Jim Sleeper

  • School Daze

    Like Horatius standing alone against Rome’s would-be invaders, Fareed Zakaria begins this portentously titled book by posing defiantly against “the drumbeat of talk about skills and jobs” that makes Americans “nervously forsake the humanities and take courses in business and communications.” “The irrelevance of a liberal education . . . has achieved that rare status in Washington: bipartisan agreement,” he warns. Those making the liberal arts more job-focused and technical are “abandoning what has been historically distinctive, even unique, in the American approach to higher education.”


  • politics April 21, 2015

    Neoliberalizing Liberal Education

    A good liberal education has three dimensions—learning, teaching, and citizenship building—each of which the journalist Fareed Zakaria has mishandled enough in his own academic career so that he misrepresents them for the rest of us in In Defense of Liberal Education. I review that book in Bookforum’s summer issue, but before the predictable coronation gets too far along, here are a few anticipatory observations that I hope will give Zakaria and his admirers some pause.

    A college education should deepen liberal learning by challenging students’ personal and social preoccupations while drawing

  • Living Color

    Justice for African Americans is as elusive as the pea in a shell game, where appearances of fairness are so finely spun that they make the victim seem complicit in the exploitation.

    Suppose, for example, that you consider a good education your kids’ key to equality. Public education is locally controlled, so it matters where you live. Maybe finding the right location is a better way to ensure justice, but you must get past realtors and landlords who link your skin color to low property values. To reassure them, you’ll need at least a good job and the habits it requires. But to get that job,

  • Dark Satanic Diploma Mills

    This book, in many ways, is a letter to my twenty-year-old self . . . about the kinds of things I wish someone had encouraged me to think about when I was going to college. I was like so many kids today. . . . I went off to college like a sleepwalker, like a zombie. College was a blank.” That’s how William Deresiewicz begins his blistering, arm-waving jeremiad against Ivy League colleges and their dozens of emulators, which are creating a caste that is ruining itself and society.

    The members of this elite “have purchased self-perpetuation at the price of their children’s happiness,” he concludes

  • Look Out Below

    I opened Twilight of the Elites with some skepticism—not so much out of any quarrel I had with its argument as from worries that stemmed from the conditions of its production. It’s certainly true, as Nation correspondent Chris Hayes argues here, that growing numbers of Americans who’ve worked hard and played by the rules, as Bill Clinton put it, are deciding that the rules have been rigged—by Clinton as well as others—and that something’s wrong with the game itself. But we’re rarely driven to develop such thoughts further, in large part because our income, support networks, cultural tastes,

  • Gods and Monsters

    When the center cannot hold, public attention turns to the passionate intensity of those who are destroying it or amusing themselves with its destruction. But what becomes of the public itself in this process—and of citizens’ dignity and prospects?

    Aristotle considered humans beastly without the sphere of “the political,” through which we envision and bind ourselves to common undertakings. Political “speech acts” are imaginative, almost fictive, projections into an unknowable future, but our choices of some fictions over others have consequences. If politics falters, words and deeds

  • culture July 21, 2011

    It's Not Just a Scandal, It's a Syndrome

    By playing on an all-too-human temptation to displace our hopes and fears onto celebrities and scapegoats, Murdoch’s journalism accelerates self-fulfilling prophecies of civic decay in every body politic it touches.

  • Dark Passage

    Like George Orwell, the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) was a prophet of the twentieth century whose legacy has been claimed by combatants along a left-right political spectrum both men disdained. While both were left of center, both were also anti-Communist and believed that conservativism offers important truths. Both lamented that each side clings to its truths until they curdle into lies, leaving each side right only about how the other is wrong. Orwell foresaw the totalitarian consequences; Niebuhr, the grander, deeper thinker, surveyed “the abyss of meaninglessness” that

  • culture May 17, 2011

    American Journalism in the Coils of "Ressentiment"

    The subtitle of William McGowan's Gray Lady Down —What the Decline and Fall of the New York Times Means For America all but ensured its dismissal by book-review editors who aren't drawn to anything quite so portentous, let alone pompous. According to the book's website, McGowan tried to gin up a controversy over the fact that the Times didn't review it, despite book-review editor Sam Tanenhaus' supposed promise to him that it would. No controversy ensued, because Gray Lady also wasn't reviewed in Times rival Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, or in the Washington Post, or in any other major

  • Pride and Prejudice

    Reading America’s destiny in the entrails of its foreign-policy doctrines and wars is no job for amateurs. But in The Icarus Syndrome, Peter Beinart—a Yale-to-Oxford-to-Beltway wunderkind who flew too close to the sun of liberal-hawk glory while he edited the New Republic during the Iraq war—pirouettes to keep his wings from melting and lands safely, bringing us an essay in history that’s insightful, if also a little self-serving.

    When he tells you that Colin Powell judged Paul Wolfowitz’s grand plan for Iraq “the kind of militarily ludicrous suggestion you got from people who had spent their

  • The Neocon Bible

    The neoconservative polemicist Norman Podhoretz has chosen an odd time to urge Jews to become Republicans on the grounds that they’re endangered most by the left and their own liberalism. He acknowledges that 78 percent of Jews voted for Obama, but not that Jewish neocons such as Ed Koch and David Brooks defected from the GOP as the populism they’d tried to rouse and channel took a sinister turn. Worse, old-line conservatives, like the late William F. Buckley Jr., have muttered that neocons are conservatism’s misfortune. To update neocon elder Irving Kristol’s quip, today a liberal may be a