U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Odds & Ends

1 (of 3). Check out (some of) Corey Robin’s review of Daniel Rodgers’ Age of Fracture at Crooked Timber. Robin can only offer passages in the CT post because the review appeared in belongs to the London Review of Books.

2. Over at The Root, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., uses the pioneering black journalist Joel Augustus Rogers as a springboard to ponder the long history and diversity of the black community in the United States. The following two paragraphs, plus a sentence, from Gates’ piece impressed me the most:

The more I research the history of African Americans’ ancestors in this country, the more astonished I am by two seemingly contradictory things: First, how people from as many as 50 ethnic groups were plucked from West and West-Central Africa and then dispersed as property throughout the American slave community, North and South, and then with noble heroism and courage, determination and pure grit and great collective will, created one of the world’s truly great cultures; and second, at the extent of these same people’s surprising, often counterintuitive opinions within the race, as well as their widely varied beliefs and disagreements and debates, over just about every aspect of politics, culture, strategy, religion — you name it. 

It seems as if our people have been arguing with each other about how best to ease their collective burden almost since the day the first group arrived as slaves on these shores! And why should that surprise us? Why should African Americans be any less complex than other groups of human beings? We sometimes tend to romanticize the black past, imagining a time when our people were united, when they “spoke with one voice.” Never happened!  

Even at the worst times in African-American history, there seems never to have been one “African-American” opinion or pattern of behavior about much of anything, as far as I can tell. 

3. James Kloppenberg reflects on our recent political conventions at Commonweal. Here’s an excerpt from his introduction (bolds mine):

An insatiable craving for the newest news drives commentary on American politics. Dozens of angles have come and gone in recent months, as writers and talking heads have proposed new story lines only to drop them after just a few days. The economy dwarfed every other issue—until it didn’t. Foreign policy didn’t matter—until it did. CEO Romney and policy-wonk Ryan were riding a wave of antigovernment sentiment—until they weren’t. Romney’s wealth and disdain for all but the wealthy would sink him—until it didn’t. Obama the reclusive, bloodless deliberator had to grow a backbone and start giving fiery speeches to inspire Democrats and independents—until he let Bill Clinton handle that chore at the convention.
In the weeks after Obama’s acceptance speech, the media’s interest in the election as horse race has nearly blotted out the substance of the president’s address and its relation to the broader themes of the Republican and Democratic campaigns. As attention ricochets almost hourly with momentum shifts, and as millions of dollars are raised and spent in swing states from New Hampshire and Florida to Colorado and Nevada, trivial scoops crowd out the substantive issues. If pundits are inevitably drawn to the latest gaffe or poll, historians should take a longer view. That’s my goal here. Only by refusing to play the soothsayer can one escape the danger of inaccurate predictions.