[Note to readers: the following essay is a guest post from Claire Potter, Professor of History at the New School for Public Engagement. See her previous guest essay on gay marriage here.]
Several weeks ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop with M, a veteran of New York Radical Women, discussing the gay marriage case pending before the Supreme Court. We agreed that neither of us, as feminists, would have foreseen the emergence of marriage as a post-feminist civil rights issue. Our talk then turned to J, a prominent lesbian feminist who was rumored to have slept with nearly every radical feminist in the East back in the day.
M, a slim and bright-eyed married woman in her seventies, laughed. “J wanted me to leave my husband and run away with her,” she said with a smile that indicated she had been tempted. “I asked: `Are you ready to do equal child-care like he does?’ That ended that.”
My point is that the history of ideas about marriage is intertwined with a feminist intellectual past, but after the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges last Friday, it seemed that had been forgotten. The lingering, and often bitter, divisions among LGBT people about whether conventional forms of monogamy and marriage should convey special rights have their roots in this past. Like many radical feminists, anti-marriage queers reject marriage, and the increased state authority over private lives it represents, as oppressive. Conversely, like many liberal feminists, LGBT marriage advocates have viewed the right to wed as a sphere for conveying equality, as well as protection against multiple institutions — the state, schools, families of birth, financial institutions and hospitals — to name a few. Still other LGBT people wade between pro- and anti-marriage positions as most heterosexuals do, choosing marriage to advance their interests and please other people, while disregarding aspects of marriage ideology that they consider to be dated, ethically wrong or inconvenient. (more…)
A quick post to say that the soon-to-be-published book I am most excited about is Richard King’s Arendt and America which is due out with the University of Chicago Press this October. Which forthcoming book are you most excited about?
A bit about Arendt and America from the press:
“German-Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906–75) fled from the Nazis to New York in 1941, and during the next thirty years in America she wrote her best-known and most influential works, such as The Human Condition, The Origins of Totalitarianism, and On Revolution. Yet, despite the fact that a substantial portion of her oeuvre was written in America, not Europe, no one has directly considered the influence of America on her thought—until now. In Arendt and America, historian Richard H. King argues that while all of Arendt’s work was haunted by her experience of totalitarianism, it was only in her adopted homeland that she was able to formulate the idea of the modern republic as an alternative to totalitarian rule.
Situating Arendt within the context of U.S. intellectual, political, and social history, King reveals how Arendt developed a fascination with the political thought of the Founding Fathers. King also re-creates her intellectual exchanges with American friends and colleagues, such as Dwight Macdonald and Mary McCarthy, and shows how her lively correspondence with sociologist David Riesman helped her understand modern American culture and society. In the last section of Arendt and America, King sets out the context in which the Eichmann controversy took place and follows the debate about “the banality of evil” that has continued ever since. As King shows, Arendt’s work, regardless of focus, was shaped by postwar American thought, culture, and politics, including the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.
For Arendt, the United States was much more than a refuge from Nazi Germany; it was a stimulus to rethink the political, ethical, and historical traditions of human culture. This authoritative combination of intellectual history and biography offers a unique approach for thinking about the influence of America on Arendt’s ideas and also the effect of her ideas on American thought.”
(Note: this is a guest post from friend-of-the-blog Kit Smemo, who is a Ph.D. candidate at UC Santa Barbara, completing a dissertation on liberal Republicans and twentieth century labor politics).
Introduction: Wartime Migration and the “Arsenal of Democracy”
Less than a year after race riots tore through Detroit, the NAACP magazine The Crisis famously placed the Motor City at the center of the “increasing friction between the two old American traditions, one of which is essentially liberal and democratic and the other patently reactionary and anti-democratic.” (more…)
Because there is already a great deal of excellent commentary on Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark Supreme Court case decided last week, there is not much I can add of originality or value. (And there is even coverage of the decision already on this blog: Claire Potter has written an inspiring and historically rich essay on Obergefell which appeared here yesterday.) But there is an aspect of the majority decision, which, like United States v. Windsor (2013) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003)—previous Supreme Court cases significant to Obergefell—was authored by Anthony Kennedy, that I think deserves some greater discussion than I have yet seen. Or perhaps my point here is naïve or ill-formed and someone can set me straight.
At any rate, what I wondered while I read Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell is what the other Justices in the majority thought of Kennedy’s reasoning and the general drift of his argument. I was especially struck—as were many other readers—by Kennedy’s line “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.” For an opinion fixated on questions of personal dignity, I wondered about the soft denigration of the non-married life contained in this encomium to the marital state, and I further wondered if Kennedy—who must have known that he would be joined in his opinion by the widowed Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the divorced (and unremarried) Sonia Sotomayor, and the single Elena Kagan—was being obtuse or callous in writing in this manner. It made me deeply desire either a concurring opinion by one of these women or even that Kennedy had not been the one tapped to write for the majority. Why not have the case for the constitutionality of same-sex marriage made by one who might share an appreciation of what it feels like to be excluded from the full suite of matrimonial privileges and experiences? Or, to take it another direction, who might see the constitutionality of same-sex marriage as a rather ordinary matter of plain equality rather than burden it as the crowning glory of personhood and citizenship—marriage as not just a fundamental right but a practically compulsory one—the kind of treatment I feel Kennedy gave it. (more…)
Una Cadegan. All Good Books Are Catholic Books: Print Culture, Censorship, and Modernity in Twentieth-Century America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013) 230 pages.
Una Cadegan’s latest book is the eighth volume of the Cushwa Center Studies of Catholicism in Twentieth-Century America series. She seeks to define the “distinctive literary vision” of Catholic authors between the end of World War I and the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), a period in which modernism dominated literature (2, 6). Cadegan’s analysis revolves around the struggle for contemporary Catholic authors to reconcile their faith with the American literary establishment. These authors were caught between two seemingly immovable entities: the American literary establishment, which according to leading lights like John Dewey and Walter Lippman could not admit Catholicism per se; and institutional Catholicism (60-61). Roman Catholicism, critics claimed, inherently disavowed “a robust defense of democracy and the formation of democratic citizens and a culture of democracy,” while the Holy See conflated literary modernism with a theological trend of the same name that was roundly denounced by Church authorities.
[Note to readers: the following essay is a guest post from Claire Potter, Professor of History at the New School for Public Engagement. This essay was originally published at the website of OutHistory.org]
I am not sure that the recent decision in Obergefell v. Hodges is a victory for love, which is often such a fickle emotion. Nor am I sure that it is a victory for respectability, or the children who need far more than respectability to thrive. But I am sure that it is a victory for equal rights, and that it offers an opportunity for our queer political community to move on other social justice issues. Marriage was never the be all and end all of perfect equality, as mainstream media and LGBTQ advocacy organizations would have it. However it was a clear sign of unequal citizenship, and a suppression of our right to have the families we want to have in the ways we want to have them. Or, I will add, to not have them if we so choose, and say why. LGBTQ academics who are vigorously anti-marriage might want to chew on this one as they take to Facebook to predict the End of Days: when it is actually a choice not to marry — to be plurally committed, to be polyamorous, to be domestically organized outside monogamous legal bounds — how much more powerful is that as a statement of your sexual politics?
I might add that it may be an important turn for national politics that LGBT families will fade in their significance as the GOP’s electoral wrecking ball. Those marriage bans had one role, and one role only by the 1990’s: to muster voter turnout through homophobic robocalls and the creation of moral panics. This wasn’t democracy, as gay marriage opponents are framing it, nor did such strategies support freedom of religion. They were cynical campaigns of terror against all LGBT people, and they were a form of voter fraud that sapped the energy of progressive organizers and required extensive disinformation. In response to this propaganda, activists dug in, and so did historians, writing a range of wonderful books that exposed official homophobia for what it is: unequal citizenship and an offense to the Constitution.
Thus, the decision in Obergefell is not only a victory for the lawyers, it is a victory of good history over bad history. Not surprisingly, Harvard historian Nancy Cott’s influential political history of marriage, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (2002) is cited repeatedly by the majority: you can read the entire text of Friday’s decision here. Trigger warning, if you find sweeping scholarly generalizations traumatic: you will also see bad history and selective history on both sides of the case, a continual frustration for me even when I read SCOTUS decisions that I like. Generalizations about the histories of family, childhood and marriage offer a perspective on why first year students might come to college making arguments that begin with phrases like “For all of human history” and “Since the dawn of civilization.” If Supreme Court justices do it, why not eighteen year olds? (more…)