It’s that time of year, so I thought I’d do my own Top 5 posts of the year (my posts, that is). My criteria were various: posts I liked (even though they didn’t get much attention), posts that helped me think about new things in new ways, posts that I thought were important interventions in some larger debate. Anyway, here they are. In no particular order.
1. When Hayek Met Pinochet: This series of posts captures what I love about blogging. One Sunday morning last summer, Greg Grandin emailed me an article in some obscure economics journal about Hayek’s involvement in Pinochet’s Chile. I printed it out, hopped on a train for a day trip to the Jersey Shore with my daughter, and read the piece. I was totally jazzed by it. I had thought I had read all there was to read on the topic, but this article by three economists contained many revelations and offered ways of thinking about the relationship between libertarianism and authoritarianism that I hadn’t considered. So when I got back that night, I wrote a post on Hayek von Pinochet. The post took off, doing one of the things I like for this blog to do: bring attention to excellent scholarship that many people might not otherwise read. In the post, I also made a stray comment that provoked the wrath of the pro-Hayek crowd. That reaction sent me down the rabbit hole of the Hayek archives at the Hoover Institute at Stanford. Five posts and two weeks later, I came out. I’m quite proud of the result: a combination of political theory, detective work, and OCD.
2. Let It Bleed: This was an epic post that I wrote with Chris Bertram and Alex Gourevitch about libertarianism and the workplace. Like the Hayek series, it began innocently enough. Julian Sanchez had written a post about his work at Cato, and picking upon a few threads in his post, I wrote a response. That response generated its own responses from a group of libertarians, and suddenly Chris, Alex, and I had a 6000-word post on a major topic of contemporary politics on our hands, a post that was also, if I say so myself, an important intervention in contemporary theory. It was a lot of fun working with Alex and Chris—despite our common convictions, each of us brings quite different approaches to the table—and I think the piece, which we posted over at Crooked Timber, stands as a good model of serious academic work that can be done in the blogosophere.
3. We’re Going to Tax Their Ass Off: Like my Hayek series, this post was kicked off by my reading an article. Bruce Bartlett had sent me a great piece he did on the history of taxes and the Republican Party. That piece was very much on my mind when I appeared on Chris Hayes’s show at the end of the summer. I mentioned its argument on the show, several folks asked me to expand on it, and I did. I also enjoyed working on the piece because I got to do a fair amount of research on taxes, which is not a topic I often write about (though it is a topic I often think about; a libertarian friend from grad school, Princeton politics professor Keith Whittington, and I have talked forever about writing a history/political theory of taxation, from the ancient Greeks to today). Again, the serendipity of the blog world.
4. Anti-Semite and Jew: This post never got any attention, but it’s a personal favorite. I don’t write much about Zionism or Judaism, but there was something so peculiar and irritating about what Jeffrey Goldberg had said on the topic that I couldn’t pass it by without saying something. One of the other things I love about blogging: it’s compulsiveness. Once I get seized on a topic for a post, I can’t let it go. Anyway, even though this post involved topics far afield of my scholarly expertise, it’s probably the most personal post I’ve done. I dug into the issues, and found out a bunch of stuff I didn’t know about. And said something, I think, that no one else said. And hopefully made Goldberg think twice about his sloppy use of language.
5. Isn’t It Romantic?: Unlike the previous post, this one lay more in comfort zone, academically speaking. Sam Goldman, a young political theorist, had written a response to The Reactionary Mind in The American Conservative. Unlike much critical commentary on the book, Sam’s forced me to do some real work and think about my argument. Thanks to his provocation, I was able to articulate how different Burke’s theory of history is from what you find in conventional accounts of Burke, and how Maistre’s theory of sovereignty undermines traditional notions of monarchy. I can see why this post didn’t get much attention, but I hope folks will take a second look at it.
6. Forced to Choose: This is one of my shortest posts of the year (only one paragraph). But it gets at the core of what I’m thinking about these days in my new book project: “capitalism as existentialism.” I often feel that we on the left miss or misconstrue the moral underpinnings of the free market. I don’t subscribe to that theory nor am I compelled by it. But I can see why people would be, and I think it’s important for us to grapple with it. Anyway, it’s a short promissory note for the future, which I hope to be expanding on next year.
So that’s it: my top 5 and a little extra. I had a bunch others that I liked (a bunch more I didn’t like!) Am curious which posts you guys liked most, disliked most, etc. Let me know!
Happy New Year!
Update (3:30 pm)
I just wrote this on a FB post and thought I’d say it here:
This list is a testament to three of my favorite things about blogging: its serendipity, its compulsiveness, and its conversational nature. If you love talking to people, if you love the surprise of a conversation, its twists and turns, drilling down into a topic with friends and enemies—blogging can’t be beat.