Author: Cathy Young

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 …

Young Adult Fiction’s Online Commissars

In the late 1930s, more than 40 years before my family emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States, my maternal grandmother had a chance to become a published children’s author. She had been writing short stories for her two children, and my grandfather encouraged her to send them to a publisher. To her surprise, she heard from an editor. When she came to see him, he told her he liked the stories very much, except for one problem: they lacked a Soviet spirit. But that, he reassured her, could be easily fixed: for instance, in the story where a young girl who befriends a hedgehog in the woods and promises she’ll always be his friend, she could just say that she gives her word as a Young Pioneer. (The Pioneers were the Soviet mass organization for middle-school-age children.) My grandma was not a closet anti-Soviet rebel, but she did quietly rebel at being told how and what to write. She thanked the editor, picked up her stories, went home, and never tried to get published again. In recent …

The Posthumous #MeToo-ing of J. D. Salinger

The first day of this year would have been the 100th birthday of J.D. Salinger, the American writer whose 1951 novel of teenage rebellion, The Catcher in the Rye, mesmerized generations and made him a cult figure. The Salinger legend was only enhanced by his reclusive life in rural New Hampshire, where he shunned interviewers and photographers and continued to write but published nothing from 1965 until his death in 2010. Given both Salinger’s literary stature and his mythic aura, the centennial should have been a big deal. And yet it went by almost unremarked—a startling fact that almost certainly has more to do with the cultural and sexual politics of this moment than with Salinger’s place in literature. It is telling that the most prominent essay on Salinger to appear in the American media so far in 2019 has been a Washington Post piece questioning whether the writer is still relevant, given that his best-known work focuses on “the anxieties of a white heterosexual young man expelled from an expensive prep school.” (By that …

Solzhenitsyn: The Fall of a Prophet

The 100th anniversary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s birth on December 11 was an occasion for many tributes. A decade after his death, Solzhenitsyn remains one of the past century’s towering figures in both literature and public life. His role in exposing the crimes of the Soviet regime is a historic achievement the magnitude of which can hardly be overstated. But his legacy also continues to be the subject of intense debate among people who share his loathing of that regime—and those controversies, which have to do with freedom, traditional morality, and nationalism, are strikingly relevant to our current moment. Solzhenitsyn was once my childhood hero. Growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, in a family of closet dissidents, I knew him as the man who defied the system and told the truth about its atrocities—the man idolized by my parents, especially my father, himself the son of gulag survivors. I was eleven when Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union; our Stalinist political instructor at school bellowed that he should have been …