Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart offers a thought-provoking commentary on class in contemporary America. Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, the book demonstrates that a new upper class, who live in hyper-wealthy zip codes called SuperZIPS, and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad. In the below essay, Murray discusses trends that have occurred since 2010. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Political Science
I served as an advisor to the Madrid and Washington Palestinian-Israeli negotiations from 1991-1993, and long wanted to use documents that I collected then, but I never found an opportunity to do so. Then the research of one my graduate students on American Middle East policy revealed a trove of newly declassified American and Israeli materials that cast a fascinating light on what I had experienced in the early 1990’s. Together with my observations on the Obama administration’s failures in dealing with the Palestine issue, it inspired me to write this short book. This is not a comprehensive history of US Middle East policy, or of US policy on Palestine. Instead, it focuses on three “moments:” one is the period 1978-82, another is the 1991-93 negotiations, and the third is the last two years of Obama’s first term. I saw that the specific patterns of US bias in favor of inflexible Israeli positions that we had seen in our negotiations with the Israelis were precisely mirrored in earlier administrations, and that little or nothing has changed under this president.
The book addresses some of the common distortions of language that are so prevalent where the Palestine issue is concerned in Israeli-American official and media discourse. I deal with corrupted terms like “peace process,” “Palestinian autonomy,” “Israeli security,” and “terrorism,” all of which in this parlance have a heavily loaded meaning. I thus am challenging both those who use these terms in policy-making, political discourse and the media, and the vast literature that reproduces them without critical analysis of what they actually mean. As I suggest in the book, this is truly Orwellian, and this corrupt language has a profound impact on reality. Continue reading →
by Jeff Madick, foreword writer for The Path to Hope (Other Press, 2012) and author of The Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (Vintage, 2012).
I do not necessarily believe in pluralism for its own sake. It always makes sense for students to understand opposing viewpoints, of course. But reading the many opposing views on key intellectual issues is not always an adequate path to knowledge. Should young students be required to read the works in support of creationism, for example, to understand the pros and cons of evolutionary theory? Or all the efforts to undermine global warming theories? At some point, one has to separate the theories that move beyond superstition, that are grounded in adequate deductive thought, and that are based on available empirical knowledge from those that do not.
The social sciences clothe themselves in the virtues of being grounded in deductive thought and empirical knowledge, of course, and that is the problem. How can students broaden their perspectives constructively? Economics in most academic institutions has Continue reading →
The New York Times is hosting an interesting conversation in its “Room for Debate” section entitled “What Is It About Mormons?” At the center of the debate is the notion that while Mormons typically embody traditional American ideals, such as: cherishing family, demonstrating a dedication to hard work and thrift, and showing devotion to a higher power, many Americans remain uncomfortable with Mormonism and, by extension, the possibility of a Mormon president.
A timely new book published just last week, Matthew Bowman’s The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith, tells the history considered in the debate. Richard Lyman Bushman, author of the definitive biography Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, praised the book as “…[A] quick, lively, and informative trip into the heart of Mormonism. All who are concerned or just curious will learn a lot about the making of modern Mormons from this book.”
With his new book, Bowman offers us a singular, concise and accessible history of a people and a faith that will help provide much-needed background as voters and students alike consider this American faith.
Consider adding your voice to the discussion by posting a comment below. The first five posters will receive a free copy of the new book The Mormon People.
When I used to think about growing as a person, I visualized my life as a sort of graph: a steadily climbing, sometimes dipping line that would crawl forward over time until a certain age when the graph would plateau into a stable flatness. The way I looked at it, one’s teens and early 20s are all about discovering who you are and what you think about the world. At some point, all my opinions, beliefs, and values would become fixed into a solid identity that I would carry with me into the future like an amber shield.
This fantasy carried over into the way I approached other topics, such as history and politics. I had been interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for some time but felt fatigued by it; I was itching to just figure it out and then move on. I was familiar with the “two sides” of the conflict in American discourse. Conservatives blamed the Palestinians, calling them “terrorists” and “monsters,” while liberals maintained that the Israelis were occupiers and thus the real monsters. While I had always identified more with the latter camp, there was something unsettling to me about defining a conflict as a struggle of “good vs. evil.” I wanted to truly understand the mess in the Middle East. I had read plenty on the subject, had gone to lectures, and had watched many documentaries. The only step left was to visit the country to see it with my own eyes. The finish line was in Jerusalem somewhere, and all I had to do was to get there. Continue reading →
by Parag Khanna, author of How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance (Random House, 2011)
The past decade—from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the global financial meltdown—has taught us the dangers of interdependence and that outsourcing leadership is a recipe for disaster. Some now fear a breakdown of our global order, but isn’t it scarier to realize that the present order has already been broken for years? It’s the kind of moment the philosopher Karl Popper had in mind when he argued that tearing down our existing order and constructing a new one from scratch might lead to a more workable system.
How bad is it? Well, today the powers that are expected to keep the peace sell the most weapons, the banks that are supposed to encourage saving promote living beyond one’s means, and food arrives to hungry people after they’ve died. We are hurtling toward a perfect storm of energy consumption, population growth, and food and water scarcity that will spare no one, rich or poor. Our ever- growing list of crises includes financial instability, HIV/AIDS, terrorism, failed states, and more. Any one of these can magnify another, creating a downward spiral for individual nations and regions. Within just twenty years we could see proxy skirmishes escalate into major war between America and China, more weak states crumbling, conflicts over submerged oil and gas resources at sea, drought- starved refugees streaming out of central Africa, and sinking Pacific islands.
by Robert Guest, author of The Shackled Continent: Power, Corruption, and African Lives (Smithsonian Books, 2010)
I once hitched a ride on a truck through a West African rain forest. The journey was supposed to take less than a day, but it took four. The dirt roads were fine so long as it didn’t rain. But we were in a rain forest, so it rained often and hard, turning our route into a swamp. A collapsed bridge slowed us down, too. The worst delays, however, were caused by police road blocks, of which we met 47.
Every few miles, we’d see a couple of rusty oil drums and some barbed wire in the middle of the road, and we’d have to stop. A plump gendarme would check our axles and tail-lights and pick over our papers, hoping to find a fault he could demand a bribe to overlook. Sometimes, this took hours.
The pithiest explanation of why travelers in Cameroon have to endure such mistreatment came from the policeman at road block number 31. He had invented a new rule about not carrying passengers in beer trucks. When I put it to him that the law he was citing did not, in fact, exist, he patted his holster and replied: “Do you have a gun? No. I have a gun, so I know the rules.”
Africa is poor today for many reasons, Continue reading →
by Stephen Kotkin, author of Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (Modern Library, 2010)
I started teaching at Princeton University in September 1989—and two months into my first course the Berlin Wall fell. The ink on my Ph.D. was barely dry. Within two years, the Soviet Union was gone. The conundrum of Communism’s collapse has haunted me ever since. In 1989, more than 1 million people gathered in protests on Tiananmen Square, but the Chinese Communist regime endures. In Poland, there were hardly any street demonstrations in 1989, yet it was the first Communist regime to go.
Obviously, it was necessary to look inside Eastern Europe’s Communist establishments (what I call the “uncivil society”) and not just at the protesters (usually called “civil society”). What struck me was that the 1989 “roundtable” initiated by the Polish Communists with the opposition Solidarity was not intended as an end to the system—by either side. Continue reading →
by John Prendergast, co-author of The Enough Moment: Fighting to End Africa’s Worst Human Rights Crimes (Three Rivers Press, 2010)
Three of the most horrible scourges facing humanity are genocide (the destruction of people based on their identity), rape as a war weapon (the deliberate destruction of women through targeted sexual violence), and child slavery (children who are forcibly recruited to become killing machines or sex slaves).
All three seem overwhelming and intractable, but the reality is that there are specific and concrete solutions that can be implemented, if only there were the political and popular will to do so.
Help is indeed on the way. In the last five years, Continue reading →
I am delighted to tell you about my book Nothing to Envy because I wrote it with students in mind. I was, at the time, on a fellowship at Princeton University where I also taught an undergraduate journalism course called “Covering Repressive Regimes.” My students were curious about North Korea, a country they knew almost nothing about.
When I started telling them the stories—about a country where televisions and radios were locked on government propaganda, where you couldn’t travel to the next town without a permit, where you were required to wear the portrait of the founder Kim Il Sung at all times on your clothing and that you celebrated the birthdays of the leadership rather than your own—the students were incredulous. It was not that they doubted my word; they were unable to grasp that a state as repressive as this one could persist into the 21st Century.
Born in the mid-1980s, they didn’t remember the Berlin Wall or the Soviet Union. Continue reading →