Last week I gave some brief thoughts on where I thought Black American history could go next. After reviewing the wonderful comments made on that post, I’m ready today to talk further about several topics Black American history could tackle next. Since writing that post, however, I’ve also been lucky enough to come across several books that, at the very least, add some potential sources of information for Black history after the Civil Rights Movement. Above all, however, thinking about the historiography of the last thirty years (which is nothing new for the participants at this blog) helps us to put many of its events in historical context.
(Editor’s Note: Jesse Lemisch posted this extraordinary piece on the S-USIH Facebook Page on December 5. He noted, “[t]his touches on some things that have been discussed here, including Hutchins, Strauss, the University of Chicago, Arendt, the Vietnam War, etc. I think it offers an alternate approach to the history of ideas.” A number of us thought that it warranted being posted on the blog. Jesse kindly agreed to let us do so. — Ben Alpers)
Steve Kindred, my friend, brilliant SDSer, organizer with Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a leader of the struggle to keep the Stella d’Oro factory in the Bronx open – all this, and a thousand other causes – Steve is, for lack of a better word, “gone,” in a New York hospital, suffering from abdominal cancer, which has spread. Having been close to Steve and having admired him now for 50 years, I am very sad. Other deaths have reminded me of my own mortality. This one focuses me on what we have all lost with Steve gone.
Two clichés come to mind: it violates the laws of nature that students should die before their teachers. This applies: I was Steve’s teacher at the University of Chicago. The other cliche, that teachers often learn from students, also applies. Steve was my student, and contributed to an electric class-room atmosphere which took me from classroom to typewriter to “Jack Tar in the Streets” and “The American Revolution Seen from the Bottom Up.” I had grown up left, but Steve was my instructor in the first larger struggle that I experienced in the ‘sixties. (more…)
The post below is from Christopher Shannon and is part of an ongoing exchange between Shannon and Michael Kramer. This exchange began with a guest post from Kramer based on his essay published in the print journal, The Point Magazine. Kramer’s original guest post, entitled “Reflections on Christopher Lasch’s Reflections,” looked at Lasch’s somewhat neglected “middle years” and built a bridge between the two books most people probably know, The New Radicalism and The Culture of Narcissism. If you take a look at this first post, please take the time to read the exchange that took place in the comments section–a feature of this blog that consistently impresses me.
Kramer’s reflections struck Christendom College historian Christopher Shannon as another expression of academia letting liberalism off the hook. Shannon contributed his own guest post entitled, “Stuck in the Middle with Lasch,” in which he took issue with Kramer’s characterization of Lasch’s views, offering a critique of Kramer’s critique of Lasch. For Shannon, Lasch’s later books brought a much needed pluralism to the debate over issues that shaped American society. Taking issue with what he saw as Kramer’s declension narrative, Shannon’s post clearly welcomed further discussion.
Kramer obliged with another excellent post, this time parsing out and expanding upon the idea of liberation in post-1970s America. Kramer approaches the term “liberation” with some scholarly heft, having written a very well-conceived and received book entitled, Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture (Oxford, 2013). Kramer’s second post in this exchange is entitled, “Liberation Struggles.” With this post, Kramer more fully engaged Shannon’s own project to produce a devastating critique of liberalism, something he has been wrestling with since his first book, Conspicuous Criticism: Tradition, the Individual, and Culture in Modern American Social Thought (1996, revised 2007). Kramer’s long post invited Shannon to respond with the post below. Enjoy!
With the book published I have been thinking, still, about all the things left out—necessary, conscious, and otherwise. Books are necessarily the mere tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of things authors know and explore. What’s more, those explorations don’t end with publication. For instance, I have read more theory related to my book this year than I had read in the past five. Publication signals some degree of finality, but I have been restless. It’s as if I had to publish the book and declare closure on a stage, or an act, in order to grow out of certain strains of thought.
Old and New Reading
To go big and gain perspective on their archival work, history professionals—at least those with a social science bent—often turn to theory. Until recently, however, I had always turned to philosophy. Theory felt cold and technocratic, but older, non-analytic philosophy felt vibrant and human. Indeed, the older the better. Those philosophical works had always helped me break out of my presentism and myopia. I went that direction because I’ve long been on humanities side of the proverbial question about whether history is more humanities or social science. Reading older books in philosophy had also helped me understand why people look to great books for wisdom, and why Mortimer Adler resonated with that kind of historical mind. Turning to older philosophical works also helped me better think through the virtues of historical thinking. At the very least those readings tilled my intellectual soil such that I welcomed, with open arms, the work on historical thinking that has appeared over the past ten years.
But that somewhat eclectic approach to outside reading, while still useful, began to feel less relevant to me around 2008. (more…)
In the fall of 1786, after parting with the woman he loved, a disconsolate Thomas jefferson recorded a dialogue between his head and his heart. When this remarkable dialogue prompted one of my students recently to exclaim of Jefferson, “he was so weird!” I was thrilled. I recalled how Allan Bloom argues in the preface to the second edition of his translation of Plato’s Republic that when students say of philosophy “this is outrageous nonsense,” their passions really become involved with ideas. It is heartening that students could look at the Founder with whom most are somewhat familiar from popular American mythology, and declare him “weird.” I believe I am doing my job best as an intellectual historian and teacher if my students find complexities and problems in the most well-known, sanitized thinkers and texts from the American past, and if they identify with or find urgent relevance in the most obscured, seemingly distant thinkers and texts. Jefferson’ head-heart letter is an incredibly rich source for students, but historians, too, would do well to reexamine this letter and consider the challenges it poses to our traditional categories of reason and emotion, and our traditional understanding of Jefferson as “Enlightenment thinker.”
On The Virtues of Never Knowing Where To Stop, or, The Not-Paranoid-Enough Style in American Politics, or, Bakersfield: Capital of the Twentieth Century (Guest Post by Kurt Newman)
(Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of weekly guest posts by Kurt Newman.)
Preparing for upcoming exams, I recently had occasion to reexamine Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics and some related secondary sources: David S. Brown’s excellent 2006 Hofstadter biography (which dwells at great length on the question of the “paranoid style”) and Lisa McGirr’s now-classic Suburban Warriors (2001), still the site, I think, of the best contemporary critique of Hofstadter’s notion.
I haven’t always known how to feel about the backlash against the idea of the “paranoid style.” Certainly Hofstadter’s writing on the topic is a kind of vulgar Freudianism. On the other hand, “paranoia” really is present in many scenes of American history, and it sometimes seems that anti-Hofstadter polemics have made it more difficult to understand certain reactionary formations, conspiracy theories, and outbreaks of “ordinary psychosis.”
The end result, in any event, is that “paranoia,” as a historical category, ends up locked away in a cabinet of forbidden analytical tools.
My proposal is this: we should all become a little more “paranoid.” In the process, we should think carefully about whether historiography can really do without the concept of “paranoia.” (more…)