The committee is looking forward to considering your full panel proposals for our conference theme From the Mayflower to Silicon Valley: Tools and Traditions in American Intellectual History due March 1. Proposals may be for traditional paper sessions, roundtable format with audience comment, workshop/seminar-style discussions, “author meets critics” events, retrospectives on significant works or thinkers, or other formats that encourage the exchange of ideas. (more…)
This is a guest post from Timothy K. Minella. Minella recently finished his PhD in history at the University of South Carolina, where he is presently a part-time instructor. His dissertation is titled “Knowing in America: The Enlightenment, Science, and the Early Republic” and directed by Ann Johnson. – TL
In my previous post, I discussed Tocqueville’s thoughts on the “democratic” style of history. In this post, I will apply Tocqueville’s analysis of the sources of intellectual authority in democratic society to that most modern (or postmodern) of subjects: social media. (more…)
In my larger interest in understanding Marx as an American alter ego, I’m interested in how Americans have translated, read, interpreted, and sold Capital, Marx’s magnum opus, from the early twentieth century to the early twenty-first century. Two case studies of this phenomenon in particular have caught my attention: 1) the first English translation of Capital by Ernest Untermann, published in 1906 by the Chicago-based socialist Charles H. Kerr & Company (which conveniently for me has records at the Newberry Library in Chicago); and 2) geographer David Harvey’s annual seminar on Capital, which began in 1969 and is still running. Both of these case studies are prime historical examples of ongoing efforts to Americanize Marx, a process kick-started by the man himself. Marx’s fascination with American politics implicitly informed Capital, particularly his labor theory of value which arguably stands as Capital’s most lasting theoretical contribution to political economy.
The Kerr publishing house was intentional in its efforts to make Capital usable for an American audience. This was made evident when it published Untermann’s 1908 companion to Capital, Marxian Economics, which included favorable comparisons of Marx to Teddy Roosevelt and Henry George, and a class analysis of the African-American experience. The American context also underwrites Harvey’s reading of Capital. In an introduction to his lessons, now available for online viewing, Harvey recalls that he started his Capital reading group upon his arrival in Baltimore during the summer of 1969—when the Brit took a position at Johns Hopkins—because he was in search of a framework from which to understand the radical and reactionary politics of that year. In other words, Harvey has been reading Capital through an American lens from the get-go, which remains evident in his recent analysis of the 2008 global financial meltdown and its focus, in part, on the role of American housing in the crisis.
Where these two distinct readings of Capital differ speak to the changed historical context. Untermann sought to relate what he thought was a universal Marx to the concerns of a more parochial American audience–specific to the growing socialist movement in and around Chicago. In contrast, by reading Marx in an era of American-led globalization, Harvey presupposed that his version of Marx, though particular to his American experience, was a universal Marx. The irony here is that this is how Marx viewed America in the mid-nineteenth century–as a universal harbinger of a capitalist future–a view that not only informed Capital but also helped Marx anticipate the globalization of capitalism.
I’m interested in reader responses to short analysis above, but also in reader suggestions for other examples of Americans reading Marx in general and Capital in particular.
One of the classics of political theory that I have been eager to read is Peter Bachrach’s The Theory of Democratic Elitism (1967). Like the best works of Albert Hirschman, it is both compact and dense; it is very difficult to do it justice in a brief space such as this. It is explicitly a rejoinder to the pluralist theories of democracy most associated with Robert Dahl, the author of Who Governs: Democracy and Power in an American City (1961) among many other works. Bachrach is also perhaps familiar to you by his widely-cited article “Two Faces of Power” (1962), which also took Dahl as its key opponent.
That article is quite interesting by itself, but for now I want to articulate a question that is, in some ways, the essential question of Bachrach’s book but that also goes basically unspoken, answered in the breach as it were. Are all forms of elitism also anti-democratic?
Monday nights at 7, often in Packard’s room or Crosby’s chamber, promised a fair fight. Samuel Shapleigh, a Maine orphan-turned-law-student and Harvard butler, must have been the one to beat. Since the informal Harvard debating society convened in mid-February 1792, Shapleigh regularly trounced his peers on questions of government, culture, religion, and slavery. Snowbound on the other side of the Charles (and history), I trailed Shapleigh’s progress in the club minutes for 1792-1793, recently digitized thanks to the Colonial North American Project at Harvard Libraries. (more…)
John D. Wilsey on W.E. B. Du Bois’ The Soul of Black Folk (1903)
Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk. Edited by Nathan Huggins (Library of America, 1986)
The Souls of Black Folk, completed in 1903 by W. E. B. Du Bois, is a profound American work of cultural assessment and critique. Lyrically written, it is piercing in its observations and wise in its prescriptions. The work strikes at the heart of racial prejudice, and its author is courageous in his critiques of the leading African American figures of the day in their failure to grasp that the problem of the color line was not a problem for the South alone or for black people alone. Du Bois’ emphasis on the humanity of black people—a foreign concept for a culture in which white supremacists did not know how to blush—is the touchstone of the work, bringing unity to the many themes he describes, argues, illustrates, and explains throughout the work. Every American—particularly now in the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement—should sit with Dr. Du Bois and be his student in taking up and reading Souls of Black Folk.