Happy 20th birthday Crooked Timber!

by Chris Bertram on July 7, 2023

Crooked Timber is twenty years old today, which is an awfully long time for a website, never mind a blog, never mind one that is strictly non-commercial and run on volunteer labour. So here’s to us, and here’s to all those who have been on board at various times during our journey. To quote the Grateful Dead: what a long, strange trip it’s been.

We started the blog shortly after the Iraq war started and in a world that was still shaped by the immediate aftermath of 9/11. A bunch of people who had blogs of their own came together to form our collective after a period of email back-and-forth. It might have been quite a different blog: Norman Geras a strong supporter of the war, had been involved in the emailing, but it became clear that we couldn’t have both him and Dan Davies, so we settled for Dan, and what a good choice that was. Matt Yglesias was invited, but never replied, and has gone on to a rather successful online career.

The initial crew was Chris Bertram, Harry Brighouse, Daniel Davies, Henry Farrell, Maria Farrell, Kieran Healy, Jon Mandle and Brian Weatherson. Four out of nine survivors isn’t bad, but I miss the contributions of those who have moved on, who wrote some of the great posts of the early years. Within a few months we had added Ted Barlow, Eszter Hargittai, John Holbo, John Quiggin, Tom Runnacles, Micah Schwartzman and Belle Waring, and then Ingrid Robeyns and Scott McLemee joined us a couple of years later, followed soon after by Michael Bérubé. By 2008, the Guardian was listing us in its top 50 most powerful blogs, but I think we missed the moment to cash in and become tech zillionaires. Niamh Hardiman became a member around 2011, followed later by Tedra Osell, Eric Rauchway and Corey Robin, then Rich Yeselson. In 2018 we were joined by Serene Khader, Miriam Ronzoni, Gina Schouten and Astra Taylor and then this past year by Chris Armstrong, Elizabeth Anderson, Eric Schliesser, Kevin Munger, Macarena Marey, Paul Segal and Speranta Dumitru. Throughout we tried to keep a mix of people of different experiences, backgrounds, genders and locations, though I’m sure we could have done better. One person, who sadly has left us, deserves special thanks: Kieran Healy was not only an intellectual force behind Crooked Timber, but also, long after he ceased posting, kept us on the road with his technical expertise. The site would have long since fallen over without him.

At the time I’m composing this post, there have been 12,513 posts and 574,400 approved comments. Much of that intellectual and literary effort has, inevitably, been lost to human memory even as it remains technically accessible. I certainly didn’t trust my of judgement or powers of recall, so I asked Crooked Timber members and veterans and readers on various social media to tell me about their “greatest hits” (FWIW, the best suggestions came via Mastodon). There was too much and it was too unbalanced to include everything, though “everything by Maria” and “everything by Belle” were popular replies and, in fact, going by what people remember, I almost think that a Belle/Maria/Dan joint blog would have been awesome instead. Many people mentioned Belle’s And a Pony post, though that was actually before she joined. Particular thanks go to Sumana Harihareswara for her suggestions.

Anyway, here’s a selection of greatest hits, though probably not a fair one. Other CTers may be posting with theirs and readers should name their favourite posts in comments.

First of all book events: there have been a few of these, but the main ones people mentioned are: Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty, David Graeber’s Debt, and China Miélville’s Iron Council. Henry often took the lead in these and contributed incisively. The Graeber one was traumatic, but memorable. Personally, I got a lot out of the one on Joseph Carens’s The Ethics of Immigration. Sincere apologies for the suboptimality of some of the links.

Some individual posts, alphabetically by author:

Chris Bertram, Alex Gourevitch and Corey Robin,Let it Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace. (2012)

Chris Bertram, Piketty, Rousseau and the Desire for Inequality. (2015)

Michael Bérubé: Mighty Moloch, cure me of my severe allergy to the discourse of the “cure”. (2010)

Harry Brighouse, Teaching’s not exactly brain surgery, is it? (2015)

Harry Brighouse, Adrian Grey-Turner, 1955-1986. (2016)

Dan Davies, Wall Street. (2003)

Dan Davies, The Future is a Shoe Being Thrown at a Human Face Forever. (2008)

Dan Davies, The Christmas Sermon 2012 – “On Not Believing In Canada”. (2012)

Dan Davies, So, what would your plan for Greece be?. (2012) and the follow-up post What would you do: Part 2, the Island of Surpyc. (2013).

Dan Davies, Libor for the Universities? (2015)

Henry Farrell, In Praise of Negativity. (2020)

Maria Farrell, Reader I Married Him. (2011)

Maria Farrell, What they don’t tell you about deployment. (2012)

Maria Farrell, Owning the Peanut Gallery. (2018)

Maria Farrell, Fatherland. (2020)

Maria Farrell, Indefinitely Ill – Post-Covid Fatigue. (2020)

Eszter Hargittai, In Praise of Unconferences. (2016).

Kieran Healy, The Dead of Winter. (2003)

Kieran Healy, The Mornings of Kieran Healy, by Robert Caro. (2020)

John Holbo, When I hear the word culture … aw, hell with it(2007) in which John names the “the two-step of terrific triviality”, a term that John Quiggin, in particular, made much use of in later posts.

John Holbo, Rorty’s Rhetoric of Anticipatory Retrospective (2007)

John Holbo, Lewd and Prude. (2009)

John Quiggin, How Democracies Lose Small Wars. (2004)

John Quiggin, An Ounce of Inefficiency. (2006)

Many of John’s contributions have been series that later turned into published work such as his Zombie Economics. You can find quite a few of those posts here.

Ingrid Robeyns, How to Write a Good Public Philosophy Book. (2022)

Miriam Ronzoni, On Being Radical for Non-Ideal Reasons. (2018)

Gina Schouten, Pregnant Judges. (2021)

Belle Waring, Also, Feminism Is Not Responsible For Girls Gone Wild. (2007)

Belle Waring, Safe Space For Possibly Unpopular Thoughts on Feminism, Leftism. (2015)

Belle Waring, Sorting Hat’s Gotta Sort. (2013)

Finally, comments, or, at lease one comment which turns out to be the most famous and most repeated thing ever written at Crooked Timber.

Wilhoit’s Law, enunciated by Frank Wilhoit in the comments to a post of Henry’s The Travesty of Liberalism:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:

There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.



John Holbo 07.08.23 at 9:38 am

Thanks, Chris! My post to follow soon. Thanks for including Belle’s Sorting Hat!


oldster 07.08.23 at 11:03 am

Thanks, Chris, and all other front-pagers present and past, for keeping CT in being all these years. You are an enduring reminder of what the web once was and could have been. I wish you more decades of resistance.


Matt Lister 07.08.23 at 11:14 am

I think that of Maria’s posts, the ones I liked the most were about her dog, and its tendencies to eat literally anything it could. I hope it’s still around and doing well!


Adam Roberts 07.08.23 at 11:44 am

In a critical field, Rowling studies, bare of useful material (though rather oversupplied with earnest and often raving contra- and pro- polemic), Belle’s “Sorting Hat” post is a real boon. I have it on the reading list of my Children’s Literature course at RHUL.


Russell Arben Fox 07.08.23 at 12:52 pm

As someone who obsessively read CT back in the day–in part because some tiny part of my brain genuinely wanted to believe, circa-2003 and 2004, that my small-but-I-thought-meaningful blogging interactions with other Chris and Harry and others meant that I might be approached with a CT blogging invite soon, but you brought Micah on board instead, which I was weirdly upset about–I salute you all for consistently (more or less) being what you set out to be: a bunch of leftist academics blogging, meaning your work granted the left blogosphere a range and depth and unevenness and idiosyncrasy that other group blogs either abandoned as they became more politically focused, or simply couldn’t maintain over the long haul. Many congratulations.

Also, the best posts have always been Harry’s deep dives into his fascinating, sometimes baroque, memories of not-quite-revolutionary 1980s England, complete with wonderfully weird memories of BBC 1 documentaries and radio programs (half of which he seems to some how have personal memories of the producers and broadcasters of, amazingly enough) now going on a half-century old. More of those before you retire, Harry!


LizardBreath 07.08.23 at 2:18 pm

I’ve been very fond of this place and the bloggers here over the years — I don’t quite remember, but it may have been the first political/academic blog I found, back in 04 or 05, and then that turned into a very large part of my next twenty years. Thanks to all of you!


Elim Garak 07.08.23 at 3:53 pm

So does this mean all the original writers are in the late 80s, have tenure, and are refusing to leave their university job contributing to a shortage of available postings for new PhDs?


engels 07.08.23 at 7:51 pm

From my lurking days, this was the best comments thread imo:


Akshay 07.08.23 at 8:27 pm

Congratulations! And many thanks to all for all the entertainment and education all these years!


Alan White 07.08.23 at 11:57 pm

I am so indebted to CT for its kaleidoscopic teaching experiences from economics to politics to art–the latter much a function of your Sunday photoblogs, Chris. Always a daily read to learn and think about something new. Thanks to all.


Stephen J 07.09.23 at 2:12 am

I continue to appreciate this blog, its writers and its commentariat. I wasn’t here for the very beginning but must have found it some time not long after. May you all have another wonderful 20 years.


Lynne 07.09.23 at 3:26 pm

Thanks for posting the links to the old posts. What a trip to look through Belle’s Safe Thread of 2015! I miss some of the commenters who participated—js, Val, JanieM. I didn’t reread all the comments but it sure was a remarkably civil discussion. I wonder if that could happen today.


oldster 07.09.23 at 4:32 pm

broken link for Kieran’s second post, by the way.
(Sc. “The Mornings of Kieran Healy etc.”).

Yes, Belle’s “Safe” thread is an archive of thoughts from a better time.


engels 07.09.23 at 5:06 pm

The feminism thread is personally surprising because I seem to be (in the minority in?) defending trans inclusion/non-biological definitions, which is now the liberal consensus. But I guess it wasn’t then. And the trans exclusionary/gender critical/whatever* side treats me a lot more civilly than they are treated by the pro-trans majority today.

(* if anyone wants to take issue with those rather imperfect labels… uh… I might not have internet coverage for a few days.)


engels 07.09.23 at 10:46 pm

Btw if this is the place to praise commenters, a shout-out to some of the big beasts of the early-middle period, abb1, Seth Edenbaum, John Emerson, who set the agenda for numerous discussions of Israel, analytic philosophy, the contemporary academy and related topics, not to mention our most illustrious alumnus (?) Lemuel Pitkin. We shall not see their like again.

Happy birthday to a fascinating social experiment, much more interesting than Twitter for my money, and may it continue for another 20 years; although given the size of the text corpora stated above we’ll all have been replaced by bots long before that (I don’t mean the last point entirely as a joke: it’s a possibility that seriously bothers me).


LFC 07.10.23 at 12:56 am

Seconding what Matt L. said @3. I don’t have a dog, but that was a memorable post by Maria.


DavidtheK 07.12.23 at 11:53 am

Happy Birthday Crooked Timber! Thank you so much to all the writers here for taking the time to share great insights. And Thank you also to the commentors, who add more.


Abby 07.14.23 at 8:09 pm

Congratulations and thanks to you all for the years of provocative insights and informative discussion.


geo 07.14.23 at 11:53 pm

So much intelligence, erudition, wit, and intellectual passion. I will never get over it.


Doug 07.18.23 at 8:52 am

And noting for the record that the memorable bit of political theory was delivered by Frank Wilhoit the composer and not Frank Wilhoit the political theorist.


Cranky Observer 07.19.23 at 1:21 am

It has been a great 20 years – thanks to the founders, all the front pagers, and the great commenters!

Comments on this entry are closed.