The Challenges of Feminism

Commentary No. 446, April 1, 2017

Feminist and women’s rights movements draw their strength and their ideological arguments from one simple observation. Throughout the world and throughout very long historical time, women have been oppressed in multiple ways. There is now an enormous literature presenting a very large gamut of views both about what explains this and what ought to be done about it.

I would simply like to explore here what are the major unresolved tactical issues that feminism as movement and feminism as ideology pose for all of us in the global struggle that is the central feature of the structural crisis of the modern world-system.

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The Falsity of False Consciousness

Commentary 445, March 15, 2017

People do not always behave the way we think they ought to behave. We often perceive others as behaving in ways we think is contrary to their self-interest. This seems crazy or foolish. We then accuse these persons of “false consciousness.”

The term itself was invented by Friedrich Engels in the late nineteenth century to explain why workers (or at least some workers) didn’t support workers’ parties at the polls or didn’t support strikes called by a union. The answer for Engels was that, for some reason, these workers misperceived their self-interest, suffering from “false consciousness.”

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Resist? Resist! Why and How?

Commentary No. 444, March 1, 2017

From time immemorial, persons who feel oppressed and/or ignored by the powerful have resisted those in authority. Such resistance often changed things, but only sometimes. Whether one considers the cause of the resisters to be virtuous depends on one’s values and one’s priorities.

In the United States, over the past half-century, there emerged a latent resistance to what was seen as oppression by “elites” who enacted changes in social practices offensive to certain religious groups and ignored rural populations and persons whose standards of living were declining. At first, resistance took the path of withdrawal from social involvement. Then it took a more political form, finally taking on the name of Tea Party.

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The Absolutely Unpredictable French Presidential Election

Commentary No. 443, February 15, 2017

One year ago, the French 2017 presidential elections seemed very assured. There were three parties that mattered: the center-right Les Républicains (LR), the center-left Socialists (PS), and the far-right Front National (FN). Since in France there are normally two rounds with only two candidates permitted in the second round, the key question always is which of the three will be eliminated in the first round.

It seemed sure at the time that the FN would be in the second round, incarnating anti-Establishment sentiment. It seemed equally sure that President François Hollande, were he to seek re-election, would lose badly. This meant that the LR candidate would be in the second round. This would be especially true if LR chose Alain Juppé and not former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Most people thought that Juppé was far more likely than Sarkozy to attract Socialist and centrist voters and thereby more likely to win the presidency.

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Trump’s World Policy: The Two Hotspots

Commentary No. 442, February 1, 2017

President Donald Trump has made it clear that his presidency will have a position on everything everywhere. He has also made it clear that he alone will make the final decision on the policy his government will follow. He has chosen two priority areas in implementing his policies: Mexico and Syria/Iraq, which is the zone of strength for the caliphate of the Islamic State (IS). We may call these two areas the hotspots, in which Trump is acting in his most provocative fashion.

Mexico was arguably the principal subject of his entire campaign, first for the Republican nomination and then for the presidential election. It is probably the case that his incessant harsh statements about Mexico and Mexicans earned him more popular support than any other subject, and thereby won him the presidency.

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China and the United States: Partners?

Commentary No. 441, January 15, 2017

Most politicians, journalists, and academic analysts describe the relations of China and the United States as one of hostile competition, especially in East Asia. I disagree. I believe that the top of both countries’ geopolitical agenda is reaching long-term accord with the other. The major bone of contention is which of the two prospective partners will be the top dog.

When Donald Trump says that he wants to make America great again, he is not in the least outside the general consensus of the United States. Using different words and different policy proposals, this futile ambition is shared by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, even Bernie Sanders, and of course the Republicans. It is shared as well by most ordinary citizens. Who is ready to say that the United States should settle for being number two?

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The World in the Era of Trump: What May We Expect?

Commentary No. 440, January 1, 2017

Short-term prediction is the most treacherous of activities. I normally try never to do it. Rather, I analyze what is going on in terms of the longue durée of its history and the probable consequences in the middle-run. I have decided nonetheless to make short-term predictions this time for one simple reason. It seems to me that everyone everywhere is focused for the moment on what will now happen in the short run. There seems to be no other subject of interest. Anxiety is at its maximum, and we need to deal with it.

Let me start by saying that I think 95% of the policies Donald Trump will pursue in his first year or so in office will be absolutely terrible, worse than we anticipated. This can be seen already in the appointments to major office that he has announced. At the same time, he will probably run into major trouble.

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China is Confident: How Realistic?

Commentary No. 439, December 15, 2016

Every country has mixed feelings about its future, but some are more self-confident than others. At the present moment, there are very few countries in which self-doubt does not seem greater than self-confidence. This seems to me true of the United States, both western and eastern Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and most of Africa and Latin America. The biggest exception to this global worry and pessimism is China.

China tells itself that it is performing better in the world-economy than just about anyone else. To be sure, it seems to be performing less well today than a few years ago, but so is the rest of the world, and it is still doing better than the others.

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