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Monday, December 12, 2016


I have for some time been vaguely aware of a certain discord between myself and a number of commentators to this blog whose politics are very similar to my own, and their interesting comments on the reports of Russian meddling in the recent election have enabled me to clarify my understanding of this discord.  The purpose of this post is to articulate my developing understanding.

There are, I now see, two very different ways in which someone of my political leanings can define his or her relation to the country of residence.  For the sake of simplicity, I shall talk about my own relation to America, but what I say ought to apply equally to anyone reading this blog, regardless of where he or she lives.

The first way is for me to adopt toward America the attitude that Marx seems to have had toward the England in which he spent the last thirty-five or so years of his life.  Marx was, or so it seems to me, a citizen of the world.  He was born in Prussia, lived for a while in France, spent more than half his life in London, was fluent in German, French, and English, read Italian easily, was educated thoroughly in the Greek and Latin classic texts, and even taught himself Russian late in life after learning that he had disciples there.  I can see no evidence that he ever thought of himself as a Prussian, a Frenchman, or a British subject.  He did not identify with any of those nations, or with any other nation, for that matter, and judged the events of his day, with which he was intimately familiar, solely from the point of view of their relation to the prospects of the proletarian revolution for which he worked and which he awaited eagerly.

The second way would be for me to consider myself an American, for better or [as is so often the case] for worse, to take pride in what goes well here, to condemn and feel shame for what goes badly, to consider myself in some manner especially responsible for American injustices, cruelties, repressions, and exploitations, as opposed to those elsewhere in the world, even though as an unimportant and solitary person, I am by no discernible measure actually responsible for anything that goes on either here or abroad.

I do not think there is any doubt that I define myself in the second way, as an American, not in the first way, as a citizen of the world.  If a foreign country interferes in American elections, I feel it as a personal affront, even though I have spent quite literally the last fifty-five years protesting the ways in which the American government interferes in the internal political affairs of other nations.  If an appalling and dangerous buffoon is elected to the American presidency, I feel not merely disgust or fear but shame, even though I would never feel shame at the accession to power of dangerous buffoons in other countries.

In view of this fact, it is odd that the most consequential thing I have done in the public sphere in my life, aside from the pursuit of my profession, is to spend twenty-five years raising money to support young Black men and women at historically Black universities in a foreign country, South Africa.

When I think about myself in this fashion, it helps me to understand the sizable difference between the way in which I view the recent election and its aftermath and the way in which some of the most vocal commentators to this blog view those same events.  This is not something about which one can usefully argue.  If those commentators were to tell me that I ought to view myself as a citizen of the world, I could only reply, “But I don’t.”  Nor would it make any sense at all for me to urge those commentators to be more American!

If you see yourself as a citizen of the world who happens to be living in America, as Marx was a citizen of the world who happened to be living in London, and if you wish to be, as the French would say, engagĂ©, then I suppose the sensible thing would be to look across the globe and find the place where you could most effectively strike a blow for freedom or for the international proletariat, regardless of where that might be.  But if, like me, you see yourself as an American, then it would make more sense to cast about for some way to advance your ideals here, in America.  That is what I hope I am doing in this blog.


s. wallerstein said...

I agree with what you say above.

This is completely off topic, but Trump's comment about China this morning or yesterday night is revealing. He said that he would reconsider the so-called
"one China" policy unless China makes concessions in the areas of trade and currencies, etc.

As long as I can recall, U.S. geopolitical interests (or rather the interests of the U.S. economic elite) have been cloaked or masked in the language of freedom and human rights. Previous U.S. presidents would have stated that they will reconsider the one China policy because of China's record on suppressing dissent, in the name of Freedom, out of concern for the lack of access to internet for the Chinese people, with God on our side.

The Chinese, playing the game, would have smiled and yielded a bit on trade policies, knowing full well that the U.S. president did not care about human rights abuses inside China.

Trump says none of that. Business is business, capitalism is out of the closet, a deal is a deal.

Jerry Fresia said...

One of the problems about commenting on such rich material is that one is forced to be cryptic and thus one risks being unclear. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of all this to me is the hypocrisy. It is impossible for me to know if the Russians did or did not hack anything. Personally, I just can't get motivated to scream from the roof tops that my neighbor beats his wife if I do it too. Also,I see where the Clinton team is now urging that electors be fully briefed on the hacking. All too convenient by half. Can't point to election fraud - way too revolutionary. The Ruskies did it works better.

But you said something Professor, in this post, that has been an issue for me for quite a long time: "find the place where you could most effectively strike a blow for freedom or for the international proletariat, regardless of where that might be." Great. I'm all in favor of solidarity especially when it has to do with the "proletariat." But here's the thing: what about my life? I'm a painter and spend a huge amount of time trying to get clear about and get my students to think of painting as an expressive activity, not a productive activity and further that an expressive activity affords one the opportunity to create one's life and become more of who one is most - as opposed to the artist-as-entrepreneur whose goals have to do with career and climbing the ladder. Here's my point: capitalism distorts my life and makes it difficult for me to be emancipated in the Marxian sense. Is this not the case with academics? Does academia somehow sit outside the range of corrupting power relationships? Perhaps I'm being defensive. I have been chided for not being "active," ie for not actively participating in some movement in which I am expressing solidarity. But my view is that I can most effectively help to create a better world if my activism is centered at the "point of production." So Professor, please tell me: have you felt (and Lord knows you have written about this elsewhere) that education in capitalist American has been corrupted in ways that you yourself have felt compromised? If not, I would be surprised. If so, why not urge that each of us strike blows where we work, blows at the university by professors for their own emancipation. This is a part of Marxism that appeals to me. Why is the revolution always over there?

Ed Barreras said...

I'm also unembarassed to consider myself a patriotic American. And at the risk of sounding highfalutin, it seems to me that patriotism implies a commitment to some form of idealism, where the ideal comprises a certain attitude or conception (a mere 'mental' projection?) about one's home nation, its past, its values, its mission. Those who refuse this attitude we might call hard-nosed realists.

Aside from that, I have three observations about the alleged Russia hack:

First, I wouldn't consider it an affront if a country like, say, Mexico had interefered in the election to throw it in Hillary's favor. What rankles me about the alleged Russian misbehavior is that it was meant to hurt us, not help us. I confess I don't see any hypocirsy in this attitude.

Second, in the wake of the election, many leftists have insisted that we must find a way to "speak to" the white working-class, where this implies that we should be more genuinely populist in our economic message. This is all well and good, of course. But is it enough? It seems to me that those critics are often the very same people who are most apt to sneer at the slightest intimation of patriotic pride. And yet such pride is, of course, practically the lingua franca among those working-class communities which we are told we must urgently reach.

Third, let's not forget that, based on what's been alleged so far, Russia didn't actually engage in a propaganda campaign as traditionally conceived. (Though with all this fake news, it might have, who knows?) Rather, it handed the T***p campaign and our craven media a treasure trove of non-scandals about Hillary Clinton that they could then blow up beyond all proportion to convince a benighted public that Clinton was the second coming of Imelda Marcos. I blame the media.

L.B. said...

So, you are more like Lenin then, a national hero with potentially global repercussions - intellectuals of the world, unite!

David Auerbach said...

a propos Jerry's comment, I offer a colleague's article: