Voltaire

The Thought Police

Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom WorldwideBy Paul Marshall and Nina Shea (Oxford University Press, 448 pp., $35) I. In spite of its slightly agitated title, this book is mostly a cool and even-tempered human rights report, and its findings go a long way toward explaining one of the mysteries of our time, namely, the ever-expanding success of political movements with overtly Islamic doctrines and radical programs.Some people may suppose that Islam itself, the ancient religion, mandates theocracy. Seen in this light, the vigor of theocratically tinged political movements right now ought to seem normal to us, and maybe even commendable—a fitting renaissance of cultural authenticity in places around the world that, having left behind the indignities of colonial domination and the awkwardness of the post-colonial era, have entered at last into the post-post-colonial age of the return to self. Movements that carry such labels as “Islamism” or “radical Islam” or “political Islam,” judged in this way, could perfectly well drop their suffixes and adjectives and simply adopt the name of Islam itself—an Islam that has exited the mosque in order to fulfill still more sacred obligations in the public square. But Paul Marshall and Nina Shea take a different view. And in order to confer an august authority upon their contrary estimation, they have padded their human-rights report, or perhaps armored it, with learned commentaries by three Islamic scholars, two of whom are recently deceased but all of whom are distinguished.

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The Counter-Thinker

 The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism By Pascal Bruckner Translated by Steven Rendall (Princeton University Press, 239 pp., $26.95) I. Once upon a time, it seemed an incontestable fact that the life of the mind radiated from the Left Bank outward. Within a small quadrant of the Latin Quarter in Paris, an intellectual elite labored to produce magisterial works that lesser minds all over the world received eagerly, gratefully—and by and large uncritically.

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The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western MasochisBy Pascal Bruckner Translated by Steven Rendall (Princeton University Press, 239 pp., $26.95) I. Once upon a time, it seemed an incontestable fact that the life of the mind radiated from the Left Bank outward. Within a small quadrant of the Latin Quarter in Paris, an intellectual elite labored to produce magisterial works that lesser minds all over the world received eagerly, gratefully—and by and large uncritically.

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Before Sunrise

When President Obama arrives in Tokyo on Friday, he will confront a country that seeks to be an ally of the United States. For Japan has never been an American ally. It was first a rival, then an enemy, and finally, after it lost the war it foolishly started with the U.S., it became a protectorate, not an ally.   The distinction matters. An alliance is an institution negotiated between two sovereign governments in which each agrees to a series of reciprocal obligations that have the force of law.

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This was the maiden sally of the United States at the U.N. Human Rights Council, a resolution under the rubric of "promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development." Phew! The measure was introduced by the U.S. and by Egypt, which, of course, has a long and sterling record as an insurer and defender of civilized liberties.

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Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera By Philip Gossett (University of Chicago Press, 675 pp., $35) At the end of Voltaire's tragedy about the Babylonian queen Semiramis, her son Arsace kills his own mother. The great bel canto composer Rossini later took over the story for a tragic opera, and his work also ended with the same fearful matricide.

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THE INVENTION OF RACISM IN CLASSICAL ANTIQUITY By Benjamin Isaac(Princeton University Press, 592 pp., $45)  FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY, PHILOSOPHY; art, education, law. Many of the ideas and ideals that define our culture and what we most value in it trace back across millennia to the civilizations of Greece and Rome. These two ancient societies constituted a fundamental stage in the historical development of the West.

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Steps, Steps, Steps

Ballet as a conservative art form.

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Thomas Paine: Collected Writings edited by Eric Foner (The Library of America, 906 pp., $35) Thomas Paine: Apostle of Freedom by Jack Fruchtman Jr. (Four Walls Eight Windows, 557 pp., $30) Thomas Paine: A Political Life by John Keane (Little, Brown, 644 pp., $27.95) I. Every twenty-ninth of January, Thomas Paine's admirers assemble at his old farm in New Rochelle, New York, to celebrate his birthday and to lay a wreath on his monument.

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I. The species known as DWEM, which has only recently been isolated and identified, is already the focus of intense controversy. As usually happens to newly discovered species, it is even being broken down into subspecies; I am informed that a professor at a local university has recently offered a course in DWAM, that is, in Dead White American Males, with readings presumably in such writers as Thoreau, Emerson, and Mark Twain. I propose to discuss only the European type, and, in particular, its first appearance on the face of the planet. My specimens are certainly dead. In fact, they have bee

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