Archive for the 'academics' Category

Bonnie Honig writes to the Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

August 24th, 2014

[Letter by Bonnie Honig, hyperlinks added by CB]

Dear Chancellor Wise, (and Members of the Board of Trustees, and the UIUC community of faculty, staff, and students),

I wrote to you when I heard about the Steven Salaita case a couple of weeks ago and hoped you would reconsider. As I told you then, I am Jewish and was raised as a Zionist, and I was moved by the case. I write now in the hope that you might find some measure of empathy for this man. Please bear with me for 2 pages….

I do not know Prof. Salaita, but I must say that as I read about the case I was struck by what I can only describe as a certain smug and uncivil tone in his critics, who seemed very assured about what sort of speech is within the bounds of propriety, and what is not. To be clear: I do not grant that speech that lacks propriety justifies the treatment Prof Salaita has received. I leave that point aside since others — John Stuart Mill, Brian Leiter, others – have ably addressed it.

I want to draw your attention to the issue of “empathy.”

This is what I thought at the time this story first broke: Here is a man of Palestinian descent watching people he may know, perhaps friends, colleagues, or relatives, bombed to bits while a seemingly uncaring or powerless world watched. He was touched by violence and responded in a way that showed it. In one of the tweets that was most objected to (Netanyahu, necklace, children’s teeth), Salaita commented on a public figure who is fair game and who was promoting acts of terrible violence against a mostly civilian population. I found that tweet painful and painfully funny. It struck home with me, a Jew raised as a Zionist. Too many of us are too committed to being uncritical of Israel. Perhaps tweets like Prof. Salaita’s, along with images of violence from Gaza and our innate sense of fair play, could wake us from our uncritical slumbers. It certainly provoked ME, and I say “provoked” in the best way – awakened to thinking.

That is what I thought. I also, though, felt something. I felt that whoever wrote that tweet was tweeting his own pain. And I felt there was something very amiss when he was chided for his tone, by people who were safely distant from all of it, while he was watching people he maybe knew or felt connected to die as a result of military aggression. This, frankly, seemed evil. And then to have the major charge against him in the UIUC case be that he lacked empathy: now that seemed cruelly ironic. The real charge, it seems to me, is that he suffers from too much empathy.

What kind of a person would Prof Salaita be if he did not respond more or less as he did!? What kind of a teacher? What kind of community member?

Meantime, even under duress, he is careful about a key thing: His published tweets distinguish Zionism from Jews and others. In the one tweet about anti-Semitism, he puts that term in scare quotes. I don’t know if I would be as nuanced were I in the same situation. Certainly many of my Zionist or Netanyahu-supporting friends and relatives are not: they do not take the trouble to make the analogous distinctions in their commentaries on the situation.

Anyone involved in this case who is incapable of empathy for Salaita at the moment could themselves perhaps learn something about empathy from the very person who has been charged with lacking it. May I ask you: Surely you are not incapable of empathy for his plight, both now (stranded between institutions) and in July (watching from afar as people to whom he presumably feels connected die or are wounded)?

May I add, further, that, as befits the picture I have here painted, there is no actual evidence in the teaching record that Prof Salaita lacks the empathy and tolerance expected of teachers in the classroom. The repeatedly stated ‘concern’ that he is lacking in this way is not only unpersuasive. It is also painful because it may well stick: based on nothing but ignorant or self-serving fears, it may well have a lasting impact on a blameless person’s career and fortunes.

Can you not find a way to resolve the situation to the advantage of both UIUC AND Prof. Salaita? Decisions like this one are the sort that haunt the people who make them for years to come, so I hope you will indeed be able to open your heart in your consideration of the matter. It is not too late. At the very least I urge you and UIUC to stop charging Prof. Salaita with being wanting in vague and either irrelevant or personal ways. That just adds insult and injury to injury. Another irony there: your stated position is that words matter, so much so that other commitments must fall before them. So the responsibility to choose them carefully seems to me to land especially heavily on you and your institution. I do not see you rising to that challenge. This too, I want to suggest, should be hard to live with.

In the meantime, I stand in solidarity with the thousands of academics worldwide who, regrettably, cannot accept invitations henceforth to speak at UIUC or to do any other sort of support work (tenure or promotion letters etc) for your institution. I say regrettably because I have been happy to visit in the past, as a keynote speaker and lecturer. I hope you can understand my position. Simply put, to act in any other way would be wrong.

Thank you for your consideration.

Bonnie Honig, Nancy Duke Lewis Professor, Brown University, Providence, RI

The Sleepwalkers

August 4th, 2014

I read Christopher Clark’s 2012 book, The Sleepwalkers, in the Spring earlier this year (here’s a link to Thomas Laqueur’s review in the LRB) and the centenary of the British declaration of war–which is where the book ends its narrative–seems a good day on which to recycle a couple of remarks and post them here.

I thought it was an excellent book, though I was a bit surprised by the title as I made my way through it. The imagery of sleep-walking led me to expect Clark to be arguing that the powers of Europe somehow drifted into a major conflict, without ever quite intending to. But what I was repeatedly struck by were the sheer number of quite extraordinarily belligerent actors that I encountered along the way, and I ended up a bit surprised that continental war didn’t break out much earlier than 1914. My favourite of these was Conrad von Hötzendorf, chief of the Austrian general staff, who in 1913 recommended war against Serbia to his superiors on no fewer than twenty-five occasions.

For general magnificence, though, it is French diplomat Paul Cambon takes the prize:

Underpinning Cambon’s exalted sense of self was the belief–shared by many of the senior ambassadors–that one did not merely represent France, one personified it. Though he was ambassador in London from 1898 until 1920, Cambon spoke not a word of English. During his meetings with [Foreign Secretary] Edward Grey (who spoke no French), he insisted every utterance be translated into French, including easily recognized words such as ‘yes’. He firmly believed–like many members of the French elite–that French was the only language capable of articulating rational thought and he objected to the foundation of French schools in Britain on the eccentric grounds that French people raised in Britain tended to end up mentally retarded.

Clark has now ended up as the new Regius Professor at Cambridge–well done him–which means that whereas a few years ago both the Oxbridge Regius chairs in History were held by people called R. Evans, now they are both held by Australians, with three out of these four straightforward Germanists, and the fourth a scholar of the history of Habsburg Europe.

Podcasts, vel sim.

August 4th, 2014

Since I seem to have fallen back into a habit–goodness knows how long it will last–of posting here in a low-key way, here are three links to pages through which you can get to the audio files of talks I’ve given over the last few months and years that have found their way on-line, in case anyone is interested.

17 February 2011: ‘Why secular liberals need Roman Catholics (and Marxists)‘, a talk at ‘Republicanism and Religion: a colloquium in memory of Emile Perreau-Saussine’, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.

19 February 2014: ‘Towards a new, gendered history of property-owning democracy‘, a lunchtime Sussex University Lecture in Intellectual History.

15 May 2014: ‘Bees, Ants and Beavers in European Political Thought‘, an informal talk given to the King’s College Apicultural Society in Cambridge.

Winch on conversation

August 3rd, 2014

Last week I mostly sat at home, watched books by Donald Winch that I’d ordered online pop through the letterbox, and then started to read them. And today I’ve discovered that his 1995 Carlyle Lectures, ‘Secret Concatenations: Mandeville to Malthus’, are available on the web, thanks to the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History. So that’s my Sunday afternoon sorted out.

This is from the opening discussion of the first lecture [pdf] as, following John Burrow, he presents a view of intellectual history as ‘eavesdropping on the conversations of the past’.

An attractive feature of conversations is that we can continue them at the point where our predecessors left them. The only restriction I would place on such freedom, speaking as an intellectual historian, is that the conversations should be between interlocutors who were genuinely aware of each other’s existence and arguments. This rules out those encounters in which the historian acts as ominiscient host at a kind of celestial cocktail party at which those invited only speak to one another through the intermediation of the host — indeed, can only speak through the host because they had no common language in life. I shall appear to break this rule in one respect only, namely by posing some counter-factual questions of my cast in some crucial instances. In other words, having established that a genuine conversation was taking place, I shall sometimes seek to reconstruct what their responses might have been when more direct evidence is unavailable.

Interesting conversations are usually free from the coercive dualisms that tend to be an occupational hazard of much intellectual history devoted to political thinking. Whigs and Tories have long since been replaced by debating teams bearing more sophisticated labels such as contractarians and anti-contractarians, liberals versus classical republicans, civic humanists versus natural jurisprudentialists, and so on — to mention only those dualisms that are current among students of the period and authors I shall be considering. Narratives that purport to be dealing with past social scientific conversations often attempt to enforce another powerful dichotomy — between positive and normative propositions, between statements of fact and statements of value or rights. As already hinted, one of the negative conclusions I would like to emerge from these lectures is that none of my cast was foolish enough to allow their conversations to be constricted by these dualisms. That is something we have done to them in retrospect and for our own purposes, taxonomic or ideological.

Crop Receipts

October 29th, 2013

Josephine has a new blog, and here she is writing about what it’s like to be an overseas academic visiting the UK:

The suggested dossier includes: full bank statements for the last six months with explanations of any unusual deposits; a letter from their bank confirming the balance and the date the account was opened; documentation of the origin of any money paid into the account; payslips for the last six months; recent tax returns; and evidence of income from any property or land, including property deeds, mortgage statements, tenancy agreements, land registration documents and crop receipts…

One Hundred Things Norman Geras and I Corresponded About Over the Last Decade

October 18th, 2013

Country music (including but not limited to Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, and its relationship to suicide) — Marxism — The war in Iraq — The case the British government made for the war in Iraq — Media coverage of the war in Iraq — Differences between British and American media coverage of the war in Iraq — Dead socialists (including the question of whether or not Paul Sweezy was in fact dead: he wasn’t when we began corresponding on the question, but later he was) — Favourite novels — University admissions — Boycotts of Israelis — Blog technology issues — The paradox of democracy — Paul “The Thinker” Richards — Defamation law — French headscarves laws — International rugby partisanship — New Zealand and whether it is a dull country — Amnesty International — Italian anti-war demonstrations — Christopher Hitchens — The precise distance from Boulder, CO to Birmingham, AL — My Normblog Profile — The number of Red Sox supporters who have Normblog profiles — Where the Wild Things Are — Bob Dylan — Favourite films – A Mighty Wind — Nashville — Joan Baez — George W. Bush — The Hutton Inquiry — Lucio Colletti — Why the film Life is Beautiful is so terrible — The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Mobile telephones — Cricket — The various ways in which my students used to pronounce the name “Geras” — Rock stars — Exam marking — Arnold Lobel and his Mouse Tales — The Butler report — The Campo de’ Fiori in Rome — Shakespeare plays — Obnoxious right-wing writers (including Mark Steyn and Andrew Bolt) — American airport security checks — Terrorist threats — Socialist Register — The 2004 US Presidential election — Baseball — Visiting Oxford — Thomas Hobbes — Roman libraries — Classical composers (especially Schubert) — Jokes about rational choice theorists — The Tour de France — Etienne Balibar — Favourite actors — The excellence of kittens (and, more generally, cats) — American street names — Wendy Cope — Footnotes in Capital — Umpiring — Passport applications — Margaret Thatcher’s resignation — Margaret Thatcher’s poetry —  Jews for Justice for Palestinians — Chavez and anti-Semitism — Academic plagiarism — David Aaronovitch as marathon runner — x-RCP front organisations — Robert Wokler — Academic jobs — Musicals — Australia — The rubbish-collection regime in Oxford — Tony Judt — Whether or not the Euston Manifesto was part of a “common, hysterical defense of the Anglo-Dutch financial system, and their permanent right to loot the economies of the world” — American practices of memorialization on campus — Flooding in Oxford — The Beatles — Jerry Cohen’s valedictory lecture — The New Left Review — Loyalty oaths — A Dance to the Music of Time — Merton College, Oxford — Visiting Manchester — Critical opinions about America — Puzzles involving marbles — Traffic robots — The Beach Boys — Tony Blair’s relationship with God — Bernard-Henri Levy looking funny in photographs — Authorisations to use military force — John Stuart Mill on international intervention — The Eurovision Song Contest  — Adam Smith — Nick Cohen’s views about torture — Alfred Hitchcock films — The thorny question of whether seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was on drugs — The problems of travelling between Oxford and Cambridge.

Biggest regret? In July 2004, Norm wrote, “Might you have an interest in watching a Test or some part of one with me?”, and I never took him up on the suggestion.

His final words of the correspondence, from the start of this month: “My own care from the NHS has been exemplary.”

Bob Hargrave: Philosopher. Sceptic. Corruptor of Youth. Dead.

October 26th, 2012

This video was made over two decades ago, and was shown last week at Bob’s memorial service. Now it makes its debut on YouTube.

Perpetual Peace and European Union

October 12th, 2012

On the occasion of the awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, I’m reproducing over the fold a chunk of an old lecture I gave in January 2010 on the eighteenth-century debate about perpetual peace and European Union…

[it's quite long, for which, apologies, but I have made it a bit more bearable with some hyperlinks and a picture of a cat]

(more…)

Workshop: Meet the Author: Christopher Brooke’s Philosophic Pride

October 4th, 2012

On Friday and Saturday, 30 November and 1 December 2012, the Philosophy Department of the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) will host a workshop entitled “Meet the Author: Christopher Brooke’s Philosophic Pride“.

This interdisciplinary workshop is of interest for philosophers and historians working on the 17th and 18th centuries. It is coorganised by the Universities of Berne (Department of General and Historical Educational Science), Lausanne (Department of Philosophy), and Fribourg (Department of Philosophy).

The workshop centers on themes from Christopher Brooke’s Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau (Princeton 2012), with quite some interest in Rousseau.

Organising Committee:
lic.-phil. Lukas Boser (Berne),
Dr. Christian Maurer (Fribourg),
Prof. Dr. Fritz Osterwalder (Berne),
Prof. Dr. Simone Zurbuchen (Lausanne).

The workshop language is English. Participation is free, but please register by 23 November.

For registration, further information and a detailed program please contact the coordinator in Fribourg: christian.maurer(at)unifr.ch; or visit the conference website.

God Promises Not To Destroy The University of Bristol By Flooding

October 4th, 2012

More Brooke, I’m Afraid

September 28th, 2012

Two new small things just published.

One is a review of Jan-Werner Müller’s recent book, Contesting Democracy for Renewal (which has a splendid new editor, Ben Jackson) and which you can get as a pdf here.

The other is a few pages of Self-Evident Truths?, edited by (the equally splendid) Kate E. Tunstall, which presents the published versions of the 2010 Amnesty Lectures. (I wasn’t an Amnesty Lecturer, obvs, but they asked me to write a short response to James Tully.)

Noel Malcolm on “Philosophic Pride”

September 27th, 2012

From this week’s TLS:

It is one of the many strengths of Christopher Brooke’s fascinating new study, Philosophic Pride, that he is aware of the multifarious nature of his subject; he knows that he is dealing with a fluid cluster of ideas and themes, not as a unitary philosophical movement. Not that he has set out, in any case, to write a history of (Neo-)Stoicism; his task is both narrower and harder than that. The subject of this book is the relationship between Stoicism and early modern political thought; since there was scarcely such a thing as a worked-out body of Stoic political theory (unless we count Seneca’s fanciful portrayal of the monarchical ruler – Nero, of all people – extending the empire of reason), this means that an already elusive subject is considered here from a variety of oblique angles…

It’s a long review, too, filling all of p. 5.

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