Tuesday, March 19, 2002
OK, links to three articles I read recently that I think are particularly interesting.
From the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: Is America an Experiment? by Wilfred M. McClay. We hear the expression "American experiment" all the time, but what is meant by it? If America is an experiment, what is the object of the experiment, and what the control? And if we are not talking in these terms, are we really talking about experiment at all, or are we using the word as an excuse for license and disorder? The article is stronger towards the beginning than the end, but very much worth reading and discussing. And any piece of writing that praises William James while damning Richard Rorty is bound to get a smile out of me.
From Commentary Magazine: What Brings a World Into Being? by David Berlinski. Berlinski, a critic of Darwinism (but not a creationist; he's a mathematician and molecular biologist by training), has written extensively on the problem of how information becomes an active principle in contemporary descriptions of reality. In this essay, he elegantly describes the verbal slight-of-hand by which this is assumed without ever being asserted in three very different realms of science: (1) how the information recorded, for example, in language causes a fully ramified reality to be represented in our minds; (2) how the information encoded in DNA causes a fully ramified organism to develop in the womb; (3) how the information encoded in the laws of physics cause (apparently) the entire universe to spontaneously come into being. It was to me a novel and interesting way of looking at a set of problems that I had been aware of for some time. Here's another article by Berlinski, this one from The Weekly Standard, a critical review of the revival of natural theology in the context of the scientific advances of the last 50 years.
From Azure Magazine (terrible name; in Hebrew the name is t'chelet, which is the blue originally used in tzitzit, the ritual fringes, and also and relatedly the blue of the Israeli flag; "azure" may be a good literal translation but figuratively it is a disaster): On the National State, by Yoram Hazony. Hazony has undertaken to defend the nation-state as the foundation of political order, and he contrasts it with the Imperial or Anarchic state. In terms of nomenclature, I think the term "Anarchy" is poorly chosen; a better term would be "Feudal" which more accurately describes the kind of political order that he calls "Anarchy." I think his argument in general is very much worth advancing, and highly topical; its relevance not only to Israel's Oslo war but to the formation of the European Union and the War of September 11 should be obvious. Even those inclined to be critical of nationalism should read the argument; Hazony will recall to their minds that only a few years ago, these same people who now abhor nationalism in favor of global institutions were great champions of the principle of national self-determination against the previous global order dominated by European empires. (Indeed, in an ironic development, the Palestinian war against Israel benefits from both the older approbation and the contemporary abhorrence of nationalism on the left; the Palestinians are making war in the name of national liberation, but Israel is condemned precisely for being a national rather than a multi-cultural state. You can't win.)