When the terrible events of June 16 took place, I had little reason to think we were on our way to another debate about the Confederate flag. Yet, here we are. And while momentum builds to take down the flag at the South Carolina Statehouse, and the symbol is under siege across the nation, it is important to take stock not just of the post-Charleston reality, but of the context of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. An event that had largely gone by unnoticed, the sesquicentennial’s meaning is now being shaped just as we are moving on to commemorating—however we can—the anniversaries of both the Reconstruction era and the Black Power era from fifty years ago.
[Note to readers: the following essay is a guest post from Claire Potter, Professor of History at the New School for Public Engagement. See her previous guest essay on gay marriage here.]
Several weeks ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop with M, a veteran of New York Radical Women, discussing the gay marriage case pending before the Supreme Court. We agreed that neither of us, as feminists, would have foreseen the emergence of marriage as a post-feminist civil rights issue. Our talk then turned to J, a prominent lesbian feminist who was rumored to have slept with nearly every radical feminist in the East back in the day.
M, a slim and bright-eyed married woman in her seventies, laughed. “J wanted me to leave my husband and run away with her,” she said with a smile that indicated she had been tempted. “I asked: `Are you ready to do equal child-care like he does?’ That ended that.”
My point is that the history of ideas about marriage is intertwined with a feminist intellectual past, but after the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges last Friday, it seemed that had been forgotten. The lingering, and often bitter, divisions among LGBT people about whether conventional forms of monogamy and marriage should convey special rights have their roots in this past. Like many radical feminists, anti-marriage queers reject marriage, and the increased state authority over private lives it represents, as oppressive. Conversely, like many liberal feminists, LGBT marriage advocates have viewed the right to wed as a sphere for conveying equality, as well as protection against multiple institutions — the state, schools, families of birth, financial institutions and hospitals — to name a few. Still other LGBT people wade between pro- and anti-marriage positions as most heterosexuals do, choosing marriage to advance their interests and please other people, while disregarding aspects of marriage ideology that they consider to be dated, ethically wrong or inconvenient. Continue reading
A quick post to say that the soon-to-be-published book I am most excited about is Richard King’s Arendt and America which is due out with the University of Chicago Press this October. Which forthcoming book are you most excited about?
A bit about Arendt and America from the press:
“German-Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906–75) fled from the Nazis to New York in 1941, and during the next thirty years in America she wrote her best-known and most influential works, such as The Human Condition, The Origins of Totalitarianism, and On Revolution. Yet, despite the fact that a substantial portion of her oeuvre was written in America, not Europe, no one has directly considered the influence of America on her thought—until now. In Arendt and America, historian Richard H. King argues that while all of Arendt’s work was haunted by her experience of totalitarianism, it was only in her adopted homeland that she was able to formulate the idea of the modern republic as an alternative to totalitarian rule.
Situating Arendt within the context of U.S. intellectual, political, and social history, King reveals how Arendt developed a fascination with the political thought of the Founding Fathers. King also re-creates her intellectual exchanges with American friends and colleagues, such as Dwight Macdonald and Mary McCarthy, and shows how her lively correspondence with sociologist David Riesman helped her understand modern American culture and society. In the last section of Arendt and America, King sets out the context in which the Eichmann controversy took place and follows the debate about “the banality of evil” that has continued ever since. As King shows, Arendt’s work, regardless of focus, was shaped by postwar American thought, culture, and politics, including the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.
For Arendt, the United States was much more than a refuge from Nazi Germany; it was a stimulus to rethink the political, ethical, and historical traditions of human culture. This authoritative combination of intellectual history and biography offers a unique approach for thinking about the influence of America on Arendt’s ideas and also the effect of her ideas on American thought.”