Harper’s Notes (1/22)

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: assassination, Amazon, apartheid, and more.

The editors

January 22, 2024

Russian roulette: How do you report from a country in which you could be killed for telling the truth? In the latest Harper Review essay, coeditor in chief Surya Gowda reviews Russian journalist Elena Kostyuchenko’s recent book I Love Russia: Reporting from a Lost Country, which details the author’s experiences reporting for Novaya Gazeta, the country’s last free press. Gowda praises Kostyuchenko’s coverage of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent war—which made Kostyuchenko the target of an assassination attempt by the Russian government—but critiques her book for failing to lay out criteria for distinguishing quality reporting from its less intrepid counterparts. Perhaps in a nation where one fights to survive, philosophical parsing is a secondary priority.

The end of the unipolar world?: America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, contentious elections, declining industrial output, and bursts of civil unrest have cast doubt on the future of America’s global supremacy. Is the end of the United States–led liberal world order in sight? In an essay for The American Mind, Chapman University urban studies fellow Joel Kotkin explains why America’s decline isn’t inevitable, pointing to American resilience, strife among members of the intergovernmental organization BRICS, and the vagaries of geopolitics as evidence in favor of the liberal world order’s survival. What steps should America and its allies take to overcome these challenges as we enter what promises to be another tense election year? Kotkin submits several hawkish recommendations for a way forward in his essay, which can be found at the link.

Oblique perspectives: The late South African photographer David Goldblatt, who worked during and after apartheid, devoted his craft to documenting quotidian subjects “with no ulterior motives.” His naturalistic and incisive style, which frequently depicted the inequities at the heart of daily life in South Africa, drew praise for its nuance and candor—and criticism for its nonconfrontational detachment. Goldblatt, however, saw himself not as an artist or activist but as a documentarian, aiming to do nothing more than observe his subjects impartially. Now, visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago can view highlights from Goldblatt’s oeuvre, as well as works by his contemporaries, collaborators, and students concerning South Africa’s tumultuous past and present. The exhibition, David Goldblatt: No Ulterior Motive, will be on view through March 25.

Special interest: With the US government’s historic recent antitrust case against Google, Big Tech monopolies are once again at the forefront of the public conversation. In an upcoming event hosted by the Chicago Economics Forum, University of Chicago law professor Randal Picker aims to make sense of the complexities surrounding antitrust, competition, and monopolies in the digital era. Analyzing cases involving industry giants like Amazon, Apple, Meta, Google, and Microsoft, Picker hopes to explore how healthy, competitive markets can best be ensured in the technology industry. The event, which is the second installment of CEF’s Law & Economics speaker series, will take place on Tuesday, January 23 at Saieh Hall Room 146. The discussion will begin at 6:30 p.m., and pizza will be provided.