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Spring 2012

Issue 5

The annotated table of contents below offers a sneak peek at what's in Issue 5.

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A Lack of Audacity?


Obama’s call for compromise may infuriate his liberal critics now, but it was once one of the things they admired about him. After eight years with a President who traded in absolutes, members of what Obama calls the “literary class” were refreshed to hear an intelligent person speak thoughtfully about working together to achieve something worthwhile. … [But] it is premature to laud or condemn President Obama’s emphasis on deliberation and compromise without examining the end for which he thinks they should be deployed: the common good.

On Tiger Moms


Much of the power of a traditional culture comes from the assumption of an authority that does not need to be articulated or justified, so it is refreshing to hear someone willing to argue for an autocratic style of parenting, and to do so in public. By making a case for the Chinese style of parenting, Chua opens, perhaps inadvertently, a much-needed dialogue, not simply about different parenting styles, but about the underlying assumptions on which they are based—assumptions about how to live, the proper relation between parents and children, and what we should aspire to as human beings.

Not Even Past


As foreign observers from Tocqueville onward have noted, Americans like to think of themselves as forward-looking and self-reliant. But in the South, where history is cluttered by shameful episodes like slavery, Jim Crow, Reconstruction and inglorious defeat in war, to focus on the future can become almost a psychological necessity.

Sizing Up Oprah


Therapy, in all its forms, teaches us how to express our subjective experiences in a socially recognizable form, and so allows us to connect with others on the basis of our purportedly private difficulties and dilemmas. Some people pay thousands of dollars a year to learn these lessons; others watch “Oprah.”

Coming to Terms


Franzen has reflected repeatedly on his differences with his friend and rival, for instance in the aftermath to his lengthy exploration of the so-called Status vs. Contract models of literature in the 2002 essay, “Mr. Difficult,” and then again early last year, when he told The Paris Review that he considered his relationship with Wallace to have been “haunted by a competition between the writer who was pursuing art for art’s sake and the writer who was trying to be out in the world.” Then, in a highly anticipated piece for the April 18th, 2011 New Yorker, Franzen proposed a brand new distinction, the simplest yet. The real difference between the two writers, he argued, was that whereas Franzen cares about other people, Wallace had always been a narcissistic jerk.





The news in 2011 was dominated by some of the most archetypal instances of oppositional politics that human society can produce, in the Arab Spring and then Occupy Wall Street. Millions have been mobilized without any specific vision of the future or common political program, united instead by common antipathy towards authoritarianism and injustice.

Freeing the Market


There is a difference between “neoliberal markets” and “free markets”; if the Left wants to offer plausible economic solutions today, it needs to reconnect with its critique of the former, and make its peace with the latter.

Toward a Social Socialism


We can show that another world is possible by building it in the spaces available, and then pushing against the state to expand those spaces. … And since democracy is such a core American value—both symbolically and substantively—a Left anchored in a broad democratic project may also be better positioned to break out of its isolation from mainstream American politics.

Libya and the Left


Ten years ago, surveying the post-9/11 landscape in the pages of Dissent, Michael Walzer famously asked if there could be a “decent Left” in a superpower. … The question, rather, should have been whether there can be a rigorously internationalist Left in the U.S., a Left that will promote and support the freedom of speech, the freedom to worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear—even on those rare and valuable occasions when doing so puts one in the position of supporting U.S. policies.

American Dreamers


The New Left’s insistence on personal authenticity, which drove its passion for freedom and its abhorrence of authority, reduced politics, and especially leftist politics, to a matter of identity.



An Interview with Bill Ayers


You can be disappointed [with Obama] but only if you thought he was something that he said he wasn’t! Every politician—FDR, Lyndon Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama—they’re all conservative by nature. They are part of the big thing and they’re moving in a very constrained world. Agitators, organizers, activists, intellectuals aren’t bound by those rules. We’re not trying to figure out, How do I thread this particular needle? We’re actually saying, Here’s a principle that I’d like to arc toward. That’s a very different role in life.



Small Talk


Any defense of small talk is difficult to mount today because we are obviously undergoing an erosion of big talk—serious discussion of complicated ideas and events—in our public discourse. But if much of what masquerades as big talk turns out to be small, it doesn’t follow that small talk is the enemy. … The opposite of small talk isn’t big talk, but no talk; not meaningful conversations about the infinitude of the private man, but the potential hostility of dead air.

9/11 Literature


Depending on who you asked, 9/11 had changed either everything or nothing. it seemed impossible to figure exactly how writers would produce work that would help us understand the post-9/11 moment, a term which itself seemed a construction meant to justify certain political objectives.



Could it be that the “real world” is a halfway house for those stuck between desire and domesticity, those who still want to dream, but to do so from the comfort of a steady job and a safe home?

Cloud Gate, Tilted Arc


One of the things Cloud Gate’s brilliant surface makes it easy to forget is that it isn’t just a mirror or a void or a gate. It’s also a triumphal arch, and like the rest of Millennium Park, the triumph it celebrates is the triumph of Daleyism—that particular blend of hereditary democracy, crony capitalism and corporate welfare that is Chicago’s gift to the world.

Funny Girls


In response to the release of Bridesmaids, many newspapers donned headlines like “Women can be funny, too” (or, for the more quizzical critics at Gawker, “Women can be funny too?”) and “The first Genuine ‘female’ Comedy.” The tone of these articles was that of a war-torn country unable to recall what peace looked like.