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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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Ernst Lubitsch, Censorship, and Political Correctness

Theodor Adorno turned around Benedetto Croce’s patronizing historicist question about “What is dead and what is alive in Hegel’s dialectic.” If Hegel is really alive as a thinker, then the question to be raised is the opposite one: “How do we today stand in the eyes of Hegel?” Exactly the same holds for Ernst Lubitsch. The question is not “What does an increasingly forgotten filmmaker have to say to us?” but rather, “How would our comedy of manners appear in the eyes of…

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An Anatomy of Radicalism

What is radicalism really about? When does it make sense? Do we need it now? These seem to be impossibly abstract questions. At first glance, everything turns on the substantive commitments of those who purport to be radical. Do they believe in theocratic rule? In authoritarianism? In decentralization? In economic growth? In liberalism? In the collapse of liberalism? In property rights? In free markets? In self-government? In liberty? In freedom from discrimination on the basis of race and sex? In executing or imprisoning…

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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…

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Europe under Merkel IV: Balance of Impotence

Europe, as organized—or disorganized—in the European Union (EU), is a strange political beast. It consists, first, of the domestic politics of its member states that have, over time, become deeply intertwined. Second, member states, which are still sovereign nation-states, pursue nationally defined interests through national foreign policies within intra-European international relations. Here, third, they have…

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Classless Utopia versus Class Compromise

In March 2018, China’s state-controlled internet, amid rumors that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was secretly visiting China, rendered the term “fatty” unsearchable. In China, “Fatty the Third” is a derogatory nickname for Kim, who inherited his position from his father and grandfather. This occurred shortly after Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party…

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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,…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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