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30 December 2023

The best New Statesman Ideas essays of 2023

Our pick of the finest writing from the past year.

By New Statesman

The rise of the new tech right
Quinn Slobodian
A cult – one that worships a genetically determined meritocracy has Silicon Valley in a chokehold. Slobodian unpacks the racial science of IQ, and the growing far-right threat of a future shaped by high-tech-hierarchy.

The new politics of time
Hettie O’Brien
Jenny Odell’s Saving Time is concerned with bewildering disjunctions. A recursive, impressionistic discussion of clocks, capitalism and the climate crisis, her book is composed of anecdotes, cut-and-pasted histories and cultural criticism. How should we spend our hours in the age of burnout? Arguably not by reading Odell’s frustrating new book, Saving Time.

What it means to be Jewish now
Various Writers
With anti-Semitism rising and divisions on the left over the Hamas-Israel war, 17 writers reflect on being Jewish now.

Settling scores with God: Leszek Kolakowski at the end of history
Madoc Cairns
An orphan. A Marxist. A Catholic-conservative. Leszek Kolakowski holds a 50-year-career as one of Europe’s leading, and most controversial public intellectuals. In conversation, he unpacks a troubled history: of paradox, of collapse, and of transcendence; of finding belonging in belief, and being haunted by the absolute.

The realists were right about the war in Ukraine
Lily Lynch
Far from the flashy, hope filled “David vs Goliath” narratives of resistance and reclamation of its first months, the Ukraine-Russia war has slowed to a drivel – and alongside it domestic morale, foreign support and US funding. Initially ignored warnings of Ukrainian “false hope” were not so incorrect, Lynch suggests, as she questions what version (if any) of Ukraine’s future is actually attainable.

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Going Native
Oliver Eagleton
People who study cults sometimes end up joining them. Has this fate befallen Matthew Goodwin, one of Britain’s most visible scholars of the hard right? Eagleton looks at how Goodwin became part of the right-populist movement he once sought to explain.

Who is afraid of Martin Heidegger?
Lyndsey Stonebridge
In the rootless world of the 1920s, Heidegger’s ideas about Being (with a capital B, signifying the full meaning of human existence) ripped up the ground of philosophy. The truth exists only in our Being. “Being-there” – “Dasein”, in Heidegger’s distinctive terminology – is what matters; there in history, gliding on nothingness, with no other certain knowledge than that of our own death. There is no plot to follow, save the “hidden primordiality” of Being itself. This essay looks at why the most radioactive philosopher of the 20th century still speaks to us.

The New Age of Tragedy
Robert D Kaplan, John Gray and Helen Thompson
For this wide-ranging exchange, we asked Kaplan, the Cambridge political economist Helen Thompson and the philosopher John Gray to explore what we are calling this new age of tragedy, and how societies might navigate and endure the gathering storms.

Gramsci in Florida
Alberto Toscano
While talk of a “Gramscian vanguard” is largely a conspiratorial fabrication of the right, it could also serve as a spur for a somewhat rudderless left to reflect on what hegemony might look like today, on what it would take to become the threat to capitalism, patriarchy and white nationalism that the right already takes it to be.

Arno J Mayer’s 20th Century
Enzo Traverso
The American historian Arno J Mayer belongs to an extraordinary generation of German-speaking Jewish scholars – George L Mosse, Raul Hilberg, Peter Gay and Fritz Stern among others – who were born in Europe between the end of the First World War and Hitler’s rise to power, reaching their maturity during the Second World War. The cataclysms of the 20th century forged their mental habitus and gave them a sharp sense of history. Mayer helped transform the writing of history – and with it our understanding of the modern world.

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