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SOCIAL RESEARCH AT 90 / Vol. 91, No. 1 (Spring 2024)

Arien Mack, Journal Editor


This article considers the useful application of just war theory to the Vietnam War and to others after. It describes the triumph of the theory, which has brought with it more questionable uses. [originally published in vol. 69 no. 4 (Winter 2002)]


Over the past 30 years federal and state policies have increasingly pursued a harsh, “tough on crime” position. With the “war on drugs” and allied changes in sentencing practices and policing policies, the US has witnessed a sharp increase in the proportion of citizens incarcerated or under some form of supervision by the state. This transformation has fallen with special severity on African Americans, especially low-income black males. To many analysts, the deepening racialization of the chances of criminal incarceration was at least a foreseeable, if not predictable and intended, consequence of these policy changes. The purpose of this essay, based on new focus group research and newly designed national sample survey data, is to assess the perceptions and consequences of these changes for African Americans’ judgments about the legitimacy of the criminal justice system. [originally published in vol. 73 no. 2 (Summer 2006)]


I challenge the “presupposition strain” in political theology—the thesis that politics needs religion, that politics presupposes religion, and that we cannot make sense of politics without an appeal to transcendent theological concepts. I do this by critically examining Simon Critchley’s claim that politics is not practicable with religion. Critchley shares a common framework with Carl Schmitt; it is this framework of political theology that needs to be exposed, questioned, and criticized. [originally published in vol. 80 no. 1 (Spring 2013)]


This is an essay in political theology, namely the theological underpinnings of politics. It is centered on the idea of the authority of God and its current implications in radical political Islam. There is a tension between two attributes of God as the source of authority: the will and reason. The will stresses God’s absolute decisionism as the source of his authority among the radical Islamists. The Messenger (Muhammad) who conveys God’s will is not a postman, although he hands over to the believes God’s book. Yet his exemplary life as told by authentic stories should be taken as authoritative, as part of God’s message. [originally published in vol. 80 no. 1 (Spring 2013)]


People have been giving away their money, property, and time to others for millennia. What’s novel about the contemporary practice of philanthropy is the availability of tax incentives to give money away. Such incentives are built into tax systems in nearly all developed and many developing democracies. In this sense, philanthropy is not an invention of the state but ought to be viewed today as an artifact of the state. This paper specifies and assesses three possible justifications for the existence of tax incentives for charitable giving, identifies a distinctive role for philanthropy in democracies, and argues for a fundamental redesign of the current legal framework governing philanthropy. Empirically, giving to assist the needy and care for strangers is an uncommon form of giving in the United States. Normatively, it is but one potential justification for philanthropy. [originally published in vol. 80 no. 2 (Summer 2013)]


Climate change and resulting sea level rise will cause risk from coastal storms to increase throughout this century. Aggressive implementation of emissions reduction policies would significantly limit the risk, but in any event, planning for comprehensive adaptation is necessary. Past experience with long-term planning to reduce vulnerability and exposure along the coast shows a significant shortfall between the need to reduce risk and the implementation of appropriate policies. A new approach to public policy in this arena should be a priority for policymakers. [originally published in vol. 82 no. 3 (Fall 2015)]


Every act of censorship is also an act of iconoclasm. Together they constitute one of the oldest paradoxes of image making and of figuration. To make an image is both to want it and to fear it. The more it is desired, the more it seems contra naturam, and so is feared. It often has a vitality that is startlingly at odds with both its materiality and its concept. To parse individual episodes of censorship and iconoclasm is to uncover the roots of both the fear of images and the fear of art. But each of the many motives for censorship and iconoclasm testify, above all, to the impossibility of escaping it. [originally published in vol. 83 no. 1 (Spring 2016)]


The essay, by a philosophical scrutiny of certain failures of mind and language, explores the sense in which human intentionality is fundamentally normative and why the very sense in which that is so does not hold of linguistic meaning, which is not susceptible to such failures, despite its close links to human intentions. [originally published in vol. 83 no. 3 (Fall 2016)]


Both not seeing what is perfectly visible and seeing something other than what is there are surprisingly common occurrences in our normal perceptual lives. One is a case of phenomenal invisibility, while the other is a case of misperception. When we do not see what is there or see something other than what is there, it is frequently the result of the same visual processes that are responsible for our seeing what is there. These phenomena are discussed, and the parallel between one of them, inattentional blindness, our failure to see what is there when we are not paying attention to it, is likened to our failure to see those we consider “other,” revealing how our prejudices influence what we see and what we don’t. [originally published in vol. 83 no. 4 (Winter 2016)]


A liberal politics is, in moral principle at least, a universalist politics: a politics that assumes that there is no “other”; there is only “us,” all entitled to equal treatment. This ideal inspired the 1951 Refugee Convention, which now faces a crisis of consent in Western societies because of the sheer numbers of people claiming refugee protection. Public opinion is also turning against the universalist premise. Citizens ask why they should extend citizenship rights to strangers and why their state shouldn’t be able to exclude whom it wants from its borders. How to respond to this crisis of consent? By defending the universalist right of persons in distress to seek asylum, but also by appealing to citizens to reconceive their relationship to strangers as a gift: they give welcome to strangers as a gift that confers obligations on the beneficiary, namely the obligation to live by the rules of the society that made the gift of asylum. [originally published in vol. 84 no. 1 (Spring 2017)]


Public trust in the academy has been waning for more than a generation now, and in that time, the public support of academic scholarship has been under an almost constant threat of drastic cuts. As accountability has been bureaucratized inside the university itself, scholarship has also come under the suspicious eye of cost-benefit accounting performed by external agencies. This narrow version of accountability may press so far against autonomy that “tension” seems too weak a word to describe the divergence. Scholarly autonomy, if it means anything, means that the individual scholar, answerable to no judging body higher than his scholarly peers, is able to give the law to himself concerning the nature of the work and how it is to proceed. [originally published in vol. 84 no. 3 (Fall 2017)]


Social change often comes from unleashing hidden preferences and constructing novel preferences. Under the pressure of social norms, people sometimes falsify their preferences. Once norms are weakened or revised, it becomes possible to discover preexisting preferences. Because those preferences were concealed, large-scale movements are both possible and difficult to predict. Revision of norms can also construct rather than uncover preferences. Once norms are altered, people come to hold preferences they did not hold before. These points bear on the rise and fall of discrimination and help illuminate the dynamics of social cascades and the effects of social norms on diverse practices and developments. [originally published in vol. 85 no. 1 (Spring 2018)]


The story of Hungary can also serve as a warning for other nation-states on the European continent, as the years from 1989 to 1991 were a time of liberation for all the people of Eastern Europe who suffered from totalitarian political systems and ideological indoctrination. As the Bible teaches and Hannah Arendt warns, liberation is not yet liberty. The institutions of liberty have to be constituted, and people need to learn how to make them work while breathing spirit into them. Tyrannies always collapse, but whether Hungarians can escape with enough means for a new start remains to be seen. [originally published in vol. 86 no. 1 (Spring 2019)]


Though all fields of inquiry have to struggle with their own unwelcome truths regarding unknowability, philosophy’s relationship with unknowability is special. But philosophy’s woes regarding unknowability are all of our woes, since what philosophy reveals as unknowable are pivotal presumptions that are implicated in the general conceptual framework we all presume in pursuing our lives with some minimum degree of coherence. When philosophical reflection reveals that we are not entitled to these presumptions, then our entire grip on coherence seems to loosen. Unknowability then seems not to be localized within some highly specialized field but rather to engulf us globally. [originally published in vol. 87 no. 1 (Spring 2020)]


Over the past century the concept of trauma has substantially broadened its meanings in academic and public discourse. We document four directions in which this semantic expansion has occurred at different times: from somatic to psychic, extraordinary to ordinary, direct to indirect, and individual to collective. We analyze these expansions as instances of “concept creep,” the progressive inflation of harm-related concepts, and present evidence for the rising cultural salience and semantic enlargement of trauma in recent decades. Expansive concepts of trauma may have mixed blessings for personal and collective identity. [originally published in vol. 87 no. 3 (Fall 2020)]


This article discusses the elements of a genuine apology. I conclude that the myriad apologies coming from all corners of society—individuals and institutions, including the US government’s apology for slavery—are woefully inadequate. What we are witnessing is not deep remorse but something less than that, such as perpetrators who are only sorry that they got caught, those who are only apologizing for show or who are only interested in scoring political points. Serious transgression and injury require a redemptive act to make the apology more than just rhetoric. Saying “I’m sorry” is often not enough. [originally published in vol. 87 no. 4 (Winter 2020)]


Loneliness is a historical affect that emerges from a long history of religious, poetic, and sociological ideas about isolation, solitude, and existential angst. There is a complex journey from theological and poetic ideas about loneliness to some key themes in modern American sociology. Today, the experience of loneliness is dramatically affected by the need for social distancing and the use of social media. In these new circumstances, has the meaning of loneliness radically changed? [originally published in vol. 88 no. 3 (Fall 2021)]


This essay draws on phenomenological and psychoanalytical insights to explore, comparatively, manifestations of evil during the twentieth-century totalitarianism and the post-truth present. The regimes of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and Alexander Lukashenko provide contemporary examples. Special attention is paid to the genre of performative confession in Stalinist times and in the present. Authors mentioned include: Anne Applebaum, Hannah Arendt, Anton Chekhov, Nathan Englander, Sigmund Freud, Ren. Girard, Jan Tomasz Gross, Irena Grudzińska Gross, Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Edmund Husserl, Leszek Kołakowski, Ivan Krastev, Marcin Król, Stanisław Jerzy Lec, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Czesław Miłosz, Jan Patocka, Tadeusz Słobodzianek, and Tomas Venclova. [originally published in vol. 88 no. 4 (Winter 2021)]

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