Friday, April 29, 2005

BU History Prof.: Remove the Filibuster

Boston U. History professor Julian E. Zelizeris, author of On Capitol Hill: The Struggle to Reform Congress and its Consequences, 1945-2000, has written a piece published today in the Providence Journal explaining his belief that ending the filibuster would align the Senate with the "21st-Century understandings of democracy." He supports his call with [surprise] some history.
Late in the 1950s, liberal giants in both parties, such as Hubert H. Humphrey (D.-Minn.), Jacob K. Javits (R.-N.Y.), Paul H. Douglas (D-.Ill.) and Joseph S. Clark (D.-Pa.) made filibuster reform a top priority. It became so important that civil-rights organizations in the 1950s placed committee and filibuster reform at the top of their political agenda. The NAACP listed filibuster reform as important as ending lynching.

This struggle culminated in 1975, when Republican Vice President Nelson Rockefeller intervened in Senate deliberations and let the reform pass. Although reformers did not obtain a strictly majoritarian system, senators made it easier to end a filibuster by requiring that three-fifths, rather than two-thirds, of the Senate was needed to obtain cloture (the process by which a filibuster is ended).

Opponents warned that the change would bring havoc to the institution. Reformers praised the change. A few liberal voices were disappointed that the filibuster survived at all.

Today's Democrats can learn from this older generation of liberals in the 1950s and 1960s who argued that the filibuster was fundamentally anti-democratic, especially since the Constitution, undemocratically, already granted small and large states equal representation in the Senate.

Humphrey enraged Southern conservatives by championing civil rights and legislative reform. He went so far as to call the "undemocratic" filibuster "evil." In the 1950s, the filibuster was the ultimate symbol of how procedure blocked action on civil rights. Writing for The New Republic, Senator Douglas explained that filibuster reform may seem to be "a barren and arid matter of parliamentary procedure. It involves, however, the whole question as to whether Congress will ever be able to pass civil-rights legislation."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Thomas Sowell - "Redneck Blacks"?

Economist Thomas Sowell wrote on Tuesday that it not white racism that explains the educational disparity between blacks and whites but rather culture. Specifically, what he terms "black redneck" culture.
For most of the history of this country, differences between the black and the white population--whether in income, IQ, crime rates, or whatever--have been attributed to either race or racism. For much of the first half of the 20th century, these differences were attributed to race--that is, to an assumption that blacks just did not have it in their genes to do as well as white people. The tide began to turn in the second half of the 20th century, when the assumption developed that black-white differences were due to racism on the part of whites.

Three decades of my own research lead me to believe that neither of those explanations will stand up under scrutiny of the facts. As one small example, a study published last year indicated that most of the black alumni of Harvard were from either the West Indies or Africa, or were the children of West Indian or African immigrants. These people are the same race as American blacks, who greatly outnumber either or both.

If this disparity is not due to race, it is equally hard to explain by racism. To a racist, one black is pretty much the same as another. But, even if a racist somehow let his racism stop at the water's edge, how could he tell which student was the son or daughter of someone born in the West Indies or in Africa, especially since their American-born offspring probably do not even have a foreign accent?

What then could explain such large disparities in demographic "representation" among these three groups of blacks? Perhaps they have different patterns of behavior and different cultures and values behind their behavior. . . . Slavery also cannot explain the difference between American blacks and West Indian blacks living in the United States because the ancestors of both were enslaved. When race, racism, and slavery all fail the empirical test, what is left?

Culture is left.
He explained that there was a growing disparity in the educational aptitude of whites in the north and south from the time of the revolution through the civil war and after. Thus, southern culture lagged behind northern in education and a whole host of other things.
There have always been large disparities, even within the native black population of the U.S. Those blacks whose ancestors were "free persons of color" in 1850 have fared far better in income, occupation, and family stability than those blacks whose ancestors were freed in the next decade by Abraham Lincoln.

What is not nearly as widely known is that there were also very large disparities within the white population of the pre-Civil War South and the white population of the Northern states. Although Southern whites were only about one-third of the white population of the U.S., an absolute majority of all the illiterate whites in the country were in the South.

The North had four times as many schools as the South, attended by more than four times as many students. Children in Massachusetts spent more than twice as many years in school as children in Virginia. Such disparities obviously produce other disparities. Northern newspapers had more than four times the circulation of Southern newspapers. Only 8% of the patents issued in 1851 went to Southerners. Even though agriculture was the principal economic activity of the antebellum South at the time, the vast majority of the patents for agricultural inventions went to Northerners. Even the cotton gin was invented by a Northerner.

Disparities between Southern whites and Northern whites extended across the board from rates of violence to rates of illegitimacy. American writers from both the antebellum South and the North commented on the great differences between the white people in the two regions. So did famed French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville.

None of these disparities can be attributed to either race or racism. Many contemporary observers attributed these differences to the existence of slavery in the South, as many in later times would likewise attribute both the difference between Northern and Southern whites, and between blacks and whites nationwide, to slavery. But slavery doesn't stand up under scrutiny of historical facts any better than race or racism as explanations of North-South differences or black-white differences. The people who settled in the South came from different regions of Britain than the people who settled in the North--and they differed as radically on the other side of the Atlantic as they did here--that is, before they had ever seen a black slave.
Finally, many southern blacks ventured north into the cities, especially the ghetto, and brought their cultural habits with them.
The culture of the people who were called "rednecks" and "crackers" before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produced far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as far higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity. That culture had its own way of talking, not only in the pronunciation of particular words but also in a loud, dramatic style of oratory with vivid imagery, repetitive phrases and repetitive cadences.

Although that style originated on the other side of the Atlantic in centuries past, it became for generations the style of both religious oratory and political oratory among Southern whites and among Southern blacks--not only in the South but in the Northern ghettos in which Southern blacks settled. It was a style used by Southern white politicians in the era of Jim Crow and later by black civil rights leaders fighting Jim Crow. Martin Luther King's famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 was a classic example of that style.

While a third of the white population of the U.S. lived within the redneck culture, more than 90% of the black population did. Although that culture eroded away over the generations, it did so at different rates in different places and among different people. It eroded away much faster in Britain than in the U.S. and somewhat faster among Southern whites than among Southern blacks, who had fewer opportunities for education or for the rewards that came with escape from that counterproductive culture.

Nevertheless the process took a long time. As late as the First World War, white soldiers from Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi scored lower on mental tests than black soldiers from Ohio, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. Again, neither race nor racism can explain that--and neither can slavery.

The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today's ghettos is regarded by many as the only "authentic" black culture--and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct.

The people who take this view may think of themselves as friends of blacks. But they are the kinds of friends who can do more harm than enemies."
It is an interesting interpretation and seems compatible with similar theories that point to soco-economicl factors as being inhibitors of a variety of positive aspects of the larger society. (That's a fancy way of saying that the poor generally fare worse than the middle-class and rich in most aspects of life).

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Gary B. Nash: Christ's Militia

Gary B. Nash's "Christ's Militia" explains "how evangelical Protestantism came to dominate American religion."
[T]he first Great Awakening—the widespread religious revival of the 1740s—had fostered a sense of self-worth among common people, and led indirectly to their willingness to unite against the world’s mightiest nation several decades later. After the revolution, an outpouring of evangelical religion erupted, in which, as the historian Nathan Hatch has written, “the right to think for oneself became . . . the hallmark of popular Christianity.”

“The right to think for oneself.” That proposition may sound unremarkable today, but it was a radical notion 200 years ago. Traveling ministers in the early 19th century carried that message to working people throughout the country. The movement they represented—deeply democratic and, in its focus on personal revelation, at odds with Church hierarchy—would do more than anything else to spread Evangelical Protestantism and eventually make it the dominant religion in the nation.
He offers three examples. A good read.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Newton's God

In the new issue of First Things, a letter from Thomas C. Pfizenmaier, in response to an earlier essay by Avery Cardinal Dulles on “The Deist Minimum,” offers a pithy take on deism and a comment on Newton's religious belief.
I read with pleasure Avery Cardinal Dulles’ rich essay on “The Deist Minimum” (January). The timing seems providential in that just this week I read that Anthony Flew, the British poster boy for atheism, has at the age of eighty-one abandoned his atheism in favor of belief in a super-intelligent being who is the designer of the universe. Flew explains that he continues to reject the biblical God of the Christians and Muslims (and Jews?) as an “oriental despot” akin to Saddam Hussein but favors the idea of the deist conception of God held by Jefferson. Cardinal Dulles makes the statement that deism served as a kind of “halfway house on the road to atheism.” One now wonders if it may provide shelter on the return trip. Let us pray.

I would, however, like to raise a question about Cardinal Dulles’ assessment of Isaac Newton. He leaves the impression that Newton was a deist, or nearly so. This represents an earlier scholarly consensus that should now be abandoned. Not only was Newton not a deist; he believed deism heretical and harmful. For this reason he was instrumental in the formulation of the Boyle Lectures, whose avowed purpose was “to prove the truth of the Christian religion against infidels.” The infidels du jour were the atheists and deists.

Cardinal Dulles writes that Newton discovered mathematical laws that henceforth made divine intervention superfluous. This was the conclusion that the French Encyclopedists imposed on Newton’s mechanics. Newton himself believed that God was actively involved in upholding creation by the continual exercise of His will. Deists rejected the concept of revealed religion. Newton embraced it—especially in regard to biblical prophecy and chronology, on both of which he was expert.

Even Newton’s Trinitarian views, which Cardinal Dulles says caused him to “reject the doctrine of the trinity and incarnation as irrational” are under reassessment. I believe that by the 1690s Isaac Newton’s Trinitarian position could be considered compatible with the position of the Eastern Church Fathers of the fourth century, especially Eusebius of Caesarea and Basil of Ancyra.

Scholarship on Newton’s religion is gradually bringing him in from the cold. People may continue to debate various elements of his religion, but, in the words of Newton scholar James Force, one thing is sure: “He was no deist.”

Monday, April 25, 2005

A Proposed "Contrafactual" History Project?

Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online asks:
Here's an idea for some intrepid blogger or fellow NROnik: What would be the constitutional history of the last couple decades if Robert Bork had been confirmed? That would mean Kennedy wasn't. It also might mean Souter wasn't -- since the need for stealth nominees might not have materialized.

What decisions would have worked the other way? A couple readers say Roe would have been overturned in 1992. I think it'd be a great piece for someone with a serious understanding of the Court to write. It'd probably have interesting lessons for liberals conservatives alike, with liberals saying "shhweeeooooo" and conservatives saying "dang."
I *think* contra- and counter-factual would be the same thing, right? Regardless, there's an idea for someone. Run with it!

Federalism: Birds of Different Feathers

David J. Barron explains that "Rehnquist" Federalism (which, though it "has a strong conservative flavor" it doesn't lack "conceptual integrity as a form of federalism"), basically gives the Federal Government dominion over economic matters while giving the states dominion over social or privacy issue-type matters. Further,
The Rehnquist Court's conservative majority seems committed to maintaining this boundary even though it may limit the ability of Congress to advance conservative policies in particular cases. Take same-sex marriage. Even though it is an A-list issue for social conservatives, the Court expressly identified marriage (in a recent Commerce Clause case) as a matter of "truly local" concern and not at all "economic." There is little reason to think the Court will back off on this, even if confronted by a federal statute banning same-sex marriage. The Rehnquist Court's federalism, then, is conservative without always generating a conservative outcome.
He proposes that "Progressive Federalism" should be the mirror image of this.
It would give states and local governments much greater room to regulate the private market. This would check national and multinational business influence as Louis Brandeis and earlier progressives once imagined. It would also give the national government much more power to regulate nonmarket social relations. This would give Congress the power to protect basic Fourteenth Amendment rights.

"Nobility alone is still not a winning strategy."

In The Claremont Institute: Freedom Fighter, Gerard Alexander reviews The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror by Natan Sharansky, the book that President Bush is said to have been much-inspired as he called for his neo-"Wilsonian" foreign policy of spreading freedom/democracy/liberty in the Middle East and the world. Like Alexander, I believe in this ideal, but Alexander reminds that freedom and democracy can't be started in a political vacuum. A stable state structure, especially security, must be in place to safeguard personal liberties. Stability provides an environment for a nation and its people to develop their own unique version of democracy. One informed by their own particular social, cultural and religious traditions and ideals. Alexander doubts that all societies or cultures are ready for democracy and asks: "If stable democracy requires these structures, how might they come about where they are currently absent? Can the U.S. do much to help?" Also, the political minority must be willing to abide majority rule without relying on revolution. To this, Alexander points to some examples:
Free speech is usually what economists call a "non-rival" good: one person's use of it does not diminish its availability to others. But democracy also involves reaching political decisions, and when one party or coalition controls government, others are necessarily excluded, at least temporarily. Many democracies have produced decisions (such as expropriation) that so profoundly threaten the core values and interests of the current minority that the latter will support coups which protect some of its values (property) at the expense of others (civil liberties). This is roughly what happened in Spain in 1936, in Chile in 1973, and in Haiti in 1991. In each case, sizable segments of the population supported non-democratic regimes that they saw as the lesser of two evils. In such contexts, stable democracy is unlikely unless these underlying conflicts are resolved. But how does such resolution happen? And what exactly should the U.S. do to help? The sobering fact is that social scientists really do not know.
Combined, it can be boiled down to this: the people must be willing to do the hard work, and accept the compromises necessary, to have a successful democratic state. Not all nations are ready or willing. Nonetheless, Alexander believes there is "good news."
The good news is that U.S. policy since 9/11 looks a lot like that. Elections have been urged peacefully on several regimes, but force has been used against only two, and the Bush Administration has worked successfully with many dictators in the war on terror. We are pushing at many limits, but are feeling our way. A dictator of Mexico once explained his complex choices by saying that his country was so far from God, and so close to the United States. America's margins of maneuver are greater than ever before, and much greater than Porfirio Diaz's ever were, but we, like him, remain closer to the ugly realities of political variety than to the cosmopolitan ideal of harmony. The journey toward the latter is the noble task that Americans now confront. But nobility alone is still not a winning strategy.

The party of the Rich and Enlightened

In a review of Byron York's new book, The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, Timothy P. Carney noted that
York's chapter on the ACT [Americans Coming Together, a liberal 527 PAC] is the best part of the book. It thoughtfully examines the rewritten ground rules of politics and also begins to dismantle the myth that the GOP is the rich party. Characters like Soros and other filthy-rich leftists pervade the book, but York doesn't aim to leave the perception that they are exceptions to the rule.

"People who contributed less than $200 to politicians and parties gave 64 percent of their money to Republicans," writes York, based on 2002 campaign-finance data. "People who gave $1 million or more to politicians or parties gave 92 percent to Democrats."
In this same vein, Jon Weiner believes it is this fact that has undermined the traditionally effective class-warfare waged by the Democrats in the past.

In a critique of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas, Weiner begins
If only working-class and poor people would register and vote, liberal Democrats would win every election-that's what we thought, until November 2, 2004. Democrats work on voter registration, Republicans work on vote suppression. So tens of millions were spent on Democratic voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts over the summer and fall. But on November 2 we discovered how wrong we were. Turnout in poor and working-class precincts was unprecedented, but many of those voters cast their ballots for George W. Bush-especially white people from non-union households, especially outside of cities. How did the Republicans do it? How did they get poor people to vote for tax cuts for the rich?

Thomas Frank became the pundit of the hour for his answer to those questions. In his best-selling book What's the Matter with Kansas?, published before the election, he argued that Republicans distracted and confused ordinary voters with a phony kind of class-war rhetoric and with the culture wars. In short, they fostered what we used to call "false consciousness." In Marxist theory, when workers accept the ruling ideology that justifies their exploitation, they have false consciousness. It's "a failure to recognize the instruments of one's oppression or exploitation as one's own creation, as when members of an oppressed class unwittingly adopt views of the oppressor class"-that's the dictionary definition. It's when ordinary workers "insist on re-electing the very people who are screwing them" - that's Tom Frank's definition.
This theory presumes that the American people, especially the poor, white one's in middle-America, have been tricked by Republicans into holding social, cultural or moral issues as more important than economic ones: this is so-called "false consciousness." For example:
The culture wars foster false consciousness above all by focusing on abortion. Take away people's good industrial jobs, Frank writes, and the "next thing you know they're protesting in front of abortion clinics." How do you get poor people to vote for tax cuts for the rich? By convincing them that the issue is not tax cuts for the rich, it's stopping the slaughter of the unborn. And if you really believe the fetus is a person with a right to life, saving the lives of those helpless "babies" is a moral imperative that makes tax policy pretty insignificant. And if abortion is not your thing, there is school prayer, gun rights, and gay marriage-lots of issues to get angry about. This consciousness is false because it depends on "a systematic erasure of the economic." It really is a trick, a kind of sleight of hand: don't look at people who are taking away your jobs; look at the people who are taking away your guns!
In other words, emphasize culture over economics. Wiener and Franks negatively portray this as Republicans tricking the poor, culturally "traditional" voters into voting against their own economic interests. Another way to put it would be to say that Republicans have convinced poor, culturally "traditional" voters into voting for higher principles above their own self interest. Wiener does point to the flaw in Frank's thesis.
Frank's case is a powerful and compelling one, but it has come in for some sharp and significant criticism from writers who know a lot about false consciousness. According to the theory, for consciousness to be false, a challenge to the ruling ideology must be available to ordinary people. That challenge would lead to "class consciousness"-an awareness of social conflict and of the potential power of working people to transform the status quo.

But if it's false consciousness for poor and working people to vote Republican, does a worker with class consciousness automatically vote Democratic? Here Frank's argument gets shaky. The "true" interests of the working class in America today start with jobs. But the de-industrialization of America, and the export of good industrial jobs to Mexico and now to China, was the policy of Bill Clinton, who introduced, fought for, and signed the North American Free Trade Agreement. John Kerry went along with that project. His jobs program in 2004 was pathetic: tax cuts for the rich-in this case, for corporations that don't export jobs. But if unemployed industrial workers in Kansas wanted to vote their true interests in protecting decent jobs, why would they support the candidate and the party that established the policies that did away with those jobs?

. . . The opposite of false consciousness is class consciousness. Where does class consciousness come from? Does it arise spontaneously from the experience of ordinary workers? Frank says no-people do not necessarily understand their situation or know how to act to defend their interests. The role of a political party is to explain these things, to define interests, and then to fight for them. But the Democrats have little to say about the interests of ordinary people, while the Republicans are full of angry arguments that identify problems and propose solutions.

Here is where the objections arise. Tom Mertes, writing in the New Left Review (Nov-Dec 2004), notes that, in Frank's 250-page book, only 8 pages are devoted to criticizing the Democrats. And while the critique is "robust enough," it fails to ask the obvious question: why does the Democratic Party act the way it does? By calling the Democrats "criminally stupid," Frank implies that the solution is simply for them to get smart-to bring them to their senses, to recall their true mission: fight for equality, solidarity, and social progress.

But the Democrats' problem, Mertes argues, is not simply stupidity. The party is controlled "largely by the super-rich," and in understanding and fighting for their own interests, they have been fairly smart. The evidence lies in what Mertes terms "the blue plutocracy": virtually all of the wealthiest electoral districts in the country have become Democratic bastions. Bill Clinton may have been a poor boy from Hope, but the Democrats' candidate in 2004 was the richest man ever to run for the White House. More of the super-rich favored the Democrats in 2004-the divide was 59-41 among individuals with assets above $10 million. That's why working-class consciousness was not part of the Democratic Party message.
Additionally, Wiener points to a conference paper by Mike Davis in which Davis pointed out the context of some of Frank's statistics.
Frank offers the poorest county in the United States-McPherson County, Nebraska-as his prime example of false consciousness. It voted 80 percent Republican in 2000. But the people who vote there, Davis points out, are mostly small cattle ranchers. Their incomes put them among the nation's poor, but their assets give them the interests of property owners. So voting Republican isn't necessarily delusional or self-destructive. And their assets make them the wrong people to serve as examples of voters who are poor or working class.

A more telling example of the political consciousness of declining workers, Davis argues, can be found in West Virginia, where deindustrialization has been catastrophic, and where the shift to the right has been more dramatic than any other state. It was once a Democratic stronghold, but Kerry lost West Virginia by 13 percent. And although many mine and mill workers voted against him, they voted for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and Democrats held on to two of three congressional seats with an impressive two-thirds of the vote. Is this schizophrenic divide an example of false consciousness? Davis argues that it is not: the Democrats who were elected in West Virginia made jobs the center of their campaigns, while Kerry offered only that pathetic proposal for tax breaks for corporations that didn't export jobs. Bush, meanwhile, had imposed tariffs on imported steel in 2001, which could be spun as taking a stand against the European competitors who were killing West Virginia's mines and mills. That was certainly deceptive, but it was more than Kerry did.
Finally, Wiener pointed out that the election was not won because of a sort of morality-gap, as so many quickly decided based on exit polls.
Although the evidence is overwhelming that Republican media pounded away to foment culture war, it's not at all clear that cultural issues provided the basis of working-class votes for Bush. Despite the conventional wisdom the day after the election that "values" had been the Republicans' trump card, opinion polls showed that the number of voters who said they voted primarily on the basis of "values" in fact declined: in 1996 (Clinton-Dole) it was 40 percent; in 2000 (Bush-Gore) it was 35 percent; and in 2004 it fell to 22 percent. If these polls are accurate, we have to conclude that the culture war as a basis for voting has steadily lost ground over the last decade.
Instead, Wiener correctly concludes that it was terrorism and the War, stupid, that prompted so many traditional Americans to do what they usually did when voting for President during wartime: they supported the incumbent because it signalled support for his foreign policy, including a willingness to "see it through." Wiener takes a cynical view.
I don't think it is false consciousness to fear another terrorist attack; I think it's rational. And it's not a class issue. Of course, the president has manipulated that fear, used that fear as the basis of an ideology, in the classic sense of that term. Crudely put, the claim is that working- class and poor people should vote for the party that is screwing them because that party is also protecting them from our enemies. That's a different kind of "false consciousness," one that is harder to fight because it invokes real problems and real dangers.
Throughout, one can detect the elitism. I believe ideology is powerful explanatory concept, but I also think we should be careful not to ascribe too much to it or to confuse rhetoric for ideology. It is always a risk to assume that "average Americans" can have firm convictions changed because of the rhetoric of a political party. Instead, that rhetoric needs to eventually be supported by reality. To put it another way, perhaps as a regular Joe would put it, it needs to pass the smell test.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

I caught a brief snippet of a C-SPAN program with Brian Lamb at the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. The part that grabbed me was their presentation called "The Civil War in Four Minutes," which is
also known as The Electronic Map, is a map of the war with battle lines that continuously move, showing the changing progress of the war. Here, each week of the war has been condensed to one second. In the corner of the map, a casualty counter tracks the mounting butcher's bill - an odometer of death.
It was visually impressive and seemed the type of sexy thing that can grab kids. We hear about short-attention-Americans all the time. I wonder if the key to teaching history in the future could lay in condensing long events in such a visually exciting way. (Here is a RealPlayer link to the program).

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Claremont Institute examines Bernard Bailyn's Work

I must confess that I am a Bailynite. No, I did not work with or study under the fine professor (though I have taken a course from and frequent the same gym as one of his former protege's), I simply find his scholarship well done and his theory extremely intriguing, if oft misunderstood. For those few who do not know, the Claremont Review of Books offers a fine summary of Bailyn and his ideas in "A Revolutionary Historian" by Hans L. Eicholz.
Most current historiography focuses on Bailyn's early work, recognizing his critical contribution to the rejuvenation of American intellectual and cultural history. His work on the American Revolution showed that political ideas played a crucial role in bringing it about. For this reason, he is rightly credited with helping to father the "republican synthesis" of the '70s and early '80s, which emphasized the role of classical republicanism and Old Whig doctrines in sparking the 1776 revolution....Unfortunately, this fact has often obscured Bailyn's more profound contribution to the history of ideas and political culture. Commentators list him among the architects of the republican interpretation but frequently overlook the dynamism and heterogeneity of culture and ideas evident from his earliest work. He is associated with what quickly became a rigid and static view of the republican paradigm: a view that came to stress its ancient lineage and backward-looking conservatism, and that is, thankfully, no longer the dominant interpretation of the revolution and founding.

Most scholars no longer insist on forcing a choice between classical republicanism and Lockean liberalism. Bailyn was there long before them. It is high time to see his work in the context of his growing appreciation for the complexity of thought in human life, rather than as an autopsy of a particular configuration of ideas.
I did a historiographical paper on Bailyn that traced his ideological theory and the way it was misunderstood by those who both agreed and disagreed with him. Eicholz explained that
The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution(1967). . . took up the fate, in America, of the Old Whig or English commonwealth ideas of the early 18th century. Here, again, it was the peculiar relevance of these ideas, and the conscious choosing among them and adding to them that was at the core of Bailyn's history. The critique of power's corrupting influence, what might be called the "anti-power" ethic, resonated with American experience. But the independent contribution of the American experience was not fully appreciated by the profession at large. Inured to explanations from necessity—to structures of social causation such as class—both his critics and his proponents took Bailyn's insights in directions very different from his own.
My research indicated much the same thing. Social historians, such as Gary Nash, were particularly critical of Bailyn's theory and others, especially Joyce Appleby, had well-founded problems with the so-called "Republican Synthesis" that arose our of Bailyn's theory and figuratively wondered "what happened to Lock?". (A synthesis, it should be noted, to which Bailyn himself didn't adhere). However, as Eicholz points out
There is a dynamic quality to ideas in Ideological Origins that shows Americans actively selecting among a variety of viewpoints to understand their place within the empire. Thus Bailyn argued:

Within the framework of these ideas, Enlightenment abstractions and common law precedents, covenant theology and classical analogy—Locke and Abraham, Brutus and Coke—could all be brought together into a comprehensive theory of politics.

This was no unchanging paradigm, but the vibrant and shifting undercurrents of English opposition thought, "stirred by doctrinaire libertarians, disaffected politicians, and religious dissenters." It is this dynamic stirring that was and is the focus of Bailyn's interpretation.

Where are the choices being made? Where is the influence of time and place being worked out? Within the individual actors themselves. But a discussion of ideas and modes of thought, of political tensions and social conflict, cannot by itself reach the heart of historical transformation. And perhaps that is why the dynamism Bailyn had hoped to convey in these earlier works was not so apparent.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Rhode Island Historical Society: Selling A Desk V

Perhaps the Brown desk won't have to be sold after all. (For earlier posts see: I, II, III, IV)
An anonymous donor has given the historical society $750,000, to postpone and potentially end much-criticized plans to sell a prized possession: a rare Colonial-era desk-and-bookcase once owned by Providence merchant Joseph Brown.

Since the historical society's board of directors voted in January to sell the mahogany museum piece to prevent a financial crisis, the society has been in turmoil.

Some board members walked away. Docents rose up. Curators looked down, calling the society tacky, and worse, unethical.

But, according to the historical society, in an announcement yesterday, much good has arisen from the desk debate, including a call from a person of means.

Bernard Fishman, executive director, said the gift, one of the largest in the society's 183 years, came from a "very generous" person. This person wishes to give the historical society a few months' "breathing room," -- time to attract other philanthropists, or time to come up with a plan to improve finances and possibly avoid selling the desk, he said. He, and Roger N. Begin, president of the society, yesterday called the donation an expression of faith in the Rhode Island Historical Society. . .He said, however, selling the desk is still on the table as an option. . .

Last fall, an internal review found that the historical society's endowment had dropped by nearly 30 percent in six years, from $6.5 million in 1998 to $4.5 million in 2004. The review also found that future operating costs could result in deficits of up to $700,000.

The society's leadership has said the past leadership lived beyond its means, and drained the endowment. . . .In January, the board voted 15-7 to auction off the desk. It was estimated that the desk could get $10 million at an auction, enough to create an endowment to preserve the society's collection.

Since then, descendants of the Brown and Goddard families protested, as did many in the cultural community. Four of the seven dissenting board members left, said Luther Spoehr, a lecturer in history and education at Brown University. Docents giving tours were "very unhappy" over the desk, he added.

Spoeher is a member of the historical society's board of directors, and voted to sell the desk. "You don't hang onto one artifact if it means the entire organization goes under," he said. "It's as simple as that." Of the $750,000 donation announced yesterday, Spoeher said: "I think it's good news. It buys us some time." He hopes another "financial angel" comes forward. . .

"All the anger and emotion that was spent over those Audubon prints and they weren't even created in Rhode Island," said Roos, of the Newport Restoration Foundation.

By contrast, he said, the Joseph Brown desk is not only made in Rhode Island, it is Rhode Island. "It says that we're innovators in design. . . that this tiny little state, yes, we're innovators, we're important," he said. It's all a lot to place on a desk. So the Rhode Island Historical Society sees to it that the piece is pampered. It's feather-dusted daily. Kept out of the sun. The room temperature is just so. The visitors stop by, Fishman said, more than ever these days.

Monday, April 18, 2005

History written in invisible ink?

Even if it was, or if the ink is fading, it seems that technology will allow us to see what we've missed. Now we can read what was once lost.
Thousands of previously illegible manuscripts containing work by some of the greats of classical literature are being read for the first time using technology which experts believe will unlock the secrets of the ancient world.

Among treasures already discovered by a team from Oxford University are previously unseen writings by classical giants including Sophocles, Euripides and Hesiod. Invisible under ordinary light, the faded ink comes clearly into view when placed under infra-red light, using techniques developed from satellite imaging.

The Oxford documents form part of the great papyrus hoard salvaged from an ancient rubbish dump in the Graeco-Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus more than a century ago. The thousands of remaining documents, which will be analysed over the next decade, are expected to include works by Ovid and Aeschylus, plus a series of Christian gospels which have been lost for up to 2,000 years.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Yes, Even Christians use Philosophy

Mark Daniels at Philosophy Now has an "Introduction to Medieval Philosophy" that is worth reading for any wondering what the relevance of such a topic could be. I, for one, (as an amateur medievalist) have been struggling with this topic off and on for a couple years. The reading is thick.