"A morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable."

— Thomas Jefferson

Recent Articles

Kim Jong-un and the “Madman Theory” of Diplomacy

Is North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, a madman?

It’s an obvious question, given Kim’s recent threats to attack the United States and South Korea with nuclear weapons -- and precisely the question Kim may want us to be asking.

Kim appears to be employing a dark strain in international diplomacy known as the madman theory, which is most closely associated with President Richard Nixon. This is the notion that a leader can out maneuver his opponents by convincing them he might just be unstable enough to do something crazy -- like making a suicidal nuclear strike on the United States.

It has been said that North Korea does not have nuclear weapons small enough to fit atop a long-range missile, and that it does not have missiles capable of reaching the United States, and that therefore Kim’s threat against the U.S. is an obvious bluff. While it’s true that the threat...

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Blocking the Will of the Majority Is a Fundamental Feature of the U.S. Constitutional System

We all benefit from the ability of a political minority to stifle the will of the majority. The U.S. Constitution restricts the power of the majority because an unchecked majority can be just as threatening to liberty and justice as a dictator or tyrannical oligarchy. Unfortunately, partisan leanings keep many people from understanding this subtle but essential point. Recognizing the role of a minority’s check on the majority’s power helps explain the behavior America’s two polarized parties, for each party is sometimes in the majority, sometimes in the minority.

For example, Democrats oppose the Republican minority’s check on power at the national level while appealing for judicial intervention at the state level when Republicans use their majority in state legislatures to pass voter ID laws, redraw congressional districts, and pass laws that restrict abortion and same sex marriage. Republicans, on the other hand, oppose judicial intervention into these matters and...

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Lincoln’s and Obama’s Teams of Non-Rivals

Whenever a president begins a second term, changes among his advisers are inevitable. Barack Obama soon will have new secretaries of state, treasury, and defense, and a new CIA director. His choices have inspired criticism for being all white men and supposedly in ideological lockstep with him.

Obama’s choices might also inspire comparisons to Abraham Lincoln. By the beginning of Lincoln’s second term in 1865, all but two members of his original cabinet had departed -- sometimes involuntarily. And what happened in Lincoln’s cabinet is actually fairly analogous to what’s happening today in Obama’s.

Underscoring this comparison is Hollywood’s recent attention to Lincoln’s political genius. The movie “Lincoln” is based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals.” Screenwriter Tony Kushner has said that Goodwin’s “magnificent account of Lincoln as a master politician” influenced his general approach more than the particular details in the...

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Hostage Taking in Algeria Is a 200-Year-Old Story

The State Department is probably very pleased with the outcome of last week’s hostage crisis in Algeria, although given the loss of innocent lives it would be impolitic for them to say so.

In case you missed it, Islamic militants had held an unspecified number of people hostage at a gas field in eastern Algeria, including a small number of Americans. Dozens of militants and hostages, including at least one American, were killed during a series of attacks by the Algerian military. And you may very well have missed it; in most American news media the story was eclipsed by accounts of a dead imaginary girlfriend and a semi-penitent reformed doper.

The sketchy coverage is an important reason why American officials may be happy. History shows that when hostage crises drag on and the public comes to make a personal connections with the captives, these situations cause government serious...

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