Flores A. Forbes | Survival Programs Pending Revolution

The foundation for a conversation about the Black Panther Party’s social programs should begin with the Ten Point Platform and Program. Almost all of the programs began with an innovative example that then became part of sustainable community programs, like churches, hospitals and other non profits. Some of the programs like the Free Breakfast for Schoolchildren Program were actually community organizing tools because local residents were hosting kids in their homes, pastors in their churches etc. [Continue reading here…]

Bernard E. Harcourt | Conditions of Necessity: The Black Panther Party and Cooperation

When we tell the history of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, we often focus on the open carrying of guns and the armed police patrols. That was spectacular. It is what propelled the Black Panthers into the national spotlight—especially the confrontation at the California statehouse in Sacramento on May 2, 1967. But what receives less attention is that, at the very moment the Black Panther Party emerged in October 1966, it came to life with a mission focused on community service and cooperation: a ten-point platform and program focused on combatting poverty in African-American communities. The platform demanded social and economic rights, including full employment, housing, food, education, land, clothing, as well as justice and peace, and very quickly cooperative community programs were put in place for child and adult nutrition, education, health and welfare. Community service and cooperation were central to the mission. [Continue reading here…]

Bernard E. Harcourt | Human Experimentation in Alabama

On the evening of Thursday, January 25, 2024, the State of Alabama strapped a man, Kenneth Smith, to its execution gurney, placed a mask over his face, and pumped nitrogen gas hoping to asphyxiate him quickly. It was an execution method never used before in human history. Steve Marshall, the Alabama Attorney General, promised that Mr. Smith would be unconscious within seconds. What the media witnesses and others, including Mr. Smith’s family and Elizabeth Sennett’s sons, watched was very different—a far cry from the peaceful and dignified passing that Marshall presented to the Supreme Court and the public. It was another botched execution in Alabama: Mr. Smith remained conscious for many minutes after the nitrogen gas started flowing, struggled and writhed on the gurney, convulsed, dry heaved and retched into his mask, gasped for breath, and was finally pronounced dead 22 minutes later. [Continue reading here…]

Bernard E. Harcourt | Scientific Cooperation with Lorraine Daston

In her book, Rivals: How Scientists Learned to Cooperate (2023), Lorraine Daston traces the evolution of scientific cooperation from the eighteenth century to present times. Daston focuses on three periods which, she argues, capture different styles of scientific cooperation during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Over the past three centuries, Daston identifies progress, culminating in the twentieth-century concept of “a scientific community.” [Continue reading here…]

Benjamin P. Davis | A Scarf and A Song: Reflections on Simone Weil, Jean Genet, and Edward Said

In an essay on Genet published in Grand Street, Edward Said tells the story of leaving Hamilton Hall to see Genet speak (on the steps of the Low Library) at a rally for the Black Panthers in the spring of 1970, with the university having yet to recover from the student protests of 1968. Said noted about Columbia that at that time “its administration was feeling uncertain, its faculty were badly divided, its students were perpetually exercised both in and out of the classroom.” At the Panther rally, Said observed a great difference between “the declarative simplicity of Genet’s French remarks” and “the immensely baroque embellishment of them by my erstwhile student.” [Continue reading…]

Bernard E. Harcourt | On State Capitalism, Law and Political Economy, and the Rule of Law

What are the stakes today in revisiting the mid-twentieth century debates between Franz Neumann, Friedrich Pollock, Otto Kirchheimer, and Ernst Fraenkel over the concept of “state capitalism” and their analysis of National Socialism as a totalitarian economic regime – other than matters of historical interest? The discussion at Coöperism 8/13 highlighted at least three. [Continue reading here…}

Bernard E. Harcourt | The Frankfurt School on State Capitalism: Introduction to Coöperism 8/13

Coöperism 8/13 returns to the mid-twentieth century debates over state capitalism, and, more specifically, to the lively debate within a circle of expatriate German thinkers over the rise and establishment of National Socialism under Adolf Hitler. Among these German thinkers were the labor lawyer and political theorist Ernst Fraenkel (1898-1975) and several members of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, including Otto Kirchheimer (1905-1965), Franz Neumann (1900-1954), and Friedrich Pollock (1894-1970), who moved to Columbia University during the war as part of the Frankfurt School in exile. The rise of National Socialism in Germany during the 1920s and 30s presented a puzzling challenge to the conventional opposition between free market capitalism and state-controlled planned economies. [Continue reading here…]

Bernard E. Harcourt | On Hannah Arendt and the Lawfulness of Totalitarian Regimes

By contrast to Franz Neumann, who characterized the Third Reich as lawless and chaotic, a “non-state” in his words, and to Ernst Fraenkel, who identified both a rule bound and lawless dimension to what he called the “Dual State,” Hannah Arendt argued that totalitarian forms of government (including both Nazi Germany and Stalinist USSR) disregard positive law but aspire to a higher law. For Nazi Germany, Arendt describes that higher law as “the law of nature,” by which she means the white supremacist belief in the superiority of the Aryan race as a matter of genetic science. In the case of the Soviet Union under Stalin, Arendt described the higher law as “the law of history,” understood as a historical materialist theory that inextricably led to the dictatorship of the proletariat, or in her words the superiority of a class. We have seen this played out recently in American politics: political leaders claiming that the enforcement of positive law is purely political and being weaponized, and should give way instead to a popular conception of what is right. [Continue reading here…]