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Republic

After the Republic by Angelo M. Codevilla.

Over the past half century, the Reagan years notwithstanding, our ruling class’s changing preferences and habits have transformed public and private life in America. As John Marini shows in his essay, “Donald Trump and the American Crisis,” this has resulted in citizens morphing into either this class’s “stakeholders” or its subjects. And, as Publius Decius Mus argues, “America and the West” now are so firmly “on a trajectory toward something very bad” that it is no longer reasonable to hope that “all human outcomes are still possible,” by which he means restoration of the public and private practices that made the American republic. In fact, the 2016 election is sealing the United States’s transition from that republic to some kind of empire.

Electing either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump cannot change that trajectory. Because each candidate represents constituencies hostile to republicanism, each in its own way, these individuals are not what this election is about. This election is about whether the Democratic Party, the ruling class’s enforcer, will impose its tastes more strongly and arbitrarily than ever, or whether constituencies opposed to that rule will get some ill-defined chance to strike back. Regardless of the election’s outcome, the republic established by America’s Founders is probably gone. But since the Democratic Party’s constituencies differ radically from their opponents’, and since the character of imperial governance depends inherently on the emperor, the election’s result will make a big difference in our lives.

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Stupefied

Stupefied by André Spicer.

How organisations enshrine collective stupidity and employees are rewarded for checking their brains at the office door.

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Heidegger

Heidegger Was Really a Real Nazi by Adam Kirsch.

Is the philosopher’s complexity enough to excuse his overt anti-Semitism? A dive into the so-called ‘black notebooks’ from the 1930s is revealing.

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Embarrassment

The Clinton-Trump Debate Was An Embarrassment For Everyone Involved by David Harsanyi.

On Monday night, America witnessed one of the most worthless, and certainly one of the most infantile, presidential debates in its history. After listening to Donald Trump’s meta-fictions and Hillary Clinton’s manicured obfuscations, the voter is left with one question: do you prefer an idiocracy or a kleptocracy?

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Survive II

Will Millennials Survive The Left? by David Marcus.

The New York Times ran a frank op-ed on Friday from a fiction writer burned by the progressive penchant for identity politicking. In his piece titled “Will the Left Survive the Millennials?” Lionel Shriver describes an illiberal example of political correctness gone awry that left him hurt and confused.

A millennial woman of color had walked out of a speech he was giving. She was dismayed that a white man was defending cultural appropriation. He was dismayed that she labeled his very civil attempt to address an important topic as racist speech that ought not be tolerated. He was even more dismayed that not only the liberal press but also the institution that had approved his remarks were siding with the offended young woman.

Conservatives should be forgiven if a wry smile lifts their lips upon hearing such a story. It describes a phenomenon we have been warning about and arguing against for years. When self-described liberals find themselves caught in the web of contemporary leftist speech policing, it is a kind of vindication.

But Shriver gets something wrong in his piece, and it is central to progressives’ inability to confront the intolerance in their midst. The question isn’t if the Left will survive millennials. The question is whether millennials will survive the Left, at least as heirs to the Western tradition of intellectual investigation.

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Plato’s Bedroom

R.J. Snell reviews Plato’s Bedroom: Ancient Wisdom and Modern Love by David K. O’Connor.

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Hell

Hell on Earth by Ross Andersen.

What happens to life sentences if our lifespan is radically extended? A philosopher talks about future punishment.

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Hammer

Preet Drops the Hammer by Bob McManus.

The damage to Governor Andrew Cuomo will be considerable.

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Survive?

Will the Left Survive the Millennials? by Lionel Shriver.

Midway through my opening address for the Brisbane Writers Festival earlier this month, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a Sudanese-born Australian engineer and 25-year-old memoirist, walked out. Her indignant comments about the event might have sunk into obscurity, along with my speech, had they not been republished by The Guardian. Twenty minutes in, this audience member apparently turned to her mother: “ ‘Mama, I can’t sit here,’ I said, the corners of my mouth dragging downwards. ‘I cannot legitimize this.’ ” She continued: “The faces around me blurred. As my heels thudded against the grey plastic of the flooring, harmonizing with the beat of the adrenaline pumping through my veins, my mind was blank save for one question. ‘How is this happening?’ ”

I’m asking the same thing.

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Opposition

Opposition to Galileo Was Scientific, Not Just Religious by Christopher Graney.

In 1614, when the telescope was new technology, a young man in Germany published a book filled with illustrations of the exciting new things being discovered telescopically: moons circling Jupiter, moon-like phases of Venus, spots on the Sun, the rough and cratered lunar surface. The young man was Johann Georg Locher, and his book was Mathematical Disquisitions Concerning Astronomical Controversies and Novelties. And while Locher heaped praise upon Galileo, he challenged ideas that Galileo championed – on scientific grounds.

You see, Locher was an anti-Copernican, a fan of the ancient astronomer Ptolemy, and a student within the Establishment (his mentor was Christoph Scheiner, a prominent Jesuit astronomer). Locher argued that Copernicus was wrong about Earth circling the Sun, and that Earth was fixed in place, at the centre of the Universe, like Ptolemy said. But Locher was making no religious argument. Yes, he said, a moving Earth messes with certain Biblical passages, like Joshua telling the Sun to stand still. But it also messes with certain astronomical terms, such as sunrise and sunset. Copernicans had work-arounds for all that, Locher said, even though they might be convoluted. What Copernicans could not work around, though, were the scientific arguments against their theory. Indeed, Locher even proposed a mechanism to explain how Earth could orbit the Sun (a sort of perpetual falling – this decades before Isaac Newton would explain orbits by means of perpetual falling), but he said it would not help the Copernicans, on account of the other problems with their theory.

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Grief

The Power of Grief by Susan J Elliott.

Embrace grief as the healing feeling that closes the wound of loss.

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Progressivism

The Two Minds of Progressivism by David Azerrad.

One of the great impediments to understanding the progressive ideology of our age is the fact that it lacks a founding charter. There is no single, comprehensive, and authoritative document that clearly states the end goals of progressivism and ties together its disparate strands. Progressivism’s overarching aims must therefore be pieced together from various sources.

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Calvin

Teaching Calvin in California by Jonathan Sheehan.

We spend a great deal of time worrying about theology these days. From extremist violence to the American culture wars, the theological imagination can feel like an existential threat to liberal democracy. Or more simply, just to common decency. No surprise that many believe that theology has no place in the secular college classroom.

Over the years, I have decided that this is wrong. I learned to think otherwise teaching Calvin in California.

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Related: Calvin’s Questions: A Response to Jonathan Sheehan by Constance M. Furey.

Sheehan teaches his students that Calvinist predestination is best understood as a kind of psychological experiment. This is accurate only if we have a capacious understanding of what psychology encompasses, for the experiment is cognitive as well as affective, perspectival as well as relational. We cannot aspire to wisdom, according to Calvin, until we recognize that the world is not made in our image. Indeed, the world itself cannot rightly be understood until we appreciate how insignificant we are compared to the grandeur of Creation. This doctrine has inspired theocracies. It has also, as Mark Stoll’s recent book makes clear, motivated environmentalism. And if we learn the lessons that Calvinism has to teach, about how humility can alter knowledge and subjection can spawn activism, we might also improve our ability to compare these two seemingly opposed responses.

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Problem

Clinton’s Samantha Bee Problem by Ross Douthat.

When the histories of the Trump era are written from exile in Justin Trudeau’s Canada, they will record that it was none other than Jimmy Fallon who brought down the republic.

Or so you might have thought, at least, listening to the furious liberal reaction to Fallon’s willingness to treat Donald Trump like any other late-night guest last week: kidding around with him, mussing up his combover and steering clear of anything that would convey to late-night television viewers that Trump is actually beyond the pale.

But the Democratic Party’s problem in the age of Trump isn’t really Jimmy Fallon. Its problem is Samantha Bee.

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Origins

William Carroll reviews The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself by Sean Carroll.

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Saving

Saving Science by Daniel Sarewitz.

Science, pride of modernity, our one source of objective knowledge, is in deep trouble. Stoked by fifty years of growing public investments, scientists are more productive than ever, pouring out millions of articles in thousands of journals covering an ever-expanding array of fields and phenomena. But much of this supposed knowledge is turning out to be contestable, unreliable, unusable, or flat-out wrong. From metastatic cancer to climate change to growth economics to dietary standards, science that is supposed to yield clarity and solutions is in many instances leading instead to contradiction, controversy, and confusion. Along the way it is also undermining the four-hundred-year-old idea that wise human action can be built on a foundation of independently verifiable truths. Science is trapped in a self-destructive vortex; to escape, it will have to abdicate its protected political status and embrace both its limits and its accountability to the rest of society.

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Diversity

Real Academic Diversity by Gerard Alexander.

Campus activism in 2014 and 2015 reached levels that reminded some observers of the student protests of the 1960s and ’70s. But while some things sounded familiar—radical student demands, angry outbursts, and administrators caving to pressure—recent developments are no repeat of the famous events of the Vietnam era. That earlier activism was mainly focused outward, off campus, as students tried to influence national and international politics, including a controversial war. Those protestors articulated views that were already spreading through American society.

The recent activism appears very different. It is primarily focused inward, on campus issues such as admissions practices, faculty hiring, and curricular and other university policies. And it is disconnected from most Americans of all political stripes, who struggle to understand the mindsets being revealed and the agendas being pursued on campuses. Most controversially, activist students, often aided and echoed by sympathetic faculty, have moved to sharply regulate speech. They have tried to disinvite and ban speakers. They have deemed some verbal expressions to be threatening and even to be forms of violence. And they have declared certain viewpoints and topics to be not just offensive but harmful. This risk of harm is what justifies “safe spaces” to shelter vulnerable students, sanctions on people making disturbing statements, and “trigger warnings” on academic materials, which enable students to either brace themselves or avoid subjects altogether.

Critics from across the political spectrum have bemoaned these developments, partly by mocking fragile “snowflake” students, but mainly by insisting on the importance of free speech. That is understandable, since free speech is a cornerstone of a liberal-democratic society. But the focus on free speech misses a more fundamental problem on campus: the insufficient diversity of viewpoints. Greater diversity is important for two reasons. First, free speech has the most value when conversations take place between people offering genuinely differing products in the marketplace of ideas. Second, the lack of viewpoint diversity may be one reason why threats to free speech have become so powerful at universities in the first place. Intellectual diversity may help protect free speech, just as free speech helps protect diversity of thought.

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Books

Books for Life by Adam Gidwitz.

There is something deeply revealing about the books one truly loves in childhood and adolescence.

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Unbelievers II

CT reviews Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation by Leigh Eric Schmidt.

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Virtues

How Liberals and Conservatives Can Learn from Moynihan’s Virtues by Ben Peterson.

Can conservatives learn anything from a New York Democrat who opposed Reaganomics, consistently voted for Medicaid to fund abortions, opposed welfare reform in the 1990s, and helped launch the independent political career of one Hillary Rodham Clinton?

In a word: yes.

The Democrat in question is the late White House counselor, ambassador, scholar, and senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan’s career included service in two Democratic and two Republican administrations, as well as four terms as US senator for New York. His contested legacy in public service offers practical lessons for those engaged in politics and wisdom for us—blessed or cursed as we are to live in what political philosopher Jean Bethke Elshstain called “interesting times.” Understanding this statesman’s contributions to American politics is essential for understanding the mid late-twentieth century and our own troubled moment.

Moynihan displayed the less-praiseworthy traits associated with politicians—ambition, flattery, and attraction to power—and took policy positions with which most conservatives would disagree, but he also exhibited three political virtues that all political leaders should emulate: industriousness, courage, and wisdom.

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