Author: James Livingston

Why Were We in Afghanistan? (Don’t Demonize the Military): A Conversation Between John McClure and James Livingston

I’ve been arguing with my fellow editor, former colleague at Rutgers, and old friend John McClure for years about—well, about every goddamn thing. Recently we’ve been wondering about what happened in Afghanistan, reading accounts and analyses, polling friends and neighbors, testing our ideas against the ideological realities that surround and sustain us, which is the air we breathe, and I don’t mean that as a metaphor. We stay alive only insofar as we can believe in something. Call it faith, call it common sense, call it the will to believe, you can’t do without it. Here is our email...

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Don’t worry, it’s a slow leak.

Wet floor in the kitchen, WTF?  You didn’t spill anything, and you sure as hell didn’t wash the dishes–that’s what the machine s for!   This gets you thinking and then laughing to the point of coughing because you’ve been writing up a list for the grocery store, on which you have inscribed shallots, onions, and leeks, three variations on a savory theme.  What would a slow leek mean, what would it do, what would it look like?  Only the tortoise and the hare would...

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Why a UBI?

A Universal Basic Income is in the news these days, mainly because the child tax credit in Biden’s recovery bill looks like a permanent feature of fiscal policy.  Who will try to strip this subsidy to marriage and family from any future budget?  Not even a truly demented Republican, of which there are now many, would think of it. So we asked our colleague James Livingston, who’s been thinking and writing about the issue for a decade, to address it.  He responded with a talk he gave at the University of Chicago and elsewhere in 2017-2018, called “Now What,...

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All Along the Watchtower

It’s March, when the Second Iraq War started 18 years ago. On this sorry occasion, we offer you a song that might illustrate some of the social forces that led to this little magazine of ours. It’s my rewrite of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Click and listen when you want. The backstory of these additional and replacement lyrics follows the song. http://politicsslashletters.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Watchtower-mix-2-Output-BUS-1.mp3 I started blogging in 2002, in a desperate attempt to persuade my fellow citizens that Bush (the Joker), Cheney (the Thief), and Rumsfeld (the Fool) were being less than honest, shall we say, in claiming that Saddam Hussein had a role n 9/11, and by insisting that an American-led invasion was justified—you remember, WMD and all that. The first sustained piece I wrote for the original blog was “Atlanta to Baghdad,” November 2004, about getting stuck in an airport bar with dozens of seething veterans happily or stupidly or unluckily on their way back to Hell. Here’s the link, thanks to Bruce Robbins, who somehow recovered it from decrepit cyberspace.  http://politicsandletters.blogspot.com/2004/11/atlanta-to-baghdad.html Four years later, my marriage was falling apart, and so I was writing folky songs about love lost alongside earnest blog posts about the war’s emotional costs—the desolation and consolation I found in both these venues helped me to accept my lonesome fate, and to compose plainer, simpler sentences about imminent catastrophe, both personal...

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“Worlds Collide,” Acts III-IV

Here are the concluding acts of “Worlds Collide,” my play about the hesitant, contradictory, hysterical  articulation of Christianity in the 4th-5th centuries A.D.  I hope my principal inspirations are evident:  Erich Auerbach, Denis de Rougemont, Mircea Eliade,  Norman O. Brown.  G.W.F. Hegel the seminarian, as always, Alasdair MacIntyre the historicist philosopher who wrote Marxism and Christianity when he was all of 22,  and of course Will James, the guy who wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience as a preface to radical empiricism, hence pragmatism.   As an old-school Marxist, I was never much bothered by invidious comparisons between it and religious fervor or faith, because their eschatological purposes, the redemption and perhaps even the end of suffering, were at least similar.   You can read vol. 1 of Capital as a gloss on the Reformation.  Max Weber certainly did.  That’s why he wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.  You Shakespereans will recognize my borrowings from Act III, Scene 7 of King Lear.   Here we go.   ACT III [Lights come up, same scene, but now Marcellinu sstirs.  Augustineis standing, looking out the window, arms folded.  Jeromeis reading from the book (Augustine’s “Confessions”) he found on the table in Act II, amidst the bottles of wine and the platters of food.  Pelagius watches impassively as the SERVANTS converge, cleaning, wiping, bowing, scraping.] MA [waking, he raises...

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