U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading (10-20-2011): War Powers, Catholicism, OWS, Academostars, and More

Relaying these bits and pieces to you while celebrating my spouse’s birthday. Happy birthday, Jodi!

1. Contingency in Intellectual History (i.e. Political Philosophy)

At the Legal History Blog, Mary Dudziak points us to a new piece by Tulane University Law School Stephen Griffin’s titled “Reconceiving the War Powers Debate.” The basis for this discussion, as Professor Dudziak sees it (in relation to her own work), is this passage from Michael Hogan’s Cross of Iron:

The most important aspect of the postwar constitutional order, one with subtle, far-reaching and long-lasting effects, was the gradual erasure of the difference between wartime and peacetime. Because all foreign wars prior to 1950 had been authorized by Congress, the prewar constitutional order featured a sharp distinction between the powers of government in war and peace. As Hogan demonstrates, the early Cold War featured a massive effort to convince the President, Congress and the public that this distinction no longer made sense.

2. Nominations Are In For The Category “America’s Greatest Catholic Intellectual”

Where, you ask? Benedictine College’s Gregorian Institute has a blog, and at that blog they have reported on survey wherein the Institute asked “top Catholic commentators, editors and scholars” about “America’s Greatest Catholic Intellectuals.” The Institute is trying to create an “online Catholic Hall of Fame.” Here’s their tentative nomination list:

1. Orestes Brownson (1803–1876) [right]
2. John Courtney Murray (1904-1967)
3. John Senior (1923-1999)
4. Avery Dulles (1918-2008)
5. James Schall (1928-)
6. Ralph McInerny (1929-2010)
7. Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009)
8. Mary Anne Glendon (1938-)
9. George Weigel (1951-)
10. Robert P. George (1955-)

Where’s John Tracy Ellis? Fulton Sheen? Where are Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day? And why do we need an intellectual star system anyway?

3. Academostars

I’d be happy to talk about Frank Donoghue’s link (from immediately above) on its own merits. Here’s a flavor of its content (bolds mine):

“Academostars” is a term coined by Jeffrey Williams, who edited an edition of the minnesota review on that topic in 2001. In that issue, Williams offers both a critique and a complement to David Shumway’s PMLA article, “The Star System in Literary Studies.” It’s entitled, “Name Recognition,” avoiding Shumway’s key terms. …Williams offers one very useful qualification of Shumway’s thesis—that the star system migrated into academia sometime during the heyday of theory in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It did, Williams seems to acknowledge, and there are stars out there of the magnitude of Spivak, Butler, Zizek, and Fish. …He [Williams] argues that “there are various declensions or quantum levels of stardom, ranging from who is a star in one’s department; of a specialization within a subfield (the star of 18th-century c. French furniture, as I heard a colleague called, which makes me wonder how many other people are in the field),” etc. “At the other end of the spectrum, one aspires to be the star of one’s graduate program, or of the job pool in a particular field. Hiring committees, especially at research universities, look for potential stars.” I could add that the rhetoric of stardom is thrown around, often recklessly at tenure meetings—the best way to make a pitch for a promising tenure candidate is to describe that person as a “rising star.”

My hope is that hiring committees with my name in front of them will be operating on a “Moneyball” thesis and see me as a market inefficiency to be exploited.

4.a. The Intellectual Roots of OWS

The Chronicle‘s Dan Berrett explores those roots. Aside from discussing the appearances of “academostars” at Zuccotti Park, here’s Berrett’s provocative thesis:

Occupy Wall Street’s most defining characteristics—its decentralized nature and its intensive process of participatory, consensus-based decision-making—are rooted in other precincts of academe and activism: in the scholarship of anarchism and, specifically, in an ethnography of central Madagascar. It was on this island nation off the coast of Africa that David Graeber, one of the movement’s early organizers, who has been called one of its main intellectual sources, spent 20 months between 1989 and 1991. He studied the people of Betafo, a community of descendants of nobles and of slaves, for his 2007 book, Lost People. …He transplanted the lessons he learned in Madagascar to the globalism protests in the late 1990s in which he participated, and which some scholars say are the clearest antecedent, in spirit, to Occupy Wall Street.

It’s a great article even if you find the thesis off-putting. Let’s discuss. [BTW #1: Here are some statistics that inform the direction of OWS. #2: Here’s a bit about the relationship between Catholic identity and OWS]

4.b. OWS Signals the Unity of the Creative and Working Classes

John Russo, from the Center for Working-Class Studies, writes that OWS represents the falsification of Richard Florida’s ten-year old thesis that the interests of the “creative class” are more important than, or different from, those of the working classes. In other words, the creative class is subject to the same dislocations and whimsical desires of financiers who prioritize profit over national solidarity.

5. The Cost of Certainty About Falsehoods

Axiom from William James: “There is truth-pursuit and error-avoidance. We don’t want to have one without the other.”

With that, Baylor University’s Alexander Pruss speculates, or argues rather, the following:

Given some very plausible assumptions on epistemic utilities, one can prove that one needs to set more than 2.588 times (more precisely: at least 1/(log 4 ? 1) times) as great a disvalue on being certain of a falsehood as the value one sets on being certain of a truth!

…Something to ponder. – TL

5 Thoughts on this Post

  1. When I started reading Item #2, I immediately thought: well, the list will definitely include Orestes Brownson (’cause he’s in at the moment), but will just as definitely exclude Dorothy Day (who certainly deserves to be there)…and Tim will say so.

    Sad to say I was absolutely correct about the list; happy that I was also correct about your assessment of it.

  2. If there were not an academic star system, who would I blame for the fact that I cannot get a job at a research university? It can’t be my own awful writing, right?

  3. Anon,

    Well, true “academostars” have no need to be employed full-time in the academy. By this I mean there is an “academostar taxonomy”: employed full-time in an institution, affiliate with one, or gained her/his fame at such-and-such institution. So I don’t think we have to play blame game strictly—though that’s what Donoghue’s piece does.

    One could be known as a dramatic public lecturer with provocative ideas, but not necessarily known for her/his prose, and still be an “academostar.” Yes?

    – TL

  4. #3, i think, the academostars, should clearly be put in some historical perspective…it’s not like 18th and 19th century universities did not have wildly popular professors, who got all the students, got all the speaking tours (which were a bigger deal back then).

    also, although i haven’t looked at the original piece, it seems wrong to me to call it the ‘star system.’ this has specific connotations, has been theorized on its own terms—judith butler is some kind of academic celebrity, and maybe it would be interesting to provide a theoretical political-economy account of what that means, but she is *not* a star like greta garbo or something–the lines of commodification and identification work differently.

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