Dear Social Researchers,
In Canon’s last issue on revolution, two contributors referenced the 1999 protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a turning point in public activism. While one framed the “Battle in Seattle” as launching a series of global movements critiquing international trade negotiations of free markets, another mentioned their role in the formation of new tactics of aggression, such as the police use of pepper spray on nonviolent protestors. Aligning with these observations, all of the pieces in the “Revolution” issue seemed to show that within these social movements, there often are embedded grievances related to the freedoms and constraints that are allowed under certain political economic conditions, in the case of Seattle, liberal or neoliberal ones.
Revolutions themselves are one way these objections can become visible, but we think the pieces in this issue, “Liberty and Liberalism,” also reveal and critique aspects of freedom and the ways in which certain economic logics, ones of de-regulated markets of exchange and free and open competition, structure or co-constitute it. While “liberty” and “liberalism” originally derive from the Latin word liber, meaning, roughly, “the free one,” the term now is nuanced along both disciplinary and political lines, which the issue’s pieces demonstrate.
As several articles discuss corporations and industries directly and their impact on social experiences of the globalized world, others focus more on specific parts of the capitalist process or theoretical understandings of what an individual or collective can accomplish. An interview with NSSR assistant professor of economics Lopamudra Banerjee complements these works by offering crucial insight into the meaning of the theme, the public role of academics, and the link between economics and social justice. We are also pleased to present the 2011 – 2012 Art Collection Writing Award winning submissions from Vera List Center for Art and Politics. Each piece meditates on power and responsibility via this year’s theme of “Thingness;” congratulations to Joseph Allen, Hillary Bliss, and Rebecca Nison for their fine work.
Throughout the issue, we also have included a series of images from the mid-1980s federal restoration of the Statue of Liberty. The endeavor required intense collaboration between private corporations and the US government, during a time when leaders around the world were actively challenging communist regimes and pursuing free markets and open competition. In this way, we hope the images not only suggest questions about liberty’s structure and maintenance, but also illustrate the real tensions the theme is trying to address.
Lastly, this semester we are pleased to bring you a letter written by one of the New School for Social Research’s first
faculty members, philosopher and economist Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929). In Veblen’s letter, he shares his anxieties about writing The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) with Sarah McLean Hardy, a colleague lecturing at Wesleyan while he was teaching at the University of Chicago. Veblen and Hardy exchanged many letters like this, until Veblen eventually told her true feelings, writing: “Ever since the first time I saw you, in the library…. [m]y life since then has centered about you, and I have to confess that that is the reason for all my paltry efforts to keep up some kind of contact with you.”
By closing here with this view of Veblen, we mean first to acknowledge his trenchant critique of classical liberal economic theories and their neo-classical reemergence, but we would also like to argue that the correspondence perhaps reminds us of something else. Even in a world saturated with discourses of supply and demand and of structuring free markets, there still can exist other logics and motivations.
Thanks for reading,