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Principles for Dummies

On the first page of his best-selling memoir, Ray Dalio unburdens himself of the opinion that he is “a dumb shit.” Nothing in the ensuing six hundred or so pages convinced me that I should dissent from this verdict. I can say honestly, in keeping with the book’s own serial inducements to “radical transparency,” that my endorsement of Dalio’s conclusion about his own intelligence was arrived at without prejudice…

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Kanye West’s Radical Black Liberation Theology

Kanye West has always had a streak of what one might call conservatism. He defiantly included “Jesus Walks” on his 2004 debut album, despite repeated urging from record execs to drop it, and predictions that it would never get play. Instead, the single helped make his career. The track begins with Kanye revealing, “We at…

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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…

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The Criminal as Entrepreneur

The latest iteration of rap beef—this time between the multiplatinum hitmaker Drake and the street-credible lyricist Pusha T—had all of the attributes of the tradition, only it was fueled by the warp speed of social media and the glitz of a calculated marketing plan. Witty innuendo, gossip, and slick production were married to the Spotify playlist algorithm and Instagram stories. But there was something…

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Confucianism and Meritocracy: Light from the East

Ex oriente lux. With the spring academic term finished, I am in Japan and China, ostensibly to give papers at several Japanese and Chinese universities, but really to learn more about meritocracy debates in contemporary Asia. There has been a heated debate going on there among political theorists about the forms of governance most consistent with ancient Confucian political thought. The debate tracks the theoretical shadowboxing Confucian scholars have been doing for the last two…

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Evaluating Increases in Think-Tank Executive Compensation

Shortly before announcing his plans to resign from the presidency of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Arthur Brooks outlined a framework for evaluating the “impact” of think tanks such as his own in the Harvard Business Review.1 In his article, Brooks identified several metrics for assessing impact, such as the number of op-eds placed in leading newspapers…

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Fascists and Revolutionaries

The first time I remember really fearing for my generation—not the abstract uneasiness aroused by depressing statistics but a gut-level dread, something dark and unnameable lurking just beyond articulation—came in the fall of 2012. Millennials…

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There Is No Case for the Humanities

The humanities are not just dying. By some measures, they are almost dead. In Scotland, the ancient Chairs in Humanity (which is to say, Latin) have almost disappeared in the last few decades: abolished, left vacant, or merged into chairs of classics. So too in the same period, the University of Oxford revised its famed…

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How Not to Defend the Humanities

In Renaissance Italy, the birthplace of the humanities, there were people who believed in literature. Not just people who read literature, wrote literature, studied literature, professed literature, packaged and sold literature, as today, but people who really believed in it. They believed that certain old books—containing poetry, history, moral philosophy, drama, oratory—could reshape the souls…

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The Western Elite from a Chinese Perspective

The Evangelical Christians I have met in the United States often talk about how reading the Bible changed their lives. They talk about being born again. I am not an Evangelical Christian. I am a Chinese atheist who came to the West to study at the world’s best universities and, later, to work at one…

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