All posts filed under: Top Stories

Four Flavors of Doom: A Taxonomy of Contemporary Pessimism

In his short, provocative book Has the West Lost It?, the Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani identifies a curious paradox. In many respects, the world has never been in better shape than today. People live longer, healthier, more peaceful, and safer lives than at any previous time in history. According to Mahbubani, this enormous improvement in the human condition is a result of Western ideas and practices—modern science, liberal democracy, free markets—spreading to other societies. And yet, surveys show that nowhere on Earth do people have such a bleak view of the future as in the West. Has the West indeed lost it? Westerners today are pessimistic about a whole panoply of things: overpopulation, global warming (or “global heating”), the ravages of neoliberalism, rapid deforestation and species extinction, soaring inequality, the rise of far-Right populism, mass immigration, the epidemic of depressions and burn-outs, the creeping “Islamization” of Western societies, robots taking over the world, or perhaps just the terminal ennui awaiting us all at the End of History. Looking beyond their specific concerns, it is possible …

The Impressive Record of Theresa May

It’s usually difficult to describe the lasting legacy of a British Prime Minister in one word. For many, Theresa May (2016­­–19) seems to be the exception: failure. She inherited a small Conservative Party majority in the House of Commons and was under no political or constitutional pressure to hold a general election until 2020, but she called one nevertheless in 2017 and ended up losing that majority, forcing her to govern in coalition with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party for the remaining two years of her premiership. Her first attempt to get the House of Commons to approve the Withdrawal Agreement her Government had negotiated with the European Union was rejected by 432 MPs, the largest defeat of any British government in history. She attempted twice more to get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill passed and failed on both occasions, thus making her the self-styled “Brexit Prime Minister” who failed to deliver Brexit. Notwithstanding all this, she was a Prime Minister who presided over several successes which shouldn’t be overlooked. The Economy Just a month …

What Defenders and Critics Get Wrong about the ‘Marketplace of Ideas’

In his book How Fascism Works, Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley exposes the weakness in the most common argument for free speech. According to this argument, which can be traced back to liberal thinkers such as John Stuart Mill, free speech leads to a “marketplace of ideas” in which the truth prevails and falsehoods are widely rejected. Stanley argues that the recent proliferation of conspiracy theories and dog-whistles refute the premise that “reason always wins out in the public square of liberal democracy.” He is primarily concerned about conspiracy theories, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which serve to spread fascistic worldviews. This type of speech, he concludes, cannot be effectively countered through a free exchange of ideas. The motif of the marketplace of ideas, Stanley argues, only works with descriptive speech. Descriptive speech occurs when words are communicated precisely in their logical or semantic sense. The paradigmatic example is of scientists engaged in an exchange where words have precise and agreed meanings. Non-descriptive speech, by contrast, is exemplified by rhetoric, such …

How Free Speech Dies Online

Last year, I explained why it is wrong to consider weakening speech protections to allow bans on speech by the alt-right, neo-Nazis, or other far-Right groups: it is safer to let Nazis speak in a society that places high value on individual rights and has strong legal protections for those rights than it is to risk letting Nazis take control of institutional power in a society where protections on individual rights have been eroded. I explained, with specific examples, how easy it would be for a far-Right regime to turn restrictions on violent or hateful speech against its enemies. However, since then, while free speech has remained a controversial topic, the focus of the debate has moved away from restrictions on speech by state actors, and toward the question of how corporate entities that privately control the platforms which host a great deal of our speech and debate should regulate and moderate their users. These platforms are not bound by the US Constitution or by other legal regimes that protect private speech from state coercion, …

The Inner Nature of Freedom

All the while, that reign of desires savagely tyrannizes and batters a person’s whole life and mind with storm’s ranging in all directions. On this side fear, on that side desire, on this side anxiety, on that side empty spurious enjoyment, on this side torment over the loss of something loved, on the ardor to acquire something not yet possessed, on this side sorrows over injuries received, on that the burning desire to redress it. Whichever way one turns greed can pinch, extravagance squander, ambition enslave, pride puff up, envy twist, laziness overcome, stubbornness provoke, submissiveness oppress-these and countless others throng the realm of lust, having the run of it. ~St. Augustine, On the Free Choice of the Will In an earlier article with Ben Burgis, we argued that it was a mistake to claim that the fundamental divide between the political Left and Right was between an emphasis on equality by the former and liberty by the latter. As we put it, almost “everyone values freedom” regardless of where they stand on the political …

Sedentary Revolutionaries: Two Academics Who Joined the Nazi Party

Carl Schmitt (1888–1985) and Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), two of the most prominent German thinkers of the twentieth century, became members of the Nazi Party in 1933, and briefly held positions of some prominence after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Heidegger spent just over a year as Rector of the University of Freiburg (1933–1934); Schmitt spent the years 1933 to 1936 as the “Crown Jurist of the Third Reich” whilst teaching law in Berlin. After the end of the Second World War, neither man publicly explained or apologised for his earlier political activities. In spite of his close association with Nazism, Heidegger’s reputation as one of the twentieth century’s preeminent thinkers has never faded: he ranks with Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) as one of the most influential philosophers since Nietzsche, and he has enjoyed particularly widespread admiration in France; prominent thinkers including Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980), Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908–1961), and Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) have all learnt from (and struggled with) Heidegger’s notoriously difficult oeuvre. Schmitt’s work, on the other hand, fell into relative eclipse after the war. …

Ideology and Facts Collide at Oberlin College

Our political and media cultures are suffering the effects of too many opinion-havers and too few fact-finders. This can make it difficult to figure out what is going on in a story and to distinguish fact from partisan or ideological bias, especially when those biases flatter our own. The recently concluded libel trial involving Oberlin College offered a demonstration of this phenomenon on the part of both the defendants and much of the media covering the case. On June 7, an Ohio jury found that Oberlin College had libelled a local shop, Gibson Bakery and Market, as racist, and awarded the family business hefty damages. The case aroused a great deal of interest in legal, academic, and civil rights communities, which in turn produced a great deal of commentary, much of which was tendentious, speculative, and/or uninformed. The news coverage of this case was puzzling from the beginning. It was a case that involved college student protests, a liberal arts college with a history of progressive activism, free market economics, free speech, defamation, accusations of …

The End of an Era—A Feminist Firebrand Looks Back

After 9/11, I felt as if the Afghanistan I’d fled so long ago had followed me right into the future and into the West. That distant and dangerous country began to dominate American and European headlines. Muslim women started wearing burqas (head, face, and body coverings) and niqabs (face masks) on the streets of New York City, London, and Paris. As global violence against women gained horrendous momentum, many Western feminists became increasingly afraid to criticize that violence lest they be condemned as colonialists and racists. This fear often trumped their concern for women’s human rights globally. This was not the universalist feminism I helped pioneer. We favored multicultural diversity; we were not multicultural relativists. We called out misogyny when we saw it and didn’t exempt a rapist, a wife beater, or a pedophile because he was poor (his victims were also poor) or a man of color (his victims were often also people of color). We had little sympathy for a perpetrator because he had suffered an abused childhood (so had his victims). Fighting for abortion …

How a Feminist Prophet Became an Apostate—An Interview with Dr Phyllis Chesler

Dr Phyllis Chesler has never been afraid to be unpopular. During 60 years as an academic, feminist campaigner, and psychotherapist, she has frequently courted controversy. Her new memoir, A Politically Incorrect Feminist, details her experiences as a leader of the Second Wave feminist movement in the United States. Readers are introduced to a star cast that includes household names such as Andrea Dworkin and Gloria Steinem, as well as women such as Kate Millett, Robin Morgan, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Mary Daly, and Shulamith Firestone, women who produced influential work that is now often forgotten, or else misremembered by Third Wave feminists keen to distance themselves from their feminist foremothers. But Chesler refuses to be misremembered. She’s here to give her side of the story, and she doesn’t pull her punches. We spoke over Skype from her home in New York. Chesler in conversation is just the same as Chesler in print: warm and razor-sharp. At the age of 78, she is both a prolific writer and an energetic campaigner. Most of her campaigning interests are concerned …

My Testimony on Reparations

Editor’s note: Coleman Hughes delivered the following testimony at a United States House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Bill H.R. 40 on June 19, 2019. If passed, the bill would establish a commission for reparations. Thank you Chairman Cohen, ranking member Johnson, and members of the committee. It’s an honor to testify on a topic as important as this one. Nothing I’m about to say is meant to minimize the horror and brutality of slavery and Jim Crow. Racism is a bloody stain on this country’s history, and I consider our failure to pay reparations directly to freed slaves after the Civil War to be one of the greatest injustices ever perpetrated by the U.S. government. But I worry that our desire to fix the past compromises our ability to fix the present. Think about what we’re doing today. We’re spending our time debating a bill that mentions slavery 25 times but incarceration only once, in an era with zero black slaves but nearly a million black prisoners—a bill that doesn’t mention homicide once, at a …