Luther vs. Erasmus: When Populism First Eclipsed the Liberal Elite

Michael Massing

Lucas Cranach the Elder: Martin Luther, circa 1532; Hans Holbein the Younger: Portrait of Erasmus, 1523

Erasmus was an internationalist who sought to establish a borderless Christian union; Luther was a nationalist who appealed to the patriotism of the German people. Where Erasmus wrote exclusively in Latin, Luther often used the vernacular, the better to reach the common man. Erasmus wanted to educate a learned caste; Luther, to evangelize the masses. For years, they waged a battle of ideas, with each seeking to win over Europe to his side. But in a turbulent and polarized age, Erasmus became an increasingly marginal figure: the archetypal reasonable liberal.

Congo for the Congolese

Helen Epstein

A United Nations vehicle burned out in fighting near Beni, eastern Congo, on May 5, 2015

Beneath Congo’s soil lies an estimated $24 trillion in natural resources, but this wealth is also the source of untold suffering. Today, more Congolese are displaced from their homes than Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, or Rohingyas, yet their miseries are all but invisible, in part because the identities and aims of Congo’s myriad combatants are mystified by layers of rumor and misinformation, which serve the interests of those who profit from the mayhem. But pieces of the puzzle sometimes emerge.

‘The Twilight Zone,’ from A to Z

J.W. McCormack

Burgess Meredith, Robert Sterling, and Patricia Crowley in

The Twilight Zone’s most prevalent themes are probably best distilled as “you are not what you took yourself to be,” “you are not where you thought you were,” and “beneath the façade of mundane American society lurks a cavalcade of monsters, clones, and robots.” Rod Serling had served as a paratrooper in the Philippines in 1945 and returned with PTSD; he and his eventual audience were indeed caught between the familiar past and an unknown future. They stood dazed in a no-longer-recognizable world, flooded with strange new technologies, vastly expansionist corporate or federal jurisdictions, and once-unfathomable ideologies.

Frank O’Hara & ‘the Skies of Italy in New York’

Barry Schwabsky

Photo by the artist Mario Schifano, New York City, 1960s

The collaboration between Frank O’Hara and Italian artist Mario Schifano is fully realized in the eighteen-page-long Words & Drawings, just published by the Archivio Mario Schifano in Rome. What might have made Schifano’s art look a bit behind the times to many New Yorkers—its focus on landscape and the figure, however removed from naturalism, and the primacy it gave to drawing—would have been just what endeared it to O’Hara, who was unhappy with how the New York scene was evolving. He had not entirely facetiously dubbed his own style of poetry “personism,” but the new art was suddenly going all cool and impersonal.

The Peculiar Business of Being Russian-American in Trump’s USA

Anastasia Edel

Pictures for sale at a souvenir kiosk in Moscow, Russia, July 2017

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump praised Vladimir Putin’s “leadership,” called him “brilliant,” and said he would “get along” with him. For Russian-Americans like myself, this was when Russia came home. “Holy autocrats” and “Father Tsars” have ruled our motherland for centuries, so we can spot the type even when he comes in the guise of “Make America Great Again.” We agonized when our American friends told us Trump could not win. Our memories of totalitarianism were too fresh to discount gut feeling in favor of opinion polls. 

Counting to a Hundred

Melissa Chadburn

Workers picketing a farm in Imperial Valley, California, 1968

I met a woman with a petition. This was something I could do. Get people to sign her petition. Her petition to get money from the government to build more schools and parks. I went to El Superior, the market on Figueroa in LA, and stood out in the hot sun. I drank pink and white and green Agua Frescas, and had folks sign my petition. One hundred. I wanted to get one hundred signatures a day, I decided. That would be magnificent.

Italy: ‘Whoever Wins Won’t Govern’

Tim Parks

Silvio Berlusconi, himself barred from elected office until 2019, campaigning for his party, Forza Italia, in Rome, February 11, 2018

The Italians go to the polls on March 4, and from outside, it might look as though there are major, exciting, and, above all, dangerous developments in the offing: the return of the octogenarian Silvio Berlusconi, the rapid rise of anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the ever more aggressive rhetoric of the xenophobic Northern League. Yet the perception among most Italians is that the political system is simply too dysfunctional and blocked for much to happen at all.

Kingdom Come: Millenarianism’s Deadly Allure, from Lenin to ISIS

Leon Aron

Smoke from fires at the oil fields around Qayyarah, a city southeast of Mosul, set alight by ISIS fighters in an effort to prevent coalition airstrikes, 2016

A belief in predestination animated both the Bolsheviks and ISIS: the inexorability of the future, and thus of victory, as foretold in the sacred prophesies of Marx or Mohammad. They could not fail. Alive or dead, they won. Napoleon used to say that a battle was won or lost in the minds of the combatants before the first shot was fired. Is there an energy more powerful or a cause more mesmerizing and irresistible, or confidence in the inevitability of victory greater than the one generated by the ecstatic hope of liberating humanity from the miseries of daily life and ushering it into a conflictless Eden?

Love, It’s What Makes ‘Suburra’

Christopher Carroll

Giacomo Ferrara as Spadino and Alessandro Borghi as Aureliano in Suburra, 2017

Suburra: Blood on Rome, an excellent new crime series from Netflix and RAI, manages to combine the pacing of a thriller with an almost sociological diorama of Roman society, a slicker, abbreviated version of The Wire’s portrait of Baltimore. Even amidst Rome’s gaudy beauty, the staccato bursts of violence, and the elaborately choreographed sex scenes—particularly the show’s opening orgy, which resembles a tangle of deviant, writhing Bernini sculptures—the surprising and ultimately tragic intimacy that develops between Aureliano and Spadino stands out as one of Suburra’s great pleasures, setting it apart from the plodding, grisly portentousness of contemporary prestige crime dramas such as Narcos.