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2 Wilson Quarterly

Editor’s Comment

Editor: Steven LagerfeldDeputy Editor: James M. MorrisManaging Editor: James H. CarmanSenior Editor: Robert K. LandersLiterary Editor: Stephen BatesAssociate Editor: Justine A. KwiatkowskiEditors at Large: Ann Hulbert, Jay TolsonCopy Editor: Vincent ErcolanoContributing Editors: Martha Bayles,Linda Colley, Denis Donoghue, Max Holland,Stephen Miller, Jeffery Paine, Walter Reich,Alan Ryan, Edward Tenner, Charles Townshend,Alan Wolfe, Bertram Wyatt-BrownResearchers: Rajarshi Sen, Brooke L. Summers Librarian: Zdenek V. DavidEditorial Advisers: K. Anthony Appiah,Robert Darnton, Nathan Glazer, Harry Harding,Robert Hathaway, Elizabeth Johns,Jackson Lears, Seymour Martin Lipset, RobertLitwak, Wilfred M. McClay, Richard Rorty,Blair Ruble, Martin Sletzinger, S. FrederickStarr, Philippa Strum, Joseph Tulchin,Martin WalkerFounding Editor: Peter Braestrup (1929–1997)Publisher: Kathy ReadBusiness Manager: Suzanne NapperCirculation: Cary Zel, ProCirc, Miami, Fla.

The Wilson Quarterly (ISSN-0363-3276) is published inJanuary (Winter), April (Spring), July (Summer), andOctober (Autumn) by the Woodrow Wilson InternationalCenter for Scholars at One Woodrow Wilson Plaza,1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.20004–3027. Complete article index available online athttp://wwics.si.edu/WQ/WEBIND.HTM. Subscriptions:one year, $24; two years, $43. Air mail outside U.S.: one year,$39; two years, $73. Single copies mailed upon request: $7;outside U.S. and possessions, $8; selected back issues: $7,including postage and handling; outside U.S., $8. Periodicalpostage paid at Washington, D.C., and additional mailingoffices. All unsolicited manuscripts should be accompaniedby a self-addressed stamped envelope. Members: Sendchanges of address and all subscription correspondence withWilson Quarterly mailing label to Subscriber Service,The Wilson Quarterly, P.O. Box 420406, Palm Coast, FL32142–0406. (Subscriber hot line: 1-800-829-5108.)Postmaster: Send all address changes to The WilsonQuarterly, P.O. Box 420406, Palm Coast, FL 32142–0406.Microfilm copies are available from Bell & HowellInformation and Learning, 300 North Zeeb Road,Ann Arbor, Michigan 48106. U.S. newsstand distributionby Ingram Periodicals, Inc. (for information, call 1-800-627-6247, ext. 33660). Advertising: Kathy Read,Tel.: (202) 691-4018, Fax: (202) 691-4036. Publisher/Mail

Order: Kalish, Quigley & Rosen, Tel.: (212) 399-9500,Fax: (212) 265-0986.


In the course of 25 years, the WQ has amassed more debts of gratitudethan we can possibly enumerate. The editors would especially like tothank all of those at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for

Scholars—the Board of Trustees, the Wilson Council, Director Lee H.Hamilton, visiting scholars, and the entire staff—for the collegiality andsupport that make our work possible.

It’s often said that a magazine can be no better than its writers, and wehave hundreds to thank for making the WQ what it is. Above all, we’regrateful to our readers, the tens of thousands of curious, engaged, andoften surprising people who have made this 25-year conversation oneworth having.

Editor’s Comment

The staff of the Wilson Quarterly joins in mourning thosewho perished in the September 11 terrorist attack on theUnited States, which occurred as we went to press.

What was once largely a war of ideas now becomes a contestof arms. Yet more than ever this contest requires Americans todefine and clarify the ideas—about the shape of the good soci-ety, about the makings of a peaceful international order—thatwe have committed our lives to defend.

42 THE MAKING OF THE PUBLIC MINDPublic opinion is powerfully shaped by some obvious forces—the news media, politicalleaders, events themselves. But what about the world of ideas? Are scholars and othercreators of knowledge doing their part to shape the public mind? Is anybody listening?

Essays by Jean Bethke Elshtain, Louis Menand, Jay Tolson, Sven Birkerts,Peter Berkowitz & Benjamin Wittes, Karlyn Bowman, and Wilfred M. McClay

16 BLAIR’S BRITAINby Martin WalkerPrime Minister Tony Blair is not only continuing Margaret Thatcher’s revolution;he’s leading two new ones.

24 THE OLD MANby Michael MaloneA novelist’s reflections on fathers, literary and otherwise

34 THE WILSONIAN MOMENT?by James ChaceWoodrow Wilson bequeathed America two contradictory ideas—ethnic self-determination and humanitarian intervention—that we are still grappling with today.

156 THE ANNIVERSARY MYSTIQUEby Cullen MurphySome thoughts on our strange fascination with chronological milestones




12 FINDINGSNationetteThe Place of PlaceCapitalism without Tears

107 THE PERIODICAL OBSERVERThe Magic of Head StartBaltic Madness?


136 CURRENT BOOKSDavid Lodge

on Søren KierkegaardGary Hart

on military preparedness

Reviews by Harry Shearer, Florence King,Benjamin Cheever, Theodore Dalrymple,Barbara Wallraff, Sanford J. Ungar,J. R. McNeill, Tova Reich, and others


cover: Original artwork by Matthew Trueman. Design by David Herbick.

The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

USPS 346-670 | Volume XXV, Number 4 | Printed in the U.S.A.

THE WILSON QUARTERLYPublished by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

WQ Web site: Wilsonquarterly.com

WQWQA U T U M N 2 0 0 1

d e p a r t m e n t s

I t takes audacity to launch any newmagazine, but it took a special sort of

spirit to launch a magazine like theWilson Quarterly in 1976. Beneath theglow of that year’s bicentennial celebra-tions, the nation bore a sickly pallor, andit was not merely coincidental that forthe serious general-interest magazine itwas a time of unusual peril. Many of thegreat names in the field—Harper’s, theNew Yorker—were bound for hard times,and at least one, Saturday Review, wouldnot survive.

The plight of these magazines wasn’tonly a result of changing business condi-tions; it was a symptom of a certain kindof cultural exhaustion. After Vietnam,Watergate, and the other traumas of theera, there was a feeling in the air that per-haps we Americans could no longer speakto one another about important publicquestions in civil and dispassionate terms.There was a feeling, too, that in an agemarked by the headlong specialization ofknowledge, a larger view of the intellectu-al landscape was increasingly beyond thegrasp of even many educated people. Theold ideal of an informed citizenry—abedrock democratic principle—was muchin doubt.

Twenty-five years later, one is struck bythe confidence of founding editor PeterBraestrup (1929–97) and James Billing-ton, then director of the Wilson Center,in the importance and vitality of the prin-ciples that to others seemed so uncertain.Their goal was to create a magazine thatwould reach into every precinct of theworld of ideas, striving to make the mostimportant work of scholars and thinkersintelligible to others. In a time that ques-tioned whether real debate—indeed,truth itself—was possible, the magazinewas to be nonpartisan and disinterested.Most of all, against the growing pessimismthat the ideal of an enlightened publiccould any longer exist, the WQ was toserve a general audience.

Many of the doubts of that time are stillwith us, and the world (as well as the WQ)

4 Wilson Quarterly

has changed in many ways since then, yetthis fundamental confidence remains ahallmark of the magazine. The WQ’s 25thanniversary is in that sense a testament tothe continuing vitality of those originalprinciples.

One reason for the WQ’s steady courseis the unusual dedication and continuityof its editorial staff. Braestrup’s immediatesuccessor, Jay Tolson (editor from 1989 to1999), and I both worked under thefounding editor, as did managing editorJames Carman and senior editor RobertLanders. All of the magazine’s editors overthe years have shared the founding ethos,keeping the magazine true to its corecommitments.

“Think of the Reader!” Braestrup oftengrowled at his young editors. The injunc-tion applied to the largest intellectualquestions and the most excruciatinglyminute details. It made us cringe to insertinformation we thought an educatedaudience ought already to know—thatNATO is the acronym for the NorthAtlantic Treaty Organization, that T. S.Eliot was a poet—but we came to under-stand that such details went to the heartof the magazine’s mission. The WQ wasto help readers know what they ought toknow (“What do I need to know?” wasanother Braestrupian refrain). The lastthing its editors could allow in the maga-zine’s pages was a tone suggesting thatthe world of ideas was closed to thosewho did not possess a certain kind ofintellectual pedigree. The WQ was to beinclusive, democratic, public spirited.While other intellectual periodicalsserved an academic discipline or an ideo-logical cause, the WQ was to serve theReader—which meant, in essence, theAmerican public.

The son of an émigré Danish scientistwho worked on the Manhattan Project,Braestrup had a profound appreciationof the openness and freedom ofAmerican society, as well as an acuteawareness of the delicate mechanismsthat keep it going. A product of the U.S.


Marine Corps (he was wounded in theKorean War) and a veteran of the NewYork Times and other top news organiza-tions, he was a fellow at the WilsonCenter when Billington, then theCenter’s director, invited him to start amagazine that would find a broad pub-lic. They were a complementary pair,the gruff, rumpled former newsman andthe scholar (now Librarian of Congress)whose own historical studies had demon-strated that the very best scholarshipcould also be supremely inviting to thegeneral reader.

The WQ debuted in the fall of 1976,160 pages pressed between plain,

ivory-colored covers withmodest red-and-black let-tering. It was an immedi-ate success. (And therewere many who hadhelped make it so,notably, our friends atSmithsonian.) “Our aimis to provide an authorita-tive overview of currentideas and research onmatters of public policyand general intellectualinterest,” Braestrup wrotein his Editor’s Comment.He continued:

As a group, of course,scholars have no monopoly on wis-dom or even rational analysis. But thebetter scholars have something spe-cial to say to all of us. They refreshour thinking, surprise us with newdata, occasionally remind us of oldtruths and new paradoxes lost in thedaily hubbub of the press and televi-sion. Their more powerful ideas even-tually help shape our perceptions, ourpolitics, and our lives.

That first issue boasted the bylines ofsome of the leading thinkers and writers ofthe day—from Dennis L. Meadows andWalt W. Rostow to Robert Nisbet andMerrill D. Peterson—on subjects rangingfrom “the limits to growth” to the American

Revolution. The “cluster” of articles on asingle subject quickly became a signaturefeature of the magazine. There alsoappeared in the first issue the patented (andmuch imitated) feature we now call thePeriodical Observer, with its roundup of sig-nificant articles from learned journals andother specialized publications.

The magazine’s second editor, Jay Tolson,raised the WQ to a new level of intellectualexcellence. Long before they became the stuffof newsmagazine cover stories, public issuessuch as fatherhood, the New Urbanism, andcivility were the subjects of thoughtful WQessays. Tolson, who is also the biographer ofWalker Percy, led the magazine in new direc-tions, creating a feature devoted to the redis-

covery of poetry and pub-lishing essays on subjects asvarious as Confucius,Central Asia, and thedecline of America’s passen-ger railroads. He recruitedleading scholars to examinesome of the deeper forcesshaping world events, fromIslam and Hinduism tonationalism. In 1998,Harvard University’s E. O.Wilson, the father of socio-biology, chose the WQ asthe place to preview hisideas about the “con-silience” of all fields ofhuman inquiry.

Upon taking the editor’s chair in 1989,Tolson saluted his predecessor as “an editorof vision and a committed citizen.” Thosewords apply with equal justice to Tolsonhimself. He remains a valued friend andcontributor (see his essay on the state of aca-demic prose on p. 60).

In this issue, we return to one of theWQ’s founding concerns, with seven essayson “The Making of the Public Mind.” Ourcontributors find much to criticize in theway Americans consider public ques-tions—but much more, I think, to justifythe profound sense of hope and confi-dence that inspired the magazine’s found-ing a quarter-century ago.

Steven LagerfeldEditor

Autumn 2001 5

Founding editor Peter Braestrup

Few things have given me more satis-faction than launching the Wilson

Quarterly and watching its continuingachievements.

When I became director of the WoodrowWilson International Center for Scholars in1973, I saw our priority tasks as both intensi-fying the scholarly work at the Center andsharing key findings of scholarship with amuch broader audience. I was bothered bythe decreasing ability, and even inclination,of many scholars to communicate with thepublic. What seemed needed was a digest orreview of recent important scholarship writ-ten by journalists who could describe thatscholarship authentically for the general pub-lic. There had earlier been a magazine calledIntellectual Digest, and I spoke to foundationrepresentatives, without much success, aboutstarting a journal that would once again serveits function. They pointed to a long list ofintellectual quarterlies that they hadlaunched, only to see them collapse within avery short time. When I studied those exam-ples, I noted that in almost every instancethey were simply outlets for scholarly or liter-ary esoterica, written for a limited audience.

The critical factors that led to the estab-lishment of the Wilson Quarterly were twofortunate discoveries I made in Washington.The first discovery was that many membersof Congress sought an impartial mediationof the scholarly, public-policy, and advocacypublications that were flooding their offices.I remember sitting with one of the congres-sional leaders, who pointed to a three-foot-high pile on his desk and said, “Those arethe reports from just the past two weeks thatmy staff feels I should read. There’s no way Ican check out even their tables of contents.If somebody could tell me what’s reallyimportant in them, I’d be tremendouslygrateful.” Representative Ralph Regula (R.-Ohio), a member at that time of the HouseAppropriations subcommittee that oversawthe Wilson Center, and in recent years thatsubcommittee’s chairman, suggested that ifwe were to begin a journal, he would wantus to be able “to justify it to the worker in mydistrict who carries a lunch pail to work eachday.” His comment strengthened our com-mitment to readily understandable prose—

and inspired us to make the WQ a size thatwould, in fact, fit into a lunch pail.

The second, and more decisive, factor inlaunching the journal was my discovery of agreat editor, Peter Braestrup. As a marine, Peterhad been wounded in Korea. As a reporter, hehad covered the Algerian War for the New YorkTimes and the Vietnam War for the Times and,subsequently, the Washington Post. As aWilson Center fellow, he had written Big Story(1977), a searching study of news media cover-age of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. His will-ingness to serve as editor of the WQ made thejournal possible.

Peter believed that the broad questionsunderlying the political and public-policyissues of the day could be packed into a jour-nal concise and readable enough to attract anabiding audience and become a viable enter-prise. He proposed a format that would featureclusters of articles on a given subject, therebyallowing Wilson Center fellows and membersof the academic community to present ideas ingreater depth and variety than they could inpublications that were focused increasingly onpersonalities and bite-sized pieces. Peter testedthe WQ’s format for a year, raised money forthe journal, and launched it as a successfulmix of original scholarly articles and digests ofother scholarly work—with every page subject-ed to rigorous editing for the sake of clarity.

Peter’s successors have admirably sus-tained that original format. In fact, both

subsequent editors of the WQ worked at onetime for Peter, and they have carried on hisdriving work ethic and the quiet patriotismthat underlies the journal’s basic desire toimprove as well as to inform the nation. Moralseriousness without moralizing pomposity hasbeen characteristic of the WQ from the start.

For a quarter of a century, Wilson CenterBoards of Trustees, Wilson Council members,Center fellows, contributors, and subscribershave made the WQ a hallmark for high-quality journalism. The Wilson Quarterlyopens to the American people a rich store ofour nation’s ranging intellectual activity. I amhappy to salute all those responsible for itsenduring success.

James H. BillingtonLibrarian of Congress

6 Wilson Quarterly

Twenty-Five Years

Autumn 2001 7

The 25th anniversary of the WilsonQuarterly is an occasion to celebrate

a unique magazine. The WQ is the onlyprominent scholarly publication of ideasand public affairs that is directed to abroad, nonacademic audience. Some60,000 subscribers (and many additionalreaders) are devoted to the magazinebecause it puts in their hands, in an acces-sible and imaginative format, the bestresearch and writing on issues of contem-porary concern.

In many ways, the WQ wonderfullyreflects the mission of the Wilson Centeritself, which opened its door just a fewyears before the first issue of the magazineappeared. The Center, the nation’s livingmemorial to Woodrow Wilson, bridges theworld of ideas and the world of policy bybringing together on its premises thinkersand doers, in the confident hope that fromtheir conversation will emerge clearerunderstanding and wiser policy.

The individuals who participate in thework of the Wilson Center and those whocontribute to the WQ are not narrow spe-cialists or ideologues but scholars, policy-makers, and journalists with expansiveinterests, who let the facts guide theirreflections and conclusions. Theseremarkable individuals share intellectualcuriosity, a passion for creative thought,and an ability to convey clearly what theyknow. Their work has lifted the quality ofscholarship in many fields and affectedthe direction of public discourse.

The uniqueness of the Wilson Center andthe WQ derives from the special character ofWoodrow Wilson, who was president ofPrinceton University, governor of NewJersey, president of the United States, and aleading scholar of government. He remainsthe only American president to have earneda Ph.D. Wilson believed passionately thatthe scholar and the policymaker are engagedin a common enterprise, and that eachshould draw upon the knowledge and expe-rience of the other.

America today is awash in TV programs,magazines, Web sites, and other media out-lets that generate an endless stream of infor-mation and much sound and fury. And

today’s Washington is overpopulated withthink tanks and special-interest groups push-ing their views and advocating their policieson every conceivable matter, from aircraft tozygotes. The Wilson Center and the WQ, Ilike to think, stand apart from that agitatedcrowd. Subject to no political pressures andin thrall to no intellectual fads, they strive toseparate the important from the inconse-quential, to stretch our imaginations, tobroaden our sympathies, and to foster newinsights into fundamental critical issues thatshould claim the attention of the nation andthe world.

To make representative democracy workin a country as vast and diverse as theUnited States is an immensely difficulttask. The WQ and the Wilson Center offera model of how public discourse shouldproceed in a democracy. They promotethe free trade and competition of ideasthrough civil, serious, and informed dis-cussion, out of a conviction that the explo-ration of different points of view enrichesour lives and strengthens the nation. Theburning issues of tomorrow will almostcertainly be different from those that heatthe debate today. Yet I am confident that,in those new circumstances too, theWilson Center and the WQ, by providinga precious intellectual stability, will con-tinue to help the nation find its way safelyacross difficult terrain.

I am grateful to the many people whohave helped to make the Wilson Centerand the WQ successful and vibrant overthe years: the distinguished members ofthe Center’s Board of Trustees, includingchairmen Hubert H. Humphrey, WilliamJ. Baroody, Sr., Max M. Kampelman,William J. Baroody, Jr., Joseph H. Flom,and Joseph A. Cari, Jr.; former WilsonCenter directors Benjamin H. Read, JamesH. Billington, and Charles Blitzer; WQeditors Peter Braestrup, Jay Tolson, andSteven Lagerfeld; the excellent staff of theWQ and the Center; and the corporations,foundations, individuals, and members ofCongress whose critical support is essen-tial to our work.

Lee H. HamiltonDirector, Wilson Center

8 Wilson Quarterly

Popular Culture’s Turf WarsMartha Bayles’s commentary on obscenity [“ThePerverse in the Popular,” WQ, Summer ’01] isvery revealing, but I disagree with her pessimisticassertion that the “rest of us” are suffering in the warbetween envelope-pushing artists and their mor-alizing antagonists. The battles that her articlementions—most prominently the controversyover the 1999 Sensation exhibit at the BrooklynMuseum of Art—are mostly no more than personal,narrow “turf wars” that make for good print in thetabloids and have little national impact. Even 2 LiveCrew’s farcical standoff with authorities wasrestricted mainly to Florida, when the infamous“F_ _ _ Martinez” track blasting a judge becamemore of an issue than the group’s chauvin-ist/misogynist rants themselves.

These grudge matches are secondary to the factthat never before have Americans had access to somany different entertainment sources. Our free-mar-ket economy and constitutional rights allow for amultitude of media to succeed. At the same time,these freedoms grant us two valuable weapons:our wallets and the power buttons on our televisions,radios, and computers.

If I can go to a bookstore, pick up both a Britishvariety magazine and a Spanish-language CD, lis-ten to country music in my Jeep on the way home,and choose among Fox News, PBS, and AmericanMovie Classics on my television while checkingmovie reviews on Yahoo!, where exactly lies thepredicament? That people gravitate towardobscenity speaks more about individuals’ tastesthan about the artists who promote obscenity withtheir work. We are not helpless bystanders in all ofthis; we are active participants in the formulationand presentation of popular culture.

Lorenzo R. Cortes Alexandria, Va.

Paul A. Cantor [“The Art in the Popular,” WQ,Summer ’01] presents a coherent thesis about theindiscriminate commingling of “wheat and chaff”in the public poetry of ancient Athens. But heweakens his case by taking Plato out of the histor-

ical context of three important developments inAthenian life that occurred about 400 b.c. It wasprobably Plato himself rather than Socrates whomade the shift from science to sociology, from thecosmos to the common, because scientists hadfailed to explain celestial mechanics—notably theretrograde motion of the planets—and make thephysical universe comprehensible. (That monu-mental “cop out” was not rectified until IsaacNewton did so more than 2,000 years later.)

The first of these developments was that tradi-tional Greek religion no longer met the spiritualneeds of the people, who turned increasingly to theoccult in the form of Eastern and “mystery” religions.The second was that Plato’s mentor, Socrates, will-ingly paid the supreme price—death—for havingfailed to improve the system (the common cul-ture?) by questioning all things and by urging hisstudents to do the same. Finally, Athenian democ-racy—unique in the ancient world—succumbed toa military dictatorship, which, in the people’s des-peration to win the Peloponnesian War, failed.The golden age of Greek science, politics, and cul-ture went into decline (and was not to be reviveduntil the Italian Renaissance).

Contrary to common popular belief, historydoes not repeat itself, but neither does humannature change. Though contemporary democra-cy and science are exceedingly healthy, the “per-verse modernism” of communications theory à laMarshall McLuhan attempts, as Martha Baylesexplains, to make the technological medium apop panacea, especially in the classroom. Othersuperficial modernists turn to the occult—to the psy-chics, astrologers, and such so widely advertised inthe electronic media.

As an optimist, I have to agree with what bothCantor and Bayles imply—that out of the vastocean of pop culture mediocrity, excellence willinexorably emerge. Not the quantity of the meremessages but the quality of the great ideas will bethe true measure.

Clark G. ReynoldsDistinguished Professor in History

College of CharlestonCharleston, S.C.

Letters may be mailed to One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.20004–3027, or sent via facsimile, to (202) 691-4036, or e-mail, to [email protected].

The writer’s telephone number and postal address should be included. For reasons of space, letters are usually edited for publication. Some letters are received in response to the editors’ requests for comment.


Santayana’s Enduring LegacyIt is a source of distinct satisfaction to readWilfred M. McClay’s essay “Remembering San-tayana” [WQ, Summer ’01]. Only so much canbe written on so rich a subject as Santayana ina brief article, but McClay accomplishes hiswork superbly.

Although it is accurate to say that Santayanais little known today, it should also be noted thata firm undercurrent of interest in the philosopherand many of his works has maintained its forcesince his death in 1952. That said, one reason forSantayana’s faded popularity is that he neversought popularity. He was not zealous, and herefused to engage in the philosophical skir-mishes that produce followers.

McClay lists many eminent men whomSantayana taught at Harvard, and he implies auniversal approval of his teaching. But T. S.Eliot, for one, did not approve. He foundSantayana’s lectures “soporific.” Santayana, forhis part, thought Eliot’s promotion of EzraPound inexplicable; he remarked that “thethought of T. S. Eliot is subterranean withoutbeing profound.”

A central question in my mind arises whenMcClay claims “there was a strain of irrespon-sibility in Santayana’s naturalism,” and adds thatSantayana failed to regard his conclusions as“rules by which we should all live.” Of course hedid not so regard them. To have done so wouldhave violated his nature utterly. The fulleststatement and the most compelling exposition ofhis naturalism lie in Scepticism and AnimalFaith: Introduction to a System of Philosophy(1923), and they are far from irresponsible.(Santayana assuredly was irresponsible aboutthe Jews and about Mussolini; his asides inapproval of the Soviets were ironic and playful.)

I also question McClay’s interpretation ofSantayana’s Catholicism. I am baffled, forinstance, by his allusion to the philosopher’sreverence for “the rich pageant of SpanishCatholicism.” If Santayana revered anythingabout Spanish or any other form of Catholicism,he did so only out of his aesthetic appreciationof ritual and décor. About the rest of it, he wassteely eyed. He would not even allow the BlueNuns to place on the altar of the hospital’schapel the flowers sent him each Christmas;they were his gift to the nuns, not to the church.

I find McClay too hard on Santayana dur-

Autumn 2001 9

10 Wilson Quarterly


ing his last decade in Rome during the war.The philosopher was old, he was cold, hewas deaf. He spent the harsh winter days inbed and wrote while wearing mittens, nomean feat. I suspect he knew that his worldwas over. He never complained. As he laydying, his friends and the nuns urged him toconfess his sins and die in the Church. Herefused. According to Daniel Cory, hisfriend and onetime assistant, his final wordswere, “My only pain is physical.”

John McCormickYork, England

Author of George Santayana: A Biography

Apparently Wilfred McClay was con-demned to forget at least one small bit ofthe past. My enjoyment of his article“Remembering Santayana” was marred byreading his words, “culminating in the Ger-mans’ murder of Mussolini and his mis-tress.” It was a bit of a shock to me that thewriter blamed the Germans for the acts ofanti-German partisans, a lesser shock thathe seemed to push the execution ahead of theAllied entry into Rome. It bothered me thatno one at the WQ caught the error. Still, itis just a small and irrelevant error in an oth-erwise enlightening article and magazine. Itwill not deter me from the pursuit of more ofGeorge Santayana’s writings, which the arti-cle inspired.

Jerry SteigerCorvallis, Oregon

Promoting DemocracyIn his article “Democracy Inc.” [WQ, Sum-mer ’01], Eric Bjornlund convincingly iden-tifies some of the problems that have ham-pered recent international efforts to promotedemocracy. Specifically, the lessons hederives from the Cambodian election of1998 and the Indonesian election of 1999 areinstructive: Many donor organizations weretoo willing to ignore the fundamental flawsafflicting the former, and too eager to dumpmoney and directives on local nongovern-mental organizations monitoring the latter.In both cases, the mistakes committed bydonors undercut the efforts of indigenousdemocrats.

Bjornlund also correctly observes that

Lee H. Hamilton, Director

Board of TrusteesJoseph A. Cari, Jr., Chair

Steven Alan Bennett., Vice Chair

Ex Officio Members: James H. Billington, Librarian ofCongress, John W. Carlin, Archivist of the United States,William R. Ferris, Chair, National Endowment for the

Humanities, Roderick R. Paige, Secretary of Education,Colin L. Powell, Secretary of State, Lawrence M. Small,

Secretary, Smithsonian Institution, Tommy G. Thompson,Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Private Citizen Members: Carol Cartwright,John H. Foster, Jean L. Hennessey, Daniel L. Lamaute,Doris O. Matsui, Thomas R. Reedy, Nancy M. Zirkin.

The Wilson CouncilSteven Kotler, President

Charles S. Ackerman, B. B. Andersen, Cyrus A. Ansary,Charles F. Barber, Lawrence E. Bathgate II, Joseph C. Bell,

Richard E. Berkowitz, Thomas J. Buckholtz, Conrad Cafritz, Nicola L.Caiola, Raoul L. Carroll, Scott Carter, Albert V. Casey, Peter B. Clark,

William T. Coleman, Jr., Michael D. DiGiacomo, Donald G.Drapkin, F. Samuel Eberts III, J. David Eller, Sim Farar, Susan R.

Farber, Barbara Hackman Franklin, Morton Funger, Chris G.Gardiner, Eric Garfinkel, Bruce S. Gelb, Alma Gildenhorn, Joseph B.

Gildenhorn, David F. Girard-diCarlo, Michael B. Goldberg,William E. Grayson, Raymond A. Guenter, Verna R. Harrah, Carla A.

Hills, Eric Hotung, Frances Humphrey Howard, John L. Howard,Darrell E. Issa, Jerry Jasinowski, Brenda LaGrange Johnson, Dennis D.Jorgensen, Shelly Kamins, Anastasia D. Kelly, Christopher J. Kennan,

Michael V. Kostiw, William H. Kremer, Dennis LeVett, Harold O.Levy, David Link, David S. Mandel, John P. Manning,

Edwin S. Marks, Jay Mazur, Robert McCarthy, Stephen G.McConahey, J. Kenneth Menges, Jr., Philip Merrill, Jeremiah L.

Murphy, Martha T. Muse, Della M. Newman, Paul Hae Park, GeraldL. Parsky, Michael J. Polenske, Donald Robert Quartel, Jr., J. Steven

Rhodes, John L. Richardson, Margaret Milner Richardson,Edwin Robbins, Otto Ruesch, B. Francis Saul, III, Timothy R. Scully,

J. Michael Shepherd, George P. Shultz, Raja W. Sidawi, DeborahSiebert, Thomas L. Siebert, Ron Silver, William A. Slaughter,Norma Kline Tiefel, Mark C. Treanor, Christine M. Warnke,

Pete Wilson, Deborah Wince-Smith,Herbert S. Winokur, Jr., Joseph Zappala.

The Wilson Center is the nation’s living memorial to WoodrowWilson, president of the United States from 1913 to 1921. It islocated at One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 PennsylvaniaAvenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004–3027. Created by law in1968, the Center is Washington’s only independent, wide-rang-ing institute for advanced study where vital cultural issues andtheir deep historical background are explored through researchand dialogue. Visit the Center on the World Wide Web athttp://www.wilsoncenter.org.

Autumn 2001 11

donor governments often do not apply demo-cratic standards in a uniform manner. I takeissue, however, with his assertion thatadvanced democratic governments will beunable to achieve such uniformity until they“break the link between the promotion ofdemocracy and other foreign-policy goals.” Iwould propose the opposite solution: thatdonor governments more tightly integrate theconcepts of freedom, security, and prosperitythat inform their diplomacy.

If the governments of advanced industrialdemocracies view the spread of democracy as a“value” of great but ultimately secondaryimportance compared with the “interests” ofwealth and peace, then the value will no doubtusually be trumped by the interests. But if theleaders of these same governments are made tounderstand exactly how democratization cansupport economic development, the resolutionof domestic strife, and international coopera-tion, then the promotion of democracy in thedeveloping world will be viewed as intrinsic tothe pursuit of security and prosperity by thedeveloped world.

Thus, rather than ask the advanced democ-racies to ascetically elevate their values abovetheir interests, supporters of Democracy Inc.must create compelling connections among allforeign-policy goals, connections befitting aglobalized era in which money, technology,and democratic freedoms are linked in theo-ry and practice more closely than ever before.

David W. YangDirector, The Institute for Global Democracy

The Henry L. Stimson CenterWashington, D.C.

The Meaning of “Earnest”In your last issue, you gave an account of anarticle on Longfellow by Rochelle Gurstein[“The Periodical Observer,” WQ, Summer’01], in which the poet’s line from “A Psalmof Life,” “Life is real! Life is earnest!” is quot-ed, and followed by the observation: “By thetime of Oscar Wilde’s Importance of BeingEarnest (1895), however, earnestness hadbecome a term of derision, Gurstein observes.‘And by the time of the centenary celebrationof Longfellow’s birth in 1907, the revoltagainst gentility and classicism was in fullbloom.’ ”

I suspect that there was more to the matterthan simple derisiveness about “earnestness” inWilde’s use of the word. In Our Age (1991), hisaccount of English intellectuals between theWorld Wars, Noel Annan reports:

[Timothy] D’Arch suggests that one ofthe versifiers among the pedophiles,John Gambril Nicholson, in his se-quence of fifty sonnets entitled Love inEarnest, gave Wilde the play uponwords for his one undisputed work ofgenius.

My little Prince, love’s mystic spellLights all the letters of your nameAnd you, if no one else, can tellWhy Ernest sets my heart on flame.

In the 1890s, one member of the fra-ternity might ask another “Is he musi-cal?” or “Is he earnest?”—as much codewords for homosexual as “gay” is today.

Anthony HechtWashington, D.C.


The Fellowship Program of the New AmericaFoundation invites applications from scholars,practitioners and journalists eager to reshape theterms of America's public policy debate through solu-tions-oriented writing in the popular press andleading opinion journals.

Fellowships provide substantial financial, intellec-tual and professional support for independent-minded writers and thinkers who want to engage inan active search for pragmatic public policy solutionsthat transcend the conventional political spectrum.

The New America Foundation is a Washington,DC-based non-partisan, non-profit public policyinstitute whose Fellows publish regularly in virtuallyall of the nation's leading op-ed pages, opinionmagazines and public policy journals.

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w w w . n e w a m e r i c a . n e t

12 Wilson Quarterly


The Principality of Sealand consists in itsentirety of a 6,000-square-foot World

War II anti-aircraft fortress situated six milesoff England’s eastern coast. It may not looklike much, but Sealand is a bona fide nation-state. “Prince” Roy Bates, who occupied theabandoned gun platform in 1967 and thenproclaimed its sovereignty, is currently usingSealand’s independence to create the firstregulation-free Internet data link. The linkprovides clients with complete privacy andno pesky government interference in onlinefinancial transactions, e-mails, and Websites. The Associated Press has reported thatHaven-Co, the Antigua-based company thatis responsible for the enterprise, will allowcustomers to host servers on Sealand atprices ranging from $3,000 to $10,000.They’ll be allowed to use their servers for anypurpose, other than to send junk e-mail orchild pornography or to hack into othercomputer systems with malicious intent (andpresumably not for fun either).

As if the legalities of running a regulation-free Internet operation were not cloudyenough for Sealand, there exists the separatevexing legal issue of its asserted sovereignty.Though Sealand issues its own currency,stamps, and passports, the United Kingdominsists that the upstart platform is still withinUK territory and has no legitimate claim toindependence. Sealand argues the contrary,and cites a 1968 court decision in which aBritish judge ruled that the court had nojurisdiction over Sealand because it waslocated just outside British territorial waters.The British responded by extending their ter-ritorial waters. Since then, they’ve shown lit-tle interest in the place. According toSealand’s Web site (www.sealandgov.com),other nations, including Germany (whichsent a diplomat “to negotiate the release of aGerman prisoner held captive in a Sealandprison”), have been less indifferent. They’vegiven the statelet some form of recognition.

Resist the urge to make Sealand your nextvacation getaway. Access is restricted to the“techies” who live there, Prince Roy and hiswife, Princess Joan (whose face is on the cur-rency), and other government-sanctionedofficials. Even customers cannot come onboard uninvited. Still, citizenship isn’t animpossible goal. According to another “offi-cial” Web site (www.principality-sealand.net),Sealand, as of September 1998, had a citizenpopulation of 160,000 (and a nationalsurface area an eighth the size of a footballfield). Most of the citizens are business-people, and all of them reside elsewhere.The only requirement for citizenship? Beprepared to “use [your] talents to establishand boost the acceptance of an emergingstate.” At the least, Sealand can claim to bekeeping its head above water.

The Place of Place

In Manifesto: A Century of Isms (2001),Mary Ann Caws collects more than 200

artistic and cultural statements by visionariesof every persuasion who, between the late19th and late 20th centuries, threw down aglove for their beliefs. None of the urgentvoices is more appealing than that of the


Eudora Welty in 1992

writer Eudora Welty, whodied this past summer. HereWelty speaks about theimportance of place—ofcreating a world—infiction:

Place is one of the lesserangels that watch over theracing hand of fiction, per-haps the one that gazesbenignly enough from offto one side, while others,like character, plot, symbol-ic meaning, and so on, aredoing a good deal of wing-beating about her chair. . . .

It may be going too far to say that theexactness and concreteness and solidity ofthe real world achieved in a story corre-spond to the intensity of feeling in theauthor’s mind and to the very turn of hisheart; but there lies the secret of our confi-dence in him.

Making reality real is art’s responsibility.It is a practical assignment, then, a self-assignment: to achieve, by a cultivated sensi-tivity for observing life, a capacity for receiv-ing its impressions, a lonely, unremitting,unaided, unaidable vision, and transferringthis vision without distortion to it onto thepages of a novel, where, if the reader is sopersuaded, it will turn into the reader’s illu-sion. How bent on this peculiar joy we are,reader and writer, willingly to practice, will-ingly to undergo, this alchemy for it!

The New Astronomy

Duke University Press recently publisheda book titled Gay Fandom and Crossover

Stardom: James Dean, Mel Gibson, andKeanu Reeves. The ad copy notes that it is“an important contribution to star studies.”

For Good Measure

Richard Porter needed something to doduring retirement, so he began to

collect thermometers. The former scienceteacher’s Cape Cod home soon began tooverflow with thermometers of every sort,

from the pill-sized instruments that JohnGlenn swallowed for his trip on the spaceshuttle Discovery in 1998 to devices in theshape of teddy bears. “The World’s OnlyThermometer Museum” is now set for aplace in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The recognition comes at a propitiousmoment in the history of thermometry: the300th anniversary of the birth of the Swedishscientist Anders Celsius. Celsius’s eponymousmeasurement scale, most likely formulated in1741, never caught on in the United States,though it’s the standard for most of the globe.

It’s impossible to compare temperaturereadings without establishing a universal tem-perature scale, and scientists fought for cen-turies about what that scale should be. By thelate 1600s, there were dozens of alternatives.As a result, thermometers were sometimesmade with more than 10 scales pasted on aboard behind the vial, in a clumsy attempt toallow comparisons.

Today’s reference points, the boiling pointof water (100º C) and the melting point of ice(0º C), were by no means as obvious in thepast as they now seem. Enlightenment scien-tists and philosophers who sought to come upwith standard measures flirted with the boilingpoint of wine, the melting point of butter, andthe constant cold of the Parisian catacombs.And the two principal reference points for hotand cold were not the only variants from scaleto scale: The number of degrees scientistschose to put between them varied as well. Itmight be 80, as in the Réaumur scale devisedin 1730 that prevailed for at least a century inFrance (and still survives in pockets of that

Autumn 2001 13

Richard Porter, at the World’s Only Thermometer Museum

14 Wilson Quarterly


country, Germany, and Argentina), or 180, asin our Fahrenheit scheme.

Celsius chose a centigrade scale, in which100 degrees lay between the two fixed points.That elegant solution has long since persuad-ed most of the world, but it stands as muchchance of being adopted in the United Statesas, well, the metric system.

Capitalism without Tears

“Treasures from a Bygone Era” runs theline on the catalogue cover, above a

color photo of three seated lead-cast figurines:Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill, facing off atthe 1943 Tehran Conference. The three-inchfigurines are a hot item in the summer 2001catalogue for the Sovietski Collection, a mail-order enterprise in California that offers itemsboth original and lovingly recreated from thegolden days of Soviet totalitarianism.

Maybe you had to be there to appreciatethe catalogue copy: “We had lots ofdisappointed folks when our supply ofunissued control clocks for launching nukessold out a couple of years ago. So we werethrilled to get more, straight from decommis-sioned Tupolev long-range bombers.” In theinterim, those disappointed folks had lots inthe catalogue to soften their regret: giant bor-der-guard observation binoculars; EastGerman Stasi “come-alongs” (“high-tensilealloy submission cuffs, used to subdue ‘trou-blemakers’ by ‘non-lethal’ means”); authenticholsters for the famous Makarov pistol; titani-um shovels and garden trowels (“tunnelingunder walls and embassies was never soeasy”); East German AK-47 bayonets (“a cut-ting-edge piece of Cold War history”); anddemilitarized armor-piercing missiles. Thelast are called “the world’s most unusualpaperweights.” No argument there.

Sovietski.com had better watch its rear. Canthereichstuff.com be far behind?


In his final dispatch from America this pastAugust, Martin Kettle, a Washington-based

reporter for the British Guardian newspaper,proposed a new definition of hell: “When

Americans say that they’re available 24/7,they say it with pride and with a breezy confi-dence that it’s exactly the sort of thing thatyou ought to be glad to hear. But the moreoften I hear the phrase, the more I thinkthere is madness afoot. To me, 24/7 is a short-hand way of describing a living hell.”

That once-heroic commitment to 16hours of service a day now looks like a wimp-ish cop-out on the front of every 7-Eleven.Kettle cites a report in USA Today “that 237Home Depot stores are open around theclock across the U.S., along with 1,298 Wal-Marts and thousands of 7-Eleven andSafeway food supermarkets, from San Diegoup to Maine.” Restless Americans are tradingtheir old-fashioned nightmares for the newnightmare of regrouting bathroom tile bymoonlight—Big Gulps to the ready.

Do Your Worst. Please.

Plumbers or clerks just can’t compete:When it comes to horrific behavior,

kings, queens, princes, tsars, popes, emperors,and their assorted hangers-on sweep the field.That’s the clear message of MichaelFarquhar’s A Treasury of Royal Scandals(2001), a compendium of two millennia ofhanky-panky among the highly placed. Thebook’s cover even promises a “bonus chapteron unholypopes!”—and thebreathy mark ofpunctuation is anessential part of thecome-on.

With Farquhar,you pick a centuryand choose yourreprobate. DonCarlos, thetroubled son ofSpain’s 16th-centu-ry king Philip II,was the subject of apoetic tragedy bythe German drama-tist Schiller, andVerdi set the man’swoes to noblemusic. Farquhar’s

The Infante Don Carlos(1564), by AlonsoSanchez Coello

Autumn 2001 15

Carlos—“hunchbacked and pigeon breasted,with his entire right side less developed thanhis left”—isn’t within shouting distance ofart’s saving grace: “As a child, Don Carlosenjoyed watching rabbits roasted alive and,for kicks, once blinded all the horses in theroyal stable. Things got even worse when doc-tors removed part of his skull to drain built-upfluids after a head injury Don Carlossustained when he was sixteen. Half-loboto-mized, he took to roaming the streets ofMadrid, assaulting young girls and hurlingobscenities at respectable women. That conkon the head made him even more ornerythan he was before. Once, when a bootmakerdelivered the wrong size, Don Carlos orderedthe footwear cut into pieces, stewed, and thenforce-fed to the unfortunate man.” It goeswithout saying that Carlos died raving inconfinement.

All the gossip is delicious but not necessari-ly good for you. It’s potato chips for the mind.And a good portion of the chatter is probablynot just caloric but false. The lurid stuff aboutRoman emperors, for example—Tiberius(imperial pedophile), Caligula (incestuousdivinity), Claudius (paranoid cuckold), Nero(momma’s boy), Vitellius (indiscriminateglutton)—repeats the malice of ancient parti-sans without attending to its oftenquestionable sources. The great are never soreduced as when we fit them to whispers—and never, perhaps, more necessary. Theircomeuppance is balm in an unjust world.

Falling Silent

There are more languages in the worldtoday than the nonlinguist might suspect.

By current measures of evaluation (whichinvolve having to decide, for example, what’san independent language and what’s adialect), the number is somewhere between6,000 and 7,000, though perhaps a quarter ofthe languages are spoken by no more than1,000 people. In Language Death (2000),David Crystal argues that it “cannot be veryfar from the truth” that perhaps 50 percent ofthe world’s 6,000 languages will not survivethe next 100 years.

The reasons he cites are complex andvaried—catastrophic natural causes that

immediately end lives and ways of life;political, economic, and cultural factorsthat work their changes over time. But theoutcome is the same: “If you are the lastspeaker of a language, your language—viewed as a tool of communication—isalready dead. For a language is really aliveonly as long as there is someone to speak itto. When you are the only one left, yourknowledge of your language is like a repos-itory, or archive, of your people’s spokenlinguistic past. . . . But, unlike the normalidea of an archive, which continues to existlong after the archivist is dead, themoment the last speaker of an unwritten orunrecorded language dies, the archive dis-appears forever. When a language dieswhich has never been recorded in someway, it is as if it has never been.”

The overwhelming majority (96 percent)of the world’s 6 billion people speak just a tinyminority (four percent) of the world’slanguages: “The eight languages over 100million (Mandarin, Spanish, English,Bengali, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, andJapanese) have nearly 2.4 billion speakersbetween them; and if we extend the count toinclude just the top 20 languages, we find atotal of 3.2 billion—over half the world’s pop-ulation.”

How many languages have there been onearth since human beings developed a fac-ulty for language? That’s impossible to knowfor sure, though some linguists haveattempted an estimate: as many as 600,000,or as few as 31,000. The lower figure, or oneconsiderably smaller, would still mean thatdead languages far outnumber the living. Iflanguage death has been so common—afact of life, so to speak—why should we carethat thousands more languages may bedoomed?

Crystal doesn’t quote John Donne, butthe spirit of the poet-preacher (“No man isan island, entire of itself; every man is apiece of the continent, a part of the main”)informs his alarm: Every language is ahuman response to the world, a way ofordering in communicable sounds what aparticular group of individuals perceive asreality. When a language dies and silencereplaces the solace of daily human sound,we’re all diminished.

16 Wilson Quarterly

Britain has been scourged this year bya series of natural disasters and

plagues of almost biblical proportions.The worst floods ever recorded and aseries of fatal rail crashes embarrassed theworld’s oldest railway network and led to dis-ruptions and the imposition of speedrestrictions. At snail’s pace, a travelercould lurch past flooded fields to moresomber landscapes, where the pall of thefuneral pyres of some three millionslaughtered cattle drifted dark against thelowering skies. The slaughter was not theresult of mad cow disease, by whichBritain had been uniquely ravaged, but ofthe more prosaic foot-and-mouth disease. Inan effort to stamp it out, national parksand ancient footpaths and rights of waywere closed across the country.

Heading north, the traveler might haveseen a different kind of smoke driftingacross the sky, from burning cars and loot-ed shops, as a sudden wave of race riotsswept across the old textile-mill towns ofBurnley, Leeds, and Oldham. These pock-ets of industrial depression made fertileground for the neo-Nazi agitators of thenew British National Party, whose cam-paigns for the repatriation of immigrantswon them 16 percent of the vote in thoseareas in the general election in June.

Yet all these events took place in a coun-try that could plausibly claim to be themost prosperous and dynamic in Europe.Almost 20 years have gone by since il sur-passo, that moment when the gross domes-tic product (GDP) of Italy overtook that of

Britain, and Italy became the third-largesteconomy in Europe, after Germany andFrance. A symbolic moment in Britain’slong postwar travail of relative decline, il sur-passo was dismissed in the Fleet Street pressas the effect of recalculating Italy’s nation-al income statistics to include estimates ofthe contributions of the untaxed under-ground economy. Nonetheless, at a timewhen Britain was being widely describedas “the sick man of Europe,” it hurt.

The transformation in Britain sincethen has been dramatic. Italy’s GDP

was surpassed a decade ago. Late last year,with some help from the declining euro,Europe’s new single currency, and fromthe strength of the still proudly independentpound, Britain’s GDP surged past that ofFrance for the first time in 30 years.Britain became Europe’s second-largesteconomy, with a tantalizing if distantchance of catching the leader, Germany, inanother decade or so.

Talk of a historic recovery, even of aBritish economic miracle, began in themid-1980s, the high point of the Thatcheryears, and some of the current statisticsseem to confirm the good news. Inflationand interest rates are low. The British arefar more likely than other Europeans toinvest in stocks, and they are unique inEurope in not fearing the coming demo-graphic shock. They breed more thanother Europeans and accept more immi-grants, and because they have largely pri-vatized their pensions, unlike the French

Blair’s BritainTony Blair is dismantling the British state as it has existed since

the 18th century. Is his new Britain a fair trade for the old?

by Martin Walker

Autumn 2001 17

and Germans, the government will nothave to grab another five to 10 percent ofGDP to finance care for the soaring num-bers of the elderly. Unemployment, at justunder five percent, is around half the ratesof France and Germany, and in this year ofglobal flirtation with recession, Britainlooks set to have the best growth rate ofany of the main economies in Europe. Itsconsumer boom is untamed, its City ofLondon dominates the global exchangemarkets, and its investments pour outacross the globe in a way not seen since thehalcyon years before 1914.

Britain’s international corporations—BP in energy, Vodafone in telecommuni-cations, GlaxoSmithKline in pharmaceu-ticals, BAe in defense and aerospace,Tesco in retailing—are world leaders. Andthe rest of the world plainly recognizes thenew British vigor: The United Kingdomattracts almost half of all foreign directinvestment in the European community.

Indeed, one of the strongest arguments infavor of Britain’s adoption of the euro is thatit will maintain the United Kingdom’sattractiveness to American and Japanesecapital as the favored springboard for thevast European market.

So there was little surprise in the his-toric second election victory by TonyBlair’s “New” Labor Party in June, the firsttime any Labor government has beenelected to a full second term in office. Onthe surface, the election seemed a rewardfor good management. It was also perhapsa recognition that the Conservative oppo-sition had still not recovered from theheroic but exhausting efforts of their foursuccessive election victories between 1979and 1992, three of them under theredoubtable Margaret Thatcher. Herbrusque free-market reforms and defeat ofthe labor unions may have done much topromote the nation’s economic transfor-mation. But why vote Conservative when

The Thatcher-Blair eras blend none too prettily on an Economist cover.

18 Wilson Quarterly

Whither Britain?

Blair delivers the same economic policeswrapped in a less disciplinarian package?The degree to which Blair has becomeThatcher’s true heir was captured during theelection campaign by a cover of theEconomist that framed his face with herhair.

But though reelected and respected,Blair is not popular. The almost sublimeidentification with the national mood thathe achieved at the time of PrincessDiana’s death has gone. His tendency topreach and his sanctimonious streakinspired jeers and slow handclaps fromthat most accommodating of audiences,the conference of the Women’s Institutes;no other speaker in history has managed tooffend the massed ranks of the nation’sgrannies. The hit play of London’s currentseason is Alistair Beaton’s Feelgood, avicious satire of Blair, his spin-doctors, andthe centrist anti-ideology of the Third Waythat Blair learned from Bill Clinton. Blairis thinly disguised in the play as DL, theDivine Leader, protected by a ruthlesspalace guard that is prepared to murdercritics in the media to keep power.

On closer examination, Blair’s sec-ond election victory was far from

impressive. He won just 40.8 percent ofthe vote, but thanks to Britain’s winner-take-all electoral system, his party securednearly twice as many seats in Parliament asthe Conservatives and Liberal-Democratscombined, even though their total share ofthe vote was just over 50 percent. Theunusually low turnout of voters (below 60percent) reflected a widespread politicalapathy; Blair won the support of only onepotential voter in four, well below the 32percent of the potential vote that MargaretThatcher won in her 1983 landslide.These are dismal figures, and a far lessimposing mandate than the commandingmasses of Labor members of Parliamentwould suggest.

Yet Blair relies on this dubious mandate

for the fulfillment of his grand project tomodernize Britain. That project has very lit-tle to do with the avowed priority of hissecond term, which is to improve public ser-vices—from health to education, policingto public transportation—by making upfor those long years of poverty and strin-gency that followed the three postwardecades of anemic growth, industrialunrest, imperial surrender, and nationaldecline. Hints emerging from think tanksclose to Labor suggest that the changeswill involve the increasing deployment ofprivate capital to sustain services hithertodependent largely on taxpayer funds.

Many traditional Labor supporters, fromlabor unions to former ministers such as RoyHattersley, suspect a betrayal of their tra-ditional principles. Hattersley, once adeputy party leader, has a name for his fel-low traditionalists. He refers to them as“the old contemptibles of egalitariansocialism,” a phrase with a pungent echo inBritish history. After the Kaiser called thesmall but professional British army of theyears before 1914 “a contemptibly littlearmy,” those brave few helped defeat theGerman masses at the Battle of the Marne;they themselves were then virtuallydestroyed stopping the final thrust of the1914 assault at the Battle of Ypres. Thesurvivors proudly called themselves “theold contemptibles.” Hattersley’s phrasedeliberately suggests a defiant assurancethat old Labor will in the end prevail overBlair’s image-conscious modernizers.Indeed, a battle over the financing of thefuture of London Transport has alreadybeen joined with “Red Ken” Livingstone,an “old contemptible” leftist who, in theteeth of Blair’s opposition, becameLondon’s first-ever elected mayor.

Yet to focus on the battles between oldLabor and new, as the British media andmany observers have understandablydone, is to miss the deeper point. Theimportance of Red Ken’s challenge is notsimply that he represents a kind of opposi-

Martin Walker, a former bureau chief in Moscow, Washington, and Brussels for Britain’s Guardian newspaper and aformer Wilson Center public policy fellow, is the author, most recently, of America Reborn: A Twentieth-Century Narrativein Twenty-Six Lives (2000). His novel, The Caves of Perigord, is to be published next spring by Simon & Schuster.Copyright © 2001 by Martin Walker.


Autumn 2001 19

tion that the dispirited Conservatives areunable to deploy, or that he offers an alter-native model of financing public goodsand services. It’s that he has been empow-ered by a Blairite revolution that has aconsiderable way to go.

As a British-born citizen who has beenout of the country working as a foreigncorrespondent and writer for the past twodecades, I find that the perspective of dis-tance (interspersed with frequent visitshome) imposes a view that the old countryis going through three separate revolu-

tions. One of them, the economic revivaland the decisive shift in the balance ofsocial power from labor to capital, wasThatcher’s, loyally sustained, and evenextended, by Blair. The two other revolu-tions have received much less attention,and yet they promise to change the coun-try more profoundly. The first—to resolve,finally, Britain’s hesitant relationship withthe Europe of which it has been a grumpymember since 1973, and to participatefully in the movement toward politicaland economic union—will transform the

In May 1999, Scottish nationalists wearing ancient dress and holding a saltire flag and a broad-sword celebrated the swearing in of Scotland’s first newly elected parliament in nearly 300 years.

20 Wilson Quarterly

Whither Britain?

traditional concept of one of the world’s old-est and proudest nations. The second—todemocratize what had become underThatcher the most centralized and author-itarian, and the least democratic, state inWestern Europe—will forever change thetraditional notion of the British state.Indeed, the revolution has already begun:The abolition of the hereditary right ofpeers to sit and vote in the House of Lords,the upper chamber of Parliament, and theestablishment of separate elected assem-blies for Scotland and Wales are the clearsigns.

British democracy has always restedupon the sovereignty of Parliament,

not on any written constitution (for thereis none), and not on an independent judi-ciary (for judges are appointed by the gov-ernment of the day). The power of a primeminister backed by a strong and loyalmajority is that of “an elective dictator-ship,” in the pungent phrase of Lord

Hailsham, a recent lord chancellor. Thequaint nature of British democracy (noother “democracy” worth the nameaccepts an unelected second chamber)and the strength of its long tradition areillustrated by the way in which the lordchancellor, the nation’s chief law officer, isseated in the House of Lords—usually,these days, after being ennobled andappointed by the government of which he(no woman has had the post thus far) isalways a senior member. The House ofLords, which retains significant powers toamend and delay legislation, is no longerdominated numerically by the undemoc-ratic principle of aristocratic inheritance.Its composition today is defined by theprime minister’s choices for elevation tothe peerage, which is a post now held forlife rather than in perpetuity through thegenerations. Having reformed the heredi-tary principle by decimating to a rump 93the number of hereditary peers with theright to vote, the Blair government has

In a Sunday Telegraph cartoon (Jan. 31, 1999), Blair makes no secret of an infatuation.

Autumn 2001 21

removed one palpably undemocratic flaw.But by turning the old watchdog House ofLords into the prime minister’s poodle, hehas transformed it into a beast equallygrotesque.

The distortion at the top of the Britishdemocratic structure is matched by

another at the bottom, where the tradi-tional powers and authority of local gov-ernment were comprehensively disman-tled during the Thatcher years. TheGreater London Council, the elected bodyfor the capital, was bluntly abolished,because under the chairmanship of RedKen Livingston it had become a highly vis-ible center of opposition, flaunting, forexample, the latest unemployment figureson a large banner outside its headquarters,just across the Thames from the houses ofParliament. As control of the purse wascentralized in Whitehall (the seat of thenational government and administration),elected councils effectively lost the powerto set their own taxing and spending prior-ities. A series of measures to centralizecontrol over education, traditionally runby local education authorities, were de-ployed—partly because so many councilswere controlled by the Labor opposition,partly for blunter reasons of ideology—andthe main capital stock of local govern-ments across the country was put upfor sale to sitting tenants. The sale ofthe council-owned homes was part of abroader and, on the whole, popular strate-gy (which included the privatization ofother state-owned assets) to promote pri-vate property. As Mrs. Thatcher wrote in hermemoirs, The Downing Street Years (1993),“The state in the form of local authoritieshad frequently proved an insensitive,incompetent, and corrupt landlord.”

As power shifted to London, a great dealof the energy and self-reliance—and a con-siderable share of the talent—of theprovinces went with it. The economicimbalance between greater London and itsenvirons, known dismissively in the city as“Roseland,” for “rest of the southeast,”became striking. If one puts the per capitaGDP of the United Kingdom as a whole at100, London’s GDP is 130. London’s envi-

rons in the southeast and East Anglia eachscore 116. The GDP of the northeast, bycontrast, is 77.3, and that of the rest ofEngland languishes in the 80s and 90s.

Tony Blair knows this very well, as themember of Parliament for the northeastseat of Sedgefield, a former coal-miningcommunity in the poorest part of the coun-try. Blair’s government depends over-whelmingly on votes from regions inEngland whose per capita GDP is below thenational average, and on the traditionallyloyal votes of Scotland and Wales. Theimportant role of the Celtic fringe wasreflected in Blair’s first government, inwhich Scots held almost all the grandest cab-inet posts.

So the signal commitment of Blair’s sec-ond term is to offer all the English regionsa referendum on whether they want to fol-low the example of Scotland and Walesand have their own elected assemblies.They are to be offered powers over trans-portation policies, including those forroads, airports, and public transportation;over land use and development planning;and over economic development, with ayet-to-be-defined authority to raise taxes forlocal investments. The formal proposal isstill being drafted at this writing, but roughcalculations suggest that the national gov-ernment, which currently spends some 40percent of GDP, will surrender a 2.5 to fivepercent share of GDP to the new regionalassemblies.

Blair is not proposing simply to turnback the clock to the pre-Thatcher years.The English provinces have not enjoyedpowers such as these since the great days ofVictorian Britain, when the flourishingindustrial cities of the north built theirpalatial town halls, when Glasgow andManchester vied for the title of second cityof the empire, and when to be lord mayorof Birmingham was to aspire, like JosephChamberlain, to be prime minister and toraise a grand political dynasty. The provin-cial powers were eroded, first, by the pre-1914 welfare state, with its high taxes tofinance old-age pensions and unemploy-ment insurance, and then by the extraor-dinary centralizing effect of two worldwars. To begin redressing the balance of

22 Wilson Quarterly

Whither Britain?

power from London to the regions is toreverse what seemed an implacable trend ofthe 20th century. But to return the powersof self-government and home rule toScotland and Wales, with even the limitedpowers to tax so far entrusted to theScottish Assembly, is to begin dismantlingthe British state as it has existed since thedawn of the 18th century.

In her groundbreaking book Britons(1992), the historian Linda Colley ana-lyzes the way that a new, militant,Protestant British patriotism was deliber-ately forged in the 18th century after the1707 Act of Union with Scotland. She sug-gests that the current processes of democ-ratic devolution reflect the way that “Godhas ceased to be British and Providence nolonger smiles. . . . Whether Great Britainwill break down into separate Welsh,Scottish, and English states or whether, asis more likely, a more federal Britain willemerge as part of an increasingly federalEurope, remains to be seen. What seemsindisputable is that a substantial rethinkingof what it means to be British can nolonger be evaded.”

Blair made it known that he had readColley’s book with profit and attention. Heshares her view that almost every questionabout the future of Britain hinges on thedevelopment of its relations with Europe.Europe—or, rather, the backlash withinthe Conservative Party against her anti-Europe campaigns—destroyed the politi-cal career of Margaret Thatcher. Divisionsover Europe then broke the government ofher successor, John Major. The BritishParliament has already surrendered a greatdeal of its sovereignty, including the powerto legislate, to European institutions. TheEuropean Court of Justice is, for mostpractical purposes, Britain’s SupremeCourt. Having deliberately avoided a writ-ten constitution for centuries, Britain hasnow incorporated the European Charterof Human Rights into the national law.British foreign policy, accustomed since1941 to functioning within the context of thetransatlantic alliance, has now also toaccommodate the constraints of Europe’snew Common Foreign and SecurityPolicy.

The great political question of the nextfive years of Blair’s government is whetherBritain, by embracing the euro, will go onto surrender its sovereignty over the econ-omy and entrust to the European CentralBank the power to set interest rates anddetermine the money supply. The powers todeclare war and peace and to regulate thecoinage have traditionally defined sover-eignty. The process of European integrationis now far enough advanced to haveencroached mightily on both.

Blair has promised a referendum with-in the next two years on whether to

abandon the pound and adopt the euro.He suggests that the choice should bemade essentially on the economic merits ofthe case. But the arguments cut both ways.The British economy has done remarkablywell of late while remaining outside theeuro zone; that the new currency, as man-aged by the European Central Bank, has lostsome 30 percent of its value against thedollar over the past 18 months is hardlyreassuring. And yet, 60 percent of Britishexports now go to the other 14 members ofthe European Union. The Union’s immi-nent enlargement to some 26 or moremembers through the incorporation ofCentral and Eastern Europe will create asingle market of 520 million consumers inthe world’s largest economic bloc. Thatadds to the attraction of the euro, and to thesuspicion that the impending change mayrepresent an opportunity Britain cannotafford to miss.

But to couch the argument solely in eco-nomic terms is willfully to miss the point,and Blair is suspected of doing so becausehe remains so nervous about the constitu-tional questions. By forcing a resolution,the referendum on the euro will end half acentury of vacillation over Europe. It is nota choice Britain relishes having to make.The referendum is also an intensely high-risk course for Blair to adopt, since opinionpolls show a consistent majority of two toone against the euro. Blair knows that he isplaying with psychological fire: The Britishnation’s identity was born in opposition toEurope. The most treasured nationalmyths, from the defeat of the Spanish

Autumn 2001 23

Armada in 1588 to the defiance of Hitler in1940, from “Britannia Rules the Waves” tothe “Thin Red Line,” celebrate achieve-ments against other European powers.Building a worldwide empire was itself anact of turning the national back on Europe.The wider world beyond Europe still beck-ons, and the instinctive sense that Britain hasmore in common with its reliable Americanally remains strong.

Still, given Blair’s political skills and hisgift for careful preparation, only the bold-est pundit would bet against his success.The opinion polls suggest that almost aslarge a majority thinks adopting the euro tobe inevitable as says it intends to vote no.Scare stories quote foreign businessmenwarning that Japanese and Americaninvestments will shun an isolated Britain. AtLondon dinner tables there is endless gos-sip about the deals Blair will make, frombacking Rupert Murdoch’s expansion intolucrative European broadcasting to priva-tizing the BBC to secure the support ofmedia barons. Opponents warn darkly of thevast sums the City of London and Frenchand German corporations are prepared topour into pro-euro propaganda. Americandiplomats in the salons and on talk showsargue that a Britain fully engaged in a unit-ed Europe will have far more influence inWashington than an isolated offshoreisland ever could.

The role of the powerful Chancellor ofthe Exchequer, Gordon Brown, is

much debated. He is credited with check-ing Blair’s instinct to hold the referendumon the euro back in the prime minister’s firsthoneymoon period, in 1997, and his ambi-tion to succeed Blair burns hot to thetouch. Blair’s own ambitions, given that heis a young 50, provoke intense speculation.Some claim to have heard Bill Clinton’s pri-vate prediction that Blair will step downafter winning the referendum and go toBrussels to replace Romano Prodi as presi-dent of the European Commission. A vic-tory on the euro would be a nice prize tobring along. Others close to Blair say heintends to match Thatcher by winning athird election. Nobody really knows, whichis half the fun. The next two years of

British politics promise to be riveting psy-chodrama, a feverish prologue to the historicreferendum.

The referendum campaign will also seea personal duel between the two most gift-ed and compelling British politicians ofthe last half-century, Thatcher and Blair, abattle without quarter between the twogreat modernizers of the British state. Itpromises to be an almost oedipal en-counter, between the woman who restoredthe national fortunes and the nationalpride, and the heir who knew what hewanted to do with the transformed nationshe had bequeathed him. Blair’s twin pro-jects, to decentralize Britain and toEuropeanize it, are anathema to Thatcher.Yet the striking feature of the past 20 yearsin Britain is how much the Thatcher-Blairyears dovetail into each other and becomea single tumultuous period of wholesalechange that has swept aside the old postwarBritain of welfare state and decolonization,“One Nation” and creeping decline.

Britain is not just a different countrynow; it is three or four or five differ-

ent countries. Scotland and Wales havebecome far more than nostalgic names onmaps, and provincial England is poised tofollow their path toward home rule.London, with its elected mayor, hasbecome one of the great city-states of theglobal economy, a thrilling and polyglotplace where one goes from the world’sfinest theater to a late-night café and clubculture. Enlivened by vast communities ofAmerican bankers and French and Asianentrepreneurs, it is Europe’s fastest marketfor champagne and Ecstasy and heroin,with a higher burglary rate than NewYork’s. Each weekend, the Eurotunneltrain terminal at Waterloo pours hordes ofyoung Europeans into the rave clubs and gaybars. Meanwhile, rural England quietlyburies its dead livestock, files for bank-ruptcy, and braces for Blair’s next assault onits traditions—a ban on fox hunters, withtheir red coats, thundering hooves, andcries of “Tallyho!” Margaret Thatcher hassaid that at times she hardly recognizes theplace. For better or for worse, Blair does.And that’s the difference. ❏

24 Wilson Quarterly

“Well, I don’t feel good never to have evenvisited the tomb of my grandfather.”

“We’ll have to go,” Nick said. “I can seewe’ll have to go.”

—“Fathers and Sons,”Ernest Hemingway

On a Fourth of July I found myself at Ernest Hemingway’s grave in

Ketchum, Idaho, near Sun Valley. Decadesearlier, in 1961, Hemingway had killed him-self with a shotgun, two days before theFourth, first morning back home away frompsychiatrists. He’d come home to that resortin the Sawtooth Mountains where he andGary Cooper had once leaned their longhandsome heights on skis and laughed likestars into the photographs. He’d said that’senough, and died.

Four tall spruce trees stand guard aroundHemingway’s grave, but the marble slab lieson the ground flat as a big door and hasnothing to tell us except


So much was he a creator of, creature of,our culture that he was born and he died inthe month of America’s birthday. So muchwas he a hero that there are dozens of pen-nies lying on his grave, as if he still had thepower to make wishes come true. His gravelies beside Highway 93 in the small meadowof Ketchum’s town cemetery, near Hailey,where his onetime friend Ezra Pound wasborn but didn’t stay. (The Pound house is still

there, small and scruffy and unidentified.)Hemingway grew up hunting and fishing

in the Midwest, worshiping the most popu-lar writer in America, good-looking journal-ist and novelist Richard Harding Davis,whose name has since faded like old bestsellerlists. A war correspondent, Davis covered theSpanish-American War in Cuba withStephen Crane, and that’s all anyoneremembers about him today. If you saw hispicture (he was a model for Charles DanaGibson), you’d say the big handsomecelebrity looked a lot like Hemingway.

It was not my particular plan to be atHemingway’s grave on Independence Day. Iwas on a national pilgrimage that summer,paying homage at the homes of fictionalfathers, visiting the birthplaces and restingplaces of famous writers (if not famous, whowould know where to find the graves onwhich to leave fresh flowers, generation aftergeneration?). It’s a little less true now, butthere were in past centuries, like the 20th, nov-elists who were such celebrities that thecountry wept when they died. I was travelingdown a landscape of their cemeteries.Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emer-son, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa MayAlcott all together in Concord, Massachusetts.James Fenimore Cooper in Cooperstown,New York. Walt Whitman in New Jersey,with the great stone rolled away from histemple of a tomb, as if the Christ of Camdenhad risen and walked off. Zelda and ScottFitzgerald under one gravestone inRockville, Maryland, there beside the noisybeltway.

The Old ManPapa Hemingway was a star. He gambled on fame and mostly

won. But the old American fear that luck might run out caughtup to him, too, in the end.

by Michael Malone

Autumn 2001 25

I headed west from Asheville, NorthCarolina, where I had paid tribute to twofellow Tarheels: Thomas Wolfe did go homeagain, and is buried close to O. Henry.


Wolfe’s mother had engraved on his tomb.


says his brother’s stone beside him, testifyingto fiction’s power.

I followed writers all the way across theland, stopped at the Pacific—in Salinas,California, where Dos Equis bottles withroses in them paid tribute on JohnSteinbeck’s flat grave—and then headedback east. Coming over the Donner Pass tothe old mining town of Nevada City, I spentthe night there at the National Hotel, allgaudy red velvet and gilded chandeliers,because that’s where Bret Harte and JackLondon (Hemingway’s fathers, and stars likehim) had stayed, performing at the theater,signing autographs for the gold miners. AndI decided to head for Hemingway’s grave.

In Nevada’s Great Basin, the rivers flow noplace: They sink back in on themselves andevaporate. Off the highway, cheap casinos rise

in the dust like cement tombs over the car-casses of deserted boomtowns. Theirbuilders, silver-and-gold-mad men like MarkTwain, left the towns behind, kept hurryingwest to find the Big Bonanza. Here civiliza-tion could get no foothold, and today theempty earth stretches level and chalky forever.Speed is useless against the distance. TheWest is just too big. The sun slides down tothe slot of the horizon endlessly, never slip-ping in.

I thought that after paying my respects toHemingway in Ketchum, I’d head on eastthrough Idaho into Wyoming and BuffaloBill’s town of Cody. I’d sleep at the IrmaHotel, the showplace he named for hisdaughter, with the “$100,000 Bar” of carvedcherrywood that Queen Victoria had givenhim. Buffalo Bill was a Hemingway hero, anational treasure. He killed 6,570 buffalo in18 months with a shotgun he called“Lucretia Borgia.” After Bill, there was noth-ing left for the Indians to do but go performin his rodeo. Bill tamed the Wild West andturned it into show business.

Hemingway used a shotgun too. Shot a lot ofanimals. Shot himself right between his eyes.“One of the simplest things and the most fun-damental is violent death,” he told us. No newsto fast-shooting Buffalo Bill:

Hemingway’s Idaho grave, shaded by four spruce trees and topped by an empty bottle of Spanish wine.

26 Wilson Quarterly

Ernest Hemingway

Buffalo Bill’sdefunct

who used toride a watersmooth-silver

stallionand break onetwothreefourfivepigeonsjustlikethat--“Buffalo Bill’s,” e.e. cummings

I was going to Hemingway’s grave butfeeling ambivalent. I had never taken himfor my Papa. I was more for Faulkner, sire ofthe mythic South. And the one I reallyloved was Scott Fitzgerald, small and goldand dapper, his eye on the green light andthe girl. I could never see myself punchingthe quarter-ton tuna on its hook, or punch-ing Wallace Stevens in the jaw. Of course,once I had wanted to do things the celebri-ty Hemingway taught us to want to do—cover the war, run with the bulls, takeshrapnel, go into the water with a friend fora big fish on a good day, move to Paris,wake up famous. But I never thought itwould be much fun to do those things withHemingway.

Still, I felt a debt. I had taught his stories;there are none finer for teaching the younghow to leave the right things out.Hemingway worked at writing and let usknow how hard it was and how grand hethought the craft of it: “He wanted to be agreat writer. He was pretty sure he would be.He knew it in lots of ways. He would in spiteof everything. It was hard, though. He feltalmost holy about it. It was deadly serious. Youcould do it if you would fight it out.” Backthen—and at least up to Norman Mailer—a young novelist could still aspire to be theGreat Writer, the Champ, the way theyoung want to be film stars, rock stars,sports stars, or, these days purest of all, starsof the media, utterly cut free from talent orskill or effort.

But back in that 20th century of lost gen-erations, depressions, and wars, Heming-way had to make writing look like work. Justas Gene Kelly had to dance hard and JudyGarland sing hard, Hemingway had topound at his typewriter, sweating blood to be

the Champ. So I was coming to his grave totip my hat to a Great Writer and an uneasyman, a worker who kept on strainingagainst the drag of fame, who kept on fish-ing and shooting, boozing and marrying,kept on feeding so damn many cats anddogs, kept on trying not to stop living his life,even if some of his life was awfully silly andsome of it spiteful, but some of it, beyonddenying, grand, with those lovely gifts ofskill, luck, and grace that make a star.

Yet the closer I came to Idaho and SunValley, the stronger grew the feeling thatgoing there at all was wrong, was like rub-bernecking at the wreck, a trespass on somelarge wounded creature bayed against thefour tall spruce trees. For in the end hefailed, and are we not taught to feel shameto look upon the father’s failure? Failure isun-American, a dirty word in this culture.Show me a good loser, we say, and I’ll showyou a loser. Indeed, make someone, even awinner, look like a loser, and he will disap-pear. Giving up and dying is not somethingthe great fathers are supposed to do.

“Do many men kill themselves, Daddy?”“Not very many, Nick.”

Years ago I’d written a piece forHarper’s on a grab bag of Hemingway

biographies. In retrospect, I was ashamed ofthe tone I’d taken then, smart-alecky, face-tious, wry about the laundry-listers and theold man himself. Thinking of this review onthe drive to Idaho, I was spooked by a pre-monition that Papa’s widow, Miss Mary,would rise up beside him in the cemetery,turn with an icy glare, and order me thehell out of his resting place. “Who are youto laugh at him? You think you’d stand at alion’s charge and not bolt?” I don’t knowwhether I’d bolt at a lion, or at a rhino orartillery or suicidal despair. I hope never tohave to know.

Sun Valley is a classy vacation spot.Hemingway always lived in such spots, orturned the places he lived (Spain, KeyWest) into such spots. Hemingway read theculture’s style better than most. Read it sowell that he was writing it. In the middle of

Michael Malone’s novels include Handling Sin (1996), Time’s Witness (1989), Foolscap (1991) and the just pub-lished First Lady. Copyright © 2001 by Michael Malone.


Autumn 2001 27

the Great Depression, Averell Harrimanand the Union Pacific built Sun Valley to getAmerica skiing. They used celebrities asbait. (The resort is still showcasing celebri-ties; a few years ago, when I went skiingthere, Bruce Willis and Demi Moorelooped down the slopes beside me. Theyhad bought real estate in the area; they hadbig plans.) Hemingway, literary superstar, lethimself be photographed for Sun Valley’spublicity campaign. He and his newest wifewere given gratis the fanciest suite at theLodge, number 206, where he wrote thesnowy parts of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Inthose days there were casinos in Sun Valley,and he liked to gamble. He called his SunValley suite “Hemingstein’s Mixed Vicingand Dicing Establishment.” At night heshot craps in the suite with the coterie of palsand idolaters that always encircled him.During the day he shot pheasants, ducks, elk,deer. He shot coyotes out of a Piper Cub. Itwas part of his stardom that he was a sports-man and a hard-living cosmopolitan, that hewas a good shot and a powerful drinker.

He believed in luck, carried luckypieces with him, and was a lucky gambler,

unlike the hapless Dostoyevsky, who was anaddict. Dostoyevsky once jumped off thetrain on his way to Paris and won theequivalent of $10,000 at roulette inWiesbaden; after that, he couldn’t keepaway from the tables, borrowing even fromTurgenev, whom he despised, abandoninghis pregnant wife in a foreign hotel roomto go pawn her earrings to place another bet:“Anna, Anna, you must understand I am aman devoured by the passion for gam-bling.” Dostoyevsky couldn’t stop losing.Fitzgerald understood, but couldn’t stopdrinking. “I lost everything in the boom,” hetold us in “Babylon Revisited.” Heming-way understood too. Winner Take Nothinghe called one of his books. But he went tothe racetrack and the casinos anyhow. Heloved to win. When he was no longer theChamp, he shot himself. Grace underpressure deserted him. Maybe he con-vinced himself there was grace in bowingout.

Our admiration goes to winners in thiscountry—to champions, survivors, mil-lionaires, number ones, gold medals,triple crowns. But twisted in our puritan

Hemingway, Gary Cooper, and a Sun Valley tour guide relax during a successful bird shoot in 1942.

28 Wilson Quarterly

Ernest Hemingway

hearts is a need to think that the winnersdeserve their prizes. And our certainty thatthe losers deserve their fates too, becauseanyone who tries hard enough can win,can be rich and famous. So those whofail—well, if they starve, it’s their owndamn fault. America, itself one big gamblewith destiny, from freezing Pilgrims to rag-tag revolutionaries to starving pioneers,has always pretended that the destiny ismanifest. Such a belief makes Americansambivalent about games of chance—which is why there are so few places inAmerica to gamble. Hemingway wouldhave loved the irony that Indians own somany of them, are now making billionsfrom casinos on the little strips of land weleft them as we made our destiny manifestfrom Atlantic to Pacific.

Idaho long ago shut down any legalizedgambling in the state, so I had to start mytribute to Papa’s love of the game before Icrossed the line out of Nevada. In thebright morning, passing under the archthat boasted “Reno, the Biggest Little Cityin the World,” the razzle-dazzle caught mejust right. I loved Reno’s look of naivemerriment, like a night at the HollywoodBowl. Under the blue hemisphere of sky,white Cadillacs parked in front of tawdrypawnshops. Everybody was out in cowboyhats at eight in the morning to strike itrich. Everybody wanted to look like a cow-boy, an outlaw hero, a gunslinging star—Buffalo Bill, Gary Cooper, Hemingway.


he was a handsome manand what i want to know is

how do you like your blueeyed boyMister Death--“Buffalo Bill’s,” e.e. cummings

Harrah’s, Sahara, Horseshoe—all theReno casinos chinked their money as loud-ly as they could, boasting they had the loos-est slots in town. Come in and win! Withwhoops and bells and colored lights blink-ing, out rolled rivers of coins, to be scoopedup and plunked back into the machinesand, like the rivers on the endless emptyland, to evaporate. It seemed a fine enter-

tainment to be playing poker with a noisymachine, to be cool and crowded and out ofthe hot beige stretch of highway between meand Idaho. As you looked down from the bal-cony of a place where the walls held thou-sands of the guns that won the West, youngwaitresses, dressed like Marilyn Monroe inRiver of No Return, offered free drinks ateight in the morning. All you had to do toget them was keep dropping silver dollarsinto the slots. Or even quarters. The houseknows you’re going to lose, but everybodypretends otherwise. At the slot machinenext to me, a woman of 60 or 80, tannedleathery as a saddle, advised without remov-ing the cigarette stuck to her lipstick,“Dump the ace, honey, go for the straight.”She talked in a gravelly rumble, like JohnWayne.

After I went for that straight and a fewmore and lost my money, I drove 90 milesan hour across the empty desert, no air con-ditioning, wind buzzing at my ear, 110º airbeating down on me, thinking I wouldmake Sun Valley in one push. But alongthe way they keep the casinos like ice water,and they keep them open all night, adver-tising insomnia (“Typically Nevada,Winnemucca never sleeps”). There are nodays and nights in the Silver State, just asthere are no seasons in Golden California.The bright cool lights are finally impossibleto resist. I stopped at Winnemucca, whereButch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch, outlawstars, broke the bank by robbing it. I stayedat Winners Casino till nearly dawn.

My father loved the stylishness ofgambling—poker and roulette.

Counting out even stacks of the red, white,and blue chips, he taught us young to playearnest hands of draw and stud, which heconsidered (a student of the culture’s rules)the only real and manly games. My father,Irish lapsed Catholic from Pennsylvaniacoal mines, had beauty on his side, and afine, if thin, feel for grace in this world. Hegot himself to college and graduate schooland medical school and wanted to changethe world, but in an innocent, grandiosekind of way, like Gatsby. Long before Ralph

Autumn 2001 29

Lauren and Martha Stewart were there to doit for us, my father trained himself in theaccessories of stylish class, and he wanted hischildren to learn them too, so that wewould do and know all things with ease,the way stars know and do them on thescreen. He grilled us on the rules of bridge,recipes for cocktails, dance steps, songlyrics. A well-known psychiatrist back whenpsychiatrists made money, he bought us theculture’s popular upscale skills, made usride horses, play tennis and golf, dive fromhigh boards, and dance after dinner at theclub.

It was an awful grief to disappoint myfather, to belly-flop, double-fault, falter ingrace under the pressure, not of his criticism,which was never spoken, but of his desire forthat incorruptible dream of perfection begunin Gatsby’s notebook. “Baseball andsports. . . 4.30–5.00 p.m. Practice elocution,poise and how to attain it. . . 5.00–6.00 p.m.”

Style was only the visible sign of whatmy father wanted for us, which was nothingless than greatness. The night RobertKennedy died, we drove, one brother and I,from Chapel Hill down to our heartbrokenfather in Atlanta. In his robe, Dad wan-dered the dark house, scotch in hand. “It’sall right,” he told us. “Bobby made a dent inthe world. That’s what’s asked for. That’swhat’s asked of us all.” Well, it certainly wasasked for by Bobby’s father, certainly askedfor by mine. Win, and make it look easy. Bea star. Change the world. Heavy burden,that. Impossible dream, the AmericanDream. If you fail, you have no one toblame but yourself. Fearing failure,Hemingway left us.

Like Hemingway, my father was never easy, despite the beautiful smile. It wasfrom my mother’s easy-going and going-nowhere southern family that I learned thegame was play, all games were equal, therewere no losers. (Regular five-card studbored them. Their favorite poker game wasNight Baseball. “Roll your own, threes andnines are wild, an extra card for a four,match the pot for a red three showing.”)From these southerners, long ago defeatedand complacently unvanquished, my sib-lings and I inherited an utterly unsupport-ed sanguinity that made life feel lucky and

triumphs likely. All was possible: Somedaythe stranger would knock at the door with thebig check, the committee would call with thegreat prize, the arrow would find its mark atthe very center of the bull's-eye.

My realistic daughter was only five yearsold when she warned me that none of thesoda bottle caps we were prying open waslikely to announce that we’d won the tout-ed $100 prize. My realistic wife, a western-er, warned me before I set off to Nevada:“You know how you are. Watch out.” Herdoctor father had gambled, called LasVegas “Lost Wages,” left at his death asecret horde of casino silver dollars hiddenin a crawlspace.

“What if I win?” I said.“You won’t,” she told me. “But it could take

a long time to lose.”

Winnemucca, Nevada, was a one-street gambling town. A town for

Doc Holliday and for Wild Bill Hickok, thestar of Buffalo Bill’s rodeo, who was shot inthe back holding aces over eights, the deadman’s hand. My motel, Winners, gave out atthe desk a free roll of coins and a free dollarchip. My room, sage and orange with ’50swhite lamps, was clean and remarkablycheap. Through its door I could hear theclank and buzz of money. I put on new cow-boy boots and a new cowboy shirt with littlestars above the pocket flaps and joined in. Adozen people stood silently side by sidedropping in their money, hoping the slotswould give it back and more. I joined the line,lost my free roll and another $40. On thesly, we all watched our neighbors’ slots,where cherries and plums and watermelonsseemed to be always popping into place andluck pouring out. As soon as their machineswere emptied, we’d fill them back up,rewarded only by monotonous patterns ofloud sounds. Nobody really expected to win.Nobody expected to turn into Hemingway orJames Bond in his tux, effortlessly, inevitablylucky.

The street, just a highway through town,was empty when I walked to another casino, thisone deserted, unfortunate in business. In acage by the door stood a stuffed grizzly bear,

30 Wilson Quarterly

Ernest Hemingway

mammoth, reared erect, a Civil War captouching the high roof of his cage. His snout waspulled open to show his huge teeth, and in hislong claws was a warning: “He tried to leave with-out paying his bill.” I thought of Faulkner’smasterpiece, The Bear, with its hero, theIndian hunter Sam Fathers, the good father,teacher of honorable skills. Impossible to imag-ine Sam Fathers killing himself likeHemingway, or drinking himself to death theway Faulkner did. And Fitzgerald. And myown father. So many of our American fathers.Bowing out.

At the Winners motel, I swam in the pool thatnobody else was using. I called my wife.“Aren’t casinos the saddest places?” she said tome.

“Listen, it’s fun,” I told her.But it wasn’t. It was as sad as despair.I went back to the casino, down the long,

orange-rug corridor curving through a hall ofmirrors that made the place look crowded. Isaw the same people at the slots who’d beenthere hours earlier. I joined them and beganputting coins in machines I didn’t even like,the ones with the drab black bars instead ofbright fruits. The bartender watched us, list-less. He had a cold eye for me, and I movedaway to watch the craps table, where thecroupier was in love with the art of his

hands, fanning out chips, pouring themthrough his long fingers like water. I wantedto take the dice and feel as sure of my luck asHemingway felt swooping past the bullhorns in Pamplona, wanted to feel so certainof grace that I would toss on the green felt allthe money I owned and then roll seven afterseven. But I didn’t know the rules of the fast-moving game, not one my father had taughtme, and so I just stood watching the shooterswin and lose.

A friend of mine, child of a bigHollywood star, told me that John

Wayne had once walked past her in a casi-no when she, teenaged, was standingbeside a slot machine, waiting for her par-ents. Wayne stopped beside her, dropped ina silver dollar, told her to pull the handle.The bells and lights went off. Coins by thehundreds shot out of the machine, clatter-ing to the floor. Wayne, the Ringo Kid,grinned at her. “There you go, honey,”and he walked on. “It was,” my friend said,“like he already knew it was going to hap-pen.” Like he could make wishes cometrue. That’s it, the magic of stardom, thegrace and luck of it. For someone likeHemingway, with so many gifts of art andnature, how scary when the gifts were

Like a cross atop a church, the outsized rifle crowns a sports store in Cody, Wyoming.

Autumn 2001 31

gone, evaporated. How scary the crackup orthe crash, the shock treatments (they gaveHemingway plenty of them), the drying-outthey tried on Fitzgerald and Faulkner, oldage, eclipse.

For no reason except a sudden swelling inme of the lacrimae rerum, I bought a pack ofcigarettes and started to smoke after havingquit for almost three years. I got in the car anddrove toward Hemingway’s grave, hung-overand sleepless and sad at heart. I made one laststop. He had liked a town called Jackpot,right on the border. So I pulled into a stuc-co and neon casino there, with a jackpot glit-tering on a high pole outside, in the middleof nowhere. Gritty and dull with the heat, Iwent inside to win a fortune. It got sadder andsadder.

When I drove through Hailey,Idaho, the Fourth of July flags

were out. There was a parade and a shoot-out in the streets called “Days of the OldWest.” Ezra Pound’s dad had run the landoffice in Hailey. Hard to imagine Ezragrowing up in such a place. “Ezra thoughtfishing was a joke,” wrote Hemingway,incredulous. But in Paris, the two youngexpatriates liked each other. And Poundwas a generous friend, a steppingstone.“He taught me how to write, and I taughthim how to box.” In the end, Pound waslocked up in an insane asylum, andHemingway, in his red Emperor robe,tripped both triggers of a Boss shotgunpressed above his eyebrows into his brain.

The Hemingway house, in nearbyKetchum, is a hillside chalet, big, pouredconcrete, with large windows for looking outat the aspens and the bends of the BigWood River where the trout wait. It’s not farfrom the cemetery. Driving toward thegrave, I was stopped by a big deer standingright in the middle of the highway. It wasan indisputable big deer with antlers, anda brave or foolhardy one too. It just stoodthere. I laughed out loud and yelled out thecar window, “Come on! I just want to lookat your grave!” The deer shook his head atme, then flung away into the woods.

I saw no one else in the cemetery, and

although it was small and opened flat as abook, at first I couldn’t find Hemingway’sgrave among the bland markers. As Isearched, the sprinkler system suddenlyshot on, lashing high-arching water fromside to side, idiotically Freudian. “ComeON!” I said, laughing, soaked wet. I ranfrom the spray, and then there he was,under the four big spruce trees. Freshflowers, dozens of coins on his name,ERNEST MILLER HEMINGWAY.

I didn’t have much to say, but that was allright. He also thought it better not to talkabout things. I left him a piece of gravel I’dcarried from Faulkner’s grave, a dandelionfrom Fitzgerald’s.

Late in his life he was asked, “HerrHemingway, can you sum up your feelingsabout death?” “Just another whore,” hesaid.

“Don’t worry, darling,” Catherine said.“I’m not a bit afraid. It’s just a dirty trick.”

The big event that night, the Fourth ofJuly, at the Elkhorn Lodge in Sun

Valley, was, I saw on placards, “José Feliciano,Live at the Saloon.” (“When the Sun GoesDown in Sun Valley, the Stars Come Out atElkhorn.”) The show was almost over when Iasked the bouncer standing guard at the doorwhether I could go inside for a drink. He toldme with great solemnity that he was going to letme in for free. “I hope you realize how lucky youare, because everybody in there but you paid $20to hear José. So listen, I’m going to put it to youlike this, you leave that bartender a big tip, youhear me? Real big.”

“I hear you,” I said. But, suspicious, he cameover to me again at the bar with a reminder.“And I mean big,” he whispered, staring into myeyes like a gunslinger or a gangster, like JohnWayne. “Real big.” I gave him my word.

Longhaired, small, sweaty, blind, the starJosé Feliciano was running down his hits for theaudience, who applauded as soon as they rec-ognized each song. He grinned, reaching outto them with his tilted chin, like a flower turn-ing to a sun of sound. “Oh say can you see,” hesang, “with two plastic eyes?” Everybodylaughed. He talked about the Fourth of July.How he had come to America with his father,

32 Wilson Quarterly

Ernest Hemingway

and how his father had taught him thatAmerica was the biggest and bravest and rich-est country in the world, the luckiest of coun-tries, and how it certainly had been lucky for himand had made him a star. “I want you toremember,” he told the audience, “how luckyyou are to be Americans.” Then he startedsinging “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” and askedus to join in. When he finished, a few of thewomen stood to clap and tried to pull theirescorts up with them, but mostly they failed. Thebouncer who had let me in for free boundedonto the little stage and led Mr. Feliciano awaytill the next show.

Outside my hotel, buzz bombs andbursts of red and blue stars shot across thebig western sky. In my room, Gary Cooperwas on the late show, doing what a man has to do. When Coop learned he was dying of cancer, he made a wager withHemingway. “Bet I beat you out to thebarn,” he said. And so he did, though onlyby months. Two earlier stars of ours, JohnAdams and Thomas Jefferson, both diedon the Fourth of July, only hours apart,each asking whether the other was alive ordead. All our fathers, founding nations,writing dreams, failing us by leaving.

“We owe God a death,” the white huntertells the luckless Francis Macomber inHemingway’s famous story. When I saw thefilm—Hemingway was always beingfilmed—it struck me as odd how much thestar, Robert Preston, who played Macom-ber, resembled Hemingway himself, evento the cut of the moustache. But then,Hemingway always looked like a movie star.

His own father had the same handsomemoustache and chose the same suicidaldeath.

“Is dying hard, Daddy?”“No, I think it’s pretty easy, Nick. It all


My father didn’t recognize me whenI sat with him the day he died. But

he asked me for a scotch and clapped hishands when I said I’d just finished a newnovel, and told me that his eldest son wasa fine novelist. In the end, everything fallsaway but the love.

His father, Pop, a tiny, hard-drinkingIrish immigrant, unsuccessful, gentle-hearted, and dreamy, couldn’t bear topunish my dad, the bad boy of four sons, afighter flailing to get out of his way what-ever was between him and the green lightat the end of the dock. My dad’s motherwould send her meek husband off to beatthe wildness out of him, but each time Popwould try to trick her by slapping his beltagainst the bed, whispering to my father tocry out as if in pain. My father told methat Pop once took him out into theirbackyard, a cramped square of dirt on adark gray street. Pop knelt down, fumbledoff my father’s shoes, and began in thecold dark to press earth with soft patsaround his son’s feet until he coveredthem. My father, only 10, was horrified tohave his own father groveling at his feet andasked him to stop what he was doing.

“And your grandfather said to me, ‘No.I’m planting your feet here in the earth soyou’ll grow. You stay here, son, and grow inthe earth. This is American earth. Youstand here and you grow tall.’”

I imagine my father and his father nowgrown into forests, my grandfather buriedin the Catholic cemetery of the littlePennsylvania coal town, my father’s ashesfeeding Georgia pines. I remember Fitz-gerald’s cool wet tombstone in the softrain, the warmth of Faulkner’s marble in theMississippi sun. I look westward fromNorth Carolina on this summer’s nightand I see Hemingway’s ghost smiling hislarge beautiful grin beneath the fourspruces in the hills of Idaho.

I imagine Hemingway grinning tonightat the news that the original manuscriptof On the Road by Jack Kerouac, one of hislong-dead sons, was just auctioned atChristie’s for $2.43 million, a new worldrecord for the sale of a literary work. JamesIrsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts foot-ball team, bought the 120-foot-long roll ofpaper filled with what Truman Capotecalled “typing, not writing.” Mr. Irsayhopes to display the manuscript in a caseright next to the Vince Lombardi Trophy,that famous symbol of victory in the SuperBowl.

Winners take all, and nothing. ❏

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34 Wilson Quarterly

Walter Lippmann, 27 years old andone of the brightest young men in

Washington, was working in the WarDepartment in 1917. A crusading progressivejournalist at the New Republic, Lippmann hadonce been enamored of Theodore Rooseveltbut had become an avid supporter ofWoodrow Wilson. He joined the office ofSecretary of War Newton Baker in an advisorygroup that included the future SupremeCourt justice Felix Frankfurter and EugeneMeyer, later the publisher of the WashingtonPost. Lippmann established himself in thedepartment as a standard-bearer for liberalcauses, in particular that of protecting thepress from arbitrary censorship. UsingWilsonian language, he reminded Wilson’séminence grise, Edward House, “We arefighting not so much to beat an enemy, as tomake a world that is safe for democracy.”Though he was not, in his own words, a“sentimental liberal,” he recognized that lib-erals were vital constituents in Wilson’ssearch for consensus.

Lippmann’s toughness recommendeditself to the president and to House (wholiked to be called “Colonel,” an honoraryTexas title). One day in September, sixmonths after the United States had enteredthe Great War, Colonel House asked to see

Lippmann on a secret matter: Wilsonwanted to assemble a group of expertswho would draw up material for aneventual peace conference. Lippmannwas to be general secretary to the group,which would meet in New York under therubric of “The Inquiry.” Burying them-selves in the offices of the AmericanGeographical Society at 155th Streetand Broadway, the members of The Inquirypored over books and maps that would be crit-ical to redrawing the frontiers of Europe.Lippmann did not exaggerate when hecalled the group’s work “huge, superabundant,and overflowing.”

As Ronald Steel recounts in his biogra-phy of Lippmann, the effort to apportion ter-ritory was seriously compromised by top-secret documents that Secretary Bakerrevealed to Lippmann one October after-noon at the War Department. The sheaf ofagreements, which the Allies had signedwith one another, spelled out how Britain,France, Italy, Russia, and Japan planned tocompensate themselves once Germany wasbeaten. To Lippmann, a war that hadalready cost the antagonists millions of casu-alties now seemed to have been fought forreparations and territories. That hardlyembodied the ideals to which Wilson was

The WilsonianMoment?

How are we to balance the principle of national sovereigntyand fundamental issues of human rights when the two arein conflict? The debate began in earnest after World War I

and continues to this day.

by James Chace

Autumn 2001 35

committed. France was to recover Alsaceand Lorraine, the two provinces it had lost toGermany in the Franco-Prussian War of1870–71, as well as parts of the Saarland.Great Britain was to get African colonies.Italy would be awarded the Austrian-heldterritories of Istria and Dalmatia. Japanwould get the Shandong Peninsula ofChina. Wilson knew of these treaties, buthe believed, as he told Colonel House, thatwhen the war was over, the Allies could bebrought around to his way of thinking,“because then, among other things, they willbe dependent on us financially.”

With that inducement in reserve,Wilson and House went to work

drafting and redrafting the contents of thememorandum Lippmann gave them.What had emerged from weeks of discussionby The Inquiry was the rough basis for

eight of the 14 points Wilson would presentin a speech in January 1918 as the founda-tion of an enduring peace. The first fivepoints and the fourteenth—dealing withopen covenants openly arrived at, freedomof the seas, lower tariffs, disarmament,respect for colonial peoples, and, last buthardly least in Wilson’s schema, a Leagueof Nations—the president added himself.

Points six through 13 took up the terri-torial provisions that had been the concernof The Inquiry. Wilson struggled to resolvethe provisions’ inherent contradictions. Hewanted to grant all peoples the right of self-determination and to acknowledge thelegitimacy of their national aspirations, forhe believed that to deny the legitimacy ofnationalism by drawing boundaries thatreflected dynastic claims would almostsurely lead to conflict. Had not the warbroken out because a Serbian nationalist

Tumultuous crowds greeted President Woodrow Wilson in Europe in 1919.

36 Wilson Quarterly

Wilson’s Moment?

killed the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, a rickety empire that imposed itsrule over a congeries of peoples who wereneither Austrian nor Hungarian? At thesame time, Wilson and House were awareof the danger of creating states whose pop-ulations did not share a common culture.

They called for restoration of Belgium asa neutral nation and the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France (but not for Frenchannexation of Germany’s Saar region). Re-establishing the status quo in those twocases was relatively easy. But their otherattempts to grant the principle of self-determination—while recognizing theneed for large states to provide a measureof stability in Europe—foundered. What didit mean to redraw the Italian frontiers“along clearly recognizable lines” whenthe lines were by no means clear? Evenmore difficult to fulfill was their promisethat the peoples of Austria-Hungary wouldbe accorded “the freest opportunity ofautonomous development.” BecauseWilson and House did not intend todestroy the Austro-Hungarian Empire,some definition of what was meant by

autonomy for peoples who would presum-ably continue to live within it should havebeen provided. But it was not. Serbia wassupposed to have frontiers that rested onnational, economic, and historical rights.But what about those non-Serbian peopleswho lived among the Serbs? How weretheir national and historical rights to besatisfied? Finally, a restored Poland was tohave access to the sea, which meant thatPoland would have to include lands thatwere inhabited predominantly by ethnicGermans.

The effort to fulfill Wilson’s dictumthat ethnic self-determination be

the bedrock rule was a noble one. Butmore often than not, both the Americanswho worked at The Inquiry and Wilsonhimself, who adopted many of their rec-ommendations, pretended that the inher-ent conflict between ethnic and econom-ic boundaries did not exist. If a relativelyhomogenous state were created to fulfill therequirements of cultural homogeneity, itmight not have the economic wherewith-al to prosper. But an empire or other largesupranational grouping that offered acommon market for states not otherwiseeconomically viable, and that providedoverall security for its subject peoples,might well violate the principle of self-determination. And yet, was the alterna-tive—breaking up the empire—likely tooffer more stability?

In a message to Congress a month afterhe set forth his Fourteen Points, Wilsonappeared to recognize the danger that anyblanket promise of self-determinationmight pose for European stability. Hedeclared that “all well-defined nationalaspirations shall be accorded the utmostsatisfaction that can be accorded themwithout introducing new or perpetuating oldelements of discord and antagonism thatwould be likely in time to break the peaceof Europe and consequently of the world.”But although Wilson seemed to under-stand the danger that self-determination

>James Chace is the Paul W. Williams Professor of Government and Public Law at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson,N.Y. He is the author of Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the Modern World (1998), and is completing abook on the American presidential election of 1912. Copyright © 2001 by James Chace.

Walter Lippmann

Autumn 2001 37

posed, he never faced the implications of theissue. Much the same dilemma confrontsthe European Union and the United Statestoday as they attempt to reconcile demandsfor self-determination by the disparate peo-ples of former Yugoslavia with the need tocreate states that are viable in both theirpolitical and economic dimensions.

Despite the hard examination of mapsand ethnic peoples that The Inquiry hadundertaken, Wilson was woefully unpre-pared to deal with the other victorious pow-ers at Versailles. While sailing to Europe onthe ocean liner George Washington, he wastelling Assistant Secretary of State WilliamBullitt about the plan to merge Bohemia,Moravia, and Slovakia into Tomas Masaryk’sCzechoslovakia. “Bohemia will be a part ofCzechoslovakia,” Wilson explained. Bullitt,taken aback, responded, “But Mr. President,there are three million Germans in Bo-hemia.” Wilson looked puzzled: “PresidentMasaryk never told me that.”

When it became clear that there was noway to satisfy the strict requirements for self-determination, Wilson simply fell back on hisproposal for a League of Nations. TheLeague would resolve disputes and makewhatever settlements needed to be made.But how to ensure against aggression the ter-ritorial integrity of the European nations,both old and new? Wilson argued that “theonly method by which we can achieve thisend lies in our having confidence in thegood faith of the nations who belong to theLeague.” He promised that “when dangercomes, we [i.e., America] too will come, andwe will help you, but you must trust us.”Trust is hardly the common currency ofnations. But the essential factor, Wilsonbelieved, was that international misunder-standings would be subject, through theLeague, to “the moral force of public opin-ion in the world.”

At Versailles, Wilson insisted thatBritain’s prime minister, Lloyd

George, and France’s premier, GeorgesClemenceau, demonstrate to him that whatthey wanted—territorial settlements based onthe power realities of Europe, no matterwhat the fate of minorities—would con-form to his lofty pronouncements. That

gave rise, in the words of John MaynardKeynes, then a young official in the BritishTreasury who was at Versailles, to “theweaving of that web of sophistry andJesuitical exegesis that was finally to clothewith insincerity the language and sub-stance of the whole Treaty.”

Even many of his most devoted admirershave admitted that Wilson was over-whelmed at Versailles by the machinationsof the European statesmen—in a Jamesiansense, by the very corruptions of Europethat he had sought to exorcise. At home,the U.S. Senate subsequently defeated hishopes for American membership in theLeague, a defeat born largely of his ownintransigence. He absolutely refused toaccept any part of the reservations proposedby the Senate Foreign Relations Com-mittee. In essence, the committee assertedthat America would assume no obligation topreserve the territorial integrity or politicalindependence of any country unless autho-rized to do so by Congress. Asked by theFrench ambassador whether he wouldaccept the senatorial restrictions, Wilsonretorted: “I shall consent to nothing. TheSenate must take its medicine.” The Senaterefused. So the map of Europe was redrawnat Versailles, but the League, which was toimplement Wilson’s idealistic vision, wasborn an empty shell.

Wilson’s ghost (the words providethe title of a recent book by for-

mer secretary of defense Robert McNamaraand Brown University professor JamesBlight) has come to haunt the would-bepeacemakers of the 21st century. McNa-mara and Blight acknowledge that Wilson“inadvertently set the 20th century on itschaotic and violent course of communalkilling by failing to grapple successfullywith problems of self-determination andethnic and religious conflict.” But theynote as well that Wilson “believed in thepower of human beings to change thecourse of history for the better,” andthought that “the world’s peace ought to bedisturbed if the fundamental rights ofhumanity are invaded.” His vision survivesbecause it tapped into a deep strain ofAmerica’s sense of itself: The United States

38 Wilson Quarterly

Wilson’s Moment?

was ordained for a special role in the world.In Wilson’s words, “America was estab-lished in order to indicate, at any rate inone government, the fundamental rights ofman. America must hereafter be ready as amember of the family of nations to exerther whole force, moral and physical, to theassertion of those rights throughout theround globe.”

Wilson understood that Americans are,after all, most comfortable with a foreignpolicy imbued with moral purpose. Evenwhen the pursuit of justice has led to unin-tended consequences, even when our idealshave concealed, from ourselves and fromothers, motivations of a darker and morecomplex nature, we have preferred a policybased, at least rhetorically, on moral purposerather than on self-interest. This vision ofAmerica as the redeemer nation was per-fectly expressed by John Adams when hewrote in his diary, 11 years before theDeclaration of Independence, “I always con-sider the settlement of America with reverenceand wonder, as the opening of a grand scenein Providence for the illumination of theignorant, and the emancipation of the slav-ish part of mankind all over the earth.”

Wilson himself might have writtenthose words. But Adams’s paean to

American exceptionalism should be setagainst the cautionary but no less eloquentwords of Alexander Hamilton, who warnedAmericans to reject “idle theories whichhave amused us with promises of an excep-tion from the imperfections, weaknesses,and evils incident to society in everyshape.” In The Federalist 6, Hamiltonasked, “Is it not time to awaken from thedeceitful dream of a golden age and toadopt as a practical maxim for the direc-tion of our political conduct that we, aswell as the other inhabitants of the globe, areyet remote from the happy empire of perfectwisdom and perfect virtue?”

Hamilton went unheeded. The Wilson-ian assertion that America’s role in WorldWar I reflected divine will was a resonantecho of American exceptionalism: “It was ofthis that we dreamed at our birth. Americashall in truth show the way.” After WorldWar I, after World War II, and after the Cold

War, America proclaimed a new world orderby applying its stated domestic values to theworld beyond its shores.

With the Cold War over, Wilson’s viewthat the worldwide spread of democraticinstitutions is the key to peace has beenadopted by both major American politicalparties. His appeal to American exception-alism resonates in the triumphalist era that hasmarked the emergence of the United Statesas the most powerful imperium sinceancient Rome. But the problem of reconcil-ing a respect for sovereignty with interventionin states that scorn any commitment todemocracy and violate fundamental norms ofhuman rights remains as knotty as ever.What, in fact, are the American canons forintervention?

Some interventions can be defended eas-ily on realist grounds, as matters of nationalinterest. Thus, the United States would sure-ly intervene to protect its national territory orits dependencies—for example, Puerto Ricoor Guam. It would also honor its commit-ments to allies in the Atlantic Alliance and toJapan. And trouble in other countries close-ly aligned with the United States, such asSouth Korea and Israel, would likely triggersome form of intervention.

Additional situations might also bringintervention by the United States and otherpowers, whether under the rubric of theNorth Atlantic Treaty Organization(NATO) or the European Union, or simplyas a coalition of the willing: (1) aggressionthat threatens regional stability, or (2) mas-sive or systemic violations of human rights.Such situations force us to confront thecentral issue of sovereignty—that any inter-vention by one (or more than one) nationnecessarily involves violation of the sover-eignty of another. The principle of sover-eignty remains as problematic as it was inWilson’s day. So under what principle isthe violation of other nations’ sovereignty tobe justified?

The global economy provides strongincentives for states to limit their sov-

ereignty. But intervention to prevent anation’s withdrawal from, say, the WorldTrade Organization is highly unlikely. If acountry such as Myanmar (the former

Autumn 2001 39

Burma) chooses to isolateitself from global economicand political organizations,no one will mount an inva-sion to force the government toend its isolation. But if Myan-mar were to attack Thailand,intervention by other powers tocurb the aggression would bea distinct possibility.

Political economist Ste-phen Krasner has pointed outthat “the struggle to establishinternational rules that compelleaders to treat their subjects ina certain way has been goingon for a long time.” TheCongress of Vienna in 1815guaranteed religious tolera-tion for Catholics in theNetherlands. Successor statesof the Ottoman Empire,beginning with Greece in1832, had to accept civic andpolitical equality for religiousminorities as a condition forinternational recognition.Peace settlements after WorldWar I included extensive pro-visions for the protection ofminorities, but because thoseprovisions were not backed by a crediblethreat of force, many of them failed.During the post–World War II period, theUnited Nations endorsed both humanrights and the principle of sovereignty. Yet,as we have seen in the former Yugoslavia,human rights violations ceased there onlywhen an external authority controlled thedomestic structures of the states, as inBosnia, or when a state became a virtualprotectorate, as with Kosovo, many ofwhose affairs are overseen by NATO.Therefore, we should not only examinethe conditions under which great powersintervene but evaluate the means bywhich a military intervention can suc-ceed. When UN peacekeepers were firstsent into Bosnia, they were ineffectivebecause their guns were muzzled. Unableto fire first or credibly threaten to fire torepel an attack, they suffered numerouscasualties without bringing peace to the

region. Only when the United Statesjoined the conflict was peace restored.Similarly, in Kosovo, NATO was able tooperate without shackles on its use of fire-power.

The essential preconditions for anyhumanitarian intervention must be that itis the last feasible option to stop massslaughter and that the intervention is like-ly to do more good than harm. KennethRoth, the director of Human RightsWatch, acknowledges that “in war someunintentional killing of noncombatantsmay be unavoidable. Humanitarian lawprovides the best standard we have for dis-tinguishing unfortunate but unintentionalloss of civilian life from the deliberate tar-geting of civilians or their killing throughindiscriminate warfare.” But even if thatstandard applies, no major power todaywill countenance any violation of its ownsovereignty—although a Wilsonian appeal

A 1915 poster solicited American dollars to aid the Serbian cause.

40 Wilson Quarterly

Wilson’s Moment?

to world public opinion, amplified byinternational media attention, might per-suade a great power to modify its policiesand curb its persistent and excessive viola-tions of human rights. And if the majorpower is a nuclear power—as is, for exam-ple, Russia, committing atrocities inChechnya—there is a risk that the use ofmilitary force would, in Roth’s words,“trigger accelerated or broader killing thatthe intervenor is unable or unwilling toprevent.”

Are the humanitarian criteria for inter-vention nonetheless so compelling that thegreat powers will act even when actioninvolves a clear violation of the sovereign-ty of others? Great powers that habitually vio-

late human rights, such as China and (inChechnya, at least) Russia, can hardly beexpected to endorse interventions else-where that might help to legitimize thepractice of compromising sovereignty inthe name of human rights. Nor can oneimagine that the United States wouldaccept any violation of its own sovereignty,including the sphere-of-influence sover-eignty it holds in the Caribbean-Mexican-Central American region.

If it should prove impossible to assemblea coalition of the willing, would the

consequence be an America whose hege-mony allows it to act as it chooses? Andwould we then see, in the new century,

A 1920 cartoon evokes Americans’ ambivalence about the effectiveness of the League of Nations.

Autumn 2001 41

the exercise of American unilateralismlinked to and justified in the name ofhuman rights—a neo-Wilsonian attempt“to make the world safe for democracy”?Implementing Wilsonian goals at a timewhen the United States enjoys such a pre-ponderance of power will almost certainlyprove a near-impossible task, for a hege-monic power such as America is bound tobe resented. Other big powers, such asRussia and China, are unlikely to endorsethe view, put forward by America, that theprinciple of sovereignty can be violated inthe name of humanitarian goals as definedby Washington.

No less difficult to implement will bethe doctrine (which Wilson would

have endorsed) that international politicsshould be submitted to extranational judi-cial procedures, such as the workings ofthe International Criminal Court, andthat some crimes, such as genocide, are soheinous that their perpetrators should notbe able to escape justice simply by invok-ing the sacred principle of sovereignty.The concern is that enforcing the doctrinewould lead to a global gendarmerie head-ed by the United States—even as theUnited States insisted on being exemptfrom any prosecution by an internationaljudicial body on the grounds that it wouldnever commit such heinous crimes. Butthere is little reason to believe that a glob-al police force will come into being. Amore realistic scenario would haveAmerica, and the other great powers,applying pressure on countries that shelterwar criminals. That was done successfullywhen the United States used economiccoercion to persuade the new Serbian gov-ernment to surrender Slobodan Milosevicto the War Crimes Tribunal in TheHague.

If the United States still harborsWilsonian dreams, it would do well tomuzzle its unilateralism and conduct itsforeign policy in concert with other powers.In a sense, that has already occurred. Therecent interventions in the former Yugo-slavia and the Horn of Africa have beenmounted under the banner of multilater-alism. But as political scientist Tony

Smith, one of the most eloquent spokesmenfor neo-Wilsonianism, has observed,“ ‘Multilateralism’ may be little more thana polite way of camouflaging what in prac-tice is unilateralism with allies. Thedegree of U.S. power is so great relative tothat of America’s often disunited allies thatwe should not be misled by labels.” TheUnited States should continue to seek aconcert of powers whose shared values—thepractice of democracy and the integrity ofthe judicial system—will permit coalitionsof the willing to intervene across borders tocall to order those states that violate any rea-sonable norms of human rights. In thepursuit of justice, America will simplyhave to pretend that it is only first amongequals, its ideals tightly fastened to therealities of power among nations.

Wilsonian ideals are being invokedby Europeans with renewed

enthusiasm at the dawning of the 21st cen-tury, but in the United States at least, theWilsonian moment has not arrived. TheBush administration has refused to adhereto an array of agreements that its closestallies have approved. It has refused to seekratification of a treaty that would requireindustrialized nations to cut emissions ofgases linked to global warming. It hasrefused to endorse a draft accord to banbiological weapons. It will not become amember of the International CriminalCourt. It will not send back to the Senatefor reconsideration the ComprehensiveNuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

Though the United States guards itssovereignty these days to a degree thatwould have horrified Wilson, the Wilson-ian vision of a more just world has notevaporated. The individuals who made upThe Inquiry in 1917 struggled to acknowl-edge the legitimacy of a people’s need fornational identity, even as they demandedloyalty to a higher standard than thenational interest narrowly defined. Theissue is as paramount today as it was then.The new inquiry into these matters maywell have to take place without govern-ment sanction, but in time its findingswill almost surely be reflected in Amer-ican foreign policy. ❏

42 Wilson Quarterly



“Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with everyfree people,” wrote James Madison. “They throw that light overthe public mind which is the best security against crafty & dan-

gerous encroachments on the public liberty.” Those wordscould well be the motto of the Wilson Quarterly. To mark themagazine’s 25th anniversary, the editors posed a question toseveral writers: What quality of light do scholars and other

thinkers throw on the public mind today?

43 Why Public Intellectuals? by Jean Bethke Elshtain

51 Undisciplined by Louis Menand

60 Wittgenstein’s Curse by Jay Tolson

68 The Struggle for the Soul of the Sentence by Sven Birkerts

76 The Professors and Bush v. Gore by Peter Berkowitz & Benjamin Wittes

90 Knowing the Public Mind by Karlyn Bowman

99 History for a Democracy by Wilfred M. McClay

Autumn 2001 43

Why PublicIntellectuals?

by Jean Bethke Elshtain

Some time ago I spent a year at the Institute for Advanced Study inPrinceton, New Jersey, where one of the pleasures is the opportu-nity to exchange ideas with scholars from other countries. Oneevening, a particularly animated member of an informal discussiongroup I had joined began to lament the sorry state of public intel-

lectualism in the United States—this by contrast to her native France, and particularlyParis, with its dizzying clash of opinions. I remember being somewhat stung by hercomments, and joined the others in shaking my head at the lackluster state of ourpublic intellectual life. Why couldn’t Americans be more like Parisians?

The moment passed rather quickly, at least in my case. I recalled just howthoroughly the French intellectual class—except for the rare dissenters, such asthe estimable, brave, and lonely Albert Camus—had capitulated to the seduc-tions of totalitarian logic, opposing fascism only to become apologists for whatCamus called “the socialism of the gallows.”

French political life would have been much healthier had France embracedCamus and his few compatriots rather than Jean-Paul Sartre and the many oth-ers of his kind who wore the mantle of the public intellectual. When Camus spokein a political voice, he spoke as a citizen who understood politics to be a processthat involves debate and compromise, not as an ideologue seeking to make pol-itics conform to an overarching vision. In the end, Camus insisted, the ideologue’svision effectively destroys politics.

Perhaps, I reflected, America’s peculiar blend of rough-and-ready pragmatismand a tendency to fret about the moral dimensions of public life—unsystemat-ic and, from the viewpoint of lofty ideology, unsophisticated as this combinationmight be—was a better guarantor of constitutionalism and a healthy civil soci-ety than were intellectuals of the sort my French interlocutor favored.Historically, public intellectuals in America were, in fact, members of a widerpublic. They shared with other Americans access to religious and civic idiomsthat pressed the moral questions embedded in political debate; they were pre-pared to live, at least most of the time, with the give-and-take of political life, andthey favored practical results over systems.

The American temperament invites wariness toward intellectuals. Because theyare generally better at living in their heads than at keeping their feet on theground, intellectuals are more vulnerable than others to the seductions of powerthat come with possessing a worldview whose logic promises to explain everything,and perhaps, in some glorious future, control and manage everything. The 20th

century is littered with the disastrous consequences of such seductions, many ofthem spearheaded and defined by intellectuals who found themselves superseded,or even destroyed, by ruthless men of action once they were no longer neededas apologists, provocateurs, and publicists. The definitive crackup since 1989 ofthe political utopianism that enthralled so many 20th-century public intellectu-als in the West prompts several important questions: Who, exactly, are the pub-lic intellectuals in contemporary America? Do we need them? And if we do, whatshould be their job description?

Let us not understand these questions too narrowly. Every country’s his-tory is different. Many critics who bemoan the paucity of public intel-lectuals in America today have a constricted view of them—as a group

of independent thinkers who, nonetheless, seem to think remarkably alike. In mostaccounts, they are left-wing, seek the overthrow of bourgeois convention, and spendendless hours (or at least did so once-upon-a-time) talking late into the night insmoke-filled cafés and Greenwich Village lofts. We owe this vision not only to theself-promotion of members of the group but to films such as Warren Beatty’s Reds.But such accounts distort our understanding of American intellectual life. Therewas a life of the mind west of the Hudson River, too, as Louis Menand shows inhis recent book, The Metaphysical Club. American intellectuals have come in anumber of modes and have embraced a variety of approaches.

But even Menand pays too little attention to an important part of theAmerican ferment. American public intellectual life is unintelligible if oneignores the extraordinary role once played by the Protestant clergy and similarthinkers, from Jonathan Edwards in the 18th century through ReinholdNiebuhr in the 20th. The entire Social Gospel movement, from its late-19th-century origins through its heyday about the time of World War I, was anattempt by the intellectuals in America’s clergy and seminaries to define anAmerican civil religion and to bring a vision of something akin to the PeaceableKingdom to fruition on earth, or at least in North America.

As universities became prominent homes for intellectual life, university-based intellectuals entered this already-established public discourse. They didso as generalists rather than as spokesmen for a discipline. In the minds ofthinkers such as William James, George Herbert Mead, and John Dewey, therewas no way to separate intellectual and political issues from larger moral con-cerns. Outside the university proper during the last decades of the 19th centu-ry and early decades of the 20th, there arose extraordinary figures such as JaneAddams and Randolph Bourne. These thinkers and social activists combined moralurgency and political engagement in their work. None trafficked in a totalizingideology on the Marxist model of so many European intellectuals.

Addams, for example, insisted that the settlement house movement she pio-neered in Chicago remain open, flexible, and experimental—a communalhome for what might be called organic intellectual life. Responding to the

44 Wilson Quarterly

The Making of the Public Mind

>Jean Bethke Elshtain is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at theUniversity of Chicago and the author of many books, including Jane Addams and the Dream of AmericanDemocracy, to be published by Basic Books in December. She is a contributing editor of the New Republic.Copyright © 2001 by Jean Bethke Elshtain.

Autumn 2001 45

clash of the social classes that dominated the public life of her day, she spoke ofthe need for the classes to engage in “mutual interpretation,” and for this to bedone person to person. Addams stoutly resisted the lure of ideology—she tolddroll stories about the utopianism that was sometimes voiced in the Working Man’sSocial Science Club at Hull-House.

Addams saw in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Ethan Brand” an objectlesson for intellectuals. Ethan Brand is a lime burner who leaves his village tosearch for the “Unpardonable Sin.” And he finds it: an “intellect that triumphedover the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God, and sacrificedeverything to its mighty claims!” This pride of intellect, operating in public life,tries to force life to conform to an abstract model. Addams used the lesson of EthanBrand in replying to the socialists who claimed that she refused to convert to theirpoint of view because she was “caught in the coils of capitalism.” In respondingto her critics, Addams once described an exchange in one of the weekly Hull-House drawing room discussions. An ardent socialist proclaimed that “socialism

Anarchist, writer, and agitator Emma Goldman, shown here in New York in 1916, was oneof the figures who created a new image of the public intellectual as antibourgeois radical.

46 Wilson Quarterly

The Making of the Public Mind

will cure the toothache.” A second fellow upped the ante by insisting that whenevery child’s teeth were systematically cared for from birth, toothaches would dis-appear from the face of the earth. Addams, of course, knew that we wouldalways have toothaches.

Addams, James, Dewey, and, later, Niebuhr shared a strong sense of livingin a distinctly Protestant civic culture. That culture was assumed, whether onewas a religious believer or not, and from the days of abolitionism through the strug-gle for women’s suffrage and down to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, pub-lic intellectuals could appeal to its values. But Protestant civic culture thinnedout with the rise of groups that had been excluded from the consensus (Cath-olics, Jews, Evangelical Christians), with the triumph of a generally secular, con-sumerist worldview, and with mainline Protestantism’s abandonment of muchof its own intellectual tradition in favor of a therapeutic ethos.

The consequence, for better and for worse, is that there is no longer aunified intellectual culture to address—or to rebel against. Pundits ofone sort or another often attempt to recreate such a culture rhetorically

and to stoke old fears, as if we were fighting theocrats in the Massachusetts BayColony all over again. Raising the stakes in this way promotes a sense of self-impor-tance by exaggerating what one is ostensibly up against. During the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, for example, those who were critical of the president’s dubi-ous use of the Oval Office were often accused of trying to resurrect the moralityof Old Salem. A simple click of your television remote gives the lie to all suchtalk of a Puritan restoration: The screen is crowded with popular soft-corepornography packaged as confessional talk shows or self-help programs.

The specter of Old Salem is invoked in part because it provides, at least tem-porarily, a clear target for counterargument and gives television’s talking headsan issue that seems to justify their existence. But the truth is that there are nogrand, clear-cut issues around which public intellectuals, whether self-described media hounds or scholars yearning to break out of university-defineddisciplinary boundaries, now rally. The overriding issues of three or fourdecades ago on which an unambiguous position was possible—above all, seg-regation and war—have given way to matters that are complex and murky. Wenow see in shades of gray rather than black and white. It is difficult to build agrand intellectual argument around how best to reform welfare, structure a taxcut, or protect the environment. Even many of our broader civic problems donot lend themselves to the sorts of thematic and cultural generalizations thathave historically been the stuff of most public intellectual discourse.

My point is not that the issues Americans now face raise no major ethical orconceptual concerns; rather, these concerns are so complex, and the argumentsfrom all sides often so compelling, that each side seems to have some part of thetruth. That is why those who treat every issue as if it fit within the narrative ofmoral goodness on one side and venality and inequity on the other become sowearying. Most of us, whether or not we are part of what one wag rather unchar-itably dubbed “the chattering classes,” realize that matters are not so simple. Thatis one reason we often turn to expert researchers, who do not fit the historicalprofile of the public intellectual as omnicompetent generalist.

Autumn 2001 47

For example, well before today’s mountains of empirical evidence came in,a number of intellectuals were writing about what appeared to be Americans’ pow-erful disaffection from public life and from the work of civil society. Political the-orists like me could speak to widespread discontents, but it was finally the empir-ical evidence presented by, among others, political scientist Robert Putman in hisfamous 1995 “Bowling Alone” essay that won these concerns a broad public hear-ing. In this instance, one finds disciplinary expertise put to the service of a pub-lic intellectual enterprise. That cuts against the grain of the culturally enshrinedview of the public intellectual as a bold, lone intellect. Empirical researchers workin teams. They often have hordes of assistants. Their data are complex and mustbe translated for public consumption. Their work is very much the task of uni-versities and think tanks, not of the public intellectual as heroic dissenter.

Yet it would be a mistake simply to let the experts take over. A case in pointis the current debate over stem cell research and embryonic cloning for the pur-pose of “harvesting” stem cells. Anyone aware of the history of technologicaladvance and the power of an insatiable desire for profit understands that suchharvesting is a first steptoward cloning, and thatirresponsible individualsand companies are alreadymoving in that direction.But because the debate isconducted in highly tech-nical terms, it is very difficultfor the generalist, or any nonspecialist, to find a point of entry. If you are not pre-pared to state an authoritative view on whether adult stem cells have the“pluripotent” potential of embryonic stem cells, you may as well keep yourmouth shut. The technical debate excludes most citizens and limits the involve-ment of nonscientists who think about the long-range political implications ofprojects that bear a distinct eugenics cast.

Genetic “enhancement,” as it is euphemistically called, will eventuallybecome a eugenics project, meant to perfect the genetic composition of the humanrace. But our public life is so dominated by short-term considerations that some-one who brings to the current genetic debate such a historical understanding soundsmerely alarmist. This kind of understanding does not sit well with the can-do,upbeat American temperament. Americans are generally relieved to have moraland political urgency swamped by technicalities. This is hardly new. During theCold War, debators who had at their fingertips the latest data on missile throw-weights could trump the person who was not that sort of expert—but who was-n’t a naif either, who had read her Thucydides, and who thought there were alter-natives to mutually assured destruction.

Americans prefer cheerleaders to naysayers. We tend to concentrateon the positive side of the ledger and refuse to conjure with the neg-ative features—whether actual or potential—of social reform or

technological innovation. Americans notoriously lack a sense of tragedy, oreven, as Reinhold Niebuhr insisted, a recognition of the ironies of our own his-

There are no grand,

clear-cut issues around

which public intellectuals

now rally.

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The Making of the Public Mind

tory. By naysayers I do not refer to those who, at the drop of a hat, issue a pre-fabricated condemnation of more-or-less anything going on in American poli-tics and popular culture. I mean those who recognize that there are always loserswhen there are winners, and that it has never been the case in the history of anysociety that the benefits of a change or innovation fall evenly on all groups.

Whenever I heard the wonders of the “information superhighway”extolled during America’s years of high-tech infatuation, mymind turned to the people who would inevitably be found sitting

in antiquated jalopies in the breakdown lane. It isn’t easy to get Americans to thinkabout such things. One evening, on a nightly news show, I debated a dot.commillionaire who proclaimed that the enormous wealth and expertise beingamassed by rich techno-whiz kids would soon allow us to realize a cure for can-cer, the end of urban gridlock, and world peace. World peace would follow nat-urally from market globalization. Having the right designer label on your jeanswould be the glue that held people together, from here to Beijing. When I sug-gested that this was pretty thin civic glue, the gentleman in question looked atme as if I were a member of some extinct species. It was clear that he found suchopinions not only retrograde but nearly unintelligible.

The dot.com millionaire’s attitude exemplified a larger American problem:the dangers of an excess of pride, not just for individuals but for the culture as awhole. It isn’t easy in our public intellectual life, or in our church life, for thatmatter, to get Americans to think about anything to do with sin, the focus of muchpublic intellectual discourse in America from Edwards to Niebuhr. We arecomfortable with “syndromes.” The word has a soothing, therapeutic sound. But

A rooted intellectual: Jane Addams at Hull-House in the 1930s

Autumn 2001 49

the sin of pride, in the form of a triumphalist stance that recognizes no limits tohuman striving, is another matter.

The moral voices—the Jane Addamses and Reinhold Niebuhrs—that oncehad real public clout and that warned us against our tendency toward culturalpride and triumphalism seem no longer to exist, or at least to claim an audienceanywhere near the size they once did. There are a few such voices in our era,but they tend not to be American. I think of President Václav Havel of the CzechRepublic, who has written unabashedly against what happens when human beings,in his words, forget that they are not God or godlike. Here is Havel, in a lecturereprinted in the journal First Things (March 1995):

The relativization of all moral norms, the crisis of authority, the reduction of lifeto the pursuit of immediate material gain without regard for its general conse-quences—the very things Western democracy is most criticized for—do notoriginate in democracy but in that which modern man has lost: his transcendentalanchor, and along with it the only genuine source of his responsibility and self-respect. Given its fatal incorrigibility, humanity probably will have to go throughmany more Rwandas and Chernobyls before it understands how unbelievably short-sighted a human being can be who has forgotten that he is not God.

Our era is one of forgetting. If there is a role for the public intellectual, it isto insist that we remember, and that remembering is a moral act requiring thegreatest intellectual and moral clarity. In learning to remember the Holocaust,we have achieved a significant (and lonely) success. Yet to the extent that we nowsee genocide as a historical anomaly unique to a particular regime or people, or,alternatively, as a historical commonplace that allows us to brand every instanceof political killing a holocaust, we have failed to achieve clarity. The truth liessomewhere between.

Where techno-enthusiasm and utopia are concerned, we are far gone on thepath of forgetting. One already sees newspaper ads offering huge financialrewards to young egg donors if they have SAT scores of at least 1400 or above,stand at least 5'10" tall, and are athletic. The “designer genes” of the future aretalked about in matter-of-fact tones. Runaway technological utopianism,because it presents itself to us with the imprimatur of science, has an automat-ic authority in American culture that ethical thinkers, intellectual generalists,the clergy, and those with a sense of historic irony and tragedy no longer enjoy.The lay Catholic magazine Commonweal may editorialize against our newfan-gled modes of trading in human flesh—against what amounts to a “world wherepersons carry a price tag, and where the cash value of some persons is far greaterthan that of others.” But the arguments seem to reach only those who are alreadypersuaded. Critics on the environmental left and the social-conservative right whoquestion techno-triumphalism fare no better. Instead of being seen as an earlywarning system—speaking unwelcome truths and reminding us what happenswhen people are equated with their genetic potential—the doubters are dismissedas a rear guard standing in the way of progress.

So this is our situation. Many of our pressing contemporary issues—issues thatare not often construed as intrinsically political but on which politics has great

50 Wilson Quarterly

The Making of the Public Mind

bearing—raise daunting moral concerns. The concerns cannot be dealt with ade-quately without a strong ethical framework, a historical sensibility, and an aware-ness of human limits and tragedies. But such qualities are in short supply in anera of specialization and technological triumphalism. Those who seize themicrophone and can bring the almost automatic authority of science to their sideare mostly apologists for the coming new order. Those who warn about this neworder’s possible baneful effects and consequences can be marginalized as peo-ple who refuse, stubbornly, to march in time, or who illegitimately seek toimport to the public arena concerns that derive from religion.

We are so easily dazzled. We are so proud. If we can do it, we must do it. Wemust be first in all things—and if we become serious about bringing ethical restraintto bear on certain technologies, we may fall behind country X or country Y. Andthat seems un-American. The role for public intellectuals under such circum-stances is to step back and issue thoughtful warnings. But where is the venue forthis kind of discourse? Where is the training ground for what political theoristMichael Walzer calls “connected critics,” thinkers who identify strongly with theirculture, who do not traffic in facile denunciations of the sort we hear every nighton television (along with equally facile cheerleading), but who speak to politicsin a moral voice that is not narrowly moralizing?

That question underlies much of the debate about the state of civil societythat occurred during the past decade. The writers and thinkers who warned aboutthe decline of American civil society were concerned about finding not just moreeffective ways to reach desirable ends in public policy but about finding ways tostem the rushing tide of consumerism, of privatization and civic withdrawal, ofpublic apathy and disengagement. We will not stem that tide without social struc-tures and institutions that promote a fuller public conversation about the ques-tions that confront us.

Whenever I speak about the quality of our public life before civicgroups, I find a real hunger for public places like Hull-House.Americans yearn for forums where they can engage and interpret

the public questions of our time, and where a life of the mind can emerge andgrow communally, free of the fetters of overspecialization. Without an engagedpublic, there can be no true public conversations, and no true public intellec-tuals. At Hull-House, Jane Addams spoke in a civic and ethical idiom shaped andshared by her fellow citizens. The voices of the Hull-House public served as acheck on narrow, specialized, and monolithic points of view. It was from this richvenue that Addams launched herself into the public debates of her time. Whereare the institutions for such discussion today? How might we create them? It isone of the many ironies of their vocation that contemporary public intellectu-als can no longer presume a public.

Intellectuals and others who speak in a public moral voice do not carry a cardthat says “Have Ideology, Will Talk.” Instead, they embrace Hannah Arendt’sdescription of the task of the political theorist as one who helps us to think aboutwhat we are doing. In a culture that is always doing, the responsibility to thinkis too often evaded. Things move much too fast. The role for public intellectu-als today is to bestir the quiet voice of ethically engaged reason. ❏

Autumn 2001 51

Undisciplinedby Louis Menand

Almost everyone agrees that American academic culture haschanged dramatically in the past 25 years. Some people (mostly insidethe academy) talk about those changes in terms of accessibility, diver-

sity, increased public engagement, and so on. Others (mostly outside the acad-emy) talk about them in terms of political correctness, affirmative action, the“death of literature,” the rise of “grievance studies,” and so on. In general, thedifferences between the two groups are framed as a debate over consciously heldviews: People with bad (or good) ideas seized control of higher education anddrove out the good (or bad) ideas of the previous generation. To frame the debateso is not wrong: If changes in academic culture, where people are paid tothink, are not driven in part by consciously held ideas, what changes are? Butideas are often driven, in turn, by long-term structural movements, and it is use-ful to step back from the debate over academic politics and values to see the evo-lution of the culture of higher education from a more impersonal perspective.One place to watch the change occurring is in the demise of the traditional aca-demic disciplines.

Traditionally, an academic discipline was a paradigm inhabiting an institu-tional structure. “Anthropology” or “English” was both the name of an acade-mic department and a discrete, largely autonomous program of inquiry. If, 30or 40 years ago, you asked a dozen anthropology professors what anthropology’sprogram of inquiry was—what anthropology professors did that distinguished themfrom other professors—you might have gotten different, and possibly contradictory,answers, because academic fields have always had rival schools in them. But, byand large, the professors would have had little trouble filling in the blank in thesentence, “Anthropology is ____.” (And if they did not have a ready defini-tion—for anthropology has gone through periods of identity crisis in the past—they would not have boasted about the fact.) Today, you would be likely to gettwo types of definitions, neither one terribly specific, or even terribly useful. Onetype might be called the critical definition: “Anthropology is the study of its ownassumptions.” The other type could be called the pragmatic definition:“Anthropology is whatever people in anthropology departments do.”

Not every liberal arts discipline is in the condition of anthropology, of course,but that only heightens the sense of confusion. It tends to set people in fields inwhich identification with a paradigm remains fairly tight, such as philosophy, againstpeople in fields in which virtually anything goes, such as English. Philosophyprofessors (to caricature the situation slightly) tend to think that the work doneby English professors lacks rigor, and English professors tend to think that thework of philosophy professors is introverted and irrelevant.

The dissociation of academic work from traditional departments has becomeso expected in the humanities that it is a common topic of both conferences and

The Making of the Public Mind

jokes. During a recent conference (titled “Have the Humanistic DisciplinesCollapsed?”) at the Stanford Humanities Center, one of the center’s directors,to demonstrate the general dissipation of scholarly focus, read the titles of pro-jects submitted by applicants for fellowships and asked the audience to guess eachapplicant’s field. The audience was right only once—when it guessed that an appli-cant whose project was about politics must be from an English department.

The usual response to the problem of “the collapse of the disciplines” hasbeen to promote interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship. But interdiscipli-narity is not only completely consistent with disciplinarity—the concept thateach academic field has its own distinctive program of inquiry—it actually dependson that concept. More and more colleges are offering more and more inter-disciplinary classes, and even interdisciplinary majors, but increased interdis-ciplinarity is not what is new, and it is not the cause of today’s confusion. Whatthe academy is now experiencing is postdisciplinarity—not a joining of disci-plines, but an escape from disciplines.

How did this come about? The most common way of explainingparadigm loss has been to tie it to the demographic shift that hasoccurred in higher education since 1945. That shift has certainly

been dramatic. In 1947, 71 percent of college students in the United States weremen; today, a minority of college students, 44 percent, are men. As late as 1965,94 percent of American college students were classified as white; today, the fig-ure (for non-Hispanic whites) is 73 percent. Most of the change has occurred

52 Wilson Quarterly

>Louis Menand is Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and theauthor, most recently, of The Metaphysical Club (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). He thanks the Alfred P. SloanFoundation for its support of the research on which this essay is based. Copyright © 2001 by Louis Menand.

Autumn 2001 53

in the past 25 years. A single statistictells the story: In the decade between1984 and 1994, the total enrollmentin American colleges and universi-ties increased by two million, but notone of those two million new stu-dents was a white American man.They were all nonwhites, women,and foreign students.

Faculty demographics altered inthe same way, and so far as thechange in the status of the disciplinesis concerned, that is probably themore relevant shift. Current full-timeAmerican faculty who were hiredbefore 1985 are 28 percent femaleand about 11 percent nonwhite orHispanic. Full-time faculty who have

been hired since 1985—individuals who, for the most part, entered graduateschool after 1975—are half again as female (40 percent) and more than half againas nonwhite (18 percent). And these figures are for full-time professors only; theydo not include part-time faculty, who now constitute 40 percent of the teach-ing force in American higher education, and who are more likely to be femalethan are full-time faculty. In 1997, there were 45,394 doctoral degrees conferredin the United States; 40 percent of the recipients were women (in the arts andhumanities, just under 50 percent were women), and only 63 percent were clas-sified as white American citizens. The other 37 percent were nonwhiteAmericans and foreign students.

The arrival of those new populations just happens to have coincidedwith the period of the so-called culture wars—a time, beginning around 1987,the year of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, when highereducation came under intense outside criticism for radicalism and elitism.This coincidence has made it natural to assume a connection between thenew faces on campus and the “collapse” (or the “redefinition”) of the disci-plines. There are two ways of explaining the connection. One is to suggestthat many nonwhite and female students and professors understood the dis-ciplines as rigid and exclusionary abstractions, and brought a new spirit oftransgressiveness and play (things not associated with the culture of white men)into the academy. That interpretation is a little too similar to its evil twin—the view that many women and nonwhites lack the temperament for rigor-ous scholarship and pedagogy. A less perilous explanation is that the new pop-ulations inevitably created a demand for new subject matter, a demand towhich university departments, among the most sluggish and conservative insti-tutions in America, were slow to respond. The sluggishness produced a

Landscape (1994), by Mark Tansey

54 Wilson Quarterly

The Making of the Public Mind

backlash: When women and nonwhites began arriving at universities in sig-nificant numbers after 1975, what happened was a kind of antidisciplinari-ty. Academic activity began flowing toward paradigms that essentiallydefined themselves in antagonism to the traditional disciplines.

Women’s studies departments, for example, came into being not becausefemale professors wished to be separate, but because English and history andsociology departments were at first not terribly interested in incorporatinggender-based courses into their curricula. The older generation of professors,whatever their politics personally, in most cases did not recognize gender orethnic identity as valid rubrics for teaching or scholarship. So outside the dis-cipline became a good place for feminist scholars to be. Indeed, there wasa period, beginning in the late 1970s, when almost all the academic stars werepeople who talked about the failures and omissions of their own fields.

That was especially the case in English literature, where there was(allegedly) a “canon” of institutionally prescribed texts available to question.Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) was about the scholarly bias against non-Western cultures; Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in theAttic (1979) was about the exclusion and misinterpretation of work bywomen; Jane Tompkins’s Sensational Designs (1985) was about the exclu-sion of popular literature; and so on. Scholarly works such as those did notsimply criticize their own disciplines; they simultaneously opened up and legit-imated new areas of research and teaching. And when departments were slowto adopt the new areas, centers were happy to take up the slack. The periodsince 1975 has been the era of the center—for women’s studies, postcolonialstudies, African American studies, gay and lesbian studies, science studies,cultural studies. And every university seems either to have or to be busy cre-ating its very own humanities center. Few of the centers grant degrees—theylack the institutional power of the departments. But they are interdisciplinaryby definition (they are made up of professors from a variety of disciplines) andantidisciplinary in temper (they were established to compensate for some per-ceived inadequacy in the existing departments).

But the era of antidisciplinarity is essentially over, for the simple rea-son that the traditional disciplines have by now almost all been co-opted. Virtually no one in the university today believes that gen-

der or ethnic identity (or any of the other areas of research associated withthe centers) is not a valid rubric for research or teaching. People in Englishdepartments and anthropology departments do exactly what people used tohave to go to women’s studies and cultural studies centers to do. The arrivalof new populations, in other words, helps to explain the emergence of thecritical definition of the discipline—that “anthropology (or English or his-tory) is the study of its own assumptions.” That formulation is a holdover fromthe days of antidisciplinarity. But the influx doesn’t really explain the prag-matic definition—that “anthropology (and the rest) is whatever anthropol-ogy professors do.” Merely adding new areas of study (women’s history, post-colonial writers, and so on) doesn’t threaten the integrity of a discipline, even

Autumn 2001 55

if it entails (as it often does) rethinking traditional standards and practices.Postdisciplinarity is a different phenomenon, and it has a distinct etiology.

The contemporary American university is an institution shaped by theCold War. It was first drawn into the business of government-relatedscientific research during World War II, by men such as James Bryant

Conant, who was the president of Harvard University and civilian overseer of sci-entific research during the war, and Vannevar Bush, who was a former vice pres-ident and dean of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology anddirector of the federal Office of Scientific Research and Development. At the timeof the First World War, scientific research for military purposes had been car-ried out by military personnel, so-called soldier-scientists. It was Bush’s idea tocontract this work outinstead to research universi-ties, scientific institutes, andindependent private labora-tories. In 1945 he oversawpublication of the reportScience: The Endless Fron-tier, which became the stan-dard argument for govern-ment subvention of basicscience in peacetime and launched the collaboration between American uni-versities and the national government.

Then came Sputnik, in 1957. Sputnik stirred up a panic in the UnitedStates, and among the political responses was the passage of the NationalDefense Education Act of 1958. The legislation put the federal government, forthe first time, in the business of subsidizing higher education directly, rather thanthrough government contracts for specific research. This was also the period wheneconomists such as Gary Becker and Theodore Schultz introduced the conceptof “human capital,” which, by counting educated citizens as a strategic resource,offered a further national security rationale for increased government investmentin higher education. In the words of the enabling legislation for the NationalDefense Education Act: “The security of the Nation requires the fullest devel-opment of the mental resources and technical skills of its young men andwomen. . . . We must increase our efforts to identify and educate more of the tal-ent of our Nation. This requires programs that will give assurance that no stu-dents of ability will be denied an opportunity for higher education because offinancial need.”

The national financial commitment to higher education was accompaniedby the arrival of the baby-boom generation of college students. Between 1955and 1970, the number of 18-to-24-year-olds in America grew from 15 million to25 million. The result was a tremendous expansion of the higher education sys-tem. In 1945, 15 percent of all Americans attended college; today, 50 percentattend college at some point in their lives. In 1949 there were about 1,800 insti-tutions of higher education in the United States, enrolling just under two anda half million students; today, there are just over 4,000 American colleges and

What the academy is now

experiencing is post-

disciplinarity—not a

joining of disciplines, but

an escape from disciplines.

56 Wilson Quarterly

The Making of the Public Mind

universities, and they enroll more than 14 million students, about 5 percent ofthe population. Current public expenditure on higher education is the equiva-lent of 5.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). To put those numbers inperspective: In the United Kingdom, 14.7 percent of the population goes on touniversity, and public expenditure on higher education (in a country where almostall universities are public) is 4.1 percent of GDP.

The expansion undoubtedly accounts for some of the decay disciplinaryparadigms have undergone. In a system of (essentially) mass higher education,a much smaller proportion of students is interested in pursuing traditional aca-demic work. That is not why they choose to go to college. Only a third of bach-elor’s degrees awarded in the United States each year are in liberal arts fields (whichinclude the natural and social sciences), and less than a third of those are in thehumanities. It is not surprising that a sense of being squeezed onto the marginsof a system increasingly obsessed with other things should generate uncertain-ty and self-doubt among people in the humanities.

You can see the effects in college catalogues. At Trinity College in Hartford,Connecticut, for example, the philosophy department’s announcement says: “Agood philosopher should know at least a little something about everything.” Thedepartment then recommends the study of a foreign language, but only becauseit “encourages the habit of careful attention to a text.” It recommends a “broadunderstanding of modern science,” but suggests that “any good sciencecourse . . . is suitable.” It recommends courses in history, literature, and the arts,but advises that students generally select courses in these fields according to theamount of reading assigned (the more reading, the more desirable). It ends bysaying what was already clear enough: “We require no particular non-departmentalcourses as part of the major.” The next section of the announcement, titled“Introductory Courses,” begins, “There is no single best way to be introducedto philosophy.” That is not a confession of uselessness; it is an effort to conceiveof philosophy as continuous with all other areas of thought—the “philosophy iswhatever philosophers do” approach. (Still, it is unusual to find a philosophy depart-ment knocking down its own disciplinary fences with such abandon.)

Expansion was only one of the effects Cold War educational policies had onthe university. There was a more insidious effect as well. The historian ThomasBender has suggested, in his contribution to the illuminating volume AmericanAcademic Culture in Transformation (1997), that the new availability of state moniesaffected the tenor of academic research. Scholars in the early Cold War era tend-ed to eschew political commitments because they wished not to offend their grant-ing agencies. The idea that academics, particularly in the social sciences, couldprovide the state with neutral research results on which public policies could bebased was an animating idea in the 1950s university. It explains why the domi-nant paradigms of academic work were scientific, and stressed values such as objec-tivity, value neutrality, and rigor.

In the sciences, the idea of neutrality led to what Talcott Parsons called theethos of cognitive rationality. In fields such as history, it led to the consensusapproach. In sociology, it produced what Robert Merton called theories of themiddle range—an emphasis on the formulation of limited hypotheses subjectto empirical verification. Behaviorism and rational choice theory became dom-

Autumn 2001 57

inant paradigms in psy-chology and political sci-ence. In literature, evenwhen the mindset wasantiscientific, as in thecase of the New Criticismand structuralism, theethos was still scientistic:Literary theorists aspiredto analytic precision.Boundaries were respect-ed and methodologieswere codified. Disciplinereigned in the disciplines.Scholars in the 1950s wholooked back on their prewareducations tended to beappalled by what they nowregarded as a lack of rigorand focus.

Because public moneywas being pumped intothe system at the highend—into the largeresearch universities—theeffect of the Cold War wasto make the researchprofessor the type of theprofessor generally. In1968, Christopher Jencks and David Riesman referred to the phenomenon as“the academic revolution”: For the first time in the history of American highereducation, research, rather than teaching or service, defined the work of the pro-fessor, not just in the doctoral institutions but all the way down the institution-al ladder. (That is why, today, even junior professors at teaching-intensive liberalarts colleges are often obliged to produce two books to qualify for tenure.) Theacademic revolution strengthened the grip of the disciplines on scholarly and ped-agogical practice. Distinctions among different types of institutions, so far as theprofessoriate was concerned, began to be sanded down. The Cold War homog-enized the academic profession.

If you compare the values of the early Cold War university with the val-ues of the 21st-century university, you find an almost complete reversal of terms.A vocabulary of “disinterestedness,” “objectivity,” “reason,” and “knowledge,”and talk about such things as “the scientific method,” “the canon of great books,”and “the fact-value distinction,” have been replaced, in many fields, by talkabout “interpretations” (rather than “facts”), “perspective” (rather than“objectivity”), and “understanding” (rather than “reason” or “analysis”). Anemphasis on universalism and “greatness” has yielded to an emphasis on diver-

Honorary Degree (1938), by Grant Wood

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58 Wilson Quarterly

The Making of the Public Mind

sity and difference; the scientistic norms that once prevailed in many of the“soft” disciplines are viewed with skepticism; context and contingency are con-tinually emphasized; attention to “objects” has given way to attention to “rep-resentations”; there has been a turn to “personal criticism.”

The trend is essentially a backlash against the scientism and the excessive respectfor disciplinarity of the Cold War university. We cannot attribute it solely to demo-graphic diversification because most of the people one would name as its theo-rists are white men, and because the seeds of the undoing of the old disciplinarymodels were already present within the disciplines themselves. The peoplewhose work is most closely associated with the demise of faith in disciplinary auton-omy were, in fact, working entirely within the traditions in which they hadbeen trained in the 1950s and early 1960s—people such as Clifford Geertz, PaulDe Man, Hayden White, Stanley Fish, and Richard Rorty. The principal sourceof the “critical definition” of disciplines, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure ofScientific Revolutions (1962), was in itself a perfectly traditional exercise in thephilosophy and history of science. (Kuhn’s mentor, to whom the book is dedi-cated, was James Conant.) But Kuhn’s argument that “progress” in scientific knowl-

edge can be explained in largepart as the substitution of newparadigms for old proved infec-tious in disciplines far removedfrom the philosophy of science.Kuhn’s book was not a work ofscience studies. He was not try-ing to explain science as dis-placed biography or sociology.He was only trying to describehow science opens up newpaths of inquiry, and for the rest

of his career he resisted the suggestion that his theory of paradigm changeimplied that scientific knowledge was relativistic or socially constructed. Still, heset the analytic template for people in many other fields.

Richard Rorty, for example, has always cited Kuhn as a key influence on hisown effort to debunk (or to transcend) the tradition of analytic philosophy.Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Rorty’s landmark work, construct-ed its attack on the claims of analytic philosophy entirely from within the dis-cipline itself—from arguments advanced by mainstream analytic philosopherssuch as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Wilfred Sellars, W. V. O. Quine, NelsonGoodman, and Hilary Putnam. Rorty’s point was not that analytic philosophywas a mere academic formalism, or the politically objectionable artifact of a man-darin intellectual class (the sort of argument, in other words, one could imag-ine from a person outside the discipline). His point was that analytic philosophyhad refuted itself on its own terms.

The scholar who most successfully adopted Kuhn’s conception of theprogress of knowledge as a series of paradigm shifts was Stanley Fish. Whateverthe problems Kuhn’s theory posed for scientists, many people in English depart-ments saw developments within their own field as precisely a succession of

For the first time in

the history of

American higher

education, research,

rather than teaching

or service, defined the

work of the professor.

Autumn 2001 59

largely ungrounded paradigm shifts. Since 1945, the discipline had been dom-inated by, in turn, New Criticism, structuralism, and deconstruction—each the-oretical dispensation claiming to have unlocked the true nature of literary lan-guage, which its predecessor had misunderstood. Fish interpreted the shifts asa succession of “communities of inquiry,” whose norms and values set theboundaries for what was professionally acceptable and what was not. Once thisinterpretation was grasped, the belief that “English” represented any single wayof approaching literature came to seem naive. Thus the pragmatic definition:The study of English is whatever people within the community of inquiryknown as “the English department” happen to count as the study of English. Thereis no objective referent, such as “the nature of literary language,” to use as an arbiteramong approaches. The foundation has not shifted—it has vanished.

The story of paradigm loss is the story of many converging trends—whichis a good reason for concluding that the loss is not likely to be reversedanytime soon. One can ask, though, whether postdisciplinarity is a good

place to be. My own view, for what it is worth, is that the academy is well rid ofthe disciplinary hubris of the early Cold War university, but that it is at some riskof sliding into a predictable and aimless eclecticism (as opposed to an imaginativeand dynamic eclecticism, which I support). In a perfect world, which is to sayin a fully funded world, the intellectual uncertainties caused by the collapse ofthe disciplines would eventually shake themselves out. The good ideas woulddrive out the bad, and people would find a way to separate what is worth study-ing and teaching from what is trendy or meretricious. But the world is not fullyfunded. Disciplines do not have an infinite amount of time to sort out their ratio-nales. When they have a hard time explaining what they are about, they are indanger of losing out in the competition.

What is the chief obstacle to a productive resolution of the current disci-plinary confusion? Doctoral education is the sphere of the American educa-tional system most resistant to reform. It remains bound to a disciplinary struc-ture first put in place 100 years ago—even though the curriculum of theliberal arts college, the demographic composition of student bodies, and thestatus of knowledge itself in the global economy have all been transformed.Graduate students still specialize in a small subfield within a traditionaldepartment, still become disciples of senior specialists for eight or 10 or some-times 12 years, still produce a scholarly monograph to secure a degree that willlicense them to teach. All the buzz of academic intellectual life is happeningin sex and gender studies, cultural studies, American studies, postcolonialstudies, and so on, but all the credentialing goes on in departments of English,history, sociology, philosophy, and the rest of the traditional liberal arts fields.The academic establishment has become so overinvested in the notion thata Ph.D. in one of those fields stands for something immutably real and valu-able that it cannot imagine reproducing itself other than by putting the nextgeneration over exactly the same hurdles. Once a device for professional self-control, the doctoral degree has become a fetish of the academic culture. Theremust be other ways to train college teachers. There must be other ways to pur-sue scholarly inquiry. ❏

Wittgenstein’s Curseby Jay Tolson

It’s easy to go on about how bad most academic writing is these days,and how it became so during the past 30 or 40 years. Curmudgeonlyjournalists have been pouncing on prof-prose at least since the days

of H. L. Mencken. But now high sport is made of the subject even withinthe academy. One academic journal awards annual prizes in a Bad WritingContest, causing pain and sometimes anger among the unwitting winners.Scholars agonize about the problem, too. Russell Jacoby, for one, links itto the disappearance of the great public intellectuals who once enrichedthe larger culture. And it seems clear that the decline of scholarly writinghas widened the eternal divide between the world of scholars and the pub-lic realm, to the impoverishment of both. Just as bad, the pursuit of truthand knowledge—an activity that should be charged with passion andengagement—now appears to the larger public to be an exercise in non-sensical irrelevance.

Perhaps nothing brought the whole sorry matter to a more dramatic headthan the parodic gibberish-and-jargon-filled article that New York Universityphysicist Alan Sokal tricked the scholarly journal Social Text into publish-ing in 1996. Titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a TransformativeHermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” the essay argued that scientific knowl-edge was socially constructed, an argument very much in line with the jour-nal’s postmodernist agenda. What the editors failed to see, though, is that thepiece was packed with illogic, non sequiturs, and nonsense, including an unar-gued rejection of the “dogma” that asserts the existence of “an externalworld, whose properties are independent of any human being and indeed ofhumanity as a whole.”

On the day the article was published, Sokal let the world know that ithad been a hoax, and an uproar ensued. Many of the more interesting con-tributions to that controversy were published last year in a book, The SokalHoax—and not all of them were critical of the journal’s editors. In fact, lit-erary scholar Stanley Fish made a plausible defense of the argument thatSokal had parodied: “What sociologists of science say,” Fish wrote, “is thatof course the world is real and independent of our observations but thataccounts of the world are produced by observers and are therefore relativeto their capacities, education, training, etc. It is not the world or its prop-erties but the vocabularies in whose terms we know them that are sociallyconstructed—fashioned by human beings—which is why our under-standing of those properties is continually changing.”

That is true and sensible and clearly put. Unfortunately, it’s not a dis-tinction the editors of the journal seemed to grasp, because what Sokal

60 Wilson Quarterly

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said in his trickster voice was precisely that there was no external worldindependent of human constructions of it. And the trickster didn’t evenmake an argument for his outlandish claim. He simply tossed around thejargon, let it fall where it might, and concluded—voilà—that there is noth-ing out there unless we construct it into being.

Maybe Fish failed to get the point for the same reason the editors did-n’t see it: because the writing was as impenetrably bad as most prose pub-lished in Social Text, and indeed as bad as so much current academic writ-ing. The not-so-secret little secret, it turns out, is that no one really readsthis stuff anyway, not even folks who produce reams of it for countless schol-arly publications. And in truth, the stuff is not meant to be read. It’s a formof professional feather display, the ritual gesturing by which scholarsestablish standing with others in their particular niche, or subniche, ofthe scholarly trade. Display the jargon—feminist, neo-Marxist, post-colonialist, deconstructionist, whatever—and you’re in, you’re one ofus, we want you on our tenure track.

I f this seems to be a partisan slam against only the more progressive,left-leaning, and postmodern members of the academic communi-ty, let me second a point made by Patricia Nelson Limerick in the

New York Times Book Review (Oct. 31, 1993): The more conservative tra-ditionalists within the academy can often be just as bad as the Sado-Marxistsand the Martian-Leninists (or maybe almost as bad). Limerick quotes apassage from that best-selling tract The Closing of the American Mind(1987), by the late Allan Bloom, a University of Chicago scholar whotrained, and was subsequently revered by, a cadre of neoconservative

Autumn 2001 61

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, in a 1943 photograph set amid one of his manuscripts.

thinkers now gone forth into the world to pursue an assortment of acad-emic and nonacademic occupations:

If openness means to “go with the flow,” it is necessarily an accommodationto the present. That present is so closed to doubt about so many thingsimpeding the progress of its principles that unqualified openness to it wouldmean forgetting the despised alternatives to it, knowledge of which would onlymake us aware of what is doubtful in it.

Got that? And does it not read like something only barely translatedfrom German, or a directive from the Department of Housing and UrbanDevelopment? Postmodernish, far-leftish types may commit more, andmore grievous, sins against the ideal of clear prose, but they are notalone in their sins.

Why have so many been undone by willful obscurantismand given themselves over to cant and nonsense? So manyreasons, so little time to state them all. In fact, many have already

been stated, and many times over. But let me mention a couple that might nothave received quite as much attention as they deserve, before coming to what Ithink is a fundamental cause.

First of all, academic writing has never been all that much fun to read.Mencken, as I mentioned earlier, went to town on the foibles of academese,focusing with particular viciousness on sociologist Thorstein Veblen’s tortured,jargon-flecked prose. But does that mean that Veblen’s theories about the leisureclass and conspicuous consumption were unimportant? Not at all. Writingabout difficult matters can be difficult—and often requires neologisms andcomplicated, subtle analysis. We have a hard time following the explanationsof auto mechanics. Why should the explanations of a philosopher or sociologistbe easier to follow? Clarity of expression should be a handmaiden of intel-lectual brilliance, but Veblen and many others demonstrate that often it isnot.

That said, the rife obscurantism in scholarly publications today comports itselfin a self-congratulatory, almost arrogant manner. Its promulgators argue that thedifficulty is essential to the gravity of their ideas or to an intellectual or politicalstance, and that clarity, in any case, is just some elitist, dead-white-male convention.In “Troubling Clarity: The Politics of Accessible Language,” published by theHarvard Educational Review (Fall 1996), Patti Lather justifies the liberating com-plexity of her own feminist writings:

Sometimes we need a density that fits the thoughts being expressed. In suchplaces, clear and precise plain prose would be a sort of cheat tied to the anti-intellectualism rife in U.S. society that deskills readers. . . . Positioning languageas productive of new spaces, practices, and values, what might come of encour-

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>Jay Tolson, a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report, was the editor of the Wilson Quarterly from 1989 to1998. He is the author of Pilgrim in the Ruins (1994) and the editor of The Correspondence of Shelby Foote andWalker Percy (1996). Copyright © 2001 by Jay Tolson.

aging a plurality of discourses and forms and levels of writing in a way that refus-es the binary between so-called “plain speaking” and complex writing? . . . Whatis the violence of clarity, its non-innocence?

Claiming that her book about women with HIV/AIDS, Troubling Angels, wasaimed at a popular audience, and even intended to be what she calls a “Kmartbook,” Lather boasts at the same time that she refused to produce a “tidy book”or a “comfort text,” with the kind of writing “that maps easily into our ways ofmaking sense and ‘giving sense.’ ” I have yet to encounter Troubling Angels onany of my visits to Kmart. I wonder whether any other Kmart shoppers have comeacross it.

Lather, like so many who proudly assert their obscurity, does not have the jus-tification of a Veblen or a Hegel.There is no brilliance or insight ororiginality in her work. There isonly a thicket of nonsense, fad-dishness, and claptrap. ButLather wears her opacity proudly,like a badge, and no doubt enjoystenure at Ohio State Universitybecause of it. And she is no rarity,no exception. Her kind are every-where—troubling texts, troubling clarity, troubling the hegemonic hold onbeauty and truth—and the sheer quantity of the drivel they produce is anotherbig part of the problem.

The endless production is a matter of necessity and survival, of course. Theacademic professions require it—and not just the noble drudgery of teaching,research, editing, and monograph writing that engaged more modest scholarsin the past (particularly those who recognized their intellectual and writerly lim-itations). No, the professions today demand substantial “original” works by allmembers of the professoriate who hope to rise to tenure. And that demand is sim-ply unrealistic. For how much new is there under the sun? Not much—inscholarship or in any other human pursuit. Yet never have so many words beenused so badly, and to say so little, as in these works of professedly original schol-arship. Yes, there are still scholarly writers who produce truly groundbreaking workthat reaches, informs, and enlightens not just other scholars but popular audi-ences as well. But beneath that apex, how enormous is the mountain of entire-ly superfluous scholarly prose!

One remedy seems obvious: more modesty on the part of the academic pro-fessions and a return to other scholarly tasks, including teaching, greater mas-tery of the core subject matter of a field, and recognition that in the realm of “orig-inal” work, less is more. But the obvious solution is no easy solution. It may evenrequire coming to terms with a difficult matter indeed—the very character of themodern scholarly enterprise. The formation of that character has a complicat-ed history, which has already been the subject of many works of scholarship. Letme attempt to make sense of the problem by blaming it, only half facetiously,on one of the more brilliant minds of the past century.

Autumn 2001 63

Why have so many been

undone by willful

obscurantism and given

themselves over to cant

and nonsense?

Great minds can do great mischief, and few minds have been greater thanthat of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), the Vienna-born philosopherwho spent some of his productive years disturbing the donnish waters ofCambridge University. Wittgenstein first decided to establish very precise-ly, in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), what philosophy should andshould not discuss. He then all but reversed the conclusions of that book todevelop his notion that human language has a fundamentally gamelikequality—a notion that implied a far less restrictive view of philosophy’s mis-sion. Though he accomplished those feats in a prose so gnomically stringentthat it almost defies comprehension, he left a deep imprint not just on phi-losophy but on 20th-century intellectual life in general. But that influence,alas, was not wholly benign.

The baleful part of Wittgenstein’s legacy is not so much a matter of strictlogical-philosophical inadequacy as it is a problem of intellectual style—acertain prejudice, expressed both in his personal dealings with people andin his work, about what the life of the mind should be. One way to get a senseof this style is through an anecdote recounted by one of his Cambridge friends,the literary critic F. R. Leavis. In a short memoir about their friendship, Leavistold how Wittgenstein came to him one day “and, without any prelude, said,‘Give up literary criticism!’ ” Cambridge being a relatively civil place, Leavis

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didn’t assault the brash Austrian. He didn’t even make the obvious retort—“Give up philosophy!”—in part because he thought that Wittgenstein hadfallen under the sway of John Maynard Keynes and other Bloomsbury witswho liked to toss off facile putdowns of people or ideas they disagreed with.More to the point, Leavis noted that Wittgenstein had only a “rudimentary”sense of literature, and so was incapable of thinking that it (much less liter-ary criticism) “might matter intellectually.” Such a view could not havebeen more inimical to Leavis’s conviction “that the fullest use of languageis to be found in creative literature, and that a great creative work is a workof original exploratory thought.” And to validate his conviction, Leavisadverted to his view about the inadequacy of philosophers: They were, he said,“weak on language.”

What confidence! Had it endured within the precincts of higherlearning, it’s fair to ask whether we would have avoided the current par-lous state of academic letters. I think so, even as I acknowledge the over-statement implicit in my assertion, and even as I allow that Leavis’s con-fidence was itself a little shaky.

Many factors share responsibility for the deplorable condition ofacademic writing, but none is more fundamental than thefatally mistaken view that intellectual work must be “serious.”

By claiming that literary criticism was serious in a way that Wittgenstein shouldhave been able to appreciate, Leavis all but embraced, however unwitting-ly, Wittgenstein’s definition of seriousness: a rigorous way of thinking and pro-ceeding intellectually, rooted in the assumedly clear procedural ways of theinductive sciences and leading to objective truth about the world, people, andwhat Wittgenstein called “everything that is the case.” That is scientism, ofcourse, driven by a Protestant intentness on having one’s subjective perceptionsvalidated by claims to the kind of objective truth that can be revealed by thescientific method. No, I am not attacking science, the scientific method, orthe many real and obvious blessings that have resulted from them. Nor amI attacking the notion of objectivity or the laudable goal of objective truth.I am merely pointing to the misapplication of the scientific idea, and to theconsequences of the same.

Wittgenstein’s early philosophy led him to the conclusion that we cannottalk rigorously or precisely about most things that humans deem of ultimateimportance: truth, beauty, goodness, the meaning and ends of life. We canspeak precisely and meaningfully only about those things that objective sci-ence can demonstrate. In his view, philosophy was to be a helpful tag-alongof science: It can paint clear verbal pictures of what science divulges. But evenWittgenstein recognized that this understanding of the limitations of languagewas too limiting, and he became more and more interested in the provisionaland social character of language, and in how the mystery of meaningemerges out of the shared play of making worlds out of words. He was strug-gling beyond scientism, and his final book, Philosophical Investigations(1953), posthumously assembled, seems to point suggestively away from thenarrowness and inconsequentiality of his earlier position.

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But if Wittgenstein struggled against the conclusions of his early work, Ifear that the Western academic world increasingly succumbed to a desire forthe kind of dubious seriousness that enticed the young philosopher. Scholarsof literature and the arts, historians, philosophers, and other academichumanists joined sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists in try-ing to make their fields as “serious” as the hard sciences. They grew obsessedwith theory and methodology, and particularly with the most abstract issuesof epistemology—how we know what we know. This is largely the story of pro-fessionalization, of course, of how professional standards and approvedbehaviors got established in the academic realm. It was Wittgenstein’s curseupon the professionals of the humanistic and social science disciplines thatthey took his kind of seriousness as an essential goal.

Why a curse? For one thing, because it burdened those profes-sions with a narrow-spirited utilitarianism. In his early work,Wittgenstein believed that his job was to make philosophy use-

ful. He wanted to clear out, like so much underbrush, all the metaphysicsand other matters that couldn’t be resolved the way a problem in, say, engi-neering (in which he had had training) can be resolved. In his early view,remember, philosophy was supposed to become a helpful user’s manual forthe hard sciences. For it to be anything else was frivolous, an indulgence, unse-rious. Wittgenstein, as many of his contemporaries noted, had a genius formaking colleagues and students feel guilty about not doing useful, produc-tive work. He urged a number of his students to abandon scholarship alto-gether and become car mechanics or hospital orderlies. Some took hisadvice—to the shock and sorrow of their parents.

The compulsion to prove the utility of ideas spread through the human-ities and social sciences like a contagion, assuming a variety of political, ide-ological, and theoretical colorings. It was no longer sufficient to master andconvey the great historical record, or to locate and celebrate the pleasuresof great works of literature or painting or music. Even the pursuit of wisdomwas not enough, once wisdom got problematized. Theorizing took over.Elaborate theorymongering, often French- or German-inspired, displaced themastering of subject matter, so that fledgling literary scholars, for example,ended up knowing more (or thinking they knew more) about Bakhtin thanabout Chekhov, more about queer theory than about any literary tradition.The pretense of helping the working class, or liberating gays by decon-structing texts, or doing meta-meta-interpretations of historical questionsappeared to be the really serious work. No matter that such seriousnessarguably achieved no serious real-world consequences. No matter that itbecame increasingly irrelevant to the real world—and completely impene-trable to most people in that world.

There’s an additional problem. The drift of much postmodern thought hasbeen toward the conclusion that there is no absolute or objective truth;there are only constructions of the truth, influenced by power and power rela-tions within society (might makes right—and truth) or by unacknowledgedbiases rooted in, say, gender or race. This radical skepticism, elaborated by

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such thinkers as the pragmatist Richard Rorty, holds that the pursuit of truthis essentially bootless. Whether such skepticism is itself simplistic (and, inRorty’s case, whether it’s a misreading of the far more complicated view oftruth held by earlier American pragmatists such as Charles Sanders Peirce)is beyond discussion here. But skepticism’s almost dogmalike standing with-in much of the academic community introduces a rich irony: Whereas skep-ticism would seem to invite scholars within the humanities, and even the socialsciences, to abandon their reliance on pseudoscientific theories and method-ologies and become truly independent thinkers and writers, it has in factenslaved them all the more to pseudoscientific doctrines.

And make no mistake: The doctrines are pseudo. The same Sokal whofooled the editors of Social Text subsequently teamed up with philosopherJean Bricmont to write a book, Fashionable Nonsense (1998), thatshowed the absurd and often hilarious efforts by leading postmodernthinkers to dress up their theories with scientific terminology and evenmathematical formulas. (The highly influential Jacques Lacan, for exam-ple, boasted that his theories drew from “the most recent developmentsin topology.”) On close inspection, the terminology and the formulas makeno sense at all. “They imagine, perhaps, that they can exploit the pres-tige of the natural sciences in order to give their own discourse a veneerof rigor,” write Sokal and Bricmont. “And they seem confident that no onewill notice their misuse of concepts.”

Such dishonesty is bad enough in itself. But the effect of thepseudoscientific doctrines on writing throughout the humanitiesand social sciences—and the writing remains unchanged,

despite Sokal and Bricmont’s valuable unmasking—only increases the seri-ousness of the crime. Forcing their ideas into the Procrustean beds ofFoucaultian or Lacanian theoretical constructs—or others equally dubi-ous—scholars produce a prose that seems to have emerged from amachine, a subjectless void. Where in that prose is the self, the individ-ual? Nowhere. There is no mind grappling freshly with a problem. Thereis no feeling, no humor, no spark of what is human; there is only theunspooling of phony formulas, speciously applied to the matter at hand.

The great harm in all of this has been a loss of confidence in the fun-damental worth of the seemingly irrelevant pursuit of knowledge, wisdom,and even pleasure for their own sake. Though an edge of defensivenesscrept into his voice, Leavis was right to say that respectful but not uncrit-ical reflection upon great literary works was worthwhile. Such activity deep-ens and complicates the individual, even as it expands the individual’sappreciation of the larger world of other people, society, politics, the nat-ural and physical order. The pleasurable pursuit of knowledge and wis-dom is, in great part, an extended meditation on the relations betweenself and world, subjectivity and objectivity, and on the question of wheretruth resides. It is, of all pursuits, the most relevant for human lives, andto the extent that the academy chooses to stand apart from it, academicwriting withers and dies. ❏

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The Struggle for theSoul of the Sentence

by Sven Birkerts

Ours is the great era of infotainment, of the much lamentedmigration away from serious reading. The communications rev-olution—everything from e-mail to the ubiquitous cell phone—

has spawned what seems to many an impoverished, phrase-based paradigm.The sound byte, the instant message—with every year, increments of mean-ing and expression seem to shrink. One might naturally expect American fic-tion of the last quarter-century to reflect that contraction, and gifted youngwriters, the products of an accelerated culture of distraction, to map in theirprose the rhythms and diction patterns of our times.

Instead, almost to a writer, a new generation of novelists and short-storywriters are forging styles of notable complexity and of cultural, if not alwayspsychological, nuance. Life as presented in fiction has never seemed moreramified, more mined with implication, more multiplex in possibility. Thisshocking reverse of expectation marks a major shift in the how and what ofliterary fiction in America. A pitched battle between ways of seeing and rep-resenting the world—what might be called a struggle over the soul of the sen-tence—has been fought for at least a half-century now, and skirmishes dur-ing the past two decades have brought a victory for complexity that fewwould have predicted.

To give this battle a crude first formulation, we are witnessing the later stagesof a long warfare between what I think of as ascetic realism—a belief in theartistic and ethical primacy of the understated treatment of the here and now—and something we might call, for want of an official term, “maximalism,” atendency toward expansive, centrifugal narrative that aspires to embracethe complexity of contemporary life. If we go back a quarter-century, to themid-1970s, we can see the polarity alive and well, represented, on the onehand, by Raymond Carver’s influential short-story collection Will You PleaseBe Quiet, Please? (1976) and, on the other, by Thomas Pynchon’s limit-busting novel Gravity’s Rainbow (1973).

In these works, the conflict between worldviews is revealed at the levelof the sentence. The aesthetics of a Carver and a Pynchon could not be moredifferent. Carver’s writing registers, by way of a harshly pruned-back affect,the injurious impact of the world on the susceptible psyche. Pynchon’sprose opens itself to the overwhelmingness of life, registering detail, explor-ing myriad connections (often in a playful manner), and communicating a

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sense of open-endedness that is always outrunning the perceptions of themoment.

At the subsentence—thematic—level, what we confront is the gulfbetween two visions of Americanness, one older and one of more recent vin-tage. The perspective with the longer lineage assumes a link between willedsimplicity and virtue, and harks back to a mythos of rural and small-town begin-nings that has been at the core of our popular culture from the start. The newervision would mark the epochal changes brought on by the acceleration, inter-connectedness, and radically expanded sense of context that are the productsof late modernity. What Philip Rahv once described as the core split in ourliterature between “redskins” and “palefaces”—primitives and aesthetes, ifyou will—can now be seen as the split between the conserving and the lib-erating impulses. There are those who have a hard time facing the fact thatour world has been refigured in the last decades by globalism and electron-ic communications, among other things, and those who are scrambling tomake sense of the new situation.

For a long time I shared what I think of as the great populist preju-dice. I had imbibed it in my schooling and in all the reading I’d donegrowing up in the 1950s and ’60s, in what might fairly be called the

Age of Hemingway in American fiction. Our American genius, I was far fromalone in believing, was at root an unpretentious directness, a humble, plain-spoken, verb-and-noun relation to the primary conditions of life and the large-ly stoical codes that honor them. I mean, among other things, the “manly”restraint of excessive feeling, and a rejection of pretense and, with it, intel-lectual complexity. This credo had its iconic father and manner: Within the

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Capturing a “minimalist” moment: Edward Hopper’s Summer Evening (1947).

plank-and-nail sentences of Ernest Hemingway, the ethos had its most rep-resentative life. “The door of Henry’s lunch-room opened and two mencame in”: A standard of purity and realism was embodied in such prose.

This equating of the demotic with the essential American virtues didnot originate with Hemingway, but it found its great midcentury expres-sion in his work and his public presence. (Something of the same hier-archy could be said to have prevailed in poetry, with Robert Frost takingthe Hemingway position, and possibly in the essay as well, where the chairbelonged to E. B. White.) The plainspoken tradition had its mainly maleline of succession. The spirit and the prose were passed along through writ-ers such as Robert Stone, Andre Dubus, Richard Ford, and a number ofothers. But Raymond Carver was Hemingway’s primary heir.

Stylistically, he was a direct descendant, with his pared-down, under-stated prose idiom. Carver’s thematic interests, though, took more of a turntoward implied interiority. Where Hemingway was preoccupied withwar and its lacerating effects on the manly self-conception, never mindthe soul, Carver took on the loss and failure faced by individuals left behindby the general rush into modernity. His was the blue-collar lament, thecry of the new superfluous man. The downbeat poignancy of this passagefrom “They’re Not Your Husband” is vintage Carver:

Early Ober was between jobs as a salesman. But Doreen, his wife, had goneto work nights as a waitress at a twenty-four-hour coffee shop at the edgeof town. One night, when he was drinking, Early decided to stop by thecoffee shop and have something to eat. He wanted to see where Doreenworked, and he wanted to see if he could order something on the house.

We find a similar naturalistic bluntness in such writers as Stone, Dubus,Ford, Russell Banks, Tobias Wolff, and Geoffrey Wolff, to name a few. Yet allof them work more with an eye toward narrative development, and cannotbe said to be Carver protégés in any sense. Carver’s influence is far more appar-ent in the work of the so-called minimalists, a group of mainly young writ-ers, many of whom were published in the 1970s and ’80s by an influentialeditor at Alfred A. Knopf, Gordon Lish (who, as an editor at Esquire, had beeninstrumental in getting Carver’s early work published).

M inimialism took to more stylized extremes the idea of theunderstated utterance, though with more ironic inflection,and the belief that suggestion and implication were built

through careful strategies of withholding. Minimalists likewise eschewedbig themes, preferring to create uneasy portraits of American middle-classdomesticity. But here we bump up against one aspect of the paradox thatis at the root of this seeming face-off between approaches. For if the sub-ject matter was, in this most reduced sense, realistic, the impetus of the

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>Sven Birkerts is the author of five books of essays. He will publish a memoir, My Sky Blue Trades, early nextyear. Copyright © 2001 by Sven Birkerts.

mode was aesthetic: The prose of minimalist exemplars such as AmyHempel, Mary Robison, Janet Kauffman, and others unmistakablyreflects a highly craft-conscious sensibility. Every feature in this close-cropped scene from one of Hempel’s stories is bathed in hyperawareness:“Ten candles in a fish stick tell you it’s Gully’s birthday. The birthday girlis the center of attention; she squints into the popping flash cubes. Theblack cat seems to know every smooth pose there is.”

Hempel’s carefully posed affect is fairly representative. If the popularequation of minimalism with an antiornamental—therefore democrat-ic/populist—approach ever really held up, it does so no longer. Indeed,if we look past the reflexive association of Hemingway’s clipped sen-tences with the plainspoken truth of things, we find a high degree of aes-theticism there as well. Hemingway is as mannered, in his way, as JamesJoyce and Virginia Woolf are in theirs, as studied as Cézanne (whom hestudied).

So it was hardly a surprise when gadfly essayist and novelist TomWolfe saw no realism to commend in minimalism in his hyperbolic blast“Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast: A Literary Manifesto for the New SocialNovel,” published in Harper’s in 1989. Pistols popping in all directions,Wolfe declared the landscape of American fiction blighted and plumpedhard for the kind of reheated Balzacianism that his two best-selling nov-els, The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) and A Man in Full (1998), couldbe said to represent. As Wolfe wrote in a much-quoted passage:

At this weak, pale, tabescent moment in the history of American literature,we need a battalion, a brigade, of Zolas to head out into this wild, bizarre,unpredictable, hog-stomping Baroque country of ours and reclaim it as lit-erary property. Philip Roth was absolutely right. The imagination of thenovelist is powerless before what he knows he’s going to read in tomorrowmorning’s newspaper. But a generation of American writers has drawn pre-cisely the wrong conclusion from that perfectly valid observation. Theanswer is not to leave the rude beast, the material, also known as the lifearound us, to the journalists but to do what journalists do, or are supposedto do, which is to wrestle the beast and bring it to terms.

Wolfe, though he growled and gnashed in his distinctively big-bad style,was hardly alone in his impatience with the evasions of minimalism andwith the more self-consciously formalized metafictional experiments ofwriters such as Robert Coover, John Hawkes, and John Barth, in whichthe artifice of fiction becomes in some sense the subject. His essayhelped to expose the limitations of American piety about the truth-tellingpower of plainspoken prose—and to reveal that the polarity between theascetic realists and the mandarin maximalists was not what it seemed atall. For, in his high dudgeon, Wolfe also swept aside as hopeless aesthetesthe “palefaces,” whose elaborate sentences may, in fact, have been lassoingthe “rude wild beast” in new and inventive ways that he failed to appre-ciate, wedded as he was to a 19th-century prose of enumerative specificity

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and linearity. He did not seem to see that the deeper nature of selfhoodand social reality was itself changing, transforming our fundamentalnotions of connectedness, of subject and object, of consciousness, in aworld less temporally and spatially fixed than ever before.

There are many ways to write the story of the gradual triumph of themaximalist approach. But a catalytic moment surely was the publicationin 1973 of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, the novel that ambitiously com-bined antic black comedy, a compellingly paranoid historical vision,and a sensibility saturated in the ethos of the then-counterculture. To besure, that big book’s arrival was preceded by the publication in 1953 ofSaul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March and in 1955 of WilliamGaddis’s The Recognitions. And in their very different ways, more elabo-rate stylists such as John Updike and John Cheever, along with Roth andBellow, were also staking an ambitious claim to charting our turbulentsocial and spiritual landscape. Still, Pynchon’s novel remains, more thanany other work, the ur-text for more contemporary makers of fiction; thebook exerts its influence even on those who have never read it.

Pynchon’s opening sentence is, it’s true, arrestingly declarative: “Ascreaming comes across the sky.” But before long, we are in the spawn bogsof the real, the essential, Pynchon sentences:

On a wooden pub sign daringly taken, one daylight raid, by a drunkenBarley Gobbitch, across which still survives in intaglio the legend SNIPEAND SHAFT, Teddy Bloat is mincing bananas with a great isoceles knife,from beneath whose nervous blade Pirate with one hand shovels theblond mash into waffle batter resilient with fresh hens’ eggs, for which OsbieFeel has exchanged an equal number of golf balls, these being even rarerthis winter than real eggs, other hand blending the fruit in, not overvig-orously, with a wire whisk, whilst surly Osbie himself, sucking frequent-ly at the half-pint milkbottle filled with VAT 69 and water, tends to thebananas in the skillet and broiler.

Gloriously elliptical, digressive, allowing his clauses to loosen and driftbefore drawing tight around noun and verb, Pynchon is, by design or not,making a revolutionary turn against the Hemingway mode. Keep inmind, too, that Pynchon was writing before the advent of our polymor-phous electronic culture. His contribution—one of many—was to patenta style, an approach that could later be adapted to rendering the strangeinterdependencies of a world liberated from its provincial boundedness.He modeled a swoop of mind, a way of combining precision with puck-ishness, a kind of rolling agglomeration that would prove formative forthe generation now coming into its own.

What is happening can be seen as a kind of gradual ice-heave action against the seemingly dominant presence ofthe plainspoken and simplified. Slowly they advance, the

proponents of the richer and headier view, each one different in form and

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particular expression, sharing only the impulse to break the confining box,the austere stoicist ethos, and to get hold of—annex—the sense of a bur-geoning world. In the footsteps of writers such as Updike, Roth, andBellow, with their complex intelligences, we now remark the ascendan-cy of William Gass, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Cynthia Ozick,Harold Brodkey, Annie Proulx, Toni Morrison, Paul West, and MaureenHoward, as well as short-story acrobats Barry Hannah, Denis Johnson, andThom Jones. There is obviously a world of difference between the ver-bally impacted sentences of a Gass and the almost mythical involutionsof Morrison, but at root one senses a common expansive will: toembrace, to mime, to unfold in the cadence of a sentence the complex-ities of life as lived. Far from a betrayal of the real, the elaboration of styl-istic surface is often a more faithful transcription than the willfullyreduced expression.

From David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest) to Richard Powers (Galatea2.2, Plowing the Dark) to Donald Antrim (The Verificationist) to HelenDeWitt (The Last Samurai) to Rick Moody (Purple America) to ColsonWhitehead (John Henry Days) to Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections), andon and on, the drive is not just to structural layering and counterpoint,but to the building of sentences that articulate, at every point, implicit-

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Sally Said (1994), by Jane Calvin

Sally Said (1994), by Jane Calvin. Courtesy of the artist and PaintingsDIRECT (http://www.PaintingsDIRECT.com).

ly, the fact that life and the consciousness that greets it are deeplyinvolved and involving.

Consider the tour de force convolutions of Wallace:

The student engineer, a pre-doctoral transuranial metallurgist working offmassive G.S.L. debt, locks the levels and fills out the left side of his timesheet and ascends with his book back through a treillage of inter-neuralstairways with semitic ideograms and developer smell and past snack barand billiard hall and modem-banks and extensive student counselingoffices around the rostral lamina, all the little-used many-staired neuro-form way up to the artery-red fire door of the Union’s rooftop, leavingMadam Psychosis, as is S.O.P., alone with her show and screen in the shad-owless chill.

We might marvel at, and also feel ourselves numbed by, the detailed den-sity, the terminological fetishism, the “neuroform” intricacy ofconsciousness in descriptive motion. We might also look at this tweezer-extracted bit from Powers’s densely woven novel Galatea 2.2:

The web was a neighborhood more efficiently lonely than the one itreplaced. Its solitude was bigger and faster. When relentless intelligencefinally completed its program, when the terminal drop box brought thelast barefoot, abused child on line and everyone could at last say anythinginstantly to everyone else in existence, it seemed to me that we’d still havenothing to say to each other and many more ways not to say it.

Not only is the prose elegant and clear, but it captures in its cadences, in itsdeferral of predicate, something of the phenomenon it reflects upon. Thereis here a palpable sense of language venturing a stretch, challenging our ideaof sufficiency, opening itself to take in more reality.

Granted, these brief samples are from two of our more cerebral andexperimental young writers, but I could very likely make my point by look-

ing at the prose of better-known, or less overtly heady,writers—DeLillo, Proulx,Ozick, Howard, MichaelChabon, Michael Cunning-ham, Brad Leithauser, StevenMillhauser, Alice Munro, andMichael Ondaajte. All couldbe said to share a belief in lin-guistic potency, in language’sachieving its highest and mostessential aims through enfold-

ing, not through suggesting by omission.Maybe this prospering of the maximal does not represent a paradox, or

contradiction, after all. To look at our new culture solely in terms of the forms

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The quest to capture

complexity and nuance

has been part of



since the time of


of electronic communications—the byte-speak mode—is to ignore theimpact of the system itself. The net effect (pun intended) of that system isto make the world hugely more complex, and, perhaps less obviously, to forceus to retool our reflexes, thereby allowing us to tolerate, possibly even requir-ing us to seek out, ever greater levels of sensory input. We do not live as ourparents did. We do not live even as we lived 10 years ago. We might have toaccept that we are changing, evolving new capacities that permit us to dis-cern patterns and harmonies—rather than mere noise—in the much-expanded orchestration of reality.

This literary transformation has been working itself out from two directions.On the one side, contemporary writing, in prose style and subject matter, reflectsthe excitements and anxieties of the arrival of cyber-culture in all its permu-tations. At the same time—on the other side—we are witnessing the dis-placement of older themes and approaches. One generation of novelists afteranother cannot keep finding inspiration in, say, the confusions wrought by thesexual revolution (Updike, Mailer, Oates, Roth), or in the tensions and ambi-tions bound up in Jewish assimilation (Bellow, Roth, Malamud)—thoughyounger writers, such as Chang-rae Lee in A Gesture Life or Jhumpa Lahiri inThe Interpreter of Maladies, have found new twists and turns to chart in the assim-ilation struggles of other cultures. The simple fact is that changing realities dosolicit the artist; they declare new needs and imperatives.

And that is the difference, the larger shift I’m talking about. Theexpansive thrust is not in itself a new thing. The quest tocapture complexity and nuance has been part of writerly—

indeed, artistic—sensibility since the time of Herodotus. Even inAmerica, where an anti-intellectual suspicion of overly intricate subtle-ty took root early on (one byproduct, perhaps, of our frontier origins), manyof the literary titans of the last century were expansive to the highest degree.What is new is a sense, not of arrival exactly, but of breaking through—in prose styles that signal an ascension to a new plane of vantage. Thesewriters are pushing toward a vision based on the idea of radical social andpsychological shifts in our ways of living and interacting. I see this as evi-dence of movement—I would even use that freighted word progress. It beliesthe tired postmodernist assumption that everything has been done and thatthere is no place left to go.

The diverse works of the young maximalists can be seen as the firstreflection of this larger transformation in consciousness. They help markour steady movement into global awareness, into the recognition that weare now and henceforth living in a world connected by a grid of lightningimpulses. This world will never get simpler. Perceptions, communications,social relations, the meaning of time and distance, the very materialityof things—nothing is as it was. More than ever before, our living needsto be mirrored and interpreted, vigorously and discerningly. The strug-gle for the soul of the sentence is, at the same time, a struggle for the mas-tery of subject matter, which is nothing less than a world that threatensat every moment to outstrip us. ❏

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The Professorsand Bush v. Gore

by Peter Berkowitz and Benjamin Wittes

“You cannot raise the standard against oppression, or leap into thebreach to relieve injustice, and still keep an open mind to everydisconcerting fact, or an open ear to the cold voice of doubt,” warned

the great American jurist Learned Hand (1872–1961). “I am satisfied that ascholar who tries to combine these parts sells his birthright for a mess of pottage;that, when the final count is made, it will be found that the impairment of his pow-ers far outweighs any possible contribution to the causes he has espoused.”

One need not share Learned Hand’s drastic view to appreciate that politicalengagement by scholars runs the risk of betraying intellectual integrity. Scholarshave a vital role in democratic debate, but to perform it properly they must exer-cise a certain restraint. Americans today confront a range of complex public-affairsissues—from the economic consequences of law and government policies to thepractical effects and moral implications of cloning and stem cell research—thatcan be understood only with the help of expert knowledge. In trying to come toreasoned and responsible judgments about such matters, citizens depend uponscholars to marshal relevant facts and figures, to identify the more and less like-ly consequences of law and public policy, and to clarify the moral principles atstake. But deference to expert knowledge depends in part on public confidencethat scholars will honor their obligation to separate the pursuit of truth from polit-ical advocacy and personal advantage. When scientists wade into the publicdebate over stem cell research, for example, we expect, above all, that they willgive a fair and accurate account of the facts. This is not to say that scholars can-not express opinions. It means rather that their first obligation is to speak the truth.Scholars are paid to not rush to judgment. If one scholar violates this obligation,the authority of the rest is compromised, and the public is invited to view all schol-ars as no different from the seasoned spinners and polished operators and purveyorsof the party line who crowd our public life.

Restraint may be hardest when justice is at stake. For legal scholars, the riskis especially acute when they weigh in on a controversial case while they are serv-ing as consultants to a party to the controversy, or take an unyielding stand beforepartisan fires have cooled. In recent years, law professors have assumed a higherprofile in public debates, and scholarly restraint has steadily declined. No longerconfined to the pages of professional journals, law professors now appear regularlyas pundits on TV and radio shows. Their new prominence dates at least to 1987,

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when, amid an uprising in the legal academy, the testimony of eminent law pro-fessors in the bitter Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee RobertBork was nationally televised. A decade later, legal academics found a new stagewith the O. J. Simpson trial, and they really hit their stride with the Kenneth Starrinvestigation and the impeachment and Senate trial of President Bill Clinton. Fewof them performed admirably during those public spectacles. But this past win-ter, with the Florida election controversy, members of the legal academy, in theirrole as public intellectuals, reached a distressing new low in the exercise of schol-arly restraint.

Although the war over Florida’s 25 electoral votes was waged on manyfronts, the decisive battles occurred in courts of law. Following the blun-ders by the television networks in calling the Florida vote on the evening

of November 7, 2000, and up through the U.S. Supreme Court’s dramatic inter-vention five Tuesdays later, on December 12, the Bush camp and the Gorecamp, an army of pundits, Florida lawyers, and an ample supply of law professorsfrom around the country struggled to make sense of the legal wrangling inFlorida. There were disputes about the legality of the notoriously confusing but-terfly ballot in Palm Beach County, the legality of conducting manual recountsin some counties and not others, the legality of varying standards for interpretingchads in manual recounts (dimpled chads, dangling chads, chads through whichlight passes), the legality of excluding recounts finished after the statutorilyimposed deadline, the legality of improperly completed overseas absentee ballots

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Tempers were running high throughout the nation last December when police were forcedto separate angry supporters of George W. Bush and Al Gore outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

in Martin and Seminole counties, the legality of excluding recounts completedafter the deadline imposed by the Florida Supreme Court, and a host of other ques-tions of law. These disputes culminated in two controversial Florida Supreme Courtdecisions, which were celebrated by Democrats as vindications of the will of thepeople and denounced by Republicans as acts of judicial usurpation.

Partisan rivalry quickly turned to bitterness and anger in Florida, and peopleon both sides passed beyond the limits of political civility. There is surely some-thing to be said for controversy in a democracy that worries about the fading polit-ical engagement of its citizens. Yet when the case passed to the highest court inthe land, citizens had every right to expect that at least one group would main-tain a degree of calm and dispassion: the scholars who serve as our national inter-preters of the law. But Bush v. Gore provoked from the legal academy a responsethat was without precedent. Never before had a decision of the Supreme Courtbeen subjected by large numbers of law professors to such swift, intense, and uncom-promising denunciation in the popular press as greeted the December 12, 2000,ruling that effectively sealed Governor George W. Bush’s victory in the presidentialelection. No doubt the professors’ fury, which has yet to abate, tells us somethingabout Bush v. Gore. It also tells us something important about the professors’ under-standing, or rather misunderstanding, of the public responsibilities of intellectuals.

Many aspects of the Court’s 5–4 decision in Bush v. Gore and the Floridaelection controversy that it brought to an end should disturb the demo-cratic conscience. Despite a certain skepticism about the use of the

equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and a pronounced aversion to con-stitutional innovation, the U.S. Supreme Court’s five conservative justices expand-ed equal protection doctrine and offered a novel reading of Article II, section 1, ofthe Constitution, which provides that each state shall appoint presidential electors“in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Even if one allows that therecount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court violated equal protection guaran-tees (as seven of nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and three of seven judgesof the Florida Supreme Court said), the Court’s justification for halting the recountrather than directing the Florida court to continue it on the basis of constitution-ally appropriate standards (as the two dissenting justices on the U.S. SupremeCourt who acknowledged equal protection problems with the Florida recount wished)has the appearance of a technical legal trap being sprung. The evidence indicatesthat a disproportionate number of African American voters in Florida saw their votesspoiled. There is good reason to believe that on November 7, 2000, a majority ofFlorida voters cast their ballots intending to vote for Vice President Al Gore. All ninejustices of the U.S. Supreme Court, moreover, faced a conflict of interest in decid-ing Bush v. Gore: The new president would very likely have the opportunity to nom-inate their new colleagues (or their successors). In addition, the Florida election con-troversy raised divisive political questions that the Court might have been wise toleave for resolution to Florida and, ultimately, to Congress.

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>Peter Berkowitz teaches at George Mason University School of Law and is a contributing editor of theNew Republic. His book Virtue and the Making of Modern Liberalism was recently published in paperback.Benjamin Wittes is a member of the Washington Post’s editorial page staff. His book Starr: A Reassessmentis forthcoming from Yale University Press. Copyright © 2001 by Peter Berkowitz and Benjamin Wittes.

The foregoing are serious matters, and they demand careful public consideration.The problem is that much that has been written about Bush v. Gore by law pro-fessors in their role as public intellectuals has not advanced that kind of carefulconsideration. Instead, it has muddied the waters and stirred more partisan ire.Far from counteracting the public’s tendency to collapse the legal dimension ofthe controversy into the political, many scholars have encouraged it. The two dimen-sions can—and must—be separated.

The overarching political question was whether the electoral system, inFlorida and in the nation, reflected the will of the people. The fundamen-tal legal question was whether the Florida Supreme Court’s two criticaldecisions, on November 21 and December 8, complied with the requirementsof American constitutional law. (In the first case, in a lawsuit brought by VicePresident Gore, the FloridaSupreme Court overruled alower Florida court and extend-ed by 12 days the deadline forprotesting election returns andfor officially certifying theresults; on December 8, again ina lawsuit brought by the vicepresident, it overruled a lowerFlorida court and ordered aspart of Gore’s contest of the offi-cial certification a statewidemanual recount of undervotes.) The U.S. Supreme Court was called uponto resolve only the legal dispute—the constitutionality of the conduct of theFlorida Supreme Court.

To listen to the nation’s preeminent constitutional theorists tell it, Bushv. Gore was an obvious outrage—nothing less than a politically dri-ven repudiation of democracy and the rule of law. In the months

immediately following the decision, Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law andpolitical science at Yale University and one of the nation’s most prominentlegal intellectuals, spoke for a substantial majority of law professors when heissued the brutal judgment—in agreement, he plausibly argued, with JusticeJohn Paul Stevens’s dissent—that the majority opinion was “a blatantly par-tisan act, without any legal basis whatsoever.” Leading conservative profes-sors of constitutional law were not much heard from, and they were com-paratively measured in their statements: By and large they found in Bush v.Gore a reasonable though flawed ruling. Two days after the decision,University of Utah law professor Michael McConnell argued in the Wall StreetJournal that the Court was correct to conclude that the “manual recount, asordered by the Supreme Court of Florida, would be unconstitutional,” buthe found the “question of remedy” to be “the troubling aspect of the deci-sion.” Conservatives, however, form only a small fraction of the legal pro-fessoriate. The great majority of their fellow law professors who spoke out onBush v. Gore followed Ackerman and other leaders in pouring scorn on it:

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The overarching

political question was

whether the electoral

system, in florida and

in the nation, reflected

the will of the people.

• Vanderbilt University law professor Suzanna Sherry maintained in the NewYork Times that “there is really very little way to reconcile this opinion otherthan that they wanted Bush to win.”

• Harvard University law professor Randall Kennedy proclaimed in theAmerican Prospect that Bush v. Gore was a “hypocritical mishmash of ideas,”and that “the Court majority acted in bad faith and with partisan prejudice.”

• University of Texas law professor Sanford Levinson asserted in the Nation that“Bush v. Gore is all too easily explainable as the decision by five conservativeRepublicans—at least two of whom are eager to retire and be replaced byRepublicans nominated by a Republican president—to assure the triumph ofa fellow Republican who might not become president if Florida were left toits own legal process.”

• American University law professor Jamin Raskin opened an article in theWashington Monthly by describing the case as “quite demonstrably the worstSupreme Court decision in history,” and proceeded to compare it unfavorablywith the notorious Dred Scott decision.

• A total of 554 law professors from 120 American law schools placed a full-pagead in the New York Times on January 13, 2001, declaring that the justices hadacted as “political proponents for candidate Bush, not as judges. . . . By tak-ing power from the voters, the Supreme Court has tarnished its own legitimacy.”

• Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz asserted in SupremeInjustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000 that “the decision inthe Florida election case may be ranked as the single most corrupt decisionin Supreme Court history, because it is the only one that I know of where themajority justices decided as they did because of the personal identity and polit-ical affiliation of the litigants. This was cheating, and a violation of the judi-cial oath.”

The gravamen of the complaint was that the five conservatives on the Court—Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, AntoninScalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas—hypocritically threw overboardtheir long-held and repeatedly affirmed judicial philosophy of restraint, deferenceto the states, and a preference that the political process, rather than the courts,resolve disputes. In a breathtakingly important case, one in which that philoso-phy would have guided them to a correct result, they betrayed their principles.They energetically extended the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment,they failed to defer to the Florida Supreme Court’s interpretation of Florida law,and they aggressively intervened in the political process before it had a chanceto play itself out. According to the Court’s accusers, the majority’s rank partisanpassion was the only explanation for this egregious betrayal. And the damage, theycontended, would be considerable: Bush v. Gore would undermine the legitimacyof the Bush presidency—and of the Court itself.

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If these charges are true, then Bush v. Gore deserves the opprobrium that lawprofessors have showered upon it. Yet the scholarly critics generally seemed toregard the truth of their assertions as too obvious to require sustained evidenceor argument, if they considered evidence or argument necessary at all. In fact,the careful study they failed to carry out before announcing their verdict showsthat not a single one of their charges is obviously true, and that all, quite pos-sibly, are false.

We do not mean to pass judgment on the ultimate correctness of the Court’sdecision. The case, which is complicated and raises a variety of multilayered ques-tions of fact and law and politics, will be debated for years to come. Indeed, ouraim is to defend the case’s difficulty against those scholars who, sadly, insist thatthere is virtually nothing to understand about Bush v. Gore that cannot besummed up with the term partisanship. The scholars’ hasty accusations of grosspoliticking may apply with more obvious justice to the accusers themselves thanto the Court majority whom they convict.

Recurring defects in the legal academy’s initial reaction to Bush v.Gore can be seen in the public pronouncements of three of its mosteminent constitutional theorists: Ackerman, Cass Sunstein, and

Ronald Dworkin.Even those scholars whose public utterances were relatively respon-

sible could be found making flamboyant assertions supported only by theirauthority. In the Chronicle of Higher Education (Jan. 5, 2001), for exam-ple, University of Chicago law professor Sunstein declared that future his-torians would conclude that the Court had “discredited itself” with its “ille-gitimate, unprincipled, and undemocratic decision.” We do not know whatfactors caused Sunstein to come to this harsh conclusion, because in hisbrief article he provided no arguments to support it. Nor did Sunstein men-tion that only three weeks earlier he had taken a much more measuredview. On December 13, the day after the case was decided, Sunstein toldABC News reporter Jackie Judd that the opinion “was a stabilizing deci-sion that restored order to a very chaotic situation.” On the same day onNational Public Radio, Sunstein observed: “The fact that five of them [thejustices who signed the majority opinion] reached out for a new doctrineover four dissenting votes to stop counting—it’s not partisan, but it’stroublesome.” While he did not “expect the Court to intervene so aggres-sively,” Sunstein allowed on NPR that its decision may have provided “thesimplest way for the constitutional system to get out of this. And it’s pos-sible it’s the least bad way. The other ways maybe were more legitimatelegally but maybe worse in terms of more chaotic.” Many months later,in the University of Chicago Law Review, Sunstein attempted to synthe-size these two seemingly irreconcilable views. His more detailed analy-sis of the case, however, falls far short of supporting the inflammatory lan-guage he used while the controversy was still hot.

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A more troubling characteristic of the assaults on the Court was the ten-dency to misstate matters of fact and law. In the New York Review of Books(Jan. 11, 2001), New York University law professor Dworkin offered a high-minded warning against “reckless accusations” of partisanship: “It is, after all,inherently implausible that any—let alone all—of them [the five- membermajority] would stain the Court’s reputation for such a sordid reason, andrespect for the Court requires that we search for a different and more cred-itable explanation of their action.” In “sorrow,” however, Dworkin con-cluded that the “implausible” charge was correct—because “the legal casethey offered for crucial aspects of their decisions was exceptionally weak.” Yetin his essay, Dworkin failed even to restate accurately the legal case the major-ity offered, and without meeting that minimal requirement he never fairlyengaged the majority’s reasoning.

The defects in Dworkin’s approach begin with a tendentious character-ization of events:

The conservatives stopped the democratic process in its tracks, with thousandsof votes yet uncounted, first by ordering an unjustified stay of the statewiderecount of the Florida vote that was already in progress, and then declaring,in one of the least persuasive Supreme Court opinions that I have ever read,that there was not time left for the recount to continue.

Whether the U.S. Supreme Court “stopped the democratic process in itstracks” depends in part on whether the two Florida Supreme Court rulings—of November 21 and December 8—that were guiding the process in Floridawere lawful and democratic. A scholar might responsibly criticize the Courtby showing that the two rulings were indeed lawful and democratic. ButDworkin examined neither of them.

If you believe—as three dissenting members of the Florida SupremeCourt argued in that body’s 4–3 decision on December 8—that the major-ity’s ruling departed substantially from the legislative scheme in place onNovember 7 for resolving election disputes, created serious equal protectionproblems, and provided a remedy that was inherently unworkable and henceunlawful, the U.S. Supreme Court’s action begins to look very different. Onemight reasonably conclude that, far from having “stopped the democraticprocess in its tracks,” the Court rescued it.

Dworkin’s contention that the recount was stopped with “thousands of votesstill uncounted” obscures the fact that Florida’s ballots were actually count-ed twice, by machines, as required by Florida law in close elections (wherethe margin of victory is 0.5 percent or less). At the same time, his anodynereference to “the statewide recount of the Florida vote” glosses over the dubi-ous parameters of the manual recount actually ordered by the FloridaSupreme Court. It was not a full manual recount of the presidential vote. Norwas it a full manual recount of undamaged ballots that failed to yield avalid, machine-readable vote for president, as would appear to have beenrequired by the Florida Supreme Court’s own principle that all votes shouldbe counted in pursuit of a “clear indication of the intent of the voter.”

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Rather, the Florida court ordered a manual recount of a subset of the so-callednonvotes, the undervotes, which are ballots (estimated to number about60,000) with no machine-readable vote for president. Despite the objectionsraised by Florida chief justice Charles T. Wells in his dissent, indeed with-out explanation, the majority excluded from the recount overvotes, an entireclass of undamaged ballots (estimated to number about 110,000) that wereinvalidated because machines detected multiple votes for president. And yet,like the undervotes, they too may have contained (and we now know did con-tain) discernible choices.

Dworkin also misstates the majority’s holding, though he claims it was “quitesimple.” The U.S. Supreme Court, Dworkin incorrectly argues, held that theFlorida recount violated equal protection only because it failed to establisha uniform and specific standard for determining in the recount whether a bal-lot revealed a voter’s clear intention. In fact, the Court identified four discretefeatures of the manual recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court thatraised equal protection problems. In addition to the one Dworkin men-tions, the Court singled out problems with the arbitrary exclusion of over-votes, the inclusion in the results of an uncompleted recount in Miami-DadeCounty, and the use of untrained and unsupervised personnel to conduct thestatewide recount.

Having failed to mention three of the four problems that taken togeth-er, the Supreme Court held, violated the fundamental right to voteprotected by the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment,

Dworkin never reached the central question: whether, as the majority con-cluded, the Florida recount in its various features violated the principlearticulated in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) that “the right of suffrage can bedenied by a debasement or dilution of the weight of a citizen’s vote just aseffectively as by wholly prohibiting the free exercise of the franchise.”

Though in the end, and for reasons that are not altogether clear,Dworkin allows that the Court’s equal protection holding was “defensible,”he insists that the controversial remedy, which he also misstates, was not.In Dworkin’s understanding, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the Floridarecount by adopting a “bizarre interpretation” of the intention of theFlorida legislature expressed in the state’s election law. The questionconcerned the state’s approach to the December 12 federal “safe-harbor”deadline (Title III, section 5, of the U.S. Code), which provides that incounting electoral votes, Congress will not challenge presidential electorsif states appoint them by the safe-harbor date and on the basis of laws inplace before the election. As Dworkin correctly notes, adherence to thefederal safe-harbor law is not mandatory—if Florida wished to put itselectoral votes at risk by failing to meet the December 12 deadline, it wasfree under federal law to do so. But, according to Dworkin, the Court readinto the Florida statutory scheme a legal obligation to meet the “safe-har-bor” deadline and then, “in violation of the most basic principles of con-stitutional law,” imposed that interpretation of Florida law on the FloridaSupreme Court.

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But the majority argued that in addressing the question of remedy it wasgiving effect to the Florida Supreme Court’s interpretation of Florida law:

Because the Florida Supreme Court has said that the Florida Legislature intend-ed to obtain the safe-harbor benefits of 3 U.S.C. §5, Justice Breyer’s proposedremedy—remanding to the Florida Supreme Court for its ordering of a con-stitutionally proper contest until December 18—contemplates action in vio-lation of the Florida election code, and hence could not be part of an “appro-priate” order authorized by Fla. Stat. §102.168(8) (2000).

In other words, the majority claimed that the Florida Supreme Court itselfhad interpreted Florida law as imposing the December 12 deadline. Indeed, theFlorida Supreme Court appears to affirm that deadline as many four times inits December 11 opinion (which it issued in direct response to the U.S. SupremeCourt’s request on December 4 for clarification of the grounds for the FloridaCourt’s November 21 decision). But Dworkin never examines the December 11opinion.

In fashioning its remedy, the majority plausibly claimed to rely upon and deferto the Florida Supreme Court’s interpretation of Florida law. In fact, it was theremedy contemplated by the dissents of Justices Stephen Breyer and DavidSouter, and endorsed by Dworkin himself, that very likely would have involvedthe Court in repudiating the Florida Supreme Court’s reading of Florida law.To be sure, even notable defenders of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion regardthe remedy as its weakest link, but to be fairly criticized it must first be correct-ly understood.

Perhaps the most serious infirmity in the law professors’ response to Bushv. Gore was the tendency, under the guise of legal analysis, to abandonlegal analysis. In contrast to Sunstein and Dworkin, Ackerman did not

so much as pause in his attack to caution against premature accusations of par-tisanship. His verdict in the American Prospect (Feb. 12, 2001) was uncompro-mising: “Succumbing to the crudest partisan temptations, the Republicansmanaged to get their man into the White House, but at grave cost to the nation’sideals and institutions. It will take a decade or more to measure the long-termdamage of this electoral crisis to the Presidency and the Supreme Court—butespecially in the case of the Court, Bush v. Gore will cast a very long shadow.”

As Ackerman explained in an article that appeared almost simultaneously inthe London Review of Books (Feb. 8, 2001), the trouble with the 2000 electionbegan with “the gap between the living and written Constitutions.” Under whatAckerman derisively calls “the written Constitution,” the president is selected bythe Electoral College, which gives smaller states disproportionate representation.But “the living Constitution”—which is nowhere written down or codified—rejectsthat unjust formula, having “created a system in which Americans think and actas if they choose their President directly.” Because Gore won the popular vote,“George W. Bush’s victory is entirely a product of the federalist bias inheritedfrom 1787.” For Ackerman, Bush v. Gore was part of the vast right-wing conspiracy,and, he declared in the American Prospect, it called for drastic countermeasures:

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“When sitting [Supreme Court] justices retire or die, the Senate should refuseto confirm any nominations offered up by President Bush.”

Ackerman is far clearer regarding what should be done about the Court’s per-fidy than he is about what exactly was wrong with the justices’ work. Whereasin the American Prospect he accuses the Court of acting lawlessly, in the LondonReview of Books he accuses it of foolishly applying the wrong law—the law thatactually exists (the written Constitution), rather than the one he believes timehas made more relevant (the living Constitution). At other times in the same arti-cle, Ackerman argues only halfheartedly that the Court incorrectly applied the“written Constitution.” He concedes in the London Review of Books that therewere strong pragmatic reasons for the Court to get involved: “If one is hauntedby the specter of acute crisis, one can view the justices’ intervention more char-itably. However much the Court may have hurt itself, did it not save the largerConstitutional structure from greater damage? Perhaps.” He even goes so far asto acknowledge, without actually engaging the legal arguments of the majorityor of the dissenters, that the Court’s central holding, which he misstates muchas does Dworkin, was correct: He says that he does “not challenge [the Court’s]doctrinal conclusion.”

In the end, Ackerman’s problem is not that the Court intervened, but that itdid so on Bush’s behalf rather than Gore’s: “The more democratic solution wouldhave been . . . to stop the Bush brothers from creating Constitutional chaos bysubmitting a second slate of legislatively selected electors. The court could havetaken care of all the serious difficulties by enjoining [Florida governor] JebBush not to send this slate to Congress.”

Leave aside the considerable legal difficulties in Ackerman’s call for theCourt to issue an injunction that was not requested by any party to the litigationagainst other persons and entities that were also not parties to the litigation. Thelarger problem is that he would have had the Court issue orders to elected stateofficials based on a nonexistent document (the living Constitution), to whoseauthority neither Bush nor Gore ever appealed, to protect a recount that he admitsviolated the law the justices were sworn to uphold. What, one wonders, is demo-cratic or lawful about that?

Of course, it is possible that while the critics failed to state accuratelythe arguments in Bush v. Gore, their basic charge—that theSupreme Court undermined its legitimacy by riding roughshod over

its own principles to reach a purely partisan conclusion—is still correct. Yeteven a brief examination of those principles—an examination that none of themajor critics offered the public in conjunction with their harsh condemnations—and reflection on the critics’ premises and predictions reveal that the law pro-fessors’ prima facie case against the decision is at best a caricature.

Consider first the gross oversimplification in the charge that Bush v. Gore vio-lated the majority’s core jurisprudential commitments. The Supreme Court’s con-servatives have indeed shown a commitment to ruling generally on the basis of

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explicit textual statements and well-settled precedents rather than abstract val-ues thought to be implicit in the constitutional text and previous opinions.These conservatives have also displayed an instinct to avoid unnecessarilyinterfering in state court matters, and a readiness to recognize zones of state author-ity in which Congress is forbidden to tread. The solicitude for state power isparticularly visible in habeas corpus litigation, where the Court has beenincreasingly reluctant to allow federal courts to second-guess state convictions.It can also be seen in the Court’s insistence that Congress’s power to regulate inter-state commerce has limits, and in its expansive interpretation of state immuni-ty against suits conferred upon state governments by the 11th Amendment.However, the majority’s federalism is scarcely recognizable in the crude versionof it that law professors constantly invoke against Bush v. Gore.

In no sense does the modern conservative vision of federalism contendthat state action—including state court action—is not subject to federalcourt review for compliance with the federal Constitution. In fact, the con-

servative justices often voteto reverse state supremecourt holdings on groundsthat they offend federalconstitutional imperatives.Only six months beforeBush v. Gore, the same U.S.Supreme Court majorityreversed the New JerseySupreme Court’s decisionthat the Boy Scouts couldnot discriminate on thebasis of sexual orientation.

The state court had held that the Boy Scouts were a public accommodationwithin the meaning of a state anti-discrimination law; the Supreme Courtsaid that the law, so interpreted, violated the Boy Scouts’ First Amendmentright of expressive association. The parallel with Bush v. Gore is exact: TheSupreme Court invalidated a state court interpretation of state law on theground that what state law required offended the federal Constitution.

Nor is it true that the Court’s conservatives were uniformly hostile to apply-ing the equal protection clause to strike down state actions before Bush v. Gore.In a series of voting rights cases beginning with the 1993 decision in Shawv. Reno, the same five justices relied on the equal protection clause to strikedown legislative districting schemes motivated primarily by racial consider-ations. The conservative justices have also used the equal protection clauseto rein in affirmative action programs. To be sure, the conservative inter-pretation of this clause is different from the liberal one, and in criticalrespects it is less expansive. It still serves, however, for the conservatives as aconstraint on state action, and it is by no means obviously inconsistent withthe holding the Court majority issued in Bush v. Gore.

In addition, Chief Justice Rehnquist’s concurring opinion, which arguedthat the Florida court changed the state’s election laws in violation of Article

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II, section 1 of the Constitution, has been criticized as hypocritical.Conservatives, the criticism goes, profess to respect state court holdings onstate law, yet in this instance the chief justice—and Justices Scalia andThomas, who joined him—dissected the Florida court’s interpretation ofFlorida’s election statutes. Again, however, conservatives, and certainly theCourt’s three most conservative justices, do not argue that the deference owedto state courts on matters of state law entitles states to violate the federalConstitution. From the conservatives’ point of view, Article II, section 1 ofthe Constitution, which declares that a state shall appoint presidential elec-tors “in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct,” provides anexplicit textual obligation on the part of the state courts to interpret—ratherthan rewrite or disregard—state law concerning presidential elections.

The willingness of the conservatives to review state supreme court inter-pretations of state law is particularly evident in cases involving thetakings clause of

the Fifth Amendment,which forbids governmentseizures of private propertywithout just compensation.In 1998, for example, theCourt ruled that interest onclients’ money held by theirlawyers constituted “privateproperty” for purposes of thetakings clause. This contra-dicted the view of Texasproperty law taken by theTexas Supreme Court, which had promulgated a rule under which interest fromtrust accounts was used to pay for counsel for indigents. In another case, theCourt said it reserved the right to examine the “background principles of nui-sance and property law” under which a state supreme court determined thatthe state can restrain uses of private property without compensating propertyowners. In one case, Justices Scalia and O’Connor even dissented from adenial of certiorari on grounds that the Court should not be too deferential tostate court interpretations of state law in takings matters. “As a general matter,”Justice Scalia wrote, “the Constitution leaves the law of real property to the States.But just as a State may not deny rights protected under the FederalConstitution through pretextual procedural rulings . . . neither may it do so byinvoking nonexistent rules of state substantive law.” The opinion in Bush v. Goreis based on the same principle: While the Court owes great deference to theFlorida Supreme Court’s view of Florida law, that deference ends where fed-eral law requires the Court to ensure that state supreme courts have reason-ably interpreted state law.

The larger point is not that the majority opinion and concurrence in Bushv. Gore were perfectly consistent with the conservatives’ judicial philosophy.Whether they were is debatable. As we have noted, there is certainly some-

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thing unexpected in the majority’s willingness to expand equal protection doc-trine and in the concurring justices’ novel Article II argument. But notingthose oddities, and appreciating the novel circumstances in which theyarose, should be the start of the discussion, not the end of it.

Consider next the accusation that in Bush v. Gore the conservative majoritywas driven by a self-interested political motive: A conservative president wouldappoint like-minded jurists to the Supreme Court. The critics’ failure to prop-erly engage the Court’s reasoning suggests that partisan corruption on the jus-tices’ part was not the scholars’ sad conclusion, as they claim, but rather their oper-ative premise from the beginning. But it is a dogmatic and dangerous premise,especially for intellectuals engaged in shaping public opinion. For one thing, itobviates the need for careful evaluation of legal arguments, converting them, beforeexamination, from reasons to be weighed and considered into rationalizationsto be deflected and discarded. And the premise is easily turned against its user.It is not difficult to identify potent partisan interests driving the scholarly criticsof Bush v. Gore. Many were stalwart supporters of the Clinton administration,and many keenly favored Gore for president. Were Gore appointing federal judges,many would have significantly improved their chances of placing their studentsin prestigious judicial clerkships, as well as of disseminating their constitution-al theories throughout the judiciary.

Consider finally the prediction that Bush v. Gore would gravely dam-age President Bush’s and the Court’s own legitimacy. That claim issubject to empirical testing. And the tests prove it false—that is, if legit-

imacy is regarded as a function of public opinion. By April 2001, after his first100 days in office, President Bush enjoyed a 63 percent overall approval ratingin a Washington Post-ABC News poll. In response to the question “Do you con-sider Bush to have been legitimately elected as president, or not?” fully 62 per-cent answered affirmatively. That was actually a small increase over the 55 per-cent who regarded Bush’s election as legitimate in the immediate aftermath ofthe Court’s decision. Bush’s popularity will wax and wane like any other presi-dent’s, but he does not seem to have legitimacy problems.

Nor has the Court itself fared badly in the public’s eye. The Pew Center forthe People and the Press has been measuring the Court’s approval rating since1987. In that time, the rating has fluctuated from a low of 65 percent in 1990 toa high of 80 percent in 1994. In January 2001, the Court’s favorability rating stoodat 68 percent. Three months later, it stood at 72 percent. More interestingly, theCourt was viewed favorably by 67 percent of Democrats.

The continued high opinion of the Supreme Court is consistent with othersurveys that straddle the date of the Court’s action. The Gallup Organization,for example, asked people immediately after the decision how much confi-dence they had in the Court. Forty-nine percent of Americans had either “a greatdeal” or “quite a lot” of confidence, up slightly from the 47 percent whoexpressed such confidence the previous June. Both the Pew and Gallup polls sug-gest that the partisan composition of the support changed somewhat followingthe Court’s action, with Democratic confidence declining and Republicanincreasing. That shift, however, does not constitute a national legitimacy crisis,

any more than conservative disaffection with the Warren Court did during the1960s. The Court has enjoyed a remarkably stable level of public confidence andtrust over a long period of time.

The academics worrying themselves about the crisis of the Court’s legitimacypresent as a sociological claim what is really normative criticism: The Court deservesto lose the public’s confidence, or, put differently, as a result of Bush v. Gore theCourt has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of academic pundits (name-ly, themselves) whom the public ought to follow. The Rehnquist Court’s “loss”of legitimacy among leading constitutional theorists might be more troubling ifit had ever enjoyed such legitimacy. But despite all the expressions of concernfor the Rehnquist Court’s standing following its December fall from grace, it ishard to find any evidence that the Court’s more prominent scholarly critics everheld it in much esteem. Sunstein, whose writings on the Court reflect a com-plicated relationship, is an exception. But Ackerman and Dworkin certainly arenot. Even before Bush v. Gore, their work dripped with disdain for the conserv-ative majority, whose legitimacy they discovered only when they felt at libertyto say that it had been lost for good.

B ush v. Gore was a hard case. The Court confronted novel and dif-ficult legal questions, both parties made plausible arguments, thepolitical stakes loomed large, partisan passions ran excruciatingly high,

and the controversy deeply implicated fundamental concerns about justice anddemocratic self-government. Reasonable people may differ over whether Bushv. Gore was correctly decided. But the charge that the decision is indefensibleis itself indefensible. That this untenable charge has been made by legal schol-ars repeatedly and emphatically, and with dubious support in fact and law, isan abuse of authority and a betrayal of trust. If scholars do not maintain a rep-utation for fairness and disinterestedness, their own legitimacy may well suffergrievously in the eyes of the public, and so could American democracy.

When scholars address the public on matters about which they areexpert, the public has a right to expect that the scholars’ reason, not their pas-sion, is speaking. Because liberal democracy is grounded in the rule of law,and because law is a technical discipline—the resolution of whose cases andcontroversies often involves the interpretation of arcane statutes, the masteryof voluminous case law, the understanding of layers of history, and theknowledge of complicated circumstances—the public is particularly depen-dent on scholars for accurate and dispassionate analysis of legal matters. Thosescholars who assume the office of public intellectual must exercise a height-ened degree of care and restraint in their public pronouncements.

Scholarly restraint—so lacking in the aftermath of Bush v. Gore—isindeed compatible with lively participation by scholars in democraticdebate. By putting truth before politics, out in public as well as inside theivory tower, scholars make their distinctive contribution to that precious pub-lic good, reasoned and responsible judgment. ❏

Autumn 2001 89

Knowing thePublic Mind

by Karlyn Bowman

In their 1940 book The Pulse of Democracy, George Gallup and SaulRae defended a new instrument, the public opinion poll, but they cau-tioned as well that polling, an industry then just out of its “swaddling

clothes,” would need to be evaluated afresh in the future. The infantindustry, long since matured, is full of life today. Polls are a commonplaceof American life, conducted almost nonstop on almost every conceivablesubject. But some of the same questions Gallup and Rae asked aboutpolling six decades ago are still being asked: Is public opinion unreliableas a guide in politics? Are samples truly representative? What are polling’simplications for the processes of democracy? And along with the old ques-tions, there are significant new ones, too: Is the proliferation of polls, forexample, seriously devaluing the polling enterprise?

The amount of polling on a subject much in the news of late may sug-gest an affirmative answer to that last question. In late July, the GallupOrganization asked Americans for their views on embryonic stem-cellresearch, a matter that has vexed scholars, biologists, and theologians.From August 3 to August 5, Gallup polled Americans again. On August 9,immediately after President George W. Bush announced his decision to pro-vide limited federal funding for the research, the survey organization wasin the field once more with an instant poll to gauge reaction. From August10 to August 12, Gallup interviewers polled yet again. Gallup wasn’t theonly polling organization to explore Americans’ views on this complex issue.Ten other pollsters, working with news organizations or academic institu-tions, conducted polls, too. Hoping to influence the debate and the pres-ident’s decision, advocacy groups commissioned polls of their own. TheJuvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, a supporter of stem-cell research, reported that a solid majority of Americans were in favor offederal funding, and touted the findings in newspaper advertisementsshortly before the president spoke. The National Council of CatholicBishops, an organization opposed to stem-cell research, released survey find-ings that showed how the wording of questions on stem-cell research canaffect a poll’s results.

So much polling activity on a single issue isn’t unusual anymore, andit clearly indicates how powerful a force polls have become today.Fourteen national pollsters release data publicly on a regular basis, as do

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scores of others at the state and local level. Many of these organizations alsopoll for private clients, though much of that work never becomes public;market research on new products and consumer preferences (conductedprivately for the most part) dwarfs the public side of the business. In thepolitical life of the nation, campaign and public pollsters, particularly

Autumn 2001 91

Can pollsters really see into these minds?

those associated with media organizations, have enormous influence, andthey are the focus of this essay.

The Roper Center, at the University of Connecticut, collects andarchives polling data for most of the national survey organizations thatrelease their data publicly. The Roper archive, the oldest and largest devot-ed to public opinion data, contains about 9,000 questions from the 1960s—and more than 150,000 questions from the 1990s. Nine organizations regu-larly contributed to the Roper archive in the 1960s. Today, 104 do. Materialsfrom Gallup and Harris, two of the most familiar names in the survey busi-ness, represented slightly more than 75 percent of the Roper Center’s hold-ings in the 1960s; in the 1990s, they accounted for less than 25 percent. Therewere 16 questions asked about Medicare in 1965, the year that legislationbecame law, and more than 1,400 questions about the Clinton health careplan in 1994, the year that proposed legislation died. From 1961 to 1974, poll-sters asked some 1,400 questions about Vietnam; in the eight months fromAugust 1990 to March 1991, they asked 800 questions about the Persian GulfWar. A combined total of 400 questions were asked about the 10 first ladiesfrom Eleanor Roosevelt through Barbara Bush; twice that many questions wereasked about First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton alone.

The polling business has grown dramatically outside the United Statesas well. Five firms polled for major British newspapers and television sta-tions in the last days of the British election campaign this past June. Abouta dozen different news organizations, including three from the UnitedStates, conducted polls during the 2000 Mexican presidential campaign.The presence of independent pollsters surveying voters on election day inMexico, and the expeditious broadcast of their findings, reinforced the beliefthat the election, which was won by the challenger, Vicente Fox, was fair.The New Yorker recently chronicled the work of a political pollster inUlaanbaatar, Mongolia. In the past three Mongolian national elections, thepollster “predicted the winner within fewer than 2.8 percentage points.” Thearticle described how one of the pollster’s young associates traveled by motor-bike, in a remote province with no roads, to speak to prospectiveMongolian voters. When he handed out his questionnaires, the nomadsbegan weeping because, as the young man said, “for the first time they feelthat somebody cares about what they think.”

Polls in the United States have achieved a degree of prominencein public life that was inconceivable when George Gallup,Archibald Crossley, and Elmo Roper started using scientific sam-

pling techniques almost seven decades ago to gauge Americans’ opinions.Some of the most familiar polling questions today (“What is the mostimportant problem facing the United States?”; “Do you approve or disap-prove of how the president is handling his job?”; “In politics, do you con-sider yourself a Democrat or a Republican?”) were asked for the first time

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>Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, in Washington, D.C. Portions ofthis article are adapted from other writing by the author, including “Polling to Campaign and to Govern,” in ThePermanent Campaign and Its Future (2000). Copyright © 2001 by Karlyn Bowman.

by those pollsters—the founding fathers—in the 1930s. All three mea-sured Franklin Roosevelt’s popularity and predicted his victory in 1936.Roosevelt himself became an enthusiast for polls after they predicted hiswin, and he enlisted Hadley Cantril of Princeton University to measure opin-ion about issues that concerned him, particularly views about the war inEurope. Cantril used Gallup’s facilities at first, but he later set up an inde-pendent operation that provided secret poll reports to the White House. HarryTruman, not surprisingly, became skeptical about polls after their famous-ly incorrect prediction thatThomas E. Dewey woulddefeat him in 1948. Mostobservers date the modernera of political polling toLouis Harris’s work for JohnF. Kennedy in 1960. Sincethen, pollsters working pri-vately for political candi-dates have become so influ-ential that virtually nocandidate runs for major office without hiring one.

Private polling is used in almost every aspect of political campaignstoday—from strategic planning to message development to fund-raising—and at every stage of campaigns. And the activity doesn’t stop when the cam-paigning is over. In a post-election memo to Jimmy Carter in 1976, PatrickCaddell, the president-elect’s pollster, argued that politics and governingcould not be separated. Thus was launched “the permanent campaign,” withits armies of pollsters and political consultants. Once in office, presidentscontinue to poll privately, and they collect data from the public pollstersas well. During the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations, accord-ing to political scientists Lawrence R. Jacobs and Robert Y. Shapiro, “pub-lic opinion analysis became an integral part of the institution of the pres-idency,” with staff members given the task of monitoring the data.Successive administrations have become “veritable warehouses for publicopinion data.” (The private polling that’s done for presidents and paid forby the political parties is lucrative indeed for pollsters—and often helps attractnew clients.)

The public side of the polling business derives its great influence in partfrom media alliances and coverage. Since the earliest days of polling, poll-sters who release data publicly have depended on news organizations to dis-seminate their findings. Gallup syndicated his polls in various newspapers;Crossley polled for Hearst, and Roper for Fortune. It wasn’t until 1967 thata news organization—CBS News—started conducting its own polls. CBSpolled alone at first, but joined forces with the New York Times in 1975. (Inthe 1990s, CBS News and the Times asked Americans more than 10,000questions.) Some of the other prominent partnerships today includeGallup, CNN, and USA Today; Harris Interactive, Time, and CNN; andOpinion Dynamics and Fox News. ABC News polls both alone and with

Autumn 2001 93

The public side of the

polling business derives

its great influence in

part from media alliances

and coverage.

the Washington Post. A bipartisan team led by Democrat Peter D. Hart andRepublican Robert Teeter polls regularly for NBC News and the WallStreet Journal. Princeton Survey Research Associates polls for BloombergNews and, separately, for Newsweek. Zogby International, which recentlyconducted a poll for NBC, worked with Reuters during the 2000 campaign.

Like their counterparts that poll for candidates, pollsters associatedwith news organizations are involved in all phases of the permanent polit-ical campaign. Pollsters inquire about how the president-elect is handlinghis transition, and whether the outgoing president is making a graceful exit.In the first 100 days of the Kennedy administration, Gallup asked four ques-tions about how the new president was handling his job. During the sameperiod in Jimmy Carter’s presidency, four national pollsters asked 14 jobapproval questions. In George W. Bush’s first 100 days, 14 pollsters asked44 such questions. The total is substantially higher if one includes ques-tions about how the president has handled specific aspects of his job, suchas the economy, the environment, or foreign policy. Americans havealready been asked whom they will vote for in the presidential election andsenatorial contests in 2004. All this activity is a mark of how successful thepollsters have become, but it has also given rise to criticism that the sheervolume of the activity may be diminishing the value of polls.

In the media/pollster partnerships, the needs of the media often trumpthose of the pollsters. The press has to work quickly, whereas good pollingusually takes time. The competitive news environment has pollsters vyingto provide the first reaction to a breaking news story. Kathleen Frankovic,director of surveys at CBS, reports that it took Gallup two weeks to tell thecountry who won the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates. In 1992, CBS had resultswithin 15 minutes of the second presidential debate. Technologicaladvances have made it possible to conduct interviews and to processresponses faster and more inexpensively than in the past, but the advancesdon’t necessarily make the practice wise. Instant polls such as those con-ducted after President Bush’s speech on stem-cell research and ConnieChung’s interview with congressman Gary Condit (D-Calif.) may satisfy ajournalist’s requirement for speed and timeliness (and perhaps even sen-sationalism), but they do not always satisfy a pollster’s need for adequatesamples. To understand just what the public is saying often takes time, andtime is a luxury media organizations don’t have.

The media’s preoccupation with speed caught up with the pollstersin spectacular fashion last year. Although their record of predictionin the 2000 national election was one of the best ever, the exit-

poll consortium (the five networks and the Associated Press pool resourcesand conduct a joint poll of voters leaving selected precincts) was roundlycriticized for its role in precipitous election-night calls. CNN’s internal reporton the election night fiasco argued that “television news organizationsstaged a collective drag race . . . recklessly endangering the electoralprocess, the political life of the nation and their own credibility.” As the resultsof a national Los Angeles Times poll make clear, the public objects to the

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practice of calling elections before voting has finished. Three-quarters ofthose surveyed told interviewers that the networks’ practice of predictingthe results in some parts of the country while citizens in other parts of thecountry are still casting ballots “is interfering with the voting process andthe practice should be stopped.” (Just 22 percent said that the results con-stitute “breaking news” and that the networks should be allowed to continuethe practice.)

Because competition in the news business is so great, polls are being con-ducted and reported about many matters on which opinion isn’t firm—or maynot exist at all. Questions about a candidate’s strength or a voter’s intention,asked years before an elec-tion, are largely meaning-less. In Gallup’s first pollabout the stem-cell contro-versy, taken in July 2001,only nine percent of thoseinterviewed said they werefollowing the debate aboutgovernment funding “veryclosely,” and 29 percent“somewhat closely.” Sixty percent said they were following it “not too close-ly” or “not closely at all.” Asked whether the government should fund thistype of research, 57 percent of respondents said that they “didn’t knowenough to say.” In the weeks that followed, Americans did not take a shortcourse in molecular biology or theology. Yet many pollsters reported their viewsas if they had. Poll findings released by advocacy organizations—on issuesfrom stem-cell research to missile defense—have become weapons in polit-ical battles, and the development may undermine polling generally if itcauses people to believe that you can prove anything with a poll.

In his forthcoming book Flattering the Leviathan, political scientistRobert Weissberg levels a serious indictment at contemporary polling onpolicy issues. He argues that polls, as currently constructed, “measure thewishes and preferences of respondents, neither of which reflect the costsor risks associated with a policy,” and he urges policy makers to ignore them.He takes two superficially popular ideas—that the government shouldprovide money to hire more grade school teachers and that it should pro-vide money to make day care more affordable and accessible—and subjectsthem to rigorous scrutiny through a poll of his own. Opinions about the ideasturn out to be far more complicated, and far more skeptical, than the ini-tial positive responses suggested. Weissberg believes that “contemporary pollstell us almost nothing worthwhile about policy choices facing the nation.”In his view, polls have an important place in the political life of the nationwhen they measure personal values and subjective opinions, but they sub-vert democracy when they purport to provide guidance on complicated pol-icy debates.

Although the public displays no overt hostility to polls, fewerAmericans are bothering to respond these days to the pollsters who phone

Autumn 2001 95

The media’s preoccupation

with speed caught up

with the pollsters in

spectacular fashion

last year.

them. Rob Daves, of the Minnesota Poll, says that “nearly all researcherswho have been in the profession longer than a decade or so agree that nomatter what the measure, response rates to telephone surveys have beendeclining.” Harry O’Neill, a principal at Roper Starch Worldwide, calls theresponse-rate problem the “dirty little secret” of the business. Industry-spon-sored studies from the 1980s reported refusal rates (defined as the proportionof people whom surveyors reached on the phone but who declined eitherto participate at all or to complete an interview) as ranging between 38 and46 percent. Two studies done by the market research arm of Roper StarchWorldwide, in 1995 and 1997, each put the refusal rate at 58 percent. A1997 study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press foundstatistically significant differences on five of 85 questions between thosewho participated in a five-day survey and those who responded in a morerigorous survey, conducted over eight weeks, that was designed to coax reluc-tant individuals into participating.

Much more research needs to be done on the seriousness of theresponse-rate problem, but it does seem to pose a major challenge to thebusiness and might help to usher in new ways of polling. (Internetpolling, for example, could be the wave of the future—if truly represen-tative samples can be constructed.) Polling error may derive from othersources, too, including the construction of samples, the wording of ques-tions, the order in which questions are asked, and interviewer and data-processing mistakes.

The way many polls are conducted and reported today obscuressome very important findings they have to offer about public opin-ion. Polls taken over long periods of time, for example, reveal a

profound continuity about many of the core values that define Americansociety. Huge majorities consistently tell pollsters that they believe in

God and that religion isimportant in their daily lives. In1939, 41 percent of those sur-veyed by Gallup answered“yes” when asked if they hadattended church or synagoguein the past seven days. WhenGallup asked the same ques-tion this year, an identical 41percent answered “yes.”Americans’ views about therole of the United States inthe world show a similar long-

term stability. In 1947, 68 percent of those surveyed told NationalOpinion Research Center interviewers that it would be best for the futureof the United States if it played an active role in world affairs, and 25 per-cent said that it would be best for the country if it did not. When the ques-tion was asked 50 years later, 66 percent favored an active role and 28 per-

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The way many polls

are conducted and

reported today

obscures some very

important findings

they have to offer

about public opinion.

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98 Wilson Quarterly

The Making of the Public Mind

cent were opposed. In dozens of iterations of the question, opinionhasn’t budged. Americans are cranky at times about shouldering so manyburdens abroad, but they are internationalists nonetheless.

There are other telling instances of stability. When Gallup asked in 1938whether the government should be responsible for providing medicalcare to people unable to pay for it, 81 percent said “yes.” When the ques-tion was repeated in 1991, 80 percent so responded. Polling on the min-imum wage, too, shows consistent support for a wage floor beneathAmerican workers. Many early observers of American democracy fearedthat public opinion would be too fickle and volatile to make democracysuccessful. But the polling data on many issues reveal a public strong andunyielding in its convictions.

Polls can also reveal how the nation has changed its mind. In 1958, onlyfour percent of whites approved of marriage between “whites and coloredpeople.” Today, a solid majority of whites approve. In 1936, only 31 per-cent of respondents said they would be willing to vote for a woman for pres-ident, even if she were qualified in every respect. Today, more than 90 per-cent respond that they would vote for a woman. When Gallup asks peoplewhether they would vote for a black, a Jew, or a homosexual, solid majori-ties answer affirmatively. (People are evenly divided about voting for anatheist for president, a finding that underscores the depth of Americans’religious convictions.) In 1955, Americans were divided about whichthey enjoyed more—time on the job or time off the job. Today, timeaway from work wins hands down. The work ethic is still strong, butAmericans are taking leisure more seriously than they once did.

Polls show that Americans are of two minds on many matters, andthat makes the findings difficult to interpret. Take the issue of abor-tion. When Americans are asked whether abortion is an act of mur-

der, pluralities or majorities tell pollsters that it is. When they are askedwhether the choice to have an abortion should be left to women andtheir doctors, large majorities answer that it should. Americans tell poll-sters that they want government off the back of business—even as they alsotell them that government should keep a sharp eye on business practices.The nation wants a strong and assertive military, but Americans are reluc-tant to send troops abroad. The “on the one hand/on the other hand”responses to many questions are a prominent feature of American publicopinion, and the deep ambivalence seems unlikely to change.

It’s essential in a democracy to know what citizens are thinking, and pollsare a valuable resource for understanding a complex, heterogeneous pub-lic. Gallup and Rae had high hopes that polls would improve the machin-ery of democracy. But polls can be both overused and misused. Instead ofoiling the machinery of democracy, the polls now seem to be clogging itup. In an article in this magazine in 1979, the editors wrote, “Americanstoday seem obsessed with their reflection in the polls.” If contemporaryrefusal rates are a fair indication of their interest, that is no longer the case.Their former enthusiasm is now ennui. ❏

Autumn 2001 99

History for aDemocracy

by Wilfred M. McClay

Americans are said to be notoriously indifferent to the past. They arethought to be forward looking, practical, innovative, and results ori-ented, a people passionately committed to new beginnings and sec-

ond (and third) chances. They are optimists and dreamers, whom the green lightof personal betterment and social transformation always beckons, and whose atti-tude toward history was conclusively (if crudely) summarized in the dismissiveaphorisms of Henry Ford, the most famous perhaps being this: “History is moreor less bunk.”

Maybe those propensities were inevitable features of the American way of life.The United States has been a remarkably energetic and prosperous mass democ-racy, shaped by the dynamic forces of economic growth, individual liberty, mate-rial acquisitiveness, technological innovation, social mobility, and ethnic multi-plicity. In so constantly shifting a setting, a place where (in Henry DavidThoreau’s words) “the old have no very important advice to give the young,” whatpoint is there in hashing over a past that is so easily and profitably left behind? “Olddeeds for old people,” sneered Thoreau, “and new deeds for new.” That could almostbe the national motto.

Even on the rare occasions when tradition enjoys its moment in the spotlight,the nation’s love affair with possibility manages to slip on stage and steal the show.Consider, for example, the standard fare in an outdoor concert for the Fourth ofJuly. Along with Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” and Tchaikovsky’s 1812Overture, one can expect to hear Copland’s stately Lincoln Portrait, with aninspirational narrative that draws on the 16th president’s own words. But in addi-tion to familiar phrases from the Gettysburg Address, Copland includes the fol-lowing: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. . . .As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall our-selves and then we shall save our country.”

Disenthrall is a rather strong word to use against the past on a day of nationalpiety. Yet Lincoln’s words seem merely to echo Thoreau’s sentiments—or, for thatmatter, those of Thomas Paine, who urged his contemporaries to discard uselessprecedents and think “as if we were the first men that thought.” Such statementslimn a familiar American paradox: We are to honor our past on Independence Dayprecisely because it teaches us that we should become independent of our past.

What, indeed, could be more American than to treat the past as a snare, some-thing to which we are always potentially in thrall? Yet by that standard, it wouldbe hard to account for a notable phenomenon of the American summer of2001. I refer to the re-emergence of John Adams—revolutionary leader,

The Making of the Public Mind

Founding Father, second president of the United States, sparring partner ofJefferson, nonadmirer of Paine—as an icon of our public life. Who can have failedto notice Adams’s round and rosy countenance peering at us with 18th-centuryseriousness and stolidity from the cover of David McCullough’s new biogra-phy—the publishing sensation of the summer, a 751-page tome stacked high innearly every bookstore in every mall and airport terminal in the land?

Adams hardly seems the stuff of which modern bestsellers are made. Despitehis boundless energy and ambition, and his many accomplishments, he cannotbe judged an especially skillful politician or a notably successful president. (It wasnot for nothing that he was our first one-term president, and his son John Quincyour second.) A man of high integrity, he was free of the lower Jeffersonian orClintonian vices that stir the interest of tabloid-minded readers. Nor was he a fig-ure cast in the classic heroic mold, being small and rotund, with a vain and prick-ly personality and a self-confessed tendency to fits of pettiness and pique. His soberand distrustful view of human nature, including his own, would earn him athumbs-down from the positive thinkers in the Oprah Book Club. His approachto politics was grounded in a belief in the inevitability of permanent social andeconomic inequalities—and that approach, even in his day, was slowly but sure-ly on its way out of American life.

And yet, astonishing to report, there are close to a million hardcover copies ofMcCullough’s book in print. We cannot account for this success merely by not-ing the author’s literary gifts or Simon and Schuster’s marketing prowess. Theremust be other factors boosting Adams’s popular appeal. Does the revival of his rep-utation have something to do with public disillusionment over the low charac-ter of our public officials, past and present, and a desire to find at least one whowas estimable? Might it relate to Adams’s stubborn commitment to principlethroughout his political career, a commitment that repeatedly cost him power andinfluence—in stark contrast to recent politicians whose success seems directly relat-ed to their utter lack of principle? Does it have to do with the steadily decliningreputation of Thomas Jefferson, so often seen as Adams’s opposite number?Could it be because of the human interest of Adams’s unusually devoted and com-panionate relationship with his wife, Abigail? Is it because Adams’s principled straighttalk and aversion to “spin” and partisanship contrast so sharply with the pervasiveverbal dissembling of our current political culture?

All of those possible explanations have some merit, but the real reasonmay be a good deal simpler: A considerable part of the American pub-lic actually has a broad and sustained hunger for history and has

repeatedly shown that it will respond generously to an accessible, graceful work aboutan important subject by a trusted and admired author. Americans yearn for solidknowledge of their nation’s origins, which in a real sense are their own origins too.Their hunger is entirely healthy and natural, though it is often neglected and ill fed.

One could see the yearning in the celebration of the nation’s bicentennial in1976, particularly in the excitement generated by the spectacle of the Tall Ships.

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>Wilfred M. McClay, a former Wilson Center fellow, holds the Sun Trust Chair of Humanities at theUniversity of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He is writing an intellectual biography of the American sociologist DavidRiesman. Copyright © 2001 by Wilfred M. McClay.

Autumn 2001 101

That parade of venerable, restored sailing vessels passed in review through NewYork harbor on July 4, like a procession of great and ghostly heroes from a van-ished epic world, and was observed by a crowd estimated at seven million.Although the Tall Ships had little or nothing to do directly with the AmericanRevolution, their remarkable presence elicited an affective link to the Americanpast, a link so clear and poignant that a broad American public needed no schol-arly explanations to grasp it. A similar response was evoked by Ken Burns’s tele-vision series on the Civil War, which did more than any number of professionalhistorians to keep alive public interest in the American past.

Americans do not want to view the nation’s history as merely a cultural-literacy grab bag of factoids and tales. They want, rather, to establish a sense ofconnection with it as something from which they can draw meaning and suste-nance, and in which their own identity is deeply embedded. That should suggesthow critical a role the writing and teaching of history play in refining the nation’sintellectual and moral life. Far from being of little interest—a record of olddeeds for old people—history turns out to be of great consequence in the formationof the public mind.

That may help to explain why discussions of historical subjects, and conflictsover questions of historical interpretation and practice, have become so visibleand lively a feature of our cultural life in recent years. The gradual passing of theWorld War II generation has served as an especially powerful stimulant to historicalconsciousness, and has given rise to films such as Saving Private Ryan and the TVminiseries Band of Brothers, attractions such as the D-Day Museum in New Orleansand the controversial World War II Memorial planned for the National Mall inWashington, and popular books such as Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation(1998) and Stephen Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers (1997).

A hunger for history: Crowds jam Civil War reenactments like this one in Gettysburg, Pa.

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A passion for history is reflected as well in various heated, and sometimes nasty,debates that have occurred over the past decade, often as an offshoot of the so-called culture wars: debates over the National History Standards, the Enola Gayexhibition at the Smithsonian, a slavery exhibition at the Library of Congress, thepublic display of the Confederate flag, reparations for slavery, Jefferson’s person-al relations with the slave Sally Hemings, Edmund Morris’s fictionalizing in hisbiography of Ronald Reagan, the historian Joseph Ellis’s lying in the classroomabout his military service and personal life. All of those episodes—and more—mirror the public’s growing engagement with historical controversies.

But even as we note the engagement, we must acknowledge somethingelse as well: the immense, appalling, and growing historical ignoranceof most Americans. To say that an abiding appetite for history exists

is not the same as to say that the hunger is being satisfied. On the contrary. Thesteady abandonment of instruction in history by our schools and colleges showsno sign of reversal, and makes it a near certainty that the next generations of youngAmericans will lack even the sketchiest knowledge of the country’s historicaldevelopment.

Survey after dismal survey confirms that Americans are being poorly served bytheir educational institutions, at all levels. One-fifth of American teenagers don’tknow the name of the country from which the United States declared indepen-dence. A fourth don’t know who fought in the Civil War, and cannot say whathappened in 1776; three-fifths do not know that Columbus discovered Americain 1492. Perhaps the most depressing study of all, released last year by theAmerican Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), examined the historical knowl-edge of graduating seniors at America’s 55 most selective colleges and universi-ties. The study found that 81 percent of the seniors could not pass a simple testof American historical knowledge, which asked about such basic matters as theseparation of powers and the events at Valley Forge. Not one of the colleges requiredthe students to take a course in American history, and less than a fourth of themrequired any history courses at all. (On the bright side, 99 percent of the studentssurveyed were able to identify the cartoon characters Beavis and Butthead. So theyare learning something.)

The ACTA report caught the attention of Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), one ofthe Senate’s most historically minded members. He resolved on the spot to showhis concern in a highly tangible way: by adding a $50 million amendment to theDepartment of Education’s FY 2001 appropriations bill (and promising $100 mil-lion more in FY 2002) to support the development and implementation of “pro-grams to teach American history.” But the ACTA survey suggests that money isnot the problem. It was, after all, a study of students at America’s elite colleges,most of which are private institutions that charge upward of $30,000 a year for theirservices, and that have endowments in the hundreds of millions, and in some casesbillions, of dollars. Whatever problems these institutions may have, a lack of finan-cial resources is not one of them—and is certainly not the reason they are failingto teach their students American history.

Nevertheless, Byrd’s passion on the subject is encouraging. It suggests that, withthe clashes over the National History Standards now behind us, there might be

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grounds for a national consensus on the need for dramatic improvement in his-tory education. But formidable barriers remain—barriers that cannot be muchaffected by the appropriation of fresh federal money.

To begin with, one would have to challenge the entrenched power of educatorswho have relentlessly sought over a period of decades to displace the study of his-tory in our schools in favor of a “social studies” curriculum that they believe is moreconducive than the “fact-grubbing” specificity of history to the creation of usefulhabits of problem solving, generalization, and harmonious living. The triumphof what social critic Russell Kirk called “social stew” led to a whole series of sub-sequent disasters: the downgrading of history in state social-studies standards, thenear disappearance of history from the primary grades, the weakening of standardsfor history teaching, and the replacement of real books with inane, plodding, polit-ically correct texts that misrepresent the subject of history by robbing it of its nar-rative zest and interpretive fascination. It will take nothing short of a revolutionin educational philosophy to reverse the trends. More money poured into the sys-tem will only reinforce the status quo and compound the historical illiteracy ofAmericans.

There are other, more complex barriers to improvement: the character of thehistorical profession itself and the nature of its public responsibilities in a demo-cratic society. In reality, the clashes over history standards are no more behind usthan the culture wars that lay behind the clashes. Americans have generallybeen willing to trust in the probity and judgment of those calling themselves his-torians. But that trust has eroded somewhat in recent years, and for entirelyunderstandable reasons. Part of that erosion derives from ideological factors,made all too obvious by such follies as the American Historical Association’s offi-cial opposition to the Reagan defense buildup in 1982, or, more recently, the ill-advised petition signed by historians who opposed the impeachment of PresidentBill Clinton. In both cases, certain professional historians drew improperly uponthe authority of their discipline to lend force to partisan political positions, and,in so doing, damaged the long-term credibility of all historians.

But the distrust is also grounded in divergent views of the function of historyand the responsibility of historians. There are profound tensions inherent in thepractice of history in a democracy—between a history that is the property of alland a history that is the insight of an accredited few, or between a history orga-nized around the requirements of American citizenship and a history that takesits bearings from, and bases its authority upon, more strictly professional criteria.The tensions cannot be, and should not be, finally resolved; neither side holds atrump card. Certainly, professional historians should be able to challenge con-ventional wisdom. One can understand, for example, the chagrin of the histori-ans and curators who found their professional judgments being overruled in theEnola Gay case. But their perspective was not the whole of the matter, particu-larly when the subject in question was a publicly supported commemoration ofa profoundly significant event in the nation’s four-year-long war effort. Historianswho use public money in public forums to express views with public implicationscannot expect to be insulated from the public’s reaction. On the contrary, the end-less interplay between the public and professional uses of history should be a sourceof intellectual vitality. This makes it all the more lamentable that so many pro-

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fessional historians have come to embrace an understanding of history that looksmore and more like a dead end, both on its own terms and for the enrichmentof public life.

More than three decades ago, the British historian J. H. Plumb, in abook called The Death of the Past (1970), argued that “true histo-ry” is a “destructive” process: It assaults all the forms of “created ide-

ology” by which people give meaning to the life of their institutions and societies,and it intends finally “to cleanse the story of mankind from those deceivingvisions of a purposeful past.” That credo may sound brutal, but it is nothing morethan a particularly succinct and candid expression of the logical conclusion to whichthe relentlessly critical spirit animating modern professional historiography is drawn.That spirit would ruthlessly sweep away both the large narratives of nation-building and the small pieties human beings have always used to shield their eyesfrom the harsh light of reality. It’s not that there is nothing to be said for the workof the critical spirit. The difficulty, rather, is that what would be available to putin the place of the large narratives and small pieties when they are finally vanquishedhas never been made clear.

In the beginning, of course, there was great value in bringing the conventionalnarratives of American history into question, for they had often served the purposeof rendering minorities and marginalized groups silent or invisible. But the ener-gy of those more particular histories is almost entirely derivative and, ironically,dependent upon the grand narratives of American national identity against whichthey push. The nation has not yet disappeared entirely from American history, butit often resembles nothing more than, in John Higham’s marvelous phrase, the“villain in other people’s stories.” Yet without the nation, and some of the othernarratives and pieties that critical history has dispensed with, there can be no plau-sible way to organize history into larger meanings that can, in turn, inform andinspire the work of citizenship and reform.

Indeed, by the late 1980s, historian Peter Novick was arguing in That NobleDream (1988), an exhaustive and highly influential study of the American his-torical profession, that there was no unifying purpose at all left in the profession;there remained only a vast congeries of subdisciplinary fields within which smallarmies of specialists worked at solving small-scale technical problems. “As abroad community of discourse,” said Novick, “the discipline of history” envisionedin the founding of the American Historical Association in 1884 “had ceased toexist.” Under such circumstances, the very possibility of cultivating a public his-torical consciousness, substantively informed by academic historical work, was ren-dered practically nil, as was the antique notion that historical understandingmight contribute to the refinement or deepening of individual awareness. Frenchhistorian Pierre Nora brought a touch of Gallic intellectual delicacy to his sum-mary of the situation: “History is perpetually suspicious of memory, and its truemission is to suppress and destroy it.”

The problem with such programmatic skepticism is not only that it is com-pletely self-contradictory and unworkable in human terms, but that its final resultis a historical understanding as cleansed of human interest as it is of deceptive visions.To suppress and destroy memory is to violate human nature in a fundamental way.

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And to imply that the honest writing of history requires such erasure is a traves-ty. As professional historiography trudges further and further down its chosen pathof specialization and fragmentation, satisfied with its increasingly hollow rhetoricabout “pushing back the frontiers of knowledge,” it pays a steep price for every step,and the price comes directly out of its own hide, out of an animating sense of pur-pose. In writing off the larger audience it might have had, professionalization ofthat sort impoverishes not only the public mind, but the discipline itself.

This is not to suggest that historians should entirely abandon the criticalenterprise. But they need to be honest enough to turn their criticism back uponthe act of criticism itself, modest enough to concede that man does not live bycritical discourse alone, and wise enough to understand that a relentlesslydebunking spirit cannot possibly be a basis for anything resembling a civilized life.

Historical knowledge and historical understanding are two quite differentthings. As Novick well expressed it, one can speak of historical knowledge as “some-thing accumulating on library shelves,” but historical understanding “is in the mindof a human being or it is nowhere.” The acquisition of a genuinely historical con-sciousness amounts to a kind of moral discipline of the soul. It means learning toappropriate into our own moral imaginations, and learning to be guided by, thedistilled memories of others, the stories of events we never witnessed and timesand places we never experienced. By an expansion of inward sympathy, we makethose things our own, not merely by knowing about them, but by incorporating

John Adams was a familiar face at the beach this summer thanks to David McCullough’s biog-raphy. Books on the Founders—Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton—have enjoyed a recent vogue.

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them into our awareness, looking at the world through their filter, learning to seethe past as an immanent presence woven invisibly into the world that lies beforeus. By its very nature, historical consciousness can never be the exclusive provinceof a historical guild or priesthood, for it is meant to be the common possessionof all.

Ademocratic nation needs a democratic history. There was a time notso long ago when this was assumed to mean that a genuinely demo-cratic history should ignore politics and constitutions and intellec-

tual elites and the like and insist upon viewing the past exclusively “from the bot-tom up,” through a study of the social history of nonelite groups. But that assump-tion now seems far less obvious. Indeed, there is a kind of unconscious scorn buriedin it—as if political and intellectual history were beyond the common people’smeans, and as if individuals could not be expected to take an interest in any aspectof history that did not involve them, or others exactly like them. There is everyreason to believe that the United States can nurture a national culture in whicha rich acquaintance with the great documents, debates, and events of the nation’spast becomes the common property of all citizens.

If that is ever to happen, the historical profession will have to take more seri-ously its role as a potential shaper of the public mind and public life. It’s not nec-essary to do so by justifying history as a source of public-policy initiatives. The his-torian can make a far greater contribution by playing the essentially conservativerole—or is it a radical one?—of standing athwart the turbulence of modern lifeand insisting on the dignity of memory and the reality of the past. Historians shouldnot forget, in the pressure to find “practical” justifications for what they do as his-torians, that they further an important public purpose simply by being what theyare, and by preserving and furthering a certain kind of consciousness, a certainkind of memory—qualities of mind and soul, and features of our humanity, thata culture of ceaseless novelty and instant erasure has all but declared war upon.

As it happens, John Adams himself had something exemplary to say about allthis. McCullough relates in the final pages of his book that Adams composed noepitaph for himself in anticipation of his death. In that respect, as in so many oth-ers, he was the opposite of Jefferson, who designed the very obelisk that was to markhis grave and specified the precise words that were to be inscribed on it. Yet Adamsdid compose an inscription for the sarcophagus lid of his ancestor Henry Adams,the first Massachusetts Adams, who had arrived in 1638. The inscription speaksvolumes about how Adams conceived his place in history, and how he acceptedthe obligation to instruct the future by honoring the past:

This stone and several others have been placed in this yard by a great, great, grand-son from a veneration of the piety, humility, simplicity, prudence, frugality, indus-try, and perseverance of his ancestors in hopes of recommending an affirmationof their virtues to their posterity.

In concluding his book with this marvelous inscription, McCullough meansus to see yet another contrast between Adams and Jefferson. But we should notmiss the even more instructive contrast: the one between Adams and us. ❏

The Magic of Head StartA Survey of Recent Articles

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Politics & Government 109 123 Religion & PhilosophyForeign Policy & Defense 113 124 Science, Technology

Economics, Labor & Business 115 & EnvironmentSociety 118 127 Arts & Letters

Press & Media 121 129 Other Nations


Reviews of articles from periodicals and specialized journals here and abroad

It’s hard to find a federal program morepopular than Head Start. Especially

since the end of the Reagan administra-tion, it has enjoyed bipartisan favor, with itsbudget quadrupling to $6.2 billion. So it issurprising to be reminded that there’s verylittle empirical evidence that the programactually does give a head start to theunderprivileged preschoolers it serves.

President George W. Bush has now pro-posed moving the program from theDepartment of Health and HumanServices (HHS) to the Department ofEducation and increasing Head Start’semphasis on teaching language skills. (Hehas also proposed a two percent budgetincrease.) That has touched off a debateabout what Head Start should be asked todo.

When President Lyndon B. Johnsonlaunched Head Start in 1965 as part of hisWar on Poverty, the goal was to give eco-nomically disadvantaged children a leg upby providing a range of educational, med-ical, social, and psychological services sothat they could enter kindergarten on amore equal footing with their better-offpeers. Today, Head Start serves more than800,000 preschoolers—about half the eli-gible population.

“The jury is still out on Head Start,”

notes economist Janet Currie of theUniversity of California, Los Angeles, in hersurvey of research on early childhood edu-cation programs in the Journal of Econ-omic Perspectives (Spring 2001). There’snever been a large-scale, long-term study ofHead Start children (though HHS is nowplanning one). One reason: There’s nosingle Head Start; the roughly 1,500 HeadStart programs are locally administered.Also, such studies are costly and difficult.The children (including a non-Head Startcontrol group) would have to be trackedover many years to determine whetherHead Start had any measurable effects ontheir school performance or other aspectsof their lives. Other influences, such asdifferences in family income and parents’marital status, would have to be taken intoaccount.

The research that does exist tends topoint to one conclusion: Head Start’s aca-demic effects fade out as kids grow older.A 1990 Educational Testing Servicestudy, for example, found that involve-ment in the program “had positive effectson both verbal test scores and measures ofsocial adjustment.” But by the end of sec-ond grade, the Head Start kids were sta-tistically indistinguishable from theirpeers.

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That’s where today’s debate begins:What’s responsible for the apparent “fade-out,” and what should be done about it?

Two sides of the argument are presentedin Education Matters (Summer 2001,online at edmatters.org). David Elkind, aprofessor of child development at TuftsUniversity, says that the fade-out shouldcome as no surprise. “The giants of early-childhood development,” such as MariaMontessori and Jean Piaget, all agreed onat least one thing: Children’s minds devel-op in stages, and they’re not equipped“until the age of five or six” to reason theirway through reading and math. It’s farmore important for young children “toexplore and conceptualize” by “seeing,touching, and handling new thingsand . . . experiencing new sensations.” InElkind’s view, it “makes little sense tointroduce formal instruction in readingand math” to preschoolers, and it’s “sim-plistic” to think that early schooling will givedisadvantaged youngsters “the skills andmotivation to continue their educationand break the cycle of poverty.”

In the same issue of Education Matters,the arguments of Grover J. Whitehurst,

chairman of the Department of Psychologyand a professor of pediatrics at the StateUniversity of New York at Stony Brook,could not offer a greater contrast. He con-tends that the problem is the century-old“child-centered” style of education fea-tured in Head Start (and many Americanprimary and secondary schools). Yes, chil-dren can be harmed by schooling that’sbeyond them, he says, but the averagechild attending Head Start now “exits thatprogram in the summer before kinder-garten being able to name only one—yes,one—letter of the alphabet.”

Whitehurst favors “content-centered”schooling “organized around the princi-ple that there are skills and dispositionsthat children need to be taught if they areto be prepared for later schooling andlife.” He scoffs at Elkind’s “giants,” whoconducted no empirical research, but heallows that the evidence for “content-centered” education is only “inferential” atthis point. That evidence is strongest in

the case of reading. For example, there arestudies showing a strong link between theliteracy skills children possess upon enter-ing kindergarten and their subsequentschool performance, while other studiesreveal a link between student reading dif-ficulties and other problems, such as drop-ping out or committing crimes.

One of Head Start’s founders, YaleUniversity psychologist Edward Zigler,offers yet another perspective in EducationMatters. Go ahead and strengthen thepreschool education component of theprogram, he and a Yale associate say, butdon’t forget Head Start’s other purposes,from identifying children who are mal-nourished or have vision problems to pro-viding emotional support to troubled kids.

That’s similar to the tack Janet Currietakes. Her own research suggests

that the Head Start fade-out afflicts onlyAfrican American children. She thinks theproblem may be what happens after HeadStart, when black children go off to inferiorschools. But Currie still thinks Head Starthas a lot to offer.

Her “back-of-the-envelope” calculationssuggest that the short- and medium-termsocial benefits of Head Start cover 40 to 60percent of its costs. Those benefits includeeverything from improving child nutritionto saving kids from costly special educa-tion programs later in their school careers.Above all, the benefits include the value ofquality child care. The alternatives toHead Start are frequently dismal. Stir inhard-to-estimate longer-term benefits(e.g., better school attainment, reductionsin crime), and Currie believes that theprogram could pay for itself. One studysuggests that the Perry Preschool Project inYpsilanti, Michigan—a much moreexpensive version of preschool than HeadStart—has yielded a total package of ben-efits that far outweigh the costs.

Currie believes that the evidence is“compelling enough” to warrant a recom-mendation. To her, it makes the mostsocial sense to expand Head Start into ayear-round, full-time program and open itup to more poor and children who areotherwise at risk.

Po l i t i c s & G o v e r n m e n t

Our Secular Fathers“Religion and the Founders” by John Patrick Diggins, in Partisan Review (Summer 2001),

Boston Univ., 236 Bay State Rd., Boston, Mass. 02215.

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Diggins reminds us that several candidatesin the 2000 American presidential electionmade sure to let the public know that they wererunning with Jesus. Asked to name hisfavorite philosopher, George W. Bushanswered “Christ.” The reason? “He changedmy heart.” Al Gore volunteered that whenev-er he is faced with a difficult decision, he askshimself, “What would Jesus do?” Even JosephLieberman, an Orthodox Jew, said that weshould look for spiritual guidance to the“compassion and love of Jesus of Nazareth.” Allthree men put themselves squarely in the tra-dition of politicians who want to make a casefor religion in American political culture.Diggins, a historian at the Graduate Center ofthe City University of New York and theauthor of The Proud Decades: America in Warand Peace, 1941–1960 (1988), wonderswhether any of them understands the realmessage of Christ and Christianity. Jesusurged his followers to lead lives of self-efface-ment, which is not exactly a characteristic weassociate with politicians.

Diggins is especially suspicious ofattempts by American politicians to linktheir religiosity to the Founding Fathers. Heremarks on how absurd the delegates to theConstitutional Convention in 1787 wouldhave found the notion of asking what Jesuswould do in their place—and how fortunateit was for the country that the “FoundingFathers neither allowed Christ to influencetheir minds nor stopped to ask Gore’s ques-tion after the Boston Massacre of 1770,when British Redcoats slaughtered

American colonists. Had they followed thegentle Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount,they would have ‘turned the other cheek’instead of taking up muskets.”

Diggins regrets that the public todayseems too little aware of the break America’sfounders made with religion when theywrote in the spirit of the Enlightenment.“Thinkers like Ben Franklin were thrilled tosee nature take the place of the supernatur-al and science replace religion,” he notes, andJohn Adams said that America’s 13 coloniesand their new constitutions were “founded onthe natural authority of the people alone,without a pretense of miracle or mystery.”Thomas Paine, who wrote Common Sense(1776), was also the author of The Age ofReason (1794), in which he urged Americato leave religion to the Middle Ages.Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration ofIndependence drew on the philosophy ofJohn Locke, who thought that knowledge ofGod’s nature and “purposes” was beyondhumanity’s reach. Alexander Hamilton andJames Madison compared religious sects topolitical factions in their tendency to fanati-cism, and they followed the skeptical DavidHume in opting for a politics of “interest”rather than a politics of “zeal.” In theLockean America where the Republic wasborn, the role of the state was not to carry outGod’s will but simply to protect life and prop-erty. For Diggins, to allow religion an impor-tant role in politics is to deny what Americameant to the individuals who wrote the foun-dational documents of the United States.

The Limber Side of Reagan“Reagan and the Gorbachev Revolution: Perceiving the End of Threat” by Barbara Farnham,

in Political Science Quarterly (Summer 2001), The Academy of Political Science,475 Riverside Dr., Ste. 1274, New York, N.Y. 10115–1274.

Ronald Reagan assumed the presidencyin 1981with a fiercely held conviction thatcommunism and the Soviet Union threat-

ened America. He was expected to beunyielding in his approach to dealing withthe Soviet threat, and yet by the end of his

second term he had come to see the con-flict between the Soviet Union and theUnited States not in absolutist terms—as aconfrontation with an “evil empire”—but,in Farnham’s words, “in terms of mutualmisperception. He was hopeful about thepossibility of substantial change.”

Farnham, a senior associate at theInstitute of War and Peace Studies atColumbia University, notes that the evo-lution is all the more intriguing “in view ofthe numerous criticisms that have beenleveled at Reagan’s cognitive abilities.”Why was he able to overcome his predis-positions so successfully and to perceiveand respond to the adjustments that wereoccurring in Soviet policy in the 1980s?

Farnham credits a combination ofReagan’s personal qualities and a beliefsystem more complex than he has usuallybeen given credit for. He was convinced thatcommunism would change because it hadno choice—it was doomed by history.Personal experience counted for every-thing with him, and strong personalities, inhis view, could alter the world. So helooked for change in the Soviet Unionover the course of his dealings with the

Soviet leadership both because it wasbound to occur and because he believedthat he could make it happen.

“What does the success of Reagan’sapproach to the Soviet Union tell us abouthis abilities as a leader?” Farnham asks.She acknowledges that “good outcomescan be the result of any number of factors,including luck,” and she cites qualities inReagan—he could be “passive, incurious,uninterested in detail, ignorant of thenuances of policy, and stubborn”—thatsometimes worked against his effective-ness as a leader. But he had people skills,negotiating skills, and powers of persua-sion, and “he was more flexible, pragmat-ic, and willing to compromise than hisideological orientation led many toexpect.” He was open-minded and opti-mistic, he accepted criticism, and he did hishomework when the subject interestedhim—as it did when his core beliefs wereinvolved. Farnham quotes French presi-dent François Mitterand’s assessment ofReagan: “What he does not perceive withhis intelligence, he feels by nature.”

“What stands out,” according to Farn-ham, “is how context-dependent Reagan’s

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Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev share a fireside moment at the Geneva Summit, November 1985.

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performance was. When the nature ofthe problem played to his particularstrengths”—as it did in the dealings withSoviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whenopenness, insight, persuasion, and nego-tiation were the qualities mostrequired—“it could be quite good. Butin other situations”—such as the Iran-contra affair, when a detailed under-standing of policy was required, and hewas detached and at the mercy of oth-ers—“these skills could not compensate

for Reagan’s failings, and some of hisstrengths became weaknesses.”

Reagan believed that the Soviet Unionwould respond to changes in U.S. behav-ior, and many former Soviet officials,including Anatoly Dobrynin, long-timeambassador to the United States, agreethat that was precisely what happened.“Reagan’s conciliatory policies toward theSoviet Union,” writes Farnham, “enabledGorbachev to forge ahead in his domesticand international initiatives.”

How the Court Killed Privacy“Privacy and the American Constitution” by David J. Garrow, in Social Research (Spring 2001),

65 Fifth Ave., Rm. 354, New York, N.Y. 10003.

Does the Constitution guarantee a rightto privacy? In the minds of mostAmericans, landmark Supreme Courtdecisions such as Griswold v. Connecticut(1965) and Roe v. Wade (1973) establishedand defined such a right. But legal schol-ars assaulted the reasoning behind thosedecisions so successfully that the Courtwas long ago forced to rethink—andreject—privacy as a constitutional right.

Griswold, which struck down a stateprohibition on contraceptive use by cou-ples, is the pivotal case responsible forboth the construction and the eventualcollapse of the right to privacy as a con-stitutional concept. In his seven-pagemajority opinion, Justice William O.Douglas famously wrote that “specificguarantees in the Bill of Rights havepenumbras, formed by emanations ofthose guarantees that help give them lifeand substance.” In those penumbrasDouglas discovered the right to privacy.

The Court had been working up to anarticulation of such a right since the late19th century. As young lawyers, LouisBrandeis and Samuel Warren had intro-duced it in an 1890 Harvard Law Reviewessay titled “The Right to Privacy,” inwhich they advocated legal protection for“the private life, habits, acts, and relationsof an individual.” Brandeis’s dissents as aSupreme Court justice in the 1920s carriedthe torch for an individual’s right to privacy.

Twice in 1940s the Court alluded to privacyrights in majority decisions.

While Griswold catalyzed younglawyers and activists of the late 1960s to useits protection of reproductive privacy tobring and win cases such as Roe, whichestablished the right to abortion, manyconstitutional specialists found fault withDouglas’s opinion. The decision was cor-rect, they argued, but his reasoning was tooshaky and his language too nebulous tohold up as the foundational legal argu-ment for right-to-privacy cases. Mattersweren’t helped by Justice Harry A.Blackmun’s 51-page decision in Roe,which leaned on Griswold but struggled tofind solid footing for the right to privacy.Legal critics from all points on the politi-cal spectrum pounced on the underlyingreasoning. Harvard’s Lawrence H. Tribedid not criticize the result but expressedregret that “the substantive judgment onwhich [Roe] rests is nowhere to be found.”

One of the leading critics of Griswoldand Roe was Judge Robert Bork, and his1987 Supreme Court nomination foun-dered in large part because of his uncom-promising rejection of the constitutionalright to privacy that grew out of Gris-wold. Ironically, that right was already allbut dead in the minds of constitutionalscholars.

The Court reacted to criticism ofGriswold and Roe by affirming those deci-

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e x c e r p t

Sizing Up the RooseveltsIt is possible to divide Americans into two groups: those who prefer President

Theodore Roosevelt, and those who prefer Franklin Delano. . . .TR came to the White House a few years too soon, before public opinion was ready

for major changes. When President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, Rooseveltserved out his term; won another term himself; then retired, bored, because there wasnot enough to do to use up his immense energy.

In 1912 he sniffed the winds of change and re-entered the fray, but all he succeededin doing was to split the Republican vote and let Wilson slip into power. This was atragedy, for TR would have brought America into the First World War two years earlierthan Wilson did, and the whole of 20th-century history would have been different. . . .

TR was an Oyster Bay Roosevelt, traditionally Republican, while FDR was a HydePark Roosevelt, always Democrats. Relations between the two branches of the familywere edgy, and when FDR married his Oyster Bay distant cousin, Eleanor, for reasonswhich are still mysterious, it was quite an event. TR and FDR had cordial relations butthe authors exaggerate their intimacy. They were fundamentally very different men. TRwas an extrovert, open, concealing nothing of his intentions or emotions.

He said “speak softly and carry a big stick,” and there is no doubt about the size ofhis stick—what is more difficult to find is evidence that he ever spoke softly. When heopened his mouth the decibels rose sharply. . . . TR, however, had a puritanicalstreak. He loathed his Long Island neighbor, the great glass artist Louis Tiffany,because “he lays his hands on other men’s wives,” and when he got to the WhiteHouse smashed to bits Tiffany’s masterpiece, the superb dining-room screen thatPresident Arthur had commissioned. He ostentatiously put morals, public andprivate, before any other consideration.

By contrast, FDR was an amoralist, devious, secretive and, especially in his loveaffairs, unfathomable. Not even his closest associates knew his inner mind, and noneof the hundreds of vast tomes written about this great but flawed man pluck the heartof his mystery. That is why, as with Napoleon, there is always room for one morestudy. I suspect FDR lacked self-confidence, a weakness which his polio increased.His attitude to governing was quite unlike TR’s.

The latter ruled in the traditional manner. Indeed, he picked an exceptionallystrong and independent-minded cabinet. . . . FDR, by contrast, bypassed the cabinetand began the modern White House system of rule through personal followers, orbrains trusts, as they were called, who were entirely dependent on his patronage.

Was there a special reason for FDR’s brittle self-respect? At Harvard, TR—friendlyand popular, whose favorite term of approval was “bully”—sailed into the Porcellian,probably the most exclusive club in the world, even then. FDR was found too intro-vert and failed, the most bitter disappointment of his entire life. The pain did notdiminish. When TR’s daughter Alice married another member, the authors recordthat all the Porcellians present gathered in another room to drink special toasts andsing club songs. FDR, who attended the wedding, found himself excluded, as healways did on such occasions.

The Oyster Bay Roosevelts looked down their noses on the Hyde Park cousins, notleast on FDR, who got the cold shoulder. Perhaps that is really the reason why hemarried Eleanor, to bolster his social self-confidence.

—Paul Johnson, a British historian, in a review of The Three Roosevelts: The Leaders WhoTransformed America, at www.booksonline.co.uk.

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Fo r e i g n Po l i c y & D e f e n s e

Baltic Madness?“The Next NATO: Building an American Commonwealth of Nations” by James Kurth, in The

National Interest (Fall 2001), 1112 16th St. N.W., Ste. 540, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Ten years ago, the plucky Balticrepublics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuaniaclaimed their independence from a crum-bling Soviet Union, and ever since they’vebeen sterling citizens in the new globalorder of liberal democracy, free-marketeconomics, and the rule of law. Now itseems only natural that they’re in line formembership in the North Atlantic TreatyOrganization (NATO). But that’s worsethan a bad idea, argues Kurth, aSwarthmore College political scientist—it’sinsane.

President George W. Bush’s call lastJune for NATO’s enlargement “from theBaltic to the Black Sea” should havesparked a “Great Debate” on the scale of theLeague of Nations fight of 1920. Instead, thenation snoozed. Meanwhile, it’s taking onmilitary commitments of unprecedentedscope, and for the wrong reasons.

“For the past decade, the grand projectof the United States in world affairs hasbeen globalization,” Kurth writes. Thathas meant securing in Europe a “solidbase” that accepts “the American way ofglobalization” against those parts of theworld that don’t, which include Chinaand Russia, and the large portions ofAfrica, Southeast Asia, and Latin Americathat have simply been left out. But for thiseconomic and political project—whichKurth sees as an undertaking of danger-

ous hubris—the United States has no suit-able vehicle. So it has adapted a militaryalliance (NATO) to its purposes. Andthat’s the problem.

What’s rarely considered in the talkabout extending membership to the Balticis that the American global predominanceso easily taken for granted today may notexist decades from now. Yet, as NATOmembers, the Baltic countries wouldalways be able to call upon the UnitedStates to come to their defense. And thatcall may not be as unlikely as it nowseems. Estonia’s border, for example, liesonly 30 miles from St. Petersburg, andwhile Russia is surly but weak today, itcould be surly and strong tomorrow. Mosttroubling to Kurth is the problem ofKaliningrad, the Russian oblast, orprovince, cut off from the rest of Russiawhen Lithuania got its independence.This “dismal slum” of 900,000 is full ofRussian soldiers and Russian woes: crime,infectious disease, and pollution. IfLithuania joins NATO, Kaliningrad “willbecome a Russian island and strategicanomaly surrounded by a NATO sea”—“acrisis in waiting.”

It’s no accident that the Baltic countrieshave not enjoyed the protection of an out-side power for several centuries, Kurthobserves. The looming presence of Russiaensured that no European power would

sions in substance while rebuilding theargument underneath them. In PlannedParenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v.Casey (1992), a landmark case in which theCourt reaffirmed Roe, three of the fivejustices in the majority found that “choic-es central to personal dignity and autono-my” such as abortion fall under “the libertyprotected by the Fourteenth Amend-ment.” The Casey trio made no mention ofthe “p-word.”

Constitutional scholars applauded

Casey, and the Court has shunned theright to privacy, as a term and as a concept,ever since—though it does recognize azone of privacy created by the FourthAmendment ban on unreasonable search-es and seizures. It’s “sad,” Garrow thinks,that America’s elite legal commentatorshave killed off a constitutional right mostAmericans think they possess—and at pre-cisely the moment when new technolo-gies are raising fresh concerns about indi-vidual privacy.

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Europe and Missile Defense“Missile Defense and the Transatlantic Security Relationship” by Wyn Q. Bowen, in International

Affairs (July 2001), Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 350 Main St., Malden, Mass. 02148.

Now that the Bush administration hasshown its determination to push aheadwith an ambitious “layered” ballistic mis-sile defense system, America’s Europeanallies have softened their opposition. Yet a“transatlantic schism” is not out of thequestion, warns Bowen, a lecturer atBritain’s Joint Services Command andStaff College.

The big European powers—Britain,France, and Germany—are not alarmedby U.S. intelligence estimates that sayNorth Korea, Iran, or perhaps Iraq may beonly a dozen years away from the ability tobuild long-range missiles. They doubtsuch weapons would be used, are skepticalthat a technologically feasible defense canbe built, and prefer “constructive engage-ment” with potential aggressors. Above all,they worry how Russia will react to a mis-sile defense system.

The Bush administration has done oneimportant thing to allay Europe’s fears. Bydeciding last February to extend the zone ofprotection to include its allies—only theUnited States was defended in the Clintonadministration’s more modest plan—it easedconcerns that missile defense would create a“Fortress America” mentality and spurAmerica’s unilateralist tendencies.

Yet the Europeans still worry aboutRussia’s reaction, as well as China’s. ARussia provoked by a unilateral U.S. with-drawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic MissileTreaty (which stands in the way of theBush plan), or left feeling vulnerable bymeasures that undermined nuclear deter-rence, might be tempted to build moreoffensive nuclear weapons. That wouldundermine European stability and put

pressure on Europe’s two nuclear powers,France and Britain, to make costly additionsto their own arsenals. A deal to includeRussia under the missile defense um-brella or to share the technology withMoscow could pose the same problem:The French and British deterrents wouldalso be compromised.

At issue, too, is the architecture of anyfuture system: What kinds of interceptorswould be used and where would they bebased? Would there be one command andcontrol center, or more?

Cost is another consideration. TheEuropean states’ traditionally skimpydefense budgets are declining sharply(overall, by five percent annually in realterms), even as the European Union strug-gles to build an all-European “rapid reaction”force of some 60,000 troops. Europe does-n’t want to be called on to help pay for a sys-tem expected to cost more than $50 billionby 2015 (although German chancellorGerhard Schroeder has declared that hiscountry has a “vital economic interest inhelping to develop missile defense tech-nology”). Bowen suggests that a “grand bar-gain” may be possible: The United Statesguarantees nuclear security, while Europeassumes the burden of humanitarian inter-vention in places like the Balkans.

It’s encouraging that the Bush admin-istration is now consulting its Europeanallies, Bowen says. But one thing seemsnonnegotiable in Europe’s capitals:Washington must “reach an agreementwith Russia to amend the Anti-BallisticMissile Treaty, or at least not withdrawprior to engaging in serious discussions toseek an accommodation.”

ever guarantee their independence. To doso now would be “reckless and irresponsi-ble,” Kurth says. It would “require of theAmerican statesmen of the 21st century alevel of sophistication and determinationthat would have amazed those of the 20th.”

Kurth sees two alternatives to the Bushplan: admit Russia to NATO or the Baltictrio to the European Union. But Washing-ton won’t back the former idea and theEU, reluctant to take on more poor mem-bers, won’t back the latter.

E c o n o m i c s , L a b o r & B u s i n e s s

Business ♥ Washington“Save Us from the States!” by Jonathan Walters, in Governing (June 2001),

1100 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Ste. 1300, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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Washington regulators were once the baneof business existence, but they’re beginning tolook much lovelier to corporate executives.Faced by thickets of state and local laws, busi-ness is increasingly seeking single federal stan-dards, reports Walters, a staff correspondent atGoverning. Banks, for example, have gone to fed-eral court to argue that federal banking lawpreempts state and local laws restricting certainautomatic teller machine surcharges. Walterssays that 35 preemptive bills were introducedin Congress in 1999, “mostly in the areas oftelecommunications and finance.”

From a corporate point of view, the advan-tages of uniformity are obvious. It’s easier andcheaper to conform to a single federal stan-dard than to 50 different state standards. “Thebusiness attitude today seems to be that nomatter how bad a single federal standard mightbe, it’s better than 50 of them,” notes the CatoInstitute’s Adam Thierer. And centralized reg-ulation allows business to concentrate all of itsresources on enacting, modifying, or defeat-ing a single law or regulation.

Others see great advantages in multiple stan-dards. “In a world of increasingly large, amor-phous, and distant corporations, who better tohold business accountable than those officialsclosest to the people?” writes Walters, summa-rizing this view. In some cases, the states havebeen able to step in when Washington has fall-en down on the job. “Congress failed to agree ona health bill in 1994; the states have respondedwith patients’ rights and prescription drug laws.Congress debated bills to deregulate the electricutilities industry but passed nothing; more than20 states went ahead and did it.”

Utah governor Mike Leavitt (R) argues thatthe state governments must cooperate withone another and with the federal governmentto coordinate their efforts in areas where itmakes sense for them to act. “States are goingto have to reinvent themselves,” he declares.Otherwise, they will become “functionallyobsolete.” But state governments don’t have astrong record of collaboration. The 45-memberMultistate Tax Commission has been workingfor years without success to devise a policydealing with the application of state sales taxesto out-of-state mail-order purchases. And lastyear’s federal Gramm-Leach-Bliley law over-hauling the financial services industry allows thestates to regulate the insurance industry if 29 ofthem can settle on a uniform standard. Leavitthimself says that’s not likely.

Getting state and local governments to coop-erate may require a slap in the face. Waltersknows just where it might come from: an inter-national trade tribunal. For example, when asmall town in Mexico denied MetalcladCorporation a permit to dump toxic material, theU.S.-based company complained to a NorthAmerican Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)arbitration panel. The company won a $16.7 mil-lion judgment against Mexico. Now NAFTA islooking at another case: A Canadian companyis seeking $970 million because the state ofCalifornia is phasing out the gasoline additiveMBTE on health grounds the company says arenot scientifically justified.

Leaving such wild cards aside, Walters issanguine about the effort to shift power awayfrom the states. As one official said, “there’salways an ebb and flow” in a federal system.

The Rich Get Richer“Where Has All the Money Gone?” by Edward N. Wolff, in The Milken Institute Review (Third

Quarter, 2001), 1250 Fourth St., 2nd fl., Santa Monica, Calif. 90401–1353.

Yes, the rich got richer than otherAmericans did during the late, lamentedeconomic boom. But there’s a bit more to thestory than that.

Overall, writes Wolff, an economist atNew York University, the richest 20 percentof American households claimed 91 percentof the increase in wealth between 1983 and

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Why Europe?“The Fates of Human Societies: A Review of Recent Macrohistories” by Gale Stokes, in The

American Historical Review (April 2001), 400 A St. S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003.

It’s money, not politics, that makes our newglobalized world go ’round, and that mayexplain why historians have been returninglately to an old question: Why Europe? Why, asksStokes, did this “relatively small and backward”region suddenly burst upon the world scene inthe 16th century and soon dominate it?

Two main schools of thought exist,according to the Rice University historian,while a third, very impressive body of ideasis developing.

One school, led by Harvard University’sDavid Landes, author of The Wealth andPoverty of Nations (1998), holds that some kindof European exceptionalism—individualism,the rise of unfettered science—is the bestanswer. Europe, says Landes, enjoyed theadvantage of diverse cultures combined with asingle unifying language: Latin. More impor-

tant, it developed values, such as thrift andhonesty, that favored economic development.Above all Europe was open to new knowledge,while its chief rival, China, was hobbled bywhat Stokes calls “a systematic resistance tolearning from other cultures.”

An opposing school of thought, which findsits best expression in Andre Gunder Frank’sReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age(1998), holds that, essentially, Europe gotlucky. Frank and other scholars portray the last1,000 years as an era dominated by the moreadvanced cultures and economies of Asia(mainly China), with the period of Westernadvantage brief—and likely to end soon. Theysee evidence in China of all the things said todistinguish precapitalist Europe, including vig-orous markets and trade, technological inno-vation, and Ben Franklin-like sages who

1998. The remaining 80 percent garneredonly nine percent of the gain. (Thanks tosocial mobility, however, a lot of familiesmoved into or out of the top 20 percent.)

The middle 20 percent of householdsenjoyed only a 10 percent increase in their netwealth during those 15 years, from $55,500to $61,000. Americans at the bottom of thescale fared worst of all. In 1983, 15.5 percentof households had no net worth or were indebt. By 1989 that number had grown to17.9 percent, and it remained virtuallyunchanged through 1998.

The share of all wealth owned by the topone percent of U.S. households grew quick-ly between 1983 and 1989, but then slowedin the years up to 1998. Overall, their shareincreased from 33.8 percent to 38.1 percent.(Wolff’s data do not extend through therecent Wall Street downturn.) Even so, thenumber of millionaires jumped 54 percentduring the 1990s, and the number of deca-millionaires (those with net worth totaling $10million or more) almost quadrupled.

It’s not just corporate moguls and moviestars who prospered. Two-thirds of the top onepercent are small-business owners.

Wolff sees a disturbing trend in the rise ofAmericans’ indebtedness, which grew from13 percent of household wealth in 1989 to 15percent in 1998. Forget the usual suspects,credit card and other consumer debt. Biggermortgages and home equity loans are theproblem. Net home equity (the value of ahouse minus outstanding mortgages)dropped from 24 percent of total householdassets in 1983 to 18 percent in 1998.“Middle class households, it appears, werespending down their net worth to maintaintheir living standards,” Wolff writes.

Despite the stock market mania of the ’90s,most Americans still have the lion’s share of theirwealth in real estate. (The home ownership raterose three percentage points, to 66.3 percent,between 1983 and 1998.) Less than a third ofhouseholds owned stock worth more than$10,000 in 1998.

Overall, median wealth grew a bit moreslowly than median income during the 15-yearperiod. It was up 11.1 percent, while incomegrew by 13.8 percent. Both measures point tothe same conclusion, says Wolff: “The boomof the 1990s . . . bypassed most Americans.The rich have been the main beneficiaries.”

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preached capitalist virtues. Even afterEmperor Wang Yang-Ming famously pulledthe plug on China’s ambitious program ofoverseas exploration in 1433, prosperity con-tinued. Europe didn’t really get a leg up untilabout 1800, in this view, and then onlybecause it was able to exploit the gold and sil-ver wealth it had stumbled upon in the NewWorld. Says Frank, “The Europeans boughtthemselves a seat, and then even a whole rail-way car, on the Asian train.”

Historians in the emerging third schoolof thought tend to avoid invidious compar-isons. In China Transformed (1997), forexample, R. Bin Wong of the University ofCalifornia, Irvine, argues that Europe’smany states, its semi-autonomous socialclasses, and its independent church com-bined to give it great flexibility and otheradvantages in adapting to economic change.Yet Wong also argues, in Stokes’s words, that“the Chinese state’s concern for the welfareand moral education of the public, espe-cially the poor, produced social policies that

European states could not even imagineuntil recently.”

Wong and his leading ally, historianKenneth Pomeranz, author of The GreatDivergence (2000), join Frank and others inpushing forward the moment when Europegained an edge from the 16th century to about1800, but they give a different reason: theinvention of coal-fired steam power. This, too,owed something to accident: England’sendowment of coal and iron deposits in prox-imity to each other. In the 18th century, Chinaand Europe both felt the effects of ecologicalconstraints, such as shortages of wood anddeclining soil fertility. Steam power, which ledto industrialization, allowed Europe to escapethe “Malthusian trap.”

Stokes calls the Wong-Pomeranz argu-ments “powerful.” But he thinks that the twohistorians’ new “world history” has yet totake into account the uniquely Europeanideas—liberty, individualism, equality, pop-ular sovereignty—that have done so much toshape the world since 1800.

Europe’s edge? An 1843 engraving shows a steam boiler at the Clydestream boatworks in England.

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Before the federal government intervened in1975, perhaps a million disabled childrenwere being denied a public education becauseof their handicaps. But special education,which began as a great boon, has ballooned intoa massively “costly and ineffective” program.

Over the years, the program has swollen toinclude many students it was not designed toserve, according to Horn, a clinical child psy-chologist who heads the National FatherhoodInitiative, and Tynan, a pediatric psychologistat the A.I. duPont Hospital for Children inWilmington, Delaware. From including 8.3 per-cent of all schoolchildren in the 1976–77school year, special education grew to include12.8 percent in 1997–98. Last year, 6.1 millionchildren were enrolled in such programs.

Horn and Tynan identify four sources ofgrowth. First, eligibility has been broadened,notably by including children diagnosed withattention deficit disorder (ADD) and attentiondeficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).Second, there has been a vast increase in thenumber of children included under the rubricof “specific learning disability” (SLD), whichincludes disabilities in areas such as mathe-matics problem solving and reading. Nearly halfof all special education students today fall intothe SLD category, and most have reading“deficits.” Third, some school districts havepushed poorly achieving students into specialeducation in order to gain state and federal sub-sidies. (Until recently, moreover, special edu-cation students generally were not required totake the statewide exams used in assessingschools.) Finally, many parents have lobbiedto have their children placed in special edu-cation, where they may get personal tutors,laptop computers, and other benefits. In afflu-ent Greenwich, Connecticut, nearly a third ofall public high school students are classified asdisabled.

Costs have soared. Nationwide, average perpupil expenditures are $6,200, but outlays forspecial education students are about $13,000.The annual price tag for special education is$41.5 billion.

Washington is supposed to pick up 40 per-cent of the cost, but it actually pays only 12 per-cent, or $5 billion. Special education is a clas-sic “unfunded federal mandate.” But becauseit is a federal mandate, local school districts canbe sued “for not providing the services thatparents think their child deserves,” the authorssay. Local officials are petrified. One result:Public school districts now pay $2 billionannually in private school tuition for specialeducation students.

Worst of all, many children are ill served. Aneffort launched to accommodate kids withpermanent disabilities isn’t well suited to thosewith conditions that can be mitigated or over-come. Rather than merely accommodate astudent with ADHD by providing an aide tokeep track of his schoolwork, for example,schools should teach the child to keep anassignment pad, organize his desk, and so on.Yet special education has “largely failed tohelp most of its students” achieve indepen-dence, the authors assert. A 1993 study involv-ing 16 states found that only one to 12 percentof children over the age of 14 “graduated”from such programs each year. Far from“mainstreaming” kids, the authors assert, spe-cial education teaches them that “they areentitled to operate under a different set ofrules from everyone else”—rules that aren’trecognized in the world they will encounterafter leaving school.

Horn and Tynan propose many reforms.Above all, they say, it is important to recognizethat there are three kinds of special educationstudents: those with physical and sensory dis-abilities (less than 10 percent of the total);those with learning disabilities, ADHD, andsimilar conditions; and those with “conduct orbehavioral problems,” such as “oppositionaldefiant disorder.” The first group is currentlywell served. Helping the second group willrequire early intervention, certain improve-ments in classroom instruction, and otherchanges. For the third group, the authors pre-scribe what amounts to an age-old form of spe-cial education: discipline and accountability.

S o c i e t y

The Special Ed. Fiasco“Revamping Special Education” by Wade F. Horn and Douglas Tynan, in The Public Interest

(Summer 2001), 1112 16th St. N.W., Ste. 530, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Autumn 2001 119

e x c e r p t

Off to the RacesWhen [the history of Census 2000] is written, the issues surrounding sampling and

other aspects of measurement theory will be a footnote, albeit an important footnote, tothe real story of this count: multiracial identity. With “Question 8: What is thisperson’s race? Mark one or more,” we turned a corner about how we think about race inthis country. Census 2000 identifies five discrete racial groups: white; AfricanAmerican, black, or Negro; Asian; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; andAmerican Indian or Alaskan Native. It also allows respondents to select an “other” cat-egory, making a total of six. There are 63 possible combinations to how the race ques-tion can be answered. And if these 63 are subdivided by Hispanic and non-Hispanicgroupings (which are treated by the census as ethnic rather than racial distinctions),there are 126 categories.

There is no way to measure race. Race is not a scientific construct but a politicalone. During the 19th century, the census counts helped put in place a discriminatoryset of social policies. In the second half of the 20th century, the census has been a toolto undo that discrimination. It is unlikely that more than a small percentage of thepopulation will describe themselves as multiracial in Census 2000. But this expectedchange in self-identification has long-term and unpredictable consequences for race-conscious social policy. Laws prohibiting racial or ethnic discrimination in such areasas education, housing, and employment assume a small number of fixed racial or eth-nic groups. With the proliferation of different multiracial groups in society and thegeneral blurring of racial boundaries, the future of enforcing such laws is unclear.

—Kenneth Prewitt, former director of the Bureau of the Census, inThe Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Summer 2001)

The guardians of culture are up in armsabout the rise of chain bookstores. Even Holly-wood got into the act with Nora Ephron’s 1998film You’ve Got Mail. The chains are killing offthe independent shops that preserve literaryculture, the critics cry, crowding out worthybooks with calendars and junky bestsellers, anddumbing down America.

“Absurd,” replies Allen, a writer and book crit-ic. These “sumptuous emporia,” as she callsthem, “have made a wide variety of books moreeasily available, in more places and to more peo-ple, than ever before.” Overstocked? The typicalsuperstore carries about 150,000 titles, while anindependent rarely stocks more than 20,000. Ather local Barnes & Noble in New York City,Allen counted 196 feet of shelf space devoted tophilosophy and 92 feet given over to military his-tory. She visited that store and a local independent

with a shopping list of five “midlist” titles—thekinds of quality books, such as The Music atLong Verney, by Sylvia Townshend Warner,that the critics say are being crowded out. Thescore: megastore 4, independent 2.

It’s true that the independent book storeshave suffered, dropping in number from some5,000 in the mid-1990s to about 3,000 today, buttheir numbers are now stabilizing. “Wonderfulthough many of the independents were (andare),” Allen writes, “the fact is that most of thegood ones were clustered in the big cities, leav-ing a sad gap in America’s smaller cities and sub-urbs.” The chains have stepped in, measurablyimproving the quality of life. Books-A-Million,for example, has 202 stores concentrated in theSoutheast, and Borders has shops in onceunderserved places such as Murray, Utah, andHagerstown, Maryland. The stores stay open

Bigger Is Better“Two—Make That Three—Cheers for the Chain Bookstores” by Brooke Allen, in The Atlantic

Monthly (July/Aug. 2001), 77 N. Washington St., Boston, Mass. 02114.

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The Chautauqua Moment“ ‘Dancing Mothers’: The Chautauqua Movement in Twentieth-Century American Popular

Culture” by Russell L. Johnson, in American Studies International (June 2001), 2108 G St., N.W.,Washington, D.C. 20052.

Theodore Roosevelt called it “the mostAmerican thing in America.” Born in the sum-mer of 1874 at Lake Chautauqua in westernNew York, the chautauqua movement enjoyeda 50-year reign over American cultural life.

When they began a summer-training programat Lake Chautauqua for Sunday-school teach-ers, Protestant ministers John Heyl Vincentand Lewis Miller had no idea they wouldinspire “a vast national cultural movement,” saysJohnson, a professor of U.S. history at BilkentUniversity in Ankara, Turkey. But within twoyears, similar assemblies for mass uplift “beganspringing up in small towns and cities across thenation.” Organized and run by local commit-tees, and often held in a large tent near a riveror lake, the chautauquas would run for about

a week. Mornings were typically given over toBible study, and afternoons and evenings to amixture of lectures, musical acts, debates, dra-matic readings, birdcallers, and bell ringers.

Early in the 20th century, “circuit chau-tauquas” developed, as entrepreneurs puttogether traveling extravaganzas and requiredlocal committees to guarantee a certain level ofticket sales. During the early 1920s, Johnson says,“chautauquas brought their unique blend ofeducation, inspiration, and entertainment” toas many as 10,000 municipalities a year. For“tired, isolated men and women,” chau-tauquas had much appeal, said one acid criticlater in the decade. “Even the twittering of a birdimitator gave relief from the silo, the cowshed,the cooking, and the greasy dishes of the

late; they feature comfortable chairs where cus-tomers can curl up with a book, and caféswhere they can chat over coffee. It’s just like heav-en—or at least Manhattan.

Allen likens the impact of the chain book-stores to that of the sturdy paperback, whichmade books affordable to millions of readers afterits invention in 1935. “Before the appearanceof the chains, a relatively highbrow, urbanclientele shopped at the independents, and a rel-

atively lowbrow, largely regional one boughtmass-market titles at supermarkets, price clubs,and drugstores,” writes Allen. “Now . . . thevast territory between the two extremes hasbeen bridged. Elitists may carp, but the truth isthat they are no longer quite so elite.”

And therein, Allen suspects, lies the truesource of the bitter reaction to the megastores:“the knee-jerk snobbery that is never farfrom the surface in American cultural life.”

Participants pack the amphitheater at Lake Chautauqua to hear a quartet perform, circa 1900.

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P r e s s & M e d i a

Watching the Feds“Where are the Watchdogs?” by Lucinda Fleeson, in American Journalism Review (July/Aug. 2001),

Univ. of Md., 1117 Journalism Bldg., College Park, Md., 20742–7111.

Are federal agencies too boring to cover ona regular basis? Editors at most major newspa-pers seem to think so. According to a recentAmerican Journalism Review survey, a numberof government bureaucracies are not coveredby any full-time newspaper reporters, includingthe $46 billion Department of Veterans Affairs,which is the third-largest federal employerafter the Pentagon and the Postal Service.

Critics warn that the change leaves govern-ment agencies less accountable to the public.Consumer advocate (and erstwhile presidentialcandidate) Ralph Nader argues that to cover gov-ernment, reporters must “get inside, you’ve gotto get the leaks, and the whistle-blowing, and youcan’t do that once in a while.”

Editors are generally unapologetic, notesFleeson, a former Philadelphia Inquirerreporter. “We don’t cover buildings,” saysSandy Johnson of the Associated Press. At theWashington Post, national editor Liz Spaydsays that her staff of 50 isn’t big enough to dothe job, even if she wanted it to. Editors also insistthat the old approach often lost sight of largerissues in a sea of trivia, or yielded stories ofmarginal interest. Besides, Reuters and theAssociated Press (as well as trade publications)still cover the old beats. Today’s editors preferto assign reporters to cover several agencies atonce, or to produce thematic or issue-oriented“enterprise” stories.

Out of the changes has emerged whatFleeson calls “the New Washington Reporter,”who gives “only part-time scrutiny to the busi-

ness of the federal government.” One of themis Lisa Hoffman, a Scripps Howard reportercharged with covering the Pentagon, the StateDepartment, and the Internet. She still stalks thehalls of the Pentagon on occasion, and she’s agood reporter, Fleeson says. But Hoffman isstretched thin and there’s a limited payoff to cov-ering the Pentagon: The chain’s papers don’talways run her defense stories. Readers aren’tinterested, editors say.

Another member of the new breed is theLos Angeles Times’s David Willman, who wona Pulitzer Prize for his 1998 stories revealing thatthe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hadgiven fast-track approval to seven drugs overthe objections of its own experts and otherwarnings. Willman reported that one drug,Rezulin, a diabetes treatment, was linked to33 deaths. After Willman’s story broke, thedrug was recalled by the FDA. But it was a tri-umph of enterprise rather than beat reporting:it took almost two years to complete the story,and Willman had to be freed from coveringcampaign finance reform and other matters.

Willman’s Times colleague, Alan C. Miller,scored a coup in 1994 by uncovering ethical mis-deeds by then Agriculture Secretary MikeEspy. He went back to Agriculture two years laterand wrote about the theft of timber in nation-al forests. “Every time I dug into something atthe Ag Department, we hit paydirt,” Miller toldFleeson. But the Times, based in the nation’sbiggest agricultural state, doesn’t have anybody“covering the building.” The department “is

depressing lives these people led. Even a lecturerwith nothing much to say was a relief to hus-bands and wives who, for years, had even lessto say to each other.”

The chautauqua was not just a rural phe-nomenon, Johnson notes. It was “one of the firstattempts to deliver a truly national culture to themasses—a culture linking rural and urban,East and West, North and South. Although theMidwest, and especially the state of Iowa,became the center of chautauqua activity, pro-

grams were held in all regions of the nation andin the largest cities,” including New York andChicago.

The early 1920s, Johnson notes, saw “theemergence of rival means of delivering anational culture to even the most isolated partsof the nation: radio and motion pictures.” Onlysome 500 cities held chautauquas in 1928. Bythe 1950s, only one chautauqua was left—inMediapolis, Iowa. It was no longer “the mostAmerican thing.”

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Privileged Reporters?“The Reporter’s Privilege, Then and Now” by Stephen Bates, in Society (July–Aug. 2001),

Transaction Periodicals Consortium, Rutgers Univ., P.O. Box 10826, New Brunswick, N.J. 08903.

There’s one story the news media never tireof running: Somewhere in America, a reporterhas gone heroically off to jail after defying a courtorder requiring him to turn over notes or tapesto the authorities. It’s a First Amendment issue,journalists cry. Without a “right to silence”they will become de facto investigators for thestate, and the chilling effect on sources willcompromise the constitutional guarantee of afree press. In the eyes of government, however,journalists have the same obligations as othercitizens.

The law is equivocal, notes Bates, literary edi-tor of the Wilson Quarterly and formerly alawyer in the office of the WhitewaterIndependent Counsel. There’s no record ofany reporter claiming such a privilege before1848, when John Nugent of the New YorkHerald refused to reveal to Congress who hadsupplied him with a secret draft treaty withMexico. He was jailed for 10 days but kept hissecret. By 1896, the question of privilegeapparently had arisen often enough thatMaryland passed a “shield” law protectingjournalists from state subpeonas. (Today, 31states have such laws.) It wasn’t until 1957 thata case involving a clear First Amendment argu-ment reached a high federal court. Thereporter lost.

Things changed in the 1960s, as a new gen-eration of politically liberal and generally moreadversarial journalists took the stage. Early inthe Nixon administration, moreover, federalprosecutors aggressively pursued media sub-peonas, as did Congress. News organizationsmostly complied but warned loudly of the dan-gers to liberty. Finally, in 1972, the SupremeCourt weighed in. In Branzburg v. Hayes, itrejected by a 5-4 majority three reporters’ sep-arate claims of journalistic privilege, notingthat the only “testimonial privilege” afforded bythe Constitution is the Fifth Amendment’sprotection against self-incrimination. Worries

about a chilling effect, the Court said, were large-ly “speculative.” It pointed out that judgescould still intervene if a malicious prosecutorused subpeonas to harass the press.

However, Justice Lewis E. Powell, Jr.’s con-curring opinion left a number of doors open, andsome lower federal courts have marchedthrough, often recognizing a testimonial priv-ilege after applying a three-point test to mediasubpeonas. The Supreme Court, while stickingby Branzburg in principle, according to Bates,has passed up opportunities to correct thelower courts.

What to do? Above all, Bates argues, gov-ernment and the news media must strive toavoid situations in which journalists defy the ruleof law. “The law suffers when court orders areflouted without shame—or, indeed, withpride.” Strict guidelines already limit the num-ber of media subpeonas pursued by the U.S.Department of Justice to one or two dozenannually. (In 1997, there were 2,725 mediasubpeonas, mostly from civil litigants andcriminal defendants; federal prosecutorsaccounted for fewer than 25.) Some federalindependent counsels may arguably have beenincautious in seeking particular media subpe-onas, but Congress isn’t likely to reenact the nowdefunct law needed to create future indepen-dent counsels. (It has also declined to pass ashield law or other limits on media subpeonas.)

The news media must also exercise self-restraint, Bates says. When the New York Statepolice posted newspaper photos on its Web siteto aid in the identification of criminals at theWoodstock ‘99 festival, the Associated Pressand Syracuse Online forced their removal,claiming copyright infringement. That wassimply bad citizenship, declares legal ethicistStephen Gillers. He warns, says Bates, thatinflating such “trivial incursions . . . may numbthe public to the dangers posed by true FirstAmendment violations.”

largely uncovered except by the AP, Reuters, andthe Des Moines Register.”

Fleeson is not unsympathetic to the editors’dilemma: hard news or enterprise. But she

reaches an “uncomfortable” conclusion:Despite all the talk, “fewer and fewer main-stream news organizations bother any anymorewith dailies or enterprise stories.”

R e l i g i o n & P h i l o s o p h y

Philosophy’s Purpose“Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline” by Bernard Williams, in The Threepenny Review

(Spring 2001), P.O. Box 9131, Berkeley, Calif. 94709.

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Philosophy has become so recondite andairless an occupation these days that the very titleof Williams’s essay may seem a reproach.Williams, who teaches philosophy at OxfordUniversity and the University of California,Berkeley, and is the author of Shame andNecessity (1993), among many other books,regrets that students too often end up believingthat philosophy is “a self-contained technicalsubject.” He believes that philosophy shouldrather be “part of a more general attempt tomake the best sense of our life, and so of ourintellectual activities, in the situation in whichwe find ourselves.” If it is to do that, philosophyneeds to rid itself of what Williams calls “sci-entistic illusions.” It should not try to behave likea branch of the natural sciences, except inthose cases where that is precisely what it is—“work in the philosophy of quantum mechan-ics, for instance, or in the more technicalaspects of logic.” Philosophy must certainlytake an interest in the sciences, but withoutbeing assimilated “to the aims, or atleast the manners, of the sciences.”

Philosophy, for Williams, belongsto an expansive humanistic enter-prise. If philosophy is to contributesuccessfully to that process of under-standing ourselves and our activities,it must attend to all the other parts ofthe enterprise, especially history: “Ifwe believe that philosophy mightplay an important part in makingpeople think about what they aredoing, then philosophy shouldacknowledge its connections withother ways of understanding our-selves, and if it insists on not doing so,it may seem to the student in everysense quite peculiar.”

Williams acknowledges the reser-vations that someone, “perhaps ayoung philosopher,” will have aboutthe encompassing approach he pro-poses: “Doesn’t it mean that there istoo much we need to know, that onecan only do philosophy by being an

amateur of altogether too much? Can’t we justget on with it?” In other words, isn’t small andgood, the successful approach of much con-temporary analytic philosophy, better thanbroad and bad?

Williams argues that philosophy should notabandon an approach that allows for the divi-sion of labor, but that it should reconsider thenature of the division, which “tends to be mod-eled too easily on that of the sciences, as divid-ing one field or area of theorizing from anoth-er.” He proposes that the subject be dividedup differently—“by thinking of one given eth-ical idea, for instance, and the various consid-erations that might help one to understand it.”And as for not knowing all that you think youmight need to know before undertaking phi-losophy, “it makes a difference,” he observes,“what it is that you know you do not know.One may not see very far outside one’s ownhouse, but it can be very important whichdirection one is looking in.”

The Menacing Muses (1916), by Giorgio de Chirico

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The Planet Speaks?The first thing to know about global warming is this: The science is sound. . . .But it isn’t just the scientists who are hard at work on this issue. For the past five

years, it’s almost as if the planet itself has been peer-reviewing their work. We’ve hadthe warmest years on record—including 1998, which was warmer than any year forwhich records exist. And those hot years have shown what even small changes in tem-perature—barely a degree Fahrenheit averaged globally—can do to the Earth’s sys-tems.

Consider hydrology, for instance. Warm air holds more water vapor than cold air,so there is an increase in evaporation in dry areas, and hence more drought—some-thing that has been documented on every continent. Once that water is in the atmos-phere, it’s going to come down somewhere—and, indeed, we have seen the most dra-matic flooding ever recorded in recent years. In 1998, 300 million humans, one in 20of us, had to leave their homes for a week, a month, a year, forever, because of risingwaters.

Or look at the planet’s cryosphere, its frozen places. Every alpine glacier is inretreat; the snows of Kilimanjaro will have vanished by 2015; and the Arctic ice capis thinning fast—data collected by U.S. and Soviet nuclear submarines show that itis almost half gone compared with just four decades ago.

In other words, human beings are changing the planet more fundamentally in thecourse of a couple of decades than in all the time since we climbed down from thetrees and began making use of our opposable thumbs. There’s never been anythinglike this.

—Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature (1989), writing in In These Times (Apr. 10, 2001)

S c i e n c e , Te c h n o l o g y & E n v i r o n m e n t

Who Killed the Woolly Mammoth?“Mass Extinctions Pinned on Ice Age Hunters” by Leigh Dayton, “A Multispecies Overkill

Simulation of the End-Pleistocene Megafaunal Mass Extinction” by John Alroy, and “New Ages forthe Last Australian Megafauna: Continent-Wide Extinction about 46,000 Years Ago” by Richard

G. Roberts, Timothy F. Flannery, et al., in Science (June 8, 2001), American Assn. for theAdvancement of Science, 1200 New York Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.

It’s an Ice Age mystery: What caused thesudden mass extinction of huge, exoticmammals and flightless birds in the latePleistocene era, 11,000 to 50,000 years ago?Climate change has been suggested. But theevidence is mounting against the prime sus-pect in the case, Homo sapiens, reportsDayton, a science writer in Australia.

Dating megafauna-bearing sedimentsfrom 28 sites across Australia, scientists led byRoberts, a geochronologist at the Universityof Melbourne, and Flannery, a mammalogistat the South Australian Museum inAdelaide, found that a continent-wideextinction of large animals took place about46,000 years ago—not many millenniums

Williams worries that the traditionalhumanistic enterprise of trying to understandourselves is coming to seem odd, archaic, andunnecessary at a time when education isfocused increasingly on the technical and the

commercial. He fears that reflective activitymay be preserved, at best, “as part of the heritageindustry.” And if that should occur, “it will notbe the passionate and intelligent activity that itneeds to be.”

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No Hocus-Pocus“The Truth and the Hype of Hypnosis” by Michael R. Nash, in Scientific American (July 2001),

415 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017–1111.

It is a scene familiar from countlessmovies. A pocket watch swings back andforth on a chain while a voice soothinglyintones, “You are getting sleepy, verysleepy.” But hypnosis is more thanHollywood fantasy. It has important, wide-ly recognized medical uses, reports Nash,a professor of psychology at the Universityof Tennessee, Knoxville.

A National Institutes of Health panelfound in 1996 that hypnosis alleviatedpain in patients with cancer and otherchronic conditions. It also has reducedpain in burn victims and women in labor.A recent review of various studies foundthat hypnosis relieved the pain of 75 percentof 933 subjects taking part in 27 different

after humans appeared on the Australianscene. Though the evidence is circumstan-tial, Roberts thinks it “definitely” implicateshumans. But the lethal blow that humansdelivered to frightful 660-pound, claw-footedkangaroos, flightless 220-pound Genyornisbirds, and other huge beasts was indirect, hebelieves. Aborigines habitually set fire to thelandscape, perhaps to make hunting andtraveling easier, and so reduced themegafauna’s food supply. Hunting and cli-mate change may have pushed the big ani-mals the rest of the way to extinction.

“In North America, by contrast,” writesDayton, “hunters may have been in thethick of the faunicidal fray.” Ice Age Americahad saber-toothed tigers, giant antelopes,woolly bison, and woolly mammoths. Butby the end of the Pleistocene era, 11,000years ago, more than two-thirds of the largemammals had died out—once again, afterhumans had arrived on the scene. Accordingto the “blitzkrieg” hypothesis put forth in1967 by geoscientist Paul Martin of theUniversity of Arizona, Tucson, early hunter-gatherers followed their prey across the top ofAsia to North America, then southward.Wiping out animals locally, the hunters ulti-mately drove populations to extinction.

To test Martin’s theory, Alroy, an evolu-tionary biologist at the University ofCalifornia, Santa Barbara, recently ran com-puter simulations of such an invasion ofhuman hunters in North America, starting14,000 years ago, and the impact it wouldhave had on 41 species of large, plant-eatinganimals. “Alroy found that no matter howhe adjusted the variables, mass extinctionsensued,” Dayton writes. “Even the slowest,clumsiest hunters unleashed ecological dev-astation,” and the largest animals were hard-est hit. Hunting and human populationgrowth could have done in the megafaunaeven without climate change.

But “not everyone is convinced,” notesDayton. Biologists Ross MacPhee and AlexGreenwood, of the American Museum ofNatural History in New York City, say thatAlroy’s hunter argument fails to explain whyextinctions ceased 10,000 years ago, insteadof continuing into the current era, theHolocene. But MacPhee and Greenwooddon’t let Homo sapiens completely off thehook. They suspect that the human new-comers brought with them a lethal, highlycontagious virus, and that it did in the wool-ly mammoth and the other behemoths ofthe Ice Age.

“You’re getting sleepy . . .”

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The Darwinian Doctor“Dr. Darwin’s Rx” by Beth Saulnier, in Cornell Magazine (Mar.–Apr. 2001), Cornell Alumni

Federation, 55 Brown Rd., Ithaca, N.Y. 14850–1247.

There seems no end to the frontiers ofmedicine. The latest: “Darwinian medi-cine,” an emerging field that takes an evo-lutionary perspective on human health.Advocates, notes Saulnier, an associate edi-tor of Cornell Magazine, look at the symp-toms of illnesses or injuries that physicianstraditionally treat, and ask whether somesymptoms are not beneficial.

Consider fever, for instance. “A moderatefever, below about 103 degrees, actuallycan speed the healing process,” says PaulSherman, an evolutionary biologist atCornell University. “It makes the body’senvironment less able to be invaded by thepathogen, and it enables its immune sys-tem to work faster.”

Morning sickness, in the Darwinian per-spective, is another misunderstood protectiveresponse, writes Saulnier. Sherman and a stu-

dent, Sam Flaxman, found that women“who experience moderate morning sick-ness are less likely to miscarry.” Meat, eggs,and certain other foods are likely to containchemicals or pathogens that could harmthe developing fetus, so the mother’s nauseaand vomiting protect the baby. Thus,women genetically disposed to morningsickness are “more likely to reproduce andpass on the trait.”

“Human biology is designed for StoneAge conditions,” wrote researchers Ran-dolph Nesse and George Williams in a1991 article that gave the nascent field of“Darwinian medicine” its name. Thatdesign lag can help explain information agemaladies.

The craving for fat, for instance, oncewas “a distinct evolutionary advantage,”Saulnier says, since fat has more calories

experiments. In a few cases, says Nash, therelief was greater than that provided bymorphine.

Another “meta-analysis,” of 18 differentstudies, found that hypnosis, in conjunctionwith psychotherapy, helped treat anxiety,insomnia, hypertension, and obesity. Butcertain other conditions such as drugaddiction and alcoholism “do not respondwell” to hypnosis, says Nash.

Psychologists in the late 1950s devel-oped a series of 12 tests to measure thedepth of a subject’s hypnotic state. In onetest, for instance, the subject is told that heis holding a very heavy ball. If his arm sagsunder the imaginary weight, he scores apoint. The more tests the individual pass-es, the more responsive to hypnosis he is.On a scale of zero to 12, most people scorebetween five and seven.

Contrary to what one might suppose,readily hypnotized persons aren’t neces-sarily prone to “gullibility, hysteria, psy-chopathology, trust, aggressiveness, imag-ination, or social compliance,” says Nash.Instead, they tend to be people who lose

themselves in reading, daydreaming, or lis-tening to music.

Studies show that a person’s capacity tobe hypnotized, like an IQ score, remains sta-ble throughout adulthood. Identical twinsare more likely to have similar hypnosisscores than same-sex fraternal twins, a find-ing that indicates a possible hereditary factor.

“Under hypnosis, subjects do notbehave as passive automatons,” Nashobserves. Rather, they actively respond tothe hypnotist’s suggestions. Yet they typicallyperceive the sometimes dramatic changesin thought and behavior that they experi-ence—including hallucinations, delu-sions, and memory loss—as “somethingthat just happens” to them, without anyeffort on their part. “My hand becameheavy and moved down by itself,” a subjectmight say.

The clinical use of hypnosis, Nashbelieves, may become a matter of course forsome patients with certain conditions.Hypnosis is not yet a part of standard med-icine, but it has “come a long way from theswinging pocket watch.”

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A r t s & L e t t e r s

The Other Rockwell“Rockwell Kent Rediscovered” by Stephen May, in American Arts Quarterly (Spring 2001),

P.O. Box 1654, Cooper Station, New York, N.Y. 10276.

Painter, illustrator, printmaker, andauthor, Rockwell Kent (1882–1971) wasrecognized as a major American artist dur-ing the 1930s. But in subsequent decades hisaccomplishments as a painter were over-shadowed, first by his commercial illustra-tions and political posters, then, during theCold War, by controversy over his left-wingpolitics. Though not a member of theCommunist Party, Kent was a staunch sup-porter of the Soviet Union (and a recipientof the 1967 Lenin Peace Prize).

Several recent exhibitions have revivedinterest in Kent’s rugged landscape paintings(some of which he gave to theSoviet Union in 1960), as wellas his striking graphic images.These works are “among thefinest achievements” in 20th-century American art, assertsMay, a writer based inWashington and Maine.

Born in 1882 in Tarrytown,New York, Kent showed anearly aptitude for drawing andstudied under William MerrittChase, Robert Henri, andAbbott Thayer. In 1905,Henri, a leader of the “ash-can” school of painting, intro-duced Kent to the harsh beau-ty of Monhegan Island, off the coast ofMaine. The young artist stayed there for sev-

eral years, eking out a living as a carpenter andlobsterman. “Inspired by the soaring cliffs,pounding waves, and forested landscape ofMonhegan,” writes May, “Kent producedsome of the most powerful paintings of hiscareer. In Toilers of the Sea (1907), the hardlife of men who make their living from the seawas underscored by the dramatic backdrop ofthe island’s towering cliffs.”

Married in 1908 to Thayer’s niece (the firstof three wives), Kent moved to New-foundland six years—and three children—later, settling in a small fishing village. Butwith World War I nearing, the outspoken

stranger’s “open admirationfor German culture” led vil-lagers to suspect that he was aGerman spy. In mid-1915, hewas ordered to leave New-foundland.

In subsequent years, hetraveled to Alaska, Tierra delFuego, and Greenland. Hemade his final home in thelate 1920s on a dairy farmnear the village of AuSableForks, New York, with theAdirondack Mountains onthe horizon. In each setting,says May, Kent produced“stark, evocative art. His

crisp, modernist images, both paintings andgraphic work, reflect his superb artistic gifts

Self-Portrait (It’s Me, O Lord),1934, by Rockwell Kent

than other types of food. But “in an age ofabundance . . . that same craving can be aone-way ticket to obesity and heart disease.”

Modern conditions also have altered theworth of some evolutionary tradeoffs,Saulnier points out. The gene that causessickle-cell anemia once gave people whohad only one copy of the gene (rather thanthe deadly two copies) valuable protectionagainst malaria. Similarly, the gene thatcauses Tay-Sachs disease warded off tuber-culosis. But with the threats posed by

malaria and TB so much diminished today,the genes’ benefits are minimal, while theirdangers remain.

Only a few dozen American researchersare now at work in the field of Darwinianmedicine, and the field is not well known.But that may change, says Saulnier. Onebig contribution Darwinian medicinecould make lies in the allocation of medicalresources. Why develop costly drugs torelieve morning sickness, for example, if itprotects the baby?

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How to Live Many LivesOne seeks sanctuary in literature so as not to be unhappy and so as not to be

incomplete. To ride alongside the scrawny Rocinante and the confused Knight on thefields of La Mancha, to sail the seas on the back of a whale with Captain Ahab, todrink arsenic with Emma Bovary, to become an insect with Gregor Samsa: these areall ways that we have invented to divest ourselves of the wrongs and the impositionsof this unjust life, a life that forces us always to be the same person when we wish tobe many different people, so as to satisfy the many desires that possess us.

—Mario Vargas Llosa, novelist and a professor of Ibero-American literatureat Georgetown University, in The New Republic (May 14, 2001)

and his grasp of the essentials of eachplace.” In The Artist in Greenland (1935), forinstance, “the tiny forms of Kent and his dogteam are engulfed in the silent, white vast-ness of the arctic space.”

Kent used his graphic work to produceneeded income. The more than 270 pen-and-ink drawings he did for a 1930 editionof Moby Dick established him as a top illus-trator. “His bread-and-butter work,” Maysays, “ran the gamut from illustrations for

Sherwin-Williams paint guides to illustra-tions for Beowulf and Paul Bunyan.” Kentalso turned out lithographs and posters thatreflected his passionate political views,often by featuring idealized depictions ofworkers as heroes or victims. His output ofpaintings—mostly views of his farm in theAdirondacks—diminished. Yet his powerfullandscapes, says May, “seem destined toendure as masterpieces of American realis-tic art.”

The Artist in Greenland (1935), by Rockwell Kent

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O t h e r Na t i o n s

The EU’s Religious Factor“Does Religion Matter? Christianity and Public Support for the European Union” by Brent F.

Nelsen, James L. Guth, and Cleveland R. Fraser, in European Union Politics (June 2001), SagePublications Ltd., P.O. Box 5096, Thousand Oaks, Calif. 91359.

Scholars seeking to explain public attitudestoward European integration usually stresseconomics: More affluent (and better educat-ed) Europeans, they note, tend to be more sup-portive of the European Union (EU). Theauthors, who are all political scientists atFurman University in South Carolina, con-tend that another important factor, religion, isoverlooked.

While the EU may be chiefly an economiccommunity, European integration and reli-gion, particularly Catholicism, “were explicit-ly linked, theoretically and politically,” when the

dream of unity took shape in the early years afterWorld War II, Nelsen and his colleaguesobserve. “European integration in the 1950s waslargely a Christian Democratic project, led bydevout Catholics such as Konrad Adenauer,Robert Schuman, and Alcide de Gasperi.”

Moreover, write the authors, “the greatdivide over integration has always run betweenCatholic nations, which envisioned a singleEuropean federation, and Protestant latecom-ers, such as the United Kingdom, Denmark,Finland, Sweden, and Norway (which never didjoin), with their pragmatic preference for clos-

Holden at 50“Holden Caulfield’s Legacy” by David Castronovo, in New England Review (Spring 2001),

Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt. 05753.

Holden Caulfield, that young despiser of“phonies,” turns 50 this year but shows every signof remaining America’s perpetual adolescent.Immensely popular when first published in1951, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye hashad “cultural significance and staying powerbeyond its literary value,” observes Castronovo,the author of Edmund Wilson (1985).

Like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg,Ohio, Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel,and Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories,Salinger’s novel is “about a lonely young boywho thinks there is something wrong with theworld, something essentially dead and phonyand disgusting about the arrangement ofthings,” notes Castronovo. But unlike the ear-lier protagonists, Holden has “no unfoldingdestiny, no mission,” and not even much inthe way of dramatic moments.

Turning against what Holden calls the“David Copperfield crap,” Salinger made hisbook antiliterary in a new way, filling it with babbling and “impressions that are overtakenby afterthoughts, comic contradictions, half-recognitions, and canceled insights,” Castronovowrites. The familiar subject of lonely youth is

conveyed with “a managed incoherence, anattractive breakdown of logic that appeals to theconfused adolescent in all of us. Sweepingdenunciations are followed by abject apolo-gies—only to be followed by other ridiculouspronouncements.” Among the many Holden-isms: “I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot,” and“I hate the movies like poison, but I get a bangimitating them.”

Throughout the novel, Holden offers advicefor “cant-free living,” notes Castronovo. Be“casual as hell,” for instance, and never usethe word grand. Catcher is, in a sense, “one ofthe first manuals of cool, a how-to guide for thosewho would detach themselves from the all-American postwar pursuit of prosperity andbliss,” Castronovo writes. And after a half-century, the teachings still have cultural force.“Young people and their fearful elders know thatcoolness is the only way. Formal discourse,sequential thinking, reverence for the digni-fied and the heroic: these acts closed by the1960s. The voice of Holden played a part in shut-ting them down. Its tone—directed againstprestige and knowingness—is as cuttingtoday as it was in 1951.”

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A Brighter View of Russia“Russia” by Anders Åslund, in Foreign Policy (July–Aug. 2001), Carnegie Endowment for

International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.

Mention Russia today, and an image ofcatastrophic decline may well come tomind. Shock therapy failed, the economyhas collapsed, the infrastructure is crum-bling, corruption is widespread, the popula-tion is shrinking. Russia, in this view, seemsheaded for Milton’s “reign of Chaos and oldNight.” Get a grip, urges Åslund, author ofHow Russia Became a Market Economy(1995). The country’s plight has been vastlyexaggerated.

True, official data show that gross domes-tic product (GDP) shrank 44 percentbetween 1989 and 1998. But that’s a statisti-cal mirage. “Under communism,” Åslundnotes, “everybody padded output to reachtargets in the planned economy, whilenobody cared about the quality (or even theusefulness) of the items produced.” The sub-sequent decline in production of shoddy oruseless goods should be welcomed, he says.And the statistics miss the substantial out-put of the postcommunist undergroundeconomy.

A more accurate picture of Russia’s eco-nomic development to 1998 would showstagnation, says Åslund. The problem is notexcessive “shock therapy,” but “too littleshock and too much corrupt state therapy inthe form of subsidies to the country’s elite.”And don’t blame the plague of bribery on

privatization, he says. It “is overwhelminglyconnected with law enforcement, tax col-lection, and state intervention.” Despite all itsproblems, Åslund points out, Russia since1998 has achieved continued economicgrowth: The GDP increased 5.4 percent in1999, and 8.3 percent last year.

Another important and largely unrecog-nized achievement, says Åslund, is the“extraordinary improvement” that privatiza-tion and market pricing have made inRussia’s infrastructure. He cites an impressiveexpansion in the telecommunications indus-try, improvements in airports and airlines,increased road construction, and new portsthat have been built around St. Petersburg.Russia is in the midst of a “building boom.”Maintenance problems, however, persist“where state monopolies linger,” heobserves.

As for Russia’s population meltdown,Åslund says the shocking statistics are mis-leading. Yes, the country is “losing” morethan 500,000 people a year—but populationdecline is “an issue across Europe.” Yes,male life expectancy decreased from 64years in 1989 to 57 years in 1994—but the1989 figure was an aberration caused by for-mer Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev’santi-alcohol campaign. The 1994 figure fitlong-term trends. “Nothing suggests that

er cooperation among sovereign states. TheProtestant countries are reluctant to abandonsovereignty for historical and political reasons,”while the Catholic Church “has consistentlysupported both the European Union and itsexpansion.”

But social scientists, convinced that religionis fast becoming a spent social force in Europe,have paid little heed to religion’s role in recentEuropean politics. The authors’ analysis ofEurobarometer survey data from 10 countriesover recent decades suggests that this neglect isa mistake. They find that Catholics, especiallydevout ones, “are warmest toward the Union,while Protestants tend to be slightly less sup-portive than secular citizens are.” Strong religious

commitment may also encourage support forEuropean integration among some Protestantsin established state churches (Lutheran andAnglican) who take their cues from their cler-ical leaders. But the most devout sectarianProtestants, such as Calvinists in the Netherlandsand Northern Ireland, “are the least fond of theEuropean Union.”

“If, indeed, religious tides are slowlyebbing in Europe—especially Catholic com-mitment—a prime source of Europeanistsentiment may be eroding,” Nelsen and hisco-authors conclude. As a result, the EU“will be ever more dependent on its eco-nomic performance” for continued publicsupport.

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Venezuela’s Delusions of Wealth“The Real Story behind Venezuela’s Woes” by Moisés Naím, in Journal of Democracy (Apr. 2001),

1101 15th St., N.W., Ste. 802, Washington, D.C. 20005.

Corruption, corruption, corruption—that’sthe reason most people in oil-rich Venezuelaare poor, President Hugo Chávez asserts,and a large majority of Venezuelans believehim. Lambasting the “politicians” and the“rich” for stealing the country’s wealth, thefiery former military officer promises to setthings right. Unfortunately, the national “fix-ation with corruption” is as much of a road-block to progress as corruption itself, arguesNaím, the editor of Foreign Policy and a for-mer Venezuelan minister of trade and indus-try (1989-90).

The focus on corruption encour-ages Venezuelans to believe thattheirs is a rich country crippled bythieves. According to a recent publicopinion poll, about 90 percent ofVenezuelans believe that their coun-try is wealthy. But despite occasionalwindfalls, oil income “has long beeninsufficient” to make Venezuela rich.Oil’s contribution to the nationaltreasury fell from $1,540 per person in1974 to only $200 two decades later.Sixty-eight percent of Venezuelanslive in poverty today—more thantwice the percentage two decadesago.

“Venezuela’s tax system, labor andsocial security laws, health, education,housing, state-owned enterprises(including the oil and petrochemicalindustry), agriculture, and almost all itspublic-sector institutions, as well asmost of its regulatory frameworks, arein desperate need of reform and mod-ernization,” Naím writes. Yet thenational obsession with corruptionprecludes a debate. Indeed, thanks in

no small part to “the enormous role of thestate” in Venezuela, “corruption has becomepandemic,” he says. An experiment withneoliberal economic reforms during the1990s was modest and short-lived, falling“far short . . . of what most other LatinAmerican countries implemented.”

Even so, the reforms provoked widespreadpopular discontent. During the 1990s, Naímnotes, “the two political parties that were thebuilding blocks of Venezuelan democracyfor more than five decades lost almost all of

average healthcare standards in Russia havefallen,” Åslund maintains. Indeed, the infantmortality rate fell by 17 percent between1993 and 1998.

Slow as Russia’s reforms have been,Åslund says, they “have progressed farenough to keep the communists at bay.”

Many Russians and foreigners think thatdemocracy is Russia’s problem, and that “astrong leader” is needed. On the contrary,Åslund maintains, “the unlawful enrich-ment of the elite is the problem. . . . The wide-spread disregard for democracy and therepression of media are the greatest dangers.

A Chávez supporter demonstrates in the streets ofCaracas last year, shortly after his landslide reelection.

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Africa’s Cursed Treasure“Blood Diamonds” by Frédéric Barrault, in African Geopolitics (Spring 2001), 815 15th St., N.W.,

Ste. 506, Washington, D.C. 20005; “The Failure of Peacekeeping in Sierra Leone” by WilliamReno, in Current History (May 2001), 4225 Main St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19127.

Civil strife in Africa is often blamed onpolitical grievances or ethnic hatreds. Butthere’s another, perhaps more important fac-tor: diamonds. The major civil wars in Africatoday—in Angola, Congo, Sierra Leone,Liberia, and Guinea—are being fought in ornear diamond-mining zones, notes Barrault,who teaches at the Institut Catholiqued’Études Supérieures at La Roche-sur-Yon,France.

Africa holds more than half of the globalreserves of diamonds and it supplies half ofthe $7 billion world market in uncut dia-monds. “Given their value, diamondsalways have been an aim of conquest andpower among the different powers and rivalfactions in Africa,” Barrault says. SinceAfrican nations gained their independence,diamonds have been fueling civil wars. Thefirst wars in the former Belgian Congo in the1960s, for instance, were fought against abackground of struggle for control of theKatanga and Kasai mines. The pattern con-tinues today. “People in Africa fight overdiamonds, and the diamond trade financesthe insurgencies, thus supporting situationsof permanent warfare,” Barrault points out.“It is a vicious circle [and] a tragedy for thepeople of Africa.” Hundreds of thousandshave been killed.

In a detailed analysis of the decade-oldwar in Sierra Leone between the govern-ment and the Revolutionary United Front(RUF), Reno, a political scientist at North-western University, underscores the important

role diamonds have played in the conflict.The rebels have obtained weapons fromLiberian president Charles Taylor in returnfor diamonds mined in Sierra Leone. This,Reno observes, has enabled the RUF towage war against the country’s “corrupt andinept government” without making an effortto develop popular support. “The RUF basesits political power on control over diamonds,much as had the corrupt Sierra Leone politi-cians that the RUF criticized.”

Responding to reports of atrocities inSierra Leone, the United Nations SecurityCouncil, at the request of Britain and theUnited States, voted unanimously inMarch to impose an embargo on Liberiandiamond exports, with the aim of cutting offthe RUF’s resources. It was the third UNembargo against African diamonds in lessthan two years, notes Barrault. In mid-2000,at Britain’s request, an 18-month embargoon all Sierra Leone diamonds was declared.A year before that the UN SecurityCouncil, at Canada’s request, had targetedAngolan diamonds, which for 25 years havebeen fueling the civil war between JonasSavimbi’s rebel UNITA forces and theAngolan government.

“Not too much should be expected ofthese measures,” Barrault says. Embargoes arerarely effective, he points out, and dia-monds, being small and easily concealed,make circumvention a cinch. Africa’s war-lords, he says, will continue to make use oftheir cursed treasure.

their influence, as did the country’s business,labor, and intellectual elites.”

Elected president in 1998 and again lastyear under a new constitution, and backed bythe military and the Left, Chávez now pos-sesses immense powers, observes Naím.“The executive, legislative, and judicialbranches of government, most state andlocal governments, the central bank, and theoil industry . . . are all under [his] direct andactive control.” Though it enjoyed an unex-

pected spike in oil revenues in 1999 and2000, the Chávez administration has failed tocome up with a “credible” plan for eco-nomic reform, says Naím.

“The real danger,” he argues, “is that thegovernment’s poor performance may beaggravated by dwindling oil revenues, whichin turn may lead to social and political tur-moil.” If that happens, Chávez might jettisondemocracy and become “just another third-world dictator.”

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RESEARCH REPORTSRESEARCH REPORTSReviews of new research at public agencies and private institutions

“Declining Share of Children Lived with Single Mothers in the Late 1990s.”Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 820 First St., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002. 13 pp. Available

at www.centeronbudget.org/6-15-01wel.htm. Authors: Allen Dupree and Wendell Primus

It was bad news for the traditional familylast spring when the Census Bureau

revealed that the number of families headedby a single mother increased 25 percentbetween 1990 and 2000. Now, some (quali-fied) good news: The proportion of childrenunder 18 who live with their divorced orunwed mother and no father or surrogatefather declined by nearly eight percent inthe late 1990s.

The proportion of youngsters in such cir-cumstances fell from 19.9 percent in 1995 to18.4 in 2000, report Primus, director of theCenter on Budget and Policy Priorities’Income Security Division, and Dupree, aresearch associate. They used the CensusBureau’s annual Current Population Surveydata for their analysis.

The proportion of children living with theirmother and an unmarried adult male (whomight or might not be the child’s father)increased somewhat, from 2.6 percent to 3.0percent. That could be good news for the chil-dren, if the male fulfills the paternal role—orbad news, if he doesn’t.

The proportion of children living with twomarried parents remained essentially the samebetween 1995 and 2000: about 70 percent.

Still more good news: The proportion ofblack children living with two married parentssubstantially increased—from 34.8 percent in1995 to 38.9 percent five years later.Meanwhile, the share of black children insingle-mother homes with no father or surro-gate father present declined by more than eightpercent—from 47.1 percent to 43.1 percent.

“Computer Exports and National Security: New Tools for a New Century.”Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1800 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006. 68 pp.

Paperback, $21.95. Author: James A. Lewis

Since the Cold War, it’s been widelyassumed that keeping high-performance

computers and microprocessors out of thehands of potential U.S. adversaries is vital tonational security. This assumption is badlyoutdated, according to this report of a com-mission on technology security, whose co-chairs include former defense secretary JamesR. Schlesinger and former Central Intel-ligence Agency director R. James Woolsey.

The dramatic increase in computingpower over the last decade, and the everexpanding access to such power via theInternet, the commission says, have broken“the connection between high performancecomputing and weapons proliferation.”

“Military applications do not requiremuch computing power,” the commissiondeclares. The F-22, the most advanced U.S.fighter jet, was designed with a “supercom-puter” that had only about one-fourth of the

computing power now found in an ordinaryPentium chip. In building modern weapons,years of experience at integrating differenttechnologies count for more than computerpower, the commission says. In designingnuclear weapons, “access to data derivedfrom nuclear weapons explosions is moreimportant.” And much of America’s militaryedge today derives from superior softwareand the ability to use it in the managementof military operations.

The commission urges elimination ofU.S. export controls based on computationalpower. Washington should focus instead onsafeguarding its unique software applica-tions, developed through “years of opera-tional experience and extensive testing.”And it should focus on the development ofnew military software applications by work-ing more closely with universities and withprivate information-technology companies.

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Research Reports

Last year, 83.6 percent of children in“higher-income” families (i.e., families at morethan twice the official poverty level) were livingwith two married parents. (That was down from85 percent in 1995.) Only half the children in“lower-income” families were so fortunate.

Year-to-year shifts in such statistics tend tobe small, the authors note, but between 1999and 2000, strikingly, some changes “were largeenough to be statistically significant.” Forexample, the overall proportion of children liv-

ing with a single mother who was not cohabit-ing fell from 19.6 percent to 18.4 percent.

The good news seems clear, but the authorsare silent on what’s responsible for the trends.Some analysts have pointed to the welfarereform law of 1996 as a factor. Ironically,Primus quit his position at the time in the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services toprotest President Bill Clinton’s signing of themeasure. “In some ways, it is working betterthan I thought,” Primus said recently.

“The Performing Arts in a New Era.”RAND, 1700 Main St., P.O. Box 2138, Santa Monica, Calif. 90407–2138. 137 pp. Paperback, $20.

Available at www.rand.org. Authors: Kevin McCarthy, Arthur Brooks, Julia Lowell, and Laura Zakaras

The performing arts in Americaappear to be flourishing these days,

but beneath the glittering surface, “a fun-damental shift,” with some possibly worri-some implications, may be taking place,McCarthy and his fellow RANDresearchers find.

While a few big commercial organiza-tions and nonprofits, such as the New YorkCity Ballet, are getting larger and puttingon more elaborate productions, many“midsized” nonprofits—theater groups,symphony orchestras, opera companies,and dance companies—are finding it hardto attract large enough audiences to coverthe costs of paid staff and professionalartists. “Many of these organizations arelikely to disappear,” the researchers say.

These woes come in the midst of anapparent arts boom. Even the audience foropera grew four percent between 1992 and1997. In a 1997 survey, 42 percent of thosepolled said that they had attended at leastone live performance during the precedingyear; the average among those surveyed wasfive performances.

More than 8,000 theater groups andother organizations gave live performancesin 1997. Up to three-fourths of thoseamong them operating year-round hadrevenues of less than $500,000 that year.Performing arts groups are concentrated inCalifornia and New York, but on a percapita basis the District of Columbia leadsthe nonprofit pack, with 45 groups permillion inhabitants. On the for-profit side,

Nevada tops the list , with 77 t axablegroups per million inhabitants.

While the number of commercial organi-zations increased more than 40 percentbetween 1982 and 1997, the number of non-profits shot up more than 80 percent. Mostof the new nonprofits are small, local groups(often with annual revenues of less than$100,000), relying heavily on unpaid labor.

In the face of increased competition,large nonprofits have been relying more on“star-studded blockbuster productions,” saythe authors, much like their commercialcounterparts. Midsized nonprofits haveturned to “warhorse” traditional works in aneffort to attract general audiences, and smallorganizations have looked to niche markets.

“Despite intensive efforts at marketing” andhigher ticket prices, the authors note, the non-profits’ bottom lines have not improved.Government contributions amount to onlyabout five percent of aggregate revenue (in1997). Donations from individuals (15 per-cent) have grown, but so have fundraisingcosts. Grants from corporations and founda-tions (14 percent) increasingly have stringsattached.

McCarthy and his colleagues see a perform-ing arts world emerging that is divided notbetween “high art” nonprofits and “mass enter-tainment” for-profits, but between big andsmall arts organizations. The distinctionbetween “high art” and “popular art” will con-tinue to erode, and professional live perfor-mances of the high arts will increasingly beconcentrated in big cities. Small groups,

dependent on unpaid volunteers, will contin-ue to proliferate. Midsized nonprofits, mean-while, will likely be pressed by reduced

demand, rising costs, and stagnant or decliningcontributions to become much larger or muchsmaller—or else simply to shut their doors.

Autumn 2001 135

“Asian Americans and Politics: Perspectives, Experiences, Prospects.”Wilson Center Press. Distributed by Stanford Univ. Press, CUP Distribution Center, 110 Midland Ave.,

Port Chester, N.Y. 10573–4930. 425 pp. $60 (paperback, $22.95).Editor: Gordon H. Chang

In 1970, there were fewer than one mil-lion Asian Americans; today there are

some 10.9 million. With heavy concentra-tions in three key electoral states—Cali-fornia, Texas, and New York—AsianAmericans have become an attractivepolitical prize and a potentially potentpolitical force.

Asian Americans “are becoming impor-tant as activists, as voters, as candidates, aspolitical contributors, and as participantsin policy debates,” writes Chang, a histori-an at Stanford University and the editor ofthis volume of essays that grew out of a1998 Wilson Center conference. A countmade before the November 2000 electionshowed 516 Asian Americans and PacificIslanders holding public office, includingtwo U.S. senators, five U.S. representa-tives, two governors, 49 state representa-tives, 89 city council members, 26 mayors,133 school board or higher-educationboard members, and 210 judges. AsianAmericans have appeared in a less positivepolitical light as well, notably during thecontroversy over i l legal campaignfundraising practices in the Democrats’1996 presidential drive.

Before 1996, Asian Americans were wide-ly regarded as politically apathetic, writeFrank H. Wu, a Howard University law pro-fessor, and consultant Francey LimYoungberg. (Among those considered AsianAmericans are people of Chinese, Filipino,Japanese, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, andHawaiian descent.) But despite their rela-tively low turnout at the polls, “AsianAmericans have always contributed moneyto political candidates.” Since 1988, themajor political parties have actively pursuedtheir dollars and their votes.

But neither party has those votes lockedup, write political scientists Wendy K. TamCho, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Bruce E. Cain, of theUniversity of California, Berkeley. Their1996 survey of California Asian Americansshowed that although Japanese Americansare predominantly Democratic, AsianAmericans (unlike blacks and Latinos) “area genuine swing group . . . not bound bystrong partisan identifications.” Whichparty they choose “seems to have less to dowith race and immigration policy” thanwith its stands on economic and foreignpolicy matters.

The emergence of an immigrant majority(58 percent in 1996) among AsianAmerican voters is reshaping their collectivepolitical orientation, observe Paul M. Ong,a professor of urban planning and socialwelfare at the University of California, LosAngeles, and David E. Lee, executive direc-tor of the nonpartisan Chinese AmericanVoters Education Committee. In both liber-al northern California and conservativesouthern California, for instance, foreign-born Asian Americans generally are morelikely than U.S.-born ones to identify them-selves as Republicans. Self-appointed “pro-gressive” spokespersons have a hard timeclaiming to represent all Asian Americans.

Asian Americans are a diverse group.Some highly affluent members have longfamily histories in the United States, whileothers are relatively recent arrivals. Butrecent immigrants also include poor ruralfolk from Cambodia and middle-classurbanites from South Korea. No activist ofany stripe is likely to succeed in moldingthem into “a coherent political pan-ethnicforce,” Chang observes.

Wilson Center Digest

136 Wilson Quarterly

Melancholy DaneKIERKEGAARD:

A Biography.By Alastair Hannay. Cambridge Univ. Press. 496 pp. $34.95

Reviewed by David Lodge

that is the publisher’s rather than Hannay’sfault. The preface describes the book asan “intellectual biography,” and that isexactly what it is; but the epithet does notappear on the title page. As a guide to thedevelopment of Kierkegaard’s thought in hiswritings, it could hardly be bettered,but there is little about those specificdetails of the subject’s daily life that makea historical personage live in the reader’simagination. As far as I can judge, Hannayhas discovered no significant new factsabout Kierkegaard’s personal and emo-tional life, and indeed he deals more cur-sorily than previous biographers with suchtopics as the somber drama of theKierkegaard family history (the father’sfirst wife died childless, and within a yearhe married his housekeeper after makingher pregnant; she bore him seven chil-dren, most of whom died young, which heinterpreted as divine punishment for ablasphemy committed in his youth) andthe agony of the breach with Regine.

Hannay’s treatment of the latterevent, surely the pivotal moment

in Kierkegaard’s life, is brisk and ratherdismissive: “On 11 October, Kierkegaardwent to say that the break was final. Therefollowed a wrought conversation sadlyreminiscent of television soap-opera, afterwhich Kierkegaard ‘went straight to the

Ishould perhaps explain that my onlyqualification for reviewing this book is

that a few years ago I wrote a novel(Therapy) whose chief character, a writer ofTV situation comedy, becomes incongru-ously obsessed with the life and work ofSøren Kierkegaard during a more thanusually acute midlife crisis. Kierkegaard(1813–55) was a Danish philosopher andtheologian who challenged the Hegelianphilosophical orthodoxy of his day and washailed in the 20th century as the first exis-tentialist. But what particularly interestedme about Kierkegaard, and led me to usehim for fictional purposes, was the con-nection between what he called his“melancholy” (and we should call depres-sion) and his writing, and how the latter wasa kind of therapy for the former. “Onlywhen I write do I feel well,” he noted in hisjournal. “Then I forget all of life’s vexa-tions, all its sufferings.” His greatest suf-fering, however, was self-imposed. In1841, he broke off his engagement to hisbeloved Regine Olsen, on the paradoxicalgrounds that he was bound to make herunhappy. He kept the psychologicalwound of this parting open by broodingon it for the rest of his life.

I turned to Alastair Hannay’s new bookhoping for more light to be thrown on thelife and personality of this fascinating andbaffling figure. I was disappointed, but

CURRENT BOOKSCURRENT BOOKSReviews of new and noteworthy nonfiction

theatre.’ ” I am not sure what Hannay’ssource is for this conversation, but the dia-logue between Kierkegaard and Reginethat took place shortly afterward, asrecorded in his journal (Walter Lowrie’stranslation), seems to me almost unbearablypoignant: “She asked me, Will you nevermarry? I replied, Well, in about 10 years,when I have sowed my wild oats, I musthave a pretty young miss to rejuve-nate me.—A necessary cruelty.She said, Forgive me for what Ihave done to you. I replied, Itis rather I that should pray foryour forgiveness. . . . Shesaid, Kiss me. That I did,but without passion.Merciful God!”

This is not, then, abiography of Kierkegaardthat will kindle interest inthose unfamiliar with hiswork, but one for committedstudents and fellow specialists.An emeritus professor at theUniversity of Oslo, Hannayis a distinguished scholarof Kierkegaard whohas translated andedited several of hisbooks. He is wellinformed about thegenesis and composi-tion of all of them,and a reliable guide totheir interpretation.What these books real-ly mean is very diffi-cult to establishbecause of Kierke-gaard’s idiosyncraticmethod of composi-tion, especially hispractice of publishingmany of them as the work ofpseudonymous editors and narrators withfanciful names (Victor Eremita, JohannesClimacus, Nicolaus Notabene), andconstructing them out of different kindsof discourse—essays, letters, short stories,treatises—in which he expresses radicallydifferent points of view. In this respect, hiswritings are more like the work of a novel-

ist—and a rather ludic, metafictional nov-elist, such as Laurence Sterne—than of aconventional philosopher.

His first major work, Either/Or (1843),became a literary success and establishedKierkegaard as a subversive, avant-gardewriter. When planning a second edition, hecontemplated adding a typically teasingpostscript: “I hereby retract this book. It

was a necessary deception fordeceiving people, if possi-

ble, into the religious, ashas been my constanttask all along. . . . Still,I don’t need to retractit. I have neverclaimed to be itsauthor.” The book

contrasts the “aesthetic”attitude to life with the

“ethical,” an oppositionKierkegaard later aban-doned in favor of an exis-

tential commitment to the“religious.” But it wouldseem, too, that he wassomewhat disconcerted by

the book’s acclaim and wastempted to disown it or to rein-

terpret it retrospectively. Hetakes cover finally behindthe purely literary conven-

tion of pseudonymous author-ship—a transparent subterfuge,

because by this time everyoneknew he was the author.

The complexity and playful-ness of Kierkegaard’s mode ofwriting have opened his work toassimilation by a great variety of

mutually incompatible viewsand attitudes. Lately,

efforts have been madeto read him as a kindof proto-postmodernist

or deconstructionist who demonstratedthrough paradox and irony the impossibil-ity of ever attaining a stable truth. Hannaywill have none of this. He believes there isa core of positive, nonironic meaning to befound in even the most complex andconfusing texts, and addresses himselfpatiently and persuasively to the task of

Autumn 2001 137

uncovering it. In short, he takes Kierke-gaard’s commitment to “the religious”seriously.

One learns from this biography thatKierkegaard was aware of the work of DavidFriederick Strauss, and therefore of theimpending wave of demythologizing biblicalscholarship that was to shatter the faith of somany intellectuals in the second half of the19th century. We might therefore seeKierkegaard’s life work as a kind of preemp-tive strike against the Higher Criticism,based on his conviction that because scien-tific method and supernatural religious faithcould never be logically reconciled, someother ground must be sought for faith in

138 Wilson Quarterly

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>David Lodge, emeritus professor of English literatureat the University of Birmingham, England, is the authorof the novels The Picturegoers (1960), The BritishMuseum Is Falling Down (1965), Changing Places(1975), Small World (1984), Nice Work (1988), ParadiseNews (1992), Therapy (1995), and Thinks (2001), amongothers. His nonfiction books include Language of Fiction(1966), Working with Structuralism (1981), The Art ofFiction (1992), and The Practice of Writing (1996).

individual consciousness. Hannay’s scrupu-lous study would support such a view. The factis, however, that because Kierkegaard used somany fictional devices in his most charac-teristic work, neither Hannay nor Kierke-gaard himself can set limits on what readersmay find in it.

Military UnreadinessWAR IN A TIME OF PEACE:

Bush, Clinton, and the Generals.By David Halberstam. Scribner. 544 pp. $28

Reviewed by Gary Hart

A lmost three decades ago, DavidHalberstam led a movement that

redefined journalism. His The Best and theBrightest (1972) opened the councils andprocesses of government by seeming toopen up the minds of key participants.The book offered an authoritative voiceand omniscient point of view with minimalreliance on immediate documentation.

A generation of journalists and writers,among them Bob Woodward and CarlBernstein, owe Halberstam a debt of gratitude.Out of this movement came tidal waves ofanonymous sources, self-serving leaks,treachery, internal dissent within adminis-trations, and problematic policymaking. Notonly was journalism revolutionized; the veryprocess of government would never be thesame. What was to follow—Watergate, assas-sination plots, foreign policy disasters, out-of-touch presidents, feuding staffs, and a scan-dal a minute—didn’t merely serve thenotion of the people’s right to know; it alsoaltered their perception of their government.

If everything was a scandal, was it possible thatnothing was really a scandal?

The scandal exposed in Halberstam’snew book is America’s near-total failure toanticipate, understand, or prepare for thepost-Cold War world—a scandal that con-tributed to a thousand deaths in Somalia(including 18 Americans), tens of thou-sands in the former Yugoslavia, and (atleast indirectly) 800,000 to a million inRwanda, and now some 7,000 on Amer-ican soil. The decade following the col-lapse of the Soviet empire saw a shift in thenature of warfare, from confrontationbetween massed armies of nation-states tolow-intensity urban conflict among tribes,clans, and gangs. The new strife seemedmore in keeping with the 17th centurythan the 20th. Neither the first Bushadministration nor the Clinton adminis-tration was ready.

Indeed, both Republicans and Dem-ocrats, governing under the heavy influenceof public-opinion polls, decided rather by

Autumn 2001 139

default to downplay foreign policy because,in their minds, the American people didn’tcare about it. The thinking in Washington,to the degree there was any, seems to havebeen that the United States needn’t play aleading role in the world because our con-stituents don’t want to be bothered. Or,more bluntly, it’s the economy, stupid. (Theone exception to the noninvolvement norm,not much discussed here, was the PersianGulf War. But that was less about democra-cy in Kuwait than about oil, and even in theinformation economy, oil is still king. Sochalk the Gulf War up to the economy too.)

berstam’s lengthy story are the 1992 and2000 elections. After a cursory review ofBush the first’s foreign policy success inliquidating the Cold War and his militarysuccess in the Persian Gulf, we get to theelection of William Jefferson Clinton, thefigure who dominates the rest of the book.In chapter after chapter, Halberstamdescribes him as one of the most talented,capable, charismatic, natural politiciansof the second half of the 20th century—yetone who constantly seems surprised byevents.

Halberstam’s definition of political

As its title suggests, War in a Time of Peacejudges the general failure of a coherent foreignpolicy, absent the central organizing principleof containment of communism, by only oneof its main components: the use or the threatof use of military force. A further subtitle to thebook might have been: the failure to under-stand how to use military power as an instru-ment of foreign policy in an age when thenature of warfare is changing.

The chronological bookends for Hal-

genius is exceedingly narrow. He sees it asa mix of empathy, ability to connect,manipulation, personal charm, and guile.The possession of these qualities seemsmore important than the ends to whichthey are put. Others might think ofcharacteristics such as foresight and fore-thought, anticipation, forcefulness at fram-ing issues, and the ability to reachconsensus and form coalitions—in short,leadership. Seemingly persuaded by

Which way now?

140 Wilson Quarterly

Current Books

>Gary Hart, a former U.S. senator (D-Colo.), practicesinternational law in Denver. He is the author of 12 books,including the forthcoming Thomas Jefferson’s Ideal of theRepublic in 21st-Century America, for which he receiveda D.Phil. from Oxford University.

Clinton’s extraordinary gifts according tothis restricted definition of political genius,Halberstam portrays a Jekyll-and-Hydepresident, a brilliant politician repeatedlycaught off guard by a changing world. Thisdoesn’t sound much like Franklin DelanoRoosevelt, or even Harry Truman. Clin-ton’s domestic political stumbles suggestthat his kind of brilliance doesn’t guaranteepowerful, sure-footed governance at homeeither. Perhaps the lesson is that we need toreassess the nature of true political leader-ship in an age concerned more with stylethan substance and more with appearancethan reality.

To be sure, Clinton inherited a foreignpolicy of improvisation, perhaps morepolitely called pragmatism—a self-defeating,hopelessly incomplete approach put in playby the Europeans and the first Bush admin-istration, and reinforced by Clinton’s reluc-tance to use force. But what an opportunityfor a new president to introduce structureand coherence where neither existed (orexists even today) and to raise the sail of prin-ciple over a ship of state wildly veeringbetween Jimmy Carter’s emphasis onhuman rights and Henry Kissinger’s realpoli-tik. If Clinton raged at the narrowness of thechoices presented to him, why didn’t he cre-ate alternatives of his own? ApparentlyHalberstam does not see such inventivenessas an element of political genius.

The story of U.S. foreign policy in the1990s is an unhappy muddle of the

conflicts in bitter Bosnia, hapless Haiti, mur-derous Rwanda, gangland Somalia, and trag-ic Kosovo. None possessed the nobility ofWorld War II, the certainty of the Cold War,or the focus of the Gulf War. When thenature of war shifted, deciding how, when, andwhere to use American military forcebecame, to say the least, problematic. That’swhere the generals in Halberstam’s titlecome in. Of the several profiled in this book,Colin Powell is larger than life; his successoras chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, JohnShalikashvili, is quietly effective; and WesleyClark, North Atlantic Treaty Organizationcommander in Kosovo, is especially colorful.Powell and Clark are extremes: Powell wantsto use force very selectively; Clark is eager to

mount up whenever the bugle sounds.Both, of course, must wait for civilian

command, which in Halberstam’s depictionis ambivalent, ad hoc, and often confused.Here the principal players are a reservedWarren Christopher and then a bellicoseMadeleine Albright at the State Depart-ment; a Hamletesque Anthony Lake asClinton’s first national security adviser;and, most interestingly, a highly talentedbut high-risk Richard Holbrooke in sever-al diplomatic roles. Halberstam shows thatAmerica’s Balkans strategy was adrift andhesitant until French prime ministerJacques Chirac provided spine by insist-ing on Western intervention to preventethnic cleansing. It then fell to Holbrookethe civilian and Clark the general to coor-dinate diverse and fractious allied forces andbring the hammer down on the gangsters,thugs, and criminals who passed for polit-ical leaders in the region.

For students of the presidency, nothingis more troubling than Halberstam’s

depiction of President Clinton’s relationswith the military. When he first entered theWhite House, Clinton deemed the militarya hostile political constituency; that attitudestayed with him as late as 1998. For theirpart, senior military men did not trust thepresident or the people around him. Somuch for political genius in a job thatincludes the title “commander in chief.”

One key player, Vice President Al Gore,pops up occasionally as a hawk on Bosnia,but otherwise is curiously absent. And thebook seems to lack a final chapter. Bush theyounger assumes power, and that’s it. Onewonders what Halberstam, a veteran observerof politics and foreign policy, makes of all hehas discussed in this 800-page saga. Surelythere are lessons to be drawn from America’sdecade-long effort to define its role in thepost-Cold War world. Alas, the author, soqualified to provide them, denies us his inter-pretations of this curious interim era.

THE WARDEN OF ENGLISH:The Life of H. W. Fowler.By Jenny McMorris. Oxford Univ.Press. 320 pp. $27.50

I think of the world as I wish it were, with itshedonism tempered, its courage roused, itsgreed eliminated, its love of truth multiplied. Inthat world, Henry Watson Fowler (1858–1933)would have been a hero—statues, tickertapeparades, a knighthood, the whole bit. Fowler is,of course, the author of Modern English Usage(1926), a reference book that is revered eventoday, three-quarters of a century after it was firstpublished, and revered even in America,which Fowler never visited and about whoseidioms he freely admitted knowing little.

Fans of MEU will tell you that it’s invaluablefor more than the judgments it renders aboutthe niceties of English. They treasure it as wellfor the character of Henry Fowler—for the wayhe brought that character to bear on his subjectmatter, teaching readers by example how toarrive at sound judgments of their own. Forinstance, he began a discussion of whether toset off slang words with such phrases as “so tospeak” and “to use an expressive colloquial-ism”: “Surprise a person of the class that is sup-posed to keep servants cleaning his own boots,& either he will go on with the job while he talksto you, as if it were the most natural thing in theworld, or else he will explain that the bootboyor scullery-maid is ill & give you to understandthat he is, despite appearances, superior toboot-cleaning. If he takes the second course, youconclude that he is not superior to it; if thefirst, that perhaps he is. So it is with the variousapologies . . . to which recourse is had by writ-ers who wish to safeguard their dignity & yet bevivacious, to combine comfort with elegance,to touch pitch & not be defiled.”

To love MEU is to want to know moreabout its author, and now McMorris, thearchivist for the Oxford English dictionaries, grat-ifies that desire. Fowler is full of surprises. A phys-ical fitness buff, he for many years went for adaily run and a swim in the ocean. A shy andself-effacing scholar who was almost other-worldly about money, he did not marry until hewas 50, but then entered into what was appar-ently a blissful marriage with a large, jolly chat-

terbox of a nurse. Half a dozen years later, theGreat War broke out, and although Fowler wascertainly overage and had plenty of other goodreasons to stay home, he wangled his way intothe army and then crusaded to be sent to thefront lines.

McMorris lucidly recounts the facts ofFowler’s life without grinding any particular axabout him. It’s up to us to reconcile the manwho ultimately composed passages such asthe one quoted above with the man who,McMorris writes, mentioned his mother inprint just once, telling “a rather foolish tale ofhis own snobbery as a schoolboy. He wasembarrassed by her habit of trimming lampsand polishing glass in the house each morn-ing, and felt that she did this because there werenot enough servants to allow her to leavethese things alone as, he believed, a ladyshould; she had explained to him that ser-vants rarely did these small tasks satisfactorily.Only later did he understand the financialburden of educating eight children and thathis mother needed to do some small jobsaround the house.” Fowler extracted wisdomfrom his life—and we, too, have the chance todo so, with the help of McMorris’s intelligentand winsome biography.

(Anyone tempted to dip into ModernEnglish Usage itself should be warned that thestamp of Fowler’s heart and mind is faintindeed in the heavily revised 1996 third edition,though it is clear in the 1965 second edition,which remains in print.)

—Barbara Wallraff

IT’S ONLY A MOVIE:Films and Critics in American Culture.By Raymond J. Haberski, Jr. Univ. Pressof Kentucky. 264 pp. $27.50

Ain’t the past quaint. One of the charms ofIt’s Only a Movie is the opportunity to expe-rience again this poignant if banal truism. ErikBarnouw’s excellent three-volume history ofbroadcasting lives in my memory chiefly asthe place where I first read General DavidSarnoff’s pious assurance that networkbroadcasting was too important an under-taking to be turned over to “hucksters.”

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A r t s & L e t t e r s

Similarly, Haberski’s survey of a century offilm critics is enlivened by the goofy pleasureof discovering that Hugo Münsterberg, apioneer thinker about the psychology ofmoviegoing, fretted in 1916 over the “trivi-alizing influence of a steady contact withthings which are not worth knowing.” (As Iwrite this, MTV turns 20.) One can alsosavor this nugget of auteur theory fromwriter Ferydoun Hoveyda in 1960: “Thespecificity of a cinematographic work lies inthe form rather than in its content, in the mise-en-scène and not in the scenario or dia-logue.” On behalf of the Writers’ Guild,grateful appreciation.

Haberski, a history professor at MarianCollege in Indianapolis, tells the story ofAmerican movies from the vantage point ofthe critics—at first the amateur and then theprofessional observers of the craft. It’s aRosencrantz-and-Guildenstern angle onhow the industry struggled to elbow asidejazz and have itself recognized as America’sonly true art form. We move from the 1920sChicago Motion Picture Commission hear-ings on film censorship to the rhetoricalarena, where, in the 1950s and early 1960s,Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris sparred overwhether movies were Cinema. We revisit anera when the repeated viewing of the samemovie was an act of scholarly love byfilm-besotted nerds, not just some teenageobsessive-compulsive behavior.

There’s also a remarkable chapter onTheodore Dreiser’s attempt to forceParamount to make a faithful adaptation ofAn American Tragedy (1925), and on thesemifarcical lawsuit he filed when, oddlyenough, the studio decided to go anotherway. Although the Dreiser story doesn’t havemuch to do with criticism (he did enlist a“jury” of critics to watch Paramount’s ver-sion and deride it for the edification of thejudge), it can provide hours of pleasure inpondering which is funnier, artistic pretensionor rag-trade philistinism.

The story Haberski tells has, in currentHollywood parlance, a good arc: Art criticsdespise movies, art critics begin to appreciatemovies, art critics love movies to death, theconcept of art disappears, and the criticsbecome irrelevant. Become irrelevant? Theauthor keeps hinting that the decline in the

salience of criticism is lamentable, as if filmcriticism has something of value to offer.Unfortunately, he never quite gets aroundto making the case that it does, whether byeducating the public (early critics believed inelevating the taste of the masses—there’sthat quaintness again) or by exhorting theindustry to follow its better angels (if youbelieve in that premise, I have some Internetstock I’d like to sell you).

I’ve been in and around the movie indus-try since I was seven years old, and I’ve yet tohear any practitioner discuss reviews or crit-ics except in the context of whether theyhurt or helped business. In an age whenSpielberg and Lucas have redefined motionpictures as increasingly expensive recapitu-lations of childhood media experiences, theonly reason movie critics don’t feel totallysuperfluous is that the God of Media, in Hisinfinite wisdom, invented television critics.

—Harry Shearer

SHIKSA GODDESS (OR, HOW ISPENT MY FORTIES): Essays.By Wendy Wasserstein. Knopf.235 pages. $23

Wasserstein is allegedly a humorist, butthe centerpiece of this collection of “essays,”as her publisher boldly calls them, is a self-absorbed psychodrama about her grim strug-gle to conceive and give birth on the brink ofthe menopause. It’s a case of life imitating art.After winning the Pulitzer Prize for TheHeidi Chronicles, a play about a middle-aged, intellectual spinster who suddenlydecides to become a single mother,Wasserstein, 40, decided to have a baby of herown.

At first she tried to do it the old-fashionedway. “I began studying fertility brochuresand showed them to the man I was current-ly involved with.” A real seductress, this girl.When, for some strange reason, her loverfled, she turned to sperm catalogs to find apartner in artificial insemination. But sheflunked the fertility tests, so she took drugs tostimulate her flagging ovaries and tried invitro with “an old and dear friend” as spermdonor. Fate, though, thwarted her again:When she had six egg-and-sperm combos onice and a surrogate mother lined up, her

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doctor told her—so help me, I copied this cor-rectly—“Your eggs are scrambled. Theywere not properly packed or frozen. We can-not proceed.”

But we must. This was a project, and everygrad student knows what that means: Youhave to finish it and turn it in at the end ofthe trimester or you won’t get credit.Abandoning the surrogacy plan, Wassersteinreplenished her supply of embryos and hadherself implanted with them until, eightyears after she started trying, she finally gotpregnant at the age of 48. The account of therest of her ordeal has all the elements of aLifetime Channel movie set in an obstetricsward: women in perpetual states of self-discovery, female bonding in the sisterhoodof the stirrups, the noble African-Americanmother in the next bed, one life-threateningemergency after another, and no kidneystone left unturned.

Wasserstein’s baby, weighing less than twopounds and afflicted with various lung andbrain problems, was delivered by caesareanin the sixth month and had to remain in anincubator for three months. But the infantlived, and the book carries the de rigueursingle-motherhood blurb: “Wendy Wasser-stein lives in New York City with her daugh-ter, Lucy Jane.”

Wasserstein calls her writing “satiric,” butshe never goes for the jugular when the joc-ular will do. The title essay, in which shegives herself WASP roots to match HillaryClinton’s claim to Jewish roots, is a heavy-handed riff, full of trite Aryan-from-Darienstereotypes long since run into the ground byPhilip Roth and Gail Parent. What passesfor humor here is the fluffed-up agony ofwomen’s magazines, where many of thesepieces originally appeared, or brittle NewYork smart talk involving name-dropping,place-dropping, and label-dropping. Lunchwith Jamie Lee Curtis, dinner with TomBrokaw; Armani this, Russian Tea Roomthat; Bottega Veneta bags here, Plaza Hotelthere; and a bizarre story about using votivecandles for shoe trees, “which accidentallyburned my Manolo Blahnik pumps.” Eventhe baby has an “Isolette-brand incubator.”

Wasserstein seemingly considers herself acultural leader, but she comes across as thekind who leads where everybody is already

Autumn 2001 143

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The Wilson Quarterlywith a dinner in Washington,D.C. on November 2, 2001.

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going. She talks the talk about liberation andself-determination, yet she follows every fad.

—Florence King

THE DEATH OF COMEDY.By Erich Segal. Harvard Univ. Press.589 pp. $35

“I fart at thee!” The motto on the Farrellybrothers’ crest? Nope. It’s the first line of BenJonson’s The Alchemist (1610), and just a traceof the abundant evidence in Segal’s book thatthe comic theater has always had a rudestreak. A lewd streak too, right from the start inancient Athens, where the comic actors woreoutsized phalluses and the nimble theater-going citizens divided their time between feel-ing patriotic and feeling randy—or, whenroused by Aristophanes, feeling both at once.

Segal traces the history of dramatic comedyfrom A (Aristophanes in the fifth century b.c.)to B (Samuel Beckett in the 20th centurya.d.). He first describes comedy’s origins inGreek festival and ritual, especially rituals ofrebirth, erotic renewal, regeneration, and rec-

onciliation, and he then recounts how theWestern tradition took hold of those elementsand ran with them for two and a half millen-nia. Comedy lost its breath when the absurdistplaywrights of the 20th century—Jarry,Ionesco, Cocteau, and Beckett—substitutedhead for heart and willfully destroyed theclassical forms. Whereas the great heroes ofcomedy take on the world with extravagantgestures and profligate language, Beckett’scharacters are all but immobile, out of wordsand out of energy.

Segal, a classicist, a best-selling novelist,and a veteran of the theater, movies, and tele-vision, is an engaging and immensely well-informed guide through the literature. Hebelieves in the virtues of old-fashionedchronology, and his major figures take thestage comfortably on cue: Aristophanes,Euripides (the tragedian with a comic gene),Menander, Plautus, Terence, Machiavelli(between the preceding two comes a 1,500-yearintermission during which comedy bides itstime, “with steely churchmen preachingagainst the diabolical dangers of all stageplays”), Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare, andMolière. The book grows thick with Segal’ssummaries of individual plays. He’s generouswith his citations, and free—wanton even—with his translations.

Yet you may not laugh, or even smile, atmuch of what’s here. That’s because an awfullot of comedy travels about as well as six-year-old kids. Consider Menander, about whoseplays, from the Greek comic theater of thelate fourth century b.c., it was easier to beenthusiastic when we could also be wistful:We had only fragments of them until a com-plete play, Dyskolos (TheGrouch), was found in 1957.The excuse then became that wehad found the wrong play. Andyet, for centuries, both Greeksand Romans thoughtMenander peerless. “OMenander and life,” wrote oneancient commentator, “which ofyou is imitating which?”

In terms of influence, Segaldeems Menander “arguably thesingle most important figure inthe history of Western comedy.”Why? Because he excelled at

putting realistic characters from life—younglovers, ill-tempered old fathers, cooks, soldiers,slaves, virgins, prostitutes—on stage, wherethey have remained, and multiplied, eversince. Menander’s quintessential plot is moti-vated by love, usually at first sight, and drivenby ingenious (mechanical?) complicationsand giddy (inane?) misunderstandings, such asrapes that aren’t rapes after all because in duecourse the parties legally unite. The misun-derstandings are resolved; a marriage occurs;progeny are in prospect. Sound familiar?Were he around today, Menander would bewriting for TV. Not The Simpsons or Malcolmin the Middle; maybe Dharma and Greg.

Thank goodness Segal knows that a playlives a sheltered life, at best, on the page.His heart is on stage with the players, and he’snot afraid to sink to—no, sink below—thejokey level of his subject. When tradesmanBen Jonson gives up manual labor for play-writing, Segal has him “throwing in thetrowel.” And near-miss incest is “Oedipusinterruptus.” Twice. It’s not every scholarwho can also do Mel Brooks.

—James Morris

A COMPANY OF READERS:Uncollected Writings of W. H. Auden,Jacques Barzun, and Lionel Trillingfrom the Readers’ Subscription andMid-Century Book Clubs.Ed. by Arthur Krystal. Free Press.289 pp. $26

In 1951, historian Jacques Barzun, literarycritic Lionel Trilling, and poet W. H. Audensat down together and formed a book club. The

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(l. to r.) Jacques Barzun, W. H. Auden, and Lionel Trilling

Readers’ Subscription (no relation to the cur-rent club of that name), later reconstitutedas the Mid-Century Book Society, provided itsmembers with recently published works ofliterature and history selected by these threecelebrated men of letters. “Poets andProfessors,” wrote Auden, “and all thosewhose love of books exceeds their love ofautomobiles will welcome a chance to save inexcess of 50 percent on their book purchases.”Each month a newsletter carried an essay—enthusiastic, learned, personal—on the club’smain selection, and 45 of those pieces havebeen collected here.

It’s a wonderful book, as exciting and plea-surable a gathering of essays as anyone could askfor. Auden on the Short Novels of Colette mustbe one of the best book reviews ever written. Heopens, “For years I resisted every recommen-dation to read her”; in the middle, cites a pas-sage “so beautiful one could cry”; and endswith a ringing statement, after summing upColette’s virtues: “I am reminded of only oneother novelist, Tolstoy.” In a piece on PhilipLarkin and Geoffrey Hill, Auden describeshow he approaches a new book of poems,“from the part to the whole,” looking for a sin-gle striking line, and then sampling a stanza, andfinally perusing the complete volume, “com-paring one poem with another,” to discoverwhether the poet “possesses what I value mostof all, a world and tone of voice of his own.”Robert Graves, needless to say, displays the req-uisite distinctiveness, for “he has been one of thevery few poets whose volumes I have alwaysbought the moment they appeared.”

As a man who lived by his pen, Audenmight be expected to write engagingly, but, tomy surprise, his partners from ColumbiaUniversity are just as entertaining. Trillingcould be earnest and pontifical in some ofhis literary criticism; in these pages, though,he writes boldly about the “obsessive, corrosive,desperate, highly psychologized” depictions oflove in Lawrence Durrell’s AlexandriaQuartet, tosses out aperçus about the notionof will in classic fiction, and observes that themagic-realist stuff in Durrell may be “allstoryteller’s nonsense, the usual mystery ofthe East, but it consorts with my sense of theway people ought to be, in a novel at anyrate—that is to say, objects of wonder.”Elsewhere, Trilling reflects on Kenneth

Clark’s The Nude, the work of James Baldwin,Lord of the Flies, The Wind in the Willows,Ingmar Bergman’s films, and KennethTynan’s early theater criticism—and in everycase the result is shrewd, unexpected, andsometimes moving. Who else would haveremarked on the “Vergilian sadness” and“Lucretian desperateness” of Ulysses andRemembrance of Things Past?

Well, Barzun might have. Even 50 years ago,the author of last year’s From Dawn toDecadence possessed a magisterial grasp ofart, history, and just about everything cultur-al. Barzun suggests that Montaigne’s motto“Que sçay-je?” might be slangily translated as“Don’t be too sure,” reminds us while praisingHugh Trevor-Roper’s Men and Ideas that his-tory should give “pleasure and instruction,”notes that Erwin Panofsky’s 15 pages onDürer’s famous print Melencolia are this dis-tinguished scholar’s “critical masterpiece,”suggests that Molière’s Misanthrope may be“the comedy of comedies,” and proclaimsBernard Shaw “the greatest master of Englishprose since Swift.”

Though one may quarrel with aspects ofKrystal’s introduction—like his teacherBarzun, he pretty much loathes academia’s cur-rent focus on theory—one can have no argu-ment with his taste or his punctilious schol-arship. He provides a full bibliographicalrecord of all the articles written for thenewsletter by its editors, not just those includ-ed here. I only wish he had been able toreprint all 173 of them. I want to read Audenon C. S. Lewis’s history of English literaturein the 16th century, and Barzun on Spengler,and Trilling on Claude Lévi-Strauss. Therereally were giants on the earth in those days.

—Michael Dirda

CLEAN NEW WORLD: Culture, Politics, and Graphic Design.By Maud Lavin. MIT Press. 201 pp.$27.95

GRAPHIC STYLE:From Victorian to Digital (rev. ed.).By Steven Heller and Seymour Chwast.Abrams. 240 pp. $24.95

Lavin, who teaches art history and visu-al culture at the School of the Art Institute

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of Chicago, is one of the most incisivethinkers about graphic design. Here sheexamines design as it relates to power,communication, and democracy—or, asshe puts it, “who gets to say what towhom.”

Her favorite period seems to be theWeimar Republic, and for good reason.The publishing house Malik Verlag, co-founded by John Heartfield, his brotherWieland Herzfelde, and George Grosz,showed how photomontage and othergraphic art of ferocious originality couldhelp create a powerful political voice on theleft—a voice financed in part throughsales of Grosz’s prints to bourgeois cus-tomers. Other members of the avant-garde, including Kurt Schwitters and JanTschichold, helped shape a modernistbusiness culture with their equally strik-ing photomontage images for makers ofindustrial equipment. And the photogra-phers Ellen Auerbach and Grete Sterninfused women’s hair-products advertise-ments with both feminism and humor,breaking two taboos of German advertisingof the era.

The downside of today’s peace and pros-perity seems to be an impoverishment ofideological zest. Only a few of Lavin’srecent examples are both memorable andwidely circulated. Perhaps it is not just the

new global corporate order in general butthe broadcast industry in particular thathas hamstrung (to use Lavin’s word) thegraphic designer. To generations raisedwith the visual grammar of the video andthe 30-second commercial, graphics of the1920s and 1930s may be more remotethan Baroque scenography. Today’s politi-cally engaged graphics won’t be seenunless carried in a televised demonstra-tion—and seen then only through thegrace of producers and tape editors.

Graphic Style makes an excellent com-panion volume to Lavin’s. It is as compre-hensive as hers is selective, and, because ithas been edited by practitioners—Heller isart director of the New York Times BookReview; Chwast directs a New York designfirm—it is also a visual feast. We areplunged into a world of relentless persua-sion, a reflection of the rise of mass con-sumption and popular politics from the19th century to the present.

Graphic Style reveals the Internet to bea surprisingly disappointing source ofdesign innovation. As Heller and Chwastput it, “the paradigm one minute is an arti-fact the next.” Perhaps the problem is thatfew computer monitors can display even afull letter-sized page. Toulouse-Lautrecnever had to contend with a scroll bar.

—Edward Tenner

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R e l i g i o n & P h i l o s o p h y

COMMON PRAYERS:Faith, Family, and a Christian’sJourney through the Jewish Year.By Harvey Cox. Houghton Mifflin.305 pp. $24

Cox, a Christian theologian on the facul-ty at Harvard Divinity School, and theauthor of The Secular City (1965) and TheSeduction of the Spirit (1973), among otherworks, is obviously a man who takes religionseriously. So when he married a womanfrom a secular Jewish background who wasbecoming more involved in her own faith—Nina Tumarkin, professor of Russian historyat Wellesley College—the age-old questionarose: “What about the children?” It grew

increasingly pressing with the birth of a son.The couple decided that she would keep herfaith and he his, while each would respect-fully participate in the traditions of the other.They would raise their son, however, as aJew, in deference to the Jewish conviction thata child’s religion is derived from the mother.Thus, through marriage and fatherhood,Cox became what he calls a latter-day“sojourner” in the “Court of the Gentiles,”that outer court of the ancient JewishTemple in Jerusalem where non-Jewish“God-fearers” were welcomed. He experi-enced Judaism, he writes, “not as a completeoutsider, but not as a full insider either.”

From this perspective, immeasurably

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H i s t o r y

IN THERAPY WE TRUST:America’s Obsession withSelf-Fulfillment.By Eva S. Moskowitz. Johns HopkinsUniv. Press. 358 pp. $34.95

To confess in public to personal weaknesswas once regarded as rather indiscreet, vulgar,or reprehensible. Nowadays, parading one’svices is regarded as a sign of sincerity, matu-rity, willingness to change for the better, andfundamental goodness of heart. This is thenatural culmination of an outlook that treatshuman existence as an elaborate form of psy-chotherapy, whose object is to procure formen and women the self-esteem and self-fulfillment to which they believe themselvesby birthright entitled. In Therapy We Trust,

written in admirably plain prose unclutteredby academic jargon, traces the gradual rise ofthe therapeutic conception to our currentapotheosis of self-centered triviality.

Moskowitz, a historian now serving on theNew York City Council, does this by describ-ing an apostolic succession of movementsand ideas. She starts with the work of PhineasParkhurst Quimby, the New England quackwho regarded all illness as the consequence ofmistaken ideas, and who is remembered nowprincipally as a formative influence on MaryBaker Eddy, the founder of ChristianScience. From Quimby we pass on to thereformers of the late 19th and early 20th cen-turies who saw antisocial acts as manifesta-tions of psychological problems arising from

enriched by the authority of Cox’s stature asa Protestant theologian, Common Prayersoffers a fresh view of both Judaism andChristianity, as well as a kind of guide for pro-moting understanding between the twofaiths. Discovering early in his marriage thatJudaism “is not about creed, it is about cal-endar” (not to mention home, family, com-munity—and eating), he takes readers on atour through the Jewish year, and in theprocess provides a glimpse into the Jewish wayof reflecting, rejoicing, and remembering.Of particular interest is his chapter on IsraelIndependence Day (Yom ha-Atzma’ut), witha fascinating analysis of how ChristianZionism fostered support of the Jewish stateby American presidents from WoodrowWilson, a Presbyterian minister’s son, toHarry Truman, a Southern Baptist, toRonald Reagan, who, according to biographerLou Cannon, as a child listened spellboundto end-of-days scenarios spun out by evan-gelical ministers.

Cox amiably recognizes that the irregu-larity of his situation and the singularity ofsome of his views and practices will annoypeople on both sides—literalists among theChristians and “the classical rabbis” amongthe Jews. Jewish traditionalists might be sus-picious of the depth of Cox’s commitment. Heomits, for example, Shavuot (Pentecost), the

festival that commemorates the giving of theTorah, which, along with Succot (Taber-nacles) and Passover, is one of the threemajor holidays on which Jews were obligedto make a pilgrimage to the Temple inJerusalem. Some Christians, for their part, willnot be thrilled to read Cox’s indictment ofChristian anti-Semitism and the role of“more than a thousand years of Christianderogation of Jews and Judaism” in preparingthe ground for the Nazi genocide.

Both sides should relax. Cox is not onlya good Christian, he is also a good Jew. Heis a good Christian because he passionate-ly demands the best from his fellow believ-ers. He calls for “both Catholics andProtestants to emerge from the presentperiod of breast-beating and begin tochange their actual practices with regard toJews.” And he is a good Jew because of hisbottom-line commitment to Jewish sur-vival, to “respecting one of the most basic ofall Jewish beliefs—that the child of aJewish mother is a child of the covenant, aJew, and should be recognized as such.”This commitment is reflected through hiswords as well as through the events hechronicles—above all, the Jewish rite ofpassage: the day his son became a bar mitz-vah, a Jewish “son of the commandment.”

—Tova Reich

a defective upbringing, and who thereforesought to have juvenile delinquents treated asill rather than punished as wicked. In the1930s, the psychological approach spread to themiddle classes with the marriage counselingmovement. During World War II, millions ofsoldiers were psychologically tested for com-batworthiness and bombarded with profes-sional advice about how to stay sane andhappy while walking through the valley of theshadow of death.

After the war, the supposedly bored and dis-satisfied American housewife was deemedto need psychological support to cope with theneuroses consequent upon suburban pros-perity; then came the social unrest of the1960s, which sought “liberation” not onlyfrom oppression but from all personal inhi-bition. With the Me Decade of the 1970s, itseemed as if some kind of nadir had beenreached, but in the following decades millionsof people discovered that they were “sur-vivors” of trauma or addicted to something orother, from car theft to sex to shopping.Everyone is now a victim, for lack of self-control is considered a bona fide illness, andthus the search for psychological self-fulfill-ment has come full circle: We are all, byvirtue of drawing breath, in need of therapy.Whether this coherent story wholly corre-sponds to reality, it makes for a plausible andinteresting read.

Moskowitz, who is generally hostile tothese developments, does not dig very deeplyinto the reasons why American societyshould prove so susceptible to the therapeu-tic idea. Could it have something to do withthe concept of inalienable human rightsupon which the Republic was founded?The belief in such rights renders everyoneequally important, and therefore raisesexpectations—which inevitably founder onthe existential rock of human limitation.Many Americans are therefore beset by anunease at the contrast between life as theythink it ought to be and life as it actually is,an unease that the therapeutic outlook false-ly promises to assuage.

Likewise, the author does not explore verydeeply the modern taste for victimhood,which is surely connected with the politicalcataclysms of the 20th century. Few peoplelike to admit that they have led sheltered,

privileged, or fortunate lives. They envy suf-fering, or rather the moral authority that suf-fering has given such figures as Primo Leviand Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Consequently,they inflate the miseries of their own past.

This book is a suggestive rather than a defin-itive exploration of its theme, but it is a highlyworthwhile contribution nevertheless.

—Theodore Dalrymple

BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS:The Evolution of Work.By Richard Donkin. Texere. 374 pp.$27.95

The state of nature may have been nasty,brutish, and short, but was it also leisurely?The bushmen of the Kalahari devote nomore than three days a week to gatheringfood. The Hadza, also of Africa, limit hunt-ing to two hours a day, Donkin reports, “pre-ferring to spend more time in diversionary pur-suits such as gambling.” In the developedworld, meanwhile, “work has come to dom-inate the lives of the salaried masses, somuch so that they are losing the ability toplay.” Is this progress?

“All true work is religion,” wrote ThomasCarlyle. Donkin, a columnist for theFinancial Times, aims to expose the shakyfoundations of our most essential faith. Thenarrative is lively and larded with savoryfacts. We hear of Ned Ludd, the apprenticein a hosiery factory in late-18th-centuryEngland who, when threatened with a whip-ping for working too slowly, took a hammerto the machinery. His 19th-century followers,the Luddites, tried to destroy the technologythat would throw them out of jobs. Themovement failed, but its name has endured.

Schemes to put workers in a hammerlockhave been as constant as their attempts towriggle free. George Pullman created a townof 12,000 just south of Chicago for the peoplewho built his luxury railroad cars. While the ini-tial expenses were his own, he instituted a sys-tem designed for profit at every turn. Hemarked up the water and gas. He even mademoney from the vegetables fertilized withworker sewage. One worker said, “We areborn in a Pullman house, fed from thePullman shops, taught in the Pullman school,catechized in the Pullman church, and when

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we die, we shall go to Pullman Hell.” When thedepression of 1893 hit, Pullman cut wages butnot rent. His proles began to go hungry. Therewas a strike, and they fled paradise in droves.The bitterness ran so deep that when Pullmandied in 1897, his coffin was “encased in athick slab of concrete, lest anyone should tryto desecrate his grave.”

Harsh feelings between CEOs and theircharges were more recently excited by the cor-porate blood-lettings of the 1990s. “Neu-tron” Jack Welch cut 100,000 jobs duringhis first five years at General Electric. Al“Chainsaw” Dunlap laid off a third of thework force at Scott Paper within a year.

Why do we let work become such a dom-inant element of our lives? Just for the pay?As Donkin notes, the quest for money can’texplain Stonehenge, the pyramids, or thepaintings at Lascaux and Chauvet. At itsbest, he believes, work enables us to “leavesomething better for those we leave behind,some signpost of our existence, our potential.”To that end, he recommends a new workethic, “an ethic that questions the content ofwork, that does not value prolonged hardwork above everything.” And he poses a rev-olutionary question: “If work is neither welldone nor worthwhile, why work at all?” Thisbook is both well done and worthwhile.

—Benjamin Cheever

AN AMERICAN INSURRECTION:The Battle of Oxford,Mississippi, 1962. By William Doyle. Doubleday.383 pp. $26

Nearly 40 years have passed since anepic constitutional confrontation be-tween a daffy governor of Mississippi,Ross Barnett, and a dithering Ken-nedy administration almost escalatedinto a renewal of the Civil War. The1962 desegregation of the University ofMississippi caused a night of carnage,including two deaths, and provokedthe deployment of 30,000 troops toensure James Meredith’s enrollment.The events inspired several books(and a ballad by Bob Dylan) beforepassing into Southern history. NowDoyle, author of Inside the Oval

Office (1999), has returned to the conflict.After interviewing surviving figures andinspecting hitherto unavailable material, hehas produced a balanced narrative filledwith fresh and important details.

To keep Meredith out of the schoolknown as Ole Miss, Barnett and his segrega-tionist allies fell back on legal argumentsinvoking states’ rights. But their passionswere really fired by an abhorrence of racialintegration; Barnett called it “genocide.”The author is unsparing in his account of theobstruction by Mississippi officials—andunflattering to the Kennedys, too. ThoughPresident John F. Kennedy privately thoughtsuch civil rights activity as the FreedomRides a “pain in the ass,” he and his brother,Robert, the attorney general, were com-pelled to uphold the court desegregationorder. Their protracted negotiations withBarnett would be considered opéra bouffe hadthey not led to such deadly results. Barnett’sdeceit in the bargaining became well knownand eventually crippled him politically.

The extent of the Kennedys’ misjudg-ments is documented here for the first time.Their agent in command, Deputy AttorneyGeneral Nicholas Katzenbach, decided,“without any prior planning, without muchthought at all,” to use federal marshals toseize the school’s administration building asa show of force. It triggered rioting. Afterreluctantly committing the army to quell theinsurrection, the attorney general counter-manded years of U.S. policy by forbidding theuse of black troops—including many who

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James Meredith escorted by U.S. marshals on thecampus of the University of Mississippi

C o n t e m p o r a r y A f fa i r s

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held leadership rank. During the nightlongriot, the military command structure unrav-eled. Robert Kennedy complained, “Thearmy botched it up.” But the author says that“it was the Kennedys who had botchedthings up, and royally,” by dealing withBarnett and then activating an invasion ofOxford in the middle of the night.

Despite claims by federal authorities thatonly tear gas—and no live ammunition—was used to repel the rioters, Doyle uncoveredFBI papers indicating that marshals usedrevolvers at one point. He speculates that anerrant bullet could have killed one of thevictims. Using the Freedom of InformationAct, Doyle also discovered that the armyraided a fraternity house where Ole Misssenior Trent Lott was president and confis-cated a cache of 24 weapons. Lott, now theRepublican leader in the U.S. Senate, didn’trespond to Doyle’s repeated requests to discussthe case.

At the center of the storm was Meredith,a courageous but enigmatic man. Doyle

describes the black student as “an obscureloner” dwelling “inside a myth of his owndesign, a realm often remote and impene-trable to other people.” As one of the book’sfew heroes, Meredith convinces Doyle thathe cunningly engineered the conflictbetween the governor and the president. Inreality, Meredith was merely the deus exmachina used to break segregation inMississippi.

In his epilogue, Doyle notes that Meredithwent on to embrace conservative causes. Heeven endorsed Barnett in a 1967 campaign inwhich the old governor finished fifth. Therewere many other ironies. Hundreds of whiteMississippi National Guardsmen, put underfederal command, joined thousands of regulartroops in risking their lives to put down therebellion. “Despite recommendations byvarious commanders,” Doyle writes, “theDefense Department issued not a singlecommendation medal for the bravery ofU.S. troops during the Battle of Oxford.”

—Curtis Wilkie

HUBBERT’S PEAK: The Impending World Oil Shortage. By Kenneth S. Deffeyes. PrincetonUniv. Press. 224 pp. $24.95

In The Coal Question (1865), economistW. S. Jevons predicted that Britain’s prosperitywould decline in about a century, when thenation ran short of coal. The British coal indus-try did go into sharp decline in the 1980s, notbecause of supply constraints but becauseBritain developed its own oil industry (andbecause Prime Minister Margaret Thatcherwanted to undermine trade union power). In1956, petroleum geologist M. King Hubbertpredicted that American oil production wouldpeak around 1975. He was close: It peaked in1970. In this venerable vein, Deffeyes argues thatworld oil production will peak between 2004 and2008 and decline thereafter, with potentiallycalamitous consequences.

Geologist Deffeyes began his career in theOklahoma oil patches, proceeded to ShellOil’s research lab, and ended up on the facul-ty of Princeton University. The first half of his A gusher: Beaumont, Texas, in 1901

book is an accessible and absorbing primerexplaining where oil comes from, how it wasformed, and where and how it is found andextracted. Deffeyes’s long experience in the oilbusiness allows him to explain these subjectswith authority and verve, mixing passages on thestructure of hydrocarbon molecules with talesof old-time oilmen.

In the second half, he advances his contro-versial argument with a blend of geology andmathematics. He thinks it most unlikely that addi-tional major oilfields remain undiscovered. Onits own terms, his argument convinces. Againstit is the fact (which he acknowledges) that bigoil companies, which presumably have accessto the best information, aren’t behaving as theyshould if he’s right: They aren’t buying up everylast oil well. Nor, as yet, has the stock marketbehaved as if it agreed with Deffeyes. It may bethat he has extrapolated too blithely from theUnited States, where oil prospecting has beenvery thorough, to countries where it has been lessmethodical. At the moment, no one can knowfor sure.

If Deffeyes is right, the implications areenormous. Though he does not spell them outin detail—that would offer too many hostagesto fortune—he anticipates that sharply higheroil prices will bring difficult economic, social,and political passages for those societies mostdependent on oil, especially on imported oil.Exporters will charge top dollar: a giganticwindfall for the Saudis, Kuwaitis, and a hand-ful of others. He implies that the tumult will begreater than that occasioned by the oil pricehikes of 1973 and 1979.

To avoid this scenario, Deffeyes recom-mends that we begin preparing now. We mustdevelop renewable energy sources such as solar,wind, and tidal power. We must improve ener-gy efficiency. Such steps will not be enough, how-ever, so we also must shed our fear of nuclearenergy. In short, Deffeyes envisions an energyfuture very different from the status quo. Oneimplication is that current American policy, inpromoting still heavier investment in fossilfuels, is misguided. If we don’t shift away fromoil, we may as well gift-wrap the entire budgetsurplus and send it to the Saudi royal family.

There are few things as important nowadaysas the energy system, and few books on thesubject as thought provoking as this one.

—J. R. McNeill

Autumn 2001 151

WAGING MODERN WAR. By Wesley K. Clark. PublicAffairs.479 pp. $30

As Supreme Allied Commander, Europe,General Clark was the chief architect of the1999 war for Kosovo, an odd conflict thatproduced victory of a sort but no heroes.Least of all Clark: When the war ended, hewas effectively cashiered. Now the generalaims to salvage something of his lost reputa-tion by providing a detailed revisionistaccount of the North Atlantic TreatyOrganization’s first real war. OperationAllied Force, he insists, was an unqualified tri-umph. Though Clark capably settles scoreswith those Pentagon officials who either lethim down or actively conspired against him,his attempt to recast his own efforts in amore positive light fails. Yet his very failureraises important questions about the role ofsenior military leaders in an era of U.S. glob-al primacy.

Clark depicts himself as a “strategic com-mander,” situated at the nexus between pol-itics and operations. His experience inBosnia had convinced him that the UnitedStates could no longer base its security pol-icy on the mere existence of military power;the nation needed to put its armed might towork. In formulating the strategy for doing so,though, Clark proved to be a naif—as hisown narrative makes abundantly clear. LikeSecretary of State Madeleine Albright, hebelieved at the outset that a bit of muscleflexing would spook Slobodan Milosevic. “Iknow him as well as anyone,” Clark quoteshimself instructing a White House official.“He doesn’t want to get bombed.” Wrong onthat count, Clark found himself in a shootingwar.

But to what end? As hostilities began,Clark identified three priorities for his com-manders: to avoid losing aircraft, “impact theYugoslavian military and police activities on theground,” and “protect our ground forces.” Hedid not tell his subordinates how this cautiousapproach would bring victory. Although hepublicly vowed to “attack, disrupt, degrade, dev-astate, and ultimately destroy” the Yugo-slavian army, the limited bombing at the out-set only led to accelerated ethnic cleansing andthe exodus of refugees from Kosovo. These

results caught Clark flatfooted. His responsewas to escalate, with more aircraft and talk ofa possible ground invasion. But the goal of“impacting” Serbian forces in Kosovoremained elusive—he kept urging his aircommanders to try harder, with few apparentresults (and perhaps less than all-out efforts ontheir part).

NATO’s eventual success, against anisolated Serbia weakened by a decade of per-petual crisis, was preordained. But when vic-tory came after 11 weeks, it did so despite theleadership displayed at the top, not because ofit. “Strategic commander” Clark was simply outof his depth. Schooled to fight a major waragainst the Soviets, and obsessed with avoidinganother Vietnam, he possessed neither theintellectual framework nor the grammar toformulate strategy in circumstances where thecanonical lessons of the Cold War didn’tapply. The supreme commander didn’t evenknow what he didn’t know.

For a nation that, like it or not, exercisesglobal military power, a strategically illiterateofficer corps represents a serious danger. Bycalling attention to that danger, albeit unwit-tingly, Waging Modern War deserves recog-nition as an important book.

—Andrew J. Bacevich

THE NEW AMERICANS:How the Melting Pot Can Work Again.By Michael Barone. Regnery. 338 pp.$27.95

Sometime in the past year or two, Americanpoliticians awoke en masse with a terrible hang-over on the issue of immigration. Policy had beendominated by restrictionists, who warned that abrown or yellow or multicolored tide was aboutto change the character of the nation, if notdestroy it entirely. Gradually, though, the shrillvoices of Pat Buchanan and Pete Wilson faded,the role of immigrants in the economic boombecame clear, and legislators began amendingor repealing the anti-immigrant statutes put onthe books just a few sessions earlier.

Now, with the Immigration and Natural-ization Service under orders to clean up itsact, and new amnesties and guest worker pro-grams under serious consideration, the toneof the popular debate has come full circle.Instead of books denouncing the rise of “alien”

influences and blaming immigrants for every-thing from Los Angeles traffic jams to Chesa-peake Bay pollution, we have books extolling thecontributions of immigration to American lifeand values.

A political commentator best known asthe coauthor for the past three decades of TheAlmanac of American Politics, Barone sensi-bly debunks “the notion that we are at atotally new place in American history, that weare about to change from a white-breadnation to a collection of peoples of color.” Onthe contrary, “the new Americans of today, likethe new Americans of the past, can be inter-woven into the fabric of American life. . . . Itcan happen even more rapidly if all of usrealize that that interweaving is part of thebasic character of the country.”

Barone compares three groups of what he calls“new” Americans—blacks, Latinos, andAsians—with three ethnic groups that pre-dominated among immigrants a century ago—the Irish, Italians, and Jews. Interesting, evencompelling, Barone’s construct produces anumber of useful insights about upward mobil-ity and assimilation. Past and present have, insome respects, uncanny parallels. But there is alsoa major flaw in the approach. The AfricanAmericans of whom Barone writes have, forthe most part, been in America far longer thanalmost anyone else he discusses, includingmost of the “white-bread” people. He acknowl-edges the problem early on, and then lamely dis-misses it “for the purpose of this book.”

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A young Polish immigrant shoulders histrunk on Ellis Island in 1907.

REVEALING THE UNIVERSE:The Making of the ChandraX-Ray Observatory.By Wallace Tucker and Karen Tucker.Harvard Univ. Press. 295 pp. $27.95

This book might more appropriately havebeen called Revealing NASA, for there is notmuch here of the universe. The narrative endsas the first images are coming in from the $2 bil-lion Chandra X-Ray Observatory, named for20th-century astrophysicist SubrahmanyanChandrasekhar, and launched into Earth orbitby the space shuttle in 1999. These images, inwhich invisible x-rays are rendered in color, arerather less dramatic than the pictures we are usedto seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope.They may be packed with valuable informationfor astronomers, but the average onlooker canbe forgiven for thinking, “Ho, hum.”

Which is not to say that the book is a “ho,hum” read. At the beginning, I was put off byan alphabet soup of acronyms (even Chandrastarted life as AXAF, the “Advanced X-rayAstrophysics Facility”). But as the pace pickedup, I was drawn into the depiction of how theNational Aeronautics and Space Admini-stration works, technically and politically, andhow an instrument such as Chandra gets builtand deployed. The story is nothing short ofheroic, and the Tuckers are ideal guides. He isa spokesman and she a science writer for theSmithsonian Astrophysical Observatory inCambridge, Massachusetts, parent institutionof Chandra science. They saw much of it hap-pen, and they had access to the key players.

The universe reveals itself in every part of theelectromagnetic spectrum, from low-energyradio waves to high-energy x-rays and gamma

rays. X-rays are produced by the most violentobjects in the universe—black holes, collidinggalaxies, exploding stars—but they areabsorbed by Earth’s atmosphere. Conse-quently, much of the fun stuff can only beseen if we heave our instruments thousands ofmiles into the sky.

The short wavelengths of x-rays place extra-ordinary demands on the optics used to focusthem. Chandra’s mirrors are the most perfect-ly shaped and polished ever produced. The frag-ile mirrors and detectors must be aligned towithin the thickness of a few atoms, placedatop a hugely powerful rocket, and blastedinto space. Perhaps never in the history ofengineering has there been such a conjunctionof delicacy and power. Indeed, you wonderwhy the astronomers and NASA managersand technicians ever bothered to try. Thetechnical odds against success seem over-whelming—even without factoring in thepolitical gauntlet that such a project must runbefore getting to the launch pad.

Lots of taxpayer dollars were riding onChandra’s success; lots of careers, too.Nearly 30 years passed between the first pro-posal for a large x-ray telescope and the finaldeployment. That’s a huge chunk of one’s lifeto devote to machinery that may never fly—and may not work if it does fly. On reachingthe end of the book, readers will have a pro-found respect for the scientists who con-ceived the great space observatories andmade them happen, and for the amazingskills that hide behind the flurry of NASAacronyms. The Tuckers have managed toturn a potentially dry technology tale into anedge-of-your-seat read.

—Chet Raymo

Autumn 2001 153

S c i e n c e & Te c h n o l o g y

Despite that weakness, many readers willenjoy Barone’s rapid, hold-on-to-your-hat his-tories of life in America for five of the sixgroups covered here. (His chapter on Asiansseems cursory; perhaps he ran out of space,time, or interest.) The encyclopedic knowl-edge he has gained while visiting every con-gressional district in the country adds depthand flavor to his stories, though his periodicswipes at such policies as affirmative action

and bilingual education seem gratuitous.The book may not live up to its subtitle, but

it does provide a reassuring reminder that “theUnited States has never been a monoethnicnation.” The American majority is made up ofan ever-shifting coalition of many minorities.And yet, remarkably, out of that relentlesschange there emerges a unique and enviablestability.

—Sanford J. Ungar

MAMMOTH:The Resurrection of an Ice Age Giant.By Richard Stone. Perseus Publishing.250 pp. $26

We are drawn to vanished creatures, writesStone, who himself is particularly drawn tomammoths: “majestic animals”—covered withlong, orangey-brown hair over dense, softundercoats—with “long narrow heads, down-ward-sloping hindquarters, small ears, and tusksup to 16 feet long.” About 11,000 years ago,mammoths died out and their bodies fossilizedor froze. Native Siberians thought the buried bod-ies were giant ice rats; Europeans thought theywere elephants swept north in biblical floods.

Modern paleontologists know that mam-moths lived on northern continents—Europe,Asia, North America—at the edges of Ice Ageglaciers, on cold, dry grasslands called themammoth steppe. What paleontologists don’tknow is why they vanished. Not to worry,though, for scientists always have theories:Maybe the warming postglacial climatechanged the mammoth steppe and the mam-moths starved; maybe our ancestors huntedthem to death; maybe a killer microbe wipedthem out.

Theories need evidence, and evidence inthis case requires expeditions. So about a yearago, professional and amateur paleontologists,a Discovery Channel film crew, and a fewjournalists—including Stone, Science’sEuropean news editor—journeyed to Kha-tanga, a mining town in Siberia, where afrozen mammoth was being held in cold stor-age. An earlier expedition had found the mam-moth buried in permafrost. Instead of melting

it out, which would have damaged its tissues,members of the expedition cut out the wholemammoth/permafrost block, hitched its 23tons to a helicopter, and flew it to the refriger-ator in Khatanga.

The second expedition aimed to thaw themammoth out gently. Once thawed, the tis-sues could be studied by a group of scientists forlethal microbes. Another group of scientists,more forward looking, could extract spermcells, use the cells to fertilize an elephant, andresurrect the whole species. Some nonexpedi-tion scientists, more forward looking still, madeplans to recreate the mammoth steppe for thespecies to come home to.

The book describes these expeditions andtheir leaders. Bobbing in and out are the storiesof much else: other mammoth-finding expedi-tions, attempts to isolate mammoth DNA, tech-nology for cloning extinct species, and evidencefor extinction by starvation, by hunting, and bydisease. The result at times feels like a shellgame of people, history, and science, and thereader’s biggest problem is keeping an eye on thepea. (Maybe someday we’ll thaw out anotherextinct species, the book editor.)

The outcome of these expeditions is appar-ently disappointing. In a recent article, Stonesays that the block of permafrost didn’t hold theexpected amount of mammoth, certainly notenough to verify any theories, let alone makesome elephant a single mother. That needn’tbother the reader, for the fun is in gettingthere. The book’s science is beautifully clear, theexpedition leaders are obviously nuts, andthose mammoths are lovely to think about.

—Ann Finkbeiner

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A mammoth find in Khatanga

Autumn 2001 155


Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of international relations at Boston University. BenjaminCheever is the author of three novels and the newly published nonfiction book Selling BenCheever: Back to Square One in a Service Economy. Theodore Dalrymple, a physician andpsychiatrist who practices in England, is the author of the newly published Life at theBottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass. Michael Dirda, a writer and senior edi-tor for the Washington Post Book World and the recipient of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for crit-icism, is the author of Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments (2000). Ann Finkbeineris a science writer who teaches in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.Florence King, who writes “The Misanthrope’s Corner” in National Review, is the authorof nine books, most recently The Florence King Reader (1995). J. R. McNeill, professor ofhistory in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a former Wilson Centerfellow, is the author of Something New under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (2000). James Morris is the deputy editor of the Wilson Quarterly. Chet Raymo,a science columnist for the Boston Globe, is the author most recently of An Intimate Lookat the Night Sky (2001). Tova Reich’s novels Mara (1978), Master of the Return (1988), andThe Jewish War (1995) have recently been reissued in paperback. Harry Shearer is an actor,writer, and director whose new feature film is Teddy Bears’ Picnic, a comedy about aBohemian Grove-type retreat. Edward Tenner, author of Why Things Bite Back: Technologyand the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (1996), is a visiting researcher at PrincetonUniversity. Sanford J. Ungar, the author of Fresh Blood: The New American Immigrants(1995) and the former director of the Voice of America, is the president of Goucher Collegein Baltimore. Barbara Wallraff is a senior editor of the Atlantic Monthly, the editor of thenewsletter Copy Editor, and the author of Word Court (2000). Curtis Wilkie, a reporter forthe Boston Globe for 26 years and the author of the new book Dixie: A Personal Odyssey throughEvents That Shaped the Modern South, was a senior at Ole Miss in 1962.

Credits: p. 12, c Philip Gould/CORBIS; p. 13, Courtesy of Robert Porter; p.14., c AliMeyer/CORBIS; p. 17, Courtesy of the Economist; p. 19, AP Photo/Louisa Buller; p. 20, cWally Fawkes, The Sunday Telegraph, January 31, 1999, Courtesy of the Cartoon StudyCentre, University of Kent; p. 25, c Robert J. MacDonald; pp. 27, 36, 45, 150, cBettmann/CORBIS; p. 30, Courtesy of Michael Malone; p. 35, Stock Montage, Chicago, Ill.;p. 39, SNG123487 “Save Serbia Our Ally,” poster, 1915 (litho) by Theophile AlexandreSteinlen (1859-1923), Private collection/Barbara Singer/Bridgeman Art Library; p. 48,Wallace Kirkland Papers (JAMC neg. 613), Jane Addams Memorial Collection, TheUniversity Library, University of Illinois at Chicago; pp. 52-53, Courtesy of the artist and theGagosian Gallery; p. 61, Courtesy of the Atlantic Monthly; p. 69, The Estate of Mr. and Mrs.Gilbert H. Kinney; p. 77, AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert; p. 86, c Kevin Siers, Reprinted withpermission of King Features Syndicate; p. 87, c Tribune Media Services, Inc. All RightsReserved. Reprinted with permission; p. 91, AP Photo/Stephan Savoia; p. 101, John Adams (c.1800/1815), by Gilbert Stuart, Gift of Mrs. Robert Homans. Photograph c 2001 Board ofTrustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington; p. 105, AP Photo/Kalim Bhatti; pp. 110, 152, cCORBIS; p. 117, c Hulton Archive; p. 121, Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives;p. 123, Scala/Art Resource, N.Y.; p. 125, c 2000 Chip Simons/FPG International LLC; p. 127,Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C./Art Resource; p. 128, The BaltimoreMuseum of Art: Purchased with exchange funds from the Edward Joseph Gallagher IIIMemorial Collection BMA 1991.10; p. 131, AP Photo/Andres Leighton; p. 137, c DavidLevine/New York Review of Books; p. 139, AP Photo/Jackie Arzt; p. 144, Courtesy of ColumbiaUniversity Rare Books Library; p. 149, AP/Wide World Photos; p. 154, c Cerpolex, Paris; p.159, c Hulton Deutsch Collection/CORBIS.

156 Wilson Quarterly

Some years ago in these pages, a little-known, and indeed imaginary, historian

named Sybil Schwartz published an essayunder the rubric “Reflections” on the subject ofa discipline called Decalogy—the study of the“inner rhythms” of history as reflected in therecurring patterns of the decades. The conceitof the essay, which appeared as the 1980sbegan, was not only that “the decade” was a sci-entifically legitimate unit of history but alsothat the character of decades—the ’20s, the’30s, and so on—was predictable from centuryto century. The ’60s, for instance, are always atumultuous decade, whenever they occur,whereas the ’80s always tend to be dull. Duringa ’90s decade things generally pick up somewhat.I’m not aware that Decalogy ever became thefocus of a provocative session at Aspen orDavos, but neither have I heard that its basictenets have ever been disputed.

Vast amounts of intellectual effort have beenwasted on (or channeled harmlessly into) aquest for the predictable patterns and reliablerules of history. The bright exception ofDecalogy aside, that enterprise has little toshow for itself. The ambitious systems of theToynbees and the Spenglers lie in ruins.Leopold von Ranke proclaimed the goal of his-tory to be ascertaining “what really happened,”but the wisest historians of our own age regardeven that modest quest as a pathetic delusion.They scoff at the idea that we can objectively“know” the past, much less figure out what his-tory means or discover the rules by which itproceeds.

Within this chaotic postmodern junglethrives a hardy and abundant weed—mun-dane, nearly useless, adaptable to almost any con-text, and possessing an inherent ability to repli-

cate forever. I am referring to that hoary bench-mark of journalism and scholarship, the anni-versary. In celebrating anniversaries we cele-brate the one element of history that can bepredicted with dead-on certainty. Mentionsome event from the past—anything at all—andits anniversary dates can be discerned unto theend of days. Nothing in the news will change thefact that the year 2002 brings the thousandthanniversary of the birth of England’s Edward theConfessor; the 65th anniversary of the abdica-tion of Edward VIII; and the 50th anniversaryof the accession of Queen Elizabeth to thethrone. Nothing can sidetrack the 300thanniversary next year of the abolition of serfdomin Denmark. The Vatican in coming monthsmay choose to ignore it, but no power in heav-en or on earth can forestall the 700th anniver-sary of the papal bull Unam Sanctam, issued in1302, which advanced the papacy’s mostexpansive (and ultimately most disastrous)claim to supremacy over temporal kings.

Admittedly, anniversaries like these don’trepresent the kind of predictable pattern that greathistorical minds have vainly sought. But you surecan count on them.

It would be wrong to say that a major sectorof modern scholarship is devoted to the

study of anniversaries, but a small cottageindustry does concern itself with the sociologyof time. The practitioners of this subdisciplineover the years have included such distin-guished thinkers as Émile Durkheim andBronislaw Malinowski. St. Augustine com-mented upon time’s slippery conceptual char-acter: “What is time? If no one asks me, I knowwhat it is. If I wish to explain what it is to himwho asks, I do not know.” But sociologists of time

The AnniversaryMystique

One good celebration deserves another.

by Cullen Murphy

Autumn 2001 157

have not been deterred, and have constructedsensible taxonomies—“clock time” and “socialtime,” “linear time” and “circular time.”

Anniversaries arise, of course, out of circulartime. The first anniversaries that people tooknote of were the ones Nature provided—thecycles of the heavens and the seasons of the year.Whatever else they signify, seasonal anniversariesand the effort that goes into them (think ofStonehenge) suggest a certain confidence thatthe universe is not entirely capricious—thatthe basic pattern will enjoy a long run. As timepassed, the calendar became crowded with avery different kind of annual occurrence: birth-days, first of the gods, then of cities, temples, andrulers. By the Hellenistic period, the birthdaysof ordinary people had become occasions ofnote; Epicurus gave a banquet on his birthdayevery year. One of the key texts in the annals ofwomen’s history—the first Latin documentknown to come from a female hand—is aninvitation to a birthday party written in abouta.d. 100. (It was unearthed several years ago nearHadrian’s Wall.) The awareness of personalbirthdays is one of those civilizational signpostsmarking the emergence of a sense of self, asense of individual distinctiveness. Instilled as

a child, birthday consciousness may survivechildishly into old age. In 1984 GeneralWilliam Westmoreland, when asked to state hisage before testifying during his much-publi-cized libel suit against CBS, sounded likesomeone in kindergarten. He responded, “I’mseventy-and-a-half.”

Every human being has an obvious origin;time itself has not been so fortunate. But cal-endars need to start somewhere, and ananniversary usually provides a beginning, trans-forming the arbitrary into the sacral. TheHebrew calendar numbers the years startingfrom the creation of Adam, which is reckonedto have occurred in 3761 b.c. The Romansnumbered the years starting with the mythicaldate of the founding of Rome—753 b.c. TheMuslim calendar starts counting with theHegira, Mohammed’s flight from Mecca toMedina, in a.d. 622. The events in AldousHuxley’s novel Brave New World (1932), whichconjures a grimly seductive technologicaldystopia, take place in the year 632 a.f., theinitials standing for “After Ford.” (“Ford” refersto Henry Ford, whose industrial methodsHuxley saw as a progenitor of the world hisnovel imagined.)

The Parisians Waiting for the Famous Comet (1857), by Honoré Daumier

158 Wilson Quarterly

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The fortunes of anniversary keeping arebound up with those of time keeping. “In themedieval period,” says Kendrick Oliver, a his-torian at the University of Southampton, inEngland, “death days were much more likely tobe celebrated than birth days, in part because notthat many people knew exactly when they hadbeen born. Advances in record keeping, litera-cy, and the time-management requirements ofindustrial society have all contributed to ourcurrent culture of recording the passing of daysand years.” Those commemorative days, asOliver pointed out in a recent article titled“The Memory of Catastrophe,” are as importantto entire nations as they are to mere individuals.At some point in the 18th century, he notes, “theexperience of seismic political change” came tobe regarded as something to be marked withanniversaries. The United States has observedthe Fourth of July from the outset. The firstrecorded example of a “centenary” celebrationwas the centenary of the Glorious Revolution,in 1788, celebrating the overthrow of KingJames II by William and Mary. The leaders ofthe French Revolution did not succeed in hav-ing the year 1792 accepted as the new YearOne by the rest of the world (or even France),as they had hoped, but Bastille Day itself hastaken firm hold.

From time to time, the odd stick-in-the-mud seeks to discount the significance or

utility of annual commemorations. AlexanderPope was both dismissive and melancholy: “Isthat a birthday? ‘Tis alas! too clear; / ‘Tis but thefuneral of the former year.” Ryan Bingham, theprotagonist of Walter Kirn’s recent novel Up inthe Air, calls into question the very reliability ofour dates. “Factoring in leap years and cosmicwobble,” he observes, “our anniversaries aren’tour anniversaries, our birthdays are someoneelse’s, and the Three Kings would ride rightpast Bethlehem if they left today and theysteered by the old stars.”

And yet, for all the skepticism, somethingin the human psyche responds naturally andwithout demurrer to the idea of anniver-saries. One type of evidence for this, thoughit might be dismissed as “anecdotal” by crit-ics, is the evidence of our eyes and ears: the

crowds that gather with candles in CentralPark every December 8 to mark the death ofJohn Lennon; the restiveness among Serbnationalists every June 15, the anniversaryof Serbia’s devastating defeat by the Turks atthe battle of Kosovo, in 1389.

If quantitative proof is needed, then whatabout the phenomenon known as the “deathdip”? The term refers to the fact that death ratesrespond to the gravitational influence of birth-days, holidays, and other significant anniver-saries, usually by diminishing somewhat in theperiod leading up to the occasion being cele-brated. The reason, presumably, is that mortal-ity responds to sheer force of will. Thus, couldthe “coincidence” that both John Adams andThomas Jefferson died on the 50th anniversaryof the signing of the Declaration of Indepen-dence plausibly be explained by the profounddesire of both men to survive until thatmomentous day? The sociologist David P.Phillips, of the University of California, hasfound a death dip among Jewish males in thedays before Jewish holidays; for instance, mor-tality declines by 35 percent in the week beforePassover. (It increases by 35 percent in the weekafterwards, a phenomenon for which no one hasyet coined a name. Perhaps “croak crescen-do”?) Phillips notes: “It is not uncommon forpeople to bargain with God for an extension oflife until a significant occasion has arrived.”

Along similar lines, a study of recordsfrom Ohio documented a sharp rise in mor-tality in the days immediately followingChristmas. A researcher in Australia, SimonJolly, of the Victorian Institute of ForensicMedicine, recently examined local coroners’records and determined that, insofar as nat-ural deaths are concerned, people tend tocling to life until their birthdays arrive, withthe likelihood of death rising on the birthdayitself and in the days immediately afterward.(The chance of accidental death on one’sbirthday is particularly high. Jolly writes: “Itis not difficult to imagine how judgmentmay be impaired on this special day.”) The sta-tistical data, in sum, may not point to any sin-gle conclusion about the influence ofanniversaries on mortality—but they doshow that anniversaries exert an influence.

> Cullen Murphy is the managing editor of the Atlantic Monthly. He was an editor at the Wilson Quarterly from 1977until 1984, having joined the staff shortly after the first issue appeared. His wife, Anna Marie Torres, the WQ’s first manag-ing editor, was a member of the staff at the magazine’s founding. Copyright © 2001 by Cullen Murphy.

Autumn 2001 159

Will the power of anniversaries persist indef-initely? One cause for concern involves theimpact of “anniversary inflation”—too manyanniversaries chasing a finite supply of signifi-cance. The devaluation of anniversaries isapparent everywhere. In Congress, legislatorsintroduce so-called “members’ bills” by thehundreds to place a national imprimatur onbanal commemorations. The commemorabletimespan of teenage relationships seems to getshorter and shorter; a “one-month anniversary”can be an epochal event, the stuff of Abelard andHéloïse. In newspapers, the “Today in History”and “Today’s Birthdays” columns venture intoincreasingly trivial terrain. One recent morningthe New York Times’s online “On This Day”feature alerted readers to the fourth anniver-sary of the indictment of former agriculture sec-retary Mike Espy and to the birthdays of theactress Tuesday Weld and the rap musicianBobo. The use of anniversaries as marketingtools becomes only more prevalent. InGermany, anniversaries may still play a part inthe restraint of trade (according to the WallStreet Journal, clearance sales in Germany arelimited to twice a year “plus anniversaries of abusiness’s birth that are evenly divisible by 25”),

but in the United States commemorative holi-days are an occasion mostly for shopping.

The editors of the Wilson Quarterly, it is fairto say, have not been averse to capitalizing

on anniversaries. Has it been a century sincethe death of some widely known but woefully mis-understood literary eminence? Has it beenexactly 50 years since some vital nation had themisfortune to discover oil or to experiment pre-maturely with democracy? Was it only twodecades ago that some promising social reformperversely planted the seeds of unforeseencatastrophe? Opportunities like these havealways proved irresistible to the WQ.

But the more elemental anniversaries cele-brated by the WQ are the ones it implicitlyhonors through its publication schedule: win-ter, spring, summer, and fall. With the currentnumber, the WQ marks 25 of these annualcycles. I have all the issues on a shelf, areminder that something enduring did indeedemerge from the 1970s. They’re not quite asheavy as Stonehenge, but they embody a sim-ilar sort of faith: that the universe is not entire-ly capricious—that the basic pattern will enjoya long run. ❏

There’s always time for another anniversary.

On the 25th anniversary of the WilsonQuarterly, it seems appropriate to

honor the enduring influence of PresidentWoodrow Wilson’s idealism, which has beenan important element of American foreignpolicy during the past century.

As a governor, author, and academic,Wilson focused almost exclusively on domes-tic issues, in the tradition of America’s pre-20th-century history. On the eve of his inaugu-ration as president, he famously said to afriend, “It would be the irony of fate if myadministration had to deal chiefly with foreignaffairs.” That was indeed to be the case. Wilsonsubsequently articulated both a vision ofAmerica’s emerging role inthe world and the structureof an international order—over which, as he foresaw,the United States would ulti-mately preside.

Wilson feared a second world war afterexperiencing the horrors of the first. So thenew world order included support of an inter-national organization for conflict resolution.Wilson committed America abroad to ensurethat our economic and security interests wereprotected and to offer an American model ofdemocracy to the world community. His pre-scient observation that “the whole world hadbecome a simple village; each part hadbecome the neighbor of the rest, where therewas no avoiding the interdependence ofnations,” anticipated by many decades theglobal village the world has now become.

For more than half a century, the UnitedNations has been for the nations of the world aforum in which to air their grievances and dis-cuss pressing issues. With the aid of the greatpowers, the UN has given diplomacy a place tobreathe freely. In the years ahead, the UN willneed the full support of the United States to bea constructive force in the world and to copewith crises (AIDS and global warming, forexample) that transcend national interests.Those crises are driven by circumstances thatmandate international cooperation on anunprecedented scale.

The world community confronts innumer-able other issues that threaten international

160 Wilson Quarterly

stability. Can arms control and arms reductioncontinue? Are the two Koreas on a path topeaceful reunification? Can the United Stateshelp bring about a peaceful reconciliation ofthe People’s Republic of China and Taiwan?How will China and the United States engageeach other? Can the United States broker apeace in the Middle East, where there is anintractable case of two rights? How can twoproud heritages (Arab and Jewish), whichshare historical rationales that link their des-tinies to geography, coexist in the face of grow-ing populations, limited water supplies, andlimited economic development opportunities?Will Vietnam become a significant American

trading partner? Will Cuba?Can globalization evolve intoa stability-inducing forcewithout undermining nation-al identities and economies?

What are the long-term consequences of glas-nost and perestroika? Do we have the skills torecognize the forces that are changing theambitions of friend and foe alike?

The United States needs to muster all itsenergies and political creativity to counter thepowerful forces that are hostile to world stabili-ty. We have to resist our isolationist impulses—impulses rooted in pessimism and fear, not inthe American values of optimism, possibility,and destiny. The United States is neither theworld’s policeman nor “the answer” to theworld’s problems. Rather, we symbolize politi-cal freedom and economic opportunity. We arethe paradigm that the world seeks to emulate.

With so many of the world’s key institutionsinspired by American ideals drawn specificallyfrom the Wilsonian vision, the United Statesmust continue to be the leader in world diplo-macy. We cannot impose solutions on othernations, but we can be a force for continueddebate and discussion, and for the exchange ofideas that, when joined to economic opportu-nity, can bring stability. We must honorWilson’s vision by creating in this new centurya climate of leadership, trust, and confidencethat will inspire our current and future allies—and our current and former foes.

Joseph A. Cari, Jr.Chair


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