The action scheduled for November 9 has so many applications to the topics we have been studying in PEIS 101, Contemporary Theories of Political Economy, that it seems specially designed to suit our course.
Of course, the days of res publica ended long ago, overtaken by demokratia in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Any nostalgia for those days is surely misplaced, not because we should no longer strive for res publica, but because the concept the framers held of the public in 1887 was surely more limited than the concept we (or, in any case, I) would entertain. Since 1887, the (potential) “realm of freedom” has expanded beyond our wildest imagination.
At the same time, for similar reasons, we also would be mistaken to aim for FDR’s New Deal, itself a version of Lord Keynes’ res publica of fiscally-driven consumer-based demokratia. Lord Keynes’ surely knew better than most of us that an Oxbridge education and Bloomsbury cultivation cannot be delivered to or purchased from a supermarket shelf.
But, finally, we cannot aim for a res publica or demokratia grounded in the fruits of empire. Yes, we are spending more on garrisoning our own (and others’) armed forces around the world than ever the old USSR, Nazi Germany, Napoleon, the Caesars, the Ming, Pericles, or Darius ever spent. Surely, relative to our outlays for education, housing, healthcare delivery, or (dare I say) liberty. My insatiable appetite for oil, for tungsten, for manganese, for lithium, and increasingly simply for water and oxygen, is costing the lives of (mostly southern, mostly poor, mostly African American and Hispanic) men and women who, like Caesars’ or Pericles’ classical jarheads, serve and die neither because they believe in the empire of commodity production and exchange, nor even because they believe in res publica, but because, for many, this is the surest path to the “fruits of liberty” denied them by a private economic system (oikonomia) that is the antithesis of res publica or politeia.
There is, I would argue, a globally sustainable path that both leads to and arises from our shared or common wealth. The University of California generally and the University of California, Berkeley, in particular, needs to display (in GFW Hegel’s terms) greater universality and less particularity as it attempts to grasp the interrelationships that knit our faculties, students, researchers, and administrators into a global network of learning and practice. We are now moving swiftly into ever greater dependence upon and service of particular interests, therein losing a grasp of our debt to the whole and, therefore, the legitimacy of our claim to universality itself. In this rescission into particularity, knowledge itself is wounded because knowledge depends for its very life on independence from the realm of necessity.
When the University of California ties its fortunes to the fortunes of private self-interest it renounces its claim to knowledge.
We are better than that. Tomorrow we will meet in the Library of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church of Berkeley, conveniently located across Bancroft from the Rec Center. We will read and discuss the authors in our syllabus, authors whose writings are uncannily well-suited to discussing our refusal to submit to the unequal discipline imposed on us by particular self-interest and our interest in freeing the University of California, Berkeley, to resume its unfettered pursuit of knowledge.