When I’m in China, conversations with friends and colleagues often begin with their asking about the name of my university: Why is it called “The New School?” Most are not familiar with the university, but when I mention the name of John Dewey and the intellectual spirit associated with the university’s founding in 1919, there’s an immediate connection. Dewey traveled and lectured in China beginning in 1919, just as The New School was being established, and just as Chinese intellectuals were engaging in unprecedented forms of public engagement and education.
For Chinese intellectuals and students today, 1919 invokes the stirrings of the “New Culture Movement” and the foundations of the Chinese revolution more broadly. The New Culture Movement is closely associated with what became known as the “May Fourth Movement,” so named for the student protests in Beijing on that day in 1919 to reject the humiliating outcome of the Paris Peace Conference. The protest was over the terms that allowed Japan to retain territorial concessions that had been negotiated before the war by a discredited president of the fledgling Republic of China. (The Qing dynasty had fallen in 1911-12.) But the May Fourth Movement was less about geopolitics and much more about the vibrant intellectual pursuit and experimentation with new ideas–anarchism, Marxism, socialism, and much else.
John Dewey arrived in China just a few days after May 4, 1919, and would spend the next two years teaching and lecturing at Chinese universities. Dewey had been invited by his former student at Columbia, Hu Shih, by then a prominent leader in the New Culture Movement. Hu, like others in the movement, advocated the wholesale rejection of Confucian culture and practice–first and foremost the educational precepts that stressed the close engagement with Confucian and other classical texts. In its place, Hu and those who would become the presidents and chancellors of China’s leading universities adopted many of Dewey’s ideas about education and its roles in constituting citizenship, democratic practice, among much else.
Several scholars have examined closely Dewey’s China lectures and his writings . . .
Read more: John Dewey in China
Last week, while observing the nationwide strike on May Day, and also the performance of a sociology student from The New School on Fox News a couple of days later, I wondered about the possibilities and obstacles of reinventing political culture. I was impressed that there was a significant attempt to bring May Day home, and also impressed by powerful media resistance to significant change in our political life.
May Day is celebrated around the world as Labor Day, everywhere, that is, except where it all began, the United States. The holiday commemorates the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago and the struggle for decent working conditions and the eight-hour workday. It is an official holiday in over eighty countries, recognized in even more. Yet, until this year, it has been all but ignored in the U.S., except by those far to the left of the political mainstream. Thus, the calls by people associated with Occupy Wall Street for a nationwide general strike was notable, and it was quite striking that there were nationwide demonstrations including many in New York, capped by a large a mass demonstration at Union Square Park, right near my office. Not only leftists were there. Mainstream labor unions were as well. In many ways, I found the gathering to be as impressive as the ones I saw in Zuccotti Park last fall. Yet, it did not attract serious mass media attention.
The New York Times was typical. It had a careful article on May Day in Moscow, but reported the American actions as a local story, focused on minor violence, arrests and traffic disruptions.
The events’ significance did not reach beyond those who immediately were involved or who were already committed to its purpose through social media. Where OWS broke through to a broad public in its initial demonstrations downtown in the Fall, it failed to do so on May Day in demonstrations that were both large and inventive. Beyond the violence of the fringe of those involved in the movement and the . . .
Read more: Media Conspiracy? May Day, The New York Times and Fox
I want to make sense of resistance, and more: to inform it and take part. This has been a central thread of my intellectual and political life.
My latest projects examining this have taken place in new and old forms, Deliberately Considered and my most recent book, Reinventing Political Culture. This Monday at 7pm, we are having a party for the book at The New School, 6 East 16th Street, Room 1103, the Wolff Conference Room, co-sponsored by the New School’s Sociology Department and its Transregional Center for Democratic Studies, my two primary intellectual homes. It will mostly be a party, with opportunities for guests to buy the book, at a discount, signed, if you like, but as we gather, my dear friend and colleague, Elzbieta Matynia, and I will also use the occasion to publicly discuss some of the implications of the Reinventing Political Culture, especially as it addresses two related questions. What scholarship can contribute to critical political life? And, what is a public sociology?
I hope the readers of Deliberately Considered who are in and around New York come to enjoy the party and take part in the discussion. The wonders of the Web allow for the circle of discussion to be much broader, for New Yorkers and for those who can’t make it on Monday.
Actually, the discussion started last Wednesday. Elzbieta and I met to talk about the book and the plans for the party over a delicious cappuccino at Taralluccci e Vino on 18th Street near Union Square. She was in a notable self-reflective mood. What is it that we do? How does it relate to what other more professionally oriented scholars do and to what those who are more involved in direct political action (in power and resisting the prevailing powers) do? She talked about some presentations she has coming up: one in a conference at Harvard on women and the Arab Spring, the title of her talk will be “Revolution and . . .
Read more: Making Sense of Resistance: An Invitation to a Book Party and Discussion
Occupy’s six-month birthday celebration last Saturday at Zuccotti Park was first spent in celebration: the scene was joyous with friends reuniting after winter hibernation. “Spring training” regimes were conducted. The drum circle was back, and mic checks once again created a collective voice.
But when protestors undertook a spontaneous, albeit brief, reoccupation, they were met with the most violent and unrestrained NYC police force to date. MTA buses were commandeered and over seventy arrests were made. The significance and power of the park was clear once again.
Police violence was immediately challenged with solidarity marches in New York and throughout the country on Sunday. In spite of a winter predicting our demise, Occupy is alive again this spring. Not that we were ever really dead, but since the cops evicted Zuccotti the first time last fall, OWS has been struggling to find a way of staying meaningful without the spectacle of the park. Liberty Park offered a sense of commonality, a point of access, and a feeling of empowerment that has been difficult to replicate.
In fact, as the winter approached, the occupation had already started to weaken. Social problems appeared within the park. The influx of those bearing the stigmas of long-term homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness had already created divisions, cutting across the usual lines of class, race and “mental status.” Neighborhoods and maps developed to segregate social groups, restricting movement within what was established and claimed as a space of “openness.” Just after the fall storm, a woman pushed past me rushing from one side of the park to the other, and I heard her say to a friend, “Oh noooo, we don’t want to get caught in that part of the ‘hood.’ ” That comment stuck.
Many of us felt relieved that the police closed the park – that the occupation went out with a bang, rather than slowly disintegrating in front of an increasingly disinterested television audience, suggesting the movement’s ideals as being fundamentally in conflict to the wider public.
Nonetheless, the movement did continue. The loss of the park . . .
Read more: OWS at Six Months: Reflections on the Winter Occupation
The late Christopher Hitchens had taught at the New School, and several cohorts of students in the Committee on Liberal Studies had gotten to know him well. But those of us who participated in the 2009 Democracy & Diversity Summer Institute in Poland will always remember him from Wroclaw.
The institute had just relocated from Krakow to Wroclaw, an old and booming city in western Poland (formerly Breslau, prewar Germany’s second largest city) to be closer to the challenging issues of an expanding Europe. Hitchens was working on his memoirs, published a year later as “Hitch 22,” and his visit to Wroclaw was a private journey to find out more about his Jewish great-grandmother from Kepno, a small town in Lower Silesia, not far from Wroclaw. We helped him get to Kepno accompanied by the head of the Wroclaw Jewish community, and to get access to archives there.
Hitch was more than generous in return. Long late-night intensive discussions with him were an amazing gift. We talked together about the place, the shifting borders, the shifted populations, the imprint of German Wroclaw, but also of Czech, Austrian, and Polish Wroclaw, and about the remnants of the Jewish past here, the languages and accents heard on the streets, and the social potential of borderlands in the new Europe.
We were walking through the park to Centennial Hall, an impressive modernist structure where Hitchens was to give a public talk, when the news came in from Oxford that Leszek Kolakowski, a youthful Marxist, then a critic of Communism, intellectual godfather of the Solidarity movement, and one of Europe’s most distinguished thinkers had just died.
We did not know that Christopher Hitchens had studied under Kolakowski at Oxford. He quickly changed the focus of his talk, asked for a moment of silence, and spoke about the impact of developments in Eastern Europe on his generation of British leftist students. It was a magical moment, as it was at once a eulogy for his teacher, for his ancestors from Kepno, and for his . . .
Read more: Hitchens in Wroclaw – A Remembrance