Blogs > Cliopatria > Apologia pro vita sua ...

Apr 4, 2004 10:46 am

Apologia pro vita sua ...

Even if we are not Samuel Taylor Coleridge or John Henry Newman, many of us who write feel obliged to give some accounting for it and of ourselves. This may be even more the case when we commit our words to the net rather than to paper. Yesterday, Adam Kotsko's droll manifesto,"There is Nothing Outside the Blog", resounded with many of us – Kevin Drum, John Holbro, Scott McLemee, and Matt Yglesias, at least. If you haven't read Kotsko's piece, do so; and follow the discussion in the comments there, as well."I think; therefore I blog," says a Descartesian. Not quite good enough, says Kotsko."In the beginning was the blog," says John."And the blog became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth ..." and lots of other stuff. That's more like it.

Over at Critical Mass, Erin O'Connor manifests the freedom of the blog in a piece reflecting on Jim Lindgren's tribute to the University of Chicago as a citadel of free speech in American higher education. Perhaps Chicago can be free precisely because no one has ever doubted that it was serious about higher education. Not many of our institutions are undoubtedly serious. Many of them, therefore, feel the need to restrict speech.

In "Fighting Words," a remarkable essay for BookForum, Scott McLemee revisits the dramatic break in 1952 on the French Left between two old friends: Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. It was conditioned by differences of talent and style, but ultimately there were two different temperaments here. Sartre, an academic insider with no obvious self-doubt, could endorse any means of transforming the world because of boundless confidence that it could be done. Camus, the outsider, was riddled with doubt about himself and the possibility of reshaping the world. It's far more complicated than that, says McLemee, for Sartre's effort to silence Camus was an extension of having silenced the doubts within himself. Looking back from the horrors of 2004 over the horrors of the 20th century, all perpetrated by men who had no doubt about their ability to transform the world by any means necessary, who of us would disagree with Camus? We might even suspect that Yeats was on to something when he wrote that

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
An overstatement, obviously, but a caution to be very discriminating about our convictions.

My colleague at Cliopatria, KC Johnson, looks this side of the Atlantic and on the Right in "Nixon's The One", a review for Reviews in American History of David Greenberg's Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image. (Subscription only, alas.) KC accepts the necessity of multiple approaches to interpreting so complex a character as Richard M. Nixon because over the course of a career which contested mid-twentieth century America, there were multiple Nixons – each fashioned to restake a claim to dominance once lost. In the reshaping, the repackaging of a self, for new political markets, says Greenberg echoing Garry Wills, it was always all about packaging. We may never know whatever doubts or insecurities it disguised, for all the packaging may itself have been empty. Nonetheless, the implications of Greenberg's book and KC's essay are far-reaching, because they challenge any suggestion by Dan Carter that Right Populism in America had its origins with George Wallace or by Wills and Joan Hoff, in different ways, that there ever was an authentically liberal Richard Nixon.

Let me close on a different note by awarding Cliopatria's Richard M. Nixon Acid Reflux Award to David Horowitz. Give him this: the man has cojones. With no credential, only in America could he pass himself off as a"public intellectual" and manage, now, to claim entitlement to a visiting lectureship at Emory University. He appeared here last year on the University tab. $5,000, I think it was. Now, he claims that the University is"boycotting" him because student government refused to fork over another five grand and he'll be paid in private cash. "I will come," he said emphatically."I will keep coming back to Emory until Emory drops its boycott of me." At least Richard Nixon didn't seize office when he lost an election.

Update: Alas, our colleague, Jonathan Dresner, the Cliopatriarch of the Pacific, has committed himself to paper. He has a letter to the editor in this morning's New York Times. That can be forgiven, if he does not let it happen too often.

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Oscar Chamberlain - 4/4/2004

I was simply noting that the Heritage Foundation employs conservative scholars.

Ralph E. Luker - 4/4/2004

Don't even get me started on this! A) I've had enough experience to know that some of the very finest public intellectuals in the United States have been altogether without formal academic credentials -- here I'm thinking of the best teacher I ever had, Will Herberg, who actually claimed to have them, but who in fact did not; and Scott McLemee, who I refer to in this post and who rather enjoys pointing out that he writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education without being credentialed in any of it. B) I am still reeling from Invisible Adjunct's withdrawal from the academic marketplace. She jumped through every hoop our gatekeepers propped up; and _they_ failed to place her in a decent job. It is History's loss. C) I am blessed to live within a block of the university where David Horowitz thinks he has entitlement to a visiting lectureship (I notice that he's not real big on other people's entitlements) and in the congressional district which may yet send Cynthia McKinney back to the United States House of Representatives. Don't get me started!

Grant W Jones - 4/4/2004

Oscar, are you saying that the Academy is a political organization like Heritage?

Richard, if Stalinist scum like Sartre can be an "intellectual," then I guess anyone can.

Since when is being an apoligist for mass-murder on a Hitlerian level a matter of temperament?

Oscar Chamberlain - 4/4/2004

" It seems that the right still lags far behind the left in subsidizing their kind through
university funds"

I thought that was what the Heritage Foundation was for.

Richard Henry Morgan - 4/4/2004

Well, David ain't a deep thinker, nor a systematic one. Nor was he a "public intellectual" in that sense when he edited Ramparts -- then again, neither was (or is) Scheer. Nor Tom Hayden, for that matter (though he's a fellow of the The Nation Institute). Horowitz is a provocateur. But he seems much less able to tap the academic trough than, say, Cynthia McKinney or John Pilger, now Frank Rhodes Professors at Cornell (which only entails, at a minimum, two weeks work). It seems that the right still lags far behind the left in subsidizing their kind through university funds. What shall we award McKinney and Pilger -- the George McGovern Acid Reflux Award?

Grant W Jones - 4/4/2004

Why does one need "credentials" to be a "public intellectual?" I didn't know that "intellectuals" were now a unionized, closed shop.

You are right tho: "only in America." Where it is what one is saying, not your credentials, that matter.

Richard Henry Morgan - 4/4/2004

This brings back memories of Allan Bloom. While Nicholas Murray Butler was caving at Columbia, Chicago was telling the Red-hunters to go fly a kite. While Columbia caved to the '60's brownshirts, Chicago just expelled them. Plus ca change ...

BTW, there's an interesting history on the break of Merleau-Ponty with Sartre too. Poor Sartre thought that to be "engaged" entailed denying the existence of the Gulag, and when Merleau-Ponty took exception, Sartre sent his favorite water-carrier out to respond -- de Beauvoir. What a mensch.