Harper’s Notes

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: law, Louis Sullivan, liberalism, and more.

The editors

November 21, 2022

“Making the secret soup”: Thanksgiving break isn’t a bad time to catch up on all those backlogged podcasts you’ve been meaning to listen to. On a recent episode of the podcast Advisory Opinions, conservative lawyers David French and Sarah Isgur tackled the affirmative action case that went before the Supreme Court late last month. At issue was race-based discrimination, particularly against Asian students, at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. Among the questions posed by French and Isgur: are the squash players at elite schools unique enough to be considered a form of “diversity”? In a less ridiculous vein, can the privileges afforded to universities by accepting legacy and donor students—that their families will, say, build new libraries and art museums—be the sort of “compelling interest” that enables race-based discrimination under the current precedent (Grutter v. Bollinger)?

Anti-demolition crew: Louis Sullivan was an influential Chicago architect known as the “father of skyscrapers” and inventor of the phrase “form follows function.” Yet in the 1960s and ‘70s, many of his buildings were destroyed as part of urban renewal efforts. Only thanks to architectural photographer Robert Nickel do we have a record of what these demolished sites looked like. At the Driehaus Museum’s exhibition Capturing Louis Sullivan: What Robert Nickel Saw, Nickel’s photography provides insight into Sullivan’s lost architecture, as well as the photographer’s immense efforts to preserve the architect’s work—Nickel died trying to retrieve pieces of Sullivan’s architecture during a demolition. The exhibition is on view through February 19, 2023, and supplementary material can be found in the form of the Charnley-Persky House, one of Sullivan’s few surviving residential designs in Chicago’s Gold Coast now open to the public as a museum.

Did COVID kill the girl boss?: The archetype of the “girl boss” is under constant scrutiny today, whether from leftists pointing out its intrinsically capitalist ideals or from those just making fun of Elizabeth Holmes. In a recent piece for Tablet magazine, writer Katherine Dee argues that this is symptomatic of a larger cultural shift away from liberal feminism that’s been driven by the pandemic. Mandatory quarantines, she says, have made young women realize that putting off marriage and family to pursue a career begets loneliness, not fulfillment. But are women adopting a socially conservative worldview and acknowledging the “biological reality” of female aging and fertility as a result? It seems more likely that the growing criticism of the girl boss is less a shift towards traditionalism and more an empty statement that “this isn’t cool anymore.”

The closed society and its enemies: In an essay for religious journal First Things, Matthew Rose discusses education in times of political crisis with reference to none other than the University of Chicago’s great educator Leo Strauss. Rose opens with the political philosopher’s 1941 lecture “German Nihilism,” in which Strauss describes the mistakes educators made when he himself was a student in the decades before the rise of National Socialism. Rather than dismissing the appeal of “closed societies,” Strauss hoped that teachers in open societies could challenge their students with the closed society’s vision of human excellence. Rose says that “An education that denies our need to risk our lives for something beyond life … will leave [students] in a condition like that of Strauss’s doomed classmates: angry, lost, and prey to the savagery that will destroy our civilization.” As young people increasingly search for meaning in anti-liberal ideologies, there are surely more than a few lessons here for anyone wishing to save liberalism from its own weaknesses.