U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading (5/5/09)

1. McNamara on Maritain: Few people realize that Jacques Maritain spent over 15 years living in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s. Pat’s brief post emphasizes Maritain’s Catholicism, but the latter’s influences on neo-Thomism, as an international movement, and neo-Aristotelianism were profound.

2. McLemee on Comments and Online Writing: Scott McLemee reflects on the hazards of online intellectual life in an age where everyone thinks of her/himself as important, as part of the conversation. [Amendment: Scott objected to the wording of my pointer sentence. I should’ve emphasized “thinks of” to convey the notion that simple human vices and virtues, namely false pride and appropriate humility, need to be a part of one’s consideration when commenting. Otherwise you risk being a jerk who deserves scorn when you seek to be a part of the conversation.]

3. Dana McCourt and Eric Rauchway on Philosophy and the Humanities, here (1) and here (2): Both reflect on expectations about philosophy, and theoretical aspects of the humanities and social sciences, in the public sphere. Ultimately, both McCourt and Rauchway are concerned with variants of anti-intellectualism.

4. Reflections on C.P. Snow’s 1959 “Two Cultures” Lecture, here (The Telegraph) and here (NYT): Although Snow was a Briton, his lecture was a popular sensation around the English-speaking world—for different reasons. Snow was concerned with a peculiarly British problem of the 1950s: bright kids being pushed into the literary/traditional intellectual directions, and the less bright into the sciences. In the U.S., however, post-Sputnik (i.e. 1957), the high-test-result kids were pushed into the sciences and the rest were left to their own devices, no matter their intellectual worth (whether literature, industrial labor, or the service sector). While the NYT piece supplies something of the American reception of Snow’s lecture and eventually gets to the British context out of which Snow arose, it is quite presentist in its analysis. As such, The Telegraph article is better for historical context (British and otherwise). In some ways the NYT piece is a brief, transnational intellectual history of the lecture, while Robert Whelan’s Telegraph article is a more complete “nationalist” analysis. The latter is better intellectual history.