Learning From Our Defeat: The Assumptions of Donald Rumsfeld

One hopes for statesmen chastened by defeat. In this world of our hopes, the authors of catastrophe would discuss their mistakes with the humility, introspection, and sense of disgrace these mistakes deserve. Decisions that led to death—death in its thousands and hundreds of thousands—would be examined with probing honesty. The decision makers behind them would be seized with a fierce guilt and urgency. They would quest to understand the nature of their errors. They would incessantly press upon us the lessons of experience, gripped with fear that the next generation might repeat their calamities.

One can imagine such a statesman, chastened by defeat. Douglas Feith is not he.

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Myths of the Over-Managed

The most popular thing I published last year was the essay “On Cultures That Build.” In that essay I argued that “in the 21st century, the main question in American social life is not ‘how do we make that happen?’ but ‘how do we get management to take our side?’ This is a learned response, and a culture which has internalized it will not be a culture that ‘builds.’”θ

In this week’s edition of City Journal I have a follow up of a sort to that essay. I begin this new essay with what might seem like an entirely unrelated question: why is speculative “Young Adult” fiction the most popular genre of 21st century America?

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For God and Progress: Notes On Training the Medical Mind

William Osler, teaching at the bedside. Understanding changing perceptions of “great works”— what books are included in a canon at a given moment in history, why certain works make the cut while others fall to the wayside, and tracking down the individuals responsible for these decisions—is a hobby of mine. I have written about it […]

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Longfellow and the Decline of American Poetry

 Last summer the New Yorker published an essay by James Marcus that asks the following question: why was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow so loved in his own lifetime when today he is so little read or respected? There is one very compelling answer to this that the article that does not discuss—indeed, that the article itself […]

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Why Writers (and Think Tankers) Feud So Viciously

Some of the things that make “the discourse” terrible are new to social media—especially Twitter. But not all. Some other problems are very, very old. Perhaps the best guide to today’s Twitter beefs was written near three centuries ago.  Listen here to one Adam Smith, theorist of moral sentiments. Our journey begins with an observation: […]

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Where Have All the Great Works Gone?

A few months ago I wrote about Oswald Spengler’s attempt at comparative world history. I expressed severe reservations with Spengler’s methods and conclusions.[1] But for me the most fascinating parts of the book were the footnotes to Spengler’s main argument. Take, for example, Spengler’s attempt to compare and contrast members of his chosen pantheon of […]

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Bootstrapping Marx With the Peasant Masses

One of the great ironies of 20th century history: Marxist revolutionaries could only ever  seize power in the wrong countries. Marx imagined a revolution of industrial proletariat; he expected that this proletariat would at first achieve its aims in highly industrialized nations like England and Germany. His theory of socialism presupposed that a successful transition […]

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