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The 2004 Said Awards

by STEVEN SHERMAN

David Brooks called his end-of-the-year writing awards the Hookies, after Sidney Hook, the crackpot anti-communist philosopher who is, indeed, an appropriate icon for a celebration of Francis Fukuyama and Peter Beinart. Call these the Saids, after the man who proved that even the most towering intellect can be boycotted by the guardians of the legitimate public sphere on grounds of anti-semitism,, designed to ward off not only criticism of Israel but of the US role in the world in general. Lots of great, penetrating analysis of the world nevertheless takes place, although Americans who limit themselves to the thin debate permitted in the New York Times and other mainstream publications would never know it (all the following were released in 2004 or late 2003).

Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror(Pantheon). No one else has so vividly explained the way the creation of a transnational terrorist army to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan laid the groundwork for so much recent world history. Fascinating analysis of the colonial roots of genocide to boot. And he flips the argument that the war on terror, is the new cold war on its head: what both in fact share is opposition by the US to militant nationalism in any form.

P. W. Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (Cornell University Press) lays out the role of Haliburton, Executive Outcomes et al, and asks, if militaries are just corporate services sold to bidders, why shouldn’t George Soros”or Osama Bin Laden”buy one for himself? A great beginning to understanding one of the most complex changes as the structures of the modern world mutate into something else.

Sherene H Razack, Dark Threats and White Knights: The Somalia Affair, Peacekeeping, and the New Imperialism (University of Toronto Press). After the debacle in Iraq has played itself out, we will no doubt hear renewed declarations about the importance of UN Peacekeeping. Razack’s autopsy of what can fairly be described as Canada’s Abu Graib–the murder of a Somali youth in the custody of Canadian troops–demonstrates the limits of imperialist missions, even when conducted by countries far less militaristic and apparently more concerned with human rights than the US. See Also Sandra Whitworth, Men, Militarism, and UN Peacekeeping: A Gendered Analysis.

Margaret Kohn, Brave New Neighborhood: The Privatization of Public Space (Routledge). No, Habermas, democracy is not a graduate seminar where everyone rationally and politely debates policy. Democracy is instead about radicals, evangelicals, and even the homeless thrusting their problems and visions of change in your face. The public space needed to do so is precisely what is rapidly disappearing in the US. Even publicly owned lands are increasingly conceptualized as private property simply administered by the government. A somewhat turgid read, but worth taking in a couple of chapters to get the main argument.

John Mickelthwait and Adrian Woodbridge, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (Penguin Press) lays out the forty year ascent of the right wing from the margins to hegemony over the American political sphere with a clarity and comprehensiveness found nowhere else. Leftists who want to turn things around should read and study this very carefully. See also Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, Banana Republicans, and Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas?.

Dan Clawson, The Next Upsurge: Labor and the New Social Movements (ILR Press). Bracingly optimistic assessment of recent developments in the practice of labor unions and their supporters. Have the tactics that will produce a genuine upsurge in union membership crystallized in such forms as labor community alliances, living wage struggles, and the anti-globalization movement? Clawson is very convincing when he argues that a revival of unions is unlikely to be the product of patient and steady organizing drives, but will instead sprout up as effective tactics suddenly spread like wildfire. His idea that what is most needed is a fusion of movements, in which all adopt each others demands, rather than a coalition, in which everyone simply marches side by side, is worth taking seriously.

Notes from Nowhere Collective, We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism(Verso Press) . The anti-capitalist movement in all its global, networked, autonomous, self-organizing, and somewhat incoherent glory. Also see Globalize Liberation edited by David Solnit.

Emmanuel Todd, After the Empire (Columbia University Press). The most ambitious, and also most amusing, of the assessments of the US’s mad bid to rebuild the Roman Empire. What is behind the increasingly tight alliance between Israel and the US? It is the mutual attraction of evil. What sort of intellectual is Paul Krugman? A fake non-conformist. Todd diagnoses the US as a society unable to overcome racism, deluded in its belief in its omnipotence, and failing to produce much of anything the world really wants. Whats to argue with? See also Michael Mann, Incoherent Empire, Jan Nedersveen Pieterse, Globalization or Empire?.

STEVEN SHERMAN is a sociologist living in Chapel Hill, NC. He can be reached at: threehegemons@hotmail.com

 

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