In tireless spin

The sickness of the West is moral rather than social or economic. It is true that the economic problems are serious and that they have not been solved. Inflation and unemployment are on the rise. Poverty has not disappeared, despite affluence. Several groups—women and racial, religious, and linguistic minorities—still are or feel excluded. But the real, most profound discord lies in the soul. The future has become the realm of horror, and the present has turned into a desert. The liberal societies spin tirelessly, not forward but round and round. If they change, they are not transfigured. The hedonism of the West is the other face of desperation; its skepticism is not wisdom but renunciation; its nihilism ends in suicide and in inferior forms of creduility, such as political fanaticisms and magical chimeras. The empty place left by Christianity in the modern soul is filled not by philosophy but by the crudest superstitions. Our eroticism is a technique, not an art or a passion.

Octavio Paz, “Mexico and the United States,” in The Labyrinth of Solitude (New York: Grove Press, 1985), reprinted from The New Yorker, 17 September 1979.

This land is your land

The question of how to build a city is too often posed simply as a question of consumer desire and technical feasibility: what kinds of snazzy urban landscapes could we build for those who can afford to pay for them? … Continue reading

The Janus-faced science

This era of accelerated migration forged a culture increasingly attentive to the idea of the world as a unity, and created a public with a vast and growing appetite for learning about transcontinental travel. It was at just this time … Continue reading

Stick in the mud

“North Adams to Boston, station no. 203, Shirley,” from the archives of the Commission to Improve the Highways of the Commonwealth, available online at State Library of Massachusetts.

Arguing against the facts, and other affronts to fashionable opinion

On Sunday, Thomas Frank—who’s long been one of my favorite incorruptibles of the Old Left—unleashed a torrent of abuse on the class of Washington journalists who make up what he derisively terms the “data brigade.” It is roughly the same … Continue reading