Blogs > Cliopatria > Your Assumptions and Mine ...

Jul 30, 2004 5:59 am

Your Assumptions and Mine ...

Tim Burke's got a thoughtful piece,"As I Would Not Be A Slave, So I Would Not Be A Master", at Easily Distracted. It's under discussion this morning over at Crooked Timber, thanks to Chris Bertram, at Dean Nation, thanks to Brian Ulrich, and at Matt Yglesias. It's telling, somehow, that Crooked Timber's Chris Bertram initially mis-read Tim's post. Telling because, otherwise, they are intellectual compatriots. If we so easily mis-read the work of people with whom we are largely in agreement, how much easier it is to mis-read or, worse, not read, perhaps because we don't even care to understand, those with whom we have substantial disagreements. As Adam Kotsko notes, it is intellectually lazy to avoid reading the work of people with whom you know you're going to disagree.

At Gnostical Turpitude, Ed Cohn points to a recent profile of National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice,"Blindsided or Blind," in the recent Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. How can we be nearly four years into a Bush administration, with Rice at his elbow, and yet not have a close, critical reading of Rice's scholarship? As Ed suggests, the closest thing we have to it is last year's column on"Revisionist Historians" by AHA president Jim McPherson. Has our intellectual polarization reached the point at which we don't even read the work of people we know we may disagree? What a delicious and tragic irony it would be if some future historian could show of us that Condolezza Rice's scholarship passed critical review because we were too lazy to give it critical examination and because conservative political powers needed a showcase African American female scholar.

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Adam Kotsko - 7/30/2004

I fully intend to follow a similar trajectory after receiving my PhD from Chicago Theological Seminary -- president of Notre Dame, then pope.

(Don't worry -- the whole thing is a joke, unless I win the lottery, at which point all bets are off -- I've played several video games in which it's possible to buy the papacy, and I'll bet you it would still be possible, if impractical, to do so now.)

Ralph E. Luker - 7/29/2004

What caught my attention is that McPherson found criticism in a review of Rice's first book which rang true of subsequent criticism of her public policy advice. Despite such criticism in the review, Rice was scurried up the ladder of academic prestige and granted considerable public deference for her academic prestige. It appears to me that for different reasons in different times and places, Dr. Rice has been waved on to very substantial national influence with little tough examination along the way. A doctorate from the University of Denver leads to being provost at Stanford University leads to being National Security Advisor to the President of the United States? Does that seem like a very likely scenerio for _anyone_ else you can think of?

Jonathan Dresner - 7/29/2004

Her political advice wasn't peer-reviewed in the academic sense, though it certainly should have affected her repeated hirings.

Her scholarship was probably reviewed by a typically narrow bunch of people, specialists trained in more or less the same manner as she was and with more or less the same problem sense. And who reads academic imprint stuff outside their field? There's so much going on inside our fields, as it is, that we rely on reviews and specialists to interpret stuff for us.

I'd like to see more careful (and not presentist) readings of her scholarly work, but with the caveat that great scholars often make terrible analysts (though it doesn't seem that bad scholars would make good ones, either).

Brian Ulrich - 7/29/2004

Burke's piece is also up here, though no one has actually commented yet.

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