A Place to Stand | July 2021
Escaping the dead end of narcissism | Bring back Kumbaya | The truth in capitalism | Free speech and the examined life
Escaping the dead end of narcissism
We need something bigger than us to rescue us from our self-obsession.
One of Donald Trump’s many gifts to the Anglosphere was a surge of interest in narcissism. A quick Google will turn up a plethora of articles on the former President’s self-referential and grandiose tendencies and, while I’m no expert, the diagnosis seems reasonable. But it also seems hypocritical. Trump may be an extreme example, but many of us manifest the same tendencies, carried along by social and technological currents that are reshaping our relationship to each other and to ourselves. Just as you can’t pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, we’ll need something bigger than us to rescue us from our self-obsession. Continue reading
Bring back Kumbaya
It’s time to rediscover what we have in common.
It was the 1980s. The flames leaped high, the damper smouldered and, of course, we sang Kumbaya, because we were Scouts and that’s what Scouts did back then. These days, Kumbaya is something much closer to an insult, invoked to accuse your opponents of being other-worldly, utopian, “milo-drinking”, and other egregious sins. That’s a little odd when you consider the song’s origins as “a soulful cry for divine intervention on behalf of oppressed people.” And it’s flat-out wrong that, in time when multiple forces are driving us apart, a plea for unity like Kumbaya has become the subject of such derision. In fact, it’s about time that we rediscovered some of the common ground it sought to inspire. Continue reading
The truth in capitalism
Part V of our slalom through Roger Scruton’s “How to be a Conservative”.
There’s a shift happening. It’s most obvious in the US, where Donald Trump’s elevation to the presidency revealed cracks in the “Reagan consensus” of the 1980s, the marriage of social conservativism with economic liberalism that made low taxes and supply-side economics the default position of the conservative movement. It gathered momentum through the publication of JD Vance’s best-seller, Hillbilly Elegy, which pundits seized on to explain the populism that Trump had unleashed and which Netflix seized on for, well, capitalist reasons. Since then, leading US conservative intellectuals and politicians have moved steadily to what would have been regarded as the economic left, advocating for pro-family spending policies, the restoration of “economic sovereignty” and withdrawal from international trade organisations like the WTO, “common-good capitalism”, and against increasingly monolithic corporate giants like Amazon and Facebook. So it’s not a bad time to remind ourselves of what’s true in capitalism even if this shift is, on the whole, a welcome one. Continue reading
Free speech and the examined life
We're wrong about some things; we just don't know what they are.
I’ve long been inspired by the legendary friendship between professors Robert George and Cornel West. George is white, conservative, and a Catholic; West is black, progressive, and a Protestant. In many ways they are an unlikely pairing—they disagree about many of the things that our culture tells us must inevitably and irrevocably divide us—and yet they share a deep and deeply affectionate friendship. I thought I’d share a particularly insightful conversation between them, recorded a couple of years ago, which is relevant to some of our current debates about the importance, and the purpose, of free speech. Continue reading