Chicago-area Friends: The Newberry Library has invited me to present for its “Meet The Author” series. This open event is next Tues, 1/27, at 6 pm. Come hear a LWEM (Live, White Male of European descent) reflect on the discoveries I made during research and writing, as well as my personal relationship to this topic and plans for future research/writing. You will benefit from the fact that I sort of test-ran the opening of my NL talk during another panel this past weekend. – TL
An intervention: I’ve been watching this 2.5 year old piece, from May 2012, recirculate over the past week. I find the article annoyingly alarmist.
First, there’s the scary, over-generalized title. Anti-intellectualism is not suddenly taking over the U.S. Extrapolating national trends from Arizona, of all places, is a hazardous business. That state has been a hotbed of reactionary, odd politics for fifty-plus years since Goldwater.
Second, one should never generalize about anti-intellectualism at large from our political discourse. American politicians and would-be activists are famous for uttering crowd-pleasing, nonsensical, and offensive things.
Third, Americans have been arguing about school curricula, in public settings since, well, public schools were created. Those arguments became more heated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, becoming especially hot in the 1930s and through the 1950s.
Fourth, our public libraries have been targets of would-be censors since public libraries became a wider presence in the early twentieth century.
Fifth and finally (for now), on concerns about higher edu curricula, scholarship, and professorial utterances, well, David Horowitz has been raising the the alarm on those topics since the 1980s. Nothing particularly alarming on higher education anti-intellectualism has occurred over the past five years.
In sum, let’s not get scared about a 2.5 year old article by a Columbia law professor, published in a British periodical, underscoring historical trends that have seen higher heat levels in the last century. Americans have been and should always be aware of our special brand of anti-intellectualism. But I was more worried in 2008 than I am now or was in 2012. – TL
Here’s the Ann Little post that inspired what follows below.
Tim Lacy: The New York Times Book Review Interview
What books are currently on your night stand?
A number—too many—and literally on the night-stand/bookshelf next to my bed. I’m in the middle an annual reread of Lord of the Rings, but after that I’ll take up Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error, David Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom, Christopher Beha’s The Whole Five Feet, and Jacques Maritain’s The Peasant of the Garonne.
What was the last truly great book you read?
I’m reading Balzac’s Cousin Bette. I’m almost done with Kenneth Burke’s much-referenced, Attitudes Toward History. Prior to Balzac I finished Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust.
Who are the best historians writing today?
Good question. I read for topics more than prose, and more short pieces than books. That said, I really enjoy the work of Read more…
I was recently asked the following question: “Is there a simple way to explain how the Great Books/Classics became part of the modern CONSERVATIVE tradition, both educationally and politically?” My short answer is “No!”—replying to the “simple way” part of the inquiry. But my longer, more considered, and more polite reply follows.
Before answering, I must make two clarifications. First, if we think of the “modern conservative tradition” as existing in the post-World War II time frame, you might divide conservatives’ relationship with the great books idea into three periods—two of which primarily involve affinity, and one which is mixed, or maybe even leans toward skepticism. Of course these three periods are somewhat arbitrarily constructed. Each involves intersections with notions of ‘dignity’, ‘tradition’, ‘individualism’, ‘fear’, ‘the common good’, ‘relativism’, and ‘identity’. Second, for the purposes of this essay and in my other work, I use ‘great books’ as distinct from ‘the classics’. The latter, to me, focuses on ancient Greek and Roman texts, as well as Medieval and some Early Modern works (Descartes even up to Locke). The former includes moderns and recent works—think Emerson and Whitman on up to Freud, Hemingway, and Woolf (though we could push that up to the 1980s, if wanted). Of course conservatives and liberals view these chronological boundaries differently, and use the terms without nuance (e.g. to conservatives Tocqueville is a “classic” author). Anyway, I’ll avoid using “the classics” or “classics” for the most part.
The first period of the “modern conservative tradition,” which existed from the 1940s until the 1960s, involved what historian George Nash called the “paleoconservatives.” Read more…
Three immediate thoughts on this piece about biblical ignorance the Christian Right:
(1) I don’t think that playing gotcha on the books of the Pentateuch is a good way to assess Bible knowledge/ignorance (i.e. that wasn’t a good example for the article’s thesis);
(2) Won’t a certain sector see this deficit as an incentive to actually increase the quality and quantity of bible study groups?
(3) And if (2) happens, won’t that actually increase, in the near term, the possibility of misapplied verses and bad politics?
The problem with Christian Right politics is not so much bad Bible knowledge but an unwillingness—after injecting theology into the public square—to tolerate compromise, process, and democracy. That kind of liberalism reads as license to them. The true believer in so-called pro-life politics abhors compromise. Living life in the abstract makes it difficult to deal with practical messiness of democracy. – TL
I can get behind substantial portions of this reply (esp. the critique of The Enlightenment). But the real issue, as I see it, is in the final paragraph on faith statements—because that’s the problem fronted in Peter Conn’s original critique of Wheaton College (IL) in an article on accreditation issues. I think both Conn and Jones underestimate the on-the-ground complexity from their con and pro positions, respectively. Both ignore the practical workarounds of faculty, as well as the pressures of the constricted job market that require sometimes quiet assent. And then there’s the granddaddy problem of them all: does the institution require *literal* assent to every point in the statement, knowing of course that all scripture scholarship does not require literal interpretations to make the scripture deeply meaningful. As a point of reference, here is Wheaton College’s “Statement of Faith and Educational Purpose.” – TL