Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Plato

The Left Can’t Even Agree on What Politics Is

In helping my undergrads prepare for their exams the last few weeks, I’ve noticed something–one of the major obstacles to successful left-wing organising is the left’s inability to agree on what politics itself is. Different political theorists understand “politics” differently. You can broadly divide conceptions of the political into two realms. Some people think politics is about pursuing the truth and the good, and other people think that politics is about managing disagreement about the truth and the good. Then within those camps you can make further divisions on the basis of what strategy people prefer to use to pursue the good or manage disagreement. Here, let me chart this out for you:

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Miguel Salazar Wants You to Think Marxism is Racist–But He Doesn’t Want to Own It

There’s a piece by Miguel Salazar in The New Republic that’s been doing the rounds for the last week or so. As a political theorist, I find it a very strange piece. Salazar seems to think historical materialism is racist but refuses to provide any arguments for this. When pushed, he maintains that he is simply reporting the views of people in and around DSA outlets. But this isn’t what his piece says–he very clearly portrays historical materialism and Marxism more generally as a “hardline”, fringe thing and then vaguely and non-specifically associates that position with racism.

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Can We Continue to Care About Winning?

I want to return to the internecine left debate about borders (originally kicked off by Angela Nagle’s piece) one more time this week to map out a couple para-debates that are occurring in the background of the border debate. You see, we think we are fighting with each other about borders, but we are really having a another fight, and the border issue is just in the foreground.

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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 Uselessness of Beating Up Eminem

The rapper Eminem released a new album (The Marshall Mathers LP 2). As is his tendency, Eminem dropped some rhymes with morally dubious meanings. And, as has also become the norm, my fellow writers decided to take positions on the matter. Kicking off the discussion was Scott Meslow at The Week, who first drew attention to homophobic lyrics in Eminem’s song, “Rap God”.  Meslow has now followed that piece up with a second one, detailing the reaction to his first piece and what he has gleaned from it. Today I’d like not so much to wade into this discussion as to call its utility into question–what purpose does it serve to write pieces criticizing artists for moral or political messages, either explicit or implicit?

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