Public Seminar, an online exchange of critical perspectives on contemporary social issues, began at the New School for Social Research and now has contributions and readers from around the world. Several NSSR faculty have shared thoughts on pressing matters, have debated healthily with their peers, and have used Public Seminar as a tool for pedagogical experimentation.
Here are just some of many contributions made by our faculty in the last year.
- Julia Ott, Historical Studies: Slaves: The Capital That Made Capitalism
- Chiara Bottici, Philosophy: And Yet It is Round! Untimely thoughts on Europe, Migration, and the State
- Dmitri Nikulin, Philosophy: Why Comedy Matters
- Andrew Arato, Sociology: Hannah Arendt, Constitutionalism and the Problem of Israel/Palestine
Julia Ott: Slaves: The Capital That Made Capitalism
Excerpt: “Racialized chattel slaves were the capital that made capitalism. While most theories of capitalism set slavery apart, as something utterly distinct, because under slavery, workers do not labor for a wage, new historical research reveals that for centuries, a single economic system encompassed both the plantation and the factory.
At the dawn of the industrial age commentators like Rev. Thomas Malthus could not envision that capital — an asset that is used but not consumed in the production of goods and services — could compound and diversify its forms, increasing productivity and engendering economic growth. Yet, ironically, when Malthus penned his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, the economies of Western Europe already had crawled their way out of the so-called “Malthusian trap.” The New World yielded vast quantities of “drug foods” like tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar for world markets. Europeans worked a little bit harder to satiate their hunger for these “drug foods.” The luxury-commodities of the seventeenth century became integrated into the new middle-class rituals like tea-drinking in the eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century, these commodities became a caloric and stimulative necessity for the denizens of the dark satanic mills. The New World yielded food for proletarians and fiber for factories at reasonable (even falling) prices. The “industrious revolution” that began in the sixteenth century set the stage for the Industrial Revolution of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
But the “demand-side” tells only part of the story. A new form of capital, racialized chattel slaves, proved essential for the industrious revolution — and for the industrial one that followed.”
Bio| Julia Ott is Associate Professor of Historical Studies and Co-director of the Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies. She received her Ph.D. from Yale University. Ott was a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation in 2009-2010. Ott specializes in economic history and political history. She is the author of When Wall Street Met Main Street: The Quest for an Investors’ Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2011).
Excerpt: As I do every year, I have spent most of this summer on the Italian coast, in the region around the Gulf of Poets. This summer, as soon as I put my head underwater, I am struck by the beauty of the sea: the water is so blue that, at times, it turns violet; there are fish everywhere, sea urchins, sea stars, and seaweeds of such amazing sparkling colors as I have never seen in the region. People around me speak of a “tropicalization of the Mediterranean.”
But I have also never seen so many African immigrants and so much systemic racism in that region: most of the time, the locals simply ignore the immigrant presence, and, when they do not, they address them with the colloquial tu – which, in Italian, you would use only with kids; never with an adult you did not know. This is just one among the many ways of underscoring that they are perceived as belonging to an inferior type: the eternal infancy of those who are considered less than human. People call this “the Africanization of our country.” For more than a month, I swim during the day and talk to people at night, and I wonder why the diversity that they celebrate under the water has to become the ugliness they despise outside of it.
Bio| Chiara Bottici is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. Bottici obtained her PhD from the European University Institute (Florence, Italy) and taught at the University of Frankfurt before joining the New School for Social Research. Her research interests include modern philosophy, social and political philosophy, contemporary Italian, German, and French philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy and literature. She has written on myth, imagination, ancient and early modern philosophy, Frankfurt School, psychoanalysis, contemporary social and political philosophy. She is the author of several publications, including Imaginal Politics (Columbia Press, 2014), Imagining Europe: Myth, Memory, Identity (co-authored with Benoit Challand, Cambridge University Press, 2013), and A Philosophy of Political Myth (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Dmitri Nikulin: Why Comedy Matters
Excerpt: “When moral or political decisions are at stake, we often make use of catch-phrases drawn from a repertoire of available drama and literature. For we understand that both our actions and how they are perceived depend on how we frame them. Comedy, of all genres, appears to be the one we covertly use all the time without, meanwhile, fully appreciating its ability to portray and explore the intensity and integrity of our interactions with others. When Caesar began the civil war in Rome, he proclaimed: “The die has been cast.” According to Suetonius, he said it in his native Latin ( alea iacta est). But Plutarch reports that he used Greek (anerrhiphtō kybos), thus quoting a now lost comedy by Menander, the originator of the so-called New Comedy. In a letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul also turns to Menander, quoting the comedy Thaïs: “Bad communications corrupt good characters.”
Bio| Dmitri Nikulin is Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Reseach. Nikulin received his PhD in philosophy from the Institute for Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences in Moscow and held visiting positions at the universities of Essen, Heidelberg (Germany), Oslo (Norway), Reykjavik Academy (Iceland), Universidad de los Andes (Santiago, Chile), Istituto italiano per gli studi filosofici (Naples, Italy), Ecole pratique des hautes études (Paris). His most recent book is Comedy, Seriously: A Philosophical Study (Palgrave, 2014). He is also the editor of Memory: A History (Oxford University Press, 2015), The Other Plato (SUNY Press, 2012), and author of Dialectic and Dialogue (Stanford University Press, 2010). His research interests include philosophy and history of science of late antiquity and early modernity (17th century), philosophy of dialogue, philosophy of history and memory.
Excerpt: “On October 3, 2013 the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that there is no Israeli identity, since there is “objectively” no Israeli ethnicity. The 21 litigants will have to continue having the designation “Jewish” in their official files (coded into their identity cards!), instead of “Israeli” as they desired. Against their own wish, they will not be able to share a common citizenship identity with Arab citizens of Israel, in a state that continues to be identified as that of an ethnicity, the Jewish people. Some of the consequences of that identification are well known. Thus, for example, if I wished to ask for Israeli citizenship and membership in the citizen body to which the state is said to belong, namely the Jewish millet, I would be able to do so, though I have never lived in Israel and practice no religion. Many who have lived all their lives in that country would not be able to do the same, unless they converted to Judaism. Even if married according to Islamic law, Arab citizens do not have the right to permanently settle their spouses in Israel. But even I would not be able to marry or divorce in Israel, unless I followed the rules, requirements and rituals of orthodox religious law. And I could not marry a non-Jew in any case.
As all those who have seen the film Hannah Arendt must realize, the great political theorist’s relationship to Israel was deeply ambivalent. She believed that the idea of the modern nation state with an ethnic definition of belonging was at the root of modern (as against traditional) anti-Semitism, and she strongly rejected the idea that its victims, the Jews, living together with another people, should establish such a state themselves. (The Jewish Writings p. 352) Moreover, to put the matter in her own concepts if not words, even if Israel’s formation was an act of liberation (whether from colonial rule or, more broadly, the European nation states) it was not followed by the constitution of freedom. The founders, as is well known, were unable to produce, as required by UN resolution of 1947 and the Israeli Declaration of Independence, a written constitution with equal fundamental rights for all then living in the territory. The constituent assembly elected also with Arab participation was converted into the first Knesset, whose simple majority chose to abandon the project of constitution making, in favor of basic laws that would be produced gradually, by ordinary parliaments. Arendt’s devastating critique of constitution making as acts of government instead of the mobilized and enlightened actions of “the people” themselves, deserves to be well known, however that difference between two approaches is to be understood procedurally.”
Bio| Andrew Arato is the Dorothy Hart Hirshon Professor in Political and Social Theory, in the Department of Sociology at the New School for Social Research. Arato received his PhD from University of Chicago. Arato has taught at Ecole des Hautes Etudes, and Sciences Po in Paris, and the Central European University in Budapest, had a Fulbright teaching grant to Montevideo in 1991, and was Distinguished Fulbright Professor at the Goethe University in Frankfurt/M, Germany. Professor Arato has served as a consultant for the Hungarian Parliament, and to the U.S. State Department in its work with Nepal and Zimbabwe. He was invited Professor at the College de France, Spring 2012. Arato has written numerous books and articles, including Constitution Making Under Occupation (Harvard University Press, 2009). He contributed to the forthcoming The Promise and Perils of Populism. Arato’s contributions to political theory were examined in an edited book, Critical Theory and Democracy: Civil Society, Dictatorship, and Constitutionalism in Andrew Arato’s Democratic Theory (Routledge, 2014). His interests include the politics of civil society; constitutional theory; comparative politics of constitution making; religion, secularism and constitutions.
- Article from Ott: Family of African American slaves on Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, circa 1862. © Timothy H. O’Sullivan | learnnc.org
- Article from Bottici: “Where are You From?” © Simon Kneebone | Courtesy of the artist
- Article from Nikulin: Tragedy seen through the gaping grin of comedy © Lex McKee | Flickr
- Article from Arato: The Supreme Court of Israel – The Courtyard of the Arches © shifra levyathan | PikiWiki – Israel free image collection project