Harper’s Notes

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: tradition, renaissance, revisionism, and more.

The editors

October 6, 2023

Heterodox academy: It’s no secret that protecting academic freedom is a top priority at UChicago—but the official launch of a new center, the Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression, will make that ever more clear. In celebration, the David Rubenstein Forum will host a two-day event featuring discussions among leading thinkers on issues surrounding free expression in the academy and beyond. “The University’s distinctive culture is built upon its commitment to advancing free expression and free inquiry,” said University President Paul Alivisatos. “The Chicago Forum will serve to convene and amplify many of the vital efforts relevant to this core aspect of our institutional culture.” Notable speakers at the event’s various panels include moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, New York Times columnist David French, and UChicago’s own David Axelrod. Register to attend the launch events that will take place on October 5 and 6 here.

The days of future past: As part of the Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression’s launch, the UChicago philosophy department’s staple program Night Owls is hosting a conversation entitled “The Future of Tradition.” Agnes Callard, the storied UChicago professor of philosophy, and Ross Douthat, New York Times columnist and former senior editor of The Atlantic, will join in conversation on the titular topic, accompanied by cookies and prizes. Douthat, who has converted to Pentecostalism and then Catholicism, has written on Christianity in the United States, the Republican Party, and the decadence of modern society, as well as about his experiences with chronic Lyme disease. Come to Mandel Hall at 9 p.m. this Thursday, October 5, to see the discussion.

Adonis river: Now on view on the fourth floor of Cobb Hall in the Renaissance Society’s gallery, the Lebanon-based artist Dala Nasser displays a site-specific commission titled “Adonis River,” that explores themes of the ancient, the ritualistic, and the sublime. Nasser has built a soaring structure and draped it in cloth, which was dyed in Lebanon with iron-rich clay. With the help of architect and composer Mhamad Safe, Nasser has also made an hour-long sound piece that consists of mourning prayers, slowed down and re-recorded in the cave where the cloth was dyed, to play alongside the work. The exhibition, a great opportunity to see an emerging artist’s work on UChicago’s campus for free, will remain on view until November 26.

Pas d’honneur: “Conservatives are still tempted to make excuses” for Marshal Pétain, the Nazi collaborator who led Vichy France, writes Peter Hitchens in Compact magazine. In a review of historian Julian Jackson’s new book France on Trial: The Case of Marshal Pétain, the English conservative cultural commentator takes readers beat-by-beat through historians’ current understanding of Vichy France. The Nazi collaborators of the Vichy regime were not French patriots doing the best they could in a bad situation, as Hitchens claims wistful conservatives have often argued, and as the matter appeared to many at the close of the Second World War. Rather, Vichy leaders enthusiastically proposed their own ethnic cleansing measures to Nazi authorities and worked vigorously to overturn the republican ideals of nineteenth-century France. Jackson’s book reveals the revisionist tendencies, whether intended or not, made possible by excess patriotism.