Reflections on Political Scale

Adam Smith Lecture in Jurisprudence, University of Glasgow, 30 May 2018. Published online on February 6, 2019, in: Jurisprudence: An International Journal of Legal and Political Thought, 10 (1), 1-14.

I start, not with Smith – he will show up near the end – but with a close friend of his, the historian Edward Gibbon. In the fourth volume of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in 1788, Gibbon’s narrative reaches the point when in the late fifth century the Western Roman Empire forever expired. Before he finally turns his attention to the history of Byzantium, Gibbon pauses to look back at more than four centuries of Roman imperial statehood to consider what the ‘awful revolution’ he has recounted might mean for ‘the instruction of the present age’. (…)

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Through Unending Halls

Review of Joshua B. Freeman (2018), Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Appeared in London Review of Books 41 (3), 2019, 29-31.

It was in the early 1960s, I think, that our class at a small-town Gymnasium made a trip to south-western Germany, accompanied by several teachers. We visited Heidelberg and Schwetzingen and similar places without really seeing them; 17-year-old boys have other things on their minds. But we also went to Rüsselsheim, near Frankfurt, for a tour of the Opel car factory. I had never imagined that a place like this could exist: the deafening noise, the dirt, the heat, and in the middle of it all, people stoically performing minute predefined operations on the cars-in-the-making that were slowly but relentlessly moving past their work stations. The high point of the visit was the foundry in the basement – which, as I now learn from Joshua Freeman’s marvellous book, was the standard place for foundries in car factories of that era. Here, where the heat seemed unbearable and there was almost no light, half-naked men carried the molten metal, red-hot, from the furnace to the casting stations in small buckets filled to a back-breaking weight. Trained in the classics rather than the real world, I felt I had entered the workshop of Hephaestus. Looking back, I think it was on that day I decided to study sociology, which I then believed could help me and others to improve the lives of those slaving away in the basements of factories everywhere. (…)

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Globalization and the Transformation of the International State System

Norbert Lechner Lecture, Diego Portales University, Chile, November 14, 2018.

In a globally integrated capitalist economy borders between states are supposed to become economically irrelevant. Globalization is the ultimate form of liberalization; it shields free markets, instituted on a global scale, from national state intervention, in particular of a redistributive kind. Rather than markets located in states, under globalization states become located in markets. This has momentous consequences for the nature of statehood, both domestically and internationally. States located in markets lose the capacity to protect their economies and societies from market competition; in fact their economic role, if one is left for them at all, is to deregulate their national economies in order to make them more competitive, internally first and as a consequence externally as well. (…)

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Billige Tugend

Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, 14. Oktober 2018, Seite 44.

Didier Eribon lag mit seiner Kritik an Sahra Wagenknecht in diesem Feuilleton falsch: Offene Grenzen sind noch keine Politik. Die Linken brauchen vielmehr einen neuen Internationalismus.

„Sahra Wagenknecht ist mitverantwortlich für das, was in Chemnitz geschehen ist, weil sie die sogenannte Migrantenproblematik zum Bestandteil der linken Agenda gemacht hat (. . .) Wagenknechts Aussage, sie sei gegen das Konzept offener Grenzen, (. . .) suggeriert, dass man mit ihr auch über Grenzzäune, Hunde und Internierungslager reden kann.“ Das ist eine Menge Holz, vor allem von jemand, der sich „in gewisser Weise“ für das „verantwortlich“ erklärt, was Wagenknecht so alles unternimmt. Ich habe, wie andere auch, Eribons „Rückkehr nach Reims“ – als Soziologe war er und ist er mir bis heute nicht aufgefallen – durchaus mit Bewegung gelesen. Hätte ich das Buch zu rezensieren gehabt, hätte ich den Dauertriumphalismus des Autors über seinen eigenen Bildungsaufstieg etwas nervig gefunden; Bildungsaufsteiger gibt es in unserer Generation ja nicht gerade selten. Wichtiger, mir wäre die geradezu ontologische Beschreibung der Arbeiterklasse, jeder Arbeiterklasse und nicht nur der Familie Eribon, als „rassistisch“ merkwürdig und bemerkenswert erschienen. (…)

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From Speciation to Specialization

Published in Social Research Vol. 85: No. 3: Fall 2018, 661-685.

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin

For a social scientist, reading Darwin’s origin of species is a simultaneously humbling and reassuring experience. What an achievement! Science and scientific writing at their best. A book that is the product of long thinking, such as we today, haunted by deadlines, can only dream of, and written in a clear, engaging language, immensely readable for even the (educated and interested) layperson. Everything is as simple as possible but no simpler, as allegedly demanded by none less than Albert Einstein himself. And profoundly honest: the open questions, the remaining mysteries carefully exposed, careful attention paid to the difficult spots, and the arguments of the opposition, both real and anticipated, treated with polite respect. (…)

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Taking Back Control? The Future of Western Democratic Capitalism

Published in Efil Journal of Economic Research, Vol. 1 (2018), No. 3, 30-47

The international state system is in turmoil, due to pressures on its architecture that emanate from capitalist-economic globalization. Large states in particular seem to be losing the capacity to hold their societies together through economic redistribution from prospering to lagging sectors and regions. The results are centrifugal tendencies toward decentralization and secession, as well as toward exit from international organizations. To defend centralized rule, governments of large political units tend to turn authoritarian. Experimentation with small-scale units of governance seems attractive in many places, given the example of successful small countries that have preserved their national sovereignty, like Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland. Small states tend to be more homogeneous, more suitable for democratic self-government, and more capable of specializing on niches in the global economy where they are comparatively safe from head-on competition. (…)

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Between Charity and Justice: Remarks on the Social Construction of Immigration Policy in Rich Democracies

Appeared in Culture, Practice & Europeanization, August 2018, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 3-22

As a sociologist working on political economy, one of the most difficult questions I encounter is how social norms, the location of actors in the class structure and the collective construction of reality, present and future, hang together. How are facts construed to fit, justify and make appear possible moral or economic practices, or economic practices defended as moral ones, and how do socially constructed factual accounts of the world reflect, preserve and produce political identities and cleavages and the prevailing interpretations of structurally based social interests? This is the classical theme of Ideologiekritik and, later, Wissenssoziologie. Both interrogate the collective “ideas”, the legitimacy-enhancing “narratives” and the conceptual “frames” of the common sense of the time as to the hidden impact on them of material interests growing out of the social locations of actors and the specific cognitive and moral perspectives they impose on them. It cannot possibly be my intention here to try to present a complete analysis of this extremely complicated subject. Rather, I will limit myself to exploring a few selected facets of the interconnections between interests, politics and moral values, drawing for illustration on one of the most intriguing moral-political-economic issues in the rich democracies of today, which is immigration. (…)

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