Over at Critical Mass, Erin O'Connor manifests the freedom of the blog in a piece reflecting on Jim Lindgren's tribute to the University of Chicago as a citadel of free speech in American higher education. Perhaps Chicago can be free precisely because no one has ever doubted that it was serious about higher education. Not many of our institutions are undoubtedly serious. Many of them, therefore, feel the need to restrict speech.
In "Fighting Words," a remarkable essay for BookForum, Scott McLemee revisits the dramatic break in 1952 on the French Left between two old friends: Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. It was conditioned by differences of talent and style, but ultimately there were two different temperaments here. Sartre, an academic insider with no obvious self-doubt, could endorse any means of transforming the world because of boundless confidence that it could be done. Camus, the outsider, was riddled with doubt about himself and the possibility of reshaping the world. It's far more complicated than that, says McLemee, for Sartre's effort to silence Camus was an extension of having silenced the doubts within himself. Looking back from the horrors of 2004 over the horrors of the 20th century, all perpetrated by men who had no doubt about their ability to transform the world by any means necessary, who of us would disagree with Camus? We might even suspect that Yeats was on to something when he wrote that
The best lack all conviction, while the worstAn overstatement, obviously, but a caution to be very discriminating about our convictions.
Are full of passionate intensity.
My colleague at Cliopatria, KC Johnson, looks this side of the Atlantic and on the Right in "Nixon's The One", a review for Reviews in American History of David Greenberg's Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image. (Subscription only, alas.) KC accepts the necessity of multiple approaches to interpreting so complex a character as Richard M. Nixon because over the course of a career which contested mid-twentieth century America, there were multiple Nixons – each fashioned to restake a claim to dominance once lost. In the reshaping, the repackaging of a self, for new political markets, says Greenberg echoing Garry Wills, it was always all about packaging. We may never know whatever doubts or insecurities it disguised, for all the packaging may itself have been empty. Nonetheless, the implications of Greenberg's book and KC's essay are far-reaching, because they challenge any suggestion by Dan Carter that Right Populism in America had its origins with George Wallace or by Wills and Joan Hoff, in different ways, that there ever was an authentically liberal Richard Nixon.
Let me close on a different note by awarding Cliopatria's Richard M. Nixon Acid Reflux Award to David Horowitz. Give him this: the man has cojones. With no credential, only in America could he pass himself off as a"public intellectual" and manage, now, to claim entitlement to a visiting lectureship at Emory University. He appeared here last year on the University tab. $5,000, I think it was. Now, he claims that the University is"boycotting" him because student government refused to fork over another five grand and he'll be paid in private cash. "I will come," he said emphatically."I will keep coming back to Emory until Emory drops its boycott of me." At least Richard Nixon didn't seize office when he lost an election.
Update: Alas, our colleague, Jonathan Dresner, the Cliopatriarch of the Pacific, has committed himself to paper. He has a letter to the editor in this morning's New York Times. That can be forgiven, if he does not let it happen too often.