During the spring semester, I have two speaking engagements planned. The first is a paper entitled “What is Star Trek About? Federation, Fan-Service, or Freedom,” which will be part of a seminar on franchise storytelling at the American Comparative Literature Association meeting in March. The seminar is made up of the contributors to the University of Minnesota Press series “Mass Markets,” edited by Gerry Canavan and Benjamin Robertson, and my paper will preview some of the key claims of my planned book on Star Trek.
The second is an invited lecture at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, as part of their Imtiaz Moosa Philosophy and Ethics speaker series. My talk, entitled “Democracy Between Populism and Neoliberalism,” will be on Monday, April 17. Details are available here; a description follows below the fold.
In recent years, Americans have heard repeatedly that democracy is under siege, from both major parties. One of the most puzzling aspects of this situation is the mismatch between the beliefs and actions of both sides. While Republicans use their baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen to justify sweeping changes to voting laws, Democrats have pursued very little legal or legislative action to shore up democratic norms even in the wake of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
To understand this strange dynamic, this talk will take a step back from the headlines and trace democracy’s woes back to the neoliberal ideology that mainstream figures in both parties still share. This ideology claims to support individual freedom through market competition, but at the same time its leading theorists deeply distrusted democracy and sought to insulate the economy from political pressures. In fact, when push came to shove, they preferred a dictatorship that would preserve capitalism over a left-wing government that would preserve democracy.
The result has been that none of the most important questions facing our society have been on the ballot for a generation or more — and where both major parties suspect that genuine democracy is more dangerous than the radical right.