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Five Books Every American Should Read: Huckleberry Finn, Number Two
By Jessica Hooten

Last year, one hundred years after his death, the Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 1 was published. Its author Samuel Langhorne Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) banned its publication until this time, and the project has needed the last fifty years to put it all together. A few years prior to his life, Clemens revealed to a friend that the autobiography “consists mainly of extinctions of the truth, shirkings of the truth, partial revealments of the truth” (See the recent Books and Culture article on the Twain autobiography by Allen C. Guelzo). Such a statement might also be said of Twain’s most famous work The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which begins, “You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,’ but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.” Twain attempts to showcase and hide the truth in his fiction, to tell his own story and to broach a larger story.

I heard about the release of the autobiography from a student in my class. While no one in that class could tell me who Dickens was, they all knew Mark Twain. In fact, most of them had read (or had been assigned to read) Huck Finn. It is the most taught book in America and, according to TIME magazine, among the most banned. Only a year after its initial publication, in 1885, the Concord Public Library in Massachusetts, banned it for “coarse language, though not originally for the use of the “N” word, which sparked later controversies.

Unlike Melville or Hawthorne or Poe, Twain does not write like a 19th century European novelist. By imitating Huck’s voice and Southern dialect for other characters, Twain creates a new style. He is as satirical as Jonathan Swift but more realistic. The front matter reflects the author’s typical ironic stance: “Notice: Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. By Order of the Author, Per G.G., Chief of Ordinance.” Of course, the novel has all three: motive, moral, and plot. However, narrating the story from Huck’s perspective allows Twain to keep his distance from his subject matter, and thus keep his own views ambiguous.

The story follows Huck and Jim, an escaped slave, on their quest for freedom, an American play on a medieval trope. Its protagonist exemplifies the American hero—a pilgrim, a pioneer, an adventurer, an entrepreneur, and above all, a rebel. Although the book sets out to be a sequel to Tom Sawyer, its themes and tones demand more gravity than the light-hearted tales of its predecessor. Instead of small pranks and discoveries of gold, the adventures consist of faking death to elude an abusive and alcoholic father, running away with a slave, getting caught up in a clan battle, and being implicated with con artists. On this journey on the Mississippi River, Huck attempts to find his way literally and metaphorically.

Through Huck’s innocence, Twain asks readers to question their own social mores. While the reader would do best not to conflate Huck’s perspective with Twain’s, the author seems to mock society’s civil form of barbarism—slavery. Huck often complies with his society’s assumptions about human nature, but he thwarts its regulations with his behavior. However, Twain does not merely castigate the proponents of slavery: his slaveholders are not wart-ridden villains with whips and lashes but sweet old ladies who seek to do good in their community. Twain juxtaposes their good intentions with their complicity in evil (his depiction could be a model for the Brewster sisters in Arsenic and Old Lace).

Despite the controversy over the novel’s language and themes, Ernest Hemingway asserted, “It’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing good since” (Green Hills of Africa, 23). Hemingway makes a bold claim, but it’s rooted in truth. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has become a model for the fiction that follows it, epitomizing American literature, and contending for the title—“The Great American Novel.”

Friday June 24- Why the "Pursuit of Happiness?"- Alan Charles Kors
By James Dudley

It often seems either curious or an accident of language that the Declaration of Independence enumerates "the pursuit of happiness" as one of the inalienable rights of men.  For some, it is a "deistic" Jefferson inserting "deistic" language into the Declaration of Independence without somehow being noticed by the prominent Protestants around him.  In fact, from the seventeenth century through the eighteenth century, English moral philosophy, and, indeed, English Christian moral theology increasingly identified the human pursuit of happiness, in this world, with the will God and with his moral design.  In this seminar, we shall examine the work of the profoundly influential Anglican Episcopal moral theologian, Bishop Joseph Butler.  We shall link his reaction against both Calviin and Hobbes(!) to John Locke's own effort to mitigate the consequences of Hobbe's ego-psychology and to the general naturalization of divine providence ocurring in early-modern English thought.  By doing this, we shall explore why "the pursuit of happiness" was seen as a divine endowment, and why such a claim was seen in "protestant America not as a challenge to Christian moral theology, but as confirmation of it.

Thursday June 23 "American History by Google and Wikipedia" - Mark Bauerlein
By James Dudley

A couple of years ago, an education researcher conducted an experiment in U.S. History on the Web.  He selected 100 terms from the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam in the subject (NAEP is the "Nation's Report Card") and typed each one into Google.  The resulting pages of Web sites showed a remarkable uniformity.  For 87 of the terms, Wikipedia came up #1.  It came up #2 on another 12 terms, and #3 for the final one.  The conclusion is obvious: Wikipedia is the toweringly dominant source of historical knowledge for students.

And there is another domination as well: Google.  It is the primary tool of inquiry.  Last year Harris Interactive poll, Google ranked #1 among 18-24-year-olds for brand familiarity and quality.  WHenever they must research a topic, they go to Google first.

Here is the problem.  Google and Wikipedia work too quickly, too conveniently.  It's a paradox, but it's true.  It delivers tailored, specific information in a microsecond, and it packages it nicely for immediate use.  It makes the acquisition of knowledge too swift and easy, the labor of discovering it requiring just a few clicks in the bedroom.

The result is that students don't remember it.  The search and retrieve, cut and paste, print and submit, the process being so practical that the knowledge doesn't lodge in their heads for very long.  The effort of finding it doesn't solicit enough immersion in the subject.  One statistic proves the point. Fully 42 percent of Google searches "click-through" on the top Web site.

This paper will provide specific examples of history-by-Google and history-by-Wikipedia that demonstrate the problem.  It will add counter-examples, history the old-fashioned library way, that produces better long term understandings of the past.  The point is this: nothing is more contrary to the "mystic chords of memory" than a Google search and a Wikipedia dependence.

Wednesday June 22- "Natural Law, God, and Human Dignity" - Robert P. George
By James Dudley

This lecture will argue that there are irreducible aspects of human well-being and fulfillment that can be understood and affirmed on the basis of rational (if odinarily informal and even casual) reflection on data provided by our experiences of such activities as friendship, knowledge, and aesthetic appreciation.  These "basic human goods" are the referents of what Aquinas called the first pinciples of practical reason and basic precepts of natural law.  By attending to the integral directiveness of these principles, it is possible to identify norms of morality distinguihing fully resonable choices (i.e., those compatible with a will towards integral human fulfullment, and thus in line with human dignity) from those that fall hort of what reason demands and must, therefore be judges to be morally deficient.  Professor George will consider the skeptical (non-cognitivist) challenge to this understanding of morality advanced by advocates of instrumentalist accounts of practical reaon.  H will also explore some significant respects in which his neo-Aristotelian (eudemonistic) approach to moral judgement is both like and unlike utilitarian and other consequentialist approaches, on the one side, and Kantian or purely "deontological" approaches, on the other.  In the course of the lecture, he will address the question of religous faith and revealed moral truth in relation to natural law theory and the place of virtues in a comprehensive account of natural law.

Tuesday June 21- "Redeeming the Founders' Theory of American Public Choice" - John Mueller
By James Dudley

In the Federalist, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison developed Aristotle and Augustine's insights about public goods, faction, and ideology into what might be called the Founders’ 'Theory of American Public Choice.' Drawing on his recent book, Redeeming Economics: Rediscovering the Missing Element (ISI Books, 2010), John D. Mueller explains how the Washington-Hamilton, Lincoln, (Franklin Delano) Roosevelt, and Reagan administrations later developed and applied these ideas into the four basic principles of successful American economic policy. These principles also predict success in presidential elections.

Tuesday June 21 "An Introduction to Classical Natural Law"- J. Budziszewski
By James Dudley

However unfashionable and politically incorrect it may be to confess to the obvious, there are certain foundational moral truths that a normal human being is unable not to know.  Rooted in the constituion of the human person, they are a universal possession, an emblem of rational mind, an heirloom of the family of man.  These basic moral principles, together with their proximate and remote implications, are the natural law.  Fpr twenty centuries, the concept of natural law formed the spine of the Western tradtion of ethics and jurisprudence, the foundation of its politics, and the basis for its respect for human liberty and dignity.  Over the years, however, the concept has suffered many vissitudes, including distortion by the rationalizers of injustice, thinning anf flattening by thinkers of the Enlightenment, and, more recently, complete rejection.  In our own time, the natural law tradition is experiencing a renaissance.  The purpose of this seminar is to reintroduce the classical theory of natural law, focusing on its seminal work, the challenging but highly rewarding Treatise on Law of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Monday June 20- "Victory and the Savior Generals"- Victor Davis Hanson
By James Dudley

Sometimes wars are not quite as lost as they seem- is rare individuals, saviour generals as it were, keep their heads when those around them have not, and have carefully from the shadows studied the theater rather than merely become depressed by it.  What are those traits of such rare battle leaders? Audacity, magnetism, and erudition, of course.  But there is also a less remarked upon characteristic- the ability to withstand envy and professional jealousy, to voice the unpopular, to galvanize troops through honesty and shared danger, abd the acceptance that a saved war is not a guarentee of lasting public and peer gratitude, given that changes at the front are by needs a referendum on past eroor of others and misguided public perceptions.  In short, rare savior generals do what is necessary to win- and usually thereby ensure their future professional unhappiness.  The story of Sherman taking Atlanta and saving Lincoln's reelection, Ridheway returning to the 38th parrallel, and perhaps Petraeus's ascendance during the surge reflect the winning natures of the savior generals, and why their contrarianism is so necessary in dark times of war and why we see such careers questioned during the luxury of peace.

Saturday June 18 "An Appeal from the Old Jurisprudence to the New" -Hadley Arkes
By James Dudley

The advent of the Obama Administration offered a vast mind-clearing experience for much of the public, for it offered a hefty, unalloyed of what the Left, in control of the Congress and the White House, would serve up. There has been a recoil in the country to the vast overreaching of the government now: leveraging control over private business with General Motors; overriding the obligation to bondholders in Chrysler; and most of all, ramming through of Obamacare, with the move toward the political takeover of medical care. These moves have stirred the reactions we’ve seen in the country, most notably in the coming of the Tea Party.  It is hard to recall a time when there has been a more intense or widespread interest in recovering the limits to the reach of the national government—a government supposedly of “limited” powers, directed to a set of more limited, essential ends.

                                                                                            

But there is a danger that people will find their wits and energies dissipated, as they try to find again that list of “enumerated” functions or powers that offers a guide to the limiting of the government.  Even the late Morton Grodzins, a strong defender of federalism, recognized that there was no organizing principle that could explain how functions were assigned within the levels of the American government, local or national.  An interesting combination of Kant and John Marshall could finally illuminate for us just why any list of objects and activities is bound to be futile in marking off a distinction between the rightful and wrongful domains of federal jurisdiction. There are indeed serious limits to the reach of the federal government.  But they are moral limits: They are found in certain enduring principles that flow from the very character of a regime of law, and indeed from the very notion of a “moral agent.” Some of them are actually contained in the Constitution, but many are not. They’ve been conveyed through aphorisms threading through the opinions of jurists (“what you may not do directly, you may not do indirectly”), and some depend mainly on the canons of moral reasoning.  As Hamilton said in the Federalist 78 the rules of limitation will not all be found in the positive law of the Constitution, but in the “nature and reason of the thing”—in the principle itself.

 

But conservative jurists have had the gravest reluctance to find the limits to the law in moral reasoning, which comes dangerously close to—gasp!—the natural law.  They curiously screen out the most contentious disagreements that have flared over the meaning of the passages in the text of the Constitution (“Equal Protection”), and curiously fail to see the way in which the first principles of the law have often been absorbed without a flicker of controversy (“People should not be held blameworthy or responsible for acts they were powerless to affect”).  But taken to the core, the hesitation of conservative jurists may be traceable to the fact that they have no confidence that there is indeed a “discipline of moral reasoning” that finds its anchor in what Kant referred to as the canons or “the laws of reason.”   In the chapter on “The Natural Law—Again, Ever,” I sought to make a statement for natural law that may be more disarming and accessible; a statement that even lawyers may be able to understand.

Friday June 17- "The Supreme Court Confirmation Process and Constitutional Legitimacy: The Political Triumph of Judicial Conservatism" - Ed Whelan
By James Dudley

In each of their first two years as President, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were presented the oppurtunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice.  A mere sixteen years apart, the confirmation processes for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Stephen Breyer, on the one hand, and for Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, on the other, were dramatically different, especially in the degree of opposition they aroused from Republican senators. 

This difference, I will argue, reflects the popular political triumph of judicial conservatism over the past two decades - the triumph of originalist methodology over the "living Constitution," of Chief Justice Roberts's umpire metaphor of President Obama's empathy standard, of judicial restraint over liberal judicial acitivsm.  More broadly, this triumph speaks to how the Constitution continues to shape and define American identity.

Friday June 17- "The Making and Debating of the Federal Constitution of 1787" - Gordon Wood
By James Dudley

This seminar will deal with the framing of the federal Constitution of 1787 and the debates it engendered. This will involve not only the particular ideas and deliberations of the major leaders, such as James Madison, in the period leading up to the Convention but also the larger and more important changes that were taking place in the Americans’ conception of representation. By the time of the ratification debates, both the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists had come to focus on this issue of representation. These debates, in turn, fundamentally altered Americans’ theoretical understanding of politics.

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