Alan Jacobs


Alan Jacobs is a distinguished professor of humanities in the honors program at Baylor University and a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. A prolific essayist, reviewer, and blogger, he is the author of Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader's Guide to a More Tranquil MindThe Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis“The Book of Common Prayer”: A Biography, and The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, among others.

The Far Invisible

from Theological Variations, Volume 25, Number 2

Pynchon diagnosed our idolatry of the inanimate.

Staying for the Truth

from Hope Itself, Volume 24, Number 3

The only way out of this prison of self-deception and self-justification is to love and seek the truth.

Injured Parties

from Political Mythologies, Volume 24, Number 1

Ehrenerklärung—public acknowledgment of false accusations—is not one of the options offered by our social media culture.

A New Guild System

from Distinctions That Define and Divide, Volume 23, Number 2

I envision a world in which the increased fragmentation of our media scene leads, over time, to the rise of new institutions that are built on stronger foundations.

Tending the Digital Commons

from The Human and the Digital, Volume 20, Number 1

The complexities of social media ought to prompt deep reflection on what we all owe to the future, and how we might discharge this debt.

The Witness of Literature

from The Body in Question, Volume 17, Number 2

To the arguments of Huxley and Tyndall against traditional religion, Yeats had no answer until literature and the other arts came to the rescue.

Chatbots and the Problems of Life

I don’t like this collapse of trust; I don’t like being in a technological arms race with my students.

Decline or Oscillation?

What looks like a disastrous collapse in students’ literacy may be simply a reversion to a kind of mean.

A Jazz Age Mystery in a Reimagined America

A murder mystery that is also an impressive sociological imaginary.

Hatred Alone Is Immortal

What pleasure, what gratification, can we offer to people that exceeds the pleasure of hating?

Self-Censorship and Don Quixote

The language of self-censorship removes the question from the moral realm in which it properly belongs.

Unbiblical Scholarship

Every graduate student in the humanities should be required to take a course in the English Bible.

A Sentimental Education

The literature classroom is an unusually fit environment in which to pursue “the deepening and sharpening of emotional powers.”

The Way Your Mind Ends

The good cop, bad cop routine of the digital age.

The Elon Effect

Are we both perpetrators and victims of the Elon Effect?

David Hume’s Guide to Today’s Politics

The primary social forces disrupting American society today are modern versions of two false religions.

David Hume’s Guide to Social Media

The cultivation of taste, in morals as well as in art, is neither snobbish nor elitist.

A Novelist’s Reflections on Useful Fictions

Hope Mirrlees is interested in what happens if the power of Fairyland cannot be wholly excluded.

The Uses of Artistic Extravagance

Jean-Luc Godard, like Nietzsche and Wittgenstein and Heidegger, is worth paying attention to even when we think his work is bad

Reaching the Adjacent

Are we willing to undertake the long, slow work of persuasion in a time of the politics of personal destruction?

Mechanization and Monoculture

Any attempt to create a monoculture is necessarily self-defeating.

You Are Not a Server

We have been trained by social media to use our brains as servers.

The Coming Clarifications

We’ll have to confront the chasm between our self-conception and our actual behavior

To Have and Have Not

It is true that a thin plastic device that displays pixels doesn’t make much of a mess, but then, it is also true that life is messy.

On Attentional Norms

Zoom is a medium that offers constant permission to be distracted.

Where Turing Tests Go Wrong

Perhaps computers are so bad at conversation because it is something like prayer.

Athelstan the Woke

I myself stopped using the term a while back.

A Vision on a Summer Night

Perhaps the older Auden merely wants to have the humility to accept the terms on which agape offers itself.

The Problem with Productivity and the Good Work of Love

That means, first, that I have to love my neighbor—my colleague—above my own productivity.

Writing a Life

The question I want to ask is simply this: Is the writing of a Life a game that, in our current moment, can be played?

All Eyes on Me

Sometimes irony is a painful awareness of our own absurdity.

Lawn Care

If you get out in your yard with a push mower, everyone who passes wants to talk with you about it.

The Serf’s Story

Like the tenants of the Bishop of Worcester, they know that in a tightening job market they have leverage.

A New Guild System

What if the more successful political commentators on Substack, or music teachers on YouTube, or masters of the podcast interview, began to teach their craft to others?

Do We Absolutely Disagree?

Well known free speech advocates may not always be free speech absolutists.

Love and Death

“Quality of life” calculations leave out far too much that matters for human flourishing.

Our Manorial Elite

Call them warlords or the manorial elite, our massive transnational tech companies will protect us only when they believe it is in their interest to do so.

The School for Scale

The problem with scale is that we don’t understand it.

The Paradoxical Relevance of Durkheim to Our Time

What in the world does the division of labor have to do with campus protests, the curse or blessing of “wokeness,” or the populist movement centered on Donald Trump?

Ten Theses on Monism and Pluralism, Plus a Quotation

Monisms are tweetable and retweetable.

Alexander Herzen and the Plural World

Herzen won’t stop striving for social transformation with every ounce of energy he has, but also won’t pick up Chernyshevsky’s axe.

Handmind in Covidtide

By forcibly breaking some of our technological habits, Covidtide creatively destabilizes others.

Against Projection; For Promise

To make promises, to stand by one words, to be answerable for them, is to open oneself to blame.


Time to adopt a new hero: Lew Archer, private detective.

Weird Tales

Ghost stories and other tales of horror concern unpredictable, sometimes ambiguous or indescribable, forces that display hostility or at best indifference to us.

79 Theses on Technology: Of Techniques and "Technology"

If you listen to the machine telling you how to get out of it you only get sucked into it more, like a con artist that lulls you into trust by telling you he is conning you. The promised liberation from technology is usually just another technology that you don’t recognize as such. This is one reason why a fuller appreciation of our diverse techniques is so vital.

An Interview With Alan Jacobs

Humility, laziness, true confessions, and The Karate Kid—an interview with Alan Jacobs on his 79 Theses for Disputation.

79 Theses on Technology: Jacobs Responds to O’Gorman

Once you start to think of technologies as having desires of their own you are well on the way to the Borg Complex: we all instinctively understand that it is precisely because tools don’t want anything that they cannot be reasoned with or argued with. And we can become easily intimidated by the sheer scale of technological production in our era. Eventually we can end up talking even about what algorithms do as though algorithms aren’t written by humans.

79 Theses on Technology: Jacobs Responds to Wellmon

The resources of the household are indeed limited, and the steward does indeed have to make decisions about how to distribute them, but such matters do not mark him as a “sovereign self” but rather the opposite: a person embedded in a social and familial context within which he has serious responsibilities.