Dialogues with Richard Reeves
Robert Tracy McKenzie on democracy for sinners

Robert Tracy McKenzie on democracy for sinners

May 30, 2022

"The main reason we find it difficult to think critically about democracy is that it requires us to think critically about ourselves." That's the view of my guest today, Robert Tracy McKenzie, a historian at Wheaton College.  In his recent book We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy , he argues that Americans - and American Christians in particular have forgotten what the framers always knew: that human beings are flawed, broken, inclined towards sin - in other words, fallen. He contrasts this view of fallen humanity with what he calls the "democratic gospel", based on the "comforting fiction that we are naturally good".  In this conversation we discuss the development of the idea that "America is great because America is good" (which Tocqueville never actually said); argue about the extent to which democracy is intrinsically good, or mostly good as means to other ends; discuss the balance between two different Christian anthropologies, one positive one negative; the use and misuse of history by political partisans; and the need for religious people, in particular, to take history more seriously. He's an interesting thinker, a terrific writer and this was a fun conversation. 

(Robert) Tracy McKenzie

McKenzie is a Professor of History at Wheaton College, where he holds the Arthur F. Holmes Chair of Faith and Learning. He  blogs about Christian faith and American History at faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com

Yascha Mounk on race, democracy and liberal patriotism

Yascha Mounk on race, democracy and liberal patriotism

May 16, 2022

Diverse democracies are new, wonderful, but potentially fragile: that's the claim, the promise and the warning from my guest today, Yascha Mounk. Yascha wears many hats. He is a Professor at Johns Hopkins, the Founder of Persuasion, a publication and community devoted to the maintenance of a liberal society, and host an excellent podcast, The Good Fight. Also a political scientist and historian with four books to his name, most recently The Great Experiment - Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure, which is the main topic of our conversation today.

We talk about the dangers of tribalism and majority domination in diverse democracies; the difference between a liberal society and a democratic society (and which is more important), the intrinsic "groupiness" of human beings and how that means liberals need to be in the business of drawing lines between groups (whether they like it or not), what the communitarian critics of liberalism get wrong, the wonderful messiness of liberal societies, Federalist 10, and the risks of an overemphasis on racial or ethnic identity, or "racecraft", which is an increasingly dominant trend on both the political right and the political left.

Yascha Mounk

Yascha tweets from @Yascha_Mounk

Check out his work at his website here.

Buy his latest book, The Great Experiment here.

Born in Germany to Polish parents, Yascha received his BA in History from Trinity College Cambridge and his PhD in Government from Harvard University. He is an Associate Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, where he holds appointments in both the School of Advanced International Studies and the SNF Agora Institute. Yascha is also a Contributing Editor at The Atlantic, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Founder of Persuasion.

Frank Fukuyama on how to rescue liberalism

Frank Fukuyama on how to rescue liberalism

May 2, 2022

It's not news that liberalism is under pressure. And one of the most prominent liberals of our era is Francis Fukuyama. As he writes in his latest book, Liberalism and its Discontents, the virtues of liberalism need to be clearly articulated and celebrated once again." In this wide-ranging dialogue, Frank and I discuss how his thinking has evolved since his famous 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, including the central tension between the universalism of liberal morality and the fact of nation states, and between the pluralism of liberal politics and the central importance of thymos - respect, dignity, recognition. Along the way we talk about the perils of the university tenure system, the significance of the war in Ukraine, why Papua New Guinea is such a good place to study political order, the relationship between liberalism and laissez-faire capitalism (Spoiler: hugely overstated), and the content of a good life, or what it means, in Mill's word "to pursue our own good in our as seen through the eyes of a liberal.

Francis Fukuyama

Tweets from @FukuyamaFrancis

Read:

Liberalism and Its Discontents (2022)

The End of History and the Last Man (1992)

The Origins of Political Order (2011)

Political Order and Political Decay (2015)

See also my review of his latest book in the Literary Review here.

Francis Fukuyama is Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), and a faculty member of FSI's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL). He is also Director of Stanford's Ford Dorsey Master's in International Policy, and a professor (by courtesy) of Political Science.

More

Christianism by Leon Wiesetlier

Check out my dialogue with Joseph Henrich whose work we discussed, on Spotify  here or Apple here.

Christine Emba on ethical sex

Christine Emba on ethical sex

April 11, 2022

Something's wrong with our sex lives. That's according to Christine Emba. In her new book, Rethinking Sex: A Provocation she argues that too many people are having sex that is consenting, but not good. Sex that makes us feel used, or sad, or alienated in some way or another. She argues for an ethic of sex that is based on the Aristotelian definition of love as "willing the good of the other".

Christine and I talk quite a bit about the differences between men and women when it comes to sex, and the dangers of women being held up (or perhaps down), to masculine ideas of sex. We talk about how the restriction of the debate about sex to one of consent misses the mark in terms of what people are seeking; the so-called "sex recession" as fewer younger adult report having sex (and whether that is a good or a bad thing); we agree that good sex, defined ethically, is not constrained by a particular institutional arrangement - and so can take place on a one night stand; the "orgasm gap" between women having sex in a committed relationship as opposed to a casual one; whether sex workers are having good sex; and much more.

Christine is a terrific writer and thinker on contemporary culture, and has focused here on a particularly timely issue, I think. 

Christine Emba

Buy her book, Rethinking Sex: A Provocation.

Read her Washington Post columns.

Follow her on twitter @ChristineEmba

 

Clare Chambers on leaving our bodies alone

Clare Chambers on leaving our bodies alone

March 7, 2022

"Every body is wrong; no body feels right". So says philosopher Clare Chambers, who defends the idea of the unmodified body, both as a political and an ethical concept. It's not that bodies don't change of course - they do all the time, and should, by what we do and eat and so on. But we dig into the three reasons we modify our body: appearance, health and hygiene, or identity (using my decision to brush my teeth as an example). Clare explains why the idea of being "trapped in the wrong body", a popular description among many trans people, has some problems as well as potential, in part because to some extent we are all not in the right body, or our "own" true body. That's why new mothers are urged to "get their body back".

We talk about how far gender differences are the result of nature or culture; why there is no clear distinction between cosmetic surgery and cultural surgery; how shaming doesn't really work as a public health approach; the changed nature of bodybuilding (and not for the better). We discuss the striking differences in rates of male circumcision between the U.S. (80% of boys) and the UK (6%), where it is described as a procedure of last resort, what this tells about the role of culture and especially how what counts as a "medical procedure". In her new book Intact, Clare has produced an excellent and thoughtful treatment of some very important and sensitive subjects right now, and it was a real pleasure to have this dialogue with her. 

Read Intact: A Defence of the Unmodified Body (Penguin, 2022)

Clare Chambers

Professor of Political Philosophy and a Fellow of Jesus College, University of Cambridge. She is the author of Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State (Oxford University Press, 2017); Sex, Culture, and Justice: The Limits of Choice (Penn State University Press, 2008); Teach Yourself Political Philosophy: A Complete Introduction (with Phil Parvin, Hodder, 2012); and numerous articles and chapters on feminist and liberal political philosophy. She is also a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 

Website: http://www.clarechambers.com/

Twitter: @DrClareChambers

The Dialogues Team 

Creator: Richard Reeves

Artwork: George Vaughan Thomas

Tech Support: Cameron Hauver-Reeves

Music: "Remember" by Bencoolen (thanks for the permission, guys!)

Jonathan Gottschall on the stories we tell ourselves

Jonathan Gottschall on the stories we tell ourselves

February 22, 2022

"Human beings can no more give up narrative than we can breathing or sleeping." So says my guest Jonathan Gottschall. But why are stories so important? He argues in his new book The Story Paradox: How Our Love of Storytelling Builds Societies and Tears them Down that the primary function of storytelling is to sway the listener in some way, to change how they think or fell about something, or someone. "Stories", he says "are influence machines". Part of the political divide today, for example, is over the story of America: Are we a city on the hill, a beacon of liberty and hope and progress, or an oppressive, supremacist and bloody empire? In a deep sense, the culture war is a story war, and in light of recent political developments, Gottschall says our task is now "to save the world from stories", in part by trying to tell stories without villains. Along the way we talk about the difference between suspension of disbelief and narrative transportation, politics, the role of religion, luck, and the lack of political pluralism in academia. I came away even more convinced about the power of stories, and our decisions about which stories to immerse ourselves in, as well as how stories layer on top of stories, in a kind of narrative collage. 

Jonathan Gottschall

Distinguished Fellow at Washington & Jefferson College, author of The Storytelling Animal, The Professor in the Cage, and The Story Paradox

Twitter: @jonathangottsch

Website: jonathangottschall.com

 

 

Reid Hoffman on how real friends make us better

Reid Hoffman on how real friends make us better

February 7, 2022

What are friends for? To "help us be better versions of ourselves" is Reid Hoffman's answer. He has spent a lot of time thinking about the nature and importance of friendship for human flourishing. Reid is best known for his success as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist: he is co-founder of LinkedIn and PayPal, a partner at Greylock Partners and serves on the boards of Airbnb, Convoy, Edmodo, and Microsoft. The importance of relationships - networks, colleagues, friends, fellow citizens - runs through his philosophy and worldview. That is why he says that "entrepreneurship should include an embedded theory of human nature." Reid studied philosophy as a postgrad at Oxford and there's a strongly philosophical flavor to his work, and to our dialogue. At one point in the conversation he describes himself as a "predictive philosophical anthropologist", and I think by the end you'll see why. We discuss the value of philosophical thinking; the importance of what he calls an "embedded theory of human nature"'; the roles and responsibility of big tech and media companies: why the truth is slow and falsehood fast, and what we might do about that. We spend a lot of time unpacking why friendship plays such an important part in his ethical framework; our current political divides; the importance of truthfulness; and why he remains not a techno-utopian, but a techno-optimist. But we start with the question of why he has a Swiss Army knife in his car, and what that tells us about him. 

Reid Hoffman

Podcast: Masters of Scale 

Latest book: Blitzscaling, The Lightning-Fast Path to Building 
Massively Valuable Companies

Website & blog: https://www.reidhoffman.org/

"Through friendship, a better version of myself

"The Philosopher- Entrepreneur

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/reidhoffman/

Twitter: @reidhoffman

The Dialogues Team

Creator: Richard Reeves

Artwork: George Vaughan Thomas

Tech Support: Cameron Hauver-Reeves

Music: "Remember" by Bencoolen (thanks for the permission, guys!)

Roland Betancourt on queer Byzantines

Roland Betancourt on queer Byzantines

December 20, 2021

“I am less interested in showing that the Medieval world was modern, than in showing how Medieval, in many ways, the modern world is.” That’s Roland Betancourt, my guest today and a truly fascinating scholar of history, art, theology, sex and gender, liturgy and much more. We discuss his book Byzantine Intersectionality: Sexuality, Gender, and Race in the Middle Ages, including the history of the later Roman Empire, the “slut shaming” of Empress Theodora, the importance, today as much as 1,500 year ago of the Hagia Sophia, the fascinating lives and deaths of trans monks, the significance of Mary’s consent to be the Mother of Christ, the messiness and ambiguity of human life, frailty and identity. (Note that there’s inevitably some pretty adult content in this episode).

Dialogues will be back on Jan 10th, Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, Happy Holidays to all. 

Roland Betancourt 

Roland Betancourt is Professor of Art History at the University of California, Irvine. In the 2016-2017 academic year, he was the Elizabeth and J. Richardson Dilworth Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. See his faculty page here.

We mostly discuss his book Byzantine Intersectionality: Sexuality, Gender, and Race in the Middle Ages) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020) 

More Betancourt

Performing the Gospels in Byzantium: Sight, Sound, and Space in the Divine Liturgy (Cambridge University Press, 2021)

See his edited volume Byzantium/Modernism: The Byzantine as Method in Modernity (Leiden: Brill, 2015).

Also Sight, Touch, and Imagination in Byzantium (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018)

"Why Sight Is Not Touch: Reconsidering the Tactility of Vision in Byzantium," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 70 (December 2016): 1-23.

"Faltering Images: Failure and Error in Byzantine Lectionaries," Word & Image 32:1 (2016): 1-20.

The Dialogues Team 

Creator: Richard Reeves

Artwork: George Vaughan Thomas

Tech Support: Cameron Hauver-Reeves

Music: "Remember" by Bencoolen (thanks for the permission, guys!)

Oliver Burkeman on surrendering to time

Oliver Burkeman on surrendering to time

December 13, 2021

“Productivity is a trap. Becoming more efficient just makes you more rushed, and trying to clear the decks simply makes them fill up again faster.” It took a moment of epiphany on a Brooklyn park bench, and becoming a father, for my guest today, recovering productivity hacker and Guardian journalist Oliver Burkeman, to see the truth. We’re all going to die. And soon: in fact, after about four thousand weeks. That’s the animating idea of his new book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. But facing our finitude frees us to give up on the myth of a stress-free future, embrace the discomfort of failure, focus on the present, and make more thoughtful trade-offs. Maybe even start to allow time to use us, rather than the other way round. We talk about parenting, the role of religion, to-do lists, the regulation of time by states and churches, the pleasures of hiking, the Northern Lights, the sabbath, and much more.

Oliver Burkeman

Oliver Burkeman is a writer and recovering productivity hacker. His new book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, is about making the most of our radically finite lives in a world of impossible demands, relentless distraction and political insanity (and 'productivity techniques' that mainly just make everyone feel busier).

More Burkeman 

Oliver is also author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking (2012) and Help! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done (2011), a collection of his Guardian columns. Follow Oliver on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/oliverburkeman. Sign up for his twice-weekly newsletter, The Imperfectionist, and check out his website here: https://www.oliverburkeman.com/

Also Mentioned 

The Dialogues Team 

Creator: Richard Reeves

Artwork: George Vaughan Thomas

Tech Support: Cameron Hauver-Reeves

Music: "Remember" by Bencoolen (thanks for the permission, guys!)

Bill Kristol on holding the center

Bill Kristol on holding the center

December 6, 2021

What should sensible Republicans do now? That’s the question Bill Kristol has been wrestling with since the nomination of Donald Trump - and it’s not going away. A veteran of Republican politics, scholarship and journalism, Bill’s view is that for the foreseeable future, the Republican party at a national level seems like a lost cause. The best hope is to build new spaces in the political center, and work with moderate Democrats, like Joe Biden, to actually, you know, govern the country, keep democracy safe, and all that good stuff. But Biden’s performance so far gives cause for concern. We talk about Bill’s own journey from working as a teen for Patrick Moynihan to the H.W. Bush White House and beyond; what Liz Cheney will likely have to do next; the warped politics of the Covid vaccination campaign; the bungled exit from Afghanistan and troubling signs of more isolationist thinking on both sides of the aisle; and the best and worst plausible scenarios for U.S. politics over the next three years.

Bill Kristol 

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark, having been a founder of The Weekly Standard, and is a regular guest on leading political commentary shows. Read his Bulwark columns here. He also has his own podcast, Conversations with Bill Kristol. From 1985 to 1993, Kristol served as chief of staff to Education Secretary William Bennett in the Reagan Administration and as chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle in the George H. W. Bush administration. Before coming to Washington, Kristol taught politics at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University.

Bill tweets from twitter.com/billkristol.

Kristolisms

I referred to a few of Bill’s Bulwark columns in particular:

American Conservatism, b. 1955, d. 2020?

A Tale of Three Possible Outcomes

Springtime for Moderate Democrats

The Birth of the Biden Doctrine? 

Also Mentioned 

  • Michael Oakeshott, in his essay "On Being Conservative" (1956), wrote that: "To be conservative ... is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss."
  • Bill mentioned the rise of “affective polarization”. This paper is a good place to start on that topic.
  • I mentioned Arthur Brooks on when our opponents become our enemies. See his oped here.

The Dialogues Team 

Creator: Richard Reeves

Artwork: George Vaughan Thomas

Tech Support: Cameron Hauver-Reeves

Music: "Remember" by Bencoolen (thanks for the permission, guys!)

 

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