UnHerd’s picks: April’s best Substacks
Featuring: Ukraine, Emmanuel Macron and the YouTube Nazi panic
April saw the war in Ukraine enter its third month, the cost of living crisis deepen across Britain, and the re-election of President Macron in France.
But elsewhere — especially in the expanding digital ecosystem of Substack — writers and journalists less tethered to the news cycle have been following their own interests, and producing superb work. Over the course of the month, UnHerd staff collected some of the best new writing.
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1. Is social media to blame for everything?
At the Ruffian, Ian Leslie responded to Jonathan Haidt’s blockbuster Atlantic essay — ‘Why the past the years of American life have been uniquely stupid‘ — which blames social media for everything from political polarisation to cancel culture, a decline in trust in institutions and the rise of misinformation. Leslie isn’t convinced by the argument:
2. The world order reset
What did Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping discuss when they met in Beijing in early February? That, and much more, is the subject of an excellent essay on geopolitics by NS Lyons.
What better place to strike at the West than Ukraine?
The plan, as we have seen, failed. And it has re-ordered the world in the process, in ways neither Putin, nor Xi Jinping could have imagined in February:
3. The YouTube Nazi Panic was just another moral panic
Stories about ‘YouTube’s radicalisation machine’ were a major feature of the Trump era. Yet, as Noah Smith details, they were a media-driven moral panic.
The narrative that had been pushed for years in the media turned out to have little or no empirical support. In fact, the better the evidence gets — and Smith has summarised all of the research — the more strongly it suggests that the “rabbit hole” story was a case of panic-driven myth-making.
4. Just keep it off my timeline
How did the Left come to be more censorious than the Right? That was one of the more thematic questions generated by Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter this month. Freddie deBoer’s answer was simple. Many of the loudest calls for censorship on the Left come from a place of fear:
5. As old as sin
Kris Bartkus writes fascinatingly on the sexual anguish of Franz Kafka:
I love these summaries of Substack articles. The N.S. Lyons article about the Ukraine invasion and its effect on the world order is long but certainly worth reading.
One of the reasons I subscribed to unherd was that both the articles and comments are on a different level. This is the perfect example of how it can be done with Niveau to raise the bar not lower it.
I concur. It would be great if this were a regular feature.
Yes, that was a very good article. I found quite a bit to disagree with in it but it was an enriching read nontheless.
The NS Lyons article was extremely persuasive until the last part, in which he posits that “woke” has completely taken over. I would say that most corporations are paying lip service to woke, and that a change in the U.S. (and other) administrations would quickly show the woke phenomenon to be fleeting. Unfortunately, the chances of that happening now have been severely impacted by the incredibly regressive decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, giving Democrats and their leftie allies an explosive issue to galvanize around. What was a foregone conclusion a week ago: i.e. that the mid-terms would be a wipeout for the Democrats, is no longer even a sure win. Trump, whose policies I generally admired, may well regret putting arch-conservatives in control of the Supreme Court.
It wasn’t a ‘regressive’ decision; most legal opinion is that Roe v Wade was always a very poorly justified SC decision.
If people want liberal abortion laws, this should be a matter of democratic argument and scrutiny, as it has been in, say, Ireland, not essentially imposed through a legal ‘interpretation’
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