Kettering Review 2016 online

The 2016 issue of the Kettering Review is now available online here and includes essays by Cornelius Castoriadis, Amartya Sen, Albena Azmanova, Merab Mamardashvili, Asef Bayet, and Elinor Ostrom. Here’s an excerpt of my editor’s letter:

Democracy may now seem mainstream, but at heart it is a radical idea: human beings can create self-governing practices out of nothing but their own aspirations and by their own lights. In other words, they do not need the authority of a god, a sacred text, or a tradition to create something new. The people can found democratic structures by fiat and they need only be accountable to themselves. In the mid-20th century, Cornelius Castoriadis (1922-1997) developed the idea that human beings have the power of imagination to institute something radically new, such as the founding of a country. “In a democracy,” he writes in the essay here, “society does not halt before a conception, given once and for all, of what is just, equal, or free, but rather institutes itself in such a way that the question of freedom, of justice, of equity, and of equality might always be posed anew.”

Robert J. Kingston

My dear friend and colleague at the Kettering Foundation, with whom I edited the Kettering Review since 1991, passed away on August 20 at the age of 87. Snatched too young.


I took this picture in the summer of 2015, at the home he shared with his wife Carol Vollet Kingston. The Kettering Foundation has posted tributes to him here.

Here’s mine:

In the fall of 1988, when I was doing freelance work in Washington, DC, a friend called me at my row house in Adams Morgan to say that I was about to get a call from a Bob Kingston who was looking for a writer to work with something called the Kettering Foundation on something about democracy.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, sitting on the wooden staircase, I got a call from this very distinguished gentleman, speaking with a British lilt, with a tad of wry irony, about democracy and the foundation’s work—which all seemed rather vague but well-meaning—and would I meet him the next Tuesday, he asked, at the foundation’s Washington office?

I don’t really remember what he said at that Tuesday meeting but I distinctly remember him piling a stack of Kettering Reviews in my arms on the way out. A few days later I was flown to Dayton to meet with the president of the foundation, David Mathews, who took me on a tour of the foundation and then at the end of the day gave me an assignment to revise a speech of his for publication.

I seemed to be interviewing for something, but I had no idea what, nor did I know that this odd new-not-really-a-job job would be the most significant one of my entire life, that it would involve working out ideas with these people over many long meetings that I would almost always find fascinating, spirited debates over drinks and dinner about politics and public life, frequent ‘memo wars’ about things like virtue and purpose, and a far flung network of intellectuals and democratic practitioners all over the world.

A couple of years later, the lovely poet who had been Bob Kingston’s associate editor for the Review, Judd Jerome, passed away. And then Bob asked me if I’d like the job. Little did I know that this would be a role that I’d keep for the next 23 years, working with Bob issue by issue to say something that would help the foundation both with its own work and with its intellectual outreach. All the while I hoped that I’d never get promoted—for a promotion could only arise if something bad happened to Bob.

So I was not at all happy when two years ago, as Bob’s health began to fail, that I was promoted to coeditor. And now with his loss I find it surreal to be the sole editor. Yet, now when I take my pen to paper to mercilessly edit something for the Review, I mimic the curving lines he’d use to excise whole paragraphs; I try to link together the remaining words into the more concise little essay that the piece was waiting to become under Bob’s hand; I hope to carry on a bit of his brilliance.

Kettering Review 2016

The latest issue of the Kettering Review, a journal I co-edit for the Kettering Foundation, is now available for free online here. It includes pieces by Iris Marion Young, Daniel Yankelovich, E.J. Dionne, Vaclav Havel, and other luminaries.

To get a sense of the overall issue, here’s the start of my editor’s letter:

Over the past 60 years, the fortunes of democracy have been tumultuous. In the mid-20th century, dozens of countries in Asia and Africa won their independence from colonial rulers; but shortly thereafter the Cold War polarized the world for decades. Nixon’s 1972 trip to China pointed to an end of a 25-year estrangement between East and West, but it took another decade for this to move forward. In 1980, Polish workers in the Gdansk Shipyard formed the labor union Solidarity, which opened up the possibility that authoritarian goverments might meet their match in public dissent. Mikhail Gorbachev’s appointment as leader of the Soviet Union in 1985 led to Perestroika and Glasnost and the hope for some kind of global rapprochement. And one day in November 1989, a German bureaucrat haplessly announced the opening of a passage in the Berlin Wall from East to West, which within days led to the utter destruction of that edifice that had divided the world in two. Since then and continuing through today, ancient enmities have flared even as new democratic governments form and falter.

For the past 30 years, Kettering Review has chronicled many of these journeys. Just as Carol Vollet’s painting, Approach Blue, which we are delighted to feature on this issue’s cover, points toward a bright spot in the midst of tumult, we have tried to identify those elements that are so central to democratic self-governance. Over the years we have taken as our point of departure the question, “what does it take for democracy to work?”—not just here in the United States but throughout the world. As a “Review” we have published pieces old and new, taking liberty to bring the words of Aristotle, Dewey, and Arendt to these pages, just as we have published new pieces by many of democracy’s living philosophers and practitioners. We were publishing during the last years of the Cold War when many thought that if only communism would end then democracy would prevail. But in the past 25 years we’ve found that democracy raises more questions than it answers: Who are the people? How do they organize themselves as a public? What kind of power and knowledge can they have?

Click right here to go to the pdf.

Gendered Conference Campaign Continues

You’d think that by now philosophy conference organizers would stop and think — if all my keynoters are white men, might there be a wee bit of a problem?

I have to think about this all the time as associate editor of the Kettering Review.  We put together issues by topic and include pieces ancient and contemporary, some reprinted, others published first by us.  Often the first pieces that come to our attention are written by those who have had easier access to the world of letters, generally men of European ancestry.  But any one of our  issues is always much stronger for seeking out the pieces written by people from the rest of the planet.

So, kudos to the Feminist Philosophers’ Gendered Conference Campaign for keeping us appraised of all those oblivious ones who keep churning out conferences featuring men only.