In this episode of High Theory, Jed Esty talks about the Rhetoric of Decline. Declinism names the contradictory political narrative that America will always be the greatest country in the world, yet is in constant danger of losing its place in the global pecking order. Studying this rhetorical log-jam reveals its prominence on both the left and the right, and its toxic effects on our national discourse. But comparing the end of America’s empire to Britain’s imperial decline in the twentieth century can help us muddle out of this mess.
Eraldo Souza dos Santos is a philosopher and historian of political thought whose research explores how political concepts have come to shape political discourse and political practice, and how political actors have come to contest the meaning of these concepts in turn. In his current project, he traces the global history of the idea of civil disobedience. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy at Panthéon-Sorbonne University. He has been the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Académie française, the Maison française d’Oxford, the Leuven Institute for Advanced Studies, the Munich Centre for Global History, the Friedrich Nietzsche College of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar, the French-Dutch Network for Higher Education and Research, and the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel, among others.
Image: Bas-Relief of the Salt March led by M.K. Gandhi in March-April 1930, photograph by Nevil Zaveri, available here under Creative Commons.
Erin L. Thompson talks about monuments, and their role in American public life. Public art intervenes in directly in politics, shaping social behavior in the present. Monuments, in her account, are a bid for immortality that says “this is how things are” but often means “this is how things should be.”
In the episode she talks about The Houston Museum of African American Culture. They are engaged in a super exciting project reinterpreting the cultural memory of the US Civil War, as the first Black cultural institution that has re-housed a Confederate monument.
Erin L. Thompson is an associate professor of Art Crime at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York. Her first book Possession(Yale UP, 2016) studied the history of theft at the heart of private art collections from the Ancient World to the present.
Image: Statue of a man on a horse, part of the the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial at the US Capital, described in this article from the Architect of the Capital, US government website.
Music used in promotional material: ‘Morrisson’s jig – Leslie’s march’ by Aislinn