Commentary

The State of the Sovereign

January 31, 2006
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The State of the Sovereign

These days, the state of the sovereign is strong. But issues such as warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency have now prompted a debate over how much power the executive should have in times of war and crisis. Two recently published books offer some philosophical perspectives on the powers of the sovereign. The first is Giorgio Agamben’s State of Exception; see an excerpt, “A Brief History of the State of Exception.” The second book is our just-released reprint of Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty.. . . .

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One of the most important books of our time?

January 27, 2006
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One of the most important books of our time?

Why would anyone say this fifty-year-old book is “one of the most important books of our time,” as a customer recently described it on Amazon? They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer has been bubbling through the online zeitgeist for a little while now—most recently it was passed around the social bookmarking sites del.icio.us, reddit, and stumbleupon. Ten years after World War II, Mayer went to Germany and spent a year interviewing ordinary Germans to try to understand how they came to accept—even embrace—fascism. Is there any similarity to our current situation, as liberals and libertarians like to claim by citing Mayer’s book? Decide for yourself. Start with an excerpt. . . .

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Twenty years after the Challenger

January 24, 2006
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Twenty years after the Challenger

A piece by John Noble Wilford in the New York Times is occasioned by the anniversaries of the destruction of the space shuttles Challenger (twenty years ago on January 28, 1986) and Columbia (three years ago on February 1, 2003) and the fire that killed three Apollo astronauts (thirty-nine years ago on January 27, 1967). Ten years ago we published The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA by Diane Vaughan which put forth the view—now widely accepted—that the Challenger accident was not the result of bad engineeering but of a management culture that normalized deviance: that flew missions even when presented with evidence of serious problems. The Columbia accident showed how difficult it is to change the patterns of organizational life. Another author brought a different sensibility to the shuttle; you can read Howard Nemerov’s two poems on the space shuttle. . . .

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Lawrence Weschler, Artistic Director

January 21, 2006
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Lawrence Weschler, Artistic Director

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Lawrence Weschler has been named the first artistic director of the Chicago Humanities Festival. The University of Chicago Press has published and reprinted a number of Weschler’s books over the past few years, including A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers, Boggs: A Comedy of Values, and Calamities of Exile: Three Nonfiction Novellas. In March we will bring back into print Weschler’s A Wanderer in the Perfect City: Selected Passion Pieces. . . .

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