Tag Archives: Chad Wellmon

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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Introducing the Spring Issue:
The Post-Modern Self

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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 Summer Issue: Meritocracy and Its Discontents

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A-1, 1962 (acrylic on canvas) by Robert Indiana (b.1928), photograph © Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images; © Morgan Art Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Whatever lies at the end of this surprise-filled electoral season, most observers would agree that it has already exposed a widespread distrust of those whom we selectively call our elites. Even before this election season, the word elites had become one of the nastier epithets hurled back and forth across America’s cultural and political divides, each side having its own catalog of particularly loathsome nabobs.

Today’s leadership class inspires remarkably little confidence. Explanations for this abound, from the anecdotal to the systemic. Elites are distant, aloof, and increasingly selfish. They are deracinated. Their orientation is global, not local. They have no loyalty to their nation or their fellow citizens. In a winner-take-all economy, they are grossly overcompensated for the questionable services they perform. They are condescending toward, even contemptuous of, the poor, the working stiff, the small-town provincial, or anyone else who lives outside their narrowly circumscribed socio-economic ambit. Seeing themselves as winners in the meritocratic contest, they lack the humility to acknowledge the advantages or good fortune that helped paved the way to their success and exalted station.

How, then, have elites and the system that selects and forms them fallen into such disrepute—or at least become the objects of widespread calumny? That is the question that lies at the heart of our thematic essays in our summer issue, Meritocracy and Its Discontents.

Traditionally, we’ve released ten articles from each issue for free and then held back the rest of this issue. This is great for browsing, but means that a few articles tend to eat up all the attention. This time, we are trying something slightly different—rolling out the articles a few at a time so that they have a chance to stand on their own.

To that end, enjoy our two launch articles:

For subscribers, of course, the whole issue is available right now, whether in print or ePub form. In addition to the above, they’ll get to read the contributions of Robert Frank and Wilfred McClay, and great free-standing essays like John J. Lennon’s “The Murderer’s Mother.” They can dive straight into our special symposium on Richard Rorty, in which Susan Haack, Matthew Crawford, and Robert Pippin discuss a previously unpublished lecture that Rorty delivered at the University of Virginia in 2004.

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The Hedgehog Review Featured In Adbusters

We were flattered to discover that three articles from our fall issue—“Naming the Modern Discontent,” “Sacred Reading,” and “We Have Never Been Disenchanted”—were re-purposed for the most recent issue of Adbusters. Check out some spreads from that issue below (click on the images for a larger version).

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Re-enchantment: The Fall Issue Appears

fromtheeditors

Detail, “Views on paper #1,” by Hinke Schreuders (2014). Image courtesy of artist.

Re-enchantment: What is it? Who wants it? Good questions, and ones that we explore from various angles in our fall issue.

Up until the last two decades or so, believers in the rising tide of secularization, including most Western scholars and intellectuals, regarded “disenchantment” as the inevitable corollary of progress and enlightenment. But facts on the ground, including certain epochal events, defied received ideas and theory. Not only did religions and religious passions reassert themselves around the world (in both inspiring and terrifying ways), but growing doubts about the overly reductive claims of scientific reason opened the door to new understandings of cause and value, and of their possible connections. If the world had been truly disenchanted in the first place, was it now undergoing a kind of re-enchantment? Or were at least some secularists beginning to have second thoughts about the once and final disenchantment of the world?

If the Sea of Faith’s “melancholy, long withdrawing roar” was only a tidal fluctuation, the reverse flow is not bringing back “that old-time religion” so much as exposing the complex interconnections among things we once considered separate and distinct from one another, or even at odds. Some even insist that the world only passed from one form of enchantment to another. Debates about the sacred take subtle and interesting form in our time. The fall issue will touch on some of these questions.

As always, we’ve put some essays and book reviews up in full for you to sample:
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For subscribers, we have Charles Mathewes on Peter Sloterdijk, Anna Marazuela Kim on iconoclasm, Matthew Scherer on modernity’s origin stories, and Eugene McCarraher on why we’ve never been disenchanted. In addition, we have essays from John Inazu and Wilfred McClay, along with reviews of new books by David Brooks, Joshua Cohen, Andrew Hartman, and Carlos Fraenkel. If you aren’t a subscriber, it’s an easy problem to fix: click here and subscribe today.

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The Hedgehog’s Array: August 21, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Selling Out the Newspaper Comic Strip,” Luke Epplin
Calvin and Hobbes, which centered on a headstrong child and a stuffed tiger that comes to life under his gaze, shared many similarities with Peanuts: articulate children, fantasy sequences, episodic storylines, philosophical undercurrents, and an aversion to facile punch lines. But Schulz and Watterson harbored fundamental disagreements about the nature and direction of their medium, and their entrenched beliefs shaped their divergent approaches to comics as both an art and a business.”

“Melancholy,” Carina del Valle Schorske
“Melancholy is a word that has fallen out of favor for describing the condition we now call depression. The fact that our language has changed, without the earlier word disappearing completely, indicates that we are still able to make use of both.”

“The Ashley Madison Hack Should Scare You, Too,” Heather Havrilesky
“At the exact moment when citizens worldwide should be noticing that we’re all living in glass houses, many of us are picking up stones instead.”

“Why Can’t People Just Be Sensible?,” Jenny Diski
“Oh, Doris would say to anyone in any kind of emotional trouble, why can’t people just be sensible? Once or twice I shouted back: because we’re people. The answer carried no weight at all.”

“The Riders of the Waves,” Alice Gregory
“Reputations are made and maintained in the ocean, but they’re premised on more than just talent. Seniority, humility, pain tolerance, and a hundred other factors contribute to a surfer’s local eminence.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Gallery Chronicle,” Leann Davis Alspaugh
“El Greco (1541–1614) knew the value of his work and was not afraid to go to court to prove his point.”

“The Genealogy of Orals,” Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
“When someone from abroad wants to learn about our university system, his first pressing question is: How do your students participate in university life? We answer: By means of the ear — they take part as listeners. The foreigner is amazed and asks: Purely by listening? Purely by listening, we repeat.”
(excerpted from Anti-Education, a volume of Nietzsche’s lectures edited by Chad Wellmon)

“Digital Star Chamber,” Frank Pasquale
“For wines or films, the stakes are not terribly high. But when algorithms start affecting critical opportunities for employment, career advancement, health, credit and education, they deserve more scrutiny.”

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The Body In Question: The Summer Issue Appears

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The Dancer (1913), Egon Schiele; Leopold Museum, Vienna; HIP/Art Resource, NY.

Our bodies, ourselves? In one sense, of course. But the things we now do to our bodies, whether through tattooing, piercing, or sculpting, and the ways we attempt to perfect or transcend them, whether through extreme fitness regimes, self-tracking, or artificial enhancements, suggest new, if not fully articulated, conceptions of the human person and the ends and purposes of human existence.

These conceptions have a history, of course. They derive in part from a centuries-old confidence in the power of science to fix, extend, and possibly even “immortalize” our physical selves. They resonate with the American dream of self-remaking and the New Adam. And they recast the Protestant concern with the born-again experience in secular and material terms. But these ideas have been transformed and popularized through association with assorted projects reflecting our highly individualistic and commodified culture, from identity politics and transhumanism to the Quantified Self movement to assorted cults of body modification.

Despite the various attentions we now lavish on the body, the body itself may be losing its true magisterium. No longer a source of wisdom about human limits and potential, it is now seen as a means of self-transformation, an instrument in the pursuit of perfection—or an equally elusive immortality.

These questions are all explored in the newest issue of The Hedgehog Review, “The Body in Question.” As always, we’ve put some essays and book reviews up in full for you to sample:

For subscribers, we have Christine Rosen on tattoos and transgression, Gordon Marino on boxing, Chad Wellmon on the multiversity, Ronald Osborn on the Christian origins of human rights, Johann Neem on the Common Core, and more! If you aren’t a subscriber, it’s an easy problem to fix: click here and subscribe today.

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The Hedgehog’s Array: June 12, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]

Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Siberia’s Surprisingly Australian Past,” Helen Andrews
“The Siberians’ reluctance to discuss the matter might indicate not anxiety but a healthy state of having moved on. They had not reckoned with their past in a way that turned up under my questioning, but that hardly proves no reckoning has taken place.”

“Saint Sardine,” Cara Parks
“Today, the sardine is undergoing its own conversion of expendable foods into those given pride of plate. For years, sardines have battled a reputation as relegated only to those who couldn’t afford better—a perception not helped by their ubiquitous presence as a canned good outside of Portugal. Over the last few years, however, sardines have developed something of a food-world following.”

“Nazi Propaganda: Out of the Cage,” Francine Prose
“Nearly everyone who speaks in the film agrees that context is all-important; that the films need to be exhibited as examples of vile propaganda, that the lies they promulgate need to be exposed, and that an audience should be told about the damage that these works helped to inflict.”

“What is Code?,” Paul Ford
“This is real. A Scrum Master in ninja socks has come into your office and said, ‘We’ve got to budget for apps.’ Should it all go pear-shaped, his career will be just fine.”

“The Empty Bath,” Colin Burrow
“In ‘On Translating Homer’ Matthew Arnold described Homer as ‘eminently noble’, ‘eminently rapid’ and ‘eminently plain and direct’ in style and ideas. Homer ‘has, besides, the pure lines of an Ionian horizon, the liquid clearness of an Ionian sky’. These assertions are often quoted. I find that strange because they seem plain crazy to me.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“No Benedict Without Benedictines,” Jeff Guhin
“Much conservative discussion of the Benedict Option forgets that the ultimate goal for MacIntyre is a community rooted in tradition driven by practices. That’s only possible with a lot of communal interactions and common living.”

“The Enlightenment Index,” Brad Pasanek and Chad Wellmon
“Although much has been written on the subject, ‘print culture’ remains a puzzling hybrid term, difficult to analyze into its cultural and technological components. For both Kant and Reid, print posed a first threat to the process of enlightenment.”

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