You've all heard about Britain's election, right?
Several weeks ago Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell declared April 2010 Confederate History Month, thus inaugurating another brief-but-intense national debate over the Confederacy’s place in our collective memory. No doubt the declaration alone would have sparked controversy, but the omission of slavery from a gubernatorial proclamation that mentioned “the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens,” among other things presumably worth remembering, did not help matters. Governor McDonnell has since apologized and inserted into his proclamation a new passage recognizing the self-evident: that slavery was “evil and inhumane.” The updated proclamation also contains belated acknowledgement of something on which not all agree: that slavery “led to this war.”
For those of us charged with teaching introductory-level U.S. History courses, this episode serves as a reminder of the challenges we face near the end of each semester, when the American Civil War emerges from the lifeless pages of the syllabus to stir anew the curiosities and even the passions of young students.
On Modern Origins. Essays in Early Modern Philosophy is a posthumous work that gathers fourteen articles and one letter written by the professor Richard Kennington from 1968 to 1998. Not having published in his lifetime any book, Richard Kennington remains today little known among specialists as well as among amateurs of philosophy. This relative anonymity makes necessary without a doubt a few brief biographical remarks. Richard Kennington was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1921. He was studying economics at Berkley when his academic career was interrupted by the Second World War, in which he took part (he fought at the battle of Okinawa). After the war, and up until 1951, Richard Kennington studied philosophy at the New School for Social Research. There, he attended the seminars of Hans Jonas and Kurt Riezler, but he was most notably influenced by the thought of Leo Strauss (Kennington rented for almost two years an apartment at the house of Leo Strauss himself). After his studies at the New School, Kennington capped off his education at the Committee on Social Thought and at the Sorbonne. Beginning in 1960, Kennington taught philosophy at the University of Penn State. In 1975, he was named professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America in Washington.
If, as we have said, professor Kennington did not published any book himself, it certainly is not, as we can easily see from On Modern Origins, because he had not developed several magisterial interpretations of works of majors modern philosophers. But, even if Kennington is a specialist of seventeenth century continental philosophy, he is at the same time and above all a philosopher himself. His decision to undertake a historical and philosophical inquiry concerning the very first origins of modern philosophy and science is justified in his eyes by his diagnosis of a crisis of modern reason. The principal symptom of this crisis is the following: modern scientific and philosophic reason proves itself to be in the end incapable of saying anything objectively valid in relation to what it is forced to call its own “value”.
Two tensions have characterized American higher education – one focuses on education as the craft of shaping the soul while the other focuses on education as the passive process of facilitating natural development. The first has been advanced by the likes of Plato, Augustine, Thomas Jefferson, Leo Strauss, and Allan Bloom. It is rooted in the ancient Greeks, the Judeo-Christian worldview, and the Enlightenment. The second has been championed by the likes of Rousseau, Schelling, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Dewey. It is rooted in European Romanticism and its American acceptance.
On the Fourth of July we celebrate the declaration of our independence from the British. In that declaration we advanced the cause of liberty against the slavery imposed by Britain's Parliamentary usurpation. What was that usurpation? According to Locke (as well as many other British radicals and American republicans), to be enslaved is to be subject to the arbitrary and absolute control of another. John Adams account of slavery and liberty in the well known Massachusettensis-Novanglus debates advances the same idea. Thus, the American claim was that Parliament and King had for some time exercised absolute and arbitrary control over Britain’s North American colonies.
Locke had a good argument for his claim that subjection to the absolute and arbitrary control of another is to be enslaved by them. For to be subject to the absolute and arbitrary control of another is to be treated as if one were the property of another, property to be disposed of in accordance with the wishes of the other. But, said Locke, no person is rightly the property of another merely human person. For we are all the property of one infinitely wise creator. We are God's property. The American founders followed Locke on this point. So in 1776, liberty was proclaimed against that slavery which is being subject to the absolute and arbitrary control of another merely human person.
And yet that institution of chattel slavery and the announcement contained in the Declaration involved us in contradiction and hypocrisy. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution finally removed the hypocrisy formally, though full removal of the hypocrisy awaited implementation of the amendment and then the eventual end of segregation. The ideal of liberty was and is a good one—not the highest ideal, to be sure (for instance, it would be a bit silly to put liberty on par with agape or goodness or even, as Madison says in the 51st Federalist, justice), but a high and noble one nonetheless. The problem with the hypocrisy lay not in the ideal but rather in the distorted instantiation of so noble a thing.
Today we are again involved in hypocrisy and contradiction.
Despite its well-deserved Left Coast reputation, Southern California is home to a surprising number of Christian—mostly Protestant, and generally conservative—colleges. My own institution, Concordia University (Irvine), is therefore hardly unique. In at least one respect, though, it does stand out among its peers in SoCal: the campus is “wet.”
In the last installment, we discussed the importance of Sertillanges’ book as an antidote to our anti-intellectual culture, and as a lens by which to discern its myriad pseudo-intellectual surrogates and expose its dangerous distractions. In the next three installments we shall attend to the book itself, examining its major themes and commenting on selected passages. This is especially not a book that can be adequately summarized, for it is essentially a set of aphorisms, though systematically and adeptly combined into a flowing whole, so I shall quote often and generously.
So says David Colander at the Chronicle of Higher Education:
If the economics major's popularity is not due to its intellectual dynamism or connection to business, to what is it due? I suspect a mundane explanation: It is the "just right" major. By "just right" I mean that the economics major provides the appropriate middle ground of skill preparation, analytic rigor, and intellectual excitement that students look for in a major, and that employers look for when hiring students.
The book he cites in the article is Educating Economists: The Teagle Discussion on Re-evaluating the Undergraduate Economics Major. His paper within that book was published in the American Economic Review.
During the first week of the 2010 Lehrman Summer Institute, I led a workshop for the fellows and other participants that identified some ways that young academics can prepare themselves for the job market. I am posting a written version of that advice in the hope that it might prove useful to current and past fellows and other members of the LASC community.