Is Othello Insecure?

W.E.B. Du Bois coined the phrase ‘double consciousness’ to name the anxious self-doubt that is commonly suffered by those for whom social success or acceptance is barred by hostile race prejudices. “The facing of so vast a prejudice could not but bring the inevitable self-questioning, self-disparagement, and lowering of ideals which ever accompany repression and […]

What might Arendt have to say about Trump?

A few people have been asking me my thoughts on the recent surge of interest in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, in relation to our present political crisis.  I’m working on writing something on the subject, but meanwhile – to air some rough ideas –  I offer the following snippet  of a conversation I had last week […]

Arendt: “The reality in which we live”

“Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest — forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries. It is as though mankind had divided itself between those who […]

Misremembering Plato’s Noble Lie

Back when I taught at Yale, I used to give a quiz about Plato’s Republic in the first class meeting for one of my upper-level seminars. The students were all supposed to have taken at least one prior course in which the Republic was read, and I wanted to see how well they remembered it.  (I also […]

One Cheer for Sectarian Strife

“If I have called for a renewal of interdenominational strife (a strange argument, I admit), it is only because I don’t want the ideological certainties of this world to pollute or dilute theological seriousness. Conservative clamors about “religious freedom” have, perversely, only hastened the secularization of intellectual life, by painting “religion” into a corner of […]

Hillary Clinton, Stephen Douglas, and the Logic of Success

Would liberals favoring Clinton over Sanders in 2016 have rooted for Lincoln’s opponent in 1858? My colleague Corey Robin wrote a column earlier this week on  the fallacies and forgetfulness of liberal Democrats who continue to favor Hillary Clinton for the party’s Presidential nominee.  At this point the liberal Democrat case for Clinton essentially comes down to the (dubious) notion […]

Leviathan’s Science of Morals

1. Time for another go at Hobbes’s moral philosophy.  This time around, I’d like to take a closer look at how Hobbes himself defines moral philosophy in Leviathan, and how he makes use of that definition. “Morall Philosophy,” he says, “is nothing else but the Science of what is Good, and Evill, in the conversation, […]

Thoreau the Revolutionary

1. In “Thoreau and the Tax-Collector,” I looked at Thoreau’s reasons, as stated in “Civil Disobedience,” for refusing to pay his poll-tax.  My concern was to emphasize Thoreau’s political purpose, his understanding of the act as a practical step toward  combating the evil of slavery.   As I noted, this side of his argument in “Civil Disobedience” has often been slighted, when readers focus […]