Sunday, November 29, 2009

Libertarian or Maoist?

A new quiz show! Everyone can play! Can you correctly match the ideology to the statement? (No cheating! Follow the links only after guessing!)

Promoting equality of the sexes...

by excluding women from citizenship. Notice that her husband, who presumably shares her religious views, is already a citizen.
2. (via this wonderfully fun book)
Grandiose causes need new-style arguments. For example: hijab must be banned; it is a sign of male power (the father or eldest brother) over young girls or women. So, we'll banish the women who obstinately wear it. Basically put: these girls or women are oppressed. Hence, they shall be punished. [...]

Or, contrariwise: it is they who freely want to wear that damned headscarf, those rebels, those brats! Hence, they shall be punished. Wait a minute: do you mean it isn't the symbol of male oppression, after all? The father and eldest brother have nothing to do with it? Where then does the need to ban the scarf come from? The problem in hijab is conspicuously religious. Those brats have made their belief conspicuous. You there! Go stand in the corner!

Either it's the father and eldest brother, and "feministly" the hijab must be torn off, or it's the girl herself standing by her belief, and "laically" it must be torn off. There is no good headscarf. Bareheaded! Everywhere! As it used to be said-even non-Muslims said it-everyone must go out "bareheaded."
How'd you do?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Comments on Cohen

Here are the comments I delivered yesterday as part of the Cohen symposium:

Analysis Terminated? Towards a Post-Analytical Marxism

Or: What Can Bullshit Marxists Learn from G. A. Cohen?

I never encountered Jerry Cohen, the man. I only knew G. A. Cohen, the author of important and influential books and essays in analytical Marxism. Jerry Cohen, so I’m told, was playful, funny, kind, and generous. The G. A. Cohen I knew was dead serious – if also capable of wit – harsh in his judgments, and quite intimidating. He was also incredibly sharp and really knew his way around Marx. I read his work – everything relevant to the study of Marx, that is – when I was in Amsterdam working on my dissertation on Marx’s concepts of labor. I found some of it helpful for my project, much of it ever so slightly disagreeable, and all of it rather less enticing than the Althusser I was reading at the same time. Nonetheless, even in my youth I recognized that Karl Marx’s Theory of History was the most formidable exposition of that other kind of Marxism, the attempt to make sense of Marx in the terms and by the conventions of Anglo-American academic philosophy and social science. I took Cohen much more seriously as a Marxologist than I did Jon Elster, for instance (indeed, footnote references to Elster in my dissertation included a parenthetical “sic!” after the title of his book, Making Sense of Marx). It was quite apparent to me that Cohen was seeking to clarify what Marx wrote precisely because he was convinced that, in rough outline at least, Marx was right: right about history, right about society, right about capitalism and the need to overcome it. His was not my kind of Marxism, but it seemed to me an intellectually honest, respectable, and challenging kind of Marxism, nonetheless.

I don’t think Cohen would have had the same judgment of me. In the introduction to the 2000 edition of Marx’s Theory of History, Cohen recollected that “before others taught me to call what we were doing ‘analytical Marxism,’ it was my own practice to call it ‘non-bullshit Marxism’” (KMTH, xxv). He admits that the term is “aggressive,” since “when you call what you do non-bullshit Marxism, you seem to imply that all other Marxism is bullshit.” He seems for a moment to undercut this aggressiveness by conceding that “there exists Marxism which is neither analytical nor bullshit,” but this concession has a sting in its tail, for he concludes by naming this non-analytical, non-bullshit Marxism “pre-analytical Marxism,” and declaring that whenever “pre-analytical Marxism encounters analytical Marxism, then it must either become analytical or become bullshit” (KMTH, xxv-xxvi). Since my Marxism encountered Cohen’s analytical Marxism in 2003, and did not, after that encounter, become analytical, then it seems that I have been, for the last six years or so, a bullshit Marxist. Hence, the alternate title for this talk. Since I nonetheless find much to respect and value in Cohen’s work on Marx, I want to press his definition of and commitment to analysis, and to see whether or not it makes sense to proclaim myself – not to mention numerous others who are similarly situated vis-à-vis Marxist theory – a post-analytical Marxist.

To that end, I want to do what Cohen claimed in 2000 he and his fellow analytical Marxists never did, put analysis in question. The first task will be to get clear on just what analysis is, on Cohen’s account. It has both a broad and a narrow sense, and I will proceed to challenge each sense, beginning with the narrow one, anti-holism. I will argue that, in the narrow sense defined by Cohen, analytical Marxism is not actually analytical. That is, it is committed to a certain sort of holism. Then I’ll move on to discuss the broader sense of analysis, which is opposed to “dialectical reasoning,” something Cohen does not actually think exists. In other words, Cohen takes analysis to be identical to reasoning as such. I think there are good reasons for resisting this view, and that Marxists in particular ought to be wary of it. In order to show why this is so, I will enter into the realm of Cohen’s Marx interpretation. I think that Cohen makes a number of observations about Marx and Marx’s project that can actually be read as motivations for a post-analytical Marxism.

Monday, November 23, 2009

G.A. Cohen In Memoriam: A Critical Celebration of His Life and Work

This Friday, 27 November 2009, 10am - 4pm
McGill University, Old McGill Room, Faculty Club


  • Joseph Carens (Toronto) "Motivation and Equality in Cohen"

  • Jurgen De Wispelaere (CRÉUM) "Cohen in the Real World? Equality, Justice and Social Institutions"

  • Pablo Gilabert (Concordia) "Cohen on Socialism, Equality, and Community"

  • Jacob T. Levy (McGill) "Cohen on the Tasks of Political Philosophy"

  • William Clare Roberts (McGill) "Analysis Terminated? Towards a Post-Analytical Marxism"

  • Daniel Weinstock (CRÉUM) "Cohen and Cohen on Jokes"
I don't know that this is the actual order in which we'll be speaking* -- an earlier version of the program had Roberts and Levy going first and second. Regardless, come for the whole thing.

By the way, I feel a little odd being the only person who didn't include Cohen's name in the title of his talk, but if it makes a difference, my talk also has an alternate title: "What Bullshit Marxists Can Learn from Cohen." (You can tell, perhaps, why that is not on the program.)

* UPDATE: The "definitive" schedule:

William Clare Roberts: Analysis Terminated? Toward a Post-Analytical Marxism
Joseph Carens: Motivation and Equality in Cohen

Jacob T. Levy: Cohen on the Tasks of Political Philosophy
Jurgen De Wispelaere: Cohen in the Real World? Equality, Justice and Social Institutions

Lunch break

Pablo Gilabert: Cohen on Socialism, Equality, and Community
Daniel Weinstock: Cohen and Cohen on Jokes

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

CFP: Roundtable on Marx's Capital

Via the Society for Social and Political Philosophy:

The SSPP is pleased to issue a CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS for a

Roundtable on Marx’s Capital

Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, February 24-27, 2011

Our second Roundtable will explore Volume One of Marx’s Capital (1867). We chose this text because the resurgence in references to and mentions of Marx – provoked especially by the financial crisis, but presaged by the best-seller status of Hardt and Negri’s Empire and Marx’s surprising victory in the BBC’s “greatest philosopher” poll – has only served to highlight the fact that there have not been any new interpretive or theoretical approaches to this book since Althusser’s in the 1960s.

The question that faces us is this: Does the return of Marx mean that we have been thrust into the past, such that long “obsolete” approaches have a newfound currency, or does in mean, on the contrary, that Marx has something new to say to us, and that new approaches to his text are called for?

The guiding hypothesis of this Roundtable is that if new readings of Capital are called for, then it is new readers who will produce them.

Therefore, we are calling for applications from scholars interested in approaching Marx’s magnum opus with fresh eyes, willing to open it to the first page and read it through to the end without knowing what they might find. Applicants need not be experts in Marx or in Marxism. Applicants must, however, specialize in some area of social or political philosophy. Applicants must also be interested in teaching and learning from their fellows, and in nurturing wide-ranging and diverse inquiries into the history of political thought.

If selected for participation, applicants will deliver a written, roundtable-style presentation on a specific part or theme of the text. Your approach to the text might be driven by historical or contemporary concerns, and it might issue from an interest in a theme or a figure (be it Aristotle or Foucault). Whatever your approach, however, your presentation must centrally investigate some aspect of the text of Capital. Spaces are very limited.

Applicants should send the following materials as email attachments (.doc/.rtf/.pdf) to by September 15, 2010:

  1. Curriculum Vitae
  2. One page statement of interest in the Roundtable. (Please include a discussion of the topics you would be willing to explore in a roundtable presentation. Please also discuss the projected significance of participation for your research and/or teaching.)

Ben Fowkes’ translation of Capital (Viking/Penguin, 1976) is the official translation for the Roundtable, and should be used for page citations. However, applicants are strongly encouraged to review either the German text of Capital (the 2nd edition of 1873 is the basis for most widely available texts) or the French translation (J. Roy, 1872-5), which was the last edition Marx himself oversaw to publication; both of these are widely available on-line.

All applicants will be notified of the outcome of the selection process via email on or before October 15, 2010. Participants will be asked to send a draft or outline of their presentation to by January 15, 2011 so that we can finalize the program.

In order to participate in the Roundtable (but not to apply or to be selected), you must be a member of the Society in good standing. You can become a member of the Society by following the membership link at: