NSSR Philosophy

january links

“As the New Left waned, its structural critique of capitalist society faded, and the country’s characteristic liberal-individualist mindset reasserted itself, imperceptibly shrinking the aspirations of “progressives” and self-proclaimed leftists. What sealed the deal, however, was the coincidence of this evolution with the rise of neoliberalism. A party bent on liberalizing the capitalist economy found its perfect mate in a meritocratic corporate feminism focused on “leaning in” and “cracking the glass ceiling.” The result was a “progressive neoliberalism” that mixed together truncated ideals of emancipation and lethal forms of financialization. It was that mix that was rejected in toto by Trump’s voters. Prominent among those left behind in this brave new cosmopolitan world were industrial workers, to be sure, but also managers, small businessmen, and all who relied on industry in the Rust Belt and the South, as well as rural populations devastated by unemployment and drugs. For these populations, the injury of deindustrialization was compounded by the insult of progressive moralism, which routinely cast them as culturally backward.” – Nancy Fraser on The End of Progressive Neoliberalism


“For anyone familiar with President Obama, this invitation to “look forward, not back” is unsurprising. Set in contrast to Ezekiel’s stern warning, however, it should give us pause. Ezekiel did not come to tell the poor and oppressed to “open their hearts” to their oppressors, nor did he suggest they should attempt to stand in the shoes of their oppressors or attempt to look at the world through the eyes of their oppressors.” – Louis Colombo on New Hearts and Racial Divides


“The alliance that’s beginning to form between Zionist leadership and politicians with anti-Semitic tendencies has the power to transform Jewish-American consciousness for years to come. In the last few decades, many of America’s Jewish communities have grown accustomed to living in a political contradiction. On one hand, a large majority of these communities could rightly take pride in a powerful liberal tradition, stretching back to such models as Louis Brandeis — a defender of social justice and the first Jew to become a Supreme Court justice — or Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched in Selma alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On the other hand, the same communities have often identified themselves with Zionism, a political agenda rooted in the denial of liberal politics.” – Omri Boehm on Liberal Zionism in the Age of Trump


Zed Adams and Jacob Browning’s new book, Giving a Damn

swastika dorm graffiti

The New School just made national news… because someone drew swastikas on the doors of several dorm rooms. (Here is a report in the New York Daily News.)

The president of the New School, David Van Zandt, has already condemned the graffiti, and it seems likely that many in New School community would agree. But our purpose here is not to say how bad this is or opine about whether it is a sign of the times. Rather, we want to note how the present incident undermines one of the deepest values of the institution. Consider Rutkoff and Scott’s description of the environment encountered by European refugees in 1933:

At the New School these displaced European scholars found a building and an institution ready-made for their use. Free of anti-Semitism, modernist in outlook, and politically committed to democratic values, the New School offered them an extraordinarily congenial environment, perhaps unique in the United States. In Alvin Jonson, the refuges found a trustworthy and steadfast friend and protector; in the refugees Johnson found the fulfillment of his vision for the New School. For the next twelve years Johnson presided over one of the most extraordinary groups of intellectuals and artists in the western world. At 66 West Twelfth Street social scientists, philosophers, and artists from throughout Europe and the Americas grappled with what they considered the fundamental issues confronting modern society. Free from political as well as traditional disciplinary constraints, the New School salvaged from the tragedy of 1933 a great intellectual treasure. (Rutkoff and Scott, p.85)

If this is right, the New School was marked from early on by its commitment to American democratic values and its opposition to Nazi persecution. The anti-antisemitism endemic to the New School’s culture was part and parcel with its acceptance of refugees. Together these commitments gave rise to a “modernist outlook,” that emphasized intellectual engagement with contemporary problems rather than a focus on racial difference. Dispensing with hierarchies of race and discipline in other words was understood to be a precondition for the possibility of engaging in truly open inquiry.

Remarkably, this modern, democratic approach was undertaken at a time when resources were scarce in the United States, and when prejudices were widespread:

There were not enough jobs for Americans, let alone jobs for European refugees. This was as true in American colleges and universities as in the society at large. Moreover, a nativistic and anti-Jewish prejudice was widespread, even in American academies. Such resentments were fed by the predicable defensiveness of American intellectuals toward European intellectuals, who often acted condescendingly toward American scholarship. This was the case in the social sciences, where refugee European social scientists were given a decidedly reserved reception by their American colleagues. The New School was the exception. Not only did it accept a relatively large number of scholars and artists, it welcomed them warmly. (p.86)

That is, the New School maintained a modernist and democratic outlook long before World War II loomed, at a time when economic depression fanned the flames of defensiveness and prejudice on the part of native-born Americans.

Yet the New School did more than provide a voice of dissent during those difficult times. The commitment to free inquiry is not a value of cool toleration but a modern form of ancient philoxenia or medieval hospitium. This is the value of admitting strangers warmly, which is to say as friends who have something to add to an ongoing conversation. To admit a stranger warmly and as a friend depends on the one hand on recognizing her as different, that is, as a stranger. This requires that one allow for the maintenance of difference. By not demanding conformity, one allows for autonomy or self-determination on the part of the stranger. To admit the stranger as a friend on the other hand depends on treating her as a consciousness like oneself, that is of recognizing her subjectivity and selfhood even in the face of strangeness and difference. This warm welcoming in guest-friendship thus requires combining the recognition of difference and the recognition of subjectivity. Such hospitium is finally not an individual taste for the exotic or even a self-interested cosmopolitanism. Rather it a political and intellectual value constitutive of the intellectual community of the New School.

Obviously drawing swastikas on dorm room doors is an act of provocation that is bad for the image of the university. But it is not just a matter of reputation and hurt feelings on the part of those targeted. More fundamentally, it undermines the value of treating strangers as friends, a value constitutive of the New School’s world-historic purpose.


Work Cited:

Rutkoff, P.M. and Scott, W.B. New School: A History of the New School for Social Research. New York: The Free Press, 1986.


political links

Over the last year or so, NSSR philosophy students, graduates, and faculty have weighed in on important political issues. Since the election season is typically a time of rhetoric rather than reflection, here is a list to remind ourselves that thoughtful interventions into political discourse are possible.

Jeremy Butman: against sustainability

Eric Anthamatten: Trump has reduced speech to voice

Eduardo Mendieta: on racist institutions

Falguni Sheth: the refugee crisis requires more than empathy

David Kishik:  is philosophy an urban phenomenon?

Nancy Fraser and Andrew Arato: a dialogue on US elections and the Left


may links


“A professor of philosophy at Gordon College is suing the institution for allegedly retaliating against her for publicly disagreeing with its request for a religious exemption to a federal antidiscrimination law pertaining to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers” reports Inside Higher Ed. That professor is Lauren Barthold, a graduate of NSSR who has written on Rorty, Gadamer, and the philosophy of friendship. Barthold called Gordon College’s hiring policies discriminatory in a letter to the Salem News in 2014, and faculty dissent from the policy was reported the same year by the Boston Globe. According to the Daily Nous, the vice president of marketing at Gordon College claims that “Professor Barthold’s faculty peers voted to discipline her in a manner consistent with past precedent because her actions harmed the Gordon community and violated their trust.” A detailed timeline of the case, as well as an account of the alleged retaliation by the university against professor Barthold are available in her legal complaint, filed with help from the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The current EU has proved repeatedly that it is not equipped to grapple with the global transformations — and tragedies — for which it also bears historical and political responsibility. This EU also lacks any political soul beyond the technocratic defense of the interests of European capitalism.” Cinzia Arruzza in Jacobin on The Refugee Crisis and European Shame.

“First one makes a decision: are my politics fundamentally practical, or are my politics fundamentally moral? Then, having decided, you make your other calculations as best you can, and you lead others in the way most suited to your personality and your skills.” Michael Weinman’s Weberian reading of the Democratic Presidential Primary.

february links

Disrupting Silences in the Philosophy Canon” NS PhD Candidate PJ Gorre reflects on teaching the canon of modern philosophy.

“All human experience involves a coordination of the voluntary and involuntary body, where the correct or appropriate relation between the voluntary and involuntary body is set in place by social rules. Torture depends on working the difference between the involuntary and the voluntary body differently. In torture, the victim is reduced to her involuntary body, while the torturer effectively takes possession of all voluntariness and agency; the torturer has the victim’s body. If in torture I can no longer call my body ‘mine’, then torture dispossesses me of my body. And it is just this that rape is about: a radical act of dispossession through violation.” J.M. Bernstein on rape, slavery, and torture.

Anwar Shaikh’s new book, Capitalism: Competition, Conflict and Crisis, comes out this month from Oxford University Press. Shaikh is Chair of NSSR Economics. The school will host an event for the book’s release on Friday, Feb 12.

Fifty-two years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inaugurated the American Race Crisis lecture series at The New School. The recording of his lecture, “The Summer of Our Discontent,” was recently digitized from open reel tapes, and can now be heard online.

january links

Everyday Revolutions“: a portrait of Ágnes Heller.

“The effect, and surely the aim, of the 9/11 Museum is to make visitors experience what it was like to be there at the time. It places them in a situation where, like the participants, they only know that something supremely awful is happening, but where they do not know why it is happening, or what is to come.” Ross Poole on 9/11 Memorials.

“Gangster-type radicalized fundamentalism demonstrates a radical phase of nihilism, perhaps more radical than ever, looming below the ‘clash of religions’.” Julia Kristeva on Radical Evil.

“For the hundreds of thousands of ordinary working-class boys and girls in England in the early 1970s, including me, Bowie incarnated something glamorous, enticing, exciting and mysterious: a world of unknown pleasures and sparkling intelligence. He offered an escape route from the suburban hellholes that we inhabited. Bowie spoke most eloquently to the disaffected, to those who didn’t feel right in their skin, the socially awkward, the alienated. He spoke to the weirdos, the freaks, the outsiders and drew us in to an extraordinary intimacy, although we knew this was total fantasy. But make no mistake, this was a love story.” Simon Critchley on David Bowie.

december links

Is Heidegger’s Being and Time a “Collection of Pretentious and Vague Platitudes“?

David Kishik has a critical perspective on Walter Benjamin in Jerusalem.

The NSSR’s new “virtual bookshelf” features books and articles written by New School faculty.

Christopher Long remembers Reiner Schürmann in the Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal.

The new Hannah Arendt documentary.

october links

“While serving as president of the New School, Bob Kerrey, the former United States senator, needed a residence befitting his station. The university moved him into a red brick Neo-Grec townhouse on West Fourth Street in Manhattan, which was previously owned by the actress Gwyneth Paltrow. The $20,000-a-month rental had many grand spaces for entertaining, including Mr. Kerrey’s favorite, a rooftop terrace. Yet, its most unexpected amenity was quite private and secretive: a safe room.”

“The rapid increase in college enrollment can be defended by intellectually respectable arguments. Even the explosion in administrative personnel is, at least in theory, defensible. On the other hand, there are no valid arguments to support the recent trend toward seven-figure salaries for high-ranking university administrators, unless one considers evidence-free assertions about “the market” to be intellectually rigorous.”

“Abandoned storefronts have long been a hallmark of economic depression and high crime rates, but the West Village doesn’t have either of those. Instead, what it has are extremely high commercial rents, which cause an effect that is not dissimilar.”

“Students simply show up for class, he argued, jump through some hoops, and get their As. Professors are simply service providers and accreditors.”

Cayla Clinkenbeard (NSSR student): “Ameliorating Debt Through Student Unionization: an NYU Case Study

Michael Marder: “Dusting the Furniture of Our Minds.”

may links

Cinzia Arruzza’s “Remarks on Gender” reopens the a debate concerning the connection between patriarchy and capitalism. Arruzza also recently wrote a piece on the EU border security agency Frontex: “Fortress Europe and a Mediterranean Cemetery for Migrants.”

A column in the New York Times considers the last Nazi trial. Corey Robin has a long article in the Nation on the enduring significance of Arendt’s critique of radical evil (Robin thinks it has to do with Zionism).

Chiara Bottici asks why modern western philosophy moved from mythos to logos. A resultant discussion about the connection between philosophy and fiction has sprung up at the Daily Nous.

J. M. Bernstein’s presence (through quotes) on Tumblr.



And… a cocktail inspired by Seth Benardete (?!)




frederic morton

The noted novelist and historian passed away this week at age 90. Born in 1924 in Vienna, Morton and his family fled Austria after the Anschluss, first to England, and then to New York. Morton graduated from City College in 1947 and received a master’s degree from the New School in 1949.

Much of Morton’s writing focused on exile and European history. The Rothschilds, a portrait of the prominent European baking dynasty, and A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889, were National Book Award Finalists.

Obituaries have appeared in the Forward, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.


Update: The Austrian Cultural Forum in New York will present Morton’s final work, a play called “The Marquis Flight” on June 2, 2015. Here is the description from their website:

“The Marquis Flight” starts as a realistic plot “about the catastrophes of contemporary success”, as the playwright himself had described it to us. Based on the story of an Upper East Side executive’s plane trip to Paris, the lines between reality and (science)fiction gradually blur taking the audience into a surreal fantasy world.