Sun, 25 Feb 2018


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Melville's War Poetry and the Human Form

Printed in A Political Companion to Herman Melville, ed. by Jason Frank.

You can read the essay here.

Drones and the Question of "The Human"

Drones and the Question of "The Human," Roger Berkowitz, Ethics & International Affairs, volume 28, issue 02, pp. 159-169.


The increasing reliance on drones is threatening our humanity—but not because of the inhumane ways we use Predator drones in warfare. It is a mistake “to use the term “drone” to refer only to these much publicized military devices. Drones, more precisely understood, are intelligent machines that—possessed of the capacity to perform repetitive tasks with efficiency, reliability, and mechanical rationality—increasingly displace the need for human thinking and doing. The trend Jünger and Turkle worry about is unmistakable: we are at risk of losing the rich and mature relationships that mark us as human. The rise of social robots, unmanned aerial vehicles, and other one-dimensional machines that act like humans—without the perceived human weaknesses of distraction, emotion, exhaustion, quirkiness, risk, and unreliability—answers a profound human desire to replace human judgment with the more reliable, more efficient, and more rational judgment of machines. For all the superficial paeans to human instinct and intuition, human beings, in practice, repeatedly prefer drone-like reliability to the uncertain spontaneity of human intuition. In other words, we confront a future in which “human” is a derogatory adjective signifying inefficiency, incompetence, and backwardness.

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Fyodor Dostoevsky

Forthcoming, Encyclopedia of Political Thought. Ed. by Michael Gibbons

Apologies. This article is not yet available online.

Parables of Revenge and Masculinity in Clint Eastwood's Mystic River

Law, Culture, and the Humanities v. 1, #3 (2005) (With Drucilla Cornell)

- Reprinted in Clint Eastwood and Issues of American Masculinity, Drucilla Cornell (Fordham University Press, 2009).

This paper offers a reading of Clint Eastwood's film Mystic River. Mystic River differs from archetypal Hollywood revenge movies in one important way: the act of revenge kills the wrong man. Moreover, instead of abandoning its wayward avenger, the movie strives to defend or at least to understand the act of wrongful vengeance as the loving act of a kingly father. To explore the connection between trauma, masculinity, and revenge, the paper follows the stories of the film's three male protagonists. Dave is defeated by his boyhood trauma and never recovers. Jimmy, the film's avenger, forcefully resists the dehumanizing power of the loss of his daughter by taking revenge. Sean neither succumbs to trauma nor masters it. Instead, Sean –when confronted by his wife's silent departure and with the fact of Jimmy's vengeance –responds by admitting his vulnerability. An upright man struggling to balance his masculinity with the reality of his tragic limitations, Sean's willingness to accept his human finitude is set against Jimmy's rebellious insistence on his superhuman justice based on the prerogative of vengeance.

Read the full article here.

The Accusers: Law, Justice, and the Image of Prosecutors in Hollywood

Griffith Faculty Law Review v. 13, #2 (2005)

This essay begins with the observation that the American culture industry is nearly incapable of presenting state prosecutors in a positive light. Through readings of three apparent exceptions to this rule, the essay argues that prosecutors can only be heroically and positively conceived on screen when they abandon their traditional association with law and seek to do justice beyond the laws. To the extent that prosecutors can be seen as a proxy for the image of the ideal of legal justice itself, this essay argues that the imagining of prosecutorial justice in Hollywood shows that law has lost its once-assumed connection with justice.

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Crossing the Warrior Path

Rechtshistorisches Journal, Volume 16, 1998. Review essay on Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon

“‘It goes back,’” Thomas Pynchon invites us to imagine, “‘ to the second Day of Creation, when ‘G-d made the Firmament, and divided the Waters which were under the Firmament, from the waters which were above the Frimament,’ -- thus the first boundary Line. All else after that, in all History, is but Sub-Division.’”

In the beginning was sub-division, which is to say: In the beginning was the lawsuit. And how different is that from the Word? Are not theology and jurisprudence sister sciences, dedicated to the proper -- or must we today say authoritative? -- interpretation of manifested truths -- or must we say desires? If theology endeavors to rightly discipline the expression of desire, the functional essence of the lawsuit is instead the authoritative resolution of conflicting desires. The traditional bridge between theology and jurisprudence consists, of course, in the latter’s purported subsumption to the former.

View the full PDF here.