The Moral Equivalent of War

According to the most recent comprehensive report on staffing by the Modern Language Association and the Association of Departments of English, published in 2008, English lost 3,000 tenure-track positions from 1993 to 2004, roughly 10 percent of the total. Even that understates the case, since more than a third of the new tenurable hires have not been in traditional literary fields but in composition, rhetoric, theory, cultural studies, new media, and digital humanities. Combined with evidence of lowered public interest in reading traditional literature and plummeting enrollment in traditional English majors, many faculty members in traditional literary studies have engaged in a backlash discourse against the new or renascent fields, a “moral panic” in defense of traditional literary studies.

“The Moral Panic in Literary Studies,” Marc Bousquet

I think “moral panic” is a understatement. I’d say that a certain cadre of literary academics has been at war with rhetoric and composition for a long time now. In many schools, too, English departments– and literary scholarship– has been funded on the backs of poorly paid adjuncts– often women. This is one of those issues that no-one wants to say much about or to investigate because it could be so divisive. The last thing academics need is another ‘divide and conquer’ division. Yet I think it needs more discussion and investigation. I know, from long experience, that the ‘panic’ about rhetoric and composition, and new communication technologies, has kept people from getting tenure, for example. It would great to have a sense of how often this has happened.

With Respect, I Desent

The result, as I said at the outset, is a decision that substitutes judges’ understandings of how the political process works for the understanding of Congress; that fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence bought by money alone; that overturns key precedent; that creates huge loopholes in the law; and that undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform.

With respect, I dissent.

Justice Breyer, McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commissiion (30).

This is an amazing document and worth reading despite the tangles of legal language. It ought to be known as “Right Wing Ideologue v. Common Sense” or “Right Wing Ideologue v. Democracy.” In presidential elections progressive people have often found themselves in a dilemma. We’d prefer to vote for a third party– Nader, or the Greens– if only to make a point or to help a third party build up a national voice. If you do, the story goes, you risk creating a Supreme Court that will undermine reform for a generation.

The lesser of two evils argument works for a lot of people but some find it specious. Yet electing Bush twice seems to have made the dire predictions come true. Ironically, Chief Justice Roberts’ arguments, as Justice Breyer notes, amount to exactly the sort of “judicial activism” so often decried by right-wing critics. Justice Roberts’ arguments are perfectly Orwellian, contending that too much democracy– limits on money in politics set by Congress– is not enough democracy, that is, a limit on freedom of speech.

Capital, It Fails Us Now

The core message of this enormous and enormously important book can be delivered in a few lines: Left to its own devices, wealth inevitably tends to concentrate in capitalist economies. There is no “natural” mechanism inherent in the structure of such economies for inhibiting, much less reversing, that tendency. Only crises like war and depression, or political interventions like taxation (which, to the upper classes, would be a crisis), can do the trick. And Thomas Piketty has two centuries of data to prove his point.

The Top of the World,” Doug Henwood

Here’s a breath of fresh air, to wash that bourgeois economics right out of your hair. I mean Doug Henwood’s review, not the book, which I haven’t read yet. After centuries of capitalism and several rounds of redistribution you’d think that this simple idea would be a part of our collective common sense. Maybe it soon will be, at least for a time, before the great obfuscation forces work their magic once again.