What We Are Reading Today: The Privatized State by Chiara Cordelli

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Updated 26 November 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Privatized State by Chiara Cordelli

Many governmental functions today—from the management of prisons and welfare offices to warfare and financial regulation—are outsourced to private entities. Education and health care are funded in part through private philanthropy rather than taxation. Can a privatized government rule legitimately? The Privatized State argues that it cannot.

In this boldly provocative book, Chiara Cordelli argues that privatization constitutes a regression to a precivil condition—what philosophers centuries ago called “a state of nature.” Developing a compelling case for the democratic state and its administrative apparatus, she shows how privatization reproduces the very same defects that Enlightenment thinkers attributed to the precivil condition, and which only properly constituted political institutions can overcome—defects such as provisional justice, undue dependence, and unfreedom. 

Cordelli advocates for constitutional limits on privatization and a more democratic system of public administration, and lays out the central responsibilities of private actors in contexts where governance is already extensively privatized. 

Charting a way forward, she presents a new conceptual account of political representation and novel philosophical theories of democratic authority and legitimate lawmaking.

The Privatized State shows how privatization undermines the very reason political institutions exist in the first place, and advocates for a new way of administering public affairs that is more democratic and just.


What We Are Reading Today: A Decade of Upheaval

Updated 26 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: A Decade of Upheaval

Authors: Dong Guoqiang and Andrew G. Walder

A Decade of Upheaval chronicles the surprising and dramatic political conflicts of a rural Chinese county over the course of the Cultural Revolution.
Drawing on an unprecedented range of sources — including work diaries, interviews, internal party documents, and military directives — Dong Guoqiang and Andrew Walder uncover a previously unimagined level of strife in the countryside that began with the Red Guard Movement in 1966 and continued unabated until the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.
Showing how the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution were not limited to urban areas, but reached far into isolated rural regions, Dong and Walder reveal that the intervention of military forces in 1967 encouraged factional divisions in Feng County because different branches of China’s armed forces took various sides in local disputes.
The authors also lay bare how the fortunes of local political groups were closely tethered to unpredictable shifts in the decisions of government authorities in Beijing, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. Eventually, a backlash against suppression and victimization grew in the early 1970s and resulted in active protests, which presaged the settling of scores against radical Maoism.


What We Are Reading Today: The Virus in the Age of Madness by Bernard-Henri Lévy

Updated 25 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Virus in the Age of Madness by Bernard-Henri Lévy

In The Virus in the Age of Madness, world-renowned philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy interrogates the many meanings and metaphors we have assigned to the pandemic — and what they tell us about ourselves.

With medical mysteries, rising death tolls, and conspiracy theories beamed minute by minute through the vast web universe, the coronavirus pandemic has irrevocably altered societies around the world. 

Drawing on the philosophical tradition from Plato and Aristotle to Lacan and Foucault, Lévy asks uncomfortable questions about reality and mythology. He rejects the idea that the virus is a warning from nature, the inevitable result of global capitalism; he troubles the heroic status of doctors, asking us to think critically about the loci of authority and power; he challenges the panicked polarization that dominates online discourse. 

Lucid, incisive, and always original, Lévy takes a bird’s-eye view of the most consequential historical event of our time and proposes a way to defend human society from threats to our collective future.


What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

Updated 23 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

Author: Ahmet Erdi Ozturk

This recently published book explores, from a historical perspective, Turkey’s current political maneuvers and religious leverages in the Balkans under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It presents Albania, Bulgaria and North Macedonia as case studies of Turkey using soft and hard policy instruments in the region.

Author Ahmet Erdi Ozturk, an associate professor at London Metropolitan University and Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellow at Coventry University in the UK and the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, wrote the book after a study in several Balkan countries that took more than three years to complete and included interviews with almost 130 high-ranking individuals.

It suggests that Turkey insistently interferes in Balkan politics using religion, state power and imaginary identities, dubbed by some as neo-Ottomanism, and that this presence gradually becomes a threat to the secularism and sovereignty of the countries it targets.

The book, published by Edinburgh University Press, not only aids understanding of Turkish-Balkan diplomatic relations, but also the complex relationship between the regime in Ankara under Erdogan and the Muslim communities in the three countries.

Beyond that, it is about more than just Turkey and the Balkans; it also deepens our understanding of how religion can be used as a form of soft power in global affairs. It examines a number of political parties, for example Besa in Macedonia, that are linked to the regime in Ankara and the ways in which they interact with Turkish state apparatus.

The underlying strategy behind the construction of new mosques across the Balkans as a way to turn these countries toward Turkey rather than West is also examined in detail.
 


What We Are Reading Today: Outliers; The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Updated 22 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Outliers; The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success is the third nonfiction book written by Malcolm Gladwell. 

Generally well received by critics, Outliers was considered more personal than Gladwell’s other works, and some reviews commented on how much Outliers felt like an autobiography. 

In Outliers, Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. 

Gladwell takes readers on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers” — the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful.

Gladwell argues that success is tightly married to opportunity and time on task. 

He asks the question: What makes high-achievers different? His answer is that people pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: That is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. 

Along the way, he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.


What We Are Reading Today: Painting by Numbers by Diana Seave Greenwald

Updated 20 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Painting by Numbers by Diana Seave Greenwald

Painting by Numbers presents a groundbreaking blend of art historical and social scientific methods to chart, for the first time, the sheer scale of 19th-century artistic production.
With new quantitative evidence for more than 500,000 works of art, Diana Seave Greenwald provides fresh insights into the 19th century, and the extent to which art historians have focused on a limited — and potentially biased — sample of artwork from that time.
She addresses long-standing questions about the effects of industrialization, gender, and empire on the art world, and she models more expansive approaches for studying art history in the age of the digital humanities, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.
Examining art in France, the US, and the UK, Greenwald features datasets created from indices and exhibition catalogs that — to date — have been used primarily as finding aids.
From this body of information, she reveals the importance of access to the countryside for painters showing images of nature at the Paris Salon, the ways in which time-consuming domestic responsibilities pushed women artists in the US to work in lower-prestige genres.

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