All posts filed under: Spotlight

At a Time Like This, the West Could Use Its Own Vladimir Voinovich

Two years ago, the world lost a great Russian novelist and essayist whose eye for the surreal would have made him a perfect witness to the current moment—and whose satires had a way of turning prophetic. Even when Vladimir Voinovich’s fiction took a fantastic turn—most notably, in his futuristic 1987 novel, Moscow 2042—his writing remained rooted in the realities of Soviet and then post-Soviet Russia. In 2020 America, his work takes on a new relevance. Voinovich was just two months short of his 86th birthday when he died of a heart attack in Moscow on July 27th, 2018. It’s a ripe old age, especially in a country where the average male life expectancy is 65. And yet his death still feels untimely. While his star dimmed in his twilight years, his mental and creative faculties did not. His final novel, The Crimson Pelican, published in 2016 (and still awaiting its day in English), is a work of superb wit and imagination. Voinovich’s legacy has a personal aspect for me. I first fell in love with …

The Piety of the Impious

Writing with not a little insight, commentators have observed a deeply intriguing dimension to the protests currently convulsing the United States: Percolating beneath the callow progressivism lies a kind of spiritual fervour, which animates a great swathe of the demonstrators. It’s not simply the case that some people have been driven by prior religious convictions to respond to the killing of unarmed African Americans by police; rather, it’s that much of the outpouring of grief, activism, and even violence triggered by the death of George Floyd is itself quasi-religious in character. Popular opinion holds that the United States remains a bastion of piety within the community of Western nations; although European states long ago settled into an easy secularism, the pulse of vital religion still beats strongly on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s true that the US remains an outlier in this regard, although the reality is far more complicated than common narratives suggest. Moreover, statistical evidence indicates that the country may be on the same trajectory towards secularisation as the Continent. But …

I Was Invited to Testify on Energy Policy. Then Democrats Didn’t Let Me Speak

Today, shortly after giving expert testimony to Congress about energy policy, I had the startling experience of being smeared by sitting members of the United States House of Representatives. The context was a special House Committee hearing to evaluate a Democratic proposal similar to the one proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, which would spend $2 trillion over four years on renewables and other climate programs. Congressional interest in my testimony stems in part from the fact that I advocated for a Democratic energy proposal very similar to Biden’s between 2002 and 2009. Back then, the Obama administration justified the $90 billion it was spending on renewables as an economic stimulus, just as Biden’s campaign is doing today. But then, late in the hearing, Representatives Sean Casten of Illinois and Jared Huffman of California, both Democrats, used the whole of their allotted time to claim that I am not a real environmentalist, that I am not a qualified expert, and that I am motivated by money. Had I been given a chance to respond, …

Understanding Totalitarianism

In recent years, amid concern about a possible resurgence of totalitarianism, a number of books and articles have appeared that are intended to warn about the rhetoric and behavior of the populist Right. At the same time, a countercurrent of public intellectuals and journalists have leveled similar accusations at the radical Left, alleging illiberal motives, ideas, and tactics for influencing culture and politics. Alarm about both of these developments can be found across the political spectrum. A sense of proportion is important when discussing this topic. For all its problems, America does not seem to be on the brink of a totalitarian revolution. Its institutions have been stressed during Trump’s term in office, but they have proved to be remarkably robust. And while there has been a concerning resurgence of radical leftwing activism in the months following the death of George Floyd, the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for American president is a political moderate. And, although the pandemic provides unique challenges for the election in November, the country remains a constitutional republic of laws and …

Princeton University is One of the Least Racist Institutions in the World

Reflecting on recent events in Princeton starting with the July 4th “Faculty Letter” to the president, Professor Joshua Katz’s reply in his Declaration of Independence, and all the brouhaha it has generated, I cannot help noticing the asymmetry of the situation. In today’s demonology, no epithets are more noxious than “racist” and “white supremacist.” They have largely replaced the previous most damning insults, “fascist” and “Nazi.” The epithet “terrorist” is also pretty high on the list, though less frequently used, and “Communist” never carried the same negative weight, at least not in academia, despite the mass killings and innumerable other crimes perpetrated by Communist regimes. The July 4th “Faculty Letter,” and the many ensuing declarations of support for it, accuse Princeton University of systemic racism and propose an array of measures to fix the problem—48 of them in total, which, if fully implemented, would radically transform and irreversibly wreck our university. Some of these recommendations are themselves overtly racist, such as giving special privileges to some faculty based on the color of their skin. In …

COVID-19 Will (Finally) Force American Universities to Reinvent Themselves

The COVID-19 pandemic’s full impact on higher education isn’t easy to predict. But it’s certain to extend past short-term decisions about whether to hold in-person classes during the coming academic year. Many universities may well be forced to lower tuition rates, as students balk at paying full freight for classes conducted by Zoom. As New York University business professor Scott Galloway put it in a magazine interview back in May, university officials who imagine that they will be able to charge last year’s rates for an even partly virtual experience are existing in a state of “consensual hallucination.” The phrase gave me a chuckle. But this is no laughing matter. Trustees of George Washington University, where I’ve had the pleasure of both studying and teaching, signaled their sense of urgency in a May 18th email blast to the entire university community, wherein they described the COVID-19 crisis as “an existential threat to all institutions of higher education.” The trustees called on the administration to look “beyond minor changes,” and bear in mind that “the status …

What the Right Gets Wrong about Social Justice Culture

When moral visions clash, it’s common for people to assume their opponents have bad motives rather than different perspectives. And it’s usually wrong. If you advocate some policy you believe will save lives, whether it’s a plan for fighting COVID-19, increasing health-care coverage, or reducing homicide, your opponents probably don’t oppose your plan because they want more people to die. They may think their own plan will save lives, or they may be concerned about other values entirely. You may very well have fundamental moral disagreements with them, but the thing you hate most about their position probably isn’t what’s driving them. We see this in the current debates over the new social justice movement. The critics of social justice activists sometimes talk as if what’s driving the activists is a kind of oversensitivity, as if they’re the equivalent of small children having tantrums to get attention. In 2016, for example, an Iowa state legislator introduced the “Suck It up, Buttercup” bill, which would have fined universities offering counseling and “cry rooms” to students upset …

The Hagia Sophia Should Remain a Beacon to All

On July 10th, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan undid the symbolic roots of his republic by declaring that the Hagia Sophia, a sixth-century Byzantine structure, would be converted from a museum to a mosque. The first Islamic service in the building is scheduled for July 24th. The international response was a mix of shock, resignation, and near universal condemnation. Most official government statements were somewhere between the United States (“disappointed”) and Greece (an “open provocation to the civilized world”). If the furor over a single museum strikes you as mystifying, consider the central role the Hagia Sophia has played for the last 1,500 years. Even from the beginning, it was far more than just a pile of brick and marble. It was a statement. A vision, both sacred and secular, for several different empires. The Hagia Sophia was the brainchild of a unique figure in history. At birth, Justinian was a nobody among nobodies in a grindingly poor part of what is today North Macedonia. By his mid-40s, he was a Byzantine emperor. His appetites were …

Liberal Democracies Should Open Their Doors to Hongkongers

A year ago in March 2019, riots broke out in Hong Kong over concerns that a Beijing-backed piece of legislation would allow Hongkongers to be extradited to mainland China. Fears are that the law would be used to target pro-democracy advocates and anyone critical of the Communist Party of China (CPC) regime; exposing them to the notorious injustice of the mainland Chinese courts. China has long maintained a conviction rate of over 99 percent, which to the naïve might look like an incredibly efficient justice system—so thorough in its criminal investigation that no charges are laid until guilt is virtually certain—but is in actuality an indication of government control over the judiciary where verdicts are decided before the trial even begins. This in contrast to the legal system in Hong Kong, which is based on common law inherited from the British, and includes all the familiar features we would recognize in our own legal systems such as, “equality before the law; freedom of movement; freedom of conscience and religious belief; freedom of speech; and privacy …

Why I Believe Climate Change Is Not the End of the World

The following is excerpted, with permission, from Michael Shellenberger’s new book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, (HarperCollins 2020), 432 pages. The end is nigh If you scanned the websites of two of the world’s most-read newspapers on October 7th, 2018, you might have feared the end of the world was near. A headline in the New York Times said: “Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040.” Just below the bold headline was a photograph of a six-year-old boy playing with a dead animal’s bones. Said another headline in the Washington Post on the very same day: “The World Has Just Over a Decade to Get Climate Change Under Control, U.N. Scientists Say.” Those stories in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other media outlets around the world were based on a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is a United Nations body of 195 scientists and other members from around the globe responsible for assessing science related to climate …