Alan Ryan’s On Tocqueville and On Marx were published last year. He is the author of the two-volume work On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present. He is visiting professor of philosophy at Stanford.


The Good Patriots

Abraham Lincoln, 1870; Edward Snowden, 2014
A sound instinct prompted David Bromwich to publish Moral Imagination at the same time as his biography of Edmund Burke, and not only because the idea of “a moral imagination” is derived from Burke.1 These essays were written between 1995 and 2012, and although Burke is not the central …

The Dangers of Patriotism

Edmund Burke; miniature portrait, English school, 1795
Edmund Burke, who died in 1797, remains a figure to reckon with more than two centuries later. He has been and still remains an inspiration to American conservatives, most strikingly to those lamenting the absence of an American cultural aristocracy early in the twentieth century, and to those at the …

In the Spirit of Maya Lin

Martha Nussbaum at the University of Chicago Law School, 2010
The English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead described the history of European philosophy as “a series of footnotes to Plato.” In the same spirit, one might say that since the publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971, political philosophy in American universities has largely consisted of a series of footnotes …

A Big British Moment

King William IV; portrait by Sir Martin Archer Shee, 1833
It is more than forty years since Antonia Fraser revealed a formidable talent for writing serious and well-researched books on history for a wide audience. Her Mary Queen of Scots, published in 1969, won the James Tait Black for biography; since then she has written prize-winning and best-selling accounts of …

The Art of Being Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm and his third wife, Annis Freeman, shortly after their marriage, Mexico, 1953
Some readers will recall being given a copy of Erich Fromm’s popular The Art of Loving in high school or college, usually remembering it with gratitude, but sometimes with a sense that its reliance on the ideas of Freud and Marx now makes it not only unfashionable, but old-fashioned. Still …

They Who Would Be Immortal!

A Tea Party rally in Clinton Township, Michigan, April 2010
Jill Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard and a staff writer on The New Yorker, has been astonishingly productive. In 1999, not long out of graduate school, she won the Bancroft Prize for The Name of War, an account of the hideous King Philip’s War of 1675–1676 between …

One Virtue at a Time, Please

Any book with “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness” in the title will stir questions in the reader’s mind. Is the author about to defend Keats’s assertion that “beauty is truth, truth beauty; that is all ye know on earth, and all you need to know?” Catching sight of Howard …

The Passionate Hero, Then and Now

John Stuart Mill with his stepdaughter Helen Taylor, circa 1860
Richard Reeves’s biography of John Stuart Mill is, surprisingly, the first full-scale biography in more than fifty years. There have been many accounts of different aspects of Mill’s life and work since Michael St. Packe published his Life in 1952,1 but a life in the round is overdue, and …

Tocqueville’s Lesson

‘Travelers with an Indian guide in the Saginaw Forest’; drawing by Gustave de Beaumont from his trip to North America with Alexis de Tocqueville, 1831
Tocqueville’s Discovery of America is lively, always interesting, and often touching. It also fills a gap in the literature that was deliberately created by Tocqueville himself. He went to America in 1831 ostensibly to study the reformed prison systems of several states, more practically to escape an awkward political situation, …

What Happened to the American Empire?

From time to time during the Bush administration there have been outbreaks of nostalgia for the days when lonely district commissioners ruled hundreds of square miles of British Africa, and a small number of civil servants and local magistrates managed the affairs of 350 million subcontinental Indians. The explanation is …

Tocqueville: The Flaws of Genius

Hugh Brogan has taken almost forty-five years to write Alexis de Tocqueville. He began work as a graduate student and finished the book in retirement. The cause was not a bad case of writer’s block, but something just as familiar to biographers. The Tocqueville family archives were for many years …

Is Capitalism Good for You?

The idea of providing an exuberant defense of bourgeois virtues seems on the face of it absurd. In common parlance, “bourgeois” is synonymous with “humdrum” and “conventional.” The ideal bourgeois citizen is cautious and anxious; given to deferred gratification, to considering the rainy days ahead, and to paying the price …

Cosmopolitans

The three books by leading philosophers under review share one theme: cosmopolitanism. Otherwise, they could hardly be more different. Anthony Appiah and Amartya Sen have written short, brisk, pointed essays on the perils of cultural isolation and narrowness. Martha Nussbaum has written a substantial philosophical treatise on the difficulties that …

Founding Mother

Whether by accident or design, she turned it into the center of more social, cultural, and political experiments than it is easy to describe. She taught the new immigrants among whom she had settled to lift their eyes from the squalid surroundings in which they were working and living, and …

After the Fall

Writing a comprehensive, intellectually serious account of the history of Europe between the closing days of World War II and the early weeks of 2005 is on the face of it impossible—certainly for one writer and within the compass of one book. There is the war and its aftermath; the …

Waiting for Gordon Brown

Between 1979 and 1992, the British Labour Party lost four general elections in a row. When Labour won in 1997, the party had been out of power for eighteen years. Now, by racking up a third consecutive general election victory on May 5, Labour can hope to exile the Conservative …

The Magic of ‘I’

“Rootless cosmopolitans” was the belittling label that Stalinists applied to Jewish intellectuals during the Soviet purges; and although the American academy is neither Stalinist nor anti-Semitic, there has for the past twenty years been a good deal of argument between the enthusiasts for roots and the defenders of cosmopolitanism. Writers …

Freedom Fighter

May 20, 2006, is the bicentenary of the birth of John Stuart Mill, so Nicholas Capaldi’s biography arrives at an appropriate moment. It is the first biographical account of Mill for some thirty years. There have been recent studies of Mill’s philosophy, of which the best by some margin is …

Faith-Based History

Gertrude Himmelfarb is astonishing. Born in 1922, she is in her early eighties, but she continues to write on her favorite topics with undiminished vigor and with the determination to écraser l’infâme that has been her trademark since the 1960s. Like other members of her generation of neoconservatives, she began …

The Election and America’s Future

For what has been called “the most consequential election in decades,” we have asked some of our contributors for their views.—The Editors   K. ANTHONY APPIAH Princeton, New Jersey If there’s one thing that supporters of the current administration insist upon, it’s that George W. Bush “is a …

Time Out?

Deliberation Day induces mixed emotions. It is lively, fast-moving, and concerned with a serious subject—restoring the health of American democracy; and it has a big idea about how to achieve it. The big idea is to institute a public holiday just before presidential elections, so that the whole nation can …

The Way to Reason

The history of economics is rich in economists of the first rank who were equally influential as philosophers, sociologists, and political thinkers: Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and Friedrich von Hayek are just four from very different times and of very different political allegiances. Amartya Sen is another.

Call Me Mister

Most accounts of the failings of the welfare state make gloomy reading—but Richard Sennett’s Respect is nothing of the sort. For any reader interested in Sennett’s subject and prepared to argue with the author, Respect offers the author’s optimistic side of a conversation about the extreme difficulty, if not the …

The Power of Positive Thinking

Jürgen Habermas is often thought of not only as Germany’s leading philosopher but as quintessentially German. In the sense that few figures in American public life refer as often to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant or the principles of the Enlightenment, that is no doubt true. In fact, the figure …

Visions of Politics

Sheldon Wolin’s Tocqueville Between Two Worlds has been many years in gestation. It is long, densely written, and difficult. It rests on an immense range of reading in Tocqueville and his commentators; and it tackles large subjects. The largest is nothing less than whether freedom is possible in the modern world.

Keynes’s Last Stand

The third and last volume of Robert Skidelsky’s wonderful, engrossing biography of John Maynard Keynes is a triumph over its raw material. It covers the last decade of Keynes’s life—1937 to 1946. By 1937, Keynes, who was born in 1883, was a very sick man. The heart infection which was …

A New Vision of Liberty

One of the many virtues of Economic Sentiments is that it provides exactly what its subtitle says: an investigation of “Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment.” Another, even more attractive than an unusual degree of truth in advertising, is that it casts an extraordinarily revealing light on many other writers …

The Group

Pragmatism claims that human thinking and acting, from the least sophisticated to the most sophisticated, are driven by the need to respond to problems: all thought and action are provoked by a tension between ourselves as needy organisms on the one side and, on the other, the environment that must …