Author: Cathy Young

Reports of Liberalism’s Death—A Reply to Yoram Hazony

Funeral dirges for liberalism are all the rage these days: google “liberalism is over,” and you’ll discover a lengthy bibliography of books and articles that disagree only about whether it is sick, dying, or already dead. What is agreed is that liberalism—defined as the Enlightenment-based political philosophy rooted in individual rights, limited secular government, and equality before the law—has grown decadent and decrepit, buffeted by forces of nationalist populism on the Right and radical progressivism on the Left that it lacks the will to resist. The latest addition to the literature of liberal decline is Yoram Hazony’s recent Quillette essay, “The Challenge of Marxism.” Hazony—author of the 2018 book The Virtue of Nationalism, and of last year’s anti-liberal manifesto “Conservative Democracy”—correctly identifies some Marxist elements in today’s “social justice” movement: the crude “oppressor/oppressed” framework employed to understand all human relations; the notion that both oppressors and oppressed suffer from “false consciousness” insofar as they remain unaware of the real power structures shaping their lives; and the belief in “the revolutionary reconstitution of society” followed by …

At a Time Like This, the West Could Use Its Own Vladimir Voinovich

Two years ago, the world lost a great Russian novelist and essayist whose eye for the surreal would have made him a perfect witness to the current moment—and whose satires had a way of turning prophetic. Even when Vladimir Voinovich’s fiction took a fantastic turn—most notably, in his futuristic 1987 novel, Moscow 2042—his writing remained rooted in the realities of Soviet and then post-Soviet Russia. In 2020 America, his work takes on a new relevance. Voinovich was just two months short of his 86th birthday when he died of a heart attack in Moscow on July 27th, 2018. It’s a ripe old age, especially in a country where the average male life expectancy is 65. And yet his death still feels untimely. While his star dimmed in his twilight years, his mental and creative faculties did not. His final novel, The Crimson Pelican, published in 2016 (and still awaiting its day in English), is a work of superb wit and imagination. Voinovich’s legacy has a personal aspect for me. I first fell in love with …

Tara Reade’s Dubious Claims and Shifting Stories Show the Limits of #BelieveWomen

In March, a 56-year-old California woman named Tara Reade publicly accused Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993. The issue caused an awkward rift among Democrats, one that has only widened since Biden became the party’s presumptive presidential nominee. Many Democrats fear the accusation will weaken their chances of removing Donald Trump from the White House, while others are more worried that dismissing the accusations outright might alienate the party’s base. In April, a number of notable female Democrats and feminist progressives who usually align themselves with the #BelieveWomen camp declared their support for Biden, and explained that “believe women” actually means “listen to both sides.” Last week, this theater of the absurd got slightly more surreal when a prominent feminist wrote in the New York Times that she thinks Biden is a rapist, but will vote for him anyway. Linda Hirshman, a retired professor of women’s studies and philosophy, and a prolific author (most recently of Reckoning: The Epic Battle Against Sexual Abuse and Harassment), explained to Times readers that she believes Reade, …

Putin at the World Holocaust Forum

Earlier this month, some 10 days after the World Holocaust Forum held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem to commemorate the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz, the museum issued an unusual apology for a film presentation that contained “inaccuracies” and “created an unbalanced impression”—by, among other things, memory-holing the 1939 division of Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and the Soviet occupation of the Baltics in 1940. The apology letter, signed by Professor Dan Michman of Yad Vashem’s International Institute of Holocaust Research and published in Haaretz, referred to this assault on historical facts as a “regrettable mishap.” But the presentation was actually part of a much bigger problem: the degree to which the forum was turned into a showcase for Russian President Vladimir Putin, his revisionist history, and his friendship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The January 23rd forum—funded mostly by Russian Jewish billionaire, European Jewish Congress president, and Putin ally Moshe Kantor, and organized in partnership with the Israeli government—more or less channeled the Kremlin propaganda narrative of World …

Margaret Atwood Wrote a Great Novel. Unfortunately, Her Fans Turned It Into a Cult

Among the notable cultural events of the last decade, one must count the emergence of the Handmaid’s Tale franchise: the hit television series loosely based on the 1985 dystopian novel by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, the novel’s return to bestsellerdom as a trade paperback, and The Testaments, Atwood’s 2019 sequel, which won the Booker Prize and has topped the New York Times best-seller list, where it is currently in its 16th week and in fifth place. It is a phenomenon that has made Atwood, who turned 80 last November, not only a celebrity but a cultural icon: “Queen Margaret,” as The Atlantic recently dubbed her. She was the subject of a recent 7,000-word interview in New York magazine, as well as one of Glamour magazine’s “Women of the Year” for 2019.  There is a certain irony in Atwood’s cultural queenship. The significance of The Handmaid’s Tale is not primarily artistic but political: Set in a speculative world where the United States has been taken over by an oppressive, hideously misogynistic regime, it is seen as …

Blasting Enlightenment Values Into Martian Orbit

On October 21, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology that he foresees NASA will land astronauts on the moon by 2035. “We need to learn how to live and work in another world,” he told lawmakers. “The moon is the best place to prove those capabilities and technologies.”  The article that follows comprises the fourth instalment in “Our Martian Moment,” a multi-part Quillette series in which our authors discuss what kind of society humans should build on Mars if and when we succeed in colonizing the red planet. Our editors invite submissions to this series, which may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. What better time to reflect on how to run an earthling colony on Mars than the current moment, when things seem to be in a depressing state all over our home planet. Indeed, I am reminded of a Soviet joke from the late 1970s, in which an elderly Jew seeking to emigrate looks over the globe in the exit-visa office weighing …

The Rise of the Illiberal Right

In recent days, American right-of-center Internet has been consumed by an often acrimonious and sometimes comical public drama: a polemical battle over an essay by author and New York Post oped editor Sohrab Ahmari entitled “Against David French-ism.” The subject of this philippic, published in the religious conservative magazine First Things, is National Review writer David French, who Ahmari considers to be emblematic of a conservatism too weak and effete for the modern-day culture wars. Some of this quarrel is plainly over the simple matter of allegiance to Donald Trump: French is a staunch “Never Trumper,” while Ahmari is a former Never Trumper who, depending on where you stand, either saw the light or surrendered to the dark side. However, it is also a dispute about more fundamental issues related to the future of American conservatism, and the future of liberal democracy. French, like Ahmari, is a Christian who subscribes to traditional sexual morality. But Ahmari’s quarrel with him is twofold. One, “Though culturally conservative, French is a political liberal, which means that individual autonomy …

How the IDW Can Avoid the Tribalist Pull

In the year since the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web” made its first public appearance in a New York Times feature by Bari Weiss, the informal network of “renegade” scholars and journalists on the outs with the cultural establishment has continued to draw attention and controversy. One bone of contention is whether the IDW is a right-wing cabal as its detractors often assert, or a politically diverse group of mostly centrists and disaffected liberals as its defenders insist. Last month, a blogpost by cybersecurity expert Daniel Miessler making the case for the latter (and a related tweet from IDW stalwart Sam Harris) elicited a response from Quillette contributor Uri Harris arguing that in fact, the IDW skews too far to the right and does not engage sufficiently with progressive, left-wing views. This led to some Twitter fireworks, two follow-up essays by Harris responding to critics and clarifying his position, and more Twitter debate. I consider myself a sympathetic and sometimes critical observer of the IDW, and arguably something of a fellow traveler. (I’m not overly fond …

The Case for Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov, whose 120th anniversary we mark this Spring, remains one of the 20th Century’s most acclaimed and enduring writers. He keeps turning up on various Greatest–Books lists, often more than once—for the novels Lolita and Pale Fire, as well as his autobiography, Speak, Memory. And yet in this day and age, Nabokov is clearly a “problematic” fave. Not only is he a dead white male of privileged pedigree, but the novel that made him a literary star is, in the scolding words of feminist essayist Rebecca Solnit, “a book about a white man serially raping a child.” What’s more, Nabokov, a Russian-born refugee from both Communism and Nazism who died in 1977, made no secret of his contempt for both progressive political causes and literature as a means to advance them. He was politically incorrect avant la lettre.  And so it is not surprising that anti-Nabokov rumblings have been bubbling up in recent years. They include Solnit’s widely praised 2015 essay “Men Explain Lolita to Me,” in which she wrote about being lectured by …

Alessandro Strumia: Another Politically-Correct Witch-Hunt, or a More Complicated Story?

In recent and even not-so-recent years, the quest for gender balance in science and technology has taken some troubling turns—from the collection of male scalps over trifling offenses (such as the pillorying of British physicist Matt Taylor over a shirt adorned with comic-book-style scantily-clad babes) to the squelching of dissent on whether gender gaps in STEM are caused solely by discrimination (heresy that got software engineer James Damore fired from Google two years ago and cost Lawrence Summers his post as Harvard president in 2005). In this climate, it’s easy to see another “politically correct” witch-hunt in the recent drama surrounding Italian physicist Alessandro Strumia. Last month, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, elected not to extend Strumia’s guest professorship after previously suspending him over a controversial presentation at a CERN gender diversity workshop in September 2018. From the start, the Strumia scandal elicited warnings about an orthodoxy that disallows questioning claims of pervasive anti-female discrimination in science. In a recent article in the French weekly Le Point (reprinted in translation in Quillette), science …