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Introducing the Fall Issue: The End of the End of History?

illustration by Jesse Lenz

Although Francis Fukuyama never said the triumph of liberal democracy was inevitable, his qualified declaration of the “the end of history” captured the optimistic, sometimes naive tenor of the early post-Cold War era. But how quickly that confidence faded! Unmistakable signs of history’s resumption began to appear less than two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In its 2008 annual report on political rights and civil liberties around the world, the democracy watchdog Freedom House took troubled note of the reversal of progress in a number of key countries in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the former Soviet space.

This “profoundly disturbing deterioration,” as Freedom House put it, has continued, and not only in countries with fragile democratic institutions. The most recent survey found that “in 2016 it was established democracies—countries rated Free in the report’s ranking system—that dominated the list of countries suffering setbacks.” The report’s authors went on glumly to note that the US election of 2016 “raised fears of a foreign policy divorced from America’s traditional strategic commitments to democracy, human rights, and the rules-based international order that it helped to construct beginning in 1945.” And if this were not enough, they pointed to a growing “nexus” of mutual support between authoritarian regimes and populist movements in both weak and strong liberal democracies.

It would be somewhat reassuring to think the United States is the “exceptional nation” resisting the tide. But President Donald J. Trump’s casual, sometimes caustic, disdain for democratic norms and his inexplicable coziness with Vladimir Putin and lesser authoritarians have raised concerns in America and abroad, particularly among traditional allies.

Disturbing as the behavior of the forty-fifth president is, honesty compels us to recognize that Trump’s presidency is less the cause of America’s democracy woes than the product of them. Surveys and studies, including The Vanishing Center of American Democracy, published by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture last year, reveal a steady decline in Americans’ confidence in their political institutions as well as various other bulwarks of a liberal and civil society. A declining faith in democratic norms has only exacerbated the culture war divisions of the last four decades, divisions that have in turn been intensified by what some call a new class war between “credentialed” elites and (mostly) white lower-income earners who see their fortunes declining. And as many have noted, democratic norms are bound to suffer when there are no shared conceptions of truth or objectivity, and when all products of journalism are dismissed, from one partisan angle or another, as “fake news.”

Is it time to declare the end of the end of history, as we tentatively suggest in the title to this issue’s theme? More fundamentally, is there something deeply flawed in what many people have long believed was the crowning achievement of the Enlightenment: not merely the idea of governments of, for, and by the people but states undergirded by commitments to personal and civil liberties. Are we witnessing the exhaustion of the once-vital liberal tradition that supported our politics, both its progressive and conservative strands, and which made politics a (relatively) civil enterprise, and compromise a desirable outcome of that enterprise?

The contributors to this issue propose widely differing answers to these questions. But all agree that the questions are urgent and the stakes are high, not only for America and other liberal democracies but also for the relatively stable global order that emerged after World War II, an order built on faith in the universal worth of liberal principles.

We will be releasing a select number of essays and reviews from this issue on a rolling basis during the coming weeks, starting with the following two:

Here’s what subscribers can already read: “The Tragedy of Liberalism,” Patrick J. Deneen; “Not Melting into Air,” John M. Owen IV; “Why Nations Matter,” Wilfred M. McClay; “Technocratic Vistas,” Jackson Lears; and “What Is to Be Done?,” by William A. Galston.

Other contributions include essays by Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon and Phil Christman.

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From the Archives: Peter Berger

Detail from cover from Penguin Random House.

Detail from cover from Penguin Random House.

It’s with sadness that we at The Hedgehog Review hear of the death of the sociologist Peter Berger, an occasional contributor to our pages and a friend to the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

You can read his essay for our Globalization and Religion issue here, or his interview with Charles Mathewes here. Readers with institutional access might also be interested in THR publisher Joe Davis’s review of Berger’s memoir, Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World without Becoming a Bore.

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Introducing the Summer Issue: The Meaning of Cities

Bearden_The Block II 1972 copy copy

The Block II, 1972, by Romare Bearden (1921–1988), The Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art, © Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA, New York.

Whenever it pops up these days, and it does very often, the phrase smart city conjures up visions of a bright, bold urban future—a future that, to some extent, has already arrived. We are assured that through the mobilization of Big Data, the Internet of Things, robotics, and a host of other technological wonders, this “sweeping change” is not only inevitable but all to the good.

But are we reassured?

The answer depends on what we think is good not just for cities but about them—about what we expect of them as sites and incubators of commerce, creativity, and community, and, even more crucially, as places that form the minds and souls of their inhabitants. And yet, in this epoch of “the city”—when more than half of the world’s population inhabits cities, when so much thought and study have been devoted to the challenges of city life, and when so many expectations have been placed upon the city as the solution to a range of pressing national and global problems—surprisingly little attention is paid to the crucial purpose of cities.

As the pace of urbanization accelerates worldwide—with some projections putting 70 percent of humanity in cities by 2050—there is good cause to see our fate inextricably bound up with the forms our cities take. For that reason among others, the question of  the meaning of cities, the theme of this issue, has never been more urgent. We invite you to join our authors as they consider different aspects of that question.

We will be releasing a select number of essays and reviews from this issue on a rolling basis during the coming weeks, starting with the following two:

Here’s what subscribers can already read: Noah J. Toly’s “The New Urban Agenda and the Limits of Cities,” Marc J. Dunkelman’s “Next-Door Strangers: The Crisis of Urban Anonymity,” and Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein’s “Cosmopolitanism vs. Provincialism: How the Politics of Place Hurts America.” Other contributions include essays by Mark Edmundson, Donald Dewey, and Jackson Lears.

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Johann Neem: “Do We Still Know How to Be Good Citizens?”

Johann Neem, a historian at Western Washington University and frequent Hedgehog Review contributor, recently participated in a panel called “Do We Still Know How to Be Good Citizens?” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

Read more about the panel here, or watch the video below.

What It Means to Be American: Do We Still Know How to Be Good Citizens? from Zocalo Public Square on Vimeo.

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Introducing the Spring Issue:
The Post-Modern Self

Untitled

Untitled by Didier Gaillard; private collection, Bridgeman images.

“The past is a foreign country,” wrote the British author L.P. Hartley in his 1953 novel, The Go-Between. But almost before Hartley’s words acquired the status of proverb, something curious happened. Thanks largely to the dizzying pace of change that technology has made almost routine, the present itself became a foreign country—alien, but in the most deceptive of ways. In this curious present, we discern only with difficulty how things that seem familiar and fixed are actually, upon closer investigation, strange and unsettled. One day, for example, we think the reality of “reality TV” is anything but real; the next day we discover that it most shockingly is—and maybe has been for much longer than we realized. If we have not quite arrived at Orwellian Newspeak, in which war is peace and love is hate, then we are somewhere not far off. In this here and now, where meanings and norms shift shapes right before our eyes, we are strangers in, and to, our own time.

That strangeness is in no respect more unsettling than in relation to the very selves we are becoming. Every individual self is unique, of course, but all selves are also inescapably shaped by beliefs, norms, ideals, and meanings that make up the totality of a specific culture at a specific time. Until now at least, those underlying and defining elements of a culture benefited from a certain stability—or at least the appearance of such amid what might be described, more precisely, as gradually changing continuity. In the increasingly alien present, however, the very character of our culture (some would even say our anti-culture) is the absence of such stability and continuity, both having been displaced by the discontinuous, disruptive, and destabilizing force of change, a force that is now celebrated, and even idolized, for its own sake.

So, then, what sort of selves are we becoming in this age that we call, for lack of a better word, post-modern? That is the question our contributors explore in  The Post-Modern Self, the theme of our spring issue.

We will be releasing a select number of essays and reviews from this issue on a rolling basis during the coming weeks, starting with the following two:

For subscribers, the complete issue is available now, whether in print or ePub form. In our thematic section, the essays include David Bosworth’s “Knowing Together: The Emergence of the Hive Mind,” Wilfred M. McClay’s “The Strange Persistence of Guilt,” Mary Townsend’s “The Walking Wounded,” and Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn’s “The New Old Ways of Self-Help.” Our non-thematic essays range from Nadav Samin on jihadist fiction and Regina Mara Schwartz on love and justice to Chad Wellmon on the fate of general education. We also review a series of key recent titles in our book review section.

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Introducing the Fall Issue:
The Cultural Contradictions of Modern Science

18-3_cover-crop-for-blog

Science has been central to the rise of the modern world. The practices of induction, observation, experimentation, theory testing, and falsification, particularly as these became codified within professional associations and institutions devoted to the advancement and promulgation of scientific knowledge, and particularly as such knowledge was applied to a seemingly endless number of practical uses and technologies—all of these have had such profound effects on society and culture that it is sometimes difficult to identify or delimit the influence of science.

But ubiquity can breed suspicion. One concern is that as the power of science grows, its dominion extends even into areas of our culture where its proclaimed authority is questionable. A misplaced trust in what science can do in such areas has in turn bred a distrust even of what  science demonstrably and reasonably can deliver. As contributor Ari N. Schulman writes,  We seem to be facing a slow-brewing crisis of scientific authority even as we hear ever more eager paeans to science. Although these defiant and deferential attitudes might seem at odds, they are each dysfunctional relations toward scientific authority, mutually reinforcing and commonly opposed to the empowering independence science is supposed to sustain.”

That is one of the cultural contradictions that lie at the heart of our thematic essays in our fall issue, The Cultural Contradictions of Modern Science. We will be releasing a select number of our articles on a rolling basis over coming weeks.

To that end, enjoy our two launch articles:

For subscribers, of course, the complete issue is available now, whether in print or ePub form. In addition to the above from our fall issue, subscribers can read “Invisible Science” by Harvard University’s Steven Shapin, “Where the New Science of Morality Goes Wrong” by University of Virginia professor James Davison Hunter and philosopher Paul Nedelisky, “Science Anxiety” by essayist Ari N. Schulman, and “Trivial Pursuits: The Decline of Scientific Research” by ethicist Paul Scherz.

In addition, subscribers to our print edition can read essays like “Ladies in Waiting” by Becca Rothfeld, “The Justice of Retribution” by Jeffrie G. Murphy, and “Three Ideal Dinners” by Mark Edmundson.

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More Spooky Stories for Halloween

Ben Weger via Flickr.

Ben Weger via Flickr.

Season of mists and yellow fruitfulness…and, of course, of ghosts and stories for long cold evenings. We asked some Hedgehog Review editors, contributors, and friends to send in their recommendations for their favorite Halloween stories for this weekend. Enjoy!

Ghosts, Edith Wharton

According to Edith Wharton, we don’t so much believe in ghosts as feel them, “in the warm darkness of the pre-natal fluid far below our conscious reason” where “the faculty dwells with which we apprehend the ghosts we may not be endowed with the gift of seeing.” Not long before her death in 1937, she worried that this “ghost-instinct” might be gradually atrophying. Ghosts, she wrote, don’t need “echoing passages and hidden doors behind tapestry” to “make themselves manifest,” but two conditions diminishing in a noisy and fast-paced world. Silence, of course, for a ghost “obviously prefers the silent hours,” and also continuity: “For where a ghost has once appeared it seems to hanker to appear again.”

Happily, Wharton’s Ghosts, an omnibus of her own ghost stories, ably stimulates that faculty required for their enjoyment. Her tales are exquisitely sensitive, with subtle premonitions and invariably tragic endings. They induce chills that run down the spine. From “The Triumph of Night,” one of her lesser known:

Faxon’s first impulse was to look away, to look anywhere else, to resort again to the champagne glass the watchful butler had already brimmed; but some fatal attraction, at war in him with an overwhelmingly physical resistance, held his eyes upon the spot they feared.

The figure was still standing, more distinctly, and therefore more resemblingly, at Mr. Lavington’s back; and while the latter continued to gaze affectionately at his nephew, his counterpart, as before, fixed young Rainer with eyes of deadly menace.

—Joseph E. Davis is publisher of The Hedgehog Review.

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The Hedgehog’s Array: August 12, 2016

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Noteworthy reads from the last week (or so):

“Monstrous Births,” Sarah Blackwood
“Perhaps it might be time to abandon altogether the idea of childbirth as a moral experience?”

“Are you dating a Fox News spy? Read it at Gawker, as the news site careens toward bankruptcy sale,” Matt D. Pearce
“It is time to soak up Gawker Media’s final days of freedom before the irreverent, influential and financially doomed media company goes up for sale next week.”

“Lives and Misfortunes of Lorenzo Da Ponte,” Antonio Muñoz Molina
“We imagine a very old man walking in New York in the twenties and thirties of the nineteenth century, recalling as if in a dream all the lives that he had lived, as remote as the opera performances that he used to attend in the Vienna of his youth, in an extinguished world.”

“Make America Austria Again: How Robert Musil Predicted the Rise of Donald Trump,” David Auerbach
“Trump is one of the most emotionally needy figures in American political history.”

“Delusion at the Gastropub,” Heather Havrilesky
“Food is personal. It’s sensual, it’s nostalgic, it’s political. But contrary to the slogans of our officious foodie overlords, food is not everything.”

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