All posts filed under: Top Stories

Politics Are Not the Sum of a Person

In a letter to his wife Abigail during America’s War of Independence, John Adams described the necessity of politics: I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain. For a country fighting for independence and a man risking his life for the cause, there is little to life beyond politics of the moment. Every marginal decision is a matter of survival. But that momentary imperative is only in pursuit of higher humanistic goals. Politics is important, but it is only a means to an end. Human flourishing, or the good life, is the proper end of social life. Government plays but a part in laying the foundation for people to flourish in society. Like Adams, we want a relatively stable and effective regime so we can be free to pursue better, …

Privilege Versus Paranoia

If you are white and enjoy any level of public platform—politician, professor, policy wonk—and you use said platform to address social issues, you are certain to be accused of seeing life through the distortive prism of white privilege. Black leaders and social justice firebrands will make the allegation in the most austere terms—witness that spicy moment during a recent debate on political correctness when Michael Eric Dyson bluntly labeled his conservative adversary, Jordan Peterson, a “mean, mad white man.” Even those on the Left, such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have not enjoyed immunity from this charge. Privilege is framed as a condition that, once acquired, can never be cured. However, it defies credulity to propose that Dyson and other leading social justice voices are alone in seeing life for what it really is, stripped of all parochial subtexts. Common sense suggests the existence of a complementary malady afflicting the accusers: racial paranoia, one might call it. If some are inclined to miss the unfairness around them, is it not equally possible that others see unfairness where none exists? Nowhere …

‘Cultural Marxism’ Explained and Re-Evaluated

It has become a common trope to decry the prevalence of ‘Cultural Marxism’ in the academy as well as in wider Western culture. Jordan Peterson has gone so far as to say that Cultural Marxism threatens the very bedrock of Western civilization. Although the concept gets thrown around quite a lot in contemporary discourse, it is rarely defined in clear terms. And when it is defined, too often it is caricatured for ideological purposes by both the Left and Right. Although any attempt to explain and evaluate a contested phenomenon like Cultural Marxism is bound to be biased to some extent, a reasoned re-assessment uncoupled from polemic is overdue. Although ‘Cultural Marxism’ is in no sense a monolithic entity (we might be better off speaking of Cultural Marxisms), what defines it as a social theory, essentially, is a certain theoretical presupposition: that culture (ideas, religious beliefs, values, etc.) is in the last instance determined by one’s position in a class or social hierarchy. Or, in Marxist terms, the superstructure (in this case, what I am …

Can Heterodoxy Save the Academy?

“When we decided to do a conference, we weren’t sure if we would get 25 people in the audience—and here we filled the Times Center,” says Debra Mashek, executive director of Heterodox Academy during an interview in midtown Manhattan. “There is broad consensus there is a problem on campus in terms of open inquiry and viewpoint diversity.” It’s understandable why Mashek was uncertain about attendance. Academic conferences usually are organized around particular areas of study or well-defined ideological viewpoints. But by its very nature, Heterodox Academy doesn’t provide any such organizing principle. Begun in 2015 as a blog, and now a network comprising over 1,800 academics, HA asks members to endorse the proposition that universities and colleges must uphold and protect political and ideological diversity. But the times we inhabit make championing viewpoint diversity an urgent project. And last Friday’s one-day inaugural conference near Times Square attracted a full house of about 350 academics, university administrators, students, and journalists. The event featured speeches and panel discussions from speakers who addressed the crowd from all points …

Notes From an Academic Paper Mill

One evening last fall, my de facto supervisor e-mailed me an audio file consisting of a three-minute conversation between a college sophomore from Saudi Arabia and his English professor in New York. The student had just surreptitiously recorded this chat using his cell phone; he had approached the professor hoping for specifics on how to improve the first draft of an analysis of Sylvia Plath’s work he’d submitted the previous week. His side of the conversation was notable for how painfully little English he knew despite having ostensibly completed a three-page assignment in that language. From 1,500 miles away, I set to work on a second draft using this new information. I was careful to stick to the grading rubric and minimize grammar errors while still writing in a sufficiently unrefined manner to convincingly imitate a Riyadh native who’d come to the U.S. a year earlier to get a university degree. Within an hour or two, I had e-mailed the new draft—stripped of Microsoft Word metadata to conceal the identity of the document’s real creator—to …

Harvard Thinks Rich People Are Better Than You

In an expert analysis commissioned to defend Harvard’s admissions practices against a lawsuit, claiming the elite university discriminates against Asian-American applicants, economist David Card explains that the school uses a complicated multivariate analysis that balances applicants’ academic records with a host of other factors. Asian Americans are significantly overrepresented among the highest-scoring college applicants in the United States. And an internal Harvard study from 2013 determined that, if admissions committees only considered academic qualifications, the proportion of Asians among Harvard students would rise from about 19 percent to about 43 percent. However, Harvard admissions officials contend that Asians have lower scores on measures of personality, including items for courage, likability, kindness and being “widely respected.” Card’s analysis shows that while Asians are disproportionately represented among the highest academic achievers, white applicants are more likely to score higher on the personality factors, and more likely to be considered multifaceted applicants. But is Harvard really choosing multifaceted white people with sparkling personalities over one-dimensional Asian academic grinds? Or are scores for “likability” and “kindness” really proxies for …

The Enlightenment’s Cynical Critics

Tribalism and slavery are as old as humanity. The very first human records are records of human bondage. Reports estimate that today 60 million people are held as slaves. While each one of these lives represents an unacceptable tragedy, not one occurs with the approval of law. And that is revolutionary. For while slavery is as old as humanity, abolitionism is a relatively recent phenomenon that did not emerge until the ideas and ideals of the Enlightenment nurtured it into existence. In a June 5 article for Slate, Jamelle Bouie writes of the Enlightenment: “At its heart, the movement contained a paradox: Ideas of human freedom and individual rights took root in nations that held other human beings in bondage and were then in the process of exterminating native populations.” In the context of an article largely aimed at undermining a “handful of centrist and conservative writers” who have taken up the Enlightenment’s defence, this appears to be a damning indictment of hypocrisy. That is, of course, unless one considers that, until the Enlightenment, it …

The Indispensable Study of Inescapable Matters

Philosophy is not merely practical; it is the most practical discipline of all. Indeed, philosophy is so practical that it is indispensable. To know why, it is necessary to know what philosophy is. In the Western tradition, philosophy is subdivided into five branches: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Metaphysics is the starting point of any individual’s entire corpus of knowledge. Metaphysics begins with the axioms at the base of knowledge, and encompasses ideas pertaining to the basic nature of the world. These ideas include existence, consciousness, and their relation; entity, identity, attribute, change, and action; the nature of causality; and the nature and extent of free will. In short, metaphysics develops explicitly the basic concepts that are implicit in the very concept of knowledge. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, that is, the method of knowing. Epistemology addresses how to take the evidence of your senses and form concepts, statements, sequences of statements, and a corpus of knowledge that is organized, non-contradictory, readily applicable to new situations, and conducive to the discovery of new …

Social Justice is Popular. But the Rule of Law is Sacrosanct

Editor’s note: The text that follows is adapted from the 2018 Rule of Law Lecture, delivered by Canadian Quillette editor Jonathan Kay to the Law Society of British Columbia on June 7 in Vancouver. This is a speech about the interplay of law and social justice. And I can’t think of a better way to start it than by praising a great lawyer who died last month at the age of 104—a black woman by the name of Dovey Johnson Roundtree. In 1965, Ms. Roundtree represented a poor black day laborer named Raymond Crump Jr., who stood falsely accused of killing a glamorous white woman in Washington D.C. Everyone assumed Crump would hang. But in court, Roundtree saved Crump’s life. Even before that, Roundtree, did amazing things. She was one of the first female officers—of any race—in the U.S. military. And in 1952, she helped strike down racial segregation on interstate buses. I start with Ms. Roundtree because she embodies a story that lawyers love telling. It is a story in which law and social …

Post-Postmodernism on the Left

Postmodernism has never been as unpopular as it is today, especially on the right of the political spectrum. Often, conservative critics can be heard to blame left-wing ‘postmodern neo-Marxists’ and ‘cultural Marxism’ for the emergence of a vitriolic identity politics that eschews a commitment to truth, reason, and dialogue. Left-wing postmodernists are seen as undermining truth, reason, and dialogue by criticizing these values as ideological ‘myths’ designed to reinforce white male privilege, Western colonialism, and so on. The specter of left-wing postmodernism is also invoked as one of the forces undermining the confidence of the West, leading us to submit to dangerous and illiberal groups around the globe. Some even go so far as to claim that, in allegedly promoting a fundamentally collectivist philosophy qua the Soviet Union, left-wing postmodernists are proto-Totalitarians waiting for their opportunity to quash all dissent. On this reading, the philosophy which guides the utterances of a transsexual rights activist in the United States and a Maoist revolutionary in China, are one and the same and just as dangerous in principle: …