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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Understanding Taiwanese Nationalism: A Historical Primer in Bullet Points

  Noah Smith has a recent substack note discussing Taiwan. In the comments section there are a number of heated arguments over whether Taiwanese language, history, politics, and so forth are enough to justify thinking of Taiwan the way Smith does: as its own “civilization.” When reading through these debates I was struck by the […]

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Spengler and the Search for a Science of Human Culture

Several months ago I wrote a few reflections on Ross Douthat’s newest book, The Decadent Society.[1] As I noted, Douthat’s most interesting claim is that we live in an age of intellectual sterility. We cycle ever backwards to the intellectual, cultural, and political priorities of 1975. In response, I argued that complaints of cultural sterility […]

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On Life in the Shadow of the Boomers

Image source Ideology, which was once the road to action, has become a dead end. —Daniel Bell (1960) Yuval Levin’s 2017 book Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism has several interesting passages inside it, but none so interesting as Levin’s meditation on the generational frame that clouds the modern mind. […]

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We Were Builders Once, and Strong

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 […]

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On Sparks Before the Prairie Fire

Photo by Katelynn & Jordan Hewlett (15 August 2020). Source. It inevitably will be asked why advanced industrial America has so violent a history, but this is not, I think, either as difficult or as interesting as another question: How could America have combined such a substantial degree of popular domestic violence with such a high […]

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This is Not The American Cultural Revolution

A book to read before making a poor analogy. Earlier this week I was interviewed by Erik Torenberg, for his podcast “Venture Stories.” The podcast was wide ranging; among other things, we discussed my posts “The World Twitter Made,” “On Cultures That Build,” “China Does Not Want Your Rules Based Order,” my on-going critique of […]

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Against Patrick Deneen (II)

Image Source In Michael Lotus and James Bennett’s America 3.0 an interesting observation is made about the nature of the American family: A less appreciated factor pushing assimilation [of immigrants] was the American legal system, which compelled people to adopt American marriage and inheritance practices. However attached immigrants may have been to their own practices, […]

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