America the Exceptional
July 26, 2004
The Creation of the Media: The Political Origins of Modern Communications By Paul Starr (Basic Books, 484 pp., $27.50) I. For centuries, Americans have been telling themselves that their nation is not like any other. The most influential version of this notion, stretching back to Puritan times, asserts that the United States has a divinely scripted role to play in the sacred drama of world history. This providentialist fantasy has done no end of mischief: serving as a religious sanction for raw power, justifying the export of American ways--by force if necessary--to a recalcitrant world.
Crashing the Party
July 19, 2004
It's not often that a U.S. political campaign is launched on foreign soil. Then again, it's not often that a U.S. political campaign revolves around a major motion picture.
Back in the USSR
June 28, 2004
I was in Britain in the summer of 2002 when Europeans first got wind of the American plan to invade Iraq. As it happened, they learned this news not from President George W. Bush, not from Secretary of State Colin Powell, and not from the American ambassador, but rather from a leak that appeared in The New York Times. The debate began immediately. The archbishop of Canterbury denounced the war, The Daily Telegraph denounced the archbishop of Canterbury, and so on.
June 07, 2004
Most of the time in war, diplomatic machinations don't create enduring realities--events on the battlefield do. After World War I, the defeated, but not humiliated, German army that surrendered in France and Belgium provided the origins for the "stab in the back" mythology that fueled Hitler's rise to power. After World War II, by contrast, the shattered and shamed Wehrmacht in Berlin was unable to energize a Fourth Reich. George S.
April 27, 2004
Anyone seeking evidence of the death of romantic comedy will find it in abundance in Love Actually, which arrives in video stores this week. Written and directed by Richard Curtis (best known for penning Bridget Jones's Diary, Notting Hill, and Four Weddings and a Funeral), Love Actually announces its ambitions early: Too bold to offer us a thin, unconvincing romance, it instead offers us half a dozen.
March 22, 2004
The Battle for Rome: The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943-June 1944 By Robert Katz (Simon and Schuster, 418 pp., $28) Click here to purchase the book. THERE WAS A BRIEF PERIOD in European history, roughly from the beginning of the eighteenth century to 1941, when it was easy to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants; when wars were fought by soldiers clothed, equipped, and trained by the state; when men trained to be murderers on behalf of the state were severely punished if they tried to use the same methods when not in military service.
February 09, 2004
The Rules of Engagement By Anita Brookner (Random House, 273 pp., $23.95) ANITA BROOKNER IS THE great chronicler of a particular sort of female loneliness. Her typical heroine spends most of her novel exhausted “with the tiredness of one who has too little rather than too much to do.” Someone has left her money, and so she does not work, or she works at something mostly solitary, such as translating or archiving. Her few friends are scattered, and during her rare moments among them she usually feels uncomfortable and unworthy, “like a humble petitioner, seeking an hour of their time, in wine b
Kant at Ground Zero
February 09, 2004
Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida Edited by Giovanna Borradori (University of Chicago Press, 208 pp., $25) I. Was philosophy prepared for the events of September 11? To judge by all available evidence, the answer must be a resounding “no.” For some time now, contemporary philosophy has viewed “worldliness”—the perfectly natural idea that thought should take a healthy and constructive interest in worldly affairs—as a source of contamination. Analytic philosophy’s triumph in the decades following World War II meant that henceforth philosophy would
He Meant What He Said
February 02, 2004
I. Adolf Hitler's so-called second book was not published in his lifetime. Written, as Gerhard Weinberg convincingly speculates, in late June and early July 1928, the book’s publication was postponed because Mein Kampf, Hitler's first massive text, was selling very badly and could hardly stand competition with another publication by the same author. Later, after Hitler was appointed chancellor and Mein Kampf became one of the greatest (and allegedly most unread) best-sellers of all times, the second book was apparently seen as disclosing his foreign policy plans too explicitly to allow publica
December 15, 2003
The most beautiful libraries exude a bookish rapture, and no libraries have more of this luminous poetry than the glorious confections, all polished wood and shining stone and white-and- gold stucco, that royal families and religious orders built in the eighteenth century, mostly in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.