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Poland at 100 Years of Independence

The hundredth anniversary of the reclamation of Polish independence is cause to celebrate. Poles will celebrate. Yet national and international responses will also be colored by the nation’s recent political controversies, and the tensions of international liberalism. I suspect…

What V. S. Naipaul Taught Me about Posturing

Readers rightly praise V. S. Naipaul’s incandescent prose, his narrative power, and his bracing sense of humor. But for me his art also had another value: Naipaul taught me the value of honesty over posturing. We posture when we pretend to have feelings and opinions that we do not really have. The emotional honesty of…

The Eclipse of Catholic Fusionism

The argument that America is at risk of theocratic domination has always been hyperbole—a rallying cry rather than an analysis of our political situation. Even as the nomination of a Supreme Court justice stirs up liberal fantasies of The Handmaid’s Tale, the threat of a genuine “theocracy” seems rather far off. But there was a…

North Korea’s Search for Totality

In early April, I participated in the Pyongyang Marathon, organized for the birthday of the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung (1912–1994), founder of the Kim dynasty. He is the father of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il (1941–2011), and the grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong-un. Our tour…

Privilege and Idolatry

In May of 2005, the late David Foster Wallace delivered one of the wisest, most demanding commencement speeches in recent memory. The speech is titled “This Is Water,” a phrase drawn from the following joke: “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way,…

Nicholas II: A Tsar’s Life for the People?

On July 16 and 17, Russia will mark one of the most sensitive centenaries in its recent history: the slaughter of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, his wife (the Anglo-German Empress Alexandra), five children, and four remaining servants at point-blank range by a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918. Beyond Russia’s borders, the Great War was…

Robert Kaplan’s World

In 1994, five years after the Berlin Wall fell, American businessmen, journalists, and foreign policy intellectuals generally remained under the trance of the “end of history.” Events still shook enlightened consciences—the Rwandan genocide, the Yugoslav Wars, the first World Trade Center attack—but for the most part, the end of the Cold War brought with it a newfound faith in the power of international institutions to resolve these conflicts. Faith in the inexorable trends of democratization and globalization was high. In stepped Robert D. Kaplan…

The European Banking Union: Intentions and Reality

Emmanuel Macron’s recent proposals for European reform have concentrated on fiscal issues but also include the demand that the European banking union should be completed, since its third pillar (a pan-European deposit guarantee scheme) is not yet implemented. The formation of the European banking union, initiated in 2012, is the last major reform in Europe…

Italy’s Organic Crisis

The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci coined the term “organic crisis” to describe a crisis that differs from ”ordinary” financial, economic, or political crises. An organic crisis is a “comprehensive crisis,” encompassing the totality of a system or order that, for whatever reason, is no longer able to generate societal consensus (in material or ideological terms). Such a crisis lays bare fundamental contradictions in the system that the…

Trump, Conservatives, and Human Rights

During his short presidency, President Trump has downplayed human rights, preferring to emphasize American economic and military interests abroad. He has sought to develop close ties with autocratic Arab rulers and invited human rights abusers such as Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte to the White House. Yet the administration has not totally sidelined human rights concerns,…

The Cold War Culture War

How to explain the current nadir in U.S.-Russia relations? The litany of oft-cited causes is by now familiar and includes, but is certainly not limited to, the expansion of NATO, the dispute over Kosovo, the American abandonment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Russo-Georgian War, and the war in Ukraine, as well as allegations (by…

Jordan Peterson: Shepherd of the Easily Freudened

Sometime between 1922 and 1939, James Joyce wrote the following cryptic passage in his equally cryptic book, Finnegan’s Wake: Be who, farther potential? and so wider but we grisly old Sykos who have done our unsmiling bit on ’alices, when they were yung and easily freudened, in the penumbra of the procuring room and what…

Can Democracy Save Us?

Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed is a well-argued critical dissection of liberalism, one of the most persuasive I have read in recent years. Deneen understands “liberalism” to be one of the three powerful and all-encompassing ideologies of modern times—the other two being fascism and communism—that “proposed transforming all aspects of human life to conform to a preconceived plan…

Against the Deformations of Liberalism

Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed is a blistering critique of contemporary American culture and its foundational philosophy of liberalism. Deneen’s surprising argument is that “liberalism has failed because it succeeded,” and that the bankruptcy of liberal ideas has resulted in unsustainable forms of political community…

Liberal Liberation

Patrick Deneen is certainly not the first critic of liberalism to notice that it has something of the character of religion. He is particularly adept, however, at detailing one of its most striking faith-based features. Critics of religion, especially liberal ones, like to point out the irrational tendency of believers, in the face of disaster or social collapse, to believe ever more intensely in their doctrine the more reality seems to fail to conform to it…

Notes on Reclaiming Liberalism

The eclipse of liberalism—interchangeable with what are often referred to as the values of a free society, the American creed, or American exceptionalism—is, in many narratives, the central historical fact of our time. Laments over the eclipse of liberal first principles are regularly heard by the chorus shouting into the wind that the election of…

Moral Overload

Donald Trump’s election as president was a shattering defeat for left-of-center Americans. Commentators said that Democrats had focused too much on protecting specific groups—racial minorities, immigrants, and so on—and not enough on appealing to a broad public.1 The Democratic deficit was not only in votes, however, but in style. In recent decades, the Left has…

Czech Politics: An Unfinished Play in Four Acts

The national legislative elections and upcoming presidential election in the Czech Republic could be the most consequential events since Czech independence in 1993. The elections to the House of the Czech Parliament occurred this past October, and the presidential election looms in January. Though Czech politics does not frequently make headlines in anglophone media, the…

Fiscal Balances and the Rise of Catalonian Separatism: The Misuse of Economic Theory

The question of Catalonian independence is once again receiving international attention. The secessionist movement has received renewed impetus from the institutions of the Catalonian regional government, and the Catalan people are now gravely split, almost in half, on the issue. The tension is straining the relations between the central and regional governments and affecting the…

The New Christian Zionism

Earlier this year, a new U.S. President set as destinations for his first foreign trip the landed centers of the world’s three major monotheistic faiths: Mecca, Jerusalem, and the Vatican. On his visit in Jerusalem he became the first sitting President…

Two Cheers for Tax Reform

The recently announced tax reform package is one of the few serious and intelligent proposals offered by House Republicans in years. Not surprisingly, however, everyone seems to hate it. Defenders no less than critics of the plan seem incapable of thinking about tax policy outside of the simplistic framework of Reaganomics. As a result, most…

China, America, and “Nationalism”

“Fire and fury” were expected at the annual CLSA conference in Hong Kong in September. Stephen Bannon was to deliver a frontal assault on China—on Chinese soil—and advance the proposition that the United States and China are, or should be, engaged in an epic struggle for world domination in the twenty-first century, according to the…

The Incoherence of the Economists

What is an economist? There is an easy answer: economists are social scientists who create simplified quantitative models of large-scale market phenomena. But they are more than that. Besides their scientific role, economists have achieved a social cachet that far exceeds what one might expect from a class of geeky quasi-mathematicians. In addition to being…

U.S. Policy towards Africa under Trump

This paper explores the possible policy and institutional changes affecting South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) more generally that could occur during the presidency of Donald Trump. The direction that the U.S. government is likely to take after the election…

The Verge: Reflections on a Second Civil War

“Are We on the Verge of Another Civil War?” So asks The Nation, in a headline for an interview with David Armitage, the Harvard historian and author of the recent book, Civil Wars: A History in Ideas (Knopf, 2017).  “Are We Nearing Civil War?” So asks the American Conservative, in a headline for a column…

The Great Exhaustion: Manned Space Flight and Philosophy

It is not difficult to imagine historians, several centuries from now, wondering how it could be that Americans, without really knowing how to do it, decided to go to the moon in eight short years. “What were they thinking?” these historians might exclaim! Their amazement could take two forms, however, depending on how Americans today,…

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