Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
Sean Wilentz's New Republic piece comes under more criticism, this time from Too Sense.
Hugo Schywzer on why tenure matters.
The Chronicle previews Twitter as a teaching tool.
A reminder of the value of a free press: the work of the Detroit Free Press in uncovering Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's efforts to use city money to hide text messages showing that he lied about having an affair with his chief of staff--in a civil suit filed by two police officers who Kilpatrick fired out of fear they would discover the affair. The Michigan Supreme Court yesterday ordered the release of all the text messages, overturning a confidentiality agreement that Kilpatrick and city attorneys had brokered with lawyers for the former police officers.
And for those with too much spare time on their hands, Slate's delegate counter allows adjustable projections on the final delegate total.
Yesterday, in Ohio, the Clinton campaign (which, since falling behind Barack Obama, has started complaining about unfair treatment from the press) featured a similar movement. From the Times' Caucus Blog,
A man at a Clinton town-hall meeting here at a school gymnasium stood to say that it was a “no-brainer” that Mrs. Clinton should be president. He then turned toward the back of the gym where a penned-off area held perhaps 30 reporters and a half-dozen local and
network cameras. “You guys have been so unfair to this lady,” he declared. “I can’t believe you.”
With that, the crowd of more than 1,200 people roared with approval, many of them rising from their seats to hoot at the media and cheer the questioner. Many turned their cameras on the reporters.
Mrs. Clinton just soaked it all in. She sipped a glass of water. She smiled. And after the cheering stopped, she just moved on to the next question, no response needed.
After all, Hillary was once a Goldwater Girl.
In a rather half-hearted piece for TNR, Imperial Illusions, Amartya Sen spends some time ruminating on the good/bad of British colonialism in India with an eye towards comparison with the American imperialism. He offers a sketch of the 2,000 year old pre-history of British rule in India as a" country" with"global influence". Though, he places this global India squarely in 'Ancient realm' and gives us examples only from the second or the fourth century and cites only Claudius Ptolemy and Pliny the Elder - Roman accounts of the Red Sea trade with the East. After having set the stage from centuries ago, Sen jumps straight to"a normal monsoon day, with occasional rain in the town of Plassey, situated among mango groves between Calcutta", where British won India in 1757.
In this particularly cataracted vision of Indian history, Sen can declare, without any historical discomfort, that the 150 years of past and 150 years of coming future of British rule in India all hinged on one lieutenant of the local Nawab switching allegiance mid-" cricket match". After that uniquely Bengali insight, Sen continues to treat all of British colonial history with the same generalized brush as he treats Indian political and economic history. And, he concludes:
In assessing Britain's relation with India in this year of anniversaries, we must make a clear distinction between the positive contributions of the British in bringing India more closely into the global world (including many domestic institutional changes) and the plentiful presence of inequity and negligence in British imperial rule. It is important to appreciate the positive impact of India's British association, but also to recognize that the changes that were important for India could have come without the colonial adversities. India's approach to the contemporary world was certainly aided by many initiatives that can be linked to British influence, and many of these potentials have come into their own only after the end of the colonial rule.
All of this, is largely standard Indian nationalist historiography. Hundreds of books peddle the same script of Indian and colonial pasts. The curious elision of centuries, the disappearances of key geographies and the History from the Present aspects are neither new nor unique to Sen but he has definitely elevated the discourse.
In his overarching thesis on the good and the bad of British colonialism, Sen opens with a few potshots at Niall Ferguson, a historian much admired and emulated. Sen calls his book"didactic" and calls Ferguson a cheerleader for American imperialism - in so many words. Ferguson responds with his own shot at Sen's nobel prize. Sen then carries the load back home.
I admit that I found the entire back-and-forth, between these two Harvard nawabs, consistently boring. What is more noteworthy, is that they are both operating from within the same standard"decline-to-colonial" template which necessitates a particular causation to British colonialism in India. That template, by the way, is historiographically Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of Roman Empire. One can trace its ubiquity, even in the Marx essay that Sen cites in his essay.
Karl Marx, writing in the New York Daily Tribune began with this caustic observation on British rule in India:
There cannot, however, remain any doubt that the misery inflicted by the British on Hindostan is of an essentially different and infinitely more intensive kind than all Hindostan had to suffer before ... All the civil wars, invasions, revolutions, conquests, famines, strangely complex, rapid and destructive as the successive action in Hindostan may appear, did not go deeper than its surface. England has broke down the entire framework of Indian society, without any symptoms of reconstitution yet appearing. This loss of his old world, with no gain of anew one, imparts a particular kind of melancholy to the present misery of the Hindoo, and separates Hindostan, ruled by Britain, from all its ancient traditions, and from the whole of its past history.
But Marx was concerned not with the particularity of British colonial rupture into Hindostani society but with the systemic failures within that Indian society which allowed for British Imperialism to triumph. The tropes of his argument there are unsurprisingly Orientalist: India had a static, stratified, society, ruled by despotism and enslaved to horrendously unenlightened religion. The imperial intervention, then, was necessary for India:
We must not forget that this undignified, stagnatory, and vegetative life, that this passive sort of existence evoked on the other part, in contradistinction, wild, aimless, unbounded forces of destruction and rendered murder itself a religious rite in Hindostan. We must not forget that these little communities were contaminated by distinctions of caste and by slavery, that they subjugated man to external circumstances instead of elevating man the sovereign of circumstances, that they transformed a self-developing social state into never changing natural destiny, and thus brought about a brutalizing worship of nature, exhibiting its degradation in the fact that man, the sovereign of nature, fell down on his knees in adoration of Kanuman, the monkey, and Sabbala, the cow.
England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.
Kinda reminds you of current discourse on Iraq, doesn't it? In any event, this decline paradigm posits a particularly banal, generalized and ahistorical reading of the native past which is portrayed as being fundamentally diseased, decayed, and declined at exactly the moment when European civilization is avast in glorious modernity and industrialization. Whether it is the Ottoman, the Saffavid, the Qing, or the Russians, the decline of the East reigns supreme as causative background to the inconceivable rise of the British Empire. This despite the fact that the picture of eighteenth century in India, specifically, has long been complicated by historians and anthropologists as diverse as John F. Richards, Bernard S. Cohn, and Muzaffar Alam and that colonial interventions themselves have been proven wildly divergent in works by Fredrick Cooper, George Steinmetz or James Hevia.
Yet, the decline scenario continues to hold popular sway, both in the ex-colony and in the ex-metropole as an explanation and an excuse. There is no doubt that the central authority of Mughal polity in eighteenth century India was largely a relic - some have pointed towards even the seventeenth century where such effects are quite visible. But the rise of regional powers and diffuse centers of political clout is, in itself, a counter-narrative to any"decline" theory. In areas such as Sindh and Gujarat, or the Nizams in Hyderabad, the eighteenth century saw a particularly healthy growth of trade and local patronage - in communities and in cities.
The British historiography, particularly since the mid-nineteenth century, had a deliberate and conscious emancipatory message for the colony. For that historiography, the decline of the Mughal polity or the despotism of the local principalities was a central theme. Nationalist historians, more or less, continued that theme by casting the late Mughal, if not the entirety of Muslim history in India, as the medieval Dark Ages. Postcolonial scholarship, beholden to Bengal and the nineteenth century, have not had direct access to the Persian archives to make sense of seventeenth or eighteenth century. Nor have they felt a need to do so. After all, as Marx declared, colonialism was its own rupture into Indian pasts.
Alavi, Seema. The Eighteenth Century in India, Oxford University Press, 2002.
Alam, Muzaffar. The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India: Awadh and the Punjab, 1707-48, Oxford University Press, 1986.
Steinmetz, George. The Devil's Handwriting: Precoloniality and the German Colonial State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa, University of Chicago Press, 2007.
[x-posted at CM]
The Times City Room, meanwhile, taps into the archives to look back at Buckley's 1965 bid for NYC mayor.
Inside Higher Ed examines the controversies over the senior theses of Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. Reed College president Colin Diver:"Let’s face it. Some of the theses involve an outpouring of post-adolescent ideas or language that people later might find embarrassing."
Taylor Marsh, unsurprisingly, celebrates Sean Wilentz's peculiar New Republic article on the"race card."
This animated documentary-mockumentary about Evil in western civilization from ancient Greece to the present is a student project by Ole-Magnus Saxegard. Hat tip.
While Obama might have some hope for an open-minded approach to this issue, based on her campaign, there seems to be little question how a Hillary Clinton presidency would come down on such matters. Indeed, she and her supporters have embraced identity politics with a depressing regularity, from the candidate’s “crying” moment to Susan Estrich’s New Hampshire-eve screed to the disturbing assertion of a posthumous Ann Richards endorsement for Hillary. The campaign’s most recent meme—Hillary as the victim of a misogynist press—fits into this pattern as well; few in the campaign, it seemed, claimed journalistic sexism when Obama trailed by 20 points and these same reporters were hailing Clinton as inevitable.
As Clinton’s support in the African-American community has collapsed, influential black congressional leaders have distanced themselves from her—Charlie Rangel’s wife endorsed Obama, John Lewis has repeatedly hinted that he’s preparing to switch sides. Among African-American House members, Clinton has been left with figures who could be caricatures of the flaws inherent in identity politics—the ethically challenged Emmanuel Cleaver, or the simply embarrassing Stephanie Tubbs Jones.
According to Sean Wilentz, however, this sorry development for the Clinton campaign didn’t result from her flaws as a candidate, or from younger voters’ seeming desire to move beyond identity politics, but from Obama’s having engaged in “cutthroat, fraudulent politics”—indeed, in “the most outrageous deployment of racial politics since the Willie Horton ad campaign in 1988 and the most insidious since Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, praising states’ rights.”
Wilentz’s exceptionally bitter piece, mentioned below by Ralph, brought to mind the observation of Dana Milbank in yesterday’s Washington Post: the arch-Clintonites seem eager to present “a fascinating tour of an alternate universe.”
Take one example: in dismissing the possibility of a Bradley effect in New Hampshire, for instance, Wilentz writes, “But even on primary night, it was clear that Obama's total--36.4%--was virtually identical to what the polls over the previous three weeks had predicted he would receive. Clinton won because late-deciding voters--and especially college-educated women in their twenties--broke for her by a huge majority.”
They did? According to the New Hampshire exit poll, Clinton won the voters who decided on Election Day by a three-point margin (39 to 36 percent). Obama actually carried those who had decided in the three days before the election (37 to 36 percent). How does Wilentz consider this a “huge majority” for Clinton? He doesn’t say. (His article doesn’t cite any exit poll figures at all.)
Maybe Wilentz is right that there was no Bradley effect in New Hampshire, and that the Obama campaign convinced a media that ignored facts to peddle the storyline. Yet since Wilentz’s own storyline ignored the exit poll figures, his claim is hardly credible.
Wilentz also goes out of his way to defend Bill Clinton’s performance in the South Carolina primary. Wilentz’s long article doesn’t mention Clinton’s pre-primary statement that “as far as I can tell, neither Senator Obama nor Hillary have lost votes because of their race or gender. They are getting votes, to be sure, because of their race or gender—that’s why people tell me Hillary doesn't have a chance of winning here.” (By that standard, of course, it would have been hard for Obama to have won anywhere, since women have been a majority in every Democratic primary thus far.) And the Princeton historian pooh-poohs the former President’s post-primary linkage of Obama’s performance with Jesse Jackson’s two victories in the state.
In this respect, Wilentz appears to be more royalist than the king: even most in the Clinton campaign have conceded the harm caused by Bill Clinton’s attacks on Obama.
Portraying Obama as a race-baiter, I fear, will be no more successful than any of the other “kitchen sink” attacks from Clinton supporters in recent days.
You can access Frederick M. Hess's"Still at Risk: What Students Don't Know, Even Now," American Enterprise Institute, 26 February, which is featured in Sam Dillon,"Survey Finds Teenagers Ignorant on Basic History and Literature Questions," NYT, 27 February, and Greg Toppo,"Teens losing touch with common cultural and historical references," USA Today, 26 February.
Drew Hansen,"The rules on plagiarism, (with full credit to MLK)," Houston Chronicle, 24 February, proposes three rules for evaluating charges of plagiarism in public speech. Thanks to David Garrow for the tip. See also: Timothy Noah's"Doris Goodwin on Obama's Borrowings: One of these two people has committed plagiarism, and it isn't Obama," Slate, 26 February.
Jennifer Howard,"Landmark Digital History Monograph Project Goes Open Access," CHE, 26 February (free link to non-subscribers), fleshes out the announcement in Rob Townsend's"Gutenberg-e Books Now Available Open Access and through ACLS Humanities E-Book," AHA Today, 12 February.
Finally, farewell to the late, great George M. Fredrickson. At The Edge of the American West, Eric Rauchway pays fitting tribute to his mentor.
Susan Emerling,"A Kingdom in the Mountains Shares Its Secrets," NYT, 24 February, reviews"The Dragon's Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan," an exhibit that opens tomorrow at Hawaii's Honolulu Academy of Arts.
Salley Vickers,"Disturbed lives," Guardian, 23 February, reviews Lisa Appignanesi's Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present.
Jason Burke,"Those who live by the bomb," Guardian, 24 February, reviews Michael Burleigh's Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism.
Congratulations to Josh Marshall, whose Talking Points Memo is one of the most widely read history blogs. He's won a George Polk Award for legal reporting for TPM's coverage of the Bush administration's firing of eight United States attorneys and forced the Justice Department to put him back on its mailing list for credentialed reporters after it removed him last year. All this and more in Noam Cohen's"Blogger, Sans Pajamas, Rakes Muck and a Prize," NYT, 25 February.
One day in the reading room back in the 1980's, prior to the invention of laptop computers and a set of rules imposed by the Giuliani administration to prevent vagrants from coming to the library in the winter to thaw out, my friend Barbara pointed out a number of people sitting at one of the long tables and said:"Just try to guess which are the historians and which are the homeless." And indeed, each person at the table was wrapped in odd layers of grimy clothing and shuffling index cards and scraps of paper around. Upon closer inspection, some were scholars and others were -- well, just shuffling scraps of paper, trying to find a pattern.
As Eric Rauchway points out, the NYPL, Patience and Fortitude are about to get a facelift; but, twenty years later, I'm still"just shuffling scraps of paper, trying to find a pattern."
The Washington Post's Book World, 24 February, is history-rich, with Stephen Budiansky's review of Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering, Michael Dirda's review of Richard M. Cook's Alfred Kazin: A Biography, and much more.
William H. Pritchard,"The anatomy of Yeats's inventions," Boston Globe, 17 February, reviews Helen Vendler's Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form.
Motoko Rich,"New CUNY Center to Focus on the Art of the Biography," NYT, 23 February, announces the City University of New York's new Center that will offer four fellowships a year to scholars working on biographies.
12x30.net is a very useful resource for all things calendar. If, like me, you do close research that may require you to know whether 21 February 1848 was a Tuesday, try 12x30.net/anymonth. It works for any month between 1583 CE and 9999 CE.
Holland Cotter,"Looking at You, Looking at Her," NYT, 22 February, reviews"Parmigianino's ‘Antea': A Beautiful Artifice," the exhibit of a single painting at New York's Frick Collection. The identity of the painter and the title of this gorgeous portrait are questionable and its parts aren't obvious fits:
Her head is far too small and delicate for her freakishly slope-shouldered linebacker's body, its bulk reinforced by the nearly full-length standing pose, rare in female portraiture at that time. In addition her left arm, with its huge gloved hand, looks illogically long. It seems to have nothing to do with Antea herself but to belong to a second, larger, encasing body, a kind of silken fat suit, represented by her voluminous coat. So this is an image of the figure as a thing of contradictions, a fictional composite rather than an organic whole.
Brian Phillips,"The Old, Weird Everywhere: Bristol Rovers and ‘Goodnight, Irene'," Pitch Invasion.net, 16 February. I stole this from Rob MacDougall because he finds great stuff! And, congratulations to Rob, whose"Long Lines: AT&T's Long-Distance Network as an Organizational and Political Strategy," Business History Review 80 (Summer 2006): 297-327, has won the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era's 2008 Fishel-Calhoun Prize for the best published article by a new scholar on United States history between 1865 and 1917.
Leaves ya sorta speechless, don't it?
Brandon Watson,"Misinterpretation," Siris, 20 February, looks at the experience of the brilliant Neapolitan lawyer, Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), who had read a text many times, but didn't know that he'd misread it every time, until it was too late.
Paul Kramer,"The Water Cure," New Yorker, 25 February, revisits the American debate about the use of torture a century ago in the Philippines.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft,"Zion Story," TLS, 20 February, reviews Jacqueline Rose's The Last Resistance, Colin Shindler's The Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism and the origins of the Israeli Right, David Goldberg's The Divided Self: Israel and the Jewish psyche today, Victoria Clark's Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism, Yakov M. Rabkin's A Threat From Within: A century of Jewish opposition to Zionism, and Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Hat tip.
William Grimes,"Separating the Mythology From the Raw Politics of a Senate Campaign," NYT, 20 February, reviews Allen Guelzo's Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America.
Adam Kirsch,"Arabian Knights," NY Sun, 20 February, reviews James Barr's Setting the Desert on Fire: T. E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918.
Darryl Pinckney's"Dreams from Obama," NYRB, 6 March, reviews Shelby Steele's A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win. Thanks to Manan Ahmed for the tip.
Finally, our colleague, Manan Ahmed, appears on Chicago Public Radio's Worldview to comment on developments after Pakistan's recent national elections; Reihan Salam makes the case that, after Andrew Sullivan, our colleague, Daniel Larison, is America's Greatest Political Blogger; and congratulations to our colleague, Chris Bray, whose daughter, Madeline Eloise Cherkis-Bray, arrived early, on February 18 at 10:27 p.m., weighing 5 lbs. 11 ounces.
Mark M. Smith,"The Touch of an Uncommon Man," CHE, 22 February, and Susannah Tully,"A Sense of History," CHE, 22 February (links free to non-subscribers), exemplify and explore Mark's work on the history of the senses. It's more fully developed in his new book, Sensing the Past: Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting, and Touching in History. Previously, he's published Listening to Nineteenth-Century America (2001); and Hearing History: A Reader (2004).
Emory's Gary Laderman has launched Religion Dispatches, an online magazine seeking to bridge conversations between the public and the academic community on religious issues with articles by historians like Randall Balmer and Martin Marty. Currently, it features Michael Elliot's"Mark Twain's Blasphemy," 18 February, which revisits The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Michael Weiss's"The End of the Obama Honeymoon," Pajamas Media, 18 February, conveniently summarizes five lines of attack against Barack Obama, now that he is a (slight) front-runner for the Democratic Party's nomination: 1) plagiarism*, 2) his supporters' tribute to Che Guevara in Houston, 3) the consultation of his foreign policy advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, with Syrian officials, 4) questions about his"pledge" to a publically financed campaign, and 5) questions about his commitment to troop withdrawal from Iraq. Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.
*Jonah Goldberg, of all people, puts the plagiarism charge in perspective.
On the eve of contests in Hawaii, Washington, and Wisconsin, nonetheless, over 190 historians, including most recently Yale's David Brion Davis, have endorsed Obama's candidacy. Read more for their names:
Manan Ahmed, Cliopatria*
Leslie M. Alexander, Ohio State University
Shawn Leigh Alexander, University of Kansas
Catherine Allgor, University of California, Riverside
Laura Anker, SUNY, Old Westbury
Joyce Appleby, University of California, Los Angeles
Ray Arsenault, University of South Florida
Robert Baker, Georgia State University
Lewis V. Baldwin, Vanderbilt University
Christopher Bates, California State Polytechnic, Pomona
Rosalyn Baxandall, SUNY/Old Westbury
Robert L. Beisner, American University
Doron Ben-Atar, Fordham University
Jonathan P. Berkey, Davidson College
William C. Berman, University of Toronto
David Blight, Yale University
Ruth Bloch, University of California, Los Angeles
Daniel Bluestone, University of Virginia
Edward J. Blum, San Diego State University
Kevin Boyle, Ohio State University
John L. Brooke, Ohio State University
Carolyn A. Brown, Rutgers University
Mari Jo Buhle, Brown University
Paul Buhle, Brown University
Jodi Campbell, Texas Christian University
Randolph Campbell, University of North Texas
Gregg Cantrell, Texas Christian University
Charles Capper, Boston University
Clayborne Carson, Stanford University
John Chavez, Southern Methodist University
William Cohen, Hope College
Dennis Cordell, Southern Methodist University
Mary F. Corey, University of California, Los Angeles
George Cotkin, California Polytechnic Institute
Edward Countryman, Southern Methodist University
Daniel W. Crofts, The College of New Jersey
Robert Dallek, Boston University
Adam Davis, Denison University
Jared N. Day, Carnegie Mellon University
John d'Entremont, Randolph College
Dennis C. Dickerson, Vanderbilt University
Jacob H. Dorn, Wright State University
David Doyle, Jr., Southern Methodist University
David V. Du Fault, San Diego State University
W. Marvin Dulaney, College of Charleston
Gretchen Cassel Eick, Friends University
Carolyn Eisenberg, Hofstra University
J. Michael Farmer, University of Texas, Dallas
Michael Fellman, Simon Fraser University
Antonio Feros, University of Pennsylvania
Peter Filene, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Kenneth Fones-Wolf, University of West Virginia
William E. Forbath, University of Texas, Austin
Shannon Frystak, East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania
Matthew Gabriele, Virginia Tech
Lloyd Gardner, Rutgers University
Sheldon Garon, Princeton University
David Gellman, DePauw University
James Gilbert, University of Maryland
Mark T. Gilderhus, Texas Christian University
Toni Gilpin, Chicago, Illinois
Rebecca A. Goetz, Rice University
David Goldfrank, Georgetown University
Warren Goldstein, University of Hartford
Linda Gordon, New York University
Anthony T. Grafton, Princeton University
Will Gravely, University of Denver
George N. Green, University of Texas, Arlington
James Green, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Sara M. Gregg, Iowa State University
Robert Griffith, American University
Michael Grossberg, Indiana University
James Grossman, Newberry Library
Carol S. Gruber, William Paterson University
Joshua Guild, Princeton University
Roland L. Guyotte, University of Minnesota, Morris
David Hall, Harvard University
Kenneth Hamilton, Southern Methodist University
J. William Harris, University of New Hampshire
Sam W. Haynes, University of Texas, Arlington
Nancy A. Hewitt, Rutgers University
Jonathan Holloway, Yale University
Jeffrey Houghtby, Iowa State University
Tera W. Hunter, Princeton University
Harold Hyman, Rice University
Maurice Jackson, Georgetown University
Thomas F. Jackson, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
Lisa Jacobson, University of California, Santa Barbara
Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Ohio State University
Randal Jelks, Calvin College
John Jentz, Marquette University
Benjamin H. Johnson, Southern Methodist University
David A. Johnson, Portland State University
Robert KC Johnson, Brooklyn College
Jennifer M. Jones, Rutgers University
Patrick D. Jones, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Peniel E. Joseph, Brandeis University
Michael Kazin, Georgetown University
Ari Kelman, University of California, Davis
Stephen Kern, Ohio State University
Richard H. King, University of Nottingham
Sarah Knott, Indiana University
Gary Kornblith, Oberlin College
Carol Lasser, Oberlin College
Melinda Lawson, Union College
Steven Lawson, Rutgers University
Jackson Lears, Rutgers University
Alan Lessoff, Illinois State University
James M. Lindgren, SUNY, Plattsburgh
Edward T. Linenthal, Indiana University
William A. Link, University of Florida
James Livingston, Rutgers University
Paul K. Longmore, San Francisco State University
Ralph E. Luker, Cliopatria
J. Fred MacDonald, Northeastern Illinois University
Chandra Manning, Georgetown University
Norman Markowitz, Rutgers University
Jill Massino, Oberlin College
Kevin Mattson, Ohio University
Jaclyn Maxwell, Ohio University
Martha May, Western Connecticut State University
Timothy Patrick McCarthy, Harvard University
Joseph A. McCartin, Georgetown University
Robert S. McElvaine, Millsaps College
Marjorie McLellan, Wright State University
Sally G. McMillen, Davidson College
James McPherson, Princeton University
Edward D. Melillo, Oberlin College
Tony Michels, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Christopher Morris, University of Texas, Arlington
Walter Moss, Eastern Michigan University
Todd Moye, University of North Texas
Joan Neuberger, University of Texas, Austin
Michelle Nickerson, University of Texas, Dallas
David O'Brien, College of the Holy Cross
William L. O'Neill, Rutgers University
William A. Pencak, Pennsylvania State University
Claire Potter, Wesleyan University
Michael Punke, University of Montana
David Quigley, Boston College
Stephen G. Rabe, University of Texas, Dallas
Albert J. Raboteau, Princeton University
Monica A. Rankin, University of Texas, Dallas
Janice Reiff, University of California, Los Angeles
Steven G. Reinhardt, University of Texas, Arlington
Leo Ribuffo, George Washington University
Natalie J. Ring, University of Texas, Dallas
Jerry Rodnitzky, Texas Christian University
Ruth Rosen, University of California, Berkeley
Peter Rothstein, Juniata College
Edward B. Rugemer, Yale University
Douglas C. Sackman, University of Puget Sound
Leonard J. Sadosky, Iowa State University
Nick Salvatore, Cornell University
Brian Sandberg, Northern Illinois University
John Savage, Lehigh University
Martha Saxton, Amherst College
Ellen W. Schrecker, Yeshiva University
Rachel F. Seidman, Duke University
Brett L. Shadle, Virginia Tech
Rebecca Sharpless, Texas Christian University
James Sidbury, University of Texas at Austin
Daniel J. Singal, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Manisha Sinha, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Harvard Sitkoff, University of New Hampshire
Gene Allen Smith, Texas Christian University
Daniel Soyer, Fordham University
Paul Spickard, University of California, Santa Barbara
Brian Steele, University of Alabama, Birmingham
James Brewer Stewart, Macalester College
Jeffrey Stewart, George Mason University
Mary Stroll, University of California, San Diego
David Thelen, Indiana University
Jeffrey Trask, New York University
Stephenie Ambrose Tubbs, Helena, Montana
Elizabeth Hayes Turner, University of North Texas
Bruce M. Tyler, University of Louisville
Kevin Uhalde, Ohio University
Siva Vaidhyanathan, University of Virginia
Kara Dixon Vuic, Bridgewater College
David J. Weber, Southern Methodist University
Barbara Weinstein, New York University
Richard Weiss, University of California, Los Angeles
Kathleen Wellman, Southern Methodist University
Daniel Wickberg, University of Texas, Dallas
Craig Steven Wilder, Dartmouth College
Margaret Williams, William Patterson University
R. Hal Williams, Southern Methodist University
David W. Wills, Amherst College
Charters Wynn, University of Texas, Austin
Susan Yohn, Hofstra University
Eli Zaretsky, New School for Social Research
*Institutional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only and, of course, do not indicate an institutional endorsement.
In recent decades, these interpretations have come under attack precisely because of their implications for modern politics. Where strong emperors were once lauded as scourges of"feudalism" and fragmentation, some see their concentration of power, their deployment of propaganda and their exercise of control over public life in a more sinister light. Comparisons with the Soviet Union, while overwrought, appear from time to time in important monographs.
The article says:
The television film seems to be in that genre. In it, Father Tikhon is transported in full attire from a snow-swept church to Istanbul and Venice, where he exposes the West as a “genetic” hater of both Byzantium and its spiritual heir: Russia. The Byzantine empire's rich and cultured capital, Constantinople, was the envy of dark and aggressive barbarians from the West, who looted it during the fourth crusade in 1204. Modern Western capitalism, argues Father Tikhon, is built on Byzantine loot and Jewish usury.
In this version, Byzantium's first mistake was to trust the West (represented in the film by a cloaked figure in a sinister, long-nosed Venetian mask) and surrender the commanding heights of the economy—trading and customs collection—to Western entrepreneurs and greedy oligarchs. Using a term from today's Russia, Father Tikhon talks of some “stabilisation fund” when describing the achievements of one Byzantine emperor, Basil II, godfather to Russia's Prince Vladimir, who crushed separatists and sent oligarchs to prison. But even great emperors could have weak successors. (The film was made before Mr Putin chose Dmitry Medvedev as his successor, to be endorsed by voters in the election on March 2nd.)
The film's usage of modern words and imagery is so conspicuous that the moral cannot escape a Russian viewer. Instead of sticking to its traditions, Byzantium tried to reform and modernise, as the West demanded, and it paid the price. Worst of all, the West infiltrated Byzantium with harmful, individualistic ideas, which destroyed the core values of the empire—so the people lost faith in their rulers.
The image of Byzantium presented here is, of course, distorted in important ways, but still draws on classic interpretations that can be found in The History of the Byzantine State by Ostrogorsky. In Ostrogorsky's view, Basil II combated the"powerful" (dynatoi) on behalf of the"poor" (ptochoi) and punished the alienation of revenue-bearing lands to these powerful aristocratic landlords, and he ruled as a military and expansionist emperor. This has a certain obvious appeal to a nationalist authoritarian government that has made a show of reining in its wealthy oligarchs (along with everyone else).
When Ostrogorsky was developing his general theory of the decline of the empire, which he identified as the result of decentralization, loss of lands and revenues to the aristocracy (which he dubbed feudalism), the predominance of Italian mercantile powers and the disappearance of the Byzantine army, consolidating power in the hands of the emperor appeared to be the way to stabilize state institutions. As others have noted since, Ostrogorsky's was a history of the Byzantine state, which led him, as it can lead historians with a focus on institutional history, to valorize the institution-builders and damn those who neglect or undermine institutions. There has since been a backlash against this, and it is perhaps ironic that it was the great Russian Byzantinist Kazhdan, coming out of the Soviet Union, who promoted the critique of this latent admiration for strong emperors and a strong state apparatus. To summarize rather crudely, what Ostrogorsky judged to be prudent reforms of economic and social abuses by the aristocracy could be seen in recent times as the source of arbitrary and repressive government from the center.
Basil II has long been a favorite of modern nationalists and empire-builders. At the time of the Macedonian Struggle and the Balkan Wars, Greek irredentists deployed Basil II ("the Bulgar-slayer") as the exemplar of Greek leadership and victorious military struggle over the Bulgars/Bulgarians. Kostis Palamas, the great demoticist Greek poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, included Basil II in the conclusion of his important work, The king's flute, and Penelope Delta authored a popular history of Basil's reign that identified Basil's victory and the legendary atrocities he carried out against the Bulgar army after Kleidion with the modern Greek cause in Macedonia. In their flight of fancy, some Greek propaganda posters even depicted Constantine I as Bulgaroktonos. By comparison, the current Russian uses of the emperor and Byzantine history more generally are frustrating for those who are trying to emphasize Byzantium's connections with western Europe, but they are also somewhat less threatening.
The greatest irony of the Russian deployment of Byzantine political history is that Russia's period of modern absolutist, centralist rule began with the advent of Westernization in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and has literally nothing to do with Byzantium. The"Caesaropapism" of which Byzantium is sometimes still accused did not exist in the Orthodox world--the closest thing to the caricature of Byzantine church-state relations was the post-Petrine position of the Synod as effectively an arm of the Russian state. It is quite remarkable that the most eloquent proponents of a starkly pro-Orthodox, anti-Western, romantic Russian nationalism of the kind hinted at in the description of the film in question were the Slavophiles of the mid-19th century, who deplored the introduction of absolutist rule and desired the return of a weaker, pre-Petrine monarchy that respected the power of the boyars. Putinism has made a weird fusion of the anti-Western critique of the Slavophiles with a post-Petrine Westernizing centralism, masking the contradiction with the references to the Byzantine past.
Instead, the article reveals that a quartet of African-American Clinton endorsers--Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer, former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, and congresswomen Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio--are outraged that there might be political repercussions for Clinton's black supporters.
Declared Palmer,"To intimate that you may face a challenge for what you believe in, I just think that's over the top." It's"over the top" for someone to decide to challenge an incumbent because of a position that officeholder took, provided the officeholder"believe[d] in" the position?
I realize Palmer is from Trenton, and New Jersey politics doesn't enjoy a reputation for deep principles, so perhaps he might consider it unusual for a politician to take a principled position. But his argument is nothing short of absurd.
Some of the Wilentz/Zelizer recommendations are uncontroversial—the parties"grabbing power back from the media," the need for a more"rigorous system of national debates"—though it's not clear how they can be achieved. With debates, for instance, one way to increase rigor would be excluding non-viable candidates (think Kucinich or Dodd or Tancredo in 2008), so people could have more of a chance to evaluate the real contenders. Yet such a move would doubtless be denounced as anti-democratic.
Wilentz and Zelizer didn't mention what strikes me as a major shortcoming of the Democrats' process revealed by this campaign—how the excessively anti-majoritarian delegate allocation process affects a two-person race. As anyone following the campaign has come to learn, in congressional districts assigned an even number of delegates, candidates can be separated by as much as 15 percent and still receive the same number of delegates. Though I'm an Obama supporter, I readily concede that this structure has been successfully exploited by the Obama campaign (part of a general pattern of tactical superiority by the Obama forces). The party's disinclination to give a real reward to winners is highly problematic.
Wilentz and Zelizer also largely avoid a critical problem of the current system—the pressure for frontloading caused by the dominance of Iowa and New Hampshire. They speak favorably of the era before primaries played such a large role in the process, but, realistically, we're unlikely to return to such a system.
The recent pattern of nominating contests being decided in the immediate aftermath of Iowa and New Hampshire produced the understandable, if disastrous, decision of Michigan and Florida to violate party rules and move their primaries to January. It also yielded the creation of a mega-Tuesday primary with Illinois, California, New York, Missouri, and New Jersey all moving their primaries to the earliest date allowed by the parties. In retrospect, of course, some if not all of these states would have exercised more influence in this year's race by voting later.
Zelizer and Wilentz make two recommendations dealing with the system as it currently exists. First, they argue for abolishing caucuses. I agree with them that primaries are far preferable to caucuses, if only because primaries provide for the secret ballot.
The decision of many smaller states to choose delegates by caucuses, however, is inextricably linked with the problem of frontloading. Here's a clip, from late 2007, of Hillary Clinton describing the 2008 process.
Clinton, it's worth remembering, was hardly the only person to believe"it's not a very long run; it'll be over by Feb. 5"; it seems as if just about everyone outside of the Obama campaign did.
Put yourself, then, in the position of a state legislator from Maine, or Wyoming, or Nebraska—or even some of the smaller and expected-to-be-overlooked Super Tuesday states, like Kansas, Idaho, or Alaska. If even the party's overwhelming favorite is saying that the outcome will be decided before your state votes, why should you appropriate funds for a primary? The parties, in short, need to give smaller states a reason (i.e., through a system of rotating regional primaries) to fund primaries.
Absent such a change, caucuses seem likely to remain. The traditional argument against them is that, because of low turnouts, they skew toward the ideological extremes. While that's held true on the GOP side in 2008, the story among Democrats has been much different—all Democratic caucuses have had massive increases in turnout, perhaps minimizing the role of the party's far left.
Wilentz and Zelizer don't make this argument against caucuses; instead, they note that caucuses can disenfranchise the working poor. (The Clinton campaign has made a similar claim, although in its case the apparent goal has been to dismiss the candidate's disastrous performance in caucus states; the willingness of Clinton allies to sue to shut down workplace caucus sites in Nevada suggests that concern with the disenfranchisement of the working poor is a recent discovery of the campaign.) Yet if disenfranchisement rather than ideological skewing is the key problem, it can be solved without eliminating caucuses. Instead, the parties could mandate that all caucus states follow the model of the Maine caucuses, which have absentee balloting. Around 4000 people caucused by absentee ballots in the 2008 Maine Democratic caucus.
The most radical recommendation of Wilentz and Zelizer comes in their call to eliminate open primaries. Presidential preference primaries originated as a Progressive Era reform, in states like Wisconsin, North Dakota, and California. The goal was to weaken the power of party bosses by allowing the people (of any party) to vote. The ideal of primaries, in short, envisioned open primaries. Although some states have prevented members of the other party or independents from participating in their primaries, open primaries are still the norm for Democrats (in around two-thirds of states).
Wilentz and Zelizer note,"Open primaries and caucuses (in which anyone can vote, not just registered party members) let voters from the other party cause all sorts of mischief. A Republican convinced that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is too divisive to win in the fall could vote for her in some Democratic contests in the spring, hoping to saddle the Democrats with a losing nominee. Or, as Sen. Barack Obama's campaign did in Nevada, a candidate can openly appeal for votes from people outside his or her party in order to stop a rival. The winners are outsiders hoping to game the system; the losers are rank-and-file party members whose choices count less."
If, in fact, large numbers of Republicans were voting in Democratic primaries with the express purpose of saddling the party with the less electable (according to current polls) Clinton, this would be a serious problem. Yet there's no evidence of any such occurrence: indeed, in state after state, Obama has outperformed Clinton among independents and the small number of Republicans who have voted in Democratic primaries. Making such a radical structural change by abolishing open primaries should require more than a theoretical problem.
Moreover, as Wilentz and Zelizer correctly note,"Primaries tend to favor highly committed voters from the extremes of both parties, who are much more likely to turn up than moderates. So candidates have strong incentives to pander to their extremist flanks, throwing red meat that they may well regret in November or in the White House." By allowing independents—who are disproportionately moderates—to participate, open primaries help minimize this problem.
The current system—the dominance of Iowa and New Hampshire, plus the absolute reliance on primaries and caucuses—dates only from 1976. It is, as Wilentz and Zelizer entitle their op-ed, a"rotten way to pick a President." Unfortunately, though, one lesson of the period since 1968 is that the seemingly quadrennial process of post-election reforms has only succeeded in making a"rotten" system more so.