From Soul to Mind

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt van Rijn

Prior to the Enlightenment, Western intellectuals for hundreds of years assumed that the animating force of human beings was a “soul” that melded elements of Christian teaching and Aristotelian philosophy. This consensus allowed priests and other religious figures to wield influence over political authorities whose legitimacy depended, in no small part, on them. Such metaphysical beliefs undergirding Christendom decayed, however, with the confessional wars of the sixteenth century. They then crumbled altogether under the pressure of an international band of skeptics whose activities led to what we’ve since dubbed the Age of Enlightenment.

Thinking About the Unthinkable in the Far East

Chinese soldiers salute the Chinese flag / AP

If Richard Nixon could have read Peter Navarro’s new book, Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World, during his landmark visit to China in 1972, he probably would have been shocked by the work or dismissed it as fantastical. After all, China’s economy was still based largely on agriculture when Nixon was there and its military was in need of modernization. Navarro describes the China of today as a rising, increasingly aggressive state that is trying to challenge the United States for both economic and military supremacy. How could Nixon have guessed that, just over four decades after his trip, China would produce more national economic output than the United States, wield highly-sophisticated military capabilities, and pose the greatest strategic challenge to the U.S. in the twenty-first century?

Shakespeare’s Globe at the Crossroads

The Globe / Hollar's Long View of London (1642)

There was something a bit spooky about watching Dominic Dromgoole’s Tempest in London at Shakespeare’s Globe. Although the theatre that now stands on the banks of the Thames is only a replica of the place where Shakespeare wrote, directed, and acted, the space in which I sat seemed full of ghosts. The actor playing Prospero (Tim McMullan), with his high hairline, heavy-lidded eyes, and long nose, even looked a little like the Author.

The resemblance might have been an accident, but the choice of play certainly was not.

Robert Lowell’s Women

Robert Lowell

We all know the story of the poets—the stereotype, the trope. Lord Byron is the model, or Rimbaud, maybe, or even that vagabond thief François Villon, pardoned by the French king only because his poetry was so good. The poets were the rock stars of their time, and they led lives of wildness and excess, filled with the passion, drama, and excitement that suffused their poetry.

Sadly, the story is untrue—or so rarely true that it might as well be false. If poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, as Wordsworth claimed, then the poets’ lives must contain at least enough tranquility that they can get their actual work done. It’s not enough to feel. A poet needs a time apart from feeling, too, and lots of it: a life with more serenity than turmoil.

Briefing the Leader of the Free World

President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson pose with grandchild and the President's Daily Briefing / Cia.gov

The emergence of the United States as a global superpower after World War II brought with it an unprecedented demand during the Cold War for accurate, well-informed and timely intelligence for the president and senior officials. That demand has only increased in an age of terrorism and renewed strategic challenges from Russia and China.

Competition for the president’s attention is keen. Washington is a city of think tanks and quality universities that produce volumes of material on virtually all aspects of U.S. foreign policy.

The Wolf With a Thousand Faces

All images AP, Wikimedia Commons

One can imagine a sustained left-wing rebuke to the argument of Waller Newell’s new book, Tyrants, the sketch of which is as follows. Newell is a partisan of a kind of politics we might label, depending on our mood, “liberal democracy” or “Atlanticism” or “neo-liberalism,” or even “first-wave modernism.” Given such an allegiance, and apparently seized with the desire to write a book for a popular audience that defends the interests of his preferred regime, he has awkwardly jammed together most, if not all, of liberal democracy’s enemies under the single ill-fitting header, “tyranny.”