Author: Jonathan Church

Why We Should Read Machiavelli

In the mid-1990s, film critic David Denby wrote Great Books, in which he recounted a year spent at Columbia University taking two core courses in the humanities that focused on “Western classics” written by so-called “Dead White European Males.” It was “thirty years after [Denby entered] Columbia University for the first time,” when “[n]o one…could possibly have imagined that in the following decades the courses would be alternatively reviled as an iniquitous oppression and adored as a bulwark of the West.” Indeed, a prevalent critique was (and still is) that the classics were written by white men relevant primarily in connection to a regime of power that exerted cultural and political hegemony over large parts of the world. “Dead white males” had had their time in the sun. One of the most recognizable “dead white males” was Niccolo Machiavelli. Famous for having written the how-to book on power politics, Machiavelli might seem to have deserved special censure for writing about power at the dawn of the age of exploration which preceded European imperialism. Fortunately, however, …

The Economic Illiteracy of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was compared to Donald Trump in her “ability to galvanize [her] supporters through social media.” To this she replied: “In order to resonate with people, you have to tell them what you mean, you have to be willing to make mistakes, you have to be willing to be vulnerable and learn as you go.” Ocasio-Cortez has indeed garnered a lot of attention since upsetting Joe Crowley in the race to represent New York’s 14th district in the U.S. House of Representatives last year. With over 3.5 million followers on Twitter, an initialism (AOC) that has caught on with cable news, and an audacious personality, she has become a vociferous presence in the contemporary social discourse—particularly on issues like race, taxes, health care, Amazon, economic inequality, and climate change. In the latest example, AOC sparked controversy when she took former U.S. President Ronald Reagan to task, as related by Huffington Post, by bringing up “one of [his] favorite anecdotes from his 1976 presidential primary …

How My Toxic Stoicism Helped Me Cope with Brain Cancer

Under normal circumstances—e.g. in a time when the American Psychological Association (APA) has not released guidelines questioning whether norms associated with “traditional masculinity” (e.g. stoicism) are harmful to the mental health of men, and a shaving commercial is not being run that criticizes “toxic masculinity”—I would be reluctant to publicly share a story of personal adversity that, as a sometime aficionado of existentialist philosophy, I know I must ultimately face alone. But in the spirit of opening up, here goes. I have brain cancer. Not the kind that killed John McCain, Ted Kennedy, or Beau Biden. At least not yet. I am afflicted with a low-grade glioma (specifically, a grade-2 infiltrative astrocytoma). My neurosurgeon informs me that experts do not distinguish between benign and malignant brain tumors. Instead, they distinguish between low-grade and high-grade tumors, the point being that all brain tumors naturally progress to death. There is no cure. High-grade simply gets you there faster. In the words of one study, “all low grade gliomas eventually progress to high grade glioma and death.” In …

Thirty Years After ‘The Closing of the American Mind’

Over thirty years ago, Allan Bloom—the late American philosopher and university professor who was the model for Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein—published The Closing of the American Mind. He began with a startling declaration: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” Relativism, Bloom claimed, “is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it.” Students “have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable rights that used to be the traditional American grounds for a free society.” What students “fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance.” At the end of the opening paragraph, Bloom summarized the result: “The point is not to correct [their] mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.” In the ensuing pages, Bloom argued that modern universities were failing their students in part because postmodern trends …

The Problem with ‘White Fragility’ Theory

If you are conversant with the vocabulary of progressive discourse on racism, you have probably heard of the term ‘white fragility.’ The brainchild of sociologist Dr. Robin DiAngelo, ‘white fragility’ has gained much currency in academic and progressive circles in recent years as a concept that goes a long way in ostensibly explaining why it’s so hard to talk to white people about racism. According to DiAngelo, white people have been “[s]ocialized” to live with “a deeply internalized sense of superiority and entitlement” but they aren’t consciously aware of it. As a result, they experience “race-based stress” when faced with a challenge to their “racial worldview” because they perceive it to be an affront to their “identities as good, moral people”—an “unfair moral offense,” as well as an attack on their “rightful place in the hierarchy.” This makes it hard to talk to white people about how their attitudes and beliefs make them complicit in the perpetuation of “institutional racism.” In other words, white people don’t want to be called racists. Of course, the idea that …