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Summer 2016 Newsletter


Save the dates for the upcoming Fall events in the Center for Public Scholarship’s calendar:

October 13-14, 2016: The Future of Scholarly Knowledge: Principles, Pressures, and Prospects.

November 18, 2016: Continuing Threats to Academic Freedom: Endangered Scholars Worldwide.

December 1, 2016: Public Voices 10 - Obama, Race, and Politics.

More information via the Center for Public Scholarship online.



Earlier this summer, 52 percent of Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU). To gain some understanding of the "Brexit" referendum's causes and consequences, we revisited Social Research contributor Jan-Werner Müller's essay, "Who is the European Prince? A More or Less Machiavellian Meditation on the European Union."

Müller's view is that the EU was designed to achieve stability by limiting public participation. An integrated Europe was seen as the solution to the extremism of World War II—intended not to promise future benefits to EU citizens but to prevent repeating what had gone before.

Can echoes of extremist or totalitarian ideas be heard in the positions taken by the leaders of the "Leave" campaign? The referendum voting was split along demographic lines, particularly by education levels, age, and geography. "Leave" voters may have had a variety of reasons for their choice. But a common theme seems to be a fear of "the other," whether that other be ruling elite institutions or migrants and refugees entering Britain. In light of the upcoming United States election, M&uuller's essay reminds us that parallels can be drawn from the rhetoric of Donald Trump to both the "Leave" campaign's promises and those of twentieth-century totalitarian leaders.

Though the EU was intended to prevent a repeat of the atrocities in Europe culminating in World War II, it seems not to have solved the problem of extremist ideology. Müller's essay asks us to consider whether "a depoliticized, depersonalized prince as a force for political integration was an illusion all along."

You can read Müller's essay online through ProjectMUSE or see our Facebook page for further analysis.



Cass Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School and a former White House advisor. Earlier this year, the Center for Public Scholarship hosted Sunstein on our eighth Public Voices panel, "From Social Science to Social Policy". He was joined by Daniel Kahneman, and Kenneth Prewitt chaired the panel. A September 2015 op-ed letter by Sunstein in The New York Times on President Obama's initiative to increase federal programs' effectiveness by incorporating insights from behavioral science prompted the event.

Sunstein has long been involved with the Center for Public Scholarship. His fourth essay in Social Research, coauthored with Bent Flyvbjerg, "The Principle of the Malevolent Hiding Hand," will be included in our forthcoming Winter 2016 issue (Vol. 83, No. 4), "Invisibility." Sunstein's past essays with us have explored how public fear can lead to unjustified intrusions into civil liberties; an examination of procedural fairness and the rule of law; and how nations can reconcile the dilemma of citizens disagreeing on fundamental issues, including those that threaten social stability and constitutional order.

In our issue on Sunstein argues that two different conceptions of fairness—general rules and individualized treatment—leads to "conflict [that] arises in every area of politics and law." The difference between the two, he writes, "helps to explain controversies over the death penalty, affirmative action, and more" (619–20). In "Incompletely Theorized Agreements in Constitutional Law," he suggests that "people can often agree on constitutional practices, and even on constitutional rights, when they cannot agree on constitutional theories," such that well–functioning constitutional orders often work by means of "incompletely theorized agreements" (1).

Sunstein's essays demonstrate a thoughtful and experienced approach to tackling big social issues facing us today. We look forward to continuing to work with him.

All of Cass Sunstein's essays are available online through ProjectMUSE



The summer issue of Social Research (Volume 83, No. 1), "The Fear of Art," explores the power of art, problems surrounding censorship and self-censorship, and the work of activist artists (including those in prison or exile). As the latest installment in the Social Research conference series, this issue is based on a conference held at the New School in February 2015, just weeks after the killing in Paris of 12 people in the extremist attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

As editor Arien Mack writes in her introduction, attempts to limit, ban, or destroy art or artists are “evidence of the power of images to unsettle, to speak truth to power, to question our cherished cultural norms and our ideas about what is sacred.” What does art provoke that we are afraid of? What is lost through censorship?

Though art at times can speak truth to power, at others it can exert power—even and especially over vulnerable groups. Svetlana Mintcheva argues that “as a political actor, [art] can challenge social attitudes but also be complicit with the structures of power.” How can we hold art accountable while ensuring that its right to exist is protected?

The attack on Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and staff demonstrates why we need to ask these questions now. The Nation publisher emeritus Victor S. Navasky, exiled Iranian cartoonist Nik Kowsar, and sociologist Saadia Toor each examine the impact of the attack: Does the attack raise the stakes for cartoonists? Did the public’s response of “Je Suis Charlie” reduce the quality of debate, leaving no room to critique the content of the cartoons? Can we critique content while continuing to condemn violence?

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei can speak with more authority and personal experience than most on censorship and the political power of art. He and his work have been continually censored by Chinese authorities and others over his decades-long career. As he said in a videotaped conversation recorded for and presented at the conference (transcribed in this issue), authorities fear art because it can "speak of the truth so clearly. And can make complicated issues very simple and innocent, and that can be so powerful."

“Fear of Art" is available in print through Johns Hopkins University Press and online through ProjectMUSE.

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