Progress and modernity


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Photo courtesy Dick Swanson/U.S. National Archives

Essay/
Future of technology
The golden quarter

Some of our greatest cultural and technological achievements took place between 1945 and 1971. Why has progress stalled?

Michael Hanlon

A resident of the 6th floor of an apartment block gazes at the damage after the balcony fell from his 13 year old apartment in Shenyang, China. Photo by Stringer/Reuters

Essay/
Making
Chabuduo! Close enough …

Your balcony fell off? Chabuduo. Vaccines are overheated? Chabuduo. How China became the land of disastrous corner-cutting

James Palmer

The Course of Empire: Destruction (1836) by Thomas Cole. Courtesy Met Museum, New York/Wikipedia

Essay/
Nations and empires
The road from Rome

The fall of the Roman Empire wasn’t a tragedy for civilisation. It was a lucky break for humanity as a whole

Walter Scheidel

Photo by Marianne Gunderson

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Physics
Parallel worlds

If human history turns on the tilt of the multiverse, can we still trust our ideas of achievement, progress and morality?

Andrew Crumey

Aerial view of salt ponds, Walvis Bay, Namibia. Photo by Frans Lanting/National Geographic

Essay/
Ecology and environmental sciences
Anthropocene fever

The Anthropocene idea has been embraced by Earth scientists and English professors alike. But how useful is it?

Jedediah Purdy

Cards not accepted. A man counts his money at a floating vegetable market in Srinagar. Photo by Fredrik Naumann/Panos

Essay/
Economics
In praise of cash

Cash might be grungy, unfashionable and corruptible, but it is still a great public good, important for rich and poor alike

Brett Scott

Artwork by G Clausen. Photo by SSPL/NRM/Pictorial Collection/Getty

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Education
Classics for the people

A classical education was never just for the elite, but was a precious and inspiring part of working-class British life

Edith Hall

New York, 1982. Photo by Harry Gruyaert/Magnum Photos

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Economics
The small business myth

Small businesses enjoy an iconic status in modern capitalism, but what do they really contribute to the economy?

Benjamin C Waterhouse

Alt-Berlin, Waisenstraße (1927) by Hans Baluschek. Courtesy of the Märkisches Museum, Berlin/Wikipedia

Essay/
Cities
Money and modern life

Sociologist Georg Simmel diagnosed the character of modern city life: finance, fashion and becoming strangers to one another

Daniel Lopez

Trivulzio Portrait/Portrait of a Man (1476) by Antonello da Messina (1430-1479). Courtesy Turin City Museum of Ancient Art/Wikipedia

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History of ideas
The subjective turn

For Hegel, human nature strives through history to unchain itself from tradition. But is such inner freedom worth the cost?

Jon Stewart

Saint George and the Dragon (c1909-10), by Odilon Redon. Courtesy the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

Essay/
History of ideas
Against disenchantment

The move away from myth and toward reason is an ancient human impulse. But must enchantment be the enemy of enlightenment?

Jason Josephson Storm

The wise man built his house upon the rock, in the middle of the Drina river in Serbia. Photo by Marko Djurica/Reuters

Essay/
Home
Nobody is home

From the footloose networker to the exiled migrant, home has been displaced by an idea that’s both elusive and contested

Charles Leadbeater

Farmfield II by Doug Landreth. Photo by Doug Landreth/Corbis

Essay/
Ecology and environmental sciences
Farming the apocalypse

When my life came crashing down I took shelter on my farm, surviving with 11th-century tools like the sickle and scythe

Keith Ferrell

Newly built Volkswagen Beetles ready for shipping from Hamburg in 1972. Photo by Thomas Hoepker/Magnum

Essay/
Economic history
End of a golden age

Unprecedented growth marked the era from 1948 to 1973. Economists might study it forever, but it can never be repeated. Why?

Marc Levinson

Photo by Gozooma/Gallery Stock

Essay/
Engineering
A fault in our design

We tend to think that technological progress is making us more resilient, but it might be making us more vulnerable

Colin Dickey

Cologne Cathedral stands out from the rubble of a city destroyed during the Second World War. Photographed from a US spotter plane in September 1945. Photo by Bettmann/Getty

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History
Repetition and rupture

Reinhart Koselleck, the last great theorist of history, sought in the apparent chaos of events a science of experience

Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann

Something for everyone. Workers at a Daimler-Benz car plant listen to a speech by a visiting dignitary in West Germany circa 1972. Photo by Ernst Haas/Getty

Essay/
Economic history
Thirty glorious years

Postwar prosperity depended on a truce between capitalist growth and democratic fairness. Is it possible to get it back?

Jonathan Hopkin

A view of the 1964 World’s Fair in New York showing the Golden Rondelle Theater (upper left), Tower of Light (upper centre) and General Electric’s Pavilion featuring Walt Disney’s Progressland (upper right, blue and yellow lit dome). Photo by George Silk/LIFE/Getty

Essay/
History of ideas
The rise and rise of creativity

Once seen as the work of genius, how did creativity become an engine of economic growth and a corporate imperative?

Steven Shapin

Macbook x ray. Photo courtesy Jason De Villa

Essay/
Computing and artificial intelligence
Get under the hood

Our laptops are sleek and polished. Our operating systems are fluid and intuitive. Computing is easy and that’s a problem

Samuel Arbesman

Corn follies: a protest in front of the European Union headquarters in Brussels over genetically modified maize crops. Photo by Thierry Roge/Reuters

Essay/
Biotechnology
Beyond belief

Unreason, like the poor, will always be with us. But why does quackery survive when science is making life better?

Michael Hanlon

‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’. Photo by Gallery Stock

Essay/
Social psychology
The crisis of expertise

Experts are either derided or held up as all-seeing gurus. Time to reboot the relationship between expertise and democracy

Tom Nichols

The United Nations General Assembly, October 2012. Photo courtesy Wikimedia

Essay/
Cosmopolitanism
All for one

World government is back, in geopolitics and in the academy, but what does the future hold for it?

Luis Cabrera

Essay/
History of technology
Into the mystic

From Stonehenge to Silicon Valley: how technology nurtured New Age ideas in a world supposedly stripped of its magic

Benjamin Breen

‘Culling Tea’ (c1869), attributed to Lai Fong (or Afong, Chinese, 1839-90). Courtesy The Met Museum, New York

Essay/
Economic history
Tea and capitalism

The China tea trade was a paradox: a global, intensified industry without the usual spectacle of factories and technology

Andrew Liu