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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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The Open Office and the Spirit of Capitalism

It would be too much to say that the office is the prime locus of utopian aspirations in American life. But the claim wouldn’t be entirely misleading, either, and it might even shed some light on what the office actually is. From their earliest days as dingy counting houses in Boston and Manhattan, American offices have…

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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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Christopher Lasch and the Digital Return of Memory

If the headlines are to be believed, the instability and uncertainty of the global situation, especially in the West, is the dangerous result of the politics of nostalgia. From Europe to the United States, from Russia to Latin America, political analysis has been explaining today’s unanticipated resurgence of illiberal, reactionary, and na­tionalist…

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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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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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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,…

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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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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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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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