Harper’s Notes

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: isolation, information, internationalism, and more.

The editors

February 23, 2023

Changing civilities: Throughout this winter, The Harper Review’s editors have sought an answer to the question, “Is civility outdated?” The final say in the debate comes from Madeline Conigliaro-Nguyen, who argues that the question may be the wrong one to ask. Conigliaro-Nguyen argues that the very claim “civility is outdated” reveals our own space- and time-bound conception of civility. The true nature of civility, she claims, is ever-changing. What it is to be “civil” is different for each generation and culture, but as long as each definition is confirmed and practiced, it’s as real as any other. Read Conigliaro-Nguyen’s letter on The Harper Review’s website now.

Man is born free: Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a bit emo. The Enlightenment political philosopher cast himself as an outsider in his autobiographical writings, and many have read both his self-conception and his portrayal of the independent natural man as “either a misanthropic lament against the world, or as a defense of the isolated philosophic life.” However, in an upcoming lecture at the University of Chicago, University of Notre Dame political science professor Emma Planinc will argue that Rousseau’s image of man’s solitude in the state of nature signifies the emancipatory potential of his thought. Imagining ourselves alone is necessary, she claims, for understanding how we can exist in, but also remake the world. Planinc’s lecture will be followed by a conversation with University of Chicago professors Sankar Muthu and Dan Luban. The event will take place on Tuesday, February 21 from 5-6:30 pm.

On the Twitter Files: Elon Musk exposed the so-called “Twitter Files,” showing Twitter’s decision to brand a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop as disinformation. Now, The Harper Review’s coeditor in chief Surya Gowda writes for ProMarket on the controversy. Expanding on her essay in The Harper Review: on the role of the media in “manufacturing dissent” and political division, Gowda argues that it’s reductive to brand Twitter’s restriction of the laptop story as a failure. Relatively unified media narratives, she claims, allow the government to carry out its primary function: serving the public. Thus, it may in fact be the proper social role of the media to restrict information that sows discord. The article is the third in an ongoing series about the Twitter Files on ProMarket, the publication of the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Against the world: We’ve heard a lot about the role of nationalism in the early twentieth century, but what of internationalism? Join University of Chicago professors of history Tara Zahra and Jonathan Levy for a discussion of Zahra’s recent book, Against the World, about the rise of and subsequent backlash to globalization. The two will discuss how travel, trade, war, and disease shaped the last century and what we may learn about anti-globalism in current political debates. Today’s local food movements and insistence on supporting small businesses may not be as unique as we think. The event will be held at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore at 6 p.m. on Thursday, February 23.