31 August 2006 - Thursday

Epiphany

For my independent study on British responses to the French Revolution, I am supposed to read Richard Price's "Discourse on the Love of Our Country" this week. Price's pro-revolutionary address, delivered in 1789, provoked a famous response from Edmund Burke, beginning the pamphlet war I will be studying.

To find the text, of course, I checked our library first. But it looked as if our only copy is on microfiche, and I did not want to bother with that. So I resorted to the trusty old information superhighway.

I quickly found a copy here. However, I then decided I wanted a slightly more authoritative source, so I tried Liberty Fund's Online Library of Liberty. But for some reason, I couldn't access the site. So I just printed out the Constitution Society version.

The next day, I tried Liberty Fund again. This time, I got through to its copy of Price's speech. And as I looked at that page, I made a discovery.

I already own a hard copy! Liberty Fund published the discourse in Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, which is sitting on one of my bookshelves right now.

I am not sure how to explain why this event had such significance for me. It represented vindication and hope.

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28 August 2006 - Monday

First day of classes

This afternoon, I had my first graduate class ever. But it doesn't really count. It is just an undergraduate course with an option for graduate credit.

My first real graduate class begins in about an hour.

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24 August 2006 - Thursday

Orientation continues

Our department had hazardous materials training today. The new history grads (joined by the new geography grads) gathered in a conference room to hear a talk by someone from the university's environmental health office.

What sorts of hazardous materials are handled by history and geography TAs, you ask? Well, mostly Windex and Static Guard, to judge from the lecture. I am happy to report that I now know where to find a material safety data sheet for them both, in case of an emergency.

In fact, I'll show you my lecture notes:

I. Don't sniff the glue.

II. But if you do, be sure to check the material safety data sheet.

III. Wait until a university win to buy your T-shirts. [The bookstore offers discounts based on how well our team scores.]

IV. Watch out for nuclear reactors. [Apparently, a custodial team once ran across one we didn't know we had.]

I feel very safe now.

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22 August 2006 - Tuesday

The most dangerous subtitle in America

Apparently, David Horowitz has a weblog dedicated to his recent book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. I stumbled across it in the course of doing other Internetish things, and the latest post caught my eye.

Now, I have refused outright to read this book on the basis of its subtitle alone. I consider that subtitle inherently pejorative and defamatory; it makes civil dialogue impossible from the beginning. Interestingly, Horowitz admits that this subtitle is misleading. He claims that "Most Dangerous Academics in America" was not his idea, and that he opposed it at first.

The academics [profiled in the book] were all ideologues of the left, which meant that their growing influence in the academy would undoubtedly influence, in a negative way, America's war on terror. The claim that these professors might be the "most dangerous," on the other hand, was hard to justify. Because my intention was not necessarily to show extremes, but to reveal a pattern of professorial behavior that affected a larger group than I had included, there were obscure academics such as Marc Becker of Truman State, and moderate leftists like Michael Berube and Todd Gitlin. The inclusion of these three (and a few others) under the rubric "most dangerous" was sure to raise eyebrows, and legitimately so. This was of particular concern to me because I knew that my critics would jump on the word "dangerous" to avoid engagement with the issues raised in the book and to charge that it was a "witch-hunt."
How perceptive of him. I think he was right; to include "moderate" professors among the "most dangerous academics in America" just might lead to confusion among some readers.

But of course, Horowitz thinks this confusion lies mostly in the minds of the book's disingenuous critics, who use the discrepancy to "avoid engagement with the issues raised in the book."

I opposed the addition. "If we give it this subtitle" I told the publisher, "academics will regard it as a witch-hunt and no one in the academy will read it." My publisher's reply was this: "Who in the academy is going to read it anyway? They'll hate this book no matter what you call it and only ten of them will buy it, whatever its title. We need to market it to a large audience, and this subtitle will do the trick, and thatís what we're going to do."

Journalists don't write the headlines of their articles, and most book authors don't have authority over their book-titles. The campaign to taint me with the McCarthy brush was already extensive. If two hundred tenured radicals at Harvard could censure its liberal president and force him to resign, why would I think they could not discredit me, while discouraging academics generally from reading my book? [...]

So I went along with the marketing strategy, which seemed to work. In its first six months of publication, The Professors sold forty thousand copies and stimulated a national dialogue on the issues it was attempting to raise. But the strategy also facilitated the predictable attacks.

Something was bothering me at this point, as I read his post. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. There was something amiss ....

Oh, yeah. The weblog I was reading. Its title is Dangerous Professors. And its address is http://dangerousprofessors.net/.

So let's get real. Horowitz is no victim of unreasoning vitriol, at least in this respect. He is basking in the warmth of the fire he started with that subtitle. He is deliberately inviting his readers -- for he preaches only to the conservative choir, his claims about "national dialogue" notwithstanding -- to view even "moderate leftists" in the academy as a national security threat.

And we know what happens to national security threats, don't we?

Lest readers think the unfortunate subtitle was out of Horowitz' control:

Even though this was not a claim actually made in the text of my book, I am willing to accept responsibility for a provocation appended to the title page and cover by its publisher.
So be it.

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19 August 2006 - Saturday

Scattered update

I am finished with TA orientation, which kept me busy at the university between Wednesday and Friday. Although I will not work as a TA until next year, the training was helpful not only as preparation for my eventual role but also as a good introduction to graduate life in general. Department-specific orientation activities will begin later next week.

The weather has been warm and sunny -- too warm for me, since I resent having to wear short sleeves. Of course, all the natives love the heat, even while predicting (with their typical perverse pride) that this year's warmth will mean an especially harsh winter. Today, however, the sky is gray and weepy, and the air is humid but cool.

Turandot was on the radio this afternoon. I treated myself to that and a bar of dark chocolate, between trips to the cellar to take care of the laundry.

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15 August 2006 - Tuesday

History Carnival 37

The thirty-seventh History Carnival is up at Mode for Caleb.

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13 August 2006 - Sunday

Democracy as coercion

Reinhold Niebuhr:

Politics will, to the end of history, be an area where conscience and power meet, where the ethical and coercive factors of human life will interpenetrate and work out their tentative and uneasy compromises. The democratic method of resolving social conflict, which some romanticists hail as a triumph of the ethical over the coercive factor, is really much more coercive than at first seems apparent. The majority has its way, not because the minority believes that the majority is right (few minorities are willing to grant the majority the moral prestige of such a concession), but because the votes of the majority are a symbol of its social strength. Whenever a minority believes that it has some strategic advantage which outweighs the power of numbers, and whenever it is sufficiently intent upon its ends, or desperate enough about its position in society, it refuses to accept the dictates of the majority. [...]

The vision [of perpetual peace and brotherhood] can be kept alive only by permitting it to overreach itself. But meanwhile collective man, operating on the historic and mundane scene, must content himself with a more modest goal. His concern for some centuries to come is not the creation of an ideal society in which there will be uncoerced and perfect peace and justice, but a society in which there will be enough justice, and in which coercion will be sufficiently non-violent to prevent his common enterprise from issuing into complete disaster. That goal will seem too modest for the romanticists; but the romanticists have so little understanding for the perils in which modern society lives, and overestimate the moral resources at the disposal of the collective human enterprise so easily, that any goal regarded as worthy of achievement by them must necessarily be beyond attainment.

-- Moral Man and Immoral Society (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932 and 1960), pp. 4, 22

It's such a fantastically dreary book -- made all the more so by the fact that Niebuhr still retained a lot of his Marxism when he wrote it, so its paradoxes actually seem more painful than what I recall of his later work. There must be something in this book to make everyone squirm; reading Moral Man is a lot like reading a Russian novel, but without the insouciance.

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10 August 2006 - Thursday

Please stand by

This is a post to let everyone know that I am doing quite well in my new Yankee apartment, where I am awaiting the fall semester. I hope to post some pictures of my beautiful surroundings, as well as some brilliant thoughts on historical topics, when I get a better Internet connection. This space is likely to be quiet for a few more weeks, though.

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