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Princeton University Political Scientist Sheldon Wolin Dies

[Update:  11/2/15 – read Chris Hedges’ superb eulogy for Wolin:

Princeton University Professor and political theorist of democracy Sheldon Wolin died last week – you can read his obituary by Princeton University here.

My sense is that you will read nothing of Wolin’s work in the main stream news media and there certainly won’t be any Hollywood movies about his “beautiful mind“.

Wolin was an insightful analyst and powerful critic of how corporations and media undermine and hollow out our democracy and subvert democratic principle and politics.

I just recently became aware of Wolin’s work after reading his last book in 2008, the magnificent “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.”

From what I’ve read since, particularly by Chris Hedges, I’ve learned more about the importance of Wolin’s work – which I unfortunately had missed in my limited formal education.

The lack of a shared analysis or understanding of ideas in political economy, political theory, and the nature of power are some of the biggest shortcomings of various “progressive” or “left” groups, including environmentalists.

My favorite writer plowing these fields is David Harvey, a “public intellectual” and academic who describes his approach as that of a practicing historical, spatial, materialist.

I certainly am no theorist and lack training or deep knowledge of political theory, so I rarely even attempt to write about such topics.

But, as a dilettante, I enjoy reading intellectual history and political economy and tracing the interaction of theory and ideas on the more mundane day to day practice of politics and public policy.

As such, I’ve tried to incorporate Wolin’s ideas in my work – in fact, this blog’s launch post cited Wolin’s book as one of the reasons why I was trying to write:

I will focus primarily on environmental issues, not only because I love the natural world, but because the same forces that are destroying the environment also are responsible for our current accelerating economic and political collapse.

Hopefully, I will remain too controversial for the Star Ledger. And perhaps someday we all will recall that I.F. Stone famously said, all governments lie. Yet our media institutions have lost touch with that fundamental truth and not only fail to hold government accountable, but often accept government spin at face value, which then becomes the dominant narrative (conventional wisdom, or propaganda) .

But, lets not blame government per se. Scratch the surface of almost any government lie and you find a cover for corporate power and economic interests.

As political scientist Sheldon Wolin wrote in “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” (excellent review here), our democratic institutions have been hijacked by corporate interests and our Republic transformed to a global empire.

Not many academics are left standing that write about such topics and so bravely confront power. And fewer still enter the policy debate as “public intellectuals”. So, Wolin is deeply missed in both those regards.

A quick search shows I cited Wolin’s work in the following posts:

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