Comments About Historians: Archives January to June 2003Comments About Historians
Eric Hobsbawm: No Apologies
Eric Hobsbawm: Lying to the Credulous
Eric Hobsbawm's Romance with Communism
- Thomas Reeves: Howard Zinn Is Not Courageous
- Stephen Howarth: Claims that He Was a Victim of Plagiarism
- Anthony Glees: His New Book About the East German Stasi Is Causing Waves
- Paul Berman: Does He Know What He's Talking About?
- Ilan Pappe: His Conference at Haifa Closed by School Authorities
- Robert Dallek: Surprised by the Fuss About Mimi
- Simon Schama: How He Found His Voice
- Daniel Pipes: Caught in the Crossfire of the Musim Civil War
- Robert Caro: Kisses and Makes Up with the LBJ Library
- David McCullough: His Uninspiring Lecture
- KC Johnson: The Puritan as Historian
- Howard Zinn: A Million Copies of His Book Have Been Sold
- Daniel Pipes Assailed by Muslim Group
- Historians Against the War
- Roger Kimball: Still Slaying the Dragons of the Left
- Brian Dippie: The Canadian Who Grew Up Loving the American West
- Francis Fukuyama: Still Convinced He Was Right
- Glenda Gilmore: Victim of the Right Wing?
- Eric Alterman: Noam Chomsky Is Untrustworthy as a Historian
- "The Antidote to Simon Schama"
- Herbert Aptheker, Communist
- Henry Kamen: Did He Slur The Conquistadores?
- Eric Foner: Did He Trivialize 9-11?
- Rashid Khalidi: Radical?
- John Hope Franklin: Joining A Lawsuit Over The Tulsa Race Riot
- Benny Morris: Disenchanted
- Chris Hill: Why Was He Forgiven?
- Hobsbawm: Nostalgic For The Cold War
- Re: Ellis, Ambrose And Goodwin
- Niall Ferguson: Apologist For British Imperialism
- Losers Call Howard Zinn
- Newt Gingrich, Historian
- Trevor-Roper: In Memory Of A Historian Who Challenged Marxism
- Michael Bellesiles: Defended In The Pages Of The Oah Newsletter
- David Mccullough: Present At The State Of The Union Address
- Two Brits In Favor Of War With Iraq
- Joel Beinin: His Problem With Math
- Jorg Friedrich: Assailed For Claiming Germans Were Victims Too
- Robert KC Johnson: Defended By New York Sun
- Richard Pipes: Seer?
- Thomas Fleming: How He Narrowly Missed Becoming A Lawyer
- Eric Hobsbawm: Ruined By Communism?
- Karen Armstrong: Apologist For Suicide Bombers?
- Roger Wilkins: Jefferson's Complicated Legacy
- Brian Victoria: Exposing The Violent History Of Zen
- Roy Foster: Assailing The Nostalgic Myth That Surrounds Irish History
- Daniel Pipes: Defended Against Charge Of Mccarthyism
- Gavin Menzies: The Chinese Beat Columbus
- Keith Windschuttle: The Firestorm He's Created In Australia
- David Irving: In League With The Boycott Israel Crowd
- Robert Dallek: Historian Or Gumshoe?
- Stephen Ambrose: He Changed The Way We Look At War
Sarah Lyall, writing in the NYT (August 23, 2003):
Born in 1917, the year of the October Revolution, the historian Eric Hobsbawm has lived through much of "the most extraordinary and terrible century in human history," as he describes it, from the rise of Communism and fascism to World War II, the cold war and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Recent events, he says, "fit in with the gloomy picture" he has had of world affairs for the last three-quarters of a century.
But for an unapologetic pessimist, Mr. Hobsbawm is remarkably robust, bordering on cheerful.
As he describes in "Interesting Times: A 20th-Century Life" (Pantheon), his new memoir, Mr. Hobsbawm has overcome considerable odds, including a fractured childhood in Weimar Germany, to become one of the great British historians of his age, an unapologetic Communist and a polymath whose erudite, elegantly written histories are still widely read in schools here and abroad.
He turns his analytical historian's eye on himself, examining with wry, rich detail the history of the century "through the itinerary of one human being whose life could not possibly have occurred in any other," he writes. The title's twin meanings interesting times, according to the old Chinese curse, inevitably carry tragedy and upheaval, too neatly capture the tensions between his personal history and his life as a historian.
"Do you remember what Brecht said `Unlucky the country that needs heroes'?" Mr. Hobsbawm asked. "From the point of view of ordinary people, uninteresting times, where things aren't happening, are the best. But from the point of view of a historian, obviously, it's completely different."
Mr. Hobsbawm, a gangly 86-year-old with thick horn-rimmed glasses and an engagingly lopsided smile, spoke in his living room in Hampstead, long the neighborhood of choice for London's leftist intellectuals, in between sips of coffee. The room was lined with books; the front hall was full of the toddler paraphernalia that comes when one's home is a destination of choice for grandchildren (he has three). The telephone rang constantly as various family members and friends called to discuss plans that Mr. Hobsbawm invariably said would require further consultation with his wife, Marlene, who was out for the morning.
Mr. Hobsbawm is that unlikeliest of creatures, a committed Communist who never really left the party (he let his membership lapse just before the collapse of the Soviet Union) but still managed to climb to the upper echelons of English respectability by virtue of his intellectual rigor, engaging curiosity and catholic breadth of interests. He is an emeritus professor at the University of London and holds countless honorary degrees around the world, from Chile to Sweden.
Yet he will always be dogged by questions about how he can square his long and faithful membership in the Communist Party with the reality of Communism, particularly as it played out under Stalin. In "Interesting Times," he denounces Stalin and Stalinism but also praises aspects of Communist Russia and argues that in some countries, notably the former U.S.S.R., life is worse now than it was under the Socialist system.
Some people will never forgive Mr. Hobsbawm for his beliefs. In an angry review of his new book in The New Criterion, David Pryce-Jones said that Mr. Hobsbawm was "someone who has steadily corrupted knowledge into propaganda" and that his Communism had "destroyed him as an interpreter of events."
"Interesting Times" has gathered mostly glowing reviews across Britain. But the book again raises the problem that even Mr. Hobsbawm's admirers find dismaying.
In The Times Literary Supplement, the historian Richard Vinen said that "Interesting Times" does not give a satisfactory explanation of its author's motivations. "The closer that he comes to such questions, the more confusing he becomes," Mr. Vinen wrote.
Mr. Hobsbawm does address the issue in a section explaining why he did not abandon Communism in 1956 when Nikita S. Khrushchev's electrifying denunciation of Stalin sent waves of revulsion at Stalin's crimes through the worldwide movement. But while many of his colleagues resigned from the party in horrified protest, Mr. Hobsbawm did not.
David Pryce-Jones, writing in the New Criterion (January 2003):
Eric Hobsbawm is no doubt intelligent and industrious, and he might well have made a notable contribution as a historian. Unfortunately, lifelong devotion to Communism destroyed him as a thinker or interpreter of events. Such original work as he did concerned bandits and outlaws. But even here there is bias, for he rescued them from obscurity not for their own sake but as precursors of Communist revolution. His longer and later books are constructed around the abstractions of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and the supposedly pre-ordained class struggle between them, capital and capitalism, empire and imperialismin short the Marxist organizing principles which reduce human beings and their varied lives to concepts handy to serve a thesis worked up in advance and in the library. This material, needless to say, was derived from secondary sources.
The purpose of all Hobsbawms writing, indeed of his life, has been to certify the inevitable triumph of Communism. In the face of whatever might actually have been happening in the Soviet Union and its satellites, he devised reasons to justify or excuse the Communist Party right to its endlong after Russians themselves had realized that Communism had ruined morally and materially everybody and everything within its reach. He loves to describe himself as a professional historian, but someone who has steadily corrupted knowledge into propaganda, and scorns the concept of objective truth, is nothing of the kind, neither a historian nor professional.
It becomes quite a good joke that Communism collapsed under him, proving in the living world that the beliefs and ideas in his head were empty illusions, and all the Marxist and Soviet rhetoric just claptrap. This Hobsbawn cannot understand, never mind accept. His best-known book, Age of Extremes, published as recently as 1994, still attempts to whitewash Communism as a formidable innovation in social engineering, glossing with fundamental dishonesty over such integral features as enforced famine through collectivization and the Hitler-Stalin Pact, and omitting all mention of the massacre at Katyn, the terrifying secret police apparatus of Beria, and the Gulag. At the same time, Hobsbawm depicts the United States unfortunately as a greater danger than the Soviet Union. Presenting him with a prestigious prize for this farrago, the left-wing historian Sir Keith Thomas said, For pure intelligence applied to history, Eric Hobsbawm has no equal. Another left-winger, the journalist Neal Ascherson, held that No historian now writing in English can match his overwhelming command of fact and source. So much for Robert Conquest, Sir Kenneth Dover, Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Bernard Lewis, and other genuine scholars.
A mystery peculiar to the twentieth century is that intellectuals were eager to endorse the terror and mass-murder which characterized Soviet rule, at one and the same time abdicating humane feelings and all sense of responsibility towards others, and of course perverting the pursuit of truth. The man who sets dogs on concentration camp victims or fires his revolver into the back of their necks is evidently a brute; the intellectual who devises justifications for the brutality is harder to deal with, and far more sinister in the long run. Apologizing for the Soviet Union, such intellectuals licensed and ratified unprecedented crime and tyranny, to degrade and confuse all standards of humanity and morality. Hobsbawm is an outstand- ing example of the type. The overriding question is: how was someone with his capacity able to deceive himself so completely about reality and take his stand alongside the commissar signing death warrants?
Not long ago, on a popular television show, Hobsbawm explained that the fact of Soviet mass-murdering made no difference to his Communist commitment. In astonishment, his interviewer asked, What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified? Without hesitation Hobsbawm replied, Yes. His autobiography, Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life, conveys the same point, only rather more deviously. On the very last page, it is true, he is prepared to concede, with regret, that Lenins Comintern was not such a good idea, though for no very obvious reason (except as a cheap shot) he concludes the sentence by cramming in the comment that Herzls Zionism was also not a good idea. Note that slippery use of Comintern as a substitute for Communism itself. The concession, such as it is, is anyhow vitiated by an earlier passage when he attacks America and its allies, bizarrely spelled out as India, Israel, and Italy, and referred to as rich and the heirs of fascism. In this passage he predicts, The world may regret that, faced with Rosa Luxemburgs alternative of socialism and barbarism, it decided against socialism. (Which leaves Americans as barbarians.) By my count, these are the only two expressions of regret in this long book. In contrast, the October revolution remains the central point of reference in the political universe, and the dream of the October revolution is still vivid inside him. He cannot bring himself to refer to Leningrad as St. Petersburg. Learning nothing, he has forgotten nothing.
Christopher Hitchens, writing in the NYT (August 24, 2003):
In March 1950 there was a public debate in New York City, moderated by the eminent radical sociologist C. Wright Mills. The motion before the meeting was: Is Russia a socialist community? Proposing for the ayes was Earl Browder, a loyal Stalinist who had nonetheless been removed by Moscow (for some minor deviations) from the leadership of the American Communist Party. Opposing him was the mercurial genius Max Shachtman, later to become a salient cold warrior but then the leader of the Trotskyist (or Trotsky-ish) Workers Party. Reaching his peroration against Browder, Shachtman recited the names of the European Communist leaders who, for their own minor deviations, had been liquidated by Stalin. Turning to his antagonist, he pointed and said: ''There, but for an accident of geography, stands a corpse!'' Eyewitnesses still relish the way in which Browder turned abruptly pallid and shrunken.
Eric Hobsbawm has been a believing Communist and a skeptical Euro-Communist and is now a faintly curmudgeonly post-Communist, and there are many ways in which, accidents of geography to one side, he could have been a corpse. Born in 1917 into a diaspora Jewish family in Alexandria, Egypt, he spent his early-orphaned boyhood in central Europe, in the years between the implosion of Austria-Hungary and the collapse of the Weimar Republic. This time and place were unpropitious enough on their own: had Hobsbawm not moved to England after the Nazis came to power in 1933, he might have become a statistic. He went on to survive the blitz in London and Liverpool and, by a stroke of chance, to miss the dispatch to Singapore of the British unit he had joined. At least a third of those men did not survive Japanese captivity, and it's difficult to imagine Hobsbawm himself being one of the lucky ones.
For the most active part of his life as an intellectual and a historian, Hobsbawm identified himself with the Soviet Union, which came into being in the same year he did. The failure and disgrace of this system are beyond argument today, and he doesn't any longer try to argue for it. In ''Interesting Times,'' he explains his allegiance in a pragmatic-loyalist manner, to the effect that many people were saved by Communism from becoming corpses, and that one was obliged to choose a side. This is utilitarianism, not Marxism, and he seems to recognize the fact by being appropriately laconic about it. It seemed to make sense at the time; he lost the historical wager and so did the party; history, he says, does not cry over spilled milk. Willing as I was to be repelled by such reasoning (blood is not to be rated like milk, after all), I found that I was instead rather impressed by its minimalism. If you wanted to teach a bright young student how Communism actually felt to an intelligent believer, you would have to put this book -- despite its rather stale title -- on the reading list.
To have marched in the last legal Communist demonstration in Berlin in 1933 may have been an experience as delicious as protracted sexual intercourse (Hobsbawm's metaphor, not mine), but the experience of defending the indefensible and -- more insulting -- of being asked to believe the unbelievable was far less delightful and, equally to the point, very much more protracted. Again, Hobsbawm's vices mutate into his virtues (and vice, as it were, versa). He is determined to show that he was not a dupe, but went into it all with eyes open, while he is no less concerned to argue that he did not want to become one of those ''God That Failed'' ex-Communists. Is this idealism or cynicism? He was one of a group of solid and brilliant English Marxist historians, including Christopher Hill and Edward Thompson and John Saville, none of whom could stomach the Communist Party after 1956. Yet he soldiered on as a member until the end of the Soviet Union itself, while admitting that he hardly ever visited the place and that when he did, he didn't much care for it.
Thomas Reeves, writing for the National Association of Scholars (June 16, 2003):
In the May 23, 2003 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, James Green, a professor of history and labor studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, published a lengthy hymn of praise to radical leftist historian Howard Zinn. The occasion was the celebration of the sale of one million copies of Zinn's textbook A People's History of the United States. "First published in 1980, the book, updated by the author, continues to be assigned in countless college and high-school courses, but its commercial sales have remained strong as well. It is probably the only book by a radical historian that you can buy in an airport."
Green is obviously of one mind with Zinn. Both endorse the usual litany of leftist assumptions, including the innocence and goodness of minorities, the evil of nearly all war, the wickedness of capitalism, and the corruption inherent in virtually every American institution. Christopher Columbus and Ronald Reagan are villains; socialists and pacifists are heroes. You get the picture. It's a tidy, always predictable, little world liberals and leftist radicals inhabit. American history is largely a story of oppression and exploitation. We should be ashamed to wave the flag.....
Should this passionate mission and stunning achievement be portrayed as courageous? That's Green's spin on the Zinn story. Well, one must give Zinn his due for being an active civil rights backer in the 1960s. But on a larger scale, Zinn's record reveals more expediency than bravery. For decades, he has been engaged in the creation and dissemination of propaganda, profiting handsomely in every way by telling the Left what it wants to hear and helping to foist these views on ignorant youth.
True courage would have been a devotion to objectivity, as elusive as that sometimes is, to present the story of American history in all of its complexities and shades of gray. True courage would have been to step outside the boundaries of politically correct conformity to explore the true richness of the human experience, striving for balance, fairness, and detachment. If Zinn had taken this approach, his book sales might have been lower and his speaking engagements fewer in number. He might be ignored rather than lionized on American campuses. But millions of Americans would be better informed, and the national culture would be wiser and healthier.
Stephen Howarth: Claims that He Was a Victim of Plagiarism (posted 6-13-03)
Stephen Howarth: Claims that He Was a Victim of Plagiarism (posted 6-13-03)Alex Beam, writing in the Boston Globe (June 3, 2003):
More than a year ago, Newburyport historian James Charles Roy, while researching the life of Admiral Horatio Nelson, noticed what he calls "similarities in material" in two well-known books. One was Booker Prize-winning author Barry Unsworth's 1999 novel "Losing Nelson," about a man obsessed with the reputation of the hero of Trafalgar. The other was a popular 1988 biography, "Nelson: The Immortal Memory," written by Stephen Howarth and his late father, David.
Roy wrote to Howarth, pointing out two passages, each about 150 words in length, that Unsworth seems to have lifted from the biography. Howarth quickly compiled his own list of 20 alleged "modes of expression or original use of language first created by either my father or myself and subsequently used by Mr. Unsworth without permission or acknowledgement."
About half of Howarth's examples of supposed copying seem exaggerated. But I have little doubt that Unsworth wrote portions of his novel with the Howarth book open next to his keyboard.
Howarth wrote Unsworth a brief letter, with examples of the books' overlaps, in February of last year. Unsworth acknowledged his debt to the Howarths: "The biography you wrote with your father was a very valuable help to me." He also pointed out that he had consulted a "mass of material" while researching "Losing Nelson" and noted that "it is not easy, when one is seeking to absorb a great quantity of factual information and reproduce it in another form . . . to avoid echoes of the language in which it is originally cast."
Unsworth then characterized his book as "a totally original work of the imagination, derivative from nothing and no one." In conclusion, he wrote, "I very much hope that there are no hard feelings on your part - to have exerted an influence on another writer must after all be a source of gratification."
But there were hard feelings on the part of Howarth, who found the reply "annoying." He consulted a lawyer in England, who advised him that too much time had elapsed since the publication of "Losing Nelson" to pursue legal action, and "that in terms of a percentage of [Unsworth's] text, the copyright infringement was too small for further action without considerable further expense." Howarth did allow Roy to contact the press, which is how I became involved.
I first tried to reach Unsworth, who lives in Italy, several weeks ago. The 73-year-old novelist has not been in good health, and his wife advised me in an e-mail that he had nothing to add to the comments he made in his letter to Howarth, quoted above.
Unsworth's American publisher, Nan Talese of Doubleday, is of course a big fan of his. "The fact that some of the phrases of the Howarth book found their way from Barry's research notes into his novel is indeed unfortunate, but hardly a matter of gravity," Talese e-mailed me. "Knowing Unsworth as a most modest writer of unassailable integrity, I am sure he regrets it, and has no wish to glory in others' work."
Anthony Glees: His New Book About the East German Stasi Is Causing Waves (posted 6-11-03)
Anthony Glees: His New Book About the East German Stasi Is Causing Waves (posted 6-11-03)David Leigh, writing in the Guardian (June 11, 2003):
The historian Anthony Glees, in what will prove either to be a reputation-making or a reputation-busting book released this week, is accusing a senior Liberal Democrat politician and fellow-academic, John Roper, of having been an "agent of influence" for the East German communist secret police, the Stasi.
Lord Roper rejects the charge indignantly. The 68-year-old former Labour and SDP MP says he was engaged in building bridges with East Germany in the 1980s as part of a Foreign Office-approved policy of thawing relations.
He was deceived, he says, about the background of an undercover Stasi officer he employed as a research fellow when he was director of studies at Chatham House. Friends of Lord Roper describe Professor Glees as having "a chip on his shoulder" and looking for a succès de scandale .
Lord Roper says Prof Glees appears to be promoting the philosophy of the Iraq arch-hawk, Richard Perle, now an influential figure in George Bush's Washington circle, but then a dedicated cold warrior who argued that contacts with Soviet bloc regimes only served to give sustenance to the enemy.
Friends of Prof Glees, on the other hand, privately describe Lord Roper as "a pompous buffoon who was totally out of his depth" in his contacts with the communists. At the heart of the row is a rumbling controversy about the identity of the so-called "Chatham House spy".
The Royal Institute of International Affairs, as Chatham House is officially known, has long been the bastion of foreign policy thinking, with close links to the defence and political establishment. It famously gave its name to the Chatham House rules: off-the-record in journalistic parlance.
Prof Glees, a German speaker, has successfully used his knowledge of the surviving fragmentary Stasi files, some of which have only recently been decoded, to expose a succession of minor British figures as having - wittingly or unwittingly - helped the secret police in the days of the cold war.
He alleges that the Stasi successfully penetrated Chatham House, where Lord Roper was director of studies in the 1980s and filed a series of secret intelligence reports on defence and political topics which might have been gleaned from those around Roper.
Paul Berman: Does He Know What He's Talking About? (posted 5-27-03)
Paul Berman: Does He Know What He's Talking About? (posted 5-27-03)Stephen Schwartz, writing in frontpagemag.com (May 27, 2003):
Berman is considered by many to be the successor to the American socialist writer Irving Howe, but although Howe had many faults, an addiction to padding and hot air was not among them. In addition, Howe's writing on the radical left was historically sound, even when wrong in its interpretation. By contrast, fact checking is foreign to Berman, who is so busy tossing off clever remarks that he has left major holes in his arguments. He cannot even get the assassination in Sarajevo in 1914, which set off the First World War, right: The victim was Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, not, pace Berman, "the Grand Duke of Serbia."
Berman recalls the names of obscure French radical magazines accurately, but mangles historical events known to every literate person. He is at his worst when argument sweeps away fact altogether. Near the beginning of this book, he declares, with his habitual insouciance, that in Somalia in 1993, the U.S. intervention "which was intended to feed the Muslim masses, was also intended to crush the Muslim few who stood in the way."
Such allegations are not only heartless, they are slanderous. They also draw on faulty research; toward the book's end, he places Mogadishu in Sudan, rather than Somalia. But they sound clever.
Berman's devotion to superficially convincing rhetoric persists. He reproduces Camus's tired clichés about rebellion and extremism as if they were novelties, equating all forms of protest, throughout modern history, with terrorism. For all his reading, he apparently knows nothing of a fundamental, if deeply flawed work in this area, The Sociology and Psychology of Communism, by Jules Monnerot, which offers an explicit comparison of communism with Islam.
While it is certainly true that the Wahhabi and neo-Wahhabi varieties of Islamic extremism, as well as the ideology of the Ba'ath party, have a totalitarian nature in common with the ideologies of the 20th-century dictators, Berman fudges any understanding that, no matter how much we should hate Bolsheviks and Nazis, they may not, as he claims, be reduced to "tentacles of a single, larger monster." A valuable recent study of the Soviet regime, Stalin's Last Crime, by Jonathan Brent and Vladimir P. Naumov, points out an issue widely overlooked by political theorists: Stalin, like Mao after him, did not protect the Marxist state, but systematically attacked and undermined it by massive bloodlettings among its cadres. Thus, Stalin did not, as Berman would have it, "whimsically" liquidate Communists. There was an undeniable gap between the humanist claims of the Communist regimes and the reality of their rule; Stalin and Mao subverted the former to reinforce the latter. By contrast, the brutalities of Hitler an Mussolini were clearly intended to guard their state apparatus, founded on an open ideology of brutalization.
But for Berman to have noted that aspect of modern totalitarianism would require, in general, greater care in the fashioning of his polemic. Early on, for instance, he alleges that "Germany, the sworn foe of the French Revolution," was viewed by "enlightened and progressive thinkers" in the 19th and early 20th centuries as the "principal danger to modern civilization." Such a view was not shared by a number of leading figures in the history of socialism: Marx and Engels in reality viewed Germany, and even German imperialism in Eastern Europe, as a liberating force in opposition to Russian reaction. Having made his anti-Germanic declaration, Berman seemingly reverses it by describing Marxism as a
"cult of German philosophy."
On topic after topic, Berman betrays his affinity for the glib parallel. Close to the end of this book, he judges the faint-heartedness of 1930s French leftists and contemporary liberals regarding military action against dictatorships as a consequence of their "refusal to accept that, from time to time, political movements do get drunk on the idea of slaughter."
Before that, he describes, and then derides, the left reflex against war that embodied the traumatic effects of societies so drunk in the First World War. He has confected a false account of French socialism in the interwar period, and seems to have joined the company of those ex-leftists, few as they are, who now see the massacres of 1914-1918 (and, one might add, the insanities of Saigon) as unambiguous liberation struggles. But the righteous battles against Franco and Hitler, the defence of Korea and the Balkan Muslims and Kosovars, and the removal of Saddam Hussein cannot retrospectively legitimize the errors and horrors of Verdun and Vietnam.Berman lashes the Europeans who failed to prevent the Balkan massacres of the 1990s, failing to grasp that his own polemics against Islam echo much of the propaganda used to justify the Serb assaults on Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo. He has gained high praise for his commentary on Sayyid Qutb, a leading modern Islamist theorist, which was published in the New York Times in advance of this book's appearance. But his simplistic analysis of totalitarianism is aggravated by his projection of an Islam completely without nuance.
While Qutb, an Egyptian lumpen intellectual, has had immense influence on young jihadists, he is not considered a serious religious commentator by the majority of traditional ulema, or established scholars within the faith. Forming an opinion about contemporary Islam after reading Qutb alone is rather like judging the whole history of the radical left by the writings of Noam Chomsky.
Ilan Pappe: His Conference at Haifa Closed by School Authorities (posted 5-27-03)
Ilan Pappe: His Conference at Haifa Closed by School Authorities (posted 5-27-03)Haim Watzman, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education(May 27, 2003):
The University of Haifa blocked a controversial academic conference last week, leading some researchers to charge that the institution is violating academic freedom.
The daylong conference, scheduled for last Thursday, was on the subject of the historiography of the 1948 war between Israel and the Palestinians. Israelis call this conflict the War of Independence and Palestinians call it al-Naqba, meaning "the catastrophe."
The meeting was organized by a group of scholars who are often termed "post-Zionists," central among them the historian Ilan Pappe, of the university's international-relations department. According to Mr. Pappe, when the participants arrived at the hall where the conference was scheduled to take place, the room was locked and security men were stationed outside.
In an e-mail account of the incident that Mr. Pappe sent to his colleagues at the university, he said that he had been instructed by the university's dean of social sciences, Aryeh Ratner, to cancel the conference. According to Mr. Pappe, Mr. Ratner said that the conference could not be held at the university because one of the scheduled speakers was Udi Adiv. Mr. Adiv served a jail term in the 1970s and 1980s after being convicted of spying for Syria.
Another speaker was to be Teddy Katz, who claims that Israeli forces committed a massacre in 1948 in the Arab village of Tantura. Mr. Katz's master's thesis on this incident was approved, and then the approval was rescinded, in another controversy at the university (The Chronicle, November 9, 2001).
Robert Dallek: Surprised by the Fuss About Mimi (posted 5-23-03)
Robert Dallek: Surprised by the Fuss About Mimi (posted 5-23-03)Joanna Weiss, writing in the Boston Globe (May 20, 2003):
It was only 38 words, two lines in an 800-page biography, Robert Dallek mused. That's all the mention his book, "An Unfinished Life," made of the now-notorious "Mimi," the 19-year-old intern who had a tryst with President John F. Kennedy.
And the bespectacled Boston University professor, best-known for his tomes on Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and foreign policy, said he never imagined how much - even in this post-Watergate, post-Clinton era - the twin notions of "sex" and "intern" would attract public fascination.
"It's been sort of a firestorm," Dallek said of the tabloid covers and talk show rants, after a lecture last night at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. "What's amazing to me is how much interest there is in this."
Apart from the shock of this new attention, the fear of being labeled a scandal-monger, the fact that his photograph appeared next to Monica Lewinsky's in the New York Daily News - Dallek admitted he hasn't been entirely depressed at the turn of events.
"I haven't resisted, you know," he said, eyebrows raised. "Because obviously, it's a talking point in selling the book."...
The book came out just days after he discussed the affair in a May 11 broadcast interview with Dateline NBC. Soon afterward, he got a call from a reporter at the New York Daily News, who wanted to talk about the intern.
"I naively said to him, 'You're going to run a story about this?' " Dallek recalled.
The reply: "Man, we're going to run it on the front page."
The rest, one might say, is history. Yet how long the excitement will last is unclear; "I think it will subside," Dallek said.
Simon Schama: How He Found His Voice (posted 5-23-03)
Simon Schama: How He Found His Voice (posted 5-23-03)Andrew Billen, writing in the London Times (May 20, 2003):
"Many people in, as they say, 'the broadcasting community' expected us to bomb, and how! History was the single least popular subject in schools. The presenter-led genre of documentary was considered passe. And here I was, a white male, not dead, but quite unfashionable enough.
"But we got off to such a headwind that we were allowed to get a bit more essay-like and demanding of the audience as it went on. The viewing did fall off, actually, partly because the last series went out in the summer and the World Cup was on, but there's no doubt that some of the last programmes were among the best, in my view."
I say I was surprised by the demotic voice he chose in the early episodes.
Actually I winced at its cliches: Anglo-Saxon Britain lived in "the long shadow of Rome"; "a truckload of trouble" accompanied the Norman invasion; propaganda worked "like a dream"; the Normans owned Britain "lock, stock and barrel".
I tell him I thought the programmes grew more fluent as they went on; he thanks me, ignoring my implied criticism of his earlier style.
"Yeah, no one was telling me to do that. I wanted to have a slightly more street-ish voice without being pretentiously blokeish. I loved what Kenneth Clark did, but I thought some sort of alternative voice would do for history."
Once he got to the tough, yet elegiac, final episodes, the death of Empire, women under Victoria, Churchill and Orwell, his voice grew to match its subject.
"I think the coda was lyrical because I felt that way," he says. "It just came straight out."
Daniel Pipes: Caught in the Crossfire of the Musim Civil War (posted 5-22-03)
Daniel Pipes: Caught in the Crossfire of the Musim Civil War (posted 5-22-03)Hussain Haqqani, writing in the Wall Street Journal:
Although the Washington Post, among others, has editorialized against his appointment, the controversy should be seen in the context of the civil war of ideas in the Muslim world -- between those who wish to reconcile adherence to their faith with modernity and those seeking the restoration of a mythical glorious past. The Pipes nomination has become a test of strength for those Islamists who wish to paint the war against terrorism as a war against Islam. If they can rally American Muslims to their cause, they would be able to limit the scope of debate about Islamic issues within parameters set by them. That objective doesn't serve the interests of the U.S. or of Muslims....
Islam's external enemies, and their real and perceived conspiracies, are the focus of most discourse in the Muslim world. Colonial rule and, since then, injustices meted out to Muslims under non-Muslim occupation in several countries are real issues that need to be addressed. But the failure of Muslim societies -- in particular the leaders -- to embrace education, expand economies or to innovate cannot be attributed solely to outside factors. The root causes also lie in the fear of some Muslims to embrace reasoned debate and intellectual exchange, lest this openness somehow dilute the purity of their beliefs.
The campaign against Mr. Pipes is an example of this tendency to scuttle discussion. Muslims who disagree with his views should respond to him with arguments of their own. Slandering him might help polarize secular and Islamist Muslims, but it won't raise the level of discourse about Islamic issues. It's time for Muslim leaders in the U.S. to break the pattern of agitation that has characterized Muslim responses to the West.
Robert Caro: Kisses and Makes Up with the LBJ Library (posted 5-22-03)
Robert Caro: Kisses and Makes Up with the LBJ Library (posted 5-22-03)David Barboza, writing in the NYT (May 22, 2003):
For 26 years Robert A. Caro has painstakingly chronicled the life of Lyndon Baines Johnson. He has interviewed more than a thousand of Johnson's former aides and colleagues. He has pored over countless records in the Johnson presidential archives. And to critical acclaim he has published three volumes of his projected four-volume biography of Johnson. His latest volume, "Master of the Senate," received the Pulitzer Prize for biography this year.
But because of a long-running feud over his portrayal of the 36th president, Mr. Caro and his work were unwelcome at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum here. His best-selling Johnson books were conspicuously absent from the museum's bookstore. He says he thinks that important records in the Johnson archives were kept from him.
"They would go out of their way to insult me," Mr. Caro said in an interview in the L. B. J. Library reading room, where he was continuing his research.
And the library did not invite him to speak. "I think I was the only Johnson biographer who had never been asked to speak there," Mr. Caro said by telephone from New York City, where he lives.
But that changed on May 13 when the library, under new leadership, embraced him. He spoke to a crowded gathering there. He autographed copies of "Master of the Senate." He was even honored at a dinner in the private suite that Johnson kept at the library after he left the White House in 1969, a suite that Mr. Caro had never seen in his 26 years of work here, even though it was just down the hall from where he conducted much of his research.
"It was time for us to have him here," said Betty Sue Flowers, a former English professor who recently took over as director of the library and museum. "I think it's good to have a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Johnson speak here, and I have no problem with Caro."
David McCullough: His Uninspiring Lecture (posted 5-22-03)
David McCullough: His Uninspiring Lecture (posted 5-22-03)Philip Kennicott, writing in the Washington Post (May 16, 2003):
Last night at the Ronald Reagan Building, McCullough gave the prestigious Jefferson Lecture, the highest humanities honor the federal government can bestow. The setting was festive, or as festive as the dreary convention-hotel-style space in the Reagan building can be. Members of the Marine Band provided music, and the Armed Forces Color Guard a little spectacle. Bruce Cole, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, warmed up the crowd with what has become a familiar gag: He makes students look like stupid dolts by reading their writing or citing their test answers. It always gets a laugh.
The NEH, which curates annual lecture series, asks only that the Jefferson Lecture, for which it pays the speaker $10,000, be "original and substantial." Unfortunately, McCullough's lecture, while entertaining, was neither very original nor particularly substantial. It was meant, perhaps, to be inspirational, with a long peroration about the glories of history, the human drama, the importance of leadership, the lifting of the spirit, and much more repetitive flapdoodle. This stuff sounds good when well delivered, and McCullough has the natural, practiced delivery of a man who might do voice-overs for the History Channel.
But for something so prestigious as the Jefferson Lecture it was all rather flimsy and diffuse. McCullough began with a reference to the dark days of history (in this case 1942); moved on to some interesting detail about the famous John Trumbull painting in the Capitol Rotunda (much of which can be found in his book on Adams, Page 627); reminded us that our forefathers weren't gods but they were brave and learned; and then made a pitch for the importance of public education (and teaching of values).
He harped on a familiar theme, the necessity of history being entertaining and pleasurable, and he delivered one line that got particular applause: "No harm's done to history by making it something someone would want to read."
Maybe not, unless you lard it with so much "readable" detail, about the weather, the dress, the dimples in the cheeks and the flies on the wall, that it becomes crushingly unreadable (the Simon Schama problem, and sometimes a McCullough problem)....
There is a considerable effort, in this country, to make history merely a stable of stories domesticated for the entertainment of the comfortable classes. McCullough's speech last night met that unfortunate standard. But McCullough is a serious historian, and a best-selling historian who has managed to negotiate the pressures of publishing without the plagiarism scandals that have disgraced his peers in the pop-history biz. And he is also deeply and sincerely concerned that history isn't getting out there enough, that it isn't reaching young people.
If he wants to know why it isn't, he should read his own speech.
KC Johnson: The Puritan as Historian (posted 5-19-03)
KC Johnson: The Puritan as Historian (posted 5-19-03)Scott Smallwood, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (May 19, 2003):
In another era, KC Johnson might have been a monk, cloistered away in some book-lined retreat. Instead, he lives alone in a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. It's just him, his mattress on the floor, his sofa with missing cushions, and his desk. He often works till 2 a.m., sleeps for four hours, and starts all over again.
Mr. Johnson lives, in the words of his graduate-school mentor, a "puritanical" life. He doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, doesn't eat meat, and isn't in a relationship. He has just one hobby outside work: running.
He was born Robert David Johnson, though everyone knows him now as KC (a nickname drawn from a Boston Celtics star). He grew up in suburban Massachusetts, the son of two public-school teachers. His parents now live in Maine, and he visits regularly, taking the train and the bus because he never learned to drive a car.
Every few weeks, he travels to North Carolina to see his younger sister. Her husband is paralyzed, and Mr. Johnson sends much of his salary to them.
Each morning, he dons his signature bow tie. But he is not a natty dresser. Instead, he sports white sweatsocks, Nikes, and shirt sleeves rolled up past his elbows. He's got a friendly, if mildly awkward, demeanor, and what one friend describes as a "silly grin."
Mr. Johnson has always been the young one. He entered Harvard University at 17 and graduated in three years. By 25, he had earned his Ph.D., also from Harvard. And now, at 35, his publication record reads like that of a scholar twice his age. He has written three books, two published by Harvard University Press. His fourth, on the 1964 presidential election, will be published by W.W. Norton in 2004. And Cambridge University Press has given him a contract for a book about Congress and the cold war.
Students love him. In most classes, he lectures for 90 minutes without notes. Charles Dew, one of his colleagues at Williams College, where he taught for four years before coming to Brooklyn, says: "It was like he was made for this job."
And his mind is filled with the details that history addicts adore -- like the last time Kansas elected a Democratic U.S. senator (1932) or the loser of the 1976 Pennsylvania race for the U.S. Senate (Rep. William J. Green III). At one point in his graduate seminar this spring, a student spoke about 1970's three-way campaign in New York for a Senate seat. Mr. Johnson rattled off the election result: "I think it was something like 39-37-23." Actually, the third-place candidate got 24 percent of the vote.
Howard Zinn: A Million Copies of His Book Have Been Sold (posted 5-19-03)
Howard Zinn: A Million Copies of His Book Have Been Sold (posted 5-19-03)James Green, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (May 19, 2003):
A sellout crowd filled the 92nd Street Y in New York recently to celebrate a publishing milestone: the sale of one million copies of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. First published in 1980, the book, updated by the author, continues to be assigned in countless college and high-school courses, but its commercial sales have remained strong as well. It is probably the only book by a radical historian that you can buy in an airport.
Zinn's editor at HarperCollins, Hugh Van Dusen, says the book is unique in his 40-plus years of publishing: For two decades, it has sold more copies each year than it sold the year before. Last year it sold 128,000 copies.
The people who gathered in New York to hear readings from A People's History by James Earl Jones, Danny Glover, and others were celebrating more than a book, of course. They were celebrating a person -- someone a former student, the novelist Alice Walker, called "this unassuming hero, this people-loving 'trouble maker.' "
At 80, Zinn is not only a best-selling author but remains a tireless crusader for peace and justice, and a public speaker who is in more demand than ever. His credibility and authority as a social critic stem in part from the sincerity and longevity of his commitment to radical thought and action....
Born of immigrant, blue-collar parents, Zinn was raised, he said, in a family always "one step ahead of the landlord." After the United States entered World War II, he worked in a unionized shipyard until 1943, when he joined the Army Air Corps at age 20. He served as a bombardier on B-17s flying missions over Europe -- an experience that would later shake his belief in "just wars." After the war ended, he married Roz Shechter, who also lived in Brooklyn and shared his passion for reading as well as his "outlook on the world, the war, fascism, socialism," as Zinn put it in his autobiography.
They lived first in a basement in Bedford-Stuyvesant, then moved to the Lillian Wald housing project on the East Side. There they raised two children while he unloaded trucks at a warehouse and she did office work for a publisher. During this time, Zinn attended New York University and then Columbia University on the G.I. Bill. His first college teaching job took him south to Atlanta and Spelman College in 1956. When he and a group of African-American students protested segregation by sitting in a whites-only section at the Georgia statehouse, a riot nearly erupted. Zinn soon became influential in the civil-rights movement and served with Ella Baker as an adviser to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
When Zinn's students brought their activism back to the campus, he was blamed and fired. He moved to Boston University in 1964, and a year later spoke on Boston Common at that city's first significant rally against the U.S. military incursion in Vietnam. He became one of the peace movement's most charismatic and effective leaders, a reputation that endures. Today, he is constantly called upon to speak about the United States' attack on Iraq.
When Zinn decided to write A People's History (at Roz's insistence), the radical movements he had championed were fading and the book's chances for success seemed slight. Oscar Handlin, a renowned Harvard historian, hated it. In a review for The American Scholar, he wrote sarcastically that the author was "a stranger to evidence." Not only was the book "anti-American," Handlin thundered in conclusion, but its author heaped "indiscriminate condemnation on all the works of man -- that is upon civilization, a word he usually encloses in quotation marks."...
Zinn's People's History drew upon the entire corpus of New Left scholarship, a body of work academics like Silber and Bennett despised. Radical historians welcomed the book, but some expressed reservations as well. Eric Foner, a respected historian with leftist sympathies, praised Zinn in a New York Times review for writing "with an enthusiasm rarely encountered in the leaden prose of academic history" and for offering vivid descriptions of protests and movements usually ignored in mainstream history. He thought historians might well view A People's History as "a step toward a coherent new version of American history," but Foner also remarked that Zinn's "bottom up" approach offered a "curiously circumscribed" view of the American past, one in which Zinn portrayed the common people as "either rebels or victims" but rarely as people simply "struggling to survive with dignity in difficult circumstances."
Despite the chilly climate in which Zinn's book appeared, A People's History caught on with thousands of readers. One of them was Bruce Springsteen, who read Zinn in the depressing winter months of 1981-82 as he thought about the suffering he saw in the heartland at the beginning of the Reagan era. Shutting himself off in a rented New Jersey hideaway with his guitar and a tape deck, Springsteen recorded the haunting songs that appeared on his 1982 album Nebraska -- bleak poems about the losers in a land of new millionaires.
Daniel Pipes Assailed by Muslim Group (posted 4-17-03)
Daniel Pipes Assailed by Muslim Group (posted 4-17-03)Alan Cooperman, writing in the Washington Post (April 7, 2003):
It's Round 3 of the bare-knuckle slugfest between Daniel Pipes and U.S. Muslim organizations.
The first round was on the Internet, and it went to Pipes. The second round was on college campuses, and it went to Muslim groups. Round 3 is at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
President Bush last week nominated Pipes for a seat on the board of directors of USIP, a nonpartisan, federal think tank established by Congress to promote "the prevention, management and resolution of international conflicts."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a D.C.-based civil rights group, called on the White House to rescind the nomination or the Senate to reject it.
Many American Muslims regard Pipes as "the nation's leading Islamophobe," the council said in an e-mail to its supporters....
CAIR and other Muslim groups call him a bigot.
"Pipes's nomination sends entirely the wrong message as America seeks to convince Muslims worldwide that the war on terrorism and the war against Iraq are not attacks on Islam," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad.
"Pipes's anti-Muslim polemics have had the opposite impact of that sought by the institute. His views promote unending conflict, not peace."
Pipes declined to comment on his presidential appointment, but he denied the charge of bigotry.
"For reasons of its own, CAIR has been trying for years to place me in the category of those who consider Islam the enemy, which is not where I belong," he said. "My position is that militant Islam is the problem, and moderate Islam is the solution."
The fracas over Pipes's nomination is unusual for the USIP, which has generally kept a low profile and developed a reputation as an institution that is solid, middle-of-the-road and even somewhat boring.
To ensure the institute's independence, Congress stipulated at its inception in 1984 that its 15-member board can never have more than eight voting members of the same political party. Board members meet six times a year and are paid $400 a day when working on institute business.
USIP spokesman John Brinkley said the group would not comment on Pipes's qualifications. "We work happily with whoever they choose to put on our board," he said.
The institute has a particular motive for wanting to avoid political trouble right now, as it starts an $80 million fund drive to build a new headquarters on Constitution Avenue facing the Mall.
Pipes and Muslim groups, in contrast, have scores to settle.
At the end of 2000, Pipes put up a Web site to promote his writings, www.danielpipes.org. About the same time, someone else put up www.danielpipes.com, which transported visitors to a page on CAIR's Web site titled, "Who Is Daniel Pipes?"
Threatening a lawsuit, Pipes won back the rights to his domain name after about a year. CAIR denies it was behind the crafty appropriation of Pipes's name. Last year, the feud deepened when Pipes founded Campus Watch, a group devoted to exposing college teachers, events and organizations that justify terrorism, denigrate Israel and support radical Islam. CAIR and other Muslim groups decried the move as a threat to academic freedom and an effort to chill pro-Palestinian speech.
They won a show of solidarity when more than 100 professors across the country asked Pipes to add their names to his watch list.
Growing numbers of American historians are so worried that the Bush administration is ignoring the lessons of the 20th century, and even the last 2,000 years, that they are signing petitions, marching against the war in Iraq, and holding teach-ins across the country.
The Bush administration is "ignoring the established pattern of what destroys great empires - the eventual reliance on military power over economic and cultural dominance," said Van Gosse, one of the activist historians and a professor at Franklin & Marshall College. "This happened to the Romans, to the British."
Those who view historians as irrelevantly stuck in the musty past might be doing a double-take these days.
These academics have mobilized into a national organization called Historians Against the War. They wrote a petition decrying the recent "egregious curtailment" of civil liberties, and organized teach-ins on college campuses across the country this week.
"Our job is to better understand the past, and what's the point of doing that if you're not going to link it to the present?" said Lee Formwalt, executive director of the Organization of American Historians and a professor at Indiana University. "We can provide a deeper understanding of how we got to the present situation."
That logically leads historians to the next step - sharing their conclusions, in an activist way, with the public. "The idea that we just sit in an ivory tower is myth," Formwalt said.
Last night, a teach-in at Temple University sponsored by Historians Against the War included lectures on presidential leadership in wartime, the mass media's coverage of the war, the history of modern Iraq, and "colonialism discredited."
Similar teach-ins sponsored by the group were held at Rutgers, Rowan, Pennsylvania State University, and Franklin & Marshall this week.
Gosse, who helped organize the Franklin & Marshall teach-in, said "there's a hubris in the administration that they can control events."
Gosse said Vietnam still hangs heavy over American foreign policy. He said the Bush administration might believe the current conflict reverses the "Vietnam syndrome," but it really reinforces it, because the United States is showing it will act only against a less-than-challenging adversary, using overwhelming force, and "bullying the public through a cowed and craven mass media."
Gosse said he had received e-mails and calls from non-academics outraged that historians would take a public position on a current event.
Gosse has no patience for such criticism. He said that unlike conservative historians of the 1950s and early 1960s, who saw the norm as supporting and even advising the government, today's liberal historians "are critical intellectuals providing a vital democratic function. It's not a partisan thing."
The more aggressive use of history to question current American foreign policy, a "new left revisionist" look at events, developed in the late 1950s, headed by University of Wisconsin professor William Appleman Williams and his book The Tragedy of American Diplomacy.
"He engaged scholars by arguing that if we feel what we do has value, we should carry that beyond the classroom," said David Applebaum, a history professor at Rowan who organized a teach-in there. "Balance is not what historians are after," Applebaum said. "We're after an authentic and verifiable understanding of events."
Roger Kimball: Still Slaying the Dragons of the Left (posted 4-15-03)
Roger Kimball: Still Slaying the Dragons of the Left (posted 4-15-03)Bernard Chapin interviews Roger Kimball; in Enter Stage Right (March 2003):
Anthony Burgess once said that whenever he read Ulysses by James Joyce his reaction to his own writing became "why even bother?" I have had the same experience after reading the works of Roger Kimball. Mr. Kimball is the Managing Editor of The New Criterion but he is also one of the journal's most prolific writers. Reading his work is similar to reliving the great lectures one received in college (back when lectures weren't considered oppressive). He writes on all cultural topics but what I have found particularly impressive is his unforeseeable achievement of making artistic philistines like myself interested in topics within the art world. His work is stimulating for a variety of reasons but primarily it is due to Kimball, despite being infinitely learned, possessing a style that is highly readable. Amongst his lively sentences is an uncanny ability to place his subjects within the context of the larger issues that embody our culture.
We on the right often ask "Where are our tough guys? Why don't we stand up to these fabricators?" Read Kimball and you won't ask anymore. He never shirks from the duty of exposing the poseurs of the SRL (Self-Righteous Left-interviewer's term). Here before us, bespectacled and sporting a bowtie, is one of our greatest enforcers. Kimball, despite his civilized appearance, lands Tysonesque roundhouses with a greater strength and frequency than many of our other commentators put together. The libertine deconstructionists must lament the day he chose to forgo an academic career as he would have been much easier to deal with within the catty world of our universities. I'm fairly certain that the likes of Dr. Fish and Dr. Derrida quiver in slouched post-modern angles after being informed by an overpaid colleague that Roger Kimball has written something about them.
His work, The Long March, may be the finest non-fiction book that I've ever read. In it he meticulously dissects the great hysterics of 1960's whose moronic gallivanting across our universities and political system has brought so much misery to the west in the decades that followed. I hope that many of our readers are unfamiliar with Kimball so that the joy of gazing at the words and arguments of one of the last great knights of western civilization will lie ahead of them. You may think that what I am writing here is just hype but in the scrolls that follow you will see that my introduction is nothing compared to the glitter of the analysis below. Let us now, in this enterstageright.com exclusive, examine the Grand Examiner himself.
The first thing I'd like to ask, and I know this would be of great interest to our readers concerns our culture. Specifically, have conservatives lost the culture war? And, if not, what kind of countermeasures can we undertake to make sure that there is still something left of western civilization?
Ah, the culture war. Have conservatives lost? It seems like such a simple question. Why is it so difficult to answer? There are a several reasons. In the first place, when we speak of "the culture war" we mean a conflict with multiple fronts, different and sometimes opposing goals, and shifting allegiances. The dumbing down of higher education is part of the culture war. So is the institution of political correctness and the activist judicial culture that imposes the values of a liberal elite on more and more areas of life. So is the sexual "revolution," so-called, and the disintegration of the family. Ditto the imperatives of multiculturalism, with their assumption of cultural relativism and egalitarianism. The culture war embraces what has happened to institutions like The New York Times, which has long since subordinated reporting the news in order to shill for all things trendy; the culture war also embraces the degradation of popular culture, the proletarianization of public taste, and the failure of manners. If the culture is a plural phenomenon, so too are "the conservatives." There are plenty of people who call themselves conservative who worry about one aspect of the culture war but cannot get worked up about another aspect. The liberal media is always going on about "the vast right-wing conspiracy," etc., but in fact conservative opinion in this country is a much more heterogeneous thing than liberal opinion.
These two things -- the multiplicity of "fronts" or battles that constitute the culture war and the diversity of conservative opinion -- make it well nigh impossible to give a single answer to the question "have conservatives lost the culture war?" That said, however, I believe that any conservative who contemplates the cultural landscape today must come away sobered if not, indeed, depressed. There has been a steady loss of cultural capital as one educational institution after the next -- schools, colleges, museums, and so forth -- waters down its offerings in the name of diversity or populism. There is some irony in the fact that as educational rhetoric proliferates, the content of the education becomes ever more anemic.
The dilution of culture is one problem: for all the marvelous "information technology" we command, people seem to know less and less; their cultural range of reference has contracted to the tiny circle described by the latest headlines and characters of this year's sitcoms and "reality" programs (i.e., virtual reality programs). But if the content of culture has been steadily eroded it has also become increasingly tawdry. The culture war is also a moral war, a war over the definition of the good life. Most of the news from that front of the culture war is discouraging. ...
Regarding your background, I notice that a doctorate is never mentioned after your name. Is this do to the fact that you just do not list your educational accomplishments? Is it due to the fact that pursuing a doctorate may have been superfluous to your professional goals? Or, and I'm hoping that this is the answer, that you felt that you could not stomach seven years of a heavily politicized curriculum in the leftist enclaves known an as American universities?
I was a graduate student at Yale and fully intended to embark on an academic career. When I moved to New York in the mid-1980s, I was hard at work on a dissertation on the philosophy of art. But once I started writing regularly for magazines like The New Criterion I found myself drifting further and further away from the culture of academia. Long before I published Tenured Radicals in 1990, it had become clear to me that, at many institutions, academic life in this country was a grim affair: warped by politics, distorted by hermetic "theorizing," disfigured by unreadable prose and pretentious posturing. It was not a world I aspired to join. I should also point out that, after the publication of Tenured Radicals, it was not a world I would be invited to join. That book, along with Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, became a book that academics loved to hate. I was at first alarmed by the venom lavished on me and the book but I soon learned to see the comic side of the spectacle. In any event, it became crystal clear that an academic career was out of the question -- what university would have me? -- and I let the dissertation languish. I should say for the record, however, that I regret not having finished the degree, since I believe one should finish what one starts.
Brian Dippie: The Canadian Who Grew Up Loving the American West (posted 4-11-03)
Brian Dippie: The Canadian Who Grew Up Loving the American West (posted 4-11-03)Lindsay Kines, writing in the Edmonton Journal (April 13, 2003):
Like so many boys of his generation, Brian Dippie wanted to be a cowboy. He dressed like a cowboy, played cowboys and Indians, and worshipped cowboys riding across the screen in Edmonton movie houses of the late 1940s.
Once, he and his older brother got to see Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, perform at the Edmonton Gardens. The show overwhelmed Dippie, so taken was he by the notion of this hero of comic books and movies, standing right there, on a stage, in Dippie's home town.
"I think that what was really powerful for lots of kids growing up then was the notion that it wasn't just about the past,'' he said recently. "It wasn't history. It was somehow as real as Gene Autry, standing in front of you, singing a song.''
But where other kids outgrew their cowboy passion, Dippie grew into his. He went on to study the art and imagery of the West, wrote his masters thesis on Custer's Last Stand, and, eventually, landed a job teaching American history at the University of Victoria.
Today, he is considered one of the leading scholars on the history of Western art, cowboy painters, and their influence on the legends of the Wild West -- a mythology that, in so many cases, still defines how the world sees Americans and how Americans see themselves.
He has produced more than a dozen scholarly books on Western art and mythology, preparing catalogues for major museums across the U.S., and appearing in PBS, A&E and Time Warner documentaries on everything from General George Custer to the art of Remington.
Last fall, Dippie became the first Canadian ever appointed president of the Western History Association. And Calgary's Glenbow Museum recently announced Dippie will be one of two consulting curators for an exhibit of paintings by Charles Russell and Frederick Remington at the institute next summer.
A CHILDHOOD PASSION BECOMES A LIFE'S WORK
Even as a child, Dippie's love for the West was deeper than most. He read voraciously, collected books on the subject, and put his budding artistic talent to work by selling -- for the whopping price of $3 each -- intricate pencil crayon drawings of Indian faces, copied from photographs.
"I've always seen myself as a case of arrested development,'' he said. "I'm one of those fortunate ones who was able to convert a childhood love. Everybody in my neighbourhood played cowboys, but they went on to become engineers or minister or bakers or something else.''
Dippie went on to major in cowboys.
You might expect, first of all, some kind of apology from Francis Fukuyama, the political economist who famously told us just over a decade ago that, thanks to the collapse of Soviet communism, we had reached "the end of history". The world, he said in the best-selling book The End of History and the Last Man, was becalmed as it converged on the Western model of liberal capitalism and we needed no longer to fear the clashing of great civilisations.
He might similarly find this a good moment to say sorry for putting his name to an open letter sent to President Bill Clinton a few years ago urging him to take action against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. The note was co-signed by figures such as Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, who were out of government then, but who today - as the top guys in the Pentagon - have been primarily responsible for pushing us into the war in Iraq.
You may be disappointed, however. It is the luxury of academics, as against political leaders, that no humility is ever really needed. Now teaching at the Washington DC-based School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), part of Johns Hopkins University, Professor Fukuyama has no trouble explaining himself. It does not even seem contradictory to him that his most recent book, Our Posthuman Future, which is coming out in paperback this week, includes a section headlined "The Recommencement of History". He would probably like, first, to set the record straight on Iraq. Talking in his book-lined office at SAIS, he baulks, although with placid politeness, at the suggestion that "that" letter was the proof of what some anti-war commentators see as a conspiracy among conservative hawks in Washington to manipulate American foreign policy towards armed aggression against Saddam. Only when President George Bush came to power, with his Republican base, could the plot start to bear fruit.
"In that case, it was one of the most public conspiracies ever hatched," he replies, before taking instant issue with the manner of the response that has taken us into conflict. Indeed, he berates the Bush administration for ignoring world opinion and ordering in the troops without international backing.
"I signed the letter, but I have not been at all happy with the way they have executed this," he begins, shrugging of any responsibility for where we find ourselves now. "The letter did not say you should go into this unilaterally, that you can do this in contempt of the views of the rest of the world. That was not what I signed up to. I don't think Iraq is the single most serious problem in the world and that therefore you can subordinate all of your alliance relationships and goodwill with the rest of the world to this. It is not a good trade-off." As for predicting where we will stand once the fighting is over, Fukuyama demurs.
Now, what about this stasis in history he was on about before? In fact, his apparent about-face in the new book - that history is resuming its march - is not meant as a contradiction of his earlier views at all. His thesis, he insists, is intact, more or less. It is just that something else has raised its head that, well, complicates matters a little. Our Posthuman Future is about biotechnology, psychochemical drugs and the genetic engineering of our bodies, and how such life-science advances threaten to run amok with what it is to be a human being. It is about Ritalin, gay genes and clones.
But that aside, how can he stand by his first book, one that did so well that it reached the best-seller lists in America and was translated into 22 languages? Let's see. Since it came out we have had years of war in the Balkans, the twin towers were knocked down in New York, and now conflagration in Iraq. There is plenty of history there, surely. To be fair, his premise was not that nothing more was going to happen on our planet and that historians - and newspaper headline-writers - were soon to be out of a job. Fukuyama was talking more about history as defined by the German philosopher Hegel as the process of evolution in human society. By the collapse of the Berlin Wall, we had all more or less reached the same conclusion, he wrote - that free-market capitalism, with private ownership, trade and entrepreneurial endeavour, was the model that worked, even if it came in slightly different varieties.
He need not disown his celebrated theory "as long as it is understood properly". He posits: "The End of History was really about the long-term process of modernisation, whether there is basically one broad path to go down, and whether that process converges into a single broadly defined set of institutions. Well, there aren't really a lot of alternative paths to modernisation, and if you look in a long enough timescale, I would say that is right."
Glenda Gilmore: Victim of the Right Wing? (posted 4-11-03)Eliana Johnson and Jamie Kirchick, freshmen at Yale University, writing in frontpagemag.com (April 11, 2003):
On the evening of the historic day that Baghdad fell, Yale held a forum of professorial invective against the statesmanship that brought it about. Without skipping a beat, Yale’s anti-war professors, who yesterday claimed to oppose war in the interests of the Iraqi people, have now moved on to expressing lunatic conspiracy theories. Wednesday, we attended a “teach-in” sponsored by the Yale Coalition for Peace, the Muslim Students Association, and the Students for Justice in Palestine, among other groups. The panel of speakers included professors Ben Kiernan, Director of the Genocide Studies Program at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, Ellen Lust-Okar of political science, Dmitri Gutas of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Glenda Gilmore, the C. Van Woodward Professor of History and University Chaplain, Rev. Frederick Streets.
Professor Glenda Gilmore, in the smug, self-righteous fashion that characterizes a large component of the anti-war movement, found it difficult to discuss anything but herself. Gilmore’s comments were devoted entirely to decrying the supposed international conspiracy launched by right-wingers like Andrew Sullivan and Daniel Pipes, intended to “shut you up and to shut me up.” Gilmore reached her startling conclusions following the scathing reception her controversial October 11 column in the Yale Daily News received. Gilmore seemed dumbfounded that her statements would elicit such a harsh response. One of the more inflammatory sentences read, “Bush's National Security Strategy makes the United States an imperial power in the most sinister sense of the term, and Congress' resolution will finally and unabashedly give George W. Bush the job he seems so sure he deserves: emperor.”
In one breath, she listed the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and Lynne Cheney, as elements of a “pre-planned” plot to squash her political speech. The right-wing campaign, according to Gilmore, is “targeted at anti-war professors” and aims to silence her and anyone else who raises a peep of protest about Bush or the war. She protested Daniel Pipes' labeling of her as"Hating America," though not once in her tirade did she mention the last line of her column,"We have met the enemy, and it is us." It is certainly difficult to understand how Pipes could construe Gilmore’s comment as anything but a symptom of a deep and abiding hatred of America.
Wrongfully assuming that the audience was filled with antiwar students, Gilmore found herself at a loss for words when her tenuous reasoning was accidentally exposed to critical questioning. It became clear that Gilmore was never in fact silenced. The opposite occurred; her views were exposed, disseminated, and legitimately criticized by those who disagreed with her. Coming from the insulated world of leftist academia, Gilmore assumed that criticism and denunciation of her vitriol was evidence of a conspiracy against her. Rather than present well-developed or coherent arguments against the war, she filled her allotted time attempting (successfully) to elicit pity from her audience. It was a spectacle of self-aggrandizement.
Eric Alterman: Noam Chomsky Is Untrustworthy as a Historian (posted 4-4-03)
Eric Alterman: Noam Chomsky Is Untrustworthy as a Historian (posted 4-4-03)Eric Alterman, writing in his blog (April 3, 2003):
[R]eaders have been writing me from this sites earliest moments asking me why I am not a fan of Noam Chomksy, (the historian and foreign policy writer, not the linguist. I am not qualified to judge the linguist). I always respond that to do so would take up too much space on Altercation and is deserving of an essay, not a quip.
Last weeks first-rate New Yorker profile of Chomsky helped fill that need, and inspired much discussion about the man, his beliefs, and his methods. This post, from Brad DeLong, appeared in a response on H-Diplo, the list-serve for diplomatic historians. DeLong was not so careful in a post about me not long ago, but this seems to me to be right on the so-called money. Meanwhile, for a long discussion of Chomskys politics, with links see the page created by Russil Wvong here.
Delong was taking aim at an assertion by another scholar that Chomsky never denied the Cambodian genocide.The slur stemmed from some early comments where he said it had not yet been proven. He said something to the effect of sometimes massacres occur, sometimes they are made up, in this case we dont know yet. He found the evidence convincing long ago, maybe two decades. Here is his lengthy response.
Delong writes: Im afraid thats not an adequate description of Chomskys defense of the Khmer Rouge at the end of the 1990s. He didnt write that there was insufficient evidence that the Khmer Rouge were genocidal butchers. He made false claims that there was evidence that the Khmer Rouge were not genocidal butchersthat highly qualified specialists who have studied the full range of evidence had found that the Khmer Rouge were acting no worse than the French Resistance after liberation, or the American colonists after their victory in their Revolution.
For example, take a look at Chomsky writing in The Nation in 1977, claiming that: there are many other sources on recent events in Cambodia that have not been brought to the attention of the American reading public. Space limitations preclude a comprehensive review, but such journals as The Far Eastern Economic Review, the London Economist, the Melbourne Journal of Politics, and others elsewhere, have provided analyses by highly qualified specialists who have studied the full range of evidence available, and who concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands; that these were localized in areas of limited Khmer Rouge influence and unusual peasant discontent, where brutal revenge killings were aggravated by the threat of starvation resulting from the American destruction and killing. Dig deeper, and you discover that these conclusions come from the Melbourne Journal of Politics, and that neither the Economist nor the Far Eastern Economic Review has published any articles concluding that executions numbered at most in the thousands, were localized in areas where the Khmer Rouge did not have control, or were the result of peasant discontent generated by the economic destruction created by American bombing.
Chomsky is not lying, quite (except in his claim that the wingnuts of the Melbourne Journal of Politics are highly qualified specialists who have studied the full range of evidence): you can find such claims in the Melbourne Journal. But Chomsky definitely does want his readers to believe something false: that you can find these claims in the Economist and in the Far Eastern Economic Review as well. Now I believe that this is a common pattern for Chomsky the misrepresentations that verge on outright lies, and then the subsequent denials of what he had claimed. For example, one common defense one hears from Chomsky supporters of Chomskys involvement in defending French anti-Semite and Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson is that all Chomsky was doing was defending Faurissons right to free speech. But its much uglier than that. Robert Faurisson: a guy whose thesis appears to be that the alleged massacre in gas chambers and the genocide of the Jews is part of one and the same lie, a gigantic political and financial racket for the benefit of Israel and international Zionism. Yet when Chomsky writes a preface to Faurissons work, Chomsky claims that Faurisson appears to be a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort, that Faurisson is being persecuted unfairly because some people have an ideologically-based hatred for his scholarly conclusions, and that there is nothing he has read by Faurisson that indicates Faurisson has any special sympathy for the Nazi cause.
It is one thing to defend neo-Nazis right to free speech. It is another to claim that they are relatively apolitical liberals being persecuted by ideologues who hate the truths they have uncovered. And it is yet a third thing to claim, after the fact, that your support for Faurisson was exactly the support that Voltaire would have given him.