Arthur Goldhammer

Arthur Goldhammer is a writer, translator, and Affiliate of the Center for European Studies at Harvard. He blogs at French Politics. Follow him on Twitter: @artgoldhammer.

Recent Articles

In France, Another Stunning Election Upset

Former Prime Minister François Fillon crushes the opposition in the first round of the primary for the presidential nomination of the center-right Republican primary. The winner of the runoff could well become France’s next president—if he can beat Marine Le Pen.

Bernard BISSON/JDD/SIPA/1505311317 (Sipa via AP Images)
After the major earthquake of Brexit, 6.5 on the Richter scale, and the megaquake of Trump, at least 7.5, the results of yesterday’s “primary of the right and center” in France have to count as a minor aftershock. Yet even this small tremor is potentially an ominous sign that the tectonic plates of politics in the major Western democracies are still shifting about unpredictably, with major changes in the landscape still to come. What happened yesterday is this: François Fillon, who served as prime minister under Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012, defeated his former boss along with five other candidates in the first round of the primary to choose the candidate of the center-right Republican party. The upset was stunning, because for most of the campaign, polls had shown Fillon running fourth in the field behind favorite Alain Juppé, also a former prime minister (under Jacques Chirac), Sarkozy, and newcomer Bruno Le Maire. The polls were not even...

The Evil Demons of Our Nature

From Lincoln to Trump: Are we witnessing an irrevocable change in the American soul or a temporary warp in the “arc of the moral universe,” which will someday again “bend toward justice”?

AP Photo/John Bazemore
How often since Lincoln uttered the phrase in his First Inaugural Address have politicians exhorted us to heed “the better angels of our nature”? Rote repetition has drained the words of their original intent, which was to remind Americans that the national soul, far from being unalloyed, is rather an inextricable compound of good and evil. We have our better angels, but we also have our evil demons, which many who ritually invoke Lincoln’s message would rather forget. Sometimes the demons win out, as they did in 1861, even as Lincoln tried to calm his “dissatisfied fellow-countrymen.” The new president knew that malign spirits were on the verge of carrying the day. The “momentous issue of civil war,” he warned, was not in his hands but in the hands of those who bitterly opposed him. Passion had “strained … the bonds of affection” that bound the country together, but he still hoped a final break might be averted. He was...

It Has Happened Here

Now that the unthinkable has arrived, what is to be done?

(Photo: AP/Ted S. Warren)
First of all, I blame myself. Despite my pessimism about the deepening and seemingly insurmountable economic and cultural divide, I could never quite bring myself to believe that America would elect Donald Trump. His flaws seemed to me so obvious, so monstrous, that no one could fail to see them. Like so many others, I dismissed him at first as comic relief, a “Trump-l’oeil,” smugly pleased with the cleverness of my play on words and insensitive to the cri du coeur that his challenge to elitists like me represented. The Huffington Post initially relegated coverage of his campaign to the entertainment section. When my own son warned me in these pages that I was too complacent in thinking that the center would inevitably hold, I brushed the criticism aside. Competence—Hillary Clinton’s competence, the competence of the Establishment, of party insiders—would prevail in the end. The anger needed to be vented, then the pressure would subside. I had...

The Triumph of the Will

Willful, petulant, impatient: democracy turns adolescent.

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
For years Republican politicians told us that the People resent government. The voters’ fondest desire, they said, was to loosen the state’s grip on private pocketbooks. Right-wing representatives therefore voted to choke off the flow of revenue in order to starve the beast, curtail state power, and strip away burdensome regulations, thus emancipating the creative genius of the individual. Then came the candidacy of Donald Trump, and suddenly the state was rehabilitated. It would build a wall to shut out immigrants. It would outsmart wily enemies and with sheer business acumen claw back foolish concessions from trading partners. Growth would soon come roaring back, reversing a decade of stagnation. Hostile elements abroad would be dispatched forthwith, yet at the same time the country would somehow be delivered from unwanted foreign entanglements. All wrongs would quickly be righted. America would be great again. No need to specify in advance precisely how all these things...

My Great Depression

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will, counseled Antonio Gramsci. But in 2016, pessimism is gaining the upper hand.

(Photo: Sipa USA via AP/Julien Mattia)
I wouldn’t ordinarily write about my own state of mind, but since I suspect many readers have harbored thoughts similar to mine in recent months, I will risk getting personal. The world we live in has become profoundly depressing. Wherever I look, I see tragic impasses from which no exit seems possible. Europe is my regular beat, so let me start there. The dream of an “ever closer union” is dead. It is doubtful that even the most robust of political systems could have survived the series of blows that Europe has sustained over the past decade: a financial crisis compounded by pitiless austerity, a massive influx of refugees, a series of terror attacks, the rise of antidemocratic politics in several member states, and finally Brexit—an outright repudiation of the dream by a country that never fully embraced it in the first place. And of course the European Union was never very robust. It survived as an awkward, oft-patched compromise among nations that...