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Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics

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Moral Economics

This show first aired on May 28, 2020. John Maynard Keynes was a philosophical giant in twentieth-century England. In his day job, he was a public economist; in America he was a political football for the very idea of “deficit spending” to charge up private investment in a recession. It made the name “Keynes” a cuss word until our politicians fell in love with deficits as a way to pay for tax cuts and wars. “We are all Keynesians now,” Richard Nixon said, in Vietnam time. It’s only much later, in long hindsight, that Keynes the philosopher returns as if in a dream: the social and moral thinker, a sprightly, prophetic, and humane writer who could see money, finance, employment, justice, peace, and security as a linked system to be studied and managed for common purposes.46 Gordon Square in London—Bloomsbury home of Keynes.The subject is John Maynard Keynes, thinker and writer of genius and consequence in England between the two world wars. He is back to life in a dazzling biography of the moral philosopher inside the famous economist. Zachary Carter is our guest; he has rewritten the life story—emphasis on the humanity of Keynes’s thinking and the artistic beauty of his prose. Keynes was an economist mostly without numbers, though he started out as a mathematician. He makes literary and moral connections with Edmund Burke, the Anglo-Irish conservative, and implies a sort of kinship with George Orwell, another radical but anti-revolutionary English socialist of Keynes’s period.


8 Jul 2021

Rank #1

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Malcolm X in Boston and Beyond

This show first aired on February 13, 2020. The life of Malcolm X is the classic hero’s journey, in a setting we almost know: a story of anointment, dedication, fate, faith, family, incredible risk and reversals.  There was spontaneous poetry in it, enough sin to make salvation real, and redemption before an early, ugly death – all of it brilliantly told in an autobiography that wasn’t entirely Malcolm’s composition.  The question is about the dateline of the life: whether the core of the Malcolm epic isn’t a Boston story: The spur of ideas in a talky town, on both sides of the color line; the force of family, specially Malcolm’s sister Ella; the oddly enlightened prison where young Malcolm found his way. Malcolm X, the equal-rights champion, rose to historic standing by blaming and shaming both white and black America — whites for oppressive racism and blacks for putting up with it.  Foil for the Christian preacher Martin Luther King, Malcolm was the firebrand who did not turn the other cheek, who mocked the singing of “We Shall Overcome.” At Malcolm’s funeral 52 years ago, the actor Ossie Davis remembered his friend as a “howling, shocking nuisance” before his “brave, black gallantry” took hold.


11 Feb 2021

Rank #2

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The Soul of Care

This show originally broadcast February 20, 2020. Arthur Kleinman is a name that comes up again and again when you search around our big college town of Boston / Cambridge for people asking the great human questions, about our lived experience — about our inner and outer lives, secret lives, soul lives, and also about our vulnerabilities, our pain, and endurance. Dr. Kleinman is an M.D. psychiatrist who’s played anthropologist, too, in Chinese medicine, but he saved his best work and big discovery for last. In his sixties and seventies, he says, he learned more than he’d ever known before about doctoring through 11 years of caring night and day for the wife he adored in the grip of Alzheimer’s disease.Dr. Arthur Kleinman. Credit: Torben Eskerod.Arthur Kleinman is a doctors’ doctor who learned the hard way about his lifetime in medicine. He’s been learning mainly about the limits of his heroic profession, about the difference between care-giving (which could mean surgery, or writing a prescription) and care itself, which means staring into an anxious patient’s view of the abyss. The Soul of Care is Arthur Kleinman’s 40th book. Most of his books have soulful titles, but this one is different: it’s a memoir of more than a decade after his wife and professional partner Joan showed first hints of Alzheimer’s disease. Banner image credit: Torben Eskerod.


6 Nov 2020

Rank #3