Wang Huning and the Eternal Return to 1975
23 November 2023 | 5:08 pm

A few years back Ross Douthat published an interesting book titled The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success. The thesis of Douthat's book is simple: American society is stagnant. Our blockbusters and our books are remakes from the '80s; our political coalitions and political programs all date back to the 1970s; even the technological progress we have seen over the last three decades pales in comparison to the revolutions that occurred in the decades before. We may celebrate "change agents" but we no longer have any. America is stuck in what Douthat cleverly labels an "eternal recursion to 1975." My essay "On Life in the Shadow of the Boomers" was written in response to The Decadent Society. It was mostly focused on the cultural angle of Douthat's thesis. Douthat's claims of technology are downstream the arguments of the Thielites. I assessed their arguments in the essay "Has Technological Progress Stalled?" Between these two pieces you see my general take on Douthat's thesis: his assessment of American cultural and political stasis is broadly correct, but he overstates how unusual stasis is in American history. Political and cultural transformation occurs via a sort of punctuated equilibrium (see also my essay "Culture Wars are Long Wars") and we just happen to be living at the tail end of an equilibrium phase. On the other hand, Douthat understates the true scope of technological stagnation. Nothing the internet has delivered remotely compares with the transformation of human civilization that occurred during the second industrial revolution. In 1975 technological change was the most important facet of American life. It is no longer. Were Wang Huning to read Douthat's book, I suspect he might agree with me.

Gaza and the Extremist’s Gambit
31 October 2023 | 3:51 am

Can strategic sense be found in "senseless" violence? This is the question I attempt to answer in a column I have out this week for Mosaic, tilted "The Extremist's Gambit Helps Explain Why Hamas Attacked Now." The piece was prompted by the many expressions of shock and puzzlement I read on social media when news of Hamas' desert massacres spread across the internet. "There is a temptation to explain away heinous violence as a product of irrational emotions or beliefs," I write. "Hamas terrorists, under this schema, murder Israeli children and partygoers under the influence of unquenchable ethnic hatreds, fanatical religious doctrines, or simply a perverse taste for cruelty itself."θ All such explanations have an element of truth to them. Violence cannot be divorced from the primordial passions. But the more one studies violent action—both at the level of the state and at the level of the individual—the more instrumental it will appear.

Soviets, Cybernetics, and China: A Reading Program
1 July 2023 | 2:29 am

Two years ago I ran a small reading group that met over zoom. Our reading topic: Leninism. Curious about the claims that modern Chinese politics are an outgrowth of Marxist ideas and practice yet feeling insufficiently familiar with the Leninist political tradition to properly judge its influence on contemporary Chinese politics, I organized a group of China-watching politicos to read both classic Marxist texts and historical studies of the Soviet Union and Maoist China.

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