breaking news from the world of ideas

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 25
September 2020
Chart
10:00

Americans are worried about the West — maybe that’s a good thing

The fear of losing a civilisation may end up unifying the country

It’s fair to say that a certain civilisational consciousness is in the air at the moment. As I’ve argued in UnHerd recently, the rising powers of Eurasia are increasingly using a rhetoric of following their own unique, civilisational special paths to justify their increasingly open divergence from liberal norms.

Similarly, there seems to be a growing fashion in publishing, always a bellwether for the concerns of the moment, for books on civilisational collapse, whether the collapse in question is those of societies past, like the enjoyable new book on Alaric the Goth, or of our own, like the newly-translated How Everything Can Collapse. One way or another, a certain Spenglerian gloom is wafting through the cultural ether. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Thursday, 17
September 2020
Spotted
11:45

Don’t recycle plastic. Burn it.

There's nothing to gain from dumping plastic rubbish halfway across the world

Every Thursday I dump on the street for collection the laboriously sorted, washed and specially-bagged plastic rubbish my family has assembled over the course of the previous week. And every week the same niggling, cynical voice tells me this is an entirely pointless activity. What is the likelihood, this voice whispers, that any of this mound of plastic, the mere sight of which fills me with a vague and troubling sense of guilt, ends up being melted down and repurposed instead of mouldering in a heap or washed into the sea either here or on the furthest edge of the world?

So it’s with a strange sense of satisfaction that I read this horrifying piece this week from NPR and another by Politico about the plastic recycling myth. All along, American consumers were purposely misled about the value of the time and effort they devoted to recycling their used plastic, urged to save the world by carrying out this weekly ritual of middle-class self-mortification, when in fact: ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 4
September 2020
Spotted
15:00

The UBI debate exposes an ancient Christian division

A clash between the Weberian Protestant work ethic and Anglo-Catholic nostalgia

With the government urging everyone back to their offices, whether they want to or not, and the Chancellor announcing that the furlough scheme 4 million of us relied on will be ending next month, 2020’s Covid Summer is officially at an end, even if the virus itself isn’t.

The necessity of us all going back to work, for the sake of the nation’s economic health, may be unarguable. But at the same time, it’s hard not to feel that a great national opportunity for rebalancing work and life is somehow being missed; that Covid, for all its anxiety and danger, somehow broke the spell of normality, chaining us to Larkin’s hated “toad, work,” and that by rushing too quickly to return to our old ways, we’re squandering the possibility to explore alternatives. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 28
August 2020
Idea
07:00

US riots are eerily reminiscent of the Troubles

Once again, a liberal democracy descends into bitter civil conflict

The growing number of deaths from America’s ongoing political violence, as armed demonstrators shoot each other on the fringes of street protests, naturally evokes comparison to civil wars past and present, as commentators and ordinary US citizens alike wonder how close they are to the abyss. One thing that becomes very clear is that talk of civil war, to Americans at least, evokes their great 19th century conflagration as the archetype: without massed ranks of uniformed volunteers fighting pitched battles over territory, they argue, can it really be a civil war?

From a British perspective, a more obvious parallel, though far from perfect, might be the 20th century Northern Ireland conflict. The images of rival militias parading around and facing off in America’s small towns are deeply resonant of the 1914 Home Rule Crisis, which brought the entire United Kingdom to the brink of civil war — a spectre averted only by the more spectacular disaster of World War I, which, for all its horrors, at least took place overseas.  ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 21
August 2020
Spotted
07:00

Sailing into a low-tech future

A vision of a slower, more considered post-Covid world

Like everyone else, the Covid experience caused me to reflect carefully on the fragility of supply chains and on the vast and fragile web of trading connections which we all rely upon. Like everyone else, too, the experience of this enforced “time out” from the world — a time, at the pandemic’s peak, when all work fell away and the sound of a jet passing overhead would cause you to look up at the sky in wonder — came as an unexpected release from the accelerating hustle and pressure of 21st century life.

So I was pleased to read in my local paper this week that, soon, a vision of a slower, more considered future will sail into my home port in the shape of De Gallant, a 1916 fishing lugger repurposed as a cargo ship. Part of the nascent revival of sailing ships as cargo haulers, the Gallant is transporting olive oil, barrels of olives and sacks of rice and salt from small producers in Portugal and France to ports around England, touching UK shores in Ramsgate first before heading on to Penzance, Bristol, London, Newhaven and Great Yarmouth. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 14
August 2020
Off grid
12:07

The suburban joy of keeping chickens

Is this a taste of the post-Covid utopia?

It’s probably too early to make accurate predictions about the reordering of economic life yet to come, but the past few months of enforced domesticity have not been entirely disastrous. Even if the elaborate baking craze of the pandemic’s first few weeks has been quietly shelved, and rustic sourdough loaves replaced on social media feeds with photos of holidays as far from home as possible, many have taken on board Voltaire’s advice, in Candide, that for a good and peaceful life, “we must cultivate our garden”, turning our attention inward from the stresses of an uncertain world.

My own experiment with the good life centres around chickens, a trio of hens acquired just before the lockdown rush. Clemmie, Floogie and Buttercup are, together, a gentle introduction to livestock keeping, and a pleasing distraction from the outside world. Their lives, circumscribed to the small suburban garden in which they scratch around, are a strange echo of our own newly limited horizons. As you’d expect from far-diminished descendants of the dinosaurs, our hens are ferocious predators, searching out the slugs and snails which would otherwise ravage our modest vegetable patch with cool genocidal determination.  ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 7
August 2020
Reaction
15:00

Jupiter in Lebanon

Macron has to engage with the country before it descends into civil war again

No more dramatic a vision of our returning age of empires can be imagined than the spectacle, yesterday, of President Macron’s triumphal tour of a devastated Beirut. As desperate Lebanese pressed around him, calling for the overthrow of their own rulers, and even pleading for the return of the French mandate, Europe’s most important statesman seized the moment, hugging crying women — in a city where Lebanon’s leaders would be lynched, if they attempted the same itinerary — and assuring the crowd that he would propose a new constitutional settlement for the country, brought to the brink of collapse by corruption. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Wednesday, 15
July 2020
Reaction
14:48

America exports its racial politics to France

Implanting race-based identities in Europe are misguided and dangerous

Few outside observers would look at America as a model of racial harmony to be emulated. Even the American liberals who a decade ago were insisting that the US had entered a harmonious post-racial future have now decided en masse that America is an oppressive white supremacist entity whose population requires re-education, and whose entire historical legitimacy is questionable. A New York Times piece this week therefore makes for uncomfortable reading, as it shows how the US State Department, in a fit of misguided idealism, intentionally exported its divisive racial politics to Europe.

While the French state is officially colour-blind— it does not even record the racial makeup of its citizenry in its census data— this state of affairs “is being challenged,” the article notes, “by the many Black French who have gone through a racial awakening in recent decades — helped by the pop culture of the United States, its thinkers, and even its Paris-based diplomats who spotted and encouraged young Black French leaders a decade ago.” ...  Continue reading