Jeffersonian Public Relations

Screenshot (69)

American politics operates through building narratives to create certain impressions that spur people to action. Stories about our history, particularly “the Founding,” have long shaped our self-understanding and influenced government. Was the American Revolution radical or conservative? Was the U.S. Constitution a counter-revolution to the Declaration of Independence? Was the Union formed in 1776, in 1781, or in 1789? Controversy over each of these questions has a history dating back to the early years of the Republic. Partisans of each position crafted an account that supported their answers and used it to explain the way that U.S. politics and institutions developed,…

Read More

Anatomy of an Ideological Weapon

Screenshot (66)

Charles Clover has written a definitive book about the core elements of Vladimir Putin’s new imperialist ideology. Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia’s New Nationalism is a comprehensive account of the historical and philosophical roots of Eurasianism. What is Eurasianism? This theory, whose major promulgators include the Russian authors Lev Gumilev and Alexander Dugin, is essentially a weapon in the hands of the Russian president to justify his military conquests and political irredentism. Some decades ago, Putin saw an opportunity to promote a new ideological colossus to counter the North Atlantic military and civilizational alliance. This ideology, a Russian…

Read More

The Decentralized yet Durable Empire

Screenshot (71)

Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire, the magnum opus of Oxford’s Peter H. Wilson, is almost a thousand pages explaining a thousand-year empire that few contemporary readers know or care about. Yet the long-ago, expired heart of Europe still has a vital message for the United States today. All any Brit or American can recall about this empire, which lasted longer than Rome’s, is perhaps Voltaire’s leitmotif that it was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire. Probably true—but that would be to list its strengths rather than weaknesses, notwithstanding the French cynic’s intention. It was not holy since…

Read More

A People of the Law

Screenshot (64)

Commenting upon the associative life of Americans in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “Americans of all ages, of all conditions, of all minds, constantly unite,”[1] associating in pursuit of large and small common aims. The robust associative life that so struck Tocqueville was, in his view, a direct consequence of the democratic social state: Because each democratic citizen feels weak and powerless as one among many disconnected equals, joining together links atomized people together and produces in them the sense of being powerful enough to achieve their own shared ends. Composed of many who only feel their strength collectively,…

Read More

Powerful Sympathies Powerfully Restrained

edmund burke

Watching the NCAA Final Four with my teenage boys some years ago, I began to lament the vanity of human wishes. “Just think, boys, this game is the high point of life for many of the athletes on the floor.” “That’s right, Dad,” replied the older. “They’re never going to give a lecture on Edmund Burke or write an article on Edmund Burke. All they’re going to do is lead their team to a national championship in front of 50 million people.” Well! Even if there are fewer than 50 million of you, I feel immensely privileged to write about David…

Read More

A Modest Proposal to Create a New Humanity

Screenshot (62)

Henry T. Greely’s The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction defends the idea that “Easy PGD” (Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis) will soon replace sexual reproduction as the primary way human beings enter the world. “Easy PGD” is a logical scientific development beyond in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF involves fertilizing an egg harvested from a woman with a sperm and then placing the embryo into a uterus. “Difficult” PGD combines IVF with a genetic screen of the prospective embryos for attributes that parents would find desirable in their children and implanting the chosen embryo into the uterus. The “Easy” version…

Read More

We’ll Always Have Sproul Plaza

fugitive democracy

Sheldon S. Wolin, who died last year, was an immensely influential figure in American political thought. His student, Nicholas Xenos, has edited 25 of Wolin’s essays as a kind of monument to his teacher, the noted democratic theorist, lover of “participatory democracy,” and scourge of all forms of antidemocratic thought. And a fitting monument it is. Fugitive Democracy and Other Essays gradually reveals the whole of Wolin’s thought from bottom to top, from fundamental question to perpetual answer. That question is what to do about modernity. Like Martin Heidegger and his French followers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault, but above…

Read More

Recovering the Conservative Liberal Nation State

Liav Orgad

Liberal constitutional theory, and liberal political theory in general, have increasingly defended the status of often newly created or invented minorities. These are defined more expansively with each new theoretical formulation, as the means to resolve all political and legal tensions. Known by many names, including group rights, “aggregate collectivities” rights, multiculturalism, and the like, these approaches to governmental policy have tended not to diminish political tensions or promote democratic processes, especially in what Arend Lijphart has described as “deeply divided societies.”[1] At the heart of the matter is the divorcement of these theories from the historical realities that originally created…

Read More

Adrian’s Abnegation

Screenshot (51)

Adrian Vermeule, John H. Watson Professor of Law at Harvard University, is a bold, original, and often brilliant thinker—and at times his own worst enemy. Along with a cornucopia of trenchant insights on (administrative) law, his copious output contains cheap polemics; intemperate attacks on scholars and judges who peddle “libertarian” law; reckless flirtation with proto-fascist legal tropes; and wild theorizing backed by little more than ipse dixit. That latter tendency in particular is on display in Law’s Abnegation: From Law’s Empire to the Administrative State. The book’s principal theme is the perennial tension between the lawful government of “classical” constitutionalism and…

Read More

From Emergency Measures to Permanent Solutions

Screenshot (42)

A specter haunts the global economy, with the lingering prospect of another crisis that might throw the U.S. economy and others back into recession. Central banks and governments have worked to exorcise the specter, but their efforts have not eased anxieties. Nor have they addressed deeper systemic problems that make these economies vulnerable to banking sector risk. Uncertainty, heightened by a turbulent political year in America, casts a long shadow over the prospects for recovery. Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, who led that institution through the financial crisis of late 2007 to 2009, addresses what went wrong…

Read More