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Category: Truth

The State of the Pandemic (Toscano, 2020)

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by Alberto Toscano, Historical Materialism 28.4 (2020) 3–23

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The Covid-19 pandemic has further intensified a crisis in the functions and the perception of the state. It has also revealed underlying contradictions in both mainstream and radical ideologies of the state. A desire for the state as guarantor of public welfare vies with fear of the state’s hypertrophic capacities for surveillance and control. Following a brief exploration of the intimate modern connection between plagues and the state, the article tries to map some of the ways in which the state has been at stake in political and theoretical commentaries on the pandemic. Is an epidemiological politics from below, beyond the plague state, possible? Can recent emergency measures be seen as incomplete or inverted anticipations of a communist use of the state of exception? Or is the primacy of the political we are currently experiencing a mere fetish, indissociable from the rule of capital?

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Some Stories About Communization

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by Jasper Bernes, Nov 2020-Jan 2021, via Substack

(see also Planning and Anarchy (2020), and Belly of the Revolution (2018))

Part 1, Nov 26, 2020

I want to do a series of posts on the theory of “communization” as it has developed since 1968, because it seems to me there is a great deal more interest in the term and desire than there is comprehension. There are many reasons for the abuse the word has suffered, but foremost is that, in France, from whence it derives, “communization” never at first served to name a tendency or a coherent theory. It was simply a term of art that a loosely connected network of communist projects used to explain their vision of communist revolution.

Even as the term courant communisateur – communizing tendency, or communizer current–began to be applied to these groups retrospectively, many questioned and resisted the term, drawing attention to the way that it conflated advocates of communization, who can exist in the world here and now, with those who practice communization, that is with people who do not yet exist.

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Marx on Social Reproduction

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by Paul Cammack (Historical Materialism, 2020)

Marx is generally reckoned to have had too little to say about what has come to be defined as ‘social reproduction’, largely as a consequence of too narrow a focus on industrial production, and a relative disregard for issues of gender. This paper argues in contrast that the approach he developed with Engels and in Capital, Volume 1, provides a powerful framework for its analysis. After an introductory discussion of recent literature on social reproduction the second section sets out Marx’s approach to the ‘production of life, both of one’s own in labour and of fresh life in procreation’. The third addresses his account of reproduction in Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 23. The fourth and fifth compare the relationship of the family to industry and exchange as depicted in Capital and in the present day respectively. The conclusion suggests some implications for theories of social reproduction.

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Beyond Reification: Reclaiming Marx’s Concept of the Fetish Character of the Commodity (Pepperell 2018)

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by Nicole Pepperell, Contradictions Vol. 2 number 2 (2018)

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György Lukács’s influential interpretation of commodity fetishism as “reification” shapes many contemporary critiques of the apparently objective and impersonal form taken by capitalist social relations. Such critiques seek to debunk the false veil of objectivity that results from fetishism, revealing the real character of the social relations underneath. This line of criticism, however, often attributes totalising power to capitalism, which undermines its own critical standpoint. I argue that the solution to this dilemma lies in understanding the fetish not as an ideological veil that needs to be debunked, but instead as a novel form of social interdependence that is genuinely – not illusorily – impersonal. This impersonal form is generated by a diverse array of disparate social practices whose interaction yields this unanticipated and unintended result. Within this framework, the diversity of the underlying social practices offers a practical potential basis for constituting new forms of social interdependence that lack not only the semblance, but also the reality of capitalism’s oppressive objectivity. READ PDF

See also by Pepperell:

A Short History of the European Working Class (Abendroth, 1972)

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by Wolfgand Abendroth

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Table of Contents:
Foreword
1. The Beginnings up to the Defeat of 1848
2. The First International
3. Working-Class Parties and Trade Unions
4. The Second International up to the First World War
5. The Working-Class Movement between the Russian Revolution and the Victory of Fascism
6. The Working-Class Movement in the Period of Fascism
7. The Working-Class Movement after the Second World War
Postscript, 1971

Marxism and Mediation (Gunn, 1987)

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Richard Gunn, Common Sense No. 2 (July 1987)

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In both Hegelian and Marxist thought, the concept of mediation figures as a central dialectical category. That the category does theoretical, and revolutionary, work is clear. What is less clear, to myself at any rate, is what might be termed the conceptual geography of the category itself. It is this conceptual geography which, as a preliminary to further discussion, the present paper attempts to clarify. A more pretentious title for what follows might be ‘Prolegomena to a Reading of Marx’.

To mediate is to bring about a relation by means of a relating (an “intermediate”) term. A mediation is the relating term itself. To count as a mediation, a relating term must be more than a mere catalyst or external condition (however necessary) of the relation: rather, it must itself be the relation. It must constitute it, in the way that for example – and the example is offered merely heuristically – a rope linking two climbers is constitutive of the relation in which they stand.

If a mediation is, thus, the relation which it establishes, it does not follow that just any relation counts as a mediating term. A mediated relation is distinct from a relation for which, to render it intelligible or accurately describe it, no reference to a relating term need be made – for example, a relation of juxtaposition. A relation of this kind is an immediate relation (which, for its part, may be catalysed or necessitated in this or that way).

In partial praise of a positivist (O’Neill, 1995)

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The work of Otto Neurath

by John O’Neill (Radical Philosophy, 1995)

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From the Frankfurt School the story has emerged that positivism is a conservative doctrine necessarily committed to existing social institutions and to a technocratic conception of politics. Even the most scientistic orthodox Marxist is unlikely to announce that she is a positivist. Such is the disrepute into which positivism has fallen that to accept the title of positivist would amount to an admission that one’s position was untenable. The picture of positivism that informs its use as a term of academic abuse is a caricature. Positivist philosophy was much more heterogeneous than recent thumbnail versions allow, and many of the doctrines ascribed to it were explicitly rejected by many of its proponents.  Neurath himself was unhappy with the term for the very reason that it suggested a systematic set of doctrines incompatible with the methodological pluralism he defended, although ‘not being a pedant’ he was willing to ‘bear it’.

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Rosa Luxemburg’s Global Class Analysis (van der Linden, 2016)

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by Marcel van der Linden, Historical Materialism 24.1 (2016) 135–159

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How did Rosa Luxemburg, in her The Accumulation of Capital and other writings, analyse the development of the working class and other subordinate classes under capitalism, and how did she view the relationship between these classes and those living in ‘natural economic societies’? Following primary sources closely, the present essay reconstructs and evaluates Luxemburg’s class analysis of global society. It is shown that Luxemburg pioneered a truly global concept of solidarity from below, including the most oppressed – women and colonised peoples.

See also:

Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience (Biehl & Staudenmaier, 1995)

By Janet Biehl & Peter Staudenmaier (1995)

AK Press / PDF

The reappearance of fascism in many western countries threatens all the freedoms the left movements have managed to gain over the last half century. Equally disconcerting is the attempt by fascist ideologists and political groups to use ecology in the service of social reaction. This effort is not without long historical roots in Germany, both in its nineteenth-century romanticism and in the Third Reich in the present century. In order to preserve the liberatory aspects of ecology, the authors, as social ecologists, explore the German experience of fascism and derive from it historical lessons about the political use of ecology. Comprised of two essays—”Fascist Ideology: The Green Wing of the Nazi Party and its Historical Antecedents” and “Ecology and the Modernization of Fascism in the German Ultra-Right,”—Ecofascism examines aspects of German fascism, past and present, in order to draw essential lessons from them for ecology movements both in Germany and elsewhere.

Table of Contents:

Introduction

Fascist Ecology: The “Green Wing” of the Nazi Party and its Historical Antecedents
by Peter Staudenmaier

The Roots of the Blood and Soil Mystique
The Youth Movement and the Weimar Era
Nature in National Socialist Ideology
Blood and Soil as Official Doctrine
Implementing the Ecofascist Program
Fascist Ecology in Context

Ecology’ and the Modernization of Fascism in the German Ultra-right
by Janet Biehl

Neofascist ‘Ecology’
National Revolutionaries
The Freedom German Workers Party
The Republicans
The National Democratic Party
The German People’s Union
Anthroposophy and the World League for the Protection of Life
Rudolf Bahro: Völkisch Spirituality
Liberating the ‘Brown Parts’
Social Darwinist ‘Ecology’: Herbert Gruhl
A Social Ecology of Freedom

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Marxism and Merchant Capitalism

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by Jairus Banaji

Draft of a chapter for The Handbook of Marxism, eds., Sara Farris and Alberto Toscano.

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‘Merchant’s or trading capital’, as Marx refers to it as the start of the sequence of chapters where this is discussed in Capital vol. 3 was largely marginal to Marx‘s understanding of the capitalist mode of production, which, of course, was embodied in the dynamics (the laws of motion) of industrial capital and personified by the industrial capitalist. In fact, in its leading form, viz. as commercial capital, it was simply a transmuted form of industrial capital itself, a circulation of the commodity capital of the industrialist, for ever penned into [industrial] capital‘s circulation sphere‘. Merchant capitalists do figure in Volume 3 but they do so strictly only as agents of industrial capital.

I shall argue that it was perfectly consistent for Marx to argue in this way, since he saw the accumulation of industrial capital as the driving force behind the capitalist mode of production and his interest lay in analysing the accumulation process of a total capital dominated by large-scale industry. However, this conception will not work historically when Marxists have to deal with periods of history where industrial capitalism (the capitalist mode of production in Marx‘s sense) was largely embryonic or even completely absent. The reason why most Marxists tend not to be troubled by this is that the centuries of early capitalism (to use a conventional term that was popular among historians roughly a century ago) have on the whole been framed either in terms of a historically nebulous age of primitive accumulation‘ (Dobb) or, from the fifties on, as a prolonged transition from feudalism to (industrial) capitalism with its implied ―coexistence of modes of production. But a major upshot of this conceptual indifference, so to speak, has been the abdication of this whole field of history to historians working largely outside a strictly Marxist tradition, even if at least some of those historians, notably Braudel, were profoundly influenced by Marx. READ PDF

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Translations by Banaji:

Serfdom in a Free Society (Mattick, 1946)

by Paul MattickWestern Socialist, Boston, USA, September 1946

The Road to Serfdom. By Friedrich A. Hayek, University of Chicago Press, 1944 (250 pp.; $2.75).

Full Employment in a Free Society. By William H. Beveridge. W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 1945. (429pp; $3,75).

Both these books are dedicated to the “socialists of all parties.” Hayek wants to discourage them, Beveridge tries to offer encouragement. Both writers speak in the name of science and deal with the reality of, and the need for, capitalistic planning. But what appears to Hayek as the road to serfdom seems to Beveridge the highway to a free society.

Russia and Germany prove to Hayek that socialism does not lead to freedom. The most important guaranty of freedom, he maintains, is a system of private property. Planning and freedom cannot go together. Without a labor market and an industrial reserve army, for example, discipline can be maintained only by corporal punishment, for which reason socialism implies slave-labor. The “collective freedom” of which the planners speak is, in Hayek’s opinion, “but the unlimited freedom of the planner to do with society what he pleases.”

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Siegfried Kracauer (1889-1966): Collected Works

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“The position that an epoch occupies in the historical process can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its inconspicuous surface-level expressions than from that epoch’s judgments about itself. Since these judgments are expressions of the tendencies of a particular era, they do not offer conclusive testimony about its overall constitution. The surface-level expressions, however, by virtue of their unconscious nature, provide unmediated access to the fundamental substance of the state of things. Conversely, knowledge of this state of things depends on the interpretation of these surface-level expressions. The fundamental substance of an epoch and its unheeded impulses illuminate each other reciprocally.” – Kracauer, The Mass Ornament, 1927

By Siegfried Kracauer:

The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays (1922-1931)

The Salaried Masses: Duty and Distraction in Weimar Germany (1930)

From Caligari to Hitler A Psychological History of the German Film (1947)

Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (1960)

The Pasts Threshold: Essays on Photography (1927-1951)

Siegfried_Kracauer’s_American Writings: Essays on Film and Popular Culture (1941-1961)

History-The Last Things Before the Last (1969)

On Siegfried Kracauer:

Koch, Introduction to Siegfried Kracauer (2000)

Gilloch, Siegfried Kracauer: Our companion in misfortune (2015)

Hansen, Cinema and experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno (2012)

Craver, Reluctant Skeptic: Siegfried Kracauer and the Crises of Weimar Culture (2017)

Reeh, Ornaments of the Metropolis_ Siegfried Kracauer and Modern Urban Culture (2005

New_German_Critique_54: _SPECIAL ISSUE ON SIEGFRIED KRACAUER 1991

Ockman, Between Ornament and Monument: Siegfried Kracauer and the Architectural Implications of the Mass Ornament

Forrest, The Politics of Imagination: Benjamin, Kracauer, Kluge, 2015

How is capitalism racial? Fanon, critical theory and the fetish of antiblackness (White, 2020)

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by Hylton White (2020), Social Dynamics, 46:1, 22-35.

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ABSTRACT
I outline a proposal for an analysis of antiblackness grounded by the Marxist critique of the fetishistic forms of capitalist society. Traditionally, Marxist accounts of antiblackness turn, not to Marx’s theory of fetishism, but rather to dynamics of class formation under capitalist development, and hence to the ways that class formation motivates types of racism, including antiblackness. But accounts like these do not explain the distinctive features of modern antiblackness. Turning to the Marxist critique of fetishism, I argue for an account of the distinctive features of modern antiblackness, by bringing into conversation: (a) comments by Fanon on negrophobia and the relations between antiblackness and antisemitism; and (b) work by Postone on the fetishistic nature of modern antisemitism. I argue that antisemitism and antiblackness afford a pair of devices for falsely concretising the structure of alienation that produces the apparent opposition of labour and capital. These devices present the pathologies of modernity as stemming not from capitalist social relations but rather from the apparently essential powers of antisocial races: the Jew of antisemitism, caricatured as cunning will without productive bodily expenditure, and the Black of antiblack racism, caricatured as biological energy that lacks self-governing will. READ PDF

On Slavery and Slave Formations (Patterson, 1979)

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by Orlando Patterson, New Left Review, 117, 31– 67.

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What is slavery? How do we identify a slave formation or society? What do we mean when we say that a given society was based on slavery? Is there such a thing as a Slave Mode of Production? It is remarkable that after nearly a century and a half of modern scholarship on the subject these are still unanswered questions. At no time, however, were answers more urgently needed than now. Slave studies has become something of an academic industry. The industry encompasses a vast and growing body of works from Marxist and bourgeois scholars alike, and on the ancient, medieval and modern periods of every continent. Yet, with a few notable exceptions, few scholars are concerned with both the theoretical and empirical aspects of the problem. An unhealthy specialization has therefore developed in current slave studies. On one side stands a legion of empiricists who pursue every conceivable detail of slave culture and economy, often in a theoretical wasteland; on the other side is a small but growing band of theorists who insist on defining the ‘crucial issues’ and weave theories which, by their own admission, bear no relation whatever to reality. READ PDF

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On The Impotence of Revolutionary Groups (Moss, 1939)

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by Sam Moss (Living Marxism, 1939) PDF

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The difference between the radical organizations and the broad masses appears as a difference of objectives. The former apparently seek to overthrow capitalism; the masses seek only to maintain their living standards within capitalism. The revolutionary groups agitate for the abolition of private property; the people, called the masses, either own bits of private property, or hope some day to own them. The communist-minded struggle for the eradication of the profit system; the masses, capitalist minded, speak of the bosses’ right to a “fair profit.” As long as a relatively large majority of the American working class maintain the living conditions to which they are accustomed, and have the leisure to follow their pursuits, such as baseball and movies, they are generally well content, and they are grateful to the system that makes these things possible. The radical, who opposes this system and thereby jeopardizes their position within it, is far more dangerous to them than the bosses who pay them, and they do not hesitate to make a martyr of him. As long as the system satisfies their basic needs in the accustomed manner, they are well satisfied with it and whatever evils they behold in society, they attribute to “unfair bosses,” “bad administrators” or other individuals.

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Critical theory and experience: Interview with Detlev Claussen (2019)

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Detlev Claussen and Jordi Maiso – RP 2.06 (Winter 2019)
Translated by Alex Alvarez Taylor

[See Claussen’s biography of Adorno: One Last Genius (2008)]

Detlev Claussen (b. 1948) is Professor Emeritus of Social Theory, Culture and Sociology at Leibniz Universität Hannover. In the mid-sixties he moved to Frankfurt to study with Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, where he was actively involved in the protest movements associated with the political upheavals of 1968. In the seventies, Claussen worked as Oskar Negt’s assistant, with whom he shared the common project of opening up new avenues for critical theory without renouncing the thought of their intellectual mentors. Since then, Claussen has argued that instead of offering an overarching theory that can be applied from ‘outside’ of existing social reality, critical theory offers a variety of strategies that allow us simultaneously to disentangle and invigorate present experience. Claussen has written on a wide range of themes, including social theory, psychoanalysis, the sociology of science and culture, as well as anti-Semitism, racism, nationalism and migration. His biography of the legendary Jewish coach and footballer Béla Guttmann, yet to be translated into English, offers a prime example of how his published work cannot be separated from the wider context of his intellectual biography. Both an essayist and Adorno’s biographer, Claussen is one of the leading lights of critical theory today.

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Cured Quail Vol. 2

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As industrial culture grinds to a halt, what better time to reflect, in this hour of unprecedented catastrophe, unwieldy political ferment and social distance, on the backlog of damages inflicted by this society? The economy continues to demand reverence from lives barely tottering along while offering cultural consolation hardly worth the name.

Preorders are now open for Cured Quail Vol. 2. The more preorders we receive, the faster the printer cylinders rotate.

Cured Quail Volume 2 | Fall 2020 | 304 pages

Cured Quail also now has its own Facebook and Twitter pages. Be sure to follow!

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Three Agricultural Revolutions (Clegg & Lucas, 2020)

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By J. Clegg and R. Lucas (Endnotes) SAQ (2020)

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There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry anymore.  

— Adorno, Minima Moralia

Critique of Revolutionary Reason

It’s safe to say that there is today no particularly obvious consensus about what the overcoming of capitalism might look like. Surveying the field of imagined scenarios, we find everything from neo-social-democratic bids to gradually legislate capitalism away, to apocalyptic visions of social breakdown marked by the spontaneous redistribution of goods. Nor is there a simple, uncontentious definition of communism. It could in principle be anything from some classical Sparta’s helot-exploiting collectivism, to a recapitulation of hunter-gatherer lifestyles; from the perfected bureaucratic state, to federated worker’s councils; from Stanford Beer’s cybernetic visions, to a return to pastoral commons. Marx, of course, was famously reticent about giving the term any positive content, displacing its meaning instead onto the historical unfolding of the movement of the same name. He claimed to prefer “critical analysis of actual facts” to “writing recipes for the cookshops of the future” (Marx 1976: 99). And Marxists of various stripes have often appealed to that precedent in one way or another to justify a focus not on the speculative future, but on the “real” present. In Endnotes’s broadly “ultra-left” milieu, a passage from Marx’s German Ideology often functions as a kind of mantra: “communism is for us not a state of a airs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” (Marx 1970: 56). READ PDF

State Capitalism: Its Possibilities and Limitations (Pollock, 1941)

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by Friedrich Pollock (1941)

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We start from the assumption that the hour of state capitalism approaches when the market economy becomes an utterly inadequate instrument for utilizing the available resources. The medium-sized private enterprise and free trade, the basis for the gigantic development of men’s productive forces in the 19th century, are being gradually destroyed by the offspring of liberalism, private monopolies and government interference. Concentration of economic activity in giant enterprises, with its consequences of rigid prices, self-financing and ever growing concentration, government control of the credit system and foreign trade, quasi-monopoly positions of trade unions with the ensuing rigidity of the labor market, large-scale unemployment of labor and capital and enormous government expenses to care for the unemployed, are as many symptoms for the decline of the market system. They became characteristic in various degrees for all industrialized countries after the first world war.

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Never Again: Refusing Race and Salvaging the Human (Paul Gilroy, 2019)

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In his Holberg Lecture, Paul Gilroy, author of The Black Atlantic (1993), winner of the Holberg Prize for 2019, advocates turning away from the defaulted racial ordering of life in pursuit of a new humanism.

It is commonplace to observe that democracy in Europe has reached a dangerous point. As ailing capitalism emancipates itself from democratic regulation, ultra-nationalism, populism, xenophobia and varieties of neo-fascism have become more visible, more assertive and more corrosive of political culture. The widespread appeal of racialised group identity and racism, often conveyed obliquely with a knowing wink, has been instrumental in delivering us to a situation in which our conceptions of truth, law and government have been placed in jeopardy. In many places, pathological hunger for national rebirth and the restoration of an earlier political time, have combined with resentful, authoritarian and belligerent responses to alterity and the expectation of hospitality.

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