Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Capitalism / Socialism / Democracy

CAPITALISM / SOCIALISM / DEMOCRACY is an initiative that invites scholars to present work on democracy as it relates to capitalist, socialist, or other economic ideologies. It seeks to address the intellectual and political question of whether any discussion of democracy lacks reality if not connected to fundamental issues of economic organization. While some recognize commerce and markets as essential contributors, for good or ill, to the health of democratic societies, others ask whether we there are ways to remake our material lives that maintain, or even enhance, democratic participation.

PAST EVENTS

Theft is Property! Dispossession and Critical Theory (Robert Nichols)

ROBERT NICHOLS RECONSTRUCTS THE CONCEPT OF DISPOSSESSION as a means of examining how shifting configurations of law, property, race, and rights have functioned as modes of governance, both historically and in the present. Through close analysis of arguments by Indigenous scholars and activists from the nineteenth century to the present, Nichols argues that dispossession has come to name a unique recursive process whereby systematic theft is the mechanism by which property relations are generated. In so doing, this work also brings long-standing debates in anarchist, Black radical, feminist, Marxist, and postcolonial thought into direct conversation with the frequently overlooked intellectual contributions of Indigenous peoples.

ROBERT NICHOLS is Associate Professor of Political Theory at the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. His research in contemporary European philosophy and the history of political thought focuses on critical theory, imperialism & colonialism in the 19th century, and thinkers like Marx and Foucault. Professor Nichols also specializes in research on the contemporary politics of settler colonialism and indigeneity in the Anglo-American world.

Discussant: M. EDITH SKLAROFF (Penn Political Science)

Race, Class and Socialism (Asad Haider)

IN HIS 2018 BOOK, Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump (Verso), ASAD HAIDER argues that contemporary identity politics, rather than bolstering the grassroots struggle against racism, help to neutralize movements against racial oppression by abstracting people’s “identity” from their material relationship with society and the state. In his Capitalism/Socialism/Democracy talk, he brings class back in, anchoring the relationship between race and class to a materialist analysis of capitalism, on one side, and a theory of emancipatory politics on the other. From this vantage point, and drawing on traditions that include the Combahee River Collective (pictured above), he explores critiques of racial ideology and new conceptions of universal emancipation.

ASAD HAIDER is visiting assistant professor of philosophy at the New School of Social Research and a founding editor of Viewpoint Magazine. Read excerpts from Prof. Haider's book, Mistaken Identity, here.

The Political History of a Bad Idea: "Innovation" (John Patrick Leary)

Read Professor Leary's paper here.

AS PART OF HIS LARGER PROJECT TRACING THE ROOTS of the new language of capitalism, JOHN PATRICK LEARY tackles one of its central buzzwords: “innovation.” He charts its evolution, at the outset of the twentieth century, from a denigration of revolutionary heresy to a synonym for the latest, newest consumer product. But it was after World War II that its meaning changed most profoundly: from “an innovation” as a new thing to “innovation” as a kind of spirit, attitude, mode of being, technique. In this phase, it solved a problem that those opposed to the New Deal had grappled with: a term to embody what used to be called “progress,” but without the statist, bureaucratic baggage that word had accumulated over the first half of the century.  Thus did innovation come to stand for a sense of material, economic, and moral improvement in a society over time often, in the United States, thought to be ordained by providence and secured through the market. It has also emerged as a term for an anti-bureaucratic, individual autonomy—the enemy of the efficiency machine that is the modern corporation, and also the major virtue of a society shaped by the modern corporation.

JOHN PATRICK LEARY is a Visiting Associate Professor of English Literature at Swarthmore College and the language columnist for the New Republic. A scholar of U.S. and Latin American literature and culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, his first book and current projects address a common broad question: how are our local and national identities shaped by and through popular economic and political narratives? His book, A Cultural History of Underdevelopment: Latin America in the U.S. Imagination (University of Virginia Press, 2016) explores how Americans have imagined the geography of wealth and poverty in the hemisphere from the mid-19th century to the end of the Cold War. His latest book, Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism (Haymarket Books, 2018), is an evolving work of historical etymology and cultural criticism in which Leary traces the history of economic concepts in the mass media, uncovering the history and common use of popular terms like “accountability,” “entrepreneur,” and "innovation."