Readers of the Scholar’s Stage will be familiar with a thesis I have pursued in multiple essays and posts over the last half decade: America was once a place where institutional capacity was very high. Americans were a people with an extraordinary sense of agency. This is one of the central reasons they transformed the material, cultural, institutional, and political framework of not only the North American continent, but the entire world. That people is gone. The social conditions that gave the Americans their competence and confidence have passed away. Where Americans once asked “how do we solve this?” they now query “how do we get management on my side?”
Different pieces have investigated different aspects of this thesis.
A few months ago Jonathan Haidt made waves with a big think-piece in the Atlantic arguing that most of the ills of the 2010s can be traced back to the invention of the retweet button. I read the essay and disagreed with it vociferously. Today City Journal published my critique. You can read my counter essay here. Below I would like to add some additional thoughts on social media and American politics that could not fit into that piece.
The political project of the “post liberals” is not my own. Many of their critiques of contemporary American life and politics mirror what I have written; many of their suggestions for the future of the American right I easily endorse. θBut the grander their essays, the broader their harangues, the less convincing they become. I suspect our most important divide concerns our understanding of history.
Over at the Duck of Minerva Daniel Nexon has posted a reflective essay on the way the political science blogosphere has changed over the last two decades. Nexon’s IR-themed group blog was one of the first “political science blogs” of the aughts; at the old blogosphere’s height it was the largest academic-IR themed blog on the internet. I first encountered it around that time, when debates from the “strategy sphere” were spilling into the larger online conversation. America was debating the wisdom of the surge and our path forward in the Middle East, and blogs like Duck of Minerva dove into the controversy.
Though he couches his disappointment in diplomatic language, Nexon is bummed about the state of online poli-sci…
We are told that we “lost the culture war.” I dissent from this view: we never waged a culture war. Conservatives certainly fought, there is no denying that. We fought with every bit of obstruction and scandal our operatives could muster. But this was not a culture war. Rather, America’s conservatives fought a political war over culture.
Let’s talk about the grand Slate Star Codex brouhaha. A lot of people have already written about this. Here is the original New York Times piece that started the controversy.  Against the Grey Lady we have Cathy Young, Robby Soave, Micah Meadowcroft, Matthew Yglesias, Freddie DeBoer, Scott Aaronson, Noah Smith, and Dan Drezner, as […]
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: […]
The big trend in writing and journalism in the year 2020—other than the New York Times continued conquest of everything in print—is the flowering of the Substackerati. Hardly a day goes by without some famous figure announcing their new hope you will become a new subscriber to a new newsletter they are writing on this […]
Earlier this year I published a series of notes under the title “On Cultures That Build.” The thesis of that piece (the most popular thing I have written for any publication this year) was that both innovation and institutional capacity are at least partially a product of social training and cultural experience. Americans were once […]