviews of classic political texts. Last week’s episode showcased Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Runciman discusses Tocqueville’s talent for analyzing political paradoxes, as well as some of the subtle differences between the first and second volumes of Democracy in America. Along the way, Runciman recounts Tocqueville’s harrowing trip aboard an American steamship, how Tocqueville’s impressions of the US differed from those of Charles Dickens, and what Tocqueville made of 1848. Americans, Tocqueville famously thought, viewed democracy as a “providential” fact. Can the same be said today? Runciman ends with comments on China. (For other reflections from Runciman, read our interview with him here.)

 

The History of Ideas podcast suggests Hobbes can speak to our present moment, and so too does law professor Thomas Poole. In a post for the LRB blog, Poole points out that the famous frontispiece for Hobbes’s Leviathan features two plague doctors. Was the Leviathan on lockdown? Poole briefly examines Hobbes’s own experience with early-modern pandemics.

 

The LPE blog recently hosted a symposium on an important collection of essays on neoliberalism, edited by William Callison and Zachary Manfredi and featuring essays by scholars including Wendy Brown, Quinn Slobodian, Melinda Cooper, Michel Feher, and Étienne Balibar. Their guiding contention is that tales of neoliberalism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated: the 2008 financial crisis, plus the political crises of 2016 and beyond, did not so much kill neoliberalism as transform it, producing what the editors call Mutant Neoliberalism. LPE has invited a formidable set of reviewers to weigh in on this approach, focusing among other things on the implications for politics in Europe (David Singh Grewal) and Latin America (Verónica Gago); for migration and creditworthiness (Atossa Araxia Abrahamian); for nationalism, finance, and think tanks (William Davies); and on cultural production (Corinne Blalock).

 

At H-Diplo, historians and international relations scholars reflect on their entry-points into academia. William R. Keylor, who taught diplomatic history for many years at Boston University, recalls the importance of his high school French teacher, hitchhiking between Tours and Paris in the mid ’60s, and an important exchange overheard in a Latin quarter restaurant. John A. Thompson, a British historian of US progressivism, now retired from Cambridge, speaks of his first encounter with Richard Hofstadter’s The American Political Tradition and Louis Hartz’s The Liberal Tradition in America, while preparing for his dissertation proposal. As a Harkness fellow, Thompson was required to spend summers road-tripping across the US to learn more about his chosen subject. Witnessing the Berkeley Free Speech movement, he says, “was rather like being in Paris in 1789.”

 

In an essay for the TLS, Louis Amis remarks upon how much of the Mississippi tourism industry seems to revolve around ghosts. Many of the old planation mansions are advertised as “haunted houses,” but the sense of torment goes well beyond museum marketing. Amis interviews black activists, Choctaw natives, and Vietnam vets about their sense of the past and finds that gothic notions of freedom still plague the deep South.

 

Derek Thompson delivers a longterm forecast for American retail in the Atlantic: Many mom-and-pop stores and restaurants will disappear this year. Only the biggest online chains have the cash-reserves or home-delivery infrastructure to weather the COVID-19 crisis. Lots of downtown real estate will therefore sit empty, and fewer young people or immigrants will flock to urban areas. But Thompson adds some optimism: rents will fall, people will tire of Amazon-shopping, and our cities will see a new dawn of creativity.

 

In the Hedgehog Review, Phil Christman revisits the paranoid and polarizing figure of Richard Nixon. For Christman, Nixon was more than an impeached US president; he was a cultural icon. And behind the duplicity of the “Checkers” speech, the Nixon Halloween masks, and tape-recorded lies, Christman sees someone he can sort of recognize: an American hustler.

 

Anticipating the publication of his oeuvres complètes, the philosopher Étienne Balibar sat down with Le Monde to share his thoughts on the world under pandemic conditions and neoliberal capitalism. For Balibar, the virus not only highlights longstanding social inequalities—revealing them as “immunities” and “vulnerabilities”—but also demonstrates a fundamental shift in the contemporary notion of temporality. As the climate crisis had already begun teaching us, Covid-19 makes clear that the biological world is not simply an external factor in the course of human events. And the measures states have taken to combat the virus follow the same pattern of so much of the “politics of cruelty” in our contemporary world: as Balibar puts it, “one of the characteristics of democracy is that the consciousness of each strategy of collective protection—whether it be the hardening of borders or the confinement and tracing of ‘populations at risk’—is not inoffensive.”

 

Joan Scott thinks something is missing from our conversations about COVID-19: talk of the future. Writing for AOC, Scott notes that today’s citizens don’t see history as redemptive, but they also lack a vision for what comes next. When we do talk about the weeks and months ahead, we revert, ironically, to the past. Everyone wants to know when stores will reopen and when life will return to normal. Scott thinks citizens should instead foresee major shifts to the healthcare industry and broader economy. She thinks news outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post are guilty of dismissing the protestors who demand a different sort of future.

 

When it comes to rethinking health policy, Thomas Perroud and Emma Guernaoui do not think French politicians can say the coronavirus crisis comes as a total surprise. In their article for The Regulatory Review, the authors note deep cuts to public health expenditures over the last few years and argue France’s unpreparedness was predictable. Perroud and Guernaoui worry that French leaders are still pleading “exceptionalism,” at the expense of a coordinated scientific and legal response. In La Vie des Idées. Fanny Bugeja-Bloch and Anne Lambert observe that the coronavirus has compounded the effects of housing inequalities in France. They highlight the struggles of the homeless, as well as the many citizens now mandated to pass all of their time in poorly-maintained, high-density spaces.

 

Photo Credit: Leone Venter, via Unsplash.

 

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