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Category: Political Discussion & Analysis

Book Review: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (Jonathan Haidt)

In today’s world, discussion about morals is a lost art.  In part, this is because stupidity is on display everywhere, and encouraged to be so, even though most people’s thoughts and opinions are less than worthless, as a glance at Facebook or The New York Times comment sections will tell you.  More deeply, it’s because America is dominated today by the nearly universal (but wholly unexamined) belief that the only legitimate principle of moral judgment is John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle”—that no restriction on human action can be justified other than to prevent harm to another.  The Righteous Mind is an extended attack on the usefulness of the harm principle as the sole way to understand and justify human morality, combined with detailed explanations of the much broader ways in which people can and do view morality.  The author, Jonathan Haidt, uses this framework to understand political differences, and to plead for an increase in rationality and civility to arise from that understanding.

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Book Review: Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right (Ken Stern)

Republican Like Me belongs to a certain phenotype, which we can call the “anti-jeremiad.”  Whether on the Left or the Right, people of good will sometimes write a book after discovering what they did not earlier know about their political opponents.  They make those discoveries by exposing themselves to opposing thoughts and attempting to understand the people who hold them.  Thus enlightened, they attempt to find common ground, lamenting the polarization of today’s American society.  Probably because the educated Right necessarily is necessarily continuously exposed to the thought of the educated Left, and not vice versa, such anti-jeremiads can mostly be found by authors from the Left.  A classic of the genre is Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, which largely parallels Ken Stern’s book, although Hochschild offers more focus on the personal likeability of her political opponents, and Stern’s voyage of discovery offers more focus on the plausibility of their arguments.  There is always room for another, though, and this genre has rarely been as well done or as timely as in this book, written by a man who was, about ten years ago, the CEO of National Public Radio.

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Book Review: Augustus: First Emperor of Rome (Adrian Goldsworthy)

This review will combine something very old with something very new.  The very old, of course, is the title character, the Emperor Augustus, and his times.  The very new is a continuation of my thoughts on reaction as a modern political movement.  You will see how these things fit together, and in fact are much the same thing, for today, more than ever, everything old is new again.  And I will begin to distinguish “conservatives” from “reactionaries,” as I recently promised I would.

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Book Review: The Shipwrecked Mind (Mark Lilla)

Let us talk of many things, as the Walrus said, but primarily, of neoreaction.  What follows is the start of what I hope to make an extended exploration of this line of thought, for which I have much sympathy.  I embark on this project for four reasons.  First, to amuse myself.  Second, in order to make my own thinking coherent, for confusion already stalks the land, and why add to it?  Third, in the hope that what I say may bring value to others, since a man should not bury his single talent.  And fourth, so that in some small way, in a manner yet to be revealed, this combination of analysis of others and thoughts of mine will help to either forge the future, or smash and remake the present.

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Colloquy: On Whether Identity Politics Defines Today’s Democrats

[This is a colloquy resulting from my earlier review of Mark Lilla’s The Once and Future Liberal.  Italics are my interlocutor, a partner in a noted opinion research firm with strong Democratic connections.]

Charles, I appreciate you calling my attention to this volume. It’s a slim volume and a breezy read, its central argument delivered with vigor and confidence, briskly unencumbered by evidence or data. It reflects a line of argument that has been quite popular on the right in recent months, with a handful of adherents on the left, and one in need of rigorous analysis and discussion — which this book does not provide.

But let me start with areas where Lilla and I agree; there are several. Like him, I am a liberal – and like him, I would like liberals to be more effective in accomplishing their policy goals. With that goal in mind, Lilla makes two observations with which I wholeheartedly agree.

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Book Review: The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe (Rita Chin)

I oppose the theory and practice of Euro-multiculturalism as both stupid and suicidal.  Thus, when I read Pankaj Mishra’s recent review of Rita Chin’s book in The New York Times, it struck me that, in order to be fair, I should read it.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull and narrow boy, after all.  I was not a fan of the most recent pro-multicultural book I read, James Kirchick’s The End of Europe, but I figured that maybe the second time would be a charm.  It was not, but this book was interesting, and not dreadful, which is really all one can ask of any pro-multicultural book, since it necessarily has to fight an uphill battle against facts and reason.

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Book Review: Makers and Takers
(Rana Foroohar)

Imprisoned inside this book is a good book screaming to get out.  Buried alive, like the Man in the Iron Mask, this Hidden Book offers worthwhile insights into, and criticism of, the crony capitalism that has choked the free market out of our finance system.  But the Hidden Book has disappeared from view under the crushing weight of authorial ignorance and an idol of, or rather an entire marble temple erected to, Elizabeth Warren.  So each time the author of Makers and Takers, Rana Foroohar, yet again prostrates herself yet again before her idol, I think I can hear a tinny shriek from the dungeon, as the Hidden Book realizes that its message will never, ever, fly free.

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Book Review: World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech
(Franklin Foer)

Franklin Foer’s World Without Mind is an excellent book.  It identifies important problems, ties the problems to their historical precedents, and suggests some reasonable solutions.  The book is not complete, or perfect, but in the emerging literature of why and how to curb the power of giant technology companies, this book is a useful introduction, although there is a long way to go from here to there.

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Book Review: The Strange Death of Europe (Douglas Murray)

Mass immigration to Europe is one of those topics about which there is little mainstream discussion, both in the United States and even more so (paradoxically) in Europe.  What discussion does happen is purely facile, on the “pro” side, or often lacking nuance, on the “anti” side.  Douglas Murray’s book, The Strange Death of Europe, sets out to remedy both faults.  The book is good, if a bit meandering; it offers historical and political analysis, along with relevant philosophical thoughts.  The difficulty, though, as Murray hints himself, is that properly viewed, the topic does not rate an analysis so much as a dirge.  To the extent there is a problem, it has no real solution, and in any case the problem only exists as a second-order problem, made possible by the pre-existing exhaustion of Europe, most obvious in its childlessness.  If Europe was not exhausted, this book would not exist.  Nonetheless, by offering clarity of thought about how Europe got to its current position, The Strange Death of Europe performs a valuable service.

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Book Review: The Once and Future Liberal (Mark Lilla)

Mark Lilla has been a bad, bad boy.  He has dared to point out the feet of clay upon which stand King Liberal, and he, like Cassandra, will not be thanked.  Still, this short book is an excellent political analysis, and it points the way, if only loosely, to a wholly new order of things, thus starting to answer my perennial question, “What is next?

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