Public Seminar

Public Seminar is dedicated to informing debate about the pressing issues of our times and creating a global intellectual commons. An independent project of The New School Publishing Initiative, Public Seminar is produced by New School faculty, students and staff, and supported by colleagues and collaborators around the globe.

Public Seminar is, above all things, dedicated to the intellectual and cultural work of democracy, and is open to a range of perspectives. Using the New School’s expertise in social science, humanities, design and the creative and performing arts, it aims to begin and sustain conversation. The views expressed by Public Seminar contributors do not necessarily represent those of The New School, or the editors and staff of Public Seminar.

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Associate's Articles

The truth about the electorate

Public Seminar 12+19 November 2020

Public Seminar blames the disappearance of local journalism for the over-dependency on polls. Also: why anti-racist literature may not signal a new conversation about race; and how schools remain arenas of exclusion in secular France.

Biden’s victory was not the decisive win that the Democrats had been assured. So why did the polling failures of 2016, that so underestimated Donald Trump’s influence with voters, persist into 2020? Historian Claire Potter canvassed for the Democrats and has some explanations.

How can intense description of what is irreducibly particular help us to extract elements that are universal? Parallels between the child separations at the US–Mexico border and the experiences of Holocaust survivors prompt historian Marci Shore to ask what we can and cannot understand by thinking in comparisons with the past.

The success of the French Popular Front lay in its ability to form a broad coalition on the left and to reach strata of the population traditionally ignored by communist parties. This is a lesson that antifascists today could do well to learn.

Debating the f-word

Public Seminar 15 October 2020

Is it accurate historically to apply the term ‘fascism’ to America under Trump? And is to do so strategically astute? A special issue of ‘Public Seminar’ weighs in on the debate over the f-word. With contributions from Jan-Werner Müller, David Bell, Natasha Lennard and more.

On fascism, non-fascism and antifa

Natasha Lennard in conversation with James Miller

Does ‘counter-violence’ damage the antifascist cause? Or is it delusory to talk about non-violence in the face of an opponent with no such scruples? Natasha Lennard explains to James Miller why antifascism rejects debate as an effective response to the fascist threat.

‘Fascism’ has entered America’s political lexicon as way to understand and oppose the rise of the far-right. Trump’s polemics against the left have also propelled the label ‘antifascism’ into the mainstream. But are we really seeing a US fascism? What baggage does the concept of ‘antifascism’ carry? And what are we doing when we invoke Weimar?  

There are various reasons why it is politically expedient to call Trump a fascist, but doing so clouds our judgement about the kind of authoritarianism he represents. Trump’s encouragement of ethnic antagonism is typical of far-right populism globally and will endure in the US beyond his presidency.

Varieties of antifascism

Russian notes towards a global debate

Controversies over whether there has ever been a true antifascism and, if so, who can claim to represent it, are ultimately irresolvable. Understanding the varieties of Soviet and post-Soviet antifascism can de-parochialize this debate and add to a conversation appropriate to the global challenge of authoritarian ultra-nationalism.

Analogies between the US and Weimar Germany ignore that democratic backsliding under Trump is not the reversion to an illiberal norm. To call Trump a fascist is equally unhistorical: if there is a comparison, then it is with Europe’s rightwing populists. But is factual accuracy even the point when it comes to the discourse of antifascism?

The suspicion that Trump will refuse to accept the result of the election is symptomatic of the state of democratic politics today. That modern liberal democracies can cancel themselves is an inevitable possibility. But to reduce politics to a battle between the defenders and the opponents of ‘true democracy’ is to turn pluralism into its opposite. 

Warnings about resurgent fascism are not entirely unjustified. And yet they can still blind us to the political dangers we are now facing. It is Napoleon, not Hitler, who exemplifies an enduring threat to modern democracies, argues historian of modern France David A. Bell.

The vision of M4BL

Public Seminar Week of 12 June

Public Seminar engages with the intellectual production and vision of the Movement for Black Lives. Why elites need to focus on institutional structures and allocations of resources that reproduce violence; how regime change may be coming home to the USA; and pro and contra the campaign to defund the police.

An American reckoning

The fire this time

Since the Ferguson uprising in 2014, the Movement for Black Lives has influenced public opinion about racism in American life, changed policy, helped reduce police violence and reshaped the politics of social justice. Finally, the wider public is coming to understand the need for a radical political transformation.