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The Illiberal Arts

For thousands of years, the liberal arts were not liberal, and that is why they are increasingly unwelcome in our time. An honest study of the past is unsettling in a liberal age, because a person who learns to venerate earlier cultural traditions, from Homer to the baroque, may come to venerate the values to…

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America’s STEM Crisis Threatens Our National Security

On October 4, 1957, a steel sphere the size of a beach ball and bristling with four radio antennae circled the Earth in eight minutes. Dubbed “Satellite-1,” or “PS-1” (Prosteyshiy Sputnik-1) by its Soviet fabricators, it was the first artificial Earth satellite. The Soviets had launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit, where it…

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The Decline of American Science and Engineering

Imagine sitting in front of your television in 1969, watching the Apollo lunar landing, and noting the marvels of modern engineering. The person sitting next to you responds, “Oh yes, but this is a passing fad; soon we will return to premodern engineering. Groping in the dark requires so much less intellect…

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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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