Jedediah Purdy

Jedediah S. Purdy is a senior correspondent of The American Prospect and a second-year student at Yale Law School. Purdy started with the Prospect as a writing fellow, writing about culture, technology, politics, and the environment. His 1998 articles include "Age of Irony" on a generation that refuses to take itself seriously, and "Dolly and Madison" on the ethics of cloning.

His first book, For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today, was published by Knopf in September 1999. His current research addresses agriculture, environmental sustainability, and the place of work in American culture. He has also been working on conceptions of human excellence in democratic politics. In 1999 he was a faculty member at the Century Institute Summer Program on America's liberal and progressive political traditions.

Purdy was born and raised on a hillside farm in central West Virginia. Until age 14, he taught himself by reading, exploring the local woods and meadows, and working alongside his parents and younger sister. After a checkered high school career that eventually took him to Phillips Exeter Academy, he returned to West Virginia, where he worked as a carpenter and spent a year in environmental politics.

In 1997 he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in social studies. In 1996 he was selected as a Truman Scholar and as West Virginia's nominee for the Rhodes Scholarship.

Recent Articles

Citizen Activism and the Courts

The surprising impact of popular movements on judicial doctrines

AP Photo/Winslow Townson
Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law By David Cole Basic This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . David Cole’s Engines of Liberty is a welcome corrective to a conventional way of narrating constitutional law as being the work of federal courts, especially the Supreme Court, whose justices are nerd-celebrities, internet memes, and partisan heroes or villains. Cole argues that constitutional law comes from sources that are more democratic, and more obscure, than judges. It begins in the work of citizen activists, quixotic lawyers, and legal scholars willing to buck mainstream views and take unfamiliar ideas to their logical conclusions. If progressives hope the courts will stand in the way of Donald Trump’s enormities, Cole’s arguments suggest, they had better mobilize now for the constitutional values they hope to see judges protect in a few years. Cole makes...

The New Open Society

Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge by Cass Sunstein (Oxford University Press, 288 pages, $25.00) The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom by Yochai Benkler (Yale University Press, 520 pages, $40.00) Internet utopianism can seem so 1998. The future was silicon in the late Clinton years, when government was flatlining in petty scandal and technology stocks seemed to rise exponentially. Not only was anything possible: If you believed the mavens of Wired magazine and assorted other cyber-prophets, pretty much anything was inevitable. Soon, they assured us, people would spend more time in virtual communities than in “meatspace.” Politics would be transformed by the universal pamphleteering of Netizens. Oh, and some of us would go all the way and upload our consciousness into mainframes to live forever as data. The new world might or might not be brave, but it was certainly weird. The future has not quite lived up to its billing,...

Freedom's New Fight

Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity By Lawrence Lessig, The Penguin Press, 345 pages, $24.95 In the mid-1990s, Alex Alben pioneered a new Hollywood genre: a DVD retrospective on an actor's career, structured around contemporary interviews with the actor but including clips from each film in his career. Alben's first subject was Clint Eastwood, who had made more than 50 films as an actor or director. In the end, the DVD was a success, but there was a hitch. In assembling the clips, Alben needed to get permission from every actor and stunt double, the copyright holder of every snippet of soundtrack, and the owners of the screenplays, and negotiate fees with each one. Getting permission took a year's work by a team of four professionals. Alben's experience expresses the paradox at the heart of Lawrence Lessig's splendid and troubling new book, Free Culture . New technology makes possible all kinds of unprecedented projects,...

State of the Debate: Dolly and Madison

The cloning debate has highlighted moral questions that are likely only to become even more difficult as biotechnology advances: What should be the line between permissible and impermissible genetic interventions? Is our bedrock belief in human equality about to break down?

WORKS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY Arthur L. Caplan, Am I My Brother's Keeper? The Ethical Frontiers of Biomedicine (Indiana University Press, 1997). Philip Kitcher, The Lives to Come: The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities (Touchstone Books, 1997). Maxwell J. Mehlman and Jeffrey R. Botkin, Access to the Genome: The Challenge to Equality (Georgetown University Press, 1998). Jeremy Rifkin, The Biotech Century--A Second Opinion : The Marriage of the Genetic Sciences and the Technologies Shaping Our World (J. P. Tarcher, 1998). Lee M. Silver, Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World (Avon Books, 1997). You can buy any linked book through our associate program with F or all its attention to a rather blasé Scottish sheep, the "debate over cloning" has never been exactly that. Instead, from the moment that Dolly's birth was announced, cloning became a lightning rod for conflict over the rapidly expanding gamut of genetic technology. For some, the new...

Essay: The God of the Digerati

Wired magazine says with new technology we'll all be like gods and should get good at it. That apparently means feeling no restraint -- if something looks good, do it, buy it, invent it, become it. Where have we heard this before?

N o ambition, however extravagant, no fantasy, however outlandish, can any longer be dismissed as crazy or impossible. This is the age when you can finally do it all. . . . You can become whatever you want to be." This bold invitation stretches across the first few pages of the October 1994 issue of Wired magazine, emblazoned over a computer-generated, Dali-esque landscape populated by transparent human forms whose brains, muscles, and entrails are tangles of silicon chips and fiber-optic cable. The phrases echo a favorite slogan of Wired editor Kevin Kelly: "We are as gods, and we might as well get good at it." Do these proposals amount to the same thing? Should we accept them? And, if we do, what might be the consequences for our culture and politics? These questions are not idle. Wired is the lifestyle magazine par excellence—the chapbook of tastes, taboos, and aspirations—for the shock troops of the information economy. More than 300,000 readers earn their average...