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


Like Gregor Samsa, the GOP seems incapable of recognizing the change that has come over it.

Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review via AP
Who can forget the opening pages of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis , in which the traveling salesman Gregor Samsa awakens after turning into “ some sort of monstrous insect ”? No reader can fail to experience the uncanny dissonance of hilarity and terror that results from the grotesqueness of a man’s transformation into an insect, coupled with the utter banality of his subsequent response: He has overslept, he will be late for work, his boss will be angry, traveling by train is so unpleasant, it won’t be easy to maneuver his awkward new body out of bed, and so on. The observer of today’s political world feels rather like the reader of Metamorphosis . Grotesque things are happening everywhere, yet consciousness seems incapable of registering the magnitude of the change. The disparity between the appalling metamorphosis of our political condition and the petty conventionality of the response is apt to provoke terror and laughter in equal and...

American Maelstrom

A new book by Michael Cohen brings back the pivotal presidential election of 1968, which first revealed the fault lines that still define American politics today.

AP Photo
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!” For those of us who were in our early 20s in 1968, Wordsworth’s famous lines rang true then and continue to ring true even now, in spite of all the disappointments that followed. The mythical age known as “The Sixties” culminated in many ways in 1968, the year that forms the focal point of Michael Cohen’s vivid and compelling new book, American Maelstrom . The famous (or, depending on your point of view, infamous) trinity of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” is a convenient if wholly inadequate metonymy for the surge of youthful energy that seemed at the time to be remaking American culture. Politics was only one part of that culture, whose importance varied, then as now, from individual to individual. But even those who were in one way or another politically engaged in the ‘60s inevitably saw only part of the picture—and the electoral...

Foreign Bodies

The volatile mixture of religiously tinged nationalism with massive social disruption and large-scale population movements threatens once again to become explosive in Europe.

Arne Dedert/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
Resistance to the presence of Muslims in Europe is not new, but it has increased dramatically in recent months with jihadist terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, the influx of refugees and economic migrants from mostly Muslim countries, and sexual assaults by Muslim men in Cologne and other cities. Surveillance has increased, fences have gone up, and borders have been closed. These police measures reflect anxieties stirred by recent events. But a deeper unease about Europe’s relation to Islam can be seen in other, more symbolic gestures and philosophical treatises. After the November attacks in Paris, France’s President Hollande proposed stripping convicted jihadists of French nationality. This measure, which would have had no deterrent value, symbolized the nation’s stark refusal to accept responsibility of any kind for the radical alienation that has driven some European Muslims to attack the societies in which they were born and raised. After months of wrangling...

Can Matteo Renzi Save Europe from Austerity?

The last best hope of Europe’s anti-austerity forces faces an uncertain future.

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
Matteo Renzi, the youngest man to be elected prime minister of Italy since 1861, came to Harvard on the last day of March and spoke for about an hour to an audience of several hundred (video here ). With the robust frame of a rugby fullback, the Italian premier is not a person one can easily imagine tip-toeing across a high wire. Yet on a tightrope is precisely where he finds himself today, precariously balanced between left and right at home and between pro-austerity and anti-austerity forces in the European Union. Make no mistake: He is a man with the confidence necessary to venture across an abyss with the merest filament of support. Seeking to ingratiate himself with his Harvard audience, he invoked the memory of alumnus John F. Kennedy, who once remarked that “change is the law of life.” Italians—he might just as well have said Europeans—are too enamored of their past—“because it is so beautiful”—and therefore reluctant to introduce...

Stuck in the Middle with You

In defense of the political center. 

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Remember the old hit by the Scottish band Stealers Wheel, “Stuck in the Middle with You”? That song comes to mind these days whenever I talk politics with the people with whom I’ve shared a political lifetime, friends who’ve witnessed the 1960s and Vietnam, Watergate, the Reagan reaction, the Clinton years, September 11, the war in Iraq, the crash of 2008, the election of the first black president, the hesitant recovery from the Great Recession, and the cliff-hanger passage of the Affordable Care Act. A few have supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries, but most are backing Hillary Clinton, albeit without enthusiasm: stuck in the middle with “jokers to the right,” as the song says, and while not “clowns to the left,” certainly, a mostly younger crowd, less chastened by bitter experience and eager to believe that radical—or let us say merely rapid and substantial—change is possible despite deep political polarization. To tell...