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“There’s an intriguing phenomenon in publishing you could call the One Great Idea book. Usually written by a leading senior scholar in an interdisciplinary field such as international relations, political philosophy, or comparative literature, the One Great Idea book displays a command of numerous languages and wide-ranging familiarity with classics in philosophy or religion. Its major aim is to reduce our understanding of complex realities by identifying one guiding thread that helps unravel the mystery with which it is concerned.
In the modern world, the best exemplar of the One Great Idea book is Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Although it was published in two volumes, and contains insights on subjects as different from each other as federalism, the education of young women, and military discipline, Tocqueville’s masterpiece was dominated from start to finish by one and only one idea: that democracy had, mostly problematically, influenced every area of American life. Unlike the Enlightenment thinkers who preceded him (Voltaire, for example, wrote poetry, drama, history, philosophy, and even theology), Tocqueville made no effort to master all the available genres. His Recollections, unlike Rousseau’s Confessions, are not especially personal and are confined to a limited period in his life: the French Revolution of 1848. He, in contrast to Diderot, would edit no encyclopedia. And though his other books, especially The Old Regime and the Revolution, are still read and debated, it was Democracy in America that put forward a unifying theory.
We do not have many Tocquevilles among us in the contemporary world. The country of his birth, France, comes closest to keeping alive the tradition of what one French philosopher, André Glucksmann, called “the master thinkers.” (Glucksmann wrote to warn against them.) We can now trace the roots of many of these to one of the most captivating intellectuals of the twentieth century: the Russian-born French philosopher and civil servant Alexandre Kojève, whose seminars on Hegel in the 1930s shaped the way Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jacques Lacan, Raymond Aron, Louis Althusser, and others too numerous to mention understood the world.”
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"Have world leaders really got the will to bring peace to Yemen? We hear much about Yemen’s crisis, but far less about the hypocrisy of states fuelling the very conflict they condemn."
"No poll so far in our database has tested Trump against the relatively unknown Weld... Indeed, Weld seems like one of the weakest candidates that anti-Trump Republicans could put up in a national campaign. "
"An initiative by the mayor of Tiberias for the municipality to help provide public transportation on the Sabbath has caused the issue of the social status quo to the forefront of public discussion."
"Like “30 Rock,” “Kimmy Schmidt” obviously slanted leftward, but most always exhibited a similar eagerness to skewer politics more generally than just the GOP."
"Yes, we’re all overwhelmed with email. One recent survey suggested that the average American’s inbox has 199 unread messages. But volume isn’t an excuse for not replying."
"... platforms now have a stranglehold over publishers who, individually and even as a group, have little-to-no bargaining power when it comes to algorithmic changes, ad rates, and much else."
"[There's] a subgenre known as National Socialist black metal, which espouses neo-Nazi views and has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as aiming to recruit youth to white-supremacist causes."
"“The Ideas That Made America” by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen is an anomaly in the genre. Its brevity is a point of pride, yet it aspires to do a little of everything."
"My wish is to die in my own bed, cared for by people I love—clean, comfortable and relatively free from pain. I hope to have time to say my goodbyes and give my final blessings."
"A diet for fast weight loss is a pipe dream. Many of us want to lose weight without making permanent changes, because we view thinness instead of health as a success."
"Opportunity casts a long shadow over all subsequent Mars rovers, setting a gold standard of JPL engineering. Customized versions of its mobility software are used on the rovers Curiosity and upcoming Mars 2020."
"Biblical scholarship has deepened our understanding of the Torah and at the same time challenges us to consider the implications of our declaring the Torah to be emet. What is emet and what does it mean to say that the Torah is emet?"