All posts filed under: Features

The Case for Contrarianism

Another semester, another academic publishing scandal, complete with calls for penitence and punishment. This time the catalyst is “The Case for Colonialism,” a “Viewpoint” editorial in Third World Quarterly. In this essay, Bruce Gilley argued that “it is high time to question [the anti-colonial] orthodoxy. Western colonialism was, as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found, using realistic measures of those concepts.” Gilley’s article has since been withdrawn due to “serious and credible threats of personal violence” made against the journal’s editor. This obviously troubling development should make us wonder: just what evil would this article have brought about if not withdrawn? The Streisand effect is in full display here. The article – detailed, abstruse, and not always beautifully written – has no doubt been far more widely read than it would have been without the controversy. The publication of “The Case for Colonialism” faced criticism on several grounds: it was offensive; it was unscholarly; the journal did not follow its normal procedures in publishing it …

E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that the mark of true intelligence was “the ability to hold two opposing views in mind at the same time.” Actually, I’m not sure that intelligence is the right word. I think it is wisdom that allows us to hold opposing views in mind at the same time. And it’s certainly true that wiser, more measured voices are drowned out as politics becomes more polarised and the internet makes debate more extreme. Balance is elusive, for all of us in our individual lives, and across society as a whole, and even when attained it is often fleeting. The search for creative, but lasting, equilibrium is a quest as old as time. Balance isn’t boring if the stakes are high. Balance isn’t boring if you’re walking a tightrope without a safety net, 1000ft up in the air, while carrying a priceless vase. Each generation has to maintain the balance of society as best it can. We strive to avoid disaster. That priceless vase might be tradition, or skills, or learning, it …

Misunderstanding a New Kind of Gender Dysphoria

A year ago, as a result of a blog post I wrote, I began offering consultations to parents of teens who had announced “out of the blue” that they were transgender. Each week, several new families made contact with me, and their stories are remarkably similar to one another. Most have 14 or 15-year-old daughters who are smart, quirky, and struggling socially. Many of these kids are on the autism spectrum. And they are often asking for medical interventions – hormones and surgery – that may render them sterile, affect their liver, or lead to high blood pressure, among other possible side effects. The parents are bewildered and terrified, careful to let me know that they love their child and would support any interventions that were truly necessary. They speak to me of dealing with their fear for their child in terrible isolation, as friends and family blithely celebrate their child’s “bravery.” I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of parents who call me. I find it difficult to listen to their stories – each …

Read Houellebecq To Free Your Mind

Let’s say that you, like many Quillette readers, are part of the broad coalition that aims to promote greater engagement with dangerous ideas and fight political correctness – call it cultural libertarianism if you wish, but in reality the coalition includes many social conservatives and others who don’t really fit that label. What should you read? Who should your intellectual heroes be? An obvious answer is John Stuart Mill; approving references to Mill’s wonderful On Liberty have become something of a ritual for those of us with such concerns. But there’s room for more heroes besides Mill, and room for disagreement and debate about who those figures should be. In this essay, I’d like to suggest that the contemporary French novelist Michel Houellebecq may be such a figure. Though Houellebecq has a large international audience and many Quillette readers are surely familiar with his work, I find that his name isn’t invoked that often in the discussions of cultural issues with which we are concerned. But it should be. Houellebecq has something to offer to …

Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle: Science, Commerce, Freedom, and the Origins of Modernity

They are [letters] from brothers of mine in Europe. They tell a story – albeit in a fragmentary and patchwork way – of a sea-change that is spreading across Christendom, in large part because of men like Leibniz, Newton and Descartes. It is a change in the way men think, and it is the doom of the Inquisition. — Edouard de Gex in the dungeons of the Mexican Inquisition Athenian civilization defended itself from the forces of Ares with metis, or technology. Technology is built on science. … The process of science doesn’t work unless young scientists have the freedom to attack and tear down old dogmas, to engage in an ongoing Titanomachia. Science flourishes where art and free speech flourish. — Enoch Root, in a later incarnation in Cryptonomicon The principal and proper work of history being to instruct and enable men by the knowledge of actions past to bear themselves prudently in the present and providently toward the future. — Thomas Hobbes, introduction to his translation of Thucydides Commentary on Neal Stephenson’s Baroque …

Germaine Greer and the Emma Dilemma

Rescuing Jane Austen from Both Her Well-Meaning Admirers and Her Less Well-Meaning Political Critics In the commentaries devoted to Jane Austen this year on the two-hundredth anniversary of her death, the cultural basis of her importance as a historical figure and of her great appeal as a novelist was largely overlooked, neglected, or misunderstood. The best way to approach this question is by comparing Austen’s Emma with Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Though at first glance these two books, one a work of fiction, the other of non-fiction, but each influential in its own way, would seem to have little in common, the story of Austen’s heroine in fact anticipates the actual experience of many modern women, including Ms. Greer. To begin by clearing up one large misconception: Greer’s treatise is not only about women’s liberation. Greer herself emphasized this point in drawing a distinction between “reform” feminism and “revolutionary” feminism. Reform feminists believed women could gain the same legal and political rights, equality of opportunity in education and career choices, and sexual freedom that …

In Defence of Private Tuition

“Private tuition can be harmful to the long-term academic prospects of children, a leading London headteacher warned today.” A recent article in the British press employed the usual tone of melodrama and foreboding that is standard for most reporting on educational issues, especially those which focus on parental anxiety and individual choices. The article – of course – lacks nuance; the quoted head teacher of South Hampstead High School has told me personally that “the debate is not binary” and even that she has recommended tutoring on some occasions, a balance to her position somewhat absent in the histrionic tone of the article in which she is quoted. However, she is disquieted by the increasing numbers seeking private tuition, and advocates it only in extremis, when a child is struggling to such a degree that the situation is truly desperate. When I suggested that private tutoring can also provide stretch and challenge, she replied “we provide plenty of this at school,” her words revealing an unease that is familiar to me and which I hope to …