Revue de Presse: November 3
We’ve taken a break from this format for a few weeks, but we’re back with some of our favorite writing from the month of October. Going forward, we will be resuming the Revue de Presse every other week, which we hope will not only help provide a bit more distance from the day-to-day news cycle, but also give us more time to meet our new goal of doing the Revue in both English and French. So we’ll see you back in two weeks for our first Revue de Presse 100% en français !
Gabriel Zucman is the latest French economist to lead the charge against inequality in the United States. The 32-year-old professor of economics at Berkeley—a former student and now-colleague of Thomas Piketty—recently published a book on taxing the rich with Emmanuel Saez (complete with an interactive website that lets users test out different progressive tax models). In Le Monde, Corine Lesnes traces how the self-styled “social justice plumber” has inspired American presidential candidates. After Zucman, helped Elizabeth Warren’s campaign design their wealth tax plan, Bernie Sanders’s team called him to help design an even more ambitious proposal.
As former Vice President Joe Biden has struggled to maintain his front-runner status in the US Democratic primary, the contest between Warren and Sanders could be decisive for the future of the party. Is there that much difference between the two progressives? Following many of his colleagues at Jacobin, Matt Karp worries that, despite similarities between the two candidates’ proposals, a Warren presidency would empower what Piketty calls the “Brahmin left” over the working-class grassroots movements he believes would be the key to a Sanders victory. New York Magazine columnist Eric Levitz, on the other hand, disputes that Sanders’s and Warren’s bases of support are really so distinct. Levitz wonders whether it is feasible to rely solely on a disempowered working class for political support. Perhaps Warren’s capacity to lead Democratic insiders toward progressive politics represents the more effective strategy. In N+1, Gabe Winant grapples with a concept that often goes unspoken in these debates: that of the “professional managerial class” (originally coined by Barbara Ehrenreich). While it’s tempting to describe Warren as the candidate of educated professionals (the “Brahmin left,” or the “Patagonia Democrats”), Winant insists that both Warren and Sanders are in fact candidates of the “PMC.” The splits in today’s Democratic Party reflect a “civil war” between this class’s upper and lower strata.
Does Ben Sasse have an endgame? The National Review‘s John McCormick profiles the Nebraska junior senator, whose criticism of Donald Trump has started to go quiet. Is Sasse simply ceding to the realities of reelection in a red state? Is his self-identity as “a Tocquevillian or a principled pluralist or a constitutionalist” still accurate? McCormick speculates that Sasse may be lying low with the hopes of reconstructing a post-Trump GOP. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney might be getting more vocal. The former presidential candidate and Utah senator tells the Atlantic reporter McKay Coppins that “this is as an inflection point in American history.”
In the New Statesman, Tocqueville21 contributor Hugo Drochon offers a brief history of the French Right. Drochon explores the thesis that, in addition to the traditional “three rights” of French politics—the liberal Orléanists, authoritarian Bonapartists, and “Legitimist” conservatives—there may be a “fourth” right, most recently embodied by Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.
David S. Wallace visits Walt Whitman’s tomb and wonders if the famed poet is quite as universalist as he’s commonly remembered. Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Wallace emphasizes that Whitman did not actually have a free-floating, all-knowing consciousness, but “Whitman also has the power to peel back the persona, to let his uncertainty show.”
Why is populism on the rise in Central and Eastern Europe? In the Guardian, Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes explore why liberalism in the former Communist bloc has not met the expectations of 1989. The authors point to a number of factors that have prompted an “anti-liberal revolt in the region.” After the “Velvet” revolutions, a number of young people choose “to vote with the feet” and emigrate West. This exodus fed fears of demographic collapse, compounded by the European refugee crisis of 2015-2016. Populists are now channeling these fears and speaking to feelings of hurt pride and dashed hopes that the liberal consensus of the 1990s never successfully addressed.
On Syndicate, Tocqueville21 contributor Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins introduces a symposium on Cécile Laborde’s new book, Liberalism’s Religion. Laborde wants to shift the way liberals approach issues of religion in the public square by “disaggregating” the differences between religious and non-religious groups. First to respond is the political theorist Teresa Bejan, a specialist in questions of early-modern toleration.
Critics of Israel tend to distinguish between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism. But Michael Walzer, one of America’s most prominent political theorists, writes in Dissent that anti-Zionism represents a problem of its own. Walzer believes that national self-determination is crucial to the formation of democracies, and therefore it is impermissible to seek to deny this selectively to the Jews. Walzer’s essay—available in French in Esprit—is followed by a reply by Dissent associate editor Joshua Leifer, who believes Walzer’s democratic understanding of Zionism clashes with the “actually existing Zionism” on the ground in Israel and Palestine today.
The same fall issue of Dissent also features a special section on “Left Paths in Rural America,” which urges left-leaning Americans to regard rural communities with neither nostalgia nor disdain. The editors, Max Fraser and Garret Dash Nelson, place an emphasis on the ways in which rural America has been cut off from national centers of social and economic influence. Historian Lilly Geismer criticizes Democrats who think they they can replace lost coal or farming jobs via public-private partnerships with big tech firms. John Major Easton notes that prisons are often located in far-off towns, where they become the the backbone of the local economy. Lary Van Sant questions why the Green New Deal isn’t better pitched to rural voters. The full forum is available here.
Ben Judah and Nate Sibley track shady money’s threat to democracy and national security in Foreign Policy. Authoritarian regimes use their money with impunity to influence politics in Western democracies, to strengthen their power domestically, and to enmesh themselves in critical technology and infrastructure projects abroad. Judah and Sibley call for for Europe and the United States to create a system of international cooperation to rout out this corruption.
The elderly currently dominate American democracy, writes Astra Taylor for the New York Times. They wield disproportionate power through their accumulated wealth and high positions in government, and are ill-equipped to deal with the problems of today, which primarily affect young people. While Taylor does not go as far as David Runciman, who supports giving children as young as 6 the vote, she supports lowering the voting age to 16, reforming campaign finance, and combating gerrymandering. These are crucial steps for empowering young people and strengthening a larger democratic renewal. See our review of Taylor’s latest film What is Democracy? here.
From Édouard Drumont’s nineteenth-century antisemitism to Éric Zemmour’s contemporary islamophobia, Gérard Noiriel traces forces that have made hate speech so powerful across time. The problem, Noiriel writes in AOC, is how easy it is exploit a media environment that aims to maximize its profit via the entertainment value of news. He also worries that bigots shift public discourse away from social and economic issues towards identity politics. To reverse the trend towards hate speech, Noiriel argues, civil rights movements must unite with the economic left.
In her review of Edison, a new biography by Edmund Morris, New Yorker writer Casey Cep reflects on the life of one of America’s most famous inventors. Thomas Edison is best known for the light bulb but patented 193 inventions and founded more than 100 companies. Cep stresses that Edison rarely invented from scratch. Instead, he perfected new technologies and made them marketable. His expertise lay in “the practical and profitable.” Perhaps Emerson’s greatest innovation was to embody both the engineer and entrepreneur.
What does it mean to be an intellectual in the twenty-first century? In Libération, Simon Blin outlines some of the answers provided in Jean-Marie Durand’s new book, Homo intellectus. While the era of the rock-star intellectual who draws audiences from around the globe may be over, a new, more collective, more interdisciplinary intellectual is taking her place in the modern world.