Author: John R. Wood, Jr.

The Communitarian Revival

“Man,” wrote Aristotle more than 2,300 years ago, “is a political animal.” Today, that seems particularly evident. The proliferation of mass social movements, the ever-present yet democratized nature of contemporary political commentary on social media, the 24 hour news cycle, and our penchant for politicizing everything all lend prima facie support to the idea that humans are helplessly activist. But Aristotle was not simply observing that we are inherently drawn towards boycotts, protests, and culture wars. He meant that we are strongly inclined towards social connection. People need collective commitment, not just individual liberty, to be fulfilled and these commitments must be forged in moral virtue. This understanding of human nature lies at the core of what was called communitarianism: a social perspective emphasizing virtue and civil society, largely transcending the traditional divisions of Left and Right. This philosophy of public life gained traction throughout the 1990s, crested with the turn of the new millennium, and then went into sharp decline. Is its moment about to return? At the beginning of April, I participated in …

The Spectrum of Black Contrarianism

African-American politics are, it is often supposed, monolithic. Since the late 1960s, following the signing of landmark civil rights legislation by a Democratic president, the Democrats support of The Great Society, the anti-Civil Rights Act campaign of a Republican presidential nominee in 1964, the adoption of the “Southern Strategy” by Republican operatives in the latter part of the decade, and the decline of the Northeastern liberal wing of the GOP, black voters have emerged as the most reliably partisan voting bloc in American politics. They are the cornerstone of the Democratic coalition. This near monopoly of African-American party affiliation however does serve to obscure broad and diverse fissures within the philosophical landscape of the black community. There is wide-ranging discontent with the status quo of African-American politics and relatively little passion for the establishment liberalism that guides it. The question is, could this diversity of opinion allow for the realignment of political forces within the black community? Or are these dispersed frustrations inalterably resistant to meaningful coalitional rearrangement? On October 11 2018, rapper Kanye West visited …

The Problem with ‘Facts Not Feelings’

In the midst of our turbulent political and cultural moment there endures an intellectual sub-culture that refuses to be dislodged by the relativism prevalent on the Left and the Right. In the crosshairs of postmodernist excess and ‘alternative facts,’ a number intellectuals and institutions are prioritizing moral and empirical truth over ideology. This is a space that includes organisations like the Heterodox Academy and the cluster of academics and public thinkers now known as the Intellectual Dark Web. One of the brightest stars in this constellation is the conservative pundit Ben Shapiro—a gifted polemicist who has debated his way to prominence in American politics. With a podcast that reaches millions and a reputation for being as willing to criticize conservatives as he is to engage conventionally liberal thinkers in far-reaching conversations, Shapiro has given a face to popular conservatism that is strikingly more empirical and intellectually honest than that offered by the likes of Candace Owens, Steven Crowder, and Tomi Lahren. Nevertheless, one aspect of Shapiro’s message constitutes an over-correction that is itself in need …

Harris, Lilla, and the Politics of Identity

What exactly is the problem with identity politics? Is it an unequivocal negative in our political and intellectual discourse? Or is it a mode of engagement that serves a positive purpose when kept within its proper bounds? My conversation with Mark Lilla is now available: "What Happened to Liberalism?"https://t.co/ixRtrav2OL pic.twitter.com/rvMWsNnb6P — Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg) September 28, 2017 These questions cropped up during a podcast exchange last September between neuroscientist Sam Harris and Professor Mark Lilla, author of The Once and Future Liberal. Both men are concerned by the intellectual and political decline of American liberalism, and were in general agreement about its many and various recent failings. Liberalism has ceased to be relevant to many of the voters who once empowered its philosophical platform; it has ceased to offer a coherent intellectual message capable of galvanizing the American mainstream; and its decline has opened the door to uniquely regressive forces on the Right. Harris and Lilla further agreed that much of the responsibility for liberalism’s decline lay with the steady advance of identity politics. However, in the midst of …