Yascha Mounk

my personal website.

(for my academic website, please click here.)

First Review

The first review of the book, written by the excellent critic Adam Kirsch, is out. He calls  it “informative and entertaining”—and also provides a thoughtful summary of its main themes.

What is it like to be a Jew in Germany in the postwar era? What would lead even a handful of Jews to choose to make their lives in the country that was responsible for the Holocaust? And how did the descendants of the perpetrators treat the descendants of the victims? These are the questions at the heart of Mounk’s book, which starts out as a memoir but evolves into something more like a history and a polemic. Accessibly written and full of humor—one chapter is titled “A Boy Named Jew,” after the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue”—Stranger in My Own Country uses Mounk’s own experiences to shed light on postwar German history and current German politics.

If you’d like to hear me talk about the book, I also did a podcast with Tablet, to which you can listen here

Book Events

Only a few days until my book is published!

Over the course of January, I will be doing some book events in New York, Boston, and D.C. (I will also be coming to the West Coast in March; details to come.) 

January 15th, New York:   

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(Discussion co-sponsored by the 92nd Street Y and held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in downtown Manhattan, at 7pm. Tickets from $12.)

January 17th, Boston:

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(Reading at the Harvard Book Store, in Harvard Square, at 7pm. No ticket needed.) 

January 22nd, Washington D. C.:

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(Reading co-sponsored by the Goethe Institut, and held at sixth and i, and 7pm. Purchase of a book gets you two free tickets.)

I hope to see many of you on the road!

My Book Now Available for Pre-Order

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My first book will be published on January 7th, 2013, by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG).

It is now available both in hardcover and as an e-book at a discounted price.

Here’s the publicity blurb:

As a Jew in postwar Germany, Yascha Mounk felt like a foreigner in his own country. When he mentioned that he is Jewish, some made anti-Semitic jokes or talked about the superiority of the Aryan race. Others, sincerely hoping to atone for the country’s past, fawned over him with a forced friendliness he found just as alienating.
     Vivid and fascinating, Stranger in My Own Country traces the contours of Jewish life in a country still struggling with the legacy of the Third Reich and portrays those who, inevitably, continue to live in its shadow. Marshaling an extraordinary range of material into a lively narrative, Mounk surveys his countrymen’s responses to “the Jewish question.” Examining history, the story of his family, and his own childhood, he shows that anti-Semitism and far-right extremism have long coexisted with self-conscious philo-Semitism.
     But of late a new kind of resentment against Jews has come out in the open. Unnoticed by much of the outside world, the desire for a “finish line” that would spell a definitive end to the country’s obsession with the past is feeding an emphasis on German victimhood. Mounk shows how, from the government’s pursuit of a less “apologetic” foreign policy to the way the country’s idea of the “Volk” makes life difficult for its immigrant communities, a troubled nationalism is shaping Germany’s future.

Articles for Die Zeit

Over the past months, I have been writing articles for Zeit Online about a host of different topics, such as:

The Father of Genocide

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Over at the Wall Street Journal, I review the autobiography of Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term “genocide” and successfully campaigned for the United Nations to adopt the Anti-Genocide convention. I argue that Lemkin’s life was

[…] emblematic of both the ample promise and the real disappointment of international law.

In Lemkin’s own words, the point of the genocide convention had been nothing less than to be “a starting point for a new conscience.” Over time, he hoped, “a combination of punishment and prevention” would help to avert atrocities. Today, well-funded NGOs raise the alarm as soon as genocide looms in any part of the globe. Under Mr. Obama, the White House has even instituted an Atrocities Prevention Board.

But atrocities persist. Plenty of mass murderers remain at large. In recent years, a number of countries have agreed for the International Criminal Court to prosecute their citizens for war crimes, including genocide. But in reality only the genocidal leaders of small powers need to fear justice.

On Lance Armstrong

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Over at CNN, I comment on Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace, and argue that we should allow performance-enhancing substances in sports. (For my NYT piece on the same topics a few months ago, see here.)

Global Warming and Economic Growth

      

At Zeit Online, I argue that rich countries are much better able to protect their citizens from the disastrous consequences of global warming. If we are to enable poor countries to meet the challenges of the coming decades, sustained economic growth will have to be a big part of our tool kit.

UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, my original article has triggered a bit of a debate, and Zeit Online has now published an article-length response by Benjamin Ewert.

The Old, New World Order

                                       

In the Wall Street Journal, I review Mark Mazower’sGoverning the World. His intellectual history of world government is a very impressive and highly compelling piece of scholarship. Even so, I have some disagreements:

"Universalism," Mr. Mazower concludes, "is in the eye of the beholder." But this is too extreme—and too easy—a lesson to draw. Though supposedly universalist norms have often been invoked in bad faith, it is not always impossible to distinguish just from unjust laws, or to extract colonialism from humanitarian intervention. Unless we resign ourselves to total moral relativism, there is little alternative to striving for relations between states that are governed by universal rules. Early enthusiasm about the emancipatory promise of world government now seems hopelessly naive. But the imperative to build an order capable of safeguarding peace and protecting individual rights has hardly become less urgent.

On Doping

                         

At the New York Times’ Room for Debate, I argue that we should allow performance-enhancing drugs in sports:

The distinction we currently draw between which substances should be allowed, and which should be prohibited, ultimately says a lot about our own arbitrary assumptions – and precious little about anything else. Fans admire athletes for their amazing skill and boundless determination. As long as all athletes have access to performance-enhancing drugs, winning would still require that awe-inspiring skill and determination. So, while there are good reasons to ban those drugs that pose significant health risks even when taken under medical supervision (dinitrophenol comes to mind), all other substances – like erythropoietin (EPO) and propranolol, for example – should be allowed.

Intellectual Property

Over at Zeit Online, I try to give some philosophical perspective to the ongoing debate about intellectual property in the age of the internet.

In the article, I argue that both many proponents and many opponents of intellectual property make false libertarian assumptions. If we take John Rawls’, not Robert Nozick’s, justification of private property as our starting point, we can stop the IP culture war - and finally have a pragmatic debate about the right balance between the interests of artists and the interests of their audiences.

(Note: the article is of course in German.)

Interview: Tim Scanlon

        

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the wonderful philosopher Tim Scanlon for what, I believe, turned into the most extensive interview with him available so far. The result has now been published on The Utopian (as well as over at Books & Ideas and La Vie des Idées.)

You can see a condensed version of the interview here.

Philosophers, political theorists and intellectual historians may instead want to consult the full version. (If you want to print the interview out or load it onto your e-reader, you can also download a PDF version.)