All posts filed under: Top Stories

Orwell and the Anti-Totalitarian Left in the Age of Trump

I In his review of Pascal Bruckner’s new book, An Imaginary Racism: Islamophobia and Guilt, Nick Cohen begins with a denunciation of the contemporary Left’s obsession with identity politics and “willingness to excuse antisemitism, misogyny, tyranny, and obscurantism, as long as the antisemitic, misogynistic, tyrannical obscurantists are anti-Western.” Cohen acknowledges that Bruckner has been among the most penetrating analysts of the Left’s moral and intellectual decline in the twenty-first century, recalling that he described Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism as a “brilliant defence of liberalism and a deservedly contemptuous assault on all those intellectuals who have betrayed its best values.” However, Cohen now thinks Bruckner’s animus toward the Left has propelled him to the Right, arguing that he fails to “extend his opposition to Islamism to cover the purveyors of anti-Muslim bigotry,” uses the “language of demagogues and civil war,” and displays the “ethnic favouritism and intellectual double-standards of the counter-Enlightenment.” Cohen also laments Bruckner’s sparse commentary on right-wing populist and nationalist movements in Europe and the United States: At …

What Happened When We Tried to Debate Immigration

Immigration and diversity politics dominate our political and public debates. Disagreements about these issues lie behind the rise of populist politics on the left and the right, as well as the growing polarization of our societies more widely. Unless we find a way of side-stepping the extremes and debating these issues in an evidence-led, analytical way then the moderate, pluralistic middle will buckle and give way. This is why, as two university professors who work on these issues, we decided to help organize and join a public debate about immigration and ethnic change. The debate, held in London on December 6, was a great success, featuring a nuanced and evidence-based discussion attended by 400 people. It was initially titled, “Is Rising Ethnic Diversity a Threat to the West?” This was certainly a provocative title, designed to draw in a large audience who might hold strong views on the topic but who would nonetheless be exposed to a moderated and evidence-led debate. Though we would later change the title, we couldn’t escape its powerful logic: On …

The Unsafe Feminist: Rebecca West and the ‘Bitter Rapture’ of Truth

In an era when indulgent university administrators and professors treat students like spoiled children, one longs for intellectuals who address their audience as adults. The British novelist, biographer, literary critic, travel writer and political commentator Rebecca West (1892-1983) is the tonic we need. Like other great authors of the 20th century—including George Orwell and Doris Lessing—West never received a university education. That may help explain her intellectual non-conformism and free-wheeling spirit. West brushed against orthodoxy like barbed wire against chiffon. She was a suffragist who rejected pacifism in the First World War (and the Second); a leftist who fought communism; an internationalist who spoke up for small nations; an individualist who valued authority and tradition. West never crouched in one position. She was unflinchingly realistic. Human conflict, she said, is inescapable. It is as much a feature of art as it is of states. Eros, too, creates antagonism, for sex is dangerous. Yet human co-operation is ubiquitous. Women and men need each other, and can and do love each other. A feminism that treats women …

Steve Bannon Is Wrong, But Not for the Reasons You Think

If you consume prestige media, then it is likely that you believe a number of things about Steve Bannon on faith. For instance, you might believe that Steve Bannon is a white nationalist and an Islamophobe. And you may well believe that he’s a fascist—perhaps even a Nazi. Each of these propositions has been logged repeatedly in influential outlets, and each has self-replicated its way into received wisdom, greeted by little more than eager nodding if said aloud at a book launch party. Zack Beauchamp at Vox called Bannon “a leading light of America’s white nationalist movement.” Omer Aziz in the New Republic said that Bannon believes “a war between the West and the Muslims is inevitable.” Kira Lerner at ThinkProgress reported that Bannon “direct[ed] white supremacist and Nazi beliefs into the mainstream.” So naturally, when the Oxford Union announced that it would be hosting Bannon for a speaking event on November 16, they were accused of “legitimizing racism and fascism” by hosting a man who was “build[ing] an Islamophobic international” and served as “the …

Why Men Can’t Write About Sex Anymore

Back in the early 1990s, I was one of the thousands of young, idealist Gen X Americans who moved to freewheeling post-Communist Prague to relive their version of “Paris of the 20s.” Before the advent of smartphones, YouTube, and Netflix, novels were still considered the preeminent artistic form, and most of the expats who flocked to the land of Vaclav Havel were obsessed with writing the “Great American Novel.” The literary icons for our generation—those who fetishized the absinthe-tinted bohemia of Hemingway’s Paris—were mostly masculine writers like Henry Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Bret Easton Ellis. Though there were plenty of women among the wine-sozzled bohemians of our expat massive, Henry Miller’s assertion that “Sex is one of the nine reasons for reincarnation, and the other eight are unimportant,” was embraced by us all, regardless of gender. Men read poems called “Women who moan” at raucous expat readings, while girls wrote about their experiences with Czech lovers twice their age. Sex was the social currency of our close-knit literary community, and writing with brutal honesty …

Academia’s Case of Stockholm Syndrome

Earlier this year, we launched Researchers.One, a scholarly publication platform open to all researchers in all fields of study. Founded on the principles of academic freedom, researcher autonomy, and scholarly quality, Researchers.One features an innovative author-driven peer review model, which ensures the quality of published work through a self-organized process of public and non-anonymous pre- and post-publication peer review. Believing firmly that researchers can and do uphold the principles of good scholarship on their own, Researchers.One has no editorial boards, gatekeepers, or other barriers to interfere with scholarly discourse. In its first few months, Researchers.One has garnered an overwhelmingly positive reception, both for its emphasis on core principles and its ability to attract high quality publications from a wide range of disciplines, including mathematics, physics, philosophy, probability, and statistics. Despite its promise, many academics worry that leaving peer review up to authors will grind the academic juggernaut to a halt. With nothing to stop authors from recruiting their friends as peer reviewers or from publishing a bunch of nonsense just to pad their CV, how should academic …

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 …

Twitter’s Trans-Activist Decree

On November 15, I woke up to find my Twitter account locked, on account of what the company described as “hateful conduct.” In order to regain access, I was made to delete two tweets from October. Fair enough, you might think. Concern about the tone of discourse on social media has been widespread for years. Certainly, many have argued that Twitter officials should be doing more to discourage the vitriol and violent threats that have become commonplace on their platform. In this case, however, the notion that my commentary could be construed as “hateful” baffled me. One tweet read, simply, “Men aren’t women,” and the other asked “How are transwomen not men? What is the difference between a man and a transwoman?” That last question is one I’ve asked countless times, including in public speeches, and I have yet to get a persuasive answer. I ask these questions not to spread hate—because I do not hate trans-identified individuals—but rather to make sense of arguments made by activists within that community. Instead of answering such questions, however, …

A Reply to Nick Cohen

What’s eating Nick Cohen? That is what I found myself wondering as I read his intemperate review of my latest book. Cohen is, of course, perfectly within his rights to disagree with arguments he applauded when I made them ten years ago. But it should be possible to express a divergence of opinion in a courteous manner. Instead, I find myself accused of an ideological affinity with the European far-Right. In an inquisitorial tone, Cohen places me in the company of demagogues like Victor Orban, Matteo Salvini, and Marine Le Pen—a familiar illustration of the Left’s idle recourse to Godwin’s law: beyond a certain arbitrary threshold, any objection is enough to convict an opponent of Nazism. I am reproached for being insufficiently negative about Donald Trump, even though I devoted two pages to criticising him. Would ten pages have been enough to escape Cohen’s suspicions? Twenty? It ought to be obvious to anyone as familiar with my work as Cohen is that I dislike Orban, Salvini, and Le Pen as much as he does. But …

The Problem with ‘The Journal of Controversial Ideas’

A group of academics recently announced plans to launch a new journal focused on research that its authors fear could lead to a backlash, putting their careers and perhaps even their physical safety in danger. With these concerns in mind, the journal will allow authors to publish their work anonymously, subject to peer review. Some are applauding the launch of what will be titled The Journal of Controversial Ideas. They view it as a needed response to an academic and potentially broader culture that is increasingly afraid to grapple with sensitive topics and seeks to suppress ideas that may have merit but are socially unpopular. However, we think the creation of a journal like this, while serving as a prophetic warning about the new moral culture taking hold of academia and the future of our institutions of higher learning, may be a counterproductive way of dealing with the problems it addresses. First, it is worth asking whether the concerns prompting the creation of this journal are warranted. Some writers and academics claim that stories of …