Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Revolution

What the Arab Spring Teaches Us About Armed Rebellion

Horrible things have been happening to Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Syria’s largest city. Large parts of the old city has been destroyed, though not for the first time–the city was sacked as recently as 1440 by Tamerlane, a vicious Mongol conqueror who is estimated to have killed 5% of the world’s people. All told, the Syrian Civil War has killed more than 270,000 people, creating more than 4 million refugees and displacing 7.6 million. These high losses have not resulted in any constructive political change in Syria–Bashar al-Assad’s faction remains the strongest in the country. The conflict has made no one better off aside from the Islamic State, which has used the chaos to carve out a slice of territory for itself:

Syria and Iraq 5 May 2016

The Syrian government is red, the Iraqi government is purple, the rebels are green, Islamic State is black, and the Kurds are orange. When the Syrian Civil War started, a lot of people in the west were excited by the possibility of overthrowing the Assad regime and creating a new democracy in the Middle East. Instead we have a bloody power vacuum filled in which the only winners are terrorist organizations. What’s interesting about this is that Syria is not an isolated case–the Arab Spring revolutions that turned violent all went so badly, while those that remained peaceful sometimes achieved meaningful results.

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The Left: Should We Be More Concerned with Distributive Inequality or Status Inequality?

Last week, Professor Jonathan Wolff gave an interesting presentation at Cambridge concerning the difference between two kinds of equality–distributive and status. Distributive equality focuses on discrete goods or benefits and how they are distributed among people. These benefits can take many forms (e.g. resources, opportunities, welfare, etc.). Status equality focuses instead on asymmetric relationships and cases in which groups of people are socially excluded or alienated. Wolff argues that we ought to pay more attention to status inequalities and less attention to distributive inequalities. Over the last few days, I’ve been pondering Wolff’s case and its connection with a broader conflict between two different forms of leftism. One is an older left wing tradition that views the economic system as the fundamental source of most forms of inequality, and the other is focused more on identity politics and pays less attention to class issues. In recent years, these two parts of leftism have found themselves more and more at odds with one another. This is dangerous–infighting within the left diminishes its ability to build broad solidaristic coalitions, making it weaker and less politically influential. So how can these two sides be appropriately reconciled, and if they cannot be reconciled, which side should we choose?

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You Say You Want a Revolution, but What Kind?

So in light of recent writings about Russell Brand and Robert Webb, I’ve been thinking about the concept of revolution and the connotations it carries in our society. For the average person, I imagine the word “revolution” brings to mind first and foremost the kind of comprehensive, totalizing socio-economic and political change associated with Marxism. As a result, otherwise left-leaning people tend to harbor a deep skepticism about changes that go beyond which political party is in power or the enacting or repealing of various peripheral policies and laws. However, upon further reflection, I don’t think that all revolutions fit this stereotype. Indeed, the exclusive association of the term “revolution” with the conception of revolution used by Marxists is a significant obstacle to necessary, big-picture change.

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Robert Webb vs. Russell Brand

The other day, I wrote a piece commentating on British comedian Russell Brand’s argument against voting. Now another British comedian, Robert Webb (of Peep Show fame) has written an opinion piece for New Statesman criticizing Brand’s position. The irony that a critical issue in political theory is being debated in front of a wide audience for the first time in years by two comedians is not lost on me. All irony aside, as a serious political theory person whose interest is the political system and what’s wrong with it, so I want to have a look at Webb’s argument.

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Debt Ceiling Warz Episode II

Once more republicans in congress are planning to fight over the debt ceiling, refusing to raise it unless the president defunds health reform. Barack Obama insists that the debt ceiling is “not a bargaining chip”. Health reform is the primary lasting legislative achievement of his administration, and he insists he will not abandon it. The trouble is that Tea Party republicans don’t believe his threat to starve them out is credible. Why is that? That’s the topic of today’s post.

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