Essays

Thinking About Homelessness

Stephen Hitchcock

Thinking about homeless requires separating it from the larger discourse on poverty.

Back to the City! Back to the Country!

Stephen Assink

One of the most salient features of the post–World War II suburb was its localization of the American middle class and its propagation of practices of mass consumption.

Why the New Flows of Capital Matter for Cities

Stephen Assink

Cities are increasingly being eyed by tech companies for their social dynamism and ability to generate innovation. This will have tremendous consequences for the future of society.

The Triumph of the Farmers’ Market

Stephen Assink

The "sidewalk ballet" of the farmers' market

Who Is the Smart City for?

Stephen Assink

In India's rush to transform, build, and even engineer entire new cities, critics are right to raise concerns about citizenship and access.

Confronting Climate Change

Stephen Assink

Reimagining our cities provides us an important opportunity to reconsider the various structures of urban life.

Humanities, Heal Thyself!

Jay Tolson

News that humanities enrollments and majors are declining in American universities is not quite news, but the New York Times recently devoted first-page attention to the trend, complete with some numbers that might be scary to at least part of the professoriate.

Brand Loyalty After Virtue

It was a letter from my life insurance company that got me thinking about the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. I had applied for some additional insurance. After providing the company with the requested medical information, I received a machine-signed letter from an underwriter indicating that she “had hoped to approve the increase” but was “sorry” that she would be “unable to approve this change.”

Christmas and the New Cult of Images

Anna Marazuela Kim

Two of this year’s seasonal stamps, though modest in size, make a large point about why images--what we choose to represent in them and the meanings we derive from them--continue to matter in a culture thoroughly saturated by them.

Human Freedom and the Art of Nudging

Guest Blogger

Richard Williams, director of policy research at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, recently argued that the Obama administration's growing interest in using behavioral economics signifies a renewed and creeping enthusiasm for massive government oversight and coercion of its citizens. Like many libertarians before him, he traces this critique back to an overall anxiety that a "nanny state" will interfere with our lives, and take away our natural freedom.

The Culture War and America's Image Abroad

Jay Tolson

America did not always think that its image should be entrusted solely to its popular culture machine. For a time, and quite successfully, it devoted considerable resources to advancing its values and principles through public diplomacy.

What Public Universities Owe the Public

Guest Blogger

Ask a graduate, a faculty member, an administrator, or a board member of a prestigious public university what a public university is for in a modern liberal democracy and you will too often get little more than a string of clichés. Public universities lack any substantial sense of what their functions are as democratic institutions.

Portrait of America's Young Adults: Wary but Optimistic

Jay Tolson

Generational snapshots sometimes confound us in the ways actual photographs do.

Is Nothing Truly Alive?

Paul Nedelisky

What's the real-world significance of arguing in a New York Times op-ed that life doesn't exist? More than we might initially think.

Brother Rat?

Paul Nedelisky

Empirical verifiability is great when you can get it. But the worry here is what might happen to our self-understanding as human beings if we become willing to trade in an understanding of a rich and meaning-laden feature of our nature for, well, something we can share with a rat.

A New Approach to Poverty

Guest Blogger

As the poet Philip Larkin said, "sun destroys the interest of what’s going on in the shade." And what’s going on in the shade is that Paul Ryan has proposed a plan to tackle poverty that isn’t just about cutting the welfare bill.

The Right of Assembly Violently Wrested

Guest Blogger

The right of peaceable assembly has been at the heart of the struggle of African American equality throughout our nation’s history. When honored, it has yielded important protections. When breached, it has facilitated widespread and systematic oppression.

Do We Really Take Science Too Seriously?

Guest Blogger

A better understanding of the meaning and limits science will surely help correct the distorted and reductionist views that many today seem to believe scientific knowledge supports.

Looking Beyond the New Numbers on Poverty

Jay Tolson

The new U.S. Census report on poverty and income offers a glimmer of light in an otherwise somber landscape.

Recognizing the Adult in the Mirror

B.D. McClay

In art as in life, the real adults are often hard to recognize.

Cowardice and Ebola

Jay Tolson

Consider the current debate over the appropriate response to the Ebola virus as it spreads beyond its epicenter in West Africa. Does the discourse of cowardice, and its antonyms bravery and courage, play any role in this debate? Should it?

Ecce Homo

Leann Davis Alspaugh

That Edvard Munch never met Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the great missed encounters of the modern age.

Catholic Responses to Poverty

Guest Blogger

Shuttling between economics and political philosophy, public policy and theology, literature and ethics—the conference paraded the unique strength of the intellectual Catholicism today—no discipline out of bounds, no perspective non grata.

Honoring a Vet

Leann Davis Alspaugh

Returning to base, Davis and the other pilots heard their orders for the next day: Attack Kiska Harbor with everything they had regardless of the weather.

Self-Immolation, In Theory and In Practice

B.D. McClay

The self-immolator does not seek merely to die, but to die horribly, in such a way that others will be compelled to take notice.

What is Truth in Ferguson and New York City?

Guest Blogger

What do we know about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the larger issues to which they point?

An Abd al-Qadir Christmas

Guest Blogger

Let's recall Emir Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri: a peacemaker, a reconciler, a holy man, and a warrior.

Miss Manners and Mr. Manspreader

B.D. McClay

“To some,” said Richard Duffy in 1922, “the very word etiquette is an irritant.” It still is. Exhibit A: “manspreading.”

Recognizing Art

Leann Davis Alspaugh

When El Greco heard the insultingly low valuation for his work, he launched a long and bitter court battle that quietly changed the perception of artists and art in Spain.

From the Archives: "Public Health, Public Enemy?"

Guest Blogger

If anything has reached epidemic proportions, it is the distrust of government vaccine programs.

The Prestige

Can we break the spell of mesmeric technologies?

Status Elites

Guest Blogger

Within the literature on elites, status tends to be relatively ignored or neglected in favor of economic and political power.

The Law That Changed Modern America

Guest Blogger

It was an event that transformed America and affected the lives of many around the world: the signing of the most significant immigration law in US history, the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965

Putin, Ukraine, and the Question of Realism

Putin, Ukraine, and the question of realism

The Troubled Stranger

In a 2011 Pew Research Center survey of the general public, more than 90 percent of the respondents expressed pride in the post-9/11 troops, and some three-quarters said they had thanked a service member. At the same time, most have no link to recent or active-duty service members, have never heard their stories, and report little understanding of their challenges.

Tipping Points

B.D. McClay

Why can’t we let go of tipping?

College Degrees or College Education?

Johann N. Neem

We do not know how to evaluate what makes up a good college education.

Can Evangelicals Agree With Bernie Sanders?

Jeffrey Guhin

Bernie Sanders at Liberty University is more than a momentary truce in the culture war.

The Other Neoliberals

Guest Blogger

While today’s neoliberalism is excoriated for its contribution to inequality (particularly in economic terms), the other neoliberals demonstrated a fondness for compulsory national service and even a return to the military draft as a means to bridge divisions in our society.

Wear It Proudly!

Leann Davis Alspaugh

What began as one of the most popular forms of menswear has now morphed into the kindler, gentler uniform. First, there was blue collar. Then white collar. Now there’s soft collar.

Dispatches from Today’s Youth Culture: New Uses and Abuses of Social Invisibility

Guest Blogger

New digital technologies are creating new forms of social invisibility and changing the nature of postmodern culture.

Sluttery and Shakespeare

B.D. McClay

A translation of English to English presumes that ambiguity of language is always a flaw—but it’s not.

Reclaiming Connections

David Peterson

According to Sherry Turkle's latest book, my peers and I simply can’t stand sitting alone with our thoughts, and it’s hurting our capacity for intimacy.

Being Right: The Legacy of Henry David Thoreau

Guest Blogger

Thoreau’s ethic of self-governance was a starting point for reconstituting a freshly awakened culture on a moral foundation that refused to accept the sort of compromises—including the Missouri Compromise—that confirmed the moral impotence he so loathed.

Dispatches from Today’s Youth Culture: Academic Pressure

Guest Blogger

Tests lower student morale and make them more cynical about the educational process.

Dispatches from Today’s Youth Culture: Polarization

Guest Blogger

The greater the gap students must overcome, the less likely their expressed expectations are likely to be fulfilled.

What’s Behind Trump’s Wall?

Johann N. Neem

Do Trump’s supporters represent a new Know-Nothing movement?

Impossible Wonder

Paul Nedelisky

Does understanding really rule out wonder?

Collage Envy

Leann Davis Alspaugh

The wonder of Tom Wesselmann's 1962 collage, Still Life No. 1

Dispatches from Today’s Youth Culture: Romance and Intimacy

Guest Blogger

“Normal” intimate relationships for teenagers have shifted toward a more explicit instrumentalism.

Lessons from the Ring—Then and Now

Guest Blogger

In the sweat-and-blood parlor of the boxing ring, young people deal with feelings they seldom get controlled practice with, such as anxiety and anger.

Black Oxygen

James McWilliams

Cormac McCarthy gives us 500 pages of idiosyncratic wordplay without even cheap narrative excitement. Who does he think he is? Joyce? Faulkner? Melville? Well, yes.

Outlaw or Criminal?

Lisa Lorish

We Americans have a soft spot for the outlaw. But what distinguishes an outlaw from a criminal?

“Putting the Soul to Work”: Reflections on the New Cognitariat

Guest Blogger

Why should we expect that the inner self waiting to be born corresponds to some paid job or profession?

Law, Religion, and Confident Pluralism in the University

John Inazu

With our colleagues, and with our students, we have the space not only to express disagreement in more than tweets and sound bites, but also to probe the reasons underlying our disagreement.

What Attica Prisoners Want Harvard Law Students to Know

John J. Lennon

Ignorance is ugly, particularly in prison. It’s loud and obnoxious and violent. It tumbles into my cell right now as I write this. But for some, education can quell that.

A Philosopher Who Matters

Guest Blogger

While professional philosophers earn tenure parsing syllogisms, Charles Taylor is the embodiment of the Romantic, liberal arts, encyclopedic philosopher who wants to make sense of the whole.

Pericles in Waveland

Guest Blogger

We need romantic amplitude of experience lest life become nothing more than King Lear and the Yankees winning all the time.

The Election Everyone Lost

Guest Blogger

We have to give ourselves—individually and collectively—to the work of re-imagining the meaning of our nation.

After the Know-Nothings

Guest Blogger

Hope for our troubled times.

Support Your Local Cat Café

Guest Blogger

The cat café, I suggest with tongue only slightly in cheek, is a spiritual oasis in the hypercompetitive urban landscape.

Beyond the Legality of Executive Orders

Guest Blogger

On the seventy-fifth anniversary of Executive Order 9066, John Inazu warns us about acting through fear.

The Groot Gang: Superheroes, Politics, and Art

Guest Blogger

Just as the first detective was a thief, the first superheroes were supervillains.

Terror, Photographed

Guest Blogger

Terror trades in images—it needs spectators to feed itself.

Monumental Woes

B.D. McClay

It’s time to face up to what Confederate monuments mean.

Privilege

Matthew B. Crawford

According to current usage, privilege means something like good fortune.