Ursula von der Leyen should carry the blame for the European Commission’s dire performance on vaccines.

This week, Douglas Murray argued that the on-going shambles of the European Union’s vaccination effort should be chalked up to federalist dogma. “There is no logical reason why EU countries could not have been allowed to pursue independent vaccine development, procurement and roll-out,” wrote Murray, except that “it has already been decided that an EU-wide approach is always the only approach.”

In fact, there are two rather large reasons that richer EU nations, who would have been better off going it alone on vaccines, chose not to: Russia and China. As Jens Spahn, the German health minister, told the Bundestag…


The Qing dynasty’s famous Summer Palace in the Yuan Ming Yuan gardens.

The story of the Opium Wars in mid-19th century China has been told in many ways, but the account which has always stayed with me is the short one given by W.G. Sebald in The Rings of Saturn. In just a few pages, and with his novelist’s eye for arresting detail, Sebald portrays the European incursion into the Celestial Empire as a tragic meeting of two hubristic and uncomprehending civilisations.

The Opium Wars unfolded amid efforts to keep China open to European commercial interests, after the Chinese had tried to limit the British opium trade through Canton. In the Second…


Mars Habitat by Xavier De Kestelier. Image courtesy Hassel Studio.

With the recent expedition of Nasa’s Perseverence rover to Mars, I’ve taken an interest in space architecture; more specifically, habitats for people on the moon or the Red Planet. The subject first grabbed my attention earlier this year, when I saw that a centuries-old forestry company in Japan is developing wooden structures for future space colonies. Space architecture is not as other-worldly as you might think. In various ways, it holds a revealing mirror to life here on Earth.

Designing human habitats for Mars is more than just a technical challenge (though protecting against intense radiation and minus 100C temperatures…


Image credit: 394th Judicial District Court of Texas

Analysing internet memes tends to be self-defeating: mostly their magic comes from a fleeting, blasé irony which makes you look like a fool if you try to pin it down. But sometimes a gem comes along that’s too good to let pass. Besides, the internet’s endless stream of found objects, jokes and observations are ultimately a kind of glorious collective artwork, somewhere between Dada collage and an epic poem composed by a lunatic. And like all artworks, this one has themes and motifs worth exploring.

Which brings me to cat-lawyer. The clip of the Texas attorney who, thanks to a…


Mario Draghi in 2017. Image via Wikimedia commons.

The likely appointment of Mario Draghi as Italy’s next prime minister has been widely, if nervously, greeted as a necessary step. Draghi, an esteemed economist and central banker, will be the fourth unelected technocrat to fill the post in Italy in the last 30 years. As the Guardian concedes by way of welcoming Draghi’s appointment, a ready embrace of unelected leaders is “not a good look for any self-respecting democracy.”

Italy’s resort to temporary “technical governments” reflects the fact that its fractious political system, with its multitude of parties and short-lived coalitions, is vulnerable to paralysis at moments of crisis…


Is fascism a singular, historical evil or a more abstract, malevolent force?

(Credit: Alisdare Hiuckson, July 13, 2018)

Many themes of the Trump presidency reached a crescendo on January 6th, when the now-former president’s supporters rampaged through the Capitol building. Among those themes is the controversy over whether we should label the Trump movement “fascist.”

This argument has flared-up at various points since Trump won the Republican nomination in 2015. After the Capitol attack, commentators who warned of a fascist turn in American politics have been rushed back into interview slots and op-ed columns. Doesn’t this attempt by a violent, propaganda-driven mob to overturn last November’s presidential election vindicate their claims?

If Trumpism continues after Trump, then so…


Americans are forgetting how to accept electoral defeat

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) leads a group of people calling for stopping the vote count in Pennsylvania on November 05, 2020. (Spencer Platt/Getty)

It has become a fad recently to find echoes of America’s religious past in its current politics. Well, the last fortnight has reminded me of nothing so much as the event known as “The Great Disappointment.”

On October 22, 1844, a major movement known as the Millerites — after William Miller, a Baptist preacher with a flair for prophecy — expected Jesus Christ to return to earth and usher in the end times. When this did not come to pass, most Millerites grew disillusioned and drifted away. Some, however, remained in the fold.

One subgroup insisted that, actually, Christ did…


Joe Biden has offered two different foreign policy visions. Can they be reconciled?

(L) Xi Jinping, (R) Joe Biden (Paul J. Richards/Getty)

Elections always seem to demand that candidates show a slightly different face to different sections of the public. Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is no exception. In his case, this dynamic has been most interesting in the realm of foreign policy, where we find two sides to the Biden program.

The first is Biden as avatar of the American worker — the everyman from Scranton, Pennsylvania, who speaks for a middle class beset by stagnating wages and declining opportunity. Biden’s strategy for counteracting this middle-class plight was described by a Foreign Policy essay as “a form of economic nationalism,” a departure…


Matt Ridley provides a fascinating though lopsided account of how innovation works

(Getty/Arc)

As the world reels from the chaos of COVID-19, it is banking on the power of innovation. We need a vaccine, and before even that, we need new technologies and practices to help us protect the vulnerable, salvage our pulverized economies, and go on with our lives. If we manage to weather this storm, it will be because our institutions prove capable of converting human ingenuity into practical, scalable fixes.

And yet, even if we did not realize it, this was already the position we found ourselves in prior to the pandemic. From global warming to food and energy security…


The latest developments in progressive politics call out for better analysis

(Alex Pantling/Getty)

In the digital era, political discourse is marked by a rapid circulation of symbols, concepts, and narratives — easily recognized memes with the ability to spread into diverse settings. As a result, the emergence of new political movements can create an impression of startling conformity and coordination, as though they are the product of some deep underlying structure which manifests itself in highly determined ways.

Nothing illustrates this so well as the new progressive politics which has lately been roiling Western democracies, and which is grasped at with vague terms such as “woke,” “social justice,” or “identity politics.”

In the…

Wessie du Toit

Freelance writer. Main interest = history of ideas. Also art, books, politics. Follow me on twitter @wessiedutoit

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