I admit to having a certain love of reading lists.   Apart from its obvious referential function, a list allows its compiler the luxury of a degree of paresse: the well-intentioned reader will be enticed into operating within the parameters set by the list and the compiler will thus be  spared the work of explicitly setting the boundaries of the topic the reader is asked to examine.

Not having any expertise in economics and wanting to come to a better understanding of  what happened in the current crisis, I put together a set of readings.   As the collection of books that follows  shows, I understand economics in a broad and multidimensional sense,  probably  inseparable from what some intellectual traditions have termed political economy.

With respect to reading lists themselves, let’s allow ourselves  a completely gratuitous clin d’oeil in the direction of Borges and recall that all of them should be considered open ended.

*Robert KuttnerA Presidency in Peril  (The Inside Story of Obama’s Promise, Wall Street’s Power and the Struggle to Control Our Economic Future), Chelsea Green, 2010.

Kuttner’s book belongs in first position on this list because it expresses the type of doubt which surfaced about the Obama administration once the euphoria of the departure of  G. W. Bush dissipated.  We quickly were reminded that, in the best of  worlds, the political clout shouldn’t be held by the Rubin/Summers/Geithner clan.

*Kevin Phillips, Bad Money (Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism) Penguin Books, 2009.

Kevin Phillips is an astute analyst of American politics and his books are great reading.  Some of my liberal friends refuse to believe that anyone formerly associated with Richard Nixon would have anything of value to contribute to the discussion of the current situation, but, as is often said in tv cop dramas, I trust this guy’s instincts.

*John Cassidy, How Markets Fail  ( The Logic of Economic Calamities), Farrar, Straus, Giroux,  2009

Cassidy provides a careful  introduction to the variants of economic theory  in play as the recent catastrophe developed.  His concise account of the current crisis is excellent.

*Simon Johnson & James Kwak13 Bankers ( The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial  Meltdown) Pantheon,  2010.

Johnson and Kwak put the relationships involving power, banking and the U.S. government in a historical perspective and proceed to give a detailed account the rise of the present U.S. financial oligarchy.  Their approach to  describing the development of the recent financial crisis nicely complements Cassidy’s book.

*Joseph Stiglitz, Freefall  (America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy) , Norton, 2010.

Stiglitz is an economics heavyweight and his  book reads like a primer on the current crisis.  It blends  policy considerations and theory into  an accessible and comprehensive analysis that can easily  serve as a guide for our attempt to understand what is at stake in the decisions government is now obligated to make.

Noriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm, Crisis Economics (A Crash Course in the Future of Finance), Penguin, 2010.

I was very impressed by the rigor of this clearly written book  which appeals to knowledge of the nature and history of economic downturns to put the current crisis in perspective.  The authors demonstrate  that the attempt to  understand what has happened in our economy cannot ignore the lessons  learned from crisis economics.  They also provide a very sobering look at what we can expect in the near future.

*Paul Krugman, The Age of Diminished Expectations ( U.S. Economic Policy in the 1990s, 3rd edition),  MIT Press, 1997.

*Paul Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, Norton, 2009.

Krugman is a very  active commentator and we are all familiar with his work for the New York Times.  Although the first book was written long before the recent crisis,  I include it here because it does provide solid guidance to a better understanding of the fundamentals of  the American economy.  Krugman devotes  brief but informative chapters to unemployment, productivity, trade and budget deficits, income distribution, etc.  Also, understanding how  the author perceived certain key U.S. economic issues of the 90’s helps us better evaluate what is happening presently.

I particularly appreciated Krugman’s book  devoted to the current crisis for its  chapters  detailing  bad judgment, economic hubris and misreadings of the warnings  which previously surfaced in some of the economies of Asia and Latin America.

*James K. Galbraith, The Predator State (How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too) , The Free Press, 2008.

Galbraith’s description of the political economy of the United States is very clear in its explanation of how the changes in the institutions and programs associated with the heritage of the New Deal have structured contemporary American society.  He very carefully deconstructs most of the myths (concerning  free trade, balanced budgets, ”economic freedom”, etc.) which have been the basic tenets of U.S. conservatism.  Free market ideology has in effect led to the establishment of a political and economic oligarchy,  the ”predator state”.  Galbraith shows us how the exercise of political power by this oligarchy (in its attempt to neutralize the New Deal heritage) combines with structural changes in the American economy to create a potentially disastrous situation.

*Judith  Stein, Pivotal Decade (How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies), Yale University Press, 2010.

Stein’s book is an ideal complement to Galbraith’s.  The author shows  some of the ways in which the 70’s can be considered a transitional decade.  She attacks complex  relations between capital, industry, international banking, foreign policy and domestic politics in a way that permits us to better understand the consequences of many ill advised choices.  She succeeds in clearly demonstrating  how economic policy from the Ford administration onward has produced increasing income inequality in the U.S.

*Roger Lowenstein, The End of Wall Street,  The Penguin Press, 2010.

Lowenstein has us  follow the development of the current crisis through the actions of a set of  “characters”  (listed at the beginning of the book) ,  major players in the main financial institutions (Citigroup,  Goldman Sachs,  JP Morgan Chase, etc.)  implicated in the inflating of the credit bubble.  His fluid narrative allows us to witness  the interaction of  key financial institutions,  government and the Federal Reserve. This descriptive approach is  very effective in helping us to better understand  the machinations of the highest levels of American financial power.

*Michael Lewis, The Big Short (Inside the Doomsday Machine), Norton, 2010.

Michael Lewis is a best selling author these days and here he tells the story of a few exceptional and somewhat eccentric characters in the investment world,  almost all of whom foresaw the coming of the economic crisis.

*Michael Edesess, The Big Investment Lie, (What Your Financial Advisor Doesn’t Want You to Know), Berrett Koehler, 2007.

My graduate school colleague and friend Mike Edesess has drawn on his knowledge and experience to produce an informative book which I enjoyed for two reasons:  1) the author is one of the most perspicacious and amusing people I’ve ever met  2) his intelligence has confirmed the prejudice which I’ve always had against the investment industry (and everyone loves to be right once and a while).

*Barry Eichengreen, Exorbitant Privilege, Oxford University Press, 2011.

Eichengreen presents a short history of the rise of the dollar as international standard currency.  He describes the privileges that the United States obtains from the dollar’s role in international commerce and finance.  Finally, he discusses possible scenarios connected to the decline of the power of  American currency.

*Christian Marazzi, The Violence of Financial Capitalism, Semiotexte  (MIT Press), 2011.

The most important element which I retain from Marazzi’s short book is  its underlining of the role of financialization in the recovery of capital’s profitability.  Combined with “biocapitalism” and cognitive capitalism,  financialization is linked to productive strategies which reduce the labor force and define a new role for the consumer:  producer of goods and services. Industrial capitalism with its Fordist model seems to be running out its course in developed nations.  Profitability of enterprises is now based on a different model which in part replaces the traditional industrial work force by an offloading of  new tasks onto the consumer.

* Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff,  This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, Princeton University Press, 2009.

An empirical and quantitative study of major financial crises , this work includes a primer of basic concepts before embarking on a detailed presentation of crises defined by  quantitative thresholds (inflation, currency crises, currency debasement) and crises defined by events (bank failures, external and domestic debt crises).  Charts, graphs and tables provide information on crises affecting countries on all continents, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries. Special treatment is given to the Great Depression and  our Second Grand Contraction. The main thesis of the book is that this time is never different, “we have been here before”.  And the one lesson to be retained is that extreme leverage and wholesale liberalization of rules on capital movement never result in something good.  Reinhart and Rogoff’s book is a must read because of the mass of information it contains, its clear presentation of fundamental concepts and its pertinence in placing the current crisis in historical perspective.

*John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash 1929  (Foreword by James K. Galbraith),  Mariner Books,  2009.

This is a classic, required reading.   The Foreword by James K. is an added bonus.

 

*Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, W.W. Norton, 2012.

Stiglitz  describes how American society has become characterized by increasing economic polarization and the danger this polarization represents for the functioning of its democratic institutions.  He explains how “deficit fetishism”  neutralizes  action which could repair some of the damage caused by the recent financial fiasco and offers sound economic and political  suggestions for reconstructing a more just society.

*Simon Johnson and James Kwak, White House Burning, Pantheon Books, 2012. 

This is a superior description and analysis of the current budgetary crisis . The authors situate the crisis in historical perspective, describe  how government financing and spending really work and explain the nature of government deficits and debt.  They offer clear suggestions of what can and should be done  to put the country on sounder economic ground.

*Jacques Sapir, La démondialisation, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 2011.

Sapir discusses the international dimension of the current crisis. His analysis of the myths surrounding liberalization of  trade and  globalization of finance is solidly grounded.

 

 

In the days after the adoption of  la Loi 101, the law which recognized French as the (only) official language of  Québec,  the hardcore anglophone faction in the Montréal region announced the imminent arrival of the Apocalypse.  Repression was sure to be nigh:  the English speaking minority would be marginalized in a geopolitical entity which would itself be marginalized in the North American continent.  Even worse, despite years of British rule, we could not depend on the natives having assimilated the principle of  fair play.

If we were to believe a segment of the anglophone press, one of the nastiest manifestations of this apparent lack of a sense of anglo-saxon fair play was manifested  in the application of the new language law to the domain of  affichage.  A particularly notable example of this putative linguistic repression was thought to be found at the well-known (and now departed) department store Eaton’s.  French language nationalists had long considered  Eaton’s a symbol of anglophone arrogance, since it was widely believed that the company’s flagship establishment  in downtown Montréal deliberately hired unilingual anglophones in order to deny francophones  adequate service en  français.

One of the provisions of la  Loi 101 was the prescribed dominance of  French on commercial signage.   Since the genitive is not indicated by the use of the apostrophe in French, Eaton’s first became Eatons and then eventually Eaton.  The vanishing apostrophe of Eaton’s was subsequently infused with a new symbolic value.  So, in a rebondissement which would rejoice Derrideans among us, a vanishing grammatical mark  became a symbol of French language tyranny.

Camille Laurin,  a psychiatrist who became  minister responsible for cultural development in the first Parti Québécois government, was painted as a “language Nazi ” whose supposed psychological manipulation of the population was considered more diabolical and dangerous than la Terreur de 1793 .  After all, for the hyper sensitive English speaker, the suppression of the Eaton’s apostrophe could only lead to  a serious loss of identity and concomitant decrease of self-esteem.

Those familiar with Canadian politics understand that the sign skirmish was only a short chapter in a linguistic melodrama which is part and parcel of  the history of Québec.  In fact, it took more than 200 years to generate this tepid revenge against the English language.  Having been sheltered by British rule, the Québécois never assimilated the vigor of  republican ideals.  In short, sending the ruling class to the guillotine was never an option here.

Many years have passed since the promulgation of official uniligualism in  Québec.  Signage in the Montréal area has survived, actually improved and become very creative. ( Take, for example,  the name for the warehousing company  Securespace , a particularly felicitous use of surreptitious bilingualism.)  In the spirit of internationalism, the use of pictogrammes has flourished, actually alleviating the burden of having to read anything at all.   Most of the pricklier anglophone population has departed to points west or reluctantly resigned itself to the status quo.  For the rest of us,  it’s life as usual.

I certainly understood the unhappiness of Québec nationalists with the barbaric nature of some of the pre-Parti Québécois bilingual signage.  My friend and thesis advisor , the late  André Belleau,  once commented on the possibility of a francophone growing up thinking that the sign Pont Jacques-Cartier Bridge meant that the structure in question was named after a Monsieur J. C. Bridge.

Of course, it may be that I have always paid abnormal attention to banal commercial signs.  After all, I did live in apartments above family-run grocery stores for the first thirteen years of my life.  But, ironically, one of my favorite commercial signs was not really commercial at all.  A graduate school friend and colleague,  the legendary Michael Edesess, and I sometimes ate breakfast at a diner (in Evanston, Illinois) which had no apparent name.  The diner’s only marking during the business day was a simple cardboard sign on its front door: OPEN.  Of course, we ended naming the diner The Open.  And since it was sometimes closed, we found the name especially amusing.  But even novice topologists understand that the concepts of open and closed are not really mutually exclusive :  so much for math grad students’ humor and appreciation of fine restaurants.

After the language controversy in the 1970’s in Québec,  the spelling, syntax and grammar on signs actually improved.  However, some years later the initial francophone pride in the election of the PQ government abated.  Then  both the language used on signs and the level of  language used in public discourse seemed to decline.  I wondered if this decline in public use of language was simply a local phenomenon, possibly the result of  a French language letdown, a lowering of educational standards, or even the increased cross pollination  of languages in a city as cosmopolitan as  Montréal.  So, when I was in the United States,  I began to examine commercial signs a little more carefully.  To my chagrin, I found my U.S. compatriots were not operating at a much better level.  The geographically closest example was a restaurant in Champlain, New York whose large principal sign proudly  announced Home Made Pie’s. I could have said that the banished Eaton’s apostrophe did not have to travel far to find a home.

Unfortunately, since then I have often encountered the use of the apostrophe in the formation of the plural of a noun: for example, the web site of the Turbo Grips company (a bowling product supplier with which I am familiar) announces Video’s and Events. On the other hand, sometimes genitive constructions  lack the apostrophe:  e.g. the Giants roster.  It may be that there has been a grammatical and orthographical revolution which, in my relative isolation,  I have missed.  It could possibly have  occurred one summer when I was busy listening to the New York Yankee’s on the radio.

Seeing too many spelling, syntactical and  and grammatical mistakes on written material destined for the public is certainly annoying.  It obviously denotes a lack of respect for the minimal standards of communication.  But it also says something about the intelligence, pride and sense of rigor of the authors of that material.  Without entering into the type of cultural critique  found in Susan Jacoby’s  The Age of American Unreason (2008),  I would say that it might be pertinent to question the reason for the decline of certain fundamental skills that we previously  took for granted: elementary language skills that constitute basic literacy, basic mathematical skills that allow us to understand elementary science and participate in simple commercial exchanges, maybe even spatial orientation (i. e. geometrical) skills which permit us to adapt to the basic geography around us.  Should we fully depend on word processing software, the calculator and the GPS?  In a supposedly sophisticated society, it seems unreasonable that we have high school (and even college) graduates  who may not know how to distinguish the grammatical pieces of a sentence, how to calculate averages and percentages,  how to make change in a store, how to find a large and well-known civic building without programming the GPS?

It is possible that mankind has advanced to the point where none of the basic skills mentioned above are necessary for survival or commerce with other humans.  Those whose interests lie in selling  technologically sophisticated “gadgets”   would have us believe that emphasis on the mastery of basic skills is antediluvian.  Yet it may be time to once again insist on the Kantian maxim which reminds us that Aufklärung is the act by which we detach ourselves from the inability to use reason without depending on others.  In exercising intelligence, we would possibly then begin to better understand the complex relations between technology, international capitalism and human freedom.

At any rate,  without expressing an embarrassing type of New Age linguistic holism,  I would like to suggest it may be desirable that the exiled English language apostrophe once again find its appropriate place in its own linguistic milieu.  As far as the language situation in Québec goes,  let’s worry more about the correctness of the French on signs and less about the extraneous consequences of an overdue chapter of historical evolution. And, of course, don’t think about asking the person selling you a GPS about the relativistic principles guaranteeing its correct functioning.

51b5za3qkpl_sl500_aa240_6I recently read the good news that Franz Neumann’s 1944 classic, Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism 1933-1944, will finally be reprinted in English (by Ivan R. Dee Publishers).   In a previous blog entry (German Lessons for Americans), I  already commented on the importance of this work whose Harper Torchbook edition dates back to the 1960’s.  Behemoth is required reading for anyone interested in trying to understand the phenomenon of National Socialism and certain of its homologous relations with the current political and economic situation in the Western world.

I believe that in many respects we have more to learn from German thought of the period between the two World Wars than we have from what passes for philosophy and theory in our present time.   There are certainly  issues, for example those dealing with globalization and environmental concerns, that were less obtrusive in that period.  Yet our understanding of fundamental economic and political concerns in the Occident can only be enhanced by the reading of  Franz Neumann’s impressive study of National Socialism.   (In this sense, there is a kind of parallelism with what I’ve previously written about the sciences.  In a certain way, Neumann plays the same  role here that Husserl played in my blog entry on philosophy and science.)

The euphoria in North America surrounding the election of a new president may very well lead to deception and disappointment.  It is unlikely that the fundamental parameters of economic and political life will undergo radical modification once Western societies have weathered the current economic “correction”.  Memories in North America are short.  We tend to forget how far America has departed from its post World War II liberal capitalist course.  If the Obama presidency succeeds in coming close to reversing some of  the political and economic deviation of the Reagan years, it will have accomplished a major task.  However, even such a reversal is not equivalent to structural change.

It is not my intention to examine Behemoth in detail: not only does the book contain a wealth of details on many aspects of the NS regime, but it also opens up many possible topics for detailed discussion.  It demands a more systematic study.  My intention is rather to make a few simple observations about certain aspects of the book.

The most important service that we obtain from  Franz Neumann is the dissipation of many of the myths concerning the rise and practice of fascism in Germany.  Post-structuralist acolytes have too often fostered the simpleminded dictum that Western rationalism leads directly to Auschwitz.   Behemoth‘s strength lies in its detailed description of  the  situation in which National Socialism seized power and in its painstaking elaboration of the relations between power, politics and economics during its control of the German state.  Neumann’s  careful exegesis of the elements woven together in that complexity is exemplary.

It is possible to shortcut the description of the development of  fascism by borrowing from Adorno/Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment:  in fascism Myth takes its revenge against Enlightenment.  Or, to put this in Neumann’s terms,  a rational state (say in the sense of Hegel) is not compatible with the (racial) movement state espoused by National Socialism.  But Behemoth corrects the abstract character of this type of observation.  Neumann shows that National Socialism had no real theory of society, no real philosophy beyond the promotion of a type of citizen activism that hardly left room for thought.  Non-rational concepts derived from bogus racial theory and questionable geopolitical considerations were useful in hiding the real structure of power and  in manipulating the masses (helped, of course,  by the threat of terror).  German society was structured by the dynamic of  four groups (party, army, industry, bureaucracy),  each organized according to the “leadership principle”.  NS Germany was not really a state in any classical sense:  it was not ruled by law, but rather by a series of technical rules whose foundation rested on a sort of arbitrariness. This is the sense in which Myth takes its revenge.

From my personal ethnic standpoint ( given that I am of Polish descent), it is somewhat chilling to read the details of the structure which was to govern a European continent ruled by National Socialism.  Also, from the standpoint of  someone who has been involved in education, it  is  particularly sad to read the disappointment that Neumann expresses in the “almost complete moral corruption of the German intelligentsia, especially of the academic world”.  Even more damning to the educational system is his  note that statistics showed that 23% of all party political functionaries came from the teaching professions, primarily from the ranks of  elementary school teachers.

This sort of  account echoes the description that Karl Löwith gives of his experience in the German universities of the time (in My Life in Germany Before and After 1933).  Unfortunately, our experience with the character of academics since the Reagan years is not much different.  Following years of flirtation with philosophical tendencies (commonly grouped under rubrics  such as post-modernism or post-structuralism) most compatible with globalism  (in the sense this term is used by Ulrich Beck) and least  conducive to critical examination of the  unfettered reign of transnational corporations, current philosophy has more or less loss its credibility, its moral authority and its critical function.

Finally, it is evident that the most crucial element in understanding the Germany of this period is the role of the cartels and the manner in which the cartellization of the German economy depended on totalitarian political power to help it avoid any perturbation.  Neumann insists on the importance of the profit motive and the creation and maintenance of a political and social climate in which empire builders such as Flick, Wolff, Mannesmann, and Krupp could prosper.  It was the role of National Socialism to provide the power necessary to support this monopolistic system.  The aims of the German cartels could not be carried out in a political democracy.  The accomplishments of the goals of  German monopolistic capitalism demanded the state control of labor.

Imperialism was a product of  this monopolistic capitalism, of  industrial leadership backed by the NS controlled government.  Strict control of  raw materials markets, systematic dumping and currency manipulation were tools  for the subjugation of  foreign economies.  Neumann claims that even the war itself can be partially viewed as  resulting from a set of  internal contradictions in the German economy.

Helmut Dubiel (in Theory and Politics) describes the assessment of the relation between fascism and capitalism as a point of division in the Frankfurt School  of the years 1940-41.  Neumann’s group  ( Neumann, Marcuse, Kirchheimer, Gurland ),  insisted  on the primacy of the economic sphere, on the proposition that fascism is the form of political organization most appropriate to monopoly capitalism.  The group consisting of Pollock, Adorno and Horkheimer, basing themselves on Pollock’s theory of state capitalism, believed that a developed fascist system , such as National Socialism, reversed the classical Marxist view by establishing complete political control over economic processes.  Adorno and Horkheimer ‘s subsequent version of Critical Theory favored the thesis which considers domination in highly developed industrial societies as  founded in more immediate political forms  (see, for example,  the well-known case of Adorno’s  treatment of the  Kulturindustrie).

It is certainly incontestable that the painstakingly rigorous and richly detailed analysis of NS in Behemoth is exemplary.  It is a necessary task for philosophers and social theorists today to carefully analyze the homologies of our current situation with what prevailed in Germany in that epoch.  As much as I was taken with Adorno and Horheimer’s elaboration of  the dialectic between Reason and Myth and the realization that the very act of writing that text allows Reason to dialectically reposition itself against Myth, I am even more convinced that we now need to rely on philosophically guided analyses  such as  Behemoth to counteract the complacent and cynical position which substitutes narrative and cultural artifices  for politics.  By denigrating politics and refusing it a legitimate  place in public life,  by acquiescing in the control that economic power has accumulated, certain contemporary philosophical tendencies  facilitate the return of fascism.  The new appearance of Behemoth should remind us of what is at stake in today’s politics and remind theorists that it is time to revisit some basic questions about the relation of man, society and economy.                                                            karl-mannheim-3-sized4

Maybe my next question should be:  who also remembers Karl Mannheim?


The title of this post is, of course, deliberately misleading.  The post is certainly not about lessons in the learning of the German language.  For some years now, I have been convinced that one of the best ways to think about almost all aspects of contemporary philosophy is to return to the questions that occupied certain German philosophers in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  I believe that there is much to learn about fundamental philosophy by re-examining that era (and perhaps jettisoning some of the derivative questions that have characterized later 20th century thought).

But fundamental philosophy cannot be separated from social and political philosophy.  So it would indeed be an interesting intellectual exercise to examine a number of pertinent social, political and (more strictly) philosophical questions in the light of certain texts from that period in Germany.  We could also include a few important texts written later, but dealing with that period.  If, at this moment, I were an academic with a captive audience, I would say that there is a way to structure a meaningful course around a well chosen set of these writings.  By presenting this reading list, I wish to suggest a few books that have something to say about certain aspects of the current context.  Three of these recommendations may be more of interest to students of philosophy.  The first (and most important) entry should be of interest to anyone concerned about better evaluating the current social/political/economic crisis.

It is my intention to use the latitude and the informality that a blog permits to write more detailed entries concerning these types of topics in the future.  I would like to remind the reader that it is a lesson learned from the Marxist current in western thought that we cannot draw lines which clearly limit philosophy to what are often referred to as questions of technique.   So, in light of the coming American elections and the social controversy that this election year has used as its backdrop, here are a the first few entries for our reading list:

Franz Neumann, Behemoth (The Structure and Practice of National Socialism 1933-1944), Oxford University Press, 1944 (reprinted in 1966 by Harper&Row).  This work has virtually disappeared from circulation , yet it may in many ways be the most important text produced by the thinkers that are commonly identified as the Frankfurt School. (On a more deeply philosophical level, that distinction surely belongs to Adorno & Horkheimer’s  Dialectic of Enlightenment).  Neumann’s description of the social structure of Germany and its adaptation to National Socialist rule is insightful.  His analysis of the structure and aims of the cartels is detailed.  I do not know of any writing which gives a better picture of the Germany of that period.  This book should be required reading for anyone who is serious about understanding how NS worked and who is interested in a certain homology between it and the contemporary situation.

Karl Löwith, My Life in Germany Before and After 1933, University of Illinois Press, 1994 (original German text published in 1933).  The great philosopher Löwith’s “record” of his life is notable for what we learn of the difficulties of assimilated Jews in the changing German society leading to National Socialism and for what we see of the reaction/adaptation of academics to political change in the universities in that era.

Leo Löwenthal, An Unmastered Past, University of California Press, 1987. We all owe respect to Löwenthal’s reflections on the Weimar Republic, Adorno , Benjamin,  post-modernism, etc.

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, In 1926 : Living at the Edge of Time, Harvard University Press, 1997.  I had the privilege of being a student in a seminar Gumbrecht gave at l’Université de Montréal years ago.  Students of German thought will understand the tradition from which Gumbrecht works.  A book of this type is a sort of first step in Husserl’s project of a true science of the Lebenswelt (although the author would undoubtedly not characterize his work that crudely). The reader will get a surprisingly vivid idea of life in 1926 and also benefit from the thought of one of America’s leading intellectuals.

Spending too many years around academics has left me with the habit of constructing spur of the moment reading lists.  My daughter Andrée was often a victim of these spontaneous lists.  Of course, she usually politely ignored them.  At any rate, here is a short reading list for the impending U. S. election:

Robert Kuttner, The Squandering of America, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2007. The one book every American should read.  Kuttner touches all the bases in this one.

Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele, America: What Went Wrong?,  Andrews and McMeel, Kansas City, 1992. This book, taken from a series of Philadelphia Inquirer articles, is still pertinent.

Louis Uchitelle, The Disposable American, Vintage Books, New York, 2007. The author examines the effects of layoffs in all sectors of the economy.

Ulrich Beck, The Brave New World of Work, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2000. The translations of Beck’s works are not smooth reading. One suspects that the German is also a little stylistically challenged. But Beck is one of the best at attacking questions of the global economy. This is definitely worth reading.

Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Life, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2005. I have to add a more philosophically oriented book to the list.  There are other titles from Bauman that I could cite, but this is definitely one of his better efforts.