Monthly Archives: March 2017

Post-liberalism in the FT

WhatI’m reading: David Goodhart explaining his movement away from the left-liberal consensus.

If you’re interested in the changing rules for politics and persuasion, try my book.

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Word of the Day: Smeuse


the hole in the base of a hedge left by the repeated passage of a small animal.

Having a particular fondness for the hapless British hedgehog, I love that English found space for a dialect word for this.

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Today’s Quote: 18 March 2017

Today’s quote is from from Michael Novak’s fantastic Free Persons and the Common Good, which I’m reading on a long weekend in Oslo in between watching the world biathlon championships. Someone really needs to issue a new edition of this book, and hopefully Novak’s recent passing into eternity will focus minds. This quote isn’t from him but de Tocqueville.

“If men are to remain civilised or to become civilised, the art of association must develop and improve among them at the same speed as equality of conditions spread.”

Books like this are hard work but worth it. If you’re in the mood for something funny, wise and short instead, why not try my latest book.

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Today’s Quote: 17 March 2017

“This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

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March 17, 2017 · 7:34 am

Logan: When a Hero Wants to Die

**This has spoilers. Don’t read it if you haven’t seen Logan yet. If you haven’t seen Logan yet, go and see Logan.**

I failed to write a play in my twenties. It was about an ageing James Bond. I wondered what it would be like for the hero who always returns to get put out to grass before he is ready. It was a rotten play, but I always liked the idea. Then Logan blew it away. The new Wolverine film grabs the question about what happens when a recurring hero meets a real ending, and takes it to a new level. Logan asks a darker question than I ever dared: what if the hero is ready to go — but his universe won’t let him die?

Episodic heroes, who return to fight through adventure after adventure, must always have their final ending hidden somewhere over the horizon. It’s utterly remarkable that Marvel had the courage to make a film about a recurring character’s longing for death. Maybe they greenlit it for the fight sequences and forgot to read the rest of the script.

Wolverine, with his superhuman healing powers and unbreakable claws, is a character designed for one adventure after another. Logan imagines a time where those tricks begin to fail, but the adventures won’t stop. Like all the rest of us, Wolverine gets old and needs glasses. Instead of instant healing, he is crusted with wounds. And inside, his psyche is tortured by all the violence he has seen. Like the malfunctioning androids in the Westworld remake, he no longer resets as he goes through his endless loop of adventure after adventure. The memories and the wounds accumulate, unbearably. He is rotting from the inside.

Logan takes seriously how appalling it would be to live as an episodic hero. To go through such punishment again and again. As a matter of formal structure, heroes suffer their way through stories. Most only have to do it once. Episodic heroes are chained to the wheel forever. Worse still, bad things must always happen to those around the hero. In Logan this is taken to its appalling conclusion when Wolverine makes the mistake of thinking he can spend a restorative night with the loving family that offered his band of misfits a welcome. The hero defends the borders of the promised land, but he can never live there.

It is little surprise that Wolverine wants to die — especially since the world around him has rejected his breed of heroism. There are no more mutants. Professor Xavier is dwindling into a second childhood. The X-Men are only remembered in simplified and exaggerated comic books.

And yet adventure keeps coming. And Wolverine is called to suffer again. The world thinks it doesn’t need him. He thinks the world is right. Both are wrong.

And remarkably, deftly, the film rewards Wolverine’s sacrifice. It concludes when he learns the only way a hero can die: by teaching his replacement. His release comes when his ferocious, lab-grown daughter picks up the adamantium bullet Wolverine longs to fire into his own brain, and uses it to destroy the monster. For the first time, she rejects the longing to escape the struggle, controls her strength and kills as a human hero, not an animal. And at last Wolverine is released — at least until the inevitable reboot.

Logan is a terrifying movie. It reminds us how much we ask of heroes, and how desperately we need them, even when we try and convince ourselves we are better off without them.

My book has no superheroes in it. But it will show you new ways to fight for what you believe in if you buy it now.

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What I’m Reading: The Biology of Politics

I’m still making up my mind about this long, intriguing essay which seeks a high-level analysis of political dynamics via biological imperatives. It certainly explains the interest of a left-wing thinker like Cory Doctorow in the possibility of a post-scarcity economics in our technological future.

“To my eye, it is inherently clear that this r/K divergence is the origin of our political divide. Indeed, while policy proposals from Conservatives are predicated upon the premise that resources are inherently limited, and individuals should have to work and demonstrate merit to acquire them, Liberals advocate on behalf of policy proposals which seem to be predicated upon an assumption that there are always more than sufficient resources to let everyone live lives of equal leisure. To a Liberal, any scarcity must clearly arise due to some individual’s personal greed and evil altering a natural state of perpetual plenty.”

Read the whole thing.

If you’re interested in making sense of our strange new political world, you might like my book.

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Minimum Viable Book: The Case of Michael J. Knowles

No one who thinks about the future of publishing can fail to be fascinated by the overnight success of Reasons to Vote for Democrats by Michael J. Knowles. The book is still at number 1 as I write: not just in its category but in the category of all books on It has been there for several days straight, selling some 60,000 copies and earning its self-published author enough money to buy his first house. It has 1,676 customer reviews and a 4.5 star rating.

This is a book with no big publisher behind it, and no real marketing campaign. It is also a book with no words in it. It is blank.

The book recycles an old joke, as Knowles freely admits. But he has pulled it off with style. Democrat attempts to reverse the tables with their own copycat effort have failed to take off.

You can’t predict what will go viral. But there are lessons here worth noting.

  • Do your best work

Knowles did a solid job on this. The cover is properly designed. He got Ben Shapiro, a conservative rock star, to give him a puff quote. And he didn’t just do an ebook, he got it formatted properly for print. He made a little video of him flicking through it to demonstrate its blankness. And he even bothered to subdivide sections within the book and provide some references at the end. When called for interview, Knowles can recite chapter and verse of embarrassing Democrat history to explain why he left each chapter (on values, the economy, etc) blank. If this is an empty book, it is full of attention to detail. As Seth Godin always says, show up and surprise people with great work, even if it doesn’t seem to require it. People can tell the difference.

  • Do a job for people

Even better, do a job that justifies them buying multiple copies. Clay Christensen talks about thinking of products in terms of jobs to be done. Most books are rather limited, in that we buy one copy to entertain or inform ourselves. Knowles’s book is instead a novelty item, a practical joke that people can use to poke fun in a lighthearted way at people they are close to but disagree with politically, by gifting them a copy. At first glance, it looks like a pro-Democrat book. Only when you open it to find it blank do you see you have been fooled. As a result, many people bought multiple copies. In a politically divided America, this book does a job that lots of people really needed a way to do in a goodhumoured fashion.

  • Leave room for people’s creativity

I’ve written before about the imperative in an age of selfie-nomics to design products that leave room for the consumer to insert their own personality and creativity. The emptiness of the book made reviewing it into a creative challenge that explains why it has such a staggering number of positive reviews. They make great reading. Discussion of the book on Twitter hit a similar height of performative silliness.

  • Leverage a network

This book didn’t have a big firm behind it, but it did have a big network courtesy of the Daily Wire, where Knowles works. That meant a lot of prime buyers were presented the book as it launched, and in the context of voices they already respected. The part where it then caught fire through word of mouth was unpredictable, but a good and relevant network and authoritative figures with large followings who are willing to vouch for you are invaluable. But note you don’t have to own that network. You just have to get access to it.

Perhaps the most important lesson is that one young man could pull this off by using simple tools on Amazon that are available free to anyone. He then reached out to a likeminded network, who were willing to do all the hard work of promoting, reviewing and celebrating the book on social media. And that then led to more traditional appearances on TV networks and even more awareness and sales. All conducted in a spirit of good humour and celebration.

The world is open today as never before to anyone with a good idea and the right attitude. It’s a topic I address in my book, which offers some guidance for the new media landscape we are in. My book has words in, but not too many. And it can never have enough witty reviews. People who bought Reasons to Vote Democrats might also like How To Win Like Trump.



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The Case For Revolution

Douglas Carswell’s new book isn’t pulling any punches. The sole Ukip MP is apparently calling for a revolution to remake and sustain the liberal order.

“When I first stood for Parliament, I believed that all we needed were the right kind of ministers, pursuing the right kind of plans. Now I believe we need a revolution.”

Interesting… Pre-order here.

While you are waiting, why not try my book, full of tips for would-be rebels who want to win.

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Today’s Quote: 12 March 2017

“The idea that life is a series of adversities and each one is an opportunity to behave well instead of badly, is a very very good idea.”

Charlie Munger 

If you want tactics to act effectively in adversity, you might like my book.

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March 12, 2017 · 4:41 pm

Word of the Day: Anosognosia


A lack of self-awareness, inability to recognise oneself.

If you like words that help you see the world differently, why not try my book?

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