Civilization and Barbarism


Deserve Victory!

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?

They were, those people, a kind of solution.

How many times in the last century have these concluding lines of C. P. Cavafy’s famous 1898 poem, “Waiting for the Barbarians,” been quoted? How many modern intellectuals have pondered the subversive implications of that sophisticated question? 

It’s an interesting question. But it turned out to be a hypothetical one. The 20th century didn’t lack for barbarians. Indeed, modern barbarism proved more dangerous than the old-fashioned kind. As Churchill put it in his great House of Commons speech on June 18, 1940, after the fall of France, rallying Britain against the National Socialist tyranny in Germany: “But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including ...

President Obama

2014 or Bust


Things are looking up for Republicans. President Obama’s agenda is collapsing before our eyes. Obama is pointing to the 2014 midterm elections to capture the House and revive his presidency. “My job is not simply to occupy the Oval Office,” he said at a San Francisco ...


The Climate Circus Leaves Town

As traditional energy sources go from doom and gloom to boom.


Gary Locke

If you had told environmentalists on Election Day 2008 that four years later there’d be no successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, that a Democratic Congress would not have enacted any meaningful climate legislation, that domestic oil production would be soaring even after a catastrophic offshore oil spill, and that the environmental community would be having a lively internal debate about whether it should support reviving nuclear power, most might have marched into the ocean to drown themselves. Yet that’s the state of play four months into President Obama’s second term.

Start with climate change. Early in March, the hacker or leaker of the two email caches from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia that rocked the climate science world in 2009 and again in 2011 released the remaining batch of material. The news produced barely a shrug even among climate skeptics, partly because the file contains ...


Out of Balance

Obama’s deceptive budget.


Earlier this month, President Obama released his fiscal year 2014 budget, which calls for $1.1 trillion in higher taxes over the next decade, cuts of $400 billion from Medicare and Medicaid, and alterations to Social Security’s benefit rate worth about $130 billion. 


Strategic Gas

The foreign policy case for U.S. energy exports.


The liquid natural gas facility at Cove Point, Maryland​—​a seven-tank complex on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay​—​has borne witness to the up and downs, the good times and the bad, of the American natural gas market. Built in the 1970s to handle liquid natural gas ...


Farmers with Benefits

The perpetual subsidy machine.


American farmers did well in 2012, to say the least. They benefited from record-high commodity prices, burgeoning organic produce markets, and high sale prices for farmland. As they have for two decades, farm families took home more annual income—about $20,000 more on ...

From this day forward, for better, for worse?

Is Traditional Marriage Toast?

Very possibly.


Every discussion of gay marriage should begin with a recognition of its historical radicalness, its exceptionality. Heterosexual marriage has been the fundamental unit of human sociability for thousands of years, a common thread running through otherwise ...


Barbarism in Philadelphia

The crimes of Kermit Gosnell



Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who is on trial in Philadelphia for doping one patient to death and killing seven fetuses born alive. He doubtless seems a worthy candidate for death row. Dr. Gosnell, after all, is a monster. Yet his barbarity never required him to venture much beyond the expansive abortion rights created by Roe v. Wade and its companion 1973 Supreme Court decision, Doe v. Bolton. Dr. Gosnell, indeed, could argue that he had a constitutional right to slaughter his very young victims. If instead we insist Kermit Gosnell should die, then perhaps we must reexamine Roe and Doe

Dr. Gosnell was a merciless killer, willing to perform abortions at any stage of pregnancy. He routinely induced labor in women more than six months pregnant and then cut the spines of their breathing newborns. This was Gosnell’s ...

Anti-fracking protesters in New York, August 2012

The Fractured Left

Good news on natural gas is bad news for a Democratic party full of environmental true-believers


Much has been said recently about the deep tensions within the Republican party. Far less has been said about a sharp division arising inside the Democratic party. 

That latter tension was front and center recently when former ...

Books & Arts

Their Sporting Life

Of games and gladiators, Greeks and Romans.


Kantharos (drinking vessel), sixth century B.C.

Drawing all eyes willing or not, like a reeling beggar on a subway platform, the Olympics have become such a familiar spectacle that we rarely stop to think about their oddness. But our Olympics are, in fact, a bizarre piece of Victorian historical reenactment, a recreation, after 1,500 years of desuetude, of a solemn festival of Zeus, at which members of the ancient Hellenic aristocracy performed feats of speed and strength in honor of the god.  

The succession from antique to modern was made easy because, quite by accident, we and the Greeks are two of the few historical societies to devote great attention and resources to athletics. And by another helpful accident, our own athletic culture is very past-minded: Collecting statistics and reciting past glories seem to be the best ways we have to talk about sports, an activity that has proved strangely impervious to the puzzled poking of social science, of sociology and psychology. 

Penmanship of Edgar Allen Poe (ca. 1848)

Is the Pen Mightier?

The moving hand writes, and having written, moves to keyboarding


My handwriting is execrable. I routinely desecrate the elegant, engraved stationery that my husband gave me as a birthday present with cramped, misshapen, and only partly legible scrawls. This despite the years I spent in parochial school being drilled ...

Outside the A&P (ca. 1960)

The Big Store

The mythology of small business meets a retailing giant.


Not long ago, New York City stopped a Walmart store from being built in its downtrodden East New York neighborhood, another defeat in the giant discounter/grocer’s six-year effort to enter the five boroughs. Small retailers and unions, in prevailing, embraced a century-old ...

David Ferry

In Search of God

David Ferry, poet of inquiry and doubt.


David Ferry’s latest poems look at the tantalizing possibility of life after death and the existence of God. But it’s a God that the poet doesn’t know and whose name escapes him. What he does know is that he feels a presence, and poems both hide and connect him to that ...

Angela Davis '61 at the Soviet International Women's Seminar, Moscow (1972)

Left Behind

Sometimes indoctrination works, and sometimes it doesn't.


After Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in 1953, it was no surprise that the adoptive parents of their two sons chose to send the orphaned brothers to the Little Red School House, a New York private school. In the McCarthy era, Little Red and its high ...

Derek Cianfrance

Epic Lite

Impressive intentions yield less-than-impressive results


What does it mean to say a movie is an “epic”? An epic uses its characters and plot to illuminate a place, an era, an entire society. We are constantly being reminded, through camera work and art direction, that what we’re watching is something larger and more socially ...


Lives of the Eccentrics

Joseph Bottum, diplomatic player


David Clark

In 1859, John Stuart Mill published On Liberty, a book that included, among its other peculiarities, a complaint that Victorian society was destroying eccentricity, and thereby individuality, and thereby freedom. 

I’ve always liked Macaulay’s response—a snort that Mill was crying fire in the midst of Noah’s flood. In truth, England, during that strange century between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I, had the wealth, worldwide scope, and cultural confidence to allow what may be the greatest goofiness ever known. London alone held thousands of cranks, and all around the globe, the sun never set on true British nuttiness. 

The most interesting part of eccentricity may be just how wasteful it usually is. Real eccentricity, I mean, the genuine, whole-life thing, not the mere attempt to cultivate a rebel charm or indulge a little quirkiness. Authentic ...


Thatcher Derangement Syndrome

The coffin of Margaret Thatcher is carried out of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Americans were surprised—well, shocked, really—to see the public manifestations of hatred in England when Margaret Thatcher died. There were images of people celebrating in the streets, tweets and blog posts gleefully predicting damnation, even the Rt. Hon. Glenda Jackson, M.P., on a verbal rampage in the House of Commons. This seemed a curiously ugly response to the death of a frail woman in her late eighties. 

On the one hand, THE

Gov. Brown in China

Moonbeam in China

California’s retread governor Jerry Brown traveled to China last ...

John Kerry

Dollar-a-Year Man

The Scrapbook had an epiphany this past week, and thanks to the unlikeliest of inspirations: our dolorous secretary of state, John Forbes Kerry. Readers will recall that Secretary Kerry, as a gesture of sympathy to federal employees during the sequester, announced that ...


Honor System

More and more of our political activity seems to be about making people feel good, so why should gun regulation be any exception? We were looking at the myriad regulations in Connecticut’s new gun law, for instance, and noticed its prohibition on loading more than 10 rounds ...

Border Security


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