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We are now in the second generation of commentary on the life and art of Bruce Springsteen, a man now widely considered one of the defining artists of our time. The first generation of Springsteen commentators were dominated by a new form of writer who emerged in the late 1960s and who played a surprisingly large role in shaping popular taste for the next quarter century: rock critics. These figures, who include Robert Santelli, Greil Marcus, Robert Hilburn and future Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh, were there for the creation, as it were (as was Ariel Swartley, who along with Ellen Willis were among the handful of women who elbowed their way into this men’s club). They witnessed Springsteen on the club scene, reviewed the early albums as they were released, and discussed Springsteen’s work in high profile venues like Rolling Stone. These people did not all feel the same way about Springsteen, but they all took him seriously. And he took them seriously, granting them access in a way that would become more rare.
Beginning in the 1990s, a second wave of writers, many with academic training, emerged to produce a body of Springsteen scholarship. Their backgrounds have varied. Liberal journalist Eric Alterman has a Ph.D. in History; Daniel Cavicchi, author of a fine study of Springsteen fans, is an ethnomusicologist. Psychologist Robert Coles published an underrated oral history of listeners; Colleen Sheedy, a curator, mounted a traveling exhibition of visual art about Springsteen. By and large, this protocol of commentators is younger (Coles, who will turn 80 later this year, is a generational outlier). They were children or adolescents when Springsteen came of age. Lacking the experience and access of the rock critics, their work tends to be contextual.
Louis P. Masur falls into this group. A cultural historian with a penchant for choosing specific subjects (the year 1831, baseball’s first world series, a famous photograph from the Boston busing crisis of the 1970s) and situating them against the larger background of their times, he combines scholarly rigor and journalistic accessibility. These talents are vividly on display in Runaway Dream, which uses Born to Run as a synechdoche for understanding Springsteen's career as a whole.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Masur breaks little new interpretative ground. Although this is the first book devoted to the subject, Born to Run has been the subject of extensive commentary, notably by Springsteen himself, who released a richly documented thirtieth anniversary edition in 2005 (and, one can see in retrospect, has been positively cunning in crafting master narratives of his work that he dispenses to media outlets when he releases albums). An avowed fan, Masur sees Born to Run as a shot of adrenalin in the culturally enervated 1970s, when economic malaise, political exhaustion, and commercial hucksterism dominated the national mood. What he also sees, whether by virtue of his perspective as a historian, the benefit of hindsight, or both, is that the questions the album raises about love and aspiration do not simply capture a moment in time or a period in one's life, but also provide an opportunity for recurrent reflection that can be more than memory or nostalgia. As Masur explains,"Born to Run was connected to the times but also timeless, built to last, so that thirty years later it still speaks to those who were eighteen when it came out, and those who turned eighteen in 1985, 1995, or 2005."
Runaway Dream draws a ring of concentric circles around Born to Run in a set of six brief chapters, beginning with the circumstances of its creation and rippling outward to the legacy of the album 35 years later. Of particular note is his chapter on “The Geography of Born to Run,” in which he interprets the concept of place broadly –- in his analysis, night is a “location” –- and shows how it operates on the album. (Masur presented this material as a work in progress at “Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium” in 2005; the second such symposium will be held in New Jersey in late September.) He also does an exceptionally good job of tracing the critical reception of the record at the time of its release, as well as later. In its fusion of enthusiasm and craft, it represents a summing up of this phase of the Springsteen discourse.
The unanswered question at this point is how Springsteen will fare in the coming generation. We’re at a point now when it’s possible to imagine good work produced by writers born post-Born to Run. Will they maintain the high degree of enthusiasm that has marked the first two cycles of Springsteen scholarship? How will their Springsteen be different from ours? Will he have the durability of a Woody Guthrie, a Billie Holiday, or an Elvis Presley? It is perhaps the uncertainty surrounding these questions more than anything else which will determine whether the conversation around Springsteen remains interesting. In the meantime, those of us who are living with Springsteen will go on trying to make sense of what has now become the experience of a lifetime.
Frankel cautions her readers to view the 1959 musical Gypsy, based upon Lee's 1957 best-selling memoir, with some skepticism, maintaining that the author often presents a more positive account of her mother Rose than was the actual case. Perhaps the reality of Gypsy's early years would not have provided the basis for a sentimental musical and film, which celebrates a mother's sacrifices for the stage careers of her children. In Frankel's biography, Rose was more an albatross for her daughters Gypsy and June; initially belittling Gypsy's talent and then seeking to exploit the financial success enjoyed by her older daughter. Thus, Rose emerges in Frankel's book as a mentally imbalanced mother who may have loved her children but could not overcome her self absorption and efforts to control her offspring. Unfortunately, Gypsy incorporated many of her mother's worse characteristics into the relationships with her son and three husbands.
Gypsy Rose Lee was born Rose Louise Hovick on 9 January 1914 in Seattle, Washington. Her parents divorced when she was four years old, and her mother pushed Gypsy and her sister June into vaudeville. Ever the classic stage mother, Rose focused her attention upon the singing and dancing of June, who eventually rebelled against her mother by marrying and leaving the act. The mother then shifted her focus to Rose Louise, who assumed the stage name of Gypsy Rose Lee.
While constantly fighting with her mother, Gypsy began a lucrative career in burlesque during the 1930s, performing in New York City at Minsky's and touring with the Ziegfield Follies. Frankel describes Gypsy as a stripper who attempted to titillate her admirers with her wit as much as with her sexuality. Gypsy conversed with audiences as she removed her clothing, often discussing such topics as literature and art while exhibiting her fine sense of timing for comedy. The striptease artist also refused to appear in the nude, revealing far less skin than most strippers. Awkward and demeaned as a child, sexual empowerment, Frankel argues, ñallowed Gypsy to both move outside of herself and dominate the scene. The audience's passivity contrasted with the entertainer's assertiveness. Gypsy manipulated the audience to produce the response she desiredî (18).
Although burlesque proved financially lucrative for Gypsy, she was ambivalent regarding the accolades she received for removing her clothes. Seeing to earn respect as an actress, in 1938 she left New York City for Hollywood. Her reputation as a stripper haunted Gypsy's film career as the Hays Office, overseeing the industry's production code, insisted that Gypsy appear as Louise Hovick. Twentieth-Century Fox also decreed that Gypsy marry boyfriend Arnold R. Mizzy, a dental supply manufacturer. The marriage failed after four years as the entertainer refused to surrender her career. After a series of films in which Gypsy's sexuality and potential as a performer were squandered in low budget pictures, she returned to New York City where she was able to reassert some control over her life.
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia closed New York City burlesque, but Gypsy was able to reconstitute her act on Broadway in Star and Garter. Often embarrassed about her lack of formal education, Gypsy was an avid reader who enjoyed the New York City intellectual and art scene. She also harbored aspirations as a writer. In addition to writing pieces for the New Yorker and American Mercury, Gypsy completed a mystery novel, The G-String Murders (1941), which became a best seller and was made into a film. Her second novel, Mother Finds a Body (1942), was less well received, while her play The Naked Genius (1943) fared poorly at the box office and with critics.
During the Second World War, Gypsy lent her talents to war bond efforts and entertaining the troops in the struggle against fascism. One of the major contributions of Frankel's biography is the attention she devotes to Gypsy's political views. During the 1930s and 1940s, Gypsy, along with her friend Fanny Brice, supported numerous progressive causes such as aid to Loyalist Spain. Gypsy was also active as a union leader with the American Guild of Variety Artists, advocating for actors' unemployment benefits as well as equal treatment for black performers. Frankel argues that later efforts to blacklist Gypsy as a communist sympathizer were likely a result of her union activities.
While continuing to extend the parameters of her career, Gypsy struggled with her personal relationships. She was in love with producer Michael Todd, and Frankel suggests that her short marriage to actor William Kirkland from 1942-1944 was a failed attempt to convince Todd that he should desert his wife for Gypsy. Although it was assumed that Kirkland was the father of Gypsy's son Eric, the child was actually the product of an affair between Gypsy and film director Otto Preminger. Gypsy proved to be a loving but controlling single parent much like her own mother, and she failed to inform Eric as to the true identity of his father until the confused young man was in high school. In 1948, Gypsy married Spanish artist Julio de Diego, but this final marriage was also terminated by divorce. While Gypsy sought to maintain traditional conceptions of motherhood during the 1950s, she was, in the final analysis, insistent upon retaining her career and independence.
Her post war forays into radio and television were blocked when the red-baiting publication Red Channels listed Gypsy as supportive of communist front organizations. The accusations led to the blacklisting of Gypsy, and she once against found employment in stripping, but this time in Europe. Gypsy professed her patriotism and denounced communism, finally returning to the Untied States in the late 1950s and appearing in stage plays and occasional films. Frankel suggests that in order to gain acceptance within the more conservative post World War II consensus, Gypsy downplayed her progressive politics of the New Deal era.
She gained acceptance and notoriety for her autobiography and the musical Gypsy, moving from New York City to California, where she hosted a popular television talk show in San Francisco. The show was cancelled in 1968, and two years later Gypsy died from lung cancer. Frankel presents Gypsy as an independent woman, much like Madonna, who sought to foster and manipulate her sexuality for financial gain. Nevertheless, she was also ill at ease with her reputation as a sex symbol, struggling to gain respectability as a writer and sophisticated collector of art and antiques. Born into poverty, Gypsy was always concerned with financial security, and she found herself returning to the stage as a stripper. She was even willing to distance herself from her progressive politics in order to avoid the blacklist. Gypsy secured a degree of prosperity and respectability, but she never seemed to find real personal happiness. Her independence and sexuality challenged conventional gender roles, but despite her best efforts to create some distance from her humble origins, Gypsy was never really able to shed the psychologically damaging influences of her mother. Noralee Frankel has crafted a fine scholarly entertainment biography which should serve as a model for historians. Stripping Gypsy removes the hyperbole surrounding the renowned stripper and unveils the struggles of this intelligent and ambitious woman to push the boundaries of gender and class in twentieth-century America.
From publication of the first volume of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America in 1835 to that of Robert Putnam’s influential Bowling Alone in 2000, Americans have long been understood to be, in the memorable 1944 words of Arthur Schlesinger, “the world’s greatest example of joiners.” Tocqueville and Schlesinger celebrated this national trait; Putnam feared its disappearance. But these three observers and others took for granted it was a good thing.
Johann Neem doesn’t necessarily disagree. But he does think all these figures reflect a longstanding collective amnesia about U.S. history. Americans, he says, became a nation of joiners in fits and starts, with a good deal of anxiety on the part of players in the political system. And the fears they had stemmed from concerns that were, and are, by no means trivial.
Neem begins his story in the wake of the American Revolution. The Federalists who dominated both Massachusetts and national politics understood themselves as representatives of a new people who constituted themselves in protest against a corrupt British empire. Since the new government was the embodiment of the state, any group that sought to advance a parochial interest was, by definition, against the people, an idea that got strengthened in the wake of the Shays and Whiskey Rebellions of the 1780s and 90s.
The idea of government-as-people continued to be challenged in this period, albeit in less violent ways. Opposition to the Federalist regime in Massachusetts took the form of political clubs and other kinds of organizations, gathering momentum as Jeffersonian Republicans toward came to power nationally circa 1800. Once they did so in Massachusetts, Federalists effectively made a U-turn, opportunism most obvious in the attempt to relocate control of Harvard College, at the time a public institution, away from elected officials. In the decades that followed, Harvard, along with newer colleges like Williams and Bowdoin, became political footballs as politicians, alumni, and ministers jockeyed for power over them.
One might think that self-interest would have led the Republicans, and their Democratic successors, to embrace the chartering of government-sponsored organizations like banks, bridge companies, and other organizations. And to some degree, this was true. But suspicion of concentrated power was a core tenet of the Jeffersonian tradition, and not one that yielded easily to the often confusing exigencies of antebellum politics. Indeed, many Democrats viewed the new party of Andrew Jackson as the locus of public will; all else was in effect a special interest. This was true even as grassroots organizations sprang up in Massachusetts and elsewhere to promote causes that ranged from Antimasonry to sabbatarianism (and, later, temperance and abolition). Democratic partisans were not necessarily hostile to the goals of these movements, but were often skeptical, if not explicitly opposed, to their increasingly effective organizational acumen.
Which is not to say that Whigs were necessarily happy with such associations, either. To the extent that they made their peace with non-government organizations – which, ultimately, they did with more intellectual clarity and operational cohesion than Democrats – they were avowed elitists who explicitly tried to build in electoral circuit breakers in the form of civic boards, credentialing systems, and other methods of constraining majoritarian electoral tyranny. An excellent case study, limned by Neem, is the career of Horace Mann, who tried to overcome the localism and political intervention endemic to public education to fashion a proto-Progressive teaching profession marked by state-wide standards and insulation from political patronage.
The success of such efforts, in turn, prompted some Democrats to make the somewhat counter-intuitive position that U.S. society needed more, not less, chartered corporations and other bodies to create competition and check the growth of concentrated power represented by figures such as Mann. (Such logic, rightly attributed to the Anti-Federalist Elbridge Gerry, calls to mind that of James Madison in the Federalist #10, which, curiously, goes unmentioned here.)
By the end of the antebellum era, voluntary associations were here to stay, much as political operatives may have loathed them (which both parties certainly did in the case of Garrisonian abolitionists). But while a durable consensus took root about the legitimacy of activities that ranged from public-interest lobbying to commercial incorporation, the tensions first grappled with in the early national era remain with us still. Indeed, it has been remarkable to see how partisans of the left who mobilized in favor of Barack Obama last year have been wringing their hands over protests on the right over health care legislation this year. Clearly – or, more accurately, not-so-clearly – one man’s grassroots organizing is another woman’s astro-turfing.
Creating a Nation of Joiners is an example of the publishing-industry beleaguered genre of the academic monograph at its best. (In a spirit of disclosure, I will mention that the book is dedicated in part to my father in law, Professor Theodore R. Sizer of Brown University, a fact that biases me in its favor, but which I did not realize when I embarked on the review.) Exhaustively researched and yet tightly focused, it is a notably resonant piece of scholarship.
I will say that I might have liked to see a bit more in the way of context. While Neem is nimble in navigating the complex ecclesiastical terrain of New England – particularly in his discussion on the strange bedfellows of evangelical-minded Democrats and Orthodox Congregationalists, who teamed up to disestablish religion in Massachusetts – I found myself wondering if or how the political fault lines he describes had their origins in the separating/non-separating tensions in seventeenth century Puritan churches. And while I understand his decision not to trace the well-known emergence of the Second Party System of the early nineteenth century, I wished I had a better sense of the degree to which Massachusetts politics reflected or diverged from the nation as a whole. (Were Democrats really as strong there as they were in New York or Tennessee, for example?) But these are minor reservations in what is an elegantly conceived and executed book.
Ever since the events of September 11, 2001, it has seemed to those who can take an historical view of such things that Herodotus, who wrote the first history in the western tradition about the wars between Greece and Persia, is the beginning of the history we are now living. As Daniel Mendelsohn has pointed out in a recent article in The New Yorker, during the Cold War it seemed that Thucydides was the ancient historian who spoke to the current moment; now Herodotus is the man of the hour. Anthony Pagden begins with The Histories; and endeavors to tell the long history of which it is the beginning. If it does make sense to invoke Herodotus while talking about the current struggle between East and West, it is because there is some historical understanding to be had if only the literate citizenry would read some of the history. Pagden’s book would serve this worthy purpose.
Herodotus wanted, above all, to inquire into why the Greeks and Persians fought each other early in the fifth century B.C.E. The history of this enmity includes the Trojan War, which was for many centuries considered the first war between European and Asian civilizations. The Greeks did come from west of the Hellespont, and Troy did lie to the east of it; but Homer’s Greeks and Trojans are not very culturally different. For Herodotus, an historian rather than a poet, the cultural difference between the Greeks and Persians was an established and significant fact – based on geography, but so historical as to seem natural. Pagden ultimately endorses the standard and still current reading of Herodotus as the historian of the struggle between western freedom and eastern despotism; but from the beginning his account does complicate and destabilize the most obviously oversimplified understandings of this history.
“The terms ‘East and West’ are, of course, ‘Western,’ ” he says; but then adds that it was the Assyrians who first made a distinction between Asia, where the sun rises, and Europe, where the sun sets. And though, according to Pagden, for the Assyrians “there was no natural frontier between the two, and they accorded no particular significance to the distinction,” to this historical reader it begins to cast the difference into the natural rather than the cultural realm, and tends to signify for each side that the other is somehow beyond the pale. A few pages later, Pagden explains that “The English word ‘West’ was originally an adverb of direction,” which “meant, in effect, ‘farther down, farther away.’ ” This makes me think of Herodotus’ attempt, in Book IV of The Histories, to sort out the geography of the continents. There he says that nobody knows what lies north and west of Europe, where we now know England to lie. Herodotus in fact knew much more about Asia than about Europe; but he was trying to sort out not just those continents but Africa as well. This makes Pagden think of the Biblical account of the Flood and its aftermath, in which the sons of Noah go to Asia, Africa, and Europe to repopulate those places with their peoples. So we can see how readily this East/West opposition can be complicated and destabilized, even as we can see how historically persistent it is.
Pagden’s first chapter summarizes the most telling episodes of Herodotus’ Histories, including not only the Battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis, but also the constitutional debate that preceded the accession of Darius to the Persian throne and the deliberations instigated by the Persian King Xerxes prior to his invasion of Greece. Before Darius became king, the Persians considered the constitutional alternatives to monarchy, with one Persian aristocrat, named Otanes, arguing for democracy, or, to use the word Herodotus uses, isonomia, which means equality under the law. Another Persian argues for an aristocratic constitution. Darius, however, makes the case for their sticking with kingship, because that is what the Persians have always done; and then he makes sure that he’s the one who becomes king. Pagden writes that “At this moment in their history, the Persians could have followed the path the Athenians had taken at the end of the sixth century, when Cleisthenes introduced the rule of the majority into Athens. Herodotus, who is writing what amounts to a chronicle of the power of democracy to triumph over monarchy, has given them their chance, but they have turned it down.” Darius’ son Xerxes, having decided to invade Greece and already given the orders for the mustering of an enormous invasion force, rather unaccountably solicits the advice of his court. He wants to invade, but he wants a debate. Mardonius, one of his generals, praises the king and endorses his plan. Artabanus, one of his uncles, is the only other one to speak, and only dares to speak because of his kinship with the king. He points out that in a debate both sides should be heard, and goes on to make a strong case against the invasion. Xerxes responds angrily that if Artabanus had not been his uncle, he would lose his head for speaking his mind. The invasion will go forward, but Artabanus will be left behind with the women. Pagden writes that “Once again reasoned disputation is suppressed by precisely what Otanes had identified as one of monarchy’s greatest weaknesses: the inability of a monarch to listen to the voices of any but those who tell him what he wishes to hear.” Monarchy and conquest are Persian traditions, and Persia must do what its traditions dictate.
The Persian invasion goes forward, and is defeated. In his account of this phase of the struggle, Pagden relies not only on the Histories of Herodotus but also on the Persians of Aeschylus, the tragic dramatist who of course was also a participant in the battles. In the succeeding chapters of narrative and analysis we hear of, and from the lives and writings of Plato and Aristotle, Cicero and Plutarch, Augustine and Zoroaster, Avicenna and Averroes, and others. Pagden is at present a distinguished professor of political science and history, but has for many years been an eminent intellectual historian; and so here writes both a political and intellectual history of the 2,500-year struggle, using texts of all sorts for his sources. According to Pagden’s account, the conquests of Alexander the Great, and the Empire acquired by the Roman Republic, were attempts to neutralize the struggle between East and West by subsuming them into the universal rule of, initially, the conqueror, and, eventually, the Emperor. He observes that, while it is easy these days to represent Alexander as a great villain, it is not so easy to dismiss or demonize the historical consequences of the Roman Imperium. He writes that while for the ancient Greeks Persia was the East, for the Romans Greece was eastern; and that the Hellenistic world that evolved from Alexander’s conquests was cosmopolitan. There are many invocations of cosmopolitanism throughout the book, but there is no place where Pagden analyzes that notion. Of course, a history of cosmopolitanism would warrant a volume as long and broad as this one, and would be as timely. It may well be that Pagden does not undertake such an analysis here because he has done so in some of his other writings. But here he might have said more to indicate the significance of cosmopolitanism as a solution to cultural struggle. At this historical moment, western sensibilities are more multicultural than cosmopolitan, and our current multiculturalism is based on a notion of cultural difference that at best tends toward mere commodified variety and at worst leaves no obvious alternative to nihilistic violence. Similarly, there are throughout Pagden’s history incidental mentions of normal and profitable diplomatic and commercial relations between East and West, but no systematic analysis of their historical significance or effects. On the other hand, I found it very interesting and not at all disappointing that Pagden’s analysis on occasion angled toward a revision of Edward Said’s Orientalism and Joseph Bernal’s Black Athena, two influential but controversial accounts of the historical interactions of East and West.
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the universal but competing claims of Christianity and Islam restarted the struggle between East and West. This time, of course, the Empire itself was split between East and West; and at this point in his history Pagden also describes the split within Islam between Shiites and Sunnis, which also fits the East/West pattern. This weaving together of more and less familiar history is of a piece with his account of a 2500-year struggle that has been historically persistent but is not being historiographically oversimplified. In his history of the Muslim East and Christian West, for instance, the Jewish people figure as westernized easterners. The struggle within the West between Catholic and Protestant Christians is seen to be resolved by a tolerance that begins to make the larger struggle asymmetrical. The separation between Church and State develops in the Christian West, but not in the Muslim East. And the apparently outdated Enlightened opinion that despotism was the source of eastern weakness and freedom the source of western strength in fact continues to recast the long-standing East/West opposition as one which is on different levels about religion and politics, tradition and modernity. If it is historiographically useful for Pagden to make and maintain a fairly straightforward distinction between East and West, it is also necessary for him to complicate it whenever historical events and developments don’t simply fit the abstract analytical categories. Of course, where those categories have been historically thought upon and worked into the acts and experiences of actual people, they cease to be mere abstractions. It seems to me that Pagden strikes the right historiographical balance here, and avoids the obvious unhistorical pitfalls. Some of his reviewers, expert in their pertinent specialties, have pointed out various errors and omissions in his narrative or analysis, but this sort of thing is probably inevitable when strictly disciplined sensibilities encounter an attempt to present a synoptic and accessible survey.
In the end, and in the Epilogue, Pagden, writing as a modern, secular westerner, observes that “the Muslim world seems to be unable to reconcile traditional ways of life, traditional religious beliefs, with modern liberal forms of government,” and he asks, “Why?” His answer both begins with, and follows from, Herodotus. “It seems unlikely that the long struggle between East and West is going to end very soon,” he says. “The battle lines drawn during the Persian Wars more than twenty-three centuries ago are still…very much where they were then.” Pagden’s reading of this history should not only enlighten but also inspire his readers; so that, while his book could serve as one that would inform literate citizens of the history they are living, they might also be encouraged to read that history for themselves.
[Deepak Tripathi is a former BBC correspondent and editor. He is the author of Overcoming the Bush Legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan (Foreword: John Tirman), to be published in November 2009 and Afghanistan: The Real Story Behind Terrorism (Foreword: Richard Falk) in April 2010, both by Potomac Books. He lives near London in the United Kingdom.]
Only about 20 years ago, the United States was the preferred destination for dissidents tortured and incarcerated in secret prisons in the Soviet Union and satellite states in Eastern Europe. Pictures of the brief journey on foot by the Soviet dissident, Anatoly Scharansky, across the Glienicke bridge to West Berlin in February 1986 have acquired a permanent place in the annals of Cold War history. Scharansky, a Soviet Jew, settled in Israel, but Alexander Solzhenitsyn and many others made the United States their home upon escaping persecution.
As the Iron Curtain was blown, who could have imagined that barely a decade after, the United States would commit large-scale acts of kidnapping, torture and murder beyond its territory and send people, based on mere suspicion or hearsay, to secret prisons in ex-Soviet bloc countries for interrogation under torture, euphemistically called ‘extraordinary rendition’?
The unimaginable two decades before happened during the presidency of the George W Bush. In the shadow of 9/11, innocent, vulnerable people, some as young as 13 and as old as 93 years of age, were kidnapped and handed over to American military and intelligence officers for bounties by local players in countries where the United States had no legal jurisdiction. Among them were Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco – allies of America.
To neoconservatives in the corridors of power in Washington, the fact that many of the detainees were condemned to extreme acts of torture and humiliation in friendly dictatorships was of no consequence. Laws had to be broken, justice denied, human dignity violated, individual liberties curtailed at home and abroad to ‘defend freedom’. That all this was perpetrated under a president who was previously governor of a US state (Texas) with the worst record of judicial executions is worth noting. The number of inmates on Death Row in Texas showed a steady increase during the governorship of George W Bush from 1995 to 2000.
The campaign of abductions and unlawful detention, torture, harassment and surveillance against people around the world, including many in the United States, under the Bush administration dwarfs what was done during the McCarthy era to Americans accused of being communists or communist sympathizers, without proper regard for evidence, in the 1950s. America was haunted by the McCarthyite witch-hunts for years thereafter. Painful self-examination had to follow. Despite pressure for a similar self-examination into what has occurred in the name of the ‘global war on terror’, President Obama wants to ‘look ahead’ for whatever reason, but introspection will come eventually.
From this dark perspective, Christopher Pyle’s book, Getting Away with Torture, is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on the subject. He joins the ranks of distinguished legal experts like Professor Philippe Sands, QC, and Clive Stafford Smith, who are known in the United States and Britain for their work on human rights. Pyle is certainly qualified to write this book. He is a professor of constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College. Once a captain in army intelligence, he disclosed, in 1970, the military’s surveillance of civilian politics and worked with Senator Sam Ervin’s Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights and Senator Frank Church’s Select Committee on Intelligence to end the practice.
As can be expected from an author of such distinction, Getting Away with Torture is an exceptionally well-sourced book. He follows the paper trail of torture memos leading to abuses at Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in meticulous detail. He demonstrates that, despite attempts to blame a few ‘bad apples’, the chain of abuse of the US Constitution and international law started from the White House, President Bush and his Vice President, Dick Cheney.
Seven years after Bush declared his ‘global war on terror’, many despicable acts have come to light in spite of attempts to suppress them. But, as Pyle says, much remains to be learned about the mistreatment of suspected terrorists. He concludes that torture was intended from the start. That is why the President authorized the secret prisons and military commissions that could admit evidence based on torture. And that is also why he suspended the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.
Pyle emphatically makes the point that the Bush administration did great harm at home and abroad. And, in the concluding chapter, he calls for the restoration for the rule of law, citing Martin Luther King, Jr, who said: “To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.” Pyle notes President Obama’s executive order soon after inauguration to close the Guantanamo detention center, but says this is easier said than done. US lawmakers, aware of strong opposition from sections of the electorate, are resistant to any idea of having Guantanamo detainees transferred to prisons in their own states. And the book laments the insistence of Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, in 2007 that there would be no effort to impeach Bush or Cheney for violating the American constitution.
Even if Guantanamo were to be closed as President Obama wants by January 2010, Pyle says in his book that US federal courts have yet to confront the question who should be detained and why. They have to address the issue of mistreatment of prisoners. “To restore the Geneva Conventions,” Pyle continues, “Congress should begin by repealing the Military Commissions Act of 2006.” In that law, Congress granted the president the exclusive authority to define what constitutes the war crime of ‘cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment’.
More than six months into the Obama presidency, we know that the military commissions will continue, albeit with some modifications. Curbing government secrecy will be a long, often frustrating, battle as suggested by the administration’s policy reversals on calls for greater openness about what happened under President Bush. And establishing a truth and reconciliation commission like in South Africa after the apartheid era, or congressional hearings, will require a degree of moral courage and foresight that is sadly lacking at least for now. These depressing trends make it imperative that Pyle’s book is read as widely as possible.
Annette Gordon-Reed is the first historian to provide a complete biography of the Hemings family (The Hemingses of Monticello, 2008) and to offer a persuasive account of Jefferson’s sexual relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings (Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, 1997). In his new book, Mongrel Nation: The America Begotten by Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, historian Clarence Walker knocks this story up a notch in his brilliant and daring book about the historical significance of the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings in U.S. history as well as the ways in which discussions of this liaison has flared up racial tensions between black and white Americans.
In addition to being a book about the Jefferson-Hemings affair, Mongrel Nation on a more fundamental level is a provocative experiment in imagining new ways to write about the past. One of the major issues surrounding the Jefferson-Hemings liaison was the decades of silence and denial that the affair sparked. Gordon-Reed shattered this silence by marshalling convincing archival evidence that Jefferson did in fact father Hemings’ children. Her book challenged generations of scholarly work that denied the relationship. Walker intervenes in this debate by accepting Gordon-Reed’s conclusions, but then investigating why the silence exists.
Drawing on the theoretical work of Roland Barthes and Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Walker argues that the production of historical narratives in the United States have both mythologized certain prominent actors from the past while simultaneously creating silences around those with less power. According to Walker, chroniclers of the American past have mythologized Thomas Jefferson, making it difficult for scholars like Gordon-Reed and others to actually present an image of Jefferson that does not glorify him. More to the point, Walker reveals how a number of historians, archivists, and writers that have been involved in preserving, documenting, and writing about the past have purposely ignored the topic of racial amalgamation, and instead have posited an image of the United States as a lily-white nation since its conception. While historians within the Academy have certainly refuted this interpretation, the mainstream public continues to embrace this vision of the American past—which, by the way, is only further buttressed by the popularity of bestselling history books and biographies on the “Founding Fathers.” Such interpretations of the past that lionize white men in power unwittingly (and sometimes purposely) eclipse the experiences of ordinary Americans whose alleged anonymous lives form the mere backdrop to the “master” narrative of American history. It is for these reasons, according to Walker, that the Jefferson-Hemings affair has been virtually ignored. When the prevailing script of the history of the nation is narrated, Hemings and her children are not provided a cue on “when and where to enter.”
In an effort to further explain how Americans have resisted acknowledging how racial amalgamation has contributed to the formation of the nation, Walker exits the late-18th century and turns to a number of contemporary examples in order to illustrate how this dynamic works. For instance, Walker points to the case of Strom Thurmond, the former South Carolinian Senator who ran for President in 1948. Similar to Jefferson, Thurmond had a sexual relationship with an African-American woman and fathered a biracial daughter, which was kept secret for decades. When news of his daughter surfaced after his death, his own relatives were shocked to learn that Thurman had a “shadow family.” Walker interprets the silence that surrounded both of these relationships as examples of the ways in which these families harbored shame not because these men had illegitimate children, but rather because these men had fathered mixed race children. In this particular scenario and in others throughout the book, Walker examines the Jefferson-Hemings relationship through a prism of contemporary examples; the past, as Walker formulates it, does not seem that divorced from the present.
In addition to examining the Jefferson-Hemings affair in a contemporary context, Walker begins the book by placing the relationship in the broader context of the Atlantic World. While Early American historians have been using the mantra of the Atlantic World as an important analytical strategy to interpret evidence from the colonial period, Walker is one of the first historians to investigate the meaning of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship in this context. By locating the Jefferson-Hemings relationship in what Philip Curtain refers to as the “plantation complex” (which includes the plantations in the Caribbean and North and South America), Walker argues that the liaison between Jefferson and Hemings does not appear nearly as aberrant as it does in the U.S. field. Walker furthers this point by highlighting the preponderance of interracial relationships between slaves and masters throughout South America and the Caribbean, arguing it is only because Americans have inherited a British, almost purist, notion of racial categories that the Jefferson-Hemings affair appears so odd to students of American history. In Surinam, a Dutch colony in South America, he explains, it was commonplace for white men to have open and public intimate relationships with enslaved women of color.
Walker’s insistence on viewing the Jefferson-Hemings relationship in the context of the Atlantic World represents his effort to rethink how history from this period should be written. While many historians would certainly agree that the rubric of the Atlantic World offers an important way to investigate the colonial period, some of Walker’s other approaches are certainly more daring. In an effort to understand the complicated ways in which interracial categories developed in the United States, Walker employs an interdisciplinary approach to a dazzling number of historical and contemporary sources. His textual references span from the groundbreaking work of colonial U.S. historian Kathleen Brown to comments made by the Brazilian writer Capistrano de Abreu to references to the 1844 writings of the German naturalist Friedrich Philip Von Marius to even Philip Roth’s contemporary novel, The Human Stain. While all of these disparate sources may appear dizzying to the reader at first glance, they offer a thoughtful meditation on the complex and varied ways in which racial categories developed in the United States and how they became powerful markers in the making of the nation. Based on his use of evidence, Walker implicitly encourages students interested in questions about the historical formulation of race to look beyond the borders of the United States for comparative examples.
Walker’s final contribution lies in the title of his book, “Mongrel Nation.” According to the underlying logic of the book, if Americans are going to continue to valorize Jefferson, then he and Hemings should replace George and Martha Washington as the “first” American couple—as the Jefferson and Hemings interracial relationship better represents the American progeny. Walker posits an image of the United States as a racially mixed nation. By dismantling the myths that have whitewashed the past and erased the interactions between whites and blacks, Walker has demonstrated both why and how the Jefferson-Hemings relationship has been ignored for generations. Even with Gordon-Reed's groundbreaking archival research substantiating the affair, which was then later corroborated by the discovery of DNA evidence, many Americans still continue to doubt if Jefferson did in fact father Hemings’s children. Walker’s book explains why many Americans continue to remain skeptical about Jefferson’s relationship with Hemings.
For Walker, the answer to this question lies in how we write history. With so many sources and historical accounts that do not chronicle the everyday interactions between whites and blacks from the past coupled with the fact that many Americans have resisted accepting the idea that racial amalgamation has been a fundamental component of the creation of the nation, it is difficult to imagine that one of the most celebrated Americans would have transgressed the color line. But Walker’s book reveals how Americans from the beginning of the nation to the present have continued to cross the color line, and that the lines between blacks and whites have never been so rigid. More to the point, it is only when we write about the past, according to Walker, that we create these divisions and view history in black and white.
According to Chris Hedges, American civilization is coming apart at the seams. The masses are corrupted by deadening vices like professional wrestling and violent pornography. Higher education has become a craven handmaiden to corporate power. Happiness has been conflated with adjustment to the relentlessly capitalist status quo. And a tottering economy is on the verge of bringing a self-indulgent society to the point of collapse.
But the most self-indulgent figure in Empire of Illusion may well be Hedges himself.
Don't get me wrong: many of the social ills that Hedges, whose urgently eloquent 2002 book War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning has become one of the most influential and widely cited works of its kind in recent years, are real enough. (That's part of the problem: much of what he describes here has been discussed at length elsewhere.) And he brings a reporter's immediacy to many of the scenes he describes; his on-the-ground accounts at wrestling matches or interviews with X-rated film actors are often painstaking -- and at times just plain painful -- in their attention to detail. But he also brings a sledgehammer sensibility to making sense of the phenomena he describes, and forfeits his credibility with his hectoring tone and refusal to consider alternative arguments. He also shows a surprising ignorance in his use and understanding of history.
Take, for example, his rant against celebrity culture. In the space of less than a page, he jumps from a tawdry crowd at a female wrestling match to citing Plato's Republic -- a how-far-we-have-fallen rhetorical gambit that sidesteps Plato's hostility to democratic values that Hedges himself upholds, not to mention the not-exactly-prudish sexual culture of the Greeks -- and then jumps to citing Daniel Boorstin's 1961 book The Image: A Guide to Psuedo-Events in America.
Now, Boorstin's book is an important document of its time, and his observations about popular culture are not without ongoing relevance (even if his politics were a good deal more conservative than those Hedges, which it's not clear he understands). But to uncritically use a source like that as a self-evident description of reality a half-century later strikes me as lazy thinking. For Hedges, television means reality shows like Survivor or The Jerry Springer Show. He never acknowledges that television also means The Sopranos, and Mad Men, never mind Bill Moyers or Charlie Rose. And while he complains that the level of discourse in the Lincoln-Douglas debates were about twice as high as that of the 2000 presidential debate, he overlooks the often mind-numbing repetition, innuendo, and explicit racism of St. Abraham himself in 1858, evident to anyone who has actually read those debates.
Again: the coarseness, even brutality, Hedges describes in modern popular culture is real and may even be growing in relative prominence. But most of the culture of any time and any place is mediocre at best, and if Hedges assumes that the viewers of pornographic movies or wrestling matches uncritically accept everything they're shown as a transparent description of reality, he betrays a lack of respect for ordinary Americans not all that different from conservative critics of popular culture (like Jose Ortega y Gasset, also unselfconsciously invoked here) who are at least clear in their own minds about their contempt for the masses whose culture they decry.
At the other end of the social spectrum, Hedges's critique of the academy is similarly ham-fisted."Our elites replicate, in modern dress, the elaborate mannerisms and archaic forms of speech employed by calcified, corrupt, and dying aristocracies," he writes."They cannot grasp that truth is often relative. They base their decisions on established beliefs, such as the primacy of the unregulated market or globalization, which are accepted as unquestioned absolutes." Maybe so. But most critics of university culture would say that if there is one thing that characterizes academic life in the humanities, whose influence he rightly notes is shrinking, it is skepticism about the market economy and a doctrinaire insistence on the constructed nature of reality, a form of relativism that Hedges also decries (indeed he's quite bitter about the state of the humanities on this and other counts). He also manages to lump together the oft-commented upon narcissism of our contemporary meritocratic elite of Ivy-League universities with the old-boy network of George W. Bush -- a conflation of two admittedly unattractive, but hardly interchangeable, demographic segments.
Part of what makes all of this hard to take is the severe and remorseless tone of Hedges's indictment of American society. Take this paragraph of unsupported assertions unrelieved even by the mercy of a comma:
"At no period in American history as our democracy been in such peril or the possibility of totalitarianism as real. Our way of life is over. Our profligate consumption is finished. Our children will never have the standard of living we had. This is the bleak future. This is reality. There is nothing President Obama can do to stop it. It has been decades in the making. It cannot be undone with $1 trillion or $2 trillion in bailout money. Nor will it be solved by clinging to the illusions of the past."
Well, then, what should we do? In a general sense, it's clear enough: Wean ourselves from our attachment to materialism and self-gratification and learn to accept a life of limitations. Yet there's a curiously abstract quality to this prescription, because Hedges never seems to describe a three-dimensional country in which such a vision might approach reality. His native land seems to consist of rapacious corporate executives and their victims. The only thing in between seems to be the world of his grandparents, hard-working New England folk who knew the value as well as limits of a dollar, and of learning -- and who appear to be invisible in any recognizable form today.
Frankly, I'm puzzled by Hedges. As a war correspondent in places like Latin America and the Balkans, he's seen the worst human beings can do to each other. I'm not such an exceptionalist that I assume it would be self-evident that the state of our union would be a simple inversion of, say, the Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic. But he seems incapable of registering any distinctions. He argues at the end of the book, quite plausibly, that economic distress is really the single most important factor in political disintegration. But he seems to treat cultural decay, which dominates the opening of the book, as a cause rather than a symptom. I wonder whether it is either. In any case, the inexorable economic logic of imperial decline would seem to make complaining about the state of American pornography beside the point.
Which brings me another source of confusion. Hedges was trained as a seminarian, and a fierce moral energy is what gave War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning is intensity. Righteous anger has its place, and it really worked there. He has also written jeremiads against evangelical Christians and atheists alike. At some point, though, it seems to me that an effective social critique has to move beyond complaining about what you hate and describing what you love, because, as Hedges made clear in that book, love is a force that gives us meaning, too. The power of positive example -- in generous and engaged writing no less than in the subject of that writing -- can furnish a powerful lesson in its own right. After all these years on the front lines, I really wish Chris Hedges would finally come home to the place that made him -- and the place that sustains him still. If he could map those coordinates, perhaps a few more of us would find ourselves with him.
Complaints about shortages of money have been ubiquitous throughout history. Yet many economists have tended to give this grievance short shrift. “No complaint,” wrote Adam Smith in 1776, “is more common than that of a scarcity of money. Money, like wine, must always be scarce with those who have neither the wherewithal to buy it, nor credit to borrow it.” One can even find this dismissal echoed in a recent edition of one of the two standard texts on U.S. economic history, History of the American Economy, written by Gary M. Walton and Hugh Rockoff, the latter of whom is a monetary economist. In discussing the shortage of specie (that is, of gold and silver coins) alleged by contemporaries during the colonial period in U.S. history, Walton and Rockoff write “that most colonists preferred to spend rather than to accumulate a stock of specie. After all, limited specie was simply another manifestation of a capital-scarce economy. To the colonists, it was more desirable to receive additional imports—especially manufactures—than to maintain a growing stock of specie.”1
Until recently, only a few economic historians seemed to have grasped that such complaints might mask a serious problem mis-identified. One of the first to do so was Carlo M. Cipolla, who in 1956 wrote about “The Big Problem of the Petty Coins” in medieval and Renaissance Europe. So long as the price level can freely adjust up and down, there can never be a shortage of money per se; but a denominational shortage can seem like one. If the economy is starved for money in small denominations, it can throttle economic exchange and the resulting gains from trade. Within the last two decades, a number of economists have studied such denominational dislocations in greater detail and with greater sophistication. The two most prominent contributions, at least until now, have been Angela Redish, Bimetallism: An Economic and Historical Analysis (2000) and Thomas J. Sargent and François R. Velde, The Big Problem of Small Change (2002). But George Selgin’s impressive new study, Good Money: Birmingham Button Makers, the Royal Mint, and the Beginnings of Modern Coinage, 1775-1821, demonstrates that their analyses require significant modification. 2
Long after the emergence of coined metallic money, both gold and silver continued in use. Gold’s higher value to weight ratio made it more useful for large transactions, whereas silver was better for small transactions. Indeed, even full-bodied silver coins would often be too minuscule in the lowest denominations, so that coins made of copper or billon (an alloy of copper and usually silver) remained a more convenient alternative. But of course the market exchange rates among these three metals could fluctuate over time. Princes and other rulers invariably tried to fix exchange rates through legal tender laws, official mint ratios, or other partly binding sanctions. But doing so only brought into operation Gresham’s Law. If the fixed exchange rate was not at equilibrium, one metal would be overvalued and in surplus, and the other metal would be undervalued and in shortage. More often than not, it was coins used for the smallest transactions that were undervalued and would tend to be driven from circulation. In England, for instance, from the Great Recoinage of 1690s on through the next century, silver was undervalued relative to gold with the results that full-weight silver coins flowed out of the country, the Royal Mint virtually stopped producing silver coins, and the only silver coins remaining in circulation were significantly underweight. 3
The works of Redish and Sargent-Velde, in fact, discovered that much coinage depreciation was driven by this process, rather than by the efforts of nobles and monarchs to boost their seigniorage revenue (although there was still plenty of the latter). Whenever coins made from the officially undervalued metal were being exported or melted down, they could be kept in circulation either through deliberate debasement or through “calling up” (i.e., enhancing) their face value. Sometimes depreciation would happen automatically from normal wear and tear on the coinage or from private clipping of coins and similar methods for shorting their metallic content. Sargent and Velde use a complicated but contested economic model to argue that such depreciation would be endemic even in the case of only a single metal providing full-bodied coins for all denominations (however physically inconvenient). Because coinage costs necessarily varied across denominations and mints only produced those coins purchased by the public with the requisite metal, mints would frequently produce the wrong denominational mix, causing deviations of the market value of certain coins from their face value. 4
The alleged solution to this recurrent problem that plagued medieval and Renaissance commerce was what has come to be known as the standard formula. Small-denomination coins, rather than being full-bodied, should be tokens with a metallic value well below their face value but freely interchangeable at a fixed exchange rate for large-denomination, full-bodied gold coins (or under today’s monetary regimes, for fiat currency). Although seemingly simple, the standard formula was not widely implemented until the nineteenth century. The British government supposedly adopted it in 1816, while the U.S. government waited until at least 1853. Some monetary historians have suggested that it took a long time for theorists to devise and appreciate the formula, whereas others claim that viable token coinage had to await technological innovations that would make it difficult for counterfeiters to flood the market with fraudulent tokens. But nearly all have agreed that only the State could successfully institute the standard formula. 5
What Selgin’s meticulous and wide ranging research reveals is that this last assumption is exactly backwards for Great Britain, the first country to implement the standard formula. The British government mainly hindered and sabotaged the development of token coinage, which instead arose privately. Not only had the Royal Mint’s mispricing of silver effectively eliminated any new silver coinage by the end of the eighteenth century, but the mint had discontinued copper coinage as well. This only encouraged counterfeiting of the mint’s inconvertible copper coins. The counterfeit coins at least provided some monetary services and by the mid-1750s already accounted for at least half the copper in circulation. All this was taking place at the outset of the Industrial Revolution, as the economy’s monetary needs were rapidly expanding in response to the enormous shift of workers from the farms to factories and the unprecedented growth of retail trade. At a time when the daily laborer’s wage averaged between one or two shillings (twelve to twenty-four pence) per day, a monetary system in which the smallest, non-counterfeit coin readily and widely available was the gold half guinea (equal to ten and a half shillings) hardly proved adequate. Nor could paper money fill the gap, since the artificially privileged Bank of England did not issue banknotes of less than five pounds (one hundred shillings), and Parliament soon outlawed the issue of small-denomination notes by other banks.
It was private entrepreneurs—not the Royal Mint—who finally alleviated the shortage with “tradesmen’s tokens” or “commercial coins,” beginning with copper “Druids” issued by the Parys Mining Company in 1787. Although a 1672 legal prohibition on private tokens was still on the books, it was unenforced, since the private tokens made no pretence of being coins from the mint, and indeed were noted for distinctive and exquisite designs. Within a decade there were a score of private mints, which had struck more copper coins than the Royal Mint had produced over the previous half century. Many of the new mint masters were button makers from Birmingham. It was also private entrepreneurs—not the Royal Mint—who curtailed counterfeiting with superior die engravings, producing high-quality coins of uniform roundness and milled edges. As a result, private entrepreneurs—not the Royal Mint—were the first to offer small-denomination coins fully redeemable for money of higher denominations. Nor did these counterfeit-proof coins require the development and employment of the steam-driven press, as Redish and Sargent-Velde believe. Only Matthew Boulton’s Soho mint used steam presses, meaning that most of the eighteenth-century private tokens were manufactured without it. While many of the less familiar tokens circulated only locally, those issued by large-scale manufacturing and mining companies with good name-brand capital achieved nationwide acceptance. Despite not being legal tender, private tokens became so reliable that they generally commanded a 100 percent premium over any Royal Mint copper coins remaining in circulation. Indeed, Selgin makes a persuasive claim that, without private coinage, Britain’s transition into sustained economic growth with its reliance on wage labor would have been stifled.
Private coinage did not solve all of Britain’s denominational problems, partly because entrepreneurs hesitated to branch out into silver coins. There was no seventeenth-century legal precedent for the private minting of silver, as there was for copper, and being convicted of counterfeiting the Royal Mint’s silver coins was a hanging offense, whereas the penalties were far less severe for counterfeiting copper coins. Then in 1797 the British government took a step backward. It granted Matthew Bolton an exclusive contract to provide the Royal Mint with copper pennies and twopennies, which would be issued enjoying limited legal tender. Known as Cartwheels, these coins were far from a success. In contrast to privately issued tokens, they were initially produced only in higher denominations, had a copper value close to their face value, and were not redeemable at the mint for higher denomination coins. Eventually the naval demand for copper during Britain’s wars with France drove up copper’s price, making the metallic value of Cartwheels exceed their face value. Substantial quantities were melted down despite a legal prohibition against doing so. Fortunately the older, private tokens continued in circulation, but fears that the government would suppress commercial coining inhibited their further production and aggravated the small-coin shortage.
Active private minting recommenced in 1811, this time resulting in some silver as well as copper coins. Apparently the Bank of England’s recent issue of its own silver coins, without recourse to the Royal Mint, had emboldened private entrepreneurs to try again. But this second round of commercial coining was short lived. Facing pressure from the mint and its political allies, Parliament passed in 1813 the Local Tokens Act, outlawing private coinage. (The ban on private silver coins did not actually take effect until two years later, and copper tokens were not suppressed for another three years after that.) Parliament finally authorized the mint to issue its own small-denomination token coins in 1816, and that year is usually reported as the one in which Britain adopted the standard formula. But not until 1836 was the full convertibility of these tokens at a fixed exchange rate legally nailed down, making the Royal Mint’s small coins for the first time the economic equal of those that had been privately issued a half century earlier.6
In recounting this fascinating story, Selgin carries us far afield from the monetary theory he thoroughly covers in his first chapter. Indeed, Good Money is one of those very rare works that seamlessly integrates the disciplines of economics and history, while adhering to the highest standards of scholarship in both. It opens a window onto the business history, the technological developments, the manufacturing techniques, and the numismatics of the period, with a mastery and richness of detail that is truly impressive. It engagingly captures the human side of its history, revealing the full range of virtues and foibles exhibited by the assorted businessmen and entrepreneurs who established and ran the private mints, some of whom resorted to such skullduggery as lobbying for monopoly grants from the government. The book is also graced with sixteen pages of full-color plates beautifully displaying many of the most important private tokens, along with other photos and prints. For readers who want still more, Selgin provides a link to his “Ramble ‘Round Old Birmingham,” a historical tour through the Birmingham of the private minters. Overall, the book is a splendid achievement that should become the standard authority on this monetary episode.
The importance of Selgin’s Good Money, however, goes well beyond resurrecting and correcting the historical record about a single episode. The problem of small coins turns out to have been far more widespread than historians or economists generally acknowledge, or often it is mistaken for a shortage of money generally and therefore grossly misunderstood. The works of Redish and Sargent-Velde cover numerous other instances from the medieval and Renaissance eras, many of which might repay deeper study and possible reevaluation in the light of Selgin’s findings. Another case I mentioned at the beginning of this review is the complaints about monetary shortages in British colonial America, an area that would obviously be affected by dislocations prevailing in the mother country. One of Redish’s journal articles already explores a similar grievance in British Canada, discovering unsurprisingly that denominational shortages were, once again, the root cause. The same phenomenon has arisen even today under fiat money, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where it has now become difficult to make change. A case that particularly cries out for more detailed investigation is that of the post-Civil War United States. Along with other economic historians, I have elsewhere argued that the wartime financial expedients adopted by the Union, particularly the National Banking System, deprived the defeated South of cash in small denominations. Although privately and usually illegally issued “shinplasters” helped to curb the shortage in the South’s urban areas, they could not function well in the agricultural sector, which therefore had to fall back on such essentially barter arrangements as sharecropping and store credit repaid in crops. Hopefully other scholars, or Selgin himself, will be inspired to direct their future research and writing to some of these cases. 7
Still more important are the implications of Selgin’s microhistory for monetary policy today. As Selgin himself emphasizes, “the payoff of the commercial coinage story consists not in any particular reform it might suggest but in the broader lesson it teaches concerning the need to ponder government’s role in money through the same wary eyes economists tend to cast upon other government ventures. Despite being perfectly aware of the general drawbacks of monopoly and nationalization and also despite their recognition of how narrow fiscal motives led governments to usurp control of money in the first place, even otherwise incredulous economists tend to take governments’ monetary prerogative for granted. The outcome has been a body of monetary thought well suited toward tinkering with existing government-controlled monetary systems but not at all cut out for revealing the advantages, as well as the true shortcomings, of less top-heavy alternatives” (p. 305).
Indeed, the current, international financial crisis might cause Selgin to retract his concession that current monetary thought is "well suited toward tinkering with existing government-controlled monetary systems.” Events have brought the Federal Reserve System, along with general notions of government-managed currencies and centrally planned interest rates, under increasing criticism. Unfortunately, even as radical and insightful a contribution as Been Steil and Manuel Hinds’s recent Money, Markets and Sovereignty, which persuasively argues that nationalistic fiat moneys are ultimately incompatible with economic globalization, buys into the myth that government was needed to implement the standard formula. Despite Steil and Hinds’s recognition that it is a “textbook fiction” (using the phrase of monetary theorist Robert Mundell) that the State played any essential role in money’s origin, they still write that “governments needed to impose a single commodity anchor, such as gold coins or bills redeemable in gold, and to make smaller denominations into limited-supply tokens, convertible into the commodity anchor at a fixed rate guaranteed by the government.” Yet if government intervention is truly necessary to solve the big problem of small change, how will it ever be possible to achieve an international money free from the machinations of the nation-State? 8
The overarching value of Selgin’s study, then, is to offer a concrete illustration of how voluntary interaction on the market solved a complex monetary problem and of why governments were the primary source of the problem in the first place. We can only share his hope that “perhaps awareness of Great Britain’s commercial coinage experience will help nudge [monetary] thought onto less well-traveled paths” (p. 305).
1 Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776; reprint, Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1976), v. 1, p. 437: Gary M. Walton and Hugh Rockoff, History of the American Economy, 10th edn. (Mason, OH: South-Western, 2005), p. 81.
2 Carlo M. Cipolla, Money, Prices and Civilization in the Mediterranean World: Fifth to Seventeenth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1956), p. 27; Angela Redish, Bimetallism: An Economic and Historical Analysis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Thomas J. Sargent and François R. Velde, The Big Problem of Small Change (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002).
3 The validity of Gresham’s Law has been challenged by Arthur J. Rolnick and Warren E. Weber, “Gresham’s Law or Gresham’s Fallacy,” Journal of Political Economy, 94 (February 1986): 185-99. The law has been defended by Robert L. Greenfield and Hugh Rockoff, “Gresham’s Law in Nineteenth Century America,” Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking, 27 (November 1995, Part 1): 1086-98; Thomas J. Sargent and Bruce D. Smith, “Coinage, Debasements, and Gresham’s Law,” Economic Theory, 10 (1997): 197-226; Robert Mundell, “Uses and Abuses of Gresham’s Law in the History of Money,” Zagreb Journal of Economics, 2 (no. 2, 1998): 30-38; and most comprehensively by George Selgin himself, “Salvaging Gresham’s Law: The Good, the Bad, and the Illegal,” Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking, 28 (November 1996, Part 1): 637-49. See also Selgin, “Gresham’s Law,” EH.Net Encyclopedia, ed. by Robert Whaples (June 9, 2003): URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/selgin.gresham.law.
4 Neil Wallace offers a powerful critique of the Sargent-Velde model in “Modeling Small Change: A Review Article,” Journal of Monetary Economics, 50 (August 2003): 1391–1401, a critique that Selgin finds persuasive. The model that Sargent and Smith present in “Coinage, Debasements, and Gresham’s Law” does cover the bimetallic case and is slightly easier to follow than the presentation in The Big Problem of Small Change. The most accessible summary of the Sargent-Velde model is probably Arthur J. Rolnick and Warren E. Weber’s review of The Big Problem of Small Change in the Journal of Political Economy, 111 (April 2003): 459-63.
5 Some authors, such as Cipolla, add to the standard formula a limitation on the quantity of small coins, but as long as the coins are convertible and counterfeiting is minimized, the relative quantity will automatically adjust to demand.
6 Similarly, while the United States issued its first token silver coins in 1853, they were not legally convertible into gold coins at the Treasury until 1879. Moreover, this early token coinage contained so much silver that during the inflation of the Civil War it was melted down and disappeared from circulation.
7 John R. Hanson, II, “Money in the Colonial American Economy: An Extension,” Economic Inquiry, 17 (April 1979): 281-86, suggests that denominational shortages might explain the penchant of British colonies in North America for the issue of paper fiat money. Angela Redish, “Why Was Specie Scarce in Colonial Economies? An Analysis of the Canadian Currency, 1796-1830,” Journal of Economic History, 44 (September 1984): 713-28, is her examination of Canada. For a brief discussion of Argentina, see James Surowiecki, “Change We Can’t Believe In,” The New Yorker, 85 (June 8 and 15, 2009): 42, and George Selgin, “Argentina Is Short of Cash—Literally,” Wall Street Journal, (January 5, 2009), A11. For the case of the post-Civil War South, see Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War (Chicago: Open Court, 1996), pp. 324-27, 344-46; and Hummel, “The Civil War and Reconstruction,” in Price Fishback, et. al., History of the American Government and Economy: Essays in Honor of Robert Higgs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
8 Benn Steil and Manuel Hinds, Money, Markets and Sovereignty (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), pp. 79-80.
Though he's not a household name, Jackson Lears has long been one of the most impressive interpreters of American history. His output over the course of the last three decades—three major books whose locus is the late Victorian era, and a pair of edited anthologies of cultural history—are judicious, gracefully written, and, always, deeply suggestive. His latest book, an overview of the period spanning the end of Reconstruction to the end of the First World War, is no exception.
There's a curious tension, even paradox, running through Lears's body of work. On the one hand, he was part of the vanguard of cultural historians who emerged in academe in the 1980s. The 1983 collection of essays he edited with Richard Wightman Fox, The Culture of Consumption, was a both showcase and manifesto for an emerging generation of talent that challenged the primacy of labor and social history in the profession. The two followed up with a broader collection in 1994, The Power of Culture, which is an even better book.
Yet even as he helped define the field of cultural history, Lears was a misfit within it. While embraced key aspects of the over-easy Marxism that characterized the work of many of his peers like Michael Denning or George Lipsitz, he was skeptical about the materialist analysis that forms the bedrock for all its manifold variations. Moreover, Lears was deeply chary of the post-structuralist influences that dominated scholarship on popular culture by such scholars. So an air of conservative iconoclasm suffuses his work, even as his politics are for the most part mainstream (academic) left.
The heart of this tension is Lears's stance toward the White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant demographic core of U.S. society. In the late 19th century, the nation's intellectual elite upheld WASP culture as the essence of all that was valuable in American civilization. In the late 20th, it was widely considered the source of all that was wrong with it. Lears is as familiar with this critique as anyone in the academy, and there are stretches of Rebirth of a Nation that read as if they could have been written by David Blight, Ron Takaki or Nell Irvin Painter, whose 1987 book Standing at Armegeddon: The United States, 1877-1919 is probably the regnant survey of the period. But Lears may well be unique in his insistent gaze at the religious longings for regeneration that provided the driving energy of American life ever since, an energy that even its celebrants knew could be dangerous. As Lears notes in the vivid language of his introduction,"The molten core of conversion needed to be encased in a solid sheath of prohibitions, rules [and] agendas for self-control."
The dualities of the Protestant ethic could be deeply ironic and tragic, and Lears is unsparing in his descriptions of their cost—among them a mania for control that, partially inadvertently, led to bloodless managerial state. But for him the receding glow of the Reformation is never far away from the surface of American life. In his first book, No Place of Grace (1981), a study of the “antimodern” impulse among elite Victorians that was part of the broader critique of industrial capitalism that he describes here, Lears paid considerable attention to high society figures like Henry Adams and George Santayana, who appear on these pages as well. But now he broadens his canvas to include relatively nuanced portraits of figures such as William Jennings Bryan or an obscure Colorado widow named Emily French, whose visions of another life never disappear even as they soldier through the adversities of their times.
Rebirth of a Nation is not an especially well-proportioned book. The first and third chapters on race and ethnicity recite familiar arguments that might have been telescoped; Lears's handling of the events like the pivotal presidential election of 1912 and the U.S. experience in the First World War seem a bit perfunctory. (His heart is really in the 1890s; he spends a good deal of time, to good effect, describing the ravages of the economic depression of the 1890s, which rivaled that of the Great Depression and makes the current economic downturn seem mild indeed.) In this regard I'm reminded of Lears's enormously resonant, but ungainly, 1994 book Fables of Abundance, which was subtitled"a cultural history of advertising in America" but was more an extended meditation on the lost art of, and need for, a truly fabulous dimension in national life.
I suspect the parameters of Rebirth of a Nation were defined by the imperatives of the marketplace. The 1877-1920 periodization staked out by Robert Wiebe in his sociologically-minded, and still influential, The Search for Order (1967) remains the point of orientation for virtually all serious students of U.S. history. Lears is laying a claim for the primacy of a cultural history lens for the period, and I would not be surprised if this book becomes the go-to textbook adoption for the next generation.
In this regard, Lears is a little like the well-respected, but not widely known, pop artist angling for a hit. I hope he gets one. For my money, Fables of Abundance and his marvelous 2003 cultural history of luck, Something for Nothing, are the Lears"albums" of choice. But as an introduction to the man, his work, and a notably intelligent reading of the standard U.S. history repertory, Rebirth of a Nation is not a bad place to encounter him.
It has now been almost exactly thirty years since a summer of discontent led to one of the most remarkable presidential addresses in American history: Jimmy Carter’s so-called “malaise” speech. (The word “malaise” was never actually used in the text, but in surfaced in the pre-broadcast discourse of the speech, and stuck.) As far as I can tell, the only other public address remotely like it is Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural of March 4 1865, in that it, like Carter’s speech of July 15, 1979, held American citizens responsible for the crises that beset them. For Lincoln, it was the Union no less than the Confederacy that God punished with a Civil War; for Carter, it was a culture of narcissism that explained a nation literally and figuratively sapped of its energy. But whatever their similarities in content and tone, the outcome proved to be quite different. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural solidified his claim on immortality; Carter’s speech, after giving him a momentary bump in the polls, became an emblem of his ineffectuality and hastened the end of his presidency.
The “malaise” speech is well known among presidential historians and students of the 1970s. But Kevin Mattson, recently named a “Top Young Historian” on this website, here offers the first major book-length narrative history, focusing on the three months prior to Carter’s address. Yet perhaps without intending to, the effect of his account leads one to conclude not so much that his speech should have changed the country, but rather an explanation why it couldn’t. Challenged from his left by Ted Kennedy and on his right by an ascendant Ronald Reagan, the Carter White House was also riven by internal conflict that extended even to his genial vice-president, Walter Mondale, who fruitlessly urged Carter to take a focused and pragmatic approach to a national energy crisis that caused riots, mile-long gas lines, and seething anger at OPEC, the domestic oil industry, and the U.S. government. Instead, Mattson shows, Carter increasingly fell under the influence of the young pollster Patrick Caddell, who, armed with empirical data as well as the writings of scholars like Robert Bellah and (especially) Christopher Lasch, urged Carter to articulate a broader critique as to the troubled state of the nation and what the president would ultimately term “a crisis of confidence.”
Carter pulled few punches. “In a nation of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption,” he told the American people. “Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.” Carter, whose persona oscillated between his engineering training and his evangelical faith, re-entered the world of the Puritan jeremiad, and hoped to take the nation with him.
He did not. As Mattson’s analysis makes clear, that’s because public opinion was not sufficiently prepared or willing to accept the implications of his message. But this unwillingness was also a result of what Carter did –- or, more accurately, failed to do –- in his leadership role. The president’s address followed ten days of confusion resulting from a cancelled address on July 5 (prompting the New York Post to ask “What the heck are you up to Mr. President?"). Two days after the speech, Carter asked for the resignations of his entire cabinet, an act meant to demonstrate decisiveness but instead projected weakness. So was Carter’s inability to get his energy plan (which included a windfall profits tax and gas rationing) through Congress in anything like a recognizable form that summer. In November of 1979, the coup de grace of the Carter’s presidency -– the Iranian hostage crisis –- began. It’s probably this event rather than the “malaise” speech that was the true turning point that Mattson asserts the speech was.
Moreover, Mattson, who is also a historian of neoconservatism, is off the mark in another sense as well, one that again harkens back to his subtitle. For in a way, Carter’s speech did change the country: it crystallized the perception that modern liberalism was exhausted, and it became the touchstone for conservative critics –- Reagan was only one of a number who cited it as justification for a political realignment –- who would soon dominate American society. Mattson seems to imply that the nation was at a crossroads in 1979, that it was “a time of contingency, when a turn was taken that wasn’t carved in stone.” Yet he has little positive to say about Carter, not to mention his liberal challengers Kennedy and Jerry Brown, and gives little indication of a countervailing force anything like that of an ascendant Moral Majority and a new Right that made even figures like the one-time Republican front-runner John Connally look passé. The country was changing all right, just not in a way Mattson wished it would have. And his analysis, which explicitly affirms contingency, implicitly shows inevitability.
In the final pages of the book, Mattson makes clear that he regards the speech it as prophetic, only becoming more resonant as U.S. global confidence sinks and its energy dependency deepens. He’s right about that. Yet this is an argument in favor of a book that looked more closely at what Carter actually said than Mattson does, a book with a lot more of the Hendrik Hertzberg who helped write the speech and less of the Pat Caddell who lobbied for it. In his acknowledgments, Mattson notes his commitment to write narrative history. Alas, there isn’t much of a story here. It’s more a snapshot of a body politic facing right, not quite in motion.
Even before the immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe, there was significant anti-semitism in the Argentine press. In 1881, in an editorial in L’union française, Jews were referred to as “noxious insects, powerful parasites.” An influx of their numbers was likened to “an injection of leeches.” This, when there was but a handful of Jews in the land, virtually all of them assimilated or official converts to Catholicism. By the end of the 20th century, Argentina would have the largest Jewish population in Latin America, one that was vibrant, sophisticated, and diverse (Ashkenazic and Sephardic, ranging from Orthodox to secular humanists), and whose members would become major intellectuals and politicians, writers and artists, journalists and activists, bankers and industrialists. Yet there has never been serious hope among Argentine Jews of definitively eradicating anti-semitism. Historically, the task has been to set “acceptable” limits, as one Rabbi put it to me. Jewish cemeteries are periodically desecrated; Jews (though not only Jews) have suffered terribly under right-wing governments and dictatorships; the Department of Education has periodically succeeded in imposing Catholic teachings in public schools.
In the fall of 1989, the first time I attended Kabbalat Shabat services at Bet El, a renowned synagogue in Buenos Aires, the temple’s wall was emblazoned with a swastika. In the early 1990s, the Israeli Embassy, located on a lovely commercial and residential street, was bombed; in 1994, the AMIA (Jewish Mutual Aid Society) was bombed, causing the deaths of hundreds and devastation to persons, property, and a sense of civic comfort in the center of Once, the largest traditionally Jewish neighborhood of Buenos Aires.
It is well documented that Argentina was a safe haven for prominent Nazis, among them Adolf Eichmann; ex-Nazis modernized the Argentine secret services. Argentina (like many other countries) was inhospitable to Jews fleeing the Nazis. Going further back, the armed forces were modeled on the Praetorian Guard; the Catholic Church long harbored and taught the blood libel, that Jews had killed Christ and framed poor Pontius Pilate, and other distortions of history and theology. One can still buy the Protocols of the Elders of Zion at major news kiosks in subway stations and street corners.
These tensions and contradictions have attracted some first-rate scholarship (Leonardo Senkman and Uki Goñi come immediately to mind). The Catholic Church and the Jews draws on this reservoir of study (and the notes are excellent); the author operates in a charged and restricted time frame and, while she examines some Church documents she contends have not been scrutinized before in this context, the overall project remains relatively modest. Graciela Ben-Dror, born in Uruguay, a member of a pioneer youth movement, and a kibbutznik, carried out her study under the guidance of distinguished historian Haim Avni of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her aim was to gather the various documents and declarations of the Argentine Roman Catholic Church (1933-1945), compare them with statements of the same period made by the Vatican, and then try to ascertain how these influenced Argentine domestic and foreign policy. Ben-Dror has indeed amassed a number of documents: some of these are arresting, some horrifying, others are ambiguous, and yet others are noteworthy for their strong disapproval of the violence being done to the Jews throughout Europe. She reminds us that vicious anti-semites rose to great prominence: Hugo Wast (pseudonym of Gustavo Martínez Zuviría), was a best-selling novelist, whose books routinely portrayed Jews as leeches, lepers, Christ-killers and, when they were not communists, controllers of the international press and banking system. During the years covered by Ben-Dror, Martínez Zuviría was Secretary of Education and Justice.
At the inauguration of the National Library in 1992, the periodicals room was named for this “distinguished” malefactor, despite vigorous protest from Jewish and other citizens’ groups and human rights organizations. She quotes from Father Julio Meinvieille, who from the bosom of the Church, based his own (in)famous works on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
To her credit, Ben-Dror is candid in saying that on the basis of her own research (and owing to the inaccessibility of certain documents), she is unable to conclude with any certainty that such views had a direct influence on actions taken at the highest political levels. She lets us know that Argentina’s neutrality during the Second World War owed as much to its longstanding diplomatic “dance,” which was designed to keep both Britain and Germany as buyers of its wheat, beef, and other exports. Argentine relations with the United States were similarly complicated. It was not until Germany’s defeat was certain that Argentina made its move toward the Allies. She implies, however (and responsibly, I believe) that entrenched hostility to Jews played its part, even if unofficially or indirectly.
Ben-Dror also points up that, owing to the conflation in Argentina of Jews and communists (russo, or Russian, is still a nominative for Jew in some Argentine circles), anti-communist politics often got mixed up with anti-Jewish rhetoric, actors, and actions. Politicians wary of the trade union movements, for example, often found themselves linked up with virulent anti-Jewish campaigns. Nationalists who honored Hispanidad (which was, for them, inherently Roman Catholic) opposed non-Spanish immigration, even of those fleeing certain death in concentration camps. There were Argentine clerics who defended the Jews as having a “chosen” place in God’s overall design, or because they were charged, by the Gospels, to defend the defenseless. The Church was of course on the defensive against “godless communism” which, when it was conflated with Judaism, led to predictable reactions. Ben-Dror does well not to shrink from such braided dynamics.
I wish that the author had spent more time analyzing the texts she puts before us, and weaving a narrative that contends with context. Her focus is so tight that we sometimes lose sight of the live events from which they arose. There is a curious “stop action,” dissertation-like feel to her pages (and in fact this book is an adaptation of her PhD thesis).
It is to be hoped that now that she has immersed herself in the scholarship and arrayed her primary sources, Ben-Dror will continue the work she has begun in the present study.
At the End of an Age
The father of French Romanticism, François-Auguste-René de Chateaubriand, led a fractured life, defined by the great divide of the French Revolution. Born in pre-Revolutionary France, Chateaubriand was barely 21 when the Revolution cleaved his world in two. A lapsed Catholic, Chateaubriand recovered his faith in the afterlife once the Revolution had shattered his faith in this one. As a Catholic, Chateaubriand accepted that universal time was divided by the event of Christ’s birth, but for him, his personal sense of time was forever separated into two parts by the unbridgeable gulf of the Revolution.
“Man does not have a single, consistent life,” he wrote. “He has several laid end to end, and that is his misfortune.” “Friends leave us, others take their place, there is always a time when we possessed nothing of what we now possess, and a time when we have nothing of what we once had.” 1 Melancholy by nature and fragmented by experience, Chateaubriand lamented the loss of history produced by the rupture of the Revolution. It was not so much that like Edmund Burke he was affronted by a loss of conservative principles, as it was that he was made disconsolate by the loss of continuity with the past—by a breach in the flow of history. He wrote often, for example, of the vast crime committed by the revolutionaries when they plundered the abbey of Saint-Denis and smashed to bits the hallowed bones of the French kings whose remains were interred there. This visible breaking with the past was, for Chateaubriand, a breaking of the past, in some way that left him without guideposts to his life. All of this caused him to fall into a mood of nostalgic longing for an imagined world before the Revolution. “The old men of former times,” he lamented, “were less unhappy and less isolated than those of today: if, by lingering on earth, they had lost their friends, little else had changed around them; they were strangers to youth, but not to society. Nowadays, a straggler in this life has witnessed the death, not only of men, but also of ideas: principles, customs, tastes, pleasures, sorrows, opinions, none of them resembles what he used to know. He belongs to a different race from the human species among which he ends his days.” 2
For John Lukacs, the shattering of the bones of his ancestors occurred, ironically, with the smashing of the Berlin Wall, and with the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union. By our enemies we also define ourselves, and when they disappear from the scene it can be as disconcerting as when our friends pass away. Thus, this émigré to America who fled the communist takeover of his native Hungary found himself lamenting communism’s passing. This was, Lukacs says, “the end of an age”—the age being the one in which Lukacs lived his life, the twentieth century. Indeed, he defines the era of the twentieth century quite precisely, as only a professional historian is tempted to do, as the period 1914-1989. This was the “sweet-spot” of Lukacs's own life; but more than that, everything in his life experience, everything which defined his world—from the traumas of World War II, to the Soviet invasion of his native Hungary, to the long march of the Cold War—seemed to come undone after the collapse of Soviet communism. In the process, all the ways in which Lukacs defined himself by reference to his world seemed to come unraveled at their ends. He could well have written “He belongs to a different race from the human species among which he ends his days,” as that is very much the theme of these disconsolate “Last Rites.”
A Leaking Ship
“Old age is a shipwreck,” observed Charles DeGaulle, repeating a line from Chateaubriand, and aiming it at 84 year-old Marshal Pétain, long before DeGaulle’s own timbers had begun to creak. For DeGaulle this was not yet a lived-truth, it was a dart aimed at a foe. For Lukacs, it expresses something more personal. He is very much consumed by the social and cultural indignities of old age, and he likens himself to a ship with a leak, which is slowly sinking beneath the waves. That metaphor pretty much captures the tone of his book. This memoir is the depleted reflections of a man who has outlived his time.
Lukacs's latest is an autobiography (he calls it an “autohistory”)—his second. At age 65 he gave the world a very different autobiography, and now at 85 he is giving us his second thoughts. The difference between the two works is marked, and is explained by Lukacs in stark but elegant terms: “Twenty years ago I was still traveling ‘dans les faubourge de la viellesse,’ ambling in the suburbs of old age. The gates and walls of that stony city I saw at a distance. No longer.” 3 At age 65, he says, he thought the life was what was important and the ideas it led to came second in the sequence. In the new book, the order is reversed: Lukacs is now passionately obsessed with his big ideas, and they definitely come first—virtually to the exclusion of the life.
A devout Catholic, Lukacs was forced to retire from his university teaching position at a small Catholic university in Pennsylvania when he turned 70. But he always was, he says, an outsider in the “guild” of scholarly history. Twice he was let go unceremoniously: once from his small college and once again from a position at the University of Pennsylvania. “Through fifty years of college teaching and writing, often I have run into ignorance, disdain, exclusion, professional snobbery, gray ice on other professors’ faces!”4
Lukacs is bitter about all this—as about so many other things that he has lost in the course of his too-long life. My uncle Vance is a prince of a fellow, and at age 91 he lamented to me the other day that he had outlived his money. Lukacs has outlived his time. Both suffer from lives that are in some sense too long.
Of course, when Lukacs mentions these various disappointments, he immediately says he considers them of no importance, thus frosting his disappointment with a feigned indifference. This technique might work once or twice, but the book is littered with things of no importance, which he nevertheless feels compelled to make mention of.
Thanks to the shortsightedness of his academic employers, Lukacs's productivity really took off after he was sent out to pasture. Half of his 30 books have been written since his forced retirement. These works include masterful accounts of the Second World War and the Cold War; two books on Winston Churchill, and a biography of his long-time friend, George Kennan. Lukacs was also one of the first historians to take on David Irving and his revisionist apologetics for Hitler and the Nazi regime. His writings range from straightforward histories and biographies, to political and philosophical treatises. His 2005 book, Democracy and Populism, argued that modern America is on the verge of debasing its democracy through a ignorant populism, which he sees as essentially Fascist in nature. His last strictly historical work was a slim little volume on a single speech by Churchill. All of this impressive work justifies a final volume of more personal reflections, I suppose. But this volume is mostly a disappointment after what has gone before.
History Below the Line
One annoying stylistic habit in this book is that a large part of it appears “below the line,” that is, in a series of footnotes in the form of excerpts from his diaries. Sometimes a contemporaneous diary entry enlivens a remembered event; but too often it is a way to claim something he does not want to defend in the body of the text. Here, for example, is the entry for September 10, 2005:
The dark, very dark corners of American history. CIA operations now are more secret and horrid doings than “intelligence.” Probably in 1963, too, when it seemed to me that this frenetic fool Oswald had been taken up by the CIA a few months before he shot Kennedy. With that shooting the CIA had nothing to do; but they were frightened by the prospect that Oswald, when arrested and interrogated, would spit out his once CIA connection. Hence getting that gangster Ruby to shoot him the next day; and—perhaps—their getting rid of Ruby a year later. Am not sure about this but think it quite plausible.5
Other instances are less monumental, but are troublesome as well. On page 58 we find this, undefended and un-argued, proposition: “The real and only ‘modern’ decade was the 1920s, not the 1960s. The latter was but the last, exaggerated, and often superficial application of the former.” This sort of thing might serve suitably as a note to himself, for later development. But including it in a finished book turns it into a reckless assertion.
Sometimes this below the line dialog with himself is a way to make a bitter comment seem not so bitter (after all, it is only in a mere footnote); other times, the diary entries are simply embarrassing. An editor with some starch in their red pen probably should have dissuaded him from this one:
People ask me how much fun it is to write. No, I say: the fun is not writing, that is work, the fun (if it is fun at all) is having written. It occurs to me that this is the v. opposite of sex. (A good aphorism perhaps, but not really true in every instance, esp. not for women.) The “finish” in lovemaking means much to me, as in the case of fine wine.6
Outliving One’s Era
One consequence of outliving one’s time is that Lukacs has outlived two American wives, and is on his third. Thus he gives us an entire chapter devoted to recounting the virtues of his three wives. Some parts of this chapter are touching, some parts insightful, and some parts, embarrassing. What, for example, is one to make of this: “marriages between European men and American women tend to turn out better than those between American men and European women.” Apparently his own experience with a sample size of three validates such a wild claim. Again, a stern editor is conspicuously absent.
Large parts of this little book are littered with petty complaints, the complaints of an old person—who more typically feels compelled to mention each of their physical maladies—but for Lukacs, his maladies are social and cultural, but the effect is much the same. Lukacs regrets many aspects of modernity. The list is long. Among those features of the current age of which he disapproves: mechanization (à la C.P. Snow); genetic engineering; the blurring of gender distinctions; slang such as “body language” (“a foul-smelling phrase, is it not?”); the 1960s; the fact that his rural surroundings have been encroached on by suburban sprawl (he can now see the houses of people he does not know within eyeshot of his own); the use of sloppy language (“This is the same man who speaks of his grandchildren as ‘grandkids.’ No gentleman would have ever used such a word.”); the decline in decorum; the Information Revolution; legal abortion; legal pornography; sexual permissiveness; the decline in nobility of the profession of female homemaker, etc. On the whole, Lukacs sees modern American culture as decadent, depraved, corrupt and amoral.
This is the list of a cranky old man, obsessed with the both the grand and mundane changes in his world, changes he no longer has the flexibility to accept without regret. That such trifles cross the mind of one of the greatest historians of his generation, is a sad commentary on life in its winter term, and on the great leaking ship himself.
Henry Adams’s The Education of Henry Adams—a work which Lukacs's Last Rites is very much in the genre of— was saved from being a mere catalog of his life’s disappointments because it was leavened with his wicked sense of humor. It was Adams’s wit, and his ability to periodically rise above his own world-weariness, which make the Education an enduring masterpiece. There is not a speck of humor in Lukacs's Last Rites—his sense of humor seems to have deserted him, along with the world he knew—and his disappointments are all he really wants to write about now.
More is the pity as Lukacs has been a gifted writer, especially in his essays, with quite a wicked sense of humor of his own. There are still flashes of that literary flair in this little book of regrets, but not nearly enough. A reader as yet unacquainted with Lukacs's literary charms would do better to rummage through his scholarly sampler (Remembered Past), 7 as in that large collection of short essays and excerpts from his longer books one will encounter the mature, but not yet life-weary, master writer and scholar.
A Fine Fifteen Minutes
Lukacs begins the new book with a chapter entitled “A Bad Fifteen Minutes,” in which he lays out his mature philosophy of history. The title is by way of sly apology for the “heavy lifting” of doing all this theorizing and epistemology in the opening chapter of what purports, after all, to be an autobiography. Actually, the first fifteen minutes are the best thing in the book.
Lukacs sees himself as a pioneer in proposing a new historiography, one that is an alternative to the traditional historiography of the modern era, which again, he sees has having ended; and one that also rejects most of what we have come to think of as postmodern historiography. As I have argued in various essays here on the HNN, in my view postmodern historiography has as its defining characteristic a denigration of the ideals of both truth and objectivity in historical scholarship. Lukacs grabs only half the nettle here: he thinks that objectivity is impossible but truth is not.
Lukacs's historiography is what I call Postmodern Humanism. Postmodern Humanism wants to return human beings to the center of a human-centric universe. Human beings as merely another creature in a complex, immense, puzzling universe, is an “old-fashioned” Enlightenment idea that Lukacs thinks we should leave behind.
For Lukacs, truth is in some vague way the product of the refinement of human understanding. The slogan that recurs again and again in his writing is that historical knowing is not about an increase in the quantity of our knowledge about the past but rather an increase in its quality. As a slogan, this seems inoffensive; but Lukacs seems to think it deeply epistemologically instructive in some way that it unfortunately is not.
For Lukacs, truth is a matter of inner knowing, not externalized social consensus, nor external features of the objective world in the way that the truths of the natural sciences are. If I may put it rather paradoxically: for Lukacs, truth is internal but objective. In my view, the truths of interest to us—even the truths of history—are external and objective. Most postmodernists want the “truths” of history to be external and subjective. And a few historians —like Collingwood —have wanted the truths of history to be both internal and subjective. So Lukacs is sort of filling out the logical dance-card for us.As an historian, Lukacs is accomplished, and as an essayist he is one of the finest our profession has to offer —any randomly selected essay of his easily being worth a dozen monographs of the usual academic product. There is much to admire about his scholarship: from his vast erudition, to his wry observations, to his wonderfully tart writing style, so full of insight, and emitting not just a little whiff of pompous condescension. He has a disdain for the limp prose of the standard academic monograph, and the willingness to call a fool a fool.
I have a great deal of admiration for Lukacs's writing in this area, even though I think he is almost completely wrong in his epistemology. I admire the effort, the reach, the ambition, to address these grand issues in the foundations of the discipline. The effort—quite apart from the results—is what marks a great historian.
The thing that is grand about Lukacs's historiography is that it is so grand—he does not piddle in the puddles of the topic. His mind moves in quite oceanic scales of thought. Alas, this makes his errors as well as his insights of rather colossal scale as well. Two errors in particular cry out for some debunking.
An Infuriating Bit of Postmodern Nonsense
In this new memoir Lukacs has a whole section on his philosophy of science, and its imagined implications for historical scholarship. Lukacs is quite taken by the Uncertainty Principle of quantum physics, thinking it deeply parallel to the uncertainty in historical research. This is a theme he has been pounding hard in recent years. He devotes considerable space in his At the End of an Age8 to this claim that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle from quantum physics implies many strange and wondrous things for historians.
In a truly wacky addendum to Chapter 4 of End of an Age Lukacs provides a summary chart in which he lists nine major “correspondences” between the uncertainties of modern physics and the uncertainties of historians’ understanding of Hitler’s role in history. For example, he tells us that in physics the idea that it is “Impossible to determine the position and the speed of the particle in the same instant” corresponds to the idea that “We will never know exactly why Hitler became the ruler of Germany.” If that is a self-evident correspondence for you, how about this one: “Electoral or opinion-statistics are not adequate for the understanding of Hitler’s impact on Germany and its people,” is vouchsafed by its obvious correspondence to the nature of quantum physics since “In subatomic situations P x Q is not always equivalent to Q x P.”
This is cartoon philosophy of science. But Lukacs really means it. He really thinks there is some deeply insightful parallel between the position and momentum of an elementary particle in quantum mechanics and his own theories about Adolph Hitler.
This would not matter so much if Lukacs were alone in this delusion. Over the years the results of quantum mechanics have become popularized and adopted in many venues, including by historians. The general idea being that science is now understood to have proven that, at bottom, the universe is unknowable and that the very act of trying to discern the condition of the world distorts and “biases” that world. This is a pleasing viewpoint for sundry postmodernists as it assists them in their agenda of undermining our confidence in objective knowledge. Lukacs—although no postmodernist—uses this same sloppy idea about quantum physics to overturn the historiography (and indeed, the science) of the Enlightenment.
Five centuries ago, the Copernican/Keplarian/Galilean/Cartesian/Newtonian discovery . . . removed us and the earth from the center of the universe. . . . this movement led to our and to our earth having become less than a speck of dust at the rim of an enormous dustbins of a universe. . . But the physicists’ (perhaps especially Niels Bohr’s) recognition that the human observer cannot be separated from things he observes . . . reverses this. We and the earth on and in which we live, are back at the center of the universe—a universe which is—unavoidably—an anthropocentric and geocentric one.9
In other words, because one interpretation of the findings of quantum physics is that the observer influences the physics, this allows us to conclude that this is true in the macro domain too and in the domain of history as well! This is such a widespread folly among contemporary intellectuals that perhaps a brief refresher is in order. 10
The most fundamental result in quantum physics is the discovery that we cannot simultaneously predict both the position and the momentum of a quantum particle. As a result of this finding, some philosophically inclined physicists developed a view known as the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics. The Copenhagen Interpretation got its name from a debate that took place in Copenhagen between the Danish physicist Niels Bohr and the Viennese physicist Erwin Schrödinger. Both Bohr and Schrödinger had made fundamental contributions to quantum physics and Bohr thought that certain philosophical conclusions suggested themselves—basically the idea that the universe is at bottom an uncertain realm. This is where the popular conception of the Uncertainty Principle gets its origin. Schrödinger vigorously resisted this idea, as did Einstein. Einstein entered into a debate with Bohr, starting at the Fifth Solvay Conference in 1927 and lasting until Einstein’s death in 1955. (Although I think even Bohr would blush to see the use to which his ideas have been put by scholars like Lukacs.)
The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics is not, however, coextensive with the physics—it is a philosophical gloss on the subject. And it is that gloss that has now filtered its way into popular ideas of science and historiography. While the science is obligatory, the philosophical gloss is not.
In fact, if our concern is to be in step with contemporary science, we should appreciate what that science in fact tells us. Contemporary physics is structured as a collection of discrete theories of two main domains (that of gravity and that of the physics of the quantum domain) each with its own explanatory schema and set of laws. There is no accepted Unified Field Theory in physics and the theoretical constructs of quantum physics in fact have no current application in the macro domain. That is the state of the science. So if our real concern is to have a philosophy that mirrors our science, then we should conclude that the problems of quantum physics tell us next to nothing about the physics problems of the macro domain, and hence less than nothing about the problems that face historians.
Even if it is true that in the domain of the very small there are important facts we cannot discover,it does not follow that these same lacunae exist at the macro level. The quantum limitations simply do not obtain in the macro world inhabited by historians. It is witless to assume that what is the case at the quantum level is also the case at the macro level. It is just plain silly to construct one’s philosophy of such macro-level phenomena as the nature of history based on the physics of the infinitesimal fragments of matter that are contained within the sub-microscopic interior of the atom.
The Center of THE Universe?
God how religion makes fools of wise men! John Lukacs is besotted with religion. This leads him into some very brackish shallows. Here is perhaps the most extravagant claim in his entire historiography:
We must recognize, we must understand, that we are at the center of the universe. Contrary to all accepted ideas we must now; and the end of an age, at the beginning of a new one, understand and recognize that we and our earth are at the center of our universe. 11
Notice how Lukacs elides the profound distinction between THE universe and OUR universe. For most of us, these are not the same claim. The second might be a relatively modest form of subjectivism, while the first is an audacious claim to a self-importance that should boggle the mind. Lukacs is not being coy. He flips back and forth between the two usages because he is oblivious to the difference. He really believes that human beings are in fact not only the center of the universe, but that we are all there is in the universe, and so THE universe and OUR universe come to the same thing! He is driven to this, of course, by his religious beliefs:
Does it not . . . behoove Christian believers to think that the coming of Christ to this earth may have been the central event of the universe: that the most consequential event in the entire universe has occurred here, on this earth two thousand years ago?12
John Lukacs believes that the entire manifest universe is empty of intelligent life (and perhaps all life) save for planet Earth, as proven by the fact that Jesus of Nazareth once lived here. “For those readers who believe in God: the world, [here he means what the rest of us mean by the “universe”] and this earth were created by Him for the existence and consciousness of human beings.”13 No doubt many a Christian believes precisely this—even many a historian perhaps—but we are expected to compartmentalize our theology and our physics somewhat, so as not to embrace a medieval conception of the universe. But for Lukacs the mere possibility of life on other planets threatens his sense of his world—and the central importance he wants human beings to have—so profoundly that he is forced to scoff at the very idea and to mock and insult anyone who thinks otherwise.14
This belief in “cosmic exceptionalism” is then another argument for Lukacs's attack on the Enlightenment and a brief for his vaguely explained “personal and participant” epistemology. After all, if the whole universe was created by God just for human beings to perceive and think about, then our perceptions and ideas are obviously the most important thing in the universe. Thus the old-fashioned Enlightenment idea (the idea from the age that has just ended) that there is an external universe and that we are merely one figment of that universe, can be left behind as we enter the New Age (a new age, I might note, that seems oddly reminiscent of the pre-Enlightenment world).
For a modern-day believer, this idea that we are alone in the universe presents certain problems one would have to think. Consider: why would any sane God create all the vastness of this universe and only populate one solitary planet with life? We on planet Earth have no particular need for a universe of trillions upon trillions of planets that we or our descendents will never visit in the entire future history of this universe. What is the point of all of this cosmic debris if human beings are indeed the sole mindful product of God’s creation? Can we really think God is that nuts? Or is it, perhaps, that we are that vain?
In any event, Lukacs's theological dogmas are part of a two-pronged attack on Enlightenment historiography. His other entry-gate is a critique of Descartes. In Lukacs's view, Descartes’ project was that of establishing a hardened distinction between the objective and the subjective. Lukacs wants to obliterate this distinction. Thus Descartes comes under attack as well.15
If Lukacs understands Descartes, he manages to misrepresent him. Descartes was obsessed with the silly project of trying to prove his own existence—“I think therefore I am.” But his aim was not to fortify the distinction between the objective and the subjective; rather, his aim was to prove the existence of God. To do this, Descartes—as so many other philosophers before and since—thought he had to start from a position of certainty, and with this little rag of a thought about thinking, he thought he had found it. So his aim was to go from the certainty of his own existence to the derived certainty of God’s existence.
But Descartes proved not much at all, since thinking presupposes being, which is what the argument is intended to prove. “I am, therefore I think. Thinking, I think that I am; therefore I am.” This little bit of logical do-si-do does not prove much of anything, although it does point out that thinking presupposes being. But from that thin reed, neither Descartes nor anyone else can prove the existence of God.
But a more damaging point lies nearer to hand. It perhaps owes its inspiration to Descartes, but its effect is to show the magnitude of Lukacs's folly of doing historiography by theological fiat.
If we start out with zero knowledge of the universe (that is, with something like a complete Cartesian skepticism) then we would have to say, in all honesty, that the existence of living creatures—creatures capable of deluding themselves with religion and confusing themselves with philosophy—is profoundly implausible. Knowing nothing of planet Earth, looking at the observable universe we would have to deny the existence of any such creatures. And yet, here we are. Our existence is profoundly implausible, but it seems that sometimes the implausible is the case. Given, then, that we exist—despite the wild implausibility of this fact—it becomes a virtual certainty that the universe is populated with others with similar traits, i.e., with what we please ourselves to call “intelligent life.” This is so, due to the large numbers involved. In a universe of trillions upon trillions of planets, even the implausible becomes likely, and the likely is wont to be repeated.
So the existence of us, proves the existence of others. Simply as a matter of probabilities, it is close to certain that the universe is teaming with other “intelligent” beings—beings worthy of notice by even an ungenerous God. This being so, it becomes an exercise in the most outrageous arrogance to suppose that among all those planets, with all those lifeforms, that this desolate outpost in the backwaters of the Milky Way galaxy, is the center of THE universe!
The reason all of this matters, again, is because of the mischief that Lukacs wants to make with his theologically driven epistemology. Hence, again, the need for a quick refresher.
The core question for epistemology is not “what is the nature of knowledge?” Nor is it any variation on the question of “how do we know what is true?” Nor, even less, is it the question “what can we be certain about?” The core question for epistemology has always been: “How do we know when we have gotten it wrong?” Theses which cannot by their nature describe a set of potential falsifying evidence—here on this Earth, in this realm of discourse—are not knowledge; they are dogma, or ideology, or mere belief, but they are not knowledge.
So the critical question for Lukacs is: “How would he ever discover that he was wrong in his idea that Jesus of Nazareth’s appearance on the Earth is the most important event in the history of the universe?” Given that he has no answer for this core question, his epistemology, his musings on the nature of historical knowledge, are not knowledge at all, but dogma dressed up with historical allusions.
Here is the point: historians ought to understand their role as being in some ways similar to that of the astronomer, or the scientist or the knowledge worker in any other field. That is, the astronomer’s job is to look out into the cosmos —the real, substantial, objective, enduring reality of the cosmos —and describe for us what they find there. It is not to create myths or narratives that please the astronomer and his/her peers. Nor is it to “understand” the universe in Lukacs's sense of constructing a subjective model of the universe which we find to be intellectually satisfying. The astronomer’s job is to capture an important aspect of the objective truth about the reality in which we find ourselves.
The job of the historian is very similar. Our task is to look back into the past —into the realm of the real, substantial, objective, enduring reality of people acting in time and circumstance in conditions of uncertainty —and describe what we find there. It is not to create myths or pleasing narratives. Nor is it to advance a subjective understanding. Our job is to capture an important aspect of the objective truth about the reality in which we find ourselves —in our case the reality of the events of the past. To strive for less than this is an error on the order of mistaking our little invisible dot in space for the center of the universe.
Away and Farewell
At the end of these “Last Rites,” Lukacs seems to suggest that this will be his last book—although he tells us that he continues to write. He quotes Thackeray to explain: “As there are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen to write.”16 Those of us who admire and enjoy the vast corpus of work from this vast figure of the 20th century, can only hope that the moving pen records those thousand thoughts and that Lukacs eventually shares some of them with us.
Although I think that Lukacs's philosophy of history is a shambles, and this last book a sad and disappointing denouement to an impressive career, all of that has to be placed in the context of his larger body of work. John Lukacs is, quite simply, one of the giants of the history profession of the twentieth century. He has written serious and significant works on Hitler, WWII, Churchill, democracy, etc. Lukacs has produced massive and important works of historical scholarship. He has also produced slim little volumes on very small topics (his book, Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat: The Dire Warning, is an examination of a single speech by Winston Churchill—his first as Prime Minister). He has moved the body of scholarship in several areas. His biography of George Kennan is a singular contribution. He major works on Hitler have helped move that scholarship more out of the realm of the fantastic (Hitler as sui generis monster) to the realm of ordinary scholarship (Hitler as a human actor in history’s drama). He has suggested novel and interesting theses: for example in his Five Days in London: May 1940 he argues that Churchill was wrong to consider 1942 “the hinge of fate,” the year in which the Nazis’ defeat became certain. Rather, Lukacs says that five days in May of 1940—near the beginning of Churchill’s tenure—were the turning point in the war because it was in these five days that Churchill convinced a reluctant Britain that they should fight the Nazis and “never surrender.” The war was not won in 1940, he says, but these five days prevented it from being lost. In his work, Lukacs can often be found challenging a prevailing consensus—in powerful and insightful ways. In a body of work that includes 30 books and unaccountably many articles and essays, Lukacs has given us deep and thoughtful sketches of vast parts of the twentieth century. He is—and will remain I suspect—one of the principal historians of that century.
It is the scope of a scholar’s ambitions—the span of his attempted reach—that defines his greatness. Lukacs is a scholar with a vast reach. That his reach sometimes exceeds his grasp, is, after all, the story of us all.
This last book is really for the choir, who need no preaching to regarding Lukacs's virtues. If you are a fan of Lukacs and his work (as I am) then this will feed the hunger a little bit, but with some bitter aftertastes as part of the bargain. If you are not already among the converted, you would do better to start elsewhere in his opus.
But again, I assert my firm conviction that John Lukacs is a great historian. He ranks among the best of his era—all things considered. The proper historical comparison is hard to come to hand. As I look up from my desk, I see the antique engraved portraits of my gallery of great historians of the 18th and 19th centuries: Gibbon; Carlyle; Ranke; Acton; Macaulay; Bancroft. I am not certain who Lukacs compares to, but I am fairly certain that when I put up the portraits of the great historians of the 20th century, John Lukacs will be among them.
1 Quoted in Peter Fritzsche, “Specters of History: On Nostalgia, Exile, and Memory,” American Historical Review, December 2001: 1587.
2 Ibid, 1588.
3 Pg. 181.
4 Pg. 77.
5 Pg. 68-69.
6 Pg. 76.
7 John Lukacs, Remembered Past: on History, Historians, and Historical Knowledge; A Reader, (Wilmington, Delaware, ISI Books, 2005).
8 John Lukacs, At the End of an Age, (Yale University Press, 2002).
9 Pg. 36.
10 The postmodernist historian, Keith Jenkins, for one, repeats this canard in several of his books.
11 Pg. 33-34.
12 Pg. 38-39
13 Footnote, pg. 35.
14 In another of his below-the-line commentaries, Lukacs insults the Nobel-Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg for opining that the universe is so vast that it is likely there is intelligent life elsewhere. (Pg. 30)
15 Cf., for example, his recent essay, “Putting Man Before Descartes,” The American Public Scholar, Winter 2009: 18-29. This is a more readable (because better edited) version of his “Bad Fifteen Minutes.”
16 Pg. 182