Matt Drudge Logs Off

The Drudge Report has become a conformist shadow of its formerly bratty, oppositional self. Why?

by Armin Rosen
The Office Space Apocalypse

The era of massive densely packed urban office towers is over for good. What will take its place?

by Joel Kotkin
Muslims Not Only Survived, We Thrived

The last four years saw unprecedented civic participation by and social acceptance of American Muslims

by Zaid Jilani
Happy Thanksgiving, Auntie Besserwisser!

Forget talking politics, eat turkey

by Michael Lind
Joe Rogan Is the Aleph

The massively popular podcast host provides a glimpse into Borges’ ‘multitudes of America’

by Jacob Siegel
The Great Repair

Americans want life to feel normal again. It’s been a while.

by Peter Savodnik
Muslims Not Only Survived, We Thrived

The last four years saw unprecedented civic participation by and social acceptance of American Muslims

by Zaid Jilani
A Clown’s Funeral

The Odessa-born comedian Mikhail Zhvanetsky was the Seinfeld of everyday Soviet misery and humiliation. His last joke came from beyond the grave.

by Vladislav Davidzon
The Work-Pleasure-Surveillance Machine Threatens All of Us

What happens when our homes become our employers’ offices?

by Justin E.H. Smith
The Revenge of the Yankees

How Social Gospel became Social Justice

by Michael Lind
Israeli Oppression Comes to Durham

The city council’s 2018 vote on Israel left many local Jews feeling unwelcome. Is it the new normal across midsize-town America?

by Sean Cooper
Young Love

Thirty-year-old lawyers throwing bombs are ‘just kids,’ while 12-year-olds are prosecuted for ‘racism.’ How youth went from a stage of human development to a protected political class.

by Kat Rosenfield
The WASP Roots of the Social Justice Movement

The ideology is nothing less than the Anglosphere’s first modern authoritarian political movement

by B. Duncan Moench
Why the American Press Keeps Getting Terror in France Wrong

Who are the victims, and who the perpetrators?

by Caroline Fourest
Anti-Semitism in America

The new AJC report shows growing and broadening anti-Semitism, but also broad recognition of the trend

by Armin Rosen
Stop Being Shocked

American liberalism is in danger from a new ideology—one with dangerous implications for Jews

by Bari Weiss
Wake Up America, and Smell the Anti-Semitism

Americans of all races and political outlooks revile and attack Jews with unprecedented glee, while American Jews would rather talk about anything else

by Eve Barlow
The Loneliest Hatred

Why anti-Semitism and conspiratorial theories claiming that ‘Black people are the “real Jews”’ thrive in a time of racial reckoning

by John-Paul Pagano
The New American Blindness

How the data-driven political journalism of Ezra Klein, Nate Silver, and others, applies the techno-elitist values of Silicon Valley to flatten political reality

by Sean Cooper
The ‘Diversity’ Trap

Progressive ideas about diversity have taken over the corporate world but they offer a skin-deep version obsessed only with color and conformity

by Zaid Jilani
Stop Being Shocked

American liberalism is in danger from a new ideology—one with dangerous implications for Jews

by Bari Weiss
The Supreme Court Matters Like Never Before

Is it now a legislature?

by Michael Lind
Empire of Emperors: What Is China, and Why You Should Worry About It

An excerpt from David Goldman’s new book: ‘You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Sino-Form the World’

by David P. Goldman
How China Is ‘Sino-Forming’ the Planet

David Goldman’s new book rings an urgent alarm on China’s plans for global takeover but misses the communist regime’s vulnerability

by Gordon G. Chang
Year Zero

The age of the machines demands its own samizdat

by David Samuels
Hard & Hardardt

Thanksgiving Fiction: This is how Jack Warner celebrates in America

by Leslie Epstein
Some Childhood Memories of My Friend Danielle

Australia was as far from the horrors of Europe as she could get, and yet that wasn’t far enough

by Shira Nayman
It Takes a Village

A French television drama shows courage in depicting the true scope of the country’s crimes during the Holocaust, which it then washes away in a bizarre assertion of moral equivalence

by Michael Oren
My Emails About André

A conversation about André Gregory’s new memoir, ‘This Is Not My Memoir’

by Rachel Shteir, Matthew Fishbane
The Artist Formerly Known as Guston

The late painter, now mired in a controversy not of his own making, is remembered by Art Spiegelman and his old friend Archie Rand as an uncompromising Jewish artist

by Jake Marmer
The Dharma of David Ben-Gurion

Two European Jewish refugees helped remake the landscape of the possible through their friendship: One was the first prime minister of Israel, and the other was a Buddhist monk

by Shalom Goldman
The Virus and My Friend Bernard

Q&A with Bernard-Henri Lévy

by David Samuels
Dostoevsky’s Demonologies of Terror

What the Russian novel’s account of cosmic evil says about radical terrorism

by Val Vinokur
A Zek Remembers Stalin’s Camps

A new foreword to Julius Margolin’s stunning, recovered memoir of the gulag

by Timothy Snyder
The Language of Privilege

The jargon and weird abstractions are central to the birth of a new elite, which uses the language of wokese as a barrier to entry

by Nicholas Clairmont
The First Day I Was Happy in America

Tablet Original Fiction: An immigrant’s tale

by Julia Fermentto
The Flagellants of the Western World

Like God, colonialism is invisible and omnipresent, responsible for everything that happens on Earth

by Pascal Bruckner
The Golden HYFR

Drake comes of age

by Thomas Chatterton Williams
The Jewish Auden

The poet’s philo-Semitism and visit to Jerusalem had a profound influence on him, and on Yehuda Amichai

by Shalom Goldman
Will Self

The half-Jewish English writer’s new drug memoir, ‘Will,’ dives from Hampstead Garden Suburb into an underworld

by Mardean Isaac
An In-Person Report From a Virtual Film Festival

Binging documentaries while under quarantine in Haifa offers a much-needed window into a country that can feel unreal

by Izabella Tabarovsky
The Afterlife

Alexander ‘Sasha’ Pechersky led a successful prisoner revolt at the Sobibor death camp. His story of extraordinary courage was also the story of millions of Soviet Jews who lived and died in a country that refused to acknowledge their fate.

by David Bezmozgis
Double Exposure: Jean-Pierre Melville

The ambiguities and darkness of Nazi-occupied France propelled him to flee his country, take a new name, fight in the Resistance, and then invent film noir. But the past continued to haunt him.

by Adrien Bosc
Michel Houellebecq’s Toxic New Novel of an Islamist France

by Marc Weitzmann
Cruelty & Perversity: Postprandial Reflections on the PEN Protesters

by Paul Berman
The Charlie Cover

Slander, ridicule, and terror in post-1968 France

by Paul Berman
Orthodox Women’s Groups Adapt to Pandemic Restrictions—and Thrive

Online offerings have driven up attendance for women’s religious services and Torah-learning sessions

by Nomi Kaltmann
Remembering Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948-2020)

One of world Jewry’s most influential leaders and communicators passed away over the weekend, leaving an incalculable void

by Yair Rosenberg
Make America an ‘Eruv’ Again

Why the Talmud’s most notoriously difficult tractate is a perfect guide to our contemporary political moment

by Dovid Bashevkin
‘Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters’

Lessons for 2020 from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s 1963 address on religion and race

by Micah Streiffer
‘We Must Engage the World Right Now’

Rabbi Norman Lamm—theologian, orator, and my grandfather—believed that in the struggle against racism, Jews should both teach and listen

by Ari Lamm
Coronaspection: Introspections 1-13

Cardinal Cristoph Schonborn, Elder Jeffrey Holland, Rabbi Dov Singer

by Alon Goshen-Gottstein
Coronaspection: World Religious Leaders Look Inward During a Time of Global Hardship

One of the most important insights of the Coronaspection project, which brings together 40 world religious leaders for their insights on faith during the time of the coronavirus, has to do with the sense of solidarity and interconnectedness of humanity. Unity is one outcome that almost all participants recognize, and this unity extends also to some significant dimension of unity across religions. United in their struggle with the spiritual challenges of one virus, religious leaders of different traditions share their particular vision across religious boundaries.

by Alon Goshen-Gottstein
Eating Our Way to Holiness

The spirit and the letter of keeping kosher

by Mary Lane Potter
Why We Didn’t Circumcise Our Second Son

Our first son got the traditional brit. But not this time around.

by Yagi Morris
Choosing Life

After giving birth to a stillborn baby, finding comfort in Jewish ritual and scripture

by Kate McGee
What My Kippah Means to Me

As a butch lesbian, wearing a yarmulke connects me to my people—and to myself

by Olivia Swasey
The Battle of the Baal Shem Tov

What I learned as a child, listening to my father and grandfather argue over the founder of Hasidic Judaism

by Alter Yisrael Shimon Feuerman
Learning Hebrew—at Last

Without knowing the language, there was no way to fully participate in my community—not in the way I wanted to

by Roseanne Benjamin
Becoming a Man

How expectations around gender and sexuality led me to embrace Orthodoxy—and then leave it

by Lance Tukell
Secular Synagogues Take Root in Israel

A new kind of spiritual community blossoms

by Paula Jacobs
The Orthodox Jew and the Atheist

How I learned that righteousness and morality are a question of behavior, not belief

by Rebecca Klempner
Pants, Pants Revolution: How My First Pair of Jeans Redefined Modesty for Me

When I bought jeans recently, I redefined what ‘tzniut’ means to me as an Orthodox woman

by Simi Lampert
Lost and Found

How I lost my Mormonism and came to embrace the Jewish way

by Nathan Steiger
Why a Conservative Female Rabbi Decided To Pull Away From Her Male Friends

‘I had to dial back my friendships with men, for the sake of my marriage’

by Rachel Miller Solomin
Growing Peace in the Middle East

American Jews can help Israel and the entire region by strengthening the Abraham Accord. And please, come visit us.

by Hend Al Otaiba
How Denmark, Sweden, the U.N., and the EU Got Suckered Into Funding a Terror Organization

The PFLP’s grotesque hybrid of a terror arm and an NGO network murders innocent people while raking in millions from the West

by Yosef Kuperwasser
The Emperor’s New Clothes

The Abraham Accords prove that Trump’s majestic robes are real—at least in the Middle East

by Michael Doran
The Abraham Accords!

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks at the White House upon the signing of the amazing and unexpected peace treaty between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain

by Benjamin Netanyahu
Qatar’s State-of-the-Art Foreign Lobbying Campaign

Think tanks, universities, museums, newspapers, and key congressional committees are all pieces in a game of 3D chess that the tiny Gulf state is playing with its rivals, using Washington, D.C., as its game board

by Lee Smith
The Aboriginal Rights of the Jewish People

Do the Jewish people have legal ‘rights of entry, sojourn, and settlement’ to the land of Israel?

by Allen Z. Hertz
Are Jews Indigenous to the Land of Israel?


by Ryan Bellerose
China’s Emerging Middle Eastern Kingdom

China’s drive for supremacy is now underway in the Middle East—and it won’t end there

by Michael Doran, Peter Rough
Bringing the Middle East Back Home

The American Orientalist Class attempts to paint a fantasy Middle Eastern landscape on the American canvas

by Tony Badran
A Rabbi in Riyadh

The first Jewish faith leader received by a Saudi monarch recounts his visit with King Salman

by David Rosen
Lebanon’s Interwoven Fantasy Worlds All Lead to War With Israel

How much should America pay to maintain the fraying fabric?

by Tony Badran
How Iran Became a Global Vector of Infection for COVID-19

The authoritarian theocracy faces specific challenges in dealing with the coronavirus

by Noam Blum
When May Day Was a Major Event in Israel

In some Israeli communities, the international workers holiday was just as important as the Jewish holidays

by Armin Rosen
A Q&A With Dorit Rabinyan, the Wonder Woman of New Israeli Lit

In a landscape vacated of the two literary giants Aharon Appelfeld and Amos Oz, Israeli fiction ushers in the rise of a new generation of women writers. The author of ‘All the Rivers’ talks about sabras in New York, American Jewry’s allure, and learning to listen for the perfect watermelon.

by David Samuels
The New MMA Hotbed: Israel

A father passes the fighting torch to his prodigal son, and a new generation of combat athletes makes a name for the Promised Land

by Hillel Kuttler
How Osama Bin Laden Outsmarted the U.S. and Got What He Wanted

The point of Sept. 11 wasn’t to terrorize the West. It was to get the U.S. out of the Muslim world—and it worked.

by David Samuels
Bibi, King of Israel

The most talented politician in Israeli history cracks his demented foes like walnuts

by Liel Leibovitz
Q&A With Israel’s Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak

A conversation with the Israeli leader on the cusp of an election that he hopes will restore his center-left political coalition to power and once again put him in charge of Israel’s future

by David Samuels
Obama Passed the Buck. Trump Refused to Play.

The Iran deal was never meant to stop Iran from building a bomb—it was supposed to delay it until disaster happened on someone else’s watch

by Lee Smith
One Last Interview

Three weeks before his death in 2016, Shimon Peres sat for what he intended to be a Rosh Hashanah-timed discussion about the state of the world. It was also his final one.

by David Samuels
The Jews Make it to the Moon

But not without misfortunes

by Armin Rosen
Malley in Wonderland

How Obama’s ‘progressive’ foreign policy vision—to backpedal away from the Middle East, fast, while kicking our former allies in the region to the curb—became consensus in D.C.

by Tony Badran
Spies in the Basement

The extraordinary true cloak-and-dagger tale of how a chance encounter in a London bookstore made peace possible, on the 25th anniversary of the Israel-Jordan accords

by Haim Be’er
Arafat and the Ayatollahs

The PLO’s greatest single contribution to the Iranian Revolution was the formation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but the Palestinian leader’s involvement with Iran didn’t end there

by Tony Badran
In Search of Lost Fish

Kapchunka was once a staple of Jewish appetizing stores. Today it has nearly vanished. So I set off on a journey across New York to taste what I’d been missing.

by Andrew Silverstein
New Ideas Pop Up on the Jewish Food Scene

As restaurants face an uncertain future, chefs get creative

by Flora Tsapovsky
The Lost Taste of Tiberias

The ancient Israeli city’s distinctive culinary heritage draws from Arabic, Sephardic, and Ashkenazi traditions

by Janna Gur
Saying Goodbye to Seafood

When I converted to Judaism, I left behind part of my Norwegian heritage

by Nina Lichtenstein
How Mustard Became the King of Jewish Condiments

Its delicious legacy stretches from the corner deli all the way back to Abraham

by Edie Jarolim
How Cranberries Found a Place at the Jewish Table

A New World fruit has been incorporated into Old World recipes, with sweet (and sour) results

by Leah Koenig
Green Bean Casserole’s Jewish Pedigree

This traditional Thanksgiving side dish was the creation of food writer Cecily Brownstone. With a small update, it’s perfect for your holiday table, even if you keep kosher.

by Leah Koenig
How To Make the Ultimate Turkey and Stuffing for Thanksgiving

Make a traditional American holiday feast, with a recipe for stuffing that brings Jewish flavors to the table

by Joan Nathan
The Ashkenazi Version of Mac and Cheese

While holiday and Shabbat specialties fill Jewish cookbooks, we often forget the pleasures of seemingly ordinary, everyday food—like egg noodles with cottage cheese

by Leah Koenig
The Trouble With Tsimmes—and How to Fix It

This stew of root vegetables and dried fruit is a staple of Ashkenazi cooking, but it doesn’t have to be the bland, gloppy mess we’ve come to know

by Leah Koenig
How to Make Kosher Prosciutto

The Jews of Italy used goose instead of pork to make their distinctive charcuterie

by Benedetta Jasmine Guetta
Saying Goodbye to Bacon

Deciding to keep kosher really meant grappling with one meaty addiction

by Liel Leibovitz
Searching for Babka’s Soul

This ‘traditional’ Ashkenazi favorite has evolved many times over the years—and it continues to change with the times

by Leah Koenig
A Prescription for Sauerkraut

Exploring the health benefits of fermented foods

by Erik Ofgang
Eating Our Way to Holiness

The spirit and the letter of keeping kosher

by Mary Lane Potter
The Necessity of Exile

What good is the Diaspora? Here are two important views, from unexpected places.

by Shaul Magid
Mourning RBG

Trying to learn life lessons from the Supreme Court justice

by Marjorie Ingall
Not Just a Justice, but Also a Mensch

What I learned about Ruth Bader Ginsburg in writing two children’s books about her

by Debbie Levy
Curtain Raisers

How attending live theater became an important part of the American Jewish communal experience

by Jenna Weissman Joselit
Will the Coronavirus Wedding Model Outlive the Coronavirus?

The pandemic turned 300-person hotel weddings into 10-person backyard affairs. Some newlyweds say it was for the best.

by Marie-Rose Sheinerman
BDS Without Campus

The landscape that nurtured a movement shuts down, leaving activists on both sides wondering whether the debate will cool down—or get hotter

by Max Krupnick
How to Talk to Your Kids About Police Brutality

And how to talk to them about anti-racist protesting

by Marjorie Ingall
Our True Colors

Coming face-to-face with racism in the Jewish community

by Marra B. Gad
In Defense of Wokeness

Awaking to systemic racism is good for America, good for the Jews, and just plain good ethical behavior

by Carly Pildis
What It Feels Like to Sit Shiva Alone

I wanted to be comforted by friends, and to hear stories about my dad. The COVID pandemic made that impossible.

by Jamie Betesh Carter
The Resilience of Rituals

Attending a virtual shiva, I saw how Jewish traditions still hold up under the most extraordinary circumstances

by Alanna E. Cooper
Missing My Dad’s Yahrzeit

When my shul closed during the pandemic, I lost the place where I usually commemorate my father’s death and say Kaddish for him

by Leonard Felson
Shul in the Time of Coronavirus

With COVID-19 pushing synagogues to consider virtual gatherings, we should understand what it means to come together physically

by David Zvi Kalman
The Ethics of Takeout

How do we balance the seemingly contradictory virtues of supporting our local businesses and protecting workers during the pandemic?

by Marjorie Ingall
A Jew Named Christine

People say the darnedest things to us converts. Please stop.

by Christine Beresniova
Lessons From Jewish Sexual Law (in a Sexless Pandemic)

Judaism has something to say about enforced sexual separation, and not just for the Orthodox

by Merissa Nathan Gerson
Day School Bullies

I was ridiculed and physically abused for being the wrong kind of Jewish boy. As a result, it took decades to come to terms with my identity.

by Aaron Hamburger
My Crushes on Rabbis

My youthful admiration for religious teachers, and my desire to please and even emulate them, ultimately helped me connect with myself as a Jewish adult

by Alter Yisrael Shimon Feuerman
Among the Mourners

As a woman, I felt left out of Jewish mourning rituals after my father died. Thirty years later, I found a new place where I finally feel like I count.

by Anna El-Eini
Sex and the Religious Girl

Growing up in a religious family where premarital sex was forbidden and sex wasn’t discussed, I wasn’t taught how to deal with the dangers I’d face

by Yona Rose
Why the Right Is Obsessed With Cancel Culture

Who’s worked up about it, and why

by Marjorie Ingall
Books for Kids With Anxiety

A recent spate of titles can help children struggling in our scary world

by Marjorie Ingall
Judaism During—and After—the Pandemic

Social distancing has, in a way, allowed us into each other’s homes more than ever. Will being apart end up bringing Jews together?

by Micah Streiffer
My Nonbinary Journey

After years of confusion around my gender identity and sexuality, I realized I wasn’t gay or bisexual, or a man or a woman. And as I led my congregation through Yom Kippur services, I finally showed up as myself.

by JB Levine
The Boys of Summer

When my father disappeared, I was left with questions. Decades later, I found some answers—in a book about baseball.

by Debby Waldman
My Great-Grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Lamport, Author of ‘Piskei ha-Gra’

With some of his writings being reprinted for an Orthodox audience, my relative’s scholarly achievements are revealed

by Natalie Zemon Davis
‘Piskei ha-Gra’

Published in the final years of Tzvi Hirsch Lamport’s life, the four-volume work is the culmination of his research into rabbinic literature, and puts in print the rulings and traditions of the Gaon of Vilna to the entire Shulchan Aruch

by Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Lamport
The Real History of the Mennonites and the Holocaust

The story of war refugee Heinrich Hamm’s anti-Semitic and anti-Bolshevik involvement with Nazism betrays the Christian denomination’s upstanding reputation for humanitarianism

by Ben Goossen
Recognizing Jewish Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust

Memorial institutions are finally working to redress an imbalance in the numbers of Jews versus non-Jews hailed for their heroism in defense of victims of the Shoah

by Patrick Henry
The Politics of the Pale

Are Jewish politics as they exist today a result of our Russian past?

by Joshua Meyers
Four Scholars of Jewish Philosophy

The recent deaths of Michael Schneider, David Brézis, Michael Zvi Nehorai, and Gabriella Elgrably-Berzin signal the passing of an era of excellence

by Warren Zev Harvey
A Comforter and Friend on the Front Lines

How Rabbi Harry Richmond viewed his historic role as a chaplain in the U.S. Army

by Naomi Sandweiss
A Scholar of Kabbalah

How I left Romania for Israel and learned to study without preconceptions

by Moshe Idel
A Mighty Empire Brought Down by Plague

We have seen this story before, says Kyle Harper’s brilliant ‘The Fate of Rome’

by Edward N. Luttwak
The American Jewish Soviet Experience

A conversation with Natan Sharansky, author of ‘Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People’

by Izabella Tabarovsky
How ‘The New York Times’ Helped Hide Stalin’s Mass Murders in Ukraine

Journalism doesn’t have to stifle the truth in the service of fashionable causes and personal narcissism. It’s a choice.

by Izabella Tabarovsky
About Time

How early modern European calendars changed Jewish conceptions of time

by Anthony Grafton
The Rebellion Against Rashi

New scholarship captures the fierce but failed attempt to dethrone Judaism’s preeminent biblical commentator

by Eric Lawee
What Comes After Liberalism

An excerpt from Bruno Maçães’ new book, ‘History Has Begun,’ explores the emerging ‘virtualism’ of America's post-liberal society

by Bruno Maçães
Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Who Cares About a Matchmaker, Anyway?

Opposing rabbinic conceptions of marriage and matchmaking in Ashkenaz and Sepharad

by Ephraim Kanarfogel
Jewish Self-Government in Europe Was Not Just a Dream—It Was a Failure

The Council of Four Lands was the central body of Jewish autonomy in Poland for nearly two centuries. What went wrong?

by Moshe Rosman
Is It Permitted to Flee the City?

The coronavirus creates an unsettling tunnel in time between 21st-century New York and the world of 16th-century rabbis

by Tamara Morsel-Eisenberg
An Erroneous Diagram in the Vilna Shas

A comparison of multiple Talmudic editions provides a bibliographical solution to an interpretive quandary

by Eli Genauer
How Think Tanks Became Engines of Royal Propaganda

What their French origins, and their waning and rising relevance to the power structures over the centuries, say about the new Washington

by Jacob Soll
A 20th Century Jewish Life

Scientist, Zionist, man of nature: My father, the biologist Jacob Biale, represented all the possibilities of Jewish American life

by David Biale
The Hybrid Forest

A Q&A with Moshe Shtrauch, whose idea for a solar-powered farm system might make the deserts bloom

by David Samuels
Hydroxychloroquine: A Morality Tale

A startling investigation into how a cheap, well-known drug became a political football in the midst of a pandemic

by Norman Doidge
Medicine’s Fundamentalists

The randomized control trial controversy: Why one size doesn’t fit all and why we need observational studies, case histories, and even anecdotes if we are to have personalized medicine

by Norman Doidge
Diabetes, the Jewish Disease

Did turn-of-the-century Jews suffer disproportionately from diabetes, or was the early research anti-Semitic? An excerpt from a new history.

by Arleen Marcia Tuchman
Wuhan Denialism

Dismissing the possibility that COVID-19 escaped from a lab in China as ‘a conspiracy theory’ is bad science

by Khaled Talaat
Plague as Punishment

On the eve of Tisha B’Av, a rumination on how we experience our worst misfortunes as punishments, and how some move from that to self-punishment and then to punishing others

by Norman Doidge
Will Fast, Cheap, and Plentiful Energy Be a Legacy of Los Alamos?

The atomic bombing over Japan 75 years ago today marked the beginning of an era we are only now fully coming into

by Khaled Talaat
Vera Rubin, Astronomer

The influential Jewish scientist, who would have been 92 today, now has an observatory named after her

by John Tuttle
Koshering Your IVF Embryo

How a ‘mashgicha’ religious fertility supervisor watches over lab eggs and sperm to make sure there are no mix-ups

by Amy Klein
Google Censorship Is a Danger to Public Health

The monopoly platform’s new policy of disappearing documents at odds with the expert opinion of the moment is both sinister and stupid

by Jacob Siegel
The Science of Risk

Who knows best how to avoid harm?

by Steven Landsburg
Viral Math

For hundreds of years, mathematical epidemiology has helped us understand how diseases spread and what treatments will be effective against them

by Fred Brauer
Do Jews Carry Trauma in Our Genes? A Conversation With Rachel Yehuda.

by David Samuels
Up next
Sundown: 9:29 PM
12 days, 15 hours, 27 minutes until sundown

What is Hanukkah? Hanukkah, aka the Festival of Lights, celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in the 2nd century BCE and the Maccabees’ uprising against the Greeks.

When is Hanukkah? Hanukkah 2020 begins at sundown on Thursday, December 10, ending at sundown on Friday, December 18.

What's it all about? Hebrew for “dedication,” Hanukkah is an eight-day-long celebration commemorates just that: the purging and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE after the Jews’ successful uprising against the Greeks.

Any bad guys? Absolutely: Antiochus IV, one the best villains in all of Jewish history. As his nicknames—“the Illustrious” and “Bearer of Victory”—suggest, the ruler of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire was fond of waging war. He was engaging in that pastime in Egypt when a rumor circulated in the region that he’d been killed. Meanwhile, Jason, a Hellenized Jew who’d been deposed as the Temple’s high priest, heard of Antiochus’ death and saw an opportunity to reclaim his position, so he marched on Jerusalem with 1,000 men. Antiochus interpreted the clash in the holy city as a full-fledged Jewish revolt against the foreign rulers, and, in 167 BCE, he attacked Judea and punished its population by outlawing all Jewish rites and practices and mandating the worship of Zeus.

By so doing, most modern scholars agree, the king was simply intervening in an existing civil war between those Hebrews who called for a strict adherence to tradition and those, like Jason, who preached assimilation to Hellenism. Antiochus’ involvement, however, aggravated the internecine struggle and prompted the traditionalists to launch a genuine anti-Greek revolt, led by an aged priest, Mattathias the Hasmonean, and his five sons—Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah—the latter nicknamed HaMakabi, or the hammer, for his combat skills. Followers of the fighting family eventually became known as Maccabees. Two years later, led by Judah, the Maccabees succeeded in defeating Antiochus’ troops, recaptured the Temple, and set out to purge it of idols.

According to the Talmud, the Maccabees wished to light the Temple’s menorah, a traditional candelabrum that customarily burned through the night in Judaism’s holiest place, but discovered just enough oil to last for one day. Miraculously, however, the oil burned for eight days, a wonder we commemorate by lighting candles for eight nights.

Given its themes of Jewish nationalism and rebellion, the rabbis downplayed Hanukkah’s importance throughout the centuries in exile, fearing it might inspire their flock to imitate the Maccabees and take up arms. More recently, however, the holiday has experienced a renaissance: Celebrated on the 25th day of Kislev—and therefore usually falling somewhere between late November and late December on the Gregorian calendar—Hanukkah has emerged as a Jewish equivalent to Christmas.

Any dos and don'ts? The major ritual of the holiday involves lighting the hanukkiah, the proper name for an eight-flamed menorah, which should be completed each night no later than half an hour after nightfall (except on Fridays). The Talmud, in Tractate Shabbat, specifies that unlike Shabbat candles, Hanukkah candles must serve not for illumination but for the sole purpose of reflecting on the Hanukkah miracle. This is why we light them with another candle, called the shamash, meaning servant, and why we place them on a windowsill so they advertise the holiday’s miracle to the world entire.

There’s the tradition of playing with a dreidel, the Hebrew letters on which stand for “a great miracle happened there” (or, in Israel, “a great miracle happened here”). There is also the habit of giving gelt, or money, to children and young adults. Although there are several explanations concerning the origins of this custom, the most commonly held one dates to the 17th century and explains that with miracles and the elation of the historic victory on everybody’s minds, young, impoverished students would visit the homes of wealthy Jews and receive a few coins in return. More recently, nimble chocolatiers presented their own gold-foil-covered alternatives. Whether cash or cocoa, however, giving gelt fits in nicely with the overall spirit of December’s gift-giving mania.

Anything good to eat? It’s traditional on Hanukkah to eat fried foods like latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts)—a natural choice for an oil-themed holiday.

Learn more about Hanukkah →︎
December 25, 2020Sundown: 9:34 PM
Tu B’Shevat
January 27, 2021Sundown: 10:08 PM
February 26, 2021Sundown: 10:43 PM
March 27, 2021Sundown: 11:19 PM
May 17, 2021Sundown: 12:18 AM
Tisha B’Av
July 18, 2021Sundown: 12:31 AM
Rosh Hashanah
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Illustration: Tablet Magazine

Nobody Understands Democracy Anymore

A wave of recent books warning about a ‘crisis of democracy’ reveals that even our experts are confused about how democracies actually work

Shany Mor
August 13, 2019
Illustration: Tablet Magazine

Book after book in recent years has alerted us—as if we couldn’t tell by reading the news and absorbing the panicked media—that democracy is in crisis. Did it start with Trump or with Brexit? In Europe or the U.S.? The diagnosis varies among authors of different backgrounds and political persuasions, as do their prescriptions on what to do now. Not all of the books even share the premise that the loss of democracy is such a bad thing—at least one recent work argues that the real crisis was a democratic surplus.

What the books have in common, beyond their shared subject matter, is a common confusion over what democracy actually is. This confusion about the differences between democracy’s complementary functions like lawmaking and voting is, in its own way, rather illuminating, as the shared shortcoming in the books suggests a broader breakdown in democratic understanding that helped engender the very crisis they were written to address.

Probably the best, and certainly the most talked about entry in the “crisis of democracy” catalogue, is Yascha Mounk’s The People vs. Democracy.

Mounk was, at the time of the book’s release, a Harvard lecturer, and his well-timed tome has catapulted him into the world of celebrity academics. This clearly came as no surprise to his publishers at Harvard University Press, who put the book out with no fewer than four gushing blurbs from an exhaustive array of celebrity intellectuals ranging all the way from a Harvard AB (Dani Rodrik), a Harvard Ph.D. (Francis Fukuyama), a Harvard JD (Anne-Marie Slaughter), and all the way to a current Harvard professor (Michael Sandel).

The book is organized into three parts. The first lays out the “crisis of liberal democracy,” the second endeavors to explain the origins of the crisis, and the third proposes a set of remedies that are remarkably moderate in scope relative to the severity of the crisis outlined in Part 1. Though Mounk denies it throughout, his book is clearly informed by a certain nostalgia for the postwar consensus of strong but limited liberal tolerance, a welfare state undergirded by a broad social solidarity, and a deference for cultural and political elites enforced by shared media that were occasionally publicly owned and nearly always publicly minded.

It is the first part of the book that contains the most original and the most compelling argument, and it is this argument that has received the most attention. Mounk identifies two long-term trends in the practice of democracy that have the same theoretical point of departure, namely the decoupling of liberalism from democracy. First there is the much-ballyhooed rise of “illiberal democracy.” What’s nice about this term is that it is more or less understood by everyone, and is used by both political theorists and everyday commentators to mean the same thing. Even better, it is mostly free of judgment. People like Mounk who are terribly worried about illiberal democracy call it that, while Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban uses the exact same term to champion his own political vision.

The second trend that has Mounk’s attention is the mirror image of illiberal democracy. “Undemocratic liberalism,” in addition to being less catchy also lacks the obvious tie-in with the twin electoral traumas of 2016 in the U.S. and U.K. or with the fashionable concern with rising populism, whatever that term is supposed to mean now. 

The book’s title (The People vs. Democracy) and it’s even more dramatic self-helpy subtitle (Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It) reference only one of the two trends. In the Trump-Corbyn era that’s clearly good marketing, but it’s also an injustice to a book and a scholar far more sophisticated than the cover lets on.

When Mounk peers out at the state of advanced democracies today, he sees a rising tide of both illiberal democracy and undemocratic liberalism—and, perhaps most worryingly, how each trend feeds off and then fortifies the other. This is Mounk’s greatest insight and his fundamental contribution to the conversation on contemporary democracy.

But the elegance of the argument gets the best of him, occasionally. Under illiberal democracy he includes phenomena such as populism, xenophobia, majoritarianism, and attacks on the press. His enumeration of the characteristics of undemocratic liberalism starts out strong, including things like judicial review and global civil society. But then it veers off into some sociological observations about political elites which, while cogent and mostly accurate, don’t seem to be particularly “liberal” problems. Finally, still under the rubric of undemocratic liberalism, Mounk gets to the perversions of money and corruption in politics. This, too, is undeniably important and clearly “undemocratic” about this, but I have no idea what precisely is “liberal.”

There’s a beauty to an academic hypothesis built on two contrary macrotrends occurring simultaneously, but not everything fits gracefully into Mounk’s categories, and he appears, at times, reluctant to rework his organizational concepts to accommodate realities. The distortion of big money in politics is real, but it’s not really a case of illiberal democracy or of undemocratic liberalism. A more analytically robust presentation might lose some of the elegance, but that is a price worth paying.

The same is true of the recurring two-by-two matrix which is supposed to serve as a handy visual aid but only ends up obfuscating. As an illustration of how liberalism and democracy are conceptually separate, a matrix with each concept on a separate axis could be helpful (though arguably unnecessary). Where things get tricky is that each box in the matrix has the name of a country (or even the European Union) in it.

This all seems a bit shallow in comparison to the more careful argument that the text of the book is advancing. The problem with advanced democracy in the early 21st century is not that we are becoming too much like Poland or Canada or Switzerland (or some superficial stereotype of Poland or Canada or Switzerland). It is, rather, that certain putatively democratic forces are undermining the rule of law and at the same time certain putatively liberal forces are undermining popular sovereignty. This confluence of reinforcements manifests itself differently, to be sure, in Warsaw than in Brussels. But the subtlety of the argument, and the trap the status quo lays for democracy, is contradicted by a visual aid that ignores or even contradicts the thesis of the book.

The rest of the book is dedicated to explaining the origins of the democratic crisis, which Mounk locates in the rise of social media, economic stagnation in general and social inequality in particular, and the growth of identity politics. All these trends are noteworthy (if not particularly earth shattering), but where we place them chronologically will determine how we separate cause and effect. The economic stagnation chapter, by far the book’s shortest, is a familiar lament about the decline of the social democratic order that, whether it went under the name New Deal or Postwar Settlement, underpinned mid-20th-century social solidarity. At times Mounk presents his views on these issues as controversial or daring, but in fact they are fairly conventional and likely shared by most of his readers.

In Mounk’s analysis, the rupture in news-consumption habits that precipitated the democratic crisis begins with the rise in social media. This, however, may be the wrong framework. Clearly, social media and the internet have wrought profound changes in how we consume news and interact with current events, but they may still have been less harmful to democratic norms than the privatization of broadcast news and the rise of cable television that occurred decades earlier. Until the early 1990s, most television in the advanced democracies was publicly owned and publicly minded. Even in the U.S., the three main networks, while owned by private corporations, operated as civic-minded institutions, with news divisions often losing money (before remote controls this made sense as it drove viewers into more profitable programming after the news) and political content regulated by “equal time” provisions of the FCC.

It seems like a small point, but it’s not at all. Surely all these changes had an impact and hunting for one inflection point—one year that supposedly “changed” our media world—is a kind of vanity. Except that if all that matters is Twitter and Facebook, then economic stagnation and new media are distinct problems to be understood separately and remedied separately. But if it was privatization and cable television that changed our relationship to the news and opinion formation, then maybe the media shift isn’t coincidental to the socio-economic changes of the last 40 years, because the inflection points on both trend lines are roughly the same. Maybe both outcomes are outgrowths of the same across-the-board undermining of the foundations of social solidarity. Privatizing media and eliminating gatekeepers went hand in hand with the anti-regulation market boosterism known on the right as libertarianism and on the left as neoliberalism that provided an ideological justification for growing income inequality and social self-segregation. In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to put the rise of “identity” politics under that rubric too.

Our collective complacency about the well-being of our fellow citizens is just part of our complacency about our democracies. Perhaps seeing our institutions threatened so openly as we have recently will be the jolt we need to rise to their defense. Yascha Mounk passionately hopes so, and I hope he is right.

But not everyone shares such hopes, and that includes at least one person among the handful publishing hot new takes on democracy. The most provocative and entertaining of this lot is without a doubt Georgetown professor Jason Brennan. His book, the pithily titled Against Democracy, contains not a single reference to Trump or Brexit, as it was published just before all that unpleasantness supercharged the conversation on democracy. Still, it’s safe to assume that nothing about those electoral traumas (or the ones that followed) has driven Brennan to rethink any of his conclusions.

Democracy, for Brennan, is something of a tragedy. It asks people who are ignorant, misinformed, impulsive, and shortsighted to make fateful public decisions. It doesn’t actually empower people and doesn’t solve conflicts. If anything, it makes us hate each other more. These are bold and unfashionable claims but Brennan backs them up with a wealth of survey data and cognitive psychology.

The key word running through all the various nuances of Brennan’s argument is “competence.” Voters lack competence to make political decisions, but citizens are entitled to something called “competent government.”

But is any of this what democracy is about? Brennan never distinguishes between different kinds of competence. His book is full of amusing examples and hypothetical situations to illustrate his point. But it’s never clear in his examples if his arguments are about people as citizens, or authorized decision-makers as political actors, or institutions as such. He switches from masses to elites as the examples suit him. The book never adequately differentiates the competence to make important public decisions from the competence to participate in an election, but these surely are not the same skill set.

There is an elementary distinction between democracy as a regime type or a social arrangement and democracy as the act of voting, but Brennan treats these two radically different (if occasionally coincident) practices and their different deficiencies, as interchangeable where it suits his argument. We might ask, for example, why nine Supreme Court justices vote on a decision. Is 5-4 really any way to make such essential interpretive decisions? Maybe they should deliberate to unanimity or be allowed to bundle unrelated decisions or, conversely, build majority coalitions for parts of decisions taken separately. All of these possibilities touch on democratic proceduralism but they do not fundamentally call into question democracy as a political practice. The rules of the Supreme Court could change in any number of ways but the underlying reality would remain that critical authority invested in unelected and unrepresentative judges.

The extent to which citizens are competent to participate in general elections and to have their votes equally counted is a different discussion from how Supreme Court justices assemble a majority. Especially since the public at large is so rarely asked to actually decide on anything; it usually just appoints people by means of election.

Voting is not the same as democracy. Ruling is not the same as electing. Competence is not the same as suffrage. Governing is not the same as lawmaking. And appointing, even by election, is not the same as representing. Yet, throughout his book, Brennan continually conflates or elides these differences. The last two are not unique to him. Mounk, too, never makes any allowance for the difference between public decision-making on routine everyday matters on the one hand, and the rather unique form of public decision-making that creates general norms on the other hand. Governments aren’t empowered to do whatever they see fit, just as the people at large in a functioning democracy are not. They are there to apply general norms to specific policy problems. To give just one dramatic example of the difference, the process for adding a new amendment to the constitution is considerably more difficult and involved than that which is necessary to pass new noise regulations in a public space. That governments and societies operate in conditions of law—even laws that are subject to change and revision—is a fundamental aspect of modern statehood that can’t just be chalked up to a straitened category like “undemocratic liberalism.”

And if we are to understand what is special about law as such, we’ll need to understand what is special about the representative assemblies where laws are made. But this too barely features in Mounk and Brennan or any of the other contemporary discussions of democracy. Representation is rarely mentioned, and even then only as a practical convenience. No distinction is made between the process of appointing someone to a position of authority via election and sending someone on behalf of a voting public to a large plural body where he or she will deliberate and bargain and ultimately legislate (to say nothing of oversee the same authorized figures who are charged with governing).

No theoretical engagement with democracy is complete without a starring role for both law and representation, yet both are absent from all four books under review here and from nearly all the rest I have encountered.

It’s a deficiency that slips past the boundaries of political theory. Perhaps we have lost the capacity for thinking about the element of lawmaking in a representative assembly in our popular conceptions of democracy. It’s an alarming loss but recognizing it illuminates the source of some overwrought concerns as well as to some poorly thought out institutional changes.

What happens when we lose this fundamental understanding of how democracy operates and what it is supposed to do? We might stop worrying about what laws can and can’t do. We might stop thinking of governments as complicated corporate entities that mix varying levels of expertise and accountability in their day-to-day operations, and we might forget that legislative assemblies are places where ritualized argument and collective decision-making on binding general norms take place. We might instead reduce our political lives to loud, sloganeering entertainment, and take complex fateful matters directly to the public for heedless one-off votes as though institutions, norms, negotiations, and compromise all have no place in politics. We might, in short, embark on something that would look like former Prime Minister David Cameron’s wild adventure with British democracy.

Like every reckless gambler, Cameron started small and took the absence of immediate failure as a sign that he should keep raising the stakes. He unleashed on the British public three referendums in the space of five years each of which had the potential of upending the British constitution in dramatic fashion. Each vote arose as a way to appease a coalition partner or quell a potential internal schism. When, in 2011, voters rejected the Alternative Vote electoral reform referendum to change the rules for electing the House of Commons, Cameron was emboldened to try a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. When that prospect was rejected as well, Cameron put all his chips on the Brexit referendum.

Had he succeeded a third time in using a sloppily worded and hastily crafted referendum to tamp down a noisy domestic insurgency, Cameron might have bought the British establishment, including his own Conservative Party, a decade or more of quiet. Or maybe he would have kept gambling and held a referendum on the monarchy or nuclear disarmament or disestablishment of the Church of England or a switch to a presidential regime. We’ll never know.

Nor, thankfully, will we know quite how risky the Scottish referendum was. A shift of 5% in voter preferences would have given Scottish independence a majority, rending the union with no clear roadmap. The U.K. would have committed itself to redrawing its borders and reconfiguring all of its international defense and treaty and trade relations based on a vote in a referendum in which 91% of U.K. citizens (those residing in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) were ineligible to participate—and where, weirdly, Scottish 16-year-olds did have the vote. It’s not the case that the Scottish government and the U.K. government negotiated a treaty for independence or federalism or something in between and then brought it to the voters for approval. It would have been, like Brexit, a binding resolution to do something drastic where no one really knows what that something is.

Instead Britain is tearing itself apart over the result of an equally ill-considered referendum, and every option from here on out is bad. Ignoring the result would be an assault against the people’s will. A new referendum is almost as insulting, and none of the people proposing such a course of action can agree on how to word it or how many options there should be (approve the deal, leave without a deal, remain after all, etc.). Crashing out would be an economic disaster. A soft departure from the EU satisfies no one, as it would necessarily involve the worst aspects of both remaining and leaving with the benefits of neither. And negotiation is impossible when Britain self-declared endgame leaves it with no leverage. Government ministers pursue a policy they know is wrong, opposed by an opposition just as committed to that disastrous policy. Forty-eight percent of the public may have opposed Brexit in the referendum, but that voice has very few options to express itself in parliamentary elections. How did we get to this?

The Brexit referendum, in the view of Cambridge politics professor David Runciman, shows “how easily the popular demand for more democracy can end up having the opposite effect.” His new book, How Democracy Ends, is the only one of the recent crop to take institutions and not just procedures seriously. But even Runciman’s work never seriously engages with the twin problems of law and representation—the latter a particularly disappointing oversight as he co-authored a short book on the topic in 2008.

It is a fun read, though, avoiding the alarmism that generally characterizes the genre. The exclamation marks on the chapter titles (“Coup!” “Catastrophe!” “Technological Takeover”) are the principal reminders that the issues at stake are deadly serious.

Runciman never resists the temptation to make clever counterintuitive claims, but most of these are then backed up with reasonably plausible arguments. He argues, for example, that Trump’s electoral victory should be seen as a vote of confidence in the institutions of the American constitution because, if anyone was genuinely worried that Trump could actually get his way he could never have assembled a winning coalition. Either there is a “safety net … or the whole thing is a sham.” Either way, the risks are smaller than advertised.

While everyone else is implicitly focusing their trepidation on comparisons with the 1930s, Runciman asks us to look back even further to the golden age of populist democracy in the 1890s. It was a decade of conspiracy theories, unpopular wars, immigration panic, and financial crashes that eventually gave way to a decade of democratic reform. In this reading of history, elected politicians were forced to confront and assimilate populist anger by expanding the franchise and erecting the rudiments of the welfare state. Populists came close to undermining constitutional government in the U.S. and France (and possibly Britain, too), but were beaten back when their anger was challenged into a progressive agenda. It’s one possible outcome, but clearly not the only one.

Runciman begins his book at the H-hour of today’s democratic crisis, high noon on Jan. 20, 2017, with the inauguration of President Trump. But his sweep is broad as he takes us through all the conceivable ways democracy might (and maybe even should) end, whether by coup, catastrophe, or unplanned consequence of technology. Like Mounk, he sometimes adheres too rigidly to his own categories, and the metaphor of democracy’s “midlife crisis” is fun the first time the reader encounters it, but loses some of its spark with each repeated use.

If democracy is having a midlife crisis, then John Dunn didn’t wait for the flashy sports car and hair piece to appear before diagnosing it. Dunn, an emeritus professor of political theory at Cambridge, adapted a lecture series he gave at Yale into a short and alarming book on democracy back in 2014. If that seems hopelessly out of date, think again. Almost everything about our present crisis is spelled out patiently and urgently in Dunn’s Democracy: A History.

Where the other books want us to look at the new authoritarians in the democratic countries, Dunn broadens his geographical and historical scope. If we want to unpack the connection between democracy and good government—“happy accident” or “magic formula”—we need to look at evolving institutional practices in decidedly nondemocratic China and in Asia’s democratic behemoth India.

Dunn’s book is very much a pre-2016 work, but a post-2011 one, too. His concerns about democracy’s direction don’t have the bitterness of political disappointment and aren’t obsessively steeped in the latest tweets or crises. Dunn fretted about democracy before it was cool. Though China and India get a lot of attention in the book, it is the Arab Spring, only casually mentioned, which casts a dark shadow that lingers over nearly every page.

Dunn asks us to decouple our notions of good government and democracy and consider that much of what we positively attribute to democracy may be little more than a historical coincidence, bound in place and time.

His is an elite project with no catchy subtitles or mass audience in mind. His anger, in the book’s final pages, is not directed at Twitter but at universities. It’s the universities, in Dunn’s reckoning, that have failed to ask the difficult questions about our political arrangements and their evolution.

If that is the case, as I strongly believe it to be, then maybe our trauma as scholars of democracy isn’t 2016 or even 2011, it’s 1989 when the Cold War ended. A shocking failure against the Soviet Union might have caused some soul-searching but, instead, success bred a smug complacency that dulled any interest in democracy and set political theorists off on a hundred other pursuits (global justice and rights being the biggest). It all seemed so easy at the time but history has made a mockery of such pretensions. By the early ’90s, Liberal democracy was destined to take over the whole world, but in reality failed to take hold in most of the post-Soviet space, while the few central European success stories today constitute the go-to examples of illiberalism riding into power on democratic horses.

When regimes fell or reformed in other theaters, there were very few political theorists on hand to offer lessons on what to avoid. To take perhaps the most glaring example, no one seems to have seen fit to warn of the dangers of a presidential regime as it careened toward its first free election. The idea of handing over all executive power to a party that wins just over half the votes in a country almost evenly split between ardent supporters of Islamist fundamentalism and terrified opponents of it would have been bad enough in a country that had a tradition of repeated electoral contests. In a country that had none, this was a guarantee that the first election would be the last.

Nor were we as alert as we should have been to the insidious encirclement of our best practices in the established liberal democracies, in particular the hollowing out of the powers of representative assemblies and the concomitant rise of executive and judiciary power. Without a firm grasp on what laws are supposed to do and what governments are supposed to do (not the same thing!) we couldn’t see the problem with handing legislative prerogatives to civil society and international institutions and subjecting crucial public decision-making to increasingly authoritarian leaders or the frenzies of privately mobilized public passions.

Political thinkers have come to see governance as yet another market mechanism where preferences can be aggregated and efficient outcomes determined. If people disagree, they must be ill-informed or prejudiced. But disagreement is a fundamental condition—the fundamental condition—of politics. And the most important practice of democracy isn’t voting, but rather proscribing norms for the habit of legitimate disagreement. Representative assemblies, with their large numbers of diverse members and their ritualized speech acts and decision-making rules engender these habits, particularly when their proceedings and decisions are at the center of public attention. Twitter can’t replace that; cable news can’t replace that; referendums can’t replace that; liberal high courts, international organizations, pious human rights groups, and the free market can’t replace that; and authoritarian populists certainly can’t replace that.

To measure democracy against some Athenian ideal, or to criticize it in those terms, is to miss the point. We are not Athenians, not because we can’t be, but because we don’t want to be. Our smartphones, our social media apps, our almost unlimited access to information and platforms have all given us the means to subject our politics to a daily public decision-making process free of all gatekeepers and constraints. And yet we still, most of us at least, prefer to live under the rule of laws. We prefer it even as we lose our grip on the democratic institutions that have historically yoked the most powerful members of society to the same laws that the rest of us must abide. Law can’t just be a nondemocratic means for imposing a liberal agenda, if only because it will eventually become a nondemocratic means for imposing an illiberal agenda.

As long as our discussion of democracy treats representation as though it were some kind of rounding error or approximation of the real thing, and law as though it were just another policy outcome, we won’t have a fully formed sense of what this democracy thing really is—or, as the subtitle of Mounk’s book would have, how to save it.


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Shany Mor is an Associate Fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College and a Research Fellow at the Chaikin Center for Geostrategy at the University of Haifa. He served as a Director for Foreign Policy on the Israeli National Security Council.