Robert Geroux is a political theorist.
By this author
This story generates a question. Or really, several questions: first, how many colleges or universities have programs that focus on the work of Ayn Rand? Second, what do such programs say or suggest about the institutions that house them?
I’ve been thinking for a while now of the moral function of Fox News. Its critics are right when they observe that it does something other than journalism. In reality it serves as the cultural organ of a much larger project, namely the transformation of society along neoliberal lines. The way that power operates in that kind of society is through discipline. We learn from Fox how to impose that discipline on ourselves, that is, how to become self-disciplined.
In a simple and straightforward way, this is why we have “investigative reports” like this one.
It’s too simple to look at Jason Greenslate as a mere free-rider. He is a symbol of something more spiritually insidious, namely what we might call “moral enabling.” That is, he provides a visual focus for decline that allegedly happens when social programs are established. He symbolizes the encouragement over time to grow accustomed to comfort, to a life of leisure. He calls into question the virtues and cultural values that are supposed to underpin capitalism.
Yes, I know that Dick Cheney is back. Yes, I know that he’s co-written an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. Does it matter? Should we pay attention to what he says? Is there something we can learn from him? Why does his reappearance antagonize us so?
We are fortunate to have a series of reflections to guide us. In addition to E.J. Dionne’s piece here, Mark Danner’s recent article in the New York Review of Books is especially good. He draws upon a wealth of works: Barton Gellman’s Angler, Cheney’s own autobiography, the recent documentary film The World According to Dick Cheney. We could add to this list as well Errol Morris’ The Unknown Known, which is of course about Rumsfeld but which discloses a shared attitude or stance. The elements of that stance can be extracted and analyzed rather easily: someone somewhere has half-read Machiavelli, maybe picked up some Carl Schmitt along the way, but nothing is examined through comprehensively or applied thoughtfully. I would call the first element something like heroic realism: simply put, Cheney doesn’t think he sees the political world that differently from the rest of us. He does think he has the courage and resolution to speak and act when others shrink from doing so. In his mind, the rest of us are stuck in the democratic rut of seeking confirmation and approval. Cheney on the other hand unconsciously invokes Machiavelli when he says with regard to the invasion of Iraq, “it was more important to be successful than it was to be loved” (quoted in Danner, 55).
It's good to be back.
I have been away from home for part of the summer, and during that time I came across a listing for the film “God’s Not Dead.” You’ve probably heard of this film already: released earlier this year, it doesn’t exactly portray a young man’s struggle with faith as it does his faithful struggle against (faithless) others. The film opens in a spirit of intellectual/spiritual combat, with a college professor (played by Kevin Sorbo) who assigns on the very first day an exercise in which students have to disavow the existence of God. I haven’t yet seen the movie – I expect to go later this week – but I expect the same feeling of dread and embarrassment that I felt when I visited the Creation Museum years ago. What I found during that experience was a series of tableaux in which established scientific theories were attacked with the most specious of arguments, suggestion and innuendo replaced reason, and academic culture was pilloried. From everything I’ve read, “God’s Not Dead” touches all these bases and more.
Citizens United (2010) has happened. McCutcheon was decided recently. We can expect a decision in the Hobby Lobby case before June. We seem to be living through a new civil rights revolution, one in which the Supreme Court continues to aggressively expand the retinue of rights associated with corporate personhood. At the heart of this revolution is a point that I think needs closer examination, a point that exposes an important contrast and potential injustice.
If one begins with the argument that the Court in recent cases like Citizens United evinces a continuum of programmatic commitment, in other words that conservative elected officials increasingly tend to act like conservative judges and justices and vice versa, then we can constructively compare Justice Kennedy’s opinion with recent attempts at the state level (in North Carolina and elsewhere) to limit voting rights. Despite many important surface-level differences, at the deeper level of ideology, we find continuity.
Dominic Preziosi has written an excellent post on the question of climate change and the question of potential futures, here. My post might be understood as an extended riff on issues raised there, as well as a continuation of a question I raised in an earlier blog, about religion and the anthropocene. I need to start with some initial ground clearing:
A full repeal of the ACA? Check. Cuts in food assistance? Check. Medicaid cuts? Check again. All these cuts add up in Ryan's mind to economic growth and a balanced budget. It boggles the mind.
I recently returned from an academic conference that examined conceptions of and responses to the Anthropocene. Many of you have heard this term already: it was coined over ten years ago by geologist Paul Crutzen to describe the impact that human beings are having on the deep structure of the globe. In geological time the Anthropocene is a mere eye-blink, a punctual supplement of maybe two hundred years. Human beings have altered the relative balance of the Holocene – the previous geological epoch, one that lasted ten to twelve millennia – in ways that we cannot foresee.
What happens when you adhere to a system of ideas that prioritizes the market as an arbiter of value? What happens when you repeat incessantly that the best, or perhaps the only measure of value arises out of commodification and exchange? Should it be surprising that in the world created around that commitment, certain other "core values" become endangered or maybe even extinct?
I just finished another Sirico essay, "Pope Francis without the Politics," printed first in the Detroit News, and now reprinted over at the Acton blog (http://www.acton.org/pub/commentary/2014/01/08/pope-francis-without-poli...). I understand the imperative behind pieces like this, but one grows tired of the constant, clearly procrustean attempt to fit Pope Francis’ critical vision into the libertarian/free-market box. Why? Here are some proximate causes: