Thomas Meaney

Thomas Meaney is a fellow at the Max Planck Society at Göttingen.

Europe inside Africa

Thomas Meaney, 7 November 2019

The Sahara​ is one of the few places on earth no one has been foolish enough to try to conquer. There have, however, been attempts, over the centuries, to govern it. In Ghat, one of the last Libyan towns in the Fezzan before the desert takes over, there are vestiges of efforts to bring the land to order: Bedouin trails that date from the Middle Ages; a rough-hewn fortress, started by the...

White Power

Thomas Meaney, 1 August 2019

For the wider American conservative movement, white power may have been a useful dog off the leash when it came to unofficially fighting far-flung communist insurgencies, but it has also been a liability. Faced with the reality of a multiracial America, the mainstream Republican Party has mostly been wary of making explicit appeals to white identity, much less white power. The dozens of American right-wing paramilitary groups that started appearing in the 1970s and 1980s have been treated as aberrant outgrowths by Republican lawmakers: it helps that the hardcore white power movement in America has no more than 25,000 active members. But the type of free-market creed that most mainstream conservatives espouse has long been reconcilable with white nativist priorities.

Truman’s Plan

Thomas Meaney, 6 December 2018

Like Stalin​, Harry Truman was a product of the criminal underworld. The Kansas City of his youth was known for its card sharks and conmen. Jesse James was not long dead and the murder rate outstripped Chicago’s. But it was also a town preoccupied with respectability. Farm boys on the make wore suits, mob bosses dined early with their families in ersatz châteaux and the...

Arthur Schlesinger Jr

Thomas Meaney, 8 February 2018

For​ close to half a century, Arthur Schlesinger Jr was perhaps the most recognisable liberal intellectual in America. With his tortoiseshell glasses, bow ties, and neatly stencilled hair, he played for the literary side of Kennedy’s best and brightest, which was meant to balance out the number-crunching prowess of Robert McNamara and the Whiz Kids. In his dozens of books of American...

The German Election

Thomas Meaney, 20 September 2017

Many leftists and Greens have been too stunned by Merkel’s modernisation of the CDU to notice that her trick is to avoid the country’s root problems while treating the symptoms more skilfully than any conservative politician before her has ever managed. The media, meanwhile, unwilling to address the difficulties caused by Germany’s position as the reluctant hegemon of the Continent, or the growing sense of lurking inconsistencies in the gospel of Atlanticism, prefer endless celebration of the leader: the intellectual, strong, patient, grounded, wry, compassionate, tough, reality-grasping, scientific, opera-loving, Bismarckian wunder-Kanzlerin on whom nothing is lost.

Short Cuts: Ersatz Tyrants

Thomas Meaney, 3 May 2017

Timothy Snyder​, a historian of Modern Eastern Europe at Yale and the most rhetorically gifted defender of the anti-Russian US foreign policy establishment, must have been rubbing his eyes in wonder last year as the theatrics of the Republican primary gave way to the rise of an ersatz Führer. How to describe those private security men ejecting protesters from rallies if not as the...

Sri Lanka

Thomas Meaney, 2 February 2017

Independence​ was handed to Ceylon’s elite on a platter. ‘Think of Ceylon as a little bit of England,’ Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke, the first native governor-general, said. This was a point of pride. Don Stephen Senanayake, the country’s first prime minister, remarked: ‘There has been no rebellion in Ceylon, no non-cooperation movement and no fifth column. We...

American Foreign Policy

Thomas Meaney, 13 July 2016

‘It is a sign​ of true political power when a great people can determine, of its own will, the vocabulary, the terminology and the words, the very way of speaking, even the way of thinking, of other peoples,’ Carl Schmitt wrote in 1932, at the wick’s end of the Weimar Republic. Schmitt, the most formidable legal and strategic mind in Germany, who would join the Nazi Party...

Djilas and Stalin

Thomas Meaney, 18 May 2016

Milovan​ Djilas was second only to Tito in the communist hierarchy of postwar Yugoslavia. In the war years, he had gained a reputation as a warrior-intellectual who could think dialectically under machine-gun fire. In Tito’s government, he served as minister without portfolio and styled himself as the state philosopher. His colleagues in the Central Committee learned to forgive his...

Short Cuts: In Cologne

Thomas Meaney, 4 February 2016

It takes​ a moment to get your bearings at anti-asylum demonstrations in Germany these days. It still seems strange to see neo-Nazis and Pegida protesters waving French flags. The other day I got caught up in one of their barricades outside the central railway station in Cologne. The defenders of the fatherland wore black, carried placards with crossed out mosques, and had reserved their...

Short Cuts: Coetzee’s Diaries

Thomas Meaney, 20 May 2015

‘My​ only talent is for comedy,’ Coetzee writes to himself. His writer’s diaries – six small notebooks he kept in the 1970s and 1980s, now housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin – are full of musings and mock preparations:

5 October 78. This man [the magistrate of Waiting for the Barbarians] is going to bore everyone. I will...

Margaret Mead

Thomas Meaney, 6 March 2014

In​ 1957, in a remote village on the south coast of Bali, the young anthropologist Clifford Geertz was watching a cremation ceremony spill down a hillside when the crowd suddenly parted, ‘as in a DeMille movie’, and there, propped up on her walking stick, stood Margaret Mead. She was on her way to India for ‘a World Conference on some sort of World Problem’, and had...

Germany Imagines Hellas

Thomas Meaney, 11 October 2012

One of the first things the Germans did after marching into Greece in 1941 was to resume the excavations that had been interrupted by the onset of war. Each sector of the military pitched in: the Luftwaffe photographed classical sites; the Wehrmacht cordoned off ruins; the Kriegsmarine salvaged pieces of an ancient frieze sunk near Piraeus. There were excited communiqués to Berlin: the...

Thomas Meaney writes: Attwell is right about the Berlin passage. And Coetzee only cites his knowledge of ‘Asian reality’ as a ‘compositional aid’ for Waiting for the Barbarians, so I should have phrased that differently. But the Santiago setting is in the notes for The Burning of the Books: ‘The junta is clearing out the universities in Santiago.’ And there are many...

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