Constitution Day lecture 2022

Note: these are notes for a short talk I gave this month to students at my university on the topic of the importance of maintaining and defending our liberal constitutional democracy. Democracy at risk? Dan Little University of Michigan-Dearborn Student Government session on the US Constitution October 20, 2022 Thanks for this opportunity. It is …

A culturally conservative streak in Tony Judt

Tony Judt was a remarkable historian of the twentieth century and a sparkling public intellectual. In most dimensions he was a progressive force within the space of commentators on recent history and contemporary politics. However, in a number of instances he was a bit tone-deaf in his version of American progressive values. This tendency is …

Scientific rationality and anomaly

Some discussion of the empirical status of social science theories and hypotheses in the past has revolved around Karl Popper's formulation of the doctrine of falsifiability. However, this criticism is almost always misplaced in the context of the social sciences. This is true for several reasons: sociologists rarely offer unified deductive theories of social phenomena; …

Marx’s influences as a social scientist

image: Menzel depicting a proletarian (Adolf von Menzel) It is customary to hold that the main influences on Marx's thought fell into three streams: French socialism, English political economy, and Hegelian philosophy. Each strand is evident in his writings, from early to late. Certainly Marx's ideas about a communist society were developed in relation to …

Democratic socialism in the 1930s

Is it still possible to think big in western democracies about social and economic change in a way that substantially improves the lives and freedoms of most of society? We see the deprivation and indifference of the economic system that has governed most industrialized countries for the past century and a half, leading to gross …

River warfare in the US Civil War

The mental images that most Americans have of the American Civil War involve the scenes of major land battles -- Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg. Armies marched dozens of miles, prepared encampments and defensive works, and either attacked the enemy in its own prepared defenses or awaited contact with the enemy. The picture is Napoleonic: an …

Confronting Evil in History

(free download through October 7 at https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009104265) My short book Confronting Evil in History has just been published in Cambridge Elements in the Elements in Historical Theory and Practice series edited by Daniel Woolf.  Here is the abstract: Evil is sometimes thought to be incomprehensible and abnormal, falling outside of familiar historical and human processes. And yet the twentieth …

Malcolm Muggeridge on the Holodomor

Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) was a much-read English left journalist, critic, and international observer and a close friend of George Orwell in the 1930s. Muggeridge wrote an introduction to Orwell's novel Burmese Days, and along with Tony Powell, he made arrangements for Orwell's funeral in 1950. (Ian Hunter's Malcolm Muggeridge: A Life provides an excellent biographical study.)  Muggeridge was a strong supporter …

Better-functioning organizations

A recurring topic here is the potential for large and costly failures created by the dysfunctions of complex organizations (link). This perspective on organizations follows from the work of sociologists like Charles Perrow, Diane Vaughan, and Andrew Hopkins. But we can also ask the symmetrical question: is it possible for a medium- or large-scale organization …

Sliding toward “semi-fascism”

President Biden's September 1 speech on the political threats posed to our democracy by the language and actions of far-right GOP leaders and elected officials was entirely on the mark. As scholars of the history of fascism have noted, many of the characteristics of fascism are indeed currently present in GOP language and goals. The …

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