Revue de Presse: May 31

31 May 2020

Marilynne Robinson fears Americans are plagued by a sense of scarcity. Her latest piece in the New York Review of Books asks if Americans used to be more optimistic because they were less prone to zero-sum thinking. Economic frameworks dominate not just markets and politics but also US universities. Ironically, Americans pride themselves on their entrepreneurialism—but they need a French word to describe their independent streak. Robinson insists there’s more to the American experiment than cost-benefit analysis, and she argues we must use the current COVID-19 crisis to take stock of the country’s culture.


In the TLS, Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviews The Fire is Upon Us by Nicholas Buccola. The book centers around the infamous Cambridge Union debate between William F. Buckley—founder of the conservative magazine The National Review—and James Baldwin, the black author who, at the time of the 1965 debate, was emerging as vocal critic of American culture. Buccola treats the Buckley-Baldwin debate as an opportunity to reflect on divergent perceptions of race in America during the increasingly polarized 1960s.


Cole Stangler thinks Thomas Piketty is less interested in the “Grand Soir” of the workers’ revolt than in the morning after: the day when a socialism for the twenty-first century is to be constructed. In a review for the Nation, Stangler finds that Capital and Ideology is not the seminal work that Capital in the Twenty-First Century became. Piketty’s previous book disproved the myth that capitalist economic growth goes hand in hand with social progress for all. Still, at the end of his economic history of the ideologies that justify inequality (which, for Geoff Mann, is a “tax theory of history”), Piketty sketches a leftist programme not only more ambitious than the ideas of a young Piketty (partisan of the moderate Socialist Party of the 1990s), but also more ambitious than the goals of any leftist party in Europe today.


For Chantal Mouffe, philosopher and theorist of “left populism,” the current crisis is less likely to benefit the left than its adversaries. Drawing from the ideas of Karl Polanyi, she explains in an interview for Libération that if Covid-19 is exposing the flaws of neoliberal capitalism, that does not mean that a “counter-movement” will necessarily be more egalitarian. Although Mouffe thinks we are witnessing a “return of politics,” plenty of “post-political” models tend toward authoritarianism. Measures to fight the virus, for instance, are strengthening the digital state. Consistent with her past work, Mouffe calls for a leftist policy which is not afraid to mobilize “common affects,” or “passions,” and which includes “sovereignty” and “citizenship” not as right-wing slogans, but as the natural enemies of globalized neoliberalism.


Does Tocqueville’s description of the “tyranny of the majority” describe the typical middle school? Rita Koganzon thinks it might. In her essay for the Point, Koganzon reflects on the “sudden forced experiment” in homeschooling brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. She points to the writings of John Locke and Jean-Jacque Rousseau, both of whom saw at-home schooling as an antidote to modern conformism, or what we might today call “peer pressure.” Koganzon is not eager to repeat the lessons of Émile, and she sympathizes with the stress that school-closures have placed on working parents. Still, she thinks now is a good time for parents to think about what shapes their children’s education. So much of what we learn starts at home.


Benoît Peuch reviews Ghislain Leroy’s new book on sociology and kindergarten education—L’école maternelle de la performance enfantine—for La Vie des Idées. Peuch finds that Leroy convincingly describes the way sociological conceptions of children have contributed to kindergarten pedagogy. In the 1970s, sociologists emphasized children’s emotional development and expressive activities; whereas, today, the focus is on internalization of rules and essential skills. Leroy is right that this shift has restricted the scope of more progressive researchers, though Peuch wishes he had more solutions to offer, beyond nostalgia for the 70s.


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Emile Chabal argues in France Culture that analogies between the cornavirus and World War II are inappropriate. While the end of World War II brought enormous reconstruction projects to much of Europe, the pandemic is unlikely to permanently restructure society. As the crisis passes, neoliberalism may carry on just fine. 


Robert H. Blackman describes his new work on the first months of the French Revolution on the Age of Revolutions blog, Neither the Estates General and the National Assembly left great records, and historians who rely on the Archives Parlementaires gain only a partial understanding of the Revolution’s early debates. Drawing on a broader range of sources, Blackman argues that the National Assembly’s decisions in mid-1789 emerged from a series of compromises, which moderated between more conservative deputies and the proposals of the more radical abbé Emmanuel Sieyès.


Photo Credit: Eugene Zhyvchik, via Unsplash.


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