Author: Clayton Trutor

The Delusions of Crowds—A Review

The Delusions of Crowds: Why People Go Mad in Groups by William J. Bernstein. Grove Atlantic, 461 pages (February 2021) In the very late 19th and very early 20th century, the chattering classes started intoning on the subject of “the masses.” Depending on one’s cultural sensibilities, “the masses” were either a righteous historical force or an uncontrollable, anxiety-producing threat to stability and order. A certain subset of the era’s scribes began to wax poetic about “the crowd”—the most visible and volatile manifestation of “the masses” and the means by which assemblages of peasants of yore had righted wrongs either customarily or through force. I became aware of this former cottage industry of crowd whisperers while reading Bill Buford’s Among the Thugs (1991). Buford’s book is a fantastic work of reportage on English football hooligans that makes reference to this existing literature. An American journalist then living in the UK, Buford spent years marauding across Europe with Manchester United supporters, raising hell at every turn. The author found that the rioting regularly incited by the football …

Intellectual Freedom and the Culture Wars—A Review

A review of Intellectual Freedom and the Culture Wars by Piers Benn. Palgrave MacMillan, 168 pages (October 2020) I attended a notably liberal state university in the early 2000s. Most politically-minded students regarded themselves as either conventionally liberal or part of an amorphous Left which was focused primarily on cultural issues. I counted myself peripherally among the campus Left and participated occasionally in political activism—attending protests against the policies of the World Trade Organization and against American military adventures overseas (views which were then seen by enlightened opinion as left wing but are now, apparently, the domain of isolationist reactionaries). Most instructors on campus who revealed their political views also showed themselves to be a part of the Left. However, there were several popular conservative professors, a vibrant sect of College Republicans consisting mostly of garden-variety neocons, plenty of libertarians, and a couple of paleoconservative Buchanan brigaders. I sparred regularly with these people in class discussions, and regarded several of them as my friends. This was not especially uncommon. The kids who were genuinely invested …

The Dead Are Rising—A Review

A review of The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne. Liveright Press, 640 pages (October 2020) Stylized in Spike Lee’s excellent 1992 film and canonized by the thousands of high school and college instructors who have made his autobiography required reading, Malcolm X has become a man for all seasons. As a result, activists and commentators on both the Left and Right want the once-controversial figure all to themselves. To the Left, he is an icon of resistance to white political and cultural hegemony. To some on the Right, he stands apart from the Great Society statism that became the policy prescription of choice among the Civil Rights establishment, offering an alternative of self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and voluntary communalism. Not bad for a figure deemed, at best, divisive by respectable opinion during his lifetime. The latest biography of Malcolm X will serve boosters of either narrative. In The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, the late Les Payne shows his subject to have been a complex …

One Billion Americans—A Review

A review of One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger by Matthew Yglesias, Portfolio, 288 pages (September 2020) Matthew Yglesias began his career as an online wonk, advocating a muscular American foreign policy that amounted to social work in the Middle East. While still an undergraduate at Harvard, he blogged up a storm, hoping to kickstart a democratic revolution in a region whose regimes he regarded as sufficiently evil and dangerous to warrant American intervention. Two decades later, the author of One Billion Americans wants to bring the revolution home. Yglesias proposes that the United States ensure its position as global hegemon by tripling its population over the course of this century. To achieve this grand demographic enterprise, he suggests a buffet of old and new public policies. His preferred admixture combines the pro-natalism of the French Third Republic with the planned economy of Olof Palme’s Sweden—a publicly subsidized boom in home construction that would make even the likes of William Levitt blush. He also recommends a massive expansion of legal immigration into the …