October 17, 2009


Begley, Louis, Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2009) (A French abuse of power at the end of the 19th century is relevant, and a warning, regarding an American abuse of power at the beginning of the 21st century. It is always easy to suspect, to blame, to convict, and to abuse ‘the other.’ The book hints at other issues. What is honor? At the national level? At the personal level? To the extent that America engages in acts of torture, is the nation compromising its honor? Compromising its right to be deemed worthy of respect by other nations and opther peoples? Compromising its ideals and self-respect?).

Bredin, Jean-Denis, The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus translated from the French by Jeffrey Mehlman (New York; George Braziller, 1986) ("And yet it would be unduly reductive to restrict the Affair narrowly to its own time on the pretext of avoiding a caricature, to deny what was enduring or 'eternal,' in Mauriac's phrase: what continues to help us know ourselves and acknowledge what we are almost a century after Dreyfus's conviction. It is true that the Dreyfus Affair can only be understood within its own time, in terms of the economic, social, and cultural forces of the end of the nineteenth century. It is also true that dramatic opposition between two moralities, two mentalities, is not only of the past. For what were the anti-Dreyfusards fighting? What was at stake, said Barres, was the house of our fathers, our land, our dead. For Cavaignac, it was 'the Nation's greatness,' 'the heritage of the defenders of the country.' It was also, proclaimed Deroulede, 'the spirit of abnegation, the spirit of discipline, the spirit of solidarity.' And behind the exaltation of the nation, the ancestral heritage, and traditional virtues could be found the popular sentiments diversely formulated in the comments of the contributors to the 'Henry monument': love of order, respect for work, devotion to country, rejection of foreigners, demands for security, and anxiety in the face of a changing world." "With what did the Dreyfusards oppose this? They never called into question loyalty to the Nation.... [T]he Dreyfusards claimed that neither order, nor respect for authority, nor institutional might, nor even the national interest were to stand in the way of the higher principles of justice and freedom. There were ethical values higher than all interests, higher even then the law, expressed by Peguy as follows: 'The passion for Truth, the passion for Justice, the impatience with falsity, the intolerance of deception occupied all our hours, all our energies,' On one side, encapsulating the clash, we find the principle that every act is to be judged in relation to France. On the other, that the rights of man are placed above every institution and every conviction." Id. at 539-540. Do we not see a similar divide in early 21st-century America? Yet! "In point of fact, within the Affair itself, the divisions were neither so simple nor so clear cut. For men are not simply a function of their culture and morality, their convictions and prejudices. In the course of their lives, they are affected and occasionally transformed by their class, their social milieu, their friends, the social fabric within which they live and grow old." Id.).

Guttenplan, D. D., American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009) (See the review by David Carr, “Taking Down Big Game With a Crusading Pen,” NYT, July 9, 2009.).

Henry, Charles P., Ralph Bunche: Model Negro, or American Other? (New York: New York: U. Press, 1999) ("Although Bunche could accept the . . . view of slavery as a degrading experience, he could not totally embrace it. He rejected the 'grandparents as slaves,' 'extreme poverty' image because he rejected victim status. Victim status is a metaphor that describes an ideological discourse that mediates the conflict for mutual recognition that lies at the heart of the oppressed-oppressor interrelationship. If the victim succeeds in getting the victimizer to accept the condition or indeed the creation of the victimized as a product of the victimizer, then the victim has succeeded in being recognized and even in having his or her humanity conformed. It does not necessarily, however, challenge the superiority of the victimizer. In fact, by appealing to the morality and rationality of the victimizer, the victim confirms the humanity and goodness of the victimizer. Much of the discourse on race relations in this country from the abolitionists to Shelby Steele revolves around this concept." "Recognizing that the simple acknowledgment of the horrors created by the institution of slavery did nothing to resolve the dilemma of the 'other,' Bunche rejected any victim-status syndrome. Thus he could not fully accept the pathological character of the Black community that emerged from the work of E. Franklin Frazier." Id. at 214-215. "All of his life Bunche had worked to be treated equally. His thinking reflected the Aristotelian principle of equality as sameness. Those with the same attributes, status, or condition were treated equally. This reflected the liberal tendency to treat the 'other' as equal only after the 'other' had been redescribed as oneself. Only with the rise of Black Power did Bunche come to understand--as his grandmother must have instinctively understood--that the act of redescription is still an attempt to appropriate others. Race in the United States still rested on physical traits despite his best efforts at social reconstruction." "Bunche the human being and his legacy had been appropriate by the dominant ideology. He was redefined to make him an acceptable 'other.' When the larger society no longer needed his legacy for its purposes, he was forgotten. For the Black community, Bunche became invisible--his identity lost. That is why Ralph Johnson Bunche is unknown today and that is why his story must be told." Id. at 249-250.).

Lehman, David, A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Jewish Encounters) (New York: Nextbook/Schocken, 2009) (“It may sound like the ultimate paradox, but one distinctively Jewish thing about the authors of the American songbook is the determination to escape from their Jewish origins and join the American Adventure. America represented freedom not only from persecution but also from the past, from outmoded rules and obscure regulations, esoteric doctrines and archaic habits of dress. America was an idea, a good idea, even a revolutionary one. You had the freedom to worship and the freedom not to worship, if you so chose. How important it was for Berlin to trumpet his patriotism or for Rodgers and Hammerstein to criticize racism at a time when world Jewry faced the specter of annihilation. The art they made was not an art of defiance—there is little anger or protest in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical or a Berlin ballad. But in their affirmations of American ideals as they understood them, the writers of were pressing back against the forces that aimed to extinguish them.” Id. at 20.).

Oney, Steve, And The Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and The Lynching of Leo Frank (New York: Pantheon, 2003) (See the following two book reviews: Warren Goldstein, “Who Killed Mary Phagan?,” NYT, Sunday, October 26, 2003); and Theodore Rosengarten, “The Haunting Questions of a Murder and a Lynching,” NYT, Friday, December 19, 2003.).

Podhoretz, Norman, Why Are Jews Liberals? (New York: Doubleday, 2009) (Read Leon Wieseltier, "Because They Believe," in The NYT Book Review, Sunday, September 13, 2009. "So liberals and conservatives, and socialists too, and even the Club for Growth, will all find a use for this text, which is to say that the text is useless, I mean, for establishing the liberalism or the conservatism of the Jewish tradition." Id. at 8.).

Pritchett, Wendell, Brownsville, Brooklyn: Blacks, Jews, and the Changing Face of the Ghetto (Chicago & London: U. of Chicago Press, 2002).

Pritchett, Wendell, Robert Clifton Weaver and the American City: The Life and Times of an Urban Reformer (Chicago & London: U. of Chicago Press, 2008).

Smith, Steven B., Liberalism and the Question of Jewish Identity (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 1997) (“Spinoza’s prudent or philosophical reader, then, is neither a Jew nor a Christian but a new kind of person who might be called the liberated individual. This type of individual, delineated in the pages of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Montaigne, was just beginning to make an appearance on the European scene. Such a person is liberated as far as possible from dependence on tradition and authority, is master of his passions and tolerant of others, and puts the highest premium on self-respect. Although this idea of the free individual had certain classical antecedents in the philosophy of Plato and the Stoics, it was based much more than before on the idea of personal autonomy. Where did such a reader come from? Where was such a one to be found? Id. at 43-44. “The one powerful, overriding command of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures is, then, love of neighbor, which Spinoza interprets to mean no persecution, no intolerance on the basis of religion. This is a teaching of highest political importance. It suggests that not only does the Bible forbid persecution but those who practice intolerance stand condemned of heresy. It suggests that intolerance not only is bad as policy but is at odds with the ‘universal foundation of religion. Toleration carries the weight of reason behind it (‘the [supreme] right of thinking freely, even concerning religion, is in the hands of each person’) and the weight of Scripture. Reason and religion converge on the same moral end.” Id. at 83. “The issue of identity and difference has recently dominated much of contemporary public discourse in the United States. We live in the age of the hyphenated American; many consider the older idea of a common citizenship to be neither possible nor desirable. Instead of focusing on what unities us as a people, we are increasingly told that authenticity, empowerment and self-esteem are bound up with our sense of ethnic, racial, or cultural identity. These issues were not unknown to Spinoza. He lived in an age of what might be called identity politics. [] One was defined by one’s religion, period. Exit, except on rare occasions, was not yet considered a viable option.” [] “In the Treatise Spinoza offers a strategy for dissolving group identities, and differences, not accommodating them. The problem of diversity–regarding religion and various conceptions of the human good–was for Spinoza the natural state of human affairs. The question that he posed was not how to enhance diversity but how to best control and contain it. He sought ways of increasing the power of the individual in order to better to resist the coercive power of group identities. Identity politics was not for him a source if empowerment but a means of imposing narrow orthodoxies and conformity. The threat to freedom was less likely to stem from the imposition of a common culture than from the tyranny of group differences, when, for example, clerical enthusiasts and other putative leaders arrogate to themselves power over the individual. Furthermore, Spinoza regarded a politics of group difference as more likely to produce lasting enmities and hatreds than a pleasing diversity and mutual respect. Did he not say with brutal candor that what leads one person to piety and religion leads another to laughter and contempt?” Id. at 201-202.).

Smith, Steven B., Spinoza’s Book of Life: Freedom and Redemption in the Ethics (New Haven: & London Yale U. Press, 2003) (“The problem with Weimar [Republic of Germany] was in the first instance its weakness and instability. The weakness of Weimar became most evident not with the economic crisis of 1929 --other democracies faced similar economic problems--but with its inability to protect the Jews. This dilemma was made all the more acute because the Jews of Germany, more that Jews of any other nation, had put their faith in liberal democracy to provide a solution to the ‘Jewish Question.’ Liberal democracy was understood as the regime devoted to ending persecution not only of Jews but of all religious and ethnic minorities. Liberal democracy was the first political regime to grant full citizenship and equal rights to Jews while recognizing their right to remain Jews. If for this reason only, the assassination of Walter Rathenau, the Jewish minister of foreign affairs, in 1922 proved a moment of profound crisis.” “The dilemma of modern Jewry has a long genealogy going back before Weimar to the time of Spinoza. Spinoza was to [Leo] Strauss and many of his generation the first example of the modern Jew. Spinoza championed not only a break with orthodoxy and the burdens of ceremonial law, but was the first Jewish thinker to endorse liberal democracy in something like its modern form [citation omitted]. Although Spinoza has been anathematized by the Jewish community of Amsterdam, he was subsequently canonized by generations of Jewish modernists, who celebrated him not only for showing the way out of the ghetto but for establishing a new kind of secular religion and culture based on the highest aspirations of the educated middle class…” “In particular Spinoza opened the door to liberal democracy. Society that was neither Christian nor Jewish but above or impervious to each, Central to the liberal solution to the theological-political predicament was the distinction between public and private and the belief that religion belonged exclusively to the private sphere of life. Henceforth religion would be deprived of the tools of force and coercion and turned into a matter of conscience and private belief, something quite different from the authoritative character of the law….” Id. at 191-1192. Given the increased intrusion of religion into the public sphere, is American society in decline as a liberal democracy? What will a post liberal-democracy look like? It certainly will not be liberal, but will it even be democratic?).

Urofsky, Melvin I., Louis D. Brandeis: A Life (New York: Pantheon, 2009) (“Brandeis never really questioned the basic rightness of the free enterprise system. He acknowledge that it had defects, and he spent many years trying to correct them. But the achievements of his immigrant father, and his own and his brother’s successful careers, imbued him with a sense of the opportunities awaiting the diligent worker. He differed from many of his fellow reformers in Boston when he insisted that risk capital deserved greater returns than money invested in safe measures, although he condemned outright speculation. Despite his involvement in labor matters, Brandeis did not overly concern himself with the weak. It is not that he did not care for people victimized by industrialization, or that he opposed measures to prevent the strong from taking advantage of others. Rather, he approached reform neither as a social worker nor as a leveler to give a leg up to those on the bottom. Life involved risks, and those who competed had to bear the losses as well as enjoy the gains. He always accepted and indeed rejoiced in the competition of life and of the economy, with both the harshness and the rewards. He once told his daughter Susan, when she complained of some difficulty, ‘My dear, if you will just start with the idea that this is a hard world, it will all be much simpler.’” Id. at 304-305. See the following two review essays. Adam Liptak, “How Brandeis, Revered or Hated, Became a Giant of the Supreme Court,” NYT, September 20, 2009; Alan M. Dershowitz, “The Practice,” The NYT Sunday Book Review, September 27, 2009. Also see, "Let's Look at the Facts," in The Economist, September 26, 2009: "Much of the legal conflict of the past few years in the United States has resulted from the efforts of a new generation of conservatives to reverse the work of Brandeis and his companions and disciplines on the court.").