The Latest Academic Travesty

In my review last spring of Glenn Ellmers’ The Soul of Politics, I included this passage about the Leo Strauss Dissertation Award that the American Political Science Association (APSA) gives out each year:

One last stark example of [Harry Jaffa’s] vindication in the controversies that are at the root of the rancor associated with his name is his attack, in the mid-1970s, on the American Political Science Association’s establishment of the Leo Strauss Dissertation Award. Jaffa argued that the award would come to represent the opposite of everything Strauss stood for: “Works of genuine brilliance and distinction will seldom if ever have a chance, because they will antagonize by their uncompromising superiority.”

This seemed a trivial quarrel to most everyone in the wider Straussian community. Joseph Cropsey thought Jaffa was overreacting, with “absolute conviction that what everybody else understands to be insignificant is the germ of universal calamity,” and the episode was taken to be yet another example of what Harvey Mansfield called Jaffa’s “excess of fighting spirit.” Yet APSA’s 2020 winner of the Leo Strauss Dissertation Award was Elena Gambino of Rutgers University, who “works at the intersections of feminist, queer, and critical race theories.” Title of the dissertation: “Presence in Our Own Land:’ Second Wave Feminism and the Lesbian Body Politic.”

Turns out the APSA was just warming up. Here is this year’s winner of the Leo Strauss Dissertation Award:

Siddhant Issar is an Assistant Professor of Political Theory at the University of Louisville.  His research and teaching interests lie in modern and contemporary political theory, particularly Black, Indigenous, and anti-colonial thought, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the politics of race, class, and empire.  In his scholarship, Issar delves into the entanglement between capitalist political economy and racial/colonial domination, as well as the theoretical insights social movements generate against such interlinked domination.  He is currently working on a book manuscript, titled Theorizing Racial Capitalism in the Era of Black Lives Matter. . .

Siddhant Isser’s “Thinking with Black Lives Matter: Towards a Critical Theory of Racial Capitalism” is a superb argument for moving beyond analyses of contemporary oppression that think through only one critical lens (i.e. “anti-racist” or “anti-capitalist” or “anti-colonial”).  Taking his starting point from the Black Lives Matter movement, which relies on an expansive understanding of racial capitalism (as necessarily entwined with settler colonialism), Isser shows the importance of a robust theory of racial capitalism for political theory by way of engagement with a wide range of thinkers (e.g. Marx, Cedric Robinson, David Harvey, Wendy Brown, Jodi Melamed).  Isser’s dissertation shines especially in its incisive critique of major thinkers of neoliberalism for their failures to sufficiently analyze the importance of race, and its brilliant analysis of “racial/colonial primitive accumulation.”  Isser’s dissertation is most important, though, because it gives political theorists something they really need: a theory of racial capitalism that they can use and put to work in analyzing contemporary oppression.

Yeah, this really looks like the kind of analysis Strauss would have respected. (Sarc.)

Two possible responses: First, a petition to abolish the award. Second, given that “mainstream” political science despises Strauss and his faithful students, maybe we should start a guerilla campaign to brand anyone who receives the Strauss Award as unacceptable to hire by any “mainstream” political science department. That might be a more effective way of killing the award, or deterring leftists from accepting it.

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