U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading (1/6/2011)

Happy New Year!

1. The Most Influential Thinker In Europe Is…—According to a poll conducted by the journal Social Europe, “the thinker with the most influence on the European left-of-centre political agenda” is an American, Paul Krugman. A fellow USIHer, Andrew Hartman, will be pleased with #3. Here’s the top ten:

1. Paul Krugman
2. Juergen Habermas
3. Slavoj Zizek
4. Anthony Giddens
5. Daniel Cohn-Bendit
6. Umberto Eco
7. Zygmund Bauman, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen
9. Oskar Lafontaine
10. Ulrich Beck

2. A Scandalous Conversion in the Philosophy of Religion—A (former) philosopher of religion at the University of Houston, Keith Parsons, has given up his academic discipline. Parsons said he could no longer sincerely present arguments for theism in an academic setting. Too much support for Intelligent Design seems to have been Parsons tipping point. Here’s a snippet from the article:

Keeping an eye on the truth was also a matter of practical importance for Parsons, who was alarmed by the support for Intelligent Design creationism among philosophy of religion’s most influential names. These include Alvin Plantinga and Peter van Inwagen, who led the subfield’s resurgence in the 1970s and ’80s, and William Lane Craig, an Evangelical who popularizes the subfield’s arguments for God in widely-attended public debates. “One of the things the really active conservative Christians covet enormously, more than anything else, is intellectual respectability. And they think they have found it in some of the arguments from these philosophers of religion,” Parsons said.

BTW: The online magazine Religion Dispatches has quickly become a go-to site for thoughtful analysis and news on its namesake topic. Add it to your reader; all the the cool kids are doing it.

3. Almost All of Us are Unhappy with Our Jobs—A survey by Manpower subsidiary Right Management reports that 84 percent of workers are looking for a new job. …I just thought I’d throw this out there light of the history job market news.

4. Good Censorship—On January 1, Lake Superior State University put forth its 36th annual “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.” I like several of the selections—fail, viral, man up, momma grizzlies, refudiate, wow factor—but disliked the hate for “back story.” Here’s the sour quote in the press release on that term:

“This should be on the list of words that don’t need to exist because a perfectly good word has been used for years. In this case, the word is ‘history,’ or, for those who must be weaned, ‘story.'” Jeff Williams, Sherwood, Ariz.

BTW: I don’t think it’s an accident that at least two phrases from Sarah Palin made it into the list.

5. Tips on Refereeing for Journals—Thom Brooks of Newcastle University wrote an article for the open access Social Science Research Network (SSRN) titled “Guidelines on How to Referee.” Here’s the abstract:

This essay offers clear practical advice on how to act as a referee when asked to review an article for an academic journal. The advice is also relevant for reviewing manuscript proposals for academic publishers. My advice is based on my experiences in editing an academic journal, the Journal of Moral Philosophy, and four book series. I will draw on these experiences throughout as illustrations. The structure of the advice is as follows. First, I will begin by saying a few words about the academic publishing industry. Secondly, I will discuss whether one should accept or decline an invitation to review. Thirdly, I will examine the question of what appropriate standard should be applied when reviewing submissions. Finally, I conclude with advice on how to draft a report before submitting it to an editor.

6. The Intellectual Historian’s Toolbox—Larry Cebula at Northwest History offers advice on what should be in a “Digital Toolbox for Graduate Students in History.” I agree with all of his recommendations, as well as the suggestions given in the post’s comments. In addition, I would add something specific to Cebula’s #1 that Ben mentioned in a post here a few days ago: Google’s “Books Ngram Viewer.” Here’s a link to what Google says about that tool.

7. Rethinking Human Rights—The ubiquitous Scott McLemee reviews a book for The National Conversation that takes human rights talk to task for its latent utopianism. The book’s author, Samuel Moyn, a Columbia University historian of European intellectual life (and co-editor of Modern Intellectual History), seems to argue that strong doses of hard-headed empiricism (in the mode of Jeremy Bentham) and an on-the-ground, rough-and-tumble political sensibility would be beneficial to the future of human rights ideals. The book’s title is The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Harvard, 2010).

4 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Lots of great links to follow there, Tim!

    I’ve just started reading The Last Utopia (which was recommended by a reader in a comment on my year-in-intellectual-history post). So far, at least, it’s a terrific book (as the very positive McLemee review suggests).

    Also: having spent a good deal of time in Germany, I’ve heard Oskar Lafontaine called many things. But I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve heard him called a “thinker.”

  2. Tim–
    I recently read the Moyn book (which I recommend), but I really didn’t get the sense that he was presenting an argument against the antipolitical nature of human rights discourse or for a recuperation of Benthamite empiricism and/or utilitarianism. The book really is much more of a history than a polemic, and its principle purpose is to show that “human rights” is not simply an extension of Enlightenment natural rights ideology (as argued, for instance, in Lynn Hunt’s recent book), because all previous commitments to rights were bound up with the nation state. Human rights is something new because it arises out of the widespread sense of the failure of utopias associated with nations, and particularly out of the residue and failures of post-colonial international politics and their commitment to self rule rather than rights. In fact, the argument is that human rights only becomes a viable language and movement in the mid-1970s. It’s a good book, although my sense is that Moyn is too insistent on dissociating human rights from the Enlightenment tradition, and as a consequence overstates its novelty–and there is less analysis of the specific content of human rights than I would like to see as a consequence.

  3. Dan,

    i agree about the Moyn book, for the most part. the disjunction of contemporary human rights from the enlightenment, i mostly agree about this, the critique is quite effective–what i find more potentially problematic is Moyn’s insistence on the ‘origin’ of human rights in 1977 rather than the postwar. it seems like a bit too much of an insistence on the language over the ideas and values…

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