All posts filed under: Politics

The Fragility of the Liberal World Order

A review of The Jungle Grows Back: America and our Imperiled World by Robert Kagan. Knopf (September 2018) 192 pages. In its natural state, international relations is little more than a ‘jungle.’ There is no umpire to ensure fair play, no global police force to punish wrongdoers, and ‘good boys’ are rarely rewarded. Prevaricate or show weakness and you risk being picked off and consumed by bigger beasts. Prior to the end of the Second World War, European geopolitics was characterized by this remorseless logic. As states vied for hegemony, tens of millions were killed in war and conflict, and human tragedy and suffering were on scales almost beyond the imaginable. Today, however, we have complex forms of global economic interdependence, sets of global institutions that fuse us together and a transformed jungle that incentivize ‘good boys,’ as well as rules, norms and ultimately military power to make sure they remain good. How did our international jungle, an almost constant in human history, come to be so tamed? In his latest book, The Jungle Grows Back: America …

The Preachers of the Great Awokening

“Yea, on the contrary, Justice calls aloud for an infinite Punishment of their Sins.” Jonathan Edwards From the sun-blanched beaches of California to the snow-covered cities of New England, a religious fervor is sweeping the United States. PhD-toting preachers spread the faith with righteous zeal, denouncing those who violate its sacred principles. Sinners are threatened not by an angry god, but by a righteous mob. The impenitent among them are condemned to be outcasts, while the contrite, if they properly mortify themselves and pledge everlasting fealty to the faith, can secure enough lost status to rejoin society, perhaps forever marked by a scarlet epithet. Racist. Sexist. Ableist. This is the religion of Wokeness, and this is the era of the Great Awokening. In the following article, we will explore this quasi-religion, Wokeness, as a status system that functions predominantly to distinguish white elites from the white masses (whom we will call hoi polloi). It does this by offering a rich signalling vocabulary for traits and possessions such as education, intelligence, openness, leisure, wealth, and cosmopolitanism, all …

Believe (Some) Women

“Believe women” is a central tenet of #MeToo, the media movement that has become the de facto path to justice for anyone who claims to have been victimised by a public figure. Given, however that presumption of innocence is one of the most fundamental principles of a democratic society, “believe women” is, or at least ought to be, a controversial demand (and as the slogan’s imperative suggests, it is indeed a demand). For despite, in some ways, being an understandable response to what many perceive to be decades of abusive and sexual misbehaviour in the entertainment and media industries, “believe women” is a request that explicitly undermines the presumption of innocence. Despite this inconvenient fact, the movement has become a cause celebre among those very factions of society who claim to care most deeply about democracy. How to square that? Particularly when it appears “believe women” may not actually apply to all women judging from the media cycle this week following a rare interview with Woody Allen’s wife Soon-Yi Previn published in New York Magazine last …

“Dear Millennial….”

Dear Millennial, I am a 60-year-old white male without a college education. Make of that information what you will. I can lay no claim to be the least racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic person you’ve ever met, but I do try to treat people—regardless of their creed, color, gender, orientation, etc.—the way I’d like to be treated. And, to be honest, I probably deserve some of the scorn I often see heaped onto working-class white male Boomers without a college degree. I haven’t been smart with my money. I work in a low-paying service-sector job. I’ve eaten more red meat and rich desserts than is good for anyone, and I like things that every enlightened individual knows are awful: the Eagles, pork chops with mint jelly, the paintings of Bob Ross, Jerry Lewis movies, Billy Joel, cargo shorts, TV shows like Blue Bloods and Castle and Two and a Half Men. Nevertheless, I am writing to ask you to go easy on me and on my formative cultural influences. The reason for this letter is, …

Patriotic Reeducation

In 2017 in a rust-belt city in Northeast China I hopped in a taxi and began chatting with my driver who, when the conversation turned to politics, nonchalantly told me that he wished that the Chinese Government would kill every single Japanese person on the planet. I found this extreme to say the least, so I double-checked just in case my Chinese was failing me, “You mean kill every single Japanese man, woman, and child?” “Yes, exactly,” he said. Guessing by his apparent age I wrote my driver off as a fringe extremist whose possibly restricted worldview was likely shaped during the throes of the Cultural Revolution. I presumed that the vast majority of Chinese people today would decisively denounce this kind of violent sentiment of genocide. This presumption was wrong. Chinese genocidal hatred against the Japanese simply cannot be dismissed as the bigotry of a nationalist fringe movement. Anti-Japanese sentiment is in fact so engrained in Chinese culture that it has become not only a political utility and form of patriotism but even a …

Breaking the Norm

Norm Macdonald became famous as a comic who said offensive things. From blatantly calling O.J. Simpson a murderer on Saturday Night Live, to a Conan appearance where he talked about oral sex with his wife who was in a coma. We loved it. He was one of the most beloved comedians of all time and a comic’s comic. I even went back to watch that Conan clip taped in “liberal Hollywood” after a girlfriend sent it to me and noticed that the crowd went nuts. Coma sex and all. Norm Macdonald was also just booted from The Tonight Show for… saying offensive things. Here’s what happened. While promoting his new, not-canceled-yet Netflix show – Norm Macdonald Has a Show – he gave an interview to the Hollywood Reporter where he said he felt sorry for Louis C.K. and Roseanne and he is happy the #metoo movement has slowed down. You can watch the whole interview here, and it’s worth pointing out that he wasn’t defending Louis C.K.’s and Roseanne’s behavior, merely asking whether it merited …

Nationalism and Liberal Empire

A review of The Virtue of Nationalism, by Yoram Hazony. Basic Books (September 4, 2018) 304 pages.  Saying that nationalism has become the number one topic in the current political and intellectual discourse is to state the obvious. Not a day goes by in the West, without another think-tank symposium, a journal article, an op-ed piece, or a long scholarly book, warning us of the rise of nationalism. With the pro-Brexit vote in Britain and the election of President Donald Trump promoting an “America First” agenda  — to the threat that this global political trend poses to the long-term survival of liberal democratic societies, to the foundations of the so-called liberal international order, and perhaps even to the entire Enlightenment Project as we know it. Send help! Much of this fashionable bashing of nationalism seems to almost take it for granted, that nationalism, which in essence is the recognition of the nation-state as the central force that provides stability to domestic and international political order, is the close political relative of, if not synonymous with, protectionism, …

‘Anti-Imperialism’ and Apologetics for Murder

A consistent feature of the British socialist Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has been support for Islamists and Third World dictators. Corbyn himself has dined with his “friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah, and saluted the Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro. Andrew Murray, one of his consultants, is a sympathiser with the Juche regime in North Korea. Yasmine Dar, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, is an admirer of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Chris Williamson MP, Corbyn’s longtime supporter and friend, is a big fan of the Castroite regime in Cuba. And Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s Director of Strategy and Communications, was formerly a Guardian columnist, of whom the leftist commentator Brian Whitaker once wrote: [Milne] views international politics almost entirely through an anti-imperialist lens. That, in turn, leads to a sympathetic view of those dictatorial regimes which characterise themselves as anti-imperialist. It’s the same with Islamist movements where they oppose Western-backed regimes… To understand this curious phenomenon it is necessary to return to the West after World War Two. First World Failure, and Third World Hope By the end of …

A Better Theory of the Human Soul

An extract from Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, September 11, 2018) Sometime in the middle of the second decade of the twenty-first century, world politics changed dramatically. The period from the early 1970s through the mid-2000s witnessed what Samuel Huntington labeled the “third wave” of democratization as the number of countries that could be classified as electoral democracies increased from about 35 to more than 110. In this period, liberal democracy became the default form of government for much of the world, at least in aspiration if not in practice. In parallel to this shift in political institutions was a corresponding growth of economic interdependence among nations, or what we call globalization. The latter was underpinned by liberal economic institutions such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and its successor, the World Trade Organization. These were supplemented by regional trade agreements such as the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement. Throughout this period, the rate of growth in international trade and investment outpaced …

Journalism in the Age of the Populist Right

Yesterday, Steve Bannon was dropped from a headliner at the New Yorker’s yearly ideas festival after a backlash from readers, potential audience members and other speakers who were also slated to attend. Bannon was headlining the festival, with Jim Carrey, Haruki Murakami, Zadie Smith and Jimmy Fallon also on the bill. In explaining Bannon’s inclusion on the line-up, the New Yorker’s editor David Remnick told the New York Times that: “I have every intention of asking him difficult questions and engaging in a serious and even combative conversation.” But the opportunity for a combative conversation did not come to pass. After a backlash online, with several celebrities declaring that they would no longer attend the festival, Remnick reversed his decision. In his announcement he wrote “I don’t want well-meaning readers and staff member to think that I’ve ignored their concerns”. Bannon is still slated to appear at The Economist’s yearly festival and was recently interviewed by Australia’s national broadcaster, which aired on Monday night. In the past, Bannon has expressed opposition to immigration to the United States, …