• A Review of New Dark Age and Outnumbered

    This review was first published in The Weekend Australian. * In his brilliant and beautiful book, New Dark Age, the British artist James Bridle invokes Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. First set out in Asimov’s short story ‘Runaround’ (1942), these laws are usually expressed as follows: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a […]

    A Review of New Dark Age and Outnumbered
  • Why Davos Man Loves Big History

    On the face of it, David Christian’s Origin Story doesn’t look like the kind of book that demands a political analysis. Subtitled A Big History of Everything, I imagine it will strike most readers as a weightier, less amusing, version of Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything – a book for the interested non-specialist, if not the shameless dilettante. […]

    Why Davos Man Loves Big History
  • The War on the Young and Australia Reimagined: A Review

    Both John Sutherland and Hugh Mackay were born in 1938. According to my instruments, that makes them old men, and it is as old men – or, if you prefer, ‘elders’ – that they have taken up the urgent task of diagnosing contemporary society’s ills and prescribing an appropriate course of treatment. Sutherland does so in rank-breaking style, suggesting in […]

    The War on the Young and Australia Reimagined: A Review
  • Peak Bullshit?

    Earlier this year, as the US journalist Michael Wolff was angrily defending his chart-busting exposé Fire and Fury against allegations that it was thinly sourced and inaccurate – allegations, it should be pointed out, that flowed principally from its apricot-coloured subject – a passage purporting to be an extract from the book was published and widely shared on Twitter. Originating […]

    Peak Bullshit?
  • Politics for Beautiful People

    There’s disagreement about who first described politics as “show business for ugly people”: some commentators attribute the zinger to Jay Leno, others to political consultant Paul Begala. But there is broad agreement that whoever it was identified a genuine phenomenon. Politics in the era of mass communication has indeed become more “mediated” – as focused on personalities as it is […]

    Politics for Beautiful People
  • Five Stars for Us! A Review of Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post’

    I was just four months old when the Pentagon Papers were published in 1971, but I remember very distinctly the mixed emotions that ran through my mind when I first clapped eyes on that historic edition of the New York Times in my local library. For here was everything I loathed and loved in one incredible revelation! On the one […]

    Five Stars for Us! A Review of Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post’
  • Stuck in the Middle with EU? Centrism in the UK and Beyond

    When the writer Paul Mason was booked to appear at the annual conference of Progress earlier this year, he was more or less assured a rough reception. Progress, after all, is a Blairite “ginger group” within the British Labour Party – formed in 1996, one year before their boy won power – and Mason the quasi-Marxist author of the excellent […]

    Stuck in the Middle with EU? Centrism in the UK and Beyond
  • True Colours: Identity, Class and Rightwing Populism

    Of all the flags seen at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month – the Gadsden, the Confederate, the National Socialist – none so caught the media’s attention as the one raised in its immediate aftermath. Responding to the far-right rally, and to the atrocity committed by one of the protestors, the Cheeto Jesus equivocated. There […]

    True Colours: Identity, Class and Rightwing Populism
  • Losing the Plot: On the Liberal Reaction to Hulu’s Handmaid

    I’ll say one thing for the Cheeto Jesus: he’s done wonders for the journalistic trade in specious literary comparisons. In the year or so since Donald Trump became the GOP’s presidential nominee, I must have read hundreds of articles comparing his rise and behaviour in office to dystopias and alternative histories such as Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, Philip […]

    Losing the Plot: On the Liberal Reaction to Hulu’s Handmaid
  • On Terry Eagleton and Roger Scruton: What Kind of Thing Is Humankind?

    Roger Scruton and Terry Eagleton aren’t natural bedfellows. As a conservative philosopher in the Burkean mould, Scruton tends to regard the past as a country from which we have strayed too far, while the Marxist Eagleton looks forward to a world that has broken free from oppression and exploitation. But while certain fundamental differences emerge from a reading of these […]

    On Terry Eagleton and Roger Scruton: What Kind of Thing Is Humankind?
 

OTHER RECENT POSTS

The network versus the hierarchy

The network versus the hierarchy

‘IT IS EASIER to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.’ So wrote the critical theorist Frederic Jameson in New Left Review in 2003, attributing the sentiment to an unnamed ‘someone’ whom posterity, with nothing else to go on, has decided to call Frederic Jameson.

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How democracies perish

How democracies perish

When Bob Hawke died in 2019, shortly before the May election, many commentators sprinkled their obituaries with reflections on how contemporary politicians fell short of the Silver Bodgie’s example. While Hawke, it was said, had managed to combine charisma with a genuine vision, the modern pollie was the helpless plaything of the pollsters and the image-makers, bereft of courage and vision alike.

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Two books in the ‘Grail Tradition’

Two books in the ‘Grail Tradition’

For well over a quarter of a century now the Holy Grail of centre-left politics has been to square the imperatives of enterprise and entrepreneurship with a greater degree of social cohesion, fairness and equality.

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Collapsology

Collapsology

In his most recent novel,The Second Sleep, Robert Harris imagines a future England in which life is lived according to the rhythms and mores of the pre-modern era. Technology is primitive, Christianity taken literally, and, notwithstanding a parrot or two (an effect, perhaps, of global warming), the landscape indistinguishable from that of medieval England.

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Two books on memory

Two books on memory

If this year’s federal election proved one thing, other than the fact that polling firms are hilariously overpaid, it’s that social media is now an invaluable resource for journalists seeking a juicy story or political operatives looking to embarrass their opponents.

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On Paul Mason’s Clear Bright Future

On Paul Mason’s Clear Bright Future

In his 2015 book, Postcapitalism, Paul Mason described the way in which information technologies are undermining market forces. Since information can be reproduced for close to ‘zero marginal cost’ its tendency is to collapse traditional price mechanisms and thus the ability of businesses to turn a profit without ‘rent seeking’ (i.e. through creating artificial scarcity).

Read more ›
Eagleton on Humour

Eagleton on Humour

Not long ago a new category appeared, temporarily, on the Netflix homepage, called something like ‘Politically Incorrect Comedy’. Whether this was meant as a warning or a promise, or a bit of both, is hard to say; but there’s no doubt it spoke to something in the culture: a self-consciousness in debates around women and minorities, related to the political moment.

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A review of Rise of the Right and On Hate

A review of Rise of the Right and On Hate

Contemporary right-wing populists have a number of styles available to them. There’s the trashy demagoguery of a Donald Trump; the lethal bigotry of a Jair Bolsonaro; the braying parochialism of a Nigel Farage; the unfocused resentment of a Pauline Hanson … But one must-have item for populists everywhere is the mantle of ‘the real people’.

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Review of Huntley and Fagan

Review of Huntley and Fagan

Despite the efforts of pollsters and analysts to tell us how we’re going to vote, our general elections do retain an element of unpredictability, which is just as well, because the manner in which they’re conducted is as predictable as a Happy Meal.

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On the perils of social media

On the perils of social media

In 2010 the journalist Ginger Gorman, who was then working for the ABC in Queensland, interviewed Mark Newton and Peter Truong, a gay couple with a five-year-old son, born to a Russian surrogate mother.

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On Fukuyama, Babones and Tingle

On Fukuyama, Babones and Tingle

Francis Fukuyama is annoyed. In the preface to Identity, he accuses his critics of misreading his thesis, first set out in 1989, that Western-style liberal democracy, combined with a market economy, represented the final stage in humanity’s socio-political evolution.

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Digital Apes: On Humanity and AI

Digital Apes: On Humanity and AI

This review was first published in The Weekend Australian. * Shortly before his death in 2015 the fantasy writer Terry Pratchett agreed to be interviewed for a documentary about his life and legacy. ‘When I was a boy all I ever wanted was my own observatory’ says Pratchett in the film’s final scene. ‘I knew even then that all the […]

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