Welcome to Tedra Osell

by John Q on December 5, 2011

We at Crooked Timber are very happy to welcome the latest addition to our crew, Tedra Osell. Tedra was one of the pioneers of academic blogging when she founded the much-missed BitchPhD blog back in (I think 2004), and now writes for Inside Higher Education at Mama PhD. Her joining us is the result of a happy coincidence of wants – we were talking about how much the site could benefit from someone like Tedra (in fact, specifically from Tedra herself), just as she was posting about a return to blogging. I won’t try to describe Tedra’s previous work, let alone predict her contributions here, but I’m confident they will be well worth reading.


by John Holbo on December 5, 2011

Somehow I got on the AEI mailing list, so I get email. In this case, an announcement of an upcoming (Dec. 12) event. “Liberalism and Mass Culture: Fear and Loathing of the Middle Class,” a Bradley Lecture by Fred Siegel. (This Fred Siegel. He’s apparently working on a book about “The Inner Life of American Liberalism”. But the AEI site seems to be down at the moment, so you’ll have to check back later for event details.) I’ve got a good feeling about this one:

There are (at least) three foundational myths of contemporary liberalism. One is that John Kennedy’s assassination was instigated by the rank intolerance and hatred of the American people. A second is that of “upsouth”: the assertion that Northern racism was and is every bit as pervasive, if more subtle, than that of the Old South. The third is that the American popular culture of the 1950s was stifling not only in its “Donald Duck” banality but also in a subtle form of fascism that constituted a danger to the Republic. In this view, the excesses of the 1960s were a struggle to free America’s brain-damaged automatons from their captivity at the hands of the lords of mass culture.

At this AEI event, Fred Siegel will address this third myth. For all the bile directed at the 1950s, it was the high point of American popular culture, a period when many in the vast middle class hoped to elevate their tastes. The attack on mass culture, a mix of Marxant theorizing and aristocratic instincts, paved the way for a new form of status competition based on supposedly elevated consumer and cultural preferences.

Part of me likes best the faux-scrupulosity of the parenthetical “at least”, utterly undone by the second paragraph revelation that the first paragraph was two-thirds grumping around and he’s not even going to talk about the Kennedy assassination. (I have written abstracts in my time, but it has never occurred to me to start one, in effect: ‘Damn kids, get off my lawn!’ But, now that I think about it, there’s really no reason why an abstract should not be angrily digressive. Why not?) Part of me loves the idea that somewhere, someone is writing a book about how the inner life of American liberalism is, I guess, Theodor Adorno. That’s thinking outside the box, innerly-speaking. Part of me loves the image of all these liberals whispering ‘upsouth’ to each other constantly, in that knowing way.

OK, I guess he could be winding up to take a swing at Dwight Macdonald. But does Dwight Macdonald talk about Donald Duck, in particular?

The 46 races

by Chris Bertram on December 5, 2011

I’m re-reading Samuel Scheffler’s paper “Immigration and the Significance of Culture”, _Philosophy and Public Affairs_ 2007. From the footnotes, the list of “races” into which the US immigration authorities divided humanity in 1914:

bq. African (black), Armenian, Bohemian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Cuban, Dalmatian, Dutch, East Indian, English, Finnish, Flemish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Herzogovinian, Irish, Italian (North), Italian (South), Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Magyar, Mexican, Montenegrin, Moravian, Pacific Islander, Polish, Portuguese, Roumanian, Russian, Ruthenian (Russniak), Scandinavian (Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes), Scotch, Servian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Spanish-American, Syrian, Turkish, Welsh, West Indian.

Via DeLong and Econospeak, I found my way to Gregory Mankiw’s self-exculpation in the New York Times. Mankiw quotes Keynes drawing a contrast between method and empirical conclusions:

bq. The theory of economics does not furnish a body of settled conclusions immediately applicable to policy. It is a method rather than a doctrine, an apparatus of the mind, a technique for thinking, which helps the possessor to draw correct conclusions.

Hard not to be struck by a parallel with Lukacs’s opening passage from History and Class Consciousness:

bq. Let us assume for the sake of argument that recent research had disproved once and for all every one of Marx’s individual theses. Even if this were to be proved, every serious ‘orthodox’ Marxist would still be able to accept all such modern findings without reservation and hence dismiss all of Marx’s theses in toto – without having to renounce his orthodoxy for a single moment. Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders. It is the conviction, moreover, that all attempts to surpass or ‘improve’ it have led and must lead to over-simplification, triviality and eclecticism.

I’ve never had sympathy for what Lukacs says here, and don’t know the context for the Keynes quote. But I’m struck by the way that both Mankiw and Lukacs implicitly endorse the idea that they can just keep on keeping on, whatever happens in the actual world.