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.


This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Two hundred years is a long time, and much of the appeal of Jane Austen lies in how long ago she wrote. Every year the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) meets in a major city and stages a series of events that recreate that long lost world. There’s a bonnet-making workshop and a Regency-style ball, and everyone marches around in archaic fancy dress. All of this strikes an appealing note to those of us who find the modern world chaotic and unmannerly, who wish that we could take tea at the right hour (if only someone could brew a proper cup) and think we would all look much better in Empire gowns.


By the same token, much of the appeal of… More…


How Fiction Works isn’t actually about how fiction works. To be obsessed with the mechanics of words and sentences, to see literature as essentially an enclosed system with internal rules, is to be a formalist, and James Wood, for all his formality, isn’t a formalist. He admits as much. In the Preface to How Fiction Works Wood writes, “when I talk about free indirect style I am really talking about point of view, and when I am talking about point of view I am really talking about character, and when I am talking about character I am really talking about the real, which is at the bottom of my inquiries.” For James Wood, fiction is about the world, not about itself.

Wood calls his book How Fiction Works for two reasons. The first is that he’s a cocky… More…

Modernism first began to die in the 1960s. There was serious talk. People were getting fed up. A new sensibility was beginning to emerge, if only at the margins. That discussion heated up in the `70s and it was super-trend, can’t-have-a-conference-without-it material by the `80s. As Jean-François Lyotard wrote in his epochal The Postmodern Condition (1979), “Our working hypothesis is that the status of knowledge is altered as societies enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures enter what is known as the postmodern age.”

Alteration was all the rage. We were altering. This was either the ground for a new optimism, wild and exuberant in its embrace of the new terrain, or deeply pessimistic in the face of the collapse of every possibility for genuine critique. Someone like Jean Baudrillard could proclaim, “Modernity has never happened. There has never really been any modernity, never any real progress,… More…