U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading (5/19/2011)

1 (of 6 total). The 1960s: Good or Bad for America?

Charles Kaiser argues for good in this brief CNN article. Among many designations, others have called it “The End of Modern America” and the “Age of Contradiction.” Here’s the opening of Kaiser’s piece (bolds mine):

“It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.” — Molly Ivins, great American newspaperwoman

Forty years after they ended, the 1960s remain the most controversial decade of the 20th century. Either you believe that they destroyed America, or they cured it.

Put me down as a fervent believer in their success as a cure. …

And these passages will be of interest to intellectual and cultural historians:

A significant factor in all of this progress was the fact that organized religion — and all of the prejudices and superstitions it embodied — was at one of its lowest ebbs in our history.

That’s the social and political side. Then there’s the cultural side.

The liberation that was occurring at the polling places and universities was mirrored elsewhere…

The Vietnam War was the decade’s greatest tragedy. …But those Americans did not die in vain — because of their sacrifice, the Vietnam syndrome was born.

Wrongly maligned by neoconservatives [read: conservative intellectuals], this was the syndrome that prevented us from repeating anything like that on a similar scale for more than 30 years — until George W. Bush and his henchmen embarked upon the equally disastrous and unnecessary invasion of Iraq.

The idealism embodied by John and Robert Kennedy and the Martin Luther King Jr. inspired a whole generation to change the way America was governed, and how millions of Americans would get to live their lives.

Sure, it’s just an opinion piece. But it references intellectual history topics, and takes strong stand (e.g. “cured”) in terms of pre-1960s wrongs. When I composed this post Kaiser’s article had 265 comments and 2661 Facebook ‘likes’.

And if you think that interpretations of the Sixties are not still relevant, see this. Apparently the leadership of a institution with roots in antiquity was deeply corrupted by the “tumult and change” of the decade.

2. New in Paperback

Andrew Hartman’s Education and the Cold War: The Battle for the American School (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) will be out in paperback this coming December. For the unfamiliar, Andrew’s book is an intellectual and political history of American schools during the era of John Dewey’s influence (both directly and indirectly) and the early Cold War.

3. JHI Articles of Interest

The April 2011 issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas (Volume 72, no. 2) has two articles that may be of special interest to USIH readers:

(a) “William James’s Ethical Republic,” by TRYGVE THRONTVEIT

Few have systematically analyzed William James’s ethics. But examining James’s moral philosophy in light of his epistemology and metaphysics demonstrates its coherence and robustness. James provided a metaphor succinctly expressing his ethics in terms of its purpose: an “ethical republic.” No fixed set of principles, the ethical republic was an ideal of private and public interests converging through widespread commitment to three virtues: intellectual experimentalism, historical wisdom, and empathy. These sustained democracy as James understood it: a culture of deliberative discourse facilitating negotiation and organization of values. Recognizing deliberation’s power and limits, James’s ethics have implications for modern-day interdependent societies.

(b) “How Old Are Modern Rights? On the Lockean Roots of Contemporary Human Rights Discourse,” by S. ADAM SEAGRAVE

This article critically assesses three recent attempts by Brian Tierney to extend the historical analysis he provides in The Idea of Natural Rights to contemporary human rights discourse. These attempts tend to exaggerate the conceptual continuity between early medieval “rights” and those claimed in contemporary contexts. In particular, Tierney’s interpretation of Locke as a central example of historical continuity in rights thinking largelyf misses Locke’s distinctive contribution to contemporary ideas of human rights. It is, rather, in Locke’s writings that human rights first become recognizable to the modern eye.

4. Debating Obama’s Political Legacy

Cornell West thinks Obama will be remembered as the “black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs… black puppet of corporate plutocrats…and [proud]…head of the American killing machine.” Ta-Nehisi Coates disagrees.

5. Rock ‘n’ Roll and USIH

No one I know attended this NYC conference on Ellen Willis. But Michael Bérubé was there, and he reproduced his paper at Crooked Timber for your enjoyment and pleaasure.

6. A Personal Note

A dear friend of mine is leaving academia. I’ve only gotten to see him sporadically over the past 3-4 years, and I didn’t know him as well as I would’ve liked when we had more time together in Chicago during the late 1990s. He is leaving higher education for a private school in a major metropolitan area. Read his reflections on the process that has led him to this point. It’s heartbreaking, though this particular post looks mostly at the lay of the land in higher education. I particularly hope that senior professors will read it, perhaps in conjunction with this article from The Nation that has received some positive play. Best of luck to “Werner Herzog’s Bear” as he embarks on a new adventure!

One Thought on this Post

  1. I always love any reference to my fellow Texas writer the incomparable Molly Ivins; and I agree with you about the 60s. Only after reading the stuffy academic and public writing of the 50s can the sweep of the 60s be appreciated. A new wind really did blow in.

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