Mamphela Ramphele’s new “political platform,” or party-in-making, represents the latest in a series of bids for the substantial number of black voters presumed to be disillusioned with the rule of the African National Congress in South Africa. So far all bids have failed. Many black South Africans are indeed fed up with the ANC. Tens of thousands have joined often violent “service delivery protests” against ANC-run municipalities accused of corruption or neglect. Millions have stayed away from the polls. Yet, relatively few have been willing to vote for opposition parties. The last major new party to try wrest their votes, a breakaway from the ANC called COPE (Congress of the People), secured a respectable 7% at the 2009 general election, but has since descended into a shambles. The best hope for Ramphele’s outfit is that it will scoop up the black African voters poised to desert COPE, yet unwilling to vote for the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), because of its white roots and leader.
It is not easy to give an ideological label to Ramphele’s party, provisionally named Agang (“to build” in the Sepedi language). Leftists dismiss it as a capitalist party, and their stance is lent some credence by Ramphele’s recent senior positions in the World Bank and a major mining house, and by her concern to make South African economically productive, competitive and investor-friendly. At the same time she professes concern for “workers and poor people” betrayed by a “new elite,” and her policy portfolio is for now too vague to pigeonhole. Notwithstanding Marxist rhetoric emanating from in and around the ANC, there is not all that much by way of concrete economic policy to tell South Africa’s political parties apart. No significant electoral party calls for a break with capitalism; at the same time, none dare sound like rabid free marketers in a land so conscious of its gigantic inequalities. I expect Agang to meet more established electoral parties on the broad ground of the center-left.
What Ramphele stands for is similar to . . .
Read more: Democratic Development in South Africa? Mamphela Ramphele’s New Party
As I celebrate the glorious re-election of President Barack Hussein Obama, and as New York and my friends and family are still suffering from Hurricane Sandy, and a snowstorm follow-up, I have been in Europe, spending time with my daughter, and her family in Paris, giving a lecture and visiting Rome for the first time, and taking part in public talks in Warsaw and Gdansk on the occasion of the Polish translation of Reinventing Political Culture, offering my commentary on the American elections informed by the book. In Gdansk, I was honored to receive a medal from the European Solidarity Center for my work with Solidarność, and continuing work inspired by its principles.
I have been enjoying the joys of citizenship and patriotic hope, the love of family, and recognition for personal and public achievement. I have learned a lot in many very interesting discussions. I have been very busy, torn with mixed emotions, including a frustrated desire to put my thoughts down for Deliberately Considered. Some quick summary thoughts today; next, a close critical response to the election results and the President’s speech. In brief: Obama excelled once again as “story teller in chief.”
Election Day from afar: having cast my vote weeks ago. In Warsaw, I discussed the events of the day and the project of the reinvention of American political culture. As I have explained in previous posts and analyzed carefully in my book, I believe that Barack Obama is an agent of significant reinvention, changing the relationship between culture and power: the way he has used the politics of small things, his eloquence as an alternative to sound bite political rhetoric, retelling of the American story as one centered on diversity, as he embodies this, and his challenge to market fundamentalism, are the major contours of his transformational politics. On Election Day, I explained that as a social scientist I thought that the transformation that he has started . . .
Read more: At Home, Abroad: Election Day
The performance of Pussy Riot and its repression represent the deep political challenge of post communist authoritarianism and its progressive – transgressive alternatives. This is the first of two posts by Kitlinski that have great significance for Eastern Europe and beyond. -Jeff
Don’t let Putin fool you. Banishing Pussy Riot to a penal colony allowed the Russian leader to reassert his rule. Democracy be damned. Civil rights, religious freedom, and gender equality from herein would be subject to his purview. The ex-KGB officer’s message wasn’t just aimed at Russia. It was directed at all of Eastern Europe, too.
For anyone familiar with the history of regional politics, Putin’s positioning was thick with signifiers. Pussy Riot’s sentencing would please fellow reactionaries, obviously, as well as help serve as a salve for social distress. It also confirmed that the post-Communist period was formally over. Authoritarian capitalism is the rule of the day. There’s no alternative.
The political transition in post-Communist countries has turned majoritarian, as ex-Soviet bloc states start to formalize discrimination against pro-democracy forces. Curiously, this reaction, of what can only be described as the ancien regime, both Stalinist, and its antecedents, focuses on sexual dissidence, to broadcast its worldview. In the Ukraine, it’s Femen. In my own home, Poland, it’s Dorota Nieznalska, an artist who was convicted of blasphemy.
It’s a familiar story, one that Pussy Riot’s Nadia Tolokonnikova was quick to point out, when, in her closing statement, she compared her band’s fate to the trial of Socrates, and the kenosis of Christ. Jesus was “raving mad,” she reminded her religiously observant tormentors. “If the authorities, tsars, presidents, prime ministers, the people and judges understood what ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ meant, they would not put the innocent on trial.” Tolokonnikov also cited the prophet Hosea, in the Hebrew Bible: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice.” Surely, the authorities were not thrilled.
Pussy Riot’s choice of Jewish scripture is of course telling, as well as calculated. The prophets argue for forgiveness (Hosea forgave his unfaithful wife) and . . .
Read more: Pussy Riot vs. The Pseudo Religious of Eastern Europe
I was sitting at my desk, listening to the nostalgic boom and bang of distant fireworks on this Fourth – a heated July evening prior to a heated Presidential election. Hearing the clatter of fierce and passionate conservatives, one might easily assume that this will be the final Independence Day in our seemingly fragile constitutional democracy. From deep Alaska, Sarah Palin opined, “If Obama is reelected, well, America, you will no longer recognize the country that today you truly love and can enjoy all of its freedom and prosperity and security.” “ObamaCare is a harbinger of things yet to come,” the governor warns darkly. Such alarms have been Glenn Beck’s stock-in-trade for some years. Rush Limbaugh has followed much the same path, musing on moving to Costa Rica. In four years, America will be France, Venezuela, or Cuba. Not Amerika with K, as the left once proclaimed, but America without the blue and its whites.
Of course, forecasts of profound transformation have been the technique of doom-laden partisans who, until the age of computer caches, could rely on the limited memory of their audience. This is not merely a trope of the right. Partisan rhetoric is often more similar than rivals would care to admit. Paranoia is bipartisan. The end is nearly near! In the weeks prior to Reagan’s election, dear friends promised to invite me to Toronto after they migrated, concluding that America would soon become a fascist regime. I never did receive those invitations. Some of those friends remained to celebrate November 2008 in Grant Park. I have wondered whether America in 2012 conforms to their dark imaginings of what America would look like from the standpoint of Reagan’s ascent.
Despite the science fiction cliché of the man who awakes after decades, the world changes slowly, even in the face of shocks to the system. The fact that gay and lesbian Americans can now marry in many states with the trend continuing is a real change, but it doesn’t create an unrecognizable America. The fact that income inequality has increased or that hunger has decreased over the . . .
Read more: Partisan Change
Recent posts and discussions at Deliberately Considered have been about fundamental problems in contemporary democratic culture: the need to engage in political discussion beyond clichés, the consequences of the persistence of modern magical political thinking, and the danger of transition to dictatorship from democracy. It makes me think about the state of the right and the left and the ideal of a contested political center.
Ideology has not ended, to my dismay (as I reported in my New Year’s post). People believe that they have the truth in politics in a variety of different forms, on the left and right, in the U.S. and globally. In a strange mirroring of Socrates, who confirmed that he was the wisest of men because he “knew that he didn’t know,” contemporary ideologues know that their opponents don’t know. Opponents don’t only think differently but incorrectly, politically incorrect. Material interests, character, moral failure and ignorance are used to explain the other’s mistaken position. Alternative views are dismissed instead of confronted. True believing market fundamentalists know that the problem of the economy will be solved through de-regulation. They will not pay attention to the arguments and evidence of those who explain how such de-regulation is the cause of our global economic crisis. Those who are sure that capitalism is the root of all evil won’t pay attention to those who examine how all attempts to construct a systemic alternative to capitalism in the last century have ended in economic and political failure. It is not the convictions that I find disturbing. It is the unwillingness of people to actually take into account the insights and evidence of those with whom they disagree.
Thus, I think that Gary Alan Fine’s imagined magazine is not only a matter of idiosyncratic taste. As he put it in his recent post:
“I hold to a somewhat eccentric contention that there are smart liberals (neo- and old-timey, pink and pinker), conservatives (neo- and paleo-), progressives, reactionaries, socialists, libertarians, and more. Is my generosity so bizarre?”
No, not at all bizarre. I think there is a pressing need . . .
Read more: Between Left and Right: The Contested Center
Minutes ago I received this open letter from prominent critical Hungarian intellectuals via Andras Bozoki (author of an earlier post on the transition from democracy, who will present an update in the coming days). The message speaks for itself, warning of a looming European political crisis. -Jeff
The decline of democracy – the rise of dictatorship
The undersigned, participants of the erstwhile human rights and democracy movement that opposed the one-party communist regime in the 1970s and 1980s, believe that the Hungarian society is not only the victim of the current economic crisis, but also the victim of its own government. The present government has snatched the democratic political tools from the hands of those who could use these tools to ameliorate their predicament. While chanting empty patriotic slogans, the government behaves in a most unpatriotic way by reducing its citizens to inactivity and impotence.
The constitutional system of Hungary has also sunk into a critical situation. As of the 1st of January 2012, the new constitution of Hungary along with several fundamental laws came into force. Viktor Orbán’s government is intent on destroying the democratic rule of law, removing checks and balances, and pursuing a systematic policy of closing autonomous institutions, including those of civil society, with the potential to criticise its omnipotence. Never since the regime change of 1989 when communist dictatorship was crushed has there been such an intense concentration of power in the region as in present-day Hungary.
Institutions with the authority to hold government activity in check have met a similar fate: Fidesz continuously deprives such institutions of their autonomy, blackmails them for survival, discharges professional management, takes unlawful decisions and moulds these institutions so that they can no longer control and correct government activity but, in sharp contrast to their original function, they serve to augment unbridled autocracy. With the removal of the checks and balances, the whole state has become subservient to the government, or rather to the prime minister. The Parliament and the president obediently comply with the dictates of the cabinet. By having their staff radically reshuffled and implementing laws curtailing their competence, the . . .
Read more: New Year’s Message Sent by Former Hungarian Political Dissidents, Budapest, 2nd of January, 2012
The strength of the United States, Barack Obama said during his Presidential campaign, lies neither in its arsenal nor in its banks, but in the ideas that have defined its history. Max Weber and Alexis de Tocqueville would have recognized this as no mere rhetorical gesture. To simplify, the institutional apparatus of the country rests on the concepts of equality and freedom. In the United States, equality and freedom are not simply ideas in a book, de Toqueville argues, but instead, are the root of everything. The judicial, economic, educational, and religious systems are largely governed by these ideas, which throughout history have been progressively institutionalized, internalized, always emphasized, and of course sometimes distorted. The country largely revolves around principles such as economic, religious, and cultural freedom and the principle of equality before the law. This leads me to wonder, might the U.S.’s greatest strengths also be its most significant vulnerabilities?
As a foreigner, I am sometimes mystified, and sometimes awed, by the radical consequences of the foundational freedoms in the U.S.. For instance, the freedom to say anything, including, to cite a recent Supreme Court decision, the freedom to hurl anti-gay slurs at mourners attending a funeral. Even such speech acts are protected under a firm system of liberties, the firmest that I know of. On the other hand, I am also bemused when friends at a restaurant divide the bill to exactly reflect what each one of the eaters has consumed, dollar by dollar, with due attention to the price of each and every item. A “depraved taste” for equality, de Tocqueville would say.
De Tocqueville argues that liberty and equality are always in tension in America; economic liberty, for example, may go against the principle of equality, as it often does. Or, vice versa, the push for equality may curtail some liberties. But the system, he adds, has built-in mechanisms designed to keep the needed equilibrium in place. Again, I am being schematic: of course the system is more complex and there is more to America’s history . . .
Read more: Thinking like a Terrorist
In this post, Antonio Álvarez considers an enduring problem, the relationship between social justice and development in a country moving from dictatorship to democracy. This problem was pressing during the transitions in Latin America and the former Soviet bloc. It endures, as is evident here. The circumstances are always very specific, but the difficulties repeat themselves as is now dramatically evident in North Africa and the Middle East. A creative approach to the difficulties is considered here. -Jeff
Memory and development often seem to be in tension in Latin America. The left speaks of the need to remember the past, particularly the human rights abuses committed by dictatorships during the cold war; the right, on the other hand, is concerned that an obsession with memory will forestall economic growth. A few weeks ago, Gerardo Bleier published, via Facebook, a piece that made the old-guard of the Uruguayan left quite uncomfortable. In the post, he presented a strong and provocative argument concerning collective memory and economic development. A leftist in distinguished standing, Bleier argues that in order to achieve justice concerning human rights violations during the recent Uruguayan dictatorship, Uruguayans must focus on social and economic development. Development, he argues, ought to be seen as an instrument of justice. He has thus rejected the common sense positions of the left and the right and maps out a significant alternative.
Bleier has been a noted Uruguayan journalist since the 1980s. During the first government of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front, the left of center coalition), led by socialist Tabaré Vázquez (2005-2010), Bleier served as a high level consultant; and currently, he publishes weekly reflections about the vicissitudes encountered by the present Frente Amplio.
Importantly, he is the son of Eduardo Bleier, who was a high ranking cadre in the Communist Party. Without ever having held a gun, Eduardo was one of the many activists who disappeared, was tortured, and murdered during Uruguay’s “dirty war” of the 1960s and 1970s. He probably died the first week of July, 1976, though no one knows for sure. After being tortured in the . . .
Read more: Uruguay at the Crossroads: No Justice without Development
Andrew Arato offers in this post and the next his critical insights into the events in North Africa and the Middle East. He starts with reflections on the theoretical discussions on and historical experiences of revolutions applied to the situation in Egypt He concludes with a close analysis of the factors inhibiting revolutionary changes and the possibility of overcoming these in Egypt. The posts draw on his distinguished career studying the history of social and political thought, legal and constitutional theory, the historical problems of revolutions and radical transformations. – Jeff
We certainly said good-bye to revolutions too soon, between 1989 and 1995. Yes, we were right Romania was the exception, and the series of changes of regime certainly did not represent revolutions. Yet the fact that the latter were represented finally and definitively by the journalistic cliche as the “Revolutions of 1989” demonstrates the tremendous power of the topos. Central European ideologists of the radical right could still rely on it in the canard of the betrayed revolution, and the demand of a new revolution reversing the agreements of 1989-1990. It is indisputably true that both the revolutionary imaginary, and the empirical possibility of revolutions belong to the concept of modernity. This does not mean, however, that the critique of revolutions we inherit from Burke, Hegel, most brilliantly Tocqueville, and, despite all her sympathy, Hannah Arendt has lost their meaning and importance.
In the following analysis of the “revolutions” of 2011 I use the term revolution, from the legal point of view, as a type of internal change that transforms a system according to rules or practices other than those of the systems. This was Hans Kelsen’s definition, who could not however distinguish coups and revolutions as a result. Thus, I add that successful revolutions, unlike coups, change a system’s organizational core or its principle of organization. Better still, following Janos Kis, we should introduce a new principle of legitimacy. Either way, an illegal act of changing rules is necessary if not sufficient for . . .
Read more: The Return of Revolutions
Hypocrisy and human rights, hate speech, and the surprising role of young people and their social media in the world historic changes occurring in North Africa and the Middle East have been our issues of the week at DC. While I know, from my ability to track levels of readership, each of the posts attracted more or less an equal degree of our readers’ attention, it was hate speech that stimulated an interesting discussion, interesting on its own terms, but also in the way it sheds light on the other posts of the week.
Gary Alan Fine is not worried about hate speech. Most of us are. He thinks it excites and draws attention, and that its negative effects are overdrawn. Iris “hates hate speech,” but thinks that we have to learn to live with it. It is the price we pay for living in a democracy. Rafael offers a comparative cultural approach, agreeing that in English hate speech may not be as pernicious as it may first seem. But he, nonetheless, reminds us that sometimes hate and its speech have horrific consequences, citing the case of a local preacher “insisting on an idea of building a memorial reminding folk that Mathew Sheppard is now in hell.” Rafael underscores that sometimes hate speech and aggressive actions are intimately connected, sometimes, even, hate speech functions as an action. Esther looks at the problem from a slightly different angle. She thinks that concern about civil discourse is a good idea, but asks: “shouldn’t we be thinking, talking and doing some more about cause and prevention of violent outbursts by lost individuals?” While, Michael is more directly concerned with hate speech and action, maintaining that it undermines democratic culture. “Hate frequently destroys the cultural underpinnings needed for democratic processes to emerge and thrive.” He then expresses his concern about the hate speech in Madison, echoing those who were most concerned with the relationship between hate speech and the massacre in Tucson.
© Akiramenai | Wikimedia Commons
And then, in a sense, the Supreme Court joined our discussion, . . .
Read more: DC Week in Review: Civility Matters