Harvard University Press

Tae-Yeoun Keum’s Plato and the Mythic Tradition in Political Thought is a study well suited to the moment. The convergence of pandemic conspiracy theories with populist narratives of globalist malfeasance shows that the desire for stories that give meaning to our collective experience is alive and kicking (if not exactly well). We are told we’re moving into a post-truth age. Yet cries of ‘fake news!’ suggest that truth remains an ideal, even as it is obscured by the mythmaking of others. But whom to trust in such a situation? Can we count on our philosophers to get rid of the dross and to locate the truths that form the bedrock of our communities?

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‘Half a Jew’s life is consumed by the futile battle with papers,’ wrote Joseph Roth, in The Wandering Jews (1937), his little-known collection of essays written not long before the Holocaust. ‘The struggle for papers, the struggle against papers, is something an Eastern Jew gets free of only if he uses criminal methods to take on society.’ Faced with police demanding to see ‘exotic, improbable papers’, the Eastern Jew who possesses too many troublesome names, inaccurate birthdates, and no proper nationality to speak of is sent packing, ‘again, and again, and again’.

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Napoleon and de Gaulle: Heroes and history by Patrice Gueniffey, translated by Steven Rendall

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December 2020, no. 427

Forty years ago, François Furet outraged the French historical establishment by proclaiming that ‘the French Revolution is over’, launching a blistering critique of the Marxist categories and politics of university historians, many of them still members of the Communist Party he had abandoned in 1959. By the time of the bicentenary in 1989, historians were in bitter dispute over the meaning and legacy of the Revolution. In that year, Patrice Gueniffey completed his doctorate under Furet at the prestigious research school the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He remains at that institution today, Furet’s most famous disciple and a celebrated historian in his own right.

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In 2016, Hillary Clinton received nearly three million more votes for president of the United States than Donald Trump. Despite this sizeable margin, Clinton was not elected. The reason was the electoral college, a method for picking presidents that emerged as an ‘eleventh-hour compromise’ at the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787 and that has never been abolished.

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John Keane is Australia’s leading scholar of democracy, with work that demonstrates an impressive command of global sources. Keane’s most widely cited book, The Life and Death of Democracy (2009), included new research on the origins of public assemblies in India many centuries before the familiar democracy of Greek city-states. Keane located the origins of democracy in non-European traditions, in part by tracing the linguistic origins of the concept.

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The papacy’s role in international affairs is often underestimated. A recent example is Pope Francis’s participation in the 2015 negotiations leading to a détente between Cuba and the United States. It helped, of course, that Barack Obama was president and that Raúl Castro had replaced his brother Fidel in Havana; but it was Francis, building on the work of his predecessors who had maintained continuous relations with the Castro regime, who brought the two sides together, and who persuaded the United States to drop its sanctions against Cuba.

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How to Democratize Europe by Stéphanie Hennette et al.

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December 2019, no. 417

The import of this book is best summed up by pinching one of its section headings: ‘another Europe is possible’. In this other Europe, this better one, the ‘democratic deficit’ that has bedevilled the European project from the outset has finally found a satisfactory resolution. A dream? Not at all. For the authors of this book, it is a ‘realistic utopia’, fully achievable if the right measures are taken. All that is needed is an agreement on a treaty and the dismantling of a Trojan Horse. 

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The Great Cauldron: A history of southeastern Europe by Marie-Janine Calic, translated by Elizabeth Janik

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October 2019, no. 415

South-eastern Europe is a region defined by ambiguity: with few clear geographic boundaries or consensus over its correct appellation, it is a palimpsest bearing the marks of Balkan, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Ottoman, and central European cultures. As the identities of the region’s inhabitants have shifted across the centuries, their position within the European ...

The argument of James Simpson’s Permanent Revolution is that the emergence of liberalism as a cultural and political category in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was shaped by the ‘radically illiberal history of ...

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According to most accounts, the history of computing is a triumph of enterprise. This story starts in the 1950s and 1960s with commercial mainframe computers that, one stack of punch-cards at a time, assumed business tasks ranging from managing airline reservations to calculating betting odds ...

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