Is there anything new to be said about the New Deal? As Ira Katznelson observes at the beginning of Fear Itself, ‘we possess hundreds of thematic histories, countless studies of public affairs and abundant biographies of key persons during this time of great historical density’; so ‘why present another portrait?’, he asks. Part of the answer lies in a resurgence of interest in the 1930s in the us—especially among left-liberal scholars who, in search of Depression-era lessons for the present, are constantly drawn to comparisons between Obama and Roosevelt (usually unflattering to the former). Katznelson himself finds justification in a more refined source, citing Henry James’s 1882 essay on Venice: although the city has been ‘painted and described many thousands of times’, wrote James, ‘it is not forbidden to speak of familiar things’ when a writer ‘is himself in love with his theme’.
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What Is Trump?
The pitfalls of bad historical analogizing laid bare in ubiquitous attempts to pin a ‘fascist’ label on the 45th president. Instead, Riley argues, Trump is better grasped as an incoherent amalgam of Weberian forms of rule—ramshackle patrimonialism, weak charisma—operating like a foreign body inserted into America’s capitalist-bureaucratic state.
Metaphysicking the West
Dylan Riley on Heinrich August Winkler, The Age of Catastrophe. ‘The West’ as normative construct—and narrative telos—in a moralizing account from Berlin of the 20th century’s wars and revolutions.
The electoral watersheds of 2016 signalled a rejection of the global-neoliberal formula of rule, but no viable establishment alternative exists. In its absence, Riley argues, Trump may offer a neo-Bonapartist substitute for a coherent hegemonic project.
Politics as Theatre?
Dylan Riley on David Runciman, The Confidence Trap. Parables for the present crisis drawn from liberal democracy’s most difficult hours.
Property Leading the People?
Dylan Riley on Neil Davidson, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? Genealogy and idiosyncratic extension of the Marxian concept.
Dylan Riley on Sheri Berman, The Primacy of Politics and Ashley Lavelle, The Death of Social Democracy. Conflicting assessments of Bernstein’s legatees and the future of a reformist left.
Tony Judt: A Cooler Look
Few Anglophone intellectuals have received such posthumous acclaim as the Director of the Remarque Institute, leading contributor to the New York Review of Books, and late champion of social-democracy. Regularly compared to George Orwell, if not Isaiah Berlin, does any careful examination of his oeuvre sustain such panegyrics?
Reviving its classical definition, ‘rule of the propertyless’, Luciano Canfora recasts the story of democracy in Europe as one of successive defeats, with lessons from Louis Napoleon on the use of suffrage as legitimation for oligarchic rule. Dylan Riley assesses a remarkable historical polemic from the Italian philologist.
Dylan Riley on Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy. A bold theoretical construction of causal relations between democratization and genocide, tested through detailed historical studies.
Enigmas of Fascism
Dylan Riley on Michael Mann, Fascists and Robert Paxton, Anatomy of Fascism. Alternative versions of the rise of a paramilitary Right in interwar Europe: were fascist movements ideologically coherent or inchoate, revolutionary or counter-revolutionary?