U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Uncertainty as Fetish

In the inaugural essay for my Great Books in US Intellectual History Series I hope I made clear that I am a big fan of James Kloppenberg’s monumental book, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920 (1986). But like all books even great ones need to be critiqued. Indeed great ones especially demand our critical reflection because they cast such long shadows over our discipline. Failure to do so results in scholarly stagnation. It is in this spirit that I critique Uncertain Victory.

In my first essay I mentioned Kloppenberg’s matter-of-fact affinity for the “profoundly historical sensibility” articulated by the via media philosophers. Kloppenberg’s description of the overarching via media epistemology might as well be self-portrayal, or even a summary of the modern historion’s mind: “If our ethical ideas, like the rest of our knowledge as these philosophers understood it, cannot conform to prescribed standards but derive instead from reason reflecting imperfectly on experience, then right and good, like truth, must be unhitched from certainty and made historical” (4). The emphasis on experience was an emphasis on historical context, situated at the intersection between objectivity and subjectivity. Channeling the via media thinkers, Kloppenberg furthermore writes:

History reflects the consequences of choices, both successful and unsuccessful, and it thus illuminates the very options available in the present… Lodged firmly between the subjectivism of later existentialism and the objectivism of idealist philosophy, the historical sensibility confirms the freedom, within limits, of human choice (111).

Most of us no doubt find much to like in such a theory of history. It is our theory of history. Henry Sidgwick’s statement that “our view of what ought to be, must be largely derived, in details, from our appreciation of what is” (134) was the definitive anti-Kantian articulation of pragmatism—an articulation that has largely guided our historiographical efforts ever since (aside from a few rebel anti-pragmatists here and there: Christian Reconstructionists, Afrocentrists, postmodernists). But the ways in which the via media thinkers, and Kloppenberg by extension, set their own pragmatic theory of history apart from Marxism—the ways in which they lumped Marxism in with Kantian and other pre- or non-pragmatic historical theories—should give us some pause.

The via media theory of history was quite consistent with Marxism. The via media thinkers—and again, I must say, Kloppenberg by extension—treated Marx and his epigones as straw men handicapped by an outmoded teleological baggage they inherited from Kant and Hegel. This is a truism at best. Marx’s materialist approach to history, which notwithstanding a few oft-repeated sentences ripped from the Communist Manifesto was often only teleological as an afterthought, was entirely consistent with the via media historical sensibility. Take his famous passage from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmuted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.

Marx’s poetics are in the same vein as the pragmatic historical theory of experience. Perhaps Marx’s emphasis was more deterministic than via media thought, which always accentuated human agency above all else. But elsewhere Marx wrote: “History does nothing, it possesses no immense wealth, fights no battles. It is rather man, real living man who does everything, who possesses and fights.”

Marx and Marxists ever since Marx have fought against the over-determinism of their more vulgar comrades and have, as such, made epistemological if not political peace with ideas informed by the via media. For instance, the Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs built upon Marx’s notions about class consciousness to innovate a theory of what he called “reification,” which was the process by which socially constructed ideas like private property became so entrenched that people believed they were eternal “things.” Lukacs’s theory of reification was consistent with Dewey’s theory of experience, or what Dewey took to calling “habits” by the time he had authored his monumental 1916 book Democracy and Education. Habits were active, energetic, and dominating means that projected themselves and conditioned human beings to their contexts. Dewey fretted that Americans had been habituated to believe that individualism rather than social cooperation was the natural state of things. He likened such a habit to what a Marxist might call “false consciousness” and wrote that it was “an unnamed form of insanity which is responsible for a large part of the remediable suffering in the world.” The fact that a communist like Lukacs and a progressive like Dewey had similar genealogical theories of history and ideology should only come as a surprise if we fail to take Kloppenberg and his subjects with a grain of salt.

My critique of Kloppenberg thus far might seem like the nit-picky ramblings of a defensive Marxist. Fair enough! But I would argue there are larger historiographical and indeed political stakes involved. Kloppenberg’s uncritical acceptance of the idea that pragmatism is inherently anti-Marxist is an ahistorical inflection of Cold War liberalism. Such an inflection is residual at most, and is certainly not overt in the way that Jesse Lemisch categorized and castigated Higham, Hofstadter, and Woodward. But I would argue Cold War liberalism is somewhere to be found in the way Kloppenberg makes uncertainty a fetish. Let me explore this further.

Kloppenberg is masterful at explaining extremely complicated philosophy in ways that make it understandable and relevant. And yet his choice of words is often so authoritative that we are left wondering if there aren’t alternative interpretations of philosophical systems that were in fact often too obtuse to nail down with such authority. The following passage, for example, dictates that the only way to read Kant and Kantians is through William Dilthey:

In place of the neo-Kantians’ fascination with the transcendental self and the metaphysical subject floating in a timeless world of absolute meanings and rational principles, [Dilthey] emphasized the real, living, historical human being, who could be neither torn from his context nor placed in dualistic opposition to a world that entered his experience at every moment (60).

Dilthey’s theory of experience was consistent with Dewey’s never-ending quest to slice through all binaries—subject-object, etc—which is a form of thought that continues in our contemporary anti-metaphysical club best expressed in “death of author” forms of literary criticism. In other words, Dilthey’s—and by extension Kloppenberg’s—uncertainty is normative. And yet questions linger: Can this “real, living, historical human being” be isolated, or understood, or judged, without speculative dabbling in so-called timeless principles? In other words, and I am hardly the first to say this: the via media is a very limiting sort of philosophy, given the limitations on our ability to know “real, live, historical human” experience. It militates against utopian thinking, for one, which to me is the best way to constrain future possibilities. Uncertainty may be epistemologically sound—dare I say unimpeachable—but it is also politically unimaginative and should not be made a fetish.

Kloppenberg concludes Chapter 2—“The Radical Theory of Knowledge” (my favorite chapter in the book) as follows:

The philosophers of the via media abandoned the search for certainty as fruitless when they found it inconsistent with the fundamental facts of experience. Through their new conceptualization of thinking, they were able to discover that all knowledge, in the human sciences as well as the natural sciences, can never be true in any final or ultimate sense (94).

Kloppenberg is no doubt right that such an uncertain theory of knowledge brought about “new vistas for understanding human culture and history.” But perhaps such vistas were unintended? Doesn’t the idea that no knowledge can ever be true and final lead to speculative inquiry of the Kantian or Hegelian or Marxist kind? If we can’t know truth in any absolute sense, shouldn’t we speculate about systems of truth? Such speculation fires the political imagination in ways necessary to political progress and liberation. We take modern, progressive, anti-metaphysical ways of thinking for granted. But why? What would it do to our thinking if we didn’t?

In terms of historiography I place Uncertain Victory alongside a number of other important books that have been published since the early 1980s that I categorize as Post-Cold War Consensus Neo-Pragmatism. In addition to Uncertain Victory these are the three books that I include in this category: Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (1981); James Livingston, Pragmatism and the Political Economy of Cultural Revolution, 1850-1940 (1997); and Daniel Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (1998). (All three of these books are also on my Great Books list and will thus be analyzed here at a later date.) Although these neo-pragmatist historical interpretations are remarkably different in terms of their political implications, which speaks to the many strange political valences of this category, each in its own way was grounded in an effort to distance the twentieth-century liberal thought of James and Dewey from the Cold War consensus. Of course, shedding such skin was easier said than done, especially since the Post-Cold War Consensus Neo-Pragmatist historians often seemed more interested in distancing themselves from the New Left than from Cold War liberalism.

Take Uncertain Victory. It was published in 1986, but as a huge and complicated book that began as a dissertation, Kloppenberg likely started researching it in the mid-1970s, at the height of the New Left critique of what went as intellectual history at that time (Higham, Hofstadter, and Woodward). This was when graduate students in history devotedly read Michael Rogin’s The Intellectuals and McCarthy: The Radical Specter (1969) as a convincing critique of Cold War or consensus liberalism. Rogin argued that the Cold War liberal tendency to conflate seemingly extremist political ideas with psychological disorder had the effect of narrowing the political spectrum. Such psychological reductionism was often leveled against the right—on display in The New American Right (1955), an anthology of liberal criticism of conservatism that included essays by many consensus luminaries such as Bell, Hofstadter, Riesman, Glazer, Parsons, and Lipset—but could also be aimed at the left and as such did not find an amiable home with the New Left.

In the wake of Vietnam, the archetype of failed American liberal projects, Rogin’s devastating critique of Cold War liberalism grew into a critique of American liberalism writ large. In other words, thanks to Vietnam and the influence of the New Left, many historians by the 1970s viewed American liberalism, including the social democratic and progressivist tendencies analyzed by Kloppenberg, with suspicion. As such perhaps Kloppenberg saw Uncertain Victory as a correction to the over-compensations of the New Left. One cryptic passage in his introduction is telling: “Much of the criticism leveled against social democratic and progressive theorists, born of a coupling between the slick condescension accompanying hindsight and the easy imputation of unstated motives, reveals a failure of historical imagination masquerading as tough-minded savvy.”

In this way I position Kloppenberg’s book, and neo-pragmatist history more broadly speaking, as an anti-New Left gesture and an attempt to reestablish the radicalism of American liberalism (which might be better called social democracy or progressivism if we take Kloppenberg’s genealogy seriously). Perhaps Kloppenberg is right that we should be more favorably disposed toward the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century social democratic and progressivist thinkers. Indeed, I think they worked in the tradition of Marxism, even if they proclaimed to distance themselves from Marxism, and I find much useful in Marxism.

But we should be wary of Kloppenberg’s claim that uncertainty is an appropriate sensibility in the aftermath of totalitarianism. Cold War liberalism’s celebration of irony, complexity, and pluralism grew from the pragmatic conceptualization of uncertainty. And yet Cold War liberalism gave us the Vietnam War, which to the Vietnamese was apiece with the twentieth century totalitarian horror show and had little to do with irony, complexity, or any other liberal platitude.

To conclude: My goal in this essay was to point to one possible way in which we might critique Kloppenberg’s Great Book. There are other such avenues that could be explored. I would be interested in reading, for example, James Livingston’s critique of Uncertain Victory. Whereas Kloppenberg views via media thought as epistemologically moderate in relation to Nietzschean antifoundationalism, Livingston has argued that James and Dewey were cut from the same cloth as Nietzsche and that such antinomianism is what made pragmatism so liberating. I would also love to read Corey Robin’s review of Uncertain Victory since elsewhere Robin has argued that the type of antifoundationalism found in Nietzsche—and also found in the era of American social thought Daniel Rodgers calls The Age of Fracture—is the consequence of political reaction and often creates space for more obviously conservative ideas. The logic that informs Robin’s original article about proto-libertarians like Hayek, appropriately titled, “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children,” could be brought to bear on Uncertain Victory in productive ways. And last but not least I would enjoy getting Christopher Shannon’s take on Kloppenberg, since Shannon’s conservative Catholic worldview is so at odds with the normative framework of the modern historical discipline that Kloppenberg and his subjects represent.

OK, that’s enough on Kloppenberg for now. I look forward to your comments. The next edition of my Great Books Series will be posted sometime in October, and the book under scrutiny will be Robert Genter, Late Modernism: Art, Culture, and Politics in Cold War America (2010), which I am coupling with a reading of Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Toward History (1937).

17 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Brilliant, Andrew. Makes me think differently about Uncertain Victory, one of the indispensable books of modern intellectual history. My critique of that book is, I believe, parallel to or convergent with yours–socialism (social democracy) is a central character in the drama, but Kloppenberg treats it, notwithstanding the book title, as a figure that will inevitably disappear as the via media becomes the mainstream.

    • Thanks, Jim! I’m looking forward to re-reading your book as part of this series. Perhaps you would write some sort of retrospective in response to me? It’s been 20 years since publication of Pragmatism and the Political Economy of Cultural Revolution!

  2. Hmmm.

    The quote you pull from Kloppenberg’s intro — “a coupling between the slick condescension accompanying hindsight and the easy imputation of unstated motives” — is a sword that cuts both ways. I guess you can parry the charge that you yourself are engaging in “the easy imputation of unstated motives” by saying that, well, Kloppenberg states his motives here in the intro.

    But to what degree is a historiographic corrective necessarily a political corrective?

    I’m not asking because I’ve decided on an answer. I’m asking because I think it’s up for debate. At least I hope it is.

    Another thing that has been troubling me of late — maybe partly as a delayed (or, rather, sustained) reaction to the Lemisch-induced (or, worse, L.D.-induced) donnybrook to which you’ve linked above — is this: how wide the margins of the text? How much of the historian goes into the historiography?

    Again, not a position statement. An honest question, to which I must find an answer that works for me. Haven’t found one yet.

    • Great questions, LD, perhaps unanswerable, or at least, I join you as not having found suitable answers myself. That said, I am someone who tends to look for the political in everything, including the historiographical. Such a tendency shapes my flailing attempt to answer your questions.

      “But to what degree is a historiographic corrective necessarily a political corrective?” Of course it depends. Sometimes the connection is explicit, such as DuBois “Black Reconstruction.” The connection is more implicit in “Uncertain Victory.” I think the latter (political corrective) to some degree informs the former ((historiographical corrective) but they are not the same thing in this or most cases.

      Second question: “How much of the historian goes into the historiography?” Yeah, this one is even tougher. I often work hard to leave some of my more overt political interests on the other side of the margins. In fact one of the reasons I chose to write about the culture wars instead of, say, the history of educational privatization, is because I felt I had far fewer political and historiographical commitments in the balance. But still… one of my main arguments in the book is that the culture wars mattered because political differences still mattered, which is an argument that takes issue with some recent historiography (Rodgers) and is intimately related to my view of the world as a political being.

  3. Andrew,
    This is a really thrilling response to Kloppenberg’s book and to its historical moment. I particularly felt the resonance of this line: “I position Kloppenberg’s book, and neo-pragmatist history more broadly speaking, as an anti-New Left gesture and an attempt to reestablish the radicalism of American liberalism.”

    But I wonder if there isn’t also, alongside the political stakes you’ve insightfully identified, a more purely epistemological context: we could also identify the force of neo-pragmatism as an effort to shore up the radical credentials of James, Dilthey, et al. against the rising specter of a new transatlantic community of unquestionably radical anti-foundationalists–i.e., poststructuralism.

    At least that’s how I’m reading pages 10 and 11, especially the quote, “The philosophers of the via media suggested a genuinely new approach to the problems of knowledge and responsibility, an approach whose limited claims to certainty make it an attractive alternative to philosophical programs that seem unable to fulfill their grander ambitions.”

    Is it reasonable to read post-structuralism between the lines here, or was there a different target that I’m missing?

    • I think this is right on the money. These words from the introduction seem to point to the menace of pos-structuralism. Even if the whole project itself could be seen as a critique of New Left historicism, these and other moments in the intro also point to a clear reaction to the attraction of post-structuralist theory’s fetishization of uncertainty. This echoes too Jackson Lears’ own embrace of James and company against the extreme relativism of Derrida, Foucault, etc (but not so much Livingston’s read).

      • Andy and Kahlil: Yes indeed. Kloppenberg sought to slay several dragons in writing UNCERTAIN VICTORY. The biggest and baddest dragon was, to my mind, the New Left interpretation of American liberalism and its intellectual traditions, which is why that angle was the focus of my post. But Kloppenberg also implicitly takes on poststructuralism and as such this could be yet another avenue for praise or criticism or analysis. In the passage you cite and a few others sprinkled throughout the book Kloppenberg hints at how the via media thinkers are preferable to poststructuralists or postmodernists, who were just emerging when he was researching and writing UNCERTAIN VICTORY (English translations of Foucault were first read widely in the US beginning in the mid- to late-1970s, and, perhaps more on Kloppenberg’s radar, Rorty’s PHILOSOPHY AND THE MIRROR OF NATURE was published in 1979). Kloppenberg makes a distinction between the via media/pragmatism more explicit in his fairly famous 1996 JAH article, “Pragmatism: An Old Name for Some New Ways of Thinking.” In that article he also makes clear he stands with the pragmatists against those who call themselves neo-pragmatists, arguing that neo-pragmatists had co-opted the name pragmatism to make postmodernist (radical antifoundationalist) claims that ran counter to the intentions of the originals. Kloppenberg was also more explicit in that essay about the presentist rationale for intellectual history. Who is better situated to test, as he wrote, “the claims of our community of inquiry about the significance of the past for the present”?

        Kloppenberg’s implicit antipathy towards poststructuralism plays out in UNCERTAIN VICTORY by means of his generic dismissal of Nietzsche, who is always only useful to him and his subjects as a nihilist foil. In retrospect this is ironic given that Kloppenberg’s star pupil Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen wrote AMERICAN NIETZSCHE out of a genuine love for Nietzsche and Nietzschean antifoundationalism.

  4. “But we should be wary of Kloppenberg’s claim that uncertainty is an appropriate sensibility in the aftermath of totalitarianism. Cold War liberalism’s celebration of irony, complexity, and pluralism grew from the pragmatic conceptualization of uncertainty. And yet Cold War liberalism gave us the Vietnam War, which to the Vietnamese was apiece with the twentieth century totalitarian horror show and had little to do with irony, complexity, or any other liberal platitude.”

    Andrew you made this point a few times now at the blog, and I guess I am still uncertain (sorry) what you think, then, is the appropriate response to totalitarianism that was, in some cases, derived from Marxism, unless there is historical consensus that 20th century communism had nothing to do with Marx. It would seem that if we read some one such as A.J. Muste who I think was a practicing pragmatist and subscriber to the principle of uncertainty in the face of totalitarian certainties, it is hard to see how he is complicit in the Vietnam War. Likewise not all liberals were quite as arrogant as the hawks in the Kennedy and Johnson White House. I know you have written before about shallowness of using irony as a way to avoid doing the hard work of imagining and building a better society. But is the alternative a didactic approach to Cold War thought?

    • Ray: I expected somebody to challenge me on this front, and I suspected that somebody might be you! So thanks for pushing me to clarify and expand.

      I’m not enthusiastic about going down the tangled rabbit hole that is the longstanding debate about the causal links between Marxism and totalitarianism–the slippery slope from Marx’s rhetorical “dictatorship of the proletariat” to the nightmares of Stalinism. I think a properly pragmatic historical sensibility would push our analyses away from such deterministic causes and towards more contextual causes, such as pre-Soviet Russia’s deeply embedded feudal past that left the vast majority of Russians in conditions of abject misery. But I digress.

      Liberalism is the furthest thing from a monolithic intellectual tradition, this much we concur. In fact my appreciation of UNCERTAIN VICTORY and, more specifically and especially, John Dewey has a lot to do with the fact that this strand of liberalism was very different from Cold War liberalism. Though uncertainty is not something we should fetishize it did at times operate as a liberating epistemological and even political gesture in its late 19th century origins. But I would argue that by the late 1940s those who carried American liberalism’s water–Schlesinger is archetypical–were so caught up in anticommunism that they destroyed the liberating potential of American liberal thought. The revolutionary ideas of John Dewey, which meshed easily with Marxist thought, were disfigured into tropes that were meant to constrain alternative political possibilities. And as such the poverty of Cold War liberal thought made it less likely that America’s leading liberal intellectuals would oppose the nation’s hot wars fought on stated anticommunist grounds. So the degree to which Muste and others sought to put pragmatic ideas into circulation in order to oppose war and injustice points to the fact that such ideas had many possible valences. But let’s face it: Muste’s ideas failed to change the tenor of public discourse, and for this we have Cold War liberalism and its hardened tropes to thank. Muste should have been angrier at Schlesinger than anyone else.

  5. Andrew,
    Thanks for the comment–that is very clarifying, and thanks for the citation of the 1996 Kloppenberg article. I wasn’t trying to say that philosophy trumped politics here, though, and completely agree with you that the political angle is the more important (and the more interesting).

    But I’m also wondering if Kloppenberg’s use of Nietzsche is really so diametrically opposed to the Nietzsche we get in Ratner-Rosenhagen: it is, after all, an American Nietzsche, with the more Emersonian sides of his work often played up (I remember Ratner-Rosenhagen even criticizing Kaufman for not giving enough weight to the Emerson connection).

    • Excellent point, Andy. I agree that Ratner-Rosenhagen’s Nietzsche is an American Nietzsche of the sort Kloppenberg must find more likable. Yet the Nietzsche in UNCERTAIN VICTORY could never be made into an American Emersonian Nietzsche. Perhaps Kloppenberg has changed his mind on this some 30 years later. Or perhaps he really was just giving voice to the via media thinkers and I read too much into his own position on Nietzsche. I admit I could be wrong on this.

  6. Andrew, thanks for this interesting and insightful read of Kloppenberg. Now let me disagree!

    “Uncertainty may be epistemologically sound—dare I say unimpeachable—but it is also politically unimaginative and should not be made a fetish.”

    Kloppenberg’s entire book is an argument _against_ the idea that uncertainty is “politically unimaginative”– in fact the political philosophy of progressivism and social democracy are only possible, in his account, when the political imagination is unshackled from foundationalist and dualist accounts of knowledge, the knower, and the necessary and logical consequences of materialist and idealist philosophies. Utopian thinking, in this account, is politically unimaginative, a commitment to an idealized form that itself prevents the ability to imagine alternatives. That some of this way of thinking could be diverted to “end of ideology” complacency and justifications for the status quo in Cold War liberalism doesn’t change the fact that it could also be instrumental in thinkers like C. Wright Mills, who could provide a critique of “end of ideology” thought, not through invocation of utopian possibility, but by invoking an open future and pragmatic possibilities. Was Mills lacking in “political imagination”? I don’t want to put words in Kloppenberg’s mouth, but I read Kloppenberg not as “making a fetish” of uncertainty, and to the extent that you criticize him for doing so, I think you have accepted the idea that dogmatism, certainty, and absolute commitments are bad things. Kloppenberg, I think, is suggesting that the triumph of uncertainty is to be measured by the willingness of its advocates to continually rethink their commitments in light of consequences. Schlesinger et al. are evidence of the failure to commit to the practice of uncertainty, and hence the problem with Cold War liberalism was not its pragmatic fluidity but its schlerotic and dogmatic anti-Communism, its desire to imitate the appeal of totalitarianism. I have just been teaching _The Vital Center_ to my undergraduates, and it’s hard not to see already, in 1949, the simultaneous repulsion from totalitarianism for its absolute certitude and the envy of its appeal as what Schlesinger calls “a fighting faith.”

    • “the triumph of uncertainty is to be measured by the willingness of its advocates to continually rethink their commitments in light of consequences.” …That is pragmatism in a nutshell, as I understand it. It’s not that commitments and tentative “foundations” don’t matter, or don’t exist. It’s just that they have to be rethought and reconsidered in a *timely* fashion. And the question anti-pragmatist foundationalists ask is ‘when’? By generations? Every 10 years? Every 5 years? – TL

    • Dan: This is an excellent critique of my reading of Kloppenberg–that Cold War liberalism was a misreading of “uncertainty” as articulated by Kloppenberg’s subjects. I’m almost convinced. The reason I have trouble disassociating Kloppenberg and his subjects from Cold War liberals is their sclerotic take on the Marxist historical imagination, which as I argue in the post has much in common with the pragmatic vision of history and less with “an idealized form that itself prevents the ability to imagine alternatives.” But in any case thanks for your always insightful comments.

  7. I haven’t read *Uncertain Victory*, but I’m very much enjoying this conversation—particularly Dan’s, LD’s, and Ray’s replies. Thanks to Andrew for the post, and to everyone else for the engagement.

    Is it bad that I have an aversion—dating back to my graduate studies—to creating categories of books, or historians, like “Post-Cold War Consensus Neo-Pragmatism”—even though I do it occasionally, and appreciate scholars who do (such as Andrew did). It’s not that I don’t believe that these categories are useful, such as “consensus historian.” It’s just that so many shades of gray are lost, such as (to continue my ‘consensus’ example) between complex writers like Miller, Commager, Hartz, Hofstadter, etc. The drive to classify ends up, practically, as a broad dismissal of works that otherwise would’ve been valuable in one’s own projects. I find that if I speak in these “school of history” terms I tend to see less value than what’s there in those older books and articles.

    FWIW: When I’m doing my actual writing—i.e. producing a historical narrative—these terms are generally absent. For one thing, the pressure to reduce footnote lengths is so intense that these broad categories/characterizations (when I rarely invoke them) can’t be relayed adequately. But I don’t find that these characterizations speak even to smart undergraduate readers.

    Just wanted to explain my aversion. – TL

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