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Summer 2017 / Volume I, Number 2
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Populism and the Elite

Reforming Elites the Confucian Way

Meritocracy has become a theme of great interest in contemporary politics, both in Western and Eastern societies. But attitudes toward meritocracy in the two regions differ sharply. In the West, the concept of an elite constituted by its most intellectually gifted and energetic members came into its own in the later nineteenth century with the adoption by the British government of civil service…

Populist Demagogy and the Fanaticism of the Center

Why has the use of the term “populism” been imposed when we already had at our disposal the term “demagogy,” which seems to designate the same thing? Or are we to think that the new term refers to a new phenomenon, and that the new populism is something different from the old demagogy? To broach the issue, and as a provisional hypothesis, I offer the following…

Deconstructing Economic Theory

The Corporate Contradictions of Neoliberalism

In The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism—a canonical work of economic sociology in the 1970s and ’80s—Daniel Bell argued that the productive and consumptive sides of capitalism had fallen into contradiction. Capitalism continued to rely on the Protestant ethic of sobriety and delayed gratification in the sphere of production, yet, contradictorily, had come to rely on modernist hedonism and credit purchasing in the sphere of consumption. Modern capitalism needed people to be sober by day and swingers by night. What is more, the displacement of the Protestant ethic by hedonism, Bell argued, was primarily the work of capitalism itself. Its mass production urbanized the population and created an economy of abundance…

The Bankruptcy of Modern Finance Theory

Outcomes are easy to measure in financial markets: you either beat the index or you don’t. And the results could not be clearer about how few people possess any real skill. A recent study found that 70 percent of actively managed funds have failed to beat their benchmark index and just 2.3 percent have delivered excess…

Toward a New Bretton Woods Agreement

The fifteenth anniversary of the euro in 2017 offers a good occasion to reexamine what is wrong with the present international monetary arrangements and the theories used to justify them. Theoretical questions concerning the nature of money have profound implications for policy issues, including the mandates of central banks, interest rates, exchange rates, credit growth…

Rebuilding Our Infrastructure

Rebuilding American Infrastructure

When Donald Trump chose “Make America Great Again” as his campaign slogan, he put words to something Americans had increasingly come to see and feel. For many people, their personal lives and communities were no longer as great as they used to be, and they were looking for someone to set things right. Restoring rather than building…

There Is No Free Market for Electricity: Can There Ever Be?

Electricity is an input in virtually everything we do as a modern society. Few Americans remember what it was like to live without it and its attendant benefits on quality of life, labor productivity, and human health. Electricity is today largely taken for granted, yet for middle-class and older Americans utility bills often constitute a…

Russia and Foreign Policy Realism

Seeing Russia Clearly

As Americans cast their eyes beyond their shores, there is much that bids for their gaze: a dynamic China, steadily expanding its military reach in the South China Sea and beyond; U.S. forces in the Middle East, trying to try to deal a decisive blow to ISIS; a frayed Europe, struggling to keep its union from unraveling. But nothing rivets our minds more than Russia and its strongman leader, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. And that is unlikely to change any time soon, with the FBI in the midst of what its director publicly characterizes as an open-ended “counterintelligence” investigation of “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”…

Ukraine: A New Plan

The global system appears to be entering an era much like the early Cold War period, but in a geopolitical situation in which Russia appears to be even more unstable than the former Soviet empire. The Russian Federation now fears the defection of its major allies and has been attempting to stave off its potential…

Reclaiming American Realism

Donald Trump entered the White House, in part, on a wave of voter dissatisfaction with the foreign policy the United States has pursued for the past quarter century. More than any other recent candidate, Trump succeeded by linking domestic problems, such as unemployment and crime, to issues of foreign policy, such as border control, international…

Political Thought

What Is Conservatism?

The year 2016 marked a dramatic change of political course for the English-speaking world, with Britain voting for independence from Europe and the United States electing a president promising a revived American nationalism. Critics see both events as representing a dangerous turn toward “illiberalism” and deplore the apparent departure from “liberal principles” or “liberal democracy,” themes that surfaced repeatedly in conservative publications over the past year. Perhaps the most eloquent among the many spokesmen for this view has been William Kristol, who, in a series of essays in the Weekly Standard, has called for a new movement to arise “in defense of liberal democracy.” In his eyes, the historic task of…

Romance and Socialism in J. S. Mill

John Stuart Mill had the worst personal life of any libertarian philosopher, a competitive category for bad personal lives. Marriage in particular has a record of making libertarian philosophers behave discreditably—that is, in a way that brings discredit not just on their character but on their ideas. Bertrand Russell famously divorced the first of his four wives after a bicycle trip: “suddenly, as I was…

Uncivil Religion

Walter McDougall is America’s greatest living historian. His The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (1985) earned him the Pulitzer Prize. His Promised Land, Crusader State (1997) summarized American foreign policy from the founding to our own time while explaining twentieth-century statesmen’s radical departures from their predecessors. In Freedom Just around the Corner: A New American History, 1585–1828 (2004) and…

Comment

Our Policy Agenda

Since the launch of American Affairs three months ago, a favorite topic of commentators has been the inversion of the usual order of policy journals and political movements: this time, a “populist” political movement achieved power before its theoretical contours or specific agenda had been thoroughly defined. Moreover, this journal, although in many ways provoked by the 2016 campaign, arose independently of the new administration. The extent of any affinity between the two remains to be seen. We are as cognizant of these challenges as even our most impatient critics, and we are in fact grateful that there are so many of the latter…

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