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.


The Case for Climate Reparations: A Philosophical Conversation

Wed. February 10, 5:00pm to 6:30pm
Online event: Please register here. The Zoom link will be sent to registered attendees.

AS PART OF THE MITCHELL CENTER'S CAPITALISM/SOCIALISM/DEMOCRACY SERIES, join OLÚFẸ́MI O. TÁÍWÒ and BEBA CIBRALIC for an in-depth discussion of their work on climate reparations with M. EDITH SKLAROFF. A partnered investigation between ProPublica and the New York Times has revealed the writing on the wall. We are at the beginnings of a “Great Climate Migration” that will transform the world. There are two ways forward: climate colonialism and apartheid or climate reparations. Climate apartheid describes the fact that we can expect a new kind of social division to arise within countries and communities: between those who can pay to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and those who cannot. Climate colonialism simply considers this same phenomenon on an international scale.

Reparations is a way forward through the climate crisis that doesn’t double down on these dismal precedents. A reparatory approach to climate migration would involve an overhaul of climate policy in both nation-states and multinational institutions. It would be broadly redistributive of wealth and power, both within and across countries. That redistribution would be historically informed: we would reject both the ‘rescue’ framing of state elites’ naked pursuit of self interest in refugee policy and the “voluntary repatriation” centered model that allows them to act on it with international authorization. Ultimately, we endorse the argument, developed and defended by legal scholar E. Tendayi Achiume, that corrective, distributive justice demands recognition of the entitlement of “Third World persons” to “a form of First World citizenship”.

However extreme this renegotiation of state sovereignty and citizenship may strike some readers, it’s nowhere near as extreme as the logical conclusion of the status quo’s violent alternative: mass famine, region-scale armed conflict. Compared to the horrors of climate apartheid and colonialism, having more neighbors is a small price to pay.

OLÚFẸ́MI O. TÁÍWÒ is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. His theoretical work draws liberally from the Black radical tradition, contemporary philosophy of language, contemporary social science, German transcendental philosophy, materialist thought, histories of activism and activist thinkers. He has recently finished writing a book entitled Reconsidering Reparations that considers a novel philosophical argument for reparations and explores links with environmental justice.

BEBA CIBRALIC is a philosophy Ph.D. student at Georgetown University with interests in political epistemology, the ethics of emerging technology, and political philosophy. She holds an M.A. in China Studies from Peking University, where she studied as a Yenching Academy Fellow, a B.A. in philosophy and political science from Wellesley College and was a Visiting Student at the University of Oxford. Beba has conducted policy research at the Lowy Institute (Sydney) and at Justitia (Copenhagen).

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."