Archive for the ‘Readings and reading questions’ Category

MLK and Malcolm X Readings

October 11, 2016

You can find a transcript of Malcolm X’s speech here. However, I also recommend that you listen to an audio version of it, which I’ve posted below:

Please note that the audio recording here diverges from the transcript I linked to above (this is because he gave the speech to different audiences and varied the presentation somewhat; the content is basically the same). I do recommend listening to the audio. Listening to the audio, I think, gives a bit of the flavor of Malcolm X’s rhetoric and the audience’s response to it. This, in turn, provides a bit more insight into why Malcolm X was such a frightening figure to white folks at the time.

Anyway, you can find Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” here. This version of the text has some annotations and explanations at the bottom of the letter. You can read them if you’d like but they are not explicitly required (which is to say, there won’t be quiz questions on the annotations unless I talk about them directly in class).

Advertisements

On the Jewish Question (a link and some notes)

September 10, 2016

You can find a link to a version of Marx’s essay here.

This is a tricky essay. One of its difficulties is that Marx is writing about controversies that you may not know much about, which means he’s referencing people (Bruno Bauer) and ideas (“political emancipation”) that may seem opaque. So the purpose of this post is to introduce some of the background to Marx’s essay and some of its terminology.

Marx is writing the essay in the early 1840s. This is a few decades after the French Revolution and Napoleon’s conquest of Germany, and just a few years before the revolutions of 1848. Europe, especially Germany (though it’s not a unified state yet) and France is rapidly modernizing. Specifically, we are seeing rapid changes in social organization related to the growth of industrial capitalism, urbanization. Along with these changes, there is the emergence of an increasingly radicalized industrial laboring class (what Marx will call the proletariat), which in turn, is connected to the emergence of modern political ideologies: broadly speaking, it is in this era that we can first identify the emergence of a political left, along with the emergence of liberalism and conservatism.

It is this last set of changes that is most immediately relevant in this essay. If you go back and read the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” what you see is the articulation of a set of universal human rights. This becomes a key idea for the emerging political left. The idea is that humans will become free (emancipated) insofar as their universal and equal rights are fully recognized by the political state. What this means, then, is that things like religious or ethnic differences should no longer matter politically: The fact that someone is Jew, for instance, should not be a reason to deny him equal rights (the gendered pronoun “him” in the previous sentence is quite deliberate; with some exceptions, the notion of equal rights for women was not yet a major issue).

At any rate, this is a major and ongoing political conflict during this era. Most European governments, especially Prussia (which is Marx’s immediate concern), did not recognize or acknowledge universal human rights. The Prussian state was officially Christian, and so it recognized different rights and privileges for different religions; those on the political left argued and agitated against this. So that’s where Marx’s essay comes in; he’s active in leftist politics, and he’s responding to Bruno Bauer.

Who was Bruno Bauer and what was his position? Bauer was a fellow leftist (in the language of contemporary American political theory, we would call him a political liberal), and he is essentially advocating for a position that is quite familiar to Americans: The Prussian state needs to give up its “particularistic” character as a Christian state (i.e., it needs to become neutral vis-a-vis religion), and the members of the state, in turn, need to give up their particularistic religions and instead become secular (“universal”) citizens. Instead of thinking of themselves as Lutherans, Catholics, or Jews, the members of the Prussian state should think of themselves as citizens. This, in any case, is effectively what the U.S. has done. We have no state religion and all citizens are treated equally (they are, at least in theory, given the same rights and status). And though there are ongoing conflicts about the role of religion in public life, there is widespread comfort with the idea that different religions should not be singled out for special rights or privileges.

What is Marx’s response to this? Well, you’ll need to read the essay. But I can articulate the general idea: Marx wants to reveal the limits of Bauer’s vision of emancipation (what Marx calls “political emancipation”). Marx is very much in favor of providing universal human rights, but he also argues that such a provision is not sufficient. According to Marx, the position Bauer adopts would be progress, but it also enables a new mode of domination to proceed, and in particular, it enables the kind of domination we see at work in Steinbeck’s story from the Grapes of Wrath.

So the crucial thing to keep in mind is that Marx is not interested in the “Jewish question” as it is usually defined; in the debates of his day (and in the current day, to some extent), the question was whether the Jews should be treated as equal citizens. Marx is shifting the question: He’s not asking whether the Jews (or women, or non-whites, or any other group excluded from equal treatment) should be treated equally; he’s asking instead whether equal treatment under the law is in fact the same thing as genuine human freedom. And his answer, in short, is “no.” Marx is therefore posing a radical challenge to standard liberal positions; liberals tend to argue that more or less all forms of domination or injustice can be remedied by providing equal rights to all, by including those previously excluded into the circle of legal rights. Marx, by contrast, is arguing that there needs to be a much more radical transformation.

To conclude, then, let me provide a brief glossary of some of Marx’s key terms in this essay.

Political emancipation: political emancipation refers, in essence, to Bauer’s position. Differences between people (say, their religion, economic status, or “noble blood”) are no longer legally recognized or enforced by the state. All citizens are granted equal rights (both things like property rights and the equal right to participate in politics).

The universal state (sometimes referred to as the state as such): The political state is a form of political community in which the citizens have achieved political emancipation.

Civil society: this is the realm of social relations that occur independently of the state, and typically, the family as well. In this essay, Marx treats these relations as primarily economic; it is the realm of “free labor” (i.e., the ability for the laborer to sell his/her labor power to whomever can purchase it) or the free exchange of commodities in general.

MLK and Malcolm X Readings

October 14, 2014

You can find a transcript of Malcolm X’s speech here. However, I also recommend that you listen to an audio version of it, which I’ve posted below:

Please note that the audio recording here diverges from the transcript I linked to above (this is because he gave the speech to different audiences and varied the presentation somewhat; the content is basically the same). I do recommend listening to the audio. Listening to the audio, I think, gives a bit of the flavor of Malcolm X’s rhetoric and the audience’s response to it. This, in turn, provides a bit more insight into why Malcolm X was such a frightening figure to white folks at the time.

Anyway, you can find Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” here. This version of the text has some annotations and explanations at the bottom of the letter. You can read them if you’d like but they are not explicitly required (which is to say, there won’t be quiz questions on the annotations unless I talk about them directly in class).

Link for “The Communist Manifesto”

September 16, 2014

For this Friday (Sept. 19), we will begin our discussion of Marx and Engels’ famous essay, “The Communist Manifesto.” We’ll be reading chapters I and II at first, and then complete the essay next week. You can find a link to the essay here.

Also, you can find some reading questions to help guide you here. If I have time, I might write a short introduction to the “Manifesto” later this week.

Some notes on Marx’s “On the Jewish Question”

September 9, 2014

You can find a link to a version of Marx’s essay here.

This is a tricky essay. One of its difficulties is that Marx is writing about controversies that you may not know much about, which means he’s referencing people (Bruno Bauer) and ideas (“political emancipation”) that may seem opaque. So the purpose of this post is to introduce some of the background to Marx’s essay and some of its terminology.

Marx is writing the essay in the early 1840s. This is a few decades after the French Revolution and Napoleon’s conquest of Germany, and just a few years before the revolutions of 1848. Europe, especially Germany (though it’s not a unified state yet) and France is rapidly modernizing. Specifically, we are seeing rapid changes in social organization related to the growth of industrial capitalism, urbanization. Along with these changes, there is the emergence of an increasingly radicalized industrial laboring class (what Marx will call the proletariat), which in turn, is connected to the emergence of modern political ideologies: broadly speaking, it is in this era that we can first identify the emergence of a political left, along with the emergence of liberalism and conservatism.

It is this last set of changes that is most immediately relevant in this essay. If you go back and read the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” what you see is the articulation of a set of universal human rights. This becomes a key idea for the emerging political left. The idea is that humans will become free (emancipated) insofar as their universal and equal rights are fully recognized by the political state. What this means, then, is that things like religious or ethnic differences should no longer matter politically: The fact that someone is Jew, for instance, should not be a reason to deny him equal rights (the gendered pronoun “him” in the previous sentence is quite deliberate; with some exceptions, the notion of equal rights for women was not yet a major issue).

At any rate, this is a major and ongoing political conflict during this era. Most European governments, especially Prussia (which is Marx’s immediate concern), did not recognize or acknowledge universal human rights. The Prussian state was officially Christian, and so it recognized different rights and privileges for different religions; those on the political left argued and agitated against this. So that’s where Marx’s essay comes in; he’s active in leftist politics, and he’s responding to Bruno Bauer.

Who was Bruno Bauer and what was his position? Bauer was a fellow leftist (in the language of contemporary American political theory, we would call him a liberal), and he is essentially advocating for a position that is quite familiar to Americans: The Prussian state needs to give up its “particularistic” character as a Christian state (i.e., it needs to become neutral vis-a-vis religion), and the members of the state, in turn, need to give up their particularistic religions and instead become secular (“universal”) citizens. Instead of thinking of themselves as Lutherans, Catholics, or Jews, the members of the Prussian state should think of themselves as citizens. This, in any case, is effectively what the U.S. has done. We have no state religion and all citizens are treated equally (they are, at least in theory, given the same rights and status). And though there are ongoing conflicts about the role of religion in public life, there is widespread comfort with the idea that different religions should not be singled out for special rights or privileges.

What is Marx’s response to this? Well, you’ll need to read the essay. But I can articulate the general idea: Marx wants to reveal the limits of Bauer’s vision of emancipation (what Marx calls “political emancipation). Marx is very much in favor of providing universal human rights, but he also argues that such a provision is not sufficient. According to Marx, the position Bauer adopts would be progress, but it also enables a new mode of domination to proceed, and in particular, it enables the kind of domination we see at work in Steinbeck’s story from the Grapes of Wrath.

So the crucial thing to keep in mind is that Marx is not interested in the “Jewish question” as it is usually defined; in the debates of his day (and in the current day, to some extent), the question was whether the Jews should be treated as equal citizens. Marx is shifting the question: He’s not asking whether the Jews (or women, or non-whites, or any other group excluded from equal treatment) should be treated equally; he’s asking instead whether equal treatment under the law is in fact the same thing as genuine human freedom. And his answer, in short, is “no.” Marx is therefore posing a radical challenge to standard liberal positions; liberals tend to argue that more or less all forms of domination or injustice can be remedied by providing equal rights to all, by including those previously excluded into the circle of legal rights. Marx, by contrast, is arguing that there needs to be a much more radical transformation.

To conclude, then, let me provide a brief glossary of some of Marx’s key terms in this essay.

Political emancipation: political emancipation refers, in essence, to Bauer’s position. Differences between people (say, their religion, economic status, or “noble blood”) are no longer legally recognized or enforced by the state. All citizens are granted equal rights (both things like property rights and the equal right to participate in politics).

The universal state (sometimes referred to as the state as such): The political state is a form of political community in which the citizens have achieved political emancipation.

Civil society: this is the realm of social relations that occur independently of the state, and typically, the family as well. In this essay, Marx treats these relations as primarily economic; it is the realm of “free labor” (i.e., the ability for the laborer to sell his/her labor power to whomever can purchase it) or the free exchange of commodities in general.

Welcome back; oh, and your assignment for Friday…

September 2, 2014

Welcome to the Eastman students taking the Concept of Power in the autumn of 2014. This blog will serve several functions. It will disseminate information to students in the course regarding class assignments; it will serve as a platform students can use to write about course-related materials (often as they connect to the goings-on in contemporary politics); and it will serve as an occasional platform that I’ll use to spout off comment on topics of interest to me.

For Friday, we begin our discussions with excerpts of Hobbes’ famous text, Leviathan. You can find the text online here. Specifically, we’ll be reading chapter 17-18 and 21. These chapters all focus on the nature and powers of the sovereign. We will also discuss the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” which can be found here.

In both cases, our interest is in the conceptions of power at work in these documents. We’re less interested in, say, the question of whether we think Hobbes’s sovereign is too powerful, or whether the conception of legitimacy at work in the “Declaration” is adequate. Rather, what we want to think about is how the authors of these documents characterize the nature and functioning of power in society, what sorts of issues these characterizations highlight, and what sorts of issues such characterizations might obscure.

Readings for Tuesday, March 6

March 3, 2012

You can find a transcript of Malcolm X’s speech here.  However, I also recommend that you listen to an audio version of it, which I’ve posted below:

Listening to the audio, I think, gives a bit of the flavor of Malcolm X’s rhetoric and the audience’s response to it.  This, in turn, provides a bit more insight into why Malcolm X was such a frightening figure to white folks at the time.  Please note that there are some divergences between the audio and the transcript.  All of the same parts of the speech are present, but the audio presents the argument in an order different than the transcript version.

Anyway, you can find Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” here.

Link for the “Communist Manifesto”

February 1, 2012

Sorry for the lateness of this post. You can find a good version of Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” here. We will be discussing only parts I and II for tomorrow.

Links for The Grapes of Wrath and Marx’s “On the Jewish Question”

January 20, 2012

For Tuesday (January 24), we are reading chapter 5 from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath (this is a pdf).  The novel as a whole was published in 1939, and depicts the events surrounding the dust bowl, and the migration of poor farmers to California.   It will serve as a brief introduction to Marx, along with the conception of economic/structural power.  I’ll post further reflections and reading questions over the next day or two.

Starting Thursday of next week (January 26), we will begin Marx’s “On the Jewish Question.” The topic of the essay has to do with a political question that was quite important in the 19th and early 20th centuries, namely, the question of the role of the Jews in European society. Marx, however, uses this question as a way to think about the concept of citizenship in general, and to engage in a critique of the kinds of rights we saw articulated in the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.”

Reading questions for Malcolm X’s speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet”

March 1, 2010

1. Malcolm X calls himself a “Black Nationalist.”  What does this mean?  List a few of the characteristics of this ideology.

2. Why is Malcolm X so skeptical about whether white politicians and white liberals can be trusted to help the cause of Black Americans? 

3. Is Malcolm X advocating for violence or is he merely predicting it, should voting rights not be successfully implemented?

4. Consider the following passage from the “Declaration of Independence”: 

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.

 Does Malcolm X agree with this passage?

5. Consider the following statements, and then determine which one most accurately summarizes Malcolm X’s thesis in his speech:  (a) Whites have systematically exploited and duped Blacks throughout American history; therefore, Blacks should use either the ballot or the bullet to organize and overthrow this system of exploitation.  The goal of this political revolution should be a free society that genuinely protects everyone’s rights. (b) Whites have already organized themselves as a “nation” or race that merely looks out for its own interests; rather than integrate into this organization, Blacks must do the same things in their own community by maintaining separate political and economic institutions.