All posts tagged: Politics

What If Ayn Rand Was Right About Entrepreneurs and Inequality?

Few public figures have managed to consistently attract both sheer adoration and abject disgust quite like Russian-American author Ayn Rand. Fewer still have created an intellectual legacy with as much endurance as her radically individualistic philosophy of Objectivism. Atlas Shrugged remains a cherished favorite of venture capitalists and libertarian-leaning politicians all over the planet, with a notable stronghold in Washington D.C., perhaps even within the Oval Office itself. Rand’s literary influence is often derided as a mere reflection of the tractability and moral certitude afforded by her novels, her economic principles disregarded as patently ridiculous. Galt’s Gulch has attracted so much scorn as to become something of a joke, a way to easily scoff at the naive utopianism of laissez-faire capitalism. Rand and her largely philosophical economic views have been consigned to history as an interesting relic of sorts—a compelling, well-articulated fantasy that has no basis in reality. How then should we interpret new research from the Nation Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) that suggests her controversial description of the income inequality dynamic might have …

China is Gearing up for a Long Fight

On February 18, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that a “sophisticated state-actor” had launched a cyber attack on Australia’s major political parties and parliamentary computer system. The Australian government has not yet identified which state-actor is responsible but suspicions almost instantly fell on China. The Chinese military maintains a dedicated unit (the People’s Liberation Army Unit 61398) for cyber attacks. While several other nations maintain the capabilities for this kind of attack, they do not have China’s record of interference in Australian politics. The Chinese Communist Party puts significant resources into neutralizing opposition to its interests within Australian politics and society. Its increasingly flagrant acts of interference prompted the nation to pass sweeping foreign interference laws in 2018. If China is responsible for the cyber-attack on Australian parliament, it fits a very clear pattern of increasing antagonism by China against the West. This points towards a worrying and unstable future for Western middle-powers with high economic exposure to China. Moreover, China’s increasingly threatening posture suggests that it no longer believes that it can radically …

What Joan Didion Foretold About Campaign Socialism and Popularity

“In the understandably general yearning for “change” in the governing of this country, we might pause to reflect on just what is being changed, and by whom, and for whom.” -Joan Didion, Eye on the Prize, September, 1992 I read Joan Didion when I’m feeling less like a writer and more like a sloganeer, lobbing ill-conceived aphorisms at passing ideas like soft tomatoes. I’ve wondered what I’d say if I met her, though I’ve never sought opportunities to do so, which speaks more to my laziness than my desire to engage such a wonderful writer. I wouldn’t make much of a stalker; all that lurking about in bushes seems rather an itchy hobby, but I’d still like to buy her a cup of tea. In a 2007 Jezebel article about Ms. Didion, Jessica Grose wrote, “She’s not messy or weepy or maternal or particularly sympathetic—which is to say, she is not stereotypically “feminine”— and so men can read her without feeling like pussies.” I read that article several years after becoming a fan of Didion’s …

The Case for a Second Brexit Referendum Revisited: A Response to Madeline Grant

In her article “The Case Against a Second Referendum,” Madeline Grant has written an extensive critique of my “The Case For a Second Referendum.” Restrictions of space preclude a detailed consideration of the numerous objections she raises. I ignore altogether the personal comments she makes in the section portentiously titled “Bias,” and elsewhere, on the basis that they are irrelevant. It is worth standing back and re-iterating the basic, and quite simple, position set out in my article—that the best argument for a second referendum is that the “Leave” proposition in the first referendum in 2016 was, necessarily, extremely general, and that the terms of Theresa May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement are, by contrast, very specific. The Withdrawal Agreement provides a glide-path to a future which many Leave voters did not and indeed could not have anticipated in 2016. The two most prominent advocates for the Leave proposition, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, have both said in terms that the Withdrawal Agreement is worse than staying in the EU. They also insist that the electorate not be …

The Case Against a Second EU Referendum

The possibility of a second referendum offers, to many, a tantalizing prospect of rescue from political deadlock. Since Parliament cannot decide on a deal and largely refuses to contemplate “No Deal,” this argument goes, we should allow the people to “choose” once more. Barrister Oliver Conolly has offered a well-written and thoughtful case for a second referendum here on Quillette, which acknowledges some of the flaws that advocates of this plan often ignore. Yet his analysis, in my view, suffers several major drawbacks. I will discuss these in loose categories, starting with the least important before broadening my analysis out to more substantive complaints. Bias The first category consists of examples of bias. To his credit, Conolly restricts his discussion to the official campaign groups in the 2016 referendum, rather than appealing to the excesses of the unofficial campaign groups. Yet he still maintains that the Leave campaign was more deceitful than Remain—a debatable proposition. Conolly also uses the loaded term “People’s Vote” throughout the article—not always in inverted commas. As numerous objectors have pointed …

Malaysia’s Struggle to Preserve Religious Pluralism

For observers of contemporary Malaysia, much has been written about the tropical nation’s creeping Islamization. To define this more specifically, the observable interjection of Islamic morality into its institutions, its legal systems, and its political discourses and practices. The move towards a more puritanical and intolerant Islam has raised alarm bells for a country whose identity is rooted in its cosmopolitan and pluralistic character, raising the ugly specter of ethnic and religious conflict in one of Southeast Asia’s most developed economies. However, the shock victory of an opposition coalition in a historic general election in May 2018 raised hopes of a “New Malaysia.” The incumbent political coalition, Barisan Nasional (National Front), composed of race-based parties, with the dominant United Malay National Organization (UMNO) component explicitly espousing Malay-Muslim supremacy, was ousted after 61 years of uninterrupted rule since the country’s independence from the British in 1957. With a new administration under the Pakatan Harapan (Coalition of Hope) coalition, and with veteran leader Mahathir Mohammed back in power in his second stint as Prime Minister (at the …

The Case for a Second EU Referendum

There is a great deal of talk in Britain at the moment about a “People’s Vote”—a referendum on the terms of the withdrawal agreement between the UK government and the EU, with an option to remain in the EU. It was predictable in June 2016 that sooner or later minds would focus on the terms of the agreement that would need to be reached as part of the process when the British government triggered Article 50, the clause of the Treaty on European Union that enables member states to secede. One of the advantages of the time-limited nature of the Article 50 process is that it means the issue cannot be delayed indefinitely. This focusing of minds has, unsurprisingly, led to widespread calls for a “People’s Vote.” It is equally unsurprising that the proposal should encounter stiff resistance. Many voters were led to believe, not least by the British Government, that their vote in the 2016 referendum would settle the matter of the UK’s EU membership once and for all. Against that backdrop, many people …

What Can We Learn from Dictators’ Literature?

Dictators, of course, are terrible people. They also tend to be terrible writers. Yet many tyrants have entertained the illusion that they were literary super geniuses. Mein Kampf and Quotations from Chairman Mao (aka The Little Red Book) are the best-known works in the dictatorial canon, but they represent only a fraction of the awfulness on offer in a vast, infernal library. There are so many other books: from Lenin’s The Development of Capitalism in Russia to Khomeini’s Islamic Government to Gaddafi’s The Green Book and beyond. In the heyday of 20th century tyranny, the writings of dictators were placed at the center of their personality cults, officially revered as sacred texts, and imposed upon (literally) captive audiences. That the books were frequently unreadable mattered little when the authors controlled the printing presses and the education systems, and could imprison or execute anyone who gave them a bad review. And yet, when regimes fall, how quickly these books vanish. Those who suffered under the dictators wish to move on, while those who did not are …

Individuals and Symbols

In the past few weeks, we have been watching the fall out of what has been dubbed Sokal Squared, the effort by James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian to expose the low standards and hateful ideology to which much of the humanities have been in thrall in recent decades. In my response, I highlighted the postmodern assault on epistemology. I said, it has been “the explicit goal of post-modernity to reject reason and evidence: they want a ‘new paradigm’ of knowledge.” During this same period, we also saw a sad episode in US history, in which this rejection of reason and evidence arrested the Democratic Party, as well as the media, academia, Hollywood, and several notable legal institutions, who each marched in quasi-fascistic lock-step in their attempt to eviscerate Brett Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court Justice. It has been notable after the confirmation how quickly the media—who were nothing less than Orwellian in their complicity—have sought to move on from this ugly affair. They lost, but the toll that the nation had to pay …

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, …