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Jacob Hamburger



Articles by Jacob Hamburger

Contact Tocqueville 21

27 days ago

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Our apologies to anyone who has recently tried to contact us through the email address [email protected] We have been unable to access this account for some time now, but we have just recently fixed the problem and will be checking the address regularly. Thanks for your understanding.

Nos excuses à celles et ceux qui ont tenté de nous contacter à l’adresse électronique [email protected] Nous avions perdu accès à ce compte, qui est réactivé et que nous regardons désormais régulièrement. Merci de votre compréhension.

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Ceci n’est pas la révolution de Bernie Sanders

July 4, 2020

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Suite à la publication de mon dernier post sur les manifestations Black Lives Matter aux États-Unis, Christophe Deroubaix, journaliste à l’Humanité, m’a interrogé sur les luttes sociales et antiracistes, sur Tocqueville, et sur les polémiques autour du « privilège blanc ». Le texte de l’entretien est reproduit ici, dont aussi une dernière question qui a dû être coupé de la version publié dans le journal.

Christophe Deroubaix : Comment s’articule, dans le débat qui se déroule aux États-Unis, la question « raciale » et la question « sociale » ?

Jacob Hamburger : À gauche, certains ont eu tendance à opposer ces deux questions. On entend parfois des critiques selon lesquelles la lutte en faveur d’un État

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Focus : Slow Démocratie

June 23, 2020

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L’« euphorie » de la mondialisation est derrière nous. Après quatre décennies d’exaltation d’un monde plus ouvert, prospère, interdépendant et interconnecté – une terre plate, une planète sans frontières – force est de constater que cette vision était une mirage. Nous qui avons vécu la crise financière de 2008, la crise démocratique à partir de 2016 et les multiples crises écologiques et sanitaires à venir, ne pourrons jamais revenir à l’heureuse mondialisation des années 1990.

Si David Djaïz commence son livre Slow Démocratie avec une telle observation, ce n’est pas la fin de son histoire. Pour Djaïz, tout le monde sait que la mondialisation produit des crises calamiteuses, mais cependant, on refuse d’en tirer « une grande

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« Si l’Amérique éprouve jamais de grandes révolutions… »

June 15, 2020

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A few months ago, after we ran a series of reflections on mass protests in 2019, I wrote a post on why the United States had not seen the kind of spontaneous uprisings that had broken out in places like France, Hong Kong, Lebanon, or Algeria. Now, in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Americans have not only joined this wave of revolt, but have also inspired solidarity marches around the world—likely in many places the first large political actions that have taken place during the Covid-19 pandemic. My hasty conclusion in the early months of 2020 was that Tocqueville’s account of why “Great Revolutions will be rare” in the United States was not a particularly helpful

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Politics Gone Viral

April 2, 2020

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Like I assume many are feeling these days, I’ve been somewhat at a loss to write about the Covid-19 crisis and what it might mean for contemporary democratic societies. This is partially because of how uncertain everything remains in terms of how the disease works and how to fight it, and in terms of the political implications. Last week, though, a French journalist reached out to me for a few informal thoughts on the fate of the Bernie Sanders campaign after its disappointing results in March, and how the virus might affect the upcoming presidential election. I’ve expanded on my response to him for the purposes of this post.

It’s hard to formulate a clear answer to your questions with everything that’s going on. Before it

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“Why Great Revolutions Will Become Rare”

January 27, 2020

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Judging by the various mass protest movements that have erupted around the world in recent years (see the rest of our series on global revolt here), there have been no shortage of potential triggers for something similar in the United States. One common reason for these uprisings have been government policies imposing increased costs on basic needs of many working- and middle-class people: even modest raises in the price of fuel in France, subway fare in Chile, or electronic messaging in Lebanon can be seen as a major indignity in the context of historic economic inequality. The other main thread is a sense of democratic impunity, a feeling that there is a political class that is wholly unresponsive to the

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New Article: Voting is a Right, Not a Privilege

January 19, 2020

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Jacobin asked me to write a short article in response to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision that a 2018 constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated people does not apply to those who have not paid off all court fees, fines, and other financial obligations. I used this as a springboard to talk about how Democrats—who ought to be the party of universal suffrage, whether they realize it or not—might push for radical democracy in 2020 and going forward. You can read the article here.

Photo credit: Kheel Center, Cornell University, via Flickr , CC BY 2.0

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Révolte !

January 6, 2020

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The 2010s ended much as they had began: just as 2011 was the year of the Arab Spring, the Spanish indignados, and Occupy Wall Street, 2019 may well be remembered as the year of the gilets jaunes, the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong, and the wave of mass protests from the Arab world to Latin America and the Caribbean. Just under a decade ago, with the outbreak of revolts in Tunis and Cairo, it looked like digital communication technology was ushering in a new era of democratic action. By popular consensus today, this was a pipe dream, as evidenced by the repressive turn in Egypt under El-Sisi, the persistence of austerity throughout Europe and the United States, and scandals demonstrating destructive influence of social media on

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New article: The Fury in France

December 10, 2019

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I’ve been holding off on writing about the current strikes because the New York Times was kind enough to ask me to write an opinion piece on the subject, which just appeared today. I try to answer the question of what it would look like for the strikes, allied with gilets jaunes protesters, to deliver a meaningful political blow to Macron. My answer is probably unsatisfying, as is inevitable for this sort of speculation, but I try to at least lay out the political stakes going forward for Macron’s presidency.

In other news, Pauline Graulle of Médiapart has a piece out today that hits some similar themes, and Cole Stangler’s excellent reporting on the Marseille municipal campaign for Jacobin reveals an example of the

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Du jugement politique

November 22, 2019

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This is only a mini-installment in our ongoing series on close-reading Tocqueville, but it’s a good example of why we do it in the first place. On Twitter, Ivanka Trump posted what appeared to be a quote from Democracy in America suggesting that the impeachment of her father is a sign of the nation’s moral decline:
“A decline of public morals in the United States will probably be marked by the abuse of the power of impeachment as a means of crushing political adversaries or ejecting them from office.”
Unsurprisingly, this text is not from Tocqueville, but rather from a Wall Street Journal opinion piece defending the president. It does appear though to be a mistranslation from the final sentence of the chapter in the first volume

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Cross-post at the LPE Blog

November 8, 2019

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Just a brief announcement that in case you missed Bill Novak and Steve Sawyer’s manifesto for “Neodemocracy” here at Tocqueville 21, you can also read it on the excellent Law and Political Economy Blog. Much in line with Bill and Steve’s essay, LPE is devoted to reimagining law for a democratic, post-neoliberal (or rather, post-law-and-economics) future.

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American Aristocracy

October 21, 2019

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On a few occasions since we’ve been doing this blog (see here, here, and here) I’ve attempted to read Tocqueville against the interpretation of his work that has long been popular on the American and French right since the Cold War. If there’s one passage in Democracy in America that has been in the back of my mind when doing so, it’s the chapter entitled “How Aristocracy Could Emerge from Industry” (II.2.20, Comment l’aristocratie pourrait sortir de l’industrie). Aside from his long chapter on race and slavery in the first volume, this is Tocqueville’s most direct confrontation with the question of economic inequality in America. For this reason, it has been high on my list for our series of close-readings.

In order to

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Revue de Presse

October 6, 2019

[unable to retrieve full-text content]We’re taking a break this week from our Revue de Presse, and may be reevaluating the format. A bientôt !
The post Revue de Presse appeared first on Tocqueville21.

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Migration « en même temps »

September 24, 2019

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It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about French politics, but seeing as my day job is now working in immigration law, I can’t help but comment briefly on some recent comments by Emmanuel Macron. Last week, at a meeting of LREM deputies, Macron stressed the need to “look squarely in the face” the subject of immigration heading into the second half of his term. The president elaborated that the question for his young party was “to see whether or not we want to be a bourgeois party. The bourgeois don’t have any problems with [immigration]: they don’t encounter it, while the working classes live with it.” 

This is not exactly new rhetoric for Macron. Critics have taken him to task for the harsh treatment of

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On the Democratic Social State

August 25, 2019

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In an interview last week, Acting Director of USCIS Ken Cuccinelli was asked whether a new Trump Administration rule that would deny green cards to foreigners likely to become a “public charge” violated the welcoming spirit captured by Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus.” He had this to say in response:
Well of course that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe, where they had class-based societies, where people were considered “wretched” if they weren’t in the right class. And [Lazarus’s poem] was written one year after the first federal “Public Charge” rule was passed.
Many critics rightly jumped to point out the blatant racism of positing a fundamental difference between poor, “wretched” immigrants

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“Your national greatness, swelling vanity”

July 3, 2019

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As Donald Trump prepares, at the last minute, an over-the-top military parade for the Fourth of July—and as I prepare to take a few days off for the holiday—I thought I’d share a brief snapshot from my reporting with Charlie Hebdo a few years back. One Fourth of July, Charlie cartoonist Riss and I found ourselves at Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia (not far from where I’m spending the summer now), where a left-wing group was organizing a reading of Frederick Douglass’s famous speech, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” From what we’ve heard of the festivities Trump has in mind, it seems Douglass’s words, which have always cut deep, are particularly apt: “To [the slave], your celebration is a sham …

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America’s Orwellian Left

June 23, 2019

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John Michael Colón’s excellent essay on democratic socialism and the contemporary American left centers around George Orwell’s Animal Farm. As Colón writes, the book is mainly known as a warning against revolutionary politics in general, a tale of “supposed revolutionaries” who “produced a dictatorship perhaps only distinguished from the old one by being even worse.” One of the piece’s main arguments is that “the failure of Soviet-style ‘communist’ dictatorships was our basic starting point” for left-wing Americans of Colón’s generation (which is also mine, both of us having been born in the early 1990s—one might also say we belong to the same sub-generation of younger “millennials” who had not yet finished college when

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The Titanic, or the Eurostar?

May 30, 2019

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For anyone in the UK (even pro-Europeans), voting in the European elections on Thursday the 23rd felt a little surreal.  Depending on which side of the divide you stood, you might have felt that this was either a cruel, last whiff of cosmopolitanism designed to elicit maximum nostalgia, or an unwelcome reminder that your side—despite its bombast—had been treading (channel) water for three whole years. These were elections that were not supposed to happen.  Last Thursday felt like a political mirage.

The results on the other hand were all too real: a devastated Conservative party at a historic low of 9%, and a humiliated opposition Labour party at 14%—both shunned by exasperated voters.  An exasperation that stood as a

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The European Elections

May 24, 2019

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This week’s elections for the European Parliament may be the most consequential in the continent’s history. On the one hand, right-wing parties and other anti-establishment “populist” movements may be poised for victories that would further upset what had once been stable assumptions about what the European Union was for: from economic integration to humanitarian values. The ongoing confusion over the United Kingdom’s relationship with the EU-27—resulting in a reluctant British participation in the election in which Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, milkshakes aside, is expected to win—in addition to Theresa May’s recent resignation after a Tory revolt, adds a further element of chaos into the mix.

On the other hand, the dangers

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Democracy in 2020

May 11, 2019

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I was at first surprised that Bernie Sanders’s recent proposal to allow formerly and currently incarcerated people to vote was as controversial as it was. One of my takeaways from the 2018 midterms—and American politics since 2016 more broadly—was that voting rights were something all Democrats agreed on. On the one hand, gubernatorial races in Florida and Georgia revealed that Republicans rely on subverting such rights as much as ever. But on the other hand, the Florida ballot initiative to re-enfranchise people with felony convictions showed that even in swing states, it is possible to win major advances for democratic participation. It was therefore somewhat strange that not only Pete Buttigeig (perhaps desperate to show that he

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Reading Tocqueville, Translating Tocqueville

April 25, 2019

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Below is the video from Art’s talk at the University of Chicago last week, entitled “Reading Tocqueville, Translating Tocqueville.” Art was joined by Jim Sparrow, Manon Garcia, Jennifer Pitts, Eric Slaughter, and Nina Valiquette Moreau.

Thanks to Mariam Elmalh and Felix Chaoulideer for their help in preparing this video.

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Obama, sans famille politique

April 12, 2019

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One thing that’s long struck me as an American about French politics is the formation of relatively durable cliques, or familles politiques, around certain high-profile politicians: sometimes presidents, but perhaps even more often prime ministers or other important members of the government. French politicians may be juppéistes or sarkozystes, rocardiens or strauss-kahniens, but Americans don’t typically talk about their politicians this way. Of course, politics everywhere involves building personal networks, which often function by doling out patronage and loyalty. And many politicians will naturally develop inner circles of trusted advisors who will themselves go on to their own political careers. But in France,

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Two Events in Chicago!

April 10, 2019

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Our very own Art Goldhammer will be giving two talks at the University of Chicago next week, which any Tocqueville 21 readers in the area will not want to miss.

The first will be a presentation on April 15 entitled “Reading Tocqueville, Translating Tocqueville.” Join Art for a discussion of his approach to translating Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, in conversation with Manon Garcia, Jennifer Pitts, Eric Slaughter, Nina Valiquette Moreau, and moderator James Sparrow. A reception will follow the discussion. The discussion will start at 4:30 pm on Monday, April 15 in Mandel Hall.

The second talk on April 17 (see image above) will be be called “From Democracy in the Streets to Democracy in Danger, 1968-2018.” Art will take

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The Universal Basic Income Enigma

March 27, 2019

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In 2017, Benoît Hamon was in a bind. He had beaten Manuel Valls in the Socialist Party primary running as a radical, promising France’s left-wing voters that he would reverse the centrist tack under François Hollande, which drove the careers of both Valls and Emmanuel Macron. But if he was to have any shot at winning the presidency, he would have to also mobilize left voters turned off by the populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. In other words, Hamon’s campaign had to reject economic neoliberalism while also steering clear of the “sovereignist” or “protectionist” rhetoric that made La France insoumise unpalatable to many on the moderate left.

Hamon’s solution to this problem was to center his platform around the idea of a

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Focus: Prisons and Police

February 28, 2019

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There’s something strange, almost perverse, in the idea that prisons and police have anything to do with democracy at all. Of course, every country that calls itself a democracy patrols its streets and incarcerates those it deems to be wrongdoers—despite the calls today for abolition in many parts of the world, no democracy has taken up such a radical challenge. But the criminal justice system is one area of democratic societies where we readily and openly accept what can only be seen as un-democratic practices. The incarcerated are by definition deprived of basic individual rights, and are subject to the near-absolute authority of prison and jail officials. Where police are not held vigorously to account, residents of many

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With Europeans like these…

February 8, 2019

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After what Le Monde has called “Eight months of hostilities” between France and Italy, the Quai d’Orsay recalled its ambassador from Rome. The stated reason was a meeting this week held between Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement, and representatives of the gilets jaunes movement, an “unacceptable provocation.” Leaving aside the question of the wisdom of taking such a drastic diplomatic measure over a meeting between officials of a European neighbor and a domestic opposition movement (Marine Le Pen’s meetings with Matteo Salvini have provoked no such response), this appears to be a significant strategic error for Macron. Macron’s legitimacy rides on his ability to present himself as a champion of European unity

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More thoughts on immigration and the left

January 30, 2019

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Photo by Laurie Shall
After a number of comments and conversations since my last post on the so-called “nationalist” left in Europe, I have two quick thoughts I want to add. First, some people have taken issue with my characterization of Sahra Wagenknecht and Aufstehen, her movement within the German left party Die Linke, as “anti-migrant.” I should clarify what I meant here. I don’t think Wagenknecht and her allies are “anti-migrant” in the way right-wing “anti-migrant” politicians are—that is, explicitly racist and/or xenophobic. Wagenknecht has disavowed “nationalism,” in her words, “declar[ing] yourself superior on the basis of your background … and denigrat[ing] other nations and cultures.” She has

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On “Left nationalism”

January 11, 2019

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In the attempt to hold myself to my new year’s resolution of posting here rather than in long Twitter threads, I want to flesh out my reaction to a provocative article published this week in The Nation by David Adler, entitled “Meet Europe’s Left Nationalists.” Adler focuses on Sahra Wagenknecht in Germany, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and Jeremy Corbyn as examples of leaders of major left-wing movements or parties that have given up on welcoming immigrants and asylum seekers, taking an explicit stance against free movement. I’m not entirely sure being anti-migrant is completely the same as being “nationalist,” but leaving that aside, it’s certain that Adler is putting his finger on a real tendency in European left politics. Wagenknecht

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Ruffin, président ?

January 5, 2019

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I have a short piece out in Dissent exploring the implications of the gilets jaunes movement for La France insoumise and left populism in general. Part of my motivation to write this was an observation that the composition of the movement seemed to track quite neatly the theoretical claims of left-populist theory, while at the same time some of the celebration of the protests by leftists in the US and abroad seemed entirely premature. In other words, I found it strange to declare victory for the populist left in France when it was far from clear that La France insoumise, France’s left-populist party, had or would made any inroads towards capitalizing on the gilets jaunes phenomenon.

One completely counterfactual pet theory of

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Benalla is back!

December 31, 2018

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Médiapart has given all of us France-watchers a fantastic New Year’s gift, revealing today in an interview with Alexandre Benalla that the disgraced former security consultant for Emmanuel Macron claims still to be in regular contact with the president. The newspaper had reported just a few days prior that Benalla had been travelling on diplomatic passports in Africa, and now he is claiming that he has never been officially fired from the Elysée despite the scandals that broke this summer over his having roughed up May Day protesters while following a police contingent. Apparently Macron is still asking Benalla for his advice on current affairs, including the gilets jaunes protests. Aside from remaining an immensely entertaining

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