April 3, 2020

Earlier this week, out of idle curiosity I picked up Katherine Stewart’s new book The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. Stewart—the author of a somewhat notorious recent New York Times op-ed seemingly blaming American evangelicals for the spread of coronavirus—has penned a volume that will greatly appeal to a particular sort of person. To wit, The Power Worshippers favorably compares itself to Jane Mayer’s Dark Money and Nancy MacLean’s Democracy In Chains. That’s perhaps an odd choice, given… Read more

March 31, 2020

Earlier today, Harvard Law School professor Adrian Vermeule dropped a bombshell in the pages of The Atlantic. Entitled “Common-Good Constitutionalism,” Vermuele’s piece proposes perhaps the most substantial rethinking of legal conservatism in recent memory, arguing that legal conservatives have become “enslaved to the original meaning of the Constitution” and for too long have been content to “play defensively within the procedural rules of the liberal order.” For Vermeule, “originalism has now outlived its utility, and has become an obstacle to… Read more

March 29, 2020

Isaiah Berlin once famously wrote that there are two kinds of thinkers. There are the foxes, who see history as reflecting a multiplicity of experiences and concepts that defies easy classification around a single theme, and there are the hedgehogs, who interpret history through the prism of a single fundamental idea. For better or worse, my sensibilities trend toward the hedgehog—and so I have a particular affection for massive doorstopper books that attempt to survey the complexity of intellectual history… Read more

March 25, 2020

Science fiction stories generally fall into one of two categories. At one pole, there are the Star Trek tales—those intensely absorbed with the technical details of the distant future, committed to a vision of liberal humanism in which no problem is unsolvable by science. At the other pole are the Star Wars narratives—those built around the pursuit of otherworldly mysticism, willing to handwave aside the finer points of warp travel in the name of a grand, Joseph Campbell-style metanarrative. Essentially, these two… Read more

March 20, 2020

The best academic writing in the humanities, in my opinion, is the kind that makes a careful theoretical argument while simultaneously buttressing it with 3-4 deeply specific examples. In the closing pages of Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity, Alasdair MacIntyre describes the growth in and practice of the virtues in the lives of four diverse individuals—ranging from Trinidadian socialist author C.L.R. James to U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor. In Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan, Anthony Kronman discusses… Read more

March 20, 2020

As plenty of culture observers have remarked, mainstream cinema seems to be stuck in a narrative rut. There have been more than four dozen Marvel films released since 2000, Star Wars movies have positively proliferated since Lucasfilm’s sale, Disney continues to pump out uncanny live-action versions of its animated classics, and it seems like every moderately successful 1980s action flick has gotten a big-budget sequel or spinoff in the last decade. There are plenty of small-scale exceptions to this trend—just in… Read more

March 15, 2020

I have a soft spot for indie video games, in particular “walking simulators” that deprioritize fast-paced action in favor of contemplative experience. 2016’s Firewatch, one of my favorites, places the player into the role of a fire lookout in the Shoshone National Forest: the game forces the player to experience profound isolation while confronting the tension between the beauty and pitilessness of nature. But up until a few weeks ago, I’d never played 2012’s Journey—the godfather of the genre and… Read more

March 14, 2020

Like countless other millennial boys who came of age in the 2000s, I spent my preteen years absorbed in the intricacies of Lego’s Bionicle franchise. Bionicle—a line of buildable action figures, backed by a creative mashup of Maori mythology and Transformers aesthetics—was, at its peak, the Lego company’s highest-grossing product line. Movies, games, trading cards, McDonalds promotions, and countless other cross-merchandising opportunities proliferated. But in recent years, the franchise has largely faded from popular consciousness. Lego shut down production of… Read more

March 10, 2020

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of listening to a fascinating discussion/debate between Villanova University professors Mary Hirschfeld and Eugene McCarraher. Both have written excellent books on the intersection of Christian faith and economics: Hirschfeld, who holds dual Ph.D. degrees in economics and theology, lays out a Thomistic approach to mainline economics in Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy, while McCarraher argues for a Romanticism-inflected socialism in his monumental The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became… Read more

March 8, 2020

It is a truth universally acknowledged (or, well, it should be) that Ross Douthat is far-and-away the best columnist at the New York Times. When I click through to a Douthat column, I already know that I’m going to read something quite different from the center-left party line that dominates most of the paper. (A few years ago I wrote here about one of his more astute cultural observations.) Alas, the same cannot be said of his books. From Bad… Read more

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