Race-Baiting Propagandists Come for Texas
July 20, 2021
Did you open Twitter today and discover that the Texas Senate passed a bill to prevent schools from teaching that the Ku Klux Klan is “morally wrong”? Did you feel a pang of outrage?
If so, you were the victim of a class propaganda ploy.
David French and Conservative Opposition to Anti-CRT Legislation
June 20, 2021
French opposes these bills on the grounds that they will, as he sees it, “degrade the First Amendment” and ultimately backfire on conservatives. For such bills to succeed, he reasons, important precedents must be unraveled, which will leave conservatives with fewer defenses against government coercion in states controlled by progressives.
French is obviously correct about what will happen if free speech protections are nullified; the left’s assault on the marketplace of ideas has been, and will continue to be, relentless. But is he correct that these bills will unravel precedent?
Protect Me From What I Want
June 3, 2021
Few thinkers have influenced the way I see the world more than René Girard. Interdisciplinary scholarship is difficult; and it is rare for a scholar to become sufficiently conversant in disparate fields for their work to transcend the dilettantish and achieve the genuinely synthetic. Girard, who was declared “the new Darwin of the human sciences” at his induction into the Académie Française, is the synthetic scholar par excellence, and, in my judgment, the most significant social theorist of the 20th century. What one sees through the lens of his theory of mimetic desire is impossible to unsee.
It should come as no wonder, then, that I am thrilled to see a book released that distills Girard’s insights for the non-specialist reader and explains their utility for understanding everything from romantic relationships to the workings of the stock market.
The Fellowship of the Dead
May 14, 2021
“An adopted ancestor is more than a hero whom one aspires to emulate, more than a forerunner whom one has read, studied, admired or been influenced by,” writes Robert Pogue Harrison. “He or she is someone who fosters the becoming of who one already is, someone whom one ‘makes one’s own’ through elective affiliation and unconditional allegiance.” The claims of kith and kin are all but unavoidable: “We are always—whoever we are—thrown into our biocultural ancestry.” But the adoption of non-biological ancestors, the discovery that one has not only inherited but also belongs to a legacy, arises from and deepens the self’s authenticity.
The Sleepiest Antichrist
The American Conservative
April 12, 2021
Satan took Christ to an exceedingly high mountain to show him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. The Gospels do not name the mountain, but given the Adversary’s flair for the dramatic, one rather doubts he favored the dusty hillocks of Palestine. Of all the astonishing peaks that may have tempted the Tempter, to choose any but the Jakobshorn would have been an unforgivable failure of the poetic imagination. At 8,500 feet, the Jakobshorn is far from the tallest peak in the Rhaetian Alps, but what it lacks in vertical grandeur it more than compensates for with a north-facing view of the most Satanic town on Earth: Davos, Switzerland.
The "False Flag" False Binary
March 5, 2021
According to the Oregon Republican Party, the Capitol Hill riot of January 6 was a “false flag"... Even if their “evidence” weren’t weak enough beer to make even a Natty Ice devotee gag, the Oregon GOP should have had no trouble believing that MAGA foot soldiers were eager to storm our nation’s Capitol, given that another platoon of red-hatted bedlamites had assaulted their very own state Capitol a little over two weeks before.
When the Numbers Lie
January 21, 2021
Many left-wing commentators, and more than a few on the center-right, have homed in on the disparity between the lax policing of the MAGA mob and the more robust policing of last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations against the killing of George Floyd and other instances of police brutality. Even Barack Obama felt compelled to speak out against what he believes is a much larger trend of unequal treatment.
Scapegoat the Bastard
January 11, 2021
Sing, O Muse, of the rage of Donald J. Trump, son of Fred, that brought countless ills upon the Americans!
Or, rather, don’t sing. Fulminate, seethe, thunder, wail, gnash your teeth. Glory in the righteousness of your judgment. Your impulses are certainly just. How could they be otherwise? They’re yours! So give in. Rage against his rage. Imitate it. Become it. Roll on the ground and slather that rage on your naked bodies and howl until your bellies distend, your hands and vocabularies shrink, your interiority vanishes, and your hair and skin turn orange. Unleash fire and fury.
The Dictatorship of Lies
October 11, 2020
Rod Dreher has been sounding the alarm for years about the coming of “soft totalitarianism,” under which political freedom is trampled less by government jackboots than by legally-sanctioned coercion in the private sphere. His bestselling 2017 book The Benedict Option exhorted Christians (and traditional Jews and Muslims) to turn their focus inward and shore up their faith and communities through discipleship and the cultivation of counter-cultural life practices modeled on the Rule of St. Benedict in order to withstand the dissolving forces of liquid modernity. Even short of engaging in active persecution, those forces are more than strong enough to whittle the church away into cultural and spiritual irrelevance.
All Your Serfs Are Belong to US
September 27, 2020
In the 1980s, the Soviet Union was so obsessed with increasing productivity that it commissioned the engineer Vladimir Syromyatnikov to design space mirrors that could be set into orbit to reflect sunlight onto the earth at night, thereby lengthening the work day. Syromyatnikov didn’t see his mirror launched until after the fall of the Soviet Union, when in 1993 a group of state-owned corporations revived the project. It worked. Once in orbit, the mirror, a sheet of mylar 65 feet in diameter, really did reflect sunlight into the Russian night. After the mirror burned up on reentry, the project was deemed too expensive to continue.
Defenders of Depravity
September 15, 2020
The transgressive in art is an instrument — and only an instrument. Transgression for transgression’s sake cannot produce art worthy of the name. Likewise, a work’s aesthetic integrity is compromised when transgression swells beyond its intended function.
In the case of Cuties, Doucouré’s hyper-sexualization of prepubescent girls is so excessive that it subverts the morally urgent message she intended to convey. Moreover, the film’s loose structure, inane dialogue, tonal inconsistencies, and dearth of character development guarantee that transgression comes across as its raison d’être.
Christian college fires professor for warning against hate with ‘Little Hitler’ song
New York Post
September 4, 2020
No one is immune to cancel culture, not even Christian colleges and universities. A tenured professor of philosophy at Taylor University, a conservative Christian liberal-arts school in Indiana, has been fired for refusing to take down a music video he posted to YouTube.
The Resurrection of Freedom
The American Mind
September 3, 2020
On May 4 of this year, Nikole Hannah-Jones was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary for her introductory essay to the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project. The purpose of the project, as conceived by Hannah-Jones, is “to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” The Pulitzer Center has reinvented itself as an explicitly identitarian institution and sponsored a 1619-inspired curriculum of agitprop. But one could certainly imagine a version of the project—had it been pursued with intellectual integrity—that might have had some validity. Even if you think Nikole Hannah-Jones is writing in good faith and making good points, however, her project is tragically self-defeating.
Cancel Flannery O’Connor? Why Stop There?
August 6, 2020
"How Racist Was Flannery O’Connor?” by Paul Elie. The essay is pure race-bait meant only to stoke trouble and earn its author progressive plaudits for claiming the scalp of a revered figure in American letters. The hatchet job even abuses its primary source, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s recent study Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O’Connor—so much so that O’Donnell felt compelled to savage Elie in an article for Commonweal...
The essay had the desired effect: Twitter immediately lit up with rote denunciations of O’Connor. Certain professors of literature suggested her work no longer be taught. The spineless Jesuits of Loyola University Maryland even stripped her name from a dormitory. In short, a mob of woke white people mobilized to “cancel” a disabled Catholic woman famous for interrogating and denouncing through art the racism she observed in her culture and in herself.
Reading "White Fragility" and canceling your friends won't make you an anti-racist
July 3, 2020
White Fragility is the most successful of a slew of recent books functioning as devotional guides in the nuevo religion of anti-racism, all of which leverage pseudoscience and often bankrupt historiography to shore up the belief of the faithful. But the discourse manufactured by Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi, Layla F. Saad, and other mainstream anti-racist writers conceals a pernicious idea. Rather than promote racial justice, such books often serve the dual purpose of building solidarity within the predominately white managerial class while justifying its privileges. The current anti-racist discourse is a powerful tool by which the system of inequality refreshes itself.
Pro-lifers, it’s time for civil disobedience
July 11, 2020
The Supreme Court has ruled in June vs Medical that the dismemberment and removal of unborn human lives was more important than a woman’s right to a high standard of care. From now on, no reasonable person can view the pro-life movement’s strategy—voting Republican, often with noses held and hoping that some future conservative majority will defend life — as anything but a failure. The foul spirit of Anthony Kennedy’s ‘mystery’ has possessed John Roberts and will no doubt possess some other ‘conservative’ host after him.
Matthew Walther suggests a new strategy for the pro-life movement: if you believe that the Court’s rulings on abortion are illegitimate, you should act on your belief. Impose restrictions, even outright bans, at the state-level. Dare the federal government to emerge from the shadow of its penumbras and enforce its unjust laws. Frankly, this should have been done 57 years ago on the day the Roe decision was announced. But this does not mean that there is nothing to be done within the arbitrary bounds drawn by the Court prior to or concurrent with such an enormous act of civil disobedience.
New Faiths of the Self
June 29, 2020
C. S. Lewis wrote that to be modern is to be consumed by the magical impulse “to subdue reality to the wishes of men.” This entails giving up one’s soul in exchange for power. “Once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.” We will also have forsaken the ancient wisdom which holds that the soul is only truly free when in harmony with what is real.
White Trash Dostoyevsky
May 2, 2020
You will be hard-pressed to find an American elite who admits to watching pro-wrestling (and even if you do, it’s likely to be Mexican lucha libre, because slumming isn’t quite slumming when it’s cosmopolitan). And yet all over the country the good and great together with the hoi polloi are devouring a spectacle no less supersized in its low-brow grotesqueness than the WWE. I’m referring, of course, to Netflix’s Tiger King.
If coronavirus affects the election, it's likely to be in Trump's favor
March 16, 2020
Does the coronavirus pandemic spell the end of Trump’s presidency? A profusion of breathless op-eds would have us believe so. The beau ideal of this likely transient sub-genre of NeverTrumpism is Peter Wehner’s recent article in The Atlantic. “The coronavirus is quite likely to be the Trump presidency’s inflection point,” writes Wehner, “when everything changed, when the bluster and ignorance and shallowness of America’s 45th president became undeniable, an empirical reality, as indisputable as the laws of science or a mathematical equation.” The piece is sodden with condescension and the overconfidence of a soothsaying naïf. Its gleeful air of vindication is, given the stakes, slightly vindictive.
The Road to Condoning Cannibalism
March 11, 2020
"I hardly know what to expect. Have you slaughtered a man before?” Bernd-Jürgen Brandes wrote to Armin Meiwes in a private chat on March 6, 2001.
“Unfortunately, only in my dreams,” answered Meiwes, “but in my thoughts I do it every night.”
“So I’m the first? You have eaten human flesh before, or you haven’t?”
“No, you don’t exactly find it in the supermarket, unfortunately.”
Brandes met Meiwes on The Cannibal Cafe—a now-defunct forum for anthropophagic fetishists—where he had responded to Meiwes’s advertisement for a “well-built man, 18–30, who would like to be eaten by me.” The men conversed for a few days and agreed to meet on March 9 at Meiwes’s mansion near Rotenburg, Germany. Meiwes, a gay computer technician, had nurtured fantasies of consuming a blond “younger brother” since he was a kid. For his part, Brandes had long desired to be slaughtered and eaten; a desire which intensified when his girlfriend ended their relationship after learning he was bisexual.
Screaming into the Architectural Void
February 10, 2020
"Look at those stairs, man,” says a figment of Thomas Heatherwick’s imagination, pointing at the Escher print on the wall of his London flat. It’s 1993 and Thomas is in his final year at the Royal College of Art. His ghostly interlocutor continues: “Escher was like a mad genius. I bet he really believed in gravity wells.”
“Yeah, bro,” says Thomas before taking a massive gurgling rip from his bong. “But, like, what if we got loaded inside an Escher drawing?”
“You mean smoke this sweet honey kush inside Relativity? But that’s impossible! You can’t crawl inside an Escher lithograph.”
“No, but I can build one.”
Jeanine Cummins is guilty — of writing a bad book
January 30, 2020
Flatiron Books has canceled the promotional tour for Jeanine Cummins’ new novel American Dirt due to ‘safety concerns’. Cummins’s novel, which follows a Mexican mother and her young son as they flee cartel violence and seek asylum in the United States, is intended to spur readers’ sympathy at a time when Americans are increasingly indifferent to the plight of refugees. Instead she is the target of rancor and her book the target of censorship.
‘I’ve never in my life seen this kind of public flogging,’ said novelist Ann Patchett, defending Cummins even as other writers signed an open letter asking Oprah Winfrey to rescind her endorsement.
The outrage is following a familiar script. A white progressive takes a deep personal interest in the trauma of a people and culture not her own, writes a book about said people and gets crucified as a ‘white savior’, for daring to speak for people who should be allowed to speak for themselves. In Cummins’ case, it appears, some of her woke detractors are threatening more than figurative violence.
In Defense of Stephen King, in Defense of Art
January 16, 2020
Stephen King, perhaps even more so than J.K. Rowling, is too big to be canceled. Too many stakeholders have sunk too much money in adapting his novels and stories, which have become bedrock Americana in the way of works by Whitman, Twain, and Poe. Canceling Stephen King would be like shoving an egg whisk into the gray matter of our national imagination and pulping things up a bit. We might all sleep a little better, but we’d certainly be less interesting — and less American — for the loss of those nightmares.
Let's not forget that Obama made a quid pro quo deal just like Trump's — and that Republicans said it was grounds for impeachment
September 26, 2019
The declassified transcript of President Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and the just-released whistleblower complaint have proven to be Rorschach Tests. As with so much of Trump’s output, there is enough ambiguity here that his opponents and defenders alike are claiming vindication.
“The transcript and the Justice Department’s acting in a rogue fashion in being complicit in the President’s lawlessness confirm the need for an impeachment inquiry,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) accused Pelosi of having been “catfished into a politically fatal impeachment proceeding based on rumors, based on faulty evidence and based on a bloodlust for the president.” The transcript, Gaetz claimed, proved there had been “no quid-pro-quo … for anything, much less military aid.”
Strictly speaking, Gaetz is correct. There is no explicit quid pro quo to be found anywhere in the transcript. Rather, it must be inferred from the sequence of topics discussed and from the conversation’s larger context.
Conservatism and Its Discontents
September 13, 2019
The intra-conservative contretemps between Sohrab Ahmari and David French has thus far been a study in failed communication. From Ahmari’s opening salvo on Twitter to French’s rebuttal and the endless proliferation of hot-takes across the conservative idea-sphere, both sides have continuously spoken past each other.
Team Ahmari has struggled to articulate its philosophical critique of the liberal order, while the Frenchists seem constitutionally incapable of acknowledging that the dispute is essentially about metaphysics.
The much anticipated debate between Ahmari and French, held Thursday, September 5th at the Catholic University of America, was more of the same. However, today’s panel discussion at Notre Dame suggests that both sides may be on a trajectory toward mutual comprehension.
The Oligarchy Unmasks Itself
June 2, 2019
Aristotle argued that oligarchy is naturally threatened by a strong middle class. When power is broadly distributed among individuals and mediating institutions, oligarchy is constrained. This is the great virtue of federalism and representative democracy. But in America our middle class is shrinking. Our institutions are hemorrhaging authority.
We are not immune to what Robert Michels, in his 1911 study Political Parties, termed the “iron law of oligarchy.” Complex social systems require leadership, specialization, delegation of responsibilities — bureaucratization. The emergence of a leadership “class” is unavoidable. All large organizations are necessarily oligarchical.
For Michel, popular sovereignty is most threatened when the “dominant classes” are captured by a single ideology, such as egalitarianism, in which case oligarchy pursues “its ends under the cloak of equality.”
Should we really support Hollywood actors threatening to boycott Georgia — even if we support their pro-choice aims?
May 13, 2019
The heads of several independent production companies have announced their intentions to boycott filming in the state of Georgia after the signing into law of an anti-abortion “foetal heartbeat bill.”
Among them are David Simon, Christine Vachon, and Mark Duplass. Alyssa Milano has also vowed not to return to Netflix’s Insatiable if the show continues to film in Georgia, and on Friday proposed a “sex strike” on Twitter — drawing scorn from some feminist allies.
House Bill 481, the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, signed 8 May by governor Brian Kemp, provides that "no abortion is authorized or shall be performed if the unborn child has been determined to have a human heartbeat." Similar bills were passed earlier this year in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio. As they run afoul of the fetal viability standard set by Roe v. Wade, it is unlikely that they will be implemented. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have already announced plans to challenge the Georgia law.
Coalitions of Hate: Ilhan Omar, Donald Trump, and the allure of scapegoating
Religion and Ethics
July 23, 2019
When I was a child, one of the major television networks ran Schindler’s List — commercial-free and uncensored. That struck me at the time: whatever this film was, people deemed it significant enough to forego the usual rules of propriety. I remember vividly a scene where a group of naked Jews are herded into what they believed was a shower room and then gassed. It is perhaps the first on-screen nudity I ever saw.
In elementary school, we read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and met a Holocaust survivor who worked with a local Holocaust museum. The woman had an intense aura about her; I felt that I was in the presence of a saint. In middle school, we read The Diary of Anne Frank and watched the 1987 film Escape from Sobibor. During a scene where two Jewish prisoners are publicly hanged by SS guards, I remember our seventh grade English teacher pausing the film and telling us to listen for the sound of the men’s necks breaking. “That’s how most people die when hanged,” he explained. “Rather than from strangulation.” In sophomore year of high school, I read Elie Wiesel’s Night and wept uncontrollably at the death of his father. Being a boy of a rather dark mindset, I used to daydream about what I would do in such extremis. Would I act nobly? Would I hide others at the risk of my own life? Or would I discover my soul was made of dung?
New Zealand Moves to Ban Semi-Automatic Rifles. Will the U.S. Ever do the Same?
April 7, 2019
On April 1st, New Zealand’s parliament introduced legislation to reform the nation’s firearm laws in response to the massacre in Christchurch.
Many have applauded Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s resolve as exemplary and anticipate the mandatory buy-back program—modeled on the reforms passed in Australia after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre—to be passed swiftly. Others are asking why the United States, where mass shootings are perpetrated more frequently than anywhere else, has been unwilling to do the same.
A common answer is that the Republican Party is too firmly in the grip of the NRA to do the right thing. But this is little more than a rhetorically useful misunderstanding. The NRA represents the interests of an enormous constituency of voters. This, rather than its financial lobbying (which is meager compared to, say, Planned Parenthood’s), is the source of its influence.
Elizabeth Warren thinks getting rid of the electoral college would be an easy win for the Democrats. I wouldn't be so sure
March 20, 2019
Senator Elizabeth Warren announced her desire to abolish the electoral college on Monday night. “Every vote matters,” she said to a crowd at Jackson State University, “and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the electoral college.” Her call was endorsed the following day by Beto O’Rourke.
The Electoral College has been on thin ice for decades, with a majority of Americans favoring a constitutional amendment to install popular voting. That is, until the 2016 election, when, according to Gallup, Republican enthusiasm for the Electoral College rose dramatically.
Warren argued on Monday that the current system encourages presidential candidates to focus on a handful of “battleground states” to the exclusion of others, such as Mississippi. This imbues individual voters in those states with disproportionate power, so the argument goes. But Warren’s reasoning is almost certainly disingenuous.
The Christchurch Terrorist's Strategy for White Radicalization
March 17, 2019
Something about the terror in Christchurch feels different. We grieve with the families of murdered innocents. We pray for them, their community, for healing and strength. We thirst for justice to be meted out to those responsible. And we try to fend off the numbness that in the aftermath of all such acts of evil tempts us to complacency. This is all too wretchedly familiar. And yet, everyone senses that we’ve crossed a threshold.
“He livestreamed the act,” writes David French, “and in so doing he not only made millions of people direct witnesses to the slaughter, he may well have created the next innovation in the mass-killing contagion. He may well have written a new cultural script.”
French is right. While we’ve seen livestreamed killings before, we’ve seen nothing on this scale. And we’ve seen nothing so clearly calculated to emulate first-person shooter video games. This will be imitated. In time, this too will become familiar.
The Art of Spiritual Warfare
March 1, 2019
As a teenager, I was convinced that a spirit of false prophecy had attached itself to my neck. This spirit’s name—according to one of our youth group leaders—was Python, after the Pythia, or Oracle of Delphi. I did not think that the Python, the great serpent of the earth’s navel slayed by Apollo, had deigned to visit itself upon me. But I believed that one of its ilk had wrapped its serpentine body around my spine to whisper vaticinations into my ear. You see, I had the spiritual gift of prophecy—as a multiple-choice questionnaire I filled out at church assured me—and it was only natural that the Enemy should seek to subvert the Lord’s work. Occasionally, when in prayer or at worship, I would feel a tightening in my neck, a quick little spasm reminding me of Python’s presence.
“I bind you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” someone would say over me, anointing me with frankincense oil. “By the power and authority of his blood I cast you off.” Sometimes I would attempt to cast Python into the sea or the abyss. I could do this, of course, having been granted with all other believers the power to bind and to loose, to trample serpents and scorpions. And I should add that, having been sealed by the Holy Spirit, I was not possessed but merely oppressed. This was nothing so dramatic as exorcism proper—just your workaday spiritual warfare.
Did the Boys of Covington Catholic "Mob" a Native American Elder?
January 20, 2019
If you had the misfortune of being on Twitter yesterday, you were likely swept up in the flood of outrage at the MAGA-hatted students of the all-male Covington Catholic High School. When I first watched the viral video that appeared to show the boys surrounding and taunting a Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, as he beat a ceremonial drum and chanted — I seethed with anger. I didn’t even have the sound on. The images alone were enough to assure me that all the bipartisan blue-checkmark indignation was more than justified.
The idea of (ostensibly Catholic) teenagers disrupting a ceremonial chant at the inaugural Indigenous Peoples March with shouts of “Build the wall!” jives with everything I take for granted about the “spirit of Trumpism.” It was a despairing spectacle, but it also provided a measure of schadenfreude: any moment now these brats would be doxxed and irrevocably tarred by their bigoted folly.
And then fresh videos began to appear in my feed. As I watched — and now listened — I experienced a sinking feeling. I was part of a mob, not those boys.
The Great God Pudenda
January 10, 2019
“He wanted as many girls as I could get him,” says Courtney Wild of billionaire rapist Jeffrey Epstein. “It was never enough.’’
Epstein began violating Wild when she was 14 years old and even manipulated her into recruiting other underage girls for him to abuse. According to Wild, he “preferred girls who were white, appeared prepubescent, and those who were easy to manipulate into going further each time.” The number of Epstein’s victims are estimated to be in the hundreds, according to The Miami Herald’s multi-part investigative report released late last month.
The Pedophile Apologist
December 4, 2018
“Do we still keep citing the scholarship of serial harassers and sexists?” asks Nikki Usher in a much-discussed article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. While the answer is — obviously — yes, and Usher’s solution an interesting specimen of anti-intellectualism, her frustration is justified. As Plato understood, the pursuit of knowledge and the practice of virtue are intimately entwined — the true is convertible with the good (and the beautiful). We are right to decry any fracturing of this unity, which implies a fracturing of our nature as humans.
But fractured we are, and the pursuit of knowledge is only possible within a framework that acknowledges this. Just imagine what would happen to the humanities and social sciences if we memory-holed the immoral. Louis Althusser, for example, whose work has shaped much of late-Marxist thought, murdered his wife. Michel Foucault — cited over 900,000 times and without whom two whole generations of academic charlatans would have no one to imitate — murdered any number of young men by intentionally infecting them with HIV (a practice he theorized as the “limit-experience”). Academia, like government, is filled with reprehensible characters who sometimes prove themselves useful or interesting.
Trump Is Not King David
November 19, 2018
Of all the defenses offered on behalf of our dissolute president, perhaps the most galling is the canard that Trump is a latter-day King David — a great sinner and yet “a man after God’s own heart.” Fundagelical fakir Jerry Falwell Jr. excreted this chestnut during the primary, and then posed with Trump in front of a framed Playboy cover showing Trump with porn star. Sean Hannity trotted it out in the aftermath of the Access Hollywood tape, as did Dennis Prager. Out on the fevered fringe, some have even enlisted Hebrew numerology to prove that “Donald Trump” means “Messiah from the House of David.” And l’affaire Stormy has led to a whole new round of (alleged) evangelicals defecating on the good psalmist’s memory.
In the Age of #metoo, Men Must Read More Literary Fiction
November 6, 2018
The #MeToo reckoning has occasioned a surfeit of commentary on nefarious male behavior, ranging from the crucial (e.g., analyses of gendered power dynamics, arguments for retributive rather than restorative justice, etc.) to the trivial (e.g., manspreading). But there has been precious little mainstream discussion of what we as a society can do to cultivate more virtuous men.
Re-education In Our Time
October 5, 2018
China has interned more than one million Muslims in Communist re-education camps, according to The New York Times, and “roughly two million other people are undergoing some form of coercive re-education or indoctrination.” Those interned in Xinjiang are primarily from the Uighur ethnic group — predominantly Sunni Muslims of Turkic descent — who comprise about 0.8 percent of China’s population. In these camps, detainees are forced to recite praise of President Xi Jinping, renounce their faith, sing Communist propaganda songs, demonstrate fealty by disobeying Islamic proscriptions against eating pork and drinking alcohol, sometimes on pain of death or torture.
“Xi Jinping is great! The Communist Party is great! I deserve punishment for not understanding that only President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party can help me,” one Uighur woman was made to recite, according to The Globe and Mail. “My soul is infected with serious diseases. There is no God. I don’t believe in God. I believe in the Communist Party.”
Ted Chiang's Impersonal Universe
August 22, 2018
Jorge Luis Borges is one of a handful of writers whose every work fills me with awe and envy. I’m awed by the precision of his paradoxes, his ability to usher me into mysteries at once beautiful and haunting. I’m envious because his aesthetics so resonate with me that I feel as if each story I read is a story I’ll never get to write.
Ted Chiang is another such writer. Like Borges, his craft is as precise as clockwork. The elegant inevitability of his plots, which unfold as if mapped upon some narrative Golden Mean, suggests an orderliness to reality without diminishing its mystery. Take, for instance, “Tower of Babylon,” in which the biblical story of Babel is reimagined sans-idolatry: an entire civilization is organized around the desire to be nearer to God Most High. When the hero at last pierces the vault of heaven and enters the “waters above,” he swims upwards until breaking the surface—and finds himself on Earth again, just outside the city, swimming in the “waters below.” The structure of reality is precise, circular, self-contained—and for that reason, unfathomable.
Anti-Intellectualism Knows No Party
August 12, 2018
For me, the zenith of Barack Obama’s two terms as president was his September 14, 2015 conversation with Marilynne Robinson. Few writers have had a greater impact on my intellectual and spiritual formation than Robinson, and the discovery that Obama shared my admiration did more than anything else in his presidency to endear him to me. However much I may have disagreed with any given policy decision, this was a man who read and loved books and modeled that love for his country. No matter what Trump may accomplish in office, I will never feel such a connection to a man who is unlikely to have read even the book he allegedly wrote.
Lazy, incurious, distrustful of expertise, self-interested, and intractably individualist — Trump’s brand of anti-intellectualism is as old as the nation. Its arrogance mirrors that of the liberal technocrat, with the exception that, for the latter, “intellectual humility” is at least conceivable as a virtue, even if it is rejected in practice.
Demons of the Machine
July 3, 2018
In his preface to Hostage to the Devil, Malachi Martin identifies a condition of the mind and will common to all cases of possession: the “aspiring vacuum.” “Vacuum,” he explains, for the “absence of clearly defined and humanly acceptable concepts for the mind. Aspiring, because there is a corresponding absence of clearly defined and humanly acceptable goals for the will.” In other words, persons ripe for possession lack a proper telos. They are beings-unto-nothing-in-particular. And they are isolated from the natural human associations that orient us toward natural goods.
American society seems designed to produce such individuals. Martin observed our “cultural desolation” in the breakdown of our families, school systems, and manners, and in the drug use and self-destruction rampant among teenagers. Thanks to this societal decay, “Ritualistic Satanism and its inevitable consequence, demonic Possession, are now part and parcel of the atmosphere of life in America.” These words were written in 1992. Compared with today’s cultural landscape, the desolate early nineties seem almost idyllic.
Romancing the Noble Lobster
Religion and Ethics
April 11, 2019
Pankaj Mishra is not an intellectual hack. He has drunk deeply from both Western and Eastern humanist traditions, written an award-winning novel and a wealth of incisive cultural and political criticism, establishing himself as an eminent practitioner of belles lettres.
Peterson's book embodies the notion - once taken for granted among literary humanists like Mishra - that the great literature of the world contains actual wisdom worth applying to one's life, and that delight in discovering such wisdom is a principle characteristic of the Western tradition. 12 Rules combines eternal verities with insights from contemporary social science to instruct readers how to live virtuous, meaning-filled lives.
At its best, 12 Rules seems to channel Viktor Frankl; at its worst, it waxes a bit too poetic about lobsters. To Mishra, however, it's a frog-marching manual for budding fascists.
Bros Against Humanity
February 22, 2018
Near the end of Revenge of the Nerds, one of the pustulous underdogs, disguised as Darth Vader, tricks an attractive co-ed into sleeping with him. Upon removing her lover's helmet and discovering that the Dark Lord of the Sith is not her quarterback boyfriend, the co-ed masters her shock and asks breathlessly, “Are all nerds as good as you?”
“Yes,” says the nerd. “’Cause all jocks think about is sports. All we ever think about is sex.”
Graffiti These Bones
The Smart Set
February 8, 2018
The skeleton of a young girl: This is the first thing to seize my eye as I enter the cemetery of the Capuchin monastery in Rome. Mounted at the vault’s center and framed by four elliptical rings of vertebrae, she holds in her right hand a scythe made of tibias and pelvic fragments; in her left hand, she holds a balance, also made of human bones. The shadowed hollows of her eye sockets, rather than conveying blindness, ceaselessly drink the late-morning sunlight that pours through the windows.
Sleeping with a Corpse: White Nationalism's Therapeutics of Hate
Religion and Ethics
January 5, 2018
Loving one's political enemies is a perennially difficult task.
As Nietzsche observes in Genealogy of Morals, it requires a prior reverence, a kind of delight in the contest of equally matched powers. The nobility of one's enemy becomes a "mark of distinction."
In stark contrast to this is the "picture [of] 'the enemy' as the man of ressentiment conceives him - and here precisely is his deed, his creation: he has conceived 'the evil enemy', 'the Evil One', and this in fact is his basic concept, from which he then evolves, as an afterthought and pendant, a 'good one' - himself!"
I confess that I have neither the imagination necessary to reverence the tiki-torch-wielding sallow-supremacists who twice this year descended on the University of Virginia, nor do I possess the intemperance or historical illiteracy required to see them as a monolithic evil.
Apple Sabotages Itself
November 24, 2017
Perhaps these laws we are trying to unravel do not exist at all. There is a small party who are actually of this opinion and who try to show that, if any law exists, it can only be this: The Law is whatever the nobles do. —Franz Kafka, “The Problem of Our Laws”
On October 30, Apple joined thirty-six other major corporations in filing an amici curiae brief supporting Colorado Civil Rights Division, et al., against Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, in an important case to be heard before the Supreme Court this term. The case, which will decide whether certain forms of expression are exempt from anti-discrimination laws, hinges on the definition of “expression.” Apple, in adding its name to the brief, rejects Phillips’s definition as over-broad and “amorphous.”
Shadi Hamid on the Arab Spring, ISIS, and the future of the Muslim World
November 3, 2017
In October of 2014, Ben Affleck engaged in a heated debate with Sam Harris and Bill Maher on the latter’s HBO show. “How about the more than a billion people who are not fanatical, who don’t punish women, who just want to go to school, have some sandwiches,” said Affleck, frustrated with his interlocutors’ criticism of Islamic ideology. “It’s stereotyping.”
Shadi Hamid, in his recent book Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World, describes Affleck’s rhetoric as a “red-herring,” a naive shibboleth that, although well-intentioned, exemplifies a reductive, difference-flattening discourse that has become all too common in contemporary discussions of Islam. “After all,” writes Hamid, “one can like sandwiches and want peace, or whatever else, while also supporting the death penalty for apostasy, as 88 percent of Egyptian Muslims and 83 percent of Jordanian Muslims did in a 2011 Pew poll.” Widespread support for hududpunishments is just one of many realities modern liberalism has struggled to comprehend in its confrontation with Islam.
The Once and Future Mark Lilla
Los Angeles Review of Books
October 9, 2017
MARK LILLA IS a hated man. Or so one might conclude from the rancor he has absorbed since publishing his controversial New York Times op-ed “The End of Identity Liberalism” in November 2016. A colleague has even accused him of attempting to make “white supremacy respectable” again.
A Monumental Compromise
Avoiding a meltdown by proposing one.
August 3, 2017
Of the Confederate monument think pieces currently proliferating like night-sprouting mushrooms, one of the more well-reasoned and enjoyably frenetic is Victor Davis Hanson’s “Our War Against Memory.” It’s a lively jaunt through exempla of damnatio memoriae and the absurd cycles of erasures, revisions, and repurposings that characterize our civilization’s material history.
A Secular Sage
Charles Taylor dissects the Trumpening.
March 26, 2017
On the evening of November 9th, 2016, the day following Donald Trump’s unexpected victory, a small fire sprang up outside my university’s main library, reportedly the work of an improperly snuffed cigarette.
Against the Mythical Lie
Rene Girard, Refugees and the Islamic State
April 19, 2016
Rene Girard, the world's preeminent philosophical anthropologist, died in his Stanford home on 4 November 2015, after a long illness. He was 91.
He died nine days before the Islamic State (ISIS) massacred 130 of his countrymen in Paris on 13 November. He died before the question of whether and how to accept refugees from the war in Syria became a flashpoint of polarization in the United States.