U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The Reluctant Historian

In 1992, in a review article published in the AHR, Michael Kazin wrote,

Historians, like most people, are reluctant to sympathize with people whose political opinions they detest. Overwhelmingly cosmopolitan in their cultural tastes and liberal or radical in their politics, scholars of modern America have largely eschewed research projects about past movements that seem to them either bastions of a crumbling status quo or the domain of puritanical, pathological yahoos.*

If Kazin was one of those reluctant historians, he got over it, at least temporarily.  As I have said before on this blog, his biography of William Jennings Bryan is a model of the judicious sympathy that informs the best historical writing, a case study of a historian’s earnest endeavor to render a just characterization, not a caricature.  Such sympathy includes — or perhaps begins with — the basic assumption that people are rational, and that their own beliefs make sense to them.  The job of the intellectual historian, then, is to make sense of those beliefs.  And the more alien those beliefs are to the historian’s own thinking, the harder he or she must endeavor to recover and somehow reconstitute the rationale of subjects that one otherwise might be inclined to write off as retrograde or reactionary or reprehensible or just plain ridiculous.

Thomas Haskell identifies this labor of the historian as a work of asceticism.  In the title essay of Objectivity is Not Neutrality, Haskell writes

The very possibility of historical scholarship as an enterprise distinct from propaganda requires of its practitioners that vital minimum of ascetic self-discipline that enables a person to do such things as abandon wishful thinking, assimilate bad news, discard pleasing interpretations that cannot pass elementary tests of evidence and logic, and, most important of all, suspend or bracket one’s own perceptions long enough to enter sympathetically into the alien and possibly repugnant perspectives of rival thinkers….Fairness and honesty are qualities we can rightfully demand of human beings, and those qualities require a very substantial measure of self-overcoming….Objectivity is not something entirely distinct from detachment, fairness, and honesty, but is the product of extending and elaborating these priceless and fundamentally ascetic virtues.**

Before such a vision of the historian’s vocation, what does one say?

How about, “Oh, [crap].”

Seriously. If anybody had warned me that becoming a good historian would be an exercise in asceticism, of all the outrageous things, I might have made a different choice.

But nobody warns you.  Nobody tells you beforehand, “Oh, by the way, if you want to do this work right, you’re going to have to become a much more generous-minded person, someone who is far more patient and far more forgiving of others’ flaws and failures of vision, than you are right now.”

Nobody explains ahead of time that becoming a good historian means you have to get past being irked by, say, Michael Kazin.

What’s so irksome about Michael Kazin?

Well, for one thing, by defining historians of modern America as cosmopolitan and liberal/radical, he leaves a lot of people out — including, on most days, me.  I will never be able to pull off “cosmopolitan,” never mind “radical.” Now, I think Kazin’s prose was meant to be descriptive, not normative — though the description makes clear just what most academics assume the norm to be.  And, as descriptions go, it’s probably fairly correct.  There are good reasons that Louis Menand’s Marketplace of Ideas ends with the chapter, “Why Do Professors All Think Alike?”  Still, the kind of clubby talk Kazin starts with here makes all my hidden injuries of class flare up at once.*** Race, class and gender may be familiar and (deceptively) safe features of academic discourse, but class is the third rail in the academy itself.  Indeed, Menand notes, in the academy, class “cuts across…political and social views.”****  Yet here I am, rubbing shoulders with the cosmopolitans and the radicals, and I haven’t quit yet.  I want to belong. Indeed, in one sense Kazin and I are part of the same club.  So should I complain if the club sometimes feels a little too clubby?

What I did complain about, quite stridently, was Kazin’s American Dreamers.  I read it last fall, in preparation for the (canceled) S-USIH conference in New York. And I decided to kill birds with stones and write up a precis on it for my independent study.

Well.

I had no idea that I had any particularly strong opinions about the politics of the Vietnam War until I read Kazin’s account of the young dewey-eyed Radicals flocking to North Vietnam and making a hero out of Ho Chi Minh.  All of the sudden it was like I was channeling my Cold-Warrior, war-veteran, flag-waving, Mid-Western, hardhat-wearing, hippie-hating grandparents.  Talk about a wrinkle in time!  I wrote and turned in a blistering precis — which my prof promptly told me to rewrite in more measured, mannerly prose, minus the slang and the salty language, and with perhaps just a little bit more attention to Kazin’s argument in its context.

Fair enough.  But I’ve kept this much from the last paragraph:

I have changed my mind about things before, and I might change my mind about this.  I might even WANT to change my mind about this.  I don’t know — I’m not altogether clear yet on what is at stake.  And while I’m figuring it out, my most belligerent polemic doesn’t need wide circulation.  What I have to do is figure out how to think about the movement Kazin is describing  here in a way that allows me some critical distance both from the movement and from my feelings about it.  I guess writing a furious precis is a place to start.

Yes, it’s a place to start, though not a place to stay.  And Kazin would probably understand that as well as anybody.  He starts The Populist Persuasion with the statement, “I began to write this book as a way of making sense of a painful experience: the decline of the American Left, including its liberal component, and the rise of the Right.”  So I suppose he saw himself in his description of the reluctant historian struggling to see his subjects as something other than “pathological yahoos.”

That’s what I call fighting the good fight.

____________________

*Michael Kazin, “The Grass-Roots Right: New Histories of U.S. Conservatism in the Twentieth Century,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 97, No. 1 (Feb, 1992): 136-155.

**Thomas L. Haskell, Objectivity is Not Neutrality: Explanatory Schemes in History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 148-149.

***I am alluding to the book by Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb, The Hidden Injuries of Class (New York: W.W. Norton, 1972).  It’s a good read.

****Louis Menand, The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010), 139.

26 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Thanks for yet another wonderfully thoughtful meditation on what historians do, LD. As someone raised and educated in a separatist fundamentalist subculture, it took me several years to figure out how to write historically (non-partisan) about liberal and ecumenical Protestants. My masters thesis and dissertation are about the same people but reflect largly incompatible assessments of them

    Would you say the same “asceticism” applies as well to the classroom; we have to figure out how to talk sympathetically about persons and groups we may not like very much, or how to talk critically about persons and groups we like too much?

  2. Mark, thanks for the kind words.

    I was just talking to one of my profs this week about the shock I experienced as a college freshman when, for the first time in my life, I heard the Bible discussed as a work of literature rather than the word of God. That day marked the beginning of one of those epistemic earthquakes that shakes a lot of stuff up and knocks a lot of stuff down. I have been through a few of those in my academic career, some fairly recently. (I wrote about one here: http://s-usih.org/2012/03/why-history-matters.html) And, as you can see from my post today, every once in a while I still feel the aftershocks.

    But these experiences have helped me to be mindful of the “real life” consequences of coming face to face with new ideas and new worldviews. This is especially helpful with first-generation college students, and with first-generation U.S. residents — both groups make up a sizable percentage of the undergrads at my institution.

    It’s not my job to change their understanding about life in general, or politics, or religion, or whatever. It’s just my job to help them understand how to write better, how to interpret texts, how to advance an argument within a larger discourse, and — here’s the kicker — how to think historically. I don’t need to add my own judgments, convictions, preferences, likes, dislikes, politics, beliefts, etc., etc., on top of that, and I don’t need to say or do anything to deliberately challenge my students in any of those ways.

    Asking students to try to think about the past differently, and doing my best to show them how, will be challenge enough.

    So, yes, I absolutely agree: the classroom, with its inherently unequal power dynamics, is where we ought to show the most care about modeling the kind of intellectual sympathy that leads to a genuine understanding of a viewpoint we might never ourselves advance — or to the best approximation of understanding that we can manage.

    • No easy task. In my efforts to help students understand America from multiple perspectives, I sometimes get accused of “bias”–one student thought I should rename my US Survey “the history of the incorporation of minorities” because I didn’t talk about “American” (read, “white”) history enough.

      Thanks again.

      • Yeah, that’s going to happen. Indeed, it probably happens a lot here in Texas. I think we just have to model good methodology and teach good history and treat people respectfully and hope that our students at least believe that we are teaching in good faith and being as fair as we can be.

      • I think I should add a clarification, lest anyone imagine I think teaching is all sweetness and light: sometimes being as fair as we can be means strongly challenging a student’s argument. But there’s a huge difference between challenging the merit of the thought and challenging the merit of the thinker. Part of our job, I think, is to help students understand the difference. And that means doing our best to foster a classroom climate where people are free to disagree but are not free to devalue or belittle those with whom they disagree.

  3. I appreciated Mark’s addendum to the question, because I think about “objectivity” in the classroom a lot. There is a problem in teaching race in that some answers are not as acceptable as others. That doesn’t mean we don’t strive to understand where a racist was coming from, but it does mean that we/I can’t be totally neutral in the classroom. Case in point. I introduced the Dunning School of Reconstruction historiography to my students. One said, wow that’s racist. I asked if the fact that it was racist should change our perception of the work. Most of the other students said no–we should still just take all sides and weigh them equally. I was rather shocked that they thought we should give a racist viewpoint with equal weight as a non-racist viewpoint. Relativism gone too far, in my estimation.

    • Dunning School of Reconstruction historiography was clearly a product of its times. Today’s aspiring historians must keep in mind that so are they.

  4. Lauren, thanks for the comment.

    I would frame “take all sides and weigh them equally” as a methodological problem rather than a moral problem. It shows the students’ need to better understand how historians deal with evidence, including the evidence that allows us to reconstruct (!) the historiographic aims and commitments of an earlier school of thought.

  5. At the same time, it is telling how excited some students get when they are able to read conservatives. I don’t think they see themselves very often in the college experience.

    Take, for example, this conclusion by Eric Foner in the textbook _Give Me Liberty!_, of barely disguised glee over liberalism: “In 1927, the New School for Social Research in New York City organized a series of lectures on the theme of Freedom in the Modern World. The lectures painted a depressing portrait of American freedom on the eve of the Great Depression. The ‘sacred dogmas of patriotism and Big Business,’ said the educator Horace Kallen, dominated teaching, the press, and public debate. A definition of freedom reigned supreme that celebrated the unimpeded reign of economic enterprise yet tolerated the surveillance of private life and individual conscience.
    “The prosperity of the 1920s had reinforced this definition of freedom. With the economic crash, compounded by the ineffectiveness of the Hoover administration’s response, it would be discredited. By 1932, the seeds had already been planted for a new conception of freedom that combined two different elements in a sometimes uneasy synthesis. One was the Progressive belief in a socially conscious state making constructive changes in economic arrangements. The other, which arose in the 1920s, centered on respect for civil liberties and cultural pluralism and declared realms of life like group identity, personal behavior, and the free expression of ideas lay outside legitimate state concern. These two principles would become the hallmarks of modern liberalism, which during the 1930s would redefine American freedom.”

    • If I may, Ms. Anderson, the actual trial transcript is fascinating.

      http://personal.uncc.edu/jmarks/Darrow.html

      Here’s the money quote, which y’d never know from Inherit the Wind.

      DARROW: Then when the Bible said, for instance, “And God called the firmament heaven, and the evening and the morning were the second day,” that does not necessarily mean twenty-four hours?

      BRYAN: I do not think it necessarily does.

      DARROW: Do you think it does or does not?

      BRYAN: I know a great many think so.

      DARROW: What do you think?

      BRYAN: I do not think it does.

      DARROW: You think these were not literal days?

      BRYAN: I do not think they were 24-hour days.

      DARROW: What do you think about it?

      BRYAN: That is my opinion — I do not know that my opinion is better on that subject than those who think it does.

      DARROW: You do not think that?

      BRYAN: No. But I think it would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the earth in six days as in six years or in six million years or in six hundred million years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.

      _____________

      BTW, WJB’s testimony was not offered to the jury, only entered into the record for the appellate court. WJB’s long-windedness here is quote intentional.

      _________________

      JUDGE RAULSTON: It is not competent evidence for the jury.

      McKENZIE: Nor is it competent in the Appellate Courts, and these gentlemen would no more file the testimony of Col. Bryan as a part of the record in this case than they would file a rattlesnake and handle it themselves.

      DARROW, HAYS, MALONE: We will file it. We will file it. We will file every word of it.

      BRYAN: Your Honor, they have not asked a question legally, and the only reason they have asked any question is for the purpose — as the question about Jonah was asked — for a chance to give this agnostic an opportunity to criticize a believer in the word of God; and I answered the question in order to shut his mouth, so that he cannot go out and tell his atheistic friends that I would not answer his questions. That is the only reason, no more reason in the world.

      ___________

      As for the PBS production, I like the website you link, and its attempt to rehabilitate a grand old liberal:

      William Jennings Bryan stepped off the train at Dayton in July of 1925, ready to fight for a “righteous cause.” For thirty years the Great Commoner had been a progressive force in the Democratic Party. As a congressman from Lincoln, Nebraska, his eloquent “Cross of Gold” speech won him the first of three presidential nominations. He supported women’s suffrage, championed the rights of farmers and laborers and believed passionately in majority rule.

      In 1921, when he was 61 years old, Bryan began a new campaign — to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. Many wondered if Bryan had given up his progressive ideals. Had his religious faith turned him against science, education and free speech? Few understood his reasons for opposing evolution.

      As a young man, Bryan had been open-minded about the origins of man. But over the years he became convinced that Darwin’s theory was responsible for much that was wrong with the modern world. “The Darwinian theory represents man as reaching his present perfection by the operation of the law of hate,” Bryan said, “Evolution is the merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak.” He believed that the Bible countered this merciless law with “the law of love.”

      Bryan was progressive in politics and a conservative in religion. According to biographer Lawrence Levine, “Bryan always mixed religion and politics. He couldn’t conceive of one without the other because religion to him was the basis of politics. Without religion there could be no desire to change in a positive way. Why should anyone want to do that?”

  6. Lauren, not sure what you mean by “conservatives” above — but if you mean “populists,” then I think, yeah, they generally don’t fare too well in the survey, if they ever did.

    This is where I think Kazin’s broad generalization of historians as “cosmopolitan” is most on the mark, and yet most wanting. For to be contemptuous or dismissive of the deep convictions of others may fit right in with a “cosmopolitan” style or self-image, but it would not be a triumph of cosmopolitan thinking. Instead, such disdain represents a failure of imagination, and there’s nothing less cosmopolitan than that. Indeed, Kazin’s 1992 review commends the work of several junior scholars precisely because they do *not* display such a failure of imagination. It’s precisely their ability to take seriously the thoughts and beliefs of the people they study that makes them truly cosmopolitan.

    On that note, I think William James’s essay, “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings,” is one of those must-reads for everybody, but especially for profs who might find themselves in the position of teaching students whose political / religious / cultural views/values represent a worldview that the profs are accustomed to viewing with feelings ranging from disapproval to outright contempt. (Not suggesting you’re doing that, of course, but I do think it gets to why “conservative” students are relieved / pleased to read something from a p.o.v. that they can imagine as somewhat sympathetic to their own.)

    Here’s a link to the James essay.

    http://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Pajares/jcertain.html

    • This is where I think Kazin’s broad generalization of historians as “cosmopolitan” is most on the mark, and yet most wanting. For to be contemptuous or dismissive of the deep convictions of others may fit right in with a “cosmopolitan” style or self-image, but it would not be a triumph of cosmopolitan thinking.

      Then to avoid a semantic battle over “cosmopolitan,” a word that fits Kazin’s sense of it is necessary.

  7. Hmmmm. On what I meant by conservative, I meant modern conservative students seeing themselves in past conversations–on some level, this means white men seeing themselves. For instance, in the document reader that goes with the Foner textbook I mentioned before, practically the only voice of the “dominant” white perception is William Graham Sumner. Every other text is by a person from some kind of “minority”–blacks, Indians, Latino/as, Asian-Americans, radical women, etc. Personally, I think that students need to be exposed to these voices and maybe it’s good that white men feel like a minority for once. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel sympathy for their enthusiasm when they do get to read a conservative (as happened in my US Intellectual History course a year ago with an essay labeled, in part, “Conservative”).

    • I should say that the essay was not a racist one–it was more about “personal responsibility” and “small government” (which can have racial implications, for sure, but this particular essay didn’t pull them out).

  8. I’m a little confused about this post and the discussion that follows, so let me throw a few things out there and hopefully people can clarify the contours (and where I fit into them) of the argument(s).

    First, there is this: “And the more alien those beliefs are to the historian’s own thinking, the harder he or she must endeavor to recover and somehow reconstitute the rationale of subjects that one otherwise might be inclined to write off as retrograde or reactionary or reprehensible or just plain ridiculous.”

    Statements like this — and we hear them all the time, especially since the study of conservatives in America has exploded — always confuse me a bit, because they seem to set up this false dichotomy; can’t we take our subjects seriously and still find them to be, at the least, reactionary and often ridiculous, and often, obviously, reprehensible? During the debate on what counts as intellectual history, the question of Glenn Beck came up a lot, and several people made the very good point that we can indeed study someone like Beck to mine him for what we can learn about his political and cultural context, but certainly, we can also sustain that his “thought” quite clearly qualifies as ridiculous — indeed it is its very ridiculousness which makes it a worthy challenge for a “close reading.” So why are these things viewed as incompatible? Surely, for example, much of conservative thought is reactionary, if not usually so simplistically “retrograde.” This is where Corey Robin has been of great help lately correcting for the tendency of some historians to want to see nothing but creative and multifaceted modernity and flexibility in their conservative subjects; so many statements of, “this was somewhat reactionary of course, but….” Yet often, this isn’t a point just to be swept over — the reactionary nature of the thought is an indispensable part of understanding it.

    Then there is this, in the comments: “It’s not my job to change their understanding about life in general, or politics, or religion, or whatever. It’s just my job to help them understand how to write better, how to interpret texts, how to advance an argument within a larger discourse, and — here’s the kicker — how to think historically. I don’t need to add my own judgments, convictions, preferences, likes, dislikes, politics, beliefts, etc., etc., on top of that, and I don’t need to say or do anything to deliberately challenge my students in any of those ways.

    Asking students to try to think about the past differently, and doing my best to show them how, will be challenge enough. ”

    Now, is it considered an outmoded radical critique to look at claims like this very suspiciously and argue that the ideal of the apolitical teacher this comment represents — or at the least, flirts with — is in fact, deeply political? That there is no way, nor is it desirable, to just teach your students to “think historically” because anyone doing the thinking is going to have certain interests and inclinations in how they think historically, and what they historically think about, as this post, honestly and admirably, is a testament to? I’m honestly asking if this viewpoint is considered some kind of discredited Left Wing Talking Point because to me it seems obvious and widely if not universally accepted that arguments that we can, or should, aim for “neutrality” and simply teaching “skills” to students are in themselves political and moral claims ridden with assumptions.

    Just to be clear, I’m not up for throwing open the relativistic doors all the way open, either, and I agree we should both have students read conservatives and conservative thought (a lot of it, in fact) and that we should strive not to alienate students and make clear the distinction between pointing out the problems with an argument and pointing out the problems with a person. But how we teach always involves decisions which, ultimately, rely on some bedrock moral assumptions or assertions which have *political* content, and the only way I see around this dilemma is to make fairly clear the political nature of that content, and then challenge the students to assess their own position — how would *they* frame the same history course, and why?

    By asking your students to “think about the past differently,” you are in fact going to “change their understanding about life in general, or politics, or religion, or whatever” — these are inseparable. So rather than try to do the former but disregard the latter as not a part of your job description, best to realize that politics is not something we can neutralize or switch off when we walk into the classroom. Classrooms are inherently political spaces — they always have been, always will be. It seems to me the only way to deal with this is to embrace it and thus get out of it as much as possible for everyone involved.

    How far apart are we on this actually? I’m wondering whether you actually agree more than I realize, and whatever difference there is here — since there certainly has to be some — has been magnified by tone?

  9. What a fantastic comment, Robin Marie. Thank you.

    To answer your last question first, I would say that we are not nearly as far apart on this as you think.

    I would also say that “tone” is a moral commitment as much as anything else. Contra my esteemed colleague Andrew, there’s no sharp division between style and substance. The style in which I might wish to teach and to be taught (like the style in which I write about such things) conveys as much as the “content” of the exercise.

    But I have not championed “neutrality,” in this post or elsewhere. I think Haskell’s title, and his argument in that essay, is a particularly fine one: objectivity is not neutrality. It is, however, a commitment to a particular kind of humility and self-restraint. Haskell enumerated in his list of disiderata (in the quote above) the fruits of such disciplinary humility, the things that ascetic self-discipline allows one to accomplish as a historian.

    You are absolutely correct that practicing and teaching history this way is not a neutral exercise — certainly not a power-neutral exercise. It makes a powerful statement — maybe not quite as powerful as the closing lines of the James essay, but certainly something along that line.

    As I hope I made clear in this post, historians do not often acknowledge or foreground the ways in which the discipline, however it is practiced, always carries and conveys implicit moral commitments. To ask someone to think anew about the significance of the past is to ask someone to embark on a moral journey as much as an intellectual one — something they don’t always tell you in the intro to historiography class.

    My surmise is that if you ask most historians, “Are you trying to shape the moral commitments of your students, or asking them to examine their own beliefs and assumptions,” most would say, “No.” And while I wouldn’t doubt the sincerity of that answer, I would suggest that it conveys at least a slight lack of self-awareness about just what it is that learning to think historically asks people to do.

    It’s funny that you mention Corey Robin’s book. I was going to chair a panel with Robin, Kazin, Jim Livingston, and Bruce Robbins, discussing both _American Dreamers_ and _The Reactionary Mind_. At one point in my (unsatisfactory) precis, I wrote, “I’m a little worried about how I am going to make sense of this book alongside Corey Robin’s book.”

    Kazin and Robin might share very similar politics — I don’t actually know — and might equally regret the fate of the New Left and the power of the Right for the very same reasons. But of the two, Kazin is the model I would follow as a historian. In seeing more sympathetically, I think he sees more clearly. I can certainly see merit in Robin’s argument, but I have to look past his tone to do it. In some places it takes all the ascetic self-discipline I can muster to see past Robin’s open contempt for the (views of the?) people he studies — but I can do it. However, I’m not so sure Corey Robin can.

    But that’s a subject for another post, and if I have *any* professional sense at all, I won’t write it.

    • Hmm. Just to speak to the narrow, self-interested question of my book: I think, L.D., you might be conflating two different issues.

      One is the question of the tone of the author and the attitude s/he adopts toward his or her subjects. The other is whether s/he has seen those subjects clearly.

      It’s true that the tone of an author may make it difficult for the reader to empathize or sympathize with the writer’s argument; clearly, in my case, my tone put you off. But that doesn’t necessarily or even obviously mean the writer is not seeing things clearly about his/her subject. Of course, I’m not an uninterested party here, but even if my tone set you off, I still tend to think I got things more right than I did wrong. And you haven’t given any indication, at least not here, of where I’m wrong. (I realize this was a side point on your part, but still, you’d have to show not only that my tone set you off but that I got something wrong b/c of my tone or attitude toward my subject.)

      And just to press the point a little further: your assumption seems to be that it is the tone/attitude of the writer that drives or determines the clarity or lack thereof of the writer’s vision of his/her subject. But might it not be the reverse: it is the clarity of his/her vision that drives and determines the tone/attitude?

      One final note: Why do you assume contempt for a subject makes you ill-equipped to grasp that subject? That seems wrong on two fronts. First, it grants contempt far too much power. One can loathe a subject — Himmler seems a pretty easy candidate, from what I’ve read; not just for the obvious reasons but also b/c as a person he was a real shit — and yet have a genuine desire to understand that subject. Contempt is just one of many feelings one might have toward a subject, and it need not preclude others.

      But second: contempt can actually press a writer, even inspire a writer, to see things in a subject that others have not seen. Hazlitt has a wonderful essay on hating; you might want to check it out precisely on this point.

      In my case, it’s pretty clear that I have very little respect for Ayn Rand (I think she, and some of the Guatemalan elite I discuss in one chapter, is the only subject in my book that I feel genuine contempt for.) But I felt like it actually freed me to see things in her writing that many others have not seen.

      So the more I think about this, the more I think the real issue is that my tone set you off (and not just you, of course; a great many other readers as well). I don’t know what I think about that. If it prevents understanding, that’s obviously not good. But if it provokes grappling and reading, well, that seems not so bad.

    • In some places it takes all the ascetic self-discipline I can muster to see past Robin’s open contempt for the (views of the?) people he studies — but I can do it. However, I’m not so sure Corey Robin can.

      But that’s a subject for another post, and if I have *any* professional sense at all, I won’t write it.

      Uh oh. Too late.

  10. Nah, Tom, I’m just joshing. I’d be daft if I didn’t write it — just might not write it soon and/or here. Maybe Dissent magazine. Or my own blog.

    Corey, thanks for your lengthy comment. Sorry it didn’t post right away. I’ll reply before day’s end, whenever THAT is. Gonna be a long one. Students are getting their graded papers back, and there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    • No prob. Just one other quick point. I was really contesting your claim here that contempt gets in the way of understanding. In actual fact, I don’t think I’m contemptuous of most of my subjects in the book. Some of them I find fascinating, some I find sympathetic, some I identify with. Again, I’m not sure that really matters in the end, given my point. But I thought it’d be worth mentioning. And I’ll also say that despite the fact that many — not just you — claimed that my bile got the better of my understanding, not a single person ever demonstrated that I got one of my actual subjects wrong. What has been so amazing to me in this whole contretemps is that for all the high dugdeon of my critics, none of them ever established that I was wrong on Burke, the neocons, de Maistre, the slaveholders, Goldwater, Fukuyama, Hobbes, Rand, or Scalia — who are, after all, the main characters of my book.

  11. Hold that thought, Corey; I don’t think this day is going to end until Friday. I won’t shirk my duties as a critic, though…

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