Some ideas are pretty rare outside of certain circles. [Insert joke about favorite idiosyncratic sub-subculture here.] Others pop up all over the place. The latter phenomenon particularly perks my interest when a political idea displays this versatility; if conservatives, liberals, and leftists all dabble, at least occasionally, in the same predilection, you know something is up.
Ever since the election, such a case has been catching my attention. Trying to make sense of the epic and entirely unpredicted horror show of a Trump victory, conservatives, liberals, and some leftists have all flocked to different versions of an underlying explanation: one way or the other, white people got their feels hurt and exacted revenge at the polls.
This population of white people sometimes appears un-classed, as in the case of Mark Lilla’s historically inept and astoundingly arrogant op-ed attributing Clinton’s loss to her unhealthy and offensive obsession with diversity/identity politics. It makes sense for a liberal to make this move; while they might constantly council drawing attention to issues that impact all Americans, actually doing so would entail criticizing capitalism a lot more harshly than most Democrats, if not most liberals, are (still!) inclined to do. It’s hard to tell the white working class, after all, that they’re being screwed over by the rich when you’re pretty invested in protecting said wealthy elites. So, the offended group in question often just becomes “white, rural people” in general.
For leftists, the focus falls on the white working class, and instead of counseling a postracial politics of entirely fictional American unity, a class consciousness fit for the revolution is recommended. The failures of the Democrats loom even larger here, as would be expected; constitutionally incapable of speaking to the constituency they consistently exploit, the center-of-center party is worse than useless. Nonetheless, sometimes a confident argument remains that the wayward whites are simply not being spoken to correctly – as can be seen in this thread, Jacobin recently raised the heckles of many non-Marxist leftists by arguing that ultimately, of course, it comes down to class.
[Today’s post comes Coline Ferrant, a student in the Dual PhD in Sociology between Northwestern University & Sciences Po (Center for Studies in Social Change). Ferrant is also an Associate Fellow with the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (Food and Social Sciences). This post outlines ambiguities in Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society, particularly its handling of the ideal and the material. Ferrant relays that Ancient Society traces a grand human evolution from the material to the ideal by developing a materialist analytical framework. Morgan’s work purports to theorize about all humanity by generalizing practical findings about particular human groups. Its lofty intellectual endeavor includes emotional considerations about the endangered Iroquois’s concrete existence. The author would like to thank Robert Launay for commenting and Maggie Monahan for copyediting. – TL]
Western thought has historically conceptualized human life through overlapping dichotomies: ideal and material, theory and practice, abstract and concrete, subject and object, intellect and emotions, mind and body, and the like (Wuthnow, 1987). In this post, I draw attention to the ambiguities surrounding these binary oppositions in one canonical source: Ancient Society, published in 1877 by American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan (Morgan, 1985 ). I develop my argument using selected extracts from this source, and referring to its later scholarly reception. (more…)
What follows is the paper I gave at the AAIHS conference in Nashville. I was on a S-USIH sponsored panel with our very own Robert Greene II who gave a paper on the southern black left in recent US history and that was chaired by the dynamic scholar Zandria Robinson. I learned tons from the critical comments I received, and from other sessions I attended, particularly sessions dedicated to the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Cedric Robinson. The latter session, which was a roundtable on the legacy of Robinson that included three memorable presentations by Minkah Makalani, Tiffany Ruby Patterson, and Stephen Ward, proved particularly humbling. It made me realize how much I have yet to learn about Cedric Robinson and the black radical tradition. That panel, and several others at the conference, also made me realize that my paradigms are not the same as many AAIHS scholars. It is for this reason that my mind has been on fire ever since Nashville. I will definitely return to AAIHS next year and in the years to come. Thanks to all who have worked hard to make it happen. (For regular S-USIH readers, some of this material will seem familiar, but much of it is new.)
Two of the greatest history books ever written emerged three years apart: W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America (1935) and C.L.R. James’s The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938). Both were about race, class, slavery, capitalism, and revolution, and both were forged with comparable purposes. Du Bois and James sought that their historical insights about revolutions past would speak to revolutions future.
Du Bois wished for his trailblazing analysis of the Civil War and Reconstruction to endow the wisdom of past struggles upon the coming movement for black rights in the United States. James hoped that his remarkable inquiry into the Haitian Revolution would speak to the emerging anticolonial movements in Africa. (more…)
Over the last several years there have been numerous discussions, panels, articles, and other commentary about the “new history of capitalism.” Books such as Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton, Edward Baptist’s The Half has Never Been Told, and Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams have been on everyone’s radar as a fresh new historiographical tradition. While I have learned much from these books, one of the most unfortunate aspects of this so-called “new” history is that it views itself as new and novel rather than rooted in a long tradition of black radical thought. (Walter Johnson is less guilty of this than Beckert and Baptist). And for the most part we historians have embraced this historiography at face value as new.
Another historiographical tradition that has its roots in black radical thought has emerged over the last several decades much more quietly—perhaps because it refused to claim its novelty. Often grounding itself much more explicitly—and in my opinion thoughtfully—with this powerful intellectual tradition, the recent history of race as a social and cultural construction has changed the way we think about race. In hindsight it now seems to me that 2016 was the year in which the intellectual history of racial constructions reached new heights with three truly ground-breaking works of intellectual history: Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation by Nicholas Guyatt, The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution by Robert Parkinson, and, of course, the National Book Award winner, the magisterial Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram Kendi.
Following up on Anthony Chaney’s lovely and enticing preview of the neighborhood surrounding the conference hotel, I wanted to offer a few words about the social environment of S-USIH conferences past. (And like Anthony, I want to encourage you to be getting your proposals in.) (more…)
I lived in Wichita Falls, Texas for good long while. People familiar with Texas usually feel sorry for you when you admit that. I eventually read the Dallas Morning News regularly. Every so often this odd column with the words “scattershooting, while wondering whatever happened to [x]” would appear. Written by a Texas institution named Blackie Sherrod, “Scattershooting,” as I remember it anyway, was often an assemblage of allusive, seemingly random thoughts on the page that maybe had some underlying idea or logic or maybe didn’t at all. At the time I marveled at the erudition and wit in a column about sports. In a world before search engines, Blackie had me hunting through the library to track down his references. He could really string together a sentence when he was at his best. I’ve been thinking about it some lately, partly because when I do follow sport, which happens intermittently, I follow it online through a newsfeed or as clickbait. The quality of the writing there is mostly execrable: mangled syntax, mixed metaphors, hackneyed attempts at wit, all reading to me like some species of warped masculinity. Coach was pretty darn tough on you, huh fella? I need to be a better man, seek out the good stuff and stop relying on algorithms to do it for me.
My thoughts for the day have nothing to do with sports. I’m just following Sherrod’s “scattershooting” example, even though by the time he wrote that column he had earned the right to write however the hell he wanted. The weblog hath flourished since he packed it in. Fragmentary, allusive, or incomplete thoughts now seem somewhat less idiosyncratic. Thank you Mr. Sherrod, blogger avant la lettre. Thank you, internet blogosphere.