Jedediah Purdy

Jedediah S. Purdy is a senior correspondent of The American Prospect and a second-year student at Yale Law School. Purdy started with the Prospect as a writing fellow, writing about culture, technology, politics, and the environment. His 1998 articles include "Age of Irony" on a generation that refuses to take itself seriously, and "Dolly and Madison" on the ethics of cloning.

His first book, For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today, was published by Knopf in September 1999. His current research addresses agriculture, environmental sustainability, and the place of work in American culture. He has also been working on conceptions of human excellence in democratic politics. In 1999 he was a faculty member at the Century Institute Summer Program on America's liberal and progressive political traditions.

Purdy was born and raised on a hillside farm in central West Virginia. Until age 14, he taught himself by reading, exploring the local woods and meadows, and working alongside his parents and younger sister. After a checkered high school career that eventually took him to Phillips Exeter Academy, he returned to West Virginia, where he worked as a carpenter and spent a year in environmental politics.

In 1997 he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in social studies. In 1996 he was selected as a Truman Scholar and as West Virginia's nominee for the Rhodes Scholarship.

Recent Articles

After Apathy

The observation that people younger than 40 don't care much about politics is true but unilluminating—the very definition of banality. Those who would explain the indifference tend either to blame it on a more widespread apathy toward careers, relationships, and generally everything except entertainment (the slacker hypothesis), or to credit it to the can-do spirit of a generation that has made a lot of money without surrendering its hip edge and has no use for a government that seems slow, stodgy, and singularly unlikely to turn a profit (the Fast Company hypothesis). They focus on the alleged character of the generation, a softness or sternness supposed to inhere in people of a particular age. A few others, more optimistic, have concentrated on politics itself and have tried to imagine an agenda that will bring youthful voters alive. In fact, though, the eclipse of politics arises from a concert of changes in economics, culture, and government that together have shaped this...

From Purity to Politics

Under repressive totalitarian regimes, the absolute moral rectitude of Eastern European intellectuals like Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik was heroic. Ten years after the fall of the Wall, what happens when the reality of democratic politics calls for quotidian pragmatism and petty compromise? 

W e live in the aftermath of politics. A decade or so ago, the bloodless revolutions of Eastern Europe and South Africa made real the highest political dream: the peaceful triumph of the good. Right principles and popular will gave each other force, and people moved from capital streets to parliaments to remake the world. That high drama ushered in a longer and more pedestrian process: the movement from resistance to rule. In Nelson Mandela's South Africa, Vaclav Havel's Czech Repub lic, and an Ireland that may now be said to include rather than suffer from Gerry Adams, leaders who have spent their lives as rebels are emerging into democratic politics. Their transition is not simple. When they were dissenters, their powerlessness gave them the curious privilege of moral clarity. Their task was to remember the principles that their governments ignored, and to draw enough of their fellow citizens to those principles that remembrance could become hope. Now, like any other democratic...

State of the Debate: The Libertarian Conceit

Political excess in the twentieth century gives libertarianism understandable appeal. But caveat emptor; the path from Isaiah Berlin does not lead to Charles Murray.

WORKS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY Isaiah Berlin, edited by Henry Hardy, The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and Their History (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997). David Boaz, Libertarianism: A Primer (Free Press, 1997). Charles Murray, What It Means to Be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation (Broadway Books, 1997). You can buy any linked book through our associate program with Amazon.com G overnment is out of fashion. Reporters and pundits describe politicians' statements and actions never as expressions of conviction, always as strategic maneuvers. Increasingly, assuming that politicians are fatuous and suspecting that politics is futile seem requirements for sophistication. With a President who shifts like a political wind sock, a Congress by turns ideological and inchoate, and a pair of parties frankly devoted to fundraising and re-election, it is sometimes hard to recall why it matters so much that the cynics are wrong. Three new books, all explicitly skeptical toward politics,...

State of the Debate: The Chicago Acid Bath

A skeptical inquiry into the work of Richard Epstein and Richard Posner.

WORKS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY Richard Epstein, Forbidden Grounds: The Case Against Employment Discrimination Laws (Harvard University Press, 1992). Richard Epstein, Mortal Peril: Our Inalienable Right to Health Care? (Addison Wesley Publishing, 1997). Richard Epstein, Simple Rules for a Complex World (Harvard University Press, 1995). Richard Epstein, Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain (Harvard University Press, 1985). Richard A. Posner, Law and Literature: A Misunderstood Relation (Harvard University Press, 1988). Richard A. Posner, Overcoming Law (Harvard University Press, 1995). Richard A. Posner, Sex and Reason (Harvard University Press, 1992). You can buy any linked book through our associate program with Amazon.com T he past two decades have brought ever-louder assertions that government should take a back seat to free markets. A resurgent libertarianism increasingly shapes policy, jurisprudence, and public and private debate. Congressional Republicans have...

If Wishing Only Made it So

Two recent movies, Patch Adams and Life Is Beautiful, each claim to reveal the relation between fantasy and politics. One succeeds magnificently; the other is a fraud.

Early in Patch Adams the film's bête noire, a grim and impersonal doctor, delivers this wisdom to a lecture hall of first-year medical students: "It is human nature to lie. People are not worthy of trust." Therefore, he says, he and his colleagues "are going to take the human being out of you. We're going to make you into doctors." Patch Adams , a substantial hit starring Robin Williams, is a rude and hopeful gesture of protest against the idea that doctors have to exchange humanity for professionalism. It is also a fantasy, a sham, even a scam. As such, it provides an inadvertent but telling diagnosis of fantasy's place in America today. Critics have had trouble finding a good word for Patch Adams , which follows an unorthodox medical student through three years of bedside antics (in a much-described and representative moment, he transforms an enema bulb into a bright-red clown nose) and battles with uptight doctors, concluding with his decision to found "a free hospital . . . where...

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