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Amor Mundi: Sex Lists

Hannah Arendt considered calling her magnum opus Amor Mundi: Love of the World. Instead, she settled upon The Human Condition. What is most difficult, Arendt writes, is to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it. And yet she came to do just that. Loving the world means neither uncritical acceptance nor contemptuous rejection. Above all it means the unwavering facing up to and comprehension of that which is.

Every Sunday, The Hannah Arendt Center Amor Mundi Weekly Newsletter will offer our favorite essays and blog posts from around the web. These essays will help you comprehend the world. And learn to love it.

Sex Lists

Mobs give anonymity and allow for the release of inner demons without consequences—at least for the attackers. And mobs are nothing if not gleeful. When masses of people feel powerful and pure in attacking individuals, the attackers are painted in a patina of brutal glee. We are living through a period where such carnival instincts run wild. And as Samantha Hill argues, one prime space for mob-like glee is the anonymous list.

“In 1956, toward the end of McCarthyism, a concerned father wrote the FBI about his daughter’s professor. He was worried that she was being corrupted by a teacher, and that the teacher posed a threat to national security.

“Mr. X advised he felt that HANNAH ARENDT was very dangerous to the best interests of this country in view of the fact she is a professor who travels around the United States instructing at numerous colleges as a visiting professor. He stated his daughter changed her thinking completely after taking courses from HANNAH ARENDT at the University of California at Berkeley, California, in 1955, and feels that it was her influence which had influenced his daughter to go to Europe to study under Professor PAUL RICOERUR.”

Arendt’s case was closed because it did not warrant an active investigation. The FBI did not see her as a risk. Today, I’m sure there are FBI files on suspect individuals, but instead of worrisome parents writing to the government, we have websites with lists of professors to stay away from. Professors who are too liberal, professors who don’t support free speech, professors who grade too harshly. When we don’t like someone, when we judge them to be wrong or bad, we seek recourse in public lists. These lists are not innocuous. They pose a serious threat to our society, breaking down trust, the ability to speak freely, eroding the world we share in common.

In response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, many have taken to making lists of men.”

Emoluments and Political Corruption

A number of legal historians have filed a brief in United States District Court in a case arguing that President Trump is in violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause (“FEC”) of the U.S. Constitution. That clause states that “no person holding any office of profit or trust under [the United States], shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” The Department of Justice, supporting President Trump, argues that “emolument” should be narrowly defined as “profit arising from office or employ.” The historians argue that the emoluments clause was broadly imagined to protect against conflicts of interest and corruption.

“The framers adopted the Emoluments Clauses to advance core republican goals: to protect against corruption and the appearance of corruption; to maintain a balance of state and federal power; and to avoid foreign entanglements with Europe. The Emoluments Clauses were not a subject of great debate or disagreement in 1787 and 1788. The absence of controversy reflects a broad consensus against the dangers of political corruption. Moreover, the extant voluminous records of debates, particularly those tied to the ratification of the Constitution by the states, demonstrate that in ordinary usage the word “emolument” had a broad range of meanings. It was not reducible to a simple fee or salary.

Within the framework of Anglo-American political thinking, a concern with emoluments was closely tied to the pervasive fear of political corruption. In the middle decades of the eighteenth century, this concern dominated Real Whig views of the insidious ways in which the British Crown had corrupted Parliament’s vaunted independence and legal supremacy after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The concern was that the Crown could use an array of emoluments (e.g., offices, pensions, grants of income, and other benefits) to make members of both houses docile tools of the reigning ministry. The American colonists were schooled to think that a power-seeking ministry was scheming to deprive them of their vested rights of self- government, leaving them to be governed by a supine Parliament that had the power to legislate for America “in all cases whatsoever.”

The use of emoluments to undermine self-governance was viewed as a significant problem. There was, however, another famous example in which an emolument conveyed from one king to another threatened the fundamental rights of the entire realm. This was the secret Treaty of Dover of 1670, when Louis XIV of France paid large sums of cash to Charles II (and provided a young French mistress) in order for Charles to convert to Catholicism and ally with France in an ill-fated war against Holland. Louis XIV also secretly paid James II in 1687 for similarly compromising allegiances. These well-known events contributed to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, an inspiration for the American Revolution and the Founding, but the secret payments were not revealed until 1771. At the Federal Convention, Gouverneur Morris, regarded as a chief architect of the presidency, explicitly invoked this episode during the July 20, 1787 debate over impeachment:

‘Our Executive was not like a Magistrate having a life interest, much less like one having an hereditary interest in his office. He may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust; and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in foreign pay, without being able to guard agst. it by displacing him. One would think the King of England well secured agst. bribery. He has as it were a fee simple in the whole Kingdom. Yet Charles II was bribed by Louis XIV.’

Although Morris did not use the word “emolument” in this passage, this incident provides a paradigmatic historical explanation for why the framers adopted a prohibition on foreign emoluments in the Constitution. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the delegate at the Constitutional Convention who provided the final FEC language on August 23, 1787, was also a delegate at the South Carolina ratifying convention. In a debate there about treaty powers, Pinckney raised broader concerns about foreign financial influence upon presidents, and he specifically cited the secret Treaty of Dover and “Charles II., who sold Dunkirk to Louis XIV.”

Moreover, two prominent early commentators on the Constitution, St. George Tucker and William Rawle, emphasized the scandal of Louis XIV secretly paying Charles II as the background for the Foreign Emoluments Clause. Justice Joseph Story cited these pages from Tucker and Rawle in his own Commentary on the Constitution in 1833.

Several key constitutional documents reflect concern with the corrupting effect of both foreign and domestic emoluments. The Articles of Confederation adopted the text that would become the F[oreign] E[moluments] C[lause]. he drafters may have borrowed from the Dutch rule, adopted in 1651, prohibiting foreign ministers from taking “any presents, directly or indirectly, in any manner or way whatever.” The French practice of giving expensive diplomatic gifts was called presents du roi or presents du congé, so these prohibitions likely stemmed initially from the problem of “presents.”33 The DOJ brief claims that a broad interpretation of “emolument” would produce a “surplusage” or redundancy because it would include presents, making the word “present” unnecessary. The argument fails for at least two reasons. First, “presents” generally connotes gratuitous exchange, while “emoluments” encompasses benefits of commercial transactions. Second, the origin of this clause probably lies with the Dutch bar on “presents,” which the Americans broadened by adding the term “emoluments,” without deleting the earlier wording. As legal texts evolve, historical layers sometimes resist the logic of interpretive canons….

These events were part of the background motivating a separation between public service and international moneyed interests (again not limited to offices and salaries). Soon thereafter, an emoluments restriction was placed in the 1784 Consular Convention with France, as well as the 1788 Consular Convention with France and the 1789 Act to Establish the Treasury Department. DOJ asserts that “the history of the [FEC’s] adoption” is “devoid of any concern about an official’s private commercial businesses.” The example of Robert Morris, the emoluments prohibitions adopted by American governments from 1776 to 1789, and the constitutional debates themselves undercut DOJ’s claim.”

Swedish Nationalism

Andrew Brown has a long and important essay on the rise of the Swedish Democrats, a far-right nationalist party in Sweden.

“The dynamics of integration that played out in Sweden were not essentially different from those in other Western European countries: the metropolitan elites were in favour, the people among whom the immigrants settled were often hostile, and those furthest away from both among the most hostile. But there were two large differences. The first was the solid identification of patriotism and virtue with an openness towards refugees. All of the newspapers, all of the television channels, and all of the major political parties made this identification. The second was the role of Sweden’s neighbours. Both Denmark and Norway had much more restrictive policies and rhetoric. Both had flourishing anti-immigrant parties who formed part of the political system, entering coalition governments and openly negotiating with the other parties. In Sweden, unpleasant and sometimes violent extremism on the left was regarded as a legitimate expression of political opinion – while your reputation as a public intellectual could survive praise of Pol Pot, it could not endure publicly expressed hostility to immigration.

When the Sweden Democrats finally entered parliament in 2010, it was on the back of a commercial which showed an elderly white woman pushing her walking frame across a shadowed hall towards a desk where two benevolent civil servants sat, ready to hand her money. But she is overtaken from behind by a crowd of women in burkas. The camera cuts to two emergency stop handles hanging from the ceiling. One is labelled ‘Pensions’, the other ‘Immigration’. A woman’s voice, husky, urgent, says ‘You can choose between a brake on pensions or a brake on immigration. Vote for the Sweden Democrats’.

This advertisement was rejected as racist by state TV and at least one commercial channel, but was broadcast to an immense audience on YouTube. The Sweden Democrats swept into Parliament with twenty seats, which more than doubled to forty-nine at the next election in 2015. The other parties united around a policy of complete denial. They refused to debate with the SD in public, so far as this was possible; refused to eat with them in the canteens and refused to pass legislation that was dependent on SD support. That might have worked twenty years before, when the only source of national news was the newspapers and the television. But by this time there was a thriving underground of news sites spreading the Sweden Democrats’ message, and the official silence merely amplified their appeal to people rebelling against the culture of conformity around immigration.

The same alternative media worked to loosen the secrecy of crime reporting. The culture of official anonymity and obfuscation, which back in the last century shielded the Swedish from crime, suddenly seemed much more sinister. The shower curtain which once preserved decency now revealed the silhouette of an unknown murderer. Crime, and especially violent crime, had risen enormously since the seventies. The homicide rate nearly tripled, from 122 in 1975 to 338 in 2016; violent assaults have risen over the same period from 21,509 to 88,576. Some of this is the result of redefinitions, whether legal or social, so that behaviour that had once not seemed criminal is now treated as such. Rape is the clearest example, which makes the statistics confusing, but eye-catching: an increase from 769 cases reported in 1975 to 6,715 in 2016.

During this period, immigration from outside Scandinavia rose greatly, too. The link between increased crime and immigration is contested and complicated, but it is universally believed to exist, and the result is that people find anonymised reports of crime in the newspapers more disturbing than they used to, since many of them believe that the names being concealed are no longer plain Swedish ones like Olofsson and Pettersson.”

On Revolution

In conjunction with Bard’s International Symposium for the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Roger Berkowitz (Bard / Hannah Arendt Center) and Artemy Magun (Smolny / European University) held a conversation on Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution. You can watch it here.

The Margins of Politics

Catherine Liu argues that Angela Nagle’s account of the similarities between the alt-right and the cultural-studies left needs to be supplemented with an account of the new class warfare.

“Nagle does not invite us to share a thrilling sense of horror and disgust at the cruelty of alt-right and alt-light meme culture; instead, she implicates left strategies in particular and contemporary internet culture in general in participating in the creation of a world in which the alt-right could rise. In some ways, Nagle’s book explains Hillary Clinton’s dramatic failure to damage Donald Trump’s campaign when she fingered him as a champion of the alt-right. Clinton’s great reveal was greeted by alt-right champion Richard Spencer as great publicity, and Trump voters did not move to the middle. To Nagle, Clinton’s shaming strategies reveal her ignorance of the actual political dynamics of the electorate.

Nagle argues convincingly that the most prolific actors on the alt-right and the alt-light have been great students of the culture wars, but not in the way we might think. Alt-right movements did not model themselves after aspirational aristocrats and defenders of Western tradition like William F. Buckley Jr. or Allan Bloom. No! Instead, they have adopted the fetishism of transgression that marked the Cultural Studies left: they embedded themselves in subcultural styles repellent to mainstream, middlebrow liberal sensibilities and they call on their armies to attack the tastes and sensibilities embodied by n00bs and “normies.” Punk street style of the mid- to late 1970s, with its Vaselined Mohawks and safety-pinned T-shirts appeared as rebellious and, to Dick Hebdige, deeply meaningful attacks on working-class masculinity. Ironic meme culture attacks continues to “épater la bourgeoisie” by targeting naïve online expressions of sentimentality in spontaneous actions, ranging from the defacement of Facebook memorial pages and to hijacking Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard’s Twitter account to spread #DicksoutforHarambe.

Nagle is one of the brightest lights in a new generation of left writers and thinkers who have declared their independence from intellectual conformity with liberal academic nostra about “difference” and “hegemony.” Whereas Hebdige found punk and subcultural expressions of rebellion as politically progressive and anti-authoritarian, Nagle is willing to question the Cultural Studies assumption that the “margins” represent a kind of political wisdom that the uninitiated need Roland Barthes to decode….

Her critique of Tumblr liberalism, however, needs an added dimension: this particularly violent and intolerant form of identity politics represents the political and cultural vanguard of an increasingly toxic Professional Managerial Class, whose need to consolidate its economic advantages comes during a time of stringent class consolidation. In 1976, John and Barbara Ehrenreich noted that PMC monopoly on progressive/left politics was a development in class conflict that would have profound effects on the rise of neoliberalism and globalization in the decades to come. While this class emerged as an enemy or at least an antagonist of capital during the early decades of the 20th century, its political neutrality has become increasingly complicit with “the status quo” of income inequality. In order to differentiate itself culturally from the working classes and the interests of finance capital, it draws upon the sentimental and melodramatic innovations of its forebears of the 18th century. Suffering and victimization become its calling cards: a precious and esoteric language of difference and tolerance supplant an analysis of contradiction and solidarity. It focuses on hegemonic cultural politics and self-improvement and the transformation of everyday life.”

Modeling Argument

One reason for our contemporary groupthink is that we are out practice in having civil arguments. Adam Grant argues that we should actually teach children to argue, and one way to do that is for parents to argue more themselves.

“It turns out that highly creative adults often grow up in families full of tension. Not fistfights or personal insults, but real disagreements. When adults in their early 30s were asked to write imaginative stories, the most creative ones came from those whose parents had the most conflict a quarter-century earlier. Their parents had clashing views on how to raise children. They had different values and attitudes and interests. And when highly creative architects and scientists were compared with their technically skilled but less original peers, the innovators often had more friction in their families. As the psychologist Robert Albert put it, “the creative person-to-be comes from a family that is anything but harmonious, one with a ‘wobble.’ ”

Wilbur and Orville Wright came from a wobbly family. Their father, a preacher, never met a moral fight he wasn’t willing to pick. They watched him clash with school authorities who weren’t fond of his decision to let his kids miss a half-day of school from time to time to learn on their own. Their father believed so much in embracing arguments that despite being a bishop in the local church, he had multiple books by atheists in his library — and encouraged his children to read them.

If we rarely see a spat, we learn to shy away from the threat of conflict. Witnessing arguments — and participating in them — helps us grow a thicker skin. We develop the will to fight uphill battles and the skill to win those battles, and the resilience to lose a battle today without losing our resolve tomorrow. For the Wright brothers, argument was the family trade and a fierce one was something to be savored. Conflict was something to embrace and resolve. “I like scrapping with Orv,” Wilbur said….

If no one ever argues, you’re not likely to give up on old ways of doing things, let alone try new ones. Disagreement is the antidote to groupthink. We’re at our most imaginative when we’re out of sync. There’s no better time than childhood to learn how to dish it out — and to take it….

Children need to learn the value of thoughtful disagreement. Sadly, many parents teach kids that if they disagree with someone, it’s polite to hold their tongues. Rubbish. What if we taught kids that silence is bad manners? It disrespects the other person’s ability to have a civil argument — and it disrespects the value of your own viewpoint and your own voice. It’s a sign of respect to care enough about someone’s opinion that you’re willing to challenge it.”


Furious Elements

Annie Proulx won the 2017 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Her acceptance speech offered a colorful characterization of our cancerous time.

“We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. This is a Kafkaesque time. The television sparkles with images of despicable political louts and sexual harassment reports. We cannot look away from the pictures of furious elements, hurricanes and fires, from the repetitive crowd murders by gunmen burning with rage. We are made more anxious by flickering threats of nuclear war. We observe social media’s manipulation of a credulous population, a population dividing into bitter tribal cultures. We are living through a massive shift from representative democracy to something called viral direct democracy, now cascading over us in a garbage-laden tsunami of raw data. Everything is situational, seesawing between gut-response “likes” or vicious confrontations. For some this is a heady time of brilliant technological innovation that is bringing us into an exciting new world. For others it is the opening of a savagely difficult book without a happy ending.”

Linda Sarsour And Israel

Accusations of racism and antisemitism are hard to shake. Once made, they grow like a snowball rolling downhill. Rarely does someone disinterested stand up to try and bring sense to nonsense. It is in this regard that David Schraub makes a brave and startling comparison.

“Linda Sarsour is a lot like Israel.

No doubt neither would appreciate the comparison. But it fits. Both have done genuinely objectionable things, ones which it is perfectly proper to call out. But in both cases, there is something about them that causes people on the internet to go absolutely wild and lose all sense of perspective and proportion.

And in both cases, there is not a lot of mystery about what that “something” is.

Anybody who follows online discourse about Israel is familiar with a pattern. Legitimate critiques of the occupation metastasize into far-ranging conspiracies of Zionists’ dominative lust. Fair expressions of concern over civilian casualties turn into flat declarations that Jews thirst for Palestinian blood. Jewish desire for self-determination is dismissed as simple European colonialism. A flawed state in difficult circumstances becomes a demonic state whose very existence is an affront to man and God. And of course, if one objects to any aspect of the frenzy, then one has outed oneself as a hasbara shill.

The problem is not that “all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic” – a strawman position held by no one. The problem is that the legitimate criticisms are swamped by an orgy of hysterics designed to demonize, delegitimize, and ultimately destroy Israel outright. The result is that even the fair points of critique are overwhelmed because the broader discourse has become so poisonous.

If one is being honest, the pattern applies to Linda Sarsour as well.

We can start with the legitimately objectionable. Her comment about removing Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s vagina was horrifying, not the least because it was directed at a prominent victim of female genital mutilation. “Nothing is creepier than Zionism” is gross. The BDS program she embraces lands hardest on those Middle Eastern Jews she claims she wishes to “welcome”, further suggesting that her invitation to that community was meant to extend only to a narrow slice of ideological compatriots whose “complexity” doesn’t challenge her political priors. And her declaration that anti-Semitism in America cannot take a systemic form was both wrong and arrogant in its confident dismissal of Jewish history and experience.

But other “critiques” are on shakier footing.

Consider Sarsour’s alleged declaration that one cannot be a feminist and a Zionist. That would assuredly fall under the “legitimate objections” category -except that Sarsour never said it. It stems rather from the headline that editors of The Nation attached to her interview.

Sarsour made the subtler argument that a feminist must be willing to criticize Israel insofar as it wrongs Palestinian women – a narrower claim, and one that invites the extension that a feminist must also be willing to criticize Palestinian and Arab actors insofar as they wrong Jewish and Israeli women, but not the position attributed to her in the headline. A provocative but deeply misleading headline has perhaps done more damage to Sarsour’s reputation than anything from her own voice.”

Posted on 19 November 2017 | 4:49 am

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