Politics, Culture, Education, and Leadership

The Weekly Standard: The Crisis of Manliness

August 03, 1998


FATHERHOOD AND MANLINESS have always been closely connected, not only because fathering a child is a palpable proof of manhood, but also because fathers are supposed to provide their sons with a model of what to become. And yet, as a culture, we have never been more conflicted about what we mean by manhood.

The Weekly Standard: The Cult of Princess Diana

September 7, 1998

THIS TIME LAST YEAR, I arrived in London just days after the death of the princess of Wales. The city was paralyzed by the rites of mourning. Every park and monument was piled yards high with floral tributes, sometimes for blocks. Amidst the bouquets were thousands of tiny, elaborate shrines — photos nestled among burning candles, adorned with pieces of costume jewelry, teddy bears, and ribbons. These handmade shrines had a New Age quality, evocative of many religions but obedient to none. One showed the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus and John the Baptist, suggesting a parallel to Diana and her two sons. In a giant chalk drawing made by a street person on the Embankment, a dark-haired Diana merged with a Hindu goddess; the picture, entitled “Tears for a Princess,” was surrounded by burning tapers, with a kind of cause-way marked off on either side, evocative of the cargo cults of New Guinea, full of chalk inscriptions, prayers, and poems left by passers-by. When I started taking photos, the self-appointed priest ran toward me shouting, “You’re the ones who killed her!”

The Weekly Standard- The Method of Truth: Hans-Georg Gadamer, 1900-2002

April, 2002

HANS-GEORG GADAMER, one of the most important and influential European philosophers of the twentieth century, died on March 13 at the age of 102. The author of dozens of books and articles, he was the principal founder of hermeneutics, an approach to textual interpretation now widely practiced at American universities. His magnum opus, “Truth and Method,” first published in Germany in 1960, propelled him to international fame with its translation into English in 1975.

Born in 1900, only a generation or two removed from figures as towering as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Dilthey, Gadamer was the last living link with the vanished world of high German civilization–the civilization of Kant, Goethe, and Beethoven, the civilization swept away by two world wars in a conflagration not unrelated to its own darker philosophical currents. Living through the disaster of the Third Reich, Gadamer sought consistently to rescue German philosophy from the apocalyptic and millenarian extremism that had led his mentor, Martin Heidegger, to place his prestige as Germany’s leading philosopher at the service of a tyrant as he extolled “the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism.”

The Weekly Standard- Moses Revealed: He Was More Than A Successful Manager.

Review of Aaron Wildavsky’s Moses As Political Leader

October, 2005 

Moses as Political Leader

by Aaron Wildavsky

Shalem, 325 pp., $16.95

THE RE-PUBLICATION OF Aaron Wildavsky’s Moses as Political Leader, first published in 1984, is a welcome event. It is a vigorous effort to reclaim for the social sciences an understanding of statesmanship and its connection to a particular regime.

Since its first appearance, the social sciences have grown even more oblivious to these themes, and so the book is more timely than ever. But, more important, it is also an attempt to restore revelation, and specifically Jewish revelation, as a source of profound reflection on statecraft. Does Wildavsky succeed in doing both? Admirable as the book is in many ways, I cannot determine whether the author is using social science to illuminate revelation or revelation to illuminate social science.

The Weekly Standard- The Candidate as World-Wide Celebrity

April, 2008

BARACK OBAMA appears to be America’s first homegrown global candidate. His core constituency is the New Age tribe of the Internet, which promotes the illusion that we can now start to live in “a world without borders.” A posting by an African from Italy on the official Obama ’08 website, featured under the headline “For a Cosmopolitan Humanism,” reads: “In this Global Era, we need a new vision for a cosmopolitan humanism, that ingredient necessary for peace and justice: Barack Obama embodies this hope.”

Similar sentiments abound in the blogosphere. Senator Obama received an A-plus rating from Citizens for Global Solutions, which “envisions a future in which nations work together to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms, and solve the problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone. This vision requires effective democratic global institutions.” On Care2, a blog devoted to “green living, health, human rights [and] protecting the environment,” a self-described Kiwi woman living on the Isle of Man writes: “It should be Barack Obama for the world, not just the USA. We are a global society now.”

Canon Fodder: Reading the Great Books

March, 2017

It's back-to-school time, which means that thousands of university students across Canada will be encountering the Great Books, many for the first time. As someone who has the privilege of teaching them the canon, the approach of fall makes me excited all over again to try to open up its riches to eager young minds.

Books in Canada- Two Saulitudes: Review of John Ralston Saul’s The Unconscious Civilization

Summer, 1997

John Ralston Saul’s major contention in this book is that the “idea of individualism, dominant today, represents a narrow and superficial deformation of the Western idea. A hijacking of the term and-since it is a central term-a hijacking of Western civilization.” Whereas in the past-classical Athens, the Renaissance, or in the theories of early modern proponents of liberalism and the free market such as Adam Smith-individualism was placed in the context of our rights and obligations as citizens, today the individual is “seen as a single ambulatory centre of selfishness.” This narrowing of individualism, Ralston Saul argues, can be blamed on the neoconservative Right with its unqualified defence of free market forces and on what he calls the “new corporatism”, the contemporary tendency to identify people according to their membership in a group, rather than on the basis of their autonomy as individuals.

Books in Canada- Being, in Love: Review of Elizbieta Ettinger’s Hannah Arendt-Martin Heidegger.

Summer, 1996

The dust-jacket blurb gives us a taste for what is to follow. “This book is the first to tell in detail,” we are breathlessly informed, “of the passionate and secret love affair.that lasted for more than half a century.” By uncovering this “dramatic love story” to reveal “the emotional lives of two intellectual giants”, we will part with our images of Heidegger “as an austere and abstract thinker” and Arendt “as a consummately independent and self-assured personality.”

Kritika & Kontext- Is There a Straussian Foreign Policy?

March, 2003

As an academic generally considered to be a Straussian, I’ve recently been bemused to be grouped with a movement that allegedly controls the world. A whole slew of articles in the U.S. and Britain claim that the Bush Administration’s military interventionism stems from the hidden influence of Leo Strauss through his highly placed acolytes in the White House. Strauss has been dead for thirty years. He was the author of a large number of brilliant but recondite books on philosophers such as Plato and Spinoza, with little about practical politics and almost nothing about the United States. It’s more than a little odd that he should be considered the mastermind of a Republican blueprint for global hegemony.

Books in Canada- Conor Cruises the Millenium and fears for the Elightenment: Review of 'On the Eve of the Millenium' by Connor Cruise O'Brien

September, 1996

Conor Cruise O'Brien is an attractive type of figure, and an increasingly rare one-a passionate liberal. "Liberal" is my term, not his; Mr. O'Brien prefers to speak of the Enlightenment. So I want to make it clear that by liberalism, I do not mean whatever narrow political agenda that term may currently evoke, but the broader moral, cultural, and philosophical bases of the nation-state stretching back to the seventeenth century-our whole modern democratic civilization with its protection of individual rights, its tolerance for private avocations so long as they do not harm others, its belief that the truth will prevail through the free exchange of opinions, that advances in scientific knowledge go hand in hand with the moral advancement of mankind, and the idea that governments are contracts instituted to serve the good of the people, revocable if they fail to do so. It is this broader liberalism, which embraces both of what are currently referred to as "liberal" and "conservative" strains in our partisan politics, that O'Brien believes is in grave danger as we approach the third millennium: "My central subject matter in these discourses is the future of the Enlightenment."

Kritika & Kontext- Alexandre Kojeve: Conservative Icon, Soviet Agent


After receiving a dossier from the KGB, the French secret service recently revealed that Alexandre Kojeve had been a Soviet Agent for some thirty years. 

Books in Canada- Texture of Troubles: Review of 'The Warrior’s Honour: Ethnic War and Modern Conscience'

September, 1998

The Warrior's Honour is a series of essays emerging from Michael Ignatieff's travels "through the landscapes of modern ethnic war" between 1993 and 1997, including Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Afghanistan. Readers who liked his previous books, such as The Needs of Strangers and Blood & Belonging, will not be disappointed, for all the elements of the Ignatieff style are here: the jeweller's eye for the vivid detail, the fluid and gracious prose, and a high-mindedness which is attractive, even if, in my view, it verges at times on the platitudinous. There is no denying him his share of golden moments as an author: "At the checkpoints I met the new warriors: the barefoot boys with Kalashnikovs, the paramilitaries in wraparound sunglasses, the turbaned zealots of the Taliban who checked their prayer mats next to their guns."

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