Critical Theory of the Contemporary: Election 2016, Environmental Nationalism, and Palestinian Shame

In addition to its main focus on nature and the Anthropocene, Telos 177 (Winter 2016) features a special section of topical writing, introduced here by Russell A. Berman, that continues our ongoing commitment to setting forth a critical theory of the contemporary. Telos 177 is now available for purchase in our store.

After a rancorous and ugly presidential campaign, in which vitriol and name-calling replaced discussion and policy, one moment stands out for its dignity: President Obama’s grace and generosity when he welcomed the president-elect to the White House. Above the fray and with a Lincolnian refusal of malice, he modeled a possibility of reconciliation and healing, as if citizens might genuinely respect each other, despite profound differences. That utopia will likely remain elusive, but the president’s bearing provides a lesson in civic virtue. Democracy can be coarse. He showed how it can be better. That legacy will be important.

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Europe after Brexit

Walk around Berlin these days and you will find that you will hear almost as much English being spoken on the streets as German. While some describe this situation as a sign that Berlin has now become a cosmopolitan city, this very interpretation reveals precisely the attitude that has led to the rise of English in Germany. To speak English is to be cosmopolitan, and to speak German is to be provincial, and so it becomes a mark of pride to converse in English rather than one’s native German, at least for a certain segment of the population. And therein lies the problem. For it is precisely that segment of global business people, academics, and bureaucrats against whom nationalist sentiment has been rising all over Europe amongst the monolinguals who see themselves as excluded from the European project.

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Britain, Europe, and the West: Reflections on the UK’s EU Referendum

As a German national living in Britain for two decades, I have followed the political debate on whether the UK should stay in, or leave, the European Union (EU) with utter dismay. The two official campaigns have prophesied disaster of biblical proportion in the event of Britain either exiting (Brexit) or remaining (Bremain). Economic doomsday and a return to the violent state of nature in case of Brexit, as the “In” camp would have us believe. Alternatively, subjugation to a sinister super-state and marauding masses of migrants in case of Bremain, so say the “Out” camp.

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Sklar: Capitalism-Socialism Mix

This is the third in a series of posts that introduce the thought of historian Martin J. Sklar, as a prelude to a print symposium on his life and work in a future issue of Telos. For a fuller introduction, refer to the head note to the first TELOSscope post. Whereas the first two posts showcased the historian’s engagement with philosophy, this post highlights one of his important contributions to political economy. Sklar profoundly reinterprets the idea of a “mixed economy,” on the basis of the new concepts of “capitalist investment component” (CIC) and “socialist investment component” (SIC). In so doing, he also clarifies the meanings of capitalism and socialism as political-economic systems. Like conventional “mixed economy” theorists, Sklar came to believe that there would be a long historical period during which advanced societies would combine features of capitalism and features of socialism, with the later gaining gradual ascendancy. His understanding of which features belong to which system, however, upends conventional theories of government = socialism, “private” sector = capitalism.

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Sklar: Hegel and History, Part Two

This is the second in a series of posts that introduce the thought of historian Martin J. Sklar, as a prelude to a print symposium on his life and work in a future issue of Telos. For a fuller introduction, refer to the head note to the first TELOSscope post. That post featured something unusual for a historian: an excerpt from a perceptive essay on Hegel. Hegel’s understanding of human history as developmental and cumulative, particularly with respect to the expansion of human freedom, colored Sklar’s career as a historian. Excerpts from two of his published works (second and third selections, below) reflect that influence. Not all of Sklar’s engagement with Hegel was affirmative. In the first selection, he endorses Marx’s critique of Hegel’s statism. As will be further illustrated in future posts, one of Sklar’s longstanding criticisms of many fellow leftists was their equation of socialism with state control over society. From his research on the Progressive Era in the United States, he concluded that presidents and other strategic thinkers of that period consciously incorporated elements of socialism into their ideas and programs in ways that affirmed positive government as a middle way between laissez-faire and statism. This was the meaning of his somewhat cryptic assertion in an influential (but often misunderstood) 1960 essay that corporate liberalism was “the bourgeois Yankee cousin of modern European and English social-democracy” (Studies on the Left 1:3, 41). Over time, Sklar progressively (in both senses) fleshed out this insight.

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What Happened to Europe's Federalism?

It is unlikely that the present EU will ever become politically unified. However a reduced number of member states could constitute a European Federal League designed to become, as such, a new member of the EU in place of the federated states. It could consequently operate separately on a number of issues. Other members might join the new Federal Union later, under certain conditions.

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