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.

Twenty years ago today…

It was twenty years ago today that….  How do you finish that sentence?  There are plenty obvious ways:

…that the wall came down.

…that the Cold War ended.

…that Communism failed.

…that capitalism (or was it democracy?  or are these even interchangeable?) triumphed.

blah blah blah

Okay, it was some of all of that, though with Slavoj Zizek I agree that it wasn’t the last thing on that list.

What I think changed that day, along with the weeks that led up to it and the cushy and technicolor revolutions that followed, was the notion that politics is about what governments do. Of course it is true that governments engage in politics; but it also became true that politics and political power are what peoples can engage in and create. This is “the politics of small things” that Jeffrey Goldfarb talks about in a book of that name.  It’s what happens when a group of people who have no official power get together and make a plan, as Harry Boyte and the civil rights movement he has studied discovered.

Of course, the immediate cause of the fall of the wall was some bumbling bureacrats fumbling a speech, and then people heading to the gate, and a series of coincidences that let first a trickle and then a flood of people breaching and then tearing down the wall. And behind that cause was the weakening of the Soviet Union, perestroika, Gorbachev, and all that.  But a more fundamental cause, one that could capitalize on the others, was the rise of new civic movements in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and the long tradition of Poland’s Solidarity movement, that gave lie to the idea that all power rests with the state. These movements created a kind of lateral or horizontal power, webs of power that Hannah Arendt had noted, the power of solidarity.

Before November 1989, for at least three decades, almost all political activists of all stripes on either side of the “iron curtain” focused on the state in their attempt to bring about political change. The new civic movements of 1989 showed the power of nongovermental action and civil society for creating change. Before 1989 the language of civil society was slowly entering back into the lexicon of political theory, after dusting off lots of old copies of Hegel texts. But after 1989 the language of civil society flooded into every crevice of academic, philanthopic, and development activity.

It was twenty years ago today that THAT change happened.