Beyond Activistism


| November / December 2004


Why we need deeper thinking in our protests

"Get active!" It's an important call heeded by many who want a better world. At the same time, it can be tempting for can-do, results-oriented Americans (even those of a radical stripe) to prize action over thought, the street protester over the "mere" intellectual. In this section we hear from a trio of theorists who think American progressives are addicted to action for its own sake -- and from a front-line activist who's convinced that thought is alive and well. And we look at the rise and decline of French theory in American academia, a story that highlights the glories -- and pitfalls -- of deep thinking. -- The Editors



We can't get bogged down in analysis," one activist told us at an antiwar rally in New York in the fall of 2001, spitting out that last word like a hairball. He could have relaxed. This event deftly avoided such bogs, loudly opposing the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan without offering any credible ideas about it. But the moment called for doing something more than brandishing the exact same signs -- "Stop the Bombing" and "No War for Oil" -- that activists poked skyward during the Gulf War. This latest war called for some thinking, and few were doing much of that.