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Following the Cold War, the claim that grand historical narratives had become obsolete was frequently made. The “dialectic of history,” which was supposed to replace capitalism first by socialism then by utopian communism, turned out to be a figment of Karl Marx’s imagination.

But it was hard for many people to do without grand historical narratives which attempt to explain the present and predict the future. In the generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall, neoconservatives — that is, former leftists or liberals who had found a new home on the political right in the U.S. and Europe — came up with a quasi-Marxist historical determinism of their own, proposing a “global democratic revolution.” Like Marxists, many neocons believed that the future could be helped to arrive by violence, in the form of American wars of regime change or subversion in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria. More… “The Wave of the Future”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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Do ethnic groups or religious believers own their myths and legends? That is the question raised by a controversy involving British author J.K. Rowling. The creator of Harry Potter and Hogwarts has been condemned for incorporating Native American traditions — for example, stories about supernatural “skinwalkers” — into her expanding literary mythology.

It is impossible not to sympathize with the complaint. Few groups have suffered more than Native Americans from having their traditions stereotyped or appropriated by white Americans and Europeans. Outright caricature, like the big-nosed, red-skinned Indians in old cartoons, is the least of it. From the American patriots who dressed up as “Indians” to vandalize British ships during the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to the New York political machine named “Tammany Hall” after Tamanend, a Lenape leader, to the modern Washington Redskins football team and the appropriation of Native Americans as New Age sages and environmental heroes, the casual and disrespectful borrowing of Native American motifs and imagery by white Americans has paralleled the white supremacist tradition of blackface minstrelsy. More… “Who Owns Myths and Legends?”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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Did you ever wonder where the odd term “pundit” comes from? Today it refers to talking heads on TV and opinioneering newspaper columnists. But the word derives from the Hindi “pandit,” which means a learned or wise scholar whose judgments deserved to be treated with respect. You know, like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill Maher.

Given the current moral panic over “cultural appropriation” sweeping trendy U.S. college campuses, I’m surprised that Indian-American students have not demanded that the word “pundit” be banned or at least preceded by trigger warnings. More… “Pundits, Moguls, Sachems, and Czars”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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Stanford University is embroiled in a debate over Western Civ courses — again. In the 1980’s, Stanford was at the epicenter of the collision between older great books curricula and new-fangled identity politics, a clash which featured the Reverend Jesse Jackson joining protesters in chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Culture’s got to go!” (referring to a course, not a civilization). After a generation in which the life of the mind on campus has been divided between leftist identity politics and technocratic social science in economics departments and business schools, old-fashioned liberal humanism is being championed again by the Stanford Review. The student magazine has launched a petition to restore mandatory courses in “Western Civilization” for all Stanford undergrads. More… “From Plato to Palo Alto”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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Should the federal government subsidize the arts? I have pondered the question ever since 1989, when, with many other residents of Washington, D.C., I went to see an exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe’s obscene photographs which had been cancelled by the Corcoran Exhibit for fear of having federal funds cut off by enraged congressional conservatives. At the entrance to the exhibit, which was hosted instead by the Washington Project for the Arts, a group was collecting signatures for a petition saying that all American artists had the right to taxpayer subsidies, with no strings attached. I offered my signature, but only on condition that the petition organizers in turn provide me with another petition, attesting that I was an American artist and thus entitled to taxpayer money. My offer was not taken up. More… “Should Taxpayers Subsidize the Arts?”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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Recently, while packing for a move, I came across a letter that Gore Vidal sent me from his home in Ravello, Italy, in the late 1990s. Vidal, a slight acquaintance, had provided me with a blurb for my book Up From Conservatism and we corresponded a few times and met once. I had forgotten about this letter, and on deciphering the handwritten scrawl on monogrammed blue paper I found Vidal complaining that a critic who had panned one of his books in the New York Times had been hosted the following weekend at their seaside home in Connecticut by Vidal’s arch-rival William F. Buckley, Jr. and Buckley’s wife Pat. Whether this occurred or was Vidalian paranoia, I cannot say, though given the interlocking circles of that world, anything is possible. After all, at one of Bill and Pat Buckley’s parties I met Tom Selleck, whose career break came in 1970 when he played a young stud propositioned by the elderly Mae West in the X-rated movie version of Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge. More… “The Empire of Gore Vidal”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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The proxy war in Syria between Russia and Turkey is only the latest of many clashes between these two great powers. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 left its mark in Anglo-American literature and culture, when it inspired the British songwriter Percy French to write “Abdul Abulbul Amir,” a comic ballad about the fatal duel between an Ottoman soldier and a Russian soldier:

The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdul Abulbul Amir …

Now the heroes were plenty and well known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar,
And the bravest of these was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

More… “The Re-Enchantment of Poetry”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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We live in an era of identity wars. On both sides of the Atlantic, old partisan loyalties are being reshuffled as a new national populist right battles over immigration with an open-borders, multicultural left. Beyond the West, the most dynamic leaders are seeking to root their legitimacy in historic national and religious traditions — Russian Orthodoxy and Eurasianism in Putin’s Russia, Hindu nationalism in Modi’s India, Chinese nationalism in Xi’s China, and post-secular Islamic Turkish nationalism in Erdoğan’s Turkey. The most extreme form of identity politics is that of the Islamic State that has risen from the wreckage of Iraq and Syria. Its adherents seek to recreate a version of the early Muslim caliphate.
More… “The Age of Identity Wars”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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The best book ever written about American poetry is American Poetry in the Twentieth Century, published in 1971 by the poet and critic Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982). Rexroth is remembered today chiefly as a member of the post-World War II San Francisco counterculture, a mentor to the Beats and the author of numerous translations or recreations of Chinese and Japanese poetry. Born in South Bend, Indiana, he was a genuine bohemian, who in the course of a long life and global travels met and befriended many of the leading figures of European and American literary circles. This makes his book a sort of Secret History of American poetry, told by an insider who knew many of his subjects. More… “The Best Book on American Poetry Ever”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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In politics, at different times in my life, I have been on the center-right and the center-left and the center. But in spite of having co-authored a book entitled “The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics,” I have never really been a radical of any kind. I understood why recently when I read, for the first time, one of the late philosopher Richard Rorty’s most celebrated essays, “Campaigns and Movements,” published in Dissent in the Winter of 1995.

Rorty began by poking fun at the belief of the editors and writers of Partisan Review in the middle of the twentieth century that it was very important to support both democratic socialism and avant-garde modernism in the arts, which were both linked in some obscure way to “the crisis of modern society.”
More… “Why I Am Not A Radical”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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