Drew Maciag, Edmund Burke in America: The Contested Career of the Father of Modern Conservatism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 280 pages.
Review by Bradley Baranowski
Hegel in his brief remarks on America called it the “land of the future.”Fittingly, the political tradition often associated with this land is one with little regard for the past: liberalism. In his new book, Edmund Burke in America the historian Drew Maciag takes aim at liberalism’s grip on America’s historical imagination.
I started reading two intellectual history monographs this week that both begin with fascinating glimpses into the germinal moment in which the author ‘found’ their topic. In both cases, it is in an encounter with a large, jumbled but thematically-related heap of books that ignites a question, the question that drives the project. For both experiences are confrontations with books that seemed to have expired, books that are hors d’usage.
“This project began with books. Quite literally,” Leslie Butler writes on the first page of Critical Americans: Victorian Intellectuals and Transatlantic Liberal Reform.
On a trip to New York City early in my graduate career, I browsed through shelves of deaccessioned books outside Columbia University’s Butler Library. Dusty volumes in shades of navy, maroon, and dark green stretched on for yards: twenty-five cents a book, five for a dollar. I had only recently decided to study American history and was intrigued by the multiple volumes filled with the writings of people whose names were only faintly recognizable: the life and letters of Charles Eliot Norton, the complete prose writings and poetical works of James Russell Lowell, the orations and addresses of George William Curtis, the essay collections of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Twenty dollars poorer and the car weighed down by an impressive new library of nineteenth-century Americana, I headed back to New Haven and began reading. (xi)
A few weeks ago, I discussed how cultural ideas shape the experience of having a mental illness. This week, in what I consider a kind of second entry in a series (who knows if there will be a third, or a fourth), I’m going to look at how the same is true for another experience that can encourage us to slip into universalist thinking – music.
As everyone knows, taste in music varies. When some people hear jazz, for example, they hear a rich and arresting kaleidoscope of moods that captures their attention; other people, like me, mostly just hear pleasant background music. Yet I think most of us – and by “us” I suppose I mean Westerners or, perhaps, people in general – assume that there are certain rules in music in terms of what emotional space a musical piece places us in; you might not like Phillip Glass as much as I do, but you’re unlikely to listen to the soundtrack of The Hours and not feel at least a little bit depressed. Right?
Well, apparently not. I ran into an article the other day that reviews some recent research done by anthropologists that suggests that even when it comes to music that, to Western ears, seems to contain the most obvious and overwhelming emotional cues sounds to people never exposed to Western music like, well, something else. You don’t have to hear the music to Psycho and feel anxious; who knows, if music is only associated, in your culture, with positivity, you might somehow even experience it as positive music.
Two years ago I wrote a blog post on “An Emerging Historiography of the Culture Wars.” That post included the following passage: “One of the more difficult things about writing a book on the culture wars—as with doing recent history more generally—has been piecing together historiography. No historian has yet written a monograph on the culture wars, at least, on the culture wars as I define them. The historiography of the culture wars is, shall we say, jumbled. And yet, I think it is now safe to say that an historiography of the culture wars is emerging.”
If the historiography was emerging in 2013, this coming year will see a boom in culture wars historiography. In addition to my book there are at least four additional monographs being published this year on topics explicitly related to the culture wars (there may be more that I am unaware of—if so please list them in the comments below). (more…)
Connecticut passed the first American copyright statute on January 29, 1783: An Act for the Encouragement of Literature and Genius, which secured to authors copyright terms of fourteen years, renewable once, following the pattern established by the Statute of Anne of 1710. (more…)
Mary Wollstonecraft is usually remembered for her essay A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), much less for her earlier response to Edmund Burke, written two years earlier, A Vindication of the Rights of Men (VRM) (1790). Though undoubtedly the former was historically and intellectually more significant than the latter, I must admit that I for one am taken by the earlier essay just as much as I am with her more famous later text. Mary Wollstonecraft is too often pigeon-holed as an early/proto/first feminist and not often enough as one of the most captivating intellectuals and radicals of her day. Viewed in this context, though, I think we might find VRM as one of her most remarkable achievements, as it reveals the more radical framework within which she wrote. Yet most treatments of VRM consider it a hastily written text in which Wollstonecraft let her vexation with Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France get the better of her. Scholars have rightly noticed that her unyielding lashes at Burke prevent any attempt to put forth a cogent well thought out argument. Nonetheless, when it comes to showing a fiery conviction in a just cause, few texts can match the zeal of this rushed essay by Wollstonecraft.