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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Die Zukunft der Linken

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 04. August, 2018, Seite 9

Nach dem Eintritt der SPD in eine weitere große Koalition gibt es in Deutschland derzeit keine oppositionelle Machtperspektive mehr. Die Scholz-Nahles-SPD schrumpft unaufhaltsam; mit ihrer „Erneuerung“ hat sie noch nicht einmal angefangen. Die Linkspartei wird durch ihren sektiererischen Flügel gelähmt, und die Grünen sind zu Merkels letzter Einsatzreserve mutiert. Wer sich nicht in die schwarz-rot-grüne Einheitsfront einreihen will, dem bleiben nur Protestwahl oder Wahlenthaltung. So landet mancher bei der AfD, der dort nicht landen müsste. Zugleich sind viele linke Mitglieder der SPD von vielen nicht-sektiererischen Mitgliedern der Linkspartei nicht zu unterscheiden, und dasselbe gilt für viele Nichtwähler. Alle diese könnten in einer neu organisierten Schnittmenge von linker SPD und realistischer Linker eine wahlpolitische Heimat finden. (…)

Weiterlesen auf faz.net [Bezahlschranke]
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Germany’s European Empire

Interview by Loren Balhorn, translation by Zachary Murphy King, Jacobin Magazine, August 2018
First published in German as Das deutsche Imperium europäischer Nation, Ada Magazin, July 2018

Let’s start with a simple question: what is your evaluation of Germany’s grand coalition after its first one hundred days? Is it a necessary evil, or would you have preferred something else?

No, no preferences. Maybe if there were any prospect that the left wing of an SPD [Social Democratic Party] in opposition would find itself forced to engage more with the non-sectarian elements in Die Linke, so that something new might emerge in the intersection where the Left could have something approaching prospects for taking power. But that would have been unlikely to happen even under a “Jamaica” government [i.e., a coalition between Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democrats].

Are you worried about the possibility of new elections, given the ongoing dispute between Angela Merkel and her right-wing coalition partner, Horst Seehofer?

No, not at all. It would make no difference, except that the SPD would fall below fifteen percent, and the Greens would replace the CSU [Christian Socialist Union, the Christian Democrats’ Bavarian affiliate] in a “Merkel V” government. (…)

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Europe under Merkel IV: Balance of impotence

Appeared in American Affairs Journal Volume II, Number 2 (Summer 2018): 162–92.

Europe, as organized—or disorganized—in the European Union (EU), is a strange political beast. It consists, first, of the domestic politics of its member states that have, over time, become deeply intertwined. Second, member states, which are still sovereign nation-states, pursue nationally defined interests through national foreign policies within intra-European international relations. Here, third, they have a choice between relying on a variety of supranational institutions or on intergovernmental agreements among selective coalitions of the willing. Fourth, since the start of the European Monetary Union (EMU), which includes only nineteen of the EU’s twenty-eight member states, another arena of European international relations has emerged, consisting mainly of informal, intergovernmental institutions looked at with suspicion by the supranational EU. Fifth, all these are embedded in the geopolitical conditions and geostrategic interests of each nation, which are related in particular to the United States on the one hand and to Russia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East on the other. And sixth, there is at the bottom of the European state system an ongoing battle for hegemony between its two largest member countries, France and Germany—a battle that both deny exists. Each of the two, in its own way, considers its claim to European supremacy to be only just and indeed self-evident, Germany so much so that it doesn’t even recognize its ambitions as such.1 Moreover, both would-be hegemons are aware that they can realize their national projects only by incorporating the other within them, and for this reason they present their national aspirations as “European integration” projects based on a special relationship between Germany and France. (…)

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The fourth power?

Review of Joseph Vogl (2017), The Ascendancy of Finance, trans. Simon Garnett, Cambridge: Polity Press.
First published in German as Der Souveränitätseffekt (2015), Zürich-Berlin: diaphanes.

Appeared in New Left Review 110, March-April 2018, pp. 141-150

Like blood in Goethe’s Faust, money ‘is a very special fluid’. It circulates in the body political-economic, whose sustenance depends on its liquidity. [1] And it is surrounded by mystery. In fact, money is easily the most unpredictable and least governable human institution we have ever known. Allegedly invented as a general equivalent, to serve as an accounting unit, means of exchange and store of value, it has over time penetrated into the remotest corners of social life, constantly assuming new forms and springing fresh surprises. Even Keynes had to admit that his attempt at A Treatise on Money (1930) ran into ‘many problems and perplexities’. How money came to be what it is today, in capitalist modernity, may perhaps with the benefit of hindsight be reconstructed as a process of progressive dematerialization and abstraction, accompanied by growing commodification and state sponsorship. But how money functions in its present historical form is more difficult to say; where it is going from here, harder still. This social construction has always been beset with, and driven by, unanticipated consequences—caused by human action, but not controlled by it. (…)

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One Question: Marx at 200

Interview by Cihan Aksan with John Bailes and leading thinkers,State of Nature, May 7, 2018

Wolfgang Streeck: As a student of sociology in Frankfurt at the end of the 1960s, I encountered Marx early. Unfortunately, however, nobody prevented me from getting in at the wrong end: the first chapters of Capital. This was too abstract for a twenty year-old from the provinces, with a pent-up need for concrete real-world experience.

It was only much later that I returned to Marx, when I was teaching at an American university, UW-Madison. There I became aware of the breathtaking complexity of Marx’s Hegel-trained conceptual apparatus, which surpasses everything that was produced at the time and later in social science, and which is uniquely suited to observe and represent conflicts, dilemmas, or ‘contradictions’ in social life. On this background I realized why the attempt had failed and had to fail to develop a theory (and practice) of the social-democratic governance of ‘modern’ societies with the help of a functionalist sociology and empiricist political science. (…)

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Other answers by: Ursula Huws, Sven-Eric Liedman, Terrell Carver, Jayati Ghosh, Frigga Haug, Lucia Pradella, Neil Faulkner, Lars T Lih, Esther Leslie, Guilherme Leite Gonçalves, Michael Roberts.