Context with Brad Harris

Latest Episodes

Notes On Tribalism

"Notes on Nationalism" was an essay written by George Orwell in 1945, just as World War II was ending.  It caused quite a stir at the time, but most people these days have never heard of it.  Nonetheless, "Notes on Nationalism" remains one of the most powerful examples of Orwell's timeless insight into human nature; in this case, focused on our instinct to gang up on each other, our instinct for tribalism.

Orwell never used the term "tribalism" himself -- he wrote this essay a generation before that term became widespread.  However, I suspect his essay was a primary factor in raising awareness of the social pathology of tribalism, and his diagnosis of the problem precisely captures the liabilities of tribalism plaguing us today.

The Fate of Universities

Like many others, I’ve begun to worry about the fate of higher education in American society. Having spent most of my professional life in academia, my instinct is to regard the university system as sacred – as Wisdom’s Workshop, to borrow the historian James Axtell’s recent book title. Liberal democracy relies fundamentally on a very well educated citizenry. And modern civilization more generally relies on a significant number of us possessing hard-earned historical perspective on what is true and what is good, and hard-earned scientific perspective on the full reach of human potential.

For 800 years, universities have represented one of the most important institutions for fertilizing and cultivating that perspective, and even protecting it against humanity’s tendency toward self-destruction through war, tribalism, and superstition. Despite how radically our society has changed over that span of time, universities have remained critical in supporting our ability to know ourselves and to know the world better and better, and to steward that knowledge from one generation to the next. That is what makes the university system sacred. As modern civilization’s primary workshops of wisdom, universities are designed to safeguard the primary sources of human progress. Any threat to the university system should worry us. Today, there appear to be multiple, and the most frustrating thing of it is, those threats seem to be mostly self-imposed.

Explaining Postmodernism: A Conversation with Stephen Hicks

In this episode, I invited the philosopher and author Stephen Hicks on the podcast to chat about his book, Explaining Postmodernism.  Stephen has been a Professor of Philosophy at Rockford University in Illinois for nearly 20 years, and he's published widely on the history of philosophy, ethics, and politics.  

The reason I invited Stephen on the show is because I think postmodernism planted the seeds of the illiberalism that's erupting throughout our society today, and Stephen Hicks literally wrote the book on that development.  In my opinion, his insight is critical because the battle of ideas postmodern thinking provokes could very well determine the fate of liberal democracy our lifetime.

To learn more about Stephen Hicks, I encourage you to visit his website,, or follow him on Twitter.

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