I’m a sucker for any historical reading related to the Enlightenments in Europe and America. Why? The expansion of knowledge. The romance of scientific discovery. New ways of thinking about religion. Skepticism about received values and traditions. Belief, however naive, in the ideas of progress and reason. Beyond the topics and ideas, it’s also the outstanding figures: Voltaire, Montesquieu, Denis Diderot, Francis Bacon, John Locke, Isaac Newton, David Hume, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and on and on. Continue reading
These chapters, meaning three and four, were hard for this modern Americanist. I’m a post-Civil War historian with broad interests, but reading the historical details from English events and people dating from the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the English Civil War (1642-1651), Restoration (1660-1688), and Glorious Revolution tested my professional patience. Continue reading
Chapter One – Born in Bloodshed: The Origins of Democracy
Chronologically speaking, this is the broadest chapter. Its survey of the precursors of pre-modern democratic thought moves us from the Greeks to Reformation Europe, and a bit beyond. It covers 500 BCE to roughly ~1600 CE. Continue reading
[Updated: 2/16/2017, 8:10 pm, central. – TL]
I regret to report that I’m unexpectedly on the road this week for family matters. The travel is leaving me with little keyboard and desk time. So today I’ll simply post the reading schedule, in preparation for next four entries—which will cover a lot of ground in the book. – TL Continue reading
Richard Hofstadter asserted, in his 1963 classic Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, that anti-intellectualism is about resentment and hostility toward “the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it.” On the latter, it was about categorizing intellectuals as outsiders, servants, and scapegoats. It would be foolish to deny that instances of these attitudes and behaviors have occurred, both in the past and present.
Yet, as my reading in the historiography grows (in terms of Hofstadter’s heirs), a lack of evidence, or at least evidence that can be interpreted in different ways, is pointing me to a contrarian claim: citizens are not, in fact, exhibiting clear general problems in those areas. They do not generally resent critical thinking, creativity, research, or intellectual individualism. Regular people are not hostile to what Hofstadter identified as “the play of the mind” or “playfulness” of the intellect. While some evidence exists regarding contrary tendencies, that evidence doesn’t indict broad swaths of the population. What seems clear, however, in historical and present-day political news is a resentment about what those intellectuals represent in the sturm und drang of democratic discourse. Hostility toward intellectuals is accidental in relation to what those individuals symbolize, or appear to symbolize. To belabor the point no longer, very often I find that instances of so-called anti-intellectualism are really about elitism and anti-elitism. Continue reading
That construct we call “the present ” has never been more demanding on me than it has been over the past 3-4 weeks. I’ve been writing about history for this blog since January 2007, but I can recall only a few weeks that have been as demanding of my present consciousness as the past month, but especially the past 72 hours. Continue reading
As the blog’s resident rabid Cubs fan, I feel obligated, on this glorious day, to offer some reflection on the meaning of last night’s World Series win. Given the nature of this blog, and the interests of its readers and writers, I’ll do my best to stay on the preferred topic, generally speaking.
To be a Cubs fan is to be steeped in history and tradition. As its fans know, whether they are long-time followers or recent pick-ups courtesy of this year’s World Series run, the past is no foreign country for a team (formerly) known as “The Lovable Losers.” Some idea of the past is always present to Cubs fans. The capitalization in that moniker is important, as is the singularity of the article. That “losers” designation has, until today, symbolized—depending on your commitments—a kind of invisible cross or a trail of baggage. The Cubs have been a team for people who understand, and even embraced, the notion of historical burdens. Continue reading