FireHouse Casual

Worse Regimes

Frances Stonor Saunders’s impressive LRB piece on Eric Hobsbawm’s file at MI5 is well-worth reading, but it ends with an odd coda: The two sides in the Cold War, finding each other irresistible, ended up in a contrapuntal relationship where, as George Urban put it, ‘they marched in negative step, but in step all the same.’ They had their spies, we had ours. They had their files, we had ours.

The Civil Rights Movement's Forgotten Radicals

I have a new essay up at Jacobin on continuities of radicalism between the Civil Rights Movement and today’s struggles against racism: However devoutly liberals may wish for it, democracy cannot be depoliticized. Political change can only be pursued and maintained by political commitment and engagement. The sacralization of the Civil Rights Movement’s achievements through constitutional jurisprudence is the entombment, not the revivification, of the struggle for racial justice and equality.

Speaking on Against the Grain

Tune in at 12:00PM PDT to hear me talk with C.S. Soong on Against the Grain about the Supreme Court, Jacobin, and why liberal Court-worship means we can’t have nice things. Update: You can listen to the audio on Against the Grain‘s website here.

Abolish the States

“Abolish the States,” my polemic against federalism and “states’ rights,” is up at Jacobin. I’ve written before about how federalism frustrates freedom rather than promoting it. Federalism – the fragmentation of political authority and the preference for subsidiarity over national political equality – inhibits the consolidation of centralized political institutions and thwarts mass movements seeking comprehensive political change. As a sort of colloquy on the topic, here are some choice quotes on federalism.

Waiting for SCOTUS

I have an essay in the latest issue of Jacobin on liberals’ preference for crafting policy through judicial review – rather than pursuing political power through collective action. Liberals have not only abandoned mass politics by embracing the Court, but they have also turned their backs on the radical implications of the (partial and incomplete) successes of mass movements and the expansion of democracy in American political history. It’s a fundamentally antidemocratic posture.

The Contradictions of Cyberlibertarianism

In an excellent essay recently posted at Jacobin, David Golumbia calls attention to the reactionary tendency of cyberlibertarian frames on digital culture and politics. Cyberlibertarians’ preference for viewing all political conflicts as computationally tractable tends to diminish the importance of political participation, and shrouds structures of power rather than illuminates them: “computational practices are intrinsically hierarchical and shaped by identification with power.” “Hacktivists” and digital utopians are practitioners of the kind of neoliberal antipolitics that elides questions of political antagonism in favor of adopting a managerialist posture.

Surveillance Is Not a Technical Problem With Technical Solutions

Pamela Jones, founder-operator of the indispensible blog Groklaw, has announced that the site will be shuttered because she no longer feels confident using email, citing the recent closure of Lavabit. She would rather be in the position of not having data to hand over in response to a “National Security Letter” should she ever be presented with one. It’s hard to fault Jones for acting on a healthy and justified fear of an unconstrained surveillance regime.

Quite Possibly the Best Capsule Summary of the Critique of Political Economy (As Opposed to Economics)

From the introduction to Isaak Illich Rubin‘s Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value: Political economy does not analyze the material-technical aspect of the capitalist process of production, but its social form, i.e., the totality of production relations which make up the “economic structure” of capitalism. … This distinction at the same time defines the method of political economy as a social and historical science. In the variegated and diversified chaos of economic life which represents a combination of social relations and technical methods, this distinction also directs our attention precisely to those social relations among people in the process of production, to those production relations, for which the production technology serves as an assumption or basis.

Names Aren't Important: A Panegyric for Iain M. Banks

Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History: According to Fourier, a beneficent division of social labor would have the following consequences: four moons would illuminate the night sky; ice would be removed from the polar cap; saltwater from the sea would no longer taste salty; and wild beasts would enter into the service of human beings. All this illustrates a labor which, far from exploiting nature, is instead capable of delivering creations whose possibility slumbers in her womb.

The Golden Freedom

James A. Michener on federalism in Poland They were defending their freedom to neutralize the king; they were defending their freedom to keep the newly built towns subservient to their country areas; they were defending most strongly their freedom to keep their peasants in a state of perpetual serfdom as opposed to the liberties which were being grudgingly won in the western parts of Europe; and they were doing everything reactionary within their power to preserve the advantages they had against the legitimate aspirations of the growing gentry.