Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.
They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.
AHA Today and The Edge of the American West are of the same type. Other history sites, like HNN's mainpage and Errol Morris's Zoom, are read as:
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generelly prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.
The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.
Whether they're a"Thinker," a"Mechanic," or some other type, take a moment this weekend to nominate your favorite history blogger for a Cliopatria Award. Thanks to AHA Today, Airminded, American Creation, Archaeoastronomy, Blogenspiel, Boston 1775, Civil War History, Civil War Memory, Early Modern Notes, Frog in a Well/China/Japan/Korea, History Carnivals Aggregator, History News Network, In the Middle, Inside Higher Ed, Legal History, Mercurius Politicus, Progressive Historians, Public Historian, Rogue Classicism, Spinning Clio, Testimony of the Spade, Walking the Berkshires, and wig-wags for helping to get the word out about the nominations.
I was cleaning up my office yesterday and came across this piece that I had meant to, but didn't publish several years ago. It was given at a conference of the Southern Intellectual History Circle in 2004, shortly after the publication of David Chappell's A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow.
Like David's book, my comments are divided into three parts. They are: 1) compliments, 2) back-handed compliments, and 3) criticism. I'll offer them in that order.
For some reason, when I first read David's A Stone of Hope, I thought back some years ago when I was still in graduate school. I was reading Richard Hofstadter's The Age of Reform at a time when it was still a fairly new work of history. So, I'm reading along, thinking and learning, and, then suddenly, there it was – a gob-smacking colossal giant of a mistake. This was no minor error. It was a huge thing that leapt out from the page, grabbed me, and screamed:"You know more than Richard Hofstadter does about this!" In that moment, I thought it was an omen of a promising professional future for me. So, Richard Hofstadter and I made a pact with each other that evening. I would not hold him up to public shame and humiliation if he would be my guardian angel and see me through to the safe harbor of tenure. Some years later, I'm telling you, that Richard Hofstadter made a gob-smacking colossal giant of a mistake in The Age of Reform and you should never count on a Jewish Lutheran to be your guardian angel. There's just too much angst in a Jewish Lutheran to be a good guardian angel. But the larger truth, thirty years later, is that Richard Hofstadter is still Richard Hofstadter and Ralph Luker is still only Ralph Luker. Similarly, I suspect that after I tear David to shreds – ah, offer this critique – this morning, he will still be David Chappell and I will still be my untenured self.
But, first, the compliments: Like The Age of Reform, A Stone of Hope is really a very fine book. It is eminently readable and provocative on every page. The endnotes and long bibliographical essay are substantial and command a scholar's attention. The notes are so important that they should be at the bottom of the page, but they are so substantial that they would have driven a typesetter or formatter crazy. Moreover, in the larger scheme of things, David has certainly accomplished what he set out to do. He has focused our attention on three major groups in relation to the movement and reconfigured our understanding of each of them. Like Mills Thornton's very different book, Dividing Lines: Municipal Politics and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, no worthy history of the civil rights movement in the future can be written without taking A Stone of Hope into account. In fact, I'd argue that these two quite different books launch a third generation of scholarship on the civil rights movement. It may be the first generation of books which both engage the sources critically and asks questions of the movement which place it in a wholly new light. The two books certainly rank among the most important dozen books on the movement; they may both rank in the top half-dozen books about the movement.
A Stone of Hope relies on a distinction between the"optimism" of Northern white liberal allies of the civil rights movement and the"hope" of its Southern African-American leadership. This distinction between"optimism" and"hope" is one which David borrows from Christopher Lasch, but it is also finding its way into popular public address. Barack Obama's brilliant speech at the recent Democratic National Convention drew the same distinction. Optimism tends to foolishness about human nature. It believes that – despite the eddies – history is progressive and that what comes after is, by reason of that fact, likely to be better than what came before. Hope knows what the evidence says about human nature. It knows that tomorrow is likely to be a troubled day; that there is little obvious reason to be optimistic. But it knows something greater than that: it knows that there is a power that makes a way out of no way. It's a crucial distinction. If anything, David doesn't push it far enough. I think you could take that distinction right into the fight of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's delegates at the Democratic National Convention in 1964. Lyndon Johnson, the voice of optimism and progress, offers to seat two movement delegates on the floor of the convention. Fannie Lou Hamer, the voice of faith and hope, says:"We didn't come all the way to Atlantic City for no two seats!"
The other party that David asks us to look at again in a new light is the children of darkness, the segregationists. His is the first book that tries to take them seriously and examine them on their own terms. And what he shows is remarkable: the opposition thar called itself"massive," the opposition which we thought was formidable, the opposition that could put us in holding cells and, at the outside, kill us, was in fact vulnerable, fragile, and cowering. One of the most important contributions of David's book is to draw out the contrast between the formidably intelligent pro-slavery argument and the remarkably weak defense of racial segregation. There was virtually no pro-segregation theology: its articulation was ragged, fragmented, and anything but"massive." David may not have given sufficient attention to the decline in the white clergy as an important force in Southern intellectual life as a factor in the weakness of pro-segregation theology. Slavery had all sorts of smart theological apologists; in the end, segregation had none.
Now, for back-handed compliments. Two critics of Chappell's book, David Garrow and Charles Eagles, have claimed that a) the book is not a coherent whole – that it is a series of essays which do not hold together; and b) that the book is inadequately researched. Both Garrow and Eagles are wrong. A Stone of Hope has no strong narrative thread; but it identifies and relocates for us major players in the field. That itself is a major accomplishment. Eagles is also wrong to claim that Chappell is the kind of intellectual historian who doesn't want to get"his hands dirty" with the nitty-gritty of massive research. Chappell's hands are plenty dirty. In a moment, however, I will argue that there are telling stimata of cleanliness just at the center of each of his palms.
That is enough applause for David's accomplishments. There is a sense in which his is a very good book because, like Hofstadter, he has the audacity to make some claims that are just gob-smackingly wrong. I think he is most wrong in his reading of Martin Luther King. Among current accounts of King's intellectual life, there are three contenders who make major wrong-headed claims about the theological party to which King belonged. Of these three, my friend, Charles Marsh at the University of Virginia, is furthest from the mark. Marsh wants to think about Martin Luther King as a"Barthian." This, no doubt, grows out of Marsh's interests in continental Protestant theology and his later interest in the movement's theology of praxis. Much as I admire Marsh's work on the theologies of the civil rights era, God's Long Summer, there simply is not a Barthian bone in Martin Luther King's body. King was introduced to Barth by professors who were deeply hostile to continental neo-orthodoxy. He read only the most superficial accounts of it and his professors allowed him to dismiss it as"fundamentalism." Now, it is just very interesting that there are two things that Martin Luther King dismissed as"fundamentalism." One is the continental neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth and the other is the folk theology of Martin Luther King, Sr., and the Afro-Baptist church. Somebody needs to look at what King meant by"fundamentalism." Marsh's colleague at the University of Virginia, Wallace Best*, has some interesting ideas about J. H. Jackson, who became King's enemy in the National Baptist Convention, being a Barthian. But King was never a"Barthian." His understanding of Barth was simply too superficial.
A second contender among the current interpreters of King's theology is my friend, Eugene McCarraher at Villanova. Again, I much admire his book, Christian Critics: Religion and the Impasse in Modern American Social Thought. It reviews various traditions of Christian social criticism in America is especially effective on the Catholic personalists. Yet, when he tackles King, McCarraher interprets him as a Tillichian. Now, the only significant link between King and Paul Tillich is the dissertation in which King wrote about the doctrine of God in the theologies of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman. You've pretty much missed the whole scene if you don't know here was a graduate student in Boston personalism entering the arena against two important Protestant theologians for whom God was not personal. For Wieman, God was a natural process; for Tillich, God was"ground of being," whatever that is. But whatever that is, it is no person. And King concluded his dissertation largely where he started: the theologies of Wieman and Tillich were inadequate to the degree that their doctrines of God were impersonal. If you knew who King was, where he wrote his dissertation, what his teachers believed, and what Wieman and Tillich thought, you could have written the dissertation in your sleep. The notion that King was a"Tillichian" is ludicrous.
Chappell offers us Martin Luther King, the Niebuhrian. This King is more credible than either Marsh's or McCarraher's. It is not quite so gob-smackingly wrong as the others and, yet, it is wrong, wrong, wrong. Take this hypothetical: I'm doing a historiographical essay on slavery 25 years ago. There's no evading the work of Eugene Genovese and I need a short identification of said historian. He says that he's a Marxist. I see no reason to argue with that. He knows his mind better than I do, so that he is. Skip forward 25 years and I'm writing a biographical essays about the colorful career of a major historian. He says that he's a Catholic. He knows his mind better than I do, so that he is. Now, if I'm to do a decent piece of work in that essay, I've got to trace a colorful trajectory from the one to the other and show how they can be the same person. But unless I know the mind better than the historian himself does, I'm on perilous ground if I claim that Genovese was no Marxist in his early career or no Catholic in his later career.
So Chappell is on very perilous ground. Never once, not once, did King ever say he was a Barthian, a Tillichian, or a Niebuhrian – not once, not ever. Whenever he identified his theological position, King said that he was a personalist. David simply hasn't gotten his hands quite dirty enough to prove that King didn't know his own mind. I don't think that he can; I think that King knew who he was. But Chappell isn't interested in a single conversion. He re-baptizes virtually the whole African-American civil rights leadership into the church of Reinhold Niebuhr. Where the primary sources make no reference to the influence of Niebuhr himself, we get"Niebuhrian themes" which admit them to the one, holy, and apostolic prophetic faith.
Now this is a conversation that David and I have had several times and I'm at the point at which David says:"No, I'm not talking about the whole theology; I'm just talking about the anthropology or the doctrine of man. King had a Niebuhrian anthropology." That is the correct turn for David to make in the argument. It's the right turn for several reasons: 1) he isn't interested in the doctrine of God; 2) Niebuhr actually denied being a theologian. He was a social ethicist and he had, at most, a sort of implied doctrine of God; and 3) David is interested in that part of King's and Niebuhr's anthropology that sees the necessity of using coercion to achieve proximate social justice.
The stigmata of cleanliness at the heart of David's palms is theological liberalism, of which personalism is a major strand. All the research on John Dewey, Gunnar Myrdal, and Arthur Schlesinger is no substitute for it. Secular liberalism and theological liberalism are very different animals. I've just finished reading the yet unpublished documents section of volume six of The Papers of Martin Luther King.** It's interesting because these are documents that Mrs. King withheld from the Project for many years. They are essays, sermons, and speeches from 1946 to 1962. Few, if any, of them have ever been published before. John Dewey, Gunnar Myrdal, and Arthur Schlesinger don't appear in them. Reinhold Niebuhr is barely mentioned. The names that occur again and again in these King sermons and speeches are not found in the index of A Stone of Hope: Harry Emerson Fosdick, George Buttrick, and a host of other mainstream American liberal Protestant preachers of the first half of the 20th century. David never looked at their work as a source of King's ideas. He dismisses Boston personalism and the doctrine of God in favor of a truncated Niebuhrian anthropology. It was King's liberal Protestant teachers at Crozer and Boston – more importantly, to hear King tell it, it was a personal God -- not Reinhold Niebuhr, who came to King's side in efforts at negotiation and coercion from Montgomery to Memphis.
What is it that makes a way out of no way? It isn't a natural process or a"ground of being." It isn't, even, a coercive social ethic, though that may be a necessary vehicle. King would find it surprising and disappointing that we'd have to be reminded of it. The personal God,"our help in ages past, our hope for years to come" – the only god whose name is worthy of"a stone of hope" – He and He, alone, makes a way out of no way.
*Best is now at Princeton University.
**Volume VI of The Papers of Martin Luther King has subsequently been published.
An alarming UK case from a few days ago represents the opposite extreme from the Jefferson affair. Tory MP (and Shadow Immigration Minister) Damian Green was arrested for aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office. Nine police officers—including members of the counter-terrorism unit—raided his house. As occurred with Jefferson, Green’s official office was searched by police, who called his office a “crime scene.”
Green’s offense, however, differed considerably from Jefferson’s: he allegedly received and disseminated leaked documents related to PM Gordon Brown’s economic plans. Legal experts expressed strong doubt that the charges would stand—but the chilling effect of the act nonetheless remains.
One Times columnist wondered if New Labour would now change its name to ZANU-Labour. Conservative leader David Cameron called the arrest “Stalinesque.” That’s an overstatement—but the move was clearly an abuse of legislative independence, quite unlike the Jefferson fiasco.
Ken Johnson,"Pint-Size Treasures Cast for Private Delectation," NYT, 16 October, reviews"Andrea Riccio: Renaissance Master of Bronze," an exhibit at the Frick Collection in Manhattan; Christopher Benfey's slide-show essay,"Andrea Riccio's Intricate Universe," Slate, 26 November, reproduces and reflects on selected pieces from the exhibit.
Anthropologist Arjun Appadurai,"The Magic Ballot," The Immanent Frame, 7 November; historian Jason Kuznicki,"Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain," Cato@Liberty, 7 November; Appadurai, and Kuznicki exchange fire over Obamania and the limits of political action. Hat tip.
Finally, do not wait until Monday to nominate your candidates for the Cliopatria Awards. Nominations close on Sunday evening at midnight.
Such comments, I suppose, aren’t surprising: after all, Republican partisans had good reason to minimize Obama’s chances, since Hillary Clinton provided a much more inviting target for the GOP. It was distressing, however, to see one of Sullivan’s highlighted comments come not from a GOP partisan but from a prominent scholar—Princeton historian Sean Wilentz. Of Wilentz’s many anti-Obama broadsides, Sullivan selected the following:
This year's primary results show no sign that Obama will reverse this trend should he win the nomination. In West Virginia and Kentucky, as well as Ohio and Pennsylvania, blue collar white voters sent him down to defeat by overwhelming margins. A recent Gallup poll report has argued that claims about Obama's weaknesses among white voters and blue collar voters have been exaggerated - yet its indisputable figures showed Obama running four percentage points below Kerry's anemic support among whites four years ago... Given that Obama's vote in the primaries, apart from African-Americans, has generally come from affluent white suburbs and university towns, the Gallup figures presage a Democratic disaster among working-class white voters in November should Obama be the nominee.That prediction, obviously, fell flat, for a variety of reasons. First of all, Obama’s strategy never presumed overwhelming backing from “working-class white voters”; he counted on merely doing well enough with the constituency and allowing other groups (the young, minorities, well-educated and/or suburban voters) to carry him to victory. Second, historical evidence was scarce that white working-class voters preferring one candidate over another in the primary season meant that their votes would be lost if the second candidate won the nomination. In fact, since the origins of the current primary system following the 1968 convention, the only nominee to whom Wilentz’s analysis might have applied was George McGovern in 1972.
A comparison of the PA results from 2000 and 2008 show why Wilentz made Sullivan’s list.
Obama lost a handful of white working-class counties around Pittsburgh that Al Gore had won in 2000. But he more than compensated for these defeats by reversing Gore’s defeat in Centre County (home of “university town” State College) and by winning the three counties in which Philadelphia’s “affluent white suburbs” were based by 138,000 votes. Gore’s margin had been 25,000.
As the overall total of U.S. political historians continues to plummet, those with a general media voice has also dramatically declined. Apart from Wilentz, I can think of only three U.S. political historians—Alan Brinkley, Julian Zelizer, and Douglas Brinkley—who are widely recognized as public intellectuals. It’s unfortunate, therefore, to see such a prominent historian of American politics make Sullivan’s list.
George Brock,"The End of Journalism," TLS, 26 November, reviews Robert Fox, ed., Eyewitness to History, a four volume anthology of journalism, from Herodotus to BlackBerries and blogs.
Mervyn Rothstein,"The Circle of Life with Bagels," NYT, 25 November, reviews Maria Balinska's The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread.
Abram Van Engen,"The Good, the Bad, and the Puritans," Books & Culture, November/December, reviews Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates.
London's Natural History Museum lets you track Charles Darwin's 1831-1836 voyage on the HMS Beagle. Hat tip.
Sandra Laville,"History's missing pages," Guardian, 21 November, reports on £400,000 in damage done to rare books in the British and the Bodleian libraries by Farhad Hakimzadeh, an Iranian-born and MIT- and Harvard-educated businessman, publisher and intellectual.
Christopher Hitchens,"The new anti-Semitism?" TLS, 19 November, reviews Denis MacShane's Globalizing Hatred: The New Antisemitism.
If we add in the Citi bailout, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165 trillion dollars. People have a hard time conceptualizing very large numbers, so let's give this some context. The current Credit Crisis bailout is now the largest outlay In American history.
Jim Bianco of Bianco Research crunched the inflation adjusted numbers. The bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billionThat is $686 billion less than the cost of the credit crisis thus far.
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion
TOTAL: $3.92 trillion
The only single American event in history that even comes close to matching the cost of the credit crisis is World War II: Original Cost: $288 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $3.6 trillion.
The $4.6165 trillion dollars committed so far is about a trillion dollars ($979 billion dollars) greater than the entire cost of World War II borne by the United States: $3.6 trillion, adjusted for inflation (original cost was $288 billion).
A trillion here, a trillion there; ....
Some of us—especially those under 60—have always wondered what it would be like to live through the kind of epochal event one reads about in books. Well, this is it. We're now living history, suffering one of the greatest financial panics of all time. It compares with the big ones — 1907, 1929 — and we cannot yet know its full consequences for the financial system, the economy or society as a whole.
Howard W. French,"Thinking Globally: America's Rise to Dominance, With Slips Along the Way," NYT, 23 November, and Douglas Little,"Why We Need Diplomatic History," CHE, 28 November, review George C. Herring's From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776.
Michael Chase-Levenson,"Florence Nightingale's Fever," Slate, 24 November, reviews Mark Bostridge's Florence Nightingale: The Making of an Icon.
David Oshinsky,"Disaster Reel," NYT, 23 November, reviews Howard Blum's American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, Movie-Making, and the Crime of the Century.
Charles Isherwood,"Father of the ‘Follies'," NYT, 23 November, reviews Ethan Mordden's Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business.
Liesl Schillinger,"A Fever in the Blood," NYT, 23 November, reviews Owen Matthews's Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival.
Philip Kennicott,"Modernism's Monster," Washington Post, 23 November, reviews Nicholas Fox Weber's Le Corbusier: A Life.
Michael Dirda reviews The Journal of Helene Berr, a diary of a Holocaust victim, for the Washington Post, 23 November.
Jonathan Yardley reviews Sinatra in Hollywood for the Washington Post, 23 November.
George Packer,"A Life Split in Two," NYT, 23 November, reviews Patrick French's The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul.
Reza Aslan,"How To Read the Quran," Slate, 20 November, reviews a new English translation of the Quran by Tarif Khalidi of the American University of Beirut.
peacay,"Five Centuries of Board Games," BibliOdyssey, 19 November, is the latest offering by the winner of the first Cliopatria Award for Best New Blog.
Martin Vander Weyer reviews Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World for the Telegraph, 20 November.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft,"Little Britain," NYT, 21 November, reviews Piers Brendon's The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997.
Charles McGrath,"Looking at Lincoln Through a Prism of War," NYT, 21 November, reviews James McPherson's Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief.
Thomas Sugrue,"It's not the bus: it's us," LRB, 20 November, reviews Louis Masur's The Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph that Shocked America.
At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall puts on his historian's cap to suggest that:
... historically, the rising incidence of piracy has frequently, if not always, been a sign of the receding reach of whatever great power has taken on responsibility for policing the sea lanes. The decline of the Hellenistic monarchies in the Mediterranean before the rise of Rome. Caribbean piracy during Spain's long slide into decrepitude and before England decided she lost more than she gained from it. There are many examples. I note too that the Russians just announced that they're sending a few more warships to try to get things under control off the coast of East Africa.
The Guardian has a slide show of excerpts from Charles Darwin's letters and diaries, contemporary cartoons and photographs, taken from David Quammen's new illustrated edition of Darwin's On The Origin of the Species.
The American Social History Project and CUNY's Center for New Media and Learning presents Picturing U. S. History,"an interactive source for teaching with visual evidence."
Six years after being sent to the plagiarism corner, there to sit in exile with Stephen Ambrose, Doris Kearns Goodwin is back on top of her game. Obama cabinet-making has put her study of Lincoln's cabinet, Team of Rivals, back among best-sellers; she is a News Analyst for NBC and reportedly commands up to $40,000 for a lecture. Yet, her"team of rivals" argument is being challenged by her peers. James Oakes,"What's So Special About a Team of Rivals?" NYT, 19 November, argues that Lincoln's inviting competitors into his cabinet was neither innovative nor smart; and Matthew Pinsker's"Lincoln and the myth of 'Team of Rivals'," LA Times, 18 November, argues that Lincoln's cabinet was far more dysfunctional than Goodwin allows. Hat tip.
Alexander Cockburn,"The Great Divider," New Left Review, September/October, severely attacks Rick Perlstein's widely acclaimed Nixonland from Perlstein's left.
David Brown,"Lincoln, Unexposed," Washington Post, 8 November, reviews"The Mask of Lincoln," an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
Peter Schjeldahl,"Angry Young Man," New Yorker, 10 November, reviews"Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting, 1927-1937," an exhibit at Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art.
Holland Cotter,"Old South Meets New, in Living Color," NYT, 6 November, reviews"William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008," an exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan.
Ian Buruma,"The Lessons of the Master," NYRB, 20 November, reviews Patrick French's The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul.
Orlando Patterson,"An Eternal Revolution," NYT, 7 November, looks at the election of Barack Obama in historical perspective.
Finally, thanks to AHA Today, Airminded, American Creation, Archaeoastronomy, Blogenspiel, Civil War Memory, Early Modern Notes, In the Middle, Legal History, Mercurius Politicus, Progressive Historians, Public Historian, Rogue Classicism, Spinning Clio and Walking the Berkshires for helping to get the word out about nominations for The Cliopatria Awards. Whether it's Ancient, Pre-Modern, United States or Regional histories, history of science, K-12, digital, or military history, if you think more recognition of excellent blogging in your corner of the history blogosphere is due, this is a fine way to do it.
Mary Beard has tried her hand with Google Earth's and the University of Virginia's virtual recreation of ancient Rome. It might have been more satisfactory if she had more experience at a pinball machine.
Jacqueline Trescott,"America's Attic Is Ready for Its Public," Washington Post, 20 November, previews the re-opening of DC's National Museum of American History.
Samuel P. Jacobs,"A talk with Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore," Boston Globe, 16 November, explores the two historians' decision to write a work of historical fiction. Thanks to Manan Ahmed for the tip.
Annette Gordon-Reid's The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family has won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction, 2008. The other nominees included: Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, Jane Mayer's The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, Jim Sheeler's Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives, and Joan Wickersham's The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order.
Dwight Gardner,"V. S. Naipaul, a Man Who Has Earned a Knighthood, a Nobel and Enemies Galore," NYT, 18 November, reviews Patrick French's The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul.
Back in July the Foreign Policy Research Institute organized a workshop that brought together about thirty primary and secondary school teachers and several several military historians, including myself. The general subject was"What Students Need to Know About America's Wars." I was asked to address this question as it pertained to the Civil War. Here's what I came up with:
The most important thing to understand about the Civil War is the sheer fact that it happened.
The United States of America has now endured over two centuries under the same form of government. That is a great success story — one that Americans take largely for granted. The country has grown and changed in many ways and has endured many challenges, nearly all of them addressed within the limits of constitutional government. How many other countries can make such a statement? The massive exception to this rule is the Civil War, a war that began when seven states refused to abide by the result of a constitutionally mandated, fairly conducted presidential election with an unambiguous winner. Instead they left the Union to form their own separate republic. In the weeks that followed, four more states joined the Confederacy, and those eleven states fought a four-year war against the other twenty-two. Six hundred twenty thousand Americans perished during that conflict. That was about 2 percent of the U.S. population in 1860, the equivalent of 6.1 million today.
What accounts for this singular failure of democracy? Over the years, historians have offered different explanations. In the first half of the twentieth century, it was common to blame a “blundering generation” of politicians for losing control of a crisis that was largely of their own making. After World War II, it became common to view the conflict as unavoidable: the product of a fundamental contradiction in a society that preached freedom and equality yet attempted to reconcile those values with the institution of chattel slavery.
But perhaps a better answer is that the war reflected a failure of American citizens themselves.
The Founders of the United States created a government based on the tenets of classical republicanism. Republics are held together not by authority imposed from above but rather from below, by the people themselves. This, the Founders understood, doesn’t happen naturally. Historically, republics have tended to fall apart — in effect, they die — because the people prove unworthy of citizenship. Through laziness and self-absorption they let the republic fall into dictatorship or anarchy.
According to the Renaissance thinker Niccolò Machiavelli, one of the most penetrating and influential political philosophers of republicanism, citizens — those who shall have a political voice in the republic — must possess civic virtue: an ability to see beyond their narrow self-interest to the good of the republic; and a commitment to placing the common good above purely personal interest.
Machiavelli and others thought citizen-soldiers were indispensable to a sound republic — not just to keep coercive power out of the hands of one or a few people (tyranny), but also because military service could verify one’s willingness to sacrifice for the republic and could instill civic virtue to a greater degree. American revolutionaries accepted the idea of civic virtue as indispensable to their own republic, but tied it to property ownership, not military service. In the early republic, only property owners could vote or hold public office. But by 1820, most of these property requirements had vanished. And by 1830, there was a growing sense that the common (white male) people automatically possessed the wisdom needed for good self-government, simply because they were common people. This was the triumph of Jacksonian democracy.
Not all Americans were comfortable with this development, and one warning concerning it came from a surprising source: Abraham Lincoln, who for many present-day Americans is the very embodiment of the wisdom of the common man. In a famous speech made at the Springfield Men’s Lyceum early in his career, Lincoln warned of the potential for a demagogue to gain power in the United States. In doing so he was echoing the time-honored fear about the fragility of republics.
How to avoid this fate? Like Machiavelli, Lincoln saw civic virtue as indispensable. “Let reverence for the laws,” he said, “be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap — let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; — let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation.”
Lincoln gave the Lyceum speech in 1837, when he was twenty-eight years old. He then spent his entire political career watching the American experiment in republicanism spiral out of control.
Within three decades, the republic was torn apart by civil war. For many thinking Americans, this did not seem a coincidence. Meditating on the secession crisis in January 1861, for example, William T. Sherman concluded that the agitation over slavery was only the symptom of a deeper disease: The real problem was “the Democratic spirit which substitutes mere popular opinions for the law.”
“Our country,” Sherman complained, “has become so democratic, that the mere popular opinion of any town or village rises above the Law — men have ceased to look to Constitutions and Law Books for their guides, but have studied popular opinion in Bar Rooms and village newspapers and that was & is law — The old women & Grannies of New England, reasoning from abstract principles [about slavery and freedom], must defy the Constitution of the country, the people of the South not relying on the Federal Govt. must allow their people to form filibustering expeditions against the Solemn treaties of the Land — and everywhere from California to Maine any man could do murder, Robbery or arson if the People’s prejudices lay in that direction — and now things are at such a pass that no one section believes the other, and we are beginning to fight — The right of secession is but the beginning of the end.”
Once war broke out the country’s only hope for salvation lay in its army, but even here Sherman was pessimistic. In the wake of the battle of First Bull Run he wrote, “I doubt if our Democratic form of Government admits of that organization & discipline without which our army is a mob.”
In a real sense, Sherman was correct. The United States possessed only a tiny professional army. It would have to depend on volunteer forces raised, officered, and manned by politicians and erstwhile civilians. Since the government utterly lacked the institutions and political culture required to impose discipline from above, the sole solution was for the volunteers to impose discipline upon themselves. Winning the war required them to rediscover the classical republican values of Machiavelli. The way in which they accomplished this feat was by a fusion of republican ideology and Victorian ideas about manliness.
Earlier this week I visited Gettysburg in the company of about twenty new faculty members at the U.S. Army War College, located at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The battlefield is, in effect, a celebration. The story implicit in its monuments and memorials is one of patriotism and self sacrifice. In political terms, its moral is etched in the monument in the U.S. National Cemetery commemorating Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: that the battle was part of a struggle testing whether a nation based on liberty and equality could long endure. Since we know the outcome of that struggle, we know the answer to the test.
The answer is a bit dangerous.
In the introduction to a recent book on Civil War combat, historian Kent Gramm opens with a surprising comment: “One of the most harmful consequences of the Civil War results from our very interest in the war, and our attraction to it.” As a Civil War buff, he explains, you can vicariously march with the indomitable veterans of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, you can learn from the men of the Army of the Potomac’s Iron Brigade what it means to be a hero, you can return in imagination to a moment when “the hopes of a nation are still young and still full, and a kind of clarity and innocence are still poised to win the future — and the smoke and noise and dirt of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have not yet swept in behind the buzzing machines of our age.”
“Who would not love such a war?” Gramm asks. But that war, he continues, “is a war of fantasy, myth, and entertainment,” not a war of carnage, horror, and desolation. “By replacing this actual Civil War with an imaginary and beautiful war,” he argues, “we misunderstand our own natures, and we allow ourselves to fall for what Wilfred Owen called ‘the old lie’: that it is sweet and seemly to die for one’s country. Falling for that old lie, we enter more easily into what should be entered into only as one would enter a corridor to hell: you go that way only because all the other ways are shut.”
Over the past two decades, a number of Civil War historians have crafted what might be called an antiwar school of Civil War historiography, works that attempt to place the conflict’s destructiveness squarely before the reader’s eye and to reject, sometimes angrily to reject, the tendency to sentimentalize the conflict. One good example is Charles Royster’s critically acclaimed The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans, published in 1991. Royster explicitly portrays the conflict as a failure of democracy and sees the war it spawned as a reflection of extremists on both sides who set out to validate their own regional definition of America by destroying those who had a different version. “Americans did not invent new methods of drastic war during the Civil War so much as they made real a version of conflict many of them had talked about from the start.”
Another example is Harry S. Stout’s Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War, published in 2006. In it, Stout takes direct aim at one of the most cherished tenets of our memory of the Civil War: that it was a just war fought for a noble cause and that it was worth the terrible cost in human life and suffering. Although Stout cannot bring himself to say that 620,000 men died in vain during the conflict, in reviewing the conduct of the war, particularly the massive attacks on civilian property, the abysmal treatment of prisoners of war, and the frequency of racial atrocities on the battlefield, he finds that too much of it cannot be reconciled with the tenets of just war doctrine. The violence too often was indiscriminate — directed against noncombatants, not combatants — and disproportionate to the legitimate aims in view.
This, he writes, is something that few historians of the conflict have been willing to face. “We have preferred a violent but glamorized and romantic Civil War. Military histories have focused on strategies and tactics and the sheer drama of battles in action. Political histories have focused — especially in the present — on slavery and emancipation, accounting the evil so complete and pervasive as to justify even murder.”
“All too often,” he continues, “the moral calculus perfected in the Civil War has been applied to other wars, often in cases involving nothing as noble as abolitionism. By condoning the logic of total war in the name of abolition — and victory — Americans effectively guaranteed that other atrocities in other wars could likewise be excused in the name of ‘military necessity.’”
In his book’s conclusion, Stout asks, “Why is it important to finally write the moral history of the Civil War?” He responds: “It’s important because we are its legates, and if we question nothing from that costly conflict, then we need question nothing in conflicts of the present and future. Issues of discrimination and proportionality recur in every war. The Civil War does not provide an especially encouraging model in this regard, especially if the crimes go largely unnoticed beneath the natural urge to forget and move on. But as with the Holocaust, if we forget, we do so at great peril to our own humanity.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Upon the Altar of the Nation is Stout’s argument that unprecedented destructiveness of the Civil War generated what he calls an American civil religion. During the conflict, “patriotism itself became sacralized to the point that it enjoyed coequal or even superior status to conventional denominational faiths.” Stout employs the term “civil religion” as defined by historian of religion Rowland Sherrill: “a form of devotion, outlook, and commitment that deeply and widely binds the citizens of the nation together with ideas they possess and express about the sacred nature, the sacred ideals, the sacred character, and scared meanings of their country.” Stout notes that “though lacking a formal creed American civil religion does contain sacred texts, including most importantly the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the two Lincoln orations” — by which he means Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, speeches that have fundamentally shaped the way in which Americans have viewed the meaning of the Civil War and the meaning of the American nation. The Civil War is such a touchstone of American civil religion that it is impossible to revisit the conflict, as Stout would have us revisit it, without reaching disquieting conclusions about our values and ourselves.
By this reading, past and present are inextricably fused: what we believe about a war that took place almost 150 years ago exerts a profound influence on what we believe about ourselves today. To teach the Civil War is therefore a political act. Like it or not, we find ourselves faced with a choice between reinforcing the American civil religion by emphasizing the necessity and justice of the struggle and the valor of the soldiers, on the one hand; or tacitly questioning that religion by placing at the center of our lessons the fact that the war’s commencement reflects a breakdown in American democracy and that its ferocity reflects not some blind dynamic inherent in war, but deliberate choices made by human beings like ourselves.
It’s impossible to escape the political implications of the Civil War once certain questions are raised, and therefore impossible to escape a debate. I say debate, not dialogue. Dialogue is something I welcome. To me it’s one of the great appeals about being a teacher: to be able to consider the world in new ways, to share different premises and points of view. Debate is the antithesis, because in debate the lines are drawn, the premises largely unexplored, the points of view attacked and defended. And because we are talking about values that people care about, the possibility of giving offense is all too real.
Yet for me this conversation in some form — dialogue or debate — is unavoidable. My explorations of the Civil War have reached conclusions different from those of Royster and Stout. They see, for instance, a signal lack of restraint in the conduct of the war. In my own research, published in The Hard Hand of War, I was impressed by the extent to which the combatants placed limits on the destructiveness. Official Union policy, for example, plainly did not contemplate indiscriminate destruction. And although wanton depredations certainly occurred, I discovered almost no instances in which white Southerners were killed, assaulted, or raped. Indeed, my reading of the evidence did not sustain a portrayal of unrestrained destruction even of property. My judgment was and remains that the dominant theme of the Union hard war operations was as less an erosion of values than an on-going tension between competing sets of values. Union soldiers clearly came to understand the need to destroy Southern war resources. They also embraced the conviction that some Southern civilians deserved punishment for their role in starting or sustaining the war. But the same sense of justice that created this desire for retribution also insisted that punishment should fall upon the guilty. The result was indeed severity. Yet it was a directed severity aimed — and for the most part, aimed effectively — at certain portions of the Confederate population and economic infrastructure.
I wrote The Hard Hand of War without a political agenda — certainly none of which I was consciously aware — and yet I accept the argument that it has political implications. Indeed, having read Stout’s Upon the Altar of the Nation, it is impossible to re-read the final paragraph of my book without those implications screaming from the page:
“If the Union's hard war effort displayed a novel element, it lay primarily in the linkage with a democratic society. That made it possible to blame Southerners for the outbreak and continuation of the war, and so justify the destruction. But it also made possible a politically and morally aware citizen-soldiery capable of discrimination and restraint as well as destruction. The Union volunteer who marched under Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan was a very different instrument than the ancien régime soldier under Turenne, Marlborough, or Frederick the Great; for that matter, a different instrument even than contemporary European soldiers. It was the peculiar nature of the Federal citizen-soldier — his civic-mindedness, his continued sense of connection with community and public morality — that made possible the ‘directed severity.’ The Federal rank-and-file were neither barbarians, brutalized by war, nor ‘realists’ unleashing indiscriminate violence. Their example thus holds out hope that the effective conduct of war need not extinguish the light of moral reason.”
In Stout’s formulation, The Hard Hand of War uncritically reflects and implicitly buttresses the American civil religion. Another Civil War historian once termed my book an “apology for war,” and in a recent conference of American historians made a pointed comment on the phrase “hard war,” my label for the North’s military operations against the Confederate economy. The phrase, he noted, quickly entered into the lexicon of Civil War historians and is now employed much more widely than “total war,” which used to be very common. In my critic’s view, that’s because the use of “hard war” has assisted Civil War military historians in what he sees as an ongoing project to depict the conflict in rather celebratory terms. Stout explicitly preferred “total war” to the term “hard war” because hard war and similar expressions “do not penetrate the moral center of the Civil War.” Apparently I am on the side of those who sentimentalize the conflict. I have even been told that my interpretation strengthens the place of the Civil War in its role as a touchstone for a resurgent American militarism that sees war as something clean, antiseptic and noble.
I disagree with Royster and Stout with regard to the sweeping conclusions they have drawn, but I welcome their work as a reminder that democracy is hard, that citizens can treat it so casually as to place it in mortal danger, and that other citizens must then pay a price, not just in wounds and death but also in simple loneliness, time spent away from families and the privations they must suffer, the disquieting things they must do, the things that they must live with for the rest of their lives after they return.
Are we back now today to a republic in which the only citizens asked to display civic virtue and sacrifice are the 1 percent of Americans who serve their country in uniform? How many of the other 99 percent of us take the time and effort to be good citizens, to make sacrifices — even the modest sacrifice required to understand the issues of the day in all their complexity? If not — if, as in the antebellum United States, we assume that our political judgments are sound merely because we are common people and we have an opinion, and that bumper sticker political philosophy is all that is required of us, then we would do well to remember the fragility of our democracy. It failed once, and that failure was retrieved only by the sacrifice of 620,000 Americans. At any given time, our democracy is only a generation away from failing once again. Thus every generation is responsible for maintaining, protecting, and promoting the republic.
Reprinted from Footnotes: The Newsletter of the Wachman Center of the Foreign Policy Research Institute
This post is based on my presentation at the FPRI Wachman Center’s July 26-27 history institute, What Students Need To Know About America’s Wars, Part I: 1622-1919. The Institute was co-sponsored and hosted by the Cantigny First Division Foundation of the McCormick Foundation in Wheaton, Ill. It was webcast to registrants worldwide. For videocasts, texts of lectures, and slides, see www.fpri.org/education/americaswars1. Core support for the History Institute is provided by the Annenberg Foundation and G. Lenfest. Funding for the military history program is provided by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Stuart Foundation. The next history weekend is Teaching the Nuclear Age, March 28-29, 2009, at the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas.
Christopher Benfey,"The American Loneliness," TNR, 3 December, reviews Robin G. Wilder and Jackson R. Bryer, eds., The Selected Letters of Thornton Wilder.
Adam Liptak and Jonathan D. Glater,"Papers Offer Close-Up of Rehnquist and the Court," NYT, 17 November, looks at the stories slowly unfolding from the William Rehnquist papers at Stanford's Hoover Institution. At Legal History, Mary Dudziak offers some tips for research at the Hoover Archives.
David Berreby,"Only in America?" Slate, 17 November, questions the exultation about the election of Barack Obama as an outburst of American exceptionalism. What about England's Benjamin Disraeli, France's Napoleon Bonaparte, Germany's Cem Ozdemir, Peru's Alberto Fujimori, India's Sonia Gandhi, or Kenya's Daniel arap Moi? Or the Roman Empire's North African, Syrian, and Balkan emperors? Outsiders, all.
Michael Wood,"Double Thought," LRB, 20 November, reviews Stanley Corngold, Jack Greenberg and Benno Wagner, eds., Franz Kafka: The Office Writings, trans. by Eric Patton and Ruth Hein.
Two weeks after the United States' presidential election, we're still busy graphing and mapping it:"From Cotton Pickin' to Pickin' Presidents," Strange Maps, 15 November, overlays a map of bales of cotton picked in 1860 on a map of Southern counties carried by Barack Obama in 2008; and Andrew Gelman's"Race, Region and Obama," red state blue state/rich state poor state, 17 November, compares voting along racial lines by section of the country. See also: Eric Rauchway's variations on those charts at The Edge of the American West. The" cotton belt" appears to persist into the 21st century, but now without sufficient voting strength to win South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, or Arkansas. Deep South voters seem more likely to vote along racial lines than voters in other sections of the country. Yet, see Nate Silver's"For Obama, Will Familiarity Erode Contempt?" FiveThirtyEight, 17 November:"The driving factor in determining how Obama performed vis-à-vis John Kerry, however, appears as though it might not be race, but rather how much Obama camaigned in a given state." The power of the"sun belt" seems diminishedwhen Democrats and Republicans dividethe electoral votes of Florida and Texas.
Congratulations to Gabor Boritt, Richard Brookhiser, and Harold Holzer who were awarded the National Humanities Medal yesterday at the White House; and to Clement Price, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History and director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University, Newark, who will co-chair the NEH transition team for the Obama administration.
Speaking on Friday, February 2, 1816, in the House of Representatives, Richard Johnson of Kentucky warned that a standing army"would be, in time of peace, inconsistent with the Constitution and our free institutions." Looking to history and to contemporary Europe, Johnson offered examples of standing armies that had destroyed the freedom of their countrymen."A standing army is dangerous to liberty," he argued; it had been so in ancient Rome, and the standing army"has been the most powerful instrument in the hands of power and usurpation" in the present day."All the governments of Europe and all the tyrants of the day are supported by this means," he concluded.
Then, in nearly the same breath, Johnson gave it all back without appearing to notice:
"What has been said does not presuppose that we can dispense with all of our forces. All agree that we must keep a Peace Establishment, a small force, commensurate with certain objects and views, which will be mentioned."
Focusing on the modesty of his proposal, Johnson proposed more specifically what that"small force" might look like, offering a partial list of places to be garrisoned by the regular army:"Castine, Wicasset, Portland, Portsmouth, Boston, New Bedford, Newport, New London, New York, Fort Mifflin, Fort McHenry, Fort Washington, Norfolk, Fort Johnson, in North Carolina, Charleston, Savannah, Fort Hawkins, Mobile, Fort St. Philippe, New Orleans, Natchez, St. Louis, Fort Clark, Fort Wayne, Chicago, Greenbay, Mackinac, Detroit, Fort Niagara, Sackett's Harbor, Plattsburg, Greenbush, and others about to be erected in such places as the late war has pointed out." He proposed to post a hundred men in each place, concluding that the army would then"have for this object alone a demand for five thousand."
That's a hundred men in each garrison, for a total of five thousand men. In other words, fifty garrisons scattered around the country. But not, mind you, a standing army.
It gets better, though, because these small garrisons would have limited power. Johnson proposed to support them with larger forces concentrated at critical points:"One thousand men should be placed somewhere on the Niagara or Northern frontier; one thousand in some healthy situation in Louisiana or the Mobile; one thousand in the neighborhood of Detroit, and one thousand in some eligible place on the Mississippi."
And Johnson still hadn't gotten around to placing artillerymen on the map -- this is just the infantry.
Fiercely opposed to a standing army, which would destroy liberty, Richard Johnson wanted to station regular troops in no more than fifty-four places, plus the artillery garrisons, with no more than four large, regional concentrations of force. And all agreed, he concluded, that the nation must keep this tiny little army in place.
This is what opponents of the standing army sounded like.
Roger Atwood,"Fool's Gold," Washington Post, 16 November, reviews Sharon Waxman's Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World and Nina Burleigh's Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed, and Forgery in the Holy Land.
Art Winslow reviews John Demos's The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-hunting in the Western World for the Chicago Tribune, 15 November.
David Brown,"16th-Century Mapmaker's Intriguing Knowledge," Washington Post, 17 November, explores what Martin Waldseemueller knew about the contours of the trans-Atlantic world.
Karl E. Meyer,"The Gift of Governance," Washington Post, 16 November, reviews Piers Brendon's The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997.
Andrew Cayton,"The Presidency That Roared," NYT, 14 November, reviews Jon Meacham's American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.
Sarah Boxer,"The Exile's Palette," NYT, 14 November, reviews Jackie Wullschlager's Chagall: A Biography.
Jonathan Yardley reviews Thomas J. Sugrue's Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North for the Washington Post, 16 November.
Graydon Carter,"Lucky George," NYT, 16 November, reviews Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr., ed., George Being George: George Plimpton's Life as Told, Admired, Deplored, and Envied by 200 Friends, Relatives, Lovers, Acquaintances, Rivals — and a Few Unappreciative Observers.