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Caught in the Morass

[The following review, somewhat edited in ways I did not have a chance to look at (and in some respects would not have approved), appeared under the title Libertarian Limits in the January 2012 issue of First Things]

On Tolerance: A Defence of Moral Independence, by Frank Furedi, Continuum, 224 pages, $22.95

The independently-minded British sociologist Frank Furedi has variously been a Hungarian refugee, a self-proclaimed revolutionary communist, and a libertarian public intellectual. The last tendency seems likely to stick, and it has led him to write this critical analysis of therapeutic and custodial liberalism and plea for the restoration of classical liberalism.


A Self-Contained World

[The following review appeared in the January 2011 issue of Chronicles.]

The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, by Pascal Bruckner, translated by Steven Rendall. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 256 pp., $26.95


Always something to say

[The following review appeared in the October 2010 issue of Chronicles.]

Neoconservatives: The Biography of a Movement by Justin Vaïsse, translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press 376 pp., $35.00

There are very few neoconservatives, people disagree on who they are, and they have no popular following or definite organizational structure. Even so, they have deeply affected American public life for 40 years.


Squared circles squared

My review of Daniel Mahoney’s recent book has provoked a response from Professor Mahoney, which appears (along with my rejoinder) in the current (March 2011) issue of First Things.


Squaring the circle

That’s the title of my review of Daniel Mahoney’s The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order: Defending Democracy Against Its Modern Enemies and Immoderate Friends in the current issue of First Things.


Reason Defended?

[The following review appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Modern Age.]

The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West, by Lee Harris (New York: Basic Books, 2007)

What do we make of radical Islam? Of Islam in general? Of the present state of the West? It is easier not to deal with such large questions, but events force them on us. Lee Harris wants us to take them very seriously indeed, since he believes that weaknesses of the liberal West make radical Islam a threat to its very survival. To avoid disaster, he believes, we need to abandon a great deal of fuzziness, insist on the unique value and fragility of liberal society, attend to considerations drawn from sociobiology and social Darwinism, and moderate the liberalism we want to preserve.


Is Gifted and Talented Education Anti-American?

An old friend asked me to contribute something to an issue of the Mensa Research Journal he was guest-editing on the topic of “Barriers to Educating the Gifted” (vol. 40, No. 2; summer 2009). Here’s the result, plus or minus a few footnotes and editorial fiddles:

“Our children are our future.” 
“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
“Human ingenuity is our greatest resource.”
“In America we believe in education.”


More awakening

I expanded the lecture I gave last summer at Gardone into a series of three essays that can be found in the October, November, and December issues of The Angelus. You can also read a Google docs version of the series as a single document.


Order gets physical II

I have a review of the first volume of Christopher Alexander’s The Nature of Order in The University Bookman.


Stalking the Therapeutic State

The following review appeared in the 2006 issue of The Political Science Reviewer:

The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millenium, by Paul Edward Gottfried (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005). (SDM)

Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Toward a Secular Theocracy, by Paul Edward Gottfried (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002). (MPG)


The Search for a Moderate Liberalism

The following review of Christopher J. Insole, The Politics of Human Frailty: A Theological Defense of Political Liberalism (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005) appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of Telos.

What is liberalism and is it good or bad? Its pervasiveness makes it difficult to gain the perspective needed to decide such issues. Many current writers treat it as relativistic, individualistic and hubristic, and the man who is now Benedict XVI has gone so far as to describe the situation in the liberal West as a “dictatorship of relativism.”1 The author, a lecturer in theology at Cambridge University, disagrees. His academic position has made him quite familiar with the complaints, and he begins his book by observing that recent theological critics have described liberalism as


Some thoughts on culpability

Here is the short essay I contributed to Nikos Salingaros’ book Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction. They edited it a bit in the final version. The book is a recommended read, although I’m admittedly not neutral, and if you don’t like what I have to say in English you can also buy it in German:


Liberalism, Tradition and the Church

This four-part essay was published in slightly edited form in the Summer 2004 issue of Telos (number 128). There is also a *.pdf version of the essay as published. Comments are, of course, welcome.


Understanding Conservatism and Tradition

A slightly edited version of the following essay appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Telos.

To understand conservatism we must understand how conservatives differ from leftists and libertarians.

Basic oppositions in politics usually have to do with fundamental issues of social organization. Will king or parliament be supreme? Pope or emperor? Local community, nation, or transnational bureaucracy? Such issues are as important for us now as they were for the Cavaliers and Roundheads. So a simple explanation for the big divisions in political thought today is that they have to do with differing ideas of how society should be organized. Each way of running things creates a party that favors it.


Return to Philosophy

Return to Philosophy, by Thomas Molnar, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1996. 113 pp.95.

IN THIS, HIS MOST RECENT BOOK, Thomas Molnar calls for a “return to philosophy” that would broaden its scope and simplify its discourse. Narrowness and complexity have ruined much of philosophy, he stresses, and a restoration is needed. The issues he raises are therefore quite basic: What is philosophy? What does it deal with and how?

Where have we strayed, that a return is needed? And why does it matter? Such questions call for grandness of perspective. In little more than a hundred pages the author traces the main themes and phases of philosophy since its emergence among the Greeks, its relation to religious, traditional and non-Western strains of thought, the turns that have led to the present situation, and the response to that situation he thinks appropriate. While the perspectives and concerns are continuous with those in Professor Molnar’s previous writings, they are presented here with broader sympathy for a variety of positions, a greater sense of freedom to follow insights and arguments where they lead, and a lesser inclination to marshall materials to prove a thesis. Now more than ever, the author views philosophy as free inquiry, always new and never completed, and the philosopher as the man with his own view of things, who “does not know on awakening to what extent he will have to modify his world-picture before he goes to bed that night.”


Good Sense, Conservatism and Faith

[The following discussion appeared in the Winter, 2002 issue of Modern Age.]

Is religious faith necessary for conservatism? A more basic question is whether it is necessary for good sense, since it is for the sake of good sense that we are conservative. If it were otherwise, conservatism would be a hobby or ideology, and it is neither; it is simply the appearance good sense takes on in an overly-rationalistic world.

Conservatism begins with acceptance of limits. It tells us that not everything can be said, let alone proved, that we did not make the world and cannot remake it, that we are creatures of habit, and that loyalty to the ways and understandings that order a particular social world is necessary for our lives to be coherent and reasonable. As de Maistre points out, we are not simply men; we are Frenchmen or Italians, Europeans or Americans, Yankees or Southerners, Protestants, Catholics or Jews.


The Amish, David Koresh, and a Newer World Order

Shortly before dawn on April 19, 1993, FBI tanks equipped to dispense tear gas crashed through the walls of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Over the course of the next six hours the tanks repeatedly rammed the ramshackle frame building inside the compound occupied by members of the sect, pumping in tear gas and causing structural damage that blocked stairways and exits. At about noon, fire broke out and spread in the high winds, quickly swallowing the half-wrecked building in flames. Most of those inside, including dozens of women and children, were trapped in inner rooms on the second floor and died in the fire.


The Tyranny of Liberalism

A slightly edited version of the preceding essay, originally entitled “Liberalism, the Transcendent, and Restoration,” appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of Modern Age. It is also available in German and Czech.


Liberalism: Ideal and Reality

A slightly edited version of the following essay appeared in the Winter 2002 issue of Telos.

Why does liberalism—the tradition that makes equal freedom the political touchstone—combine such strength with such incoherence? The attempt to make freedom dominant leads to contradiction. Liberalism is triumphant almost everywhere, but its victory reverses the meaning of its principles. It calls for live-and-let-live, and enforces it by supervising everything. For the sake of freedom it empowers bureaucrats to reconstruct human nature. It appeals to “the people,” while reserving the right to make them into whatever it thinks fit.*


Ibn Khaldun and Our Age

A slightly edited version of the following essay appeared in issue 20 of The Scorpion.
Political thinkers engage our attention by their presentation of the particular features of their own time and place as well as the permanent qualities of man in society. We can read Aristotle and Hobbes for general lessons, or for the politics of the Greek city-state and of European society after the wars of religion.



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