Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: History

How and Why Slavery Got Abolished

One of the things I find odd about the American discourse about slavery is how rarely Americans think about slavery as an institution which existed outside America. Not only did slavery exist in the ancient world in a pre-racialised way–in which many slaves were white, and many masters were people of colour–but it also existed in many other places during the period in which it existed in America. In many of these places, slavery was abolished not by violence but by ordinary politics. Yet this is rarely acknowledged or discussed, and it is increasingly common for Americans to frame our history largely in terms of the slavery question. We don’t often ask why slavery was more contentious in the United States than in other places. That’s what I want to think about with you today.

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Why Bernie Sanders Matters More Than People Think

Every time I find a way to say that there is no one like Bernie Sanders, there are people who don’t believe me. Aren’t there other candidates who support the same policies he supports now? Some of them are younger. Some of them aren’t old white guys. Why can’t it be one of them, why can’t it be someone new? Over and over, I have tried to find ways to explain that there is a real difference between Bernie Sanders and everyone else. Today, as Sanders announces his candidacy for the presidency, I’m going to try one more time.

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Why I Like Thomas Hobbes and You Should Too

People are sometimes surprised to discover how much I love Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes is the political theorist who wrote Leviathan. He presents a pretty grim account of human nature–for him, people have conflicting desires in a world of scarcity, they don’t know each other’s intentions, but they do know that they can hurt other people and that if they do so other people will be intimidated and might not hurt them. We can’t share thoughts and feelings because each of us is stuck in a different body and words are vague and unreliable, so we’re always alienated from each other and always prone to conflict. Hobbes wants to live, and he wants everyone else to live too, so he proposes that we solve this problem by submitting to the state. The state protects us from each other, and once we’re protected a space for trusting other people opens up.

Most left-wing people hate this. They hate that Hobbes even presents an account of human nature in the first place, much less one so grim as this. They especially hate how powerful Hobbes makes his state–he only allows people to defy the state when it threatens their own lives, and while he’s willing to tolerate a sovereign parliament Hobbes certainly prefers monarchy, because in his view it’s less likely to lead to conflicts about where the sovereignty is, which could end in civil war and death.

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The Supreme Court Post-Kavanaugh: A Grand Strategy for the Left

Now that it’s become clear that we’ve failed to stop Brett Kavanaugh, a fascinating debate is brewing about what the American left’s position ought to be with respect to the Supreme Court going forward. There are two big, radical proposals vying for people’s attention and support:

  1. Gather the senate supermajority necessary to impeach and convict Kavanaugh over the next several election cycles, then replace him with a Democratic Party nominee in 2021, 2023, or 2025.
  2. Gather a simple majority in the senate and a Democratic president and revive Franklin Roosevelt’s court-packing plan, increasing the number of Supreme Court justices until the court is forcibly shifted to the left.

I want to discuss the merits and demerits of both approaches and propose a long-term strategy that I think will be more effective than immediately picking up and running with either.

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Remember When Americans Cared about Perjury?

My friend Nathan Robinson has written an excellent piece documenting with care and detail all the times Brett Kavanaugh appears to have committed perjury during the recent hearing. Robinson’s work is around 10,000 words long, because the number of instances of perjury or possible perjury is stunning. It’s almost as if Kavanaugh–a man attempting to be a Supreme Court justice–doesn’t think perjury matters. And it appears that to millions of Americans it doesn’t. Many still want Kavanaugh confirmed, and 11 senators voted to move Kavanaugh out of committee even after he repeatedly lied to their faces. This reminds me of another case in American history–the case of Alger Hiss.

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