Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Category: Politics

Are Declassed Professionals in the United States like Surplus Song Dynasty Civil Servants?

I’ve been reading Youngmin Kim’s A History of Chinese Political Thought. In one of his chapters, he argues that during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), a peculiar kind of “metaphysical republicanism” took root. As the Chinese population increased, the Song state struggled to create enough jobs in the state bureaucracy to accommodate larger and larger numbers of educated young men. Unable to pursue political power through the conventional pathways, these young men invented a new kind of political theory to make sense of their positions (or lack thereof). Kim’s description of this theory is eerily reminiscent of the kind of thinking that has become increasingly popular among what I like to call the “fallen” professionals–people with university degrees who have been unable to secure stable, prestigious positions within the power structure.

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Misreadings of Marcuse and the Confused Cancel Culture Debate

Recently, Matt Taibbi wrote a piece blaming Herbert Marcuse for the condition of the American left. Separately, Nathan Robinson was pushed out by The Guardian over a joke tweet criticizing the United States for providing military aid to Israel. Robinson and Taibbi have been on opposite sides in the debate over whether “cancel culture” is a problem for the left. Despite this episode with The Guardian, Robinson continues to deny that the left has a cancelling problem, while Taibbi not only maintains that this problem exists but lays the blame for it at the feet of Marcuse. I think both sides are missing something, and I want to try to mediate.

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American Democracy is in No Imminent Danger

In 2014, I finished an MA thesis at the University of Chicago. In that thesis, I argued that as economic inequality increased, American politics would return to the sharp political divisions of the 1930s, with both left-wing and right-wing radical movements popping up all over the place. Recently, I finished a PhD thesis at the University of Cambridge. In that thesis, I argued that while economic inequality does cause legitimation problems, those problems are fundamentally different in kind from the problems of the 1930s. I reversed my position from 2014, and I did so even as most people in the American media and intelligentsia arrived at the position which I formerly held. If I stuck by my old position from 2014, it would be advantageous to my career development. There is increasingly a lot of appetite for expert accounts which play up the threat Donald Trump poses to democracy. Any well-credentialed political theorist or political scientist who can compellingly tell stories about executive coups from the 20th century and draw parallels to Trump can now sell many books without much trouble. The issue is that these parallels are rubbish. Here’s why.

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Liberalism’s War on the Internet

Over the past few weeks, the occupation of the capitol building by pro-Trump demonstrators has legitimated a raft of security measures. The War on Terror is now the War on the Internet. In the wake of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, liberalism has become aware of the danger posed to it by the internet. On the internet, discourse proliferates rapidly, in an uncontrolled and unmediated way. Many web users begin to develop positions which are incompatible with liberal pluralism, which paint their political opponents as enemies who must be comprehensively destroyed. During the 90s, 00s, and early 10s, the internet was not treated seriously by liberal theory. The triumph of the populists in the mid-10s forced liberalism to reckon with it. Now liberalism is trying to change the internet into something compatible with liberalism.

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Jimmy Dore, AOC, and Medicare-For-All Strategy

The American left is finally discussing Medicare-For-All strategy again, thanks to Jimmy Dore’s suggestion that House Democrats could demand a floor vote on the legislation in exchange for backing Nancy Pelosi’s next term as Speaker. For too long, we haven’t been discussing our substantive goals and the available strategies for pursuing them. We’ve been locked in grim, repetitive discussions of coronavirus and the presidential election. But Dore got Medicare-For-All back on the front burner. And how have we rewarded him? He’s been subject to a slew of malicious, personal attacks. Instead of engaging with Dore’s argument, many of Dore’s opponents have turned to ad hominem, arguing that we shouldn’t listen to the argument simply because it comes from Jimmy Dore.

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