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Interview With Author Daniel Markovits; Interview With Author Daniel Kehlmann; Raising Awareness of Equality Gap; Difficult Women Leading the Charge; Helen Lewis, Author, "Difficult Women," is Interviewed About Difficult Women; Bringing the Jester, Tyll Eulenspiegel, to Life. Aired 1- 2p ET
Aired March 6, 2020 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HELEN LEWIS, AUTHOR, "DIFFICULT WOMEN": The history of feminism has to include people who don't describe themselves as feminists. They see
themselves as feminist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: In the age of online shaming and cancel culture, we look at the difficult women who changed the world with author, Helen Lewis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL KEHLMANN, AUTHOR, "TYLL": There's always some aura of unpredictability around him. And anything is possible where the gesture is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: German literary star, Daniel Kehlmann, on his smash new novel,"Tyll," an absurd look at a brutal time in history seen through the
eyes of a mythical prankster.
Then, the meritocracy trap. Yale professor, Daniel Markovits, on how the myth of upward mobility destroys America's middle class.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Sunday is International Women's Day, focusing this year on raising awareness of the equality gap in all areas of our lives, which makes this
new stat from the United Nations particularly distressing. Close to 90 percent of people around the world hold some sort of bias against women,
despite progress in key areas like the #MeToo movement, women's rights appear to be backsliding in much of the world.
The ongoing fight for equality can be even more difficult than we realize, which is why in her new book, Author Helen Lewis, says it comes down to
difficult women to lead the charge. Lewis takes an advantage look at a collection of complicated, even deeply flawed heroes who broke through the
greatest barriers to equality. I asked her why it's so important to take an honest look at these women in all their complexity.
Helen Lewis, welcome to the program.
HELEN LEWIS, AUTHOR, "DIFFICULT WOMEN": Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: So, look, "Difficult Women," what is it that made you choose that title? Who is it that made you choose that title?
LEWIS: Well, actually, it was a male friend who suggested it to me because it happened around the time that -- if you remember, Theresa May, who was
then prime minister, was described by Ken Clarke, who had been in her cabinet as a bloody difficult woman. And actually, he meant that kind of
admiringly but I think it's a double-edge sword, isn't it, the idea of being difficult as a woman. It means that you're probably going to get a
lot of stuff done but people aren't going to like you necessarily for it.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that is really, really interesting. It's the age-old problem that persists to a great extent today. But you go back, your
subjects here are mostly historical figures. And I mean, let's just take the most famous one who we recognize, Marie Stopes, who was absolutely sort
of a pioneer in the birth control movement. And yet, there were other aspects of her character that you outline that made her not just a
difficult woman, but maybe not even an admirable woman. So, just describe why Marie Stopes was somebody that you really wanted to focus on?
LEWIS: So, Marie Stopes basically has got some personality issues. She was incredibly addicted (INAUDIBLE). She was impossible to work with. She was
determined that she was going to be the figure head for this movement. You know, she claimed a lot of credit. She was not prepared to stand at the
But there is also this kind of dark past to the fact that she supported eugenics. She (INAUDIBLE) you should control populations through breeding,
that some people should be allowed to have children and some people maybe - - shouldn't. And there was a huge amount of naivety about that in 1920s about where it might lead, which we all saw later in the century. And
that's something that's common to both the birth control movement in the U.K. and the U.S., this interplay of the huge freedom for women bound with
these slightly unpleasant political overtones.
AMANPOUR: And would you say that the reason why we haven't focused on the dark side is because the social, cultural and political -- you know, the
freedom actually, the birth control, the health that birth control brought in was so much more important?
LEWIS: I think there's a tendency meaning exactly not to want to tarnish that with the unpleasant legacy that it's got. Because you're exactly right
and in terms of women's life expectancy, in terms of their achievements, we know all around the world, you know, the best way to lift countries out of
poverty is to educate women. They'll have babies later in life. They'll have fewer babies.
And -- but that then becomes a very unpleasant thing and it is also -- you know, sometimes you get pushback in countries where they say this is a
western imposition and this is about stopping us having enough babies. These are kind of white people coming in and telling us what to do with our
AMANPOUR: We discussed who was the sort of inspiration for the title, but what was the inspiration for you? Why did you want to focus on difficult
LEWIS: Well, I wanted to write a history without air-brushing. And it felt it to me there were a whole spade of books that were about inspiring young
women, and I think that's wonderful, but not if it comes at the expense of distorting history.
So, I think you get this weird situation where we kind of worry about why is it that aren't there any heroines that we kind of believe in now? Why do
they all have feet of clay? Well, that's -- you know, that's always been the case. You always have to pick and choose the bits you like about
someone. But if you turn the past into a playground where no one did any bad things and things were very obvious and black and white and morality
was easy, it makes it harder for you to deal with the complexity of now.
AMANPOUR: This book is by and large, in fact entirely about British women. And let's face it, British women have been way ahead of the curve. We've
got the right to vote here before in America, there have been British prime ministers here, in other words, government leaders here where there have
not been American female presidents or indeed vice presidents.
So, I understand why you focus on this. But I also am so interested in, for instance, Erin Pizzey. This is someone who is fairly modern. I mean, you
actually met her. And she was really sort of revolutionary and that she started these refuges for women. Tell me about what was important about
just the idea of a safe space for women at that time. What was the imperative that led her to do that?
LEWIS: I think it's really hard for people. I mean, I was born in the 1980s, to understand what the '70s were like in terms of feminism, the kind
of utopianism, feeling that everything was up for grabs. And part of that was a revolution in the way we talked about domestic violence, you know,
the concept itself. Before then there was wife beating and it was more or less excused or it happened in lower class households, but not middle-class
households. You know, there was no at all attempt at all to understand that this was just a huge universal problem.
And what Erin Pizzey did is found a women's refuge in Chiswick and she had one run-down house and -- the council gave her and no money and she
basically filled it with women who would otherwise have nowhere else to go. But she left feminism. They fell out dramatically with feminism and now,
she's a men's rights activist and now, she says that feminism has destroyed the family.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, I find that really, really interesting. So, let's just take what she did. You talk about Chiswick, it's an area of West London.
Today, it's the largest charity of its kind, apparently nearly 300 refugees in England with about 4,000 beds. So, it's a big deal.
But as you say, Pizzey is a complicated character. You write, I regarded Pizzey as a warning, the plurality of politics, the petty dictators, the
navel gazing, all of this seemed very familiar except my peers were not the radical feminists of the '70s but the internet feminist of the 2010s. What
do you mean about that particularly in relation, I guess, to the story of Erin Pizzey who left the movement?
LEWIS: Well, I think it's a useful thing now when we talk a huge amount about cancel culture and things like that, right, impurity on the internet.
Definitely you're seeing it now playing out in the U.S. presidential race, right, the idea of who is the purist candidate.
And then all people who last time ran said, well, I can't vote for Hillary Clinton, but Elizabeth Warren, I would love her. And actually, this time
around, they're going maybe not Elizabeth Warren, maybe actually Bernie Sanders. And I think that's fascinating to see that women have to, I think,
often, in politics particularly, got to a higher standard.
But the particular point with Erin Pizzey is about the idea that the history of feminism has to include people who don't describe themselves as
feminists. They don't see themselves as feminists. I think -- you know, I'm comfortable in saying that there are people who are alive because of Erin
Pizzey, but she's not part of the feminist movement. She didn't want to be.
AMANPOUR: What do you mean about, she went into men's rights? People would say, hang on, men have all the rights, that's why there is a feminist
movement to try to level the playing field. What did she mean?
LEWIS: So, men's rights is a big caucus on the internet of talking about, for example, the idea of false rape culture, right, the idea that there are
too many rape accusations, that they're not investigated properly and it is unfair to men that they can't defend themselves from these. So, that's a
big (INAUDIBLE). The idea that actually there's a huge amount of domestic violence against men that goes unreported and the idea that feminism is a
hate group devoted to kind of bringing men down. It has come up with a conspiracy theory about this thing called the patriarchy.
And the difficulty I find with talking about this is that is in some ways I do agree with some of that. For example, there are male victims of domestic
violence, both in gay relationships and in straight relationships. But nonetheless, the statistics overall are incredibly clear, domestic violence
is a gendered problem, it is primarily about men attacking women. And we know that, unfortunately, from the (INAUDIBLE) statistics, which is the
most visible sign of it, and the statistics in America quite similar, but here in Britain it's 1.5 women a week are murdered by their partner or
former partner. And the same is simply not true for men.
AMANPOUR: You know, I want to bring you to the #MeToo movement because we just had a major verdict in the Harvey Weinstein trial. To be honest with
you, even the plaintiffs and their lawyers were worried they might not get any conviction, and they did on two of the counts. And so many women who
brought the original charges and went public originally are so grateful that actually this means something. Harvey Weinstein has been held
accountable in a court of law.
You wrote this book before that, but you talk about #MeToo and you weren't sure that #MeToo would lead to accountability. What is your feeling now
after you heard that verdict?
LEWIS: I was very pleased to see that verdict because what we need to have is due process. And there have been situations where, in the #MeToo
movement, people have felt it's been very unfair to men because accusations have been made, that they weren't able to go through a formal process, and
I do think that's unfair.
But one of the big arguments I make in the book is that the last 10 years of feminism have been incredible in terms of conscience raising but those
things need to now be embedded in legal economic structures. And #MeToo movement, I think, has been incredible. It is also the result of a profound
failure. Those people should not have had to come forward and say what they said in the court of public opinion about Harvey Weinstein because it
should have been -- there should have been process in place in his workplace, there should have been court actions that actually led to
something when there were credible complaints made --
AMANPOUR: Instead of NDAs and all the payoffs and all the rest of it.
LEWIS: And so, the interesting question for me is, how do you stop the next Harvey Weinstein before it happens? And that, to me, is the job of
feminism now. What are the structures in place that will stop that?
AMANPOUR: Do you feel having done this historical look, having seen what's happening now, this watershed, do you feel hopeful that going forward
society will actually enact those legal, cultural protections and standards?
LEWIS: I feel incredibly optimistic about feminism, which sounds a very odd thing to say at the time when I think it feels quite a time of
backlash. 150 years ago, in Britain, women couldn't own property, you know. Just over 100 years ago they couldn't vote. In 1991, rape in marriage was
officially declared to be criminal. You know, this is a century of enormous change for Britain. And I -- and although it's been the result of an
enormous amount of hard work, there are campaigners I see out there still doing incredible work.
In the last couple of years, for example, we've had the first conviction for female genital mutilation. These things are advancing. But progress can
often take a lot longer than I think the internet would like.
AMANPOUR: You did talk about, you know, Hillary Clinton and now, Elizabeth Warren. CNN did a poll recently finding that there's still a lot of
Americans who believe a woman cannot really beat a man in a presidential race.
In fact, one in five women who were asked said that a woman cannot win the presidency. This is a huge issue. I mean, what do you make of that?
LEWIS: What I think is fascinating when you dig into those findings, you say to people, would you be against having a woman president, and they go,
no, of course not, I'm not a sexist. Do you think that other people would be? And they say, yes. I think it's about -- they think about (INAUDIBLE)
other people have a problem with it.
So, what happens is it's not people's own (INAUDIBLE), it's they fear that a woman isn't electable. And in a system when you're picking your best
possibly candidate, there is always a worry, is it a risk to go for a woman? And I think that's why you've seen, you know, lots more women going
into the House, for example, you know, lots more women coming into politics at the grassroots level.
AMANPOUR: Into the House of Representatives?
LEWIS: Right. And -- but I think the problem is for that very apex and the way the American system is structured is so about one single person that
actually anything feels like a risk. You've got an all-white field, for example, in the same way and people say, you know, in the Democratic side,
we just want to beat this guy, Donald Trump, who -- you know, can we afford to take a risk now?
AMANPOUR: You are also a political writer and you cover politics here and everywhere for the Atlantic --
AMANPOUR: -- and before, for the New Statesman.
AMANPOUR: And you obviously have your finger on that pulse. I think it's really, really interesting. I spoke to -- when you talk about the
likability factor of women in politics or women in any endeavor, frankly, I just spoke to Jill Wine-Banks who came out with her own book called "The
Watergate Girl." She was actually a prosecutor during Watergate. She was very young, but she was a prosecutor and had come up through, obviously,
you know, the education system in which law students who were female made up a miniscule percent, it was something like 3 percent to 4 percent of her
class were women at law school.
And this is what she told me about the likability factor that women still have to pass.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL PROSECUTOR IN WASHINGTON: You're in a tough situation because as a woman you have to be careful not to be so
assertive that you're viewed as -- I don't know if I can say this on television, but you're viewed negatively, as overly aggressive.
AMANPOUR: Does it rhyme with rich?
WINE-BANKS: Yes, it does.
WINE-BANKS: You got it. Exactly. So, it's a tricky situation as to how you to you talk back. And I've used a lot of different strategies in dealing
with sexism and sometimes you have to be nice about it, sometimes you have to bring a man in to help you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Did you find that with some of these historic women?
LEWIS: I since I did bring a lot of men in to help me.
AMANPOUR: That too.
LEWIS: I definitely did. You know, the book is dedicated to my husband. And one of the things that's really important about that is he made a lot
of cups of tea and dinners while I wrote the book. And I think it's something that holds back female political candidates. They're expected to
have a family --
LEWIS: -- for example, because that is, you know, evidence that you're a well-rounded person, but that leaves you with a lot less time for your
career. And that's not necessarily that double bine -- that men are facing in quite the same way. But the likability thing is so fascinating. That,
you know, success is positively correlated with likability in men. We like successful men, we admire them, and it's not the same for women at all.
If we think that, you know, she must be selfish or ambitious or, you know, not kind to people. We still have this idea that women are supposed to be
everyone's mom, kind patting them on the head and soothing their sore knees.
AMANPOUR: Well, you profile a sports woman who was definitely not everyone's mom. Lily Parr, before Megan Rapinoe.
AMANPOUR: You know, there was Lily Parr playing soccer or football here in England in 1919. So, describe it. She was this massive Northern --
LEWIS: Six foot tall.
AMANPOUR: -- six foot tall --
KEHLMANN: And yet, and she was gay like Megan Rapinoe. She is this --
KEHLMANN: Yes, she lived with her partner for some years actually when she -- she had to retire from football at the age of all of -- I think -- well,
semiprofessional football, at the age of all of 16. So, she was the period of the first World War, a period of enormous change for women in Britain.
1.5 million women went into the factories because the men were away at the front.
And while they were in the factories, what do they do at breaktime? They kicked a ball about. And woman's league soon formed because the premier
league had been suspended for the duration of war time. And so, Lily Parr is an incredibly naturally talented footballer. She's got a strong left
footed kick. I'm not a great football expert. And she plays a match one day in front of 50,000 spectators. They go on a tour to France once the war is
over and kind of get driven past all of these terrible battlefields.
But in 1921, the FA decides --
AMANPOUR: The Football Association?
LEWIS: Yes, exactly. -- decides that all of this is a bit too radical. There's already been legislation saying women have to give up their jobs
for -- just coming back home and go back into the home. And the FA then says, we think that the sport of football is not suitable for females and
should not be encouraged, and they get banned from playing on men's pitches. And that's it.
Lily Parr keeps on playing, I should say. She played her last game at the age of, I think, 45 and she scored and she worked in like a hospital. But,
you know, the idea that women's football -- and people keep saying to me over the last 10 years there's no appetite for it. No one wants to watch
AMANPOUR: Well, we know that that's rubbish.
LEWIS: Right. And you put it on a main channel, you have -- you know, and little girls can now see women using their bodies, running around, a
different type of femininity. We're kind of sending off the edges of some people.
Coco Chanel is another extraordinary example. So, she features in "Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls," the best-selling children's book. As
you know, this kind of feisty empowered woman who didn't, you know, take no for an answer. Well, she was very probably the lover of a Nazi officer and
possibly even also a spy for that regime.
AMANPOUR: During the occupation of World War II.
LEWIS: Right. So, on -- in the same way that lots of people in World War II survived by making what now looked like squalid corrupt little deals.
And that's not part of the you go, girl, story, right? You don't think that's an empowering thing to do but it's what real humans did to survive.
AMANPOUR: What do you want people to take away from the story of these difficult women?
LEWIS: Two things. The first is to be a little bit more forgiving about everyone's human frailty. You know, and I think there's a particular debate
about language. People get jumped on for using slightly the wrong language when they didn't mean anything by it. We are incredibly kind of puritanical
in that way. And to be slightly more generous minded in how we treat people.
And the second thing to move from consciousness raising, which I think the internet has been brilliant for in terms of feminism, to looking at legal
structures and we talked about NDAs, that's an obvious one. Are those being used in, you know, corrupt ways, in ways that actually favor abusive men?
AMANPOUR: Really interesting. Helen Lewis, author of "Difficult Women", thank you very much indeed.
LEWIS: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, another complicated character with his own unique role in history, the iconic German jester, Tyll Eulenspiegel. The prankster who
prances across political and social boundaries, exposing the hypocrisies of kings and commoners.
Author and playwright, Daniel Kehlmann, is one of Germany's most successful writers. In his new novel, "Tyll," Kehlmann brings the mythical joker to
life. And surprisingly, sets him against the backdrop of the 1600s and the 30 year's war which was one of the bloodiest periods in Europe's dark
history. I asked Daniel Kehlmann how he immersed himself in this alien world and about disturbing echoes he found for today.
Daniel Kehlmann, welcome to the program.
DANIEL KEHLMANN, AUTHOR, "TYLL": Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: So, this is really built -- story is built around a jester. Tell us why. What is the -- for those who don't really know, what is the role of
the jester in literature, in, you know, society throughout sort of, you know, history?
KEHLMANN: Well, the jester is a strange character that shows up in early modernity literature of 16th, 17th century, the jester or the trickster,
and he's a master of escape and he is usually a strange half funny and half dark mean figure who plays pranks but then is also great at escaping and
who is also very good at -- well, things like conjuring or dancing, or in the case of my jester, Tyll Eulenspiegel, dancing on a tightrope.
So, he's a lot about escaping and surviving in very dark times. And he's someone I think that might be the most important thing, you never know what
he's going to do. He's kind of -- there's always some aura of unpredictability around him and anything is possible where the jester is.
AMANPOUR: So, it might sound a little bit like cognitive dissidence then because you talk about, you know, the conjuring, the magic, the jests and
jokes, et cetera. And yet, you set this historical novel in one of the darkest periods in European history, the 30-year war in the 1600s. What
brought you to put Tyll, this jester, at the heart of this novel?
KEHLMANN: I really wanted to write about this time, this time of darkness and chaos. In a moment in European history when there was a complete
meltdown of all political structure, of order, of civilization and I wanted some kind of guiding character who would lead the reader through this chaos
that Europe was at this moment.
And society was very rigid. People didn't really move. People didn't travel. People also didn't move up or down socially. So, people from
different social classes didn't meet. But the jester can, of course, go anywhere and also would meet all kinds of people. He would also meet kings
or peasants or anyone in between, because he would perform in front of them.
So, I felt like a jester would be the key to show this time and to show different characters. And then I thought, why not cast Tyll Eulenspiegel,
the mythical Northern European jester, himself?
AMANPOUR: What, for those, who are simply unacquainted with the 30-year war, what was it all about? How did it happen and why did it last that
KEHLMANN: It started as a conflict between the emperor, who was Catholic, and the protestant nobleman of what was called the Holy Northern Empire.
So, wider Germany, Northern Europe. And so, it started as a religious war, but it was always a war about power and it was always a war that was
seriously about religion but it was also very emphatically not. It was also always about who got to have all the power.
And then, when -- pretty much similar to what we're seeing or what we have been seeing in Syria over the last few years, when the war kind of ran out
of fuel, when it would have ended, that was when powers from outside began to interfere. First Denmark, then Sweden, then also France. To make things
more complicated, France was a Catholic superpower, but it interfered on the side of the protestants, because the Catholic emperor was the enemy of
the Catholic king of France. Then also the pope, who obviously was Catholic, did not care very much for the emperor either, so he stayed out
of it all.
AMANPOUR: So, tell me again, explain why it resonates with Syria? Which are the powers that you're looking at?
KEHLMANN: Well, in Syria you have a conflict that starts as a conflict between people who want regime change in the country and the dictatorship,
the dictator of Syria. And then, of course, you have Russia intervening, you have Turkey intervening, which we've seen the last few days again. You
have a refugee crisis that actually changes the political landscape all over Europe or even all over the world. So -- and that refugee crisis again
then fuels how other powers react towards the Syria conflict or how they intervene.
So, something that starts with just a spark and that seems to be very local, then becomes very large or even global over a few years. And that is
uncannily similar to what we had in the 17th century in Europe. So, you could say what is Syria today, that was actually Germany in the 30-year
AMANPOUR: It's really interesting. And you mentioned refugees. Now, we have a whole another, you know, group of refugees who are trying to get
across to Europe as Turkey threatens to open its doors again. You had written a very successful hit novel, it turned out, "Measuring the World."
A fictional story of two real life German geniuses, and it was a historical novel. And you said you weren't going to do another one.
Why did you decide to do another one and what about the 30-year war attracted you?
KEHLMANN: The strange thing is I'm not quite sure. When I started working on that book in 2012, '13, it was in a very different world. When I was
thinking about writing it, when I started, the conflict in Syria had barely started and the western democracy seemed in pretty good shape and a lot of
the things that we've seen happening since were very far away and would have seemed pretty outlandish if anyone had predicted them back then.
But -- so, it seemed to me as if I was interested in something very, very far away from all timeliness or all temporary concerns and I was really
interested in how different people were in the times before enlightenment, how different people felt, how different the world looked to everyone in a
time when people -- when everyone believed in curses, in witches, in magic, which is not a good thing. It meant that the world was full of fear and
insecurity in a way we can hardly imagine today.
But then also, I have to say, while I was working on that book, which took me five years, it was very strange to see how the world I was writing
about, which felt so remote in the beginning, and the world I was living in, how that came closer and closer together. And looking back on it, I
feel like I must have felt something. It cannot have been pure coincidence that in 2004 I wrote a comedy about enlightenment scientists and that 10
years later I started to write a book about a political world in total meltdown.
So -- but I -- it was not something I was aware of at the time. It's something that became apparent to me only in retrospect.
AMANPOUR: So, in retrospect and as you write, I mean, we conclude presumably, and you've concluded that maybe all these hundreds of years
later we're not as enlightened as we like to think we are. It's kind of a cautionary tale.
KEHLMANN: Well, it goes both ways. I would say no, we are never as enlightened as we think we are. But also, when you become immersed like I
did in the world -- in the pre-enlightenment world, you do realize that we have made immense progress. That we have so much better understanding of
the world, which also means that we live in much less fear and much less physical pain, which is also very important. So, it really makes you be
very happy that we have modern medicine, even though, of course, right now, we're living in a time when echoes in memories of the plague have been
coming back over the last weeks with coronavirus.
But still, I feel it does make you feel better about even our times, even though they may be very chaotic or they might feel very chaotic right now.
Also, another thing that is another big lesson for us to learn, I think, is how the 30-year war ended. Because the whole thing was a nightmare of
partisanship. It all happened because Catholics and protestants felt they had nothing in common with each other. They did feel every side felt the
other side was destined to go to hell. Every single person who was on the other side had to go to hell. And of course, you cannot make peace in a
situation like that.
And then there was failure, negotiations happened 25 years into the war and there was no diplomacy. Diplomacy had to be invented to end that war. And
it took them one year to even negotiate how to negotiate, to even find a way who was allowed to talk to whom, who was -- had to stand up, who was
allowed to sit. These things that seem so trivial to us had to be settled before they even could talk about ending the war.
But then eventually, because somehow, they felt there is no way but to end this, they actually managed to end this, which is one of the amazing
achievements of human history, even though it's been largely forgotten. The peace of its failure is something that makes you, in many ways, hopeful
that we can find a way, even out of the most crazy, terrible situations we are in.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you about your own personal story. Just very quickly. I mean, you are a massive star and hit in Germany, but you're not
actually German, you're Austrian.
KEHLMANN: I'm Austrian. I actually hold two passports, but I grew up in Austria, and I am Austrian.
My father was Austrian. My mother is German. But I spend much more time in Austria, and I feel, I guess, more connected to Austria and a Austrian --
and a certain Austrian sense of humor and irony has helped me a lot in writing the books I wrote.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I was actually going to ask you. I mean, the language is obviously almost identical, but I guess the irony and other things that you
have sort of imbibed from Austria sets you apart.
But I also want to ask you about your own family history. Your father's family was Jewish, and your father himself was in prison during World War
II in a concentration camp.
AMANPOUR: And you have written a play now about the voyage of the Saint Louis, which is, obviously, as we know, that tragic, tragic tale of a ship
full of refugees, Jewish migrants in World War II, which was forced to return to Germany, after being rejected by the United States and Cuba.
It really stands as one of those shameful moments in history. What made you decide to write that, beyond your personal family connection?
KEHLMANN: It's a very good connection, because, for a writer, just the tale of people who are suffering, like people on a boat, which happened in
'39 -- it was a ship, with 1,000 Jewish refugees that the Nazis actually allowed to leave Germany, with a very sinister plan, which fully worked
out, which was that first Cuba, then the United States, then also Canada, refused to take them.
And the Saint Louis had to go back, which then made it possible for the Nazi propaganda to say, you see, the world doesn't take the Jews, so we
have to look for other solutions, because we cannot let them go elsewhere, which is, of course, was a devilish plot, which fully worked.
And so I think it was both. It was -- the political processes and then, of course, it was the timeliness. There is nothing that is more important now,
because, when you look at the op-ed pieces and the articles written back then, in Cuba and then also in American newspapers, they all said, we
cannot take those refugees. These are really poor people. We suffer, but we just cannot take 1,000 people.
And you look at those articles and you feel like, what, you couldn't take 1,000 people in the United States of America? And it seems -- in
retrospect, it seems utterly insane. But, back then, it seemed, apparently, to everyone like realpolitik, and they ended up sending back that ship of
refugees to Europe.
AMANPOUR: But again, Daniel, it may seem utterly insane, but it's exactly what's happening now.
AMANPOUR: The United States has dramatically reduced, but, I mean dramatically, its acceptance of refugees, let's say, from the Syria war,
refugees from all sorts of atrocities in Central America.
So, again, all of these have so many modern-day resonances, and including what you write about and what you talk about in the early 1600s. Let's go
back to there, the setting for your book.
The printing press was just out and about. And you have described quite well the similarities between, OK, the good, but also the bad, of new media
then and today's new media, the Internet and social media.
KEHLMANN: Yes, that is something to consider when we talk about fake news, which is a rather vague term that gets used all the time now, as if it
would be something very new.
And it's, of course, not. It just used to be called propaganda. And when you look for the main reasons why the Thirty Year War happened and why such
an incredible hostility between Catholics and Protestants all over Europe happened, what you will find is that Europe was flooded with propaganda
What I did realize when I was -- when I was researching for my novel is that this pattern comes up again and again in human history. There is a new
media. And a new media, a new way of spreading information in a big way, and distributing information, and what happens is, it causes confusion, and
confusion and anger, and then it leads to violence.
And then, after a while, people -- structures develop, structures to deal with information, structures to see, which people -- makes people realize
better not to believe anything they see in this medium. They find out how to -- what to look for if they want to assess if something is a reliable
source or not.
But that's the good news. But the bad is, when that happened before, and whenever that happened in human history, there was a lot of violence before
we were able to figure out how to deal with that new information distribution system, how this new media.
And we just -- this time around with social media, and we -- and all the confusion and anger it's causing, we just cannot afford to go through a big
war or a world war in order to figure out how to deal with it. We have to find a way without all that.
AMANPOUR: Let us hope.
Daniel Kehlmann, thank you so much, your latest novel, "Tyll."
KEHLMANN: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: And my next guest is taking aim at the very structure that made him a success.
In his latest book, "The Meritocracy Trap," Yale Law Professor Daniel Markovits says the system that values hard work and promotes the American
dream is, in itself, a sham.
He joins our Hari Sreenivasan to discuss his dramatic thesis, that meritocracy, in fact, feeds inequality and undermines democracy.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's kind of an implied equality of opportunity in meritocracy, right? There's this notion
that, I have just as good a chance as you, and that's why we should all believe in this system and this construct.
DANIEL MARKOVITS, AUTHOR, "THE MERITOCRACY TRAP": Right. So that's the thing that I want to push back against exactly.
We have this idea that, if you're judged on the merits, there's equal opportunity for everybody. The problem is that, when some people have a lot
more resources to train their children than other people, then, even when the kids get judged on the merits down the road, those who got the most
training will have the most merit.
And that's not because they're naturally smarter or more virtuous or harder-working. It's because their parents invested in them in a way in
which nobody else's parents could.
And so that effect, we can talk about all the ways it happens and how big it is. But it's enormous, and it has the consequence that now the rich and
the richest kids win the meritocratic competition, and everybody else loses.
SREENIVASAN: You talk a lot about the gaps in education. Give me some examples of how that plays out.
MARKOVITS: So, this starts long before people are even born.
If you look at the family structure of rich families and the family structure of middle-class and poor families, rich kids are much, much more
likely to be born into families with both parents still in the household.
If you are a woman without a high school degree, or even with a high school degree, but no college degree, in the United States today, you will have
roughly 60 percent of your children outside of wedlock. If you're a woman with a graduate degree, you will have only 5 percent of your children
outside of wedlock.
So, right from the get-go, kids of rich, educated parents have both parents in the household, and other kids usually don't. And then the rich parents
just start spending money on their kids. A typical public high school in the United States spends maybe $15,000 a year per child to educate the
A really poor high school might spend $8,000 or $10,000 a year, so that's a gap of about $5,000. But the top 20 private schools, as measured by
"Forbes," spend on average $75,000 a year per child to educate their kids. And all of that money buys results. It buys training. It buys teacher
attention. It buys careful educational programs.
And when it comes time to take the SAT, for example, kids who parents earn more than $200,000 a year have 250-point higher scores on average than
middle-class kids, even as middle-class kids have just 125 points higher than kids below the poverty line.
SREENIVASAN: So the gap between the wealthy and middle class is much higher than the middle class and the poor.
MARKOVITS: Much higher, twice as big on the SAT. And on other measures, the gap is even bigger. And the gap between the rich and the poor is truly
SREENIVASAN: Culturally, we seem to have bought into it, some cultures more than others. Indian parents, Asian parents, they are into the
meritocracy from the get-go. Look, if you just work hard, we were immigrant parents. We want you to get this best opportunity. The way through is to
hit the books.
I mean, that's -- and at some levels, they see role models that have made it to elite Ivy League academies and say, great, that was this person's
ticket out. She became a doctor, he became a lawyer, we have transcended our class.
MARKOVITS: I think there are two responses to that, other than saying, of course, it's true for some people.
The first sort of response is, it's not good to make social policy based on exceptional cases. Exceptional cases are charismatic for us. They're
inspiring for us. But most of us are ordinary, not exceptional. And so if you want to have a fair society and a well-functioning society, it has to
be a society in which ordinary people in order ordinary circumstances can do well.
The second is that, there is a generational transformation here, which is that the elite that is now middle age probably did win through that system,
partly because, as you said at the beginning, the old aristocracy was very unfair to lots of groups, to people of color, to immigrants, to Jews, to
And the oldest aristocrats were not particularly skilled or hardworking. So, when meritocracy was invented, it was a great way for those groups to
use their natural ability and their industry to get ahead.
But what's now happened is, the people who won that lottery and won that system are now the elite. And they know how to train their kids like
nobody's business, and they out-train. And this is true now across ethnic groups, across religions.
So the rich train really well and really hard. And their kids get ahead, not because they cheat, but because they're taught.
SREENIVASAN: Someone's watching this interview. They're Googling your name. And they're saying, look at this guy. He's a professor at Yale Law
School. He's gone to all these good schools. And meritocracy has worked for him. He worked hard, he went to the best of the best. What's wrong with it?
MARKOVITS: So it's been great for me. I want to be very clear about that. Whatever advantages I have, I owe to exactly the system that I'm now
So this is not meant to be holding myself out as a role model for anything. This is an argument about facts and logic. I also do think, though, there's
some parts of my own experience that led me to this book.
I went to public high school in Austin, Texas, would now be called an urban public high school. I went to high school with kids whose parents were not
professionals. My parents were, who were just as smart as I was in ninth grade. And I know that because we have a homework assignment, and they
could do the problem, and I couldn't.
And now they're not nearly as wealthy or as credentialed as I am. And the question is, what's the difference? And a big part of the difference is
that, over the course of the rest of my childhood, I got a kind of support and training from my parents, who knew how to train me, that's much harder
for middle- and working-class kids to get, when their parents haven't gone through the system and don't know how to train.
SREENIVASAN: So you are basically saying that you are a product of these massive sustained advantages that are structural, that you had two academic
parents that could help you. You might have gotten breaks along the way from professors who might have given you the benefit of the doubt.
MARKOVITS: Right, both the benefit of the doubt and also just attention.
When I was an undergraduate at Yale College, the amount of attention I got from my professors, just training -- when I got something wrong, they would
call me up and say, listen, you couldn't do that problem. Let me talk you through it.
If I'm at University of Texas, my professor with 20 times as many students can't do that. And education really works. And so the consequence of this
is that the people who get the most of it do the best in the system that we have now.
SREENIVASAN: The Ivy Leagues are very, relatively speaking, small group of schools, when we look at the entire crop of people that graduate or enter
higher education every year, right?
They're going to say, we are selective, we want the brightest, we're not going to lower our standards to try to just diversify by socioeconomic
class. We serve the public interest.
What is wrong with the version of reality that they're living in vs. what's happening outside their walls?
MARKOVITS: So, I think there are two kinds of problems here.
The first is just with what happens inside the Ivy League. And the Ivy League and the Ivy-plus colleges today, there are more students whose
parents are in the top 1 percent of the income distribution than the entire bottom half.
So these universities educate overwhelmingly very rich kids. The second thing is that, even though they function as clubs for the elite, they're
taxed as charities, so that alumni donations are tax-deductible, their endowments can grow without taxation.
And that's an enormous public subsidy. So, somebody recently calculated that Princeton's tax exemption amounts to a public subsidy of $100,000 a
year per pupil per student at Princeton. Compare that to Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. It gets public subsidies of about $12,500 a year.
And Essex County Community College up the road gets public subsidies of about $2,500 a year. So the really rich kids at Princeton get a bigger
public subsidy, 40 times bigger, than the middle- and working-class kids at the local community college.
And that's not a just system. The second point, I think, is also really important, which is that the graduates of these universities then go out
into the work force, and they transform the labor market. They transform how jobs are done. They transform industries.
They transform industries to favor exactly the kind of fancy educations that they have, so that what happens as a result of this in finance, in
something simple, like taxicab driving, you get a world in which it used to be there were middle-class jobs, and now there are elite jobs and
So taxi drivers used to be middle-class people. You could make a living, you could support a family as a cab driver. It was a skilled job. You
needed to know the city.
Then Uber comes in. And what Uber does is some very super skilled people with extremely fancy educations design technology that strips all the skill
from the driver, and has them just follow apps, gets them paid much, much less.
And now the driver, there's no way they can rise through the Uber hierarchy to become an elite Uber manager. And they can't afford to send their kids
to the schools that elite Uber managers go to. And so you get the inequality in education driving a transformation of work that makes work on
And then you get the people who do well at work sending their kids to the fancy schools, and the system snowballs, and that's not good.
SREENIVASAN: You point out in the book a distinction between an excellent vs. a superior education system.
Play that out for us.
So, excellence, as a concept, has two properties. The first is, it's a threat concept, not a rank concept. So when we say that someone's
excellent, if someone else is better at something, that doesn't make the first person not excellent anymore. So when you're excellent, you're good
at something, you can do something worthwhile.
And the second thing is that excellence is tied to an evaluation of what it is you're good at. It makes sense to say you're an excellent doctor. It
doesn't make sense to say you're an excellent torturer, or you're an excellent fraudster.
So there's this kind of a substantive ethics of excellence. Superiority, on the other hand, is different in both respects. Superiority is a rank
concept, so that, if you're better than I am, I'm no longer superior.
And we can talk about being superior without mentioning whether the thing I'm superior at is worth doing or not. And so our education system, because
it's become meritocratic, because its competitive, has abandoned the idea of excellence, the idea of making people good at things that are worth
doing, and embraced the idea of superiority, making people better than others at competitions, without looking as to whether those competitions
are particularly valuable or not.
That's why the Ivy League now, for example, produces such enormous number of people who go into finance, which is the quintessential superiority
game. There's no evidence that modern finance benefits society, but it makes those who do well at it incredibly rich.
And you got to be better than the next guy. And a place like Yale or Princeton or Harvard, the top two jobs that people go into out of these
universities are finance and consulting.
SREENIVASAN: So how do you restructure our education system?
MARKOVITS: You would put a lot of pressure on elite schools and universities, not just Ivy League universities, but from kindergarten up,
to educate many, many more students and to focus much less intensively on rich kids.
So the Ivy League today spends about twice as much per student per year as it did in 2000. There's no reason that these universities couldn't take
twice as many students. There's no reason that elite private schools, which have student-teacher ratios that are twice as favorable as public schools,
couldn't double their enrollments.
And one way to do this is to tell these institutions, again, from kindergarten up through graduate school, that, if you don't admit more
students and admit more economically diverse students, you lose your tax exemption.
The second thing you could do is various interventions in the labor market in order to encourage people to make and hire people for mid-skilled jobs,
particularly changing the Social Security tax system, so that it no longer favors elite workers over middle-class workers.
SREENIVASAN: You're also saying that this actually -- this system, the meritocratic system, does not work for the elites.
SREENIVASAN: Explain that.
So, earlier, we talked about the fact that having rich parents is almost a necessary condition for getting ahead in our society, because you need them
to invest in your education as only rich parents can do.
At the same time, our education system has become so competitive and our workplace has become so competitive that having rich parents isn't close to
a sufficient condition, so that even if you have all the privilege in the world, unless you're willing to cheat and can get away with it, you may not
If you look at a place the University of Chicago in the 1990s, there was a year in which it admitted something like 70 percent of its applicants. Last
year, I think the University of Chicago admitted about 6.5 percent of its applicants.
Stanford admits it fewer than 5 percent of its applicants. What this means is...
SREENIVASAN: Well, they brag about that.
MARKOVITS: They brag about that.
Yale brags about the fact that our admissions rate is the lowest it's ever been, our yield is the highest it's ever been.
And what it means, though, concretely, even for rich kids, is that if you ever made a big mistake in your childhood, you're not getting in. If
something went wrong, if you fell in love and ignored all your studies for your sophomore year of high school, you're not getting in.
If you took a chance on taking some classes that were too hard for you and did really badly, you're not getting in. And what that means is that the
elites are privileged by all this training, but they're also enslaved and tortured and twisted and oppressed by all of the training and competition
that they have to get into them and surmount in order to stay ahead.
And so this is not a good system for the rich either.
SREENIVASAN: OK, it's going to be hard for a taxi driver to feel that pity for somebody who's in the back of the cab earning millions dollars as a
partner at a law firm. Why is their life tough?
MARKOVITS: So I get that.
And I think we need to distinguish between two kinds of sympathy. There's kind of political sympathy, which is a reason for people to make sacrifices
for others. And then there's a kind of existential sympathy, which is just the recognition that everybody's life is the only life they have.
And you can be owed nothing by anybody, and be a proper object of political scorn, and yet deserve existential sympathy. And the reason why this is
important is that the system that we have will not get undone unless we can persuade the elites that it's not working for them either.
And so the argument that this system is oppressing the rich isn't made by me because I have great sympathy for the rich, but because it's true, and
if they can come to believe it's true, then they're going to be much more amenable to a politics and a policy that will unwind the inequality that we
SREENIVASAN: There's something in our psyche that it's an incredibly strong narrative that we convince ourselves, especially if we have gone
through these meritocratic systems.
If you are that surgeon or whatever, if you are that banker that has specialized invested in it, you say, wait a minute, this is something that
I have earned. Someone is trying to take it away from me either through taxation, or you're asking me to give everybody else a chance I they didn't
go through these hoops. They didn't get hazed. They didn't have to put all those long hours, right? I suffered.
MARKOVITS: I think that's exactly right.
A couple books have recently been written by political scientists and historians surveying concentrated wealth at the top across societies,
across all of history, across all of space. And these are careful scholars, so they wouldn't put this as crassly as I am, but one way to summarize
those books is that, in all of human experience, if you look at the societies that have concentrated wealth and privilege as powerfully in as
narrow elite, an elite, as the United States has today, across all of experience, there's only one case in which that's been unwound without
losing a war or succumbing to a revolution.
So elites cling to their privilege, and they have to be forced out of it. That's why I'm making this argument that this kind of privilege doesn't
benefit even the rich.
SREENIVASAN: You're saying, if they are not able to be persuaded, it will happen one way or another.
MARKOVITS: It will happen one way or another, and it will happen in a way that is bad for everybody, or it can be brought about in a way that in fact
serves the real human interests even of the rich.
SREENIVASAN: You talk a little bit about what's happening politically right now too.
There's a quote I want to read: "Progressives inflame middle-class resentment and trigger elite resistance, while demagogues and charlatans
monopolize and exploit meritocracy's discontents. Meritocratic inequality, therefore, induces not only deep discontent, but also widespread pessimism
verging on despair."
Are we there now?
MARKOVITS: Well, I think we certainly are at the pessimism and approaching the despair phase.
And I think the mechanism that you describe is exactly the one I want to emphasize, which is that, think about where we began. We began with the
idea that meritocracy is a virtuous system that gives everybody a fair shot at success.
And then we described the ways in which the rich buy education for their children that is really a form of structural exclusion of the middle class
and the working class.
Now what meritocracy says, if you're middle class and working class, it says, the reason you didn't get ahead is that you individually failed to
measure up, that it's your problem. You didn't work hard enough, you're not talented enough, when, in fact, it's that there was a structural system
that excluded you.
But if you're told your own struggles are your fault and your inadequacy, then a demagogue who comes in and says, no, no, no, the system is against
you is going to be extremely appealing.
And what's happening in our politics now is that the anger of people who are excluded structurally, and then the economic injuries, coupled with the
moral insult -- they're told it's their fault -- are understandably frustrated and lashing out.
And they're lashing out in politics. And they're lashing out in their personal lives. The opioid epidemic is very much related to this. This is a
kind of self-medication for people who are deprived of opportunity, and then told us it's their fault.
So a lot of these problems are the result of the extremely dark internal moral and psychological workings of the kind of inequality that we have.
SREENIVASAN: Daniel Markovits, thanks so much.
MARKOVITS: Listen, thank you so much for this. It has been a real pleasure.
AMANPOUR: And, finally, as we mentioned earlier, Sunday is International Women's Day, a day to celebrate women's achievements and promote equality.
But how did it all come about? Well, back in 1908, 15,000, women marched through the streets of New York, demanding the right to vote, and they made
an official day of it in 1910; 110 years later, China gives many women a half-day off work.
In Italy, the day is celebrated by giving mimosa blossoms to women. And, in the United States, a presidential proclamation is read paying tribute to
female American trailblazers.
And that's it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast, and across social media.
Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.