Edinburgh

Self-deception is a weapon instilled in us by natural selection to help deceive others for our own good.

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IN APRIL 1945, there was a parliamentary by-election in Motherwell, a steel town east of Glasgow and a seemingly safe Labour seat. Since the day almost five years earlier when Winston Churchill formed the great all-party government that waged and won the war, there had been a “party truce.” Special elections had been uncontested among the coalition partners (Tory, Labour, and Liberals), though that didn’t stop independents or downright cranks from running—and sometimes winning.

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The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth-Century HistoryBy Emma Rothschild (Princeton University Press, 483 pp., $35)  BY A RURAL SCOTTISH river on an early summer’s day in 1771, someone makes a catch: a package wrapped in cloth, and inside the cloth, a baby boy, and on his tiny sodden body “the marks of violence” that may have caused his death. It does not take long to identify a suspect, the infant’s mother, who works in a nearby household. She is brought to the local sheriff’s court, interrogated, and charged with the murder of her son. Every suspect, by definition, invites doubt.

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Where Do We Come From?

Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights, 1750-1790 By Jonathan I. Israel (Oxford University Press, 1,066 pp., $45) I. There’s something about the Enlightenment. Today, few educated men and women spend much time debating whether Western civilization took a disastrously wrong turn in the High Middle Ages. They do not blame all manner of political ills on Romanticism, or insist that non-Western immigrants adopt Renaissance values. But the Enlightenment is different. It has been held responsible for everything from the American Constitution to the Holocaust.

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The Boundaries of Justice

David Hume was born three hundred years ago, in 1711. The world has changed radically since his time, and yet many of his ideas and admonitions remain deeply relevant, though rather neglected, in the contemporary world. These Humean insights include the central role of information and knowledge for adequate ethical scrutiny, and the importance of reasoning without disowning the pertinence of powerful sentiments.

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My colleague on ‘Entanglements,’ Adam Kirsch, posted a perceptive column a few days ago that asked both why we are—as we seem to have been since at least the advent of the middle-class newspaper-reading public in eighteenth-century London, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam—so passionately interested in the affairs of “leaders and nations we don’t know, never will see, and certainly have no power over,” and whether this avidity for consuming news actually brings us closer to reality or instead makes it harder to “see things as they actually are?” It’s an excellent question, whether or not one agrees (I

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Armchair Experts

My colleague on ‘Entanglements,’ Adam Kirsch, posted a perceptive column a few days ago that asked both why we are—as we seem to have been since at least the advent of the middle-class newspaper-reading public in eighteenth-century London, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam—so passionately interested in the affairs of “leaders and nations we don’t know, never will see, and certainly have no power over,” and whether this avidity for consuming news actually brings us closer to reality or instead makes it harder to “see things as they actually are?” It’s an excellent question, whether or not one agrees (I

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Being and Time

History Man: The Life of R.G. Collingwood By Fred Inglis (Princeton University Press, 385 pp., $39.50) This is a warm-hearted, affectionate biography of an irascible but brilliant philosopher and historian. It is a model of its kind--warm, supportive, and forgiving; and conceived, as the author says, as a minor riposte to the “moral hypochondria and sanctimonious recrimination” toward everything our ancestors in the twentieth century did.

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Venice in Texas

Paolo Veronese: The Petrobelli Altarpiece Blanton Museum of Art Combine a mystery and a masterpiece and what do you have? You have “Paolo Veronese: The Petrobelli Altarpiece,” a small, perfectly focused exhibition recently at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Let's face it: Moammar Gadhafi has outsmarted the Western powers, and he has been outsmarting them for exactly forty years. Not outsmarting them, by the way, in behalf of an ideology either collectivist or Islamist—although it aspires to leadership in both orbits. Libya's rise this coming year to the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly is a symbolic victory for the mangy man and his very wealthy country with deprived people. This is a case of kingship with populist and Arabist rhetoric.

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