Harper’s Notes

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: Nietzsche, networks, Nussbaum, and more.

The editors

December 19, 2023

A leviathan in the public square: The crisis of social media moderation grows in aspect day by day. How can social media megacorporations like Meta best minimize the proliferation of harmful, polarizing content on their platforms? In The Networked Leviathan: For Democratic Platforms, Northwestern law professor Paul Gowder argues that companies should adopt a bottom-up rather than top-down approach to content oversight, akin to Reddit and Wikipedia’s decentralized modes of governance. Reviewing Gowder’s book for ProMarket, The Harper Review’s cofounder and coeditor in chief Surya Gowda writes that, although Gowder acknowledges his own optimism, perhaps his model of democratizing digital power is too idealistic for our complicated age.

Bronze age dissertation: Costin Alamariu, better known by his alias Bronze Age Pervert, has garnered a large following of disaffected young right-wingers, from anonymous internet trolls to White House aides. His self-published book Bronze Age Mindset cracked Amazon’s sitewide top 150 in 2018, and last month, his doctoral thesis Selective Breeding and the Birth of Philosophy became the fourth best-selling title in political philosophy and ancient Greek history. In an essay for Quillette, Princeton University research fellow Oliver Traldi provides a sketch of Alamariu’s dissertation, which takes inspiration from Friedrich Nietzsche and extols an unbridled will to power while denigrating the vices of our decadent modern age: namely, democracy and its foundational principle of equality. Fragmented, confounding, and ultimately uncompelling, as Traldi writes, Alamariu’s writings nevertheless offer fascinating and sometimes disturbing insights into the minds of America’s super-educated discontents.

A farewell to Brahms: Jaap Van Zweden, violinist and the current music director of the New York Philharmonic, will soon cede his role to Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. As a part of the Celebrate Jaap! concert series, a fitting farewell to the conductor’s four-year tenure, Van Zweden has chosen Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, which will feature soloist Rudolf Buchbinder. The concerto is regarded as one of Beethoven’s most artful concertos, gentle and lyrical. The concert will also feature Brahms’s intensely intellectual Fourth Symphony and Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. As Brahms is the natural successor to Beethoven’s Romanticism, their works are often performed together; Brahms even wrote a cadenza to Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Van Zweden conducts this program from January 4 through 7.

Animal planet: What do we owe to animals? In this weekend’s New Yorker essay, writer Elizabeth Barber analyzes two recent books promoting philosophical arguments against animal cruelty: the utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation Now, and University of Chicago professor Martha Nussbaum’s Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility. Singer, whose current book is an updated version of his 1975 work Animal Liberation, situates his argument in utilitarianism. From his perspective, reducing the suffering of animals would increase the overall happiness of the world, thereby leading to good. Conversely, Nussbaum, who teaches in the University’s Law School and Department of Philosophy, centers her argument around the inner emotional lives of animals, arguing that they should be provided conditions conducive to flourishing. Both perspectives provide an interesting contribution to theories promoting animal welfare.