Harper’s Notes

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: surrealism, seminars, the second sex, and more.

The editors

September 29, 2023

Democracy and distrust: The 2024 United States elections are quickly approaching, and worries already abound concerning potential threats to the country’s democracy. A lecture hosted by the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, The Guardian newspaper, and national security experts will explore these threats as well as ways to protect free and fair elections. With political polarization and misinformation at record highs, support for political violence and conspiracy theories increasing, and protections for voting rights waning, the event’s organizers believe strategies to better foster an inclusive and healthy democracy will be crucial in the coming years. Speakers include CPOST director and University of Chicago international relations professor Robert Pape, Guardian writers Sam Levine and Ankita Rao, and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. The event will take place on Tuesday, September 26, from 5–7 p.m. at the David Rubenstein Forum.

Philosophy in dark times: What do Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Weil, and Ayn Rand have in common? Though their writings run the gamut, these women philosophers’ formative periods all occurred loosely between 1933 and 1943. As such, writer and philosopher Wolfram Eilenberger fits them into a group biography, The Visionaries: Arendt, Beauvoir, Rand, Weil, and the Power of Philosophy in Dark Times. Arendt, who had a stint at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and Weil, the mystic who inspired an essay in our inaugural issue, have a special place in The Harper Review’s heart, but the influence of all four doubtlessly resounds today. De Beauvoir is the existentialist philosopher and feminist best known for The Second Sex, while Rand gave a powerful voice to her Objectivist philosophy—which continues to influence many American libertarians—in the novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Stop by the Seminary Co-Op bookstore to pick up Eilenberger’s book about this eclectic group of thinkers.

Under the cherry moon: With a new show that opened last Friday at Povos Gallery in Chicago, artist Ashkon Haidari continues his successful relationship with the gallery and presents nine new surrealist oil paintings. Although Haidari is entirely self-taught, his clean lines and careful shading suggest otherwise. The gallery has published an accompanying catalog for Haidari, which credits a “deep relationship with ancient history” as the artist’s inspiration. However, with modern motifs like guns and blue jeans, this hardly seems evident. The show contains skillful paintings, intricate, like many of Haidari’s predecessors in surrealism, and matter-of-fact. Povos is located in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago, and Haidari’s show will run until October 28 of this year.

Catholic masses: As a part of a “Fundamental Questions” seminar tailored to undergraduates, the Lumen Christi Institute for Catholic Thought will spend the fall discussing Jose Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses. Mass men, according to the twentieth-century Spanish philosopher, have no aspiration for excellence; in fact, they crush “everything that is excellent, individual, qualified, and select.” In the dinnertime seminar, students will read Ortega’s masterpiece and discuss ways that we may prevent individuality and human excellence from being lost in the crowd. The seminar will be led by University of Chicago political science professor John McCormick and the head of the Lumen Christi Institute, Daniel Wasserman-Soler. Register to be a part of the reading group at the link; registration is limited to twenty students.