All posts filed under: Books

Germaine Greer’s ‘On Rape’—A Review

A review of On Rape by Germaine Greer. Bloomsbury Publishing (September 2018) 92 pages. Germaine Greer’s On Rape is roughly the size and thickness of a Beatrix Potter story. And why not? As it happens, The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck also says a great deal of what young people need to know about the topic: beware of polite, well-dressed gentlemen (especially if they have foxy whiskers and black prick ears); don’t go uncritically into dismal summerhouses in the woods; and accepting a dinner invitation does not imply consent to everything the polite gentlemen is looking for. Greer’s book is not as incisive as Potter’s and it is considerably more expensive. But that is not to say it is a complete waste of money. In some ways it fizzes along with ideas and raises lots of questions that others are frightened to ask. Why are we so afraid of the penis when a fist and a thumb can do more physical damage? Why do some women fantasise about being raped? Are sentences for rapists too long? Should rapists be compulsorily castrated? …

Reasons to Be Fearful

Editor’s note: The following excerpt is abridged from Chapter One of The Tyranny of Opinion: Conformity and the Future of Liberalism by Russell Blackford (Bloomsbury Academic, October 18 2018, 240 pages).  I’m afraid. Like many people, I’m afraid to speak up and say exactly what I think. I’m afraid to contribute to public debate with total frankness. I’m more afraid of my allies than I am of opponents, since the latter can do me less harm (though if they’re so minded they can probably do enough!). I’m not afraid of my closest friends, the people who love me, who have my back and will keep my secrets, but it gets more frightening as soon as I step out into wider circles of colleagues and acquaintances. I come from a working-class family, and I grew up in an industrial city in Australia that was dominated at the time by its steelworks. I’m the first person from my family ever to attend university. I still have those connections, and I’ve inherited some blue-collar, trade-union values. But my social …

The Gulag Archipelago: A New Foreword by Jordan B. Peterson

Editor’s note: The following essay is Jordan B. Peterson’s new foreword to the new edition of The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Penguin, November 2018, 544 pages).  Reproduced with the kind permission of the author. Once we have taken up the word, it is thereafter impossible to turn away: A writer is no detached judge of his countrymen and contemporaries; he is an accomplice to all the evil committed in his country or by his people. And if the tanks of his fatherland have bloodied the pavement of a foreign capital, then rust-colored stains have forever bespattered the writer’s face. And if on some fateful night a trusting Friend is strangled in his sleep—then the palms of the writer bear the bruises from that rope. And if his youthful fellow citizens nonchalantly proclaim the advantages of debauchery over humble toil, if they abandon themselves to drugs, or seize hostages—then this stench too is mingled with the breath of the writer. Have we the insolence to declare that we do not answer for the evils of today’s …

What Does Genetic Research Tell Us About Equal Opportunity and Meritocracy?

Editor’s note: This article was adapted from Robert Plomin’s new book Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are. For a review of Blueprint by Gregory Cochran, see here. For a piece by Toby Young on the book, and a wider discussion of social genomics and why it attracts the hostility of some academics, see here. If schools, parenting and our life experiences do not change who we are, what does this mean for society, especially for equality of opportunity and meritocracy? In particular, does it mean that the genetically rich will get richer and the poor poorer? Are genetic castes inevitable? What does this say about inequality? These questions have been bound up in the topic of meritocracy, which is not the same thing as equal opportunity. Equal opportunity means that people are treated similarly, for example, everyone is given equal access to educational resources. Meritocracy only comes in when there is selection, for example, for education and employment. Meritocracy means that selection is based on capability and competence rather than unfair criteria such …

From Party of Ideas to Party of Dittoheads

Editor’s Note: This is excerpted from The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right, by Max Boot, 288 pages, Liverlight (October 9, 2018).  The modern history of the Republican Party is a warning to be careful of who you pretend to be, because sooner or later you will become that person. Republicans have long flirted with populism, conspiracy-mongering, and know-nothingism. This is why they became known as the “stupid party.” Stupidity is not an accusation that could be hurled against such early Republicans as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Root and Charles Evans Hughes. But by the 1950s, it had become an established shibboleth that the “eggheads” were for Adlai Stevenson and the “boobs” for Dwight D. Eisenhower—a view endorsed by Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, which contrasted Stevenson, “a politician of uncommon mind and style, whose appeal to intellectuals overshadowed anything in recent history,” with Eisenhower—“conventional in mind, relatively inarticulate.” The Kennedy presidency, with its glittering court of Camelot, cemented the impression that it was the Democrats who represented the …

Moral Pollution In Place of Reasoned Critique

I was chief researcher and in-house editor for The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. In the book, we outline three misguided principles (“Great Untruths”) that form the foundation of the new moral culture we are seeing on some college campuses: The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.  The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people. We also trace six explanatory threads—cultural trends and practices that explain why this new moral culture, which we call “safetyism,” seemed to emerge so rapidly between 2013 and 2015: Rising teen depression and anxiety. The damaging effects of overprotection and social media. The loss of play in childhood. The polarization of the country. New ideas about justice. The bureaucratization of higher education. As we compiled story after story, we noticed that rather than making counterarguments to disfavored claims, students (and sometimes professors) seemed to focus on discrediting the speaker or writer instead. They …

Helping Children with Autism

An adapted extract from The Politics of Autism by Bryna Siegel, PhD. (Oxford University Press, September 3 2018). I met my first child with autism when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate, in 1972. Since then, the “autism” landscape has changed: In the early 1970s, autism had not quite emerged from its Dark Ages. In those days, mothers of autistic children were strongly suspected of an early, profound, unconscious rejection of their infant, and it was believed that the ensuing failure to bond resulted in the solipsistic autistic aloneness with which the child faced the world. Leo Kanner, an American child psychiatrist, was the first to describe “early infantile autism,” a condition whereby the child acted as if others were not meaningful to constructing his or her emotional life. While Kanner himself did not argue that parents were the cause, he acknowledged that many parents who sought out his academic expertise were not the warm, fuzzy parents he felt had “the right stuff” to naturally break through their child’s self-isolation. Others, like Bruno Bettelheim, a professor …

Banned Books Week: 10 Pop Fictions to Annoy the Politically Correct

Banned Books week is upon us again. Traditionally, this is a week during which liberals congratulate themselves for resisting concerned parents who wish to have controversial books pulled from school libraries and/or curricula. These tend to be books that support a liberal or progressive worldview. Last year’s list of the most banned books included Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (challenged by some parents because of sexually explicit material), Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (frank discussion of teenage suicide), Raina Telgemeier’s Drama (inclusion of LGBT characters), Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (sexual violence and promotion of Islam), Alex Gino’s George (inclusion of a transgender character), and so forth. Books that support a conservative worldview (Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Glenn Beck’s The Overton Window, William F. Buckley’s The Red Hunter, anything by Tom Clancy) are rarely pulled from school curricula because they rarely make it into the curricula in the first place. My modest proposal for this year’s Banned Books Week is that we all spend a little time out in public …

The Fragility of the Liberal World Order

A review of The Jungle Grows Back: America and our Imperiled World by Robert Kagan. Knopf (September 2018) 192 pages. In its natural state, international relations is little more than a ‘jungle.’ There is no umpire to ensure fair play, no global police force to punish wrongdoers, and ‘good boys’ are rarely rewarded. Prevaricate or show weakness and you risk being picked off and consumed by bigger beasts. Prior to the end of the Second World War, European geopolitics was characterized by this remorseless logic. As states vied for hegemony, tens of millions were killed in war and conflict, and human tragedy and suffering were on scales almost beyond the imaginable. Today, however, we have complex forms of global economic interdependence, sets of global institutions that fuse us together and a transformed jungle that incentivize ‘good boys,’ as well as rules, norms and ultimately military power to make sure they remain good. How did our international jungle, an almost constant in human history, come to be so tamed? In his latest book, The Jungle Grows Back: America …

Nationalism and Liberal Empire

A review of The Virtue of Nationalism, by Yoram Hazony. Basic Books (September 4, 2018) 304 pages.  Saying that nationalism has become the number one topic in the current political and intellectual discourse is to state the obvious. Not a day goes by in the West, without another think-tank symposium, a journal article, an op-ed piece, or a long scholarly book, warning us of the rise of nationalism. With the pro-Brexit vote in Britain and the election of President Donald Trump promoting an “America First” agenda  — to the threat that this global political trend poses to the long-term survival of liberal democratic societies, to the foundations of the so-called liberal international order, and perhaps even to the entire Enlightenment Project as we know it. Send help! Much of this fashionable bashing of nationalism seems to almost take it for granted, that nationalism, which in essence is the recognition of the nation-state as the central force that provides stability to domestic and international political order, is the close political relative of, if not synonymous with, protectionism, …